tampabay.com

Rays tales

By MARC TOPKIN
Published July 17, 2005


GENERALLY MANAGING

With Tuesday the 10-year anniversary of Chuck LaMar's hiring as general manager, it seems the right time to look back at some of the more notable moves - whether they were all his doing or not - that he has made.

Rather than try to present twin lists of his 10 worst and 10 ... well ... some of his best deals, we instead highlight 10 decisions that are among those most often discussed and defining of his tenure:

SIGNING MATT WHITE FOR $10.2-MILLION

White was considered one of the most promising prospects ever, and had a great work ethic to match. But he was still a high-school pitcher, and it was still a huge risk that failed when injuries derailed his career. Similar deals with Bobby Seay and Cuban defector Rolando Arrojo didn't work out too well either.

TRADING BOBBY ABREU FOR KEVIN STOCKER

Yes, the Astros should be blasted too for leaving Abreu exposed in the expansion draft. And, yes, the Rays needed a shortstop and Stocker was one of the few proven veterans available. Still, it will go down as one of the worst deals in recent history, looking worse with every All-Star team Abreu makes.

SIGNING WILSON ALVAREZ FOR $35-MILLION OVER FIVE YEARS

Even some sportswriters knew that Alvarez wasn't the type to lavish a long-term deal on or to build around, and he crumbled under the pressure, plus was plagued by injuries.

SIGNING GREG VAUGHN FOR $34-MILLION OVER FOUR YEARS

Flush with money to spend in a bad free-agent year, the Rays seemed to be bidding against themselves for a then-34-year-old slugger who in the best-case scenario was heading downhill and turned out to be on an express elevator. Vaughn's signing and the acquisition of Vinny Castilla were key parts of the failed Hit Show that drained the Rays finances for years.

TRADING JASON JOHNSON FOR DANNY CLYBURN

The Rays were pleased to swipe Johnson in the expansion draft, but were impatient with his development. Instead, they shipped him off for Clyburn, who, representative of the type of players they like, was a tremendous athlete with lots of tools. The problem was he couldn't play.

SIGNING JUAN GUZMAN FOR $12.5-MILLION OVER TWO YEARS

Scrambling after being spurned by Aaron Sele, the Rays jumped at the chance to sign Guzman but apparently didn't spend enough time checking out his health. He ended up pitching one game - lasting 12/3 innings - for them. At least that wasn't as bad as signing 35-year-old teacher Jim Morris so Disney could make a movie about him.

TRADING FOR, THEN TRADING AWAY McGRIFF

Over the years, the Rays have picked up a few veterans for low cost and gotten some use out of them, but the stories rarely end up working out. They got McGriff for $20,000 but after paying him (and still paying him) the better part of $24-million over 31/2 seasons, they had to dump his salary with little in return. Kind of like what they did with Roberto Hernandez, Ben Grieve, Jose Cruz, etc.

DRAFTING DEWON BRAZELTON IN 2001

It wasn't so much that they took Brazelton with the No. 3 pick (though he thus far certainly hasn't lived up to it), but that they didn't take Mark Teixeira because they couldn't afford him. It was an example of numerous decisions where financial ramifications outweighed baseball sense.

ACQUIRING THE RIGHTS TO LOU PINIELLA FOR RANDY WINN

It appears there will be an unhappy ending, but at the time the Rays made what looked like a stunning deal, trading an outfielder who had become too expensive to bring home one of the game's best managers. They also got prospect Antonio Perez, whom they later traded for utilityman Jason Romano to add depth at second, though there was a slight problem - despite what former scout Syd Thrift said he saw, Romano didn't play second.

GETTING SCOTT KAZMIR FOR VICTOR ZAMBRANO

By far the best deal LaMar has made in terms of what he got, a young potential ace left-hander, for what he gave up, an inconsistent middling veteran, and he earned rave reviews in the process.

THE HAPPY HECKLER

Some might say Rob Szasz, the Tropicana Field heckler, already has had his 15 minutes of fame. But Szasz is working on an extension with the upcoming release of his book, The Happy Heckler.

To mark the occasion, Monday will be Heckler Night at the Trop, with the first 5,000 fans getting megaphones and Szasz throwing out the first pitch - for which he, appropriately, should get heckled. Szasz will also hold a book signing from 11:30-12:30 Saturday at the team store in WestShore Plaza, with proceeds benefiting the Rays of Hope Foundation.

The book includes anecdotes of Szasz's experiences at the Trop as well as "his testimony to why heckling can have a positive effect on any sport." It is available online at booksurge.com for $12.99.

YOU DON'T SAY

"Coming out of spring training, I think we had a good potion. Then someone threw a bad recipe into the cauldron and stirred everything together and it didn't come out the way we expected. It blew up in our faces."

- TREVER MILLER, reliever, trying to explain all that has gone wrong this season