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Angry Cantu sent down, wants out
Former Rays MVP says he has nothing to prove at Triple A, and he may not report to Durham.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published April 1, 2007
ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays told Jorge Cantu they had no use for him Saturday, sending their 2005 team MVP to Triple A as they completed their 25-man roster. And Cantu responded by saying he no longer had use for them, asking for a trade and threatening not to report to Durham.
"What can I say? I'm going to keep it real simple - I'm not a minor-league player," Cantu said. "Probably a change of scenery would be best. ... It's just for the best. I have to look out for myself. I don't have anything to prove down there, I believe. And what I've done here, it's like it was invisible. So I guess I've got to go."
Cantu's demotion was the biggest news on a hectic final day of spring training as the Rays brought back first baseman Carlos Pena to replace injured Greg Norton, who will need surgery on his right knee; gave the final reserve spots to Jonny Gomes and Brendan Harris; and unveiled a starting lineup that will be among the fastest - and least experienced - in either league.
Cantu, who hit 28 homers and drove in a team-record 117 runs in 2005, worked hard to rebound from a poor and injury-marred 2006. But his chances of sticking around diminished rapidly once the Rays became comfortable B.J. Upton could handle second base.
Cantu, 25, was left to compete for a part-time DH role with Gomes, who has more power and can play the outfield, where the Rays need depth because Rocco Baldelli will be limited at least the first week to DH duties.
"We just chose Jon's bat right now," manager Joe Maddon said. "We weren't going to play Cantu at second base. We didn't see first base as a viable option right now. And we had other things we wanted to do with the DH role. So on all three counts it kind of knocked him out of there, which is unfortunate. He's a wonderful young man. We're hoping he goes back to Triple A and gets everything back in order for himself."
Cantu was planning to go home to Mexico to decide whether to report within the allotted 72 hours to Durham, where he will be the DH.
Even though he and agent Steve Canter asked publicly for a trade, there is no process to make a formal request and the Rays are not obligated to do so. Nor is there any guarantee they could, given questions about Cantu's defense and his dropoff in power last season.
"Obviously if any deal presents itself to us that makes sense, it's something we would do," executive vice president Andrew Friedman.
Gomes, who hit 20 homers last season before shoulder surgery, spent much of the spring wondering if he would be sent down, but welcomed the fight.
"From Day 1 of spring, I just came in with everything to lose and making the club to gain," he said. "So I had a lot to prove - that I'm the first-half player I was last year, not the second-half player, and that I'm healthy."
"I saw Jon really fight for that position," Maddon said. "Before camp began I told Jon he wasn't on the team necessarily, that he had to fight for a position, and he did. I liked what he did."
In sending down Cantu, as well as incumbent closer Seth McClung, the Rays followed up on a promise to make players earn their positions.
"We're very pleased with the way the roster looks right now, and almost as importantly the depth that we have in Double A and Triple A," Friedman said. "We feel like we've been very consistent with what was said and the actions that were taken."
The result is a roster with 11 players who will see their first opening day, including six rookies. Centerfielder Elijah Dukes will be playing his first major-league game at Yankee Stadium on Monday, as will Japanese third baseman Akinori Iwamura. Upton will be playing at second base for the first time in pro ball. Only eight of the 25 were on the active roster last opening day.
The lineup will be fluid. Upton will get "the preponderance" of his starts at second but still will be used in center and rightfield, with Harris and Ty Wigginton at second. Baldelli won't go back to centerfield until his right hamstring feels better, though Maddon said, "I don't think it will be overtly long."
Catcher Dioner Navarro also will be rested more to protect a sore left hamstring.