Rangers' 'pen bolstered on two fronts
Tateyama lured from Japan; Francisco accepts arbitration
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have added depth and possibly some intrigue to their bullpen by signing right-handed reliever Yoshinori Tateyama, who has spent the past 12 years pitching in the Japanese Major Leagues.Tateyama gives the Rangers another option in the setup role should they decide to move either Neftali Feliz or Alexi Ogando into the starting rotation. The Rangers will also have right-handed reliever Frank Francisco back, as his agent as informed the club that he is ready to accept arbitration. Tateyama and Francisco join Darren O'Day, Mark Lowe and Ogando as the Rangers' primary relief candidates behind Feliz, who saved 40 games last year as the closer. But the club continues to deliberate the possibility of moving Feliz to the rotation. Right now, the Rangers plan on using Feliz as closer but that could change if they can't re-sign Cliff Lee. "Neftali did a tremendous job," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "We have a great comfort zone with him in that role. If we had to line up today, he would be back there. But we have the ability to look at a variety of options." Both Feliz and Ogando will be stretched out as starters in Spring Training. The Rangers did that with a number of pitchers in Spring Training this past year and will do it again next season as well. "We did that with a lot of pitchers and liked the result," Daniels said. "I wouldn't read too much into it. It still gives them a chance to stretch out, build up arm strength and work on things they wouldn't otherwise have a chance to do during the regular season." Tateyama, who turns 35 on Dec. 26, is not the classic power pitcher the Rangers like in the back of the bullpen. Instead, he is similar to O'Day, who throws sidearm and has gone 8-3 with a 1.94 ERA in 140 relief appearances with the Rangers over the past two seasons. Tateyama, who was recommended by Rangers scout Hajime Watabe, pitched in 58 games for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2010, going 1-2 with a 1.80 ERA and four saves. Opponents hit .212 off him in 55 innings, including .186 by right-handers. He walked 11 and struck out 59. He has a career ERA of 3.43 over 438 innings, all with the Fighters, who are based in the northern city of Hokkaido. Tateyama was a member of the Fighters in 2006, when they won the Japan League championship. "He has a sidearm delivery, but it's not quite as low as O'Day," Daniels said. "We have a good feel for what he is. He is a quality reliever with a great makeup who throws the ball over the plate with a deceptive delivery. He throws strikes. "We're always looking for power guys, especially in the back of the bullpen, but it's good to have different looks who come at you in different ways. We want to have as many quality options down there as we can." He would be the fourth Japanese player to play for the Rangers. The others were all right-handed pitchers: Hideki Irabu, Akinori Otsuka and Kazuo Fukumori. The Rangers signed Fukumori under similar circumstances in 2008, but he turned out to be a bust. He pitched in just four games for the Rangers and allowed nine runs in four innings. The Rangers insist this is not a comparable signing. Under the leadership of Jim Colborn, their chief scout in the Pacific Rim, as well as player personnel director A.J. Preller, pro scouting director Josh Boyd and Japan scout Joe Furukawa, the Rangers believe they are in better position in the Far East than they were two years ago. That was the same group that recommended Colby Lewis one year ago, and that proved to be a terrific acquisition for the Rangers. "We have more experience, better contacts and more information," Daniels said. "I'm real confident in our group. We've done a good job getting a foothold into the market." Tateyama is also not guaranteed of a job. He agreed to a split contract, which calls for one salary at the Major League level and a lesser salary if he pitches in the Minor Leagues. "He is being given an opportunity to compete for a job," Daniels said. "There are a handful of guys we expect back, but the reality is we know we'll need more than seven guys. We're trying to build as deep and versatile of a roster as we can. Francisco is one of the handful of guys expected back. Francisco was 6-4 with a 3.76 ERA in 56 games for the Rangers last season and has been a significant part of their bullpen for the past four seasons. He missed all of September and the entire playoffs because of a strained muscle in his right ribcage but the Rangers anticipate him being at full strength for Spring Training. "He was making a lot of progress at the end of the World Series," Daniels said. "It was healing properly, he just wasn't ready. But our medical staff expects full recovery by the time Spring Training rolls around and be ready to go." The Rangers are much stronger on the right side of their bullpen than they are on the left. Darren Oliver is returning as the primary left-handed setup reliever while Michael Kirkman. Matt Harrison and even Derek Holland could be considered for the bullpen. Clay Rapada, a situational left-hander, is also still on the roster. Holland, Kirkman and Harrison will be stretched out as starters but could be used as relievers if they are better suited for that role. Holland finished last season as the Rangers' fifth starter and is No. 4 on the depth chart behind Lewis, C.J. Wilson and Tommy Hunter at this point in the offseason. The Rangers will still look for more relief help as the winter progresses but signing Tateyama and getting Francisco are significant steps in helping them reload. "This gives us a lot of options in different spot in the bullpen and gives us depth if we want to talk moving one of the relievers into a starting spot," Daniels said. There is that intrigue again.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.