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Tampa Bay Rays acquire catcher Kelly Shoppach; plans for Navarro unclear

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays increased their options behind the plate by acquiring Kelly Shoppach from Cleveland on Tuesday.

Now they have to decide what to do.

"There's not a lot more I can say," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said.

Shoppach, 29, is coming off a poor 2009 season (.210, 12 HRs, 40 RBIs) following a strong 2008 showing (.261, 21, 55), is a right-handed hitter who does better against lefty pitchers and is in line for a raise through arbitration after making $1.95 million last season.

That's not much different from incumbent starter Dioner Navarro, who is 25, had a bad 2009 season (.218, 8, 32) after a solid 2008, is a switch-hitter who hits better vs. lefties and is arbitration eligible after making $2.1 million.

The Rays could keep both to compete for or share the job, though it wouldn't be the optimal pairing since neither hits right-handers well.

Or, with both headed to the $2.5 million salary range through arbitration and a Dec. 12 deadline to tender contracts, they could essentially play them off each other — negotiate with both, see which one they can strike a better deal with then trade or cut loose the other. (Furthering that theory, the Shoppach trade is for a player to be named by Dec. 20, allowing time for resolution.)

"We've got (11) days until the tender date and we've got now another option that we feel like can help this team," Friedman said. "We'll take some time to see how things unfold, but we feel like that position is more of a strength right now than it was yesterday, and that's our goal."

If they ditch one, they could add a more complementary second catcher, with re-signing veteran Gregg Zaun (who hits right-handers well) an option, among others.

The Rays offered arbitration Tuesday to Type B free agents Zaun and lefty reliever Brian Shouse, which allows them to receive draft pick compensation (between rounds 1 and 2) if either signs elsewhere.

If either accepts (by their Dec. 8 deadline), they are considered signed, but since the Rays previously declined their $2 million options, it could be they are confident both will decline arbitration because they have better offers. The Rays decided Tuesday night not to offer arbitration to reliever Russ Springer.

Navarro "truly wants" to stay with the Rays, agent Kendall Almerico said. "Navi looks forward to working with Kelly next season. You can never have too much talent behind the plate."

Shoppach, traded from Boston to Cleveland in 2006, said he welcomed the chance to join the Rays: "I've heard nothing but good things. … I think it's going to be a nice situation."

To make room on the 40-man roster, reliever Jeff Bennett, with a 9.95 ERA in 11 games, was designated for assignment.

Also:

• Friedman said he's "not even thinking … right now" about trading OF Carl Crawford and that the mutual goal remains a long-term deal but acknowledged both sides have to do what they think is best: "Hopefully there is an overlap."

• Improving the bullpen remains the top priority, and it is still unlikely the Rays will acquire an established closer.

• Manager Joe Maddon will host, cook and serve his annual Thanks-mas meal at four Tampa Bay-area Salvation Army shelters Dec. 14-17.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays acquire catcher Kelly Shoppach; plans for Navarro unclear 12/01/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 11:41pm]

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