End of year means Baldelli a free agent
Outfielder thanks Rays for sticking with him during illness
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rocco Baldelli is a free agent now that the season is over, and on Thursday afternoon, the veteran outfielder said he did not know what to expect heading into the offseason.
"I don't know what's going on right now," said Baldelli about the prospect of returning to the Rays in 2009. "This has been the only place I've ever played, and I'm very comfortable here. Everyone's been very supportive through all this stuff I've been dealing with.
"I'm thankful for that, more than anything, because I know a lot of people, or a lot of teams, would have probably turned their back on me when I was going through a lot of these troubles -- because it is a business, and they treated me like a person. I love playing here. And I'm just going to wait and see what happens the next couple of weeks and months."
Baldelli began the 2008 season on the 60-day disabled list with a mitochondrial disorder that kept him in a constant state of fatigue. Prior to April 1, the Rays declined to pick up his $6 million option for the 2009 season. By declining the option, the club had to pay him $4 million, which allowed Baldelli to become a free agent at the end of this season. Had Tampa Bay exercised the option, the team would have had to face the same question of whether to renew him for '10 and '11 at a cost of $17 million, or buy him out at $2 million.
Despite Baldelli's ability to play well when he is in the lineup, the fact he must still deal with the effects of his malady makes his a unique situation. The Rays, and other teams who might be considering making a bid at Baldelli, must decide how much value they can give to a player they can't count on to play every day.
"I think it is [a unique situation] on some levels," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rocco on and off the field. We do have a special relationship, just being a part of what he's gone through. And seeing him in the lowest of moments, I think has created that personal relationship. I'm sure we'll talk in the next couple of days. And I'm sure we'll have a talk with his agent. I'm not sure yet how things will work out. But he has made this organization better. And I'm sure both sides will try to figure out a way to continue working together."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.