ST. PETERSBURG — Neither side particularly wants to be in a hotel room today, arguing over how much pitcher Jeff Niemann should be worth to the Rays this season.
But the lack of an agreement by the Jan. 17 filing deadline led them here, and for three hours reps for both will make their cases — at times pointedly — before a three-arbiter panel which will decide between the Rays' $2.75 million offer and Niemann's $3.2 million request. A decision is expected Friday.
"Going to a hearing is definitely a sub-optimal outcome for both sides,'' Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman said. "That being said, the process is in place for the rare instances where both sides have a philosophical disagreement on a player's salary.''
Niemann, 28, went 11-7, 4.06 in 23 games last season, spending six weeks on the disabled list with a back strain. Niemann's pay scale has been a little unusual as he signed a five-year, $5.2 million major-league contract after the 2004 draft that paid him $1.29 million in 2009, and his salary was cut the next two seasons, to $1.032 million in 2010 and to $903,000 in 2011.
The Rays — who are 5-0 overall in arbitration (the majors' only undefeated team) and 4-0 in the Friedman regime — will be represented by general counsel/senior vice president John Higgins and the Proskauer Rose law firm. Niemann is expected to join his agents, the Hendricks brothers.
• First baseman Dan Johnson, who added to his resume of dramatic hits with a two-strike, two-out ninth-inning homer that tied Game 162 last season, signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox.
Johnson, 32, said he looks back fondly on his time with the Rays — they made the playoffs in each of his three seasons — and said "there's no bitterness at all" about not being re-signed. "The memories are irreplaceable," he said.
Johnson, happy to be healthy after a rough 2011, will compete for a bench spot behind first baseman Paul Konerko and DH Adam Dunn: "My hope is just to be able to stay healthy and go out and prove myself again and work my way back into a relevant role.''
• Right-hander Juan Cruz, who was 5-0, 3.88 in 56 games last season, signed a minor-league deal with the Pirates.
Around the majors
NO CHARGES: Dodgers first baseman James Loney won't face criminal charges resulting from a Nov. 14 traffic accident in which he was briefly detained on suspicion of DUI, a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office confirmed. All of Loney's toxicology tests came back negative.
BLUE JAYS: Right-handed reliever Francisco Cordero, 36, finalized a $4.5 million, one-year deal.
MARINERS: Infielder Carlos Guillen, 36, who played for Seattle from 1998-2003, agreed to a minor-league deal.
NATIONALS: Right-handed reliever Chad Durbin, 34, agreed to a minor-league deal.
PADRES: Right-hander Micah Owings, 29, agreed to a minor-league deal.
Information from Times wires was used in this report. Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]m.