Vaughn: Ready. Rays: Prove it
Confident OF says he's had ''a couple bad years'' then adds his track record is better than the GM's.
By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 15, 2003
ST. PETERSBURG -- Because he hasn't done much the past two seasons, and because the team has done some interesting things this offseason, there will be a question throughout the Devil Rays' spring of what to do with Greg Vaughn.
As camp opened on a sun-splashed Friday, general manager Chuck LaMar said essentially that the veteran outfielder must play well enough this spring to show he deserves to be on the team or be released.
And Vaughn basically replied that he is healthy, ready to go and doesn't think he should have to prove anything to anyone -- especially LaMar.
"If you don't think I can contribute, release me now," Vaughn said by phone from California. "I had a couple bad years there, and nobody feels worse about it than I do. Things didn't work out. Why? I wish I knew. But I think my track record is better than Chuck's track record.
"I don't have anything to prove. If anything, it's to prove to myself I can still play at the level I've played at. But I don't think I have anything to prove to Chuck LaMar."
Vaughn, who didn't play after June 22 last season because of a shoulder injury and also has had leg problems, said he is in great shape and has been taking swings for two months. He is excited about the hiring of manager Lou Piniella and the offseason acquisitions. And he expects to resume producing the way he did before signing a four-year, $34-million contract with the Rays.
"I'm planning on it," Vaughn said. "As for if I'm ready to play? I'm the last person they have to worry about."
But after what they've gotten from Vaughn in three seasons -- a .226 average, 60 home runs and 185 RBIs -- the Rays have reason to be less sure of what he can do at age 37.
"When we signed him, in the two previous years he hit 95 homers. ... It's not like he became a bad player when he became a Tampa Bay Devil Ray," LaMar said. "He just has, because of injury and because of performance, very candidly, he has not performed up to our expectations.
"If he has the kind of spring where we think he can hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 runs, then we're going to have to find a spot on this club for him. But if not, we're going to have to go younger, and we think we've got the young players to do that."
Releasing Vaughn has been an option since he began last season in a horrid slump, hitting .099 in April and .163 at the time of the injury. His $9.25-million salary (of which $4.25-million is deferred) makes him essentially untradeable, which means the Rays are likely going to have to pay him anyway so it is more a matter of whether team officials believe they are better off with him or without him.
"I think it's a little bit different era this year that Greg Vaughn has to come in here, and I don't mean results the first day of spring training ... but we have got to get the feeling that he's going to be a productive major-league player for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays this year or we're going to have to make a tough decision," LaMar said.
The decision will be more interesting, if not more complicated, because the Rays spent the last of their offseason money on free-agent first baseman Travis Lee. His signing means Aubrey Huff likely will be moved to the DH slot, which wouldn't appear to leave any room for Vaughn.
Vaughn says he is in shape to return to leftfield, but the Rays want to field a fleet defensive squad with second-year man Carl Crawford in leftfield and rookie Rocco Baldelli in center.
If Crawford struggles, or if Baldelli isn't ready and they move Crawford to center, or if rightfielder Ben Grieve were to either play a.) so well he could be traded or b.) so poorly that he were benched, and Crawford was moved to right, there would be an opening for Vaughn. The same could be true if Huff was instead moved to third base.
Vaughn insists he will not let the uncertainty bother him, and that he welcomes the signing of Lee because it makes the team better.
"That helps all of us," he said. "It makes me excited. If everyone does what they're supposed to we'll have a pretty good year."
Vaughn said he is even more excited about the chance to play for Piniella and the new coaching staff. He plans to be in camp Tuesday, a day early.
"It's refreshing that Lou's there, that (pitching coach Chris) Bosio, who I grew up with, is there. It's a breath of fresh air," Vaughn said. "You know they're going to be fighting for you, that the manager and the coaching staff are going to have your back. ...
"And with Lou you have a foundation, a track record. I know a lot of people who've played for Lou Piniella, and they love it."
Vaughn, who has criticized his teammates for a lack of focus, expects the atmosphere to be different.
"There's going to be a new attitude," he said. "We're men. It's not a day-care center. At times it seems like we'd been treating everyone like it's a day-care center, and now those days are gone. We're all men. It's not like you have to go around telling people what they want to hear."
But will Vaughn be in the Rays clubhouse come April?
"I have no control over it," he said. "They can do whatever they want. If they want to release me, release me. Everyone they've released goes to a good situation. Everyone they say they can't trade signs the next day. Believe me, I'm not worried about it."
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