11/14/07 4:17 PM ET
Rays make two option plays
Reyes coming back, but Norton not returning in 2008
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
Because once the catchy melody from the Clint Eastwood western classic played, Al Reyes, AKA "El Asesino," appeared and a Rays victory was close at hand.
On Wednesday, the Rays made sure Reyes would return for the 2008 season, exercising the $2.3 million option on the veteran right-hander's contract (a $1 million option plus incentives).
"I'm happy they picked up my option," Reyes said. "They gave me a chance after Tommy John surgery in '06, and then they gave me a chance to earn a spot on the roster."
In addition, the Rays declined the $1 million option on the contract of outfielder/first baseman Greg Norton. The club also reinstated outfielder Rocco Baldelli, catcher Shawn Riggans and shortstop Ben Zobrist from the 60-day disabled list; the Rays did not have to make room on the roster for any of the three players.
Reyes, 37, greatly enhanced the team's bullpen in 2007, and he proved to be a huge bargain for the Rays.
Reyes signed with the club on March 19, 2006, while recuperating from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. He missed most of the 2006 season and reported to camp last spring as a non-roster invitee. After proving he was healthy, Reyes earned a roster spot.
"Al pitched very well for us in 2007, and we're thrilled to have him back for another year," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. "Not only did he perform well on the field, but he was an important veteran influence on our young pitching staff and had a great demeanor in pressure situations. We're looking forward to him playing a key role for us again in '08."
The righty quickly locked down the closer's role and posted a club-record 16 consecutive saves to start the season, including a franchise-best nine in April. Reyes went on to record 17 saves in the first half, and he finished with 26 for the season.
"I can't complain about how this year went. It was my first year as a closer," Reyes said. "I was a little bit afraid about how my elbow would respond. I now know what it's like, and I'll get my elbow stronger. ... Next year, I feel I will come back stronger."
While Reyes struggled with physical problems in the second half, when he pitched to a 5.86 ERA in 27 appearances, he gives the Rays stability in the closing role and he'll likely start the 2008 season in the same role. But, he could have some competition for the spot, as a report in Wednesday's Tampa Tribune said the Rays had interest in signing veteran closer Troy Percival. If such a scenario did come to fruition, Reyes would either serve as the closer or as a setup man.
Reyes' 26 saves is the fifth most in a season in club history, and his 86.7 save percentage (26-of-30) was third best in Rays history behind Roberto Hernandez's 91.5 (43-for-47) in 1999 and Danys Baez's 90.9 (30-for-33) in '04. Reyes became the third-oldest pitcher to post his first 20-save campaign behind Hoyt Wilhelm, who saved 21 games for the White Sox in 1963 at age 41, and Ellis Kinder, who converted 27 saves in '53 for the Red Sox at 39. Reyes held opponents to a .215 batting average, best among Rays relievers and seventh-best all-time among Rays relief pitchers.
Norton, 35, enjoyed a banner season in 2006, when he hit .296 with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs in 98 games. But he struggled in '07 after suffering injuries during Spring Training. Norton injured his right knee, which required surgery, and he hurt his left elbow, which required surgery after the season. His elbow injury lingered all season long. For most of the first half, Norton played in pain. In the second half, he found a way to deal with his injury and managed to end the year with a flurry. After spending much of the season with his average below the "Mendoza Line," Norton finished at .243 with four home runs and 23 RBIs; he hit .345 in August and .293 in September.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.