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One last swap for the Rays

Pitchers Steve Trachsel and Mark Guthrie shipped to Toronto to cap a busy week.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 1, 2000


The trades the Devil Rays made last week were all about the future. The one they consummated Monday had everything to do with the present. Sometimes, reality bites.

The Rays shipped Steve Trachsel, their top starting pitcher, and Mark Guthrie, the lone remaining veteran setup man in what had been one of the American League's better bullpens, to Toronto for one minor-leaguer with an undistinguished name (promising second-base prospect Brent Abernathy) and another to be named.

With both well-paid pitchers headed toward free agency at the end of the season and his team saddled with the league's worst record, general manager Chuck LaMar said the deals were the right thing to do on the final day of unrestricted trading.

"It's July 31, our team is not fighting for a playoff spot, and these two players drew interest from a team who is fighting for a playoff spot," LaMar said. "When you have players who are going to be free agents, you get what you can. We're very pleased to be able to get Brent Abernathy from the Toronto Blue Jays."

The trades will save the Rays about $900,000 in salary and possibly another $1.2-million in incentive bonus money to Trachsel, though they could end up paying him more than $3.3-million if he hits all his bonuses.

But the cumulative effect on the team, which is on a season-high five-game winning streak, will be staggering.

With top setup men Rick White and Jim Mecir traded last week and Esteban Yan bumped from the rotation to the bullpen, the Rays open a 13-game home-stand tonight decidedly short on proven arms.

Having spent Monday's day off assembling a train set he bought for his son, manager Larry Rothschild planned to spend Monday night trying to reassemble his pitching staff. "I'll sit down and look at it and try to figure out what we're going to do starting-wise and in the bullpen," he said.

Two pitchers will be added to the roster, with Cory Lidle, Billy Taylor and Mike Duvall among the candidates for promotion from Triple-A Durham.

Sorting out the roles will be more difficult. Rookie Travis Harper, called up last week, is likely to take Trachsel's spot in the rotation Friday. But the Rays will need another starter Saturday, and there is no clear answer. They could move Yan back to the rotation, give relievers Tanyon Sturtze or Doug Creek a shot, activate Dave Eiland from the disabled list, try newly acquired Paul Wilson in a limited role, or use a Durham alum.

The bullpen also will require special handling. Besides closer Roberto Hernandez, only Yan has late-inning experience. Taylor, though, was a big-league closer.

Despite the losses, LaMar said he expects the team, 28-25 since May 30, to remain competitive. "It's going to take some people rising to the occasion, especially in the bullpen," he said.

Abernathy, 22, was the Jays' second-round pick in 1996, after earning Georgia prep player of the year honors, and has moved steadily through their system, with a cumulative .306 average. He was hitting .296 with four homers, 35 RBI and 14 stolen bases at Triple-A Syracuse, and is considered similar in style to Pittsburgh's Warren Morris. He will join Durham.

"We expect him to come in next year and compete for the second-base job," LaMar said. "He can hit, he's a hard-nosed player, he's an outstanding competitor who leaves it all on the field every day. He has the talent and the makeup to be a starting player in the major leagues."

Trachsel was somewhat surprised, figuring that if the Rays made a deal it would involve Hernandez since most teams had filled their need for starters.

"I'm happy to be going to a team that's in contention," he said. "I don't think run support is going to be an issue. It should be fun."

Trachsel, who signed for a $1-million salary with the chance to earn $4.5-million in incentives, was 6-10 with a 4.85 ERA in 23 starts, pitching better than his record indicates while giving the injury-scarred Rays much-needed stability in the rotation.

Guthrie, who makes $1.6-million, was acquired May 12 from the Cubs in a trade for Dave Martinez. He was 1-1 with a 4.05 ERA in 34 games for the Rays.

Toronto general manager Gord Ash said Trachsel and Guthrie were "classic rentals" for the stretch run. The Jays had interest in Mecir and White, then worked on some other deals that collapsed before making this trade.

Had things gone as expected, LaMar said, he would have been looking to add players for a post-season push. Instead, he was doing the selling.

"Because of the injuries and because of a lack of performance in certain areas, we are not in competition for a playoff spot," LaMar said. "So we'll make the moves we have to make and get as good players as we can under the circumstances and re-group in the off-season."

Swap meet

GM Chuck LaMar had a busy week. Here's a look at what he did:

Traded ... Received

Rick White, RHP ... Paul Wilson, RH

Bubba Trammell, OF ... Jason Tyner, OF

Steve Trachsel, RHP ... Brent Abernathy, 2B, AAA

Mark Guthrie, LHP ... Two players to be named

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