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A fork in the road for Cincinnati

The Reds are facing some difficult questions this winter after a disappointing 76-win season that followed a run of three playoff appearances in four years.

On one hand, 80 percent of the team’s starting rotation — Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon — is entering its final year before free agency. Right fielder Jay Bruce and closer Aroldis Chapman both could hit the market after two more seasons. On the other hand, the club also faces large financial commitments to second baseman Brandon Phillips ($39 million through 2017), right-hander Homer Bailey ($96 million through ‘19) and first baseman Joey Votto (a staggering $213 million through ‘23), all of whom struggled and/or underperformed last season.

So what course does Cincinnati chart as it tries to compete in a division that features St. Louis, Pittsburgh and an up-and-coming force in Chicago? According to FoxSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal, the club could deal one or more of its starters with one year of control remaining, but also would consider shipping off Bruce. Doing so would be selling low, as the 27-year-old saw his numbers tumble during an injury-plagued 2014, but he still could fetch a nice return from a team such as San Diego.

It could make sense for the Reds to sell some pitching for immediate offensive help, or to try a mini-rebuild with an eye toward restocking for the future. However, in an appearance on MLB Network on Friday morning, Rosenthal also emphasized that Cincinnati could go in a different direction, gearing up for another run with its current core. In that case, it potentially could look to the free-agent market to add a bat such as Nori Aoki or Michael Morse.

– Andrew Simon

Padres ‘trying to do something dramatic’ for big bat?

The Padres haven’t been much of a factor in the National League West of late, winning no more than 77 games in four straight seasons and six of the past seven. Their last playoff appearance came in 2006.

But San Diego is trying to reverse that trend, and new general manager A.J. Preller could do something splashy to accomplish that.

Speaking on MLB Network on Friday morning, Ken Rosenthal reported that the club still could go in different directions but that, “the way it appears they are going is big and trying to do something dramatic.” Rosenthal said the Padres had “kicked the tires” on outfielder Jason Heyward before the Braves shipped him to the Cardinals instead, and they still are looking into a trade for a big-time hitter such as the Reds’ Jay Bruce or the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp.

It’s understandable why the Padres would explore such a deal, considering they finished last in the Majors in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage last season. However, MLB.com Padres beat writer Corey Brock reported recently that the club was strongly considering holding on to young starting pitchers Tyson Ross and Andrew Cashner, who along with fellow right-hander Ian Kennedy, have been rumored as potential trade chips to acquire offense.

So perhaps San Diego will look to the free-agent market instead. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reported Friday morning that the club has emerged as one of two frontrunners, along with Atlanta, for Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas. The 24-year-old, who possesses big power but faces questions about his defense, is said to be seeking at least a five-year deal with an annual value of about $15 million.

An even more expensive target would be third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who is believed to be a likely candidate to either return to the Giants or depart for Boston. Yet the Padres, who traded third baseman Chase Headley at the deadline last year, surprisingly have entered the bidding, according Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.

First baseman Adam LaRoche is another free-agent hitter who has been linked to San Diego, though he also has reportedly received a two-year offer from the Marlins.

– Andrew Simon

Sandoval in Boston to meet with Red Sox

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval took his free-agent tour to Boston on Monday, arriving at Logan Airport in the afternoon and telling local news channel WHDH-TV that he is “excited” for a visit the Red Sox. Sandoval is in town with his agent, Gustavo Vazquez, and his older brother, Michael.

“Pablo is a winner,” Vazquez told the network. “The Boston Red Sox need a winner right now, and I think Pablo can be a good fit over here.”

The Sox are believed to be one of two favorites to land Sandoval, along with the Giants, the team with which Sandoval spent his first seven big league seasons. The Padres recently joined the White Sox and Blue Jays as other teams known to have expressed interest in the 28-year-old switch hitter.

“It could be Red Sox, it could be any other uniform,” Michael Sandoval said of his brother’s options. “The good part of this is he’s got a chance to explore his value on the market and see who can really appreciate him and his work.”

Pablo Sandoval joked that he was “on vacation” and “just visiting the city” but acknowledged the lobbying role of Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.

“I love being in this situation,” he said. “David’s a good guy. I’ve been through a lot this winter with the commercial stuff and all of that. He’s a great guy.”

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said last week that he met with Vazquez during his time at the GM Meetings in Phoenix.

“[Sandoval's] one of many that we’re talking to. I’d rather not comment on exactly who we might meet and who we might not, but he’s one guy we have interest in,” Cherington said.

In a tweet Monday, MLB.com’s Ian Browne cautioned against drawing any conclusions from Sandoval’s visit.

Sandoval is a career .294/.346/.465 hitter and batted .366 this postseason as he helped the Giants to their third championship in five years.

– Andrew Simon

Nats hire Wetzel as special assistant

Veteran scout Terry Wetzel has joined the Washington Nationals as a special assistant to general manager Mike Rizzo, according to Major League sources.

Wetzel has 32 years of experience scouting, the last 15 with the Colorado Rockies as a special assistant to the general manager. He also spent 17 years with the Kansas City Royals, starting out as an area amateur scout and eventually becoming the Royals scouting director.

A 2011 inductee into the Texas Baseball Scouts Hall of fame, Wetzel was honored as the Ewing Kaufmann scout of the Year with the Royals in 1993, and the Pat Daugherty Scout of the Year award with the Rockies in 2003.

–Tracy Ringolsby

D-backs add to rotation with Hellickson

The D-backs made their first trade under new general manager Dave Stewart on Friday, acquiring right-hander Jeremy Hellickson from the Rays for a pair of prospects.

The Rays took Hellickson in the fourth round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, and he won American League Rookie of the Year honors in ‘11, when he went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA in 29 starts. He followed that up with a 3.10 ERA the next year, but that number rose all the way to 5.17 in ‘13.

Hellickson didn’t debut until July 8 last year after recovering from elbow surgery. The 27-year-old went 1-5 with a 4.52 ERA over 13 outings, striking out 54 and walking 21 in 63 2/3 innings. He made $3.625 million through arbitration in ’14 and has two seasons to go before free agency.

In return, the Rays got 20-year-old shortstop Andrew Velazquez, who was the D-backs’ No. 12 prospect in MLB.com’s rankings, as well as 19-year-old outfielder Justin Williams, the No. 14 prospect. Velazquez hit .290/.367/.428 with nine homers and 50 steals for Class A South Bend this year, while Williams hit a combined .351/.403/.467 with four homers and 46 RBIs in 74 games for Rookie-level Missoula and South Bend.

– Andrew Simon

Pirates get Cervelli from Yankees for Wilson

The Pirates might have their backup plan in the event they can’t re-sign free-agent catcher Russell Martin, acquiring Francisco Cervelli from the Yankees for left-handed reliever Justin Wilson on Wednesday night.

Cervelli, a right-handed batter, missed about two months with a hamstring strain last year but hit .301/.370/.432 with two home runs and 13 RBIs in 49 games, also playing a little first base. Eligible for arbitration for the first time going into his age-29 season, Cervelli is a lifetime .278/.348/.381 hitter.

The Pirates also have Chris Stewart, another former Yankee, and Tony Sanchez as options behind the plate if Martin goes elsewhere.

Wilson, 27, saw his ERA jump from 2.08 in 2013 to 4.20 this year, as the hard-throwing southpaw increased his strikeouts to 9.2 per nine innings but also saw his walks rise to 4.5 per nine. He still has one year remaining before he becomes arbitration-eligible.

– Andrew Simon

Rockies decline option on Brett Anderson

The Rockies declined their $12 million option on Brett Anderson on Saturday and will owe the left-hander a $1.5 million buyout.

“Who has 2 thumbs and is a free agent … this guy,” Anderson tweeted, shortly before the Rockies officially announced the decision.

The Rockies acquired Anderson in a trade with the A’s last December, but the 26-year-old made only eight starts for the club. He missed three months with a fractured left index finger, then underwent season-ending back surgery in August.

Anderson has battled injuries throughout his career, averaging 12 games and 10 starts over the past five seasons. But he generally has been effective when on the mound, with a 3.73 ERA, including 2.91 last year.

– Andrew Simon

Brewers acquire first baseman Lind from Jays

The Brewers have acquired first baseman Adam Lind from the Blue Jays for right-hander Marco Estrada, after Toronto picked up Lind’s $7.5 million option for 2015.

Only two Major League clubs got a lower OPS from their first basemen in 2014 than the Brewers, who split at-bats between veterans Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay. The 31-year-old Lind could present an upgrade after hitting .321/.381/.479 with six home runs and 40 RBIs for Toronto this year, though he spent time on the disabled list with back and foot injuries. In nine big league seasons, Lind owns an .860 OPS against right-handed pitchers and a .588 mark against lefties, making him a candidate for a platoon.

Estrada split time between the rotation and the bullpen in ’14, going 7-6 with a 4.36 ERA in 39 games, including 18 starts. In 150 2/3 innings, he served up an MLB-high 29 home runs while striking out 127 and walking 44. The 31-year-old had posted a 3.75 ERA in 50 games (44 starts) over the previous two seasons for Milwaukee.

The Jays also made several other moves, most notably extending a $15.3 million qualifying offer to Melky Cabrera. If the outfielder declines the offer and signs with another team, Toronto will receive Draft pick compensation.

In addition, the club picked up options of $6.7 million on left-hander J.A. Happ and $1.75 million on catcher Josh Thole while declining options on right-handers Dustin McGowan, Brandon Morrow and Sergio Santos. Those three are now free agents. First baseman Justin Smoak, recently acquired on waivers from Seattle, also had his option declined but remains under team control and is eligible for arbitration.

Finally, the Jays reinstated third baseman Brett Lawrie, infielder Maicer Izturis, right-hander Chad Jenkins and outfielder Andy Dirks from the 60-day disabled list, filling up the club’s 40-man roster.

– Andrew Simon

Royals decline option on Billy Butler

The Royals declined their $12.5 million option on designated hitter Billy Butler on Saturday, three days after losing Game 7 of the World Series to the Giants. Kansas City will owe Butler a $1 buyout but still can try to negotiate a new contract with him.

Butler, the Royals’ longest-tenured player, is now a free agent for the first time. The 14th overall pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, Butler debuted with Kansas City in ‘07 and has spent the past eight seasons with the club. He’s a career .295 hitter with a .359 on-base percentage and .449 slugging percentage.

At age 28 last season, Butler set career-lows in all three categories, hitting .271/.323/.379, with nine home runs and 66 RBIs while playing 108 games at DH and 37 at first base. He went 11-for-42 (.262) with three doubles and eight RBIs during the Royals’ first playoff run since 1985, as they surged to within one win of a championship.

– Andrew Simon

Roundup: Offseason’s first day brings action

With the Giants wrapping up their third World Series title in five years on Wednesday night in Kansas City, Major League Baseball’s offseason officially began on Thursday.

Though teams can’t begin to negotiate with others’ free agents until next Tuesday, they can work out deals with their own, and there are plenty of other decisions to be made. Thursday brought a flurry of moves, mostly involving clubs either picking up or declining options on players for 2015.

Here’s a look at all of the action that transpired around the league:

  • The Red Sox retained closer Koji Uehara with a two-year, $18 million extension. Though the 39-year-old slumped late in the season, Boston felt comfortable bringing him back to fill the ninth-inning role.
  • One reason the Cardinals dealt for John Lackey at the Trade Deadline was the knowledge that he would be in line to make the league minimum in 2015 due to a provision in his contract triggered when he missed ’12 due to injury. So it was just a formality for St. Louis to pick up the veteran right-hander’s option.
  • The Nationals exercised their $9 million option on center fielder Denard Span, keeping their leadoff man in the fold after he tied for the National League lead in hits in ’14. But, as expected, they declined expensive options on first baseman Adam LaRoche and former closer Rafael Soriano.
  • The Angels brought back veteran closer Huston Street, picking up his $7 million option after acquiring him in a July trade.
  • The Mariners made the easy decision to vest the $7 million option for right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, who has posted a 3.07 ERA in his three seasons with Seattle.
  • The Orioles made four expected moves, picking up options on starter Wei-Yin Chen and reliever Darren O’Day but declining those of right fielder Nick Markakis and catcher Nick Hundley. Markakis gets a $2 million buyout, but still hopes to return to Baltimore on a new deal.
  • After posting a 4.02 ERA in his first year with the Dodgers, veteran righty Dan Haren exercised his $10 million option to return to Los Angeles for another season.
  • The Padres declined a $4 million option on righty Josh Johnson, who underwent Tommy John surgery in April, ending his first season in San Diego before it began. The two sides could work out a smaller deal for ’15, though.
  • The Cubs turned down their option on righty Kyuji Fujikawa, who made just 27 relief appearances for the club in two seasons since coming over from Japan.
  • The Phillies parted ways with reliever Mike Adams, declining his $6 million option after two injury-plagued seasons.
  • The Blue Jays reacquired righty Liam Hendricks in a deal with the Royals after sending him to Kansas City before the Trade Deadline.

– Andrew Simon

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