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Rangers sign center fielder Lofton

Rangers sign center fielder Lofton

ARLINGTON -- Kenny Lofton had to stop and think.

At the end of Tuesday's news conference introducing him as the newest addition to the Texas Rangers, the veteran center fielder was asked to name every Major League team he has played for.

"Let's see," he said, "there's Houston, Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago White Sox, San Francisco, the Pirates, the Cubs, Philly, New York, the Dodgers and now here. I guess that's 11."

But for all that traveling, Lofton is no journeyman. A career .299 hitter with 599 stolen bases, Lofton, who signed a one-year contract worth a reported $6 million, is a six-time All-Star with four Gold Gloves. Last season, at the age of 39, he hit .301, compiled a .360 on-base percentage, scored 79 runs and stole 32 bases for the Dodgers.

More than his numbers, though, the Rangers pursued Lofton because he always seems to show up in the postseason -- no matter who he plays for. He has been part of a playoff team in 10 of the past 12 seasons, wearing six different uniforms.

"He's played on teams that have won every year," Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said. "He's been in the playoffs constantly throughout his career. And with that, he's going to bring an element to our club that we need. He's going to be able to help our younger nucleus of players learn how to be winners."

For a franchise that has made the playoffs only three times in its existence and hasn't been there since 1999, that lesson carries a high priority. For Lofton, who has played in two World Series -- with Cleveland and San Francisco -- but does not have a ring, there is an equal sense of urgency.

"My biggest goal is to win a championship," he said. "I've been close. I've been really, really close. That's my ultimate goal, to win a championship, and I think this is a good spot to be with the offense and the pitching coming in here."

That pitching is expected to include free-agent reliever Eric Gagne, who is close to signing a one-year deal worth $6 million.

The Rangers have also made an offer to left-hander Barry Zito, and on Tuesday, GM Jon Daniels, owner Tom Hicks and manager Ron Washington met with lefty Mark Mulder, who is coming off a shoulder injury and could miss a sizable portion of next season.

Seeing the Rangers move aggressively in the free-agent market helped convince Lofton to come to Texas.

"That let me know they're really trying," Lofton said. "And me coming aboard can help get those other guys. Gagne is another piece of the puzzle. The other guys see that and say, 'Hey, these guys want to win.'"

Lofton hopes to push the Rangers in that direction with his speed at the top of the batting order. At 39, he doesn't seem to have lost too many steps, and his ability to steal and take extra bases gives the Rangers a dimension they lacked last season.

"I stole 32 out of 37 bases last year," he said, "so I'm not that much slower."

"The guy [hitting] behind you, his job gets a little easier," Lofton said. "You make it so the pitcher and the defense have to be a little more worried about who's on base and what he's doing, and maybe they don't make that perfect pitch because they're worried about me on base. When you have speed on the basepaths, pitchers don't always focus on what they need to focus on."

Lofton's focus is on setting up Michael Young and Mark Teixeira, the big bats in the lineup. He replaces Gary Matthews Jr., who left for the Angels as a free agent, in the leadoff spot and in center.

How long he stays there is another matter. Once again, Lofton is on a one-year contract and will be a free agent after the season. The Rangers will be his ninth team in seven seasons, and at his age, Lofton is resigned to a vagabond existence for the rest of his career.

"That's kind of tough, to become a free agent every year," he said. "But if a team is trying to find a piece to the puzzle and feels that I'm the guy he can help them, that kind of puts a little spark in me. When a team feels that all it needs is one or two pieces, and I'm one of those pieces. That makes me feel good."

Andy Friedlander is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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