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Approaching spring workouts to find Tampa Bay Rays in transition

The Rays have their first official spring workout two weeks from today, and relocation to Port Charlotte isn't the only thing that's going to require some adjustment.

CF B.J. Upton, 1B Carlos Pena, RHP Troy Percival and RHP Matt Garza will be limited to varying degrees as they recover from offseason surgery. DH Pat Burrell will be one of a half-dozen new faces trying to get acclimated, and several recognizable ones (Rocco Baldelli, Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske) will be missing.

2B Akinori Iwamura won't be there, possibly until late March, because he's playing for Japan in the World Baseball Classic. LHPs Scott Kazmir and J.P. Howell are expected to show up then leave in early March for several weeks to join Team USA, and 3B Evan Longoria may go with them. RHP Grant Balfour is on the same schedule for the Australian team, though he shouldn't be gone as long.

"We're going to be spread out, that's for sure," RHP James Shields said. "Hopefully, we jelled so good last year I don't think everyone being away is going to matter. Once we all get together it should be like good old times, just like last year."

TV TIME: The Rays will announce soon that they've moved all their TV games to cable partner FSN and are dropping their over-the-air affiliate. That means fans without cable can see only the five Saturday games on the Fox schedule — at Boston May 9, vs. Cleveland May 16, vs. Minnesota May 30, at the Mets June 20 and at Detroit Aug. 29. … Combined with a May 10 ESPN Sunday night date, the Rays have six games on national/regional TV. That sounds like respect, but less-appealing teams such as the Cardinals have 11, the Twins and Braves 10, the Indians eight and the Astros and Tigers six.

LONGORIA PITCHING: Longoria is doing the first of what could be many endorsements, promoting the animated Sportys DVD, which is narrated by actor Michael Clarke Duncan and developed by agent Bobby Barad and teaches children 3-11 the basics of baseball and sportsmanship. "It's definitely a great thing for me to be involved in," Longoria said. "As baseball players we need to find more ways to reach out to kids with the power we have." The DVD, available for $19.99 at thesportys.com, includes a poster of Longoria with tips and photos.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: The Rays are exploring multiyear deals with C Dioner Navarro and INF Willy Aybar, which would allow them to avoid arbitration hearings. … The annual FanFest is Feb. 14 at the Trop, with admission and parking still free, but fans over 14 who aren't season-ticket holders have to make a $10 donation to the team foundation to get autographs. … LHP David Price recently got engaged to his high school sweetheart of seven years with plans to be married next offseason. … Pena "was pumped" about the addition of Burrell and the others: "It's very obvious we boosted our lineup." … Upton's first celebrity golf tourney raised about $25,000 for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. … Kazmir will host a celebrity poker tourney Friday at the Sarasota Kennel Club with proceeds going to the Children's Dream Fund; entry fee is $525 (including a meet and greet and buffet), first prize is $15,000, info is at (941) 355-7744. … Hinske got $1.5 million from the Pirates, with a chance to earn another $1 million in incentives. … Joe Maddon's Super Bowl pick: Cardinals, 28-24.

Taking their cuts

Rays writer Marc Topkin asked a few experts who among the Cardinals and Steelers were the best baseball players. With input from Allan Simpson at Perfect Game and Jim Callis at Baseball America, here's what he found:

1. Cardinals CB Matt Ware: Played parts of two summers as an outfielder in the Mariners organization after being a 21st-round pick in 2001. Simpson: "Probably could have played in big leagues if he had ever given baseball a full shot."

2. Steelers RB Mewelde Moore: Played three seasons as an outfielder in the Padres organization (hitting .210) after being a fourth-round pick in 2000.

3. Steelers QB Dennis Dixon: Promising enough outfielder to be a fifth-round pick of the Braves in 2007 out of Oregon even though he hadn't played baseball since high school.

4. Steelers WR Hines Ward: Was a 73rd-round pick by the Marlins in the 1994 draft as an outfielder but chose football at Georgia.

5. Steelers S Troy Polamalu: Had impressive raw skills, athleticism and dedication, but made it clear he planned to play college football and was not drafted.

Approaching spring workouts to find Tampa Bay Rays in transition 01/31/09 [Last modified: Sunday, February 1, 2009 8:14am]

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