tampabay.com

Those knocking on Rays' door looking for Baldelli

Outfielder's contract makes him attractive to many. Rays make pitch to closer Dotel.

MARC TOPKIN
Published December 6, 2006


LAKE BUENA VISTA - The Devil Rays made an offer to free-agent closer Octavio Dotel and talked in detail about some other veteran relievers, but the most buzz at the winter meetings Tuesday was about the offers they were entertaining for centerfielder Rocco Baldelli.

Word that Baldelli was a hot commodity spread quickly throughout the lobby of the Disney Dolphin resort, then all the way to Bonita Springs, where Baldelli was attending a players association board meeting.

Friends had been filling him in on the rumors, which include everything from logical possibilities such as the Orioles, Rangers, Red Sox and White Sox, to some odd fits, such as the Phillies and Tigers, to some dead ends, such as the Marlins, with whom the Rays apparently had significant differences of opinion.

"I guess I've been around long enough to know that you can't pay attention to the rumors, that it's a waste of time to worry about it," said Baldelli, 25. "I don't really anticipate anything happening. ... I've been working out in Tampa, I expect to win a lot of games this season in Tampa, and if the situation changes I'll deal with it. I'm a Devil Ray, and I'm happy to be a Devil Ray."

What makes Baldelli so valuable to teams is not just his talent, but his modest long-term contract, which pays him $750,000 next season and a maximum of $26-million over five seasons.

"I didn't think about getting traded when I signed that contract," Baldelli said. "I signed with the Devil Rays, and I thought I'd probably be there a good while."

The Rays aren't going to part with him easily, seeking several top young players who will immediately help the big-league team. With the Orioles, for example, their primary interest would be in closer Chris Ray, a 24-year-old Tampa native who saved 33 games last season, is likely to make around $400,000 in 2007 and won't be a free agent until 2011.

Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said there is interest in several of their players likely Jorge Cantu, Carl Crawford and Delmon Young and wouldn't discuss specifics, but he did say some of the trade offers would impact their need to sign a veteran reliever.

They made what is likely to be a one-year offer to Dotel with an option and incentives, hoping to take advantage of his desire to be a closer. Dotel, 33, saved 36 games for the Astros and A's in 2004 but had Tommy John surgery in 2005 and struggled in a 14-game stint last season with the Yankees, allowing 18 hits and 11 walks in 10 innings. Several, and perhaps as many as 10, other teams are also pursuing Dotel. The Rays have also had serious discussions with reps for Russ Springer and David Riske.

Friedman said he wouldn't characterize any of the deals as close, but there was "positive movement on multiple fronts" and "certain things that we're somewhat optimistic about."

Also, the Rays won't resume talks with the agent for Japanese infielder Akinori Iwamura until Friday and continue to have interest in free agent Darin Erstad as a first baseman. Infielder B.J. Upton said his sore left shoulder felt "a whole lot better" and he would be ready to move to the outfield if needed.

The Rays showed some humor about the reports of their potential interest in free-agent slugger Barry Bonds, which they have not acted on. A handwritten sign in their suite Tuesday said: Welcome media, and Barry Bonds.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8801. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.