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That extra cash? It's already been spent

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- The question is fairly straightforward:

With all the extra money the Devil Rays have from the new labor agreement and additional national TV revenue, why are they cutting payroll?

The answer, managing general partner Vince Naimoli said, is equally simple: They really don't have any extra money.

Basically, Naimoli said, they're only going to get $1-million or $2-million more (on top of the approximate $13-million they got last year) in revenue sharing and won't get the bulk of it until after the season anyway.

And while they do get an additional $5.2-million in national TV revenue, funds that were withheld the first five seasons, they have essentially spent the money. It's being applied to the $10.3-million of deferred money they owe to people who aren't playing for them, including Roberto Hernandez ($2.2-million), Wilson Alvarez ($2.1-million), John Flaherty ($1.5-million), Juan Guzman and Fred McGriff ($1.3-million), Gerald Williams ($1-million) and Vinny Castilla ($730,000).

"This really hasn't come out before," Naimoli said, "but when we signed the deferred contracts we knew we'd be getting the TV money and tried to match it up."

The Rays broke about even last season despite league-worst attendance of 1.23-million, Naimoli said, and are being more conservative in their projections and budgeting.

But the ramifications are obvious.

Their payroll, which will be listed at about $29-million but includes $4.25-million from the Mets for Rey Ordonez and $5.75-million deferred to Greg Vaughn and Ben Grieve, will be down about 25 percent and again the league's lowest. (The actual amount spent for players on the field will be less than $20-million.)

They have been short in their bidding for several free agents, limiting their ability to take advantage of the new-market prices, and probably won't have the flexibility to do much during the spring. Also, they are the only team in the majors with no players signed past this season.

Naimoli insisted, "We aren't scrimping," saying that the overall financial situation is fine, has been endorsed by MLB officials and will have them well within the soon-to-be-enforced debt-ratio restrictions.

"It's part of a plan, and the other part of it is that I think the overall salaries in baseball are down this year, so I don't think what we're doing is so different from other teams," Naimoli said.

He said the payroll will go up next season, but stopped short of committing to the $20-million to $25-million increase new manager Lou Piniella said he was told to expect. "We'll have a progression up, but it's a little early to tell how much that progression is," Naimoli said.

Ticket sales have been encouraging, Naimoli said, thanks in large part to the buzz created by Piniella's hiring. Single-game sales are well ahead of last season's pace, and about 90 percent of their approximate 6,000 season tickets (4,000 full, 2,000 equivalents based on partial plans) have been renewed. They expect sales to increase as it gets closer to opening day and farther from the Super Bowl.

"We have as good a long-term plan as we've ever had," Naimoli said. "Not only from a financial standpoint, but from player progression. The talent's finally coming after all these years."

MORE RAYS: For road spring training games against (relatively) nearby opponents, the Rays plan to do fundamental drills and batting practice at home, then bus to the site, take a brief infield practice and play. That's a significant change in procedure, though similar to what Arizona-based teams do. "We'll get more work done this way," Piniella said. ... With the Indians near a deal to move their spring base to Fort Myers, Winter Haven is expected to make a push to lure the Rays from St. Petersburg in 2005, having met with Mark Bostick, one of the Rays' owners. ... Naimoli has essentially abandoned the search for a chief operating officer to replace John McHale. "It's just hard to find a guy like John," Naimoli said.

REALITY CHECK: Reds GM Jim Bowden admitted the obvious last week, that getting Ken Griffey from Seattle for Mike Cameron wasn't a good deal.

"So far, it has been a flop for us," Bowden said. "It is not his fault nor the organization's fault that he has been hurt, but for the first three years it hasn't worked out. We traded Mike Cameron for him and Cameron has outperformed him. You have to be a man and step up and say it hasn't worked out. That doesn't mean it won't work out in the next few years and I'd still make that trade again, 10 times over."

NO CROSSTOWN EXPRESSWAY: Anaheim outfielder Darin Erstad designated four teams his new contract prohibits a trade to: the Devil Rays, Marlins, Expos -- and Dodgers. "I don't hate them," he said. "It's just a little something from when I was a kid. My best friend in North Dakota was a die-hard Dodger fan, and I was a die-hard Giant fan."

TAKE THAT: So, Barry Bonds was asked, what would happen if new Cubs, and former Giants, manager Dusty Baker walked him intentionally?

"If he does, I'll just throw the bat in the dugout," Bonds said. "I'm going to bust him right in the eyeball, because he doesn't intentionally walk hardly anybody, and if he intentionally walks me I'll throw the bat at him. There were so many times we were like, 'Walk him! Walk him!' And he wouldn't do it. He better not walk me either."

MISCELLANY: Former Rays minor-leaguer Brooks Kieschnick is trying to make the Brewers as a relief pitcher and power-hitting pinch-hitter. ... The Pirates are close to a deal with Kenny Lofton, whom the Rays pursued. ... Goose Gossage is in the Rockies camp as a special assignment coach.

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

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