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Ready, set, risk: Who will deal to win now?

Rangers, Nats, Mariners among those who look willing to make bold trades, signings

About a year ago, the Royals were mulling a move that would alter the course of their franchise, or so they hoped. The price, as it turned out, would be their top prospect, and it was a risk they were willing to take.

Teams are preparing for the Winter Meetings next week in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and a few of them will engage in some bold ventures in hopes of getting over the hump next season. Whether it's spending in the free-agent market or going the route of the Royals and using young talent as currency, some are poised to take a plunge to get closer to the promised land.

By shipping outfielder Wil Myers to the Rays for veteran pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis shortly after last year's meetings in Nashville, the Royals made a statement that they wanted to contend now. It was a classic risk-reward scenario -- the Royals did contend with Shields leading a much-improved rotation, but the Rays were the ones who reached the postseason -- with the help of Myers, the American League Rookie of the Year.

Now, several teams could be looking to leap this winter, hoping to play deep into next fall. Some already have taken significant steps toward their goal, and some are in position to strike.

A few examples:

Rangers: Having already made noise in trading for Prince Fielder to drop in the middle of their lineup as they try to get back to the playoffs, it's apparent the Rangers are not finished. One year out of the postseason after a run that included two trips to the World Series is enough, they seem to be saying.

Even after landing Fielder, the Rangers are expected to pursue another high-end offensive player, be it going for speed in Jacoby Ellsbury or another middle-of-the-lineup hitter in Shin-Soo Choo.

"There are a variety of ways we can go forward from here," general manager Jon Daniels said. "We may be interested in some of the free-agent hitters out there, it may be a trade or it may be just adding depth to the club."

Nationals: By acquiring Doug Fister from the Tigers for three Minor Leaguers on Monday, the Nats made it known they're willing to do what it takes to make this a much shorter postseason drought than the last one.

One year after bringing the playoffs to Washington for the first time since 1933, the Nats fell short in 2013. It's pretty clear they're in a position to shake things up, both in financial wherewithal and in terms of having trade chips to offer.

While Fister fulfills their wish for a veteran starter to round out the rotation, the Nationals also have been being mentioned as a possible suitor for Robinson Cano, although second base isn't a position of need.

Mariners: Being in the American League West, Seattle has its work cut out to leapfrog the two-time division-champion A's, the reloading Rangers and an Angels club that has superstar talent but has underachieved the past two seasons.

The Mariners are considered by many ready to make a financial leap -- maybe not a Cano leap, but they are looking at the top end of the outfielder market and have some room in the 2014 payroll. Whether it's Ellsbury, the leadoff man extraordinaire who hails from the Pacific Northwest, Choo or Nelson Cruz, reports say the Mariners are looking to add an impact player to give them a better shot in the AL West.

A dangerous 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma is a good place to start. The Mariners tried an offensive makeover a year ago that didn't quite work out, but they're expected to be on the hunt for a difference-maker in that department again this winter.

Other teams could be jumping in with both feet to improve, while some already have.

And, lest we forget, the Blue Jays did some risky business of their own a year ago, including trading away top prospects Noah Syndergaard and Travis d'Arnaud to acquire veteran starter R.A. Dickey. Will the Jays risk again? GM Alex Anthopoulos says "we're definitely exploring starters with teams," and Toronto could be in search of more than one.

Again, the Jays have Minor Leaguers of interest to many other teams such as Arizona Fall League standouts Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. Anthopoulos recently downplayed rumors of a deal emerging for the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija, but it's likely those two names will continue to test spell-checks of many a Hot Stove League story in the coming days and weeks.

The Twins already signed free-agent pitchers Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes, for instance, and while that might not be enough get them back to October for the first time since 2010, they are a couple of interesting steps toward that goal. The Rockies could make a move or two to improve their chances of emerging from the National League West. And what might the Mets do?

Time will tell on all of that. It's really in the suites and the lobbies of the Winter Meetings hotel where the teams ready to risk something to get something will emerge, so some of the boldest moves of the offseason could be there for the making.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for Reporters T.R. Sullivan, Bill Ladson, Greg Johns and Gregor Chisholm contributed to this article.

Robinson Cano, Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jeff Samardzija