On Tuesday, Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com indicated that a reunion between the Rangers and the 2010 American League MVP may be in the cards:
Sources: #Rangers, Hamilton making progress. Deal, if reached, likely would be 4 yrs. But still possible another team could beat TEX offer.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 4, 2012
Nothing is final, though. Rosenthal's report was quickly downplayed by Texas GM Jon Daniels, who told Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that reports of a possible deal were "overblown." Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has reported that talks between the two sides are "on hold."
Even knowing this, the market does appear to be pushing Hamilton to accept a four-year deal. It's not hard to imagine the Rangers making him the best offer given how much more familiarity they have with him than other clubs.
If the Rangers don't make the best offer, Bob Nightengale of USA Today says that Hamilton is going to give them a chance to match any better offers he might get. That's a sign that his preference may be to stay in Texas if he can help it.
So let's go ahead and say that something is probably going to get done. If so, what happens to the rest of the plans the Rangers have drawn up for the offseason?
It's complicated. Pull up a chair for a minute.
What of Zack Greinke?
The Rangers have two free agents at the top of their wish list. One, obviously, is Hamilton. The other is star right-hander Zack Greinke, who spent the 2012 season with the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Angels.
This is according to Ken Rosenthal, who wrote on Tuesday that it "will be an upset" if the Rangers don't land either Hamilton or Greinke this winter.
Note that's an "or" there. Not an "and/or." Big difference.
Rosenthal says it's not likely that the Rangers will land both Hamilton and Greinke, which makes sense seeing as how their combined annual salaries would likely be over $50 million. The Rangers are not poor, but it's not like they're the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Speaking of the Dodgers, Rosenthal noted that they're perceived to be the front-runners to land Greinke. Jon Heyman shed some light on Greinke's asking price, which is decidedly Dodger-friendly:
Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 5, 2012
In other words, Greinke is looking for CC Sabathia money. Welcome to the world we live in.
If the Rangers re-sign Hamilton, they're likely going to be paying him somewhere between $20 and $25 million per year. It's conceivable that they could turn around and sign Greinke for a deal worth $25 million per year, but the best they may be able to do after signing Hamilton is a deal worth more like $20 million per year.
The Dodgers can beat that. If the Rangers were to scrounge up enough money to offer Greinke a $25 million-per-year deal, the Dodgers could beat that, too. It's not an exaggeration to say that no price is too high for them.
The Rangers may be able to hang with the Dodgers in the bidding for Greinke if Hamilton is removed from the equation entirely, but they won't be able to fight the good fight with the Dodgers if Hamilton re-signs.
They can have one, but not both.
What of Justin Upton?
Hamilton isn't the only star outfielder the Rangers are coveting this winter. They also have their sights set on Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder Justin Upton.
Yes, still. The Rangers were linked to Upton well before the winter meetings got underway on Monday, when Ken Rosenthal reported that they were in "active trade discussions" with the D-Backs.
Things have picked up considerably since then. Rosenthal reported Wednesday that there's a multi-team blockbuster brewing between the Rangers, Diamondbacks, Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays. It's a fluid situation, but the idea of the talks for the Rangers is to find a way to acquire Upton.
A one-on-one deal between the Rangers and Diamondbacks appears to be impossible because Rosenthal says the Rangers are reluctant to hand over shortstop Elvis Andrus. They may be even more reluctant to trade top shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar. They're not making it easy for the Diamondbacks to fill one of their biggest needs by trading Upton.
Even so, the notion of acquiring Upton is one that Jon Heyman says the Rangers are taking very seriously:
#rangers said working hard now on justin upton.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 5, 2012
The big question: Hamilton and Greinke may not be possible, but what about Hamilton and Upton?
I don't see why not. The Rangers won't be compromising their ability to make trades if they re-sign Hamilton, as all their tradeable assets will still be in place. There will also still be a place for Upton in right field, not to mention space for him on the club's payroll.
Upton is signed through 2015 with modest salaries due to come his way over the next three years. He'll earn $9.75 million in 2013, $14.25 million in 2014 and $14.5 million in 2015.
Add it up and you get $38.5 million over three years, which is roughly what the Boston Red Sox will be paying crumbling outfielder Shane Victorino. The money thus wouldn't be much of a concern for the Rangers, especially if Upton were to revert to the near-MVP form he showed in 2011.
The difficulty in acquiring Upton has to do with what the Rangers would have to give up, not what they'd have to pay him. If Hamilton signs, nothing will change.
What of R.A. Dickey and James Shields?
A blockbuster trade for Justin Upton isn't the only trade the Rangers are mulling right now. They may also be seriously considering a blockbuster deal for a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Maybe the most appealing starting pitcher on the trade block is New York Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, who was awarded the NL Cy Young just a couple weeks ago. According to Jon Heyman, the Rangers are one of "at least" eight teams that have kicked the tires on Dickey.
In addition, Heyman has reported that the Rangers are also in the mix for Rays right-hander James Shields, who is several years younger than Dickey and controllable through 2014.
Trades for Dickey, Shields or any other ace appear to be fallback plans for the Rangers if they can't sign Zack Greinke. If they can't buy him, they'll sacrifice some of their tradeable assets to land an ace who would be much cheaper and perhaps just as good.
And this is where a Hamilton re-signing could potentially complicate things. The Rangers could still want Upton after signing Hamilton, but they'll need a starting pitcher after signing Hamilton and presumably missing out on Greinke.
As such, Jon Daniels could cease his pursuit of Upton after signing Hamilton and focus his efforts on dealing for a starting pitcher. The club's need for some offensive firepower, after all, will have been taken care of, while the club's need for a top-of-the-rotation starter would still exist.
The Rangers have plenty of tradeable assets, but they probably have neither the depth nor the willingness to pull off deals for both Upton and a top starter. Like with Hamilton and Greinke, it's one or the other.
This and That
If I had to imagine the big board that Jon Daniels presumably keeps in his office, I'm guessing that Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke are spelled out in big, bold letters and that Justin Upton, R.A. Dickey and James Shields are spelled out in slightly smaller and slightly less bold letters.
Below these guys are all the other names the Rangers are reportedly mulling this winter, including Michael Bourn and Adam LaRoche.
According to Jon Heyman, the Rangers are in on Bourn (for some reason):
#mariners like bourn very much. Other possibilities include phillies and rangers (tho tex is in many, many other things)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 5, 2012
I don't see the fit. Bourn is a center fielder, and the Rangers won't need one of those if they re-sign Hamilton. Even if they don't re-sign Hamilton, Bourn won't help the Rangers replace the power they will have lost with Hamilton following Mike Napoli out the door.
Since the Rangers can just go with Craig Gentry in center field if they lose Hamilton, I'd put the odds of them replacing Hamilton with Bourn at about 100:1. If they re-sign Hamilton, Bourn will be completely out of the picture.
Nationals believe Rangers are strongest competition for LaRoche.— DKnobler (@DKnobler) December 3, 2012
The Rangers' interest in LaRoche is a sign that they think they can do better than a platoon between Mitch Moreland and Michael Young at first base. He'd provide some god pop from the left side of the plate and he's one of the best defensive first basemen in the league, so they wouldn't be wrong.
Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com has indicated that a two- or three-year deal could be good enough to land the veteran first baseman, and you have to think he could be signed for an annual salary of less than $15 million.
The Rangers could afford to do a deal like that even if they were to re-sign Hamilton, and they could go through with it in part because of what LaRoche would bring to the table and in part because signing him would create more tradeable assets.
Who should be Texas' top priority?
Moreland would be trade bait for sure, and even Young could find his way onto the trade block. In fact, Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News has reported that Young has already been made available in trade talks. All the Rangers may have to do to move him is convince a team that Young's character is worth his inconsistent hitting and poor defense.
Other trade candidates would include Nelson Cruz, Ian Kinsler and David Murphy, but the most sought-after Rangers trade candidates probably wouldn't change. The group would still include Elvis Andrus, Jurickson Profar, Mike Olt and Derek Holland.
And yes, the latter two are on the block. T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com says that Olt is drawing plenty of interest, and Jon Morosi says that teams are contacting the Rangers about Holland in the event they acquire a pitcher.
But first things first. It looks like either Hamilton or Greinke for now, and then either Upton or a trade for a starting pitcher. Then everything else.
The dominoes are all lined up for the Rangers. It's just a matter of which one will be the first to fall.
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