Saturday decisions: Navarro, Choate, Cormier sign; Gross, Riggans non-tendered
UPDATE, 12:25 AM: So just to recap, the Rays signed C Dioner Navarro ($2.1-million), RHP Lance Cormier ($1.2-million) and LHP Randy Choate ($700,000) to one-year deals to avoid arbitration; they non-tendered OF Gabe Gross and C Shawn Riggans; and they tendered their other arbitration eligibles - C Kelly Shoppach, RHPs Grant Balfour and Matt Garza, LHP J.P. Howell, SS Jason Bartlett, CF B.J. Upton.
UPDATE, 10:49: Rays strike a one-year deal to keep C Dioner Navarro for $2.1-million, tender Kelly Shoppach, non-tender Shawn Riggans. Cormier got raise to $1.2-million.
From exec VP Andrew Friedman: "I feel like we're a better team with both then with one guy and another guy on the market.''
Also: "The way we look at it, we have what we consider to be great depth at a position that not many teams in the game do right now.''
Navarro signed for the same salary he made last season, and Friedman made it clear that Navarro agreeing to the deal to avoid arbitration was essential in not being non-tendered: "It was something that for us was very important. As we talked through it, it was always very good dialogue. I don't think we would have gone through the process. But he goit it (the contract) and he's highly motivated to come out and have a good year next year.''
Here, according to mlbtraderumors.com, are the remaining free-agent catchers, with age and compensation status:
Eliezer Alfonzo (31); Brad Ausmus (41); Paul Bako (38); Rod Barajas (34), Type B, offered arb; Josh Bard (32); Michael Barrett (33); Ramon Castro (34); Toby Hall (34); Bengie Molina (35), Type A, not offered arb;
Jose Molina (35); Miguel Olivo (31), Type B, not offered arb; Mike Redmond (39); Mike Rivera (33); Yorvit Torrealba (31), Type B, not offered arb; Matt Treanor (34); Javier Valentin (34).
As for the decision on Gross, Friedman said: "Gabe has been a big part of our team for close to two years. I'm a firm believer we would not have made it to the World Series without him in '08. We've got to a point with our rosters with the different guys that we have and some positional flexibility that he didn't fit as well as he had in previous years. We have a lot of respect for him as a player and I had a good conversation with him earlier; it was just a situation with the guys we have that it wasn't a fit.''
Friedman said of Riggans: "I'm a big believer in his ability and also his makeup, but obviously the injury history is real.''
UPDATE, 9:23: OF Gabe Gross has been told he is being non-tendered. The team has not made any announcements yet, and there's been no response from the agents for catchers Dioner Navarro and Kelly Shoppach, so talks may still be ongoing.
The Gross decision wasn't a surprise - he was in line for a raise from the $1.255-million he made last season while hitting only .227 with six homers and 36 RBIs, and the Rays seem confident Matt Joyce is ready to take his place as the lefthanded hitting reserve outfielder/platoon rightfielder.
UPDATE, 7:33: RHP Lance Cormier agrees to terms on a one-year deal, crossing another off the arbitration list. Cormier, who made $675,000 last season, led Rays relievers with 77 1/3 innings, going 3-3, 3.26 in 53 games. He worked mostly as a middle reliever, and held hitters to a .172 average with runners in scoring position.
UPDATE, 5:27: Choate has agreed to a one-year deal for $700,000, with a $25,000 bonus if he works in 80 games. No word still from the Rays, or the reps, on the other guys.
"Obviously I had more success here that I probably had anywhere else in my career,'' Choate said. "I'm definitely comfortable here, and I feel Joe (Maddon) is comfortable with me and puts me in good situations. Of course I'm excited to come back.''
UPDATE, 4:48: The Rays are apparently taking this into the evening as representatives from several of the involved players say there are no decisions yet. On the ex-Rays front, OF Jonny Gomes was non-tendered by the Reds despite a strong performance, hitting 20 HRs in just 281 at-bats, and with a .267 average.
DEVELOPING: LHP Randy Choate is close to finalizing a one-year deal that will take him off the list of arbitration eligibles.
Choate was effective as a lefty specialist for the Rays last season, and with their decision to let Brian Shouse become a free agent seemed likely to have a job. But with a $500,000 salary he was in line for a decent raise so it makes sense for the Rays to reach agreement first so they don't face the risk of a higher salary through the arbitration process. And for Choate it makes sense to take the deal if he likes the opportunity with the Rays.
Choate, 34, started the season at Triple-A Durham, joined the Rays in late May and made 61 appearances (29 for one batter), going 1-0 with a 3.47 ERA and earned the first five big-league saves of his career. He ranked second in the AL by allowing only 15.79 percent of his inherited runners (9 of 57) to score.
The Rays expect to take much of the time leading up to the midnight deadline to make final decisions on whether to tender contracts to some of the others, such as catchers Dioner Navarro and Kelly Shoppach and outfielder Gabe Gross.
The others would seem pretty automatic: RHP Grant Balfour, SS Jason Bartlett, RHP Lance Cormier, RHP Matt Garza, LHP J.P. Howell, CF B.J. Upton.