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Closer Leclerc inks 4-year extension with Texas

@Sullivan_Ranger
March 6, 2019

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers reliever José Leclerc came to Spring Training last year unsure if he was going to make the team. On Wednesday, the Rangers made sure their closer is going to be a big part of their future by signing him to a four-year, $14.75 million contract extension.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Rangers reliever José Leclerc came to Spring Training last year unsure if he was going to make the team. On Wednesday, the Rangers made sure their closer is going to be a big part of their future by signing him to a four-year, $14.75 million contract extension.

The deal, coming after Leclerc’s breakthrough season in 2018, includes two option years for another possible $12.25 million. It’s the largest deal for any reliever with two-plus years of service time and not eligible for arbitration.

“This means a lot,” Leclerc said. “I feel happy. I don’t know if I can say how excited I am. I started off with the Rangers. This is my family. I feel really good with the group of guys I am around almost every day. I just want to finish here and do the best I can for the Rangers.”

Leclerc receives a $2 million signing bonus and a $1 million salary for 2019. He will receive $2.25 million in '20, $4 million in '21 and $4.75 million in '22. The options are for $6 million in '23 and $6.25 million in '24, with $750,000 in buyouts.

“It’s a big deal for a lot of folks, first of all Jose and his family,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “A lot of us have seen him grow up since he signed here in 2010 and from where he came to where he is now, one of the elite relievers in the game … an unbelievable amount of work has gone into that. To see his growth, pushing himself, he is truly self-made and earned every bit of this. It’s exciting for us as an organization to commit to him.”

The 25-year-old didn’t even spend a full season with the Rangers last year. He was on the Opening Day roster and optioned twice to Triple-A Round Rock during April. But Leclerc was outstanding once he arrived for good at the beginning of May.

Leclerc ended up pitching in 59 games, going 2-3 with a 1.56 ERA, a 0.85 WHIP and 13.3 strikeouts per nine innings. Opponents hit .127 off him, the fourth lowest in Major League history for a reliever with a minimum of 150 batters faced.

His best work came in the final two months after he took over as closer. Leclerc pitched 18 scoreless innings over 18 appearances, allowing just three hits and six walks while striking out 29. He was perfect in 12 save opportunities in August and September.

“You look at the wipeout stuff and then the person on top of that,” Rangers manager Chris Woodward said. “He’s not satisfied. He wants to be the best. I saw Kenley Jansen for three years [with the Dodgers]. He’s right there. The character that shines through, it’s off the charts. To have him for the next four years, hopefully six, we’re lucky, I’m lucky to be able to go to this guy at the end of the game.”

Daniels said the Rangers did a lot of homework before committing to the deal, talking with pitching coaches, strength and conditioning and the training staffs, even bullpen catcher Josh Frasier.

“You check in with everybody,” Daniels said. “Any concerns? Nope, hardest-working guy we’ve got. Nope, first guy here … front row, locked in, taking other pitchers with him, let’s go work … locked in on every bullpen. He is not satisfied. He’s only had a year, but when you look at who he is and the work ethic, drive and what his goals are, it’s pretty comforting for us as an organization to trust that.”

Another factor is Leclerc has emerged as one of the leaders of the pitching staff. That’s crucial for an organization that has been fanatical about acquiring and developing young pitching.

“We have a number of young pitchers on the brink, and for them to look at Jose, what he has accomplished and what he is going to accomplish over the rest of his career is big,” Daniels said. “And when you are around him, see the stuff he says or the way he goes about it, he wants to lead. He is the hardest-working guy we’ve got. He really sets the example for the young pitchers coming up through the system.”

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.