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Furcal deal puts focus on Lugo

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 5, 2005

DALLAS - Even before Devil Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman boarded his early morning flight to Dallas Sunday, his winter meetings agenda had gotten more interesting.

Free agent Rafael Furcal agreed late Saturday to sign a three-year, $39.5-million deal with the Dodgers, which should significantly increase trade interest in Rays shortstop Julio Lugo , especially from Furcal's old team, the Braves.

Though rumors already swirled in the lobby of the Wyndham Anatole about potential deals involving Lugo (including some three-way combinations), Friedman said he did not expect serious talk to begin until today.

He, senior vice president Gerry Hunsicker and their staff spent most of Sunday setting up their operations room and reviewing their options.

"Today is for internal discussions," Friedman said. "Gerry and I are going through all the different situations and formulating our game plan."

There has been interest in several other Rays, including closer Danys Baez , first baseman/outfielder Aubrey Huff (including the Cubs, Orioles and Mariners), outfielder Joey Gathright (Marlins, Dodgers, Rangers and others) and outfielder Jonny Gomes (A's).

The possibility of trading catcher Toby Hall to the Mets was eliminated Sunday with reports that Marlins catcher Paul Lo Duca was headed to New York. The Tacoma News-Tribune reported the Rays could trade Huff and pitcher Mark Hendrickson to Seattle for pitcher Gil Meche and catcher Rene Rivera .

MORE RAYS: After winning in 2004, the Rays finished second to Milwaukee for Baseball Prospectus' best medical staff award. ... ESPN's Peter Gammons called Joe Maddon "arguably the best managerial hire of the offseason." ... The Rays have 25 representatives at the meeting.

LOBBY TALK: A.J. Burnett , the top free-agent starter, is on the verge of a decision and may be leaning toward the Cardinals over the Rangers and Blue Jays. ... To get Lo Duca, the Mets will send Gaby Hernandez and another minor-leaguer pitcher to Florida, according to New York's Daily News . ... Paul Byrd agreed to a two-year, $14.25-million deal with the Indians; a 2008 option can push the value to $22-million. ... The Mets are expected to sign 2B Mark Grudzielanek . ... The next Marlin to leave should be centerfielder Juan Pierre , perhaps to the Cubs or Yankees. ... The A's are interested in DH Frank Thomas . ... The Dodgers will go hard after 3B Bill Mueller . ... Jim Fregosi , reported to be the leading candidate for the Dodgers managing job, said he had not heard anything from the team.

[Last modified December 5, 2005, 03:00:29]

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