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Deal's impact a year or two off

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 8, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays will get more money from the increased revenue sharing in the new labor deal, but don't expect it to make much difference in their plans next season.

During the negotiations, baseball officials estimated the new system could provide a team such as the Rays with as much as $6-million to $8-million more a year.

But further analysis of the final deal, including an agreement that phases in the amount of revenue sharing over three years, indicates they won't get nearly as much, especially next season.

Realistically, the Rays might get $2-million to $4-million on top of the approximately $13-million they receive this year. An analysis predicts the additional amount could be as little as $1.4-million. The totals won't be known for months, even a year, as they will be based on 2003 revenues.

Though the lesser amount might seem disappointing, it's not necessarily bad news. Revenue sharing is doled out -- though not necessarily proportionately -- to the teams that need it, and the Rays have ranked about 20th of the 30 teams in revenue and expect to be about the same next season.

Whatever money the Rays get managing general partner Vince Naimoli said they will spend on making the team better: "That's very important and what we want to do," he said.

But he suggested the Rays, finishing the fifth season of what is now a seven-year building plan, will wait until 2004 or '05 to do so.

"The only way we'd use it right now to sign someone is if it's someone who can really help us," Naimoli said. "The other alternative is to bank the money and use it for the future. There's no question whatever money we get we're going to spend it over the course of the contract. ...

"I want to dispel any notion that it won't. Any money we get will be used for baseball operations, to develop a better competitive product."

The additional money could be used to sign free agents, to retain players whose salaries increase through arbitration or, in special cases, for signing bonuses to top draft picks. Expect the Rays to be judicious.

"For example, it depends on the free agents out there," Naimoli said. "If it's a lean crop and you think the players you want might be there the next year, then you wait. You have to be careful."

Whatever they get adds to a brightening financial picture: They are scheduled to receive about $10-million to $12-million more in national TV money next season (though some is targeted to cover deferred money from previous player contracts), and gain the $11.25-million they paid this season to departing free agents Wilson Alvarez and John Flaherty (though several potentially returning players, such as Randy Winn, Paul Wilson and Esteban Yan, are due for large raises).

Naimoli said he didn't know whether the 2003 payroll will be higher, lower or about the same as this year's $34-million. He said they won't go into the offseason with a fixed budget for 2003 but with flexibility, which they haven't had in a few years, to adjust the payroll depending on what players are available at what costs.

COMING ATTRACTIONS: Specifics of the 2003 schedule are being finalized, but it appears attractive for the Rays.

The Rays will open at home with a four-game series against the Red Sox starting Monday, March 31, and will have two home weekend series with the Yankees.

Thanks to a much-needed adjustment in the interleague play pairings, the Rays will play the Braves at home rather than supposedly rival Marlins and will host the Reds and the Pirates as part of the AL East-NL Central matchups. They make interleague visits to Chicago (playing the Cubs, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild, in Wrigley Field), Houston and Florida.

NO NEWS IS ... : Manager Hal McRae won't get a contract extension during the season.

McRae is signed through 2003, and teams sometimes will offer an extension in the final month of the preceding season to eliminate questions and the awkwardness of a potential lame-duck situation.

But general manager Chuck LaMar said he would review McRae's status, as well as the rest of the organization, at the end of the season. Naimoli also will have his say.

"I plan to sit down with Hal during the last road trip as I do every year and go through in detail what has taken place at the major-league level, from myself to the job he's done to his staff and players," LaMar said.

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