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Rangers come to terms with Padilla

On Day 1, Rangers come to terms with Padilla

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Rangers, on the first full day of the Winter Meetings, have reached an agreement with pitcher Vicente Padilla on a new contract.

Padilla has agreed to a three-year, $33 million contract with an option for a fourth year at $12 million. The agreement is pending a physical.

General manager Jon Daniels is not ready to announce the deal until the physical is done but said, "We've been talking for months, and we're getting more comfortable that we can work things out."

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Padilla -- who was 15-10 with a 4.50 ERA in 200 innings last season after being acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies -- and Barry Zito are the Rangers' top two pitching targets. Zito visited Dallas last week, but Daniels and Zito's agent, Scott Boras, haven't met here.

"I'm sure we'll meet, but we don't have anything set up yet," Daniels said.

Daniels made it clear that re-signing Padilla will not keep the Rangers from continuing their pursuit of Zito.

"We're looking for two starters," he said. "Getting that first domino to fall -- whether it's Vinnie or somebody else -- is big. That will give us the framework for some of the other things that we might be able to do."

The Rangers are hoping that Zito, Padilla and Kevin Millwood will head a rotation that will also include Robinson Tejeda and one other pitcher from within the organization.

The Rangers also had interest in left-hander Ted Lilly, but he appears to be close to signing with the Chicago Cubs. The New York Mets seem to be the biggest competition for Zito, but all indications are that the Rangers will go after him hard. They also believe he's sincere in his interest in coming to Texas.

"I think he'll like the hot weather," manager Ron Washington said. "I think he'll like the makeup of the club, and I think he'll like the manager. Every organization would like to have him. and we'd like to have him."

Zito has a reputation for being a fly-ball pitcher, and that doesn't always play well at Ameriquest Field in Arlington. But he has a career record of 11-1 with a 3.75 ERA in 15 starts there.

"He makes pitches when he has to make pitches," Washington said. "That's what good pitchers do. That's what he's been taught his entire career. I don't think where he pitches makes a difference."

The Rangers had strong interest in free-agent catcher Mike Piazza as a designated hitter, but it appears that he could get a two-year, $15 million deal with the Oakland Athletics. The Rangers will likely hold off pursuing any other significant offensive candidates until they get their starting pitching sorted out.

"We're focusing our resources on our rotation," Daniels said.

The Rangers have talked trade with other teams and have touched base with the Baltimore Orioles, Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves, among others. The Orioles are trying to move right-hander Rodrigo Lopez, and the Braves are willing to talk about Tim Hudson and Horacio Ramirez.

The Diamondbacks have some good young pitchers who are close to being Major League-ready, and the Rangers have interest in right-handers Dustin Nippert and Micah Owings, among others.

The Mets and Phillies are among the teams that have asked about the Rangers' bullpen depth.

"We're popular among teams looking for relief help," Daniels said. "There could be a fit there in the next day or two."

The most desirable names appear to be closer Akinori Otsuka and left-hander C.J. Wilson, but Daniels made it clear that the Rangers aren't interested in trading either one. They would be more willing to talk about some of their other right-handers, including Rick Bauer, Wes Littleton, Frank Francisco and Scott Feldman.

Otsuka led the Rangers with 32 saves. The Rangers have a number of relievers who could end up being a closer, including Josh Rupe and Nick Masset, but they aren't ready to give up Otsuka right now.

"We've been hit on him because he's controllable, affordable and successful," Daniels said. "But we've told clubs that we're not looking to move him."

Daniels said that the Rangers have also been exploring their options in center field. If they can get both Zito and Padilla, they may settle for an internal option -- either Freddy Guzman or Nelson Cruz. Kenny Lofton and Jay Payton are the two most likely free-agent candidates.

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

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