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Baldelli will keep Huff out

Aubrey Huff has had a good first half, good enough that he deserves to be considered for the Devil Rays' spot _ and once again that's probably what it will be, the spot _ on the American League All-Star team.

Huff leads the team in homers (16) and RBIs (49), is tied for the AL lead in doubles (30)and is tied for fifth in extra-base hits (47). He is hitting .308 despite being bounced from third base to rightfield with occasional appearances at first base and DH.

"I'd love to go, are you kidding me?" said Huff, 26. "But there's not a whole lot I can do about it."

There isn't. And the thought here is that Rocco Baldelli will be the choice when the teams are announced tonight (ESPN, 7).

Baldelli has not been as productive as Huff _ a .309 average, five homers, 40 RBIs _ but his accomplishments as a 21-year-old rookie have been more impressive.

This is someone who was in Class A at this time last year, who burst onto the scene with a 13-game hitting streak and a rookie-record 40 hits by the end of April, who won the first two Rookie of the Month awards, who is the 23rd rookie to get 100 hits before the break, who has ranked among the league's top 10 hitters most of the season and who has handled the challenges that come with facing teams repeated times.

Plus, Baldelli has generated some buzz for the franchise. He is one of the rare success stories the Rays have had, one of the few players to attract national media attention (at least for positive reasons) and fan interest, with more than 333,000 All-Star votes so far.

While each team still has to be represented, the All-Star selection process is different this season: fans votes for the starters; players, coaches and managers vote for nine other AL players and eight pitchers; All-Star manager Mike Scioscia and MLB officials pick four pitchers and an additional reserve. (There also will be fan Internet voting for a 32nd player).

There are some who don't think rookies deserve to go, such as Chicago's Frank Thomas, who is campaigning for his own selection and recently sniffed: "Don't come in for three months and think you're an All-Star. I like to see guys go through the league at least once."

Baldelli won't be voted in by the fans, and maybe not by his peers (especially with some question of how seriously players took the voting), but expect him to be chosen as the 52nd rookie position player in All-Star history. Too bad Huff can't go with him.

TRADE WINDS: A few Rays could draw enough interest to allow the team to be a player in the July trade market.

Al Levine, Marlon Anderson, Travis Lee, Al Martin, and Terry Shumpert are low-salaried veterans who could have some appeal, there is a chance they could find someone to take part of Ben Grieve's salary, and they may be tempted by offers for Joe Kennedy.

The Rays would like to get back young position players and might consider trading some young pitching in the right deal. But don't be surprised if cash ends up being king, and they end up "selling" rather than trading.

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES: Lou Piniella's return to Seattle is going to get huge media play next week. Sellout crowds are expected and the Mariners are planning to acknowledge Piniella on Friday, probably with a short video tribute.

HOO-RAYS: Benny Latino, one of the Rays' high-profile scouts, meets next week with ESPN officials interested in hiring him as a correspondent for a minor-league show. Somehow, Fox Sports Net Florida's public relations folks sent out an e-mail advising of a potential story involving "Lou Penally." Former scouting director Dan Jennings, now a Marlins VP, may surface in the Mets' GM search.

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