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Rays, Iwamura confident as deal nears completion

Details close to being worked out for Japanese infielder.

By Marc Topkin
Published December 14, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Owner Stuart Sternberg isn't sending a private plane like the Red Sox did for Daisuke Matsuzaka, but the Devil Rays appear close to landing their own promising Japanese import, infielder Akinori Iwamura.

Agent Alan Nero said Wednesday night that the major issues have been "pretty much resolved" and a deal could be finalized well before the midnight Friday deadline.

"I'm much more optimistic than I was earlier," Nero said. "We're getting there. We're making progress. We're still not there, but we're working on it."

Executive vice president Andrew Friedman said both sides made "significant" concessions and he too believes a successful resolution is now in sight.

"We remain very optimistic that we'll get a deal done well in advance of the midnight Friday deadline," he said

One of the major issues apparently resolved is the length of the contract. The Rays wanted the standard six years on contractual control, but Nero sought a shorter term, which other foreign players have received.

A compromise of four years seems probable, possibly a three-year deal plus a one-year option, likely in excess of $10-million. Plus, the Rays will have to pay a $4.55-million posting fee to Iwamura's former team, Yakult.

The Rays also spent time talking about - and to - players who became free agents when not tendered contracts by their former teams. Among those of interest: pitchers Jason Bulger, Scott Dohmann, Joel Pineiro, Chris Reitsma and Todd Williams, and possibly second baseman Marcus Giles, though the infield is already crowded.

Agent Tom O'Connell said Williams, a Land O'Lakes resident who was 2-4, 4.74 for Baltimore last season, "would love" to join the Rays. "It would be a nice fit," he said. "Tampa Bay is one of the clubs high on our list."

Also:

Ex-Rays catcher Toby Hall, nontendered by the Dodgers, said several teams called and he expected better options (Phillies? White Sox? Yankees?) than a minor-league contract the Rays might offer. "That was funny," Hall said. "I guess it would be a minor-league contract because they're a minor-league team."

Rays officials and players will be at Disney today to officially announce the shift of the May 15-17 series with Texas.

O'Connell said there was "significant interest" in nontendered outfielder Damon Hollins.