Rangers sign Guardado, Wright
Texas secures pitching depth with veteran closer, reliever
ARLINGTON -- Left-hander Eddie Guardado is on board and Jamey Wright is coming back. The Rangers bullpen will be full of competition and intrigue when pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Ariz., on Feb. 14.The Rangers officially announced the signing of Guardado to a one-year contract on Friday, while Wright agreed to a Minor League contract with a non-roster invitation to Spring Training. The Rangers are also close on a one-year contract with right-hander Jason Jennings, who would go into camp as a leading candidate to join the five-man starting rotation. That deal could be announced early next week. Guardado will compete with left-hander C.J. Wilson for the job of closer, while Wright joins a growing list of pitchers who will compete for three open spots in middle relief. Guardado and Wilson will be on the team -- it's just a matter of deciding who will be the ninth-inning closer and who will be the late-inning left-handed setup reliever. Guardado agreed to a $2 million base salary with another $4 million available in incentives. That includes $2.5 million for games finished, which is a category used mainly for closers. Eric Gagne's incentives last year were based on games finished. "A left-handed closer in our ballpark is desirable," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "Where we are headed as an organization, there is value having one of our own guys like C.J. in that role. But we don't want to just hand a job to our young guys. We want them to earn it and it always helps to set the bar high by bringing in guys who have had success in that role." Daniels said the most important thing was to add a veteran late-inning presence to the bullpen. Rangers relievers were 33-22 with a 3.69 ERA, good for fifth-best in the Major Leagues and second lowest for the club since 1991. Gagne, Akinori Otsuka and Ron Mahay were all a big part of that and are no longer with the club. The Rangers are hoping they can replace their experience with Guardado and Japanese right-hander Kazuo Fukumori. "We were looking for guys who had some experience, guys with a different look with versatility and experience," Daniels said. "Eddie provides all of that. He's pitched in the American League and had a great deal of success both in the setup and closer's role. He's regarded throughout baseball as one of the better competitors and teammates in the game. "If it turns out that we give C.J. the job -- he pitched well at the end of last year -- then Eddie can contribute in other ways, whether it's in setup or closing on nights when C.J. is not available. We're not making that decision now. That's for the end of March."
Guardado, 37, is a two-time All-Star closer who had 140 saves from 2002-05 -- including a league-leading 45 in 2002 -- and 183 in his career. Guardado said he is willing to do whatever the Rangers ask him, but made it clear -- just like Wilson has -- that he prefers to close."I love it," Guardado said. "I love closing. Pitching the seventh and eighth inning is great, but there is something about the ninth that's unbelievable. I enjoy it. "I like competition, but I don't compete against my teammates. C.J. Wilson is my teammate. I go into Spring Training getting ready for 162 games of Texas Rangers baseball. I compete against the other guys. If C.J. is the closer, I'm still going to be there. I'm going to be ready to pitch whether it's the eighth or ninth inning." Guardado's last big year was in 2005 when he had 36 saves for the Mariners. He had five for the Mariners in 2006 before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds on July 6. He pitched in 15 games for the Reds before undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery on Sept 8. He was sidelined for 11 months and did not pitch again in the Majors until Aug. 9 of last season. He had a 7.24 ERA in 15 games but allowed just one earned run in his last 9 2/3 innings, and Daniels said the Rangers were "comfortable" with Guardado's physical health. "It was a long year last year," Guardado said. "I got back in August and I got hit around a little bit -- well, I was hit around a lot -- and that wasn't very fun. I started thinking, 'What am I doing out here?' But everybody told me that the last thing to come was my pinpoint control and that's what happened. It clicked in September and I had a very good September. "My track record speaks for itself. I love pitching and I love competing. If not, I wouldn't still be pitching. I don't have anything to prove to anybody but myself and I want to prove to myself that I can still pitch at a high level." Guardado and Wilson are expected to hold down two spots in the Rangers' seven-man bullpen. Fukumori and right-hander Joaquin Benoit also have two spots locked up, according to Daniels. Fukumori is coming off elbow surgery but is expected to be ready for Spring Training. That leaves three spots open. Right-hander Frank Francisco, who was 1-1 with a 4.55 ERA in 59 games for the Rangers last season, has the inside track on one job, but is not a lock. Other candidates include right-handers Wes Littleton, Scott Feldman, Josh Rupe, Kameron Loe, Robinson Tejeda and Jason Davis and left-hander John Rheinecker. The Rangers released left-hander Bill White earlier this week, but he has cleared waivers, and the club is trying to re-sign him to a Minor League contract. Wright officially joined the competition on Friday when he agreed to a Minor League contract. After spending almost his entire career as a starter and making 246 Major League starts, Wright moved to the bullpen for the final two months of the season and had a 2.05 ERA in 11 appearances. "We've talked to Jamey and he feels comfortable in that role," Daniels said. "He is a big, strong, durable guy and he performed well in that role." The Rangers also signed catcher Adam Melhuse to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. He'll be one of six catchers in camp along with Gerald Laird, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Chris Stewart, Max Ramirez and Taylor Teagarden.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.