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Mori signing marks Rays' new ambition
Adding the Japanese reliever shows the club competing more on the international market.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published January 12, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - In signing standout Japanese reliever Shinji Mori, the Devil Rays are attempting to add depth and experience to their bullpen.
But the new administration showed it is trying something else, too, committing to spend time - and money - in the burgeoning international player market. In addition to pursuing Mori, the Rays also hired Carlos Alfonso as director of international operations with a mission to reestablish a team presence in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
"For us to be successful, we've got to really broaden our applicant pool of players," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "We're trying to expand our reach internationally to give ourselves a chance at signing players that all the other teams have access to."
Mori's signing marks the first time the Rays have signed a player directly from the Japanese leagues, and they committed more than $2-million to do so.
The Rays paid about $750,000 to win the rights to Mori, outbidding the Indians and Red Sox, then agreed to terms Wednesday on a two-year deal for $1.2-million, with either a $200,000 buyout or a two-year, $2-million team option.
Mori, a five-time All-Star for Seibu, is expected to work primarily as a setup man, combining a decent fastball with a curve and a nasty split-finger pitch. He is considered similar to Akinori Otsuka, who was 9-10 with a 2.57 ERA in 139 games over the past two seasons for San Diego before being traded to Texas.
"We're counting on him to be a productive member of our bullpen," Friedman said.
Mori, 31, is eager for the challenge of pitching in the big leagues after nine seasons with Seibu, where he was 44-44 with a 3.39 ERA and 50 saves, striking out 755 in 653 innings. The 6 feet 3, 194-pound right-hander was named Japan's top setup man in 2002 and 2003.
"This has been a dream of his for a while, and he's been preparing for this," agent Mike Seal said. "I know he's elated, and the Tampa Bay people treated him very well."
The Rays will hire a full-time translator to work with Mori throughout the season.
Signing Mori puts the Rays roster at 40, which means they will have to drop a player before the expected addition of veteran reliever Dan Miceli later this week.
Also, 18 players were signed to minor-league contracts with invitations to spring training, including two left-handers who have a chance to fill a void in the bullpen, Wayne Franklin and former Ray Mark Malaska.
Franklin, 31, has made 132 appearances for the Astros, Brewers, Giants and Yankees; Malaska, 27, pitched for the Rays in 2003 and the Red Sox in 2004.
The Rays signed four other pitchers with major-league experience, Jack Cressend, Travis Driskill, Bart Miadach and Justin Miller. Cressend, 30, pitched somewhat regularly out of the bullpen for the Twins in 2001 and the Indians in 2003. Driskill, 34, made 19 starts for the Orioles in 2002. Miadach, 29, pitched in 12 games for the Angels in 2001-02. Miller, 28, was 9-5 for the Blue Jays in 2002 and is known for his extensive tattoos.
Also signed were infielder Greg Norton, a seven-year big-league veteran who spent 2005 at Triple A; outfielder Kevin Witt, a 1994 first-round pick by Toronto who has also played for the Padres and Tigers; catchers Ryan Christianson, a 1999 first-round pick by Seattle, and Mike Rose, who was claimed off waivers from the Dodgers, then nontendered; and pitchers Jason Childers, who had 16 saves and a 2.09 ERA last year for Atlanta's Triple-A team, and Jose Rodriguez a 23-year-old who was 3-5, 3.90 in the Mets organization.
The other six all played in the minors for the Rays last season: catcher Chairon Isenia, outfielder Darnell McDonald (a 1997 first-round pick by Baltimore), infielder Luis Ordaz and pitchers Ruddy Lugo (brother of shortstop Julio), Tony Peguero and Juan Salas.
Around the majors
INDIANS: The team finalized a one-year contract with Rays free agent Eduardo Perez, who could end up in a platoon at first base with Ben Broussard. Perez, son of Hall of Famer Tony Perez, batted .255 with 11 homers and 28 RBIs last season as a key reserve for Tampa Bay.
ORIOLES: Former Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar is close to an agreement on a one-year deal, the Baltimore Sun reported.
PIRATES: Left-hander Sean Burnett and right-hander John Van Benschoten, two of the team's top pitching prospects, returned to the mound for the first time since missing last season with arm injuries. Both threw for several minutes on the first day of workouts at the pitching minicamp in Bradenton.
Information from other news organizations was used in the report.