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OF in fold, Rays look for more

Top pick, a 2B (Roberto Alomar?) could follow Danny Bautista to town.

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 14, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - The Devil Rays completed their lengthy negotiations with Danny Bautista on Thursday, agreeing with the free-agent outfielder on a one-year, $1.9-million deal.

As interesting were two other developments:

Talks in Houston with top draft pick Jeff Niemann went well enough that general manager Chuck LaMar said he was confident the hard-throwing right-hander would be signed in the next few days.

The Rays also are giving serious consideration to signing a veteran second baseman, with 12-time All-Star Roberto Alomar the most intriguing possibility.

The Rays plan for Bautista, 32, to be their everyday leftfielder until Rocco Baldelli returns from a knee injury, then to be a dependable extra man. "He's a great fit for us," LaMar said. "He's an experienced outfielder and he's played on winning teams. We like everything about him."

Manager Lou Piniella welcomed Bautista, who hit .286 with a career-high-matching 11 homers and a career-high 65 RBIs last season for Arizona. "He gives us a good professional bat in the middle of the lineup," he said.

Bautista, who can earn another $100,000 in incentives, had offers from several other teams but said he liked the idea of playing in Florida and for Piniella. "I played against those guys last year and I saw a lot of talent," he said. "I'm the kind of player, I want to do good."

The Rays are believed to have offered Niemann, the No. 4 pick, a package worth more than $5-million, including a five-year major-league contract.

"We had a good meeting and I think we'll have the opportunity to get a deal with Jeff done in the next several days," LaMar said.

The Rays had been talking about playing Jorge Cantu at second base and signing a veteran utility infielder. But they seem willing to explore signing a proven starter and using Cantu, who made an impressive debut at the end of last season, as the utilityman.

"We like him a lot, but pencilling him in for 600 at-bats might be a little much," LaMar said.

Alomar, 37 next month, hit .263 last year in 56 games for the D'backs and White Sox. Though he hasn't had a big year since 2001 (.336 with 20 homers and 100 RBIs for Cleveland), he has a career .300 average and is 276 hits shy of the 3,000 mark that should ensure election to the Hall of Fame.

LaMar also talked to Carl Crawford's agent about reopening negotiations on a long-term deal.

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