PORT CHARLOTTE — The first challenge for veterans Tommy Hunter and Rickie Weeks was showing the Rays after signing minor-league deals that they were worthy of earning spots on the opening day roster, and both got word in advance of Tuesday's contractual deadline that they had.
Next comes the opportunity to play significant roles.
In adding Hunter to their bullpen and Weeks to their lineup at least against left-handers, the Rays are turning to experienced options in hopes of big returns. They seem likely to do so again in acquiring outfielder Peter Bourjos on Tuesday from the White Sox but will wait until closer to the noon Sunday roster deadline — an hour before their opener against the Yankees — to decide for sure.
And those moves come just days after signing veteran catcher Derek Norris, a 2014 All-Star, following his release by Washington.
"For me it seems like they really want to win," opening day starter Chris Archer said after his Tuesday tuneup in Fort Myers. "They're staying within their usual means, but the talent that we've recently added or we're going to add to the roster soon is encouraging."
In Hunter, a bullpen that will be missing former All-Star Brad Boxberger into May adds a 30-year-old with a big arm who has experience closing games and pitching in the American League East with Baltimore.
"We believe, I believe there's value to that," manager Kevin Cash said. "We needed a guy, and probably more than one, to fill some holes and step up. I think Tommy's put himself in a situation where we're going to lean on him in multiple roles early on. We're not going to be committed to defining roles in the back of the bullpen with the exception of (closer) Alex Colome. We're going to need guys who can help us out in a variety of ways."
Hunter, who was minor-league teammates with Cash in 2011, said that was fine by him.
"I'm pretty excited," he said. "Whenever they call me, whether it's early, late or middle, it doesn't really matter anymore. Where I am in my career, I just like to play baseball."
Weeks, a former All-Star second baseman with Milwaukee, impressed the Rays in multiple ways — how he hit, how he learned to play first base, how he carried himself.
"The clubhouse presence has been off the charts," Cash said. "The way he got acclimated so quickly to playing first base is huge. We can't afford to give at-bats to a guy who can't defend. I think he's proven that he's comfortable over there and will get more confident as he gets games under him."
Weeks, 34, said he felt confident coming in and comfortable in camp but didn't want to assume he had made the team. "This is one of those things where I'm happy and blessed to be in the position I'm in, but the next step is the real world," he said. "I want to win games and bring a championship to Tampa."
Because Hunter and Weeks were veterans on minor-league deals, the Rays had until noon Tuesday to tell them if they'd be added to the roster, released or paid $100,000 to stick around.
Bourjos, who turns 30 Friday, is in the same category, having played for the Angels, Cardinals and Phillies, but the Rays will give him the retention bonus to buy time on the decision, with the option to send him to Triple-A Durham as well.
In Bourjos, they would have the right-handed-hitting outfielder they were seeking, as well as one capable of backing up Kevin Kiermaier in centerfield if needed with Colby Rasmus opening the season on the DL.
"A guy who can really defend," Cash said. "I like the way our outfield could be shaping up. … A combination of (Steven Souza Jr.), Mallex (Smith), Peter Bourjos out there to help KK a little bit, it's a pretty good outfield."
Bourjos, acquired for cash considerations or, less likely, a player to be named, hit .251 with five homers, 23 RBIs and a .681 OPS in 355 at-bats for the Phillies last season.
The Rays will have more decisions to make this week, including how to make room on the 40-man roster to add Hunter (who will make $1.4 million plus incentives) and Weeks ($1.5 million plus incentives), plus potentially Bourjos ($1.35 million) and catcher Jesus Sucre, who is also on a minor-league deal.