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LaMar: No pressure for cost-cutting trades

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published July 14, 2002


ST. PETERSBURG -- If the Rays were facing the type of severe financial crunch that was suggested last week, Chuck LaMar figures he would know.

He's the general manager of the team heading into the final 2 1/2 weeks before the deadline for nonwaiver trades. He's the one who could, if necessary, start trying to sell off the six or so young Rays who are coveted by other teams. He's the only one, unless P.T. Barnum came back to head the team's marketing department, who could come up with the money the Rays are said to so badly need.

"If we were in that kind of cash situation, I would know from ownership that I've got to move players and I've got to move them for cash and do what I can immediately," LaMar said.

But LaMar said that in his daily calls from managing general partner Vince Naimoli there had been no edict from ownership "saying we've got to have X amount of dollars. ... We're trying to make the best baseball trade we can."

That means, presumably, that LaMar is where he was, trying to make deals that further reduce payroll for this season and/or next, replacing older, more expensive players with cheaper, less experienced ones.

And around here these days, that will have to pass as good news.

LaMar says the volume of conversations with other clubs has been "as much if not more than in past years."

But, as in past years, you assume many involve teams asking about players LaMar doesn't want to trade (Brent Abernathy, Toby Hall, Aubrey Huff and, especially, Joe Kennedy) and LaMar bringing up players he would (Greg Vaughn, Wilson Alvarez, Esteban Yan, Doug Creek).

Most likely whatever deals the Rays make will involve the middle class -- players who aren't making that much now but are in line for raises that could make them too expensive to keep.

All-Star outfielder Randy Winn, starter Paul Wilson and first baseman Steve Cox are the most attractive, with Ryan Rupe and Tanyon Sturtze possibilities.

The Giants have been among the teams most interested in Winn. The Braves and Red Sox are said to have inquired about Cox. A number of teams, including the Diamondbacks, Braves and White Sox, have been watching Wilson.

LaMar said he could have made several deals but didn't feel they were "advantageous" or would improve his team.

"Like any other year we're trying to hold on to as many of our young players as we can," LaMar said. "We're trying to be as aggressive and use as much imagination as we can to make the team better."

FOR EVERY ACTION: As if the players didn't have enough to wonder about with an abysmal record and reports of financial instability, trade rumors aren't fun either.

Winn, who recently bought a house in Tampa, tries to avoid the rumor mill. "But somehow, someway somebody lets me know about it," Winn said. "The key for me is that I don't let it affect how I play."

Surely, the thoughts of going from last place to first, and maybe home to Northern California, have to be appealing. "I haven't really thought of the specifics," Winn said. "It's more, "What if I got traded, what would I have to do, what would I have to pack?"

Cox said he tries to avoid the media speculation, though his mother-in-law keeps track. He admits that it seems a little odd to be on the trade market in his first season as an everyday player. "Crazy, isn't it?"

While manager Hal McRae understands the business aspects, he said losing Winn, Cox and Wilson would be a big deal. "If we lost those guys it would just blow a large hole in this club," McRae said. "And we have large holes to fill now."

THE LAST WORD?: It's not wise these days to assume who has the final say, but MLB executive vice president (and relatively straight shooter) John McHale Jr. seemed to put an end to the notion that financial problems could force a team to go out of business this season.

"Things will come up from time to time," McHale told MLB.com. "But I don't think they'll rise to the level this year of teams going out of existence."

Rays officials were not the only ones forced to issue denials last week after the "leak" of supposed problems and reports of nearly missed payroll.

The Tigers, Blue Jays and Diamondbacks did so too. And the Marlins would have if they weren't too busy trading away key players for below-market value.


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