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Sunday, December 15
Updated: December 17, 8:18 PM ET
Mets to pay $4.25 million of Ordonez's salary next year

Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The New York Mets took another step in reducing their payroll and shedding one of their problem players, trading Rey Ordonez to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Sunday for infielder Russ Johnson and minor league first baseman Josh Presley.

Rey Ordonez
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
144 460 53 1 42 .254's Jayson Stark reports the Mets will pay $4.25 million of Ordonez's $6.25 million salary for next season.

The move paves the way for super prospect Jose Reyes to make the majors at some point next season.

"One of the things we were trying to do is create some flexibility at the shortstop position,'' Mets general manager Steve Phillips said. "Having some amount of money available opens up our options.''

On Monday, the Mets wrapped up talks with free agent left-hander Mike Stanton by agreeing to a three-year, $9 million deal with the former Yankee.

Ordonez spent seven years with the Mets, earning three Gold Gloves and winning fans over with his breathtaking defense.

But they soured on him last season, as his usual offensive struggles were joined by inconsistent fielding. Ordonez then called Mets fans "stupid'' at the end of the year, which was another factor in the deal.

Ordonez, who once played 101 consecutive errorless games at shortstop, committed 19 errors last season -- his most since his rookie year in 1996.

"We have not been as strong defensively up the middle as we would like to be,'' Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar said. "He is one of the finest defensive shortstops I've ever seen play. We think he's going to be much closer to the form pre-2002 than he was for the Mets.''

Ordonez batted just .254 with one homer and 42 RBI last season and was one of the fans' biggest targets as the Mets finished in last place.

His $19 million, four-year contract expires after the 2003 season, and the Mets are grooming Reyes -- considered by some the top minor league prospect in baseball -- as his replacement.

Reyes, who will be 20 on opening day, split time between Class A and Double-A last season. He hit .288 with eight homers, 26 doubles, 19 triples and 64 RBI. He also stole 74 bases.

"We're moving toward a new era,'' Phillips said. "At some point in 2003, our future shortstop will be here. Rey was more of a defensive player than an offensive player. Reyes has the defensive package and can hit, too.''

Phillips is talking to agents for shortstops and could be interested in Jose Hernandez.

Tampa Bay, coming off a 55-106 last-place season, set out to acquire a shortstop at the winter meetings.

Defense was a priority for the Devil Rays, who are trying to groom a young pitching staff.

"How do you help young pitching? By catching the ball,'' new Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella said. "That's one thing Rey can do. We're excited about this.''

Ordonez has a .245 career average with eight homers and 260 RBI.

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