Rays trade for Aybar

17

January

The Rays found the super-utilityman they were looking for Thursday in acquiring Willy Aybar from Atlanta in exchange for lefty reliever Jeff Ridgway, but Aybar comes with the baggage of a three-month stay in a substance-abuse facility last season.

The Rays also got minor-league infielder Chase Fontaine, a 2006 second-round pick from Daytona Beach Community College who hit .271 in two Class A stops last season.

Aybar, 24, is a switch-hitter who can start at third and second base, and the Rays plan to give him work during spring training and at first base and in left- and right-field.

He didn't play in the majors at all last season due to a series of concerns, arriving late to spring training due to visa issues; opening the season on the disabled list due to a hand injury; getting suspended by team, going AWOL and eventually ending up in rehab for what his agent told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was "drinking and drugs," then undergoing August surgery for a broken hamate bone in his right hand.

"We did a lot of due diligence into his problems from last year and while we recognize it's a risk obviously we felt it's a risk worth taking,'' Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "We've seen him play a lot in the Dominican Republic and we've talked to a lot of people that have been affiliated with him throughout his career and that are around him now and we feel that the upside is definitely worth it.''

Friedman said Aybar has shown "positive momentum" the last five months in overcoming his problems, but also that the situation "certainly needs to be monitored" and that Rays would be "aggressive to help him anyway we can and put a support network in place.''

Aybar has been playing this winter for the Licey team in the Dominican Republic, hitting .268 with no homers and 8 RBIs in 27 games, and is hitting .339 in postseason play. In 105 major-league games with the Dodgers and Braves, Aybar has a .292 average with five homers, 40 RBIs and a .387 on-base percentage.

Aybar could figure prominently in the Rays' plans, perhaps even as the opening day third baseman if they decide top prospect Evan Longoria is not ready to start the season in the majors. Aybar - who is out of options so he can't be sent to the minors without first going through waivers - could also provide insurance if Akinori Iwamura has trouble moving from third base to second.

"We really liked Willy's offensive profile and feel like he can really hit,'' Friedman said. "We like his defensive versatilty and we plan on expanding that some in spring training.''

Aybar is the older brother of Angels infielder Erick Aybar.

Though the Rays have a dire need for a lefthanded reliever, they apparently saw enough of Ridgway in spring training and in a late-season callup to decide he wasn't going to fill the need. Ridgway, 27, pitched in three regular-season games, allowing nine of the 10 batters he faced to reach base, and finished with a 189.00 ERA.

Friedman said Ridgway has "a really good arm" with the potential to be a successful major-league reliever and the deal "was much more about Willy Aybar for us.''

[Last modified: Monday, December 21, 2009 12:33am]

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