ST. PETERSBURG — Casey Kotchman took in as many Rays games as he could when he wasn't busy starring for Seminole High on his way to being a first-round draft pick in 2001. Coming back to the Trop with the Angels, then the Red Sox and Mariners, he has played 10 games there as a visitor.
Now Kotchman is looking to play for his hometown team, signing a minor-league contract with the Rays that includes an invitation to spring training, and planning to win a job at first base.
"It's an unusual circumstance where there's a team in your backyard in any major sport, and to be able to have a chance to play for them, I'm grateful for the opportunity," Kotchman said. "Just to have a chance."
Kotchman, who turns 28 on Feb. 22, has a .998 fielding percentage, the highest of any player with 500 games at first base, but he has not produced consistently at the plate.
After hitting .292 with 23 home runs and 122 RBIs in 237 games of fairly regular duty with the Angels in 2007-08, he dropped off considerably as he was traded three times in the next 18 months (to the Braves, then Red Sox, then Mariners) and saw his playing time altered.
In 294 games since the July 2008 trade to Atlanta, he has hit .241 with 18 homers and 119 RBIs, including a tough 2010 season with the Mariners where he hit .217 with nine homers and 51 RBIs, and was dropped from the roster early in the offseason.
Kotchman is not offering, or making, any excuses. "The numbers are what they are," he said.
With Dan Johnson the leading candidate to play first base and seemingly no room on the roster to carry a backup at just that position, Kotchman, a left-hander, could end up at Triple-A Durham for his first extended stint in the minors since 2005.
"I'm not thinking about anything but playing for the Rays," he said. "The goal is to press forward and contribute any way I can."
The Rays added another candidate for their reconstructed bullpen, claiming right-hander Rob Delaney off waivers from Minnesota. Delaney, 26, has pitched in just one big-league game but has impressive minor-league numbers, going 22-19 with a 2.96 ERA and 66 saves in five seasons.
Yanks-Rangers sniping: When Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg recently implied his team prevented free agent Cliff Lee from choosing New York so the pitcher could sign with the Phillies, Yankees president Randy Levine responded by saying Greenberg should get his team "off welfare," ESPNNewYork.com reported.
"He has been running the Rangers for a few minutes and seems to believe he's mastered what everyone else is thinking," the website quoted Levine as saying. "I'll be impressed when he demonstrates he can keep the Rangers off welfare. What I mean is make them not be a revenue-sharing recipient for three years in a row, without taking financing from baseball or advance money from television networks."
Greenberg had also said Lee might not want to play in New York because of how Yankee fans acted toward his wife when the Rangers played in the ALCS.
Mets and money: The Wilpon family announced it will attempt to sell up to 25 percent of the team, likely to help cover the cost of a potential legal settlement stemming from the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, Newsday reported. The family did not detail an asking price for a minority stake in the club that's estimated to be worth $848 million by Forbes magazine, but it hopes to raise $200 million or more.
The decision might have been prompted by a lawsuit filed in December by Irving Picard, the trustee in the Madoff bankruptcy case who is seeking to recoup some profits the family allegedly made as investors.
The Wilpons are looking to raise cash "to address the air of uncertainty created by this lawsuit, and to provide additional assurance that the New York Mets will continue to have the necessary resources to fully compete and win," Fred and Jeff Wilpon said in the Newsday report.
Pirates: Left-hander Joe Beimel, who pitched for the Rays in 2005 and the Rockies last season, agreed to a minor-league deal.
Twins: The teams will take down 14 pine trees behind the centerfield wall at Target Field after hitters complained the trees made it difficult for them to pick up the ball out of the pitcher's hand. … Closer Joe Nathan says his surgically repaired elbow feels good and he hopes to be ready on opening day.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.