Texas Rangers

An unsettling possibility accompanies Rangers to spring training

Adrian Beltre, right, and Elvis Andrus might be entering their final spring training together with the Rangers. Add Cole Hamels to that equation, too.
Adrian Beltre, right, and Elvis Andrus might be entering their final spring training together with the Rangers. Add Cole Hamels to that equation, too. AP

The countdown to report day for Texas Rangers pitchers and catchers has reached one hand — Mordecai "Three-Fingers" Brown's right hand, at that.

Wednesday is the big day, the one fans yearn for as soon as their team's season ends. Pitchers and catchers will have their first workout Thursday, and the first full-squad workout comes five days later.

Once the gang is assembled, the returning players meet the new guys. The new guys learn the Rangers way and quickly realize, if they didn't already know, that Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels and Elvis Andrus run the clubhouse.

Others have a say. Shin-Soo Choo is a respected veteran, and Robinson Chirinos has gained stature. Jake Diekman likely has, as well, after the courage he showed last season.

But no player is held in higher esteem than Beltre, no pitcher higher than Hamels, and no player on the roster has been with the Rangers longer than Andrus.

And just think, all three could be gone this time next year.

That's not the prevailing thought entering spring training, but their contractual uncertainty adds to the uncertainty surrounding the franchise.

"Obviously, a big part of our job is long-term planning, so you're constantly aware of those things and thinking about them," general manager Jon Daniels said. "But we're not going to spring training thinking about this is the last run with this group or a farewell tour. We've got a lot of work to do to prepare for this season and our goals ahead of us.

"Those are decisions we have to make and the players have to make. Those are very real, but they're not for today. Those are separate than our objectives going into camp."

The Rangers expect to win in 2018 with the group that has been assembled, and they might be the only ones thinking that way after making no major headlines in the off-season. The deals they didn't make — losing out on Shohei Ohtani and never bidding seriously for Yu Darvish — were more noteworthy than the ones they did.

The Rangers also expect to evaluate the young players they have in-house while giving the farm system another year to develop. The early forecasts call for little help coming from the minors this season and possibly into 2019.

Whether help is on the way or not, the next class of free agents is expected to include franchise-altering players. Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Clayton Kershaw potentially could be had.

That's just scratching the surface, albeit a big scratch.

Perhaps the Rangers were saving funds for next off-season by not going all-in for this one. And if the Beltre-Hamels-Andrus trio doesn't return, the Rangers will have an additional $50 million to throw around.

The Rangers have some control over Hamels. In the likely event he doesn't pitch 252 innings, the option year on his six-year contract won't automatically vest and will become a club option for $20 million or a $6 million buyout.

He expects that he will be back, and Daniels has indicated that Hamels won't be going anywhere. The assumption is that Hamels will bounce back from one of the worst seasons of his 12-year career.

"When I signed the deal, I always said it was a seven-year deal," Hamels said. "I know what it says on paper and how people perceive it, but in my head that option's already picked up. I'm going to do everything to prove them right in their reasoning to pick it up."

Andrus holds all of his cards. His contract allows him to opt out after the next two seasons, and the Rangers anticipate that he will if he posts a third consecutive quality season.

Daniels has spoken briefly with Andrus' agent, Scott Boras, about the possibility of hammering out a new deal. Boras, though, has more pressing matters, as in almost all of the top remaining free agents.

Andrus said that his decision won't be swayed by the unprecedented free-agent market this off-season.

"Every off-season is different," Andrus said. "You see a slow off-season and then the next year it's back to being aggressive."

Boras also represents Beltre, who is in the final year of his two-year contract extension. The clock is ticking loudly on the one feat Beltre has yet to achieve, winning a World Series, and on the verge of age 39, his chances are running out.

He has made his feelings known to management that he wants to play for a contender, not just this off-season but multiple times in the past. He said last season that he would have to consider accepting a trade to a contender if the Rangers were to present him with one.

However, Beltre and Daniels headed into the off-season on the same page. Daniels would try to build him a winner with the available resources, and Beltre took him at his word.

They have spoken multiple times during the off-season.

"We did talk about our acquisitions and our plans," Daniels said. "Same as always, he wants to win. That's everything that Adrian comes from. That's his natural resting position. His focus is on the here and now and putting his team in the best position to win."

Beltre can't do that from the disabled list, nor can Hamels. Their off-seasons were geared toward finding a way to stay healthy after missing significant time last season because of injury.

Andrus, meanwhile, continued to pile up games for a ninth straight season. He amassed a career-high in homers, doubles and RBIs, and suddenly opting out of his eight-year deal is a possibility.

He also likes the idea of becoming the next Michael Young, a player who is synonymous with the Rangers after playing the first 13 seasons of his career with them. Andrus can become the face of the franchise, as Young was and as Beltre is now.

It's also entirely possible that Beltre, Andrus and Hamels return for 2019. Each has fallen for the DFW area, and the Rangers have treated them right.

"I want to be here," Andrus said. "I want to retire here. Everyone knows that."

Forget trying to replace only the production. The Rangers would also have to replace three players who embody the Rangers way that players returning from 2017 have embraced and that the newcomers will.

But as a new spring camp is set to open, the uncertain futures of Beltre, Andrus and Hamels add to the uncertainty facing the Rangers in 2018 and beyond.

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