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Maddon pleased with acquisition of Escobar

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Joe Maddon left the Winter Meetings for Tampa, Fla., following Wednesday's Managers Luncheon at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel.

Before departing, Tampa Bay's skipper expressed his delight about the Rays' latest acquisition, Yunel Escobar.

Late Tuesday night, Tampa Bay sent Minor League infielder Derek Dietrich to Miami in exchange for the 30-year-old shortstop.

"This is one of those guys we've talked about for several years and you finally get your hands on him," Maddon said. "You love his shortstop ability -- fine defender, great arm. [We] also like his bat. For me, he works good at-bats -- knows how to use the whole field, kind of a good situational guy.

"[Escobar has] a little power, but I like his offensive skill set in general. I think he's a great fit for us. And I think our infield defense has gotten really firm again. With him there and Longo [Evan Longoria] -- and put [Ben] Zobrist back on the other side with [James] Loney -- that's pretty attractive."

Escobar has a reputation for being immature, punctuated by an incident in September when he wore a gay slur on his eye black. Maddon does not believe Escobar's past will play a part in his future.

"What I've known is we've talked to some of our players who have played with him and they say good things about him in the clubhouse, and they like him as a teammate," Maddon said. "Of course, the eye black thing was a bad situation, and we'll make sure we address that with him very quickly and move on from there."

Maddon conceded that Escobar can "be flamboyant," but he noted that he didn't want to try and clip his new shortstop's wings too much.

"You've got to be careful, you don't want to take all of that away from a guy, because part of his success could be rooted in that's just who he is," Maddon said. "So you have to, as you're attempting to make him better, don't subtract what makes him tick either.

"I think he'll get a lot of support from other players on the team, also. I find it challenging, but I don't see it as an overt challenge. I think it's a little bit overblown regarding his position and how he is."

Escobar's acquisition, along with the soon-to-be officially announced signing of Loney, will improve the Rays' infield defense while also allowing Tampa Bay to take advantage of Zobrist's talents. Zobrist finished the 2012 season as the Rays' regular shortstop. Now he will likely be used primarily at second base and right field, with occasional stints at shortstop.

Farm director Mitch Lukevics did allow that the Marlins had wrestled away a quality player in Dietrich.

"The Marlins are getting a good player," Lukevics said. "To get a good player, you have to give up a good player. And that's our business. That's our industry. We like Derek Dietrich and we like Escobar as well. And Escobar can help our Major League club this year, 2013, and that's huge for us."

Maddon looked at what the Rays have left to accomplish this offseason. As for the need to find a DH, he said: "I think that's something we're still talking about. But if it doesn't happen, I think we've learned to utilize that role by mixing that up, too."

As for the need to find another right-handed hitter, he noted the team was "a little bit left-handed heavy."

"And it would be nice to balance it out right-handed some time," Maddon said. "Then you also look at the point that you see mostly right-handed pitching. But you see enough lefties and that gets annoying, too."

Extra bases:
•Colorado is interested in Jeremy Hellickson and Wade Davis, but the possibilities of a deal coming to fruition appears remote. However, one source offered a scenario that would see the Rockies using what they obtain in a trade with another club to put together a package that could entice Tampa Bay to make a move.

• Jeff Keppinger will not be back with the team after signing a three-year, $12 million deal with the White Sox. Said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman: "Really happy for Kep, he's a true pro. [He] came in and fit in extremely well in our clubhouse. [He] exhibited great versatility, crushed left-handed pitching and did a really good job for us in a lot of different roles. He's certainly going to be missed. It worked out really well for him, and we're happy for him."

• According to Minor League guru Jonathan Mayo, the Rays have a good chance of losing Minor League left-hander Braulio Lara in Thursday's Rule 5 Draft.

• Maddon said Desmond Jennings is viewed as Tampa Bay's 2013 center fielder for now. "Desmond, I think if you asked him and he answered honestly, he'd tell you he likes left field," Maddon said. "But I think he's also comfortable in center field."

• Agent Scott Boras met with the media on Wednesday and had this to say about Carlos Pena: "I think Carlos is a guy that didn't have a year that's representative of what he's done the last three years. He's been about a 30-home run guy and about a 90-RBI guy. He was a little bit off that. Still, I think he's young. By first baseman age, he's young. He provides well above-average defense and first-base power and is still productive. He's gotten interest."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for
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