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Tampa Bay Rays retain catchers Dioner Navarro, Kelly Shoppach at deadline to tender contracts

ST. PETERSBURG — The numbers catcher Dioner Navarro put up last season were so bad the Rays were looking hard at other options. But at the right number, they were willing to give him another chance.

So when Navarro agreed Saturday night to a one-year deal for the same $2.1 million he made last season, the Rays decided they'd stick with the tandem of Navarro and newcomer Kelly Shoppach and hope both improve.

"I feel like we're a better team with both than with one guy and another guy on the market," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said.

They decided by the midnight deadline to not tender contracts to outfielder Gabe Gross, who will be replaced as the left-handed hitting reserve/platoon outfielder by Matt Joyce, and injury-plagued backup catcher Shawn Riggans. There is some interest in bringing back Riggans on a minor-league deal.

And they eliminated any question by striking one-year deals with dependable relievers Lance Cormier ($1.2 million, a solid raise from his $675,000 last season) and Randy Choate ($700,000, up from $500,000). Teams are in good position to cut such deals because they can threaten players with being non-tendered and get cost certainty by eliminating the potential of a high salary award.

All other rostered players, including arbitration eligibles Grant Balfour, Jason Bartlett, Matt Garza, J.P. Howell, B.J. Upton and Shoppach, were tendered.

The catching situation was the most curious. Navarro and Shoppach, acquired Dec. 1 from Cleveland, were coming off similarly bad years and in line for raises.

With Shoppach, who made $1.95 million while hitting .214, they were willing to proceed with arbitration a possibility. But Friedman said it was "very important" to strike a deal with Navarro, who hit .218 with a .583 OPS: "I don't think we would have gone through the process."

Their hope is that Navarro gets back close to his 2008 All-Star form. "We feel like he's capable of a lot more," Friedman said. "He's highly motivated to come out and have a good year."

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays retain catchers Dioner Navarro, Kelly Shoppach at deadline to tender contracts 12/12/09 [Last modified: Sunday, December 13, 2009 12:26am]
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