December 2012

12/11 Report: Phillies interested in Soriano

According to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com and MLB Network, the Cubs and Phillies have discussed a deal that would send Alfonso Soriano to Philadelphia in exchange for Domonic Brown. Heyman notes the Phillies may be more inclined to sign a free agent, such as Cody Ross. The Cubs are reportedly willing to pay $10 million of the $38 million remaining on Soriano’s deal if they can get top prospects in return. Soriano, who turns 37 in January, batted .262 with 32 home runs lsat season. As a player with 10-and-5 rights, he would have to approve the deal.

– Carrie Muskat

Royals sign outfielder Willy Taveras

Out of the Majors since 2010, Willy Taveras has agreed to a Minor League deal with the Royals that includes an invite to Major League camp, a baseball source said Tuesday.

Taveras turns 31 on Christmas Day and has a career .320 on-base percentage with 195 steals.

“It’s hard to wait, cause that’s what I was doing — just waiting and waiting, and I’m still waiting, and it’s hard to,” Taveras said earlier in the offseason. “But at the end of the day, I have a beautiful family, even if baseball doesn’t work, to be able to keep working hard, you keep yourself in good shape. … We’re just keeping positive.”

– Evan Drellich

Dodgers Pitching Surplus Could Lead to Trades

General manager Ned Colletti said he held some talks at last week’s Winter Meetings involving Dodgers pitcher that would be available for trade if he was successful in obtaining two starting pitchers. Now that Colletti has added Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu to the starting rotation, veterans Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang are in play, although probably not both until the health of Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly is better established during Spring Training. Colletti didn’t even rule out the possibility of taking his eight current starting pitchers to Spring Training. — Ken Gurnick

Colletti Expects Kershaw Extension Talks

General manager Ned Colletti, after introducing new pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu on Monday, said the Dodgers still have money left to give Clayton Kershaw a contract extension and that the club “will look into it” in the next few weeks. Kershaw is signed through 2013, has a final year of eligibility for salary arbitration in 2014, then would be eligible for free agency. Zack Greinke’s six-year, $147 million contract will provide a benchmark for Kershaw. — Ken Gurnick

Ichiro, Yankees making progress toward new deal

The Yankees are making progress toward a new contract with outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, according to multiple published reports.

ESPN.com’s Buster Olney reported that Ichiro, 39, and the Yankees are expected to come to an agreement “within the next few days.”

Ichiro’s agent, Tony Attanasio, has said that Ichiro’s first choice was to return to the Yankees, where he batted .322 with five home runs and 27 RBIs in 67 games after being acquired from the Mariners on July 23.

Ichiro was reportedly irked by a lack of attention from the Yankees early in the free agent process when the club was prioritizing starting pitching.

If Ichiro returns, the Yankees will have an all left-handed hitting outfield, with Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson in place. Yankees GM Brian Cashman said that if that happens, a right-handed bat in the role that Andruw Jones filled in 2011-12 will become a priority.

The Yankees are also waiting on a response from free agent infielder Kevin Youkilis, who is weighing a one-year, $12 million contract offer from the club.

- Bryan Hoch

Mets still eyeing small fortune for Dickey

With Zack Greinke off the free agent market and James Shields gone from the trading block, teams searching for top-tier starting pitching have one obvious place left to look: New York, where R.A. Dickey remains available.

He won’t come cheaply. Apparently general manager Sandy Alderson was not bluffing when he said last week that he is looking for a “difference-maker” in exchange for Dickey; various local and national reports indicate that Rangers top power prospect Mike Olt, for example, would not be enough in a deal. FOX Sports speculated that the Blue Jays could entice the Mets with a package of catcher J.P. Arencibia and center fielder Anthony Gose, but not with Arencibia alone.

If the Mets do not find a package they like, they can still simply keep Dickey and try to extend him for a reasonable price — the knuckleballer is reportedly seeking no more than two years and $30 million. But the Mets have made it clear they are willing to deal him, and offers may increase now that other top options are off the market.

–Anthony DiComo

Reynolds agrees to terms with Indians

The Cleveland Indians have agreed to a one-year contract with infielder Mark Reynolds for 2013, as the two sides reached a deal on Sunday evening, according to a source.

Reynolds, who was non-tendered by the Orioles last month, will get a base salary of $6 million with another $1.5 million in incentives and is expected to play first base for the Tribe .The 29-year-old made 7.5 million with Baltimore last season and amid a thin free-agent class of first basemen, Reynolds — who would have made around $9 million in arbitration — was willing to return to the O’s, but not at a significantly reduced salary.

The Orioles never offered Reynolds any type of deal, preferring to “let the market play out” for his services instead and several teams expressed interest in Reynolds at last week’s Winter Meetings. One of them was Cleveland, which has its Spring Training facility in Arizona and will allow Reynolds to live home during big league camp. While Baltimore is still looking to add a middle-of-the-order bat, the club’s top internal choice at first base for 2013 is now Chris Davis.

After starting the 2012 season at third base, Reynolds — who committed six errors in 40 chances — was moved across the diamond and worked hard to turn himself into an above-average first baseman. Frequently taking some good-natured ribbing for his tendency to never stay on his feet, he became adept at picking balls in the dirt and making excellent scoops, resulting in a .995 fielding percentage in 108 games at the position.

Offensively, Reynolds recovered from a poor first half to post a .221 batting average with a .335 on-base percentage and a .429 slugging percentage, collecting 23 homers and 69 RBIs in 135 games. Sixteen of his homers came in the final two months of the season after he got past the most prolonged slump of his career. Through Reynolds’ first 85 games, he hit .211 with eight homers and 33 RBIs and struck out 104 times. He did draw walks throughout the season, leading the team in free passes for a second straight year, with 73, and he helped the Orioles reach their first postseason in 15 years by hitting 15 homers and posting a .517 slugging percentage in his final 50 games.

A well-liked player in the clubhouse, Reynolds played through numerous injuries during the season. He was hit by a pitch six times during the regular season and twice in six postseason games. Health was a question to everyone but Reynolds, who deflected any notion that he might need to miss time. The Orioles acquired from the D-backs on Dec. 6, 2010, in exchange for right-handers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio. The signing is still pending a physical, with CBSports.com first reporting the two sides were closing in on a deal.

Dipoto satisfied with pitching staff after Meetings

Since they’re both pending physicals, Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto couldn’t speak very candidly on the agreed-upon two-year deals for starter Joe Blanton and reliever Sean Burnett.

But speaking from the lobby of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel on Thursday morning, minutes after the Rule 5 Draft and just as he boarded a flight back to Southern California, the second-year GM sounded like a man who’s satisfied with the pitching depth and isn’t looking to make any other significant free-agent signings.

“Sometimes,” Dipoto said, “the smartest moves you can do is just make practical decisions.”

The likes of Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson and Brandon McCarthy will probably sign elsewhere now. Dipoto wouldn’t flatly say that they’re out on Zack Greinke, who’s expected to command a $150 million contract, but of course they are. “We’re prepared to,” he said. “You have to make smart decisions.”

In fact, if the Angels do make any other addition to their Major League roster, it would probably be to one more low-tier free agent — probably a reliever, but perhaps another starter.

Dipoto talked all offseason about building “one-through-12 pitching depth.” With Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson, Blanton, Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams as starters, and Ryan Madson, Burnett, Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen and Scott Downs as relievers, he feels he has “11 men in place on our Major League pitching staff, and every one of the 11 guys, when they take the field, is a competitive Major League pitcher and the innings are going to grow.”

Asked if he’d be satisfied if this were the same pitching staff that arrives in Tempe, Ariz., this spring, Dipoto said, “Oh yeah.”

The Angels’ payroll was never expected to be at $159 million like it was last season. The most likely scenario was that it would be somewhere between $140 and $145 million. Right now, it’s at roughly $140 million — and it may not go much higher than that.

“We’ve made a handful of decisions that we think are best for the club,” Dipoto added. “I can tell you there’s not another move coming today; I can’t tell you that there won’t be an addition to the club at some point. You’re always looking to get better. But I think what we did in the last few days is we put ourselves in a position where we’re stable. We’re not going to have to make further additions to be a competitive club.

“Right now, on paper, we have 11 guys that slot into Major League roles, and if the chance exists to better our club in some way, that makes sense for the Angels, we’ll take a look at it. But we have nothing imminent, we have nothing that I think is a certainty – nothing we have to do.”

– Alden Gonzalez

Dodgers Greinke, Ryu Updates

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he spoke with the agent for top free-agent target Zack Greinke on Wednesday, but gave no indication a deal was close. Meanwhile, the clock kept ticking in talks for Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin, who must be signed by Sunday or he returns to Korea. The Dodgers’ off-season priority is to add two top-line pitchers to their rotation, so if Greinke is not signed by Sunday, signing Ryu becomes more pressing. The only other starting pitchers the Dodgers are known to have interest in are free agent Anibal Sanchez and Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, who would require a trade from the Mets. — Ken Gurnick

Angels nearing a deal for Joe Blanton

UPDATE: Blanton’s deal is expected to be two years for $15 million, according to a source, with ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick reporting that it includes a third-year club option.

That all but squashes the Angels’ already-faint hopes to land Greinke, who many expect to command at least an average annual value of $25 million on a six-year deal. The likes of Anibal Sanchez, Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster and Shaun Marcum also don’t seem to be options, with the Angels’ payroll expected to be at least $10 to $15 million less than the $159 million they ended last season with.

But that’s still unclear, because the club hasn’t publicly commented on its 2013 payroll projections.

——-

Shortly after agreeing to terms on a two-year contract for lefty reliever Sean Burnett, the Angels were on the verge of signing free-agent starting pitcher Joe Blanton, sources confirmed to MLB.com.

Blanton, 31, went 10-13 with a 4.71 ERA in 31 games (30 starts) for the Phillies and Dodgers last season. From 2005-12, the right-hander went 83-75 with a 4.37 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP.

How does it affect the Angels’ pursuit of Zack Greinke or others, like Anibal Sanchez, Edwin Jackson and Joe Saunders? Still unclear, but a source said Blanton is only “a piece” for the rotation and not necessarily the final piece.

– Alden Gonzalez

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