December 2011

An Offer for Fielder?

The line to sign Prince Fielder may start in Seattle. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported Tuesday that the Mariners have made Fielder an offer to continue his career in the American League West, the same division that snapped up Albert Pujols earlier this month.

Fielder, an All-Star in three of the last five years, has hit at least 32 home runs in five straight seasons. Fielder is the son of former All-Star Cecil Fielder, and together, they are the only father-son combo to hit for at least 50 home runs in a big-league season.

The younger Fielder, a former first-round draftee, batted .282 and drilled 230 homers and 656 RBIs in his first seven seasons with Milwaukee. The hulking first baseman matched his career high with a .299 batting average last year, and he established a new personal best with a .415 OBP. Fielder has walked at least 100 times in three straight seasons, and for his career, he’s a .279 hitter on the road.

Fielder, just 27 years old, is reportedly seeking a long-term contract that approaches the 10-year deal Pujols signed with Los Angeles earlier in the winter. The Cubs and Rangers may also be potential suitors for Fielder, and Heyman reported Tuesday that the Orioles may also be involved.

– Spencer Fordin

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters accept Rangers bid for Darvish

The Rangers won the exclusive negotiating rights to prized Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, Major League Baseball announced late Monday night. Texas will now have 30 days to sign Darvish or his rights will return to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific League.

While the details of the bid weren’t disclosed, multiple sources have reported that the bid exceeded the $51.1 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006 as the highest in the history of posting of Japanese players. Sources told Yahoo! Sports that Texas won the auction with a $51.7 million bid.

The Blue Jays, Mariners, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox and Yankees were among the other Major League teams that were mentioned as possibilities in the sealed bidding for the negotiating rights for the right-hander’s services.

The 25-year-old Darvish was 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA last season, walking 36 and striking out 276 in 232 innings for the Fighters.

Quinn Roberts

Braves, Rockies continue to discuss Smith-Prado trade

The Rockies could use one more bat, specifically at second base. The Braves need a left fielder. None of this has changed since the offseason began and reports surfaced of the possibility of the Rockies sending left-handed hitting outfielder Seth Smith to Atlanta for right-handed hitting infielder Martin Prado. Dialogue between the teams continued through last week, and word Monday was the possibility of a trade remains alive.

The frontburner issue for the Braves appears to be seeing what kind of package they can receive for right-handed starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens, a move that could fill other needs.

The Rockies reached a three-year, $31.5 million agreement with former Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer last week, and are in position to deal Smith.

The Rockies’ main need is a durable starting pitcher, but they have shown no interest in dealing the multiple prospects that many teams require for such a deal. So adding another bat at second base, where the Rockies for now have a possible combination of former first-round Draft pick Chris Nelson and solid multi-position man Jonathan Herrera, has risen to the top of the pecking order.

It would be yet another roadblock for Nelson, who took awhile to find his legs as a professional but has earned compliments from manager Jim Tracy for his work ethic. If such a deal occurs, Nelson could get his chance at third base — if hot prospect Nolan Arenado needs more time to develop. Arenado put up dominant numbers in Class-A last year and in the Arizona Fall League, and will be given a shot to make the Majors this spring.

As for the pitcher, the Rockies would like to re-sign veteran righty Kevin Millwood, who displayed leadership — not only on the mound, but with his preparation between starts — that could help a mostly young starting staff. While it would be nice to add a 200-innings stalwart, it doesn’t look possible on the trading market, it’s cost-prohibitive in free agency, and might not be necessary. A veteran hurler who can stabilize the pitching until left-hander Jorge De La Rosa returns in May or June from Tommy John surgery might be good enough to keep the club in good position in the National League West.

The Denver Post reported late last week that the Rockies have reached out to free-agent right-hander Brad Lidge, who grew up in Colorado and, through his agent, expressed interest in pitching for his hometown team. Lidge, who has history as a dominant closer, is coming off a 2011 season with the Phillies during which he missed time with a partially torn rotator cuff and experienced elbow issues. The Phillies have discussed bringing him back. Given his current health, it’s more likely that wherever he signs it would be under a Minor League deal. If the Rockies bring back infielder Melvin Mora, who played for them in 2010, it would be under a Minor League deal.

– Thomas Harding

Dodgers Talking to Grabow

The Dodgers are in discussions with free agent left-handed reliever John Grabow for a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League training camp. The 33-year-old would join the mix for the second lefty role in the bullpen created by the non-tender of Hong-Chih Kuo, who has been offered a contract to return. Kuo is considering whether he wants to continue pitching. — Ken Gurnick

Brewers’ bid for Aoki accepted

Major League Baseball released a statement Monday morning announcing that the Tokyo Yakult Swallows from Japan’s Central League have accepted the highest bid — submitted by the Brewers — for negotiating rights to outfielder Norichika Aoki.

MLB.com’s John Schlegel wrote this weekend that the Brewers’ winning bid for Aoki reportedly came in at $2.5 million.

The 29-year-old outfielder is a three-time Central League batting champion. A left-handed hitter, Aoki slipped to a .292 average and four homers in 2011, after going for career highs of a .358 average and 209 hits in 2010. He was the 2005 Central League Rookie of the Year, batting .344 in his first full season.

Milwaukee has 30 days to sign Aoki to a Major or Minor League professional contract.

– Joey Nowak

Darvish announcement coming Monday night

All the speculation surrounding Japanese phenom Yu Darvish is expected to end tonight.

It will be Tuesday morning in Japan when the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters make the announcement of which MLB club has won the bid for the young pitcher and whether it will be accepted. SI.com has reported that the bid exceeds the $51.1 million bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006 as the highest in the history of posting of Japanese players.

CBSSports.com reported that the bid will be accepted, and many have speculated that the winning bid belongs to the Blue Jays or Rangers.

On Monday night, it will no longer be speculation.

– Joey Nowak

D-backs reach deal with Kubel

PHOENIX — The D-backs have agreed to terms with free agent outfielder Jason Kubel on a two-year contract with an option, a baseball source confirmed Monday.

The move is somewhat surprising in that the D-backs had not been linked in any rumors to Kubel, nor had it seemed were they in the market for an outfielder.

Kubel, 29, hit .273 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs for the Twins in 2011. He was originally drafted by Minnesota in the 12th round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft.

Kubel’s best season came in 2009 when he hit .300 with 28 homers, 103 RBIs and a career-best .907 OPS (on-base plus slugging). Over the last five seasons he has an OPS+ of over 100. OPS+ is a weighted metric that takes into account a multitude of factors and mark of 100 is considered average. Last season, Kubel’s OPS+ was 111.

Over his career, Kubel has split his time between right and left fields. With the D-backs, it would appear that he would become the starting left fielder with Gerardo Parra being shifted to a fourth outfield position or used in a trade to acquire another position of need.

Parra won a Gold Glove for his work in left last year and he hit .292 with eight homers and 46 RBIs. He can play all three outfield positions well making him an ideal backup. How many opportunities there will be, though, remains to be seen. Center fielder Chris Young played in 156 games last year while right fielder Justin Upton appeared in 159.

– Steve Gilbert

Indians in talks with Cameron, LaRoche

MLB.com can confirm a Cleveland Plain Dealer report indicating that the Indians are in talks with free-agent outfielder Mike Cameron and free-agent infielder Andy LaRoche. Both players would be brought into the fold on Minor League contracts that include non-roster invites to attend Spring Training with the big league club.

Cameron, 38, hit just .203 with nine homers and 27 RBIs in 78 games between stints with the Red Sox and Marlins in 2011. He would presumably come into camp with a shot at winning a bench job. His value for Cleveland is as a right-handed bat and a backup for center fielder Grady Sizemore.

As things currently stand, the Indians project to have three left-handed-hitting outfielders (Michael Brantley, Shin-Soo Choo and Sizemore) in the lineup. In all, Cleveland’s starting nine projects to have six lefties and two switch hitters under the current roster composition.

LaRoche, 28, is also a right-handed hitter, and he has enough versatility to handle multiple positions on the field. He hit .247 in 40 games with the A’s last year. LaRoche is a third baseman by trade, but he also has some experience at first base, second base, shortstop and left field.

On Friday, the Indians added infielder Jose Lopez and outfielder Felix Pie on Minor League deals as well. Cleveland also acquired right-handed-hitting outfielder Aaron Cunningham in a trade with the Padres. Cunningham, 25, might have a leg up on the fourth outfielder’s role considering he is out of Minor League options.

The Indians remain in the market for a right-handed power bat — preferably at first base. The trade route is looking increasingly more likely than free agency.

–Jordan Bastian

12/18 Could Rizzo be Cubs’ 1B of future?

Forget Prince Fielder. Maybe the Cubs’ first baseman of the future is Anthony Rizzo.

Rizzo was a sixth-round pick in 2007 by the Red Sox — and Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod were in Boston’s front office at that time. In December 2010, he was dealt to the Padres in the blockbuster Adrian Gonzalez deal. Now, Rizzo, 22, finds himself No. 3 or 4 on the Padres’ depth chart at first base after a major deal Saturday between the Padres and Reds. The Padres acquired first baseman Yonder Alonso, pitcher Edinson Volquez and Minor Leaguers Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger in exchange for pitcher Mat Latos. Latos joins Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake in the Reds rotation. Reds GM Walt Jocketty says they still plan on using Aroldis Chapman as a starter, although that could change.

This year, Rizzo batted .452 with six homers in his first 15 games and was eventually called up to the Padres in June, and batted .143 in 35 games. He was then recalled in September and finished with a .141 average in 49 games. At Triple-A Tucson, he hit .331 with 26 homers and 101 RBIs. Rizzo and Tony Campana have something in common, as Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in May 2008 and was successfully treated with chemotherapy. McLeod once said Rizzo has the best makeup of any player he’s ever drafted.

On Saturday, Jim Bowden of ESPN.com and MLB Network Radio tweeted that the Padres have some interest in acquiring Matt Garza from the Cubs in a package that would include Rizzo. The problem with a Padres-Cubs deal involving Garza is that the right-hander is under team control for two more years, and if the Cubs were to move him, they’d expect a lot in return — similar to what the Reds gave up to get Latos. Epstein has said Garza is the type of pitcher to build around.

 — Carrie Muskat

Report: High bid for Darvish exceeds Dice-K’s

The top bid for Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish’s negotiating rights will exceed the $51.1 million bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006 as the highest in the history of posting of Japanese players, according to SI.com.

Citing Japanese baseball officials, Saturday’s report contradicts the previously reported amount of about $48 million to be paid to the Nippon-Ham Fighters, Darvish’s current team in Japan.

The Blue Jays, Mariners, Marlins, Nationals, Rangers, Red Sox and Yankees are among the Major League teams that have been mentioned as possibly in the sealed bidding for the negotiating rights for the right-hander’s services.

After the Red Sox won the right to bid for Matsuzaka’s services, they signed him to a six-year, $52 million deal that expires after the 2012 season. Darvish made the equivalent of $6.4 million dollars (U.S.) in 2011, according to NPB.com.

The team that wins the bidding for Darvish will have 30 days to negotiate a deal with him. The winning bid will be announced Tuesday.

- John Schlegel 

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