BY:  Richard W. Humphrey

There are just eight days remaining until the January 18 deadline for the Rangers to sign Yu Darvish, the standout Japanese pitcher.  Texas gained the exclusive negotiating rights for Darvish’s services with a posting bid of $51,703,411.  Darvish quietly was in town last week to get a feel for the area, but departed about as soon as the local media realized he was here.

Subsequent reports about the negotiations indicate a considerable gulf between the parties.  The Rangers reportedly have offered “Dice-K money”.  Daisuke Matsuzaka received a six year contract at $52 million, when he signed with the Red Sox five years ago.  The Rangers’ offer is supposedly in the same range, but perhaps for just five years.  The Dallas Morning News reported this past weekend that Darvish is seeking a five year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of around $20 million.  That would place the parties approximately $50 million apart.

The Rangers are apparently paralyzed until the Darvish situation is concluded.  Left-handed reliever Darren Oliver has moved on to Toronto with a $4.5 million deal.  Texas supposedly never even made a formal offer, and was not willing to match or even come close to matching Toronto’s bid.  His departure leaves the Rangers’ bullpen without a left-handed specialist.

With just five or six weeks remaining until the start of spring training, Prince Fielder is still unsigned and apparently not even in serious negotiations.  The same old rumors continue to float around that Toronto, Seattle and Washington are interested, and that the Rangers may be close behind, especially if the Darvish negotiations crater.  Fielder’s agent Scott Boras is said to be holding out for a 10 year deal with an AAV of more than $20 million.  If such an offer was going to happen, it probably would have by now.  The big market teams are not in on Fielder.  The Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies have first basemen committed to big contracts, and are sitting out the winter free agent market in preparation of the coming luxury tax increases.  The Mets and Dodgers have ownership in disarray, and won’t be players for anyone of consequence until those ownership issues are settled.  The Angels signed Albert Pujols.  The White Sox and Cubs are in re-building mode.  It will be interesting to see if a team like the Nationals bails out Boras with an insane offer.  As for the Rangers, if Darvish does not sign, the Rangers could be looking to make a notable signing just to keep up with the Joneses, after the Angels signed Pujols and C. J. Wilson.

Meanwhile, the Rangers ideas about locking up some of their key players to longer term contracts appear to be falling apart.  Already, the possible extensions for Mike Napoli and Derek Holland have been tabled.  The parties are simply too far apart to proceed.  That’s for sure a disappointing development for Ranger fans.  Also, the price to play poker just went up for extending second baseman Ian Kinsler.  Last weekend, the Angels extended their second baseman, Howie Kendrick with a contract that averages $8.375 million per season.  Kinsler is scheduled to make $7 million this year, and the team has an option for 2013.  He is considered a superior second baseman both offensively and defensively when compared to Kendrick, such that Kinsler will now certainly command a contract with a larger AAV than he would have last week.  The other Ranger most likely to be considered for an extension is Josh Hamilton, who can be a free agent after the 2012 season.  There is no recent word as to any progress on extending Hamilton.

MINOR MATTERS: Texas traded first baseman Chad Tracy to the Rockies last week for pitcher Greg Reynolds.  Tracy hit .259 with 26 home runs and 109 RBIs last season in 134 games at AAA Round Rock.  He was a third round pick of the Rangers in the 2006 draft.  Initially drafted as a catcher, an arm injury has moved him to first base/DH.  He is also the son of Rockies’ manager Jim Tracy.

Reynolds was drafted by the Rockies in the same draft with the second pick in the first round.  He made three starts and 10 relief appearances for Colorado last season, going 3-0 with a 6.19 ERA.  He was 6-7, 6.81 in 19 starts at AAA Colorado Springs.

For both players the trade represents a fresh start in a new organization, which both mercifully need.

RANGER SHORTS:  Eric Nadel has been named by the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association as the Texas Sportscaster of the Year for 2011.  Nadel has now won the award seven times including the past three years in a row….Former slugger for the Dodgers and Senators/Rangers Frank Howard will be the keynote speaker at this weekend’s Rangers’ awards banquet at the Arlington Convention Center.  Howard hit the first home run in Ranger history in the initial Ranger game at Arlington Stadium in 1972.



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