Baldelli agrees to long-term deal

Baldelli agrees to long-term deal with Rays

ST. PETERSBURG -- Rocco Baldelli has agreed to a six-year contract with the Devil Rays worth a possible $33 million that could keep him with the team through the 2011 season.

"I'm happy that I'll be a Devil Ray for a while," Baldelli said. "But it's not just because I'm comfortable in Tampa Bay being a Devil Ray. I want to win and I like what I'm seeing from the new ownership."

Baldelli said he likes the possibility of spending his entire career with one organization.

"I know a lot of guys move around to different organizations that are contenders, and that's fine," Baldelli said. "But it means more when you've been where we have been. I believe we're going to be winners, and I want to be here when it happens."

Baldelli, 24, was the Rays' starting center fielder until the 2005 season, which he missed due to knee and elbow surgeries.

The only thing the deal lacks is Baldelli's signature. Baldelli, who doesn't have an agent, has hired sports agent Casey Close to read over the contract.

"Casey's going to take care of it," said Baldelli, noting he has not signed anything yet, but that he was confident it would happen quickly.

The Rays are confident it will happen quickly, too, as they have called a 3:30 p.m. ET press conference Thursday to announce the signing.

By signing Baldelli, the Rays avoided arbitration and it is the second deal executed by Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. He negotiated a similar deal in the spring with Rays left fielder Carl Crawford that can keep Crawford with the club through 2010 at a cost of $32.5 million.

The first three years of Baldelli's deal are guaranteed, but the Rays hedged the deal against injury by using incentives based on plate appearances. The team has options on his three free agent years, which allows for a healthy buyout in the event they decline the options.

In his first two Major League seasons, Baldelli batted .285 with 27 home runs and 152 RBIs in 2003-2004. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Oct. 24, 2004, and was scheduled to return to the team in July, but had Tommy John surgery to his right elbow that forced him to miss the remainder of the season. Baldelli's knee is healthy again while his elbow is expected to be ready by Spring Training.

Baldelli was examined last week by Rays medical director James Andrews.

"My knee is fine and I'm following my throwing program," Baldelli said. "I had a physical and everything checked out."

Looking ahead to 2006, Baldelli should be the Rays' starting center fielder in an outfield that includes Crawford in left and any number of candidates in right field. Should Baldelli's elbow not be ready, he would be used as the team's designated hitter.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.