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Lee testing market by his choice, not Rays'

The Rays aren't likely to compete with outside offers for Travis Lee.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published November 2, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG - Thursday's announcement that Travis Lee's mutual option had been declined opened a big hole at first base and seemed to open the Devil Rays for criticism.

Lee, despite the carefully worded statements from both sides, probably is not going to be back. But the sense that the Rays let Lee walk when they could have had him for a fair price of $2.5-million is not necessarily accurate.

The option was mutual, and though the Rays wanted to seek more power but may have been concerned about angering the two season-ticket holders who cared enough to complain, it sounds as if Lee had no plans to exercise his portion anyway.

Agent Scott Boras is looking for a better, and longer, deal for Lee. He said Friday night that he expects to get it and that five teams already had called.

"Travis is going to have suitors, there's no doubt about it," Boras said, crediting manager Lou Piniella for talking Lee up to others.

(Boras, of course, thought as much last year when Lee passed on a $1-million, one-year deal from the Braves and ended up signing in February with the Rays for $500,000, plus $500,000 in incentives and a $500,000 buyout.)

When Boras receives the latest offers, he will go back to the Rays. "It will be interesting to see what they do with the finances," Boras said. "If they meet the market, they have a chance to get him back."

The Rays are likely to have other ideas by then. They have talked several times with the Cardinals about Tino Martinez, the soon-to-be 36-year-old Tampa native, looking to see how much of his $7-million salary the Cards will pay and what they want back.

If the Rays could get Martinez, who played well for Piniella in Seattle, for what they were going to pay Lee, it is a deal worth considering. Their stats weren't that much different, their defense is similar and Martinez could be rejuvenated by a return to the AL; he hit .351 against AL East teams in 2003.

The other primary option is to move Aubrey Huff to first and add power bats in rightfield and at DH. If the Rays have to go on the market for a first baseman, the choices are not overwhelming, with Scott Spiezio, Eric Karros, Wil Cordero, J.T. Snow and, ta-da, Fred McGriff the top candidates. Other first basemen who may be available in trade, but at a higher price, include Florida's Derrek Lee and Minnesota's Doug Mientkiewicz.

WHAT, HIM WORRY?: Top draft pick Delmon Young is not short on confidence. After nine at-bats (and four hits) against other top prospects in the Arizona Fall League, Young, 18, said he thinks he could be in the major leagues sometime this coming season.

"If all these guys are good enough to be there, I'm looking at sometime next year," Young told Baseball America. "The pitching, I haven't been dominated yet when I've been up to the plate. I haven't seen a pitch I can't hit. I can play with all these guys."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: The Rays took a chance, and a fair amount of criticism, when they signed Julio Lugo after his May arrest on a domestic assault charge and release by the Astros.

In exchange, GM Chuck LaMar insisted on a 2004 option. That turned out to be a good move given how well Lugo played, and a good deal at $1.75-million, less than Lugo would get through arbitration. "It's a real coup for Tampa," agent Adam Katz said. "I'm so happy for Chuck and Lou." ...

News that the Marlins are lining up governmental funding for a new stadium could be good for the Rays in terms of precedent. Or it could be bad for the Rays because with a new stadium, the Marlins no longer would be a candidate for contraction, which will be addressed again in 2006. ...

According to the Elias Sports Bureau statistical rankings, Aubrey Huff was the 21st best player in the AL last season, 12th excluding pitchers. ... Herniated discs have caused Piniella serious back pain; he is receiving a series of epidural treatments. ... The Rays are in the process of notifying free agents of their potential interest, infielders Todd Walker and Rey Sanchez among them. ... Reports of Don Zimmer's hiring were wrong, but it is still possible Piniella will try to have Zimmer in uniform in some capacity.

MISCELLANY: The Red Sox are starting their interviews with Bud Black and Glenn Hoffman, but it doesn't seem there's anyone who fits all the criteria they are looking for, especially the ability to tolerate the stats-based input from the front office. ... Cito Gaston is considered the favorite for the White Sox managing job, but Ozzie Guillen and Grady Little have a shot. ... The Marlins will change their first name to Miami if they get the new stadium. ... Billy Beane may be headed to Los Angeles as GM once new ownership takes over. ... First the Red Sox put Manny Ramirez on waivers; then there was word the Rangers would make Alex Rodriguez available in trade.

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

[Last modified November 2, 2003, 07:26:04]

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