ST. PETERSBURG -- Rocco Baldelli will be wearing a Red Sox uniform in 2009, but the outfielder left his mark on the Rays organization.
"Rocco was a very important part of the Rays organization for the past nine years," said Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations. "We have a number of people who have watched him for the nine years he was in the organization develop into a great player as well as a great person.
"Personally, I have a lot of respect and admiration for Rocco. I got a first-hand look at what he went through. It is going to be strange to see him in a different uniform, but that is part of the game."
Baldelli began the 2008 season on the 60-day disabled list with what was diagnosed as a mitochondrial disorder, which was cited as the cause for his constant state of fatigue. Prior to April 1, the Rays declined an option to pick up his $6 million option for the 2009 season. By declining the option, the Rays had to pay him $4 million, which allowed Baldelli to become a free agent at the end of the 2008 season. Had the Rays exercised the option, the team would have had to face the same question of whether to renew him for 2010 and 2011 at a cost of $17 million, or buy him out at $2 million.
Baldelli missed the first 116 games of the 2008 season before returning to play in 28 of the Rays' last 46 games, making 16 starts -- 13 at DH and three in right field.
During this offseason, Baldelli learned that he had channelopathy, a non-progressive, highly treatable disease, which makes feasible the chances of his playing more often. However, the Rays opted to go in another direction by trading Edwin Jackson to Detroit for right fielder Matt Joyce and then they signed free-agent slugger Pat Burrell.
"At the end of the day, Rocco did what he felt like was in his best interests and we did the same," Friedman said. "It doesn't change the affection we have for him as a person. We wish him the best of luck and hope that he continues to improve from a medical standpoint."
The Rays selected Baldelli with the sixth overall pick of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft out of Bishop Hendrickson High School in Rhode Island. He has a .281 career average in 447 Major League games with 52 home runs and 234 RBIs.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.