SI Vault
 
5 tampa bay Devil Rays
Jeff Pearlman
March 27, 2000
With off-season acquisitions, they'll at least be more fun to watch than last year
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 27, 2000

5 Tampa Bay Devil Rays

With off-season acquisitions, they'll at least be more fun to watch than last year

View CoverRead All Articles

by the numbers

1999 Team Statistics (AL rank)

1999 record: 69-93 (fifth inAL East)

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)

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 the 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.

Continue Story
1 2