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New Rays DH Luke Scott controversial but a good guy, former teammates insist

Odds are that at some point this season, new Rays DH Luke Scott will say something that creates controversy.

He has done it before, most famously when he asserted in December 2010 that President Barack Obama "doesn't represent America" and wasn't born in the United States, leading the Orioles to issue a statement distancing themselves.

And again when Scott, who is white, told ESPN.com in April 2011 that he'd openly caution then-teammate Felix Pie, a dark-skinned Dominican, when he was acting like an "animal" or a "savage" and throw banana chips into his helmet.

He's open about his devout Christianity, his right-wing politics, his love of guns.

But former teammates, including Pie, have said repeatedly that they had no problems with Scott and that he's not a racist, and rave about what a good guy he is to have around. "Really gonna miss him as a teammate," CF Adam Jones, who is black, tweeted Thursday. "Was a gamer and if u knew him, he's actually pretty coo(l)."

The Rays, well aware of what they're getting, are not concerned.

"We pride ourselves on having a positive environment that encourages individuality and allows our guys to be themselves," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "We have many different types of personalities, but what brings everyone together is their outstanding work ethic and commitment to winning. Luke is a great competitor and teammate, and we're confident that he'll fit in well."

Scott, similarly, won't hesitate walking into a new clubhouse.

"I'm a pretty easy guy to get along with," he said. "Low-maintenance guy. I go, I do my work and try to enjoy my teammates. I respect everybody, respect their beliefs. They're my teammates, they're like my brothers, they're like my family. I'm going to spend more time with them than I will with my own family. I'm excited, I'm looking forward to it."

ARB UPDATE: Arbitration-eligible players and teams exchange figures Tuesday, which is essentially the point of no return given the Rays' policy of breaking off negotiations.

Of their five cases, three seem relatively straightforward, LHP J.P. Howell ($1.1 million 2011 salary) and RHPs Jeff Niemann ($903,000) and Burke Badenhop ($750,000 with Florida). But LHP David Price ( $1.25 million) and CF B.J. Upton ($4.825 million) present the potential for high-stakes complications.

Already beyond their projected payroll limits at around $54 million to $55 million, and with plans to add another hitter, the Rays have set figures in mind — let's guess roughly $4-4.5 million for Price, $6.5-7 million for Upton. But if they end up on the wrong end of a hearing and a few million off, they could have issues. At the least, they're likely to wait to see how the numbers look before moving forward on a hitter.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: RHP Alex Cobb said all has gone well in his recovery from August thoracic outlet surgery, and he expects to be ready for spring training. … The Rays have one ESPN Sunday Night Baseball appearance set so far, April 29 at Texas. … There's some talk that Johnny Damon, unhappy the Rays didn't keep him, could end up with the O's. Or maybe back with the Yanks? … Former Ray Willy Aybar was released from a Dominican Republic jail on bail of $131,600 after another accusation of domestic abuse and is under a restraining order, but he told reporters he hopes to resume playing in Japan. … Of much interest to the Rays, MLB still hasn't decided whether to add the second wild card to this year's playoffs; March 1 is the deadline.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.

New Rays DH Luke Scott controversial but a good guy, former teammates insist 01/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, January 14, 2012 11:41pm]

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