A mistake from start, Alvarez's time limited
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 21, 2002
TORONTO -- The Rays would rather be done with Wilson Alvarez.
Were it not for the possibility of a strike, which could save them considerable money because players don't get paid, they would have released him last week.
Alvarez was their first prized free-agent signing and the first of several high-profile mistakes. There is plenty of blame to go around.
They paid him too much ($35-million) over too long a term (five years) and expected too much of someone who never had been an ace. He got hurt too often, limited to 63 starts and 349 2/3 innings, which is a good 1 1/2 seasons. They didn't renew an insurance policy that could have reimbursed them some of the $17-million he made for not pitching in 2000-01. He didn't handle himself or the situation well.
Alvarez doesn't have that air of a star athlete. Listed at 6 feet 1, 255 pounds, he never appears to be in shape. He has little self-confidence. And he talks too much about quitting, the latest leaving the dugout and in the clubhouse after his July 14 start. Remember when he threw his glove into the stands and his jersey on the dugout floor after a bad game in Atlanta? This is not the kind of example you want set around young players, especially by a supposed veteran leader.
Assuming he comes back from his latest injury, and that there isn't a discounted buyout, Alvarez has been reduced to a miscast and overpaid long reliever.
Because Alvarez is paid on a nine-month calendar rather than the traditional six, the Rays have paid him nearly 75 percent of his $8-million salary. They owe him $2,222,222 (of which $277,778 is deferred), plus the $350,000 buyout (also deferred) on the $10-million option they had no plans to pick up.
There isn't going to be a happy ending. But there is going to be an ending.
MONEY MATTER: Managing general partner Vince Naimoli was relatively calm Friday in the face of more reports, stemming from slightly late payments to two former players, suggesting the Rays have financial problems.
"I only know what reality is, and reality is that we're not," Naimoli said.
Based on early pro forma work, he said there's a chance -- and remember this -- the team's $34-million payroll could increase slightly next season (or decrease a little). He also said the owners revenue-sharing proposal calls for a $45-million minimum payroll and if accepted "we'll salute the flag and go up to the amount specified."
While general manager Chuck LaMar is open to taking cash, or cash and prospects, for veteran players, Naimoli insisted there is no fire sale.
"The only instruction Chuck has is to make the best baseball deal he can," Naimoli said.
DRAFT BREEZE: The Rays said they won't go to the extreme of Astros owner Drayton McLane, who apparently is so concerned about the effects of a work stoppage he ordered his team to stop signing draft picks.
But the Rays' reasons for not signing top pick B.J. Upton aren't much better.
Top Rays officials thus far have taken more of a business than a baseball approach, holding off because they don't want to set the market for other unsigned picks, especially Bryan Bullington, the No. 1 overall choice by Pittsburgh. In other words, the Rays don't want to sign Upton for more than the Pirates give Bullington, or cause other teams to spend too much to slot payments to their picks.
This is being done, one can assume, with the blessing, if not perhaps the orchestration, of the commissioner's office, and at a time when the Rays can use all the friends they can get up there.
But the problem is the Pirates are in no rush to sign Bullington, who pitched a full college season. A benefit of making Upton, the nation's top prep player, the No. 2 overall pick was getting him signed and on the road to the big leagues immediately. He's not going to become the next Derek Jeter sitting at home. Naimoli assures the $4.5-million or so needed to complete the deal is not the problem. If so, it would be a shame to waste the summer.
HOO-RAYS: The Rays wives' fourth annual Dine with the Devil Rays event, which benefits the Florida chapter of the ALS Foundation, is July 28 at the Grill at Feather Sound. Tickets are $125; call (813) 874-2122 for reservations. ... Also, July 28 is the annual canned food and personal-care item drive benefiting the St. Petersburg Free Clinic. Fans bringing five items get a voucher for an outfield ticket to an August game.
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