Crucial moves on deck for Rays

Releasing Miceli would be costly; Cantu or Gomes might be headed to minors.

Published March 29, 2007

CLEARWATER - The Devil Rays narrowly picked Edwin Jackson over J.P. Howell as their fifth starter on Wednesday and reduced their bullpen options by sending Tim Corcoran and Scott Dohmann to Triple A.

But more interesting, more difficult and, potentially, more surprising decisions remain.

There were indications that veteran reliever Dan Miceli may be released - at a cost of $850,000 - to create a 40-man roster spot, and that the final job among the position players could come down to a choice between former frontliners Jorge Cantu and Jonny Gomes.

Overall, the Rays are down to 34 active players, with nine having to go before the 25-man opening day roster is submitted Sunday afternoon. The remaining decisions are expected to be announced Friday, with manager Joe Maddon suggesting that some have already been made, and that the status of centerfielder Rocco Baldelli and catchers Dioner Navarro and Josh Paul, who all tested nagging injuries in minor-league games Wednesday, could affect the others.

"We're pretty close," Maddon said. "There's a lot of things that maybe are just kind of like on hold right now, but based on the next couple days I think we have a pretty good idea what we want to do. ... We discussed a lot of different possibilities. If these guys are well come Friday, we'll have a pretty good idea in advance of what we have to do."

By releasing Miceli, a 36-year-old right-hander who hasn't thrown well this spring 9.53 ERA, the Rays appear to be creating 40-man roster space to add long reliever Gary Glover, who has drawn Maddon's praise throughout the spring. The Rays needed one roster spot for veteran Al Reyes and got that by outrighting Dohmann to Triple A.

Miceli has cleared outright waivers, going unclaimed for the $20,000 fee, and unless the Rays can work out a trade, appears headed for release. The Rays would have to pay $650,000 guaranteed salary for this season plus a $200,000 buyout of a $1-million option for 2008.

With Shawn Camp, Ruddy Lugo, Brian Stokes, Reyes and possibly Glover set, the final two bullpen spots would be filled from the group of Seth McClung, Chad Orvella, Jae Kuk Ryu and Juan Salas.

McClung came into camp as the leading closer candidate, but he has had a poor spring (11.57 ERA, 25 baserunners in 91/3 innings) and is in serious jeopardy of being sent to the minors.

"I know they're kind of looking for some results right now while I'm still trying to get my feet going," he said after allowing four hits and two walks in two innings Wednesday in a 9-2 loss to the Phillies. "I know I'm confident in my ability to help this team. ... I'm really focused on getting myself ready to pitch April 2. Whatever they do is out of my hands; I can't control it. I want to be a Devil Ray."

Cantu, the incumbent second baseman trying to regain his 117-RBI form from 2005, and Gomes, who hit 20 homers in an injury-shortened 2006 season, have been key players, but there may only be room for one, possibly as a part-time DH, with the other going to Triple A. Neither has had a great spring, though Maddon said Gomes has improved his swing in the last week.

Utility infielder Brendan Harris, who is out of options and could be lost on waivers if the Rays tried to send him to the minors, has played his way into serious consideration, and could be a good fit. Under one scenario being discussed, Harris would be the primary backup at shortstop and third base, allowing the Rays to keep B.J. Upton at second and in the outfield, where he has looked increasingly comfortable. It would also keep Upton away from shortstop and third, where he has had problems.

If Cantu is sent down, Upton likely would be the primary starter at second, with Ty Wigginton (who will play often at first base) and Harris also getting time. If Gomes is sent down, Cantu and Upton likely would share time at second.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8801. View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.

Wednesday's moves

RHP Tim Corcoran, optioned to Triple-A Durham

RHP Scott Dohmann, outrighted to Triple-A Durham

LHP J.P. Howell, optioned to Triple-A Durham