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Busy Rays adding offense to bench

Club signs Deivi Cruz, pursues left-handed power in Robert Fick.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published January 8, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays are continuing to add pieces to their overhauled team, signing veteran shortstop Deivi Cruz to a minor-league contract and working toward a deal with versatile left-handed hitter Robert Fick.

Cruz, 31, accepted a minor-league contract but is expected to be on the big-league roster, filling in for Rey Sanchez at shortstop, providing depth at second and third and adding some power off the bench.

"We think he'll come in and compete for a job in spring training," general manager Chuck LaMar said.

Cruz, 31, hit .250 with 65 RBIs and a career-high 14 home runs last season in Baltimore. He has been an everyday player for seven seasons with the Tigers, Padres and Orioles, hitting .267 while averaging eight homers, 30 doubles and 56 RBIs. The Rays considered signing him last winter before acquiring Rey Ordonez.

If Cruz makes the team, he gets a $700,000 salary and the chance to make $100,000 in incentives. If the Rays let him go, he'll get $100,000 termination pay.

"He took a minor-league deal because of their roster situation, but it sounds like they really want Deivi to make the club," agent Elliott Vallin said.

The Rays want to add a left-handed hitter as their final piece and have made Fick their first choice, holding several conversations Wednesday with agent Lonnie Cooper.

Fick, who can play first, outfield and catcher, is said to be concerned about the potential lack of playing time. The Angels are among other teams interested.

The Tigers let Fick go in 2002 after five seasons, including a 2002 All-Star appearance. He spent last year as Atlanta's primary first baseman but was released after hitting .269 with 11 homers and a career-high 80 RBIs. He was fined for slapping Cubs first baseman Eric Karros during the division series.

In three full major-league seasons and parts of three others, he has a .268 average.

The Rays also have expressed interest in Karim Garcia, who was nontendered by the Yankees and Wednesday pleaded innocent to charges of assault and battery resulting from the Boston bullpen brawl during the AL Championship Series.

The Rays are adding another intriguing player, working a minor-league deal with veteran third baseman Fernando Tatis. Tatis, 29, hit 34 homers for St. Louis in 1999 but has struggled since and was let go by Montreal after the season.

Also:

Two players let go at the end of last season, veteran right-hander Carlos Reyes and third baseman Jared Sandberg, are coming back on minor-league contracts.

Reyes, who was 0-3 with a 5.22 ERA in 10 games, hopes to compete for a job in long relief.

Sandberg, who hit .213 with six homers and 23 RBIs in 55 games, will try to re-establish himself at Triple-A Durham. "There were no hard feelings because I got nontendered," Sandberg said. "There's still a good opportunity for me here."

Television broadcasters Dewayne Staats and Joe Magrane received two-year contract extensions that will keep them with the Rays through the 2005 season.

Reliever Trever Miller passed his physical, making official his one-year contract for $650,000 plus $100,000 in incentives.

[Last modified January 8, 2004, 03:49:20]

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