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Big Hurt will be riding pine

<p>If manager John Gibbons hasn’t already received the message, he will soon, certainly before the Blue Jays open their regular season next week.</p>




If manager John Gibbons hasn’t already received the message, he will soon, certainly before the Blue Jays open their regular season next week.





The message: Exclude Frank Thomas from your starting lineup periodically.





Benching Thomas occasionally is being deemed necessary by the Jays’ brass — at least privately — and not entirely because he’s approaching 40 and has lost bat speed. No, it’s mostly because he’d be guaranteed a whopping $10-million US salary in 2009 with 376 plate appearances in 2008.





With a seven-year, $80-million extension set for outfielder Alex Rios, the Jays need to cut expenditures elsewhere, and so they’re trying to prevent The Big Hurt from hurting them big. Look for Matt Stairs to share the designated-hitter duties with Thomas this year.





Business is business.






Shannon Stewart, back as Toronto’s left-fielder, has struck up a friendship with Thomas.





“If I want to laugh, I just go talk to Frank,” Stewart said. “He’s a real nice dude. They should call him The Big Soft.”






•The Jays plan to use their big free-agent acquisition, shortstop David Eckstein, as their leadoff man, but scouts down here in Florida figure it won’t be long before Stewart replaces him.





“Eckstein tries hard, but he missed 45 games (with the St. Louis Cardinals) last season because of a back problem that’s still hampering him,” a scout whispered to me. “I don’t see him as an everyday player any more.”






•The Tampa Bay Rays’ decision to demote blue-chip third baseman Evan Longoria to Triple A caused a major stir here, with fans fuming on talk shows and even Tampa stars such as Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena complaining.





Longoria, 22, has been the Rays’ top hitter in spring training and is generally viewed as the AL’s premier rookie. But, by starting the season in Triple A, the club ensured he won’t be a free agent until after the 2014 season instead of after the 2013 season.





Like I said, business is business.






•The Rays, who pounded the Blue Jays 10-0 yesterday, anticipate a huge season from outfielder B.J. Upton, predicting 30 steals and 30 home runs from him. Brother Justin Upton and B.J. were subjects of a cover piece in USA Today yesterday. Justin is with the Arizona Diamondbacks.





And this is noteworthy since my sons also are Justin and B.J.





Hey, it’s my column.




marty.york@metronews.ca





In three-plus decades as a columnist and broadcaster, Marty York has built a network of solid contacts and a renowned reputation for his hard-hitting, groundbreaking style. The tradition continues in Metro Sports.

 
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