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Guardado, Rangers agree to one-year, $2 million contract

DALLAS -- Eddie Guardado understands he's more likely to be a mentor than a closer.

Less than two years removed from elbow ligament-replacement surgery, Guardado agreed with the Texas Rangers on a $2 million, one-year contract that allows him to make an additional $4 million in performance bonuses.

Guardado, a two-time All-Star, was a closer as recently as 2006 with Seattle before losing that job, getting traded to Cincinnati and injuring his elbow. He returned for the final two months of last season, but the results weren't good -- a 7.24 ERA in 15 appearances.

"It was a long year last year," he said after Friday's announcement. "I got hit around a little bit. Well, I got hit around a lot. It was not a lot of fun."

The Rangers took a similar chance last year, giving an incentive-laden, one-year deal to Eric Gagne, who had made just 16 appearances the previous two seasons combined because of elbow and back operations. The former NL Cy Young Award winner had 16 saves and a 2.16 ERA -- but the Rangers quickly fell out of contention.

Texas then acquired prospects in trade-deadline deals that sent Gagne to Boston and left-hander Ron Mahay to Atlanta.

When the Rangers decided not to re-sign former closer Akinori Otsuka, they were left with three young relievers with a combined 21 career saves.

Guardado, a two-time All-Star, brings 183 career saves, 11th among active pitchers and second among active left-handers behind the New York Mets' Billy Wagner (358).

"Last year, we had a very good bullpen," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "What solidified the bullpen early was a veteran presence."

Left-hander C.J. Wilson had 12 of his 14 career saves as the primary closer after the Gagne trade. Still, Guardado will compete with the 27-year-old Wilson for the closer's job in spring training.

"You value C.J. and having our own guy that will be here for a long time being in that role, but you don't want to hand the job to young guys," Daniels said. "You want them to earn it."

Even if he's not the closer, Guardado said he accepts the role of nurturing a young group of relievers that includes right-handers Joaquin Benoit and Frank Francisco.

"I'll help out the best I can," Guardado said. "I love doing that."

The Reds acquired Guardado when they were surprising NL Central contenders in 2006, and they said they wanted him to lead their struggling bullpen out a funk. He responded with eight saves in 10 chances and a 1.93 ERA before arm soreness sidelined him in August. Elbow surgery came less than a month later.

With the Rangers, Guardado can make $1.5 million in bonuses based on games and an additional $2.5 million in bonuses based on games finished.

"I love closing; there's nothing like it," Guardado said. "The seventh and eighth innings are a great thing, but there is something about the ninth that is just unbelievable."

Guardado spent the first 11 years of his career in Minnesota, where he had a career-high and franchise-record 45 saves in 2002, the first of consecutive All-Star seasons. The Twins made the playoffs both those years, and Guardado converted all three save chances in five postseason appearances.

"I don't think I have to prove anything to anybody other than myself that I can still pitch and pitch at a high level," said Guardado, who has a career record of 41-55 with a 4.31 ERA.

Texas also agreed to minor-league contracts with right-hander Jamey Wright and catcher Adam Melhuse.