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Possible Rays deals dwindle with meetings ending today

Rocco Baldelli went to work out at Tropicana Field on Wednesday morning not knowing how long he would be working for the Devil Rays. He remained their leadoff-hitting centerfielder on Wednesday night, though there continued to be chatter around the winter meetings hotel lobby that he might not be for long.

"I'm still a Devil Ray right now," Baldelli said from his St. Pete Beach home. "I was at the Trop working out. As far as I know I'm still on the team."

Rumors were circulating at various temperatures. One of the hottest had him going to the Braves, who could swap prized pitcher Chuck James, a 25-year-old left-hander who was 11-4, 3.78 last season. There was also speculation about the Orioles (some combination of pitchers Daniel Cabrera, Adam Loewen and Hayden Penn, though the Baltimore Sun reported they aren't sure what the Rays want) and Dodgers (including Chad Billingsley). The White Sox (who didn't get a centerfielder in their Wednesday trade) and Tigers have expressed interest, and the Marlins, who are stocked with young pitchers, remain a possibility though there hasn't been recent contact.

There was talk - later dismissed - of a potential blockbuster trade in which Baldelli would go to Atlanta and All-Star Andruw Jones to the Dodgers.

Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman and staff continued their marathon schedule of exploring and evaluating deals involving Baldelli, other possible trades and a few free agents. But with teams waiting on decisions by several top unsigned free agents as well as the trickle down effect, the Rays seem likely to leave the winter meetings today without making any major moves.

"We've solidified the groundwork on some things," Friedman said. "The timing aspect of it is something that is always a tricky thing to balance."

They have an offer out to free agent closer Octavio Dotel, as do several other teams, and are considering relievers Russ Springer and David Riske as alternatives. They have had trade talks about Jorge Cantu and a few others. They'll likely drop reliever Travis Harper to create 40-man roster space for today's Rule 5 draft, but are expected to trade their No. 1 overall pick for cash. They don't expect to lose anyone, though outfielder Josh Hamilton, who missed four seasons and is recovering from knee surgery, is a long shot possibility. "I'd be surprised," Friedman said.

Also, they plan to resume negotiations Friday with Japanese infielder Akinori Iwamura's agent, Alan Nero, who said Wednesday that he is "concerned" but optimistic about completing a deal by the Dec. 15 deadline; have received the approvals to shift a May 15-17 home series with Texas to Disney's Wide World of Sports complex; had preliminary talks with Scott Kazmir about a long-term deal; and hired former hitting coach Lee Elia as a pro scout.

But a day after saying there was "positive movement on multiple fronts," Friedman sat in his hotel suite and acknowledged that talks had become "stagnant."

That didn't seem to mean the Rays wouldn't make any trades, but that they may be more difficult to consummate - more so than he had hoped and perhaps more than he had expected.

That has become somewhat standard practice as every move has complex financial ramifications. But it seems to be even more so the case in the current market, when the Rays and other teams recognize the tremendous value of their top young players.

As the Rays put a high price on Baldelli as well as Carl Crawford and Delmon Young, other teams are increasingly reluctant to offer the top young players the Rays hope to acquire. That leaves them with the choice of lowering their price - unlikely since they don't have to do a deal - or wait for better offers.

"We're getting to a point where hopefully we'll be able to improve our team," Friedman said.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8801.

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