November 2011

A busy Rox weekend

– Two free agent targets appear headed elsewhere, with outfielder Grady Sizemore reportedly having reached an agreement with the Indians and onetime Rockies infielder Clint Barmes reportedly headed to Pittsburgh to rejoin his old Rox manager, Clint Hurdle.

The Sizemore situation was a race against time. Signing him was somewhat predicated on trading left fielder Seth Smith. The plan to trade Smith was to fill the second base hole or one of the starting pitching holes. Although there have been stories about talks with the Braves about infielder Martin Prado and the Rockies have been debating trying to pry former Gold Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson from the Padres, not much in the way of real negotiation had materialized.

But with all the health reports on Sizemore positive after a postseason knee surgery (he had surgery on the other knee in 2009), teams decided to move quickly. The team that knows him the best, the Indians, figured the price was right and made the move.

The Rockies see Smith as an asset, so it’s not as if they’re dying to trade him. They’d deal him, but not in a trade that they aren’t totally comfortable making. To trade Smith now, the Rockies need a viable alternative in left, whether that player comes in the same trade or the Rockies end up with a left fielder through other means. Or they can just keep Smith.

“We like Seth Smith — he’s a good player for us,” Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd told me the other day.

Barmes would have made a lot of sense. He played shortstop last year for the Astros, and will do so for the Pirates. If the Rockies could have signed him, he would have offered a high-quality replacement if Troy Tulowitzki were to be injured.

If the Rox don’t find a second baseman, some combination of Jonathan Herrera, Chris Nelson and Eric Young Jr. would have to suffice at second. Both have experience at short, and can move over in case of injury to Tulowitzki.

Since Tulowitzki is a big shortstop who never takes it easy, it would be nice to have someone of Barmes’ ability to plug into the position. It would give manager Jim Tracy peace of mind when he wants to rest Tulowitzki during the season.

It’s a concern, but the Rockies aren’t going to build their offseason strategy around protecting themselves from a longterm injury to Tulowitzki. Replacing him for a few days for a nagging injury is one thing. A long absence is something else.

“If we lost Tulowitzki for a long period of time, we’re in trouble,” O’Dowd said. “I don’t know of many teams that can withstand losing their best player for a long period of time.”

– The Rockies dealt veteran utility man Ty Wigginton to the Phillies on Sunday for a player to be named.

While it’s nice to have a vet to come off the bench, the Rockies might be covered with a younger player. They liked the offensive work of late-season call-up Jordan Pacheco, and Tracy used Pacheco at first base and third base — essentially the same way he used Wigginton.

Barmes inks two-year deal with Bucs

The Pirates have filled their hole at shortstop, replacing Ronny Cedeno with Clint Barmes, who confirmed on Monday that he has agreed to a two-year deal with Pittsburgh. The contract is worth $10.5 million.

Pittsburgh has been looking for a new shortstop since deciding not to exercise Cedeno’s $3 million option for 2012. That pushed Cedeno into a fairly thin free agent shortstop market, which already included Barmes. Barmes, who spent the 2011 season in Houston, became a free agent at the end of the year due to service time.

By signing with the Pirates, Barmes will be reunited with Clint Hurdle, Barmes’ long-time manager in Colorado. Drafted by the Rockies in 2000, Barmes spent parts of eight seasons in Colorado before being traded to the Astros.

Knowing that he would be able to remain at short also made Pittsburgh an appealing destination. Though Barmes played almost exclusively as a shortstop in 2011, he has appeared in 306 Major League games as a second baseman.

“In talking with my agent and talking with the club, they were wanting to make a decision and they wanted to know by pretty much yesterday who their shortstop was going to be so they could continue to move on,” Barmes said. “It was one of those things they had a few others guys lined up behind me, and the way it was explained to me I was the first in line as far as who they wanted. They threw a great offer.”

Barmes confirmed that the Brewers were also talking to him about a two-year deal but weren’t willing to make an offer until things were resolved with Prince Fielder. The Astros, who are rebuilding, were not going to be able to afford to re-sign the middle infielder.

Jenifer Langosch

Soler also on Marlins’ radar

So much attention has been focused on Yoenis Cespedes, the Cuban defector regarded as a five-tool player.

But the 26-year-old outfielder isn’t the only talented Cuban native who has caught the attention of a number of teams, including the Marlins, Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs.

Jorge Soler, 19, also has been working out for teams in the Dominican Republic.

A number of teams, including the Marlins and Rangers, have already scouted Soler.

Like Cespedes, Soler defected from Cuba and he has been working out in the Dominican Republic.

While Cespedes is considered big league ready right now, Soler is viewed as being three years away from reaching the Major Leagues.

In stature, a scout said, Soler is slightly smaller than Marlins slugger Mike Stanton, who stands 6-foot-5 1/2, 250-pounds.

Like Stanton, Soler has big-time power potential.

Cespedes projects to be a player who can hit .290 with 30 homers at the big league level. A scout said Soler may not hit for as high an average as Cespedes, but he could be a 40 home run candidate.

Joe Frisaro

 

Indians, Sizemore close to deal?

The Indians are in “serious discussions” with free-agent center fielder Grady Sizemore, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. A one-year pact between the familiar parties could come to fruition as soon as this weekend.

It has been reported that at least eight teams have shown interest in Sizemore this offseason, during which he had a $9 million club option declined by Cleveland. Other teams rumored to have interest include the Cubs, Rangers, Giants, Yankees, Phillies, Rockies and Red Sox.

One stumbling block for interested teams is the fact that Sizemore is currently rehabbing from surgery on his right knee and is not currently able to run through a full baseball workout. The Indians, on the other hand, are more familiar with the center fielder and his recent medical history.

If Sizemore does indeed re-sign with the Tribe, that would open the door for outfielder Michael Brantley to remain in left field, with Shin-Soo Choo in right. Brantley can also man center. The Indians might still look to add outfield depth, but the focus for additional power might center around an upgrade at first base.

The Indians have considered acquiring a left fielder and playing Brantley in center. The thin free-agent crop in the outfield might make some of the current options too costly for Cleveland’s liking. Some names floated as possibilities for the Tribe have been Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer and Josh Willingham, among others.

–Jordan Bastian

Pirates make pair of waiver claims

The Pirates claimed catcher Brian Jeroloman (Blue Jays) and right-hander Jeremy Hefner (Padres) off waivers on Friday in moves designed to improve the club’s depth at both positions. The club also announced that catcher Matt Pagnozzi has been removed from the 40-man roster and outrighted to the Minors.

Jeroloman, 26, spent the rest of 2011 catching for Triple-A Las Vegas. In 79 games, he hit .240 with nine doubles, two homers and 26 RBIs. While his .245 career Minor League average is rather pedestrian, Jeroloman’s .378 on-base percentage is a reflection of his excellent plate discipline. Known more for his strength on defense, Jeroloman is likely to begin the 2012 season in Triple-A.

In his first full season at Triple-A, Hefner went 9-7 with a 4.98 ERA in 28 starts in 2011. He struck out 120 and walked 61 in 157 1/3 innings, though Hefner was passed by other pitching prospects in the Padres’ system last year. Hefner, too, will be a longshot to crack the Pirates’ Opening Day roster.

Pagnozzi, who was a late season waiver claim by the Pirates, now has the ability to declare for Minor League free agency. The Pirates have made him an offer to return under a Minor League contract, though Pagnozzi will likely first see what other offers are available before accepting.

Jenifer Langosch

Rays and Molina

According to FOXSports.com, the Rays are close to signing veteran catcher Jose Molina to a one-year contract with an option for 2013.

The Rays did not exercise their option for Kelly Shoppach, which left the top contenders to fill the catching role in 2012 as John Jaso, Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos.

–Bill Chastain

What it will take to sign Cespedes

The tools and the talent of Yoenis Cespedes are not in dispute.

Where there are reservations over the Cuban-born outfielder is his cost and readiness to play immediately in the big leagues.

According to a league source familiar with his status, the asking price for Cespedes could be double that of Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban pitcher with the Reds.

In January of 2010, Chapman signed a six-year deal worth $30.25 million. Cespedes, the source said, could be seeking more than double Chapman’s salary over eight years. Technically, no negotiations can take place until after he is declared a free agent.

The Marlins recently traveled to the Dominican Republic to attend a private workout for Cespedes, the 26-year-old who defected from Cuba in the summer. The Red Sox, Cubs and Yankees are among the teams with interest.

The Marlins see Cespedes as a center fielder, while Boston is looking at him in right field.

There also is uncertainty on when Cespedes will become a free agent. Insiders say it could be two more weeks or two more months.

Right now, he is in the process of gaining residency in the Dominican Republic. Once that happens, it shouldn’t take long for him to be declared an MLB free agent. It’s a matter of filing paper work.

The longer Cespedes waits to sign with a club, the more it hinders his ability to be game ready for the 2012 opener.

He hasn’t played competitive baseball since he left Cuba.

If he can be signed before mid-December, he could play Winter League ball, which would help him be prepared to compete for an Opening Day roster spot in Spring Training.

Joe Frisaro

 

Rockies take flyer on Brandon Wood

This is the time of year when teams extend chances to once-touted players who have struggled, hoping the change of scenery helps. Under that plan, the Rockies welcome infielder Brandon Wood, once a prized Angels prospect who hit .216 in a combined 105 games with the Angels and the Pirates last season.

Under a Minor League contract, Wood will compete at third base, where the Rockies’ own touted prospect, Ian Stewart, slumped and battled injuries last season. Stewart hit .156 with no homers and six RBIs in a year spent more at Triple-A than in the Majors.

– Thomas Harding

Phillies keep Schneider with one-year deal

The Phillies are bringing back Brian Schneider for another season as their backup catcher.

The club announced on Thursday that it had signed Schneider to a one-year, $800,000 contract. The deal contains $200,000 worth of incentives.

Schneider, 34, hit .176 with two home runs and nine RBIs in 41 games this past season. But he worked well with Phils pitchers, most notably rookie right-hander Vance Worley. Philadelphia pitchers posted a 2.85 ERA with Schneider behind the plate.

Phillips, Reds progressing on extension talks

Always a prolific user of Twitter, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips mentioned Wednesday he hoped to learn about his future with the club, and then on Thursday, stated he was flying to Cincinnati from his hometown in Atlanta.

None of that equated, however, to a deal being done. A contract extension between Phillips and Cincinnati is not imminent. General manager Walt Jocketty and Phillips’ agents did spend time negotiating during the General Managers Meetings this week in Milwaukee.

“We’ve made progress, but we’re not close,” Jocketty said Thursday from the airport as he prepared to fly back to Cincinnati. “It will take a little bit of time. It’s a complicated contract.”

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