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Contract deadline could produce some bargains
By MARC TOPKIN
Published December 19, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG - Given the slow pace and big dollars of the free-agent market, the Devil Rays haven't done much to get better. That could change this week as the market changes.
Teams have to decide by Monday which players will be tendered contracts. Those not tendered become free agents, joining the other 130 or so already on the market.
That should help a bargain-hunting team such as the Rays in two ways: They will have more players to pick from; and some free agents may feel more urgency to sign rather than risk extended unemployment.
The Rays are looking to boost their offense and, depending on how they use Aubrey Huff and Jorge Cantu, have holes to fill at designated hitter, first, second and third base and in leftfield.
They may be able to get some help. Among the players who could become available that the Rays would be interested in are DH/1B Josh Phelps, who hit 15, 20 and 17 home runs the past three seasons in part-time work for the Blue Jays and Indians; and one infielder from the group of Jerry Hairston (Orioles), Luis Rivas (Twins) and Ronnie Belliard (Indians).
Other possibilities include outfielders Jay Gibbons (Orioles) and Bobby Kielty (A's) and infielders D'Angelo Jimenez (Reds), Ramon Vazquez (Padres), Mark Ellis (A's) and Alex Cora (Dodgers).
The Rays did pretty well in the nontender market last season, picking up closer Danys Baez and reliever Trever Miller.
On the other side, the Rays are expected to tender contracts to their six remaining arbitration-eligible players, though they certainly seem open to considering alternatives to catcher Toby Hall. The others are shortstop Julio Lugo and relievers Jesus Colome, Travis Harper, Jorge Sosa and Miller.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Among free agents in their price range, second baseman Mark Grudzielanek could be a good fit in terms of providing offense and defense. He hit better than .300 three of the past six seasons, led the majors in 2004 with a .457 average in close/late situations and has the second-best fielding average at second base from 2001-04. ... Work on the new in-house radio deal continues, with the games likely headed to WHNZ-1250 AM. ... If the Expos, or Marlins, were to end up in Las Vegas or Portland, it could be good for the Rays: The relocated team could go to the AL West, allowing the Rays to escape to the NL East. ... Among the nuggets in the new Bill James Handbook, Colome led the AL with eight pitches clocked at 100 mph plus, and 472 of Sosa's 1,754 pitches were 95 mph or better.
BIG DADDY: By signing Pedro Martinez, the Mets got personality, star power, credibility and attention (though the Yankees, coincidentally, stole some right back with talk of a Randy Johnson deal).
But they didn't necessarily get a good pitcher - certainly not one worth $53-million over four years.
Yes, Martinez was 16-9 with a 3.90 ERA for the Red Sox last season. But he is 33, had an ERA of nearly 5.00 when pitching on normal rest and has allowed more hits per nine innings, and logged fewer strikeouts, each of the past four years.
Martinez may find life easier pitching against DH-less NL lineups, but he won't be too happy the first time the New York media, and fans, get down on him. Martinez is, to put it politely, high-maintenance, and what was acceptable behavior in Boston won't play in New York. Fans there won't care about what he has done, just what he can do for them.
MISCELLANY: With Johnson apparently on the way, assuming the D'backs can make Shawn Green happy with an extension, the Yankees will now target Carlos Beltran, meeting in Tampa this week with agent Scott Boras. ... The Cubs also want Beltran and are trying to make room by trading Sammy Sosa, maybe to Baltimore. ... The Dodgers and Tigers seem to have the most interest in outfielder J.D. Drew. ... Braves GM John Schuerholz did a tremendous job restocking his rotation by getting Tim Hudson and closer Dan Kolb to free up John Smoltz to start again. ... The Mets are going hard after Carlos Delgado.
Information from other news organizations was used in the report.