Regression has club bracing for overhaul
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 22, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG -- Things are going to be different next year.
Better or worse isn't known.
At all levels of the organization, the Rays are talking change.
You hear managing general partner Vince Naimoli saying there is widespread "dissatisfaction." You hear others saying things about finding answers and massive overhauls and giving fans something to be excited about. (You don't, however, hear anyone saying, "We're going to spend more money to fix things.")
General manager Chuck LaMar will be at the forefront of these decisions, but he'll get plenty of input, specifically that of Naimoli and perhaps members of an otherwise silent ownership group.
LaMar met extensively with his scouting staff last week, analyzing every player and every aspect of the major-league team, and will do the same next week with manager Hal McRae and the coaches.
Though the end-of-season sessions are critical every year, LaMar said, "I think everyone feels a sense of urgency because there are going to be changes. We have to make changes to be more productive and win more games and still develop young players."
The decisions won't be easy. After the Rays drew barely 1-million fans, it would be a shock to see them spend more than this season's $34-million on players.
And though the payroll will go down more than $11-million with the departures of Wilson Alvarez and John Flaherty, it could go up as much, or more, if the Rays retain arbitration-eligible players Randy Winn, Paul Wilson, Esteban Yan, Tanyon Sturtze, Steve Cox and Ryan Rupe. Plus, there is $14.5-million committed to Greg Vaughn and Ben Grieve.
LaMar, at some point after the season, also will have to announce a decision on retaining McRae and the coaches. The meetings in New York merely are part of the information-gathering process.
McRae, signed for next season at $700,000, said, naturally, that he wants to come back. But he has complicated the issue by saying that he thinks there needs to be significant roster changes and that he'd prefer to have his contract extended so that his authority isn't undermined and rumors aren't constantly swirling. No matter what, though, he won't quit.
Naimoli, who has declined to publicly support McRae, claims the decision is up to LaMar, but it's hard to believe he won't have a say. LaMar has said only that there won't be an extension during the season.
Among the coaches, Jackie Brown and Milt May are signed for next year, leaving Glenn Ezell, Tom Foley, Billy Hatcher and Lee May awaiting their fate.
McRae and the staff can't fairly be evaluated solely on the won-loss record, not with a team that was outmanned virtually daily. What likely will be considered is whether the young players have developed properly and whether the team won as much as it should have given its talent.
There are those who watch and think McRae doesn't do enough and accepts losing too easily. Then there are those who know him and see first-hand how tough it really has been on him, who marvel at the job he has done and the way he has kept things together.
What the Rays officials see will become clearer in the next couple weeks.
* * *
LOU-LOU: There has been some chatter in Rays circles, spurred by an ESPN rumor, about bringing in Lou Piniella to replace McRae. But before any romantic rhapsodizing begins about Piniella coming home to be the Rays' Jon Gruden, there are some serious roadblocks.
Piniella is signed with Seattle for next season and there is no reason for the Mariners to let him out of his contract. He makes a lot of money (a reported $2.5-million). He gets a lot of attention and authority. And he hates to lose.
Thursday, he told Seattle writers: "I have a contract for next year. I'm going to honor that contract."
FEELING GOOD: Managing Triple-A Durham to the International League championship, and using 51 players in the process, was quite an accomplishment for manager Bill Evers. "It was the most rewarding season I've had because of what went on during the year and the amount of change in the team itself," Evers said.
HOO-RAYS: Outfielder Wes Bankston, a fourth-round draft pick, was rated the second-best prospect in the rookie-level Appalachian League; No. 2 pick Jason Pridie was fifth. ... Pridie is being moved from the outfield to second and third base during instructional league. ... More than 500 pieces of sports equipment were collected at Thursday's Just Play drive.
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