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Big decisions loom on horizon

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

ST. PETERSBURG - Most of the offseason chatter has involved who the Devil Rays may deal away. A trade to send Joey Gathright to the Marlins is still very much in play, and possibilities lurk for deals involving Julio Lugo, Aubrey Huff and Danys Baez.

But this week the Rays have some tough decisions to make on who to keep. And they can get more serious about players they may seek to add.

By Monday, they'll know which of their free agents, Alex Gonzalez, Travis Lee and Eduardo Perez , have accepted arbitration and are considered signed players. (Perez has agreed not to, allowing negotiations to continue until Jan.8.)

By Tuesday, they must decide who they would rather let become free agents by not tendering them a contract rather than pay them based on the arbitration system.

Having come to terms with third baseman Sean Burroughs on a one-year deal for some $1.5-million, they have eight arbitration eligibles, including five relievers: Joe Borowski, Lance Carter, Jesus Colome, Travis Harper and Trever Miller. It's unlikely all will be back, with Borowski the least likely.

Starters Casey Fossum and Mark Hendrickson seemingly have to be retained, though they could later be traded.

The heftiest decision might involve catcher Toby Hall. With the market for starting catchers dried up (just ask Bengie Molina, who left the Angels as a free agent and has nowhere to go), the Rays - barring an unexpected trade opportunity - may have no choice but to pay Hall an estimated $3-million or let him go for nothing.

"We're having lots of conversations with these guys and their representatives," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "How different situations play out via trades and the free-agent market will factor into our decisions on who will be members of the 2006 Devil Rays."

The Rays have made offers to two free agents - starter Brett Tomko and reliever Rudy Seanez - but are likely to be more aggressive once they see which players have been nontendered and are available.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: A lot of the planned $10-million renovation to Tropicana Field involves suite and club levels, but there seems to be a legitimate commitment to make it an overall cleaner and a better place to watch a game, focusing on the senses - vision, sound, taste, touch, smell.

"Our expectation is to significantly upgrade the atmosphere and the experience," team president Matt Silverman said. "We're hoping that people who have been here before will come back and that those who haven't will try the ballpark experience for the first time and be impressed."

Though the renovations are cosmetic, they are an investment.

By enhancing the high-end fan areas, the Rays eventually will expect to get premium prices. And by improving amenities for the players, the Rays hope to be able to lure better ones. For example, the home clubhouse is being upgraded, and the Rays are building a new room staffed with babysitters - as most teams offer - for players' families.

"It's hard to measure a return on that, but we want to make sure we take care of our players," Silverman said.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Assuming final details can be worked out, Ron Porterfield will be promoted to head trainer, replacing Ken Crenshaw, who went to Arizona. Rehab coordinator Paul Harker is likely to be Porterfield's assistant. ... Shinji Mori, the Japanese reliever whom the Rays won the rights to, is headed to the bay area this week to tour the Trop and visit with team officials. ... Silverman said they are looking into "price adjustments" and increased variety at concession stands. ... One issue in senior business VP Dave Auker's unexpected resignation was a difference in styles with the new ownership. ... Gary Goldring, a member of Stuart Sternberg's ownership group, joined the Earthwatch Institute board of directors with an interest in sea turtle research. ... Silverman and Sternberg went to St. Louis last week to meet with Anheuser-Busch marketing execs.

[Last modified December 18, 2005, 07:29:40]

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