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12/01/09 3:03 PM EST

Indians deal Shoppach to Rays

Return player to be decided by Dec. 20

The Indians traded Kelly Shoppach to the Rays on Tuesday in exchange for a player to be named, opening the catching duties for a younger collection of talent.

The move frees up playing time behind the plate in Cleveland, where deals in recent years have brought the Indians an array of options. Lou Marson came over from Philadelphia in the Cliff Lee trade and made it to Cleveland late in the year, and Wyatt Toregas broke into the big leagues. Top prospect Carlos Santana, acquired in the Casey Blake deal with the Dodgers in 2008, lingers not far behind. Chris Gimenez is also on the 40-man roster.

General manager Mark Shapiro called catching an area of strength for the club in a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon. He indicated that Marson would enter the year with a chance to start regularly, and said he expects Santana to reach the Majors at some point next season. Any veteran catcher signed this offseason would be expected to take a backup role.

Shoppach, meanwhile, is eligible for arbitration after making $1.95 million this past season. He would've been a candidate to be non-tendered next week.

Shoppach, who will turn 30 years old next April, spent the past four seasons with the Indians, most of them working alongside All-Star Victor Martinez to handle Cleveland's young pitching staff. Shoppach didn't earn an abundance of playing time until 2008, when an injury to Martinez thrust him into a regular role. He responded with 21 home runs and 55 RBIs in 112 games while batting .261.

Those numbers all took a drop during an injury-shortened 2009 campaign. Limited to 89 games and 327 plate appearances, he hit just .214 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs while striking out 98 times. He threw out 15 of 64 (.234) would-be basestealers.

Once the Indians dealt Martinez to Boston and acquired Marson in the Lee trade, the youth movement was apparent, including at catcher.

The Indians and Rays have until Dec. 20 to agree on the player in return. Tampa Bay will now be responsible for handling his arbitration situation.

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