By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Daniels says closer Neftali Feliz will be stretched out during spring training much like he was this year in an attempt to see if he's ready to step into the starting rotation because "he's got too good of an arm and stuff not to think about it." But he questions whether the timing is right for the 22-year-old Dominican flamethrower, and Ryan takes it one step further, flatly saying "no" to whether Feliz's immediate future is as a starter.
Manuel says Feliz's 100-mph heater is good enough to pitch in the rotation at some point, but Joba Chamberlain of the Yankees is a prime example of a young pitcher who suffered because of the club's inability to commit him to the bullpen or rotation.
Although Daniels admits retaining Lee demands much of his focus and time, he signed 32-year-old catcher Yorvit Torrealba to a two-year, $6.25 million contract to replace free agent Bengie Molina and says filling the club's vacancy at designated hitter created by the expired contract of Vladimir Guerrero is a top priority. Guerrero, who had just one hit in 14 World Series at-bats after a strong comeback campaign this year, could return but is seeking a long-term contract. There are several players suited for the DH role that Texas could grab cheaply if Guerrero heads elsewhere.
Texas also has several key players nearing free agency themselves, with Wilson free at the end of next year, followed by Hamilton in '12 and Cruz in '13. Hamilton poses a significant risk when he enters free agency at 31 years old, as he'll be seeking a record long-term deal similar to Lee's. Despite his status as one of the game's premier offensive and defensive players, he's struggled to stay healthy, and the postseason celebrations using ginger ale instead of Champagne staged solely for Hamilton are a sobering reminder of his past struggles with alcohol and drugs. Ryan says signing them to long-term deals hasn't been discussed yet because of the postseason, owners meetings and GMs meetings, and he won't comment about any specific player. Daniels stresses that any such move would have to be a good business decision, and he too refuses to express particular interest in signing any of the three players to lengthy contracts.
"When we talk about the core of this club being here for a long time, I think part of that's an obligation on the part of the organization to back that up and try to keep the players here, so that will be something we look at this winter," he says.
Despite the achievements of Ryan and Daniels, who have the board's "utmost trust and confidence," according to Greenberg, their contracts also expire at the end of the upcoming season, though both are confident that new deals are a mere formality. Ryan, who turns 64 in January, says he has no plans to step down as team president any time soon.
"At some point in time, if I feel that I'm not enjoying what I'm doing, then I might consider a different role or taking a lesser role," he says. "But right now I'm very enthused about what's happening and enjoy what I'm doing and the challenges of what I'm doing."
Although Ryan hasn't discussed an extension with him yet, Daniels isn't reading anything into it and expects to be approached at some point. "If something works out, great. If not, I've got a contract for next year," he says. "I'm not one of these guys who gets too hung up about that. Not to be arrogant, but I'm pretty confident about what we're doing."
Whether or not the Rangers can keep Lee away from the Yankees for a second time, Ryan says the club's payroll will "increase substantially" from the $55 million spent last year—the fourth lowest in baseball. With no clear staff ace among the remaining crop of free-agent pitchers, the team's likely to shift its attention to Texas natives Carl Crawford and Adam Dunn. Signing the speedy Crawford would not only solidify the Rangers' outfield as the best in baseball, but it would prevent him from landing in the hands of AL West rival the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim—a club with money to spend and an interest in the 29-year-old. Dunn would add one of the game's top power hitters to the lineup and fill the hole at DH, while playing occasionally in the outfield and at first base.
Any signings would need to be balanced with retaining Wilson, Hamilton and Cruz long term and the knowledge that inking any one player to a pricey deal could cripple the club. After all, it was the Rangers' signing of Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252 million contract in 2000 that contributed to the team's financial woes, leading to the decision to trade him to the Yankees in 2004 and eat a chunk of his salary for the privilege.
The Rodriguez contract turned out to be the biggest gaffe during the tenure of Tom Hicks as owner, especially when Rodriguez in February 2009 admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs during his three-year stint in Texas. But Ryan is quick to praise Hicks for this year's success, meaning new ownership must find a way to distinguish itself from him to make its own mark on the franchise. "I give Tom Hicks a lot of credit because if you look at that ball club, it was his club," he says. "He put some people in the positions that they were in, and he allowed us to do things and was supportive. It just happened to be that a set of circumstances came together that put him in a position that he couldn't continue, so I think he should get a lot of credit."