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Tampa Bay Rays reach deal with Jason Bartlett but head to arbitration hearings with Dioner Navarro, Willy Aybar

ST. PETERSBURG — For $550,000, the Rays could have settled their remaining two arbitration cases by Tuesday's self-imposed deadline and been done with the process.

But because of the (relatively small) gap in negotiations with All-Star catcher Dioner Navarro and utility infielder Willy Aybar, and a team policy to halt talks once figures are exchanged, the Rays have to deal next month with two hearings and the potential for contentiousness that comes with them.

Senior vice president Gerry Hunsicker said there was "genuine and serious dialogue" right up until the noon deadline, and he was "disappointed" deals were not reached. The players' salaries now will be set by an arbitrator.

Navarro filed for $2.5 million; the Rays offered $2.1 million. He made $412,500 last season when he led Rays regulars with a .295 average. "We were close," agent Kendall Almerico said. "There was a difference of opinion."

Aybar, a key reserve, sought $1.050 million; the Rays offered $900,000. He made $401,200 last season.

The Rays were able to make a deal with shortstop Jason Bartlett, agreeing to a one-year contract for $1,981,250. Bartlett made $416,600 last season, earning team MVP honors for his defensive contributions.

"I'm so happy to be done with that," Bartlett said. "Now I can just think about playing ball and having fun."

The Rays have had only three arbitration hearings in team history (beating Esteban Yan in 2002, Josh Paul in 2006 and 2007), and never with a key player such as Navarro.

Hunsicker acknowledged that going to a hearing, where team officials often have to downgrade a player's performance to the arbitrator, "puts the club in a somewhat difficult position because obviously they are our assets, they are … a very important part of our organization. … Some players take offense to it, and it can very disruptive and lingering. Others understand this is just the business part of the game."

Hunsicker said the team and agent need to make sure the player doesn't take it personally.

Navarro said that won't be a problem. "Business is business," he said. "I want to play here the rest of my life. They've got to do what they've got to do, and I've got to do what I've got do. I'm trying to get ready for another World Series. I won't take anything personally. Stuff happens."

More Rays news:

• RHP Dewon Day, claimed off waivers from Boston then designated for assignment last week, cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Durham, with an invitation to big-league camp.

• RHP Matt Garza was included on Mexico's provisional World Baseball Classic roster as a matter of procedure; the Rays will inform officials of his offseason right foot surgery and expect he will be declared ineligible as specified in tournament rules.

Tampa Bay Rays reach deal with Jason Bartlett but head to arbitration hearings with Dioner Navarro, Willy Aybar 01/20/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 7:29am]
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