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Rothschild's future put on hold for now

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- It was around this time last year that general manager Chuck LaMar rewarded manager Larry Rothschild with a one-year contract extension that carries him through the 2001 season.

That, apparently, isn't going to happen this year.

LaMar said he plans to wait until after the season to review the entire major-league staff, a practice not uncommon around the majors.

That doesn't necessarily mean LaMar is going to fire Rothschild, it doesn't necessarily mean he is going to give him another extension, and it doesn't necessarily mean he is going to bring him back in the precarious position of being a lame-duck manager.

It just means LaMar wants to include the entire season -- the start, the struggles, the successes, the finish -- in his evaluation.

"The true criteria I used the first two years, and will continue to use this year, are, No. 1, have they gotten the most out of the talent they have been given? and, No. 2, have the young players continued to develop under their leadership?" LaMar said.

He will take into account how the Rays got nothing out of their top two pitchers (Wilson Alvarez and Juan Guzman) and limited production from their supposedly big sluggers (Vinny Castilla, Greg Vaughn and the since-departed Jose Canseco) because of injuries.

He will figure in the effect of the trades, which tore apart one of the league's top bullpens (dispatching Jim Mecir, Rick White, Mark Guthrie) and took some punch, and some pizzazz, from the lineup ( Canseco, Bubba Trammell).

And he will factor in how the Rays have righted themselves after their horrible start, going 43-42 since May 31, essentially playing up to the .500-or-so level that LaMar forecast during the winter with all the key players contributing.

There could, of course, be other issues to be considered. What other managers (Lou Piniella? Felipe Alou?) are available? What does, um, opinionated owner Vince Naimoli want to do? Do the current players like playing for Rothschild? Will the Rays have a veteran team over the next several seasons or a squad of up-and-coming youngsters?

Rothschild, quite frankly, doesn't like talking about his job status. He said he "didn't expect" a September contract extension this year, and that he isn't spending his time concerned about the situation.

"I haven't thought about it," Rothschild said. "I don't worry about that. My mind is on us finishing up the season strong."

And when they're done, LaMar will sit down and make a decision.

"At the end of September, if I feel Larry and his staff have gotten the most out of the players they've been given and that the young players have continued to improve," LaMar said, "I will continue to come to the same conclusion I did after the first and second years, that Larry is the right man for the job."

SAUNDERS SITUATION: Tony Saunders, whose career ended last month with a broken arm, will receive the rest of his $400,000 salary from the Rays this season. But after that Saunders will essentially have to work for a living.

While team officials have promised him a spot in the organization, they are under no obligation to pay him past this season. There are no provisions for disability pay from the union either.

Saunders was not drafted out of high school and thus doesn't have a large signing bonus socked away. He has played parts of four seasons in the majors, earning about $1-million total in salary.

ARMS RACE: Alvarez looks good, having lost about 15 pounds, and says his left arm and shoulder, repaired in June surgery, are feeling good. He is hoping to be cleared soon to start throwing. "I'm getting antsy," he said. "He's worked hard," Rothschild said, "and it makes you feel good that he can come back and get through all the arm problems, which have really plagued him since he's been here, and maybe get back to pitching the way he was his last healthy year."

WEB DADDY: Ted Fleming, the occasionally fanatical fan who organized the 142 crew fan section and the Trammell cheering section, is being hassled by Major League Baseball for issues related to his www.142crew.com Web site.

MLB lawyers want him to "cease and desist" using the Rays logo and to turn over rights to the domain name www.devilraysonline.com. Fleming, whose pointed column often makes for an interesting read, is trying to fight back. The Rays, by the way, say they have nothing to do with the matter, that all Web site issues are handled by the commissioner's office.

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