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Rays newcomer LHP Erik Bedard could be starter or reliever

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - When the Tampa Bay Rays open the season in late March, they'll take the field as the highest-paid team in franchise history.

A smooth off-season for the AL wild-card winners saw them retain star pitcher David Price for at least one more season, contributing to a payroll expected to be around $80 million.

Rays executive vice-president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman says the players won't feel the pressure of living up to their salaries.

"I think that's something that guys don't really lock in all that much," Friedman said. "They care much more about who's in the clubhouse and who the talent is in there. Ever since 2008, we've all come to camp with the expectation to win. Irrespective of what our payroll number is, I think the focus is on the talent."

In addition to keeping Price, Tampa Bay added veteran pitchers Heath Bell, Erik Bedard and Grant Balfour, as well as catcher Ryan Hanigan.

The Rays signed Bedard on Friday morning. The 34-year-old lefty is expected to report to spring training in the next couple of days.

Bedard went 4-12 with a 4.59 ERA for Houston last year. He is 67-76 overall in 10 seasons with Baltimore, Seattle, Boston, Pittsburgh and the Astros.

"He's a guy that we've liked in the past and we're anxious to get him in here and be around him more," Friedman said. "He'll come in to compete for the fifth starter job. I don't know how that will transpire, but he's also a candidate to pitch out of the bullpen."

Manager Joe Maddon said the Rays, as currently assembled, have every chance to be better than last year's team, which lost in the division series to the eventual champion Boston Red Sox.

"The drive is to not have to go through the angst of the end of last season, to not have to go through (a high-pressure series in) Toronto, then go to (one-game playoffs against) Texas and Cleveland to finally get to play Boston," Maddon said. "That personifies that you really want to win your division. I believe we can win our division this year."

Maddon said he won't rush into making lineups, but noted that the continuity of the Rays roster, which returns an entire starting infield and nearly every key figure from last year, is a major boost to his planning process.

"To bring the same infield back is unusual and it's kind of exciting," Maddon said. "Those four guys, all four were Gold Glove candidates. That's really an exciting group to have. (First baseman) James (Loney) kind of anchors it in the sense that he provides so much confidence for the other guys."

Team chemistry could also be at an all-time high, Friedman said. He pointed to a moment last week at Tropicana Field as players came in to begin some early work.

"These guys are returning from what was a successful group on the field, and, more than that, a really good dynamic amongst them. Last Wednesday I was in my office at the Trop as guys were starting to throw bullpens and two guys were throwing, but there were 10 guys surrounding them," he said.

"They had already thrown, but instead of going in, showering and getting out of there, they were hanging out, watching each other throw and high-fiving. I can't imagine that happens in many other places. It's a really tight-knit group."

Maddon is still formulating the speeches he may give to his team this spring, but said the phrase "Eat Last" may play a role.

He picked up the phrase from third baseman Evan Longoria, who showed him a sports psychology book by Simon Sinek called "Leaders Eat Last."

"In regards to that, I'd like for us to be the leaders and eat last this year. That would be kind of cool, to kind of enjoy that last supper at the end of the season," he said.

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