January 2012

A’s reportedly have strong interest in Manny

Manny Ramirez is turning the heads of at least a few teams as the outfielder looks to return to Major League Baseball, but no club is more interested in the 12-time All-Star than the A’s, according to a report by ESPN.

The 39-year-old Ramirez, who retired last season after violating the league’s banned substances policy for the second time, has been working out in Miami and plans to have open workout sessions for interested teams later this month.

The Orioles and Blue Jays already have watched Ramirez hit, according to the report, but a source told ESPN that Oakland is “very interested” in Ramirez.

“The Orioles and Blue Jays saw Manny work and Baltimore liked what it saw, but Oakland has been the team that has expressed the most interest, even before having him work out,” the source told ESPN.

Ramirez, a 19-year veteran, has hit .312 with 555 home runs during his career with the Indians, Red Sox, Dodgers, White Sox and Rays.

If Ramirez were to sign with a team, he would serve a 50-game suspension stemming from his positive test last season. Ramirez and MLB had previously agreed on lowering the suspension from 100 games, which is the typical punishment for a second positive test.


– Cash Kruth

Lincecum, Giants moving toward deal

Tim Lincecum and the Giants are edging closer to a contract agreement that would enable the parties to avoid a potentially divisive salary arbitration hearing.

Industry sources confirmed Friday that negotiations between the club and Lincecum have progressed since Tuesday, when they exchanged proposed figures for one-year contracts. Lincecum requested $21.5 million, $500,000 short of the record amount Houston’s Roger Clemens sought in 2005. The Giants countered with $17 million, the largest arbitration offer a team ever has made.

It was not known whether the sides were discussing a one-year contract, which Lincecum said last season he’d prefer, or a multiyear deal, such as the two-year, $23 million pact he agreed to minutes before he and the Giants were scheduled to launch an arbitration hearing last year.

Lincecum, winner of two National League Cy Young Awards and a four-time All-Star, is likely to become the highest-paid Giant for 2012. Teams and arbitration-eligible players tend to split the difference between the figures they respectively submit. Lincecum’s midpoint of $19.25 million would exceed the $19 million that left-hander Barry Zito is slated to earn this year.

Lincecum became the only unsigned arbitration-eligible Giant when right-hander Sergio Romo agreed to a one-year, $1.575 million deal. That represented a 250 percent increase from Romo’s 2011 wage of $450,000. Since Romo filed for $1.75 million and the Giants offered $1.3 million, he received slightly more than the midpoint figure of $1.525 million.

After beginning the offseason with 13 arbitration-eligible players, San Francisco has come to terms with six of them since Monday: Romo, fellow right-hander Santiago Casilla, third baseman Pablo Sandoval and outfielders Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan and Nate Schierholtz.

Romo, who turns 29 on March 4, earned his raise by establishing himself as one of baseball’s top setup relievers. He finished 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA in 65 appearances. Control remained Romo’s hallmark, as he struck out 70 and walked just five in 48 innings for a Major League-best 14-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That’s the best ratio among relievers pitching at least 45 innings since Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley recorded a 18.25-to-1 mark in 1990.

“I feel like I’ve built a pretty decent name for myself and I want to keep progressing,” Romo said. “I want to do more and I can do more.”

Romo pitched the equivalent of a perfect game by retiring 31 consecutive batters over a 15-game span from July 4-Aug. 6. While right-handers hit .150 off him, he was no slouch against left-handers, whom he limited to a .229 average.

– Chris Haft

More moves for Reds?

The Reds have added a closer, a left fielder, a starting pitcher and a lefty setup man. What’s next?

Infielder … maybe.

The free-agent market for infielders who can play shortstop and back up rookie Zack Cozart is rather thin. It’s thin enough that Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is thinking trade rather signing someone from the open market.

“We’re still talking to a couple of clubs,” Jocketty said late Friday. “We’ll know something by next week, hopefully. I don’t think there’s a lot of guys out there free agent wise.”

Jocketty did not divulge which clubs he was chatting with.

Of the free-agent shortstops, there’s only Ryan Theriot, Miguel Tejada and former Red Edgar Renteria. In recent days, ex-Red Orlando Cabrera retired and Jack Wilson signed with the Braves.

Jocketty said that there has been some interest shown to Theriot.

“We’ve talked to him, had some conversations,” Jocketty said.

Asked if he was optimistic something could get done, Jocketty responded “not today.”

• If the Reds sign nobody and don’t pull off a trade, Jocketty said he’d be comfortable going with what is already in house. That would mean Cozart and Paul Janish would be the team’s shortstops, with Cozart on the inside track to start.

• The Reds are continuing to look at adding to their depth with possible Minor League contract offers. One player they’re taking a look at, Jocketty confirmed, is pitcher Jeff Francis. The left-handed Francis, 30, was 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA in 31 starts last season with the Royals.  He was with the Rockies from 2004-10 and was a 17-game winner in 2007.

– Mark Sheldon

Pena returns to Rays

Carlos Pena is returning to the Rays after spending a year away, a source confirmed on Friday.

The 33-year-old first baseman’s one-year contract is worth $7.25 million. Pena spent the 2007-10 seasons with Tampa Bay before joining the Cubs as a free agent last offseason, and his two best seasons came with the Rays (46 home runs in ’07, 39 in ’09).

Pena’s home run total for the Cubs last year (28) matched his output with the Rays in 2010. He hit .225 with a .357 on-base percentage in 2011, marks that are in line with his respective .239 and .352 clips lifetime.

Pena will take a pay cut from his $10 million salary a year ago.

– Evan Drellich

Dombrowski: Fielder “probably not a good fit”

Credit Angela Wittrock of MLive.com for getting Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski to mention Prince Fielder by name during the Tigers’ winter caravan stop Thursday afternoon at the Michigan state capitol in Lansing. He normally doesn’t do that with free agents.

Dombrowski’s answer on the subject went about as expected.

“Of course we’d consider Prince Fielder,” Dombrowski is quoted as saying. “But realistically, it’s probably not a good fit.”

Agent Scott Boras, Dombrowski reportedly said, probably wouldn’t agree to a one-year contract, and that’s the kind of deal the Tigers are seeking to replace Victor Martinez, who suffered what is expected to be a season-ending knee injury last week.

“We anticipate Victor Martinez coming back in 2013 and playing at the level he was at last season,” Dombrowski said.

As witnessed from the Johnny Damon saga two years ago, Boras has a talent for negotiating directly with owners. But given that experience, it’s hard to imagine Dombrowski making his remarks without feeling highly confident that’s not going to change.

“I would just say the fit is really not there at this point,” Dombrowski said.

Realistically, if Fielder can get a long-term deal somewhere else, it’s hard to envision him passing it up. And if Boras can take the Tigers’ desire for a one-year fix and tie it to another of his many free-agent hitters, Boras could be in better shape.

– Jason Beck

Rockies reportedly agree to extension with Betancourt

The Rockies have reportedly agreed to a contract extension with reliever Rafael Betancourt, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes.

The deal reportedly guarantees the right-hander a $4.25 million mutual option for 2013 and adds an option in 2014 for the same salary. He will earn $4 million in 2012, a part of his current contract.

As one of baseball’s best relievers, Betancourt, who will turn 37 in April, posted an ERA of 2.89 in 2011 and saved eight games while then Rockies closer Huston Street was on the disabled list.

With Street being traded to the Padres this off season, Betancourt will likely take over as Colorado’s closer this year.

– Quinn Roberts

1/19 Cubs sign Rodrigo Lopez

The Cubs have signed Rodrigo Lopez to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training. A Mexican baseball magazine first reported the signing. Last January, Lopez, 36, signed with the Braves but did not make the roster out of Spring Training. He was traded to the Cubs in May, and pitched in long relief and made 16 starts. He was 6-6 with a 4.42 ERA in 26 games. In a four-game stretch June 28-July 18, Lopez was 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA, posting three quality starts.

The Cubs are expected to announce all the non-roster invitees next week.

– Carrie Muskat

Yanks have heard from Vlad, Ibanez

The Yankees have heard from the representatives for free agents Vladimir Guerrero and Raul Ibanez about their opening at designated hitter, Newsday’s Ken Davidoff reports. 

Guerrero and Ibanez could join a crowd of candidates vying for the Yankees’ attention in the wake of last week’s Jesus Montero trade to the Mariners. New York is known to have reached out to the representatives for Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Carlos Pena, but it is believed that the Yankees have only between $1 and $2 million to spend on a DH.

Internally, the Yankees are touting a tandem of Andruw Jones and Minor League slugger Jorge Vazquez to tackle DH duties, while also using the spot to help rest players like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. Davidoff’s report also noted that Jack Cust’s representatives talked to the Yankees, but Cust agreed to a contract with the Astros on Tuesday.

- Bryan Hoch

Cust to the Astros

Jack Cust, who has hit 105 home runs in a 10-year Major League career that has spanned six teams, has agreed to a one-year deal with the Astros with an option for 2013, according to a baseball source.

The deal is pending a physical and could be announced as soon as Wednesday. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow declined to comment.

Cust, 33, appeared in 67 games for the Mariners last year, batting .213 with three homers and 23 RBIs. He spent the previous four seasons with the Oakland A’s, hitting 97 homers and driving in 281 runs in that span. He’s played primarily left field, right field and designated hitter in his career.

-- Brian McTaggart

No long-term deal for Angels’ Aybar — yet

UPDATE, 12:22 P.M. PT: Reached by phone, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said today’s one-year agreement with shortstop Erick Aybar means nothing with regards to their quest to sign him to a long-term deal. In fact, the two sides continue to move forward in those negotiations.

“We’ll just have to let it take care of itself,” Dipoto said. “Obviously, it’s something that we’re interested in, something Erick’s interested in, and we’ll just let the negotiations and conversations take place as they will. There is no line in the sand right now on when we have to be done with it. Today’s agreement with Erick does nothing to keep us from moving the ball forward in that regard.”

If an extension does happen, the new deal would kick in for the 2013 season now, not 2012.

More will be up on Angels.com soon.

——-

The good news is the Angels have taken care of all their arbitration-eligible players before sides were even scheduled to exchange figures.

The bad news is shortstop Erick Aybar didn’t get his long-term deal. At least not yet.

Aybar and the Angels agreed instead to a one-year, $5.075 million contract on Tuesday, meaning he’ll be eligible for free agency after the 2012 season if the two sides can’t agree to something more long-term before then.

Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto had recently opened up extension talks with Aybar, probably in hopes of signing him to a deal similar to the one second baseman Howie Kendrick agreed to on Jan. 7 – a four-year, $33.5 million contract.

Aybar, like Kendrick, was drafted by the Angels in 2002. And like Kendrick, he’s coming off a career year, one that saw him win his first Gold Glove while batting .279 with a .322 on-base percentage and setting personal bests in home runs (10), RBIs (59) and stolen bases (30).

– Alden Gonzalez 

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