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Rays on verge of overhaul

Chuck LaMar says he'll start dealing veterans if the team doesn't improve quickly.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 2, 2001

BALTIMORE -- All along, general manager Chuck LaMar planned for this eventually to be a season of transition.

But if the Rays don't start playing better, LaMar said Tuesday, that transition to a younger team might start sooner than planned, resulting in what could be "drastic" changes.

"If we continue to play like we have, in terms of the won-loss record and the quality of play," LaMar said from his St. Petersburg office, "then I don't think the organization has any choice but to consider moving some of the veterans, whether the young players are truly ready or not."

LaMar does not want to rush the organization's prized prospects. He outlined a plan in spring training in which the Rays would stick with the veterans for most of the season, then begin looking for deals in which they could pick up prospects and shed payroll in advance of the July 31 trade deadline, opening spots for young players who had the benefit of additional development time.

"That was the ideal situation," he said.

But the Rays have gotten off to the worst start of their four-year history, 8-19, and LaMar has hung the blame primarily on the veteran position players. That group includes Vinny Castilla, John Flaherty, Fred McGriff, Greg Vaughn and Gerald Williams, and the five are hitting a combined .224 with 12 home runs (five by Vaughn) and 48 RBI.

"We've talked enough about how the players got here, and whether they were good moves or bad moves is not the most important factor," LaMar said. "The most important factor is for these players to play up to their capabilities. They are, and if you want to underline are go ahead, they are better than they are performing, to a man."

LaMar said he hopes the veterans quickly come around and start playing better, but if they don't he is prepared to start making moves.

It may not be that simple, however. With the Rays looking to hire a chief operating officer, LaMar may have to wait until the new person, expected to be John McHale Jr., is hired and decides on a course of action, which could take a few weeks.

Even then, LaMar would have to find a market for the veterans, which may not be easy, especially given their contracts.

Castilla is making $7-million this season, and there have been no takers thus far. Flaherty is signed for $3-million this season and $3.25-million next season. Vaughn gets $8.25-million this season and $18-million over the next two. Williams makes $3-million this season and is getting close to reaching a plate-appearance clause that vests a $4-million option for next season. McGriff, who makes $6.5-million this season and has a $6.75-million option for 2002, has a no-trade clause.

If LaMar can't find any takers, his other option would be to release a player, with the team being responsible for the contract.

Hits and misses

For the most part, Rays starters are well under their career marks:

Player Vinny Castilla Fred McGriff Ben
Career Avg. .290 .286 .276
Current Avg. .195 .255 .184
Player Russ Johnson Jose
Career Avg. .267 .260 .265
Current Avg. .319 .206 .232
Player John Flaherty Greg Vaughn Felix Martinez
Career Avg. .255 .246 .213
Current Avg. .214 .216 .291

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