Rays put reliever Percival in cart

Former closer agrees to two-year deal as team continues to browse for deals.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 30, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG - New acquisitions Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza talked excitedly Thursday about coming to the Rays.

Troy Percival will join them today.

The Rays on Thursday reached agreement on a two-year deal with the 38-year-old reliever who last summer made a comeback from a two-year retirement and seems likely to supplant Al Reyes as the closer.

"We're just finishing up a couple things, but basically we're there," agent Paul Cohen said.

Percival passed a physical Thursday and is expected to be introduced at Tropicana Field today after completing a deal for what Foxsports.com reported was for $8-million with escalators that could push it past $10-million.

Percival, 12th on the all-time list with 324 saves, was a four-time All-Star while averaging 35 saves for the Angels from 1996-2004. He signed with Detroit and sustained an elbow injury in a July 9, 2005, game at Tropicana Field. But his torn muscle healed and he came back last summer with St. Louis, posting a 1.80 ERA in 40 innings over 34 games of mostly middle relief.

Percival, a favorite of Rays manager Joe Maddon when both were in Anaheim, is also considered a strong clubhouse leader and is expected to have a positive influence on the young pitching staff. He also joins Reyes and Dan Wheeler in giving the Rays three veteran relievers with late-innings experience.

Bartlett, 28, and Garza, 24, were acquired Wednesday in the six-player deal that sent Delmon Young to Minnesota. Garza said he had heard rumors of a deal for weeks, and when it started to sound serious Wednesday, he did some research on his new team, found out about the new stadium and liked what he learned about the organization.

"I was pretty excited because I think it's on the up and up," Garza said on a conference call. "This organization is moving in a great direction. They want to establish a core nucleus. They've always had the offense, but they've never really had that up-front rotation. That's what they're trying to build."

Though he has little first-hand knowledge of Scott Kazmir and James Shields, the pitchers he will join at the top of the rotation, Garza said he quickly figured out this much: "I know enough that if you put us together, we'll win quite a few games."

Bartlett could have a hand in that success. Though he made a major-league shortstop-high 26 errors last season, the Rays are confident he will significantly upgrade their infield defense, noting his extended range, athleticism and determination to make plays.

Though his .960 fielding percentage was among the worst for shortstops, he ranked much higher in terms of zone rating, range factor, chances and plus/minus, a complicated evaluation system from the Fielding Bible that rates how many more or fewer plays an individual makes compared to an average player at his position. Bartlett's plus-45 over the last three seasons is second best in the majors.

Bartlett played through back and neck injuries last season, but he said he had no excuses for his error total. "I really can't tell you what happened," he said. "I know I'm better than that."

Also, the Rays are interested in adding a left-handed hitter who can either play the outfield, first base or both. Among the possibilities are free agents Tony Clark and Geoff Jenkins.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.

Fast facts

Troy Percival

Age: 38

Ht./wt.: 6-3; 200

2007 stats: 3-0, 1.80 ERA in 34 games

Career stats: 33-41, 324 saves, 3.02 ERA