Kapler added to Rays' outfield mix
Veteran journeyman signs one-year deal to join young squad
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays added to their outfield depth Monday afternoon when they agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract with free agent Gabe Kapler.
"We feel like Gabe fits us well," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "[His acquisition] further upgrades us against left-handed pitching."
The right-handed-hitting Kapler posted a .354 average with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 82 at-bats against left-handed pitching in 2008 with the Brewers.
Friedman pointed out that Kapler can play all of the outfield positions and he gives the Rays insurance in the event B.J. Upton is not ready for Opening Day. The Rays center fielder had offseason surgery on his left shoulder.
"We're still optimistic [Upton will be ready for Opening Day], but you never know," Friedman said. "And it's important for us to get off to a good start and we feel like in the event B.J. isn't ready that we're in much better position with Gabe.
"It also adds to our depth in the event of injury. ... Injuries are a part of the game and we know they will happen. And so instead of getting to that point and throwing our hands up, we're trying to actively manage in front of it instead of trying to react after something happens."
The Rays must clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Kapler; once he is officially added, a corresponding move will be made later this week.
Kapler, 33, played in 96 games for the Brewers in 2008, hitting .301 with eight home runs and 38 RBIs. He sounded pleased to be joining the Rays while answering the question of why he picked the Rays.
"There were a number of factors," Kapler said. "The first one being I love the opportunity to win and I happen to think this team has the ability to be better than it was last year. And I also know that with a winning team, the season goes a lot faster, it's a lot more fun. Coming to the ballpark and coming to a working environment where there's a lot of winning going on, everybody individually performs better as well. That was one factor.
"Another [factor is] being the Tampa area -- it's enticing to me. The chance to get to know that area is enticing as well. Also, I think there is a great opportunity for me to perform in Tampa and I expect to take advantage of that opportunity."
Kapler began his Major League career with the Tigers in 1998 and has spent parts of 12 seasons in the Major Leagues with the Tigers, Rangers, Rockies, Red Sox and Brewers, compiling a .273 career average with 72 home runs and 340 RBIs.
He came out of retirement last season after managing the Class A Greenville Drive in the Red Sox organization in 2007, an experience he now credits for helping him develop "as a human being more so than as a ballplayer."
"I think it just provided me with an opportunity to take a breather and to realize that I had a lot of passion for playing left in me," Kapler said. "That said, I also learned a lot of lessons about how to be strong mentally. Those lessons carried over into 2008 for me and I expect to build on them in 2009."
Some Rays fans might be wondering why the Rays passed on signing popular Rocco Baldelli then deciding to sign Kapler, as the two are similar. Baldelli ended up signing a one-year deal with the Red Sox with a base salary of $500,000 that can expand to $2.25 million with incentives based on remaining on the roster. Reaching other incentives based on plate appearances can push the value of the deal considerably further.
"[Kapler's $1 million contract] was the extent of our financial flexibility," Friedman said. "We talked about how limited it was after the [Pat] Burrell signing. And any time you sign a player to an incentive laden deal, you're expecting them to make those incentives, or a good portion of them or you shouldn't sign the player. ... We were pretty much over extended before this. So this was about the extent of our flexibility."
Friedman added that Kapler's deal does not include incentives.
In addition to Kapler, the Rays' right-field situation now includes Gabe Gross, Fernando Perez, Justin Ruggiano, and Matt Joyce. But given the youth of Perez and Joyce -- and the potential of each -- chances are both will play where they can be everyday players.
When Kapler was asked about what he perceived as his role with the Rays, he responded by saying, "I haven't got that far."
"I'll tell you this," Kapler said. "Right now, my No. 1 goal at this point is to prove to my teammates that I am a great teammate. That's one of my expectations right away, to meet my teammates, earn their respect, and then prove to [manager] Joe [Maddon] and to Andrew what I'm capable of doing and I expect everything else to take care of itself from that point on.
"I always accept responsibility for my actions. I want to prove my worth and then capitalize on any opportunity that presents itself. I will have it no other way."
In addition to beefing up the outfield, Kapler also can help the bench. Last season, he was Milwaukee's top pinch-hitter, batting .323 (10-for-31) with two home runs.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.