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Tampa Bay Rays to examine rightfield, closer personnel this offseason

Rays manager Joe Maddon had a lot on his plate this week, with his wedding coming up Saturday.

But Maddon took time to make an appearance at the general managers meetings in Dana Point, Calif. — not too far from his Southern California home — to meet with Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman. And Maddon met with the media, discussing a couple of key offseason questions facing the American League champions: Who will play rightfield and who will close in 2009?

Gabe Gross along with current free agents Rocco Baldelli and Eric Hinske were among several Rays to start in rightfield last year. The Rays still might choose to get a free agent or make a trade to fill that role.

As for Baldelli, with the 27-year-old making an inspirational comeback from a career-threatening mitochondrial disorder, there's still a question of whether he's physically ready for an everyday role, be it at DH or rightfield, if the Rays re-sign him. Baldelli made a lot of his starts as DH and didn't play a full nine innings in right until the World Series.

"I think this offseason will tell a lot regarding his health," Maddon said. "You've got to see where he is and how much better he feels by the time spring training runs around. At that point, you can make stronger determinations."

Another question is what the Rays will be able to get out of veteran closer Troy Percival. He is under contract at $4-million for 2009. Percival, 39, led the Rays with 28 saves last season but spent three stints on the disabled list and was left off the roster for each of the three postseason series.

Percival had said there was a chance he would need back and knee surgeries in the offseason. Friedman said this week that the right-hander had yet to do so (nor has centerfielder B.J. Upton had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder) but added the team would likely know more on both next week.

When asked whether Percival would be the closer next season or if the Rays would go with a committee approach used late in the season, Maddon wasn't sure.

"I don't know yet," Maddon said. "I haven't spoken to (Percival) since I've been back. Just gonna find out where he is physically and mentally, and take it from there."

Maddon said it is best to have one designated closer, but, "if you can't, I'm not opposed to doing what I did."

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays to examine rightfield, closer personnel this offseason 11/06/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 12, 2008 4:41pm]
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