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Rays close to adding new leftfielder in Bautista

The Devil Rays appear ready to fill out their starting lineup with outfielder Danny Bautista.

The Rays appeared to be on the verge of a deal with the free agent Wednesday night, planning to start him in leftfield at least for the first couple months while All-Star Carl Crawford fills in for injured centerfielder Rocco Baldelli.

Though there was no confirmation from either side of an agreement, Rays officials seemed confident their offer of around $2-million would land Bautista, who was sought by several clubs.

"I'm hoping we can get this done; it will give us the outfielder we need," manager Lou Piniella. "He's the type of player who is athletic and can hit .280-.290 for us with decent power."

Bautista, 32, hit .286 with a career high-matching 11 homers and a career-high 65 RBIs last season for Arizona. In parts of 12 seasons, he has a career .272 average playing for the Tigers, Braves, Marlins and Diamondbacks.

General manager Chuck LaMar was in Houston Wednesday, trying to conclude negotiations with top draft choice Jeff Niemann, the No. 4 pick last June, on a package that could be worth more than $5-million.

The Rays' offer is believed to be slightly better and similarly structured to what No. 3 pick Philip Humber took Tuesday from the Mets, a five-year major-league contract that guarantees him $4.2-million (including a $3-million signing bonus) could be worth up to $5.116-million.

If and when the Bautista and Niemann deals are official, the Rays will have to make room for then on the 40-man roster, meaning they will have to trade, release or designate two players for assignment.

While in Houston, LaMar may meet with Crawford in an effort to restart talks about a long-term contract. The Rays brought up the idea last summer and started negotiating then, but both sides agreed the talks were a distraction and agreed to wait until the offseason.

At the time, the Rays made a similar offer to Baldelli.

Also Wednesday, the Rays signed veteran left-handed reliever Mark Guthrie to a minor-league contract. Guthrie, who pitched for the Rays in 2000, was released by the Pirates during spring training last year and didn't pitch.

Over 15 seasons, Guthrie, 39, has a 51-54 record and a 4.05 ERA in 765 games.

MARLINS RETAIN LO DUCA: Paul Lo Duca agreed to an $18-million, three-year contract with Florida, which acquired the two-time All-Star catcher in a trade with the Dodgers last summer.

PONSON BITTER: Sidney Ponson is fed up with being a celebrity in his native Aruba, so the Orioles right-hander said he no longer intends to call the Dutch Caribbean island his home. The right-hander spent a week in an Aruban jail while police investigated allegations that he punched a judge in a beach fight on Christmas.

A'S: Japanese right-hander Keiichi Yabu, 36, agreed to a one-year contract after passing a physical.

D'BACKS: Left-hander Shawn Estes finalized a one-year, $2.5-million contract. Arizona traded infielder Shea Hillenbrand to Toronto for right-handed prospect Adam Peterson.

TWINS: Catcher Joe Mauer has felt no pain in his surgically repaired left knee during workouts in Fort Myers and has declared himself "ready to go."

Information from other news organizations was used in the report.