Dave Reardon

Points East

By Dave Reardon

Monday, December 20, 1999

Devil Rays need
more than big bats

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Devil Rays got Power Rangers, I mean Rockies and Reds, for Christmas. But what they really wanted was a Randy Johnson, like those brats down the street in Arizona got last year.

Sorry, the store's all sold out. Here's another Double-A battery. Now go play with your Greg Vaughn and your Vinny Castilla and be quiet.

High-quality, major-league pitching is what the Devil Rays need to become a contender - not more home runs and, in Vaughn's case, the strikeouts and shaky defense that go with them.

Without legitimate arms, maybe the added hitting will allow the Rays to make another six-game improvement in 2000, their third season. But that doesn't mean they'll climb out of last place in the AL East.

Santa/General Manager Chuck LaMar knows this, but stresses patience.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that with the movement of (pitcher) Rolando (Arrojo) we're probably two quality starting pitchers away from having a playoff contending club," he said.

"But we're still in year three of the (five-year) development (plan). In our situation, you're not going to go out and fill all the holes you have immediately."

Arrojo went 7-12 with a 5.18 ERA last year, falling off from 14-12 and 3.56 and an all-star game appearance. At times his toughness was questioned by fans, the media and manager Larry Rothschild.

ALTHOUGH LaMar said Friday the team will try to get another starter, owner Vince Naimoli said he thinks Chad Ogea (6-12, 5.63 ERA for Philadelphia) can fill the void. It's just as likely they'll unearth a few more 35-year-old high school coaches who throw 95 mph.

LaMar said giving up Arrojo (along with infielder Aaron Ledesma) to get Castilla was not the no-brainer some might think - and not because Arrojo makes $300,000 a year and Castilla gets $6.5 million.

"We think we gave up a quality starting pitcher," LaMar said. "You take it on face value; he won seven games. On paper it looks like an unequal swap. But it will be one of those trades that helps both teams."

OK. But if starters are scarcer now than Pokemon stuff will be Friday afternoon, why deal Arrojo?

Easy. Home runs fill the seats and the imagination, and the Rays need to rekindle casual fan enthusiasm until they can build a real rotation. A couple other things to remember:

Bullet While Vaughn, 34, might hit 50 homers and is a great clubhouse guy, he's not a good outfielder. And he will have to play left, since Canseco has the DH spot locked up. At his welcome-aboard news conference Friday, Vaughn had some nervous questions about losing fly balls in the Tropicana Field's white ceiling.

Bullet Castilla, 32, is one of baseball's most underrated players; he hit 40 or more homers and .304 or better from 1996 to 1998. But he played his home games at Colorado. Even with the altitude edge last year, he fell off to 33 and .275.

Flawed as they are, Vaughn and Castilla join holdovers Canseco and Fred McGriff to give the Devil Rays a middle of the order that could be the most dangerous in the game - as well as two more veterans who have been to the postseason.

But they can all count on watching the playoffs at home this year. While there's still time for lefty Kenny Rogers to appear under the tree, nobody's counting on it. LaMar's holiday gift shopping is probably done after signing outfielder Gerald Williams yesterday.

Dave Reardon, who covered sports in Hawaii
from 1977 to 1998, is a sportswriter at the
Gainesville Sun. E-mail

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