James Shields (AP)
Inside Pitch 1/27:
Right-hander James Shields signed a long-term deal with the Tampa Bay Rays for a simple reason -- because he wanted to.
Shields, 26, gave up the potential payoff from his first two seasons of free agency in return for the security and comfort of staying with the Rays, agreeing to a deal that could last for seven seasons and pay him up to $44 million.
"There are many people that think a front-line pitcher shouldn't tie himself up for seven years," agent Page Odle said. "But it was truly his idea of wanting to be here and his commitment to winning that drove this thing."
Shields cited two primary reasons for his decision -- he is convinced the long-downtrodden Rays are finally headed for success, and he liked the idea of staying with the team he came up with.
"They're committed to me, and that's great. I love it. And I'm committed to them," Shields said. "It's one of those things where I've grown up in this organization and this is where I want to be."
Odle said no player with as little service time as Shields (1 year, 125 days) has ever signed a contract that could last so long. The Rays, meanwhile, did the deal because they could.
While lauding Shields' combination of "talent, work ethic and character," they were hooked by the opportunity to have options on Shields through his first two seasons of free agency, especially at what could be reasonable terms -- $9 million and $12 million. That was more of a factor than the cost certainty through Shields' arbitration years.
"For us, when we do a pre-arb(itration) deal, the most important thing is for us to get free agent years," Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "Some teams do it for the cost control, and that's not a big factor for us. Through the arbitration process, the better they perform the more money they make, and (it's a) we're-happy-to-pay-it type thing."
-The Rays continue to search for a left-handed reliever. They have had talks about signing free agent Trever Miller -- a former Ray -- and are also pursuing several trade options.
--C Mike DiFelice appears to be the front-runner for the backup catcher's job, given his experience and Shawn Riggans' lack thereof. Riggans, 27, has been limited by injuries throughout his career and has played in just 13 major league games. He missed most of last season because of an elbow injury.
--Continuing to seek depth for their bullpen, the Rays signed RHP Scott Munter and re-signed RHP Richard de los Santos to minor league deals. Munter, 27, was 3-2 with a 4.75 ERA in 84 big-league games with the Giants over the past three seasons but spent most of that time at Class AA and AAA. He is known as a sinkerball specialist. De los Santos, 23, was 5-4, 2.75 at Class AA Montgomery last season and 1-1, 7.20 after being promoted to Class AAA Durham.
--LHP Jake McGee, one of the Rays' top prospects, spent time during the offseason working out with RHP James Shields to get a look at the time and effort that the right-hander puts into his offseason workout.
--LHP Casey Fossum and RHP Dan Miceli were the latest ex-Rays to find new homes. Fossum, released during the season, signed a minor league deal with Pittsburgh. Miceli, who was let go in spring training and didn't pitch in 2007, hooked on with Boston.
--Roving hitting instructor Steve Livesey was named the organization's top player-development staffer. Fred Repke, whose signees include RHP James Shields, 3B Evan Longoria and LHP Jake McGee, was named organizational scout of the year.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5.11 -- Ratio of strikeouts to walks (184-36) by James Shields last season, the fifth best in history for a pitcher 25 or younger.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "At the end of this contract, I'll still only be 32, 33 years old. I'll still be young as far as I'm concerned." -- RHP James Shields, 26, after agreeing to a potential seven-year deal. Roster Report:
The Rays filled most of their holes before they even got to the winter meetings, having adding 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), RHP Scott Munter (free agent from Giants).
DEPARTURES: RHP Brian Stokes (traded to 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), RHP Shawn Camp (free agent, signed minor league deal with Blue Jays).
FREE AGENTS: C Raul Casanova, INF/OF Greg Norton, C Josh Paul, RHP Jay Witasick.
Paul is the most relevant of the group and the only one the Rays are likely to re-sign. The Rays declined their option on Norton.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: None remaining.
IN LIMBO: 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.
OF Rocco Baldelli (hamstrings) has been working out all winter and has reported no problems.
INF/OF Greg Norton (arthroscopic surgery in October 2007 to remove loose bodies in his left elbow and have his ulnar nerve transposed) should be 100 percent by Jan. 1.
LF Carl Crawford (strained left groin) missed the final 12 games of the 2007 season but should be fine.
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