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Miscommunications hounding Rays

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 18, 2005

For a team (still) building for the future, it wasn't a good week.

One top prospect, outfielder Delmon Young, called the organization cheap, then his mother and agent accused front office officials of lying. The agent for the other, B.J. Upton, said the Rays should trade him if they don't think he can play shortstop.

As bad as it looked and sounded, neither of these issues is that big of a deal.

Both, seemingly, could have been avoided with more communication, or less miscommunication. The old-school idea that players don't deserve any explanation is outdated. It's a different age, and a different era, where technology allows all parties to know immediately what is being said.

If the Rays really didn't think Young was ready to play in the big leagues, as opposed to not wanting to accelerate his arbitration and free agent eligibility, they should have told him, and told the public. As impressive as his numbers were - a .315 average, 26 homers, 99 RBIs, and 32 steals - his lack of walks, 29 in 604 plate appearances, suggests there is more work to be done.

With all that was said, including some venomous personal blasts at GM Chuck LaMar, the primary point of contention seems to be whether player personnel director Cam Bonifay did or did not tell Young he wasn't being called up, and why. Only Bonifay and Young know. Three years from now, if Young is the player he is expected to be and the Rays are as good as they hope to be under new management, it shouldn't matter.

And if the Rays are unsure Upton can play shortstop, they should do one of two things. Let Julio Lugo go, make Upton the starter (while signing an inexpensive veteran backup) and use next season, which will be another one of development anyway, to finally find out. Or sign Lugo to a multiyear deal and simply tell Upton he can win the starting third-base job in the majors or play shortstop in the minors.

Like many things with the Rays, it doesn't have to be this difficult.

CROWD CONTROL: Faced with surprisingly small crowds at the Trop last week, managing general partner Vince Naimoli reportedly put the blame on the Tampa Bay sports community and even suggested the team should leave.

According to WDAE-AM 620's Whitney Johnson, Naimoli said: "I'm finally convinced this is not a baseball town. To have less than 15,000 show up for the Yankees in the middle of a pennant race. ... I ought to fold it up right now."

Naimoli's view is in contrast to incoming managing general partner Stuart Sternberg, who gushes over the demographics and said last year the area is the "first and foremost" reason the team can be a good investment.

Whether it was the market or the marketer (or delays in the front-runner lane on the bridges from Tampa), the combined attendance for the three games, 46,835, was less than the Yankees have averaged at home per game - 50,368. The seven smallest crowds to the see the Yankees this season, and 10 of 11, were at the Trop.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Little is being said publicly, but the deal to get Lou Piniella out of the last year of his contract is likely to be finalized right around the end of the season. ... Amid the expected speculation about potential replacements, how about this idea, at least for a transitional year: Don Zimmer? He turns 75 in January, the same as Florida's Jack McKeon; his popularity could offset some fallout of Piniella's departure; and the other coaches, signed through 2006 anyway, could stick around. ... Sports Weekly's Bob Nightengale again suggests Oakland coach Ron Washington as "the perfect fit" and mentions Yankees' coach Joe Girardi. ... Piniella may sit out 2006, but Nightengale predicts he returns to the Yankees, while Baltimore papers link him to the Orioles' job. ... Upton, who has a bigger beef about not being called up than Young, is expected to be at the Trop for Tuesday's annual minor-league awards presentation. Young is not. ... LaMar said he expects pitcher Jason Hammel to jump to the majors next season.

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