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02/02/09 2:11 PM EST

Rangers near deal with Guardado

Veteran would give Texas another left-handed option in bullpen

ARLINGTON -- With less than two weeks to go before Spring Training, the Rangers seem more likely to add reliever Eddie Guardado than starter Ben Sheets to their pitching staff when pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 14.

The Rangers have made no secret about their interest in Guardado. A deal is close and could be completed in the next few days.

Guardado was 3-3 with a 3.65 ERA in 55 games for them in 2008 before being traded to the Twins on Aug. 25. He is also left-handed, and the Rangers have just two viable southpaws competing for a spot in the bullpen right now: C.J. Wilson and Kason Gabbard.

"Eddie is a guy we'd like to have back," general manager Jon Daniels said Monday. "We like Eddie's ability, he's left-handed and what he brings to a team. The way he pitched last year, he wasn't just a specialist, he pitched well against both left-handers and right-handers. He's someone we remain interested in."

The Rangers are still actively looking at both starters and relievers, but Daniels admitted the bullpen is probably a bigger concern now that Joaquin Benoit is sidelined with a torn rotator cuff.

"We're in the same spot that we've been in," Daniels said. "We're prepared to go with the group that we've got, but we're still looking out there to see who is available and could help us."

There are other relievers the Rangers remain interested in, including some who have experience as a closer. The Rangers have monitored Chad Cordero all winter. Guardado also has experience as a closer but the Rangers are unlikely to add somebody as a potential closer. Daniels made it clear the Rangers are committed to Frank Francisco as their closer and he is already in Surprise, Ariz., working out.

"Even if we do bring somebody in with experience in that role, I'm expecting Frankie to hold on to it and perform well in it," Daniels said.

Setup could be the bigger concern with the absence of Benoit, who was the Rangers Pitcher of the Year in 2007 but had to deal with a bad shoulder all of last season that ultimately required surgery last week.

Guardado will help, Wilson has had success as a setup reliever and Derrick Turnbow could end up being a big acquisition if he is at full strength. He was a premier closer in 2005 with 39 saves and an All-Star in 2006, but has struggled since then. Other setup candidates -- most notably Warner Madrigal and Josh Rupe -- are unproven in a late-inning setup role.

"We've got a lot of numbers and talented guys," Daniels said. "We're not going to be afraid to challenge some of these guys and see if they are ready to handle it. One thing about the bullpen, year after year, the guys that are pitching in meaningful games in September and October are not always the guys you expected in February and March except for the [Jonathan] Papelbons and [Mariano] Riveras of the world.

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"You saw David Price, Grant Balfour and J.P Howell last year as examples for Tampa Bay. You are talking about a top prospect, a reclamation project and a converted starter. But they had a huge impact in the postseason for the best team in the American League. It's tough to say in February who the top guys are going to be during the season. Our best reliever last year -- Frank Francisco -- didn't make the team out of Spring Training."

The Rangers remain interested in upgrading their rotation and they remain interested in Sheets, who was 13-9 with a 3.09 ERA in 31 starts for the Brewers last year. Daniels declined to discuss the state of the negotiations, but there appears to be little movement of late.

Health is still the issue. Sheets has been on the disabled list five times in the past four years and suffered a flexor tendon injury at the end of last season that kept him from pitching in the playoffs. That has chased a number of teams away, and the Rangers remain the only team that has publicly stated any interest. But it's obvious, despite multiple meetings with Sheets and his agent Casey Close, that the Rangers' interest is guarded at best.

The Rangers still likely will add somebody, if only with a Minor League contract and an invitation to Spring Training. Jason Jennings remains a distinct possibility and the Rangers scouted Kris Benson recently.

Right now the Rangers have Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla at the head of the rotation with Matt Harrison, Scott Feldman, Brandon McCarthy and Dustin Nippert competing for the other three spots. The Rangers lost some depth when Eric Hurley had surgery last month to repair a torn rotator cuff.

"If everybody is healthy, I like our chances of our guys keeping us in the game, pitching innings and getting us deep into the game," Daniels said. "With the loss of Hurley, we're not as deep as we'd like to give our kids more time so we're probably looking to add some depth."

Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 14, but that is hardly the deadline. The Rangers added Sidney Ponson and John Patterson last year during Spring Training. There could be more moves once the Rangers begin workouts in the desert.

"We talked about that the other day," Daniels said. "The need for our scouts to be flexible the first week or two of camp as there may be additional workouts for some guys looking for spots."

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.