PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays' acquisition and subsequent multiyear signing of Kelly Shoppach seemed a clear message to incumbent catcher Dioner Navarro.
After arriving early to camp on Wednesday, Shoppach said he plans to deliver a message of his own to Navarro.
"I want to win a World Series," Shoppach said. "And as soon as I see him that will be the first thing out of my mouth: 'I'm not here to do anything but help you win a World Series.' And I hope that he thinks the same thing."
Their battle for playing time may be one of the biggest stories of a spring training that opens today, one that Navarro already labeled "a really nice, healthy competition."
But one Shoppach isn't going to wage publicly.
In parts of five seasons with the Red Sox and Indians, Shoppach, 29, has been a backup, he has split playing time and he has been an everyday starter. His story is that it's more important to be a winner, and he plans on sticking to it,
"This is the major-league level," he said. "I'm not trying to be selfish. I don't want to get mine. I want to win a World Series. And that's a true, from-the-heart statement I will make throughout the rest of the year no matter how much you ask me about playing time because it doesn't matter to me as long as we're winning games."
Even though the Rays signed Shoppach to a deal that could be worth $9.25 million over three years (and offered Navarro only a one-year deal at his same $2.1 million salary), their official line is that the position is open. Manager Joe Maddon insists he doesn't know how it will work out, whether there will be a clear starter and backup, a standard platoon or a mix-and-match mashup.
Plus, Shoppach is coming off a bad season of his own, hitting just .214 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs. He is confident he will rebound, as are the Rays, especially new hitting coach Derek Shelton, who also came over from the Indians.
The year before, with regular playing time and a commitment to use all fields, Shoppach hit .261 with 21 homers and 55 RBIs. "In '08 when he got consistent at-bats it was easier for him to stay within his approach," Shelton said. "Last year it was sporadic at times, and he kind of varied in his approach. And I think that's why he struggled."
Shoppach's first priority — well, after learning his way around the Charlotte Sports Park and the names of his new colleagues — is to get a better sense of the Rays pitchers.
"These guys are pretty good," he said. "They have their routines, and I'm going to try to learn their routines and I'm going to try to learn them. But we're not going to do anything special that we wouldn't normally do in spring training. We're not reinventing the wheel — it's just a new guy in a new place."
And, from the sounds of things, a good place.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]