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McGriff may be sent to Cubs

The Rays, looking to trim payroll, appear ready to deal their slugger for two minor-leaguers.

By MARC TOPKIN and JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 11, 2001


The Rays appear ready to say goodbye to Fred McGriff.

The Rays have struck a deal to send McGriff to the Cubs for two minor-leaguers, pending approval from the veteran first baseman.

If McGriff agrees to waive his no-trade clause, the Rays are expected to receive Triple-A shortstop Jason Smith and well-traveled pitcher Manny Aybar.

As (or more) important, they will rid themselves of McGriff's hefty salary, which is $6.5-million this season with a $6.75-million option for 2002, and create a spot in the lineup for Steve Cox. Plus, the trade may open a place on the roster for promising catching prospect Toby Hall.

McGriff didn't return phone messages left at his Tampa home, and his wife, Veronica, declined to comment. His agent, Jim Krivacs, also did not return messages.

By approving the trade, McGriff, 37, would move from the worst team in the major leagues to the team with the best record in the National League and a chance to get back to the post-season. He also would get to play in home run-friendly Wrigley Field.

He could receive some type of financial compensation from the Cubs, perhaps having the option guaranteed. Under baseball rules, the Cubs can request a brief window in which to negotiate with McGriff's representatives.

But McGriff, a Tampa native with two school-age children, would have to weigh the lifestyle issues of leaving home at this stage of his career.

Asked last month whether he would waive his no-trade clause, McGriff said: "I haven't thought about it. A lot of things play into it. I just go play. I could retire. Nobody knows."

Rays general manager Chuck LaMar, in Seattle for the All-Star Game, wouldn't discuss the potential deal, which, if consummated, would be announced today or Thursday.

"The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have made it our policy to never discuss trades or possible trades or rumors of trades unless there is something official to announce," LaMar said. "We never have, and we won't at this time."

McGriff is in the midst of a stellar season. He has a .330 average, his highest at the All-Star break in his 15 seasons, with 15 homers and 53 RBI.

The Rays, however, are trying to reduce their payroll and create opportunities for their younger players, which makes the veterans expendable and apparently makes what the team acquires in deals less of a priority.

"The goals are to allow the progress of the young players we already have on the roster, allow them to get major-league experience, and at the same time rationalize our business operations to the point that what we pay out is rational to what we bring in," Rays chief operating officer John McHale Jr. said in Seattle.

By trading McGriff now, the Rays would save about $2.9-million in salary. They also would eliminate the possibility of McGriff vesting his $6.75-million option for next season. The contract is guaranteed if McGriff makes 550 plate appearances; he has 331 with 75 games to play.

In acquiring Smith, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound left-handed hitter, the Rays would add depth to what may be the weakest position in their system.

Smith, 24 on July 24, may need a little more time in the minors. He has a .233 average through 70 games for the Iowa Cubs with 4 home runs, 15 RBI and 20 errors. He made 38 errors and hit .239 for Class A Rockford (Ill.) in 1998, missed much of the 1999 season with injuries and hit .237 with 37 errors last season in Double A.

Aybar, who makes $665,000, started the season with the Cubs and was 2-1 with a 6.35 ERA in 17 games. He was sent to Triple A on June 15 and has compiled an 0-2 record and 6.04 ERA in five games.

Aybar, a 26-year-old right-hander the Rays likely would use in relief, has been with five organizations. He pitched parts of three seasons with the Cardinals, then was traded to the Rockies in November 1999, to the Reds in April 2000, to the Marlins in July 2000 and to the Cubs in March.

McGriff, whom the Rays acquired from Atlanta for $25,000 in November 1997, has turned into one of the game's most productive sluggers and a potentially strong candidate for the Hall of Fame.

He ranks 27th on the all-time list with 432 homers, has hit 30 or more eight times and is on his way to a 14th consecutive season of driving in at least 80 runs. McGriff and Frank Robinson are the only players to hit more than 200 homers in each league.

McGriff also has been a major contributor to local charities, raising more than $1-million for pediatric cancer research.

The Cubs, making an unexpected bid for the post-season, would be happy to have McGriff, especially without disturbing their major-league roster.

"That's a big move," Cubs star Sammy Sosa said. "Hopefully they can do that. I don't know if it's true, but it will be a big help for this team. This team will be much better than right now if we make that deal."

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