tampabay.com

Aki to kick off roster shuffle

By MARC TOPKIN
Published May 27, 2007


CHICAGO - The Devil Rays will look different by this time next week.

Changes will occur as soon as Monday, when 3B Akinori Iwamura comes off the disabled list and Jonny Gomes or Jorge Cantu is sent to Triple A.

Having Iwamura back will make the defense better and allow the Rays to use the moving pieces in their lineup differently.

Against right-handed pitchers, expect to see Carlos Pena at first, B.J. Upton at second and Ty Wigginton (or occasionally Greg Norton) as the primary DH. Against left-handers, Wigginton is likely to play first, Upton second and whoever stays between Cantu and Gomes at DH.

But even that is not absolute.

Initially, Iwamura may be rested frequently, creating more time at third for Wigginton. The off-field controversy aside, Elijah Dukes has to show he can, and will, play well enough to stay in the lineup every day. Although the Rays are comfortable with Upton at second and in center, they are trying to avoid constantly bouncing him between the two.

The decision between Gomes and Cantu will be interesting as the Rays try to determine who might add more offense and be of some value defensively. (The other may be gone as soon as Rocco Baldelli returns.) Josh Wilson won't go because they need someone to back up Brendan Harris at shortstop.

The rotation is subject to change as well, though Saturday's postponement and Thursday's off day could delay any moves. Jae Seo hasn't given the Rays much reason to think he'll get better, and they seem to be ready to dump him and his $1.2-million salary (first designating him for assignment then possibly releasing him) and call up promising Triple-A prospect Andy Sonnanstine. With Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel coming, Edwin Jackson and Casey Fossum probably shouldn't be too comfortable.

The bullpen probably won't change much initially, but that may only be because none of the Durham relievers is doing any better. Jon Switzer, however, is on rehab and could be back within a few weeks.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: So Derek Jeter says eventually he wants to own and run his own team, and he notes that the Yankees would cost "a lot of money, baby," and we note his offseason home and favorite hangouts are in Tampa. ... ESPN's Jayson Stark has LF Carl Crawford sixth on his list of the game's most underrated players, writing, "Joining the Devil Rays isn't exactly the same thing as joining the witness protection program. But it's close enough in Crawford's case." ... On the other end, ESPN.com fantasy baseball expert Tristan H. Cockcroft ranks Baldelli first and Scott Kazmir sixth among his most overrated players. ... Do you wonder about Seattle's advance scouting when third-base coach Carlos Garcia, after having a runner thrown out by Delmon Young, says: "It was the first time we played them. I didn't know he had such a good arm. But now I know." ... Yankees pitcher Kei Igawa, who was demoted to Class-A Tampa for extra work, has the distinction, as Rays PR staffer Jeff Macolino noted, of being the first ever to beat the Tampa Bay and Vero Beach Devil Rays in the same season.

RUDDY-GATE: A political story about presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani receiving a valuable jersey Joe DiMaggio donated to Brooklyn's Xaverian High School has a Rays angle. DiMaggio's relationship with the school started when he attended a 1997 banquet with the baseball team and met Ruddy Lugo. "At the time, Ruddy was a sophomore with dyslexia,"  Dr. Frank Ferrara, the school's principal, told Baynewsbrooklyn.com. "DiMaggio took a liking to him, and the school," he said, adding DiMaggio was impressed with the programs for students with learning disabilities.

Growing pains

Five years ago, the Tigers and Rays were equally horrible. But the Tigers come to Tropicana Field on Monday as a good example of how a bad team can get good, with smart moves, some luck and lots of money. A comparison:

Tigers Rays

Year W-L Fin Payroll* W-L Fin Payroll*

2002 55-106 5 $55.1 55-106 5 $34.4

2003 43-119 5 $49.2 63-99 5 $19.6

2004 72-90 4 $46.8 70-91 4 $29.6

2005 71-91 4 $69.1 67-95 5 $29.7

2006 95-67 2 $82.6 61-101 5 $35.4

2007+ 29-18 2 $95.2 19-28 5 $24.1

* In millions, source: USA Today, + through Friday

Internet item of the week

A 2004 BMW 745 I, said to be owned by a former Rays player named Perez (Antonio, Eduardo or Tomas), is listed on eBay with the bidding up to $39, 600 as of midday Saturday.