Tampa Bay fans may not have much rooting interest in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, but they will have reason to pay attention as four key Rays were named to their national teams.
Infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist is set to play for Team USA, catcher Jose Molina for Puerto Rico and relievers Fernando Rodney and Joel Peralta for the Dominican Republic, based on provisional rosters released Thursday.
All are expected to report to Port Charlotte when the Rays open camp in mid February then leave at the end of month to join their national teams to prep for the March 7-19 tourney.
"It's an incredible honor," Zobrist said on a conference call. "For me, it's one of my career goals, my career dreams is to be able to play for Team USA in the WBC. … It's just such a distinct honor to represent your country in any way, especially a country like ours."
Though the Rays have never seemed comfortable with the WBC process — especially involving starting pitchers — they are understanding.
"It's one of those things that certainly helps advance the game," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "There are certain times when we have to think beyond the narrow scope of the Tampa Bay Rays."
Though four key players (plus minor-league infielder Leonardo Reginatto for Brazil) will miss a chunk of spring training, it could have been more. Ace David Price said he wouldn't be ready in time to pitch for Team USA (full roster, 6C), and third baseman Evan Longoria is unavailable due to his hamstring surgery.
Zobrist, who has plotted changes in his offseason workouts to get his swing up to game speed earlier, said he was excited about the camaraderie and the competition. Not so much facing Peralta or Rodney.
"I wouldn't be looking forward to that," he said. "I know how good they are."
• Negotiations with arbitration eligibles Sam Fuld, Matt Joyce, Jeff Niemann and Ryan Roberts can continue until the exchange of figures today at 1 p.m. Settlements usually happen. If not, under team policy, they cease talks and proceed to a hearing next month.
• Senior adviser Don Zimmer, who turned 82 Thursday, will make only limited appearances in spring training. Zimmer said he is feeling good but is concerned about the complications of relocating his home dialysis equipment to Port Charlotte so instead will make occasional day trips.
BoSox-Napoli deal: The Red Sox and catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli agreed to shorten their deal to one year for $5 million, according to multiple reports. Napoli initially agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal in December, but the team discovered an issue with his hip. Also, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia agreed to a $4.5 million, one-year deal.
Rangers lock up all-star: The Rangers finalized a $55 million, five-year contract with All-Star left-hander Matt Harrison. The deal includes a 2018 club option.
Astros: Outfielder Rick Ankiel, 33, agreed to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.
Brewers: Outfielder Carlos Gomez agreed to a $4.3 million, one-year contract.
Orioles: Manager Buck Showalter and vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette signed extensions through 2018.
Yankees: Reliever Joba Chamberlain agreed to a one-year contract worth $1,875,000. … Third baseman Alex Rodriguez had relatively minimal cartilage damage in his left hip during surgery this week, the Associated Press reported.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.