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Rocco Baldelli thrilled to be back on field with Rays

SP_329173_BORC_rays_5 (10/07/10) (St. Petersburg, FL) Rocco Baldelli holds a press conference before the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field Thursday, Oct. 07, 2010.     [JAMES BORCHUCK, Times]
SP_329173_BORC_rays_5 (10/07/10) (St. Petersburg, FL) Rocco Baldelli holds a press conference before the Tampa Bay Rays game against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field Thursday, Oct. 07, 2010. [JAMES BORCHUCK, Times]
Published Dec. 21, 2014

Rays baseball operations chief Matt Silverman has made some bold moves this offseason, hiring first-time manager Kevin Cash, trading Wil Myers after parts of just two seasons and going against conventional logic by not adding a bench coach with big-league managing experience.

But adding Rocco Baldelli to the coaching staff? That just made sense.

After a playing career cut short by injury and a mysterious energy-sapping illness, Baldelli, 33, had spent the past four seasons working in the Rays' front office, scouting amateurs, evaluating pros, analyzing data and observing spring training.

But he always envisioned — and talked with his bosses about — getting back to the field, maybe someday managing. The shakeup provided by Joe Maddon's departure provided the impetus and opportunity to be the new first-base and outfield coach.

"The idea of joining the group that was being formed excited me," Baldelli said. "And I'm really excited about the things we can do, ways we can improve and help win more games."

Standing at first base — and he has no concerns healthwise about that or the travel — is just part of his job. Baldelli will be a major conduit of data and information from the front office. Plus, he's incredibly bright, quick-thinking and personable, and has the perspective of youth and experience.

"This has been my life," he said. "I have a really good relationship with those guys upstairs, and I'm relatively familiar with a lot of the things that we do and a lot of the information that we use. The players are the ones that go out there on the field. We just want to put them in the best position and do what we can to help."

Baldelli was among the most popular players when he was with the Rays — even after returning from a one-year stint with his hometown Red Sox — and he will be welcomed back in uniform, his old No. 5, warmly. He couldn't be more excited himself.

"This is a wonderful opportunity," he said, "and there's a lot of things I'm interested in taking part in and learning."

BAT MAN: Without Myers (and Matt Joyce), it sure seems the Rays need more offense, someone else to try to protect Evan Longoria. Looking over what Silverman acknowledged was a dwindling free-agent market, options could include Ryan Ludwick, Colby Rasmus, Ichiro Suzuki, Chris Denorfia, and ex-Rays Jonny Gomes and Delmon Young. Another scenario is to wait and see which team blinks first and eats almost all the bad-contract money on a distressed veteran such as Ryan Howard, ex-Ray B.J. Upton or, dare we say it, Alex Rodriguez.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Longoria was proud to play all 162 games last season, but Cash and Silverman have mentioned a couple of times that he might benefit from occasional rest. … New OF Steven Souza made out pretty well for making the Sept. 28 no-hitter-saving catch for Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmerman. Zimmerman insisted on a gift and treated him to a Best Buy splurge. "I said I'd just bought a new house," Souza said, "so he filled it up with a ton of electronics." … RHP Chris Archer returned enriched and enlightened from a 12-day MLB ambassador trip to South Africa, saying of those he met: "Their love and passion for not only baseball but life itself was re-energizing." … It seems to make more sense to at least start the season with free-agent-to-be INF/OF Ben Zobrist, but there may be a scenario in which he gets moved before that if the Rays are overwhelmed by an offer. … One major difference in managing styles: Whereas Maddon would roll into the clubhouse around 2:30-3 p.m., Cash said he'll be there most days by noon. … Myers thanked the Rays for giving him the chance to play in the majors and said he was "incredibly humbled" by the fan support. … Souza roomed in Washington's minors with Rays RHP Nathan Karns and said he was touched to get a welcome-to-the-team call from Archer. … Acquiring Myers was a key part of the Padres' offensive upgrade, but playing him in centerfield may be adventurous. … Can't imagine the Rays were too pleased to see C Ryan Hanigan flipped by the Padres to the division rival Red Sox.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.