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A little wishful thinking can't hurt

New and rather expensive baseball purchases landed under the Christmas tree for Rays fans.

By EDUARDO A. ENCINA
Published December 31, 2006


So the holiday season is coming to an end, Barry Zito received a Christmas present slightly better than grandma's fruitcake, Rays fans found few offseason acquisitions under their tree and a lot of new - albeit some ridiculously expensive - baseball purchases have come from Japan through a posting system that has more holes than eBay.

Though there hasn't been much going on in the Rays' front office, there's an exchange policy until spring training opens in mid February and trade talks have been ongoing. In the meantime, some holiday wishes:

For manager Joe Maddon: a new eye prescription so his designer frames aren't so rose-colored. The only man who sees endless positives in a 12-2 loss, here's to a Maddon with a slightly harder edge in 2007.

For Carl Crawford: to come into spring training knowing he is the franchise's top player, regardless of trade rumors.

For Rocco Baldelli: 500 plate appearances, the games needed to prove he's the player he showed he could be in limited time last season.

For B.J. Upton: the realization that his future with the Rays is not in the infield. In return the team will grant a mulligan for last year's disappointing performance - most know his bat is much better than his .246 average.

For Jorge Cantu: for the real one to show up, whether it's the 28-homer, 117-RBIs offensive machine of 2005 or the ailing, slumping and frustrating one of last year. Oh, and 500 groundballs a day wouldn't hurt.

For Scott Kazmir: intense offseason care of that invaluable left arm, even if it means a session of fewer than nine pitches.

For Seth McClung: the attitude that the closer job is his to win ... then proving it.

And finally for Akinori Iwamura: more plate discipline than he showed in Japan, and to be anything but Kaz Matsui.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: They are looking to sign right-handed reliever Scott Dohmann, who was non-tendered by the Royals, for bullpen help. He was 2-4 with a 7.08 ERA in 48 games between Colorado and Kansas City, but the organization believes Dohmann has the ability to be a late offseason addition - much like its signing of Ty Wigginton last year for $675,000 - who could produce while earning less than $1-million. ... The Orioles have long been interested in former Ray Aubrey Huff, and the Baltimore Sun reported Saturday that they agreed in principle on a three-year, $20-million deal. With lefty-friendly Camden Yards and the fact Huff has more homers 20 and RBIs (63) against Baltimore than any other team, it makes sense, but he's taking a cut from his $6.75-million in '06. "He'd have like 200 homers at Camden Yards," O's third baseman Melvin Mora told the Baltimore Sun. "Every time he goes to Camden Yards, he comes back with two or three."

AROUND THE LEAGUE: Given their problems developing pitchers, the Rangers needed a quality young arm like right-hander Brandon McCarthy. McCarthy, acquired last week from the White Sox, was Chicago's 17th-round pick in the 2001 draft. The 2001-02 drafts caused all sorts of pitching woes for the Rangers. They took position players in the first round both seasons then took 23 pitchers before their next position player. None has reached the majors. ... Right-hander Mark Buehrle could be the Zito of next year's free-agent crop. It's unclear whether the White Sox will re-sign him, especially after going 3-9 with a 7.12 ERA in his last 16 starts. But the past three seasons, he is 44-31 and 3.95 in 686 innings; Zito went 41-34, 4.05 ERA, 6621/3 innings. ... Angels outfielder Vladimir Guerrero's aching right knee that bothered him last season won't require surgery.

Times wires contributed to this report. Eduardo A. Encina can be reached at eencina@sptimes.com.