Nelson, Rays agree to one-year deal

Nelson, Rays agree to one-year deal

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays addressed their bullpen on the night before Christmas by landing right-hander Joe Nelson.

On Wednesday night, Doug Schaer, Nelson's agent, said his client wanted to remain in the state of Florida. Nelson lives in Palm Beach County, and by crossing the state, the 34-year-old will be close to home.

Nelson's one-year deal is a flat $1.3 million, pending completion of his physical. Nelson, who is out of the state for the holidays, is expected to take his physical after Christmas and before New Year's Day.

Nelson worked 54 innings with a 2.00 ERA last season, but was non-tendered by the Marlins. In all, 19 teams expressed interest in Nelson, and in the final days, the field was down to four.

"Joe is really excited to join a World Series runner-up in the best division in baseball," Schaer said.

Nelson could be a critical piece to bolster the team's bullpen for the 2009 season. Rays manager Joe Maddon has always favored having four pitchers he can hand the ball over to in the late innings with the score tied or with the Rays ahead by one run.

Nelson gives the Rays five such pitchers, including right-handers Dan Wheeler, Grant Balfour and Chad Bradford and left-hander J.P. Howell.

Furthermore, Nelson gives the Rays insurance in case closer Troy Percival cannot make a successful return from offseason back surgery.

While right-handers hit just .189 against Nelson in 2008, left-handers didn't do much better, hitting .227. In addition, Nelson has shown he can get the big strikeout as evidenced by his 60 strikeouts in 54 innings last season.

Hot Stove
Nelson was selected in the fourth round of the 1996 First-Year Player Draft and made his big league debut in 2001, but it took him some time to catch on for good. Nelson's first full big league season came in 2006 for the Royals, and he spent last season as one of the Marlins' most consistent relievers.

The veteran didn't pitch for Florida in April and made just four appearances in May, but he worked to a 1.69 ERA before the All-Star break and a 2.20 mark after it. Nelson also had a 1.37 ERA in 32 appearances on the road. He also rung up more strikeouts (60) than he allowed hits (42) during his breakthrough season.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.