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Rays consider trades instead of free agents

By TOM JONES
Published November 16, 2003

When the offseason began, the Devil Rays had dreams of filling some of their holes with a few eye-catching free agents, including big fish Gary Sheffield.

Perhaps that will happen before the Rays get together for spring training in February, but there is another option now open to the Rays. Instead of signing free agents, the Rays might try to improve via trades.

For weeks, the speculation has been the Rays will acquire Cardinals first baseman and Tampa native Tino Martinez and the final details of that trade could be ironed out this week. Then last week, several teams announced they are looking to slash payroll and top-tier players might be shopped.

Of course, the Rays won't be in the running for, say, Texas' Alex Rodriguez or Boston's Manny Ramirez, but what about Milwaukee's Richie Sexson or Magglio Ordonez of the White Sox? Though plenty of teams would be interested in such players, the Rays will explore the possibilities.

"We will look into anything that will improve our ballclub," Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said. "We are committed to adding to our payroll and improving our club, and it doesn't matter if it's through free agents or trades or whatever."

LaMar attended the GM meetings last week in Phoenix and said he made initial contact with teams and players for possible future acquisitions.

"The meetings are more or less a fact-finding mission," LaMar said. "We've had some good initial meetings and talks with people who interest us and now we'll continue to work in that regard."

TINO UPDATE: The Rays had hoped to make a deal for Martinez during the GM meetings. The Cards and Rays talked, and now the Rays hope a deal can be finalized this week. It's believed the Cards will pick up most of Martinez's $7.5-million salary for 2004, but the Rays would be on the hook for Martinez's $8-million salary for 2005. Or they could opt for a $1-million buyout.

GONE IN A FLASH: The Rays have interest in signing free agent Tom Gordon to be their closer. But the Rays will have competition for Gordon, who grew up in Avon Park.

The Phillies showed interest in signing Gordon, but traded for Houston's Billy Wagner. Gordon, however, has told the Phillies he would be interested in coming to Philadelphia as a setup man.

RAYS IN JAPAN?: The 2003 MLB season was supposed to open in Japan with a two-game series between the Mariners and A's, but that series was canceled because of tensions between the United States and Iraq.

The thought was the teams would make up the trip to start next season, but apparently Japanese officials want the Yankees because of outfielder Hideki Matsui. The Mariners have no interest in playing the Yankees, and MLB probably would want teams from the same division to keep the competitive balance.

Just something to think about, but the Yankees are scheduled to open next season at home against the Rays. So far, the Rays have not heard anything about opening in Japan.

RAYS APPEARANCES: Rays catcher Toby Hall will sign autographs at Westfield Shoppingtown Countryside in Clearwater from 7:30-9 tonight as part of the Westfield Works Wonders Program that will help benefit numerous nonprofit organizations throughout Tampa Bay.

Rays manager Lou Piniella and hitting coach Lee Elia will sign autographs at the Devil Rays Dugout Store at WestShore Plaza in Tampa from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. The two will be promoting Elia's instructional video, Secrets of the Hitting Tee.

REG-GIE, REG-GIE: The Rays probably can't afford to go deep into the Sheffield sweepstakes, but one name that keeps coming up as a future Ray is well-traveled outfielder Reggie Sanders, who spent last season in Pittsburgh.

Sanders spent his first eight seasons in Cincinnati but has played for six teams in the past six years. Most of those teams have had success the season Sanders was there. He played on a playoff team in Atlanta in 2000, a World Series championship team in Arizona in 2001 and another playoff team in San Francisco in 2002.

Though he doesn't put up numbers like Sheffield, he still can hit. Sanders, 35, has averaged 29 homers and 87 RBIs the past three seasons.

The Pirates want to keep him, but want a one-year deal. Sanders wants two years.

ON THE MOVE?: Arizona pitcher Curt Schilling told the Philadelphia Inquirer he would waive his no-trade clause to go to two teams: the Yankees or his former team, the Phillies. He ruled out Boston, saying he wouldn't be a good fit for Fenway Park.

Schilling will be a free agent after next season and would want a one-year extension plus an option to go to Philadelphia and a three-year extension to go the Yankees.

"If I had to bet, I think the only thing I'd probably bet on is I probably won't be in a Diamondbacks uniform when the (2004) season starts," Schilling told the Inquirer. "I've said it before. If it's impossible for me to finish my career (in Arizona), I'd like to do it in Philadelphia because that's my home and it's comfortable. That team has a chance to win the World Series. There's a new park. I love the fans there. The chance to pitch in that environment would be cool."

JUNIOR MINTS: Seems a week can't go by without another Ken Griffey trade rumor. This week's has Junior going back to Seattle.

A better bet for the Mariners, though, is spending the money to keep Mike Cameron or going after another former Mariner: Raul Ibanez, who has spent the past three seasons with Kansas City.

The Mariners figure they can spend between $3-million and $4-million per year on a centerfielder.

Cameron also is a favorite of Piniella, and his name has come up in Rays rumors.

SHORT HOPS: The Rockies need help at third base and are looking into Robin Ventura and original Rockies infielder Vinny Castilla. ... The Dodgers have asked the White Sox about outfielder Carlos Lee and first baseman Paul Konerko, who is a former first-round pick of the Dodgers.

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

[Last modified November 16, 2003, 01:34:40]

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