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By JOHN ROMANO
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Kenny Kelly has been removed from Tampa Bay's 40-man roster, although it does not necessarily mean he is removed from their plans.
The former Tampa Catholic and University of Miami quarterback was designated for assignment Wednesday, meaning the team has 10 days to trade him or put him on waivers. If no team claims him on waivers, the Rays could outright him to their minor-league system.
The Rays made the move to clear a spot for pitcher Mike Judd, acquired in a trade Wednesday.
One of the organization's better prospects, Kelly might clear waivers because any team that claims him would be responsible for the three years remaining on his contract at $400,000 a season.
In a worst-case scenario, the Rays would be off the hook for $1.2-million in salary if Kelly is claimed by another team. Between his 2000 salary and signing bonus, the Rays already have invested about $1-million in Kelly.
Kelly, 22, was playing a minor-league exhibition game in Clearwater on Wednesday when he was pulled off the field and informed of the roster move.
"They made it clear they still want me," Kelly said. "I know they have big plans for me for the future, but I thought they were bigger than this. Any time you get taken off the 40-man roster, you're not going to be happy.
"I understand there are reasons for this. There are reasons for everything. I don't want to say anything bad about the team, but I'm definitely unhappy about this."
Kelly was selected by the Rays in the second round of the 1997 draft and split time between baseball and college football for three seasons. He approached the Rays about a baseball-only contract last year and signed a four-year deal worth an estimated $2.2-million that put him on the 40-man roster.
In his first season as a full-time baseball player, Kelly hit .252 with 31 stolen bases at Double-A Orlando in 2000.
Kelly came to major-league spring training last month but was reassigned to Orlando on March 7.
Although he has talked in the past about the possible excitement of playing for his hometown team, he said Wednesday he would not mind going elsewhere.
"If I get picked up on waivers or traded somewhere, that's fine. That's just baseball nowadays," Kelly said. "Nobody ever stays in one place. I never thought I'd spend the rest of my career with Tampa Bay. I'd love for that to happen, but I never expected it."
Kelly's guaranteed contract forbids him from playing football for another three years, but he left open the possibility of a return. By the time he is contractually free to play football, his college eligibility would have expired.
"When something like this happens, it makes you think," Kelly said. "That option is always going to be there. I'm not saying I want to go back to football, but the option is always there."