tampabay.com

Rays start shopping

By MARC TOPKIN
Published December 8, 2004


ST. PETERSBURG - With Tino Martinez and John Halama declining offers to come back, the Devil Rays are ready to go forward in their pursuit of free agents.

With the passing of Tuesday's deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their own free agents, teams such as the Rays have a better idea of whom they want to go after and how much it would cost, including which players will require draft pick compensation, which would makes the Rays less likely to be interested.

"All the cards are on the table now, and you'll see talks intensify," Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said.

The Rays' primary goal is to improve their offense.

Among the free agents they are likely to pursue are infielders Mark Grudzielanek, Tony Batista and Pokey Reese, along with outfielders Jeromy Burnitz and Danny Bautista.

Depending on how the market develops, the Rays could also have interest in infielders Corey Koskie and Joe Randa.

The Rays wanted to retain Martinez, the veteran first baseman who brought solid play, leadership and professionalism to their clubhouse, and offered what was believed to be in excess of $2-million in base salary and another $500,000 in reachable incentives. Added to the $1-million buyout of his option, the Tampa native could have made more than $3.5-million to stay home, with an option to play in 2006.

But agent Jim Krivacs said money wasn't the primary issue.

"With some of the teams that have contacted us, he potentially has some opportunities to go to playoff contending teams, and at this stage of his career, with it winding down, he liked that opportunity," Krivacs said.

The Yankees and Marlins are among the possibilities.

The Rays are believed to have offered Halama, a left-handed starter/reliever, a chance to make more than $1-million through base pay and incentives.

"I think we made fair offers to both," LaMar said.

The Rays made no offers for their other free agents, catcher Brook Fordyce, infielder Rey Sanchez and pitcher Todd Ritchie.

Trades are another option that will be explored at this weekend's winter meetings. A deal for Colorado veteran catcher Charles Johnson remains a possibility, and the Rays will field calls on shortstop Julio Lugo and closer Danys Baez.

The Rays have talked about minor-league contracts with outfielder Rusty Greer and reliever Billy Koch.