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Tampa Bay Rays again hoping to avoid arbitration hearings with final four eligible players

The Rays are drawing their usual line on the calendar to deal with their remaining arbitration cases.

Having whittled the dozen eligible players down to a final four of SS Jason Bartlett, RHP Matt Garza, LHP J.P. Howell and CF B.J. Upton, the Rays will stick with their policy of cutting off negotiations as soon as figures between the parties are exchanged, which happens at noon Tuesday. Most other teams continue negotiating up until the February hearings.

The Rays do it their way for two reasons: to try to spur a settlement, since most don't happen until a deadline looms, and to avoid settling at an artificial midpoint between the submitted figures, which can be millions apart. (If it goes to a hearing, the arbitrators pick one of the figures.)

"Our hope and expectation is to reach an agreement," executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "We are approaching this process seeking to reach a compromise, and our track record demonstrates that."

In Friedman's four years, the Rays have gone to just three hearings and won them all. But the process is untoward, with the team having to denigrate the player, and one they would rather avoid. Last year's Dioner Navarro experience might serve as a cautionary tale: the Rays won the hearing, but Navarro responded with a lost season.

Making it more interesting this year is all four are key players. After making $433,000 or so last year, the first-time eligibles will get huge raises, Howell to near $2 million, Garza and Upton to around $3 million. Bartlett is likely to double the $1,981,250 he got in a settlement last year.

Thus far, the Rays are only discussing one-year deals, which is a little surprising, though they are willing to talk about multiyear deals after the deadline, as they did in 2009 with Willy Aybar.

By Tuesday, expect at least a couple to be settled.

Earthquake fallout: The Rays have a 19-year-old OF prospect, Alexis Elie Lamour, from Haiti and got word he and his family were safe and living in the Dominican Republic, where he played last summer.

Numbers game: Sean Rodriguez asked for 1, Kelly Shoppach will wear 10 (with Justin Ruggiano going to 11), Dan Johnson 24 and Rafael Soriano 29 (with Elliot Johnson going to 9). Wade Davis is switching from 58 to 40, and perhaps to a spokesman role for WD-40.

Rays rumblings: The annual FanFest is set for Feb. 20; look for details this week. … Julianna Zobrist, talented wife of Ben, sings at 7 tonight at the Manatee County Fair. … Unlike the Marlins, who were publicly spanked, the Rays aren't expected to be questioned over their spending of revenue sharing funds. … A second baseman may be added for depth at Triple A, but the big-league starter will be Zobrist, Rodriguez or Reid Brignac. … 3B Evan Longoria, who has been working out at Arizona's Athletes' Performance Institute, is among the celebs playing in this week's Bob Hope Classic golf event. … SS prospect Tim Beckham made a big impression at last week's winter development program, having lost 10-plus pounds and firmed up.

More rumblings: The Cubs and Yankees are among those interested in ex-Ray Rocco Baldelli. … Senior adviser Don Zimmer on Saturday receives the New York BBWAA's award for "long and meritorious service" to baseball. … RHP Grant Balfour was to join the married ranks Saturday, wedding Angie Kist. … Upton's second Celebrity Golf Classic is Jan. 25 at Tampa's Hunter's Green, benefiting the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. A few spots remain; e-mail [email protected] for info. … Ex-Ray Toby Hall's sold-out tournament benefiting the Miracle League and his foundation is Thursday at the Bayou Club.

Tampa Bay Rays again hoping to avoid arbitration hearings with final four eligible players 01/16/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 16, 2010 8:59pm]
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