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Tampa Bay Rays fill DH spot by signing Pat Burrell to two-year deal

ST. PETERSBURG — After getting free agent Pat Burrell to put his signature on a two-year, $16-million contract Monday, the Rays have some scribbling of their own to do.

In the front office, there's some serious numbers crunching to do with their opening day payroll now pushing $60-million, an increase from last year's $43-million that executive vice president Andrew Friedman admits "will dramatically hinder our flexibility going forward" and force considerable creativity for any further moves, such as retaining Rocco Baldelli.

And in manager Joe Maddon's office, extreme lineup doodling as the Rays filled their DH slot with the right-handed power bat they so badly wanted. They figure Burrell, who averaged 31 homers, 99 RBIs and 103 walks (plus 137 strikeouts) the past four years, adds "power and balance," Friedman said, and makes them "much improved."

Keep Akinori Iwamura at the top, and follow with B.J. Upton, Carl Crawford, Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena and Burrell?

Move Upton to the top and have Crawford second, followed by Longoria, Pena, Burrell, and Iwamura, or the rightfielder (Gabe Gross, Matt Joyce), sixth?

Or another combination, with Pena, Longoria, Crawford and Burrell in the middle?

"It's going to be fun trying to figure out how to put this together," Maddon said. "He just makes us so much better."

"It's a good pickup for us," starter Scott Kazmir said. "We just needed that one big bat."

Burrell, 32, will get $7-million this season and $9-million in 2010 and will spend the majority of his time at DH, which will be an adjustment after spending the past nine seasons as Philadelphia's starting leftfielder. His power and ability to work at-bats are plusses, his baserunning and defense negatives. He hit .250 last season with 33 homers, 86 RBIs and 102 walks.

Burrell said he was impressed with Tampa Bay's rise last season, and once it became evident the Phillies didn't want him back (instead signing Raul Ibanez for three years, $31.5-million), he "had a lot of interest" in joining the Rays. Having a home in Pinellas County didn't hurt, but the chance to win was primary.

"Coming into free agency," he said, "the thing that was most important to me was to go somewhere I thought had as good a chance or better to repeat and go back to the World Series, or at least get into the playoffs."

The Rays targeted several free agents in an attempt to improve an offense that ranked near the bottom of the AL overall and was particularly vulnerable to left-handed pitching (.246 average, .726 OPS; .267, .778 vs. righties). They had considerable interest in switch-hitter Milton Bradley, but once it became clear he was headed to the Cubs (for three years, $30-million), they moved aggressively last weekend to sign Burrell, who draws raves as a good teammate and will be expected to provide veteran presence and leadership. Jason Giambi, Bobby Abreu and Garret Anderson were among others.

"It was important for us to end up with one of our top guys," Friedman said.

Burrell's addition would seem to end any chance of the Rays bringing back Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske, but it could enhance the possibility of re-signing Baldelli, though it might come down to finances, as his health status makes it unclear how often he can play. Any additional moves, such as adding a lefty reliever, likely will also have to be bargains or be tied to a trade.

"We appreciate and enjoy the flexibility, but it's something we're willing to give up with the right guy," team president Matt Silverman said, "and Pat's the right guy."

And it will show. "We feel like we've improved from the team that won the American League championship," Friedman said.

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

FAST FACTS

Meet Pat 'the Bat'

Full name: Patrick Brian Burrell (pronounced BURL)

Age: 32

Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 234

Born: Eureka Springs, Ark. Lives: Tarpon Springs

College: Univ. of Miami

Drafted: First overall, 1998

Personal: Married, Michelle; dog, Elvis; hobbies (from Phillies 2008 media guide), "Eating, hunting and bottle cap baseball."

Career highlights: Nine seasons with Phillies, averaged 150 games each full season. … One of six major-leaguers to hit 20 or more homers past eight seasons, with Carlos Delgado, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez. … Has averaged 31 HRs, 99 RBIs and 103 walks over past four seasons; his 413 walks are second in majors to Adam Dunn's 449.

Tampa Bay Rays fill DH spot by signing Pat Burrell to two-year deal 01/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 8, 2009 10:44pm]
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