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Rays’ Triple-A MVP now a free agent

By Marc Topkin

Managing 40-man roster space is a tricky part of the offseason and in doing so, the Rays let several interesting players become minor-league free agents, including Triple-A Durham’s MVP, infielder/outfielder Patrick Leonard.

Also free to sign elsewhere are three players among the Rays’ 10 picks in the top 60 of the 2011 draft: infielder Jake Hager (32nd pick), right-hander Jeff Ames (42) and left-hander Grayson Garvin (59). If all three leave, left-hander Blake Snell will be the only player left among that draft group in 2011.

Players get free agency after six years in the minors; the Rays could keep them by putting them on the 40-man roster or re-signing them to new minor-league deals, and are in talks with some.

Also among their 18 minor-league free agents is their 2010 first-round pick, catcher Justin O’Conner, who made an impressive return from injury this season. In stocking potential bullpen depth, the Rays signed left-hander Vidal Nuno and re-signed left-hander Adam Kolarek to minor-league deals. Nuno, 30, has big-league time with the Yankees, Diamondbacks, Mariners and Orioles with a 5-21, 4.29 mark in 138 games. Kolarek, 28, made his debut last season for the Rays, going 1-0, 6.28 in 12 games.

RANGERS CAN PAY MOST: Texas, the New York Yankees and Minnesota can pay the most to a young international amateur free agent as highly touted pitcher-outfielder Shohei Otani prepares to enter the market, and Major League Baseball and its Japanese counterpart have agreed to the outlines of a deal to keep the old posting system for this offseason. The Rangers can agree to a maximum $3,535,000 signing bonus from their pool that covers July 2 through next June 15, according to figures compiled by MLB and obtained by the Associated Press. New York can pay $3.25 million and the Twins $3,245,000.