Tigers pick up club option on Avila

As expected, the Tigers exercised a $5.4 million club option on catcher Alex Avila for the 2015 season. The move was more of a technicality than anything else, considering Avila — who would have been arbitration-eligible had the Tigers declined the option — would have ended up with a similar salary for next season either way.

Monday’s decision, however, still far from guarantees that Avila will actually be in a Tigers uniform next spring. Multiple rumors have been floated that the Tigers could try to trade Avila this offseason, with the Red Sox, Braves and Cardinals all being mentioned as potential landing spots.

Avila hit just .218/.327/.359 this past season, though he had arguably his best season behind the plate, throwing out an American League-best 36 potential base stealers.

– Paul Casella

Cubs in mix for Martin

Could the Cubs sign free agent catcher Russell Martin? FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal posted on Twitter that executives involved in bidding for Martin feel the Cubs are the “clear front runner.” Rosenthal said they project a deal in the four-year, $64 million range. The Cubs would like to upgrade at catcher after a disappointing offensive season by Welington Castillo. Martin reportedly met with Cubs officials at Wrigley Field earlier this month. Other teams reportedly pursuing Martin include the Dodgers, Blue Jays and Pirates.

The Pirates did extend Martin a qualifying offer, which he declined. The Cubs’ top pick in the June Draft (ninth overall) is protected, and they would have to give up their second-round pick if they did sign Martin.

– Carrie Muskat

Cubs acquire La Stella from Braves

The Cubs’ middle infield just got a little more crowded. On Sunday, the Cubs acquired left-handed hitting infielder Tommy La Stella from the Braves, as well as Atlanta’s No. 4 international signing bonus slot, for pitcher Arodys Vizcaino and three international signing bonus slots. Vizcaino, 24, returns to the Braves, where he began his pro career. The Cubs had acquired the right-hander in July 2012 from the Braves along with pitcher Jaye Chapman for pitcher Paul Maholm and outfielder Reed Johnson.

In Sunday’s deal, the net gain for the Braves in international bonus pool slot money is about $832,000, according to Baseball America. Atlanta will get the Cubs’ Nos. 2, 3 and 4 international signing bonus slots. The Braves’ No. 4 slot is valued at $142,000.

Where will La Stella play? A good contact hitter, he’s the type of player the Cubs would like at the top of the lineup. But they already have an overload of middle infielders with Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Logan Watkins, Luis Valbuena and top prospect Addison Russell. At the end of the 2014 season, Castro and Baez were projected as the starting shortstop and second baseman for next year. The Cubs are in the market to add starting pitching, and could possibly deal one of the infielders.

However, Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said the deal for La Stella was not a precursor to any other deal.

“Sometimes you have to acquire guys that can get on-base,” Hoyer told ESPN.com. “It’s something we needed.”

– Carrie Muskat

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 sign Burnett to one-year deal

A.J. Burnett is heading back to Pittsburgh.

The veteran right-hander has agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Pirates, the club announced Friday. The deal is reportedly worth $8.5 million.

Burnett, who will turn 38 in January, went 26-21 with a 3.41 ERA in 393 1/3 innings with the Pirates in 2012-13. He then signed a one-year deal worth $16 million to play with the Phillies last season but struggled to an 8-18 record and 4.59 ERA as Philadelphia went 73-89 on the year.

Burnett declined a $12.75 million player option with the Phillies in order to become a free agent. As MLB.com’s Tom Singer writes, Burnett “refocused himself on joining a team with a chance to win.”

Pittsburgh could lose starters Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez to free agency, making Burnett an appealing option to strengthen their rotation heading into next season. Their starting rotation had been down to Gerrit Cole, Vance Worley and Jeff Locke.

-Adam Berry

Tigers re-sign Victor Martinez to four-year deal

The deal had reportedly been agreed to several days ago, but the Tigers made it official Friday afternoon: Victor Martinez is coming back to Detroit.

The Tigers signed Martinez, who will turn 36 in December, to a four-year deal. CBS Sports reported the contract is worth $68 million. They will announce the deal at a 3 p.m. ET news conference that can be viewed live on MLB.com.

“Victor is one of the premier hitters in the league and we are thrilled that he will continue his career in a Tigers uniform,” Tigers president Dave Dombrowski said in a statement. “His production in the middle of our lineup and veteran leadership are invaluable to our ballclub.”

It was hardly a secret that re-signing Martinez was the Tigers’ top priority this offseason, as he was one of the best available hitters on the free-agent market, fits a clear need and enjoyed a great deal of success with the Tigers. Likewise, Martinez made it clear at the end of the season that he wanted to remain.

So, a deal quickly came together early in the offseason.

If Martinez is indeed making $68 million over the course of his contract, he will be the highest-paid full-time designated hitter in Major League history at $17 million per year.

Detroit now has Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler and Anibal Sanchez signed to guaranteed contracts through at least 2017, with those five set to make $103.8 million in 2016 and $100.8 million in ’17. That’s a huge chunk of their payroll committed to aging players, but in the short-term, they’ve kept together most of a perennial postseason contender.

“Victor’s presence both on the field and in the clubhouse is an essential part of this club,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said in a statement. “I have never seen a hitter more focused in the batter’s box than Victor, and I couldn’t be more excited to welcome him back.”

Martinez is coming off the best season of his career at age 35, having hit .335/.409/.565 with 32 homers and 103 RBIs in 151 games. He recently finished second to Angels outfielder Mike Trout in the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s American League MVP voting.

-Adam Berry

Rangers announce extensions for Daniels, Levine

The Rangers have locked up their top baseball decision-makers, as Texas announced Friday that president of baseball operations Jon Daniels and assistant general manager Thad Levine have agreed to terms on multi-year contract extensions.

The club did not disclose the terms of those deals, but Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram tweets that both executives signed three-year extensions. That would put them under contract through the 2018 season.

“Getting our baseball leadership secured for the foreseeable future was a top priority this offseason and very important for the continuity of the organization,” Rangers co-chairmen Ray Davis and Bob Simpson said in a statement released by the team. “Under Jon’s and Thad’s leadership, the Rangers have created a strong overall organization that has combined major league success with a productive scouting and player development operation over a number of years. Jon and Thad are skilled executives who are well respected around the game and completely committed to once again delivering a winning team for our fans.”

Daniels joined the Rangers in 2002 and was named the eighth GM in team history in 2005. He was promoted to his current position in March 2013. Daniels led Texas to its first American League pennant in franchise history in 2010 and was named the Baseball Executive of the Year by Baseball America following the season.

Levine was named the Rangers’ assistant GM in October 2005 after six seasons with the Rockies.

-Adam Berry

Report: Tigers to re-sign Hanrahan

The Tigers are reportedly bringing back right-handed reliever Joel Hanrahan to help bolster their bullpen next season.

Hanrahan has agreed to a Minor League deal worth $1 million if he makes Detroit’s Major League roster, with an additional $2.5 million available in incentives, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Hanrahan signed a similar deal with the Tigers in May but did not pitch as he rehabbed from Tommy John surgery.

When the Tigers signed Hanrahan earlier this year, he was just less than a year removed from the surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. They hoped to have him fully recovered and ready to pitch in two months, but the rehab process dragged on and Hanrahan never pitched in the Majors or Minors.

But Hanrahan, who just turned 33, pitched at a high level before the injury. He posted a 2.73 ERA with 82 saves and 228 strikeouts in 198 innings with the Pirates from 2010-12. He was named to the National League All-Star team in 2011 and ’12.

With Hanrahan, 39-year-old closer Joe Nathan and 30-year-old setup man Joakim Soria, the Tigers will have three former All-Star relievers in their bullpen.

Nathan is due $10 million next year, Soria is set to make $7 million and the Tigers have already agreed this offseason to a four-year deal with Victor Martinez worth a reported $68 million. Hanrahan, by comparison, is a low-risk move with plenty of potential upside.

-Adam Berry

Latest Giancarlo Stanton rumors: 12 years, $325 million?

Thursday night, MLB.com confirmed that the Marlins and slugging outfielder Giancarlo Stanton have been discussing a contract extension with a framework of 10 years and $300 million, the biggest contract in baseball history.

On Friday, rumors swirled that both of those numbers may be — believe it or not — on the lower end of a potential offer.

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweeted that Stanton and the Marlins are actually discussing a 12-year, $320 million deal. ESPN’s Buster Olney added that the two sides have been discussing a 12-year, $325 million contract as one of their possibilities.

As our own Joe Frisaro pointed out on Twitter, a 12-year, $320 million deal would yield an average annual value of about $26.7 million. For the sake of context, the Marlins’ Opening Day payroll last season was about $45.8 million, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts.

Stanton, the National League MVP runner-up, only just turned 25 years old. A 10-year deal would run through Stanton’s age-34 season, a 12-year deal through Stanton’s age-36 season.

In recent comments, the Marlins have struck an optimistic tone about their negotiations with Stanton. Earlier this week, president of baseball operations Michael Hill described the talks as “positive.” And Marlins manager Mike Redmond sounded just as confident during an MLB Network appearance Thursday.

“I think there’s no doubt that this guy’s a huge part of our future and a huge piece for us going forward. He’s our No. 1 priority, and I think we’ve had great discussions,” Redmond said. “I’m very hopeful of the fact that he’s going to be a Marlin for a long time and hit in the middle of that order for a long time.

“I think this guy’s only going to continue to get better. I don’t even think we’ve seen how good he can be, which is probably a little scary after what he’s been able to accomplish after his short time in the big leagues.”

-Adam Berry


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