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Personnel decisions still based on money

Chuck LaMar looks around, so he realizes there are several areas of his Rays team that could be improved substantially.

He reads the paper, so he knows this is the week when more talented teams must make tough decisions to set their rosters. He answers his phone, so he knows it's a time when some teams are more willing to consider trades.

But that doesn't mean he's going to make any deals.

"This time of year, you're always looking to better your ballclub," LaMar said Saturday. "But as I said at the start of camp, this might be the spring we break camp with the players we have.

"It's not for lack of effort. It's not for lack of wanting to make this club better. But at this point, it wouldn't surprise us if we go with the young players we have on the club right now."

There's a reason for that. And, like many things with this team, it comes back to finances.

The Rays are at what LaMar called "an ugly" stage of their development. They don't have the money to spend to get better, and their young players aren't ready to make them substantially better.

As a result, there isn't much LaMar can do _ except preach patience.

"There are three things for the GM of our club that's probably a little different than the GM of most clubs," LaMar said. "The GM for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays right now has to look at the short-term, of trying to win as many games as we can this year to try to get more fans into Tropicana Field; more importantly at the long-term, and what a move is going to do to help us in the future; and to not take on any payroll whether it helps us in the short-term or the long-term.

"We really have to hit on all three of those, and that's tough to do. It makes trading a little more difficult."

Near impossible might be more like it.

There's always a chance something could come up, but LaMar doesn't seem optimistic there will be a deal to be made.

The players other teams are calling about, such as his core of young pitchers, are the ones he wants to keep. The players he would like to move, such as high-salaried veterans Greg Vaughn, John Flaherty and Ben Grieve, aren't attracting much interest.

And the mid-priced players he probably could deal, such as Doug Creek, Randy Winn and Russ Johnson, are too important to the Rays right now.

At some point this season, as he has had to do the previous two, LaMar will actively work to reduce the payroll. The Rays are at about $34-million and could be at, or even under, $20-million by the end of the season.

"Our goal this year is to continue to lower payroll," he said. "That doesn't mean we'll do it right now because if we were to make a reduction in payroll, it obviously would hurt our club.

"We might get younger. We might get better for the future. We might get lower-salaried, but we're trying to hit all three. That's why we may go with the club we have right now."

BREAKFAST BANTER: Joe Kennedy, who shares a condo with Nick Bierbrodt, said the left-hander is doing a good job handling the control problems that knocked him out of the rotation and put his future in question.

"If I was going through that situation, I'd like to take it the way he's taking it," Kennedy said. "He's thrown some good bullpen (sessions), and I think he's about ready to get back in there and face hitters."

AAA-OKAY: Sometime this week, Bill Evers will find out what kind of team he'll be managing at Durham when the Triple-A season opens next week.

As he has in past springs, Evers is spending most of his time as an instructor at major-league camp watching players who eventually will be his. What's different this year is he will not have nearly as many top prospects as he has had.

"It's not going to be as young as it was last year. That's for sure," Evers said. "Most of the young guys are here."

TOUGH TALK: Manager Hal McRae called in several players last week to see if they needed attitude adjustments.

"Sometimes players need to be reminded," McRae said. "So I started that process to remind them how they need to do things and what happens if they don't and to tell them what I'm going to do if they don't do what they need to do."

STILL LOOKING: Donald Watkins, who previously expressed interest in buying the Rays, Twins and Expos, reportedly is in talks with the Angels.