OK, so he's not "the new Joe DiMaggio" after all. But the Rays haven't quite given up on him. Marc Topkin:
- Rocco Baldelli is set to make his return to the field as a player tonight for Class A Charlotte, the first step in what could lead him back to the Rays later this season.Baldelli, 28, has spent this season working as a special assistant coach, but is expected to sign a minor-league playing contract this afternoon and be the DH tonight for the Stone Crabs.
Given that he hasn't played in games since last season with Boston, Baldelli is going to need an extended period of time in the minors, perhaps two or three weeks with Charlotte before moving up to Double- or Triple-A.
How he does and how he feels along the way will determine when, or if, he rejoins the Rays. One key date to keep in mind is Aug. 31, because he'd have to be on the roster by then to be eligible for the post-season.
I generally take a dim view of investing organizational capital in lost causes. How much time would have been saved -- and how many more games would have been won? -- if the A's had simply cut Eric Chavez loose this spring and given that roster spot to Jack Cust? (Since coming back from the minors, Cust has been the A's best hitter. Before returning to the DL, Chavez was one of their worst.)
But you know, this Baldelli thing might not be as crazy as you think, if only because the Rays' bench has been a wasteland this season. On the off-chance that Baldelli does play well in the minors and seems to merit a promotion to the majors and even a postseason roster spot, the spot he might get is Gabe Kapler's ... and Kapler's got a .228/.308/.311 line this season.
Of course, if Baldelli does get such consideration it'll be largely because he's an organizational favorite ... Which is exactly the excuse for keeping Kapler around, too. So if Baldelli's time in the minors goes well, late next month we might see an epic (or not) Battle of the Good Guys in St. Pete.