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Boggs seeks Rays offer

Wade Boggs began his competitive baseball career at Tampa's Plant High. He would like nothing better than to finish it with Tampa Bay's home team, the Devil Rays.

Boggs, 39, filed for free agency this week and wants very much to be in the starting lineup for the Rays' inaugural game, agent Alan Nero said Tuesday. So much so, Nero said, that financial considerations would not be a concern.

"There's not a whole lot more that Wade can do," Nero said. "He's gottenbatting titles, Silver Slugger awards, Gold Gloves and a World Series ring. For him to go basically 360 degrees, to leave high school at age 16 and go play for 20 some-odd years of professional baseball and then have the opportunity, the privilege actually, to play in his home area, that would be like a storybook finish to his whole career.

"He'd like very much to be starting at third base on Opening Day for the Devil Rays."

Nero said he hopes to meet soon with Rays general manager Chuck LaMar to discuss Boggs and another interested client, outfielder Dave Martinez. Pitcher Dwight Gooden, another free agent, also is interested in signing with the Rays, his agent said.

Boggs made $2-million last season with the Yankees, who decided last week to not exercise a $2-million option to bring him back for 1998. Boggs batted .292 last season with 103 hits, the fewest of his 16 big-league seasons. He has a career .331 average and needs 200 hits to reach 3,000. The way Nero makes it sound, the Rays can have Boggs if they want him.

"I think we all _ Mr. Naimoli, Mr. LaMar, Mr. Nero, Mr. Boggs _ have a very realistic view of where we all stand," Nero said. "It's a matter of how badly the Devil Rays want Wade to be part of their franchise. This will not come down to money. Wade has played long enough that he's financially secure. Not to say he'll play for nothing, but he'll be very reasonable and I think Mr. Naimoli will be very fair. I think it's something we ought to be able to do if we all feel the same way."

Nero was equally optimistic about signing Martinez, 33, who spent the past three seasons with the White Sox. Martinez grew up in the Orlando area and lives in Safety Harbor, and he would be excited to play at home, Nero said. Martinez can be versatile and valuable, playing all three outfield positions, first base and designated hitter. He also might be a value, since he made a base salary of just $725,000 last season.

"There are six teams interested in him. His first choice would be the Devil Rays and his second choice would be the White Sox," Nero said. "My guess is if Chuck can find time to talk in the next couple weeks and nothing else changes, we won't have difficulty coming to fairly rapid agreement if they are as interested in him as he is in them."

Gooden is a Tampa Bay legend, and he too would relish the chance to finish his career playing minutes from his St. Petersburg home.

"Dwight's interest level in the Devil Rays would be terrific," Tampa agent/attorney Joseph H. Ficarrotta said. "To play right here in his back yard would be real exciting for him."

Gooden, who was 9-5 with a 4.91 ERA last season and will be 33 this month, won't necessarily come cheaply, however. "I think if you look at the market I think he's well worth a minimum of $3-million a year," Ficarrotta said. "We're looking at location and team and area. We think Dwight has several more good years in him."

Devil Rays officials had no comment.