November 2010

Tigers reportedly close to signing V-Mart

A report out of Venezuela indicates that the Tigers are close to a deal with free-agent catcher and former division foe Victor Martinez.
El Nacional reported Tuesday that Martinez has agreed to a four-year, $50 million contract to join the Tigers, who would use him at catcher, first base and designated hitter. FOXSports.com confirmed the report, though the team had not announced anything.
Martinez, a Type A free agent, would cost the Tigers a first-round Draft pick as compensation to the Red Sox. The Tigers have the No. 19 overall pick in the first round of next year’s Draft.
A switch-hitter, Martinez would give the Tigers middle-of-the-order protection from both sides of the plate, and his ability to play first would allow them to still use Alex Avila regularly behind the plate.
Martinez, who turns 32 next month, is a career .300 hitter with an .838 OPS over nine Major League seasons. The four-time All-Star came up with the Indians in 2002 and established himself as one of the premier offensive catchers in the league before getting dealt to the Red Sox at the Trade Deadline in 2009. In 2010, Martinez batted .302 with 20 homers, 32 doubles, 79 RBIs and an .844 OPS.
– Anthony Castrovince

D-Train heads to Cincinnati

Still hoping for another shot at being a productive pitcher in the big leagues, Dontrelle Willis — one of the best young lefties in the game for a four-year stretch with the Marlins — signed a Minor League contract with the Reds on Monday.

Willis’ deal includes an invitation to Spring Training. And because of the depth in Cincinnati’s starting rotation, the long-time starter is going to try to pitch out of the bullpen, even though he’s only made three relief appearances in his big league career.

From 2003-06, Willis went a combined 58-39 with a 3.44 ERA and averaged 32 starts per year. But from 2007-10, he went 13-24 with a 5.81 ERA while averaging just 16 starts a year and striking out only 22 more batters than he walked.

In December 2007, Willis was given a three-year, $29 million contract, but the final year of that deal proved to be the tipping point. That season, the 28-year-old was designated for assignment by the Tigers on May 30, dealt to the Diamondbacks for Billy Buckner two days later, released by Arizona on July 6 and signed by the Giants to a Minor League contract on July 14.

With the Tigers and D-backs, Willis posted a 5.62 ERA while walking 56 and striking out 47 in 15 games (13 starts).

– Alden Gonzalez   

Roundup: Arbitration decisions looming

Thanksgiving week is upon us, but there’s still plenty of time for the Hot Stove before the turkey hits the table. There’s also tomorrow’s deadline for team’s to decide if they want to offer arbitration to their eligible free agents. A lot of factors go in to team’s decisions this time of year, but keep in mind that teams can make offers of arbitration to free agents, even if they plan to decline and depart, in order to reap the draft benefits. What impact will this have on the free agent market? Only time will tell but with these decisions on the horizon, let’s take a brief look at what’s going on around the league: 
-Speaking of the arbitration deadline, one of the Orioles biggest decisions leading up to it will be whether or not to offer arbitration to reliever Koji Uehara. According to MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli, the O’s have shown significant interest in retaining Uehara, and have remained in contact with his representatives. Uehara, who served as the O’s closer down the stretch, registered a 2.86 ERA out of the ‘pen in 2010. His strong season could put him in line for a significant raise, perhaps netting upwards of $8 million, Ghiroli speculated. 
- Justin Upton talks have continued after the general manager meetings. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported last Friday that 15-16 teams had approached the D-backs about acquiring the young slugger. Upton has four teams on his no-trade list, including the Athletics, Mariners, Tigers and Royals. On Monday, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.com clarified on Twitter that the Mariners were one of the teams Upton had chosen to block from acquiring him, not the Indians as he had previously reported. The Blue Jays, Marlins, Orioles, Red Sox, Royals and Yankees have been said to have interest in Upton. 
- Free agent Eric Hinske is being courted in the early stages of the offseason by the Braves and the Brewers, according to a Twitter report from Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports. The 33-year-old hit .256 with 11 home runs in a bench/platoon role with Atlanta last year. Hinske has said he’d like to return to the Braves, who according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman offered the outfielder/first baseman a one-year deal in the range of $1.5 million last week. Hinske is said to be looking for a two-year deal. 
- There are six or seven teams interested in free agent right-hander Brandon McCarthy, according to a report from Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com. Teams interested in McCarthy include the Athletics, Astros, D-backs, Brewers, Padres, Mariners, and Tigers. McCarthy, who has endured his share of shoulder injuries, has been looking good in the Dominican Winter League, Morosi noted. 
- The A’s pitching situation for 2011 is apparently still evolving amidst the news that talks with Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma have stalled. The two sides will still have until Dec. 7 to hammer out a deal, but it’s not looking good. According to Iwakuma’s agent Don Nomura, the A’s offered Iwakuma a four-year deal worth $15.25 million. Iwakuma and his agent, though, were looking for something more similar to the contracts of Hiroki Kuroda (three years, $35.3 million) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (six years, $52 million).
Stay tuned to the MLB.com Hot Stove blog for updates on all the action. 
Bailey Stephens

What arbitration deadline day means to Red Sox

Tomorrow is the first built-in deadline of the off-season. By midnight
– as Tuesday turns into Wednesday — all clubs must decide whether or
not to offer their six-year free agents arbitration.

If you
don’t offer a free agent arbitration, you lose any right to get draft
compensation for that free agent should he sign elsewhere.

This
is why it is a guarantee that the Sox will offer arbitration to Type A
free agents Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre. They will get two picks
for Martinez and two for Beltre should they find new homes. Both Beltre
and Martinez have a week to decide if they want to accept arbitration.
Neither player will accept because if they did, it would guarantee they
had to stay with the Red Sox and take them off the free agent market,
thus taking away all their leverage. The Type A free agent who would
accept an arbitration offer if he got one is someone coming off a bad
year. Manny Ramirez is a perfect example. The Red Sox took a gamble and offered Jason Varitek
arbitration in 2008 and were very lucky that Varitek declined.
Otherwise, they would have paid him twice what he wound up getting.

The Sox have two Type B free agents this year — Jason Varitek
and Felipe Lopez. It’s doubtful the Sox will offer arbitration to
Varitek because that would guarantee him a salary of somewhere around
$3 million. As a backup, he probably isn’t going to get that on the
open market. Most people believe that the only reason the Sox signed
Lopez late in the season after the Cardinals released him was because
of the potential for compensation. The Red Sox would get one pick in
the sandwich round — between the first and second round — if someone
signs Lopez. However, with Lopez coming off such a poor year, it could
be a gamble because he might actually accept arbitration. Under that
scenario, the Sox could avoid paying the bulk of his salary by
releasing him late in Spring Training. They could also try to trade him.

‘Serious’ Angels-Crawford talks reported

According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, an unnamed Major League source says the Angels have engaged in “serious talks” with free agent left fielder Carl Crawford, who is expected to command a deal in the five-year, $100 million range. Crawford is close with Torii Hunter, who has made no secret of his desire to have Crawford join him in the Angels’ outfield.

The Angels have a club policy of not commenting on specific free agents and have neither confirmed nor denied interest in Crawford, who would provide Gold Glove defense, consistent offense and the blazing speed they lost in the top third of their batting order when Chone Figgins left for Seattle.– Lyle Spencer

Cliff Lee’s payday is coming

It is no secret that the Yankees are willing to dig deep to get Cliff Lee into pinstripes for next season and beyond, but the Boston Globe has a ballpark number for the contract the Bombers are thinking of right now – five years at approximately $115 to $120 million, the newspaper reported Sunday.

It is generally thought that no one will be able to outbid the Yankees for Lee – not even the Rangers, as team president Nolan Ryan acknowledged last week. That doesn’t necessarily mean Lee will decide to head to the Bronx, and his agent, Darek Braunecker, has said that he expects the process to go on a while longer. The Nationals are also thought to be interested.
Lee’s friend, CC Sabathia, squeezed an extra year out of the Yankees when his contract was being negotiated after the 2008 season. New York pounced out of the gate to deliver a six-year, $140 million deal to Sabathia, which eventually became a seven-year, $161 million pact that was agreed upon at the Winter Meetings.
– Bryan Hoch

Roundup: Marlins’ Rodriguez met with Vazquez

In the early going of the Hot Stove season, the Marlins and free agent pitcher Javier Vazquez had been talked about as a potential fit. On Saturday, the Marlins confirmed their interest in Vazquez publicly when manager Edwin Rodriguez said on the Marlins Insider Radio Show that he had met with Vazquez in Puerto Rico prior to the show. Rodriguez is said to be very familiar with Vazquez, having known the right-hander since he was a teenager. Vazquez earned $11.5 million with the Yankees in 2010 and it isn’t known how much of a bargain he might be for next season. Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post reported that Vazquez is said to be seeking a three-year, $33 million deal. That’d seem to indicate that the veteran isn’t expecting much of a pay cut. 

Beyond Vazquez, let’s take a look at some other talk around the league:
- The Orioles enjoyed a productive trip to the GM meetings, MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli reported on Saturday. The club continues to have talks with Koji Uehara, Ty Wigginton and Cesar Izturis. The O’s remain focused on their goal of bringing in a power bat for one of the corner infield spots, a player like Adrian Beltre or a Paul Konerko. Who they acquire to fill this role will likely determine the status of Wigginton and Izturis, according to Ghiroli. 
- Don’t be surprised if the Phillies bring in a veteran pitcher to compete for the fifth spot in the rotation against Kyle Kendrick and Vance Worley, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested on Saturday. Kendrick was mostly inconsistent in the role in 2010. Gelb suggests Zach Duke, who was left off the Pirates 40-man roster on Friday, could be the type of established pitcher the Phils are looking for. 
- Stay tuned to MLB.com for all the Hot Stove action. 
– Bailey Stephens

Braves make Hinske an offer

Braves general manager Frank Wren revealed Friday that he has made a contract offer to free agent Eric Hinske.  But it’s not believed to be one of the two-year offers that Hinske is currently seeking. 

The Braves appear to be comfortable bringing Hinske back with a one-year deal worth approximately $1.5 million.  The veteran utility player hit .256 with 11 homers in 281 at-bats this past season for the Braves.  

Hinske has told some of his Braves teammates that he would likely return to Atlanta if he is provided a two-year contract.  But it seems doubtful that Wren would be willing to offer the extra guaranteed season.

Wren also said that he hasn’t decided whether he’ll tender a contract to Matt Diaz, who stands as the most likely of the club’s arbitration-eligible players to be non-tendered. 

- Mark Bowman 

Roundup: Yanks stake their claim on Jeter

On the day the Yankees signed Larry Rothschild to a three-year contract
to be their new pitching coach, New York reportedly reached out to its
shortstop. The Yankees, SI.com reported on Friday afternoon, are about
to offer Derek Jeter a three-year contract worth $45 million.
That may not be enough, though, as several outlets have stated that “The
Captain” seeks a four- or five-year deal.

Here’s more from around the league …

* New Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers is a popular man these
days, considering he recently said his club would listen
in on offers
for young star Justin Upton. According to The New York
Post, at least half the league — not including the Yankees — have shown
interest in the outfielder, and five clubs have wanted to move negotiations
forward. The Blue Jays, Mariners, Marlins, Rays, Orioles, Red Sox and Rays have
all been linked to Upton recently.

* The Yankees would like another left-hander in their bullpen besides Boone
Logan
, so they are showing interest in free agent J.C. Romero,
according to FOXSports.com. New York has also been linked to Pedro Feliciano

* The Indians might have re-gained a stud outfielder without having to spend an
extra penny. Shin-Soo Choo has probably avoided
required military service
after leading his South Korea club to the gold
medal.

* In need of a shortstop, the Orioles are expected to bid on Japanese infielder
Tsuyoshi Nishioka, according to a Sports Hochi report relayed by NPB
Tracker. The Mariners, Padres, Dodgers and Cardinals have also been linked to
the 26-year-old switch-hitter, who batted .346 with 22 steals last year.

* Veteran designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero is talking to the Rangers and three other American League teams, according to SI.com.   

– Alden Gonzalez  

O’s MacPhail: “no shortage” of activity

Fresh off this week’s general manager meetings, Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail said the organization’s wants and needs haven’t changed and called the two-day meetings “helpful on a few different levels” in assessing what Baltimore will do this offseason.

“People have different timetables, but we don’t necessarily control those,” MacPhail said when asked when the Orioles first move may come. “We’ve had the discussions that we needed to have.”

While he declined to name specifics, MacPhail said there was “no shortage of activity” in Orlando, Fla., both on the trade market and in conversations the organization had with free agents on its wish list.

Tops on that list is a corner infield power bat, making players like Adrian Beltre, Paul Konerko, Victor Martinez and Adam Dunn attractive, as well as Carlos Pena and Adam LaRoche. 

The Orioles would also like to add a veteran starter and a few bullpen arms and, although they have money to spend -with only Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Michael Gonzalez and Brian Matusz owed money next season — their wealth of young pitching makes for an attractive trade partner.

As for the criticism that the Orioles are moving too deliberately while other teams wheel and deal, MacPhail -who hasn’t been “too surprised” by any of the early trades — makes no apologies for how he conducts offseason business.

“What’s important at the end of the day is that the moves are the ones that help the club,” he said. “Whether they move fast or slow is less impactful than whether they are right.”

The Orioles, who lost seven players to free agency this winter, continue to have discussions with the respective agents of right-hander Koji Uehara and infielders Ty Wigginton and Cesar Izturis about a possible return to Baltimore. Whether that happens with Uehara and Wigginton could come down to a matter of contract length, with Wigginton and Izturis’ fate in Baltimore tied to what specific bat(s) the Orioles bring in.

While the organization expressed initial interest in Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, it’s doubtful they get involved in the bidding and even less likely that they win exclusive negotiating rights.  While Izturis left a hole at shortstop, the Orioles aren’t too keen on what the asking price of Nishioka will amount to and would prefer to spend their money elsewhere.

–Brittany Ghiroli

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