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Rays' All-Star reliever wouldn't mind starting

Lance Carter made it to the major leagues with the Devil Rays two years ago, and to the All-Star Game last year, as a late-inning reliever.

But with Danys Baez handed Carter's job and a two-year contract, and with a handful of experienced closers, such as Mike Williams and Todd Jones, coming to spring training, there's a chance the Rays might not need Carter to give them much relief.

And if that's the case, he said he would be more than willing to start over _ as a starter.

"There's no hurt feelings," Carter said. "I hope Danys comes in and does an outstanding job. Whatever role they want to put me in, whatever helps the ballclub win more games, I'll do whatever they want. I just want to be part of the team. There may be some days when Danys is out and Lou (Piniella) needs me to extend myself for more than one inning, and I can do that. I can do more than one thing."

One of the things he can do is be a starter, and a pretty good one. Consider a seven-start stretch at Triple A in August 2002 when he went 6-0 with a 1.91 ERA. If the Rays end up deep in the bullpen and short in the rotation, Carter could be an intriguing possibility.

"Have I heard anything about it? Absolutely not," Carter said. "Would I like to do it? Absolutely. Would I be comfortable in any role they ask me to do? Absolutely. But if they gave me the opportunity to start, would I take advantage of it? I would hope so."

OWNING UP: There will be many questions to be answered when Stuart Sternberg's deal to buy about 48 percent of the team is completed, probably next month, but word in MLB circles is his involvement is good for the future of baseball in the Tampa Bay area. While Sternberg appears to have lots of money, don't expect a free-agent signing blitz. He is said to prefer the build-from-within approach. Former Florida Progress chief Jack Critchfield, a team supporter close with some of the original investors, said, "I know there was some unhappiness there, and my hope for the ballclub is that if this new investment works out, that it will simply strengthen the club and make even more certain the club remains here in Tampa Bay."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: There has been no official word from MLB and the union on whether outfielder Josh Hamilton will be allowed to participate in spring training. But he has been in touch with the Rays, and they have a locker ready for him. The team is seeking batboys, 16 and older, who are willing to work the whole season. Call (727) 825-3165. Further evidence the Yankees will be the star attraction in Japan: Tickets for their exhibitions against Yomiuri and Hanshin are about $33-$190 each. Tickets to see the Rays vs. the same teams are $23-$85. Aubrey Huff's initial impression on a whirlwind two-day trip to Tokyo: "I couldn't believe how polite the people were." The team Web site, devilrays.com, was ranked by the University of Massachusetts and Sports Business Journal 23rd among 131 pro sports teams (MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA and MLS), fifth among 30 big-league teams and first among bay area pro teams in terms of content, design, commerce and interactivity. Single-game ticket sales start Feb. 14. The popular FanFest is scheduled for March 6-7.

DODGERS BLUES: New owner Frank McCourt acknowledged the painfully obvious in taking over the Dodgers, saying the team "lacks excitement," has "become complacent" and must "regain that sense of urgency." While he spoke glowingly about adding players and a return to glory, there is talk he might seek to slice the payroll to the $65-million to $75-million range, will consider selling naming rights to Dodger Stadium and look to hire Pat Gillick to replace GM Dan Evans.

TITLE TOWN: How excited are those fickle South Florida fans about the Marlins' defense of their championship? Not very. The Marlins, so far, have sold fewer than 5,000 season tickets.

MISCELLANY: Former pitcher/pitching coach/GM candidate Dave Stewart has become an agent, and one of his first clients is Eric Chavez, who is seeking a long-term extension from the A's. The Red Sox have interest in Ellis Burks. The A's are talking to Eric Karros. Travis Lee could end up in St. Louis, almost as if he were traded for Tino Martinez. A CD that benefits Boston's Jimmy Fund Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and features songs from bands that include Red Sox GM Theo Epstein (Trauser), Mariners infielder Scott Spiezio (Sandfrog), ex-pitcher Jack McDowell (Stickfigure) and ESPN's Peter Gammons, plus some real musicians (Pearl Jam, Little Feat, Dropkick Murphys, Allman Brothers) is available for $10 online at hotstovecoolmusic.com. Ex-Ray Bryan Rekar is being inducted into the Bradley University Hall of Fame. Aaron Boone insists he will be back from a knee injury and in the Yankees lineup this season.

_ Times staff writer Scott Barancik contributed to this report, which used information from other news organizations.

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