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Tampa Bay Rays won't limit search for another bat to first basemen

ST. PETERSBURG — With Luke Scott signed and set for everyday duty, the Rays are now focused on adding another hitter to complete the planned upgrade of their offense.

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said they are perusing numerous possibilities: trade or free agent, right- or left-handed, bargain or expensive.

Most interesting, he claimed they are not limiting their search to a first baseman.

"We're just looking for a bat," Friedman said. "We like to have 'optionality.' We like to be as flexible as we can be. We don't want to pigeonhole ourselves into any one area if we can avoid it just because it expands the applicant pool.

"We're just going through a long list of names right now trying to figure out how we can line up on the best player that we can, when factoring in offense, fit with our offensive unit, defense, and the net result."

That would be an unexpected posture for the Rays, given how much manager Joe Maddon, with whom they are closing in on a multiyear contract extension, values a slick-fielding first baseman to anchor the infield defense.

Without one, they'd be looking at primarily using Scott, who is below-average defensively. Plus, he said he was told he'd be the primary DH, and he admitted he may not be far enough along in his recovery from July right-shoulder surgery to play first at the start of the season (or the outfield until May or June). Other possibilities include Sean Rodriguez and Ben Zobrist.

For the right hitter, Friedman said, the trade-off could be worth it: "We obviously value defense a lot, but there's times where enough offense trips that line and makes it something that makes sense for the team."

Or, he could be working a negotiating strategy aimed at lowering the price of first-base candidates, such as Carlos Peña (who reportedly has interest from the Indians), incumbent Casey Kotchman or Derrek Lee; or a potential trade partner (such as the Angels with Mark Trumbo, or, higher shelf, the White Sox with Paul Konerko).

With Scott getting a $5 million salary (plus $6 million option or $1 million buyout in 2013), the Rays payroll seems headed at least to the mid $50 million range. Though Friedman said that "ideally" he'd fill the opening from "a value standpoint," he didn't rule out adding salary. "We're probably beyond what we kind of thought we'd be," he said, "but that's the benefit of not working with a hard and fast number, and numerous years are intertwined in our decisionmaking process."

Scott said he liked the look of the lineup and was excited by the opportunity, among other reasons, because he no longer has to face Rays pitchers, who have held him to a .227 average. "It's going to be a joy," he said.

Selig on through 2014

PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — Owners voted 29-1 to give commissioner Bud Selig a two-year contract extension through the 2014 season.

Selig has held the position since 1992, first as interim commissioner and then as commissioner since 1998. He will turn 80 in July 2014.

If he stays until September 2016, he would surpass Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1920-44) as the longest-serving baseball commissioner.

"I've often said, and I believe this, for me personally in my life there's no higher honor than being the commissioner of baseball," he said.

Selig's contract had been due to expire this Dec. 31, and he had talked of teaching after leaving the job. But he said he began hearing lately from owners who wanted him to stay on.

Playoff expansion: Selig, hopeful that the playoffs could be expanded this season, said a committee is dealing with scheduling issues. Addition of a second wild card in each league would add a one-game play-in between teams with the two best records in each league that are not division winners. Selig says that would mean condensing the overall playoff schedule. MLB and the players union must agree by March 1 whether to add the new round for 2012.

Padres sale delayed: Owners deferred a vote on the proposed transfer of the Padres from John Moores to Jeff Moorad, saying they need clarification on financial information. Moores, upset at Selig for the delay, voted against the commissioner's extension, the Associated Press reported. Moorad was a prominent sports agent before becoming a minority owner, first with the Diamondbacks, then with the Padres. Selig said it wouldn't be necessary to wait until the owners' next scheduled meeting in May to approve the sale, that it could be done by conference call.

Santana uncertain: Sixteen months after shoulder surgery, left-hander Johan Santana hopes to be on the mound for the Mets when the season starts April 5, but he couldn't commit to it. "It's going to be tough for me to guess, because I don't know how I'm going to be in two months," said the two-time Cy Young winner who hasn't pitched in the majors since Sept. 2, 2010. His goal is to be ready for bullpen sessions Feb. 22, when spring workouts begin.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com. Follow his coverage on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Tampa Bay Rays won't limit search for another bat to first basemen 01/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 12, 2012 11:42pm]
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