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Cardinals makeover gets under way
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11/21/2003  8:21 PM ET 
Cardinals makeover gets under way
Martinez traded to Tampa Bay for reliever Evan Rust
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Tino Martinez had the third lowest slugging percentage among NL first baseman with at least 400 at-bats in 2003. (Cardinals/Scott Rovak)
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Martinez now a hometown Ray

ST. LOUIS -- Step one in the makeover of the Cardinals is complete. A long-rumored deal sending first baseman Tino Martinez to the Devil Rays was finalized on Friday. The Cardinals receive minor league right-hander Evan Rust and a player to be named later for Martinez and cash considerations.

The Cardinals are expected to pay most of Martinez's $7.5 million salary for 2004. Martinez's contract also calls for an $8 million option for the 2005 season or a $1 million buyout.

Rust, a 25-year-old right-hander, has been groomed as a closer. He split the 2003 season between Double-A Orlando and Triple-A Durham, putting up excellent numbers. He struck out 61 batters and walked 25 in 70 innings, allowing one homer all year. Rust tallied 12 saves, giving him 56 in his professional career, and sported a composite 2.96 ERA. He signed with the Devil Rays in 2000 as an undrafted free agent out of St. Mary's College in California.

"There were a number of people we looked at," said general manager Walt Jocketty. "We liked (Rust) a lot because he's got a chance to help us this year. Obviously he's had a couple good years in the minors and he's pitching well in winter ball."

Rust, who relies on a fastball in the low 90s and a curveball, will be added to the 40-man roster. If he does not make the team out of Spring Training, he will likely serve as the closer for Triple-A Memphis. Dewon Brazelton, one of the Rays' best-known prospects and a former No. 3 overall pick, was never seriously discussed. Brazelton's name came up in some of the rumors before the trade was consummated.

The Cardinals talked to other teams besides Tampa Bay about Martinez, but decided that the best fit for the team and for Martinez was the Devil Rays. Martinez grew up in Tampa and starred at the University of Tampa.

It is uncertain what St. Louis will do to replace Martinez. MVP runner-up Albert Pujols could move from left field to first base, with the Cardinals signing a free agent to man left in Pujols' place. That may be the most appealing option, because the team would like to move to an offense based more on speed and on-base ability, and those traits are more commonly found in outfielders than first basemen. The Cardinals do not currently have what they consider a viable leadoff option on the roster.

"Tony (La Russa) and I discussed this several times and again today, and I think the obvious direction would be to insert Albert at first, which we may end up doing. But we're not committing to that today, on Nov. 21. We've just got to allow ourselves some flexibility. One way or another Albert will play a lot of first base.

"(The trade) has given us some payroll flexibility, but more so what it allows us to do is maybe change the makeup of our offense. We're going to try and find a leadoff hitter."

Still, until such a move is made, nothing is certain.

"Does this deal mean that Albert Pujols will be moved to first base? That's a possibility," La Russa said in a release. "One of the things we are trying to do is improve our table-setters at the top of the lineup. Because first base is a position primarily reserved for run-producers, we feel that we have a better chance of finding a leadoff hitter to play the outfield rather than first base. Walt and I both agreed that in order to change the makeup of our everyday lineup, that this move made a lot of sense."

Jocketty disagreed with the notion the Cardinals were looking to dump Martinez at any cost.

"We could have stayed with Tino this year," he said. "We could have easily done that. But we had to look at changing the makeup of our club. We've got a couple guys that will not be back, Tino and Fernando (Vina), and sometimes you have to turn your roster over somewhat. One of the most successful teams in our league or either league has been the Braves, and they tend to turn their roster over from time to time. I think that's healthy for our club."

Other options would be to sign a free-agent first baseman, or to go with some combination of youngster John Gall, free-agent signee Kevin Witt and perhaps Eduardo Perez at first. Gall, a right-handed hitter, had a strong season at Triple-A Memphis in 2003. Witt, who bats left-handed, played 93 games for Detroit in '03, hitting .263 with 10 homers, a .301 on-base percentage and a .407 slugging percentage. Perez, a super-sub for the Cards over the past two years, is a free agent, but the team would like to bring him back.

Martinez, 35, signed with the Cardinals in December of 2001, taking Mark McGwire's place at first base. Upon his arrival in the National League, he struggled to reach the types of production he managed in his peak years with the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners. Last season, he hit .273 with a .352 on-base percentage and a .429 slugging percentage. He smacked 15 home runs and drove in 69 runs in 476 at-bats. Among NL first basemen with at least 400 at-bats, only Sean Casey and Robert Fick had lower slugging percentages in 2003.

"I wasn't happy with the way I played in St. Louis," said Martinez. "I didn't play up to my capability. I wouldn't say I am happy to leave St. Louis, but I'm definitely thrilled to be (in Tampa)."

For his career, Martinez sports a .273 batting average, .344 OBP and .473 slugging. He has 299 home runs and 1,146 RBIs over 14 seasons. He played in the postseason every year from 1995-2002.

Martinez played for Rays manager Lou Piniella with the Mariners from 1993-95. Martinez was traded to the Yankees before the 1996 season and played with them for six seasons, earning four World Series rings.

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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