PORT CHARLOTTE — The Rays saved $400,000 in winning their arbitration case against Dioner Navarro and, more importantly, didn't appear to lose any good will with their All-Star catcher.
"Navi wants to thank the Rays organization for making this a fair debate and for handling the hearing with class," agent Kendall Almerico said. "He is very excited to report to spring training and help the team get back to the World Series."
Arbitration hearings have the potential to cause hard feelings as teams sometimes downgrade their players, and Almerico suggested there could be ramifications if the Rays didn't treat Navarro "respectfully" as they argued for their $2.1 million offer instead of his $2.5 million request.
Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said the Rays — now 4-0 in hearings — were glad to have the "never ideal" process behind them.
"We had full confidence in our ability to handle this situation professionally and didn't think about doing it any other way, with or without his comments," Friedman said. "It gets back to Navi. He is a very important part of our team, and will be going forward. We're just glad now that the emphasis shifts from the arbitration process to what Navi's going to do in '09 to help us win games."
• The Rays are "very close" to resolving their final arbitration case by signing infielder Willy Aybar to what his agent said is a two-year deal with a 2011 option. "We're just down to the details right now," Luis Valdez said. "The Rays have been great. This is going to be a great deal for Willy and his family."
• Lefty sidearm reliever Brian Shouse's signing to a one-year deal plus a 2010 option is "pretty official," Friedman said, though terms won't be confirmed, and a corresponding roster move made, until today. The delay was due to getting back some results from his physical.
"We feel like he is going to help diversify our bullpen even more," Friedman said. "He's had a tremendous amount of success the last few seasons, especially against left-handers. He generates a lot of ground balls. He doesn't walk guys. He keeps the ball in the park."
• Centerfielder B.J. Upton said his surgically repaired left shoulder felt good after he hit off a tee at the new spring complex, and he expected to advance to soft-toss drills Friday. "It's feeling better," Upton said. "There's no reason to hold it back."
Other early reportees include Jason Bartlett, Jason Hammel, James Houser and nonroster invitees Calvin Medlock, Chad Orvella and Chris Richard.
• Special 9=8 ticket packages, which include a seat for the April 13 home opener, will be sold only Friday (starting at 9 a.m. online at raysbaseball.com, via phone at 888-326-7297 and at the Tropicana Field box office) and Saturday. The team also released the autograph schedule for Saturday's FanFest, though several big-name players, including Evan Longoria and James Shields, aren't signing but are available to season-ticket holders for photos. (For details and the complete schedule, see blogs.tampabay.com/rays)
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]