The Rays struck a one-year, $1.35 million deal with reliever J.P. Howell Monday but went into this morning facing the potential of four arbitration hearings if agreements aren't reached by the 1 p.m. deadline.
The remaining eligibles include two of the Rays' top players: centerfielder B.J. Upton, who is in line to make $6.5 million to $7 million; and lefty starter David Price, expected to get around $4.5 million.
Also in play are starter Jeff Niemann (likely in the $2.5 million-$3 million range) and reliever Burke Badenhop (around $1 million).
Teams and players are set to exchange figures this afternoon, and under Rays policy that marks the end of negotiations to avoid a hearing, which would be next month.
The Rays do it that way for a reason. Actually, two: To facilitate a deal, since most don't happen until a deadline looms, and to avoid settling at what they consider an artificial midpoint between the submitted figures, which can be millions apart. If a case goes to a hearing, the arbitrators pick one of the figures.
The Rays are 4-0 in hearings in the six years under executive vice president Andrew Friedman but would rather avoid a process that can be uncomfortable for both sides.
Howell, who came back in May after missing 2010 due to shoulder surgery, got a slight raise from last year's $1.1 million salary, plus the chance to make another $50,000 based on innings pitched. Howell was 2-3, 6.16 in 46 games.
"I'm extremely pleased to have this deal done," Howell said. "It's been a pleasure through this three-year arbitration (eligibility). The goal in day one of camp for me, and I'm sure everyone in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, is to never, ever lose focus of our process. Our process can win championships, and that's the goal."