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WASHINGTON — If what the Nationals and GM Mike Rizzo are saying remains true, and they will actually shut down ace right-hander Stephen Strasburg when he hits 160 innings this season, the club will likely be in the market to replace him in the team’s already sterling starting rotation.
(To give you an idea of how important Strasburg has been — and would be missed — his Wins Above Replacement this season is 2.6. Though that’s not in the top 10 among MLB pitchers, it’s well above average. Justin Verlander leads MLB pitchers with 4.9, while Strasburg’s teammate Jordan Zimmermann clocks in at sixth with 3.3.)
The club has three pitchers with Triple-A Syracuse — Zach Duke, John Lannan and Yunesky Maya — who have more than 100 innings of experience starting this season, and Duke is the only one of the three to win more than six games (he’s 10-4 with a 3.78 ERA).
Lannan has plenty of big league experience, starting a total of 122 games for the Nats over the last four seasons, so he’s the most likely candidate from that threesome.
But if the team is going to look outside the organization, keep an eye on Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster, Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels and Francisco Liriano. Dempster seems to be the first pitcher on the block to be gaining steam, but FOXSports.com is reporting that the Nationals are not either of his top two choices.
If the Nationals are to go out and pick up a starter, they could be giving up a middle infielder, with Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond (who it’s almost certain they will not part with) and Steve Lombardozzi all producing this season.
The club also has great catching depth — with Wilson Ramos injured, Jhonaton Solano and Jesus Flores have both stepped up, and Davey Johnson has remarked that he’s never been around a team with such organizational depth at that position — but instead of dealing one of those players, Ken Rosenthal seems to think they’re more likely to acquire an everyday catcher.
This team is well ahead of schedule, sitting in first place, and is expected to get Jayson Werth and Drew Storen back soon. These factors may have Rizzo thinking a little more conservatively. Or, with the opportunity for the first playoff berth since the team returned to DC, he may pull out all the stops to cash in on what has already been a banner year.
Contrary to swirling Internet rumors — and essentially a process of elimination — the Angels are “very, very unlikely” to sign free-agent closer Ryan Madson, general manager Jerry Dipoto told The Los Angeles Times on Thursday.
Dipoto’s statements are consistent with those he made from the Winter Meetings in early December, when he said he was looking for someone to “complement [current closer] Jordan Walden, not replace” him. But Madson’s market has dried up considerably as teams have used a deep talent pool of closers to fill their ninth-inning needs, and it took a major hit when the Red Sox traded with the Athletics for Andrew Bailey.
Madson’s present scenario, his Orange County, Calif., roots and the Angels’ bullpen struggles last season seemingly made the two a fit. But the Angels have already spent nearly $330 million on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson this offseason. And now, Dipoto has basically shot down his team’s chances of adding a proven closer like Madson.
“We’re trying to add depth, and in a perfect world, we’d like to find another guy to join Jordan Walden, Scott Downs and [offseason addition] LaTroy Hawkins to help with those last nine outs,” Dipoto told the LA Times. “But closer has never been the real priority.”
You probably shouldn’t completely rule it out just yet, though. Madson’s agent, Scott Boras, can be real creative and Dipoto has already displayed an element of surprise. If Madson is willing to take less money, and perhaps even sign a backloaded deal — like Pujols and Wilson did — maybe, just maybe there’s still a glimmer of hope.
As we’re experiencing with the Nationals and those links to Prince Fielder that don’t seem to go away, there are very few certainties in the free-agent market.
– Alden Gonzalez
Could the Cubs deal Matt Garza? They are apparently still listening to teams interested in the right-hander. The Cubs are most likely looking for a package similar to what the Padres received from the Reds for Mat Latos and what the Athletics received from the Nationals for Gio Gonzalez, which means a lot of talented prospects. According to reports, the Blue Jays and Yankees may be the front-runners. What makes Garza attractive to the Jays and Yankees is his 23-15 record, 3.34 ERA in 56 career games vs. the AL East. Plus, he’s 7-4 with a 3.83 ERA in 19 games against the Red Sox.
Chicago helped its system by dealing Sean Marshall to Cincinnati for Travis Wood and two other players. Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, has said Garza is “exactly the type of pitcher we want to build around” but is willing to listen as the team re-tools. They’d have to be overwhelmed to move Garza, who is under team control through 2013. Gonzalez, 26, and Latos, 24, will be under team control for at least four years.
– Carrie Muskat
Hours after the Tigers’ signing of Octavio Dotel left Ryan Perry as a man without a role, he became a former Tiger. Detroit sent the former first-round pick to the Nationals Friday night in exchange for Collin Balester.
“Acquiring Collin Balester from the Nationals today adds another good arm to our organization,” team president/general manager Dombrowski said in a statement. “He has shown the ability to pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen in the past, a role we are looking for him to fill for our club in 2012.”
Perry was the centerpiece of a reliever-heavy Tigers draft in 2008, a hard-throwing right-hander who was the setup man of the future, if not a potential closer. But after he made the team out of camp the next spring, he never really found the consistency to hold down a role.
Dotel’s signing took away any chance Perry had for the seventh-inning role. He has down the long relief role before, but if the Tigers were going to sign a swing starter anyway who would fill that job, Perry was a man without a job.
Perry went 2-0 with a 5.35 ERA for Detroit this past season, allowing 39 hits over 37 innings with 21 walks and 24 strikeouts. His career stats in three seasons as a Tiger included a 5-6 record, 4.07 ERA, 82 walks and 129 strikeouts over 161 1/3 innings.
Balester went 1-4 with a 4.54 ERA for the Nationals this past season, striking out 34 batters over 35 2/3 innings. He went 2-1 with a 4.35 ERA at Triple-A Syracuse, with 46 strikeouts over 39 1/3 innings.
Perry was one minor league option remaining, so the Nationals don’t necessarily have to keep him on the big league roster out of camp. Balester is out of options.
– Jason Beck
That’s the word from late Monday night, where Bob Nightengale of USA Today tweeted that the Angels “have emerged as favorites for C.J. Wilson.” The Halos were reportedly meeting with Wilson’s agent late Monday night, Day 1 of the Winter Meetings from Dallas, and Jon Morosi of FOXSports.com said via Twitter that the Angels were making a “serious push” to sign him.
Earlier in the day, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that five teams were in on Wilson and one of them had made a six-year offer (though the identity of that team never really materialized). Wilson, a native of Newport Beach, Calif., had dinner with new Angels general manager Jerry DiPoto and long-time skipper Mike Scioscia in late November. DiPoto and Wilson’s agent, Bob Garber, also met during the General Managers Meetings in Milwaukee.
Asked about paying Wilson something higher than the five-year, $85 million extension Jered Weaver signed in August, Dipoto said that thought would “certainly create some hesitancy.” As it usual is with negotiations like these, though, this is a very fluid situation. Wilson could be lured by the prospect of pitching close to where he grew up, and if they still want to improve their offense after the signing, the Angels could do so via the trade market.
The Nationals, Marlins, Red Sox and Rangers have also been said to have strong interest. According to ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick, Texas plans to make its first offer to C.J. on Tuesday.
In need of a versatile presence for their infield with the departure of Aaron Miles, the Dodgers have contacted Adam Kennedy’s representatives, according to MLB Trade Rumors. Kennedy has Southern California roots and has been a travelin’ man since leaving the Angels in 2007 for the Cardinals after seven seasons as their second baseman.
Kennedy, a high school star in Riverside, Calif., before becoming a postseason star for the 2002 World Series champion Angels, has played first and third base as well as second in recent seasons for the Athletics, Nationals and Mariners. He’s a .272 career hitter with a .326 OBP and .385 slugging mark across 13 Major League seasons.
Kennedy, who turns 36 on Jan. 10, hit .234 in 114 games for Seattle in 2011. Twice a .300 hitter with the Angels, he is best known for his three-homer epic in the ’02 ALCS against the Twins.
The Dodgers acquired Mark Ellis as their new second baseman, joining James Loney, Dee Gordon and Juan Uribe in the projected infield. Kennedy is highly regarded as a tough-minded, positive clubhouse presence. – Lyle Spencer
The free-agent market will receive a boost when a large group of players from Cuba become eligible to sign with Major League clubs before the end of the year.
Outfielders Yoennis Cespedes, 26, and Jorge Soler, 19, along with right-handed pitcher Armando Rivero, 23, all participated in showcases last week in the Dominican Republic and highlight a list of Cuban players that could show up on big league rosters next season.
It’s uncertain when they will become free agents, because they are in the process of becoming eligible to play in the United States. What’s certain is that, for the third consecutive year, several players from Cuba are creating a buzz in the industry.
Cincinnati’s Aroldis Chapman is arguably the most recognizable name among the new crop of players from the island, and the Reds made a splash when they signed the hard-throwing left-hander to a six-year $30.25 million deal in January 2010. But Chapman is only a small part of a large group of the recently signed Cubans.
Three months after Chapman, infielder Adeiny Hechavarria signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the Blue Jays. Pitcher Yunesky Maya signed a four-year, $8 million deal with the Nationals that July.
Before the start of the 2009 season, Dayan Viciedo signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the White Sox, and shortstop Jose Iglesias signed a four-year, $8.25 million contract with the Red Sox near the end of the season.
Only Hechavarria, who finished last season at Triple-A for Toronto, has not appeared in the big leagues, but he appears on track to make his debut in 2012.
“The players are seeing the success their fellow countrymen are having, and they’re enticed to test themselves in this market,” said agent Bart Hernandez, who represents several Cuban players, including Martin, Hechavarria and Maya. “Players in Cuba are judging themselves right now and realizing they have comparable or equal skills to the guys signing, and they are deciding to take their chances.”
It’s too early to tell what type of contracts Cespedes, Soler and Rivero will command, but there’s no denying the interest by Major League clubs.
Cespedes, who is represented by agent Adam Katz, wowed scouts during his showcase in Santiago and is scheduled for a workout with the Marlins this week. According to Yahoo.com, Washington, Oakland, Cleveland, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the New York Yankees had representatives at Cespedes’ showcase.
Boston, Texas and Toronto are also reportedly interested in the five-tool outfielder who many believe is Major League-ready. Cespedes played for Cuba during the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
As for Soler, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound corner outfielder, showed off his power and speed in front of several scouts in a separate showcase with Rivero at the Yankees’ complex in Boca Chica. Rivero, who is 6-foot-3, features a slider, split-finger fastball, sinker and changeup in his repertoire. He reached 98 mph with his fastball in the showcase.
Outfielders Henry Urrutia, 24, Gerald Sanchez, 26, and left-handed pitcher Omar Luis, 19, all from Cuba, also took part in the showcase in Boca Chica.
“The talent has always been in Cuba, but obviously the political climate had an impact on the number of players playing in the Major Leagues,” Hernandez said. “Most of the Latin players in the Major Leagues used to be Cuban and teams used to send their players to Cuba for Winter League. The history is there and I think you are starting to see the future.”
— Jesse Sanchez
Free-agent outfielder Grady Sizemore expects to be completely healthy by the start of Spring Training and is keeping his options open for 2012.
On Monday, the Indians announced they were declining Sizemore’s $9 million option for 2012, instead choosing to pay the $500,000 buyout. On Thursday, Sizemore’s agent, Joe Urbon, said the interest in his client’s services is best described as “steady” and he has heard from a number of clubs.
Urbon declined to name the clubs that have inquired or the parameters of a deal Sizemore is seeking. He added that there is not a timetable for a decision.
Sizemore has been mentioned in reports as a possible target for Washington, San Francisco and Milwaukee, among other teams.
“The minute they chose not to exercise the option we informed Grady that we will find the best opportunity to allow him to show his health and that he is the elite player that everyone was used to seeing from 2005 to 2008,” said Urbon, co-head of CAA Baseball. “It’s rare for a two-time Gold Glove winner to have the power and ability to produce like a corner outfielder. It’s rare and rarely exists.”
One option for Sizemore could be shifting from center field to left or right if it’s the right fit. He could also seek a one-year incentive-based deal that would make him a free agent at the end of the 2012 season. Sizemore might believe his value will increase for the ’13 season with improved health and full season under his belt.
One thing is certain: Sizemore will be ready and looking to rebound. He hit .224 with 10 homers, 21 doubles and 32 RBIs in 71 games for Cleveland this past season and has not played a full season since 2008.
He has had two knee surgeries — one on each knee — in the last year and a half, including microfracture surgery on his left knee last year. He also suffered a sports hernia and a right knee injury. He is recovering from an Oct. 3 arthroscopic procedure on his right knee, which had a bone bruise and was part of the reason he was off the field for most of the second half of the season.
“The microfracture is not an issue,” Urbon said. “He’s as structurally as sound as you can be, and nothing he has suffered is chronic. He missed parts of three years. I’m not going to dismiss health, nor should it be, but it will all be cleared up by due diligence.”
As of Monday, the Indians had not ruled out Sizemore’s return to Cleveland.
“We will still stay in touch with his representatives and Grady throughout the offseason and remain hopeful he will remain part of this organization,” Indians GM Chris Antonetti said. “I think both parties remain open-minded to continuing the relationship. It’s just not at the option value.”
– Jesse Sanchez
The Reds traded OF Jonny Gomes to the Nationals for two minor leaguers late Tuesday afternoon. In fact, Gomes was a lineup scratch for Cincinnati just 10 minutes before their games vs. the Mets.
“We were just waiting to get medical clearance,” Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. “We thought we would have it a while ago. It just happened today. Jonny was in the lineup and I didn’t want Dusty to pull him before we had it finalized. We went almost to the 11th hour to get it completed. I didn’t even think this was close this afternoon. It happened quick.”
The Reds moved Gomes so they could promote OF/1B Yonder Alonso from Triple-A Louisville. Alonso has been deserving of a promotion and the club wants to see what he can do. They also need his left-handed bat.
“We actually had a couple of clubs that inquired about Jonny’s services but Washington was probably the most persistent,” Jocketty said. “For us, it’s a tough move to make in some ways. Jonny was a big part of our club last year and he’s obviously a guy we all think highly of as a person and as a player. It gives us an opportunity now to bring up a player like Alonso and start looking at some of our younger guys that we feel we need to give an opportunity to.”
Coming to the Reds are LHP Chris Manno, a situational reliever, and OF/1B Bill Rhinehart.
— Mark Sheldon
According to multiple reports, the Rays continue to listen to offers for B.J. Upton. Teams said to be interested include the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates, Royals, Nationals and Braves. However, while they are listening to possible deals, they aren’t willing to just give him away, which could lead to Upton finishing the season with the team.
Meanwhile, James Shields appears to be off the market, though according to CBSSports.com, right-handers Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis are in play.