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McGriff rebuffs Cubs

Fred McGriff decided to stay a Ray.

For now.

Citing family values over potential financial and competitive rewards, McGriff declined to waive his no-trade clause and approve a trade to the NL Central-leading Cubs. His primary concerns were the potential effect of such a move on his family and his long-term plans.

McGriff's decision, however, is not necessarily the end to this odd story.

Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said he will continue to explore other possible trades for the veteran first baseman by the July 31 non-waiver deadline, even with the Cubs.

And McGriff's agent, Jim Krivacs, said his client would be open to considering such possibilities.

"This is no for now," Krivacs said. "It's not to say something won't happen between now and the trade deadline. We're leaving that option open. I wouldn't count anything out."

If nothing else during this weeklong saga, McGriff proved himself to be a methodical and deep thinker.

McGriff first heard of the deal from LaMar on July 8, after the Rays' last game of the first half, and has been mulling the possibilities since. But when the commissioner's office established a noon Monday deadline, the 37-year-old Tampa native said he had to say no because he didn't have enough time to consider all the ramifications.

"It's no longer about just myself," McGriff said. "I've got two kids and I have to evaluate things a little different now. I've got to think about my future, and to do that in a week or so is not very good, I don't think, personally for me."

The Cubs had offered to guarantee McGriff's $6.75-million option for next season or allow him to leave as a free agent, and Krivacs said there wasn't anything else they could have done to get McGriff's approval.

"The real key is Fred wanting it to work for his family, not just this year because it could have worked, but how many stops do you want to make?" Krivacs said. "It brought some other things that were a little deeper into focus. It's a process he's working through."

General manager Andy MacPhail said the Cubs were "disappointed" but "not angry" by McGriff's decision and would pursue other options.

By telling the Rays he would consider other deals, McGriff could be in the same position again sometime in the next two weeks. What, outside of the team involved, would be any different then?

"I think just being able to have more time to determine, with (wife) Veronica and the kids, how it all potentially will end, where he wants to finish his career and all those type things," Krivacs said. "He'd be more prepared to do that."

Asked if he would prefer to close his career with the Rays, McGriff replied: "I'm still evaluating things, taking it one day at a time."

Would he truly consider approving another deal?

"You just can't say never, never, never," he said.

There have been rumors that McGriff would like to return to the Braves, for whom he starred from 1993-97, but he wouldn't bite on repeated questions from Georgia media. Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz declined comment, but the Braves are not believed to be interested.

"We had the first shot at him," Cubs manager Don Baylor said. "If he ends up in Tampa Bay, I think it's going to be a long year for him."

The Rays have enjoyed McGriff's production this season, a .328 average, 19 home runs and 60 RBI, but ownership decided it would be of greater benefit to the franchise to eliminate his hefty $6.5-million salary, as well as create playing time for Steve Cox.

That made Monday's decision something of a good-news, bad-news day for team officials.

"We're happy to have Fred McGriff, a local hero, if you will, in a lot of eyes, still a Tampa Bay Devil Ray," LaMar said from St. Petersburg. "But as far as the future of the organization and in my position as general manager, we need to get younger and more importantly we need to reduce payroll, so it truly is a Catch-22. And we don't fault Fred."

The Rays put themselves in this position, giving McGriff the no-trade clause in return for his agreeing to defer more than $2-million in each year of his new contract. He was the first player to defer, allowing the Rays to embark on their expensive, and remarkably unsuccessful, year 2000 plan to boost attendance by signing several veteran players.

"I thought it was a good deal then and I do now," LaMar said.

Even if McGriff finishes the season with the Rays, whether they can't make another deal or he refuses to approve one, he may have to relocate anyway if he wants to continue playing, though retirement is said to be a possibility, however unlikely it seems.

McGriff's 2002 option becomes guaranteed if he makes 550 plate appearances (he has 353), and LaMar said the Rays will keep him in the lineup on a regular basis. But if McGriff fails to get to 550, say because of injury or illness, it is unlikely the Rays would pick up the option.

Even if he does vest the contract, the no-trade provision ends at the conclusion of this season, which means the Rays could deal him in the off-season to any team they want.

LaMar said he will continue to explore trades for McGriff as well as Albie Lopez (whose improved pitching should again make him very appealing), Greg Vaughn (who has a limited no-trade clause) and one of the catchers, Mike DiFelice or John Flaherty.

LaMar said he even would consider trading Ben Grieve, the 25-year-old slugger who was acquired to be part of the youth movement but has struggled and makes $9-million over the next two seasons.

"Right now, we would consider trading anyone," LaMar said. "At this point, we have to consider any move that would reduce our payroll."