Rangers interested in signing Piazza

Rangers interested in signing Piazza

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are showing serious interest in free-agent catcher Mike Piazza, Major League officials confirmed on Saturday.

The Rangers' interest in Piazza would be more as a designated hitter in the middle of their lineup between first baseman Mark Teixeira and third baseman Hank Blalock. Piazza could conceivably do some catching behind Gerald Laird as well, but the Rangers are looking at him mainly as an offensive player.

The Rangers have been talking with his representatives for a couple of weeks, but their interest has increased after the San Diego Padres declined to offer him arbitration by the Friday night deadline. Piazza is a Type A free agent, but the Rangers don't have to forfeit a draft pick because he was not offered arbitration.

The Oakland Athletics have also shown interest in him, but the Rangers have been talking about Piazza for more than a year and might have signed him last year if not for having Phil Nevin under contract.

Piazza, who turned 38 in September, hit .283 with 22 home runs and 68 RBIs in 126 games and 399 at-bats for the Padres last year. A 12-time All-Star, his .309 career batting average is the eighth highest among active players, and his 419 home runs are 12th most among active players.

Piazza and left-handed pitcher Barry Zito appear to be the two most coveted players by the Rangers as they head to Orlando, Fla., for the Winter Meetings, which begin on Monday. They have also shown steady interest in pitchers Ted Lilly and Miguel Batista and outfielder Kenny Lofton, who could be the leading candidate to be their center fielder next year.

But if the Rangers sign Piazza, they could end up with an outfield of Frank Catalanotto, Brad Wilkerson and Nelson Cruz.

During one batting practice session at the 1995 All-Star Game at Ameriquest Field, Piazza hit a ball well over the visitors' bullpen in left-center, landing on the walkway in front of the office building. It is believed to be the longest ball hit in Ameriquest Field.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.