It's not exactly the "front page of the sports section" signing that most diehard Texas Rangers fans have been incessantly clamoring for this winter, but it's a signing that makes considerable sense on paper, and a signing that needed to happen in light of the club's frightful deficiency in adequate, major league-quality relief depth, which was only further exacerbated by the untimely demise of right-hander Joaquin Benoit last week.
Eddie Guardado does not embody a front-line acquisition the same way a (healthy) Ben Sheets or a Zach Greinke or a Ricky Nolasco might have, but he does represent a known quantity -- as well as a stabilizing veteran presence who apparently commands a great deal of respect in the clubhouse -- at a time when the perpetually pitching-starved Rangers are still looking to quietly improve their 2009 product without relinquishing inordinately large piles of cash or talent in the process.
Officially inked to a minor league contract with an invitation to big league spring training on Tuesday after what seemed like months of back-and-forth expressions of mutual interest, the 38-year-old Guardado will earn a base salary of $1 million if he makes the Opening Day roster, and could bank more than $3 million altogether if he attains all of his performance incentives, which are reportedly based on the number of games he finishes in 2009:
"I feel a lot better than I did last year (coming off Tommy John surgery in 2007 going into 2008). Everything is good. I'm excited to go back and hopefully we can do something in Texas. Like anything else, we've got to work. We have a lot of work ahead of us."
"I know what I can do and I see myself in the seventh or eighth inning. But that's not my decision. Whenever the skip calls down and the phone rings, I'll get up and get ready to pitch. I'm there to help out the young guys too and hopefully get them better."
Barring an unforeseen and unyieldingly catastrophic spring meltdown from Guardado, or an absolutely spectacular showing from one of the two outcast left-handed specialists -- Kason Gabbard and Joe Torres -- who had previously been positioned to claim the second southpaw-reserved spot in the Rangers' bullpen, Eddie will receive his $1 million, and will likely amass his fair share of medium- and high-leverage relief appearances on the way.
The upgrade, in that regard, is substantial; Guardado is no longer equipped with above-average stuff at this advanced stage in his career (which is reflected by the 5.8 percent swinging strike rate he compiled with the Rangers in 2008, good for the fifth-lowest mark among all qualifying relievers in baseball), but he's still adept at relentlessly pounding the strike zone and keeping opposing hitters off balance, and that's far more than can be said for the walk-happy tandem of Gabbard and Torres, neither of whom superficially appear to have much of a future in Texas (although Torres's minor league numbers are at least trending in the right direction, and he could conceivably make a Bill White-type cameo in Arlington at some point down the road if Wilson and/or Guardado are incapacitated for one reason or another):
It's difficult to surmise what precisely derailed Guardado in August without extensively poring through his Pitch f/x data, though it's evident that an ill-timed uptick in bases on balls was at least partly to blame for the calamitous nine-appearance, seven-inning late-season stretch -- spanning from August 10th through September 3rd -- during which Guardado was resoundingly smashed to the tune of .500/.564/.676 by his opposition.
After a three-day break, however, Guardado returned to the hill for the Twins and proceeded to yield just three hits and a walk over his final 4.2 innings of the season. Were those struggles little more than the product of him hitting the proverbial wall in early August after being deployed with such great frequency by manager Ron Washington up to that point in the season?
We don't have the Pitch f/x data readily at our disposal to confirm that suspicion, but then a huge leap of faith isn't required to assume that fatigue was the main culprit behind his late-season ineffectiveness, and perhaps that's something that more responsible bullpen management could avert this time around as the Rangers attempt to hold together what's left of their already beleaguered bullpen with an assortment of chewing gum, paper clips and string.
Then again, the subject of Washington's bullpen management probably merits an entire post on its own.
Quick Hits: Don't miss Jamey Newberg's exhaustive Rangers prospect Q&A ... According to general manager Jon Daniels, Josh Hamilton will likely not be displaced from center field in 2009 in spite of recent conjecture from club president Nolan Ryan indicating otherwise ... Weekday Rangers radio broadcasts will be heard on 105.3 FM The Fan in 2009, providing unprecedented signal strength and sound quality for 31-year Rangers radio broadcasting veteran Eric Nadel and his new partner in the booth, Dave Barnett ... The Rangers are expanding the number of 2009 spring training broadcasts over the radio from 12 to 18 games, beginning with the club's Cactus League opener against the Royals on February 26th ...
Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus suggested on Tuesday afternoon that with a "gun to his head right now," he would pick Texas as one of the four American League representatives in the 2009 post-season, though his subsequent commentary on the matter strongly implied that his selection was more a commentary on the shabby state of the AL West than an actual endorsement of the Rangers' chances of reaching the post-season ... The Rangers have re-signed 35-year-old right-hander Bryan Corey -- the trade chip Texas employed to acquire Luis Mendoza at the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline in 2006 -- to a minor league deal, albeit minus an invitation to big league spring training ... Manager Ron Washington was honored at his New Orleans alma mater, John McDonogh High School, on Tuesday, which the city proclaimed Ron Washington Day.