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Rays look at Grieve as building block

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 10, 2001


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Grieve
Coming out of high school, Ben Grieve was considered one of the greatest prep hitters in recent history. Coming through the minor leagues, he was considered a can't-miss prospect. Coming up with the A's, he was considered a blossoming star.

Coming to the Devil Rays, Grieve is considered a cornerstone in their foundation.

The Rays had to give up closer Roberto Hernandez and starter/reliever Cory Lidle as part of a three-way deal to get Grieve, reportedly bypassing offers for Hernandez from the Mets, but they believed he was worth it, as much for what he will do this season as in the future.

Grieve is a special talent and a rare find: a 24-year-old who has had three successful big-league seasons.

"We could not pass up a chance to get a young bat like Ben's," Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said.

The A's at one time thought very highly of Grieve -- minor-league player of the year in 1997 and American League Rookie of the Year in 1998 -- so much so that they signed him to a four-year contract after two seasons in the big leagues.

"Ben has been a major part of our going from one of the worst teams in baseball to one of the better ones," Oakland general manager Billy Beane said. "Trading him was difficult personally and difficult professionally because of what Ben has meant to our franchise."

Though Grieve has shown signs of the power scouts think will make him a 40-homer hitter, his lack of speed and declining defensive abilities apparently became an issue with the A's. So, too, did the holes in his offense: While hitting 27 homers and driving in a career-high 104 runs, he also struck out 130 times and hit into 32 double plays.

"It's the little things," A's coach Ron Washington told the San Jose Mercury News. "Ben has improved, but he was all or nothing."

The Rays are willing to work with him. The A's moved Grieve from rightfield to left to compensate for his below-average arm, but the Rays are going to give him a shot in right. "I'm comfortable in either place they stick me," Grieve said. "Maybe the deal is I get better jumps on the ball in rightfield, but my arm is more suited for leftfield."

Said LaMar: "He'll fit in somewhere."

GONZALEZ AN INDIAN: Juan Gonzalez agreed to a $10-million, one-year contract, giving Cleveland a rightfielder to replace Manny Ramirez. Gonzalez, who has a history of back problems, passed a team physical before signing. ... Left-hander Chuck Finley had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and is expected to be able to pitch in 4-6 weeks.

NILSSON STAYING OVERSEAS: After taking a year off from his major-league career to play for his native Australia in the Olympics, Dave Nilsson isn't ready to return. "I've declined all offers," he said.

PHILLIES: Philadelphia plans to retire the No. 14 jersey worn by Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Bunning before the home opener April 6.

REDS: Former controlling owner Marge Schott, who was hospitalized complaining of breathing problems, was released. No details were available.

WHITE SOX: Right-handed reliever Bill Simas is expected to miss the season after ligament replacement surgery on his pitching elbow.

YANKEES: The team and Derek Jeter's agent resumed talks about a multiyear contract for the shortstop, who is eligible for free agency after the season. The cost to sign Jeter went up last month when Alex Rodriguez agreed to the richest contract in sports history, a $252-million, 10-year deal with the Rangers.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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