By DAVE SCHEIBER, Times Staff Writer
Published November 11, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - He called the past year of injuries and rehabilitation "about as tough a thing as an athlete can go through." But Rocco Baldelli was all smiles Thursday afternoon - and for good reason.
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays centerfielder sat on a riser in Tropicana Field with team president Matt Silverman, discussing a newly agreed on six-year contract that could be worth $32-million.
"I didn't just sign this deal to get a deal done and get it all locked up," Baldelli said before a large media contingent that seemed to take him by surprise.
"I did it because I like the direction the organization is going in and I wanted to be a part of this team, to build a winning tradition. I want to win here at Tropicana Field, and that's one of the main reasons why I ended up signing here."
Baldelli, 24, missed all of the 2005 season after surgeries to his left knee and right elbow. But he said his rehab is on schedule and "the plan is to be ready for spring training."
The contract offers the Rays some protection if Baldelli gets injured again, with only $9-million guaranteed over the first three years. He gets salaries of $2-million in 2006, $750,000 in 2007 with $1.75-million in plate appearance incentives, and $2.25-million in 2008 with $2.25-million in incentives.
He can guarantee the incentives in both years by making 600 plate appearances in 2006, or guarantee the 2008 incentives by making 600 appearances in 2007.
The Rays have a $6-million option for 2009 with a $4-million buyout, and an option for 2010 and 2011 with salaries of $8-million and $9-million, or a $2-million buyout.
The Rays now have two of their top two young players under long-term deals - last spring Carl Crawford signed a deal that could keep him with the Rays through 2010.
"We're very excited to get Rocco back onto the field - he and Carl Crawford represent two premier building blocks in the organization, and we're very proud that they've chosen to be a part of the organization for many, many years, potentially well into their free-agent years," Silverman said.
Baldelli's contract, like Crawford's, includes annual contributions to the Rays charitable foundation, more than $400,000 if he stays with the Rays through 2011. He'll also help develop community programs.
Baldelli said he has no special plans to buy anything lavish with his new millions.
"I'll probably just pay off the stuff I owe money on already," he said. "And then I'll go from there. It doesn't sound very exciting. But it's probably the right thing to do."