Rocco's future near a critical deadline

By Marc Topkin, Times Staff Writer
Published March 9, 2008

TAMPA - Manager Joe Maddon said Saturday that the Rays need to know something definitive in the next week about the availability of OF Rocco Baldelli.

That's important for this season, as the Rays have to have an idea of when, how often and in what role he can contribute, and whether they may need to seek another frontline outfielder from outside the organization (Kenny Lofton?).

"Over the course of the next week, something's probably got to give in a positive direction to know that he's going to be able to get out there with any kind of regularity," Maddon said. "You're looking to get nine innings, whether it's as a DH or an outfielder. So I'd say the next week is going to be very vital, or important, to determine that."

But with what seems to be a growing question - if Baldelli, 26, can come back to play at all - comes an expensive decision facing the Rays in the next three weeks.

Under terms of the long-term deal signed in December 2005, the Rays have to decide by April 1 on Baldelli's 2009 option. And given his uncertain future, neither choice may be appealing - giving him $4-million and free agency after this season, or committing $8-million to keep him for at least two more years.

If they decline - which seems most likely - they pay a $4-million buyout and allow him to be a free agent after the season, though they could re-sign him then. If they pick up the option, they have him for $6-million in 2009, and are on the hook for at least a $2-million buyout on a combined 2010-11 option for $17-million total.

At the least, Baldelli - sidelined with undefined leg muscle problems - will end up with $9-million for the first years of the deal. But if he doesn't play again, it probably doesn't mean much.

GOOD MEMORIES: Players union chief Don Fehr said pre-arbitration eligible players who have their contracts renewed (such as B.J. Upton) tend to have good memories in future negotiations. "My experience is that almost uniformly players remember," Fehr said. "The clubs have the leverage early in a player's career and that begins to shift later on, and the better the player is, the more dramatic the shift is."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Former GM Chuck LaMar, now a Phillies exec, seemed justifiably proud of the nucleus of young players his regime provided in telling the Philadelphia Daily News: "I think this year and next year people in baseball are going to realize what a good job of scouting we did." ... Mayor Rick Baker sure sounded in his recent Times op-ed piece like he wanted the team to change its first name to St. Petersburg. Maybe they could be the Tampa Bay Rays of St. Petersburg? Or the Florida Rays of St. Petersburg? ... Rockies SS Troy Tulowitzki told the Denver Post that former Long Beach State teammate Evan Longoria "has some of the quickest hands I've ever seen. I have no doubt that he will hit (in the big leagues)." ... For Saturday's split-squad games, radio guys Andy Freed and Dave Wills will provide a split broadcast from Disney and Tampa. ... As if Longoria's name weren't Hollywood enough, the Rays signed minor-league free-agent INF Burt Reynolds. ... A new book, Venezuelan Bust, Baseball Boom, chronicles the success stories of Andres Reiner, now a Rays special assistant in baseball operations.

Roster report

The fourth of our weekly guesses on the makeup of the 25-man opening day roster:

Pitchers (12): Scott Dohmann, Matt Garza, Gary Glover, Jason Hammel, Edwin Jackson, Scott Kazmir, Trever Miller, Troy Percival, Al Reyes, James Shields, Andy Sonnanstine, Dan Wheeler.

Catchers (2): Dioner Navarro, Shawn Riggans

Infielders (6): Willy Aybar, Jason Bartlett, Joel Guzman, Akinori Iwamura, Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist

Outfielders (5): Carl Crawford, Cliff Floyd, Jonny Gomes, John Rodriguez, B.J. Upton.

Disabled list (1): Rocco Baldelli