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Decisions loom for Rays on Price, Upton deals

ST. PETERSBURG -  Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher David Price is inching closer to the biggest payday of his professional career. The same goes for center fielder B.J. Upton. The two are the priciest of the four remaining arbitration-eligible Rays, a list that includes starter Jeff Niemann and recently acquired right-handed reliever Burke Badenhop. Major league teams have until noon today to exchange contract figures with the representatives of their arbitration-eligible players. If agreements are not reached, the sides head to arbitration hearings, which begin Feb. 1. The Rays avoided arbitration Monday with reliever J.P. Howell by agreeing on a one-year, $1.35 million deal that includes performance bonuses.
Price reached Super Two status this past season and opted out of the final year of the six-year deal he signed Aug. 15, 2007 that would have paid him $1.5 million for the upcoming season. The two-time All-Star, who finished second in the 2010 American League Cy Young Award voting, will earn much more than that despite going 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA in 2011 after going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA in 2010. Price did set career highs last summer in innings pitched (224 1/3) and strikeouts (218). He joined Scott Kazmir (2007) and James Shields (2011) as the only pitchers in team history to record at least 200 strikeouts. Arbitration could be avoided should the two sides agree today on a contract for the 2012 season. The Rays have a history of settling with their arbitration-eligible players. One reason is they discontinue negotiations once figures are exchanged. Another is most players try to avoid arbitration, where the Rays have never lost. Upton went through arbitration in 2010 and lost. Arbitration-eligible for the first time that winter, Upton sought $3.3 million but was awarded $3 million. Last season, Upton avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $4.825 million salary, which stood as the highest on the team until the Rays signed Johnny Damon on Feb. 1 to a one-year, $5.25 million deal. This is Upton's final year of arbitration eligibility. He will be a free agent after next season. He continued his up-and-down career last season by hitting .243 with 23 home runs, 81 RBIs, 36 stolen bases (caught stealing 16 times), a .331 on-base percentage and a .429 slugging percentage. His production picked up Sept. 5 when he was moved to the No. 2 spot in the batting order. Upton responded by hitting .356 with five home runs, 14 RBIs, eight doubles, 10 walks, eight stolen bases, a .462 on-base percentage and a .644 slugging percentage over the final 23 games of the regular season. Upton's late-season production coupled with his blend of power, speed and defense is expected to bring his 2012 salary into the $6 million neighborhood. Niemann and Badenhop will get raises, but not along the lines of Price and Upton. Howell, who missed the 2010 season while rehabbing from shoulder surgery and was non-tendered after the season, signed for $1.1 million last winter. "I'm extremely pleased with my contract," Howell said. "The goal in Day 1 of camp for me, and I'm sure everyone in the Rays organization is to never lose focus of the process. Our process is to win championships, and that's the goal." Niemann, entering his first year of arbitration, made $903,000 in 2011. The Marlines paid Badenhop $750,000 last year.

rmooney@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7227

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