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No way will Jose play OF for Rays

To avoid getting hurt or pulled from games for defense, Canseco will aim for the fences as a full-time DH.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 1999


[Times photo: Jonathan Newton]
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Devil Rays signed Jose Canseco so his powerful bat could bolster their anemic offense. And Canseco and the Rays have quickly decided that the best way to maximize his contribution would be to use him exclusively as a designated hitter.

In the first significant decision of the spring, the idea of playing Canseco regularly in the outfield has been quashed by mutual decision.

"This is the best opportunity to keep him healthy and keep him in a situation where he gets his at-bats," manager Larry Rothschild said. "That's what we got him for, and the numbers are always there when he's healthy."

Canseco has been sidelined for two days with a muscle strain in his right hip, though it didn't stop him from taking some cuts Wednesday at his former Toronto bosses, questioning their decision to let him go and their chances for future success. When he does return to the Rays lineup in the next day or two, he will do so as the full-time DH.

The thinking is that keeping Canseco out of the outfield reduces the potential for injury. It also allows him to remain in the lineup throughout a game since he won't have to be removed for defensive concerns.


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"There's pros and cons," Canseco said. "You guys saw (last year) late in games I was being taken out, and once you take your power hitter out, it hurts. And playing the outfield, you're prone to a little more injury. Anything can happen. I can bang up against a wall. Sprain an ankle. I can dive for a ball and jam my wrist -- which I'm not going to dive for a ball, but, you never know, I might get crazy out there. You can collide with an infielder. You can collide with another outfielder. A million things. A ball can hit you on the head. Brain damage. All that stuff.

"So we decided: Why am I over here? To hit home runs, to drive in runs, to have a presence in the lineup. So what do you need me for? Defensive presence? Not! Offensive? Yes. So what's the key? Elimination. No outfield. Need you in the lineup. Stay in the lineup day in and day out. That's it."

The Rays left the decision up to Canseco, and he shared his thinking with Rothschild earlier this week. "As long as the organization is comfortable with it, I'm fine," Canseco said. "I think the reason they got me over was to boost up the home runs and runs scored and the presence in the lineup. But I have to stay in the lineup."

The arrangement also could benefit Canseco financially. He is guaranteed $2-million this season but could earn nearly $3-million more, and guarantee a contract for next season, based on plate appearances.

With Canseco serving as the full-time DH role, there likely will be fewers at-bats available for Paul Sorrento, Wade Boggs and Bubba Trammell.

Canseco is not a smooth defensive player (a ball once did strike him on the head), but he originally said he hoped to play in the outfield on a somewhat regular basis, claiming doing so would keep his legs loose and lead to more stolen bases. Wednesday, he said there might be a trade-off, but the power production was more important.

Rothschild agreed: "We didn't get him to steal bases, we got him to hit home runs."

Canseco hit 46 homers for the Blue Jays last season, and at a relative bargain rate of about $2.1-million with incentives. He says he tried to work out a new contract during the season, then was stunned when the Jays made what he termed a "ridiculous" initial offer of $1-million.

"A guy who just hit 46 home runs and drove in 107 runs, a million dollars? (Toronto GM) Gord Ash told me over the phone and I went, "Wait, did I just hear this?' " Canseco said. "Guys are now signing for $10(-million) to $15-million. That means these guys are 15 times better than me? That means you take 46 home runs times 15, that's what they're hitting? What are they hitting, 600 home runs a year each? I kind of stepped back and went, "Wow!' "

Canseco said he was seeking a two- or three-year deal with a base salary of about $3-million per year. Jays assistant GM Dave Stewart said Wednesday the team offered a $3-million one-year deal with a second-year option at similar money. "It wasn't to his liking," Stewart said. "At the cost he was talking about, we didn't see any sense in that."

Canseco shared his views on several of the Jays' decisions:

On trading Roger Clemens to the Yankees for David Wells and others: "It's a double-edged sword. You weaken a team that potentially could have been a contender, maybe one guy away, and you strengthen the world champions. Come on, they're going to win probably 125 games this year. Basically you try to weaken your opponent and strengthen yourself, but that worked the other way."

On not being traded last season: "It seems kind of strange to me now, that if you don't plan on re-signing a player, why not trade him and try to get something for him? Business-wise, none of that makes sense to me."

On why the Jays didn't bring him back: "I still don't know. I'm wondering myself if I did anything wrong over there. Obviously it couldn't have been that I was making too much money. ... I wish somebody would tell me."

 

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