TORONTO - The Devil Rays have no reason to be worried about losing Scott Kazmir.
Their 23-year-old ace is headed to arbitration for the first time this winter and isn't eligible to become a free agent until 2010. But if they want to sign Kazmir to a long-term deal at some point, buying out some of those arbitration and/or free-agent years at a more reasonable rate, it's going to take more than just a hefty amount of cash.
'The thing is, we've got to show that we can win out there,' Kazmir said Friday. 'That's the first thing you want to do - you want to be on a team that wants to be in contention and wants to win.'
Those responsible for putting that charge in the Rays would say - as executive vice president Andrew Friedman did - that whether they want to isn't a question.
'Kaz's viewpoint is no different from everyone in that clubhouse and everyone in the front office,' Friedman said. 'Nobody wants to be associated with a team that isn't headed in the right direction and doesn't continue to make progress. It's something that we feel very strongly about doing from a front office standpoint. I know Joe Maddon and the coaches feel the same way and I think it's incumbent upon everyone in the situation to do their respective jobs as well as they can and I think the other stuff will take care of itself.'
As the Rays churn toward the finish of their 10th season with at least 92 losses in as many opportunities, the general consensus is that they're on the verge of breaking through. Kazmir is among the believers, but a day after his final start of the season he all but pleaded with the front office to deepen the roster with more seasoned players.
'I think that would be pretty good to have - a couple veteran guys to really show us the way and how to go about winning and staying consistent throughout the whole season,' he said.
The Rays have had the occasional veteran with big-game experience come and go, but their core is made up of players who have known nothing but losing records in the majors.
'It's frustrating every year when you come to different parks and everyone's just all over you because you're last in the entire league every year,' Kazmir said. 'It's tough being kind of a laughingstock of baseball, it really is.'
With that sort of reputation, attempts to bring in notable veterans can become a chicken-and-egg situation. The Rays might not be able to take that big step forward without that kind of leadership, but what established player in search of a ring would join a franchise that has never won more than 70 games?
All the Rays can do is point to their talent base, open up the wallet a bit wider and ask that player to take a leap of faith.
'Our goal is to become a destination spot,' Friedman said. 'Where free agents want to come, where the players we have want to stay.'
Kazmir wouldn't mind staying, and he'll be here for a while. For anything beyond that, stay tuned.
'I'm interested to hear what they have to say,' he said. 'We'll see what happens.'
NEW LOOK: As promised, Maddon overhauled the Rays' lineup Friday to give some little-used reserves a start.
Justin Ruggiano got the first of his big-league career, spelling B.J. Upton for a day in center field. Joel Guzman played third while Akinori Iwamura made his first career regular-season start as a DH. Japan's Central League, where Iwamura played the last nine seasons, doesn't use the DH.
Did Iwamura, who prides himself on his defense, have a strategy in mind for sitting on the bench most of the night?
'Try not to be bored,' he said in English, with a smile.
Maddon said he was considering giving Iwamura a spot start at his potential 2008 position, second base, this weekend, but there was a less than 50 percent chance of that happening.
NOTEWORTHY: RHP James Shields did not accompany the team to Toronto. One of Shields' cousins passed away, and he flew home to California on Friday morning to attend the funeral today. ... 2B Brendan Harris (strained left lat) still can't swing a bat without pain and is not expected to start this weekend.