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Braves expected to remain active

The Braves already executed one of the offseason’s biggest moves, dealing right fielder Jason Heyward and reliever Jordan Walden to the Cardinals for young starter Shelby Miller and prospect Tyrell Jenkins. And it appears that new president of baseball operations John Hart is far from finished retooling the club after last year’s disappointing finish.

The next big name that could be on the move is outfielder Justin Upton, who also is entering the final year of his contract after collecting 29 homers and 102 RBIs in 2014. Teams that have talked with Atlanta about Upton feel there’s a better than 50-50 chance a trade will go down, according to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, with the Padres, Mariners and Reds among those interested. In fact, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported Friday the Braves “are very much shopping” the 27-year-old, with the Mariners as a strong contender.

But Atlanta is working on other fronts as well. It would love to dump unproductive and expensive outfielder B.J. Upton, and catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis also could be available. Meanwhile, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez lists the club as one of two front-runners for free-agent Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, along with the Padres.

At the same time, the Braves will look to add more starting pitching. One possibility — albeit remote — is free-agent left-hander Jon Lester. The Georgia resident met with club officials on Thursday, according to Stark, though Hart called their pursuit of him a “long shot.”

– Andrew Simon

Cubs reportedly ask re: Montero

Could Miguel Montero be the upgrade at catcher the Cubs are looking for? According to the Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro, the Cubs are one of three teams who have spoken to the Diamondbacks about the left-handed hitting catcher (joining the White Sox and Dodgers). The Cubs missed in their attempt to sign free agent Russell Martin, who agreed to a five-year deal with the Blue Jays this week. Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart has said he’s not shopping any of their players, including Montero, but did say he’s had inquiries about several players. Montero was rumored to be available because of his contract — he’s owed $40 million over the next three years. Montero, 31, batted .243 this season with 13 home runs and 72 RBIs. He’s led the Majors in innings caught since 2011. In his second full season as the Cubs regular catcher, Welington Castillo batted .237 this past season with 13 home runs and 46 RBIs.

– Carrie Muskat

White Sox interested in Montero?

The White Sox are one of three teams inquiring about D-backs catcher Miguel Montero, according to a report Thursday in The Arizona Republic.

Montero, 31, is a two-time All-Star who has drawn interest from the crosstown-rival Cubs and Dodgers, as well as the South Siders.

The White Sox have been looking for a fixture at catcher since letting A.J. Pierzynski leave as a free agent following the 2012 season.

Tyler Flowers was given first crack at the job in 2013, before Josh Phegley took over as the season closed.

Chicago again stuck with Flowers (127 games) and Rule-5 Draft pick Adrian Nieto (48) last season, but Sox catchers combined to hit just .239/.293/.395 with 20 home runs and 64 RBIs.

The Sox aren’t necessarily looking to replace Flowers, because they like how he handles pitchers and calls games — the No. 1 trait they value in catchers. But they have looked for alternatives or complements in the past, including left-handed-hitting Astros catcher Jason Castro last year.

Montero signed a five-year, $60-million contract with Arizona after the 2012 season, a deal thought to be a great investment for a then-28-year-old catcher. But Montero’s average plummeted from .286 to .230 in 2013 as he played in only 116 games because of injuries.

He rebounded last year to make his second National League All-Star team, but finished with a .243/.329/.370 slashline, and the new D-backs regime appears willing to trade him for the right price.

Montero, a .264/.342/.421 career hitter over nine seasons, is due to make $12 million in 2015 and $14 million the next two seasons.

Russell Martin, the jewel of the free-agent catching class, signed a five-year, $82-million deal with the Blue Jays earlier this week. The rest of the remaining free-agent catching options — Geovany Soto, David Ross, J.P. Arencibia, etc. — are viewed more as backups.

- Cash Kruth

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

Padres, Braves in hunt for Tomas

The race to sign Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas is heating up once again.

The Braves and Padres have emerged as the frontrunners in the Tomas’ sweepstakes and top officials from both clubs are expected to meet with him this weekend in the Dominican Republic, according to industry sources.

What’s more, sources indicate Tomas is currently mulling offers and his camp is considering attending Winter Meetings in San Diego next month. The slugger is believed to be seeking at least a five to seven year deal with an annual salary near $15 million, but the Tomas’ camp has not ruled out the possibility of signing a short-term, high-value deal that would allow him to return to the market sooner rather than later.

Tomas, who turned 24 on Nov. 14, left Cuba last summer and trained six days a week for four months until the rules allowed him to begin working out on a baseball field in early September. He starred in a showcase in front of scouts from all 30 Major League team later in the month and held private workouts for the D-backs, Dodgers, Mariners, Giants, Padres, Phillies, Rangers, Red Sox and Royals in the weeks that followed.

The Phillies were previously mentioned as the favorite to land the slugger.

Tomas played five seasons for the Havana Industriales in the Serie Nacional in Cuba, which means he was subjected to the international signing guidelines. Overall, he hit 30 home runs with 104 RBIs in 205 regular-season games for the Industriales, starting in 2008. However, he never played more than 69 games during the Serie Nacional’s 90-game regular season and did not play during the 2010-11 season.

The son of a fuel truck driver, Tomas is from the La Cuevita San Miguel del Padron section of Havana. He began playing baseball at age 6 with the other neighborhood children in the street, and he often tagged along with his grandfather to watch the hometown Havana Industriales play.

Check mlb.com for updates

Dodgers acquire Peralta from Rays

The Dodgers and Rays completed a four-player trade Thursday night in advance of the reserve list deadline.

Tampa Bay sent veteran right-hander Joel Peralta and Minor League lefty Adam Liberatore to Los Angeles in exchange for right-handers Jose Dominguez and Greg Harris.

In four seasons with the Rays from 2011-14, Peralta set club records with 296 appearances and 115 holds. He also led the Majors in appearances in that span. Last season, the 38-year-old reliever pitched in 69 games with a 4.41 ERA, his highest mark since 2009. He’s due $2.5 million next season, the first of three club options.

Dominguez, 24, made five appearances with the Dodgers in 2014 and went 1-2 with 10 saves and a 3.24 ERA with Triple-A Albuquerque.

The Rays added Dominguez and five others — pitchers Matt Andriese and Grayson Garvin, infielder Ryan Brett, outfielder Mikie Mahtook and catcher Justin O’Conner — to their 40-man roster and designated Cole Figueroa, Michael Kohn and Jose Molina for assignment.

Molina spent the last three years in Tampa Bay, playing in 281 games. The 39-year-old backstop made 70 starts at catcher in 2014 and hit .178/.230/.187.

 - Chad Thornburg

Four teams remain in the mix for Sandoval

The Giants, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Padres continued their pursuit of free agent Pablo Sandoval on Thursday.

San Francisco and Boston remain the favorites to land the third baseman, and MLB.com’s Ian Browne reported Thursday morning that Boston is close to making an offer. Sandoval met with the Red Sox on both Tuesday and Wednesday in Boston.

The Blue Jays were also preparing a significant offer for Sandoval, according to several reports, however, general manager Anthopoulos downplayed the possibility of another imminent acquisition. The club signed catcher Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million deal earlier this week.

Toronto’s policy of not exceeding five years on contracts could also provide an obstacle to the signing.

Also in the mix are the Padres. According to CBSSports.com, the club has made Sandoval a priority this offseason, though like Toronto, San Diego could be priced out in a bidding war.

- Chad Thornburg

Report: White Sox, Mariners, Orioles considering Melky

There are at least a trio of teams who are strong potential suitors for free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, CBSSports.com‘s Jon Heyman has reported, and they span the country.

The White Sox “are considering a pursuit” of Cabrera in their quest to find a left-handed bat for their lineup. Heyman said the Mariners “could make sense” as a landing spot, and the Orioles if Baltimore doesn’t re-sign Nick Markakis.

Cabrera would likely slot into the No. 2 spot of the batting order in Chicago where, Heyman points out, the White Sox posted just a .279 on-base percentage (second-to-last in baseball).

Cabrera did receive a one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer from the Blue Jays that he rejected. Heyman says Toronto has engaged in long-term talks with Cabrera but their signing of Russell Martin and pursuit of Pablo Sandoval makes it less likely.

– Joey Nowak

Sources: Tigers talked catching with Astros

The Tigers picked up the club option on Alex Avila’s contract earlier this week, but they remain in the rumor mill surrounding catching. While sources confirmed a report from FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi that Detroit had talks with the Astros about their catching surplus, the sources said talks ended with the Tigers moving on.

The Astros have three catchers on their roster following the addition of former Angels catcher Hank Conger two weeks ago. The Tigers talks were believed to center around switch-hitting backup Carlos Corporan, who has pounded Tigers pitching the last two years (9-for-22, 3 HRs, 4 RBIs). Two of those home runs came off Max Scherzer in 2013. Corporan also homered off Evan Reed this past May.

Corporan, who turns 31 in January, is a .226 career hitter with 17 home runs and 63 RBIs in 199 career games. He would make sense as an offensive backup to a defensive-minded catcher, especially if the Tigers were to trade Avila and go with prospect James McCann or Bryan Holaday behind the plate. He set a career high with 48 starts for the Astros this past season, though it’s unclear whether he could fill a platoon role.

The talks supposedly took place prior to the Tigers picking up Avila’s $5.4 million option for 2015. The option pickup, however, doesn’t necessarily guarantee Avila staying put. The move only guarantees cost certainty with Avila, rather than going to arbitration, in his final season before he’s eligible for free agency.

Jason Beck

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