ST. PETERSBURG — With David Price standing in the local and national spotlight prior to Thursday’s non-waiver Trade Deadline, Ben Zobrist has almost flown under the radar.
But he’s been the subject of many trade rumors, and he’s shown lately why he’s such an interesting target.
Zobrist hit a game-tying homer and a go-ahead double in the Rays’ 5-1 win over the Brewers on Tuesday, improving Tampa Bay’s record to 53-54. The Rays were 24-42 through June 10, and they’re a win Wednesday away from being the fourth team in Major League history to fall to 18 games below .500 and return to that mark.
Nobody’s ever overcome that deficit and reached the postseason. The Rays believe they can. While everyone’s been talking about how the Rays are playing to keep Price, manager Joe Maddon insists their goal is even loftier.
“Yeah, we’re playing for the World Series. That’s our objective. It’s been from Day 1. For me, it’s to get to the playoffs and to win the World Series,” Maddon said. “I’m telling you, we’re one of the best teams in the American League. Our record is not reflecting it yet, but if we keep playing like this, it soon shall. There’s a lot of time left.”
But is there a lot of time left for players like Price and Zobrist? Price is slated to start Wednesday’s 12:10 p.m. ET game, unsure where he’ll make the start after that but ready for an answer.
CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reported Tuesday that the Rays are “talking and willing” to deal Price despite the Rays winning 11 of their last 12 and 29 of 41 since June 11. It makes sense: If Tampa Bay was willing to consider trading Price this offseason — when they were zero games out of any race — why not do so now when the odds aren’t as favorable?
“This is the team we are. We knew that this was the team we could be in Spring Training. It just took a long time for it to show up,” Zobrist said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to return to the way we were playing prior to June 11.”
Back to Zobrist. He’s hitting .344/.440/.563 (33-for-96) with four homers and 15 RBIs since June 28. He’s drawn 15 walks and only struck out six times this month. He’s dealt with fewer questions from reporters about his future than Price has, but he’s also performing like someone who wants to talk Andrew Friedman’s front office out of a sell-off.
The Rays likely will continue to assess their chances right up to the Deadline. But Price, Zobrist and Co. have made a compelling argument to stay.
“We’ve been playing so well that I haven’t been worrying about it too much. I think right now, it’s just so much fun to play with this club that it’s like, I can’t imagine anything being broke up at this point,” Zobrist said. “We seem to be a very, very good team in August and September. If history dictates anything, we’re going to continue to play the way that we can play for the last two months of the season.”
It appears one of the most high-profile relief arms still on the free-agent market could end up in the Beltway, after all.
After his deal with the Orioles fell through because of issues with his physical, Grant Balfour is reportedly on the Nationals’ radar. Washington has no shortage of reliable late-innings arms — Rafael Soriano, Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, for starters — but FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal wrote on Sunday that Balfour is a viable option for Washington. MLB.com’s Bill Ladson confirmed the Nationals’ interest in Balfour and notes that Storen would become available in that scenario.
It makes sense, Rosenthal says, in order for the Nationals to keep Soriano from vesting his option, Clippard in the setup role and Storen on the trading block.
That’s just one bit of news in baseball’s Hot Stove on Sunday. Here are a few more items as teams continue to prepare for pitchers and catchers to report to Spring Training:
• Ladson also writes that Washington would like to acquire a backup catcher behind Wilson Ramos and will look to do so via the trade market. The Nats were linked to Jose Molina and John Buck, but both signed elsewhere.
• The Reds are “still working” to sign former Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore, according to general manager Walt Jocketty. Rosenthal reported Sunday that Cincinnati has had “advanced talks” with the 31-year-old’s agent. MLB.com first reported the Reds’ interest in Sizemore, who hasn’t played in the Majors since 2011.
• Rafael Betancourt hasn’t pitched since Aug. 22 and will miss the early part of the 2014 season because of Tommy John surgery, but he’s reportedly still active in talks with the Rockies for a contract.
Betancourt, a free agent, earlier told the Denver Post’s Troy Renck he “can’t see [himself] anywhere else at this point in his career,” and Chris Cotillo has also reported the two sides are “in talks” for a new deal. The 38-year-old has spent the last five seasons in Colorado as a reliable late-innings reliever.
• Speaking of the Rockies, former Colorado starter Aaron Cook is looking to land on his feet in the big leagues after missing most of last season with a tired arm.
Cook did not pitch in the big leagues in 2013, and he ran up an 8.15 ERA in eight games (all starts) with Colorado’s Triple-A Colorado Springs affiliate. His last big league appearance came with the Red Sox in 2012, and the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reports, “Cook is fine now and looking for another chance.”
• The Marlins took care of slugger Giancarlo Stanton’s short-term future with a one-year, $6.5 million contract, but it didn’t do a whole lot to solidify his long-term future.
MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro wrote this weekend the two sides have been focused on the one-year deal to avoid arbitration and, for now, the two sides’ partnership is “on a year-to-year basis.”
“From the outset, I think it was in everyone’s interest to try [to] reach a fair and amicable settlement on a one-year contract,” Stanton’s agent, Joel Wolfe, told MLB.com. “We accomplished that. Now, Giancarlo can focus exclusively on getting ready for the season. He is pleased with the result and [is] looking forward to Spring Training.”
• Teams are “staying away” from free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz, Cafardo reports, because his asking salary has not come down enough. Cafardo cites a National League general manager as saying Cruz “may have to settle for a pillow contract of one year to re-establish his value.”
• The Yankees, D-backs, Cubs, Dodgers and White Sox have submitted a formal contract offer for free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, according to Nikkan Sports. Tanaka was posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles in December and has until Friday to reach a deal with a big league club.
The Yankees have reportedly agreed to sign Scott Sizemore to a Minor League contract, adding another player to their infield competition.
The deal was first reported Sunday by the New York Post’s Ken Davidoff and also confirmed on Twitter by Fox Sports and MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.
Sizemore, 29, has spent time at second and third base, two areas of need for the Yankees after losing Robinson Cano to Seattle via free agency and Alex Rodriguez to a 162-game suspension. However, Sizemore has been injured for most of the last two seasons. He tore the ACL in his left knee before the 2012 season and came back to play two games in 2013 before suffering the same injury.
In 160 games with the Tigers and A’s, Sizemore has hit .238/.328/.381. Over six seasons in the Minors, he put together a .300/.388/.453 batting line.
Sizemore will compete for playing time at second and third base with Eduardo Nunez, Corban Joseph, Dean Anna and the recently signed Yangervis Solarte, according to Rosenthal.
The Yankees already have added veteran infielder Kelly Johnson, who could see time at second and third, and slick-fielding utility man Brendan Ryan. New York also has reportedly agreed to a contract with former Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts, though the team has not officially confirmed the deal.
Those moves mean the Yankees are unlikely to sign another infielder to a Major League contract this offseason, as Rosenthal noted on Twitter, assumedly taking them out of the running for players like Michael Young and Stephen Drew.
Could a reunion be in store for the Twins and their former ace?
According to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, Minnesota is still “a real possibility” for former Twins and Mets left-hander Johan Santana.
Santana, coming off another major shoulder surgery at 34 years old, broke into the Majors with the Twins in 2000 and pitched for Minnesota until 2007. During that stretch, he won two American League Cy Young Awards (2004, ’06) while compiling a 93-44 record and 3.22 ERA.
The Twins traded Santana to the Mets before the 2008 season and have “continued to discuss Santana internally,” according to the Daily News report, which also notes that he has received interest from about 12 teams.
Santana didn’t pitch last year while recovering from shoulder surgery. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported last week that the lefty was “getting closer” to selecting which Minor League contract to accept. Cafardo also noted that Santana still lives in Fort Myers, Fla., the Twins’ Spring Training home.
The Twins have been on a mission this offseason to upgrade their rotation, which was easily the worst in the Majors in 2013. Minnesota’s starters posted a 5.26 ERA and struck out fewer than five batters per inning.
As MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger pointed out in his Inbox, the Twins have locked down four-fifths of their 2014 starting rotation — Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey — with Samuel Deduno currently considered the favorite to secure the fifth spot.
The first day of 2014 was another quiet one in terms of Hot Stove activity, news and rumors.
The only news, in fact, was that the Angels agreed to terms on a Minor League contract with veteran starter Mark Mulder, who hasn’t pitched in the Majors since 2008. MLB.com’s Alden Gonzalez confirmed the agreement, which was first reported by ESPN.com, and notes that Mulder could make more than $6 million if he reaches all the incentives in his contract. The Angels have not confirmed the deal.
The 36-year-old will compete for a spot in the Angels’ rotation this spring. He averaged 18 wins and recorded a 3.65 ERA for the A’s and Cardinals from 2001-05, pitched only 12 2/3 innings in the Majors in 2007-08 and retired in ’09 after two shoulder surgeries. When asked if the left-hander would go to the Minors if he doesn’t make the Angels’ rotation coming out of Spring Training, Mulder’s agent said he would “evaluate the situation” at that point.
“Right now, though, he’s looking forward to the opportunity to start in the Angels’ starting rotation,” added his agent, Brian Charles of Big League Management Company.
Here are a few other Hot Stove items from New Year’s Day.
• Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, recently posted by the Rakuten Golden Eagles, “has to be considered the [Yankees'] top priority right now,” MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch writes in his latest Inbox. Hoch notes that Tanaka has been on the Yankees’ radar for a while now, and that managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner would be willing to ignore the goal of a $189 million payroll to get him, but it’s not as if the Yankees are Tanaka’s only suitor.
• It’s less realistic, however, to expect the D-backs to break the bank for Tanaka. MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert writes in his latest Inbox that it would be “very tough” for Arizona to make the kind of massive financial commitment it likely will take to sign Tanaka. The D-backs will go after Tanaka, Gilbert writes, but their fans should “keep those expectations tempered.”
• Don’t expect the A’s to go out and spend big on a designated hitter this winter, MLB.com’s Jane Lee writes in her latest Inbox. Oakland doesn’t employ a full-time DH and instead relies on a platoon at the position. John Jaso should get most of those plate appearances in 2014, Lee writes, and manager Bob Melvin could also utilize outfielders Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp there to keep them healthy.
The Rangers made another big offseason splash Saturday to upgrade their offense, reeling in the best remaining position player on the free-agent market.
Having already traded for Prince Fielder this offseason, Texas agreed on Saturday to a seven-year, $130 million deal with outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. The 31-year-old on-base machine should serve as a table-setter for the Rangers, who missed the playoffs and saw their offensive production suffer last season.
That was the biggest Hot Stove news of the day, but there were some other rumblings around the Majors. Here’s a look at Saturday’s rumors and transactions and a few reactions to Choo joining the Rangers.
• The Rangers have won the offseason by signing Choo, according to MLB.com’s Richard Justice. Obviously, several clubs that made a similar claim in recent years fell well short of expectations, and Justice notes that at least 15 teams could make a championship run. “Still,” he writes, “no team is better positioned to get to the World Series than the Rangers.”
• MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince takes a look at the hard-working Choo and writes that, even after handing out such a massive contract, the Rangers can take comfort in Choo’s genuine passion for and dedication to the game.
• With Choo off the board, pitchers have become the Hot Stove’s main attraction. MLB.com’s Tracy Ringolsby writes that the Rakuten Golden Eagles are calling all the shots in deciding whether Masahiro Tanaka joins the list of available hurlers.
• The Billy Butler trade rumors have calmed down lately, but he didn’t pay much attention to them in the first place, writes MLB.com’s Dick Kaegel. “I’m more worried about my fantasy football team than checking the Royals’ site,” he said.
• The Nationals agreed to terms with catcher Chris Snyder on a Minor League deal and invited him to Major League Spring Training.
• The Giants sold first baseman Brett Pill’s rights to the Korea Baseball Organization’s KIA Tigers, and Pill has agreed to a one-year contract with the club, pending a physical. Pill, 29, will remain on San Francisco’s 40-man roster until he passes his physical, which will take place some time after Christmas.
There were a few notable trades, transactions and announcements Thursday, but the biggest Hot Stove news was the deal that might not happen at all.
The Orioles seemingly had closer Grant Balfour locked up with a two-year, $15 million deal Tuesday, but that pact could be in jeopardy, according to several reports, because of issues revealed during Balfour’s physical. Baltimore has not commented on Balfour’s status.
The Orioles were planning to introduce Balfour on Friday at a press conference, according to The Baltimore Sun, but that has been postponed. If Balfour is no longer an option, the O’s might have to turn their attention toward former Indians closer Chris Perez or former Rays closer Fernando Rodney to replace Jim Johnson.
Here’s a look at some of Thursday’s other news and notes from around the league:
• Will Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka be posted? The question still hangs over the Hot Stove proceedings after conflicting reports emerged Thursday. The New York Times cited several reports in Japan that said the Rakuten Golden Eagles were preparing to tell Tanaka that they will not post him this winter. But one report on Sponichi quoted Eagles president Yozo Tachibana saying the club is still undecided. Another report, by Sports Hochi, said the team will offer Tanaka a record-breaking salary to stay.
• There is no longer any uncertainty, however, regarding Carlos Beltran’s status. The veteran outfielder officially joined the Yankees on Thursday, and he will be introduced at a news conference at Yankee Stadium on Friday at 11 a.m. ET.
• The Nationals sent outfielder Corey Brown to the A’s in exchange for cash considerations. It was the second time in two weeks, and the eighth time in three years, that Oakland and Washington have completed a trade. The Nats had designated Brown for assignment after signing Nate McLouth to a two-year contract.
• The White Sox made two moves to bolster their bullpen Thursday, signing veteran reliever Ronald Belisario to a one-year, $3 million deal and reportedly agreeing to a one-year contract with left-hander Scott Downs. Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of MLB Network and FoxSports.com reported the latter deal, but the club has not made any comments on Downs.
• The Cubs signed left-handers Jonathan Sanchez, Tsuyoshi Wada and Tommy Hottovy to Minor League contracts with invitations to Major League Spring Training. Wada is expected to compete for a spot in the Cubs’ rotation this spring. Chicago also announced it has signed outfielder Mitch Maier to a Minor League deal with a Spring Training invitation.
• Luke Scott, who spent the last two years as the Rays’ designated hitter, told MLB.com’s Bill Chastain he is “really excited” to be heading to Korea next year. Scott will play for the SK Wyverns and receive a $250,000 base salary along with his $50,000 signing bonus.
• Veteran right-hander Chien-Ming Wang has reportedly agreed to a Minor League deal with the Reds.
• The Orioles picked up former Reds outfielder Xavier Paul and three others on Minor League deals with invitations to Spring Training.
• According to CSN Bay Area, the Giants have an agreement in place to send first baseman Brett Pill to the Kia Tigers of Korea Professional Baseball. The deal hasn’t been finalized, according to CSN Bay Area’s Andrew Baggarly, because Pill and the Tigers haven’t agreed on a salary.
• Right-hander Daniel McCutchen announced on his Twitter account that he signed a one-year deal with the Rangers.
The Yankees are closing in on a one-year contract with free-agent second baseman Brian Roberts, according to multiple reports.
The deal will be worth about $2 million plus incentives and is pending a physical, according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi.
The club has not confirmed the deal, which was first reported by Rosenthal on Twitter. Several reports have said the Yankees still aren’t done looking for infield help. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports and MLB Network also connected New York to free-agent infielders Michael Young and Mark Reynolds.
With the loss of Robinson Cano to the Mariners, the Bombers signed infielder/outfielder Kelly Johnson earlier this offseason but kept searching for other infield options. Barring any other big moves, Roberts could wind up being the Yankees’ primary second baseman in 2014 if he stays healthy.
Plagued by injuries the past few years, the 36-year-old Roberts has played only 192 games since 2010. He played in 77 games for the O’s last season, hitting .249 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs. A two-time All-Star who’s played his entire 13-year career in Baltimore, Roberts last played more than 100 games in a season in 2009, when he hit .283 over 159 games, scoring 103 runs with 16 homers while leading the Majors with 56 doubles.
After a frantic week of offseason activity to begin December and the usual stream of rumors pouring out of the Winter Meetings last week, the Hot Stove cooled down considerably on Sunday.
Or as Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond tweeted Sunday night, the Hot Stove League is “not so hot lately.”
Stoves not so hot lately and I’m a little disappointed. Who’s the next big FA off the board?
- Ian Desmond (@IanDesmond20) December 16, 2013
But there still were a few notable deals done and hints that more could be coming soon. Let’s take a look at Sunday’s news from around the Majors:
• The Cardinals are going to finish their offseason shopping early, as they are nearing a one-year deal with second baseman Mark Ellis. The right-handed hitter should complement young Kolten Wong in St. Louis’ infield, providing a solution for the last area of need the club had identified. The Cardinals have not confirmed the agreement, as MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reported, and Ellis must pass a physical before the contract can be finalized.
• The Indians agreed to terms with reliever John Axford, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian confirmed Sunday night. The 30-year-old right-hander was traded to St. Louis in August, compiled a 1.74 ERA and pitched well in the postseason, but he had seven blown saves last season. Axford, a former closer with the Brewers, was non-tendered this offseason by the Cardinals. ESPN’s Buster Olney first reported that the Tribe was “on the verge” of signing Axford.
• That news prompted Fox Sports and MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal to speculate on Twitter how the rest of the bullpen market might shake out. Rosenthal noted that with Axford heading to the Indians, the Orioles expressing interest in Grant Balfour and the Padres pushing for Joaquin Benoit, the Mariners and Yankees could be options for former Rays closer Fernando Rodney.
• Yankees president Randy Levine said during an ESPN Radio appearance that New York has “absolutely no intention” of trading Brett Gardner despite the speculation following the club’s signing of Jacoby Ellsbury. Levine reiterated what general manager Brian Cashman said at the Winter Meetings: The Yankees will listen to the interest in Gardner, but the plan is to have both Gardner and Ellsbury in the Opening Day outfield.
• MLB.com’s Mark Bowman writes that the Braves are in the midst of “serious discussions” with starter Gavin Floyd, who’s only seven months removed from Tommy John surgery. Bowman reports that the two sides are nearing an agreement, but it’s not known whether it will be a Major League or Minor League deal.
• Jon Heyman of CBS Sports and MLB Network tweeted that there’s still a strong market for starter Matt Garza, even if the Twins aren’t likely to pursue him anymore. Heyman pointed to Garza’s solid 2013 performance, his history of success in the American League East and the lack of Draft-pick compensation attached to Garza.
Why wait for the Winter Meetings?That seemed to be the message across Major League Baseball on Tuesday, by far the busiest day of the offseason thus far. The Red Sox agreed to terms with A.J. Pierzynski to start the day, and Jacoby Ellsbury‘s pending deal with the Yankees served as the other major bookend. Meanwhile, the Rays traded for a catcher and a potential closer they’d been interested in for years. The Tigers found a closer. The A’s bolstered their bullpen — twice, actually — and added to their outfield mix. The Astros made their first big move. The Marlins zeroed in on a big-name catcher. And that’s just the start of it. Seriously, given the way Tuesday played out, what’s left to do next week at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort? Hang out with Mickey and Minnie? There’s a lot left to be settled, of course. Robinson Cano and Shin-Soo Choo are among the high-profile free agents available, and there’s still an expectation that Rays ace David Price will be traded. But before we look too far forward, let’s recap the busy stretch that left baseball’s Hot Stove completely ablaze, as MLB.com’s Richard Justice writes. AL East The Yankees paid up for Ellsbury amid a spending spree reminiscent of their 2008-09 offseason, raising some questions about their pursuit of Cano, as MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch writes. Ellsbury’s deal is for seven years and $153 million, with an eighth-year option. While they were at it, the Bombers officially announced their five-year, $85 million deal with catcher Brian McCann. He’ll be introduced in the Bronx on Thursday. According to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, New York also is close to signing Kelly Johnson, who could play some second base if Cano signs elsewhere. The Red Sox made their first big move of the offseason, as MLB.com’s Ian Browne reports the World Series champs have agreed to a one-year contract with Pierzynski, reportedly worth $8.25 million. The Rays pulled off a three-team trade with the Reds and D-backs, reeling in catcher Ryan Hanigan and reliever Heath Bell. Tampa Bay also agreed to a three-year extension with Hanigan, as MLB.com’s Bill Chastain reported. With Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton already on board, Andrew Friedman might have an extra catcher to deal. He also has the game’s hottest commodity in Price. AL Central The Tigers reportedly found their closer in veteran Joe Nathan, as MLB.com’s Jason Beck writes. Could Carlos Beltran return to Kansas City? MLB.com’s Dick Kaegel wrote about the free agent’s meeting with the Royals. According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, opposing clubs are convinced that Beltran is bound for a KC reunion. The Twins officially announced the acquisition of Ricky Nolasco on a four-year, $48 million deal, the largest free-agent signing in club history. AL West The A’s had another busy day, as MLB.com’s Jane Lee reports, trading for outfielder Craig Gentry and right-hander Josh Lindblom before acquiring setup man Luke Gregerson. They could stay busy at the Winter Meetings, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports reports that Oakland is likely to trade starter Brett Anderson. On the other side of that deal with Oakland, Texas acquired its leading left-field candidate in Michael Choice, according to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan. Also, the Rangers are looking at Kurt Suzuki to pair with Geovany Soto behind the plate. The Astros checked a big item off their offseason to-do list by trading for Dexter Fowler, as MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart writes. The former Rockies catalyst should hit atop their order and start in center field. MLB.com’s Greg Johns writes that the Mariners could make some noise at the Winter Meetings. Meanwhile, ESPNNewYork.com reported that Seattle has emerged as a major player in the bidding for Cano. NL East The Marlins made a big splash, agreeing to terms on a three-year, $21 million deal with former Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, according to MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro. Curtis Granderson met with Sandy Alderson on Sunday, and MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo took a look at how the power-hitting outfielder would fit with the Mets. The Phillies added a reliever in Brad Lincoln and a backup catcher in Wil Nieves, reports MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. NL Central Free-agent first baseman/outfielder Corey Hart told MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy that he’s been medically cleared for full baseball activities. Hart previously said he’s heard from several interested teams, including the Brewers, Rays, Red Sox and Rockies. Despite plenty of speculation, Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports and MLB Network tweeted that the Reds are unlikely to trade second baseman Brandon Phillips. NL West The Dodgers are making progress toward retaining free-agent reliever Brian Wilson, reports MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick. Colorado has reportedly agreed to terms with a new first baseman in Justin Morneau, as MLB.com’s Thomas Harding writes. The Rockies also picked up right-hander Jordan Lyles and outfielder Brandon Barnes by parting with Fowler. The Padres bolstered their offense, particularly against right-handed pitching, by acquiring outfielder Seth Smith from the A’s.