ANAHEIM, Calif. — Angels All-Star Torii Hunter has heard the conspiracy theories — which started with conveniently arranged adjacent lockers at the All-Star Game — that he's trying to recruit free-agent-to-be Carl Crawford to join him in Southern California.
But Hunter insists he's merely offering advice to a long-time friend.
"Everybody and their mama's going to want Carl Crawford," Hunter said. "So you never know what can happen."
Hunter said he's as curious as anyone where Crawford ends up.
"People forget he's my friend, he's one of my best buddies in the game," Hunter said. "People are making it out like I'm trying to recruit him and everything. I'm just his friend, like always. But since he's a free agent they think I'm trying to recruit him. I'm not.
"I was a free agent once, so if he asks me about free agency I'm going to help him out, whether he joins the Angels or not. He's my friend first."
Crawford has said he'd like to remain with the Rays, but that seems unlikely given the price he is likely to command on the open market. Hunter — who left the Twins for the Angels in a similar situation — said the prospect of playing on turf could be more of a deterrent than the financial aspects.
"I'm pretty sure he would love to stay with the Rays," Hunter said. "But I'm pretty sure he has to think about that turf and that dome, and you have to think about your future first. Baseball is No. 1, and if you can't play it because you're sore every day, you learn that."
As for the Rays being able to afford Crawford, who could be in line for a $100 million deal over six or seven years?
"If they really want him, I'm pretty sure they could do it, they could figure it out," Hunter said. "But they're going to have to pay for that turf. There's no discount on turf."
BACK IN ACTION: Manager Joe Maddon knows what he'll be looking for today when RHP Jeff Niemann rejoins the rotation after a stint on the DL for a shoulder strain.
"The big thing with Jeff for me is that he has such good command," Maddon said. "So if he's throwing the ball where he wants to — regardless of how many pitches he throws, whatever, I'm not concerned about that — if he throws the ball where he wants to then I'll know he's feeling pretty good again."
Niemann was having a tremendous season (10-3, with a 3.12 ERA that ranks eighth in the AL) until the 20-day interruption and is excited to resume.
"Just a little speed bump," he said. "Going to try to get out there and just try to get back into that rhythm we had early in the season."
To make room for Niemann on the roster, RHP Dale Thayer, who had pitched only once in two short stints with the team, was optioned back to Triple-A Durham.
CALLUPS COMING: Plans for September callups aren't finalized, but Maddon acknowledged there are likely to be two waves (Sept. 1 and after Triple-A Durham is done playing) and that OF/DH Rocco Baldelli and C Dioner Navarro are among the obvious candidates for serious consideration.
DO THE WAIVE: After seeing their interest in Tigers OF Johnny Damon thwarted when the Red Sox made a waiver claim (though Damon is staying in Detroit), the Rays could be in the same situation with Dodgers OF Manny Ramirez.
The White Sox, who have waiver priority over the Rays due to a worse record, "will claim (Ramirez) with the intention of acquiring him," according to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. The Rays' chances to acquire Ramirez would be better if he went through waivers unclaimed so they could negotiate with the Dodgers, trading prospects for salary relief.
MINOR MATTERS: Richard de los Santos earned his 14th win as Triple-A Durham won its ninth straight game and broke the Bulls' Triple-A franchise mark he had shared with Mitch Talbot and Dave Eiland. … With 12 games remaining, the Class A Charlotte staff is 55 strikeouts shy of the Florida State League record of 1,132.
MISCELLANY: RHP Grant Balfour (intercostal strain) throws another bullpen session today in St. Petersburg, and if all goes well he is likely to make two rehab appearances for Class A Charlotte before being activated Sept. 1. … The Rays logged their first consecutive series wins in Anaheim in their 13-season history. ... RHP Wade Davis leads all AL rookies with 10 wins. ... 3B Evan Longoria is hitting .409 with four homers, nine doubles and 13 RBIs in 11 games at Angel Stadium.