McGriff gets minors deal with D-Rays

TAMPA, Fla. -- Fred McGriff is returning home -- again.

The 40-year-old slugger agreed Tuesday to a minor league
contract with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who want to give him a
chance to show he's healthy and can still contribute after missing
much of last season because of injuries.

McGriff, a Tampa native who was traded from Atlanta to the Devil
Rays before the club's inaugural season in 1998, is nine homers
short of 500, a number that would likely enhance his chances of
getting into the Hall of Fame.

"We're going to give him an opportunity to showcase his
wares," general manager Chuck LaMar said, adding that it will be
difficult for McGriff to make Tampa Bay's roster unless the Devil
Rays have injuries in spring training.

Tampa Bay traded for first baseman Tino Martinez this winter and
Aubrey Huff is expected to be the team's regular designated hitter.
The Devil Rays also acquired Robert Fick, who's projected as the
top left-handed pinch hitter.

The hope is McGriff will show enough this spring to attract
interest from other teams. If he's added to the roster, he would
get a deal for the $300,000 minimum and have the chance to make
performance bonuses.

"I just need to play," said McGriff, who was slowed by groin
and knee injuries in 2003. "I'm getting more and more confident
every day that I'll be fine."

McGriff played 3½ seasons for Tampa Bay before reluctantly
accepting a trade to the Chicago Cubs in July 2001. Last season --
the first in which he spent time on the disabled list -- McGriff hit
a career-low .249 with 13 homers and 40 RBIs in 86 games for the
Los Angeles Dodgers.

McGriff, a .285 hitter over 18 seasons with the Blue Jays,
Padres, Braves, Devil Rays, Cubs and Dodgers, ranks 21st on the
all-time home run list with 491 and is 34th on the career RBIs list
with 1,543.

He is the Devil Rays' all-time leader in batting average (.295),
homers (97), RBI (352), runs scored (270), hits (590), walks (296)
and games played (550).

The five-time All-Star was traded to the Cubs in a cost-saving
move, one of several deals the Devil Rays made on the way to
reducing their payroll to the lowest in baseball. LaMar conceded
that he never expected to see McGriff in a Tampa Bay uniform again,
however McGriff was less certain.

"You never say never," McGriff said.