Rangers concentrate on retaining core players

The team focuses on retaining players vital to success in building for next season

10/31/2011 10:59 PM

11/03/2011 12:33 PM

ARLINGTON -- The team that has won the past two American League pennants and twice last week came within a pitch of winning the World Series isn't in need of an overhaul.

But the Texas Rangers might be after next season if they don't do something to lock up the players who have helped them evolve into an elite team.

Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton will all be back in 2012, but there are no guarantees if they hit free agency after next season. That's the case as of Thursday with left-hander C.J. Wilson.

They're all part of "The Core," and the Rangers don't want to see any of them go. Ensuring they stay is the No. 1 priority for general manager Jon Daniels and his staff this off-season.

"Today starts 2012, as far as we're concerned, and we're ready to go to work," Daniels said Monday, during his annual postseason wrap-up at Rangers Ballpark. "As far as any sort of significant investment, whether it's offense or pitching, our mindset is going to be to look internally first.

"The reality is that over the next two, three and four years, we've got a lot of our players, our core guys, who have a chance to chance to reach free agency. We want to make sure we're able to retain the core."

While retaining key players is the priority, the Rangers have some other decisions to make first.

They have until Thursday to negotiate with their free agents, including Wilson. Daniels said that all of them will be contacted, but he isn't expecting any deals to be reached before they can negotiate with any team.

The Rangers also have a decision to make with Neftali Feliz, their closer the past two years who could be transitioned into a starter. The Rangers want to decide before spring training which role he will fill.

That will impact moves the Rangers make on the free-agent market. Should they want Feliz as a starter, either to replace Wilson or just to strengthen the rotation, the Rangers could pursue a free-agent closer.

"The general feeling is that he's capable of it," Daniels said. "We know he's capable of being a lock-down guy at the back of the bullpen. It's just a matter of how we want to put things together."

Wilson and Feliz stand as the Rangers' two biggest decisions before they determine which core players they want to sign to extensions. Kinsler, Napoli and Hamilton, who can be free agents after the 2012 season, are first in line.

Kinsler, a 30-30 man for the second time in his career, is entering the final year of a five-year, $22 million contract that will pay him $7 million in 2012 and includes a $10 million club option for 2013.

Napoli, who made $5.8 million last season, is due a significant raise in his final year of salary arbitration. He established career-highs in every major statistical category and became the Rangers' No. 1 catcher in the postseason.

Hamilton agreed to a two-year, $24 million contract before spring training. While his reign as AL MVP ends in two weeks, he remains one of the top talents in the game.

Though ownership has shown a willingness to expand the payroll to nine figures -- money that could be used to land a key free agent like first baseman Prince Fielder or Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish -- the Rangers will take care of their own first.

"Any free agent or big-spending acquisition from outside will have to be looked at through that prism -- what impact that will have on keeping our group together," Daniels said. "We not going to do anything that will jeopardize keeping the players that we want to keep here."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

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