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Grist for the trade rumor mill

By MIKE READLING and MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 10, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays didn't have much to say Friday about the latest Gary Sheffield trade rumors, except that they don't like them.

ESPN.com reported late Thursday the Rays had an offer of outfielders Greg Vaughn and Gerald Williams "on the table" for Sheffield. Several other news organizations reported that the Rays are among the teams most interested in acquiring the Dodgers' slugging outfielder.

Rays general manager Chuck LaMar, per his policy, declined to address the reports: "The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are not going to comment on any trade rumors the media wants to speculate on, and you may want to put the word "media' in that."

Manager Larry Rothschild said he considered the reports "pure, unadulterated speculation" and questioned their validity.

Rothschild added: "I don't like to read names, I don't think it's fair. You're talking about players and families and things like that when you get into speculation. I just don't think it's right."

While Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone has been quoted as saying the potential for trouble makes Sheffield a risk to some teams, agent Jim Neader said the Rays have no reason to be concerned.

"Gary, I think, would be fine there," Neader said. "I don't think there would be any problems. I don't think there's anything to worry about."

WILSON ROLLING: Last season at this time, Paul Wilson was working his way back from elbow surgery. The pitches he threw and how the ball moved were important, but not as important as how his arm felt.

This year, all that is changed. It matters which pitches are working and it matters where they go. Wilson's arm is a complete afterthought.

Friday, Wilson dominated the Yankees for three innings. The right-hander faced 10 batters, striking out five, while giving up one hit and walking one in the Rays' 4-3 loss at Florida Power Park.

"I had a lot better rhythm today," said Wilson, who has not yielded a run and has struck out six in five innings this spring. "I had a good sinker, I spotted my fastball well. ... I felt comfortable with all the pitches I threw."

Wilson's only problem was an errant pickoff throw to first, which sailed over Steve Cox's head and allowed Bernie Williams to reach second.

"The throw over Cox's head, that was stupid," Wilson said. "That upset me the most today."

PLAYERS MEETING: Union chief Don Fehr spoke to the Rays for about 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Fehr said he touched on a number of subjects, including contraction and the labor agreement, which expires after this season.

"We talked about preparing for the future where if we do get locked out we want to have ourselves financially prepared," said pitcher Albie Lopez, the team's union representative.

Fehr said he has not begun negotiations with the owners but does not anticipate a work stoppage.

"Anybody who lived through (the strike of 1994) doesn't want to do it again," Fehr said. "Do I anticipate it? No. That's a different question than whether you prepare for it. What you always do, and it's just sound practice, is you hope for the best and hope for an agreement but prepare for the eventuality it doesn't happen."

FLATTENED: Williams was a half hour late to Fehr's address because his car had a flat tire on the Howard Frankland Bridge. He had to flag down a taxi to get to camp.

NOTES: New York broke its streak of 23 scoreless innings with a two-run single by Jorge Posada in the fifth, then got a double from Alfonso Soriano and a single by Luis Sojo in the ninth. ... The Rays travel to Sarasota to take on the Reds beginning at 1:05 today. Ryan Rupe is scheduled to start for Tampa Bay. Jeff Wallace, Paul Spoljaric, Sean Bergman and Esteban Yan follow.

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