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Tampa Bay Rays add low-risk, high-reward bullpen candidate in former Ranger Joaquin Benoit

PORT CHARLOTTE — If Joaquin Benoit can pitch again like he did before his shoulder injury, he could make the Rays' already improved bullpen even better.

The Rays are willing to take a low-risk look, signing Benoit to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training.

Benoit, 32, struggled through the 2008 season hurt and sat out last year recovering from rotator cuff surgery in January 2009. He has been throwing in the Dominican Republic and is expected to participate fully in camp with the idea he could be ready for the start of the regular season.

The Rays, among a dozen teams interested, saw enough in two throwing sessions to work out a deal that would pay him $750,000 if he makes the roster, with another $500,000 in bonuses. Benoit passed on more money elsewhere for the opportunity the Rays offered.

Benoit was dominant in 2007 for Texas, posting a 2.85 ERA in 70 games, going 7-4, striking out 87 in 82 innings and earning a two-year, $6 million contract. His career record is 30-26 with eight saves and a 4.79 ERA in 273 games, all with the Rangers.

Blue view: The new sky blue jerseys for Sunday home games will be unveiled Wednesday and made available to buy at the Trop, the Tampa team store (400 N Tampa St.), via raysbaseball.com and at area Champs stores. Pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis will model at the International Plaza Champs from 7-8, and pitcher Jeff Niemann and catcher Kelly Shoppach will do the same at the Tyrone Square Mall store in St. Petersburg.

Working it: Manager Joe Maddon was already at work in his Charlotte Sports Park office, going through notes and planning to further stress implementation of the "Rays Way" in his Wednesday-Thursday meetings with his coaches.

"It was too long of an offseason," Maddon said. "I much prefer the hectic, short offseason (as they had after the 2008 World Series appearance). We need to get back on that program."

Checking in: While one group of players continued offseason workouts at Tropicana Field on Monday, a half-dozen others were already in Port Charlotte.

One was top pitching prospect Jeremy Hellickson, whose first trip to major-league camp was delayed two days last week by the heavy snow in the Midwest. Hellickson left his Des Moines, Iowa, home Feb. 8, but when it took him 2½ hours to go the first 40 miles, he wisely turned around and waited a few more days.

Others who have checked in include outfielder Gabe Kapler (who switched from No. 27 to 19), catcher John Jaso and pitchers Heath Rollins, Dale Thayer and Davis.

Around the league

Mulder retiring … maybe: A Milwaukee television station reported that left-hander Mark Mulder planned to retire, a report later backed by pitching coach Rick Peterson and former A's teammate Eric Chavez. But Mulder's agent, Gregg Clifton, said no decision has been made. Mulder, 32, is 103-60 with a 4.18 ERA in nine seasons but has battled injuries since 2006.

Exec nixes run: A Major League Baseball executive said he won't seek the Democratic nomination for Michigan governor. Robert Bowman, the chief executive of baseball's online and interactive media operations, said in a statement he could not commit to the race at this time.

Information from Times wires was used in this report. Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays add low-risk, high-reward bullpen candidate in former Ranger Joaquin Benoit 02/15/10 [Last modified: Monday, February 15, 2010 9:02pm]
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