Time to make hard decisions draws near
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 26, 2002
OAKLAND, Calif. -- General manager Chuck LaMar has a lot to do. He has the draft coming up and he has to soon address which of the veterans in line for hefty raises, such as Paul Wilson, Tanyon Sturtze, Randy Winn and Esteban Yan, should be kept or traded by the July 31 deadline.
But before that he is going to have to decide what to do with some of the Rays' slumping "sophomores" -- the younger players who made good impressions last year but are not performing anywhere near that level.
Outfielder Jason Tyner, catcher Toby Hall and reliever Victor Zambrano are of prime concern.
"I think in the month of June we may have to make some critical decisions on some of our young players, and that's not just on who may be sent down but who may be called up," LaMar said.
"It will be the decisionmaking time for some of these young players, those in Double A and Triple A, and those here in the major leagues.
LaMar said the decisions will be made on what's best for the individual player, that the moment it appears his long-term development is better served by the less-pressurized environment of the minors, he will be sent down, not as punishment or banishment, but for a chance to get things right. That was precisely why Jesus Colome, whom the Rays still consider a prized prospect, was demoted.
He also said the decision won't be based on whom the Rays have available to take their place. That seems to be a way of suggesting Hall shouldn't think he is less likely to be sent down than Tyner because the Rays don't have a top catching prospect but do have promising outfielder Carl Crawford in Triple A.
Basically, LaMar said the struggling players have to play better or at least look like they are trying to get better.
"There's no carte blanche here," LaMar said. "I have no qualms about sending them a message that this is not a free ride. Just because you had some early success at the major-league level or just because certain publications or media says you're going to be a good player, no, this is still the major leagues. You either have to be performing at the major-league level or developing to perform at the major-league level. If you don't have one of those two, it's time to go back to Triple A.
"Obviously there are players who are not performing at the major-league level. So now the question to (manager Hal McRae) and I is, are they still developing during these struggles? And if the answer is no, then you're paying a player and he's getting service time in the major leagues, yet he's not performing or developing his skills to perform, then you've crossed the line of just giving a player a job because he's a young player."
CASH CALL: Recent comments in the Washington Post from Fay Vincent, whose commissionership was ended in 1992 by the Bud Selig movement, indicate the Rays may have been in worse financial shape than known.
"I think Bud bailed out Tampa Bay and Phoenix (from bankruptcy) after the World Series last year," Vincent said.
Rays vice president/general counsel John Higgins said Friday that was not the case.
"That statement is incorrect," Higgins said.
DRAFT BREEZE: Baseball America's latest mock draft has Pittsburgh making Ball State right-hander Bryan Bullington the top pick on June 4 with the Rays taking athletic Virginia prep shortstop B.J. Upton second, which would be fine with them.
But until the Rays know what the Pirates will do, they also are looking at hot-hitting Georgia prep outfielder Jeremy Hermida (whose father, Larry, grew up in Tampa and played at Hillsborough High in the '70s), left-handed pitchers Scott Kazmir of Houston, and Adam Loewen of Canada, and Bullington.
CURRENT EVENTS: Amid the discussion emanating from New York, McRae said he thought an openly gay player would fit in the clubhouse "if he could play."
"If he was a good player, I don't think you would worry about it," McRae said.
HOO-RAYS: The Rays' All-Star? If you were picking today, probably Steve Cox. But with a few more wins, maybe Joe Kennedy. ... Pitchers will start taking batting practice Tuesday to prepare for next month's interleague games at Florida, San Francisco and Colorado. ... Seattle manager Lou Piniella said Kennedy's complete game was "as good a game that I've seen pitched against us."
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