November is a month in which Americans pause to reflect on the many things they are thankful for. I’ll pause for a moment and kick off Thanksgiving by submitting my own thanks:

1) It’s November 8th, and I am just now writing an offseason preview; and
2) This is very difficult to do.

I suppose bloggers covering other teams may have begun drafting their own wish lists two months ago. They may have scoured the list of available free agents and dreamed about which players could put their team over the top.

Thankfully, the Rangers season lasted until the very last possible game. Thankfully, there are couple of free agents who would represent an upgrade over the current player.

Still, Jon Daniels will have to do what he can to improve the team. It will be difficult to improve a roster loaded with front-line talent. According to Fan Graphs Wins Above Replacement, the Rangers led baseball with a combined total of 60.6.

Daniels has been vocal about his intent to keep the core of this team together. The Rangers had a relatively low payroll of $92,124,290 in 2011, and have payroll obligations of only $67,450,000 for 2012. However, there are several players due raises through arbitration (projections from MLB Trade Rumors) :

Name Position FA Class 2011 Salary 2012 Salary Proj.
Mike Napoli C Arb 4 $5.8 M $9.2 M
Nelson Cruz RF Arb 2 $3.6 M $5.7 M
Mike Adams RP Arb 3 $2.5 M $4.5 M
David Murphy OF Arb 2 $2.4 M $3.2 M
Elvis Andrus SS Arb 1 $0.4 M $2.9 M
Matt Harrison SP Arb 1 $0.4 M $2.9 M
Mark Lowe RP Arb 3 $1.2 M $1.6 M

Attempting to retain a talented roster is a great problem to have, but there is still work to do. This month, my bountiful thanks will give way to a short Christmas list. Daniels could make a big splash when players, agents, and front office personnel descend upon the Dallas Hilton Anatole for this year’s Winter Meetings. Here are some ideas:

Prince / Albert

The Rangers will in all likelihood go with rookie Leonys Martin in centerfield next season. Doing so would leave the Rangers with a premier player at every position but centerfield and first base. The only position they could reasonably expect to improve would be at first. Signing Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols would be expensive, but it’s doubtful that any addition would deliver as much bang for the buck as would an elite first baseman.

Prediction: Rangers sign Fielder

Starting Pitching

While the Rangers would love to have C.J. Wilson back, it probably won’t make financial sense. Yankees GM Brian Cashman contacted Wilson’s agent over the weekend and you can bet that Texas will be outbid. In all likelihood, Daniels will have to explore other options. Yu Darvish could be an expensive alternative.  While I’m weary of Mark Buehrle, there could be opportunities on the trade market. It’s easy to think of the typical names like John Danks, Matt Garza, and James Shields, but the Rangers could end up pulling off a blockbuster for an unexpected name like Ricky Romero or Johnny Cueto.

Prediction: Wilson walks; Rangers trade for Danks

Relief Pitching

If Neftali Feliz moves to the rotation, the Rangers will probably have to replace him externally. Mike Adams doesn’t appear to be ready for the job, and Koji Uehara could be dealt. Daniels seems to dislike the thought of paying top dollars for a reliever, so Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell could be off the table. Daniels does have a tendency to take chances on injured former stars, and it could be worth rolling the dice on Jonathan Broxton or Joe Nathan. If either fails to return to form, or if Tanner Scheppers steps up, adjustments could be made during the season.

Prediction: Rangers sign Joe Nathan