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01/06/10 2:16 PM EST

Rays hope to get deals done soon

Team sets deadline to sign arbitration-eligible players

ST. PETERSBURG -- Kelly Shoppach's signing on Tuesday marked the first day of Major League Baseball's salary arbitration filing period.

By signing Shoppach to a two-year deal worth $5.55 million, the Rays avoided the arbitration process with their newly acquired catcher for the next two seasons. Management must now deal with the team's four remaining arbitration-eligible players: Matt Garza, B.J. Upton, J.P. Howell and Jason Bartlett.

Major League Baseball's salary arbitration filing period runs through Jan. 15. During this period, players under the club's control who have three to six years of Major League service can file. In addition, any player designated as a "Super 2" can also file.

The formula for being classified as a Super 2 calls for the player to have at least two years of service -- but fewer than three -- with 86 days of service the previous year, and they must rank in the top 17 percent of all two-year players in the area of service time.

The final category of arbitration-eligible players contains free-agent players who accepted arbitration.

Players having six or more years of Major League service can file for free agency after the World Series. At that point, the club has the option of offering that player arbitration. If the player accepts, he ceases to be a free agent and is again bound to his club. If he does not accept, he becomes a free agent, meaning he can sign with any club, even the one he played for the previous year. By offering arbitration to a free agent, the club sets itself up for the possibility to receive compensation in the form of Draft picks.

If the Rays do not reach contract agreements with their remaining players, the next step is for both parties to file numbers by Jan. 19.

"We have until the 19th to reach an agreement," said Andrew Friedman, Rays executive vice president of baseball operations. "And for the most part, the last couple of years, we've been very successful avoiding a hearing. There have been instances where we haven't been able to [reach an agreement]. And that's why the system is in place.

"It's definitely sub-optimal for both parties. But the process is in place for a reason. And it's always our goal and intent to avoid a hearing, and that's exactly how we'll tackle our four remaining situations."

Most clubs continue to negotiate with their players after numbers are filed right up until the day of the player's arbitration hearing, which is when the player's case is reviewed and an arbitrator decides either in favor of the club or the player.

However, the Rays' self-imposed policy is to conclude their negotiating by the numbers filing deadline. So if the Rays do not reach an agreement with the above mentioned four by Jan. 19, those players not reaching an agreement will see their cases go to arbitration.

In the past, Gerry Hunsicker, the Rays' senior vice president of baseball operations, has explained the rationale behind the club's hard-line stance.

"Typically you don't get a deal done until the 11th hour, so by implementing this strategy, we've essentially tried to move the 11th hour up," Hunsicker said.

Hunsicker further stated that the club's policy is not something the Rays have used in a threatening way and that they are open and forthright with the players and their representatives.

"The players fully understand that from the beginning of the process," Hunsicker said. "As long as we have this as our policy, we will not enter into any additional dialogue after we file numbers."

Josh Paul and Dioner Navarro are the only Rays players to go to arbitration during Friedman's tenure. Paul went to arbitration twice and lost on both occasions, and Navarro went to arbitration last year and lost, as well.

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