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All the numbers say Williams must go

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 10, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- In an effort to make the team younger and less expensive, general manager Chuck LaMar is trying (really!) to trade some of the veterans.

You'd think John Flaherty or Mike DiFelice would draw interest from Philadelphia and/or Boston, contending teams whose top catchers went down. You'd think Greg Vaughn would get a look from the Mariners or Mets, who have one of the most impotent outfields around (and Vaughn just happened to make back-to-back leftfield starts while they were here). You'd think Albie Lopez, despite his recent struggles, would generate something of a market in a July deadline deal.

You'd think some team, somewhere, would have a thought about Fred McGriff (who'd have to be talked into waiving his no-trade clause), or Bryan Rekar, or Doug Creek, or Russ Johnson.

The player the Rays probably need to trade first is outfielder Gerald Williams.

And there are 4-million reasons why.

Williams, 34, is about two weeks shy of guaranteeing a $4-million contract for next season. The option vests if he makes 1,000 plate appearances during the 2000-01 seasons, and Williams has 928.

The contract -- which, it should be pointed out, was signed with the idea that Williams might be a part-time player -- could be reason enough for the Rays to make a deal. But there are others.

One, Randy Winn and Jason Tyner have done well, are young and inexpensive enough to be part of the future and probably deserve the chance to play more.

Secondly, Williams, the team's most valuable player last season, has been abysmal offensively for most of 2001.

He is batting .212, which isn't much, but at least it is better than he has done with runners in scoring position (.157) or with runners in scoring position and two outs (.107). Williams has been bounced from leadoff to second to sixth to seventh in the order. His on-base percentage is .264. He has grounded into a team-high eight double plays. He has struck out three times as often as he has walked (40-13). His problem? "The strike zone," manager Hal McRae said.

Ask Williams about his struggles and he says only, "I think I'm not playing well. I can do better offensively. Defensively, I think I'm doing okay."

LaMar, meanwhile, said he is more concerned with Williams' poor play than the status of Williams' contract.

The more Williams, who makes $3-million this season, struggles, the easier it is to justify not playing him. But the harder it is to trade him, especially since the $4-million option goes with him.

There is another option, of course. If LaMar finds he absolutely can't trade Williams, he still could save the money. He could release him.

POOR VINNY: As some Rays officials predicted, Vinny Castilla somehow found new life and his old batting stroke with the Astros, hitting .275 with four homers and 12 RBI through Friday. With the success, Castilla continues to make excuses for his dismal play with the Rays, complaining that he was miserable because he was "playing under a microscope." Further, he said, "They just wanted to torture you there" and that he just wanted to leave.

"Everybody here welcomed me with open arms," he said. "They're great players. They're a winning team. It's a great stadium. Everything is nice. It's totally different."

CONTRACTION PAIN: The staff of an outfit called bizjournals.com found the Rays and Expos the "prime candidates" to be folded. The study, on the Demographics Daily section of the Web site, factored in "financial success, box-office appeal and strength of local roots."

DRAFT BREEZE: The Rays, rightfully, were excited about taking right-hander Dewon Brazelton with the third pick of the draft, and most reviews were positive. ESPN.com's John Sickels said Brazelton "has a terrific ceiling and gives the D-Rays system an instant boost."

LaMar, praising the work ethic and attention to detail by scouting director Dan Jennings and his staff, said the Rays could benefit relatively quickly from using their first four picks on college pitchers.

JUST WONDERING: How is it the Rays play the Mets before the Yankees? ... Who speaks for the team at this week's owners' meeting, chief operating officer John McHale Jr. or managing general partner/CEO Vince Naimoli? ... Was it coincidence that Joe Kennedy is the 50th pitcher in team history and given uniform No. 50?

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