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Tampa Bay Rays finalize deal with versatile switch-hitter Willy Aybar

Willie Aybar, right, with Jason Bartlett, has shown the Rays that he can handle multiple positions and hit effectively from both sides of the plate, and his work ethic has been a plus.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Willie Aybar, right, with Jason Bartlett, has shown the Rays that he can handle multiple positions and hit effectively from both sides of the plate, and his work ethic has been a plus.

PORT CHARLOTTE — INF Willy Aybar doesn't have a starting job or even a set role with the Rays, but he does have a new contract that over three years could be worth at least $4.525 million.

Though it's a bit unusual for teams to sign reserves to multiyear contracts, the Rays see it as a good investment given what Aybar, 25, has done and what he may do.

"We've had the chance over the last year to really get to know Willy, and we feel he brings a lot to our club," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "He's got positional flexibility, good at-bats from both sides of the plate, and we feel he's going to fit in here for a number of years. …

"There's always a scenario where he could earn more at-bats some point down the road. We feel like he possesses that ability to do that, and we don't think it's that great of a risk being that we feel he will fit in."

The Rays also are pleased with how Aybar, acquired before last season from Atlanta, has handled himself given a past that includes substance abuse and a domestic issue.

"Tremendous teammate, great work ethic, he possessed a lot of things you don't really know until you get somebody in the organization," Friedman said. "He embodies a lot of what we're looking for in a player in that respect."

The deal, finalized Wednesday, pays Aybar $975,000 this season, $1.35 million in 2011 and either a $2.2 million salary or $275,000 buyout (and the chance to be arbitration eligible again) in 2011. It includes salary escalators based on plate appearances that could push the total value to $6.275 million. Aybar, a Super Two player going through the first of four arbitration seasons, sought $1,050,000 while the Rays offered $900,000.

ADAM'S RIB: 2B Adam Kennedy said things "couldn't have worked out better" to join the Rays and remains troubled by how the Cardinals handled his unexpected release last week by St. Louis due to an apparent rift with manager Tony La Russa.

"Mentally, trying to stay positive after them doing something like that at that time is not very ideal," Kennedy said. "The more I think about it, regardless of how Tony felt about me, they could have done this a month ago, two weeks ago, three months ago. That necessarily wasn't up to him. I'm sure he was pushing for that for a while. So just a little odd on the timing. Knowing how Tony already felt, that wasn't a surprise. Just the timing of the front office doing it was a little weird."

Manager Joe Maddon, who called Kennedy after his release, was thrilled to have the former Angels star aboard with plans to use him at second base and elsewhere.

"I love having him here," Maddon said. "One of the best clubhouse guys I've ever been around, period. And one of the best teammates. I guess they go hand-in-hand. He's another guy that really augments that group out there in all the best ways as a baseball player."

NO LONGORIA: 3B Evan Lon­goria missed the workout due to continued discomfort after having his wisdom teeth extracted Friday. The Rays said they were "just being cautious against any possible infection."

MISCELLANY: Sports psychologist Ken Ravizza, a longtime associate, will spend a few days in camp with Maddon working on "de-briefing" last season's success. … The only player who didn't arrive in time was minor-league invitee INF Ray Olmedo, who had visa issues and is expected on the field today. … OF Matt Joyce, who used to play at the North Brandon Little League, will throw out the first pitch Friday night.

Tampa Bay Rays finalize deal with versatile switch-hitter Willy Aybar 02/18/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 19, 2009 4:06pm]
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