LAS VEGAS — OF Rocco Baldelli doesn't know where he will play next season, which, since he has been in the Rays organization since 2000, is odd.
But he definitely expects to be playing, which, since his career was threatened by a rare muscle fatigue condition, is a good thing.
As agent Casey Close and representatives of the seven teams that have expressed interest, including the Rays, gather this week for the winter meetings, Baldelli said he is content to wait — splitting time between his native Rhode Island and his St. Pete Beach condo, visiting with medical specialists in hopes of getting better control of his condition so he can play more regularly — and let the free agency process unfold.
"The discussions with different teams are different; I don't think any time frame has been defined yet," Baldelli said by phone. "Not too many guys have signed. I'm just relaxing right now. I couldn't be more pleased with how it's going."
The Rays, who made him a free agent by declining his 2009 option (paying a $4-million buyout, saving a $6-million salary and a future option), have some interest in bringing him back, likely at a reduced rate heavy on incentives, but have indicated they prefer to sort out their primary rightfield and DH situations first to see where, or if, he still fits.
Other teams, which include the Red Sox, Yankees and Phillies, could be more aggressive and force a decision. Baldelli, 27, said he's open to the possibilities.
"I'm open to playing baseball," he said. "Obviously I would like the situation and the fit to be a place I really enjoying being, but I'm not putting any limits or goals on it as far as where I want to play or don't want to play. It's sorting itself out pretty nicely."
His relationship with the Rays is deep and the situation would obviously be familiar, but he understands the business aspect of the decision.
"This is a process that both the team and I have to go through," he said. "Playing here (in the majors) since 2003, obviously this is a place where I'm comfortable. But both the team and myself have to do what's best for ourselves. I guess we'll find out sooner than later."
ODDS ON: Vegas sports betting books were stung when the Rays made it to the World Series and forced them to pay off on long odds.
That won't happen again. A quick sampling along the Vegas Strip shows the Rays have gained the respect of the oddsmakers as well.
Want to bet the Rays to win the AL pennant next season?
They're only 6-to-1 at the Wynn and Planet Hollywood, 5-1 at the Luxor and MGM Grand and 4-1 at Caesar's Palace/Harrah's. (The Red Sox are the fave, followed by the Yanks and Angels.)
Or think the Rays can take it all?
After odds of 150-1 or more of them winning the Series last year, the best you can get is 12-1 at the Wynn, 10-1 at several others, 8-1 at Caesar's. (The Sox, Cubs and Yanks are favored.)
READY FOR ACTION: Exec VP Andrew Friedman arrived Sunday afternoon to start internal meetings, seeking to improve their offense and bullpen. "We're very focused on defending our American League championship and feel like even though we have less holes to fill, there are certainly ways we can improve and we're going to try to get as creative as we can to do that," he said.
MISCELLANY: There are some reports free agent DH Jason Giambi is seeking a three-year deal, which likely would quell the Rays' interest. … The Rays will be named Baseball America's organization of the year. … More than a dozen former players/managers have expressed interested in the Rays' TV analyst job.