Pudge rejoins Rangers for chance to win
Rodriguez, 14-time All-Star, willing to be a backup
ARLINGTON -- Ivan Rodriguez said he is a winner. He said all he wants to do is win and he believes the Rangers have a chance to do just that.That ultimately led him to accept a trade that brings him back to where his likely Hall of Fame career began, even if it is as a backup catcher for the first time. That's the situation Rodriguez finds himself after the Rangers acquired him from the Houston Astros for two Minor League players on Tuesday. Rodriguez, who played for the Rangers in 1991-2002 and remains one of their most popular players, was in uniform for Tuesday night's game against the Twins but was not in the starting lineup. Rodriguez said he is willing to accept his role as backup catcher behind Taylor Teagarden on a team that went into Tuesday's game leading the American League Wild Card race. Rodriguez spoke with both general manager Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington by phone before waiving a no-trade clause and understands that he is now a reserve player. "I understand the way the team is playing and I don't want to break that up," Rodriguez said after driving up from Arlington in time for Tuesday's game. "They're playing well. Ron and I talked about me playing two-three times a week, and that's fine with me. All that matters is winning." The Rangers acquired Rodriguez for Minor League pitcher Matt Nevarez and a player to be named. Infielder Jose Vallejo, who is on the 40-man roster, is believed to be the second player but must clear trade waivers. The Astros will get a third player in the deal if the Rangers make the playoffs. Catcher Kevin Richardson was designated for assignment to make room for Rodriguez. Rodriguez made his first appearance on Tuesday night when he brought the lineup card out to home plate and got a big ovation from the crowd. He is expected to be in the starting lineup either Wednesday or Thursday. "You always want to come back where you started," Rodriguez said. "It has been a long time. This would be a great place to finish my career. I'm very excited to be back." The deal came down Tuesday when the Rangers found out that catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia has Thoracic Outlet Syndrome that is causing pain and numbness in his right arm. Saltalamacchia is on the disabled list and is out until at least September. "With Salty having shoulder issues and the position we're in as far as the pennant race, we wanted a veteran who gives a protection until Salty gets back," Daniels said. "Pudge's name certainly jumped out among the three or four guys we checked on." The Rangers also talked with the Royals about John Buck and the Padres about Henry Blanco. But Rodriguez was their first choice among those they targeted. Rodriguez played 12 seasons with the Rangers, winning 10 Gold Gloves, playing in 10 All-Star Games and being named the American League's Most Valuable Player in '99. He was a huge part of the division championship teams '96 and '98-99. He left as a free agent after the '02 season but remains in the Rangers' top 10 in just about every offensive category. "I didn't have the benefit of being here the first time he was here," Daniels said. "But he was one of the greatest players to ever put on the Rangers uniform and the greatest position player. Next to Nolan Ryan, he's one of the biggest icons we've ever had. "But that's not why we acquired him. He's here because we needed a catcher and he's the best one we could get. We like what he can contribute." The Rangers believe Saltalamacchia has a mild form of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. The condition can either lead to a rib pressing against a blood vessel or a nerve. If it's a blood vessel, it can lead to surgery as in the past cases of Hank Blalock two years ago or Matt Harrison earlier this season. If it's just the nerve, then it's possible it could be dealt with through rest and treatment, and without surgery. The Rangers are hoping that's the case with Saltalamacchia and he can be ready to go in September. Surgery would sideline him for two-three months. "I've worked too hard to miss the playoffs," Saltalamacchia said. "Not every case [of Thoracic Outlet Syndrome] has to have surgery. It's not like I am damaging it by playing through this. I plan on catching. It's just a question how much." If Saltalamacchia does come back, the Rangers will have three frontline catchers capable of playing every day and looking for playing time. "I hope that's the case," Daniels said. "Winning smoothes things out. The bottom line is all three want to win and will do what they can do. Right now, Taylor is the starter. It's not a quarterback controversy. It is strengthening a spot after injury." It is also adding one of the greatest catchers in the history and certainly the most prolific. Rodriguez, while with the Astros, set a Major League record earlier this year when he played in his 2,227th game as a catcher, passing Carlton Fisk on the all-time list. That took place during Interleague Play while the Astros were playing the Rangers in Arlington. Rodriguez has played in 14 All-Star Games and won 13 Gold Gloves, most by a catcher and tied for the fourth most at any position. He also has more runs, hits and doubles than any other catcher in Major League history. "The most important thing I bring is experience," Rodriguez said. "I want to talk to the other catchers and pitchers, get to know them. I see this ballclub having a great future. I've been watching the Rangers the last two or three weeks. They are on TV all the time. They are playing very well, and I want to contribute to this and bring the Rangers back to the playoffs. With my help, I think we can make it." Rodriguez doesn't believe his career is over. He is not coming to Arlington for one final curtain call. Rodriguez is not planning to retire after this season or anytime soon. "There is still a lot in me," Rodriguez said. "I love what I do and I love the game of baseball. When you love a game, you want to play it a long time. Physically and mentally, I feel great. I want to play two or three more years."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.