Rangers expected to be big buyers as free agency opens

The final out of the World Series on Wednesday set off a massive celebration at Fenway Park and across Boston, and also marked the opening of the free-agent market.

Nearly 150 players have filed for free agency, with more to come, and they have a five-day exclusive window to work out a deal with their 2013 clubs. Once Tuesday arrives, free agents will be allowed to negotiate with any team for a 2014 contract and beyond.

Some will sign quickly, and some might have to wait until spring training. Most, or so it will seem, will be linked to the Texas Rangers in various tweets and blog posts.

Many, including the top prize, already have been.

But don’t look for the Rangers to be a player on Robinson Cano, the Jay-Z client who is seeking $300 million, even though the left-handed power hitter would look pretty nice batting third and dumping homer after homer into the right-field seats at Rangers Ballpark.

Another star up for grabs this off-season is Jacoby Ellsbury, but he isn’t an easy fit on a Rangers team that believes it has found its center fielder in Leonys Martin.

The Rangers, though, will be active in free agency. General manager Jon Daniels, other club executives, and the Rangers’ fleet of scouts have spent the past month evaluating the market and targeting the players they want.

“That’s obviously a huge part of our process, and probably the most important part,” Daniels said. “We’ll be ready when it opens up.”

The race is under way. Here’s a look at the top players the Rangers could pursue.

Brian McCann, C

One of the top free agents, the seven-time All-Star for Atlanta is a left-handed power hitter and is considered a quality receiver. His throwing is generally considered below the league average, though teams haven’t run wild against him. McCann will turn 30 in February, but he has caught fewer games each of the past three years. He caught only 92 games in 2013 after starting the season on the disabled list. Both of the Rangers’ catchers in 2013, A.J. Pierzynski and Geovany Soto, are free agents.

Shin-Soo Choo, OF

The Rangers don’t have a hitter like this 31-year-old, who has a career .389 on-base percentage and has hit 20 homers four of the past five seasons. Choo, who had a .423 OBP in 2013, has been a Rangers trade target in the past. Though the native of South Korea played primarily center field in 2013 and has extensive time in right field, Choo has experience in left field. That’s the one outfield position where the Rangers have a need.

Nelson Cruz, OF

The Rangers will make a one-year qualifying offer to Cruz for $14.1 million, but he has said that he wants to cash in on his first and possibly last shot as a top free agent. Both sides have said that they don’t want to part, and negotiations can continue if Cruz turns down the qualifying offer. Clouding his first time on the market is his admission to using performance-enhancing drugs. But several teams need power bats, and that includes the Rangers.

Joe Nathan, RHP

The $9 million club option the Rangers hold on Nathan is essentially meaningless. If they pick it up, a decision they have to make by Saturday, he can void it after meeting a games-finished threshold in the two guaranteed years of his deal. He is expected to do so to gain leverage for a multiyear deal. Nathan has said that he wants to return to the Rangers after saving 80 games for them the past two seasons. The Rangers don’t like to hand out big dollars for closers, especially for one who turns 39 on Nov. 22.

Matt Garza, RHP

The Rangers tried to acquire this right-hander before the 2011 season and again during the 2012 season before finally landing him in July. He didn’t pitch like the pitcher they had coveted, which is one reason why some in the organization want him back. That group believes that they saw the worst of Garza and will see the best over the terms of his next contract. Health woes the past two seasons could limit him to a four-year contract instead of five. For a team that has seen its starting rotation sacked by injuries the past two season, the Rangers should try to keep Garza.

Carlos Beltran, OF

This aging All-Star could prove to be what the Rangers thought they would get out of Lance Berkman, possibly at the same cost. Both are switch-hitters with power. But Beltran, who will turn 37 early next season, isn’t coming off a season in which he had two operations on his right knee. Instead, he posted a .296/.339/.491 slash line with 24 homers and 84 RBIs. A two-year deal might get the job done, but either he or Alex Rios would have to learn how to play left field.

Kendrys Morales, DH

The lead-footed Morales would be a base-clogger in the middle of a lineup that likes to run, but he hits with power from both sides and has a .504 career slugging percentage at Rangers Ballpark. There would also be no mistaking his role — designated hitter with a game or two a week at first base. He played there 31 times in 2013 for Seattle, where he has said he would like to return. The Rangers asked about his availability ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, but were turned off by the Mariners’ high demands in return.

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