ST. PETERSBURG -- The Rays avoided the arbitration process this offseason by agreeing to one-year contracts with Jeff Niemann, Sam Fuld, Matt Joyce and Ryan Roberts on Friday.
Niemann agreed to a one-year contract worth $3 million, avoiding a second straight arbitration hearing. Joyce, arbitration-eligible for the first time, accepted a $2.45 million deal. Fuld, also eligible for the first time, will make $725,000. Roberts, in his second year of arbitration eligibility, received a $2.95 million deal plus incentives.
Niemann, who will turn 30 in February, is getting a modest $250,000 raise from his 2012 salary after missing most of the season due to injury. He was the only Rays player taken to arbitration last year, but he lost, as Tampa Bay remained undefeated in such cases and paid Niemann $2.75 million.
Niemann suffered a broken right leg in May, came back Sept. 1 but immediately went down with a right shoulder injury. Niemann proved to be mostly effective when he was on the mound, posting a 3.08 ERA in 38 innings over eight starts. The 6-foot-9 right-hander has been working out at Tropicana Field, and Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said Tuesday that Niemann should be ready to pitch with no restrictions when Spring Training begins.
Joyce will make nearly $2 million more than he did last season. The 28-year-old outfielder followed up his All-Star campaign in 2011 with a .241/.341/.429 batting line and 17 homers in 2012. Joyce sat out nearly a month last season with an oblique strain. The lefty slugger has hit .254/.344/.466 with 61 homers and 214 RBIs in parts of five seasons in the Majors.
Fuld, 31, made $489,400 last season, but he missed most of the year after undergoing surgery on his right wrist. He hit .255 with a .318 on-base percentage and a .327 slugging percentage in 44 games in 2012 after a breakout 2011 season.
Roberts, 32, came to Tampa Bay last year in a July 24 trade with Arizona and combined to hit .235/.296/.360 with 12 homers, 52 RBIs and 10 steals in 143 games. He turned into a regular in the Rays' lineup, starting 51 of 65 games with Tampa Bay, and batted .218 with six homers to end the season.
Roberts could start at second base in 2013 or figure into a three-man mix between second base and right field. In that scenario, Roberts would start at second and Ben Zobrist in right field against left-handed starters, and Joyce would play right field with Zobrist at second against right-handed starters.
The Rays have gone to arbitration only six times in franchise history and are undefeated in those cases. Under Friedman's regime, Tampa Bay has been to five arbitration hearings and won them all.