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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

Nats declined to exercise options on LaRoche, Soriano; Cabrera, Hairston, Schierholtz become free agents

WASHINGTON — Nationals second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera and outfielders Scott Hairston and Nate Schierholtz are now free agents.

The Nationals also declined to exercise their options on first baseman Adam LaRoche and right-hander Rafael Soriano. None of the players are expected to be back with the team in 2015.

LaRoche reached the 90-RBI plateau for the fourth time in his career, but he is not coming back because the Nationals plan to put Ryan Zimmerman at first base. Recently, LaRoche said Zimmerman will be a quality first baseman.

“I think he is going to be an outstanding first baseman. I said that last year,” LaRoche said about Zimmerman. “He has one of the best gloves I’ve ever seen. He is an athlete. When the time comes, whether it’s next year or the following year or this postseason, he can handle that bag for sure.”

Soriano had a 6.48 ERA after the All-Star break. Soriano simply couldn’t keep his slider down in the strike zone and lost his closer’s job to Drew Storen

General manager Mike Rizzo decided to acquire Cabrera from the Indians before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. Cabrera provided steady defense at second, as Anthony Rendon shifted over to third base.

After coming from Cleveland, Cabrera expressed his desire to play shortstop, but after the Nationals were eliminated from the National League Division Series, he said he was willing to stay at second base. Going to the World Series is more important to him than playing shortstop. It is believed that the Nationals will not pay a lot of money to keep Cabrera.

Hairston and Schierholtz were part of the bench this past season. Hairston got off to a great start, but he tailed off dramatically starting in June and was taken off the roster during the NLDS.

As a pinch-hitter, Schierholtz ranks sixth among active players with at least 150 pinch-hit appearances. He started the season with the Cubs, but after getting released on Aug. 13, he signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals five days later. He made $5 million in 2014. It’s doubtful the Nationals will pay Schierholtz that kind of money in ’15, though he could be back on a Minor League deal.

– Bill Ladson

Span’s option picked up by Nats

WASHINGTON — To the surprise of no one, the Nationals picked up Denard Span’s $9 million option Thursday afternoon.

Span said general manager Mike Rizzo called to inform him that he would be back with the team in 2015. Had the Nationals declined the option, Span would have been given a buyout worth $500,000.

“I’ll be back,” Span said by telephone. “I’m very excited. I told Mike I’m excited to be coming back another year. I’m looking forward to working with the coaching staff and getting back with the guys and go on another run.”

Span is one of the reasons the Nationals won their second National League East title in three years. Besides being one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball, Span is one of the best leadoff hitters in the game. He was among the NL leaders in multi-hit games, hits, doubles and stolen bases. Span is a finalist to win his first Gold Glove Award this year.

– Bill Ladson

Angels pick up option on closer Street

The Angels retained a big piece of their bullpen on Thursday, picking up their $7 million option on closer Huston Street.

The Halos acquired Street in a July 19 trade with the Padres, and he pitched 28 games for them down the stretch, converting 17 of 19 save chances. Overall, the 31-year-old right-hander posted career-bests with 41 saves and a 1.37 ERA in 59 1/3 innings, striking out 57 and walking 14.

Street has collected 275 saves over 10 big league seasons, putting him fifth on the active list. He’s saved at least 20 games for six straight years.

On the other hand, the Angels declined their $4.5 million option on lefty reliever Sean Burnett, who pitched only 10 1/3 innings for the club over the past two seasons due to injury.

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