Rangers staring at some looming questions

ARLINGTON, Texas – Texas Rangers players were hard to find during Saturday’s media availability at Rangers Ballpark.

But what could Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams, Joe Nathan or Luis Martinez say about a season that had so much hope only to end with a massive collapse that hadn’t already been said?

The sting of the 2012 season won’t be something that’s easy for the Rangers to digest.

“It’s kind of beginning to hit me,” said Ogando. “Whatever happened happened, and I’m going to continue to go forward and we’ll try and get it together for next year.”

Next year for the Rangers each of the last two seasons hadn’t come until after the World Series. That’s not the case now, though, after Friday’s 5-1 loss to Baltimore in the American League wild-card game. It ended a season in which the Rangers had the best record in the AL for most of the season and seemed like a lock to win the AL West for a third consecutive year up until the final day of the season.

Now, the club has to try to pick up the pieces, figure out what went wrong and piece together a roster to be a playoff contender again next year in what figures to be a stacked West.

The roster makeup is the key. Josh Hamilton, a Most Valuable Player frontrunner for the first half of the season, is likely gone. While he said after his 0-for-4 night Friday that the chances of his returning to Texas next year are 50-50, that number is way high.

As good as Hamilton is, the distractions that surround him aren’t worth the headache of the money that it will cost for the club to sign him on the free-agent market. Texas must now figure out how to replace his bat while possibly losing others.

That could mean going outside through trades or free agency. But before that, the Rangers have to figure out what to do with their current roster.

Catcher Mike Napoli had a subpar season and said he would be happy to return to Texas. But what will he cost on the open market, and how do you set the price for Napoli? Is he the 2012 Napoli who hit just .227 and struggled to throw out baserunners, or is he the 2011 Napoli who hit .320 and was one of the team’s best clutch players?

The Rangers also have to find a spot for Michael Young, who had his most disappointing offensive season in a decade. Can they take the arbitration hit they’ll be dealt by David Murphy, who’s going get a nice raise after hitting .305?

If Napoli leaves, what happens with Geovany Soto, who didn’t hit .200 with the Rangers after being acquired at the trade deadline?

The club also has to see if Jurickson Profar is ready to play in Arlington and, if so, where. And Mike Olt, too. Is Mitch Moreland expendable at first? Where do you bat Ian Kinsler in the order after his erratic season at the plate?

And then there’s the pitching. Despite losing two starters for the season, Texas still got 72 victories from its rotation and a 3.33 ERA from its bullpen.

“We’ve got a lot of things to look forward to and reflect back on a good year we had,” said pitching coach Mike Maddux. “I think we’re a better team for what happened. We can’t take anything for granted. We kind of ran into a stretch where maybe we were the better team but we weren’t the best team that day.”

The 1-2 starting punch of Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison gives you hope. But Derek Holland never became the consistent starter the Rangers were hoping for, and Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz won’t be back until next summer because of surgery.

Ryan Dempster is a free agent, and he did nothing in his 12 starts with the Rangers to make signing him a priority. Ogando said he wants to start again, and that would make fiscal sense. The Rangers also have to find out if Martin Perez is ready to be a big-league starter.

The bullpen will have some key pieces returning in 2013. Closer Nathan will be back. Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross, too. But if Ogando isn’t in the bullpen, how do you make up for the loss of free agent Koji Uehara?

It would be easier if Adams returns, but he’s a free agent and staring at surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome in the next couple of weeks. The Texas native didn’t make it sound like the Rangers are the frontrunner for his services either.

“Best deal for me and my family,” Adams said Saturday. “This is my first opportunity at free agency. It might be my last. I’m going to take full advantage of it. This is strictly business and what’s going to best for me and my family.”

The roster might not be the only thing that changes next season. While some want to point the fingers for the slide at manager Ron Washington, he’s not going anywhere. The Rangers made the postseason three consecutive years under him. Sure, he should shoulder some of the blame for the fall, but there’s plenty to go around.

Texas pitched well enough to still be in the postseason. It didn’t hit well enough, though. Does that signal the end for hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh? This is the same team that’s had four hitting coaches since 2008, so the job was tenuous at best before the Rangers became a nightmare of a situational-hitting team.

So the Rangers have a lot of things to figure out before pitchers and catchers report in February. Maybe that’s the silver lining for a season gone so bad. They have an extra month to try put a team together.