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Rays likely to tender all 11 arbitration-eligible players

The Rays are expected to tender contracts by tonight's 8 p.m. deadline to their MLB-most 11 players eligible for arbitration.

That group includes three who qualified under the Super 2 provision based on service-time, which teams sometimes try to manipulate by limiting call-ups early in player's career - RHP Danny Farquhar, INF Tim Beckham and OF Kevin Kiermaier.

Kiermaier, with 2 years and 131 days service, was believed to be right at the cutoff, which includes the top 20 percent of the players with 2-3 years service. As a result, he and the others get to be eligible for arbitration four times rather than the standard three.

Teams have until 8 p.m. tonight to decide, with the players who are non-tendered becoming free agents. With needs for relievers, a catcher and an outfielder/DH and free-agent prices high, the Rays may benefit from the additional inventory, or even be able to make a trade today to get a player who otherwise would be let go elsewhere. …

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Silverman: Rays "disappointed" at lack of small-market help in CBA

Full details of the new collective bargaining agreement are still being finalized and distributed, but Rays baseball operations president Matt Silverman said they haven't particularly liked what they've heard in terms of getting help to close the gap in competitive balance. …

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MLB, union facing midnight deadline for new labor deal

Major League Baseball, despite immense industry-wide profits, could be hours away from its first labor shutdown in more than 20 years.

After an all-night session Tuesday near Dallas, negotiators for the owners and players union will resume talks today spurred by the urgency of the midnight expiration of the current deal - and to save what is nearly a $10-billion industry enjoying immense popularity following the Cubs World Series win from damaging itself.

If they don't reach agreement, the owners have said they are willing to impose a lockout, which while sounding ominous wouldn't initially have much major impact from the fans' perspective except to stop off-season signings and trades and render next week's winter meetings basically moot. (There are other implications we'll get back to shortly.)

Another option, one already being talked about, is that assuming there is reasonable progress toward a deal to negotiate an extension to the current agreement, allowing talks to continue for a few more hours, days, even weeks.

Unlike past labor battles, there is not one key divisive issue in these talks, instead a combination of smaller points that have created a divide. …

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Steve Geltz claimed on waivers by Brewers

RHP Steve Geltz, who was DFA'd last week by the Rays to create roster space, was claimed on waivers by the Brewers.

Geltz made the Rays opening day roster, but pitched his way back to the minors with a rough start, troubled particularly by the long ball. Overall, he posted a 5.74 ERA in 27 games for the Rays, allowing 11 home runs in 26 2/3 innings.

The year before, he was one of the Rays more effective relievers, posting a 3.74 ERA over 70 games, allowing only eight home runs in 67 1/3 innings.

Geltz, 29, was acquired in a spring 2013 trade for RHP Dane De La Rosa. Over parts of three seasons with the Rays he was 2-9, with 2 saves and a 4.22 ERA.


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Butter up! Rays Montgomery team unveils flaky new hat design

Butter up! The Rays always creative-thinking Double-A Montgomery Biscuits team decided to hold a "Design A Hat" contest and came up with quite the winner.

Chicago-based artist Jesse Alkire's "Biscuit Lid" design was chosen in a fan vote of five finalists, and it certainly is eye-catching - and flaky, buttery, and maybe even a bit mouth-watering.

The pictures do much better than any words, but here is how the Biscuits tried:

"The hat features orange and yellow layers resembling a biscuit, with butter separating the layers. Alkire described the hat as "baseball's first hat design fresh baked to look like a fluffy biscuit." The layering also resembles the classic pillbox style hat, a throwback style popularized in the early 20th century and again in the 1970's.''

The new hat - which, Rays minor leaguers will be happy to know won't be worn on the field - will be available on and at the team store, with pre-order opportunities available soon.


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Jason Castro catches on with Twins for a reported $24.5-million

The Rays interest in free-agent C Jason Castro came to an end as the price soared, with Castro agreeing on Tuesday to a three-year deal with the Twins for a reported $24.5-million.

The Times reported on Friday that the Rays had made an initial offer and per agent Fred Wray were "right in the thick of things" to land the former Astros starter.

But with the Twins, Braves and several other teams interested, the price quickly escalted for Castros, who is known as a top pitch-framer but was inconsistent at the plate, hitting .210 last year and .215 over the past three seasons with a .660 OPS.


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A look at Rays 40-man roster

After last week's series of moves, here is an updated look at the Rays 40-man roster, with more changes coming as they have a deadline next week on tendering contracts and will make space for some additions, such as another catcher.

Pitchers (24)
Jose Alvarado*
Matt Andriese
Chris Archer
Brad Boxberger
Xavier Cedeno*
Alex Cobb
Alex Colome
Jacob Faria
Danny Farquhar
Dylan Floro
Eddie Gamboa
Ryan Garton
Taylor Guerrieri
Chih-Wei Hu
Jake Odorizzi
Austin Pruitt
Erasmo Ramirez
Enny Romero*
Jamie Schultz
Drew Smyly*
Blake Snell*
Ryne Stanek
Chase Whitley
Hunter Wood
* - lefthanders

Catchers (3)
Curt Casali
Luke Maile
Justin O'Conner

Infielders (8)
Willy Adames
Tim Beckham
Ryan Brett
Matt Duffy
Logan Forsythe
Evan Longoria
Brad Miller
Daniel Robertson

Outfielders (5)
Corey Dickerson
Nick Franklin
Kevin Kiermaier
Mikie Mahtook
Steven Souza Jr.



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Ex-Rays Burrell, Ramirez among 19 new Hall of Fame candidates

Two players who had short and unsuccessful stints with the Rays - Pat Burrell and Manny Ramirez - are among 19 new candidates on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot released Monday.

Of more significance, Ramirez is joined by catcher Ivan Rodriguez, outfielder Vladimir Guerrero and shortstop Edgar Rentería among the group of newcomers.

They join 15 holdovers, led based on votes received last year by 1B Jeff Bagwell, along with OF Tim Raines, RHP Trevor Hoffman and RHP Curt Schilling.

Ballots were mailed to more than 400 voting members of the BBWAA, with 75 percent of the ballots cast needed for election. Results will be announced Jan. 18.

The ballot:
Jeff Bagwell
Casey Blake
Barry Bonds
Pat Burrell
Orlando Cabrera
Mike Cameron
Roger Clemens
J.D. Drew
Carlos Guillén
Vladimir Guerrero
Trevor Hoffman
Jeff Kent
Derrek Lee
Edgar Martínez
Fred McGriff
Melvin Mora
Mike Mussina
Magglio Ordóñez
Jorge Posada
Tim Raines
Manny Ramírez
Edgar Rentería
Arthur Rhodes
Iván Rodríguez
Freddy Sánchez
Curt Schilling
Gary Sheffield
Lee Smith
Sammy Sosa
Matt Stairs


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Rays trade Motter and Shaffer to Mariners, add 8 prospects to roster

UPDATE, 7:43: The Rays added eight prospects to their 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft: INF Willy Adames, LHP Jose Alvarado, RHP Chih-Wei Hu, INF Daniel Robertson, RHP Austin Pruitt, RHP Jaime Schultz, RHP Ryne Stanek, RHP Hunter Wood.

DEVELOPING: In working to clear space to add promising young players to their roster, the Rays shipped out two players who they previously had considered prospects, trading INF Richie Shaffer and INF/OF Taylor Motter to the Mariners for three minor-leaguers. …

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Rays "right in the thick of things" for free-agent C Jason Castro

The Rays have made an "initial" offer to free-agent C Jason Castro and are "right in the thick of things" among several teams, per agent Fred Wray of ISE Baseball.

Castro, 29, is on the market after playing the last six seasons with the Astros, earning a reputation as a top pitch framer. He has been inconsistent offensively, posting a .210 average and .684 OPS last season, but hits lefthanded and has some power, which could pair well with either of the Rays right-handed hitting catchers, Curt Casali and Luke Maile.

"Rays have made an initial offer and are right in the thick of things and being considered by Jason,'' Wray said via text.

Wray said there is no timetable yet for a decision, that they are "are working through multiple offers and weighing options/opportunity.''

The Rays have competition for Castro, who is considered the second best healthy catcher on the free-agent market after Matt Wieters (Orioles). Wilson Ramos (Nationals) is expected to be sidelined into the season as he recovers from knee surgery. The Twins and Braves are both known to be among the teams interested, and the White Sox may be as well.

Castro made $5-million last season after losing an arbitration case against the Astros, having made $4-million in 2015. There have been some reports suggesting he is seeking at least a three-year deal, but Wray said it was too soon to be that specific.

Castro was an All-Star in 2013, when he hit .276 with 18 homers, 56 RBIs and an .835 OPS, but has not been as productive since, hitting .215 while averaging 12 homers and 40 RBIs in the three seasons since with a .660 OPS. …

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Rays release spring training schedule, ticket info

The Rays released their spring training schedule Friday, with 18 games in Port Charlotte, including a March 8 exhibition against the Colombian World Baseball Classic team, and six in the immediate Tampa Bay area, including the March 31 finale at Clearwater.

The Rays prefer not to face their AL East foes too often in the spring, and six games each against the NL Central Pirates and AL Central Twins helps, but they still have 16 games against the Blue Jays, Orioles, Red Sox and Yankees. They have one day of split-squad games (March 14) also have three off-days, March 6, 16 and 27.

The first workout for pitchers and catchers under third-year manager Kevin Cash will be Feb. 14, and the full squad on Feb. 19, with all teams getting an earlier start due to the WBC being contested in mid- to late-March. Voluntary report days are Feb. 12 and 17.

The Rays announced ticket information but not detailed prices, saying they are taking deposits now on season tickets (starting at $325), will offer three-game packs during a Cyber Monday promotion Nov. 28 (starting at $51 per pack, which is a $2 discount per game for most) and open single-game sales Jan. 13. Specific prices will be released later. …

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Roster shuffle coming at deadline to add/protect prospects

Friday will be a busy day for the Rays, as they and the other teams have until 8 p.m. to add prospects to their roster to protect them from being taken in the Rule 5 draft.

And having lost two OFs in last year's draft - Tyler Goeddel and Joey Rickard - the Rays may be more protective than before.

The Rays have five prospects who seem certain to be protected, and at least two others likely to get strong consideration, and with only four spots open on their 40-man roster they will have to make some moves to make space.

Among players who could be dropped, or traded, are LHP John Lamb, who was claimed last month from the Reds; RHP Steve Geltz, who was ineffective most of last season; rookie RHPs Ryan Garton and Eddie Gamboa, who both debuted last season; plus INFs Tim Beckham and Taylor Motter, who were not called up at end of the season due to attitude issues. C Bobby Wilson was dropped earlier this week.

Among the prospects under discussion to be added:

SS Willy Adames, 21: Top rated prospect played last season at Double-A Montgomery, hitting .274 with 11 homers, 57 RBIs and .802 OPS. Was acquired from Tigers in David Price trade. …

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Rays to throw first pitch of 2017 season

The Rays will throw the first pitch of the 2017 season, with MLB announcing a 1:10 start for the April 2 game against the Yankees at Tropicana Field, with ESPN providing national coverage.

The Rays-Yankees game will be one of three games shown on Sunday, with four more on Monday, April 3, as part of an opening-day showcase, commissioner Rob Manfred announced in Chicago at the conclusion of the owners meetings.

The Rays also threw the final pitch of the 2016 regular season, with Erasmo Ramirez striking out Delino DeShields to secure their 6-4, 10-inning win at Texas.

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About that AL Cy Young race and the two Tampa Bay voters ...

The AL Cy Young race turned out to be close, which in turn made it controversial, with Boston's Rick Porcello finishing just five points ahead of Detroit's Justin Verlander.

Much is being made - most, um, colorfully by Verlander's fiancee Kate Upton in an NSFW Twitter storm - over the fact that the two voters from Tampa Bay BBWAA chapter left Verlander off their five-man ballot.

First, the voters in question are two veteran writers, Bill Chastain of and Fred Goodall of the Associated Press, who put time, research and effort into casting their ballots, and voted for the five pitchers they thought were most deserving.

As chairman of the Tampa Bay chapter, I assigned Chastain and Goodall to have the Cy Young vote. I was confident then, as I am now, that they handled the assignment thoughtfully and responsibly. I was in communication with both tonight and both felt comfortable with their ballots, and somewhat surprised at the controversial reaction, which included everything from charges of incompetence to accusations of a payoff or vendetta.

The point is, they were qualified voters who had the right to vote however they thought most right. …

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Joe Maddon's tribute to former Rays advisor Don Zimmer

World Series champion Cubs manager Joe Maddon used his time on Tuesday's MLB Network Manager of the Year awards show to showcase the tribute to former Rays advisor Don Zimmer that rests in the backyard of his Tampa home - a neon sign from the Derby Lane greyhound track.

Maddon set up for the live shot in front of the sign, and explained it to the hosts and national TV audience before announcement of the results, in which he finished second to Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.

Zimmer was an advisor with the Rays when Maddon took over in 2006, and Maddon would draw often on his advice, crediting him specifically for convincing him to use the first-and-third safety squeeze play Maddon now favors. Zimmer, who managed the Cubs in 1988-91, died in June 2014. …

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