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December 10. 2012 10:29PM

Kevin Gray's On Baseball: A.L. East gets more interesting


Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Sam Fuld (5) hits a single in the first inning against the New York Yankees at Tropicana Field in September. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

BASEBALL'S OFF-SEASON has been like a wild fantasy draft party, with players being swapped and general managers operating as if they're playing with Monopoly money.

Zach Greinke's six-year, $147 million contract with the Dodgers, finalized Monday, is the richest in baseball history for a right-hander.

The American League East has undergone a transformation with the Blue Jays and Rays pulling off blockbuster trades. Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson have become Blue Jays, and ex-Fisher Cats Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria and Jake Marisnick are property of the Marlins.

Now the Yankees are moving swiftly in attempt to sign Kevin Youkilis, who reportedly has been offered $12 million to wear pinstripes next season.

Boston offered Ryan Dempster a two-year deal worth $25 million. The veteran right-hander, who posted a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts for Texas this past season, rejected the offer. Dempster also turned down $26 million from the Royals, who shifted focus and landed James Shields and Wade Davis in a trade with the Rays on Sunday.

"Somehow the A.L. East keeps getting tougher. That's five really good teams on paper," said Rays outfielder Sam Fuld, who grew up in Durham.

Tampa Bay has taken the most short-term risk, parting with Big Game James and Davis in exchange for prize prospect Wil Myers in the six-player deal. Shields and Davis have sub-4.00 ERAs in their career and helped the Rays to a league-leading team ERA of 3.19 last season.

"It's bittersweet because (Shields and Davis) were great teammates and two key parts to our pitching staff," Fuld, an outfielder, said. "We have full faith in our front office when it comes to these things. Our younger guys are fully capable of filling . It's exciting to get some new blood and pretty cool to think what Wil Myers can do in the lineup."

Myers, the 2012 Minor League Player of the Year, will be given every opportunity to earn a spot in the Rays' outfield. Fuld will compete with Matt Joyce, Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist for playing time.

The 31-year-old Fuld missed the first half of last season while recovering from wrist surgery. He experienced no setbacks following his return on July 24, finishing the year batting .255 with seven stolen bases.

Fuld has taken his off-season training routine in a new direction this off-season, hiring personal trainer Brian Kaplan, a former pitcher at Notre Dame. They're working out six days per week in Jupiter, Fla., often concentrating on core strength and non-traditional exercises.

"I'm utilizing parts of my body I'd never utilized before," Fuld said.

The former Phillips Exeter and Stanford University standout is planning to host the second annual Sam Fuld Diabetes Sports Camp at the University of South Florida on Feb. 2-3. Fuld, diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 10, is teaming up with the LPGA's Michelle McGann and other professionals to offer campers a variety of sports and instruction.

"The camp serves a number of purposes, but mostly it's a chance to get these kids some role models and inspiration," Fuld said. "It's also a way for them to hang out and share stories with other diabetic kids and coaches."

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BASEBALL DINNER: Fuld and Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia will take part in a Hot Stove Baseball Dinner in Portsmouth Jan. 25, an event hosted by the Seacoast Mavericks at the Residence Inn's Harbor Events Center. Tickets are $80.

The Mavericks, a member of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, announced Monday they will be playing their 2013 home schedule at Leary Field in downtown Portsmouth.

The old-time baseball park, which features a wood grandstand, also serves as home for Portsmouth Babe Ruth and American Legion Booma Post 6. The Mavericks, who played a portion of their schedule at Leary Field in 2012, have committed more than $30,000 worth of improvements for the field. The Mavericks previously played most of their home games at Bert George Field in Rochester.

Staff sports writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is kgray@unionleader.com.


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