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OF, draft pick talks near conclusion

The Devil Rays continued talks Tuesday with free-agent outfielder Danny Bautista and top draft pick Jeff Niemann, seeking to close deals with both in the next few days. And they listened to the Orioles, who are expressing serious interest in slugger Aubrey Huff.

The Rays have been negotiating for nearly a week with Bautista, who hit .286 with 11 homers and 65 RBIs last season for Arizona, hoping to use him in leftfield as Carl Crawford plays center until Rocco Baldelli returns from a knee injury.

Bautista may be trying to get other teams involved, but the Rays may have another option: Jeromy Burnitz, who appeared headed to Arizona before the D'backs got Shawn Green, could be more receptive to talking with the Rays.

If the Rays don't sign an outfielder, they will likely move Huff to leftfield and sign a first baseman, probably Travis Lee, and explore adding a second baseman, such as Alex Cora.

The lengthy negotiations with Niemann appear to be headed to conclusion, with the sides discussing a five-year deal that could be worth more than $5-million. General manager Chuck LaMar is planning to go to Houston today for face-to-face talks with the right-handed power pitcher, the No. 4 pick in the June draft.

Rice teammate Philip Humber, who was taken third overall, signed with the Mets on Tuesday, getting a five-year major-league deal worth a guaranteed $4.2-million (including a $3-million signing bonus) and up to $5.116-million. The Rays are believed to have offered Niemann a similarly structured package with a greater total value.

The Rays are unlikely to trade Huff, their top run-producer. But the Orioles, thus far unable to add offense through free agency, are trying to get them to at least consider it. If the talks get serious, the Orioles could offer pitching prospects such as Erik Bedard, Hayden Penn and John Maine, as well as a second baseman, Brian Roberts or Jerry Hairston.

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