5 Tampa Bay Devil Rays With off-season acquisitions, they'll at least be more fun to watch than last year

March 27, 2000

Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar is a man who sees the
bright side. In the midst of an earthquake, he would compile a
list of 10,001 neat things to do with rubble. Totaled your car?
Nothing beats a nice long walk! Broken arm? Well, heck, here's
your chance to become a southpaw! That said, even LaMar admits
that last year the Devil Rays were a bit dull. Watching a
41-year-old singles hitter and his turtle-paced march to 3,000
hits--under a dome, for a 69-93 club--was less than enthralling.
"Were we the most fun team in baseball?" asks LaMar. "I'd say
probably...no."

So here's what LaMar saw on the Devil Rays' first day of spring
training:

--Reliever Rick White, Tampa Bay's designated weirdo, arriving
with a new look: thick goatee and shaved head.

--Owner Vince Naimoli chewing out a Tampa Tribune beat writer for
the paper's extensive Yankees coverage.

--Fans waiting for more than two hours to greet 18-year-old
outfielder Josh Hamilton, the No. 1 pick in last June's draft.

None of this signals an automatic rise to playoff contention for
Tampa Bay, but some other, off-season developments could mean
the Devil Rays' two-year run of mind-numbing baseball is over.
Last fall Naimoli gave LaMar permission to increase the
payroll--it's up $25 million over last year's, to $62
million--and LaMar appears to have spent wisely in signing
free-agent outfielders Greg Vaughn and Gerald Williams and
starting pitchers Juan Guzman and Steve Trachsel. A man who
seldom makes trades, LaMar even put together a formidable deal,
acquiring third baseman Vinny Castilla from Colorado for
disappointing righthander Rolando Arrojo and infielder Aaron
Ledesma. "Our first two seasons we may have had an excess of
players, but nobody would say we had an excess of talent," says
LaMar. "Now, in some categories, I think we do."

Category One: Sluggers with dentures. The middle of the Tampa
Bay lineup is stacked with a quartet of old-yet-lethal boppers
who will either take the Devil Rays to a new level or, should
age win out, collapse faster than Pac Man in a Mortal Kombat
world. First baseman Fred McGriff, given up for dead before last
season's 32-homer rebound, is 36. Designated hitter Jose
Canseco, who hit 34 dingers despite missing 49 games, turns 36
in July. Vaughn, who has 95 homers and 237 RBIs over the past
two seasons, turns 35 in July. Castilla is only 32, but his .275
average with the Rockies last year was 23 points off his career
mark. Those four, along with Williams and his 17 homers,
combined for 161 home runs in 1999, 16 more than Tampa Bay hit
as a team. "Last year we didn't always know where the runs would
come from," says manager Larry Rothschild. "This year it's no
secret--we live and die by the home run." Adds Castilla, "We can
contend for the playoffs. All we need is everyone to stay
healthy."

Ah, health. If only it were so simple. Last season, as Wade
Boggs trekked toward 3,000, the Devil Rays were bogged down by
10 players--including Canseco, centerfielder Quinton McCracken
and No. 1 starter Wilson Alvarez--doing hard time on the
disabled list. The injury bug hurt most in two places: atop the
order where, with the speedy McCracken playing only 40 games,
Tampa Bay leadoff hitters had a mediocre .338 on-base
percentage; and in the rotation, where 13 pitchers made starts.

While righthanders Guzman and Trachsel are hardly Greg Maddux
and Tom Glavine, both are dependable workhorses. Trachsel is one
of just nine pitchers to make more than 30 starts and throw more
than 200 innings each of the past four seasons. "Steve has a
chance to be the surprise of the season," says Rothschild. "You
look at his numbers last season, and, well, it looked pretty
bad. But I know that's not who he really is." The Devil Rays
better hope not. Trachsel, who was the Opening Day starter for
the Cubs, nearly became the first man in 19 years to lose 20
games. He is something of an enigma--an All-Star in '96, 15
victories in '98 and then pffft. "There was nothing specific,
nothing mechanical," says Trachsel. "I just sucked. I didn't
make good pitches."

If Trachsel rebounds, Guzman (6-3, 3.03 ERA in his 12
late-season games with the Reds) and Alvarez (7-4 after June 20)
hold form, and 25-year-old righty Ryan Rupe improves on last
season's encouraging rookie showing, Tampa will have a decent,
if not above-average, rotation.

Does this all add up to playoffs for the Devil Rays? No. How
about a .500 record? Probably not. But Tampa Bay will have
something to boast of besides Hawaiian T-shirt Day and Wade
Boggs Night. Finally, the Devil Rays will be interesting.

--J.P.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Fearsome foursome Newcomers Castilla (left) and Vaughn join Canseco and McGriff, setting up Devil Rays fans for a slugfest. COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON

around the HORN

OFFENSE
[3 1/2 stars]
DEFENSE
[2 1/2 stars]
STARTING PITCHING
[2 1/2 stars]
BULLPEN
[2 1/2 stars]
MANAGER
[2 1/2 stars]

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics 1999 record: 69-93 (fifth in AL East)
(AL rank)
Batting average .274 (9) Opponents' batting average .286 (11)
Runs scored 772 (11) ERA 5.06 (10)
Home runs 145 (13) Fielding percentage .978 (13)

next up...

When he arrived at the Devil Rays' spring training camp last
year, wearing a goofy smile and uniform number 78, righthander
Ryan Rupe's expectations were minimal: Get a tan, throw well,
have fun. "I wasn't thinking of making the team," he says. "I
just wanted them to remember my name." Then Rupe found his
groove. His fastball buzzed. His changeup dazzled. After
spending 1998 in Class A, he began last season at Double A
Orlando. On May 3 he was called up by the Devil Rays. "When they
called to tell me I was being promoted," says Rupe, "I thought,
Great! I'm going to Triple A!" Two days later he made his big
league debut against the Royals and was tagged for four home
runs in 4 2/3 innings. Three weeks later he one-hit the Angels.
"He has the physical maturity and the makeup to be an All-Star,"
says general manager Chuck LaMar of his No. 3 starter. "It's
just a matter of time."

the lineup
projected roster with 1999 statistics

Manager: Larry Rothschild (third season with Tampa Bay)

BATTING ORDER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB

CF Gerald Williams[1] R 113 .275 17 68 19
2B Miguel Cairo R 235 .295 3 36 22
DH Jose Canseco R 49 .279 34 95 3
1B Fred McGriff L 57 .310 32 104 1
LF Greg Vaughn[1] R 81 .245 45 118 15
3B Vinny Castilla[1] R 68 .275 33 102 2
RF Dave Martinez L 212 .284 6 66 13
C John Flaherty R 214 .278 14 71 0
SS Kevin Stocker S-R 299 .299 1 27 9

BENCH

OF Quinton McCracken S-R 186 .250 1 18 6
IF Steve Cox* L 245 .341 25 127 3
C Mike DiFelice R 288 .307 6 27 0
IF Tony Graffanino R 335 .315 2 19 3

STARTERS PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

LH Wilson Alvarez 87 9 9 5.7 1.49 4.22
RH Juan Guzman[1][2] 101 11 12 6.1 1.40 3.73
RH Ryan Rupe 117 8 9 5.9 1.36 4.55
RH Steve Trachsel[1] 189 8 18 6.0 1.41 5.56
RH Esteban Yan 197 3 4 4.0 1.79 5.90

BULLPEN PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Roberto Hernandez 12 2 3 43 1.38 3.07
RH Jim Mecir 172 0 1 0 1.40 2.61
RH Rick White 235 5 3 0 1.57 4.08
RH Albie Lopez 266 3 2 0 1.41 4.64
LH Norm Charlton 294 2 3 0 1.68 4.44
RH Bryan Rekar 260 6 6 0 1.71 5.80

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 164)
*Triple A stats
[2]Combined AL and NL stats

the book
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Devil Rays

"Pitching remains a big question mark for Tampa Bay--the bullpen
might be better than the starters. A lot depends on whether
Wilson Alvarez is sound, but I'm not sure he's fully healthy....
Steve Trachsel couldn't win in the National League, so I don't
expect much from him. Juan Guzman can win 10 to 12 games. Ryan
Rupe could wind up being the star of this staff.... In the
bullpen Jim Mecir and Rick White do the job getting to Roberto
Hernandez. I like Bryan Rekar's stuff. He or Esteban Yan will be
No. 5 in the rotation, with the other pitching out of the pen.
Albie Lopez has damn good stuff, but I don't know if he'll ever
get his head on straight. I question his makeup.... Four guys
will hit a lot of home runs: Vinny Castilla, Greg Vaughn, Fred
McGriff and Jose Canseco. The Devil Rays still lack speed and
aren't very good defensively, though in some cases they're
better than last year.... They're weak up the middle with second
baseman Miguel Cairo and shortstop Kevin Stocker, who isn't a
very good offensive player and is only adequate defensively."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)