ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays lost another reliever Wednesday as Randy Choate went to the Marlins and appear finally to be ready to say goodbye to shortstop Jason Bartlett, with completion to the stalled trade in sight.
Choate was among the free-agent relievers the Rays had hopes of retaining, but he found the guaranteed multiyear deal he was looking for, getting $2.5 million over two years.
Of the potential returnees, Choate and Joaquin Benoit left, and Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler (Red Sox?) appear likely to follow.
"We thought maybe we had a chance of getting them back, but they're all departing, one by one. The exodus continues," manager Joe Maddon said during his Thanks-mas charity event that provides meals to the needy.
"But we're not surprised by it, it's not catching us off guard. We've been planning for this potentiality all along. And we have a lot of good ideas. We just have to continue to wait and be patient and make what we perceive to be the appropriate move at the right time."
Reports of one move, an nbcsports.com post that they were close to signing former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, were not true. Jenks is talking to other teams, the Rays to other relievers.
Choate led the AL with a team- and personal-record 85 appearances in his first full season in the majors, going 4-3, 4.23 as the only lefty for most of the season.
He was interested in returning but said the Marlins were the only team to offer a two-year deal. As for leaving the Rays, Choate said, "Kinda sad, the bullpen had been together a while … but it's the way of the business."
The Bartlett trade for relievers Cesar Ramos and Adam Russell, which was first reported Dec. 8, appears headed toward resolution, potentially today.
The holdup is believed to be related to the physical condition of one of the relievers, apparently Russell, though neither team has addressed the matter. Whether the Rays get a different player, or an additional player, in the deal remains to be seen.
Padres general manager Jed Hoyer told San Diego's 1090-AM there were "a couple different issues" that caused the holdup.
"We're working on some things with Tampa. It's something that I hope can get resolved quickly," Hoyer said. "I am hopeful we can move this to conclusion."
ALSO: Right-hander Jonah Bayliss, who has big-league time with the Royals and Pirates, signed a minor-league deal. … Maddon and Rays staff served more than 200 at the St. Petersburg Salvation Army, with a final stop in Tampa today.
Lee opts for comfort
PHILADELPHIA — Cliff Lee chose comfort and familiarity over more money.
Welcome back to the City of Brotherly Love, Cliff. They already love you here.
"It's plenty of money," Lee said after he and the Phillies finalized a $120 million, five-year contract. "When you hit a certain point, enough's enough. It's just a matter of where you're comfortable, where you're happy, where your family's the most comfortable, what team gives you the best chance to win. At this point, it's about trying to win championships. That's really the No. 1 thing for me. I think this team gives me the best chance to do that."
WERTH ALSO EXCITED: Lee's former teammate in Philadelphia, rightfielder Jayson Werth, said he is in it for the long haul with the Nationals. Werth's $126 million, seven-year contract includes a full no-trade clause, and he repeatedly spoke about helping turn the team around. He waited all of 15 seconds into his opening statement during an introductory news conference at Nationals Park to say he's "on board for many winning seasons ahead."
A'S: Right-hander Rich Harden agreed to terms on a one-year contract, pending a physical.
DODGERS: The club is close to signing right-handed reliever Matt Guerrier, 32, to a three-year deal.
ROCKIES: Former Rays infielder Ty Wigginton agreed to a two-year contract worth $8 million with a club option for 2013.
YANKEES: The club finalized a minor-league contract with right-hander Mark Prior, 30, who hasn't pitched in the majors since 2006.
Information from Times wires was used in this report.