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Ex-Ray Matsui reportedly going to retire

Hideki Matsui may be a legend in Japan, and won a World Series MVP with the Yankees.

But the former All-Star outfielder will apparently end his career as a Ray. According to reports out of Japan, Matsui will announce his retirement tonight.

Matsui, 38, played most of his big-league career in New York (2003-2009), making two All-Star teams and helping them win the World Series in 2009. After one year stints with the Angels and A's, Matsui signed a minor league deal with the Rays in late April, with Tampa Bay hoping the slugger had some pop left in his bat.

Matsui made an initial splash, hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Rays on May 29 - tallying two in his first three games. But Matsui would struggle mightily the rest of the way, batting just .147 with seven RBI in 34 games, including a 2-for-19 stretch in July that preceded his release.

Matsui racked up 175 homers and 760 RBIs in 10 big league seasons. …

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Examining Rays search for a bat

The Rays have already filled several holes this offseason, from picking up first baseman James Loney and shortstop Yunel Escobar to providing pitching depth with righthander Roberto Hernandez.

They acquired outfield prospect Wil Myers, the key chip in the James Shields-Wade Davis trade to the Royals, who could be an intriguing offensive addition for years to come. But Myers may still start the season in Triple-A Durham.

So executive vice president Andrew Friedman said they're still looking for a "bat or two" to add for next season.

The question is, what are their options?

*Just a few weeks ago, the Angels appeared a potential trading partner with available bats, thanks to the signing of OF Josh Hamilton making a glut in their roster. But after Anaheim traded DH Kendrys Morales to the Mariners, OFs Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo can now slide into spots their very potent lineup and may not be on the table.

*Another free agent option, Yankees postseason hero DH/OF Raul Ibanez, is signing with Seattle as well, and C A.J. Pierzynski signed with the Rangers. …

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Ex-Ray LHP Scott Kazmir signs minor league deal with Indians

In the same week the Rays picked up a former Indians All-Star pitcher, Cleveland will try a reclamation project of its own with a former Tampa Bay ace.

Ex-Ray All-Star lefthander Scott Kazmir signed a minor-league deal with the Indians on Friday, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Kazmir, 28, is attempting to reclaim his once-promising career, having drawn interest from teams following a strong showing in the Puerto Rican Winter league, where he regained some of his velocity.

Injuries and ineffectiveness led to Kazmir's release by the Angels in 2011, just two years after acquiring him from the Rays for INF Sean Rodriguez, LHP Alex Torres and Matt Sweeney. 

Unable to find a major league home in 2012, Kazmir pitched for the independent Sugar Land Skeeters of the Atlantic League, going 3-6 with a 5.34 ERA.  This winter in Puerto Rico, Kazmir struck out 27 in 22 2/3 innings, going 0-2 with a 4.37 ERA in five starts for the Gigantes de Carolina. …

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Video: Wade Boggs dancing at an NBA game

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On newsstands now, Wil Myers!


Rays fans might want to pick up a copy of this week's Sports Illustrated, the Dec. 24 edition with Vikings running back Adrian Peterson on the cover.

Inside is a story on new Rays outfielder Wil Myers, acquired in the James Shields/Wade Davis trade. It includes a photo of Myers in Rays gear, as well as an interesting anecdote about Evan Longoria texting Myers the day after the trade.

[Photo: Sports Illustrated]

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12:30: Chat live with Tom Jones

Want to talk about the Rays' offseason moves? The disappointing turn the Bucs' season has taken? College football or basketball? The NHL lockout? Sports on TV/radio? Whatever's on your mind, join Times sports personality Tom Jones for a live chat today, starting at 12:30 p.m. Can't make it? Leave a question in advance in the "Comments'' area below, then check back afterward to replay the chat. We look forward to hearing from you.

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Blue Jays make their move, making them popular pick to take AL East

The last time the Blue Jays were in the playoffs, Bill Clinton was just finishing his first year as president.

It was twenty years ago, before Facebook, before Twitter. The Devil Rays didn't even exist.

But after a flurry of offseason moves, including two blockbuster trades, the Jays have turned into the new beast of the American League East. And, according to Bovada, Toronto is the early favorite to win the World Series (15/2 odds). Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi recently polled 20 executives and scouts, asking who will win AL East, and 13 of them predicted the Jays.

"What Toronto did," Rays manager Joe Maddon said at the winter meetings, "Was very substantial."

And that's before Toronto acquired NL Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey, this past week. The Jays have bolstered their rotation, adding veteran lefty Mark Buehrle and righty Josh Johnson in their mega trade with the Marlins, to go along with Dickey and returners Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow.

Don't think the Rays haven't noticed. As several of them pitched arguably the best games of their careers against Tampa Bay (Buehrle a perfect game in 2009, Morrow striking out 17 in 2010, and Dickey a one-hitter last season). …

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Friedman says RHP Hernandez a "risk-reward" signing with "really compelling" upside

The Rays haven't decided whether newly-acquired righthander Roberto Hernandez - formerly known as Fausto Carmona - will be used as a starter or as a reliever.

But executive vice president Andrew Friedman said the veteran could compete for a spot in the rotation and - either way - could play a big role in their 2013 season.  

Hernandez's one-year, $3.25 million deal (with $1.85 million in incentives) was officially announced Tuesday, with Tampa Bay hoping the former All-Star returns to old form under a new name.  

"We feel like this is a one of those risk-reward stories that makes a lot of sense for us," Friedman said. "Upside is really compelling."

Hernandez is coming off a controversial, unproductive year with the Indians. He began the season on MLB's restricted list due to visa issues stemming from an offseason false-identity arrest in the Dominican Republic. After returning to the United States, he served a three-week suspension and was activated. A sprained right ankle on August 27 ended his season (0-3, 7.53 ERA). …

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Hernandez deal is 1-year, $3.25M, plus incentives

UPDATE, 5:32: The Rays have put out a release confirming the signing. For what it's worth, they refer to him as a starting pitcher.

BREAKING: The Rays completed their deal with free-agent RHP Roberto Hernandez (the former Fausto Carmona), agreeing to a 1-year contract for $3.25-million, plus incentives.

The Times reported last week they were close to making it official; the team has not yet announced the deal.

It remains unclear if Hernandez will take a spot at the end back end of the rotation, which is thinner after the trade of James Shields and Wade Davis, or go into the bullpen, where his sinker could make him an effective weapon. Both scenarios were in play during negotiations, since he has both incentives for innings pitched (up to $1.25-million) and also for relief appearances (up to $600,000).



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Ex-Ray RHP Bush pleads no contest to DUI causing serious bodily injury

Former Tampa Bay Rays pitching prospect Matt Bush pleaded no contest to driving under the influence with serious bodily injury Tuesday afternoon, receiving a 51-month prison sentence.

With time already served, Bush will be in prison for 3 1/2 years, but the other six charges stemming from his Mar. 22 DUI hit-and-run arrest will be dropped. As part of the plea agreement with the state, there will be no probation. However, because it will be Bush's third DUI conviction in the past 10 years, there will be a 10-year license revocation in the state of Florida. He also has to pay $578 in court costs.

It's been a stunning fall for Bush, baseball's top overall pick in 2004. Bush, 27, has been in Charlotte County jail since his Mar. 22 arrest in North Port, where police say he hit the motorcycle of 72-year old Tony Tufano and fled the scene. Police say Bush had a blood alcohol percentage of .180, more than twice the legal limit. It took authorities a half hour, with a search that included deputies and a helicopter, to find and arrest Bush. …

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Rays minor league OF Rogers suspended 50 games

Rays minor league outfielder Cody Rogers has received a 50-game suspension without pay for refusing to take an off-season drug test, a violation of the minor league drug prevention and treatment program.

Rogers, a seventh-round pick in 2009, hit .244 in 112 games for Class-A Charlotte.

The MLB release states Rogers is on the Triple-A Durham roster, and that the suspension will be effective at the start of next season.



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Update: Ex-Ray Pena signs with Astros, calls it a "new beginning"

Update 9:04 p.m. Pena, it would appear, will be the Astros first-ever designated hitter, as they move into the American League West next year.

Pena, who agreed to a one-year, $2.9 million deal with $1.4 million in incentives, believes he has a lot to improve on from last year's struggles with the Rays, but says joining Houston is a "new beginning."

"This was my most attractive option," Pena said in an introductory news conference. "It re-energizes me. It's a new beginning, they're a young team. We have a new staff. We have new colors in the uniforms. Everything is so fresh, so I wanted to be part of that. When the Astros expressed interest, I immediately lit up. The pursuit on both ends -- I thought it was persistent. We wanted to make something happen. It was attractive to me immediately."

"I have so many years ahead of me," Pena said. "I feel I have so much to give."

Pena hit just .197 with 19 homers for Tampa Bay last season, but doesn't think this is the end of the line.

"I have so many years ahead of me," Pena said. "I feel I have so much to give."

And Pena seemed intrigued by the chance to rebuild the 107-loss Astros. …

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Longoria to be a father


When Rays third baseman Evan Longoria signed his six-year, $100 million extension last month, he talked a lot about wanting to "put roots down" and raise a family in the Tampa Bay area.

Apparently, Longoria will get a start on that soon.

Longoria's girlfriend, Jaime Edmondson (@jaimeedmondson), announced on Twitter over the weekend that the couple is expecting a child, "due spring training '13."

"Evan & I really appreciate all of the kind words & well wishes we have gotten today...we look forward to being parents," Edmondson tweeted.

Edmondson posted a photo, with the title, "We're starting a league of our own," with a small No. 3 Longoria jersey hung up next to one of the All-Star third baseman.

Congratulations to them both... It's been quite a month for Longoria, that's for sure.





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Ex-Ray RHP Matt Bush to accept plea deal in DUI hit-and-run case

Former Rays righthander Matt Bush will accept a plea deal from the state next week to end his DUI hit-and-run case.

Attorney Russell Kirshy declined to offer specifics on the agreement, at least until Tuesday's court hearing. But Bush's father, Daniel, said it will involve a prison sentence of at least three years, not including the time already served.  

“He’s taking it pretty good,” Daniel Bush said. “He’s not crying or sulking. He’s preparing for it. Everybody in our family is backing him up."

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Rays receive INF prospect Belnome from Padres

The Rays added to their position-player depth in the minor leagues by acquiring Triple-A INF Vince Belnome from the Padres for LHP Chris Rearick.

Belnome, 24, a left-handed hitter who has played first, second and third, is a career .300 hitter over four minor league seasons with 50 homers and 245 RBI. He hit .275 with five homers in 80 games for Triple-A Tucscon last season.  

Rearick, 25, has been named the Best Relief Pitcher in the Rays minor league system for each of the past two seasons. He went 4-4 with 22 saves and a 2.70 ERA in 50 appearances between Class-A Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery last year.



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