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Lopez, Rays split the difference

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 8, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays made a deal Wednesday with Albie Lopez because it enabled them to avoid the potential rancor of an arbitration hearing today. Lopez said he agreed to a one-year, $2.975-million contract -- the midpoint between his request and the team's offer -- with a longer-term goal in mind.

"I wanted to go to arbitration; I was confident in our case," Lopez said Wednesday night. "In the same respect, they cut it down the middle, and I had to show good faith if I wanted to cut a long-term deal later. I wanted to show them I will stay in Tampa."

Lopez sought a salary of $3.45-million; the Rays offered $2.5-million. The right-hander made $920,000 last season, when he was moved into an injury-depleted rotation almost out of desperation and emerged as one of the team's top starters, going 9-9 with a 3.89 ERA in 24 starts.

General manager Chuck LaMar said he will "keep the door open" to discuss a long-term contract during the season with Lopez, who will be a free agent at season's end. First he wants to see how Lopez pitches.

"Albie Lopez showed he could be a pretty dominant starter, but he only did it for three months, so it may be premature," LaMar said. "If he continues to do it, I don't think there's any question we'd want to sign him to a long-term deal. Then it would be up to him."

LaMar said the Rays were ready for the hearing, which would have been the first in team history, but were glad to settle.

"Albie Lopez for the last four months was arguably our No. 1 starter, and I think he comes into spring training with a chance to be just that," LaMar said. "We're looking for another fine year out of Albie, and there's no way we wanted the negative of the arbitration process to get in the way."

The Rays were so ready that assistant general manager Scott Proefrock and senior vice president/general counsel John Higgins flew to Phoenix only to get word of the settlement. They caught a flight right back to Tampa. "Long commute," LaMar said.

The Rays have a final arbitration case pending, with Bryan Rekar. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 20.

OTHER DEALS: The Rays also agreed to terms with five of the younger players on their 40-man roster: Brent Abernathy, Travis Phelps, Jared Sandberg, Bobby Seay and Matt White. Eighteen players, including Rekar, are unsigned.

Nash to avoid prosecution for robbery charge

ST. PETERSBURG -- Celebrated Rays prospect Greg "Toe" Nash likely will not stand trial for felony robbery, the most serious of the charges against him.

Ascension Parish (La.) assistant district attorney Ben Johnson said Wednesday his department probably will not prosecute Nash on the charge that stemmed from an April 19, 2000, fight. Trial is scheduled for April 24.

"I think we're going to do something for the guy," said Johnson, who has received calls from numerous people supporting Nash. "I just feel it would do more good to do that than prosecuting. That's the way I'm leaning now, and I don't know of anything that would interfere with or aggravate that."

Johnson said he is considering recommending some type of pre-trial intervention program that essentially would put Nash on probation and could be rescinded if he got in additional trouble. A final decision is expected by Friday.

"Maybe that will be an incentive to keep him in line," Johnson said.

Nash, the 18-year-old prospect the Rays uncovered in rural Louisiana, has been arrested five times in the past year on a variety of charges, including misdemeanor drug possession and battery.

The robbery charge is the only felony count he faces, and a conviction could end his career before it begins. Though other charges are pending, they may not restrict Nash from reporting to spring training in March. Nash has not been convicted of any crimes.

Around the league

ASTROS: Catcher Brad Ausmus' $5-million option for 2002 was exercised by the team, which agreed to a new team option for the next season. Ausmus, who gets $4.5-million this year, started his second tour with the Astros on Dec. 11 as part of a six-player trade with Detroit. "This step reinforced the commitment we have to Brad and the important role he will play in our future," general manager Gerry Hunsicker said.

MARLINS: Second baseman Luis Castillo agreed to a $2.2-million, one-year contract just before the scheduled start of his arbitration hearing. Arbitration is scheduled next week for closer Antonio Alfonseca, who led the majors last season with 45 saves.

METS: Reliever Rick White agreed to a one-year contract for $1.15-million, nearly double his $610,000 salary last season. The team also agreed to one-year contracts with outfielder Brian Cole ($200,000) and right-hander Eric Cammack ($205,000).

REDS: Sean Casey's arbitration case was argued in Phoenix before Elisabeth Neumeier, Carol Whittenberg and Jerome Ross. It was the first time a player appeared in front of a panel that included two women.

ROYALS: Catcher Gregg Zaun won his salary arbitration case and will get $1.15-million next season instead of Kansas City's $850,000 offer.

TIGERS: The team won its arbitration case against Chris Holt and will pay the right-hander $1.85-million this season. Holt, 8-16 with a 5.35 ERA for Houston last season, had asked arbitrators James Gross, Roger Kaplan and Kenneth Perea for a raise from $1,125,000 to $2.3-million. Shortstop Deivi Cruz was among the 40 major-leaguers remaining in arbitration. Hearings are scheduled through Feb. 21.

YANKEES: Mariano Rivera's salary arbitration hearing, scheduled for today, was postponed as infighting broke out among his agents. Rivera is represented by SFX Entertainment, which last year acquired the reliever's longtime representative, Chicago-based Speakers of Sports. Jim Bronner and Bob Gilhooley, the primary agents of Speakers of Sports, sued SFX last week.

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

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