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Catalanotto expected to lead off, play left for Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Frank Catalanotto always loved hitting in Texas, even though he was never sure where he might play on defense.

Back with the Rangers, Catalanotto now has a better idea which glove he'll be using most of the time.

Instead of being the utility player who started at five
positions for Texas from 2000-02, Catalanotto returned as a left
fielder and potential leadoff hitter Tuesday when he finalized a
$13 million, three-year contract with the Rangers.

"Being a utility player isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I'm
a lot more comfortable in one spot, and left field is that spot,"
Catalanotto said. "I think I've gotten to the point in my career
where I'm not a utility player anymore."

Catalanotto's deal, which includes a team option for 2010, was
completed after he passed a physical. He gets $4 million each of
the next two years and $5 million in 2009.

Over the past four seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, all but
five of Catalanotto's 466 games were as a corner outfielder or
designated hitter.

Catalanotto is a .297 career hitter in 10 major league seasons
with a .362 on-base percentage. He hit .300 with seven homers, 56
RBI and 56 runs in 128 games for the Blue Jays this year.

With the Rangers in 2001, Catalanotto hit a career-best .330 to
finish fifth in the AL batting race.

"That kind of put me on the map. That's what excites me too
about this ballpark and playing for the Rangers. This is a place
where I hit .330," Catalanotto said. "I love hitting here. It
gave me a lot of confidence, and I have even more confidence coming
back."

Catalanotto will likely play left field and be a DH in Texas,
and he could be a backup infielder as well. He also is the team's
likely leadoff hitter if the Rangers lose All-Star center fielder
Gary Matthews Jr. in free agency as expected.

"We're excited to have him back to kind of solidify the top of
the order," general manager Jon Daniels said. "I'm excited about
what he can do, add a different dynamic to our offense."

The deal with Catalanotto comes a week after the Rangers lost
utility player Mark DeRosa, who signed a $13 million, three-year
deal with the Chicago Cubs to be their second baseman. DeRosa
started at six positions for Texas this year and hit a career-best
.296 with 13 homers and 74 RBI.

It also is an indication that the Rangers aren't trying to
re-sign Carlos Lee, the two-time All-Star left fielder acquired in
a July trade from Milwaukee. Brad Wilkerson also played left field
before season-ending shoulder surgery, but could also be the DH.

When Catalanotto was in contention for the batting title in
2001, that also was the first season he played the outfield
regularly. After longtime Rangers fan favorite Rusty Greer got
hurt, then-manager Jerry Narron asked Catalanotto if he had ever
played the outfield. His answer of "no" didn't change the
manager's plan.

"He said, 'You're playing there tomorrow.' I was basically
forced into it," Catalanotto said. "It took a couple of years
before I realized that's my thing, I'm going to be an outfielder
instead of having to go all over the infield. It think it's worked
out quite well. ... I'm not a liability out there anymore."

Catalanotto was initially acquired by the Rangers as an
infielder in a November 1999 trade that sent two-time AL MVP Juan
Gonzalez to Detroit. Catalanotto played three seasons in Texas,
then wasn't offered a contract after being limited to 68 games in
2002 because of two stints on the disabled list.

He missed half of 2004 with Toronto because of three trips to
the DL for a right groin injury that also bothered him in Texas. He
has also had shoulder surgery.