The Texas Rangers and Joe Saunders are close to a contract agreement for the 2014 season, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.
Saunders worked out for the Rangers a week ago in Arizona, and now according to Grant, the club has decided to sign Saunders and have him compete for one of their vacant jobs in the starting rotation. Saunders has yet to undergo a physical, which is preventing the contract from being finalized, but per Joel Sherman of the New York Post, it is a non-guaranteed MLB deal.
The 32-year-old Saunders spent 2013 with the Mariners, finishing with a 5.26 ERA and 107 strikeouts in 183 innings pitched. Seattle had a team option to renew Saunders' contract for 2014, but declined to bring him back. The left-hander has spent nine seasons in the big leagues and owns a career 4.30 ERA. Back in 2012 with the Orioles, Saunders beat the Rangers in Arlington in the AL Wild Card matchup, allowing just one earned run over 5.2 innings.
Rangers starters have been struck by injuries this offseason, with Derek Holland suffering a left knee injury that will keep him out until midseason. Left-hander Matt Harrison has had two surgeries on his back in the past year, leaving his health status a question mark for the start of 2014.
Consequently, the Rangers have decided to bring in Saunders to compete with the team's in-house candidates for a rotation spot. Colby Lewis, who missed all of 2013 with a hip injury, is hoping to win back his place in the rotation, and Texas also signed Tommy Hanson in February to compete for a job in spring training.
Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, who signed a long-term extension with the Rangers this offseason, and Alexi Ogando are expected to take the top three spots in the club's rotation, but after that, the Rangers have a number of candidates who are competing for the back-end jobs. Michael Kirkman and Nick Tepesch, who both started games for Texas in 2013, are two other options for the club's rotation as well.
Saunders might not be the most appealing candidate to fill in for the Rangers, but he could provide some depth until the team's other starters return from injury.