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Dealing for dollars

Rays say they'll trade players for cash, though they insist they're not in financial trouble.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 21, 2002

SAN FRANCISCO -- If you're a contending team with a little money to burn, Rays general manager Chuck LaMar might have just the deal for you.

In their annual midseason process of notifying teams they are willing to trade productive players to reduce payroll, the Rays this year have done so with an interesting alternative:

Will trade for cash.

"We've tried to be aggressive as early as we possibly can," LaMar said. "We will take cash for these players as well as a baseball deal. We told them, don't be shy. If you like a player it doesn't have to be strictly a player transaction. To lower payroll, we'll consider the dollar aspects highly, if not higher, than the player part.

"We've gotten quite a bit of feedback in the last week. A lot of teams want to hang on to their young players for the same reason we do. ... If you get a team with money and give them the opportunity to give up a minor-league prospect and cash to get a major-league player, it's good business on their part and it may be good business on our part."

With the third-worst attendance in the majors and a $34-million payroll for a last-place team, it seems obvious the Rays could use the money.

But managing general partner Vince Naimoli said he did not order LaMar to sell the players and insisted they did not need the cash to pay bills or avert some looming financial crisis.

"Not at all. Everything's going fine," Naimoli said. "The only thing I told Chuck was to make the best deal. And I can tell you that sometimes the best deal might be for cash. And if we do so, we'll use the cash to put in the treasury to reinvest in players."

Nor do they need the money, LaMar said, to be able to sign their top selections in the recent draft, as ESPN's Peter Gammons suggested.

"That never came up in conversation with any GM," LaMar said. "We've budgeted X amount of dollars (to sign drafted players) and there's never been any discussion of trading a player so we can sign our (drafted) players. That is not correct."

The Rays have signed their second- and fourth-round picks and are in negotiations with top pick B.J. Upton and third-rounder Elijah Dukes.

The Rays had hoped to further reduce payroll this season by trading one of their high-salaried players. But Greg Vaughn (who makes $8.75-million) and Ben Grieve ($4-million) have struggled, Wilson Alvarez ($8-million) hasn't pitched enough and John Flaherty ($3.25-million) has resumed duties as the starting catcher.

The next tier of trade candidates includes arbitration-eligible players who are in line for hefty raises, such as Randy Winn, Paul Wilson and Steve Cox. Because all are playing well, they are probably the players other teams are most interested in anyway.

LaMar said his approach was not much different last season, when he traded Albie Lopez and Mike DiFelice to Arizona for $625,000 cash and prospects Jason Conti and Nick Bierbrodt, or when he netted the Rays a savings of more than $9-million by trading Fred McGriff to the Cubs for Jason Smith and since-released Manny Aybar.

It does seem that LaMar is making the cash option a larger part of the conversation.

"My conversations with the general managers around baseball in the last week were that we will consider cash transactions, or cash and players, as we did last year," LaMar said. "It's no secret our attendance is down and we're trying to lower payroll and get younger."

Under Major League Baseball rules, the Rays would need approval from the commissioner's office for any deal that involved more than $1-million cash.

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