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LaMar is eager to deal

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 16, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- Lou Piniella and his hard-working staff are doing what they can to make the players better. General manager Chuck LaMar, meanwhile, is trying to find better players.

The next week to 10 days will be important ("critical" is LaMar's word) in determining not only which players left after today's planned cut may stick around but who might be brought in.

This is the time of the spring that decisions are made and deals are cut, and Devil Rays plan to be aggressive. They could use help, or at least depth, in several areas: a power-hitting outfielder (or DH), backup catcher and middle infielder and an experienced pitcher.

"I'd expect us to be as active as anyone in these trade talks," LaMar said.

That's what LaMar usually says this time of year, and the talks usually don't turn into any big deal. But some things are different.

Though the Rays want to retain their quality young players, they have enough, especially highly coveted young pitchers, to consider trading one, possibly even a big name. And they might, just might, have a little bit of financial flexibility to make a deal happen.

In other words, LaMar gets to go from being a debt-service manager to being a general manager.

"Not only do we have enough depth in certain areas, but Lou has had time to evaluate them, and we're not going to be against trading young player for young player depending on the fit," LaMar said.

That could mean moving a pitcher or defensive-oriented outfielder. (Jason Conti to the Phillies?) It could mean a series of waiver claims. By one person's educated guess, there could be as many as three players on the 25-man opening day roster who aren't in camp yet.

"The next week to 10 days will be critical in determining not only who breaks camp with us, but whether there is someone to trade a young player for," LaMar said.

PERFECT HE'S NOT: Yankees pitcher/author David Wells doesn't seem to have much bad to say about the Rays or his adopted Tampa Bay area hometown in his controversial book.

He takes one shot when recalling what teams he'd consider signing with, writing that agent Gregg Clifton "knew I didn't want to ride out my career with a team that flat-out sucked. Good-bye Expos, sorry Devil Rays, it just wouldn't be worth it." Otherwise there are just occasional references, such as a loss to a "horrible" Rays team and a recount of his spat with Bay News 9 for showing up uninvited at his home.

Wells does, however, let the Marlins have it:

" ... As far as I'm concerned, the Marlins have no right to exist. It rains every (expletive) day in their piece-of-(expletive) Pro Player Stadium, and the local population is made up almost entirely of retirees who'd rather hit the early bird special at Red Lobster than risk breaking a hip at any damp, ugly baseball stadium."

HOW'S THAT? If the Rays were spared from the contraction short list, as an MLB document obtained last week by the New York Times reportedly said, because of dispute between its investors, "lender issues, including bankruptcy and liability to lenders," and "ticket holder or similar class action," it's news to managing general partner Vince Naimoli.

"Apparently someone knows something I don't know," Naimoli said. "I have no idea where that came from. I don't even know what all those words mean."

HOO-RAYS: Broadcaster Joe Magrane makes another guest-hosting appearance on Fox's Best Damn Sports Show Period Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. ... Rocco Baldelli, Toby Hall and Kennedy will be at Centro Ybor tonight from 7-8:30 for a Rays of Hope Foundation fundraiser; $20 for a signed ball. ... The annual Grand Slam Gala, featuring all players and coaches, is March 29 at Tropicana Field. Tickets are $175. Call (727) 825-3470. ... The Rays Magazine preseason special, hosted by Todd Kalas, is 6:30 p.m. Monday on Fox Sports Net.

AND THE ANSWER IS: Randy Winn figures there will be some residual benefit to being traded to the Mariners in the Piniella compensation deal: "I'll probably be some sort of a trivia question somewhere down the line."

CRIME (DOG) PAYS: The Dodgers are excited about the addition of Fred McGriff, who enters the season 22 home runs shy of 500.

But critics point out that McGriff didn't do much to help his teams the past five years: The Rays and Cubs posted a combined winning percentage of .407.

"I enjoy playing the game, and if I have to get fired up or motivated, I shouldn't play anymore," McGriff said. SAYONARA: The A's and Mariners head to Japan this week to prepare for the March 25-26 opener, meaning they have to make decisions much earlier than usual. "It's a great cultural exchange, but it's an administrative headache," A's GM Billy Beane said.

MISCELLANY: A 30-page chapter on Piniella is one of the highlights of Pride of October, a new Yankees book by veteran sportswriter Bill Madden, who will sign copies at the Tampa Barnes & Nobles on Dale Mabry Highway at 6:30 Tuesday. ... After turning down a guaranteed $11.5-million over three years, with a chance for $27-million over five, White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle had his contract renewed for $445,000. ... During the offseason, Pirates CEO Kevin McClatchy climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and spent a week on safari in the Serengeti. ... It's a big deal that Starbucks took over the coffee sponsorship from Tully's at Seattle's Safeco Field: They sell 3,500 cups, about 325 gallons, of coffee per game there.

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

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