ORLANDO, Fla. — The typical baseball off-season, at least based on the past handful of years, has all but sleepwalked its way to the annual winter meetings.Exceptions aren’t hard to find, like the November 2012 fire sale conducted by the Miami Marlins or even the Texas Rangers signing closer Joe Nathan to a two-year deal in November 2011.But business has really picked up during the four days when baseball executives, scouts, managers and agents come together each December.The meetings begin Monday, but it’s hard to imagine the market picking up its pace after seeing several premier free agents come off the board and a series of significant trades.Even many free agents who came attached with draft-pick compensations are gone. Seven of the 13 who declined qualifying offers have new deals, a sharp departure from the pace at which those players signed last year.The New York Yankees alone have signed three of them, but surrendering first-round draft picks is a dilemma for many teams. That includes the Rangers, who cherish their picks with amateur talent, especially international picks, which are more difficult to acquire.General manager Jon Daniels and his staff will consider that before delving into a contract with Shin-Soo Choo or Nelson Cruz, even though the Rangers wouldn’t lose a pick re-signing their own free agent.“Cruz is a draft pick,” Daniels said. “If someone else signs him, we get a draft pick. So, those things matter. You talk about building for the long term and trying to balance the here and now with not wanting to see the pipeline dry up, those things count.”The Rangers aren’t unwilling to surrender a top draft pick, as they did in 2011 when they signed Adrian Beltre under the old collective bargaining agreement. But the new CBA calls for draft bonus pools and caps international spending.The Rangers went well over their cap this year and will be limited in the next class. That won’t directly affect a decision on Choo or Cruz, outfielders who would be upgrades, but it will be part of the decision.Daniels didn’t budge late last off-season on outfielder Michael Bourn or right-hander Kyle Lohse, who came with draft-pick compensation and didn’t sign until after spring training started.Going deepInjuries have sacked Rangers starting pitchers the past two years after a miraculous 2011 season in which all five members of the rotation avoided the disabled list.Matt Harrison had two back operations and surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in 2013, and Alexi Ogando served three DL stints. Even workout machine Yu Darvish pitched through nerve irritation in his back the final six weeks.But the medical reports on all three have been favorable this off-season, and Daniels doesn’t expect to sign a big-name starter. Instead, the plan is to add a veteran who could serve as depth.“I’m not going to rule anything out,” Daniels said. “You want to protect yourself against injury, but I feel pretty good about this group.”Colby Lewis has already agreed to a minor league deal, and he is on his normal off-season program despite undergoing a significant hip procedure late last season.Leaving DFWDaniels and most of his staff, but not all, made it to Central Florida without any significant hassles trying to leave Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.Assistant general managers Thad Levine and A.J. Preller were among the Rangers’ brain trust who escaped the icy runways. Manager Ron Washington had no problems flying in from New Orleans.Temperatures at the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort will be in the 80s the first three days of the meetings, but Rangers brass rarely leave their war room and never leave the hotel for, say, a round of golf or time at the pool.
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST