- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

Free-agent outfielder Justin Ruggiano finally gets to play for the team he grew up rooting for while giving the Texas Rangers a needed right-handed bat.

Ruggiano agreed Thursday to a $1.65 million, one-year contract with the AL West champions.

“It’s kind of been a dream of mine my whole life, and now it’s kind of coming to fruition,” said Ruggiano, who lives in the Dallas suburb of Rockwall and went to Texas A&M.; “I’m just beyond excited to play for this organization. … To be highly competitive here for the home team is a dream come true.”

Ruggiano has played in all three outfield positions in his seven major league seasons, and Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said he will also work some at first base.

Texas went into the offseason looking for a right-handed bat. The addition of Ruggiano also offers protection for left fielder Josh Hamilton, who is coming off two operations on his left knee in recent months. The slugger missed the start of last season after shoulder surgery, then was traded back to Texas from the Los Angeles Angels.

“As hard as he is working to rehab it, there is some unknown there for us and we want to be protected, and we also want to protect him,” Daniels said. “Given the reality of injury history and his age at this point, he can still be productive when he’s out there, but it’s important for us to not overexpose him from a physical standpoint. And we also need to have contingency plans in place in case something crops up and he can’t go.”

Ruggiano split last season between Seattle and the Los Angeles Dodgers, hitting .248 with six homers and 15 RBIs in 57 games. After being traded to the Dodgers on Aug. 31, he hit .291 with four homers and 12 RBIs in 21 games.

Since the start of 2012, he has batted .290 against left-handed pitchers, and overall he has hit .256 in 455 major league games with Tampa Bay, Miami, the Chicago Bus, Seattle, and the Dodgers.

“I’ve got a pretty clear indication of what they intend for me to do. I’m very comfortable in that role,” Ruggiano said. “Given the pitching matchups in the AL West right now, it seems that there will be quite a few at-bats to be had.”

Ruggiano said first base will be “an exciting challenge to try to take on,” but has played there some in the minor leagues.

Only $500,000 of his salary is guaranteed under Thursday’s deal. He can earn an additional $1.25 million in performance bonuses based on plate appearances: $100,000 each for 250 and 300; $150,000 apiece for 350 and 400; $250,000 for 450; and $500,000 for 500.

NOTES: Texas hired former major leaguer Howard Johnson as manager for its Class A High Desert affiliate. … RHP Tony Barnette’s $3.5 million, two-year deal agreed to this week, which includes salaries of $1.5 million next year and $1.75 million in 2017, includes a $4 million team option for 2018 with a $250,000 buyout. The option price could escalate to $8 million based on his performance the next two seasons: $500,000 each for 110 and 120 games pitched, 35 games finished and each additional five through 60. He can earn $550,000 in performance bonuses in each of the next two seasons for games finished: $50,000 each for 10, 15 and 20; and $100,000 apiece for 25, 30, 35 and 40. If the 2018 option is exercised, he can earn $200,000 that year on games finished bonuses, $50,000 each for 20, 25, 30 and 35.

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AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.

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