Rangers sign reliever Barnette from Japan
DALLAS -- The Rangers announced Tuesday they have signed right-handed reliever Tony Barnette, a star closer in Japan last season, in a move that adds depth to their already strong bullpen.
The Rangers signed Barnette to a two-year deal worth a guaranteed $3.5 million with an option for 2018. He'll make $1.5 million in '16, $1.75 million in '17 and has a $250,000 buyout for '18.
Barnette has never pitched in the Major Leagues but had 97 saves over six seasons in Japan. He led the league with 41 saves and had a 1.29 ERA in 59 appearances for the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in 2015.
"We felt that because he hadn't pitched here the last couple years, he was potentially a little bit undervalued in the marketplace," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "You see some of the contracts that [relievers] are getting that have had a good year or a good half-year, because he hasn't done that, the dollars weren't quite at that level. We view him on par with some of the guys that are getting much larger dollars out there."
Barnette began his professional career as an Arizona Diamondbacks prospect and was a starter throughout his Minor League career, starting 96 games over four seasons.
But Barnette never pitched past Triple-A and departed for Japan in 2010 with a career 4.36 ERA in the Minors. He converted to relief in '11, and aside from some struggles (1-8, 6.02 ERA) on a last-place club in '13, the 32-year-old Alaska native revitalized his career and began to entertain thoughts of returning stateside in a quest to make his Major League debut.
"In the last couple years it just kind of crept into the back of my mind, I was like, 'I've still got enough, I'm getting better, I think I've got a chance,'" Barnette said. "I kind of reinvented the wheel when I went to the bullpen. ... I just kind of started from scratch, and here I sit."
Barnette throws a cutter as an out pitch along with a sinker, fastball and slider. He also continues to work on throwing a splitter.
Barnette was initially made available to MLB clubs via Japanese baseball's posting system, but no teams paid the fee and the Rangers signed him as a free agent after the Swallows released him. Other teams had interest, but Barnette viewed the Rangers as "the right fit."
The addition of Barnette gives the Rangers multiple relievers who have closed at some point, including current closer Shawn Tolleson, newly acquired righty Tom Wilhelmsen and Sam Dyson.
"We probably have more Major League relievers right now than we have spots on the club," Daniels said, "which is a good thing ultimately for the team."
Like Yu Darvish did when he came to Texas in 2012, Barnette will need to adjust to the nuances of pitching in the Majors and the differences in opposing hitters after so much time in Japan. Barnette has some command of Japanese and Darvish has been honing his English over the past few years. Given their parallel career trajectories, they may have a lot to talk about in '16 -- in whichever language they choose.
"I hope he can help me re-acclimating to this game, because technically I am a Japanese player -- just not with the last name," Barnette said.