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Tampa Bay Rays sign Gabe Kapler as potential platoon partner with Gabe Gross

Gabe Kapler joined the Brewers last season after a brief retirement and posted outstanding numbers against lefties.

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Gabe Kapler joined the Brewers last season after a brief retirement and posted outstanding numbers against lefties.

ST. PETERSBURG — Gabe of the day?

The Rays found the other half of what could be a uniquely named and potentially effective rightfield platoon, agreeing to a one-year, $1-million deal with free agent Gabe Kapler.

Kapler, 33, hit .301 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in part-time duty in his comeback for the Brewers last season after spending 2007 in "retirement" as a minor-league manager. In 10 seasons, including parts of four in Boston, the right-handed hitter has a .273 average and a reputation of working out and playing hard.

His primary assignment will be to pair with lefty Gabe Gross, but Kapler can play centerfield and could start the season there if B.J. Upton isn't fully recovered from left shoulder surgery. Plus, he crushed left-handed pitching last season, with a .364 average and 1.001 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).

"We feel like Gabe fits us well," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said.

Kapler said the feeling was mutual, citing the chance to be on a winning team and live in the Tampa Bay area.

And, with an increasing understanding of the mental aspects of the game helped by his year away, to be a "great teammate" and put up good numbers.

"It's a great opportunity for me to perform in Tampa, and I expect to take advantage of that opportunity," he said. "I set my ceiling pretty high. … I expect to build on what I did last year and be better than I was."

The reason the Rays could sign Kapler when they couldn't afford to keep Rocco Baldelli is the difference in their contracts. Baldelli got a $500,000 guarantee from the Red Sox but can make millions in incentives; Kapler gets just the $1-million no matter how much he plays.

"That was the extent of our financial flexibility," Friedman said. "Any time you sign a player to an incentive-laden deal, you're expecting them to make those incentives, or a good portion of them."

The depth Kapler provides is also important. The Rays now seem likely to keep speedy Fernando Perez at Triple A, where he can continue his development by playing every day rather than sitting on the big-league bench.

And if Perez, or Matt Joyce, was to show he was ready for regular big-league duty, the Rays could explore trading Gross.

More Rays news:

• Friedman said they are negotiating with their five arbitration eligible players — Willy Aybar, Grant Balfour, Jason Bartlett, Dioner Navarro and Gross — in advance of the Jan. 20 deadline to exchange figures and was optimistic about reaching settlements before going to hearings: "I don't envision that will be necessary with these guys, but we'll see."

• A player has to be dropped to make room on the 40-man roster for Kapler; right-hander Jae-Kuk Ryu appears a possibility.

• The hiring of Todd Greene as quality assurance coach is expected to be made official today.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays sign Gabe Kapler as potential platoon partner with Gabe Gross 01/12/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 7:37am]

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