ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Luke Scott is looking forward to life in the AL East without having to face Tampa Bay’s young, talented pitching staff.
The power-hitting free agent first baseman-outfielder was added to the middle of the Rays lineup Thursday after agreeing to a US$6 million, one-year contract. He will receive $5 million this season, and the deal includes a $6 million club option for 2013 with a $1 million buyout.
Scott figures to be the team’s primary designated hitter, although he also brings some versatility that will provide manager Joe Maddon some flexibility on defence.
“It’s going to be a joy,” Scott said by telephone from Oklahoma, where he is rehabbing a shoulder injury that limited him to 64 games with Baltimore last season. “Not having to face that pitching staff is definitely going to be a relief. They have tremendous arms in that rotation and in their bullpen. … It’s very tough to make a living against that pitching staff.”
The Rays are just as happy to gain Scott’s bat.
The 33-year-old hit .269 and averaged 25 home runs per year from 2008 to 2010 with the Orioles. He batted .220 with nine homers and 22 RBIs before undergoing season-ending surgery in July to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
“Luke has established himself as one of the better power hitters in baseball, with consistent success in a variety of roles against both right- and left-handed pitchers,” Rays executive vice-president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said.
“He’s shown he can perform in the American League East and we expect him to be healthy and productive again in 2012.”
While Scott doesn’t anticipate being ready to play in left or right field before May or June, he and the Rays are confident he’ll be able to handle the designated hitter’s role — and possibly even play first base — by opening day.
“I’m very happy where my shoulder is. I’ve taken all the necessary precautions, everything that’s in my control to get to where I’m at right now,” Scott said. “I’m very pleased that I’ve got full range of motion, and my strength is really coming back very quickly. I’m a little bit ahead of schedule. … I don’t see why I shouldn’t be ready.”
Friedman isn’t sure where Scott, who also has played for the Houston Astros, will wind up in Tampa Bay’s batting order but stressed it will be in a “meaningful” spot. The acquisition likely also means last year’s primary DH, Johnny Damon, won’t return for a second season with the Rays.
Damon hit .261 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs in 150 games in 2011, helping Tampa Bay reach the playoff for the third time in four seasons.
“Johnny was a big part of our success on and off the field. … Luke was a guy we’ve had interest in for a number of years. We saw an opportunity to add him to our group, and we’re excited to add his profile to our existing personnel,” Friedman said.
A resident of De Leon Springs, Fla. who graduated from Deland High School before heading to Oklahoma State for college, Scott said a chance to play closer to home for a pennant contender was only part of the lure in signing with the Rays. So was Tampa Bay’s interest in him.
“They were very passionate about having me become a Ray,” Scott said. “At the end of the day, I want to go somewhere I’m going to be wanted.”
Over seven seasons with the Astros and Orioles, Scott has 112 homers and 341 RBIs. He had a combined 84 doubles and 75 homers in his first three seasons with Baltimore. The best overall season of his career was 2010, when he hit .284 with 27 homers, 29 doubles, 72 RBIS and a .535 slugging percentage.
“I had a great experience in Baltimore,” Scott said. “The fans were awesome. They showed me a lot of support. … My teammates were awesome. I wish them the best of luck except when they play us.”