Shields gets his, so just what can Kazmir expect?

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 27, 2008

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman bought Scott Kazmir lunch Friday. Only fair, because at some point the Rays will ask Kazmir to buy into their future.

Last week's seven-year potentially $44-million contract with James Shields sent a number of messages: that the Rays will spend money, that they'll take care of their own, even that they're serious about winning.

But what message did it send to Kazmir, the young ace whom they'd like to sign long term?

A positive they were willing to lock up a key pitcher? A promise that the money is there for him, too? A challenge that he has to prove something - Results? Health? Work ethic? - to get his? An insult that they took care of Shields first?

"First of all, I'm happy for Shields," Kazmir said. "I think we're in different situations. So that's not really going to affect me. He's coming out of his first full year, and I'm arbitration-eligible already, so it's a little different. Really different."

True. With Shields five years from free agency, the security of a guaranteed $11.25-million had to be enticing. But Kazmir will be a free agent after the 2010 season and might be close enough to see his even larger windfall coming.

The Rays showed some good will by going up to $3.785-million for his one-year deal to avoid arbitration. But if Kazmir isn't signed long term by the start of next season (2009), you wonder if he'd rather wait to hit the open market. And just imagine where the bidding might start for a 27-year-old frontline lefty starter.

"Kaz is our ace, and we expect and hope he'll be our opening day starter for many years," Friedman said. "It is team policy to handle contract negotiations in private, but something we're always going to look at are ways to keep our best young players in place."

For now, Kazmir says he's not thinking about going anywhere. "My mind's pretty much the same as always - I want to stay here," he said. "I'm always open to talk to Friedman." The question, however, will be "if we can come to agreement."

For what it's worth, Kazmir likes what he has seen from the front office this winter. "They've really stepped it up," he said. "With everything they've done, we're ready to compete."

But to stay long term, he may have to see a lot more.

ADD IT UP: Shields' deal technically would only keep him around for two extra free-agent seasons, but another benefit of these type of deals is cost certainly during arbitration years, which could prevent the Rays from having to trade him, as the Marlins did when arbitration-eligible Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis became too expensive.

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Kazmir shares an agent with LF Carl Crawford, and word from Brian Peters is that Crawford is working out harder than ever, has improved his diet and may report to camp in his best shape ever. ... ESPN.com's Keith Law didn't like the Shields deal, questioning why the Rays would guarantee so much to "a young pitcher with a somewhat skinny build" and concluding "the risk looks significant." ... RHP Scott Munter, a 6-foot-6, 261-pound sinkerballer who has pitched in 84 games for the Giants, signed a minor-league deal with a spring invite. ... Rocco Baldelli took in a Celtic soccer game during a recent trip to Scotland, and picked up the lingo quickly, quoted in the Daily Record about how he'd "fancy" the championship flag flying at Celtic Park, that "as a sportsman" he relishes the game atmosphere, and noting that fans enjoy "a pie and bovril" as pregame snack. ... Prospect LHP Jake McGee joined Shields in Vegas to sample his intensive offseason workouts. ... ESPN.com's Amy Nelson picks Mets shortstop Jose Reyes as the better basestealer than Crawford. ... B.J. Upton is partnering with brother Justin and Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer in a Virginia sports training/instruction facility.

MISCELLANY: Ex-Ray (and current White Sox) catcher Toby Hall is hosting the Miracle League Celebrity Golf Classic on Feb. 11 at Feather Sound with some Rays and Bucs participating; registration for individuals ($250) and foursomes (starting at $1,000) is available at professionalgolfevents.net. ... The Twins' long-term deals with Justin Morneau and Cuddyer sure sound like goodbye to Johan Santana.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@tampabay.com.


Job wanted

With spring training less than three weeks away, you could field a decent team with the big-name free agents looking for work:

1B Doug Mientkiewicz

2B Jerry Hairston

SS Royce Clayton

3B Jeff Cirillo

C Mike Piazza

OF Luis Gonzalez

OF Kenny Lofton

OF Brad Wilkerson

DH Barry Bonds Sammy Sosa

RHP Kyle Lohse Livan Hernandez Jeff Weaver

LHP Odalis Perez Trever Miller David Wells