With the apparent greed of Boston's owners ending the Alex Rodriguez trade talks - though it might not really be over until A-Rod is seen in a Texas uniform on opening day - the Rangers are left with some serious work to do.
Owner Tom Hicks tried to repair some collateral damage with a letter to season-ticket holders and a pledge to put Rodriguez and manager Buck Showalter in a room so they can resolve the "friction" resulting in their no-longer-secret feud.
The Rangers' marketing people aren't going to have a real good time of it trying to sell fans on a team that admits it can't win despite having the best player in the game. Rodriguez has to try to convince people he really didn't want to leave Texas, despite his public lobbying for the trade to Boston.
But the real chore falls now to GM John Hart, who, in his final season on the job, has little financial flexibility to build a competitive team around a disgruntled superstar.
Instead of getting Manny Ramirez to fill a spot in their outfield, the Rangers signed Brian Jordan, who is nearly 37 and coming off knee surgery, and are looking at Dave Dellucci - and that's after missing out on Ben Grieve.
Rather than use the money they got from Boston to pursue a top starter such as Sidney Ponson - who is only appealing because the market is thin - the Rangers are considering the likes of Brett Tomko, Jason Johnson and, yes, again, Kenny Rogers. To boost the bullpen, they're talking about underwhelming choices Julian Tavarez or Danys Baez.
By some accounts, Hart might have as little as $3-million to spend on free agents because Hicks wants to cut the payroll to $70- to $75-million. And that's not much when they have about $60-million committed to 10 players - including more than $20-million to a certain one.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: The Dodgers will be even more desperate for offense if they're not getting Nomar Garciaparra from Boston, but it's still highly unlikely they'll part with the elite prospects necessary to get the Rays interested in trading Aubrey Huff. ... Brook Fordyce, who has a .263 career average and hit .273 with six homers in limited 2003 duty with Baltimore, might be the most appealing backup catcher left on the market. ... Even with no opening on the coaching staff, there are some whispers about a job in the organization for Don Zimmer. ... Now we know why Avon Park's Tom Gordon spurned a chance to come home and be the Rays closer for a setup role, and an extra million or so, in New York. "I've always wanted to be a Yankee," the former Royals, Red Sox, Cubs, Astros and White Sox pitcher said. ... One potential closer who remains available in trade is Rocky Biddle, whose $1.5- to $2-million arbitration number is too much for the Expos. Biddle had 34 saves, but a 4.65 ERA and a whopping 117 baserunners allowed in 712/3 innings. ... The need for additional roster space soon could lead to some interesting decisions on pitchers Matt White and Bobby Seay, who received huge signing bonuses (a record $10.2-million for White, $3-million for Seay) and have yet to make it.
GENTLE BEN: His three-year stay in Tampa Bay mercifully over, Grieve will take his mysteriously declining career to Milwaukee, where he'll try to play rightfield. The Brewers gave him a roster spot, but wouldn't guarantee his $700,000 contract and didn't exactly give him a ringing endorsement.
"We looked at legitimate outfielders on the market but they weren't in our price range, or they wanted to go somewhere else," GM Doug Melvin said. "We're gambling a little bit, but the other guys were looking for guaranteed money."
Melvin deserves some credit for at least being realistic about what they were getting.
"It's a little bit of a gut feeling," Melvin told Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel. "He has been too good of a hitter in the past. He has been working out in Texas and has fully recovered from the rib (problem that required surgery and cut short his 2003 season). Some other clubs were after him so we agreed to put him on our roster."
X-RAYS REPORT: Al Martin had to go a long way to find a job, signing with the LG Twins to become the first active major-leaguer to join the Korean league. Martin, according to the Korea Times, will get a $100,000 bonus, a $100,000 salary and incentives and is expected to play the outfield and bat cleanup. ... Having declined his portion of a $2.5-million mutual option with the Rays to seek a longer and better deal elsewhere, first baseman Travis Lee might be down to a platoon job with the Angels or a backup role with the Yankees. ... Rey Ordonez might end up in Detroit.
FISH FRY: It has been a tough offseason for the Marlins. They've lost Ivan Rodriguez, Ugueth Urbina, Derrek Lee, Juan Encarnacion and Braden Looper off their championship club. And they've seen their best hope for a new home come down to a reconstructed, or possibly just renovated, open-air stadium at the congested site of the Orange Bowl shared with the University of Miami football team.
MISCELLANY: The Phillies have an upgraded roster, sparkling new spring and regular-season stadiums, and legitimate postseason aspirations, but their upbeat winter has been marred by a nasty public spat between broadcasters Harry Kalas and Chris Wheeler. ... The Orioles have Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez and might yet land Vladimir Guerrero (though the slow pace of talks could mean he's waiting for the Marlins or Dodgers), but they still have a rotation that might be led by Omar Daal. ... What does a little success mean? The Royals say 95 percent of their 7,400 season-ticket holders renewed before the holidays, and they've sold almost 1,000 more.
- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.