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Rays exercise option to keep Zobrist

The Rays announced Friday they have picked up the $7.5 million club option on utility man Ben Zobrist‘s contract for 2015.

This year, Zobrist will become the first player in club history to play 10 seasons with the Rays. He is the franchise career leader in doubles (229) and walks (542) and is second to Carl Crawford in games played (1,064), hits (1,016), runs scored (565) and triples (32).

“Ben has been integral to the success that the Rays have enjoyed throughout his career here,” Rays VP of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said in a statement. “His skill and versatility on the field, combined with his character and selflessness, make him the ultimate team player. We are excited to continue forward with him.”

Zobrist’s current deal was finalized in 2010. He hit .272 with 10 home runs, 52 RBIs, 34 doubles, 10 stolen bases, 83 runs, 75 walks and a .354 on-base percentage in 146 games this year, and was selected by the Tampa Bay Chapter of the BBWAA as the Don Zimmer Most Valuable Player.
Zobrist will join teammates Evan Longoria and Jeff Beliveau in Japan this month for a five-game All-Star Series against the Japanese national team.
– Joey Nowak

Tigers expected to pick up Soria’s option

The Tigers made a high-profile midseason trade for Joakim Soria last year that did not pan out, but they’re hoping to see better results from him in 2015.

The team is reportedly set to pick up Soria’s $7 million option, MLB.com‘s Jason Beck reported on Friday. The Detroit Free Press‘ Anthony Fenech first reported the news.

Soria, who previously closed for the Royals and the Rangers, was acquired by the Tigers from Texas on July 23 but appeared in only 13 games largely due to injury, as well as an unclear role in the Detroit bullpen.

He had a 2.70 ERA in 35 games (17 saves) with Texas before posting a 4.91 ERA with Detroit (one save). Soria was twice an All-Star with Kansas City, saving 160 games in five years.

Beck tweeted Friday that Soria is expected to handle the 8th inning duties with free agent Joba Chamberlain gone and Bruce Rondon hopefully back from Tommy John surgery. Joe Nathan will be back, and expected to close.

– Joey Nowak

Brewers pick up Gallardo’s option, decline Weeks’

According to MLB.com‘s Adam McCalvy, the Brewers have exercised the 2015 club option on starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo‘s contract.

Gallardo will make $13 million during the 2015 season and be a free agent thereafter.

The 28-year-old right-hander made 32 starts for the Brewers this season, going 8-11 with a 3.51 ERA. He threw 192 1/3 innings, and has thrown at least 180 in every season for Milwaukee since 2009.

Also as expected, team has declined the club option on longtime second baseman Rickie Weeks. The 2003 first-round draft pick, who hit .274 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in 121 games this season, also had a contract option based on plate appearances that he did not reach.

– Joey Nowak

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

Cardinals exercise option to keep Lackey

As expected, the Cardinals exercised their club option Thursday on right-hander John Lackey, keeping him on board for the 2015 season.

Lackey’s unique contract structure was one of the reasons St. Louis acquired Lackey at the Trade Deadline. With Lackey, the Cardinals inherited a deal with a stipulation that locked in Lackey at the Major League minimum salary for 2015 if he missed significant time due to injury during the five-year, $82.5 million pact he signed with the Red Sox.

Lackey sat out all of the 2012 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, so that provision came into effect.

Lackey acknowledged that he would honor the last year of his contract after being dealt to St. Louis, meaning he is slated to play for a team-friendly salary of just more than $500,000 next year.

Lackey went 4-3 with a 4.15 ERA over 10 regular-season starts and two postseason starts for the Cardinals. The 36-year-old came to St. Louis in the deal that sent Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to Boston.

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

Red Sox sign Uehara to two-year deal

The Red Sox wasted little time in locking up closer Koji Uehara, announcing on Thursday that they have signed the right-handed reliever to a two-year contract through the 2016 season. Sources told MLB.com the deal is worth $18 million.

Uehara went 6-5 with a 2.52 ERA and 26 saves in 64 appearances last season. He didn’t allow a run in 53 of his outings on the year.

The 39-year-old right-hander struck out 80 batters, walked eight and served up 10 homers over 64 1/3 innings. He also was named to the American League All-Star team for the first time in his six-year career.

Boston signed Uehara to a two-year, $9.25 million contract in December 2012. He’s put together a 1.75 ERA in the two seasons since then, the best mark in club history with a minimum of 75 innings pitched.

In other Red Sox news, outfielder Rusney Castillo (right thumb contusion) will be held out for the remainder of the Arizona Fall League schedule and will not participate in any baseball activities for the time being. The club will determine a plan for Castillo to continue winter ball in the next few weeks.

Also, catcher David Ross and reliever Burke Badehop have elected free agency.

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.

Reports continue to link Maddon, Cubs

It’s been exactly one week since Joe Maddon informed the Rays he was opting out of the final year of his contract, and it seems he’s close to finding a new home.

Rumors swirled before Game 7 of the World Series on Wednesday night that Maddon, who managed the Rays for nine seasons, was on the verge of agreeing to a deal to become the Cubs’ new manager. CBS Sports first broke the news, which was also reported by the New York Post.

Maddon’s agent, Alan Nero, denied that a deal was in place Wednesday night. The Cubs have not publicly commented on the reports. At the moment, Rick Renteria is still the Cubs’ manager.

“We don’t have a done deal,” Nero told MLB.com. “We continue to talk to several clubs. It’s not to say we won’t have a deal done in the next few days, and if we do, it will be announced.”

But given the amount of speculation that linked Maddon to the Cubs almost immediately after he invoked the opt-out clause in his contract with the Rays, it seems like it’s only a matter of time until Maddon joins the North Siders.

In fact, Fox Sports and MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal tweeted Thursday evening that an official announcement could come as early as Friday.

Maddon had been signed to a three-year deal with the Rays that ran through the 2015 season. Former executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman left the Rays to join the Dodgers on Oct. 14, triggering an opt-out clause in Maddon’s contract.

Maddon invoked that opt-out clause, although principal owner Stuart Sternberg said the Rays attempted “diligently and aggressively” to sign Maddon to another contract extension. President of baseball operations Matt Silverman said last week the Rays made several “very generous” offers to try to keep Maddon on board, “and it became clear from his responses it was not an exercise that was going to lead to an outcome.”

Renteria released the following statement Monday afternoon: “I was hired nearly a year ago to be the Chicago Cubs manager. Notwithstanding all the speculation, I continue to focus my offseason preparation on achieving the goal we established from the start: bringing a championship to Chicago.”

The Rays, meanwhile, will continue to look for their next manager. They could have a list of candidates in place next week.

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