By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 3, 2001
SEATTLE -- Plenty has been said and written -- as regular readers of these pages may have, um, noticed -- about the poor signings, bad trades and otherwise unwise personnel decisions made by the Rays.
But let it not go unreported: They also have made some moves, specifically some deals that seemed inconsequential at the time, that have worked rather well.
They got Tanyon Sturtze, who has the talent to be a winning starting pitcher, for Tony Graffanino. They got Russ Johnson, who at the least is a solid utility infielder, for Marc Valdes. They got Felix Martinez, who used to be a superb defensive shortstop, off the waiver wire.
And they got a young, exciting, hard-working starting second baseman, Damian Rolls, for what amounts to virtually nothing.
When the Rays snagged Rolls in the December 1999 Rule 5 draft with a hand from the Royals, he was a 22-year-old Class A third baseman for the Dodgers, one month into rehabilitation after major shoulder surgery.
"Real surprised," Rolls said of being drafted. "And real shocked."
But the Rays knew what they were getting into. The Rays liked Rolls a lot going into the 1996 first-year player draft and were disappointed when the Dodgers made him the 23rd overall pick. Six slots later, the Rays, with their first-ever pick, took Paul Wilder, who still is trying to make it through a full season of A ball.
Rolls had decent but not spectacular numbers at Vero Beach and was going to need most of the year to recover, but the Rays took an inexpensive gamble.
Having decided they needed to use their own first-round Rule 5 pick for pitching (then using it on Chad Ogea), the Rays gave the Royals $75,000 to draft Rolls ($50,000 for the Rule 5 fee and $25,000 as a "handling" charge).
Sure, the Rays also had to pay Rolls a $200,000 major-league salary, spend money on his rehab, make space on the 40-man roster for him and keep him on the 25-man active roster for 90 days once he was healthy.
The plan was to carry Rolls long enough to satisfy the Rule 5 requirements, then send him to Triple A to play every day. But a funny thing happened: Rolls proved ready, and able, to play now.
And in a time when player acquisition costs are soaring, and when the Rays are trying to reduce payroll, it turned out to be a heck of a deal.
"Those are the creative things," general manager Chuck LaMar said, "a team like ours has to continue to do."
DRAFT BREEZE: Word out of Minnesota is that the Twins are likely to pass on star Southern Cal pitcher Mark Prior and make local hero Joe Mauer, the St. Paul high school catcher who is a top FSU quarterback recruit, the top pick in Tuesday's draft.
Prior, whom some scouts say could pitch in the majors tonight, is the most talented player available. But the penurious Twins, who have never paid a draft bonus in excess of $2.75-million, apparently want nothing to do with Prior's supposed request for a four-year major-league deal in the $12-million to $15-million range.
The Cubs should not be as concerned about the money, but there is some talk they may pass, too, giving the Rays an unexpected opportunity to land a true gem -- assuming they can afford it.
If neither Mauer nor Prior is available, and assuming Georgia Tech third baseman Mark Teixeira is still seeking in excess of $10-million, the Rays are likely to decide between Middle Tennessee State pitcher Dewon Brazelton and Baltimore-area prep pitcher Gavin Floyd.
ON THE JOB: New COO John McHale Jr. spent Friday afternoon and Saturday morning at the Trop working on business issues and sitting in on draft discussions.
He'll be back Monday and, after spending time talking with the staff, plans to begin addressing specific matters. "I need to do some more research," McHale said, "but there are several issues that have risen to the top in importance."
One move he may make is to contract Dave Glazier, who until last week was the Tigers vice president of business operations and who also worked for McHale in Colorado as a consultant.
As for those rumors that McHale is merely on a short-term fact-finding mission for commissioner Bud Selig?
"I'm standing here in Ann Arbor (Mich.) looking at the "For Sale' sign in the front yard, and Sally (his wife) is coming with me Monday and her job is to start reviewing neighborhoods," McHale said.