Tim Lincecum and the Giants are edging closer to a contract agreement that would enable the parties to avoid a potentially divisive salary arbitration hearing.
Industry sources confirmed Friday that negotiations between the club and Lincecum have progressed since Tuesday, when they exchanged proposed figures for one-year contracts. Lincecum requested $21.5 million, $500,000 short of the record amount Houston’s Roger Clemens sought in 2005. The Giants countered with $17 million, the largest arbitration offer a team ever has made.
It was not known whether the sides were discussing a one-year contract, which Lincecum said last season he’d prefer, or a multiyear deal, such as the two-year, $23 million pact he agreed to minutes before he and the Giants were scheduled to launch an arbitration hearing last year.
Lincecum, winner of two National League Cy Young Awards and a four-time All-Star, is likely to become the highest-paid Giant for 2012. Teams and arbitration-eligible players tend to split the difference between the figures they respectively submit. Lincecum’s midpoint of $19.25 million would exceed the $19 million that left-hander Barry Zito is slated to earn this year.
Lincecum became the only unsigned arbitration-eligible Giant when right-hander Sergio Romo agreed to a one-year, $1.575 million deal. That represented a 250 percent increase from Romo’s 2011 wage of $450,000. Since Romo filed for $1.75 million and the Giants offered $1.3 million, he received slightly more than the midpoint figure of $1.525 million.
After beginning the offseason with 13 arbitration-eligible players, San Francisco has come to terms with six of them since Monday: Romo, fellow right-hander Santiago Casilla, third baseman Pablo Sandoval and outfielders Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan and Nate Schierholtz.
Romo, who turns 29 on March 4, earned his raise by establishing himself as one of baseball’s top setup relievers. He finished 3-1 with a 1.50 ERA in 65 appearances. Control remained Romo’s hallmark, as he struck out 70 and walked just five in 48 innings for a Major League-best 14-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That’s the best ratio among relievers pitching at least 45 innings since Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley recorded a 18.25-to-1 mark in 1990.
“I feel like I’ve built a pretty decent name for myself and I want to keep progressing,” Romo said. “I want to do more and I can do more.”
Romo pitched the equivalent of a perfect game by retiring 31 consecutive batters over a 15-game span from July 4-Aug. 6. While right-handers hit .150 off him, he was no slouch against left-handers, whom he limited to a .229 average.
– Chris Haft
Carlos Pena is returning to the Rays after spending a year away, a source confirmed on Friday.
The 33-year-old first baseman’s one-year contract is worth $7.25 million. Pena spent the 2007-10 seasons with Tampa Bay before joining the Cubs as a free agent last offseason, and his two best seasons came with the Rays (46 home runs in ’07, 39 in ’09).
Pena’s home run total for the Cubs last year (28) matched his output with the Rays in 2010. He hit .225 with a .357 on-base percentage in 2011, marks that are in line with his respective .239 and .352 clips lifetime.
Pena will take a pay cut from his $10 million salary a year ago.
– Evan Drellich
The Rockies have reportedly agreed to a contract extension with reliever Rafael Betancourt, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes.
The deal reportedly guarantees the right-hander a $4.25 million mutual option for 2013 and adds an option in 2014 for the same salary. He will earn $4 million in 2012, a part of his current contract.
As one of baseball’s best relievers, Betancourt, who will turn 37 in April, posted an ERA of 2.89 in 2011 and saved eight games while then Rockies closer Huston Street was on the disabled list.
With Street being traded to the Padres this off season, Betancourt will likely take over as Colorado’s closer this year.
– Quinn Roberts
ATLANTA — Responding to MLB.com’s early November report that Jair Jurrjens or Martin Prado might be traded this offseason, Braves general manager Frank Wren said he felt both players would still be with his club at the start of Spring Training.
With the start of Spring Training a little more than six weeks away, this is starting to look more like a possibility.
The Braves have spent the past couple months talking to a number of clubs about these players. But with questions surrounding both Prado and Jurrjens, there is growing reason to wonder if Wren should wait until June or July to trade these players with the hope they will have had time to regain some of their respective values.
This might not be comforting news to those anxious Braves fans that have increasingly become more uncomfortable as the Marlins and Nationals have made significant attempts to strengthen their respective bids to end the Phillies’ supremacy in the National League East.
The Marlins stole the headlines in early December with free-agent signings of shortstop Jose Reyes, left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell. They grabbed more attention this week by trading with the Cubs for Carlos Zambrano, who will make manager Ozzie Guillen’s clubhouse even more interesting and possibly strengthen the starting rotation.
The up-and-coming Nationals bolstered their starting rotation with the Dec. 23 acquisition of left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez. This week, they may have emerged as the favorites to land Prince Fielder.
But instead of reacting to these moves in a knee-jerk fashion, Wren has dealt with the reality of an extremely tight budget and avoided the temptation to significantly upgrade his lineup by trading any of his coveted top four pitching prospects — Julio Teheran, Randall Delgado, Arodys Vizcaino and Mike Minor.
The Orioles learned that this last month when they inquired about acquiring Jurrjens, Prado and two other “premium guys” in exchange for outfielder Adam Jones.
The Braves obviously declined that offer. But they still have interest in Jones and could continue talking about the outfielder if the Orioles are willing to make a more reasonable offer that would likely be void of pitching prospects and not include both Prado and Jurrjens.
While the Braves have shown a willingness to talk about Prado and Jurrjens, they understand that both players could still provide significant value to this year’s team.
Prado’s history shows that he could easily bounce back from last year’s injury-plagued, frustrating season and provide some production in left field while serving as dependable insurance for soon-to-be 40-year-old third baseman Chipper Jones.
The Tigers and Rockies are among the teams who have shown the most interest in Prado and expressed the belief that he could regain the form he had when he was an All-Star second baseman in 2010. The 28-year-old Venezuelan’s .260 batting average this past summer was likely influenced by the fatigue he battled after missing a month with a staph infection.
Jurrjens’ value was at its highest level when he entered this year’s All-Star break with a National League-leading 1.87 ERA. But he struggled mightily as he posted a 5.88 ERA after the break and then missed the stretch run for a second straight year because of a troublesome right knee.
Jurrjens believes his right knee will be sound as he wears a knee brace while pitching this year, and the Reds were among the teams that expressed interest in him. In fact, the Braves thought they might have been nearing a deal before the Reds landed Mat Latos from the Padres in December.
With some health-related questions surrounding Tim Hudson, who underwent back surgery in November, and Tommy Hanson, who missed 2011’s final two months with a sore right shoulder, the Braves could seemingly benefit from keeping Jurrjens around for at least the season’s first couple months.
If Jurrjens finds early-season success and proves his knee is sound, the Braves could certainly find his value on the trade market to be more significant this summer. At that time, the club might be in position to feel more comfortable about adding yet another young pitcher to its already rather green starting rotation.
– Mark Bowman
The Blue Jays have signed left-hander Aaron Laffey to a Minor League contract, the club announced Saturday.
The 26-year-old has spent five seasons in the big leagues, most recently with the Yankees after starting the 2011 campaign in Seattle. He was drafted by, and spent the first four years of his career with, the Indians.
Last season, Laffey was 3-2 with a 3.88 ERA in 47 relief appearances. He held left-handed hitters to a .242 average. He has made 49 starts in his career and owns a lifetime 4.34 ERA.
The Blue Jays also announced they have signed the following four Minor League free agents with invitations to Spring Training: right-hander Jerry Gil, right-hander Garrett Mock, right-hander Robert Coello and shortstop Brian Bocock.
– Joey Nowak
The White Sox and Padres pulled off a trade Saturday afternoon that sends outfielder Carlos Quentin to San Diego in exchange for two Minor League pitchers.
The White Sox will receive 23-year-old right-hander Simon Castro and 22-year-old lefty Pedro Hernandez from the Padres.
Quentin, 29, is a two-time All-Star who has hit at least 21 homers in each of the last four seasons with Chicago. He was drafted by the D-backs in the first round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft and spent two seasons with Arizona.
His first year with the White Sox, in 2008, was his best so far, as he hit .288 with 100 RBIs and 36 homers. He has played either left or right field his entire career.
“Improving our offense is a priority this offseason,” Padres general manager Josh Byrnes said. “And the acquisition of Carlos gives us a proven middle-of-the-order bat. We specifically targeted Carlos because of his production and his hard-nosed style of play.”
Castro, the Padres’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2009, split time between Double-A San Antonio and Triple-A Tucson in 2011, posting a 7-8 record with a 5.63 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 22 starts overall. He began the season with San Antonio, where he was 5-6, before moving up to Tucson, where he was 2-2 with a 10.17 ERA.
He has been in the Padres’ Minor League system for six seasons, and he was named to the Texas League mid- and postseason All-Star teams in 2010, while also pitching for the World Team in the All-Star Futures Game in Anaheim.
Hernandez spent time at Class A Lake Elsinore this season, along with Tucson and San Antonio, posting a 10-3 record with a 3.49 ERA in 28 games (18 starts) overall. He recorded 94 strikeouts in 116 innings of work.
The southpaw is 25-11 over five seasons in the San Diego Minor League system.
– Joey Nowak
The Rangers won the exclusive negotiating rights to prized Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, Major League Baseball announced late Monday night. Texas will now have 30 days to sign Darvish or his rights will return to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan’s Pacific League.
While the details of the bid weren’t disclosed, multiple sources have reported that the bid exceeded the $51.1 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006 as the highest in the history of posting of Japanese players. Sources told Yahoo! Sports that Texas won the auction with a $51.7 million bid.
The Blue Jays, Mariners, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox and Yankees were among the other Major League teams that were mentioned as possibilities in the sealed bidding for the negotiating rights for the right-hander’s services.
The 25-year-old Darvish was 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA last season, walking 36 and striking out 276 in 232 innings for the Fighters.
– Quinn Roberts
The Reds acquired right-hander Mat Latos from the Padres Saturday in exchange for right-hander Edinson Volquez and three of the club’s top prospects.
In acquiring Latos, who went 9-14 with a 3.47 ERA and help opponents to a .233 batting average for the Padres last season, the Reds gave up four young players with big upside. Along with Volquez, the Reds also sent infielder Yonder Alonso, right-hander Brad Boxberger and catcher Yasmani Grandal to San Diego.
“Our offseason objective was to try to upgrade our rotation and add a top-of-the-rotation starter, and Mat Latos, of the potential players available, he’s still young at  and he’s a power pitcher we think will pitch well in our park,” Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said on a conference call with reporters. “He’s definitely a top-of-the rotation guy who will slot in well behind [Johnny] Cueto and, in time, will develop into a No. 1 starter.”
– Quinn Roberts
Two sources confirmed an ESPN.com report Saturday that Jimmy Rollins agreed to a three-year, $33 million contract with the Phillies, along with a vesting option for a fourth season that will give him the opportunity to finish his career in Philadelphia.
“I see you all know by now,” Rollins said on his Twitter account @JimmyRollins11. “Gotta deal with me for 3 (4) more years!”
Rollins entered the offseason saying he wanted a five-year contract or a four-year deal with a player option for a fifth season. But the market never materialized as the Milwaukee Brewers signed Alex Gonzalez and the St. Louis Cardinals signed Rafael Furcal.
– Quinn Roberts