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Tampa Bay Rays avoid arbitration with B.J. Upton

ST. PETERSBURG — Centerfielder B.J. Upton went through the untoward experience of an arbitration hearing — and an unsuccessful one at that — last year. So given the opportunity by the Rays to avoid another and get a healthy raise in the process, Upton took it Monday and settled his case.

The result was a valuable deal — one year for $4.825 million that makes him the Rays' highest-paid player — and an invaluable amount of peace of mind.

"You always evaluate the mind-set of a player, and B.J. is pretty focused and locked in right now," agent Larry Reynolds said. "We didn't think it was a good time in his career for any further distraction. We want to continue the momentum he's built up this offseason.

"It also helped that the team was willing to get this resolved as well. That always helps."

Upton, 26, might have gotten more money had he gone to and won a hearing, but he did pretty well, increasing his salary 62.5 percent from last season's $3 million after hitting .237 with 18 home runs, 62 RBIs, 38 doubles and 42 stolen bases. He can earn an additional $25,000 if he makes 502 plate appearances. Upton will be eligible for arbitration again after this season, then become a free agent in 2013.

With Upton's status resolved, the Rays have one remaining arbitration case, with reliever Andy Sonnanstine, who is eligible for the first time after making $416,900 last season. A settlement (for less than $1 million) seems likely before this afternoon's exchange of figures; if not, under team policy, they will head to a hearing next month.

The Rays have other pending business as well, trying to land another experienced reliever, via trade or from the dwindling but pricey free agent market, and a bat or two.

With lefty Brian Fuentes headed to Oakland and righty Jon Rauch to Toronto, the top options among free agent relievers appear to be Todd Coffey, Manny Delcarmen, Chad Durbin and Aaron Heilman, along with Lance Cormier, whom they nontendered, and lefties Mark Hendrickson (a former Ray) and Ron Mahay.

The pool of available hitters is much more intriguing, with the Rays in position to land an interesting name or two. The top choice appears to be former longtime Angel Vladimir Guerrero, who was not re-signed by Texas after hitting .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBIs at age 35.

Other right-handed options include Jermaine Dye, who sat out last season; Troy Glaus; Andruw Jones, who reportedly is close to a deal with the Yankees; and Manny Ramirez.

Two lefty possibilities, whom the Rays pursued last year, are Johnny Damon, who texted Monday that he was in "stealth mode now" and couldn't comment, and Russell Branyan. Another is former Seminole High star Casey Kotchman, a first baseman who was let go by Seattle and could be available on a minor-league deal.

Outfielder Gabe Kapler is expected to sign a minor-league deal with the Dodgers, the 11th free agent to leave the Rays this offseason. The Rays will get no draft pick compensation for his signing.

Burgess part of Cubs-Nationals deal

CHICAGO — The Cubs reportedly agreed to trade left-hander Tom Gorzelanny to the Nationals for prospects that include outfielder Michael Burgess, a former Hillsborough High standout.

The other prospects are right-hander A.J. Morris and left-hander Graham Hicks.

Gorzelanny, 28, was 7-9 with a 4.09 ERA in 29 games (23 starts) last season. He became expendable when Chicago acquired Rays right-hander Matt Garza.

VOTTO SIGNS: Joey Votto signed a $38 million, three-year deal that allows the Reds to avoid arbitration with the NL MVP. The first baseman, 27, made $525,000 last season.

BLUE JAYS: Right-hander Casey Janssen, 29, settled his arbitration case for $1.1 million. Janssen was 5-2 with a 3.67 ERA, earning $700,000.

INDIANS: Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera agreed to a one-year deal worth $2 million. He made $437,500 last season. He missed two months after breaking his left forearm against the Rays.

NATIONALS: Left-hander John Lannan, 26, avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $2.75 million, one-year contract. He earned $458,000 last season.

ROCKIES: Jason Giambi, 40, agreed to a minor-league deal, hoping to be a late-inning pinch-hitter, and right-hander Matt Lindstrom, 29, agreed to a $6.6 million, two-year deal.

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Top dollar

The Rays with the five highest salaries for 2011:

1. CF B.J. Upton$4.825M
2. OF/2B Ben Zobrist$4.5M
3. RHP James Shields$4.25M
4. C Kelly Shoppach$3M
5. RHP Kyle Farnsworth$2.65M

Tampa Bay Rays avoid arbitration with B.J. Upton 01/17/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 10:37am]
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