December 2011

Rays in Hunt for Beltran

Tampa Bay is in the mix to sign Carlos Beltran according to CBS Sports, which said the Cardinals, Blue Jays and Red Sox also are vying for the veteran center fielder.

Tampa Bay could use the six-time all-star at either DH or in the outfield. The two biggest questions facing the Rays are: 1) Will he be affordable? (Remember, Beltran finished off a seven-year, $119 million deal in 2011. 2) Would he be able to adjust to playing DH? (All Rays fans remember Pat Burrell’s struggles while being used at DH full-time).

According to the story, Beltran hopes to make a decision by Christmas.

– Bill Chastain

Indians still trying for Beltran

Back in July, the Indians expressed interest in acquiring outfielder Carlos Beltran from the Mets before the Trade Deadline. MLB.com has confirmed multiple reports indicating that Cleveland is now showing interest in signing Beltran as a free agent.

According to various reports, the Cardinals, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Rays, and possibly at least one other club, are also in on Beltran at the moment. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the field has since narrowed to St. Louis, Toronto and Cleveland.

The Indians are known to be searching for offensive help, but their sudden inclusion in the Beltran race is a bit surprising. For starters, Beltran blocked the process last July when he would reportedly only accept a trade to the Giants or Phillies. The interest between Cleveland and Beltran was not mutual on the surface.

Since then, however, Beltran has switched agents. He is now represented by Dan Lozano after previously having Scott Boras as his agent.

While Beltran would be an upgrade for Cleveland — a team in need of an offensive boost — theclub’s outfield is already crowded with Shin-Soo Choo, Grady Sizemore, Michael Brantley, Aaron Cunningham and Shelley Duncan in the mix. The Indians’ financial situation is also such that the team might have to shed some payroll space in order to take on the cost of adding Beltran.

Nothing has changed behind the scenes for the Indians in regard to their financial limitations.

It is believed that Beltran is seeking at least a two- or three-year deal worth around $12-13 million annually — possibly more. Up to this point this winter, it has been clear that adding something in the range of $7-10 million would be difficult for the Indians to do without also freeing up some salary space.

The Indians had early talks with free-agent outfielder Josh Willingham, for example, on a two-year deal in the $14-16 million range. Had Cleveland taken on his contract, the Indians might have needed a subsequent trade to free up some cash. Willingham went on to sign a three-year, $21 million deal with the Twins.

Cleveland could backload a contract for Beltran, considering a number of contracts will come off the books after the 2012 season (Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, Derek Lowe). Even so, the Tribe might be forced to shift some things around a little in order to make it work for this year.

Beltran could play left field — Sizemore was re-signed for center — which would seemingly push Brantley into a fourth outfielder role. Brantley has also expressed a willingness to help out at first base, if needed. First base is currently Cleveland’s primary position of concern.

–Jordan Bastian

Twins, Marquis close to reaching deal

MINNEAPOLIS — The Twins are close to reaching an agreement with free-agent starting pitcher Jason Marquis, according to a FoxSports.com report.

The Twins, however, have not commented on the report.

Marquis, 33, posted a 4.43 ERA in 23 starts with the Nationals and D-backs last season. He also struck out 76, walked 43 and allowed 11 homers in 132 innings.

The right-hander has a career 4.55 ERA in 12 seasons with the Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Rockies, Nationals and D-backs.

Marquis would fill a need as a back-of-the-rotation starter, as left-hander Brian Duensing remains a likely candidate to be moved to the bullpen this season.

Twins starters combined to post the third-worst ERA in the American League last season (4.64) while striking out just 617 batters in 961 innings.

– Rhett Bollinger

Marlins appear long shot on Gonzalez

MIAMI — It’s no secret the Marlins are in the market for a frontline starting pitcher. It’s also not a mystery that the club has sincere interest in Oakland’s Gio Gonzalez. The issue is the asking price for the All-Star left-hander.

The Nationals are aggressively after Gonzalez.

Quite simply, the Marlins don’t have the depth of players in their organization to match what the Nationals have to offer.

So the Marlins are asking themselves, is it worth moving a regular or two, along with top prospects, for Gonzalez. The team is not willing to part with a rising star like Mike Stanton for a starting pitcher.

A league source said the A’s asking price is extremely high, perhaps more than even what Washington is willing to part with.

The source added that a sleeper team to watch out for on Gonzalez is Toronto. Now that the Blue Jays came up short in their pursuit of Yu Darvish, whose rights went to the Rangers, they may be turning their attention to Gonzalez.

Like the Nationals, the Blue Jays have a number of highly-regarded prospects to pull off a big trade.

The source noted that Toronto would have a formidable one-two punch if it could team up Gonzalez with Ricky Romero.

Even if the Marlins are unable to obtain Gonzalez, they will remain active trying to land an established starting pitcher.

Miami also is expected to make a heavy push for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes once he becomes available. Cespedes is close to gaining temporary residency in the Dominican Republic. When that happens, he will file for free agency.

Joe Frisaro  

Marshall for Wood nearly done?

The Reds appeared close Wednesday to completing a trade that would land left-handed reliever Sean Marshall from the Cubs in exchange for young lefty starter Travis Wood and two Minor Leaguers.

According to ESPNChicago.com, the deal was agreed to pending physicals. A source confirmed the Reds’ interest in Marshall to MLB.com, but did not expect the trade to be consummated on Wednesday.

Cincinnati currently has a vacancy for the closer’s role, but are looking at Marshall as a lefty set-up man.

– Mark Sheldon

Braves did not offer Jurrjens and Prado to the Orioles

The Braves did express interest in Adam Jones.  But they did not offer Martin Prado and Jair Jurrjens to the Orioles in exchange for the outfielder.

A source with knowledge of the Orioles negotiations disputed a Baltimore Sun report that indicated the Braves were rejected when they offered Prado, Jurrjens and a pitching prospect for Jones.

The source said the Braves were told Jones was unavailable when they asked about him a couple weeks ago.  The Orioles later called the Braves to see if they would trade Prado, Jurrjens and two other “premium guys” in exchange for Jones.

The Braves said they were not interested and the two clubs have not had any recent discussions about these players. —  Mark Bowman

Angels may still be in play for bullpen help

Despite a lack of financial flexibility, the Angels continue to seek ways to address their bullpen situation.

Depending on his price, one option may be veteran closer Francisco Cordero. His agent, Bean Stringfellow, told WEEI.com on Tuesday that the Angels are one of four teams in play for the right-hander, along with the Reds — his former team, which reportedly wants him back — the Red Sox and a fourth, unidentified club.

Cordero is perhaps the best — and most expensive — free-agent reliever remaining after Ryan Madson, making the Angels the least likely fit among the above-mentioned clubs. Stringfellow told WEEI.com Cordero is looking for a multi-year deal and is only interested in going into a situation where he’s the clear-cut closer (which, in Anaheim, would mean the young Jordan Walden is supplanted).

The Angels have also reached out to the representative of former reliever Darren Oliver, a source familiar with his thinking told MLB.com. Oliver’s preference is to return to Texas, but is “not ruling out other contending teams,” the source said, adding that in order to accommodate the Angels, Oliver would be willing to defer most of his salary. Oliver put up a 2.29 ERA in 61 appearances last year, but is 41 and would give the Angels three lefties in the bullpen — along with Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi.

Another interesting candidate is Joel Zumaya, the former Tigers flame-thrower who missed all of 2011 after undergoing exploratory surgery on his right (throwing) elbow. Zumaya performed in front of what was believed to be about 50 scouts in Houston last Wednesday, and some of them were members of the Angels, general manager Jerry Dipoto confirmed. Someone in attendance told FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal he threw his fastball from 93-96 mph and had a decent curveball and OK command.

Some other, cheaper, right-handed options in the free-agent bin: Luis Ayala, Juan Cruz, Scott Linebrink, Dan Wheeler and Jamey Wright. Most of them, however, may not sign deals until more materializes later in the offseason. Sources told MLB.com the Angels have yet to reach out to Ayala or Wheeler in particular.

The Angels previously added LaTroy Hawkins — on a one-year, $3 million contract — in hopes of improving a bullpen that was tied for the American League lead in blown saves last season. Dipoto previously said he’s looking for someone to “complement Jordan Walden; not replace Jordan Walden.”

Alden Gonzalez 

12/21 Reed Johnson back with Cubs

The Cubs have reportedly agreed to a one-year contract with free agent outfielder Reed Johnson, pending a physical. Johnson, 35, batted .309 in 111 games last season with the Cubs. He’s perfect extra outfielder, great guy in clubhouse and batted .305 vs. left-handed pitchers. FOX Sports reported the agreement; the Cubs have yet to confirm.

– Carrie Muskat

12/21 Possible Cubs-Reds swap?

The Cubs and Reds are reportedly close to a trade which would send reliever Sean Marshall to the Reds for starter Travis Wood and two Minor Leaguers. FOX Sports and ESPN.com are both reporting the possible deal. Wood, 24, was 6-6 with a 4.84 ERA in 2 games, including 18 starts last season. He became expendable after the Reds acquired Mat Latos from the Padres. Marshall, 29, has been one of the top left-handed relievers in baseball the last two seasons, posting a 2.26 ERA over 75 2/3 innings in 2011.

– Carrie Muskat

Red Sox could make play for Andruw

The Yankees may have some company in trying to secure Andruw Jones for their bench. The New York Daily News reported Wednesday that the Red Sox are believed to have joined New York in pursuit of the 34-year-old outfielder.

Jones provided right-handed power for the Yankees last year, slugging 13 homers in limited playing time, with most of his 48 starts coming against left-handed hurlers. The Daily News noted that while J.D. Drew’s contract has expired in Boston, neither Ryan Kalish nor Josh Reddick have a great track record against left-handed pitching. 

- Bryan Hoch

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