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Orioles in on Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis

The Orioles are reportedly interested in bringing back both Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, two key players from this season’s American League East championship team who are now free agents.

Baltimore offered Cruz a three-year contract before the slugger hit the open market, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, but a deal was not reached. Now it appears the O’s will wait and see what happens with Cruz as he pursues his options with other clubs.

The Orioles have also been in contact with Markakis regarding a multi-year contract, Olney reports, but deferred money has been a holdup on that front. Markakis hit the open market for the first time in his career after the O’s declined their half of a mutual option at the end of October.

Cruz became a free agent after declining a $15.3 million qualifying offer on Monday. He also declined a qualifying offer from the Rangers last season, and did not sign with Baltimore until shortly before Spring Training started. Any club that signs Cruz would surrender a draft pick. He’s likely seeking a multi-year deal and should have a number of suitors coming off a strong season in which he led the Majors with 40 home runs.

The Mariners are one team that will target Cruz this offseason, writes MLB.com’s Greg Johns, and Seattle made a splash last winter by signing second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Fernando Rodney. Still, the Orioles figure to be near the top of the running for Cruz’s services.

–Austin Laymance

Red Sox reunion for Hanley?

The Red Sox are reportedly interested in another reunion of sorts, this time with Hanley Ramirez.

A free agent for the first time in his career, Ramirez is one of the best power bats on the market. He’s primarily been a shortstop, but Ramirez is open to switching positions to third base, which is a position of need for the Red Sox. That could set up a return to Boston 10 years in the making, writes Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe.

Ramirez was developed by the Red Sox and made his big league debut with the club in 2005, when he was 21. That November, Ramirez was the main prospect in a trade with the Marlins that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston.

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and other team officials have known Ramirez since he was a teenage prospect in the Dominican Republic. According to the Globe, the Sox would like to speak to Ramirez about a potential deal.

Still, Boston’s interest in Ramirez is likely to be tempered by a few factors. Ramirez will be 31 in December and has struggled to stay healthy, missing 185 games over the last four seasons with a variety of ailments. He turned down a qualifying offer from the Dodgers on Monday, meaning the Red Sox would surrender a draft pick if they signed him. That qualifying offer was worth $15.3 million for 2015, indicating Ramirez and his agents are likely to command a multi-year deal with a high price tag.

The Red Sox are reportedly checking in on other free agent third baseman in Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley, so Ramirez might eventually become a more coveted option for Boston should Headley and Sandoval wind up somewhere else.

One thing is for sure, though, Ramirez can still hit. The three-time All-Star posted a .283/.369/.448 slash line with 35 doubles and 13 home runs over 128 games with the Dodgers this year.

–Austin Laymance

Orioles in the mix for Billy Butler?

The defending American League champion Royals would like to retain designated hitter Billy Butler, despite turning down his $12 million club option.

However, sources say, Butler has received a 3-year, $30 million offer from a team widely believed to be the Orioles. If that’s the case, the Royals will pursue other options including the possibility of not having a dedicated DH and regulars through that spot to give them a little bit of a break.

–Paul Hagen

Mets sign outfielder Castellanos to Minor League deal

The Mets have signed outfielder Alex Castellanos to a Minor League deal with an invitation to big league Spring Training, the club announced Tuesday.

Castellanos, 28, was in the Padres organization last year and spent the season with Triple-A El Paso, hitting .275 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs in 113 games. A 10th-round pick of the Cardinals in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, Castellanos made his big league debut with the Dodgers in 2012 and appeared in 24 games with the club over two seasons.

Castellanos is the second outfielder to join the Mets in as many days. On Monday, New York signed veteran Michael Cuddyer to a two-year deal. Cuddyer is a two-time All-Star and was the 2013 National League batting champion when he hit .331 with the Rockies.

–Austin Laymance

David Robertson generating interest

David Robertson became the top closer on the market after declining a $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Yankees on Monday, and he’s certain to have many suitors this offseason.

In addition to the Yankees, there are at least six teams interested in signing Robertson, according to a report by the New York Daily News. Any club that signs Robertson would surrender a draft pick as compensation, but that doesn’t appear to be a major hurdle.

The Tigers, Brewers, Blue Jays, White Sox, Indians and Astros are among a number of teams with needs in the bullpen. Robertson would be an upgrade for any of those clubs.

Robertson, 29, saved 39 games last season in his first year as the Yankees’ closer. He earned $5.215 million and is set up for significant pay raise.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Monday he has not yet begun negotiations with Robertson’s agent, Scott Leventhal. The right-hander is a likely to receive at least a three-year contract.

Cashman also said it’s not yet clear what the market value is for Robertson. It’s worth noting Jonathan Papelbon earned $13 million with the Phillies in 2014 as baseball’s highest-paid closer. Already this offseason, Koji Uehara re-signed with the Red Sox for $18 million over two years.

Robertson’s impending contract could affect deals for other free agent closers, including Francisco Rodriguez, Sergio Romo and Rafael Soriano.

–Austin Laymance

Royals interested in Ryan Howard?

The Phillies have made it known they are willing to move first baseman Ryan Howard, and the Royals have emerged as a potential trade partner, according to a report in USA Today.

The Royals have one of baseball’s lowest payrolls and Howard is still owed at least $60 million over the next three seasons, but the Phillies are reportedly prepared to eat much of Howard’s contract, so Kansas City could be in the mix.

The Phillies tried to move Howard during the season but had no luck. They might be able to find a better deal in the offseason though, and the organization is intent on getting younger and more athletic.

Howard, 34, appears to be a better fit in the American League as a designated hitter. The former National League MVP is an option as a DH with the Royals as a potential replacement for Billy Butler. Howard was healthy enough to play 153 games this season and hit 23 home runs. The Royals did not have a player hit 20 homers in 2014, so they are in the market for a power bat.

The Phillies are going into a rebuilding phase and Howard is a piece that could be used to bring some younger talent to an organization that has some holes in the farm system. Meanwhile, Kansas City came up just short in the World Series and Howard could be a player that puts the Royals over the top.

–Austin Laymance

Lester returning to Boston?

Jon Lester could be shipping up to Boston.

According to ESPN’s Gordon Edes, one baseball executive predicts the Red Sox will sign Lester despite the club’s mandate not to give long-term contracts to starting pitchers over 30 years old. Lester, dealt by the Red Sox to Oakland in July, turns 31 in January.

It makes sense that the Red Sox would make an exception to sign Lester. They need starting pitching, Lester is arguably the best on the market and is coming off a season in which he posted a career-best 2.46 ERA. The left-hander was drafted and developed by the Red Sox and helped the club win the World Series in 2007 and ’13.

So what would it take to bring Lester back to Boston?

The Red Sox are reportedly mulling a six-year deal worth at least $20 million per year, according to Edes. Lester and his agent might be able to fetch a larger sum from other suitors, but it’s entirely possible that he takes a bit of a discount to pitch for the only big league club he knew before going to Oakland for the final two months of this season. Red Sox brass made it clear they wanted to bring Lester back after trading him to the A’s, and Lester still has a number of close friends in the Sox clubhouse.

The Red Sox are always a major player in free agency, so it will be interesting to see where Lester ends up.

–Austin Laymance

Alfonso Soriano announces retirement

Alfonso Soriano is retiring from the Major Leagues after 16 seasons, according to a report from the Associated Press.

Soriano, 38, was released by the Yankees in July after playing in 67 games in 2014, the final year of an eight-year, $136 million contract he signed with the Cubs before the 2007 season. He was selected to seven consecutive All-Star Games during his career and ranks 50th on the all-time home run list with 412.

“I’ve lost the love and passion to play the game,” Soriano said in a radio interview Tuesday in his native Dominican Republic, according to the AP. “Right now, my family is the most important thing. … Although I consider myself in great shape, my mind is not focused on baseball.”

Soriano played parts of five seasons with the Yankees from 1999-2003 before he was traded to the Rangers in 2004 in the deal that brought Alex Rodriguez to New York. After two seasons with Texas, Soriano was traded to the Nationals before the 2006 season. Soriano spent seven years with the Cubs before being dealt to the Yankees in 2013.

–Austin Laymance

2/15 Roundup

The Indians signed a free-agent starting pitcher on Saturday, but it wasn’t Ubaldo Jimenez. Instead of bringing back Jimenez, who rejected a qualifying offer from the club in November, Cleveland signed right-hander Aaron Harang to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. The veteran is expected to compete for the fifth spot in the Indians’ rotation.

Cleveland also prevailed in its arbitration case against pitcher Josh Tomlin. The right-hander will earn $800,000 this season. The Indians have another arbitration hearing scheduled for Thursday with starter Justin Masterson, but the sinkerballer says the pending
contract talks don’t bother him at all.

In other Hot Stove news:

• The Cubs added depth to their bench, signing veteran utility man Emilio Bonifacio. He was released by the Royals on Wednesday after being designated for assignment on Feb. 1.

• The Mariners and first baseman Justin Smoak avoided salary arbitration, agreeing to terms on a one-year contract with a club option for 2015. Seattle has now signed all of its arbitration-eligible players.

• The A’s and outfielder Josh Reddick agreed to a one-year deal, clearing the club’s arbitration slate.

• The Red Sox won’t be going to any arbitration hearings either after coming to terms with left-handed reliever Andrew Miller on a one-year contract for 2014.

• The Orioles claimed utility man Jimmy Paredes off waivers from the Marlins. The switch hitter is expected to compete for a spot on Baltimore’s bench.

-Austin Laymance

2/7 Roundup

And then there were three. With free-agent right-hander Bronson Arroyo agreeing Friday to a two-year deal with the D-backs that includes a club option, the remaining big-name starters on the market are A.J. Burnett, Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez.

Like Arroyo, whichever club signs Burnett will not lose a first round pick in this year’s First-Year Player Draft. Santana and Jimenez, on the other hand, don’t fall into that category. So where will Burnett land?

The Pirates could have the inside track, writes MLB.com’s Tom Singer, but the Orioles and Nationals are also in the running. Burnett and his camp have kept their thought process secret thus far, but with Spring Training on the horizon, something is likely to happen soon.

The Phillies appear to be out of the Burnett sweepstakes, and will instead turn their attention to former closer Ryan Madson, who has not pitched since 2011 because of Tommy John surgery and complications following the procedure.

In other Hot Stove news:

• Nelson Cruz remains on the market, and MLB.com’s Mike Bauman examined the potential risks and rewards for clubs looking to sign the outfielder. Cruz would significantly boost any lineup, however, the slugger has a history of injury, will turn 34 in July and served a 50-game PED suspension last year.

• Meanwhile, the A’s locked up outfielder Coco Crisp through at least 2016 with a two-year contract extension that includes a vesting option for 2017. Last year, Crisp became just the 10th player in Oakland history with at least 20 doubles and 20 home runs in a single season.

• The Brewers brought back reliever Francisco Rodriguez, this time on a one-year deal worth at least $3.25 million. In a corresponding roster move, pitcher Donovan Hand was designated for assignment.

• The White Sox also added to their bullpen mix, signing right-hander Mitchell Boggs to a one-year, $1.1 million contract.

• Outfielder Jimmy Paredes was designated for assignment by the Marlins to open a roster spot for infielder Jeff Baker, who agreed to a two-year deal this week.

• The Nationals agreed to terms with veteran reliever Luis Ayala on a Minor League contract with an invitation to Major League Spring Training. Ayala, 36, is one of the few remaining players to have appeared with the Expos.

• The Pirates inked catcher Omir Santos to a Minor League deal that includes an invitation to big league camp.

• First baseman Matt LaPorta and the Orioles agreed to a Minor League contract. LaPorta has not appeared in a Major League game since 2012, when he played 22 games with the Indians.

• Royals pitcher Everett Teaford cleared waivers and remained in the organization with an assignment to Triple-A Omaha. The left-hander has been invited to Major League Spring Training.

-Austin Laymance

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