December 2012

Lefty relief options shrinking for Brewers

A pair potential Brewers targets fell off the open market on Day 3 of the Winter Meetings on Wednesday when left-handed relievers Sean Burnett and Randy Choate chose new homes and further shrunk the Brewers’ options for that area of need.

Burnett, who signed for two years with the Angels, and Choate, who got three years from the Cardinals, were among a number of lefty relievers under consideration by the Brewers, who created a need by nontendering Manny Parra last week.

Among the free agent lefties still available are Mike Gonzalez, Tom Gorzelanny, J.P. Howell, Will Ohman and Hideki Okajima.

But general manager Doug Melvin said that as of Wednesday afternoon, he had yet to make any offers.

– Adam McCalvy

Thome undecided on a return

Jim Thome has been doing some traveling in recent days. He attended former teammate Joe Mauer’s wedding in Minneapolis over the weekend, and he was in Cleveland this week to get measured for the statue the Indians are creating in his honor at Progressive Field.

But Thome, a free agent, hasn’t been visiting any Major League clubs on formal business. The 42-year-old member of the 600-homer club is still undecided on whether to come back for a 23rd season, and it is not known what kind of market would develop for his services were he to decide to come back.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he spoke with Thome on the phone earlier this week and that Thome had not yet made up his mind on coming back.

“I think if somebody shows interest in him, he might [return],” Manuel said. “You know, I think he’s one of those guys who is having a hard time trying to leave.”

Manuel’s Phillies coaxed Thome out of a potential retirement a year ago with a one-year, $1.25 million contract. But when Thome’s bid to play first base with regularity for the first time since 2005 did not go as planned, he was shipped back to the American League when the Orioles acquired him for Minor Leaguers Gabriel Lino and Kyle Simon in June. A herniated disk in his neck limited Thome to just 28 games with the O’s. For the season, he hit .252 with eight homers, seven doubles and 25 RBIs in 58 games.

Orioles general manager Dan Duquette told reporters earlier this week that he has not had contact with Thome but that Thome “added a real veteran presence” to the club.

–Anthony Castrovince

Angels sign left-hander Sean Burnett

The Angels finalized their bullpen search on Wednesday, signing left-handed reliever Sean Burnett to a two-year deal with a club option, a source told MLB.com.

The deal, which is still pending a physical, is expected to be just south of the two-year, $9.5 million deal Kyuji Fujikawa got with the Cubs, and way south of the three-year, $18 million deal Jeremy Affeldt signed with the Giants.

The addition of Burnett has “no effect” on the Angels’ pursuit of a starting pitcher. They’re still not totally out on Zack Greinke. Burnett joins a bullpen that includes fellow lefty Scott Downs in addition to Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen and the recently signed Ryan Madson, who’s expected to take over the closer’s role after recovery from Tommy John surgery.

– Alden Gonzalez

Report: Cards reach agreement with Choate

The Cardinals’ search for left-handed relief help has brought them to Randy Choate, who, according to Jayson Stark of ESPN.com, reached terms on an agreement with St. Louis on Wednesday. The club has not yet announced the signing, but when they do, it will mark the first dip for the organization into the free-agent pool this offseason.

It has been no secret that St. Louis has been looking to add a second southpaw to join Marc Rzepczynski in the bullpen. The market was thin in that area, forcing the Cardinals to carefully consider how much of a financial commitment the club wanted to make to a lefty reliever. Sean Burnett, considered the top remaining free-agent lefty reliever, was going to command a strong multi-year commitment.

The length and terms of Choate’s agreement with the Cardinals was not immediately known.

Choate, 37, made 80 appearances in 2012, which he split between the Marlins and Dodgers. Choate posted a 3.03 ERA in 38 2/3 innings and was used primarily as a lefty specialist. He held left-handed batters to a .158 batting average. Right-handed hitters batted .325 against him. The Cardinals will use Choate in that same specialist role.

– Jenifer Langosch

Orioles agree to terms with McLouth

The Orioles have agreed to terms on a one-year deal for outfielder Nate McLouth, according to an industry source.

Baltimore had steady dialogue with McLouth’s agent, Mike Nicotera, and manager Buck Showalter spoke on the phone with the 31-year-old outfielder on Tuesday as he was the organization’s top choice in adding a corner outfielder.

McLouth had a .268/.342/.435 line in 55 games for Baltimore last season, emerging as the club’s starting left fielder and providing a spark from the leadoff spot with Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis on the disabled list. Signed to a Minor League contract after being released by the Pirates, McLouth had said all along that he would like to return to Baltimore. It was a mutual feeling.

“I think Nate liked Baltimore, he played very well there, and we liked him in Baltimore,” executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said Tuesday night. “He did a good job for us when he came up … there’s a natural interest in re-signing him to the team.”

McLouth, a former Gold Glove Award winner, joins Nolan Reimold as an option for the O’s in left field. The team is still seeking a middle-of-the-order bat which, with McLouth’s signing, will now come from either first base or designated hitter.

The Baltimore Sun first reported the two sides were close to a deal.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Orioles outfield search

The Orioles are doing their due diligence in searching the free-agent market for another outfielder, checking in on Nick Swisher and Ryan Sweeney -among others –  as they continue to negotiate with Nate McLouth’s camp.

The overwhelming sense is McLouth is the Orioles’ first choice and he is reportedly seeking only a one-year deal to re-establish himself in the market, although executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette declined to discuss the length of any potential contract.

Swisher, 32, is an interesting name, but with the deals secured by Angel Pagan (Giants) and Shane Victorino (Red Sox) it’s tough to imagine the Orioles being able to work out a deal that works in their current payroll constraints. And even if they could, it doesn’t seem Baltimore is all that enticed by a high-energy, theatrical player such as Swisher, with a source noting that the meeting was “very preliminary” in nature.

Manager Buck Showalter has done an admirable job turning around the clubhouse atmosphere and the team’s chemistry was a big part of what they did last year. I’m not saying that Swisher’s a bad guy, but any addition will be weighed carefully in the front office, particularly when you look at the sizeable chunk signing Swisher would almost certainly demand.

Sweeney was non-tendered by Boston on Friday, and could be a potential depth signing or insurance if the club doesn’t land McLouth. The 27-year-old  made three trips to the disabled list last season, ending 2012 when he broke his hand punching a door in the clubhouse following a bad at-bat on July 30.  A left-handed hitter, Sweeney played in 63 games for the Red Sox and he hit .260 with 18 doubles, two triples, no homers and 16 RBIs.  He has a career.293/.347/.402 line against right-handed pitching.

The Orioles also reportedly checked in with Nate Schierholtz –the 28-year-old was non-tendered by the Phillies — although ESPN reported Wednesday morning that the Yankees are considered a frontrunner for his services.

–Brittany Ghiroli

Indians items: Bay, Hannahan, trades

The Indians have offered Jason Bay a one-year contract, according to a source, and the free-agent outfielder is nearing a decision on where to sign. Seattle, and others, remain in play. Bay has a history with Indians manager Terry Francona from their days in Boston.

As MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince wrote overnight, the Indians have talked to the D-backs about a trade that would involve shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and highly-touted pitcher Trevor Bauer. It would likely take another player or two for the Tribe to pull the trigger.

Multiple reports have indicated that the Indians and De-backs are also involved in a potential four-team trade. The Rays, Rangers and Royals have all been mentioned as possible partners.

ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the Indians — after missing out on Shane Victorino —  have interest in outfielder Nick Swisher.

Free-agent Jack Hannahan has received “genuine” interest from five teams, with two offers on the table at the moment. Cleveand remains interested in re-signing the infielder, but that seems unlikely given that he has opportunities to start or platoon elsewhere. The White Sox, Twins, Reds and Yankees are among those who have checked in on Hannahan.

 

--Jordan Bastian

Rockies-Astros swap pitchers

The Astros acquired the starting pitching they sought when they made a trade with the Rockies late Tuesday to land right-hander Alex White and a Minor League arm in exchange for reliever Wilton Lopez and a player to be named

Less than a week after the Astros tried to send Lopez to the Phillies, they were able to use the arbitration-eligible relief pitcher to acquire White and right-hander Alex Gillingham. White appeared in 23 games (20 starts) for the Rockies last season and was 2-9 with a 5.51 ERA.

Lopez has been a workhorse member of the Astros’ bullpen the past three years, going 6-3 with a 2.17 ERA last season in 64 games. He also had a career-high 10 saves after assuming the club’s closer role following the trade of Myers and ineffectiveness of Francisco Cordero.

Brian McTaggart

 

D-Backs offer on table for Barajas

The D-backs have an offer on the table for veteran backup catcher Rod Barajas, according to an industry source.

Barajas, 37, made his big league debut with the D-backs in 1999 and appeared in 211 games with Arizona and later joined Texas after the 2003 season. He’s also played for the Phillies, Mets, Blue Jays and Dodgers during his career.

Barajas appeared in 104 games for the Pirates last season. The D-backs hope starter Miguel Montero can catch 130-135 games next season.

– Jesse Sanchez

Schumaker on Dodgers’ Radar

The Dodgers have talked to the St. Louis Cardinals about a trade for utilityman Skip Schumaker, who could double as a back-up to center fielder Matt Kemp and second baseman Mark Ellis. Schumaker, who lives in Orange County, is a devoted disciple of new Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire. Schumaker would also add a needed left-handed bat to the bench. The Dodgers also are considering free agents Nate Schierholtz and Eric Chavez for the bench. — Ken Gurnick

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