Freddy Garcia joins Taiwan's Rhinos

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Former All-Star pitcher Freddy Garcia has joined Taiwan's EDA Rhinos and is set to become the highest-paid player in the local league's history.

Garcia signed a seven-month contract worth up to $56,000 per month, reportedly topping the amount Manny Ramirez was offered during his three months with the team last year.

The club said Garcia was looking for a change, his agent was seeking opportunities for him outside of the United States and "we reached each other."

Garcia spoke with Ramirez before arriving in Taiwan, and heard that the local crowds were enthusiastic.

"For me, it's the best opportunity to keep pitching," Garcia said in local television interviews, adding that Ramirez told him "he loved it when he came here last year."

The 37-year-old Garcia, who was released by the Atlanta Braves last month, was welcomed by local fans at the airport on the weekend and signed baseballs for them. Then he went almost straight to work, heading to practice on Sunday and wearing his new team uniform.

Garcia was an All-Star with Seattle in 2001 and 2002 and was the Mariners MVP in 2001. He later played for the White Sox, Phillies, Tigers and Yankees.

"He has shown a strong will to play for the team, we really appreciate it," Rhinos general manager Hsieh Pin-yu said.

The Venezuela-born pitcher is expected to play his first game in Taiwan on May 10 at home in Kaohsiung against Brother Elephants, a club which signed former MLB pitcher Armando Galarraga earlier this month.

Taiwan's professional baseball league had been plagued problems and scandals, leading to a steep decline in fans and the reorganization into a four-team competition.

There were positive signs for the four-team league last season, when Ramirez played 49 games with the Rhinos: average attendance increased three-fold, Ramirez-themed merchandise sold out quickly, and the young club won its first half-season championship.

Ramirez hit .352 with eight homers and 43 RBIs for the Rhinos in three months last season. The team tried to keep the 12-time All-Star, but the 41-year-old slugger wanted to return to his family in New York.

Now there are high expectations on Garcia.

"We invited Garcia to join our team this year, of course, hoping to draw more attention," Hsieh said.