By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Reds fans won't be the only ones watching and wondering how the club tries to fill its available closer's role for 2007.
Add two more sets of eyes -- Reds free agent reliever Eddie Guardado and his agent, Kevin Kohler.
Guardado, who is no stranger to working out of tough spots in the ninth inning, is in a real challenging one this offseason. The 36-year-old is coming off Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery performed in September. Although the rehabilitation is said to be moving along well, he isn't expected to be ready to pitch in the Majors again until between June and the July All-Star break.
The Reds, who lacked a consistent closer this past season until they acquired Guardado from the Mariners on July 6, are expected to look elsewhere. But Guardado hasn't given up on returning to Cincinnati.
"He really wants to be with the Reds," Kohler said. "I feel like they want him back. But we'll be listening to everybody. I think we want to see what's out there."
Guardado's tenure with the Reds has been brief, but proved valuable. After he went 1-3 with a 5.48 ERA and five saves while he lost his closer's job in Seattle, the left-hander found his touch again in Cincinnati. He boosted the bullpen with eight saves in 10 chances and posted a 1.29 ERA in 15 games after the trade. The nice run ended when he went on the disabled list with torn ligaments and tendons in his elbow Aug. 20.
There have been no talks yet on a new deal, but Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky and Guardado have a good relationship from their Twins days. Something could still be worked out if there's club interest.
Kohler's goal was to find a team for Guardado to sign with in time for Spring Training so the pitcher could have a club to workout with and teammates to bond with, even if he won't be ready to open the 2007 season.
Krivsky, who is at the general managers' meetings this week in Naples, Fla., hasn't indicated his intentions with Guardado, saying recently that he wanted to wait and see how the rehab process played out.
Unfortunately for the Reds, this isn't the greatest year to be in the need of a closer since the market is considered quite weak. And unfortunately for Guardado, he won't be able to cash in on the low supply and high demand.
Two of the biggest names on the market -- Eric Gagne of the Dodgers and Keith Foulke from the Red Sox -- had good track records before enduring recent injury-plagued seasons. There is also well-traveled veteran Joe Borowski, who saved 36 games for the Marlins in 2006.
This could send the price tags upward for any decent reliever on the market. Lesser-knowns like Toronto right-hander Justin Speier and Detroit lefty Jamie Walker have reportedly drawn big interest from several clubs since the market opened for business Sunday. Cincinnati could also end up exploring trades and seek a younger setup reliever with closer's stuff.
Whether it's with the Reds or another team, Guardado will probably have to sign a contract that carries a low base salary and is loaded with performance-based incentives.
"Eddie is willing to do that," Kohler said. "He knows that this will be a year he has to come back and show that he's healthy."