November 2011

Cespedes to work out for Tigers

The Tigers have been among the many teams scouting Cuban five-tool outfielder and recent YouTube sensation Yoenis Cespedes, and they haven’t made a secret that they’ve watched him. Now, even team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski is apparently going to get a first-hand look at the man who appears set to surpass Aroldis Chapman as the most hotly-pursued Cuban talent.

An industry source confirmed Dombrowski will watch Cespedes work out in the Dominican Republic, which has been Cespedes’ home since defecting from Cuba earlier this year. Credit Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com with the first report on Dombrowski, who was out of pocket on Wednesday when the Tigers announced their two-year contract to bring back free agent infielder Ramon Santiago.

Tigers interest in a Cuban prospect is not unusual. They scouted Chapman a couple years ago and were interested before the bidding escalated. But Dombrowski’s trip to watch him is rare. Usually, international operations director Tom Moore handles those duties, with vice president Al Avila and special assistant Dick Egan making scouting trips to Latin America. Avila told the Detroit Free Press two weeks ago that they’ve scouted Cespedes several times. Special assistant David Chadd watched a Cespedes workout earlier this month, according to the Detroit News.

That level of observation suggests the Tigers are serious in their interest. With the level of bidding expected, it makes sense for the man in charge to want a look. Cespedes has been working out for teams since the start of November.

– Jason Beck

Rockies acquire P Chatwood from Angels, close to signing C Ramon Hernandez

The Rockies have acquired right-handed pitcher Tyler Chatwood from the Angels on Wednesday for catcher Chris Iannetta in a deal that increases Colorado’s stable of young pitchers and puts it in position to pursue another veteran catcher.

Chatwood, who turns 22 on Dec. 16, went 6-11 with a 4.75 ERA in 27 games, including 25 starts, for the Angels as a rookie last season. A second-round Draft pick of the Angels in 2008 out of Redlands (Calif.) East Valley High School, Chatwood becomes the third highly touted young pitcher the Rockies have acquired since last July.

The Rockies received left-hander Drew Pomeranz, who turned 23 on Nov. 22, and right-hander Alex White, 23, from the Indians for former staff ace Ubaldo Jimenez in July just before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

With Iannetta gone, the Rockies are expected to pursue a veteran catcher to solidify the young pitching staff this season and work in tandem with prospect Wilin Rosario, who showed promise during a September callup. The club is close to signing veteran backstop Ramon Hernandez to a two-year deal, according to Major League sources. Hernandez spent the past three seasons with the Reds.

Hernandez, who turns 36 on May 20, hit .282 with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs last season in 91 games. A 2003 All-Star Game participant with the Athletics, Hernandez is a .266 hitter with 161 homers and 723 RBIs in 13 seasons with the Athletics, Padres, Orioles and Reds.

Chatwood is often compared to veteran standout pitcher Roy Oswalt because he is an undersized (listed at 6-foot) righty with a strong arm. He entered last season ranked by MLB.com as the No. 5 prospect in the Angels’ system. Early-season injuries to Joel Piniero and Scott Kazmir forced the club to call him up in early April after just 6 2/3 Triple-A innings.

Chatwood had typical big league growing pains last season, when he finished with 74 strikeouts to 71 walks and gave up 14 home runs. He endured two demotions to Triple-A Salt Lake. But Chatwood possesses a fastball that can reach 96 mph and curveball, and he is developing a cut fastball and a changeup. He could make a major forward step if he improves his command.

Iannetta, who turns 29 on April 8, has batted .235 with 63 home runs and 236 RBIs in 458 games over six seasons. A fourth-round pick out of the University of North Carolina in 2004, Iannetta hit .264 in 104 games in 2008, but he struggled the following two years and was demoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs each season. Last year, Iannetta regained his big league footing, playing in 112 games and finished with a .238 batting average and .370 on-base percentage, with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs.

Tigers re-sign Ramon Santiago to two-year deal

Ramon Santiago tested the market for a long-term deal and a potential starting role, but in the end, he always had an interest in returning to Detroit. So did the Tigers have interest in bringing him back, though not quite in the everyday role he might have wanted. There was enough in common for a deal, and that got done on Wednesday with a new two-year contract.

This doesn’t end the Tigers’ search for infield help. Both manager Jim Leyland and team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski conditioned their statements with the possibility of more moves to come. Right now, though, it looks like Santiago would get at least a timeshare at second base, as well as starts backing up Jhonny Peralta at shortstop.

“Santiago and Ryan Raburn will be playing second base as the club stands today,” Leyland said. “He will probably [also] get time at short.”

Dombrowski’s answer was much the same.

“We are set to open with Santiago and Raburn,” Dombrowski said. “However, we will see what happens.”

11/30 Cubs Hoyer on Pujols, Fielder & Wood

The Cubs have been linked to free agents Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. GM Jed Hoyer would not comment specifically on the two first basemen when asked Wednesday.

“As I’ve stated in the past, we’re a major market team and we’re going to be involved across the spectrum,” Hoyer said. “I’m not going to address whether we’re on or off individual players other than the fact that we’re in contact with a lot of teams and a lot of agents and we’re doing everything we can to improve the team for next year and the future.”

What is not a secret is that Hoyer has been in contact with Kerry Wood’s agent, Pat Rooney, regarding a new deal for the free agent pitcher for 2012.

“We’d love to bring Kerry back,” Hoyer said. “He had a great year last year and he’s an excellent ambassador for the Cubs. The stated goal of bringing Kerry back has been made very clear.”

– Carrie Muskat

Girardi: Yankees’ rotation may be set

Yankees manager Joe Girardi tells the New York Daily News that he expects to go into the 2012 season with a rotation that includes CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and A.J. Burnett.

“I think we’ll look at maybe possibly adding some more depth to it, but I feel pretty good about these guys,” Girardi told the newspaper in a Tuesday telephone interview. “Our pitching was really overlooked last year, I thought. We threw the ball well all year long. Will we try to add one more veteran arm? It’s possible, but I feel pretty good about the guys we have in camp right now.”

Girardi does not seem to be expecting a big free agent along the lines of C.J. Wilson, Mark Buehrle or Edwin Jackson to be arriving in the Bronx.

“I think our club is starting to try to develop a little bit more,” Girardi said. “Sometimes you feel that you can overpay for pitching and it can cost you.”

The Daily News indicates the Yankees may be interested in trading for the Cubs’ Matt Garza, but are unwilling to move blue chip prospects like Jesus Montero or Manny Banuelos for him. The New York Post also notes that the Yankees could consider dealing Dellin Betances to the White Sox for John Danks.

- Bryan Hoch

Progress in Phillips talks?

Reds 2B Brandon Phillips hinted Tuesday night that he and the club are closer to a long-term contract extension.

“Just talked to my agent @Baseball_ACES and it feels good to know that we’re moving in the right direction to make me a #Red4Life,” Phillips posted on his Twitter feed, @datdudeBP

On October 31, the Reds exercised Phillips’ $12 million option for 2012, but he has long maintained a desire to sign long term this year. He can become a free agent for the first time after next season.

A message for comment was left for Reds general manager Walt Jocketty. As recently as Nov. 17 following the General Managers Meetings, Jocketty told MLB.com that there had been progress in talks with Phillips’ agents, but that the two sides were nowhere close to a deal.

UPDATE: When reached, Jocketty didn’t expect that a deal was near.

 
“I think it’s still a ways to go,” Jocketty said. “We’re still hopeful to get something done. We’re glad he feels that way.”

— Mark Sheldon

Dodgers reportedly eyeing Kennedy

In need of a versatile presence for their infield with the departure of Aaron Miles, the Dodgers have contacted Adam Kennedy’s representatives, according to MLB Trade Rumors. Kennedy has Southern California roots and has been a travelin’ man since leaving the Angels in 2007 for the Cardinals after seven seasons as their second baseman.

Kennedy, a high school star in Riverside, Calif., before becoming a postseason star for the 2002 World Series champion Angels, has played first and third base as well as second in recent seasons for the Athletics, Nationals and Mariners. He’s a .272 career hitter with a .326 OBP and .385 slugging mark across 13 Major League seasons.

Kennedy, who turns 36 on Jan. 10, hit .234 in 114 games for Seattle in 2011. Twice a .300 hitter with the Angels, he is best known for his three-homer epic in the ’02 ALCS against the Twins.

The Dodgers acquired Mark Ellis as their new second baseman, joining James Loney, Dee Gordon and Juan Uribe in the projected infield. Kennedy is highly regarded as a tough-minded, positive clubhouse presence. – Lyle Spencer

Mets, Cards in the running for Dotel

The Mets are strong players for right-handed reliever Octavio Dotel, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions. Dotel, who celebrated his 38th birthday last week, posted a 2.61 ERA for the Cardinals in October after compiling a 3.28 ERA, 32 strikeouts and five walks for St. Louis in 24 2/3 innings this season.

A former closer who saved 21 games for the Pirates in 2010, Dotel could potentially assume that same job in New York or slide into a setup role. General manager Sandy Alderson has not ruled out signing more than one free-agent reliever to bolster the back end of his bullpen.

But the Mets are not the only team wooing Dotel . The Cardinals have also expressed interest after the 13-year veteran played a significant role in their World Series run following a midseason trade from Toronto.

The Mets have made it clear that they have no desire to give up compensatory Draft picks in order to sign ranked free agents, which originally precluded them from pursuing Dotel. But Dotel’s Elias ranking was recently reduced from Type A to Type B as part of baseball’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, meaning the Mets would not have to give up a Draft pick to sign him. The Cardinals did not offer Dotel arbitration, but will receive a supplemental-round pick should he sign elsewhere.

As for the Mets, they have already missed out on Joe Nathan and Jonathan Broxton, two former closers coming off injuries who signed with the Rangers and Royals, respectively. Still, plenty of closer candidates remain at large, including Dotel, Brad Lidge, Matt Capps, Frank Francisco and Francisco Cordero.

The Mets originally signed Dotel as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1993. He made his Major League debut for them as a starting pitcher six years later, before making his career as a reliever with the Astros, A’s, Yankees, Royals, Braves, White Sox, Pirates, Dodgers, Rockies, Blue Jays and Cardinals.

–Anthony DiComo

Padres still waiting on Bell

New Padres general manager Josh Byrnes has made his first trade (catcher John Baker) and signed his first free agent (outfielder Mark Kotsay).

What will his next move be?

That likely depends a lot on whether closer Heath Bell accepts or declines the Padres arbitration offer. Here’s an in-depth look at the particulars, but it comes down to this:

– If Bell accepts the Padres offer, the team won’t have as much financial flexibility this winter.

– If Bell declines the offer and signs elsewhere, the team not only gets the two Draft picks it covets but also will have more financial wiggle room this winter.

For now, look for the Padres to sign a Minor League free agent starting pitcher (or two), look for help for the bullpen (even if Bell returns) and help for the bench in the days leading up to the start of the Winter Meetings in Dallas, Dec. 5-8.

– Corey Brock

Mariners will test waters on Fielder

Jack Zduriencik isn’t jumping feet first into the pool quite yet, but the Mariners GM acknowledged his club is interested in Prince Fielder and will “go down that road” and see where it leads.

The Mariners certainly could use an offensive boost, having endured the lowest scoring offense in the American League the past two seasons. But they’ve also got about $80 million of their projected $95 million in payroll already tied up in existing contracts and expected arbitration raises.

Thus it would take some creative maneuvering to get serious with Fielder, which is why I specifically asked Zduriencik if the Mariners had the resources to pursue the free-agent slugger.

“That really depends,” said Zduriencik, who was the Brewers scouting director when they drafted Fielder in 2002. “There are so many factors there and no one knows where that number will end up. As much as you might have desire to go down a path, the length and dollars tie into that.

“There’s no question we could use a big bat in the middle of our lineup, but where is your limitation and threshold? We’ll go down that road and experiment and see where it ends up, but until things get more definitive, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Here’s my full story on Zduriencik’s thoughts on the Mariners situation as they head to the Winter Meetings next week.

– Greg Johns

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