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Rays ink Easley

Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG — Damion Easley signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Wednesday, five days after becoming the most expensive player cut loose in baseball history when the Detroit Tigers released him with $14.3 million still owed on his contract.

The 33-year-old second baseman is in the fourth season of a $29.9, five-year contract that pays him $6.5 million this year. The Devil Rays, who have the lowest payroll in the majors, will only have to pay $300,000 of that.

The Tigers also must pay the one-time All-Star $6.5 million in 2004 and a $1.3 million buyout of an $8 million team option for 2005.

To make room on the roster, Tampa Bay optioned opening-day second baseman Brent Abernathy to Triple-A Durham.

Easley, a .254 career hitter, was Detroit’s regular second baseman through 2001. Injuries limited him to just 85 games last year, when he hit .224 with eight home runs and 30 RBI in 304 at-bats.

This spring, he hit .256 with a team-leading three home runs and five RBI before being released by the Tigers last week.

The move came less than a week after the Devil Rays, who have trimmed their on-field payroll to just over $15 million, set the previous record for the most money owed to a released player by cutting Greg Vaughn, who is guaranteed $9.25 million this year.

In other moves Wednesday, outfielder George Lombard was sent outright to Durham and left-hander Hans Smith was sent outright to Double-A Orlando after clearing waivers.