Kazmir to management: Get us some help

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 29, 2007

TORONTO - Scott Kazmir, like others, hopes better days are ahead for the Devil Rays, who with a 5-4 loss to the Blue Jays on Friday guaranteed they'll again finish with the majors' worst record.

But the young ace said Friday they need some veteran help to get there, that he's tired of being part of what's "kind of the laughingstock of baseball" and suggested the Rays' competitiveness and commitment to winning will be a large factor in whether he signs a long-term deal.

"I'm interested to hear what they have to say," said Kazmir, who can't be a free agent until 2011. "Let's see what happens. ...

"The thing is, we've got to show that we can win out there. That's the first thing you want to do - you want to go out and be on a team that wants to be in contention and wants to win.

"It's frustrating every year when you come to different parks and everyone's all over you because you're last in the entire league every year. It's tough being kind of the laughingstock of baseball right now. It really is. We're better than what our record shows but we're young, we're still going through growing pains and everything. It's tough, because we need some more help."

Kazmir, 23, is eligible for arbitration for the first time after this season - likely resulting in a raise in excess of $3-million - but remains under the Rays' control through the 2010 season. He has had some talks with them about a long-term contract that would "buy out" his first year or two of free agency - similar to the deals the Rays made with Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli - in return for guaranteed millions, but he said both sides agreed to wait until after the season to continue.

Asked about signing Kazmir, as well as James Shields, to long-term deals, principal owner Stuart Sternberg said Thursday at Tropicana Field: "Like Bob Barker would say, 'If the price is right."'

Kazmir said the young Rays would benefit greatly from veteran influence to show them "how to go about winning and stay consistent," and claimed that without veterans of their own they instead consult with opponents.

"Us young guys, we have to learn on the go, we've just got to learn in the big leagues. That's why you see most of us ... when we play different teams, we talk to all of the veterans and get as much as we can from them," he said. "In the weight room we talk to them as much as we can, trying to pick their brains apart."

Executive VP Andrew Friedman said that Kazmir isn't the only one who wants to see the Rays get better and that it will take the best efforts of all players, staff management and ownership to make it happen. Sternberg promised a payroll increase of at least 20 percent for next season, though that's only to around $34-million.

"I think everyone in this organization - I don't think it's exclusive to Kaz - wants to win and all of our focus is on building this organization to win the American League East and, more importantly, be able to sustain that success," Friedman said. "So I think all of us share in that exact same sentiment."

Kazmir said the Rays 65-95 aren't far from becoming a winning team but there are some "spots" that need to be addressed beyond the "great" trades the Rays made at midseason.

"I thought that we could have made some good moves this spring training; hopefully this next year, we'll address those," he said. "You see what we have here and you think we're really almost there but we've got to get some help. We're all young guys. In this division you've got to have a little help. ... We've got to step it up a little bit."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com View his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/rays.