tampabay.com

Rays eye deal for younger catcher

By MARC TOPKIN
Published June 27, 2006


MIAMI - The Devil Rays are working on a multiplayer deal to trade veteran Toby Hall and replace him with a top young catcher.

Details were not clear Monday night, but if the deal goes through the Rays would shed Hall, the 30-year-old who has been their primary starter since 2002, and acquire a player who would have the potential to be behind the plate for at least the next five years.

Catchers in that category who might be available include the Angels' Jeff Mathis, a 23-year-old who started the season in the majors but was demoted after hitting .103 and replaced by rookie Mike Napoli; the Dodgers' Dioner Navarro, a 22-year-old who was the opening-day starter but went on the disabled list in May after being struck by a foul tip and lost his job to rookie Russell Martin; the Mariners' Jeff Clement, a 2005 first-round pick who is blocked by Japanese free agent Kenji Johjima, as is prospect Guillermo Quiroz; and the Pirates' Ryan Doumit, sidelined with a hamstring injury, and Ronny Paulino, who has been playing somewhat regularly.

The deal, which was still under negotiation Monday night, could be completed today and may also involve pitchers as well as cash. Rays left-hander Mark Hendrickson has been attracting interest from several teams.

Hall, who was unexpectedly not in the lineup Monday, got off to a hot start this season but is in a 2-for-20 slump that has dropped his average to .231 with eight homers and 22 RBIs. He has been with the Rays his entire career and is making $2.25-million this season.

ROAD WARRIORS: With their chartered plane and crew delayed indefinitely getting to St. Petersburg-Clearwater airport due to weather Sunday night, the Rays players voted to waive a players association rule and take buses to south Florida.

Or at least some of them.

About a dozen players rode on the two buses, but the rest chose alternate methods of transportation. Carl Crawford, Damon Hollins and Scott Kazmir took a Southwest Airlines flight from Tampa; Rocco Baldelli, Hall and Jonny Gomes jumped into Gomes' car and headed down; Greg Norton and Josh Paul drove together Monday morning; and other players drove with their families.

"All these guys voted to take the bus, then they didn't get on the bus," said shortstop Julio Lugo, who was aboard for the four-hour trip. "It wasn't that bad."

There was some excitement, too, as the drivers of both buses narrowly avoided hitting a sofa that somehow ended up in the middle of Alligator Alley.

"We almost flipped," Lugo said. "The driver realized it at the last minute."

BIG SWINGER: After going down swinging in his two at-bats at Philadelphia on June 17, Kazmir has been working with hitting coach Steve Henderson on improving his technique.

His goal for tonight's game against the Marlins: to actually see the ball.

"I was swinging as hard as I could, but I was looking in the stands," Kazmir said. "I just want to look at the ball this time."

As for his pitching, Kazmir said he doesn't expect the south Florida heat or humidity to be an issue because he did his running outside the Trop during the last homestand.

Kazmir said he didn't think much was wrong during his four-start nonwinning streak, but he has had a better feel for his pitches in winning his past two. "Everything felt good that whole time," he said.

CROWDED HOUSE: Though the Rays' average attendance of 16,175 ranks 29th among the 30 major-league teams, their total of 566,130 for 35 home games is up nearly 20 percent over last season (470,722).

MINOR MATTERS: Third baseman Sean Burroughs went through waivers unclaimed and was outrighted to Triple-A Durham, where he was hitting .221 in 31 games with two extra-base hits. ... Jeff Niemann made his second start since shoulder surgery Sunday for Double-A Montgomery, allowing three runs on three hits over four innings while striking out five. ... Class A Visalia shortstop Reid Brignac, outfielder Patrick Breen and utilityman John Jaso will participate in tonight's California League-Carolina League All-Star game. ... First-round draft pick Evan Longoria is 11-for-27 with two homers in his first six pro games at Hudson Valley.

MISCELLANY: The Rays continue to await word from Major League Baseball on whether Josh Hamilton will be reinstated from his drug suspension. ... Hollins is on alert with fiancé Patrice Parker expected to deliver their first child "any day now." He plans to head to Oakland for the birth and will miss a few games. ... Bullpen coach Bobby Ramos, a Miami resident making his second trip to south Florida as a major-league coach, left tickets for 15 friends and relatives but said he could have used "easily 100." ... Hollins' double Sunday was changed to an error by the Tropicana Field official scorer, costing him a hit and an RBI.