Nolan Ryan: Signing GM is a top priority

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Team president Nolan Ryan said that a contract extension for general manager Jon Daniels is a top priority for the Texas Rangers heading into spring training.

"I would expect that to be done before spring training," Ryan said. "If he hadn't been on vacation for the last 10 days, we probably would have been much further along on that. It's hard for me to predict what timeline we're dealing with, but it's going to be a priority these next couple of weeks."

Daniels is starting the final season of his current contract, and the club has talked since late last season about extending him. CEO Chuck Greenberg said last weekend that it was put off because of the busy offseason.

Pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Ariz., on Feb. 16.

The Rangers still have three arbitration-eligible players who haven't signed: AL MVP Josh Hamilton and relievers Frank Francisco and Darren O'Day. All sides have exchanged figures, and they're not far apart.

The biggest gap is for Hamilton, who asked for $12 million. The Rangers offered $8.7 million.

Ryan said he'd like to add another veteran bat for the bench and an experienced starter, but that nothing is imminent.

"I wouldn't say there's anything on the horizon, but I wouldn't say, too, that we're done because there could be something that comes up," Ryan said. "Any opportunity we have to improve the ballclub that we could do, we'll certainly look at.

"It's always nice to have a veteran bat on the bench. I just think it gives you an opportunity in games when you don't like the matchup that you have to utilize someone like that. I don't know if that person is out there."

Ryan said the idea of a player coming in and taking a bunch of at-bats in a starting capacity, like DH for example, is unlikely. The Rangers tried hard to get Jim Thome, who would have required more at-bats and created some ripple effects with Michael Young possibly playing first base or even other moves.

Thome eventually signed with the Minnesota Twins. But could those ripple effects rule out the return of Vladimir Guerrero or even the Rangers' interest in free agent Manny Ramirez?

"I can't imagine Guerrero wanting to play that role on a ballclub after the year he had last year and the number of at-bats he had," Ryan said. "As far as Manny's concerned, I don't really know what he's looking to do as far as this year and the number of at-bats he's getting, but I'd have to think that both of those individuals would be looking to get more at-bats and play more on a day-to-day basis."

Whatever the case, the Rangers expect contract talks -- including possible long-term deals for existing players -- to heat up with the start of spring training.

"It's that third dimension that can put it over the top," assistant manager Thad Levine said. "The club is around the player and is reminded of why they starting negotiating a long-term deal in the first place. And the player is around the club and is reminded of why he likes it at a certain place. Things have a tendency to cross the finish line at spring training."

There are some candidates for long-term deals. C.J. Wilson, who just signed a one-year deal for $7 million, becomes a free agent after 2011. Hamilton's final arbitration season is 2012, making him a free agent in two short years. Nelson Cruz, who also just signed a one-year deal for $3.65 million, comes up after that. As does other core players, including Elvis Andrus.

"We've talked about keeping that core together, and we have a group of players we want to see here for a long time," Levine said. "But if that doesn't happen this spring, that doesn't mean it won't happen."

Richard Durrett covers the Rangers for ESPNDallas.com.