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Rangers agree to contract with reliever Oh

MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers added another candidate to be their closer on Tuesday, reaching an agreement with right-hander Seung Hwan Oh on a one-year contract with a club option for 2019.

The deal has not been announced by the club pending a physical. But Oh is expected to join the Rangers and compete for the closer's job, a role he held for parts of the past two seasons with the Cardinals.

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers added another candidate to be their closer on Tuesday, reaching an agreement with right-hander Seung Hwan Oh on a one-year contract with a club option for 2019.

The deal has not been announced by the club pending a physical. But Oh is expected to join the Rangers and compete for the closer's job, a role he held for parts of the past two seasons with the Cardinals.

Oh also has extensive experience as a closer with Samsung in the Korean Baseball Organization and Hanshin in the Japan Pacific Coast League. Over 13 seasons in three countries, Oh has 396 career saves.

Oh, 35, may be the leading candidate to be the Rangers' closer if he can regain the dominance he showed prior to last season.

The Cardinals signed him as a free agent on Jan. 11, 2016, as a setup reliever, but he took over as closer midway through the season. He finished 6-3 with a 1.92 ERA, 19 saves and a 0.916 WHIP. He struck out 11.6 batters per nine innings.

Oh began the 2017 season as the closer, but was switched back to setup work midway through the campaign. He was 1-5 with a 4.17 ERA, 18 saves and a 1.44 WHIP through his first 39 games. He had a 3.93 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in his final 23 games.

Oh has a fastball that averaged 92.9 mph in '17. His slider is his second pitch, but it wasn't as effective last season as it was in '16. Oh had batters whiffing on 45 percent of his sliders in '16, but that dropped off to 29 percent last year. The chase rate went from 49.8 percent to 36.6 percent.

Video: STL@PIT: Oh strikes out Diaz to seal Cards' victory

Oh is a native of South Korea and pitched nine seasons for Samsung, helping the Lions win five KBO league championships. His career high of 47 saves in 2006 and 2011 are a record for the KBO. In 2011, he helped pitch Samsung to the Asia Series championship, the first by a Korean team.

Oh was with Hanshin in 2014-15 and had 80 saves over two years along with a 2.25 ERA and a 0.985 WHIP.

Alex Claudio finished last season as the Rangers' closer. He was the club's Pitcher of the Year in 2017, going 4-2 with a 2.50 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and 11 saves. But the Rangers may be inclined to move him back into a setup/middle-relief role.

The Rangers have other closer candidates, including one that re-emerged in the past few days after they signed starter Bartolo Colon to a Minor League contract.

Left-hander Mike Minor was signed to be a starting pitcher and the Rangers still intend to give him a chance to be in their rotation. But the addition of Colon makes that less of a sure thing. Minor made 65 relief appearances for the Royals last season and he had a 2.55 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP, a .204 opponents' batting average, while he struck out 10.20 batters per nine innings. Those numbers could work as a closer.

Matt Bush stumbled as the Rangers' closer last season, but it was only his second year in the Major Leagues. He is still the hardest thrower in the bullpen. If he can maintain movement and finish off his breaking ball, he could be dominant. He will also get the chance to be a starter.

Right-hander Keone Kela and left-hander Jake Diekman are the club's top two setup relievers, but they also have the talent and makeup to be a closer.

The Rangers have two other relievers who were closers in Japan. Right-hander Tony Barnette is invaluable as a multi-inning reliever who is at ease in any role. But he had 41 saves for Yakult in Japan in 2015. Right-hander Chris Martin had 21 saves for the Nippon-Ham Fighters in '16.

Right-hander Kevin Jepsen is in camp on a Minor League contract and had 15 saves for the Twins and Rays in 2015. That's the second most in a single season by any Rangers pitcher except Oh going to camp.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

Texas Rangers, Seung Hwan Oh