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Rays looking to add some power in right

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000


NEW YORK -- Now that the Yankees and Mets are done playing games, it's time for teams such as the Devil Rays to get to work.

Still waiting for word from ownership on how much money he will have available next season, general manager Chuck LaMar said his top off-season priority is to obtain a starting rightfielder.

Figuring the starting pitching will be better with Wilson Alvarez, Ryan Rupe and, the team hopes, Juan Guzman fully healthy, the Rays are looking to bolster an offense that was at or near the bottom of the league in every key statistical category.

"An outfielder is a priority," LaMar said. "Greg Vaughn, when healthy and on a better ballclub, will have a better year and Gerald Williams, we feel, at age 34 is blossoming and we expect even better things next year.

"But the rightfield situation, we had Bubba Trammell, Jose Guillen and Steve Cox, and nobody really won that job. We'd like to get our hands on a quality outfielder and solidify that position and get Steve back to a first base/DH position. We are in the market for a quality outfielder."

As a group, Rays rightfielders hit .252 with 20 homers and 82 RBI, which sounds okay but is not enough production to compete. The four AL playoff teams averaged 28 homers and 119 RBI from their rightfielders.

Cox did okay trying to learn the outfield at the big-league level, but the Rays should get more out of him offensively as the DH or back at first, with Fred McGriff presumably the DH.

LaMar is waiting for word from managing general partner Vince Naimoli on whether he will have more money to spend on players next season (unlikely), about the same as he finished 2000 (about $48-million without deferrals; $57-million overall), or if he will have to cut payroll, perhaps drastically.

"It has not impeded our progress at all, but I'm anxious to sit down with Vince and finalize the direction we're going," LaMar said. "I'd love to have the budget set before the GM meetings (Saturday through Nov. 9 at Amelia Island), but the critical time is once the 15-day (free-agent filing) period is over and you can actively pursue free agents (starting Nov. 11). We'll know if we're going to improve the club through trade, eliminate payroll through trade, or aggressively go out on the free-agent market and improve the club."

If the Rays have to dump payroll, closer Roberto Hernandez ($6-million next season), third baseman Vinny Castilla ($7-million) or catcher John Flaherty ($3-million) could be on the market.

"We'll be a better ballclub no matter what," LaMar said. "Being healthy and making the moves we're going to make, it will be a better team."

RISING SUN: Albie Lopez was excited to be going to Japan with the major-league all-star team, not so much for where he is going, but why. "The way I'm looking at it is that it's an honor to get chosen to play with that caliber of player," Lopez said. The team meets in Los Angeles this weekend, then heads to Japan on Monday for a week's worth of games. ... Lopez is arbitration-eligible and in line for a big raise after going 9-9 with a 3.88 ERA in 24 starts. He said he would be open to talking about a long-term deal, but hasn't heard from the Rays. "I don't know where I am on their priority list," Lopez said. "If they come early I guess they think highly of me; if they wait then I guess I'm last."

FREE BIRD: The Rays' only potential free agent is veteran infielder Ozzie Guillen, but LaMar said, "I expect to have Ozzie back in the organization." ... Still no word on coaching hires, though that should pick up as other teams hire managers. One thing working against Larry Rothschild's efforts is his contract. Since he is signed for only one year, he probably can't offer prospective coaches any more than that. A manager with a longer-term deal can offer a coach more security.

HOUSE CALL: Dwight Gooden joked throughout the post-season about his role as the Yankees "utility" pitcher, but there are going to be hard decisions involving the soon-to-be 36-year-old.

Gooden told New York writers he may retire after winning another championship in New York. "This is where I started it all and in some ways it would be great if it ended here," he said. Retiring a champion Yankee would be "the ideal situation," he said, "but then there's the other side of it, the joy of the game and the feeling that you can still do it. I'll sit back for a couple of weeks and then make a decision."

BIG MAC: Lloyd McClendon may be short on experience, but he has plenty of confidence about taking over as manager of a Pirates team that hasn't had a winning season since 1992. "We've got to regain our dignity, we've got regain our pride and we're going to start doing that right away," McClendon said. "I'm not saying I'm going to reinvent the wheel here, but I am a fiery, competitive person and I believe my team will take on my personality. They'll be able to look me in the eye and know I believe in them and believe we can go out and get the job done."

RUMOR MILL: There is talk in San Diego that second baseman Bret Boone is on the way out, with the Rays mentioned as a possibility. ... Buck Martinez is considered the front-runner for Toronto's managerial job. ... Bob Brenly and Terry Francona are likely finalists in Arizona. ... The Dodgers are said to be deciding between coaches Rick Down and Jim Tracy. ... The Reds are waiting to see what happens with Lou Piniella and Bobby Valentine.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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