Luke Scott couldn't be happier about moving to a new neighborhood in the American League East.
It's official. The former Baltimore Orioles slugger was introduced as the newest member of the Tampa Bay Rays Thursday afternoon via conference call.
Scott, who will serve as DH as well as playing first base and outfield, expressed excitement over joining a Rays team he's seen plenty of as an opponent the past four seasons.
"To not have to face that pitching staff is definitely going to be a relief," he said. "They have tremendous arms in that rotation and in the bullpen. And I know that every day we faced the Rays in Baltimore, you had to really bear down and not miss (their) mistakes if you got one that day. It was very tough to make a living against that pitching staff."
Andrew Friedman, Rays Vice President of Baseball Operations, was just as pleased to acquire a player the club has been interested in for several years.
"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," 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."
Scott is coming off season-ending shoulder surgery performed July 26 by Dr. James Andrews, who happens to be the Rays' team surgeon. He struggled uncharacteristically before that, hitting just .220 with nine homers and 22 RBI in 64 games during the first half of the season.
Friedman is banking that Scott will return to his form of the prior three years with the Orioles. From 2008-10, he batted .269 with a 84 doubles and 75 homers. Only three other American Leaguers and no left-handed hitters equaled those numbers. One was new Rays teammate Evan Longoria, the other two Detroit's Miguel Cabrera and New York's Mark Teixeira. The best season of his seven-year career came in 2010, with a batting average of .284 and 27 homers, 29 doubles, 72 RBI and a .535 slugging percentage.
He's been especially tough against righties, hitting .271 overall with 82 homers and a .501 slugging average.
"I'm really happy where my shoulder is," he said. "I've taken all the necessary precautions. Everything that's in my control to get to where I'm at right now I'm very pleased (with). I've got full range of motion.
"My strength is really coming back very quickly. I'm a little bit ahead of schedule, so I still have to maintain my exercises and do what's on the program and not get too far ahead of myself. But I feel great. I'm out here in Oklahoma training with my physical therapist . . . and I don't see why I shouldn't be ready for Opening Day."
Asked how Scott would be utilized, Friedman, in a separate conference call, replied, "I don't know where he'll hit in the lineup yet. But it'll be a meaningful spot. Some of that will depend on the other bats that we add and just how everything balances out. But he'll certainly be an every day guy. One of the things that we really like is obviously his success against right-handed pitchers, but also his ability to handle lefthanders and not need an extra roster spot to help protect that."
Friedman said Scott would DH and play first and eventually play outfield when his shoulder is strong enough.
"That might take some time," he said. "But he should be 100 percent be able to DH on Opening Day, and my sense is he'll be able to play first on opening day also."
The Rays are still keeping their options open at first base, the position most recently manned by defensive standout Casey Kotchman, who also led the team in hitting at .306. But Kotchman is a free agent and the team has not rushed to re-sign him. He hit only 10 homers last season at a position that traditionally supplies power.
Asked if he was still searching for a front-line first baseman, Friedman said, "We're just going through a long list of names right now and trying to figure out how we can line up on the best player we can, factoring in offensive fit . . . and defense, and the net result."
Clearly, further beefing up the bats is one of Friedman's priorities for a team that hit just .244 last season: "We've got a pretty lengthy list of guys we're working through and we'll try to end up with the best guy that we can to add even more to our lineup."
Meanwhile, Friedman spoke of 2011 DH Johnny Damon a team leader and key member of the Rays' playoff season last year in the past tense when asked about if Scott's signing ended the 38-year-old free agent's one-season tenure with Tampa Bay.
"Look, Johnny was a big part of our success on and off the field," he said. "It's something we talked about a lot throughout the year and even our press conference at the end of the year. He was probably even better than advertised in the type of teammate he was, etcetera.
"But Luke was a guy who we had interest in for a number of years. And we saw an opportunity to add him to our group and we're excited to add his profile to our existing personnel. So it was more about the ability and the chance to add Luke."