Tampa Bay Rays
Hot Stove chatter heats up as deadlines loom
ST. PETERSBURG - The Rays' 2011 roster will come into clearer focus this week after a couple of deadlines are reached. The seven free agents offered arbitration by the club last week have until midnight tonight to accept or decline the offer. Their decisions will give the Rays a clearer indication of what their shopping needs will be this offseason. So will Thursday's deadline to tender contracts to their nine arbitration-eligible players. Also, shortstop Juan Uribe's moving from San Francisco to the Los Angeles Dodgers via free agency could affect the Rays, now that the Giants are in the market for a shortstop and are reportedly interested in Jason Bartlett.The Rays could be looking at a major rebuilding process in their bullpen if relievers Grant Balfour and Randy Choate decline their offers for arbitration. And, since they are represented by the same agents who got Joaquin Benoit his three-year, $16.5 million deal from the Tigers, there's a good chance the two relievers will try their luck on the free-agent market. Carl Crawford and Rafael Soriano will certainly turn down their arbitration offers. It's expected Brad Hawpe and Chad Qualls will do the same. Benoit also was offered arbitration, but it came after he signed with the Tigers and was a formality so the Rays could receive a sandwich pick in the June draft as compensation. The team can receive as many as 10 picks in the first two rounds plus the sandwich round (between the first and second round) if all seven players decline arbitration. That bodes well for the future, but leaves the Rays a little short next season. It also makes Thursday's nontender deadline important. The Rays will likely tender B.J. Upton, Matt Garza, J.P. Howell, Andy Sonnanstine and Bartlett. Dioner Navarro, who signed for $2.1 million last season after receiving the same amount in arbitration the year before, will more than likely not be tendered. The fact the bullpen will be gutted by free agency seems to enhance the chances for Lance Cormier to be tendered. The Rays also must decide on Willy Aybar, whose 2011 team option was declined; and Dan Johnson, who could be a replacement for Carlos Peña at first base. Noteworthy Full shares for the Rays for reaching the American League Division Series are $28,142. ... The Nationals and Orioles have also shown interest in Bartlett. ... The Cubs are reportedly interested in Peña. ... The Rays are reported to be interested in trading for Justin Upton.