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Rays look forward with two deals

Gone are Bubba Trammell, Rick White and Jim Mecir, replaced by three prospects.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 2000


KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Rick White, Jim Mecir and Bubba Trammell were a big part of what the Devil Rays accomplished in their first 21/2 seasons. Friday, the Rays traded them for unproven players they hope will lead them to better things in the future.

The Rays traded White and Trammell to the New York Mets for starting pitcher Paul Wilson and speedy outfielder Jason Tyner, both former first-round draft picks. Later, they sent Mecir and minor-league pitcher Todd Belitz to Oakland for Jesus Colome, whom they consider an elite starting pitching prospect, and a player to be named.

"We have to get past where we are, and you do that with impact players," general manager Chuck LaMar said.

In making the deals, the Rays broke up one of the American League's best bullpens and gave up on developing Trammell into an everyday run producer.

But they believe they got three players who could be key members of their team for years: Wilson, a former Florida State star, and Colome in the rotation, and Tyner batting atop the order and playing center or leftfield.

LaMar said the trades will help the Rays in the near future, but some players in the shocked clubhouse were more concerned with the present.

"These, in my opinion, were trades for the organization for down the road," catcher John Flaherty said. "I don't much know about Tyner or Colome, and I don't know how healthy Paul Wilson is. It seems like we're looking at some younger guys who could develop into front-line major-leaguers. I don't know if that's going to happen now. I don't know if that's going to happen next year or the year after. But they're clearly, in my opinion, trades for later on."

Dealing Mecir, whom LaMar said is "the finest eighth-inning pitcher in major-league baseball," was a difficult decision. But the Rays think Colome, a 20-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic, can be something special.

"For us to get better, we have to deal players with ability, and we feel Jesus Colome has the ability to be an outstanding major-league pitcher in the near future," LaMar said.

"We think he is one of the finest pitching prospects in all of the minor leagues."

Colome, in his fourth pro season, was 9-4 with a 3.59 ERA and 95 strikeouts and 50 walks in 1101/3 innings for Double-A Midland. He routinely throws in the 95- to 96-mph range and has been clocked in excess of 100 mph. Colome will join Double-A Orlando, but LaMar said he could move up quickly.

The A's, who have targeted Mecir for weeks, did not want to give up Colome. "This stung, no question," general manager Billy Beane said. "He's one of the best prospects in this organization, but he was the guy they asked for."

LaMar said it has not been determined if the additional player will come off Oakland's major- or minor-league roster. Belitz, the Rays' fourth-round pick in the 1997 draft, was pitching in relief for Triple-A Durham.

Wilson, 27, once was among the game's top prospects, but shoulder and elbow surgeries derailed his career. He has not pitched in the majors in nearly four years but will join the Rays today.

"Paul Wilson, when healthy, has shown outstanding ability," LaMar said. "We believe he's heading toward finally being healthy, and we think next year he's going to be in our starting rotation."

The future seemed extremely bright when the Mets made him the first overall pick of the 1994 draft after his All-American career with the Seminoles. He moved quickly through the minor leagues, made the big-league club out of spring training in 1996 and made 26 starts, but he was slowed by shoulder problems that led to November 1996 surgery to repair a torn labrum.

He made a handful of minor-league appearances in 1997 and missed the first half of 1998, then came back to pitch well at Triple A only to run into elbow problems that led to April 1999 ligament surgery.

After sitting out last season, he has been pitching for Triple-A Norfolk and, in the Rays' opinion, pitching well, with a 5-5 record and 4.23 ERA in 13 starts.

"We think he's getting better and better and better," LaMar said. "I think we'll see a good pitcher the rest of this year, and I truly think we'll see a better pitcher next year."

Tyner, a college teammate of Ryan Rupe's at Texas A&M, is known mostly for his speed. The 23-year-old left-hander leads the Triple-A International League with 33 steals and ranks fourth with a .321 average. He was the 21st pick in the 1998 draft.

"We're trying to become more athletic every chance we get, and Jason Tyner brings us that," LaMar said. "We think he'll have a lot of impact on this club because of his speed."

White and Trammell learned they had been traded shortly after they arrived at Kauffman Stadium on Friday afternoon. Both said they were surprised -- "This blindsided me," Trammell said -- and excited about joining contending teams, but sad to leave the Devil Rays after being part of the original team.

"I loved playing in Tampa Bay, and I loved the fans in Tampa Bay," Trammell said. "They've been outstanding, and I couldn't ask for anything better. I really want to thank them."

As surprised as White and Trammell were, Mecir -the subject of trade rumors early in the week -- was even more shocked when he was summoned from the bullpen just before the game. "After they traded Whitey, I sort of let my guard down," he said. "It's just a disruption in your life. Any time you have to pack up and move, it's nerve-racking."

Tyner and Wilson are expected to join the Rays in time for tonight's game. Another reliever, possibly Billy Taylor, will be brought up from Triple A.

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