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Rays, McCracken settle peacefully

Outfielder gets one-year deal; team steers clear of arbitration process again.

The Devil Rays have a spotless record when it comes to arbitration. Zero wins, zero losses, zero squabbling between players and management.

Tampa Bay cleared its slate of potential arbitration cases on Monday by agreeing to a one-year deal with Quinton McCracken for a $1.85-million base salary with up to $350,000 in incentives if he surpasses 550 plate appearances.

The Rays offered $1.85-million in arbitration and McCracken was seeking $2.2-million. He made $1.85-million last season.

In the past three years, the Rays have had 17 arbitration-eligible players and have avoided going to a single hearing.

"The arbitration process is a vehicle that is available if the two parties are extremely far apart in contract talks and it is a process the Devil Rays are not afraid of using," general manager Chuck LaMar said.

"However, it is preferable if the two sides can come to an understanding instead of letting a third party make the decision, and we've worked very hard at being extremely fair."

McCracken, 29, was the team MVP in 1998, but missed almost all of last year after blowing out his right knee while trying to catch a Juan Gonzalez home run. He recently worked out for Rays officials who were satisfied his knee was in good shape.

McCracken's next obstacle is winning his job back in spring training. He is expected to compete with free agent signee Gerald Williams for the starting job in centerfield.

If McCracken does not beat out Williams, he could be used as a fourth outfielder or might be traded.

Along with McCracken's contract, the Rays announced the signing of former All-Star Mariano Duncan to a minor league deal. Duncan, 36, was a premier utility player in the mid-1990s but has not played in the majors since the end of the '97 season.

He played in Japan in '98 and was released by the Mets at the end of spring training in '99.

Duncan signed with Bridgeport of the independent Atlantic League last year and was hitting .356 when the Marlins signed him to a minor league contract. He played two games at Triple-A Calgary before tearing his right Achilles tendon.

Duncan can provide insurance for the Rays in the infield, but is a likely candidate to begin the season at Triple-A Durham or with the Mexico City Tigers, with whom the Rays have a working agreement.

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