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Originally tapped to join the Yankees, among other teams, as a fourth outfielder this season, Rocco Baldelli has re-joined the Tampa Bay Rays. No, he will not be patrolling the outfield at Tropicana as he did from 2003-2008. Instead, due to a variety of ailments that have plagued him throughout his career, Baldelli will join Tampa as a special assistant.
“Obviously we’re thrilled to add Rocco and his experience and what he can bring to our young players,” Rays vice president Andrew Friedman said, according to the St. Petersburg Times. “We think he’ll be a tremendous asset for us. And he looks better in blue.”
According to the Times, Baldelli will miss the 2010 season due to a shoulder injury, but claims he’s not “ready to retire.” Friedman later said that he would not rule out Baldelli rejoining the Rays as a player later in the season.
Baldelli was diagnosed with channelopathy prior to the 2008 season, a disorder that prevents him from being an everyday player in the major leagues. He was regarded as a top prospect during his upbringing, and had a strong first year in the majors with the “Devil” Rays: 156 games, .289 AVG, 11 HR, 78 RBI, 89 Runs, 27 stolen bases.
His career went downhill after that, and culminated in his first year as a fourth outfielder last season with the Red Sox. Baldelli played just 62 games with the Sox, finishing with 7 HR, 23 RBI, and a .253 AVG.
It’s a terrific deal for the Rays, definitely. They get back their franchise favorite at a small price, and they reserve the right to sign him as a player during the season while he rests up and tries to get healthy. The Rays currently boast a solid outfield, featuring Carl Crawford, rookie Fernando Perez, B.J. Upton, Gabe Kapler, and Pat Burrel (though he’s a DH). It’s not crazy to assume the Rays will sign Baldelli later in the year if they are in contention.
Meanwhile, it’s just a tragic story for Baldelli. I think this is the best-case scenario for him if he wants to resurrect his career in some way. While it’s clear he can’t be an everyday player in the big leagues anymore, perhaps he can get healthy and establish himself as a reliable fourth outfielder as he heads to his 30s (he’s still just 28).
Baldelli has the talent, the heart, and the desire to be a top-flight outfielder in the major leagues, but he just doesn’t have all the physical tools. It’s such a shame. Best of luck to Baldelli in the future.