Leave it to Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman to rustle some feathers to get the Rays in the national limelight again.
Last year, Friedman brought in the much-heralded, much-maligned Manny Ramirez and well, everyone knows how that turned out. (But, wouldn't it have been interesting for all parties involved if Ramirez had served his 100-game suspension and came back for the Rays' stretch run in September?)
Now, the Rays mastermind has gone out and inked former Orioles outfielder Luke Scott to a deal, pending a physical. The signing is for one year and includes a 2013 option, according to an MLB source.
A polarizing figure off the field, Scott made noise in December 2010 when he said President Obama was not born in the United States. Add this to his conservative political stances, his outspoken views on gun rights and his Tebow-like vocalization of his Christian beliefs and the Florida-native may just add more spice to the Rays then Ramirez did during his short stint.
The Rays are hoping the 2007-10 version of Scott enters camp and provides the power at designated hitter, a spot Johnny Damon occupied last year. Scott averaged 23 homers and 70 RBIs each season while compiling a .847 OPS with the Orioles over that four- year period. In 2010, his best season as a pro, he hit a team-high 27 home runs while driving in 72 runs and hitting .284 with a .368 on-base percentage, earning Orioles Most Valuable Player honors.
Scott, 33, hasn't exactly been a masher in St. Petersburg, though, hitting just .202 with a .365 slugging percentage and a .656 OPS over 29 games and 117 plate appearances at Tropicana Field. In 104 at-bats, he has eight doubles, three homers and 11 RBIs.
Steve Slowinski from FanGraphs provides some interesting numbers for Scott's left-handed prowess and whether it will translate to Tropicana Field: Welcome to The Trop, Luke Scott.
Scott entered last season with high hopes, but he tried to play through a torn labrum in his right shoulder that he incurred early in the season. After hitting .220 with nine homers and 22 RBIs in 64 games, he decided to have season- ending surgery in July.The Orioles chose not to tender him a contract in his final year of arbitration after Scott made $6.4 million in 2011, allowing him to become a free agent.
Scott told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times that he chose the Rays because of their recent success, his closeness to home and "because he prayed about it."
Scott has some degrees of separation with the Rays and the state of Florida. A 1997 DeLand High School graduate, Scott spent two seasons at Indian River Junior College before transferring to Oklahoma State where he earned All-Big 12 Conference honors.
The Rays selected Scott in the 45th round of the draft after his junior season in 2000 after the 210-pound slugger batted .312, hit 12 homers and had 59 RBIs."They drafted me in the 45th round, but offered me 12th-round money," Scott told the OSU sports department at the time. "I had my heart set on coming back because I didn't want to go out as a member of the team that was the first in 20 years to not make a regional. It would have left a bad taste in my mouth and would have haunted me if I had signed."
The Cowboys made it to the New Orleans Regional in 2001 where they finished second to Mississippi.
Scott was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 9th round and played in the Minor League system until 2003 with the Indians organization before being traded to the Houston Astros before the 2004 campaign. He made his Major League debut on April 5, 2005, going hitless in three at-bats against the St. Louis Cardinals, and finished the season hitting .188 in 34 games.
In 2006, Scott became the sixth Astro – and the first Astro rookie – to hit for the cycle, accounting for four hits and five RBIs in an 8-7, 11-inning home loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. After compiling a .273 batting average and an .881 OPS over three years with the Astros, Scott was included in a five-player trade to the Orioles in an off-season deal after the 2007 season for Miguel Tejada.
Scott said he has been working out since November after receiving an encouraging report about his shoulder from Dr. James Andrews, the surgeon who performed the surgery on him.
"Things are good," Scott told Roch Kubatko of MASN Sports. "Dr. Andrews said it's stronger than ever. It's healed up real nice. He told me that I'm not going to have any trouble getting ready for spring training. No troubles at all. He said now I'll be stronger than ever."
Scott has been hitting off the tee for six weeks and has added a weight lifting regimen. While he has just begun a throwing routine, he does not anticipate making throws from the outfield at the start of the season, relegating him to DH duties until he's physically ready for the outfield.
Scott has a laundry list of injuries in his career and has been on the disabled list three times in his career, twice in 2011. In 2007, he missed one game with a hip injury; in 2009, he was placed on the 15-day DL in May with a left shoulder injury and then missed two games in October; in 2010, he missed three games with another left shoulder injury in May and missed 14 games with a hamstring injury in July; in 2011, he missed three games with a groin injury in April, missed one game due to a sore right shoulder in June, missed two games due to back spasms in late June, missed two games due to a bruised right knee at the end of June, spent 15 days on the DL due to the right knee contusion in July and missed the last 66 games of the regular season due to the tear in his labrum.
Scott's arrival likely ends the chance of resigning Damon, who hit .261 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs in 2011. Although it appears Damon is out of the picture, the Rays have expressed interest in free agent and former Ray first baseman Carlos Pena.
Despite Scott's injury, the Rays could use him at first base. Over the past three seasons with the Orioles, he has played in 41 games and started in 37 of them at first, where he had a .987 fielding percentage and had just four errors in 315 chances.
In comparison, Pena has compiled a .994 fielding percentage over his 11 seasons as a Major Leaguer. Casey Kotchman, who started at first for the Rays in 2011, has a .998 fielding percentage at the position over his eight seasons.
While Matt Joyce and Russ Canzler took ground balls at first base on Wednesday during the Rays Winter Development Program for a select group of Minor Leaguers, the Rays appear to still be on the hunt for a seasoned veteran at the position.
Joyce said manager Joe Maddon asked him to start practicing at the position a month ago and he quickly got a mitt from Rawlings. Although he anticipates being used there sporadically throughout the spring and the regular season, Joyce doesn't think it's a full- time switch from the outfield.
"They just asked me if I would come out and take some ground balls just in case something happened where they moved me around - or moved some guys around," said Joyce, who last played in the infield during his freshman and sophomore years of high school. "It gives us some extra flexibility."
Infield coach Tom Foley reiterated what Joyce said, referring to the plan as a "fill-in possibility during a game or two."
"This was just a way to have him take some ground balls, see where he's at," Foley said. "He's still an outfielder, still will play right field. We just want to get an idea to see what he can do there in case there's somebody else we need at that position."
Based in St. Petersburg, Fla., Chris Girandola has been a sports journalist for over eight years and is currently the Rays Senior Writer for RaysDigest.com. His other writing credits include the Associated Press, St. Petersburg Times, Naples News, Florida Football Magazine, KentuckyBasketball Magazine, and Tampa Bay Business Journal. You can follow him on Twitter at @cgrand
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