10/27/2003 1:31 PM ET
Rays have deadlines looming
By Paul C. Smith / MLB.com
The Rays are likely to pick up the option on Julio Lugo. (Chris O'Meara/AP)
ST. PETERSBURG -- Player movement has begun throughout the Major Leagues, as players begin to file for free agency, but it may be some time before the Devil Rays are able to start filling out the middle of the lineup.
At one of their planning sessions late in the 2003 season, the Rays discussed the idea of making a splash by signing one of the big name free-agent hitters right away. That would send a message that Tampa Bay is a player in the market again and going to do what it can to compete in 2004.
The Rays are planning to be players in the market again for the first time in three years, but general manager Chuck LaMar said he does not expect a quick, major move.
"It could be some time before anything happens," LaMar said.
Some of the free agents the Rays might be interested in include outfielders Gary Sheffield, Carl Everett, Mike Cameron, Jose Cruz Jr. and Reggie Sanders; infielders Mark McLemore and Joe Randa; and pitchers Brian Anderson, Tom Gordon and Arthur Rhodes.
But although the Rays start to court free agents, they have a Nov. 1 deadline approaching on two of their own players.
The Rays are likely to pick up the one-year, $1.75 million option on shortstop Julio Lugo. He finished the year well and could play short again or second base if they decide to bring in another shortstop.
But the option on a one-year, $2.5 million contract with first baseman Travis Lee is mutual, meaning the team and Lee have to agree to it. Lee also finished the 2003 season well and should be considered for a Gold Glove Award.
But if Lee, who is from the West Coast, thinks he can get a longer, better deal elsewhere, he might decline the option to return. If Lee does decline, the Rays could still negotiate with him.
Already, the Rays' 40-man roster is down to 36 as pitcher Carlos Reyes, catcher Javier Valentin and infielder Jason Smith refused minor league assignments and became free agents. Also, the contracts of outfielders Al Martin and Ben Grieve and infielders Terry Shumpert and Rey Ordonez have run out. They are now eligible to apply for free agency.
Grieve is not expected to return to the Rays. Martin, who filed for free agency on Sunday, is a valuable veteran and clubhouse leader and could very well return in 2004. Shumpert also is a veteran leader, but his future with the Rays is uncertain.
The Rays traded for Ordonez last winter, and he was off to the best overall start of his career before going on the DL in May and having season-ending left knee surgery in June. The Rays would like to have Ordonez back but at a relatively low salary with incentives that confirm his health.
Also this week, the Rays will begin signing six-year minor league free agents. Their 40-man roster will need to be set by Nov. 20. The Winter Meetings, including the Rule 5 Draft, of players not on 40-man rosters, are Dec. 12-15 in New Orleans.
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