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No more 'original' Rays remain

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 15, 2002

NASHVILLE -- They came into being with considerable publicity and promise, the first true Rays of hope.

By the end of the week, they'll all be gone.

Of the 35 players the Devil Rays selected in the November 1997 expansion draft, there is only one left. And when the Rays trade, release or on Friday decline to offer a contract to reliever Esteban Yan, that will be it.

Of the original 35, 24 played in the majors for the Rays. (Three, including star outfielder Bobby Abreu, played elsewhere in the big leagues after being traded that night and three others made it there eventually.)

But, as would be expected, changes were made.

Some players, such as Jim Mecir, Miguel Cairo and Albie Lopez, were moved because they made too much money. As was Randy Winn, who went from third-round pick to All-Star. Some were let go for good reason (Rich Butler, Ramon Tatis, Bobby Smith, Ryan Karp), and some for no apparent reason (Aaron Ledesma, Jose Paniagua, Kerry Robinson). Some suffered career-altering (Quinton McCracken) or career-ending (Tony Saunders) injuries. Some simply no longer were needed.

Looking back, general manager Chuck LaMar said he is as pleased now as he was the night of the draft.

"We had a very successful expansion draft," LaMar said Saturday. "Historically after five seasons of play a team will have three or less players (remaining). There have been cases when I wish we could have capitalized more on their ability through trades or performance, but looking back it not only was one of the most rewardingevenings that I've ever been involved in as a baseball man, but a very productive evening from a baseball standpoint.

"We drafted a lot of successful major-league players. Looking back, you'd always do a couple things differently, draft a couple different players, but overall I thought our scouting staff did a tremendous job. It may not look like it because of our record over the last few years, but it was a very important evening in the history of the Devil Rays to get us through this development stage."

HOO-RAYS: After relying on a computerized service last season, the Rays are planning to go back to having an advance scout, with Bart Johnson going back on the road. ... Fox is giving the Rays some rare national TV exposure, slating a May 24 game at Anaheim for a regional telecast. ... Lou Piniella is planning to move the coaches lockers out of the main clubhouse into a separate room.

PITCHING IN: How much has the Braves pitching staff changed? With the departure of Mike Remlinger, Chris Hammond and Tim Spooneybarger, the bullpen has lost 195 innings, at a 1.75 ERA. Add in Tom Glavine, and the Braves are missing 420 innings. And if Greg Maddux leaves, they will have lost 619 1/3 innings -- 42 percent of their 2002 total.

COMING AND GOING: The Expos are expected to generate $10-million in revenue from the 22 games they'll play in Puerto Rico this season, which would double their ticket sales from 81 home games last year. But they will have considerable additional expense, having to pay travel expenses and meal money for their players, and allowing them to bring their families.

TAKE THAT: Billy Koch made a splashy debut with the White Sox last week, immediately disparaging the AL Central champion Twins.

"I honestly don't think the Twins can play at the level they did last year," Koch said. "They had a lot of the 'baseball bounces' last year. They had an awful lot of those happen. I'm not taking away from their talent, because they had a lot of talented players, but they had every single bounce go their way. It was almost like they never had any bad luck. They only had good luck. Unless they have some deal with the devil up there, I don't see that happening again."

TO MARKET: Among the more interesting items at the annual trade baseball show, talking bobbleheads (Bobblebabbles), duck-shaped dolls (Celebriducks), caps with bills that rotate from front to back, 3-D plastic cups, and baseballs made out of fashion-quality leather (Beautiful Baseballs). ... Since the massive World Series exposure, makers of CheerStix have been swamped with orders for the inflatable noisemakers.

MISCELLANY: Damian Miller's two-year, $5.7-million deal with the Cubs has an unusual no-trade clause: He can be dealt to all teams but the Expos. ... The Reds are expected to increase payroll to about $60-million, but still will consider trade offers for Ken Griffey. ... Ryne Sandberg, uncle of the Rays' Jared, should be am obvious choice for the Hall of Fame when ballots are counted next month.

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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