tampabay.com

Rays gain wiggle room in infield

Opening day belongs to Jorge Cantu, but newly acquired Devil Ray Nick Green could fit in, too.

By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 1, 2005


TAMPA - The Devil Rays sought to upgrade their infield depth and were willing to deal from the surplus in their bullpen. In acquiring Nick Green from the Braves in exchange for hard-throwing reliever Jorge Sosa on Thursday, they seem to have done that - and maybe more.

Green, 26, is a hard-nosed, fundamentally sound infielder, a natural second baseman who showed promise during an extended stay with the Braves last season. He has had a hot spring, hitting .304 with a major league-high 10 doubles.

Though Green was acquired ostensibly to be the utility infielder, Rays officials hinted they have a more significant role in mind.

Even though Jorge Cantu would seem to have every claim to the second base job after his own torrid spring (.348, six doubles, three homers), manager Lou Piniella would only go as far as saying Cantu would be the starter in Monday's opener.

General manager Chuck LaMar said that with Green, Cantu, shortstop Julio Lugo and third baseman Alex Gonzalez, the Rays now have "four interchangeable parts" and "they're all going to get their at-bats."

"We can rotate our infield around a little bit and keep them all rested and keep them all playing. It gives us more depth," Piniella said. "Our scouts have been in the Atlanta camp all spring knowing they had depth there, and they say this kid knows how to play ball, and he's got some talent, and he would fit in very nicely here."

"He can play the game," LaMar said. "He's not a power guy, but a gaps, doubles guy. ... He's a good defender. A mistake-free type player. He just knows how to play the game, and always has. You'll get the most out of him. He's just a hard-nosed kid."

The trade for Green was part of the Rays' late-spring efforts to upgrade their roster as they released infielder Shane Halter late Thursday and likely will send Luis Ordaz to the minors.

To improve their catching, they are expected to sign 11-year veteran Charles Johnson when he clears waivers at 1 p.m. Monday and have him replace Kevin Cash as the backup to Toby Hall.

They are seeking a reserve outfielder and made a lesser move Thursday for depth, claiming Michael Restovich off waivers from Minnesota. Restovich, who was out of options, hit .255 in 29 games last season as a corner outfielder/DH and has some power.

Restovich, 26, will join the Rays in Viera today but could have a short stay as he doesn't fill their need for a defensive-oriented centerfielder or a left-handed bat. The Rays might simply take a look and run him through waivers, hoping to get him to Triple A.

"We'll get him here and see what happens," LaMar said. "He's been a perennial prospect with the Twins, which is a very hard team to break into in the outfield. We felt fortunate to claim him and hope to keep him in the organization."

With a 25-man roster due at midnight Saturday, the Rays still have to make the final decisions on their bullpen. Lance Carter, Seth McClung and Bobby Seay (who is out of options) apparently are competing for the final two spots. LaMar will continue talks with teams wanting to make more moves.

In trading Sosa, the Rays are giving up a valuable commodity: a 26-year-old pitcher with a 95-mph plus fastball and considerable potential. The Braves plan to use him in a middle relief/setup role. Sosa, who had an 11-26 record and 5.17 ERA in parts of three seasons with Tampa Bay, should do well, Lamar said.

"There's no question we think Sosa will have success with the Atlanta Braves, especially on that kind of team in the National League," LaMar said. "He overpowered the National League last year. Overpowered them. He had a harder time overpowering Boston and New York. ... You give up something, but I think Nick Green will have success here. I think this will end up being looked upon as a good trade for both sides."

Green was something of a rookie surprise for the Braves last season, hitting .273 with 21 extra-base hits and 26 RBIs in 264 at-bats after getting called up following an injury to second baseman Marcus Giles.

"He helped us win, big time," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox told reporters. "But we needed something, and we like this kid (Sosa) a lot. (Green) will help them, and this guy will help us."

Green, who also is out of options, expressed sadness to leave Atlanta, his hometown. But, he said: "From what I understand I'm going to get more at-bats over here than I would have over there. That's definitely a good thing for my career."