Rays keep Gomes, send Cantu down
Former starting second baseman asks for trade after demotion
ST. PETERSBURG -- Jonny Gomes is on the team, Jorge Cantu is not.
That's how it went down early Saturday morning when the Devil Rays pared down their roster to 25.
Cantu, who was the team's top offensive player in 2005 when he had 28 home runs and 117 RBIs, did not like the news he had been optioned to Triple-A Durham, but showed class responding to questions after receiving it.
"What can I say, I'm not a Minor League player," Cantu said. "I think a change of scenery would be best."
With Cantu gone, B.J. Upton will start most games at second base; Ty Wigginton and Brendan Harris will also see time at the position.
After the club experimented with Upton at several positions this spring, the 22-year-old seems closer to finding a Major League position than ever before. Upton brings an unparalleled athleticism to the position, where the Rays hope he will blossom offensively and make the routine defensive plays.
Cantu elaborated by saying he asked the Rays to trade him.
"And it's just for the best," Cantu said. "I don't have anything to prove down there. I guess I have to go."
Rays manager Joe Maddon explained the decision.
"We just chose Jon's bat right now," Maddon said. "Jorge, we just felt like there was a lack of a position. Jon, we feel we can put him in the outfield now because he is functional. Jorge, we weren't going to play him at second base. We didn't see first base as a viable option right now. And we had other things we wanted to do with the DH role. On all three counts, it kind of knocked him out of there."
Cantu, who battled injuries throughout the 2006 season, finished with a disappointing .249 batting average, 14 home runs and 62 RBIs. On the final day of the season, he vowed to come to camp in the best shape of his career. He worked hard in the offseason and felt he had accomplished the task, which made Saturday's news even more disappointing.
"It was like I didn't do anything -- like I just sat on my butt and waited for spring to begin," Cantu said. "But it's OK, it's a business. ... They just decided it was best. And I guess they decided I didn't fit into their plans for this season. That's pretty much what it's all about. Whatever, I don't even have any words any more."
Cantu said he has not decided whether he will report to Durham if he's not traded. During the course of Cantu's conversation with Maddon, the manager told him to take some time to think about what he wanted to do.
"And that's what I'm going to do," said Cantu, who plans to go home to Mexico for such thoughts.
Maddon would like to see Cantu remain with the organization.
"Jorge is a wonderful young man, and we're hoping he goes to Triple-A and gets everything in order," Maddon said. "But primarily we took him off of second base and that really limited the options."
Gomes, who felt for Cantu, said, "I'm just ecstatic I made the ballclub."
Gomes nursed a bad shoulder throughout the 2006 season before having season-ending surgery in September. His numbers were way down from his 2005 campaign, when he hit .282 with 20 home runs and 59 RBIs en route to a third-place finish in the voting for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
"I just really didn't want to go down to Triple-A," Gomes said. "If that was the move they were going to make, of course I was going to go down there and play some ball. But I really wanted to be up here, and I'm glad it worked out that way. I guess you have to tip your hat to [Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew] Friedman and the boys in the office, because they weren't kidding when they said it was a tryout."
Maddon said he saw Gomes "really fight for a position."
"Before the camp began, I told Jon he was not on the team necessarily and he had to fight for a position, and he did," Maddon said. "I liked what he did at the plate and I liked what he did on the bases. And I liked what he did in the outfield. I saw him as really fighting for that job, and I thought he really earned that right."
Maddon discreetly told Gomes on Friday he had made the team.
"He just said congratulations, and he goes, 'You handled it well,'" Gomes said. "I could have been on the fence. When Andrew Friedman said this is a tryout, I could have been like, 'I'm an established big leaguer. Why should I be trying out for the club?' I took the other side of it and busted my butt -- first one here and the last one to leave. [I] proved that I wanted to be here."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.