Josh Hamilton can test free-agent waters, but Rangers won't be diving in just yet

ARLINGTON -- Four days after the end of the 2012 season was too early for Texas Rangers officials to discuss in depth their plans for the off-season.

Coaching staff? Too soon.

Michael Young? Too soon.

First base? Too soon.

Josh Hamilton?

At least there was one exception Tuesday afternoon.

General manager Jon Daniels said that the Rangers will not make a contract offer to Josh Hamilton this month and will wait to negotiate until the five-time All-Star tests the free-agent market and comes to them with an idea of his value.

Neither Daniels, team president Nolan Ryan nor manager Ron Washington ruled out Hamilton playing for the Rangers in 2013, but they also didn't say that re-signing him was the club's top priority this off-season.

"The realities are when a guy goes out and tests the market you get this close you're not going to preempt it," Daniels said. "I think he's going to go out there, test the market and then come back to us.

"No door's been closed. We're also very realistic about when a star player hits free agency at this point the history of them returning to their original club. I think we have to prepare both ways and prepare the club for the possibility that he's not back, but we haven't closed any doors."

Hamilton was a shell of his past MVP form down the stretch as the Rangers fell from five games up in the division to out of the playoffs in only 11 days.

He was stricken by a rare case of ocular keratitis, apparently from too much caffeine, during a road trip to Anaheim and Seattle, where Washington said the season started to slip away.

Hamilton made two key fielding mistakes in the final week, including missing a fourth-inning pop-up that allowed two unearned runs to score and altered the course of the final regular-season game against Oakland.

That loss cost the Rangers a third consecutive American League West title and relegated them to the wild-card game, which they lost Friday to Baltimore.

Ryan, though, said that Hamilton's performance down the stretch, which included 18 strikeouts in his final 10 games, won't affect how the Rangers view him going into negotiations.

"I think Josh probably would have liked to finish stronger, and we would have liked to see him finish stronger," Ryan said "We'll consider the entire season because it is an entire season that affects the outcome. They want to go out and see what the market will bear, and we'll see where we are at some point in time."

While anything definitive was hard to come by Tuesday, no one area was pinpointed as the reason for the Rangers' fall.

Washington attempted to shoulder the blame for playing his regulars too much during the season and not having them rested enough for the stretch run.

Seven players played in at least 147 games, and Washington wishes he had given them more rest in July and August to have fresh legs in September and the first week in October.

"It could have been a difference," he said. "I question myself for that."

Washington also looked at how the offense executed down the stretch in terms of playing to game situations to get runs home in tight games. It showed up in late September at Seattle while losing two close games to open a three-game series and was never corrected.

Responsibility for that could fall to hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh, though any decisions on the coaching staff will be made in the coming weeks.

Washington will be back, Daniels said, and pitching coach Mike Maddux is also under contract for 2013.

Daniels said that meetings with the coaching staff and scouting department will begin next week.

"Wash preaches accountability, so he's taking accountability," Daniels said. "But it's not on him any more than is on any other person. It's on a lot of us."

The Rangers have plenty of holes to fill no matter what happens with Hamilton. They have eight free agents in all, assuming Scott Feldman's option year is bought out, and will have a thin free-agent class to sort through.

Two holes in the rotation must be addressed, and three key relievers could need to be replaced. Washington hopes to have a stronger bench in 2013, which would allow him more chances to sit regulars.

But Tuesday was just the fourth day since the Rangers' season ended, and there hasn't been enough time to set a course of action for the off-season.

"This isn't a rebuild scenario or anything like that, but we're always looking to get better," Daniels said. "We're going to evaluate every possibility. "There may be some opportunities to bring some people in or promote some people from within that can help us get better, and we're going to consider all of those options."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @JeffWilson_FWST

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