12/12/09 10:19 AM EST
Non-tender decisions loom for Rays
Club weighing backstop options as deadline approaches
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
The deadline for teams to tender contracts to players still under their control is 11:59 p.m. ET that night, and how Tampa Bay handle its situation behind the plate for 2010 could start to materialize before then.
Most often, the non-tender deadline applies to young players who are still club controlled but in their arbitration years. The decision to tender a contract becomes difficult when arbitration yields to a raise in salary despite down years, and it becomes even more of a quandary with low-budget clubs like the Rays.
Tampa Bay currently has 10 arbitration-eligible players, and though the decision to tender contracts will be easy to most, it could be a difficult one for its two catchers, Dioner Navarro and Kelly Shoppach.
There's a good chance the Rays will trade one of those two, but in order to do that, they'll either have to swing a quick deal before the deadline or tender both a contract -- since players who are non-tendered go directly into the free-agent pool.
Navarro made $2.1 million during a rough 2009 season that saw him bat just .218 and essentially lose his starting job to Gregg Zaun towards the end of the year. Still, the 24-year-old stands to bump his salary to the $2.5 million-$3 million range via arbitration. Shoppach, meanwhile, made $1.95 million this past season -- when he hit .214 in 89 games for the Indians -- and could see his salary jump to about $2.5 million.
It stands to reason that if Tampa Bay has to pick one of the two, it'd tender a contract to the 28-year-old Shoppach, who the club went out and got for a player to be named later on Dec. 1. But the Rays have been looking to improve their catching, and if they can't find an upgrade elsewhere, they could consider keeping them both as platoon mates for next season.
Another factor that could come into play is the rumored Pat Burrell-for-Milton Bradley trade between the Rays and Cubs. Burrell is owed $9 million next season, while Chicago is on the hook for $21 million over the next two seasons under Bradley's contract -- with $9 million scheduled for 2010. The Cubs will most certainly pick up some of that money, and how much they eat up could affect how the Rays tweak their payroll.
Another possible non-tender candidate for the Rays is right fielder Gabe Gross, who made $1.255 million this past season and looks to be without a defined role at the moment.
Tampa Bay's other arbitration-eligible players are: right-handers Grant Balfour, Lance Cormier and Matt Garza; left-handers Randy Choate and J.P. Howell; center fielder B.J. Upton; and shortstop Jason Bartlett.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.