Rangers get Broussard from Mariners
Club also non-tenders former closer Otsuka on Wednesday
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers severed ties with Akinori Otsuka when they opted not to offer their former closer a contract by Wednesday's 11 p.m. CT deadline. They also completed their new first-base platoon with a late-night trade that brought Ben Broussard from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Minor League infielder Tug Hulett.Though general manager Jon Daniels was reluctant to declare the first-base platoon officially in place, it certainly appears to be the primary option awaiting manager Ron Washington next spring in Surprise, Ariz. The left-handed-hitting Broussard is likely to share time with Chris Shelton, the right-handed-hitting first baseman acquired from Detroit on Dec. 5. Daniels, however, hinted that Broussard might get an opportunity to win a full-time role, something that has eluded him for most of his career. "We look at him as having a chance to play a more important role on our team," Daniels said. "He can play first, he can also play left field or DH. His versatility does give us some options, depending on how the rest of the offseason goes. But he is, most likely, going to end up playing first base quite a bit." Broussard, 31, is a native of Beaumont, Texas, and longtime resident of Austin. Daniels said Broussard was delighted to be traded to the organization he rooted for in his youth. "It's always nice to bring home a Texas native," Daniels said. "He was very excited about the chance to play at home. He grew up a Rangers fan. It's nice to talk to somebody, when you acquire them, that's genuinely that excited about the chance to play for his hometown team." Neither the Rangers nor Otsuka seemed as excited about working out a deal to keep the Japanese relief pitcher in Texas. Though the team can still negotiate with Otsuka as a free agent, he now would not be allowed to join the club until May 1 and is far more likely to sign elsewhere. "I have certainly left it open with his agent that we could talk again," Daniels said, "but I'm not necessarily optimistic that it could work out." The sides could not agree on contract terms that gave Otsuka his desired security and provided the Rangers sufficient protection against further injury problems from a pitcher who was unable to work after July 1 last season. Otsuka opened the season as Rangers closer, a role subsequently claimed by Eric Gagne. Otsuka, who turns 36 next month, worked a career-low 32 1/3 innings before landing on the disabled list in mid-July with right forearm tightness. Though the problem was initially thought to be mild, Otsuka wound up missing the entire second half of the season and still had not thrown off a mound before it ended.
Daniels said that, while Otsuka has sent good rehab reports this winter, the club had too much uncertainty to meet the pitcher's salary and contractual-length demands. That uncertainly also deterred other teams from consummating trade proposals for Otsuka."We went through all of our options," Daniels said, "and ultimately decided the risk was more than we felt comfortable with for what it would have cost to retain him." Otsuka successfully converted 36 of 43 save opportunities during his two seasons in Texas, and he proved a stalwart replacement for struggling closer Francisco Cordero in 2006 and as a place-holder for Gagne early last season. Daniels said he appreciated the pitcher's contributions but could not overlook the arm trouble that spoiled the second half of last season. "We haven't been able to see him up on a mound in a couple of months now," Daniels said. "The bottom line is he hadn't thrown for a couple of months and we had real concerns." In addition to dropping Otsuka, the Rangers also declined to tender a contract to outfielder Nick Gorneault, who was claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels on Oct. 29. Gorneault, 28, was designated for assignment, leaving the Rangers 10 days to trade or release him. The moves cleared one spot on the 40-man roster for Broussard, who was tendered a contract before the deadline, and another that was filled on Thursday with the official addition of outfielder Milton Bradley, who signed a one-year, $5 million contract. "Barring any setbacks," Daniels said, "he should be a player for us, very possibly, in April." In Bradley, Broussard, Shelton and veteran Frank Catalanotto, the Rangers have several possible combinations for their first base, left field and designated hitter slots. Once Bradley's knee has fully healed, Daniels said he could wind up playing center field with Marlon Byrd and David Murphy shifting to corner outfield spots. However, a first-base platoon of Broussard and Shelton still seems most likely. For the Mariners last season, Broussard hit .275 with seven home runs and 29 RBIs in 240 at-bats. Only 16 of the at-bats were against left-handed pitchers. For his career, Broussard is a .275 hitter with 72 homers in 1,706 at-bats against right-handers. He has hit just .227 with 12 homers in 348 at-bats against lefties. His on-base percentage is .336 against right-handers and .290 against lefties. Shelton has a .269 average with eight homers in 219 at-bats against left-handers. Despite being a right-handed hitter, Shelton has fared better against right-handed pitchers (.286 with 27 homers in 588 at-bats). His on-base percentage, however, is better against lefties (.363) than against righties (.342). To acquire Broussard, the Rangers parted with Hulett, a 24-year-old infielder who spent all of last season at Triple-A Oklahoma, where he hit .275 with 11 homers and 67 RBIs in 132 games for the RedHawks. The son of former Major League infielder Tim Hulett was the Rangers' 14th-round pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft out of Auburn University. Broussard, who earned $3.55 million last season, started his professional career in 1999 as a second-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds. He was traded to Cleveland for slugger Russell Branyan in June 2002 and was dealt to the Mariners in July 2006 for outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and pitcher Shawn Nottingham. Holiday cheer: Left-handed pitcher John Rheinecker and his wife, Janeen, will join the Texas Rangers Ball Girls and the Dallas Stars Ice Girls on Thursday as the Tom Hicks-owned sports teams combine with Mix 102.9 FM to launch the 2008 "Jingle Jet" at the Dallas Business Jet Center. Five local families were nominated and selected for the holiday event. They will board the new Rangers-Stars Boeing 757 charter jet and be taxied to a hangar dressed as the North Pole. Inside, the families will meet Santa and Mrs. Claus and be presented with their own Christmas trees, gifts and holiday trimmings. Other sponsors for the event include Wal-Mart, Calloway's Nursery, Build-A-Bear Workshop, the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon and Spa and Paradigm Air. This and that: The Rangers released six players from their Minor League system on Wednesday: southpaws Jesse Hall and Anton Maxwell, right-hander Craig Crow and infielders Walter Backman, Nick Cadena and Jay Heafner. Crow, an 11th-round pick in 2006, represents the highest-drafted player among those released. Backman, a 30th-round pick from the 2004 Draft, is the son of former big-league infielder Wally Backman.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.