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Young arms will have chance

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published December 22, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- The Devil Rays knew what they were getting rid of by letting go of veteran pitchers Ryan Rupe, Tanyon Sturtze, Paul Wilson and Esteban Yan.

Now we'll see what they're getting into.

With the opening of spring training eight weeks away, the closest they have to a sure thing among the pitching staff is Joe Kennedy -- and he's only 23 with 50 starts in the big leagues.

The rest, for the most part, are going to be young or inexperienced, or both. And they're going to be pitching for a manager who isn't exactly known for his patience.

"It's going to be difficult," manager Lou Piniella said. "We felt with a young team on the field and a sprinkling of veterans here and there that we'd go with a young pitching staff and then within a year's time know exactly what we have and don't have. Resources are going to be free here next year where we can go out and do the things we want to do to really start getting this thing on solid footing."

The interim, however, will be interesting.

Piniella plans to follow Kennedy in the rotation with Nick Bierbrodt, Dewon Brazelton and Victor Zambrano, but there are questions about each. The No. 5 starter pool may be six deep, including Jason Standridge, Jorge Sosa, Seth McClung and Gerardo Garcia.

The bullpen is even more unsettled with Travis Harper, Lance Carter, Jesus Colome and Dan Reichert among the known candidates.

"Spring training is basically going to dictate who makes our staff and in what situation they're going to be used," Piniella said.

They'll try some young guys (such as McClung), some old guys (Mel Rojas and John Frascatore), some new guys (Mexican import Edgar Huerta). They might try to get a proven closer at a bargain rate, though the market is so flooded the guys signing minor-league deals aren't much different from the ones seeking big-league money.

Basically, Piniella is willing to let them all throw the ball and see who sticks.

"Whoever wants to compete, it's fine with me," Piniella said. "It doesn't matter to me whether these kids make the jump from A ball to the big leagues, from Double A to the big leagues, or they come from Triple A.

"Whoever is in camp is going to get an opportunity and we'll use them in whatever roles are necessary. It's going to be a wide-open camp. I think my first year in Seattle we left spring training with two pitchers who pitched in A ball.

"It doesn't matter to me as long as they can throw strikes, as long as they have the necessary composure. It doesn't matter where you pitched, it depends on how you pitch here."

MONEY MATTERS: Of 11 players who made more than $500,000 last season, the Rays have gotten rid of nine, retaining -- for the moment -- only Greg Vaughn and Ben Grieve. ... Given the market, GM Chuck LaMar said, "I'd be surprised if (Sturtze, Wilson or Yan) receive the money they would have received in the arbitration process." ... Catcher Mike DiFelice could be a possibility to come to camp on a minor-league contract.

THANK YOU; NO, THANK YOU: Rey Ordonez's wife, Gloryann, made it very clear how excited the talented shortstop was to leave the Mets and come to the Rays.

"New York is a great city -- it's awesome when you're awesome," Gloryann said. "But when things go sour. ... Everything has to change.

"It's great for (the Mets) they got to do this, but I think it's better for us that this happened. I think I can speak for Rey on that. He was waiting for it."

HOO-RAYS: Andy Sheets will make a reported $600,000 in Japan as Hiroshima's starting shortstop. ... Former bullpen coach Glenn Ezell was hired as Detroit's minor-league field coordinator. ... Team officials, including managing general partner Vince Naimoli, collected food and toys for Metropolitan Ministries last week.

HEADING WEST: Remember all the July 2001 gnashing of teeth when Tampa native Fred McGriff weighed approving a trade from the Rays to the Cubs?

Friday, he agreed to a one-year deal, and about a 50 percent pay cut, to go to Los Angeles for $3.75-million.

"It's a real tough market right now, but that's cool," McGriff said. "I'll just chalk it up to experience."

GOING SOUTH: You know the Braves must be under strict financial limitations when they trade one of their best pitchers, Kevin Millwood, to one of their biggest challengers, the Phillies. "To trade a player like that is a big step," agent Scott Boras said. "To trade him to a division rival is a big step too. This is something that certainly doesn't happen very often." ... The Phillies are feeling pretty good. "We can compete with everybody," GM Ed Wade said.

MISCELLANY: According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, Jose Canseco has had a nose job and is looking to start an acting career, seeking action-hero roles. ... The night before being traded for each other in the Oakland-Arizona-Cincinnati-Toronto deal, Elmer Dessens attended Erubiel Durazo's wedding in Mexico.

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

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