ARLINGTON -- Throughout the early stages of the offseason, there was little secret that the Rangers were interested in either signing free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke or trading for Rays righty James Shields.
Texas wants to add a starting pitcher, and Greinke and Shields were two of three targets the club identified. The other is R.A. Dickey, the knuckleballer who won this past year's National League Cy Young Award and could be traded by the Mets.
But over the weekend, the Rangers found out Greinke has agreed to a deal with the Dodgers and the Royals have acquired Shields in a seven-player trade. Texas knew from the beginning that Greinke could end up in Los Angeles, even when Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti left the Winter Meetings saying that negotiations didn't look good. Rangers GM Jon Daniels knew better, and he wasn't caught by surprise when the Dodgers reached an agreement with Greinke.
The Rangers were talking with the Rays about Shields, but the Royals were willing to offer up their top prospect, outfielder Wil Myers. Texas has infielder Mike Olt, but Tampa Bay is already covered at third base (Evan Longoria) and first (James Loney).
So now where do the Rangers go?
They still have plenty of options:
Length of contract, as is usually the case, will be the key in landing the best position player on the free-agent market. There are teams, most notably the Red Sox, who have been willing to pay Hamilton handsomely on a short-term deal, possibly three years. Hamilton is most likely looking for six or seven years. His deal will probably end up being four or five years, and the Rangers have to decide how far they are willing to go to bring Hamilton back.
The Rangers have talked to the D-backs about their right fielder, and the trade discussions appear ongoing. Arizona has made no secret about its desire for a shortstop, and Texas isn't inclined to trade Elvis Andrus, prompting talk of a three-way deal involving Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. If the Rangers get Upton, he'll likely play right, with Nelson Cruz becoming Texas' primary designated hitter.
The Rangers want him. The Mets seem torn between trading Dickey and signing him to a contract extension. He's due to make $5 million next season and can be a free agent afterward. The Mets apparently want Olt and more in return, so the Rangers would have to feel somewhat assured that Dickey could be retained for longer than one season.
The right-hander is represented by agent Scott Boras, who was asked at the Winter Meetings what defines a No. 1 starter. Said Boras: "I think that's a guy that's pitched like a No. 1 the last three years. Certainly Kyle falls into that [category]." Lohse, 34, is 34-19 with a 3.76 ERA in 81 starts over the past three seasons with the Cardinals, including 16-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 2012. He has never been an All-Star, and he was seventh in the NL Cy Young Award vote this past season, the only time he has received votes for the honor. Lohse has won 30 games over the past two seasons, but he was 57-72 with a 4.84 ERA from 2004-10.
The righty joins Lohse as one of the two best free-agent pitchers left on the market. He will be 29 during Spring Training, he was 9-13 with a 3.86 ERA combined with the Marlins and the Tigers this past season and he's 48-51 with a 3.75 ERA in his career. The righty has never pitched 200 innings, and he has had a winning record just twice in seven seasons, including a 10-3 mark as a rookie in 2006. The only other time he won more than 10 games was in '10, when he was 13-12 with a 3.55 ERA for the Marlins.
The speedy outfielder is also represented by Boras, who calls Bourn by far the best defensive center fielder in baseball. Bourn has averaged 51 stolen bases over the past five seasons, but he's also averaged 85 runs scored, a .338 on-base percentage and 131 strikeouts. The Rangers haven't shown much interest, mainly because they have Ian Kinsler and Andrus at the top of their lineup and would prefer somebody for the middle of the order if Hamilton doesn't return.
Among those teams that miss out on Hamilton but are still looking for offense, Swisher seems to be the consolation prize. Swisher has appeal based on three factors -- he's a switch-hitter, he can play first base and the outfield and he has been quite dependable the past seven years, averaging 26 home runs and 84 RBIs per season. Swisher strikes out 120-140 times a year, but he does draw walks and his career OBP of .361 is 22 points higher than that of Bourn and two points lower than Hamilton's.
The Rangers appear to be focused on much higher-impact players, but Pierzynski is still the best free-agent catcher on the market. He is coming off his best season, but he will also turn 36 at the end of the month.
The right-hander has been a full-time closer for the past six seasons and was a part-time one for four seasons before that, so he probably isn't interested in a setup role, unless nobody offers that full-time role. Remember, Valverde is competing with Rafael Soriano for any closing role that is available. The Rangers need at least one more impact setup reliever.
LaRoche hit .271 with 33 home runs and 100 RBIs for the Nationals this past season. Swisher would be the more desired player, as LaRoche is a year older, hits only left-handed and plays only first base. He also missed much of 2011 with a torn labrum in his left shoulder.
By the way, Mitch Moreland has played in 295 games throughout his career, with a batting average of .264, a .328 OBP and a .441 slugging percentage. He has 40 home runs, 126 RBIs, 87 walks and 199 strikeouts. LaRoche in his first 295 games: .264 with a .329 OBP, a .469 slugging percentage, 39 home runs, 147 RBIs, 87 walks and 204 strikeouts. Moreland also has more than twice as many at-bats against left-handers (177, as opposed to 80) as LaRoche did in his first 295 games.