ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are going to Nashville, Tenn., next week to find out if they can sign free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke.
They need relief pitching and they need catching. They are waiting to find out what will happen with outfielder Josh Hamilton. But Greinke is at the top of their shopping list and the Winter Meetings may be the place where the Rangers find out if they can make it happen.
They have competition. The Dodgers appear to be the favorites because of what industry officials perceive as an unlimited budget. That may be misleading. There are indications that the Dodgers may not be interested in going six years on any pitcher and may try to trade for a No. 2 starter to go with Clayton Kershaw. Or they may prefer to focus on a less expensive starter like Kyle Lohse or Anibal Sanchez.
The Angels, who acquired Greinke before the July 31 Trade Deadline, have shown interest in re-signing him. But, like the Dodgers, they may prefer to focus on less expensive starters and reinforce their bullpen.
The benchmark price for Greinke could be the six-year, $127.5 million contract Matt Cain signed with the Giants at the beginning of last season. There is speculation that Greinke's price could reach $150 million.
The Rangers were dealing with similar lofty figures two years ago when contemplating the possibility of re-signing Cliff Lee, who ended up going back to the Phillies. At the time the Rangers were expressing reluctance as well about signing a pitcher to a six-year deal.
Greinke, who turned 29 in October, may prove to be the exception. Club president Nolan Ryan said earlier this offseason that Greinke has the ability to hold up over a long-term deal.
He has averaged 200 innings over the past five seasons and the only time he missed was because of a fractured rib. He has never been on the disabled list because of an arm problem. He missed significant time in 2006-07 because of issues with social anxiety disorder but that seems to be behind him.
Other teams yet to be identified could get involved. Greinke is considered the top free-agent starting pitcher on the market and there are few teams beyond the world champion Giants that don't need starting pitching.
The Rangers already have a rotation that includes Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando. Rookie left-hander Martin Perez finished last season as the fifth starter.
On the surface, it would seem that starting pitching isn't a big need for the Rangers. But pitching has always been the highest priority while Jon Daniels has been general manager and signing Greinke certainly would fit that philosophy.
The Rangers ended the season with Mike Napoli and Geovany Soto splitting time behind the plate. But Napoli is a free agent and Soto could be non-tendered if the Rangers can't work out a new contract with him by 11 p.m. CT on Friday. Even if they do, the Rangers will be looking for a second catcher to pair with Soto, whether it is Napoli or somebody else. The Rangers have interest in free agents A.J. Pierzynski and Russell Martin.
The Rangers need at least two veteran setup relievers in front of closer Joe Nathan. They have right-handers Tanner Scheppers, Wilmer Font and Justin Grimm, and left-handers Robbie Ross and Michael Kirkman but want some experience to go with that group.
If Hamilton signs elsewhere, the Rangers will be losing some serious offensive production from the middle of their order. They prefer a left-handed bat to fit inside their top right-handed hitters: Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz. Switch-hitter Nick Swisher could have some appeal.
Who they can trade
The Rangers are loaded in the middle, starting with Andrus and Kinsler. Then there is Jurickson Profar, their top prospect, as well as Leury Garcia and Luis Sardinas, two other middle infielders in the Rangers' Top 20 Prospects
as determined by MLB.com. If the Rangers do make a major trade, figure at least one of these middle infielders being a part of it.
The Rangers' Opening Day center fielder in 2010-11 is still on the 40-man roster even though he spent all of 2012 in Triple-A. He is buried behind Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin.
He is a free agent after this upcoming season. If the Rangers sign Swisher or a left-handed bat, it could give them an opportunity to move Cruz to reinforce another area of need.
Profar is certainly the most discussed prospect but the Rangers also have infielder Mike Olt and center fielder Leonys Martin who could be of interest to other teams. Cody Buckel has emerged as their top pitching prospect now that Perez is in the big leagues.
Rule 5 Draft
Left-handed pitcher Chad Bell may be of interest to other teams. He was 8-7 with a 3.48 ERA at three levels this past season although he walked 37 in 80 innings at Triple-A Round Rock. First baseman Chris McGuinness, who was the Most Valuable Player in the Arizona Fall League, is also available. The Rangers did not take a player in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft in 2011.
Big contracts they might unload
Michael Young is in the final year of his contract and is due $16 million. He remains the Rangers' primary designated hitter who can fill in at third, second and first. He is coming off a below average year. There may not be a lot of interest in him but the Rangers have listened in the past.
Soto, Harrison and outfielder David Murphy are all arbitration-eligible. Harrison has two years to go before free agency and the Rangers are interested in signing him to a long-term contract.
The Rangers' payroll will likely be around $120 million but their ownership group has not been afraid to spend money in the right situations. The Rangers have sufficient financial flexibility.