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12/02/10 11:39 PM EST

Howell, Aybar non-tendered by Rays

Team has interest in re-signing pair, Cormier

The Rays have a lot of roster decisions to make this winter, and they continued in that vein Thursday when they announced that they non-tendered relievers J.P. Howell and Lance Cormier plus infielder/designated hitter Willy Aybar and catcher Dioner Navarro.

With those moves, all four players become free agents, although executive vice president Andrew Friedman indicated that the club is likely to agree to a new contract with Howell and is open to doing so with Aybar and Cormier.

As expected, Tampa Bay tendered contracts to center fielder B.J. Upton, shortstop Jason Bartlett and right-handers Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine. The club also tendered first baseman Dan Johnson, although Friedman said it wasn't a matter of choosing Johnson over Aybar.

Howell's non-tender might have been the biggest surprise considering how big of a cog in the team's bullpen the left-hander had become in the team's American League championship season of 2008 and after earning 17 saves and posting a 2.84 ERA in 2009. But coming off left shoulder surgery that ended his season in May and will likely force him to miss the beginning of 2011, and with a salary of $1.8 million in 2010, Friedman said the Rays decided to non-tender Howell and continue negotiating with the pitcher.

"We had conversations today," Friedman said. "It's still absolutely our intention to reach an agreement with him. We're going to work hard to do that over the coming days. We'd definitely like for him to come back and are cautiously optimistic that we'll be able to do that.

"It's been a good dialogue, and I'd be surprised if we weren't able to work something out."

As for Aybar, the team had already declined his $2.2 million option for 2011, and the veteran bat was initially left off Tampa Bay's American League Division Series roster. But Friedman made a point of saying it wasn't a simple Aybar-for-Johnson swap in the team's mind, and he also mentioned the strategy behind non-tendering Cormier, who made $1.2 million in 2010, in the same answer.

"It's something for us that's not really related," Friedman said. "This applies to Lance and Willy. Right now the market is flooded with players. There's a lot of supply out there, and it's something for us, to maintain some flexibility in which way we go and in understanding the different options.

"When one domino falls, it will help us gain some clarity. But in the meantime, flexibility was important. In both cases, we would have interest in bringing the player back."

The same cannot be said for Navarro, who was the team's everyday catcher in the World Series year of 2008 but lost playing time to the combination of John Jaso and Kelly Shoppach, and then essentially sealed his departure from the Rays by electing to leave the team after being left off the postseason roster.

"It's probably the right time to move on, and it was something that I think was inevitable and that a lot of people anticipated," Friedman said of the Navarro move.

"That said, Navvy was a big part of our success, especially in 2008, and we wish him well. It's just that with Jaso and Shoppach, we felt like we had the guys we were going to go with in 2011, and we'll give him the chance to catch on with another team."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.