Burrell viewed as Rays' best DH yet

ST. PETERSBURG -- A couple of weeks have passed since the Rays locked up free agent Pat Burrell for two years at a cost of $16 million. Now that the dust has settled, his new teammates are looking forward to adding a player who could be the best designated hitter the team has had.

"I think it's awesome," Evan Longoria said. "It proves, definitely, that we're trying to be a contender in a league where that's very tough to do, especially with the two, three, four big-market teams we have in this league. But it definitely does show a step forward for the organization as far as the money they're going to spend and what they're going to do to try to make this a winning franchise."

B.J. Upton talked of adding "a big bat for the middle of that lineup."

"He can bring us 20-plus home runs, and any time you can add that to your lineup, it's big," Upton said. "Especially when you add it to the speed we've got and the guys we've already got here, that's going to play a big part in what we do this year."

James Shields added: "It was funny, I was telling my dad a month or two ago that the hardest guy on the Phillies to face for me [during the World Series] was Burrell, because he just grinded every single at-bat. I think I threw 14 pitches an at-bat to him, it seemed like. He's not scared to take his walks -- he's a very patient hitter. He wants to get his pitch. He'll foul pitches off just to get that one pitch. I think he's going to be really good for our team."

Burrell appeared to be the best fit for the Rays' DH spot given the fact he's right-handed, he hits lefties well and he's got some power. And while performance oftentimes does not meet a level of expectation, a case can be made on paper that no previous Rays DH has matched Burrell's expected production.

Seems like just yesterday Paul Sorrento was stepping into the batter's box against the Tigers for the Rays' first Opening Day on March 31, 1998. Sorrento flew out to right field and went 1-for-5, which led to a season that saw him hit .225 with 17 home runs and 57 RBIs.

After Sorrento's less than auspicious 1998, the Rays saw the following open the season at DH: Jose Canseco (1999, 2000), Steve Cox ('01), Greg Vaughn ('02), Al Martin ('03), Aubrey Huff ('04), Josh Phelps ('05), Jonny Gomes ('06), Rocco Baldelli ('07) and Cliff Floyd ('08).

Canseco and Huff are the most prolific of the Rays' past DHs.

Canseco found his groove in the first half of the '99 season, hitting his 31st home run of the season on July 8 against the Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Unfortunately for the Rays, Canseco experienced back problems shortly thereafter and finished the season with 34 homers.

Huff had a marvelous offensive season in '04 when he hit .297 with 29 home runs and 104 RBIs. However, he primarily played third base with only 34 games at DH.

Enter the Burrell years.

In nine seasons with the Phillies, Burrell was used in the DH slot 22 times (excluding postseason starts), so being the full-time DH might take a little getting used to for him. However, his body of work suggests the Rays will get everything they were looking for when they signed him.

Given manager Joe Maddon's preference in the past, it's likely Burrell will follow a left-handed hitter in the lineup, which puts more pressure on the other team's manager when using his bullpen. Under that scenario, Carl Crawford or Carlos Pena will likely be hitting in front of Burrell. When hot, Burrell could occasionally be used in the cleanup slot, with Crawford in the third spot, or behind Pena in the fifth spot when Evan Longoria or B.J. Upton is hitting third. And there's always the chance Maddon could stack the lineup with back-to-back righties, putting Burrell behind Upton or Longoria.

These are the kinds of problems managers love to mull over in their heads.

One thing is for certain, with Burrell in the lineup, the Rays will be much stronger against left-handed pitching. Against lefties, Burrell has a career .276 batting average with a .410 on-base percentage and a .540 slugging percentage.

Burrell has averaged 31 home runs a season for the past four years, and a nice facet of joining the Rays is they don't need him to carry the team given the nature of the already solid lineup. But that won't keep him from trying.

"I'm here to help," said Burrell via conference call the day he signed with the Rays. "Anything and everything I can do to help this team win, I'm going to do. I've played every day for a number of years in Philadelphia. This is a team that's made up of a very good core of young everyday players. And if there's anything I can do to help, I'll certainly do everything I can."