February 2012

Yankees’ DH won’t be Damon

Johnny Damon told the New York Post that he and the Yankees won’t be reuniting, calling the situation “unfortunate.” Damon had hoped to be the left-handed DH bat that the Yankees are looking for, but general manager Brian Cashman told Damon that wasn’t going to happen. 

“He called and I told him the truth,” Cashman told the newspaper. “He’s not the No. 1 option if and when I turn to DH options.”

The Yankees are in a holding pattern until A.J. Burnett passes his physical with the Pirates on Sunday, but are expected to chase veteran Raul Ibanez as a DH instead. They’re also interested in bringing back Eric Chavez as a corner infielder.

Bryan Hoch

2/14 Cubs keep tabs on Soler

The Cubs have been keeping tabs on 19-year-old Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler. However, reports from the Dominican Republic that they have an agreement in place to offer him a $27.5 million deal may be premature. Soler is waiting for clearance from Major League Baseball before he can be declared a free agent. There were reports that the Cubs signed 19-year-old Cuban pitcher Gerardo Concepcion, but the team has not confirmed that. On Monday, Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes agreed to a four-year, $36 million deal with the Athletics. The Cubs did scout Cespedes as well.

— Carrie Muskat

Tigers had contract talks on Cespedes

The Tigers indeed had interest in Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed Monday, and had contract talks with agent Adam Katz. However, Dombrowski said, they eventually determined they weren’t going to meet their contract demands.

Cespedes agreed to terms Monday with the Oakland A’s on a four-year contract worth $36 million, passing on a reported six-year offer worth the same amount from the Florida Marlins. It ended a courtship that supposedly involved more than a half-dozen teams and made Cespedes baseball’s highest-profile free agent left on the market for the last couple weeks.

The interest was high enough that Dombrowski traveled to the Dominican Republic to personally watch Cespedes work out.

“We liked him,” Dombrowski told MLB.com Monday in a phone interview. “We talked contract with him, but we were not in a position to pay for him the amount they wanted.”

For a good part of the offseason, Cespedes was believed to be the Tigers’ top free-agent target. Dombrowski was one of about a half-dozen top Tigers officials to see Cespedes, either in workouts last November or at international tournaments over the last couple years. Last month, Cespedes listed the Tigers among a half-dozen teams showing the most interest in him.

The fact that the Tigers kept their comments limited on Cespedes, and the fact that Detroit didn’t get heavily involved on high-profile free agents early in the offseason, added to the intrigue.

That level of interest didn’t change after the Tigers signed Prince Fielder last month, Dombrowski said. However, he cautioned, they determined pretty soon where their talks were heading, despite reports labeling them among the favorites.

“I really wouldn’t have ruled us as a favorite to sign him, based upon where some of our preliminary conversations went with his agent,” Dombrowski said.

Those early talks apparently showed where Cespedes wanted to go — not just in terms of annual salary, but the length of contract. Dombrowski confirmed that a four-year deal was a big point, since it would allow him to hit the free-agent market sooner rather than later.

“That was pretty much always something that they outlined,” Dombrowski said. “If you were going to sign him, you would have to agree to that.”

With Cespedes off the market, the Tigers are now set with their position roster. Dombrowski said they were likely set before Cespedes signed, believing they weren’t likely to add him.

Katz told MLB Network Radio on Monday afternoon that the Marlins were the only team that met Cespedes in person during his visit to Miami last week.

— Jason Beck

Indians targeting Garland?

The Indians are “working on” a deal with free-agent right-hander Jon Garland, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports via Twitter.

Garland, 32, underwent surgery on his throwing shoulder in July and missed the remainder of the 2011 season. His recovery time was projected to be at least six months. The Dodgers declined an $8 million 2012 club option to retain Garland, opting instead to pay a buyout of $500,000 and sending the pitcher into the free-agent pool.

Targeting Garland as a low-risk addition makes sense for Cleveland, which enters 2012 with a few rotation questions. As things currently stand, the four pitchers virtually locked in for jobs are Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Derek Lowe and Josh Tomlin. Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez and David Huff will compete for the fifth spot this spring.

The pitcher known to date as Fausto Carmona (his real name is believed to be Roberto Hernandez Heredia) is currently dealing with legal and visa problems in the Dominican Republic. Carmona is on MLB’s restricted list and it is unclear when or if he will be able to rejoin the Indians this summer.

Garland has spent parts of 12 seasons in the Majors with the White Sox, Angels, D-backs, Padres and Dodgers. He has won at least 12 games seven times and twice won 18 games in a season. Overall, the righty has gone 132-119 with a 4.32 ERA across 353 games in the big leagues. Garland was 1-5 with a 4.33 in nine outings last year before the shoulder injury sent him to the disabled list.

–Jordan Bastian

2/10 Hoyer: Soriano “unlikely” to be traded

Alfonso Soriano has been mentioned in trade rumors this offseason but he was expected to be back in left field at the start of the 2012 season for the Cubs. GM Jed Hoyer said it was “unlikely” that Soriano would be dealt by Opening Day.

“I know Sori’s been working really hard this offseason … our hope is obviously you want him to get on base a little more,” Hoyer said during an interview on ESPN 1000 on Thursday. “The power was there last year, the RBIs were there. Obviously, it really comes down to defense and we’re hoping with some better conditioning and some better health that he can be a little better out there. We don’t want to do anything to hurt our pitchers but we do believe there’s something left in Sori.”

Soriano, who turned 36 in January, hit 26 homers and drove in 88 runs last season but batted .244.

— Carrie Muskat

Yankees, Pirates discussing A.J. Burnett trade

The Yankees and Pirates have discussed a possible A.J. Burnett trade, with the Yankees willing to pick up a portion of the $33 million they owe the right-hander over the next two seasons.

That figure has been said to be in the $8 million range. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported in a blog post that New York and Pittsburgh are still separated by a few million dollars.

Burnett could be an extraneous piece for the Yankees, who currently have seven pitchers to fit into five rotation slots. He would head to Spring Training competing with Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia for New York’s fifth starter job. Heyman notes that the Yankees asked for slugger Garrett Jones, but were rejected.

The New York Post’s Joel Sherman tweeted that the 10 clubs on Burnett’s limited no-trade list are all on the West Coast. Burnett signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Yankees before the 2009 season and is 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA in his three seasons wearing pinstripes.

Bryan Hoch

Reds deny Oswalt rumors

The topic of Roy Oswalt and the Reds being a potential match hasn’t gone away in the past several weeks, despite the denials from general manager Walt Jocketty. Rumors flared up again over the weekend as other clubs appear to be declining their interest. The Cardinals were the latest team to reportedly back off.

Speaking by phone on Tuesday from Goodyear, Ariz., Jocketty emphatically denied the Reds were in on Oswalt.

“The media has been putting us into it. I’m tired of it,” Jocketty said. “I try to be upfront with you guys. I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people. I’m not saying something couldn’t ever happen but there’s nothing to lead me to believe we will sign him.”

“I don’t know where he’s going. We haven’t had any serious discussions with him. We’ve had no contact with that player.”

On another topic — the Reds are no closer to an extension with 2B Brandon Phillips

“Not really,” Jocketty said. “We really haven’t had a chance to talk with them. Hopefully in the next few weeks, it’s something we can address.”

Jocketty said he did not believe Phillips’ side had set any deadline for talks ending before the season starts.

“I think this could go on for a while,” Jocketty said.

— Mark Sheldon

Orioles remain interested in Manny

Are the Orioles in on Manny Ramirez? Well, they have some interest, especially given that they’d like to add a veteran bat before Spring Training and the free agency pool has all but dried up.

Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportesLosAngeles.com reported earlier Friday that Ramirez is deciding between the O’s, Athletics and Blue Jays. But how serious is the Orioles’ interest in Manny? I don’t know, and it’s tough for anyone to say accurately at this point. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette –who had Ramirez while GM in Boston– hasn’t ruled out the scenario all offseason, which is why I’m hesitant to do so now.

To recap, Ramirez will face a 50-game suspension for violating the MLB drug policy should he sign a new contract and play in 2012.  Working in his favor is he would come at a cheaper cost than any other older DH-type on the market, such as Johnny Damon.  But he also comes with significant drawbacks. In addition to the suspension, Ramirez typically brings a media circus, and I’m not sure how that style (the whole “Manny being Manny” mantra) would play out with manager Buck Showalter. And then there’s the question of performance: how much does Manny have left in the tank? The Orioles saw firsthand last year with Vladimir Guerrero that a veteran past his prime isn’t exactly the exciting cleanup hitter they need.

With just about two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, all signs point to Ramirez making a decision soon.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Rockies, Belisle reach contract extension

DENVER — The Rockies and right-handed reliever Matt Belisle on a one-year contract extension through 2013, the club announced Friday morning. Terms were not immediately known.

Last season, Belisle, 31, went 10-4 — a career high for wins in a season — with a 3.25 ERA in 74 appearances. Belisle has appeared in a career0high 76 games the previous year, and over the last two years is 17-9 with a 3.07 ERA.

This is the third time Belisle and the Rockies have reached an agreement in about a year. He signed a one-year deal last winter to avoid arbitration, then he and the Rockies worked the agreement into a two-year, $6.125 million contract.

Belisle, who joined the Rockies as a non-roster invitee in 2009, is 36-32 with a 4.48 ERA, 401 strikeouts and 131 walks in 306 appearances, including 43 starts, with the Reds (2003, 2005-08) and the Rockies.

— Thomas Harding