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Rays calling this a produce market

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003

With so many free agents unsigned and a growing number of big-name players taking small-dollar and even minor-league deals, it's been a rough winter.

But for a team like the Devil Rays, it could be a brighter summer.

With several holes and only a little bit of money to spend, about $1.5-million, the Rays in a typical offseason wouldn't be able to do much. But with the adjustment -- that's the official buzz word -- in the market, they are closing in on signing a couple of veterans who could provide considerable help.

"We're still having discussions with several position players," general manager Chuck LaMar said Friday. "I think within the next week we will have signed one, if not two players into the organization."

The two most likely targets appear to be outfielder Todd Hollandsworth and utility infielder Desi Relaford.

Hollandsworth, who hit .284 with 16 home runs and 67 RBIs in 134 games for Texas and Colorado, could play all three outfield positions well, providing some speed and power while adding flexibility and depth. Relaford, who spent last season in Seattle with Lou Piniella, could step in if third baseman Jared Sandberg or second baseman Brent Abernathy stumble, while filling in elsewhere when needed.

With outfielders Frank Catalanotto ($2.2-million from Toronto) and Eric Owens ($925,000 from Anaheim) off the market, and Jose Cruz apparently too expensive, other outfield possibilities are Alex Ochoa and perhaps Robert Fick. They also could consider infielder Marlon Anderson.

While experienced pitching is severely lacking, the Rays still feel they will get more for their money by signing a couple of position players, having already traded for shortstop Rey Ordonez. But that doesn't mean they wouldn't make a move if the price was right -- say bringing back Rolando Arrojo, who was discarded by Boston. (For that matter, Roberto Hernandez and Rick White also are available.)

The market is such that the Rays may be able to further take advantage by signing some veteran pitchers to minor-league contracts, bringing them to camp without having to guarantee any salary or give up a roster spot.

"I think you'll see a lot of free-agent players into January and February without jobs," LaMar said.

MORE RAYS: The Rays say they are selling the Double-A Orlando team to Montgomery, Ala., interests because they wouldn't have anywhere to play when their lease at the Disney complex expires after the 2003 season. The sale is pending approvals, with the Rays expected to maintain their affiliation. When it happens, they somehow won't have a minor-league team in the state. ... Piniella will hold an online chat at 3 p.m. Tuesday on the team Web site, ... When the Bucs hired Jon Gruden, the Rays had him over to throw out a first pitch. Think the Bucs will do something similar for Piniella?

THE BOSS RULES: In a wonderfully candid interview with the Daily News, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner says he's "mellowed a little bit."

Then, in order, he said:

-- Yankees coaches should "understand that just being a friend of Joe Torre's is not enough. They've got to produce for him. Joe Torre and his staff have heard the bugle."

-- He remains loyal to Bud Selig but doesn't like the new economic system, especially since the team it helps most is Selig's Brewers. "That doesn't seem quite right. I don't know how he sleeps at night sometimes."

-- Boston team president Larry Lucchino is "baseball's foremost chameleon. ... He talks out of both sides of his mouth. He has trouble talking out of the front of it."

-- Star Derek Jeter needs to be "truly focused" on baseball this season. "When I read in the paper that he's out until 3 a.m. in New York City going to a birthday party, I won't lie. That doesn't sit well with me."

MISCELLANY: Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson, who recently agreed to pay $300-million for an NBA expansion team in Charlotte, is working on buying the Expos and bringing them to Washington. ... Omar Daal will be the first left-handed regular in the Orioles rotation since 1998. ... Ron Jackson will be the Red Sox's fourth hitting coach in the past four seasons. ... All ex-Ray Chris Gomez has to do to make the Twins roster as a backup infielder is beat out Rule 5 rookie Jose Morban.

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

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