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Rays reward LaMar

The team gives its general manager a two-year contract extension.

MARC TOPKIN
Published March 30, 2004

TOKYO - Managing general partner Vince Naimoli is convinced better days are ahead for the Devil Rays. Monday, he made it clear he thinks Chuck LaMar can get them there, extending the general manager's contract through the 2006 season.

The Rays have yet to win as many as 70 games or finish out of last place in their six-year history, but Naimoli is supportive of LaMar's plan to combine a core of young homegrown talent with moderately priced veterans.

"I think it's been great work, frankly," Naimoli said. "Because of the implementation of the plan and what I believe is going to be our best season, I'm very pleased to announce a two-year extension."

In February, Naimoli indicated he planned to keep LaMar but talked about putting the entire baseball operations staff on year-to-year contracts. Instead, he chose a more conventional path, extending LaMar's contract, due to expire at the end of this season, for two years, matching the term remaining on manager Lou Piniella's deal.

"I may be a little bit of a maverick, but I'm not such a maverick that I'd buck the trend of the other 29 teams," Naimoli said. "A symmetrical deal with the manager and general manager is typical of what goes on in baseball. I think it's important to all concerned."

LaMar, on the job since July 1995, said he appreciated the show of confidence.

"It's been a bumpy road, and some bumps have been a little bigger than what we expected," Lamar said. "So at any time a lot of people would have said, "Let's make a change,' even if it's just for change's sake.

"But Vince has been steadfast because he knew we had a plan. We got away from that plan one time in franchise history, and we paid the price for it. We're determined to continue the plan we started from Day 1, and I think everyone is starting to see the fruits of that labor."

Since hiring Piniella after the 2002 season, the Rays, 381-589 in their history, have strategized to increase their payroll and victory total on an annual basis. They won 63 games last season and have their eyes on getting close to the .500 mark this season, then start moving toward competing for a postseason berth.

"Continuity in any organization is how you build championship teams," LaMar said. "This contract enables all of us, not just in baseball operations but throughout the organization, to know we're heading in the right direction and continue on that path.

"We have been taking giant steps over the last several years toward winning a significant number of more baseball games."

Piniella endorsed the decision.

"I've enjoyed working with him over the past year and a half or so," Piniella said. "We have a good relationship, a good working relationship.

"I thought he did an outstanding job this past winter of putting together a good solid ballclub. And I talked to Vince about that about a month or so ago. I'm pleased. I really am."

Naimoli wanted to act before the Rays opened the season but made the announcement at an odd time, a few hours before an exhibition game against Yomiuri in what was essentially the middle of the night in Tampa Bay.

"I don't know when or where to celebrate," LaMar said. "I don't know if it's day or night."

Naimoli likely did so with the blessings of Stuart Sternberg, who is expected soon to buy about 48 percent of the team. Sternberg, a New York investor, did not accompany the Rays to Japan because of the recent death of his father.

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