LAS VEGAS — Milton Bradley had pizza and French onion soup for lunch Monday at the Bellagio. Rays officials got a taste of what the talented but controversial outfielder is like.
"Honest, open and intense," manager Joe Maddon said. "And I liked all three."
The Rays' efforts to improve their offense moved to the next stage when they met with the first of several free agents under consideration, with Jason Giambi believed to be next. Other, perhaps lesser, possibilities include Raul Ibanez, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn as the costs and competition may be higher.
Executive vice president Andrew Friedman termed the meeting "just a get-to-know-you session" that was a product of scheduling and not an indication that Bradley was necessarily their first choice. "We have a number of them planned this week," he said.
As a result of the process, Friedman acknowledged that it's "very unlikely" they would sign any of the free agents during this week's winter meetings.
Bradley, 30, led the AL in on-base percentage (.436) and OPS (on-base plus slugging) while hitting .321 with 22 homers and 77 RBIs in 126 games for the Rangers, drawing raves from Maddon for never giving away an at-bat. "This guy works an at-bat as well as anybody in either league," he said. Friedman said Bradley could be used primarily as rightfielder or as a DH.
Bradley's career has been marked by controversies as the result of occasionally volatile behavior, leading him to play for six teams in the past eight seasons, but Maddon and Friedman were not concerned that he would be disruptive.
"People grow up, people change," Maddon said. "A lot of it, from what I gather just talking to him today, is that this guy is really all about winning."
Friedman said the Rays consider it "very helpful to be able sit down and talk about different things and meet face-to-face" during the decision-making process.
"We have a tremendous amount of respect for Milton as a player and thought it was a good opportunity to sit down and learn a little bit more, and it was a great meeting," Friedman said. "He was very impressive."
The competition for offensive-oriented outfielders may be steep, as higher-payroll clubs such as the Cubs and Braves are among teams also looking, but the Rays could benefit from the economically depressed market.
The Rays would typically prefer to limit veteran free agent signings to one or two years, but Friedman said they would be willing to go beyond that in certain situations. Bradley made $5.25-millon last season and declined arbitration from the Rangers; the Royals and Cubs are also interested.
Friedman, also looking to improve the bullpen, said he has had trade talks with several teams but "I'm not sure yet I would characterize anything as close."
MR. MADDON GOES TO WASHINGTON: Maddon and new wife Jaye Sousoures were invited to the White House for a dinner Jan. 4 with President and Laura Bush, and five other undisclosed couples, that was arranged by noted author George Will. "It's something I'm really looking forward to," Maddon said.
RAYS NOTES: Maddon said closer Troy Percival was recovering well from back surgery but may not be ready at the start of the regular season. … Pitcher Chad Orvella was outrighted to Triple-A Durham, reducing the active roster to 38. … Strength coach Kevin Barr and travel director Jeff Ziegler were voted tops in their field for 2008 by their peers. … Despite several national media reports, indications are the Rays are not looking to trade shortsop Jason Bartlett. … Infielder Akinori Iwamura is expected to play for Japan in the World Baseball Classic, and could be used at third. … Maddon's off-season goal of seeing someone wearing a Rays cap during his European vacation was met at the Rome train station, when he spotted Tampa resident Ryan Atwood.
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com.