Rangers see dramatic identity shift

A rival executive, assessing the Texas Rangers on Monday, said, “They’re going to overpay Hamilton or they’re going to overpay ‘KT.’”

That’s Hamilton as in free-agent outfielder Josh Hamilton. And that’s “KT” as in Arizona general manager Kevin Towers, who is dangling right fielder Justin Upton, a hitter whom the Rangers covet maybe even more than Hamilton.

The Rangers likely will end up with one or the other. They could even end up with both, and still add a bullpen piece, a starting pitcher and maybe free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

Even free-agent right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who earlier this offseason sought a six-year, $90 million contract, according to FOXSports.com’s Jon Paul Morosi, is on the Rangers’ radar.

One source with knowledge of the team’s thinking described Sanchez as “a longshot but a consideration,” saying the team is more likely to target short-term, low-dollar free agents.

Such conversation, while essential to the evolution of the Rangers’ 2013 roster, almost misses the point.

The one-strike-away Rangers, the Rangers that won American League titles in 2010 and ’11, are gone.

The team is undergoing a dramatic change in identity. The 2013 Rangers will be talented, maybe the most talented Texas team yet. But will they have the same soul?

Third baseman Michael Young, traded to Philadelphia, was the Rangers’ unquestioned leader, their Derek Jeter.

Catcher-first baseman Mike Napoli, off to Boston as a free agent, is a blood-and-guts veteran who played Game 7 of the 2011 World Series with a painful ankle injury.

Hamilton, possibly the next to go, is a guy who, for all his past troubles and odd maladies, hit a career-high 43 homers last season.

The departures of Young and Napoli alone will leave the Rangers with a different personality. The loss of Hamilton further would alter the lineup, no matter how the Rangers replaced him.

Third baseman Adrian Beltre, a revered teammate and fierce competitor, likely will be the Rangers’ new linchpin, and he’s as tough and determined as Young and Napoli.

Pierzynski, a warrior in his own right, is a possible free-agent target, sources say. He would be a good fit, reducing catcher Geovany Soto to a backup, balancing the lineup with another left-handed bat.

Still, we’re talking about a lot of change.

Second baseman Ian Kinsler could move to first, first baseman Mitch Moreland could move to DH and two youngsters, second baseman Jurickson Profar and center fielder Leonys Martin, could play up-the-middle positions.

Kinsler, sources say, is not thrilled with the idea of changing positions less than a year after signing a five-year, $75 million contract extension. But he publicly has said that he will play wherever the team wants him.

If the Rangers traded shortstop Elvis Andrus for Upton — something they’ve insisted they will not do — then Profar could play short and Kinsler could remain at second.

In any case, general manager Jon Daniels says the team is not yet committed to moving Kinsler.

“We’re considering a number of options, and that’s one of them,” Daniels said. “Nothing is set in stone. We’re looking to get the most out of our roster, as well as the right potential fits from the outside.”

Upton remains the main outside target, sources say. The Rangers, however, lost one multi-team option Sunday night when Tampa Bay made its big trade with Kansas City, sending right-hander James Shields to the Royals.

Shields would have gone to Arizona in some Upton scenarios, yet other possibilities remain. A three-team deal between the Rangers, Diamondbacks and Indians was “very close” at the winter meetings, according to one official involved with the discussions.

The foundation of such a deal would have been Upton to Texas, Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to Arizona and prospects — perhaps third baseman Mike Olt from Texas and either lefty Patrick Corbin or righty Trevor Bauer from Arizona — to Cleveland.

The talks stalled, however, perhaps over the Rangers’ need to satisfy the Diamondbacks with additional pieces. While the teams continue to exchange ideas, the official said he was not optimistic that an agreement would be reached.

Daniels, though, is pushing so hard for Upton, he eventually figures to get his man. Do that, re-sign Hamilton and add Pierzynski, and the lineup might look like this:

1B Kinsler, R

SS Elvis Andrus, R

LF Hamilton, L

3B Beltre, R

C Pierzynski, L

RF Upton, R

DH Mitch Moreland, L

2B Profar, S

CF Martin, L

(Nelson Cruz, entering his free-agent year, likely would be traded if the Rangers landed both Upton and Hamilton. The need for Hamilton and/or Pierzynski would appear obvious; the rest of the lineup would be predominantly right-handed.)

Pitching, you ask? Good question.

The Rangers, who struck out on free-agent right-hander Zack Greinke and failed to trade for Shields, clearly desire a top-of-the-rotation presence — that is why they are at least considering Sanchez.

A trade for New York Mets right-hander R.A. Dickey is unlikely, sources say, and the Rangers might simply aim lower, seeking a fifth starter who would be an upgrade over lefty Martin Perez — say, someone like Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Chris Capuano.

Another option is to load up the bullpen, which initially will be without two righties who are recovering from Tommy John surgery — Joakim Soria, who could return in May, and Neftali Feliz, who is out until at least the end of July.

One way or another, the Rangers are going to be good. They’re also going to be different. Whether they end up better remains to be seen.