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If no trade, week excuse

MARC TOPKIN
Published March 14, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - With 11 days until they leave for Japan, the Devil Rays have some unusual problems: Too many major-league-caliber players - four to six too many - and not enough time to take advantage of it.

For example, it is unlikely more than four infielders can make the team from the group of Geoff Blum, Deivi Cruz, Julio Lugo, Damian Rolls, Rey Sanchez and Fernando Tatis. (And don't the Yankees need a second baseman?)

Similarly, there won't be room in the bullpen for more than four - any maybe only three or even two - from the group of Jesus Colome, Chad Gaudin, Travis Harper, Todd Jones, Jorge Sosa, and Mike Williams. (And don't the Marlins need bullpen help?)

And because they want to have their 25-man roster all but settled before taking off for Tokyo March 25, general manager Chuck LaMar will spend much of the coming week on the phone trying to initiate and orchestrate trades. Other teams, though, won't be in any hurry to deal, knowing they can sit back and wait for the Rays to make their decisions.

"Trades usually don't happen until the last week of spring training, and we're going to miss out on that week," LaMar said.

What the Rays would like to do is package some of their extra pieces and address their biggest need, inexpensive starting pitching. Juan Cruz, a young starter who doesn't fit on the Cubs staff, would be a perfect fit.

"The possibility of trades are increasing because of our competition," LaMar said.

"We're dealing from strength in a couple areas where I truly believe there are players who not only could help us but other clubs as well."

LaMar doesn't want to take players to Japan who aren't likely to stay in the organization because it would be too hard for them to get other jobs elsewhere, so decisions will be made soon.

The Rays could keep the veterans and send down players with options, but that would increase the payroll.

"The Japanese trip is not only a once-in-a-lifetime trip for a lot of us, and I think it's tremendous exposure for the organization, but from a decisionmaking standpoint at the end of spring training for a team ... like ourselves, the Japanese trip definitely puts us a little bit behind the eight ball," LaMar said.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Troubled outfielder Josh Hamilton is eligible to be reinstated Friday from his 30-day suspension for violating MLB's drug program. ... While ESPN is showing the March 30 opener from Japan, its announcers will be calling the game from a stateside studio. Fox Sports Net is considering carrying the second game with a similar arrangement. ... Among the official MLB traveling party to Japan will be Tommy Lasorda. ... If John Lynch really wants to keep working in Tampa Bay, he could seek to resume his pitching career with the Rays.

EX-RAYS FILE: Joe Kennedy looks to have a job in the Colorado rotation and a clean slate. "This is like being the new kid in school," Kennedy said. "At the last school you were the bully and troublemaker. In the new school they don't know you and you get a new start." ... Los Angeles' Wilson Alvarez was scratched from a Wednesday appearance because of tightness in his shoulder.

HELP ON THE WAY: While the new labor agreement provides some help to teams such as the Rays, president Bob DuPuy said MLB wants to do more. "What's important is to not only let teams like the Devil Rays develop young talent, but then hold on to that young talent," he said. "And that's the next step we need to get to."

MONEY MATTERS: Despite playing in only 175 of the Orioles' 486 games since signing a four-year, $28-million contract, David Segui says: "I've earned my money." ... Trying to make nice, the Red Sox offered Nomar Garciaparra a four-year deal worth about $55-million. One problem. He turned $60-million last spring.

MISCELLANY: The Braves said Gary Sheffield didn't play with a torn ligament in his thumb last season, just "a mild sprain." ... Arizona's Randy Johnson was clocked at 96 mph in his spring debut. ... Cubs ace Mark Prior (inflamed Achilles' tendon) is likely to open the season on the disabled list. ... Reds star Ken Griffey is telling people he expects to be traded. ... The Marlins let Pudge Rodriguez, Ugueth Urbina and others go, but spent about $1.7-million on World Series rings - 85 at $20,000 apiece. ... Rodriguez told the Tigers he wants to play first or third when not catching.

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

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