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Rays learn they have much to offer
By MARC TOPKIN
Published November 13, 2005
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. - After five days of conversations at the annual meeting of general managers and executive vice presidents, one thing that became clear is that the Devil Rays have a lot to talk about.
The combination of an overall thin free-agent market, several productive veteran players signed to relatively reasonable contracts, and a new administration eager to make moves will lead to a winter of discussions - and the potential for a spring of new faces.
Even in a crowded closer's market, Danys Baez (with a $4-million salary) is going to get a lot of play, from the Mets and others.
Aubrey Huff (at $6.75-million in the last year of his contract) is going to draw lots of interest, with the Cubs, Mariners, Mets, Pirates, Red Sox and White Sox among the early possibilities.
If free agent Rafael Furcal is serious about seeking a $50-million deal over five or six years, shortstop Julio Lugo (at $4.95-million for one year) is going to be an even hotter topic than he has been with the Braves and Mets (who'd likely use him at second).
And the player the Rays may have heard the most about last week was speedy outfielder Joey Gathright, who is apparently a hot topic with a number of teams, led by the Padres.
Others whose names have come up, and will again, include catcher Toby Hall, who poses an interesting arbitration decision, and pitcher Dewon Brazelton.
While former Rays general manager Chuck LaMar was often criticized for being inflexible and unrealistic in trade discussions, the new Rays administration appears much more likely to be creative and open-minded. In most cases, they are going to want elite young players, but will also consider deals to get veterans at a good value.
The reality is that rumors and "expert opinions" are going to be flying for weeks, some reasonable and some, well, not. Such as this one:
ESPN's Steve Phillips predicting the Rays will sign Sammy Sosa.
RAYS RUMBLINGS: Andrew Friedman is no longer the 28-year-old running baseball operations; he turns 29 today. ... LaMar, who hosted his annual charity fishing tournament over the weekend, should be considered to run the U.S. team in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. ... Hitting coach Lee Elia left to be the Orioles bench coach, but said the Rays are headed in the right direction and, despite an issue between him and outfielder Carl Crawford, "I've got a lot more friends in that locker room than people think." ... LaMar - in absentia - was among those honored at last week's meetings for 10 or more years on the job. ... Gathright is hitting .294 for Escogido in the Dominican Republic; outfielder Jonny Gomes soon joins brother Joey in Mexico. ... After years helping the Rays scour the bargain bin, former assistant GM Scott Proefrock had a different experience, joining his new Orioles bosses in a meeting with reps for top free agent right-hander A.J. Burnett.
CHAIRMAN'S CORNER: Former managing general partner Vince Naimoli made his first public appearance in his new reduced role as chairman at last week's Rocco Baldelli news conference and said he liked what the new regime has done: "I'm very happy with them. I think they're doing a fine job."
Naimoli will make his farewell appearance at this week's owners meeting in Milwaukee, when the other owners acknowledge him and rubber-stamp approval for Stuart Sternberg to officially assume control of the team.
SIGN OF THE TIMES: The Rays thought signing Baldelli to the six-year, $32-million contract was good baseball and good business. But, as with signing Crawford earlier, they also thought it was a good message to get out.
"I think it's important for the community to identify players and watch them develop," Friedman said. "And in our situation, I think it demonstrates to the fans that this organization is not going to be a farm system for the other 29 teams."
MISCELLANY: The Dodgers are considering giving Kim Ng a shot to be the first woman GM. ... The Red Sox - no surprise - are finding a slim market for outfielder Manny Ramirez. ... If first baseman Paul Konerko goes to the Angels, the White Sox say they will consider former USF star Ross Gload.