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Tampa Bay Rays lay groundwork for signings

Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford could be part of the U.S. team for March’s World Baseball Classic.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Rays leftfielder Carl Crawford could be part of the U.S. team for March’s World Baseball Classic.

LAS VEGAS — Lunch with Milton Bradley, dinner and drinks with Jason Giambi, pleasant conversation with the agent for Bobby Abreu and others, including the likes of Pat Burrell, Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey, Raul Ibanez and Juan Rivera.

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman is leaving Las Vegas this afternoon with a better sense of who makes the most sense to improve the Rays' offense.

"We've basically talked to all the agents of players that we have interest in," Friedman said. "We're still collecting information. I think the agents are doing the same thing, trying to get a sense of which opportunities are real and which ones aren't.

"It will obviously play out over time. Whether that's in the next week or the next month, I'm not sure. But we'll continue to monitor it. We feel like we're in a good position to get someone that we like."

The Rays are also looking to improve their bullpen, and Friedman said he would prefer to acquire a younger reliever who could be sent to the minors if closer Troy Percival is healthy rather than sign a free agent.

CLASSIC ISSUES: Several key Rays, including LF Carl Crawford and 1B Carlos Pena, could miss a chunk of spring training to participate in the March World Baseball Classic, which manager Joe Maddon said was fine with him.

Maddon guessed the U.S. team would want Crawford and a starting pitcher (James Shields?). Dominican team manager Felipe Alou said Pena had already expressed interest in playing. RHP Grant Balfour (Australia), INF Akinori Iwamura (Japan) and C Dioner Navarro (Venezuela) are also possibilities.

After talking to Team USA pitching coach Marcel Lachemann, an old friend, Maddon said he was comfortable the players would be handled properly.

"I am not concerned," Maddon said. "I might be in the minority, and I don't know if I am being naive. But I have that much faith in Marcel."

Players will open spring training with the Rays in mid February then report to their WBC teams around March 1. Iwamura's situation could be interesting. Japanese players have the option of reporting directly to the WBC team, which plays its opening-round games in Tokyo, meaning he might not join the Rays until late March.

RULE 5 REPORT: Friedman said he "would not be surprised" if up to three Rays were taken in today's Rule 5 draft of players not on the 40-man roster.

RHP Eduardo Morlan, the reliever acquired in last year's Delmon Young trade, is considered the most likely choice.

The Rays don't pick until 28th, and Friedman said there were some players they liked but it was unlikely they would work a deal to move up.

CC FALLOUT: The Yankees' mega-deal with LHP CC Sabathia won't change anything the Rays are doing to improve their team, but it could make their lives a bit tougher as Sabathia is 7-1 with a 2.44 ERA against them.

The Yankees are reportedly also pursuing RHPs A.J. Burnett and Derek Lowe.

"It obviously makes them better, and I don't think they're done either," Maddon said. "Regardless of who they throw out there, what the rotation looks like, who's on the field, we just have to get better ourselves. I don't lament the fact that they get him and we don't. I just don't look at it that way."

ROCCO IN RED?: The latest team to acknowledge interest in free-agent OF Rocco Baldelli is the Reds, who are seeking two frontline outfielders. The Rays said they might have interest in bringing Baldelli back.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8801.

Classic connection

Two World Baseball Classic teams will be based in the Tampa Bay area for workouts and exhibitions in early March. Team USA will train with the Phillies in Clearwater and Team Canada with the Blue Jays in Dunedin. Exhibitions are as follows:

March 3: Canada vs. Blue Jays, USA vs. Yankees

March 4: Canada vs. Phillies, USA vs. Blue Jays

March 5: Canada vs. Yankees, USA vs. Phillies

The Rays will host Puerto Rico for a March 4 exhibition in Port Charlotte.

Tampa Bay Rays lay groundwork for signings 12/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 12, 2008 2:00pm]
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