It appears we've seen the last of Rocco Baldelli in a Rays hat and uni. I think it goes without saying that I and every other Rays fan hopes Rocco does well wherever he lands, but man, this is about as surreal as it can get.
Things just didn't work out with Rocco and the Rays at no fault to either side. Rocco's body may have betrayed him over the years, but as we saw over the years his heart, spirit, and mind were still strong and well. Rocco went through more than most of us could endure, and did so without ever lashing out as if he were some innocent victim at the hands of fate.
When news about a potential mitochondrial disorder broke last off-season many people, including myself, assumed he would never play another game as a Ray. In the minors, his performance was not awe-inspiring, but upon reaching the majors, he proved his bat still had some power. His body was still limiting his game, but Rocco had accomplished more by simply making it back to the majors than any baseball performance could have done.
The comparisons to Josh Hamilton are going to be numerous. Those are complete and utterly ridiculous. The two cases are nothing alike, and to compare Baldelli's situation to Hamilton's is being reckless and disregarding Rocco's upstanding character. Rocco didn't choose his body just like he didn't choose to be compared to Joe DiMaggio, yet never did Rocco come across as someone full of self-pity, never did Rocco try and make himself the object of sympathy, and frankly that tells me a lot more about his character and personality than his baseball statistics.
At the same time, the Rays had to move on, and so did Rocco. The additions of Pat Burrell and Matt Joyce designated Rocco as "odd man out" and frankly, that is the smart baseball maneuver. Andrew Friedman is one of the best general managers in baseball, and part of that involves separating emotions and off the field matters from his on the field maneuvers -- with one exception, that being the Elijah Dukes deal. I suppose you could call that his Jeremy Giambi trade.
Rocco still wants to play, but as a contender with limited roster spots, the Rays simply could not bank on his health. Yes, it will sting if Rocco wins a ring with his new team before the Rays do. Hindsight will kick in if Rocco defeats his greatest enemy and becomes a full-time player again, but right here, right now, this is the best move for both sides.
Even still, Rays baseball won't seem right without Rocco, and that's a testament to Rocco the person and the player.
Good luck Rocco.
Ed note: this was written prior to the Red Sox being verified as his new destination.