More long-term deals possible

Published April 3, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The hefty contract the Rays finalized with Carl Crawford on Friday - worth a potential $32.5-million over six years - could be a sign of things to come.

New general partner Stu Sternberg is a big proponent of signing young players to long-term deals, preserving roster continuity and maintaining team assets. The Rays in coming months will revisit proposals to Rocco Baldelli and B.J. Upton and seek to sign other rising stars.

"Hopefully, there's a couple more players that we can get in the fold with contracts just like this," general manager Chuck LaMar said.

The deals can work for all sides. The players get financial security, and the fans get reassurance that ownership is committed to keeping its players. But the key is what the team gets.

In signing Aubrey Huff to a three-year, $14.5-million contract before the 2003 season, all the Rays got was cost certainty (and a bit of a bargain) during his three arbitration-eligible years - when they had him under control anyway.

But in the Crawford deal, they got something much more valuable - team options on his first two years of free agency. That means even if he blossoms into one of the game's elite players, he doesn't - contrary to the doomsayers - automatically leave to sign with the Yankees or his hometown Astros.

Better for the Rays, they keep Crawford at something of a bargain, a contract that in 2010 will pay him, at most, $11.5-million, which is less than Richard Hidalgo, Bernie Williams and Jermaine Dye made last season.

NO CHANGE: Crawford insisted the money won't change his easy-going nature and he probably won't even splurge on anything until after the season.

If anything, getting the deal done should allow him to relax.

"It's a big burden off my shoulders. I was thinking about it all the time," Crawford said. "I can go out and play and not worry about getting hurt or anything. I can just play the game the way I like to play, and that's just all out. I like diving, sliding hard, and I may have to run into a few walls this year."

MESSAGE BOARD: Manager Lou Piniella said the fans aren't the only ones who should find the long-term commitments encouraging.

"I think it sends a good message to players in our organization that if they play well and want to stay here that that opportunity is going to be available to them," Piniella said. "It's a very positive message to not only our major-league team, but to our minor-league kids that if they get up here and play well, there's something waiting."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: The Rays are deferring money again in some of their free-agent contracts, but the difference this time is it's with no interest and paid within one year. ... Baseball America ranks the Rays ninth for a second straight season in terms of overall minor-league talent. ... Rough week for LaMar, who was blasted by released infielder Shane Halter ("The Devil Rays finish last for one reason, and you know the reason.") and cited by the New York media - of all to throw stones - for alleged "rude treatment" of Mets GM Omar Minaya when he reportedly offered outfielder Cliff Floyd for reliever Danys Baez. ... Sports Illustrated's power rankings have the Rays 28th, ahead of only the Rockies and Royals. ... The reason Charles Johnson was traded from Colorado to Boston in the Byung-Hyun Kim deal before being released so he can sign with the Rays on Monday? The paper transaction saved the Rockies about $300,000, the Rays about $200,000 and reduced the Red Sox payroll for luxury tax calculations by $1-million.

A BLUE STREAK: How mad was veteran reliever Billy Koch at being released by Toronto?

First, he said he won't sign with anyone else because "I'm going to make the Toronto Blue Jays pay every cent of my ($950,000) salary." Second, he's taking 240 students from his children's Pinellas County school to Tuesday's game and says he will sit with them "holding up signs reading, "Go Devil Rays!"'

NAME GAME: St. Louis' Mark Grudzielanek went 9-for-16 after changing his uniform number from 8 to 12.

"My name looks a lot better over two numbers than one," he said.

MISCELLANY: The Indians will return to Winter Haven for spring training in 2006 but are exploring moving in with the Braves at an expanded Disney complex. ... Six weeks in the Angels' regimented spring camp caused shortstop Orlando Cabrera to reflect on how loosely run the Red Sox really were: "We won a World Series with no signs." ... Friday was the 20th anniversary of Sports Illustrated's Sidd Finch hoax set at the Mets' St. Petersburg spring training base. ... Atlanta's Andruw Jones hit 10 spring homers. ... Bill Pulsipher, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2001, appears to have a job in the Cardinals bullpen. ... Phillies prospect Ryan Howard was predictably disappointed after hitting 48 homers last season and getting sent back to the minors. ... Chris Widger won the White Sox backup catching job after spending last season with Camden (N.J.) in the independent Atlantic League.

Information from other news organizations was used in this report.