The Tampa Bay Rays have done a lot to get better, adding a veteran closer, Troy Percival; a promising young starter, Matt Garza; and a starting shortstop, Jason Bartlett. And they also acquired a proven veteran, left-handed-hitting outfielder Cliff Floyd.
All those moves are part of the organization's announced plan to focus more on winning now, improving the overall depth of their roster, rather than continuing their efforts to rebuild. But Tampa Bay find itself counting heavily on the return of Rocco Baldelli, who has managed to play only 127 games the past three seasons due to injuries.
The Rays are hedging their bets in a way by planning for Baldelli to be the primary designated hitter, with the idea that Jonny Gomes and Floyd would platoon in right field. But there is still considerable risk in planning for Baldelli to be in the lineup, and it is even more magnified because it will likely take until the middle of spring training before they get a realistic sense of what he'll be able to do.
"Rocco is the key," manager Joe Maddon said. "Whatever Rocco can do kind of defines everything else that we want to do."
OF Cliff Floyd, 35, signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Rays. Floyd, who gives Tampa Bay a much-needed left-handed bat, will split time between right field and DH, and he'll provide leadership and presence in the clubhouse. Injuries have been a concern for Floyd, too, as he has played more than 108 games only once in the past five seasons.
--The Rays whittled their list of arbitration-eligible players to four by agreeing to one-year deals with RHPs Gary Glover and Grant Balfour, valuable arms out of the bullpen. The players left in arbitration are LHP Scott Kazmir, RHP Dan Wheeler, 1B Carlos Pena and OF Jonny Gomes.
The addition of closer Troy Percival seemed to push Balfour into a long-relief role, but the Rays apparently decided the depth was important and kept him, which also provides an option if they include RHP Dan Wheeler or Al Reyes in a trade. He signed a split contract that will pay him $500,000 if he remains in the majors next year. Glover's deal is worth $1,075,000.
--Former Rays INF Jared Sandberg was hired as a coach at short-season Class A Hudson Valley. Sandberg, the nephew of Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, retired after playing 12 pro seasons, including parts of three with the Rays.
New Tampa Bay closer Troy Percival (AP)
--RHP Troy Percival is guaranteed more than $8 million, and he could earn an additional $4.5 million in incentives, after signing with the Rays. To make their offer even more appealing, they agreed to buy Percival a "vintage automobile." The $40,000 investment paid off when Percival signed on. With assistance from fellow hot-rodder Dick Bosman, the Rays minor league pitching coordinator, Percival is leaning toward a classic muscle car, eyeing a black restored 1970 4-speed Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454.
--The Rays improved the level of instruction in their organization by naming Jamie Nelson the first full-time catching coordinator. He had been manager at rookie-level Princeton the past five seasons.
BY THE NUMBERS: 335 -- Total saves by Rays pitchers in 10 seasons, 11 more than new closer Troy Percival has in his career.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it's a great idea. Obviously the public doesn't like the current stadium really well." -- Philadelphia's Bill Giles, a member of the expansion committee that awarded the Rays franchise in 1995, on plans for a new waterfront stadium.
The Rays filled most of their holes before they even got to the winter meetings, having added RHP Matt Garza and SS Jason Bartlett in a blockbuster deal with Minnesota for OF Delmon Young, and signing RHP Troy Percival. They sought to improve their defense while bolstering their rotation and bullpen.
ARRIVALS: RHP Troy Percival (free agent from Cardinals), RHP Matt Garza (trade with Twins), SS Jason Bartlett (trade with Twins), OF Cliff Floyd (free agent from Cubs).
DEPARTURES: RHP Brian Stokes (acquired by Mets), OF Delmon Young (traded to Twins), INF Brendan Harris (traded to Twins), OF Elijah Dukes (traded to Nationals), INF Josh Wilson (claimed off waivers by Pirates).
BIGGEST NEEDS: The Rays are still looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder, and they are open to upgrading at catcher.
FREE AGENTS: C Raul Casanova, C Josh Paul, RHP Jay Witasick, INF/OF Greg Norton, RHP Shawn Camp.
Paul is the most relevant of the group and the only one who the Rays are likely to re-sign. The Rays declined their option on Norton.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: OF Jonny Gomes, LHP Scott Kazmir, 1B Carlos Pena, RHP Dan Wheeler.
The Rays are looking at the potential of three significant arbitration cases with Kazmir, who could up to the $3-4 million range; Pena, who could go up $5 million or more; and Wheeler, who seems likely to go up $1 million to around $3 million. Gomes is likely to get around $1 million.
The Rays went from deep in outfielders to looking for help, and from short on pitchers to having some to deal. Given their preference for roster flexibility, RHP Edwin Jackson
and Jason Hammel
could be available, as well as LHP J.P. Howell