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Reducing payroll or maintaining budget?

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 4, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- If you listened closely last week, you had to wonder if managing general partner Vince Naimoli and general manager Chuck LaMar were talking about the same things.

Tuesday, LaMar cited last year's trades of Fred McGriff and Roberto Hernandez as examples of how money saved in a deal can be more important than players a team gets back.

In trading Hernandez and Cory Lidle in a three-way deal, LaMar said the Rays saved $6.5-million, even after taking on Ben Grieve's salary. They netted even more in trading McGriff for bit parts Jason Smith and Manny Aybar.

"We saved $9.5-million in a year and a half with the Fred McGriff deal," LaMar said. "Would we be a better club right now with Fred McGriff? There's no question about that. He's an outstanding major-league player on the way to the Hall of Fame. But this organization decided they wanted that $9.5-million."

But Thursday, Naimoli said he never has ordered LaMar to dump players to cut payroll.

He said the Rays traded McGriff because they had Steve Cox on the bench "gaining service time toward arbitration." He said they dealt Hernandez because he was 36 and they had Jesus Colome available.

"The only instruction Chuck ever has is to stay within player payroll," Naimoli said. "It may be up or down, and he can either add to or adjust from. But it's really not right to say I've ever said to him that he has to dump salary."

Naimoli then said LaMar has "a budget and he's got to stick to the budget." LaMar then said he has been working for two years to cut payroll "significantly so I could meet budget for the coming years."

* * *

DO THE WAIVE: Even with the passing of the trade deadline, the Rays still can deal players who clear waivers or allow players who are claimed to leave, as they did with Jose Canseco in August 2000.

Players put on waivers Thursday clear Monday afternoon. If a player is claimed, the teams have another 48 hours to work out a deal. The minimum price is $20,000, though they can negotiate for more. If they can't agree, the Rays can pull the player back.

If veterans such as John Flaherty and Grieve were claimed, the Rays likely would let them go. Flaherty is a free agent after the season and has declined a contract extension. Grieve, temporarily benched because of continual struggles, is due $5.25-million next season. When Greg Vaughn and Wilson Alvarez are healthy, they also will be available.

Some of the arbitration-eligible players, such as Cox and pitchers Tanyon Sturtze, Paul Wilson and Esteban Yan, also could be put on waivers. If they're claimed and the Rays can't work out a deal, they could pull them back and decide during the offseason whether to keep them, trade them or not tender them a contract.

* * *

NOT-SO-FREE AGENTS: Naimoli said the Rays are unlikely to sign any free agents to huge, multiyear deals such as they did with Alvarez and Vaughn. More likely, he said, would be signing some free agents to one-year deals.

"That gives them great incentive to continue to play well since it's a contract year," Naimoli said. "You might pay a little more, but it's worth the insurance."

* * *

TRADING DOWN: The Rays, as has become commonplace, were ripped in the national media for not making any deals with a 35-70 record. More upsetting to team officials were reports they continually seek too much in trades.

Various reports had the Rays seeking at least two top-quality prospects for Yan, pitcher Jason Marquis from the Braves for Cox and multiple players from the Dodgers' 25-man roster for Randy Winn.

LaMar said all were wrong.

"The Tampa Bay Devil Rays did everything they possibly could to make the team better, and in the end, that was holding on to the players we had," LaMar said. "The reports that we sought an exorbitant amount of players or cash to make deals are incorrect. We had some great conversations, but if fans saw what the trades were, they'd know we did the right thing."

* * *

HOO-RAYS: LaMar also said, "We will sign (No. 1 draft pick) B.J. Upton. It's just a matter of going through the process of negotiation that you do with high picks every year now." ... Today's game apparently is the last on Ch. 10, which doesn't plan to be part of the broadcast package next season. ... Of the 13 suites available at the end of the season, Naimoli said four have been renewed and most of the others will be.

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