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Team in Japan pursues Rays 1B

Club willing to compensate Tampa Bay and pay Steve Cox more than he'd make here.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 4, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Devil Rays may be saying sayonara to Steve Cox.

The Yokohama Bay Stars of Japan's Central League have talked to the Rays about buying the rights to the 28-year-old first baseman and reportedly will make a lucrative offer to Cox Thursday.

The Kyodo News Service reported the Bay Stars are expected to offer Cox a three-year deal with an annual salary of 300-million yen, which would be about $2.4-million per season, considerably more than he would make in the United States. Cox made $280,000 last season and would be in line for a raise to about $1-million through arbitration.

The deal could be profitable as well for the Rays, who would receive financial compensation from Yokohama. Payments to U.S. teams can range from $100,000 up to $1-million, and Cox would be one of the most accomplished players to head east in recent seasons. Two years ago, reliever Eddie Gaillard netted the Reds a reported $700,000. Last month, the Rockies got what was believed to be around $350,000 for infielder Jose Ortiz.

"We're in the formative stages of negotiating how much money the Devil Rays would receive and what type of opportunity Steve would receive," Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said Tuesday. "It's something we need to explore and something Steve and his representatives want to explore."

The Bay Stars initiated the discussions several weeks ago, following a process of notifying the Japanese commissioner's office, which contacted the MLB commissioner's office, which notified the Rays there was interest. The Rays then had to say if they were open to a deal.

Cox, a Nov. 1997 expansion draft pick from Oakland, took over as the Rays' starting first baseman following the July 2001 trade of Fred McGriff. He started 145 games last season, hitting .254 with 16 home runs and 72 RBIs but was inconsistent and struggled at the plate and in the field as the season went on.

With the emergence of Aubrey Huff at first base and the expected return of Greg Vaughn to the DH slot, Cox doesn't seem to have a spot in the Tampa Bay lineup. Because the Rays wouldn't want to pay him $1-million to be on the bench, they would have to either trade him or decide by Dec. 20 to not offer him a contract.

The Bay Stars sought Cox after an unsuccessful effort to lure Roberto Petagine, who signed a two-year, $12-million deal with Yomiuri, the Kyodo report said.

"It is difficult to acquire players from the major leagues, but I believe the front office will provide Cox with conditions that are suitable," Yokohama manager Daisuke Yamashita told Kyodo.

LaMar said the Rays also have talked to the Bay Stars about establishing a working relationship between the organizations.

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