Percival signs $8 million, 2-year deal to bolster Rays bullpen

Updated: November 30, 2007, 6:56 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Troy Percival thinks the Tampa Bay Rays have a bright future, and wants to do everything he can to help the young team realize its potential.

Spurning suitors that included the New York Yankees, the 38-year-old reliever agreed to an $8 million, two-year contract Friday with Tampa Bay, which needed to upgrade one of the worst bullpens in the major leagues.

Percival, who came out of retirement to go 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 34 appearances for St. Louis in 2007, will have a chance to earn another $4 million-plus in bonuses.

He said he had comparable offers from other teams and may have even been able to get more money, but he likes Tampa Bay's nucleus of young talent and thinks longtime friend Joe Maddon is the right manager to get the Rays out of the AL East cellar.

"You see an organization that's trying to do everything right, and I wanted to be a part of it," Percival said after slipping on a Rays jersey in the clubhouse at Tropicana Field.

"I don't necessarily think you have to have the highest payroll to do it. We won the World Series in Anaheim with not even close to the highest payroll. I'm not saying we're going to the World Series this year. But I don't discount it. I watched Colorado and Arizona, young teams with talent, go out and make a good showing for themselves (in 2007)."

Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman flew to Los Angeles two weeks ago to meet with Maddon, Percival and the pitcher's agent to try to give the right-hander a sense of where the Rays stand and their commitment to get better.

A four-time AL All-Star, Percival is 12th on the career saves list with 324. He is 33-41 with a 3.02 ERA in 639 career games with the Cardinals, Tigers and Angels, where he spent the first 10 years of his career and built a close relationship with Maddon.

"He's put this organization on the right path," Percival said of Maddon, who is preparing for his third season in Tampa Bay.

"When he called he said I could be a big difference maker. That was huge for me. He's not just going to tell me that to tell me that."

Percival left baseball after injuring his right forearm and elbow while pitching for Detroit and missing half of 2005 and all of 2006. He signed with the Cardinals in June 2007 and worked almost exclusively in middle relief this year.

He could fill several roles for Tampa Bay, including the closer's job currently held by Al Reyes. At the very least, his addition gives Maddon another option in the late innings.

"We knew he wasn't going to sign anywhere he didn't feel like he had a chance to win," Friedman said.

"We feel like in adding Troy we've really addressed one of our major weaknesses. It's something we've been on a mission to do for some time."

The signing comes two days after the Rays bolstered their starting rotation and defense by acquiring right-hander Matt Garza and shortstop Jason Bartlett from Minnesota in a deal that sent right fielder Delmon Young, infielder Brendan Harris and a minor league prospect to the Twins.

Percival had eight seasons with 30 or more saves for the Angels, including 40 in 2002 when he posted a 1.92 ERA and also had an outstanding postseason while helping them win the World Series.

He signed with Detroit following the 2004 season and appeared in 26 games in 2005 before his injury.

Friedman expects Percival to take over the closer's job and team with Reyes and Dan Wheeler to solidify the back end of a bullpen that had a 6.16 ERA -- highest in the majors in the last 50 years.

The Rays lost 16 games after leading in the seventh inning or later, and six times after leading in the ninth. They also dropped a major league-high six games after leading by five-plus runs.

Percival is anxious to help stop that trend.

"Getting outs. That's been my role wherever I've been," he said, adding that he's confident he can be an effective closer again after being a middle reliever and even making the only start of his career with the Cardinals.

"That's what I've been bred to do," Percival said. "Closing is a state of mind. ... I never get surprised by success. I expect it out of myself."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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