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If David Price isn't traded, "almost every baseball person one talks to mentions the Rays as the team to beat in the American League," Peter Gammons writes in his latest piece for his Gammons Daily website. Price has stayed in the fold despite multiple trade rumors this winter, with the Rays instead adding roster depth instead of moving another cornerstone player for prospects. The depth and continuity carrying over from 2013 is a big factor for Evan Longoria, who notes that "for the first time since I’ve been here, we have almost everyone back. We have a team that is going to play together two years in a row.”
Here's some more from around the AL East…
- The Rays' "laid back environment" was a key reason why Mark Lowe chose to sign a minor league deal with the club, MLB.com's Bill Chastain reports. Lowe notes that his choice came down to the Rays and Indians this winter, as those were the two clubs who "pushed the hardest" for his services. Tampa manager Joe Maddon said that the Rays originally tried to sign Lowe during the 2012-13 offseason.
- Jhonny Peralta said the Yankees offered him a three-year contract and the opportunity to play third base, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports (Twitter links). The Yankees were Peralta's preferred Big Apple team since the Mets only offered him a two-year deal that Peralta described as "not really good." Of course, Peralta overcame the stigma of his 50-game PED suspension last season to sign a four-year, $53MM contract with the Cardinals as their everyday shortstop.
- Mike Napoli rejected a qualifying offer from the Red Sox last fall and the slugger felt the draft pick compensation limited his free agent options, Napoli tells Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald. “It’s tough because it’s kind of holding you back,” Napoli said. “You get (to free agency) and it should be all the teams that want you. The way it is now, if a team doesn’t want to give up a pick, they’re not going to be interested.” It ended up being something of a moot point for Napoli, as he openly wanted to return to Boston and re-signed for a two-year, $32MM deal.
- There isn't any new news about David Ortiz's contract talks with the Red Sox, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports. The two sides apparently haven't had any further negotiations since their initial meetings two weeks ago. (Cafardo shared some more items about the AL East in his regular Sunday column, as reported earlier.)
- Quintin Berry talks to WEEI.com's Rob Bradford about why he signed with the Orioles and how he appreciated his time with the Red Sox last season, though the Sox didn't push too hard to re-sign him. “Supposedly [they tried] a little bit, but I know they had a couple of things in mind they wanted to do, some guys they wanted to try and give experience to,” Berry said. “So I just wanted to test the market and see what else I could do." Berry signed a minor league deal with the O's in January.
The Brewers and Pirates have scouts watching the Red Sox, with a specific focus on Mike Carp, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes in his weekly Sunday column. While it's still unknown whether Carp can handle an everyday job, he wouldn't have to fill that role in Pittsburgh, as the Bucs have been looking for a left-handed hitting platoon partner for first baseman Gaby Sanchez. Carp has received a lot of trade buzz this offseason though Boston was known to be asking for a lot in return.
Here's some more from Cafardo's latest piece…
- Sam and Seth Levinson of the ACES agency "are gaining the reputation of persuading clients to take under-market-value contracts if they’re happy where they are," which is why there is a feeling amongst general managers that Jon Lester, an ACES client, will sign an extension with the Red Sox. “If you’re a team with a big-ticket guy out there, they are the agents you want to be dealing with right now,” said one National League GM. “The teams love it. You can get something done with them." This past summer, ACES client Dustin Pedroia signed an eight-year, $110MM extension with the Red Sox that was perceived as a team-friendly deal (especially given what Robinson Cano was able to find on the open market this offseason), though it's worth noting that the Levinsons kept Pedroia fully informed of his market value and the second baseman just really wanted to stay in Boston. Lester, for his part, has also said he'd be willing to take a discount to remain with the Sox.
- Cafardo speaks to Orioles manager Buck Showalter about the team's recent signings of Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez and how the club weighed the value of the draft picks they'd have to surrender to sign the qualifying offer-rejecting free agents. Also, Showalter doesn't think money will be an obstacle in retaining key players over the long term. “I feel confident with Peter [Angelos] that when we come to him and say this is someone we want to hold on to, he’s going to find a way to do it,” said Showalter. “I don’t think our guys want to go anywhere."
- Baltimore's hiring of Dave Wallace as pitching coach "may be the best acquisition we’ve made this offseason," Showalter said. “He’s really simplified things for us. Sometimes we’re so mechanics-driven in this business.”
- "Don't believe" the Blue Jays when they say they aren't interested in Ervin Santana, Cafardo writes. He also thinks the Orioles could still have an eye on Santana even after the Jimenez signing.
- Oliver Perez seemed to be close to a new contract two weeks ago when he was weighing offers from four teams, but "nothing has transpired" since then, Cafardo writes. He opines that the Nationals and Yankees are teams who could use Perez's lefty presence in their bullpens.
A long-term agreement between Mike Trout and the Angels would carry upside and risk for both player and club, Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times writes. Agent Paul Cohen, whose clients include Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki, tells DiGiovanna he's generally in favor of such deals. "Our view is you never turn down your first fortune, especially if you can keep your free agent years intact at age 29 or 30," Cohen comments. However, Scott Boras chimes in to argue that such deals often benefit teams. Boras discloses that the Indians attempted to extend his client Shin-Soo Choo with a deal in the $27MM-$42MM range. Choo, of course, waited and cashed in this offseason with a seven-year, $130MM free agent deal with the Rangers. Here are more notes from around the majors:
- Continuing our extension theme, the Red Sox and Jon Lester's representatives have had at least two conversations about a long-term deal, Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe tweets.
- Yankees GM Brian Cashman's suggestion earlier this week that the Orioles' 2012 success was a fluke has rankled some in Baltimore, but the club has largely been quiet on the matter, writes Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun.
- Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press Sports says there are parallels to be drawn between Dave Dombrowski's administration of the Tigers and John Schuerholz's tenure running the Braves.
The Braves top a ranking of baseball's best bullpens over at MLB.com's Outside Pitch blog. Craig Kimbrel is a big part of that choice, but the presence of Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden and David Carpenter also make the Atlanta relief corps one of MLB's deepest, according to Outside Pitch's Shawn Ferris. Completing the list are the Red Sox, Cardinals, Pirates and Reds. Here's more from around baseball's Eastern divisions:
- Braves second base prospect Tommy La Stella has been turning heads early in camp, Carroll Rogers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes, though the club still plans on starting the season with veteran Dan Uggla at the keystone.
- Nelson Cruz had a successful debut for the Orioles in a matchup with the Blue Jays, walking twice and scoring from first on a Chris Davis double (via Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com). "It doesn’t feel like butterflies or anything," Cruz said. "I feel normal, I guess, as soon as I come out to the field."
- Yankees hurler CC Sabathia wasn't concerned after his fastball topped out at 88 MPH in his first Spring Training outing, Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News reports. “My fastball is what it is. If it gets better, it will. If it’s not, it won’t,” Sabathia commented. McCarron writes that the concerns are likely to persist if the lefty's heater doesn't tick up, noting that Sabathia lost a significant amount of weight this offseason.
The Orioles organization suffered a major loss today, as PR director Monica Pence Barlow passed away at just 36 years of age after a long battle with cancer. As this morning's outpouring reveals, Barlow was an inspiration to those who knew her. Among the many writers impacted by the loss was MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko, who offers a tribute: "Whenever someone would ask, 'Why you?,' Monica would reply, 'Why not?' Pretty much says it all, doesn't it?"
As MLBTR joins in offering its condolences, here are some notes from around the American League East:
- Sam and Seth Levinson, the agents for Jon Lester and several other Red Sox players, have arrived in Fort Myers, reports WEEI.com's Rob Bradford. It is not yet known whether they will engage in talks with GM Ben Cherington regarding a new deal for Lester, but Cherington has made clear that he would to keep negotiations to the spring.
- Fellow Sox starter John Lackey says he is not worried about the fact that he'll be subject to a league-minimum club option net year, writes Bradford. "It's different," said Lackey. "There will be some things I will have to think about, for sure." But he says he isn't worried about that now. "I haven't even gotten to that point of thinking that far ahead," Lackey said. "We'll play this year out and see what happens. I'm not worried about the money. I've made plenty of that."
- Blue Jays center fielder Colby Rasmus is entering his walk year, but he says he'll join Lackey in focusing on the present, reports Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca. "I haven't thought about it at all," said Rasmus. "For me, it's all about right now, and next year don't matter." After a turnaround 2013 season that restored some of his earlier luster, the 27-year-old Rasmus could play his way into (or out of) a big contract.
FRIDAY: The Orioles have released Jones, according to the team's transactions page.
Jones, 25, was acquired from the Braves last April in exchange for right-hander Luis Ayala. The former 15th-round pick (Indians) posted a solid 2.85 ERA in 79 innings between Double-A and Triple-A last season, though his 6.2 K/9 rate and 4.1 BB/9 rate were less impressive. Jones would make an intriguing pick-up for a team in need of left-handed relief, as he held opposing lefties to a minuscule .196/.291/.268 batting line in 128 plate appearances last season.
Jones has a 3.42 ERA with 7.9 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 in 434 1/3 career innings in the minors.
Mets GM Sandy Alderson recently told the club's executives and baseball personnel that he believes the team can win 90 games in 2014, reports John Harper of the New York Daily News. Alderson neither denied nor confirmed the report, but his comments implied he had set an ambitious target for the organization. "All I'll say is we have higher expectations than we've had in the past," said the GM. "Because I think it has to be a mind-set. Part of creating a winning environment is setting ambitious goals and working toward them. But it has to be systematic and it can’t be totally unrealistic. I don’t think it is in this case.”
Here are a few more notes from the game's eastern divisions to start the day:
- Yankees GM Brian Cashman says that the last thing he's concerned about is the health of the team's star shortstop and first baseman, reports the New York Post's George A. King III. "I am more focused on the bullpen, the rotation and how that will shake out and the infield that is not Mark Teixeira or Derek Jeter," he said. We heard yesterday that the Yankees are still keeping an eye on possible additions to the club's infield mix.
- Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich says that the silver lining of the club losing its top draft choices is that his scouts will be able to drill down harder on the players who are likely to be available to them further down in the order, reports Steve Melewski of MASNsports.com. "I think we will try to identify all the players we think will be gone," Rajsich said. "We will focus on second and third-round guys and try to sign an undervalued player there.
Every area scout will still scout the top guys in their area, but they will not spend a lot of time on the ones they think are definitely first-round guys. I would say we may be able to eliminate as many as 45 or 50 players." At present, the O's will first select a player with the 90th overall choice.
- The Red Sox have quickly amassed a nice array of young arms in the upper minors, writes Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. And while most of those arms do not figure to break camp with the big club, GM Ben Cherington said that they will nevertheless be a valuable resource in 2014. “That young group, no matter what, is going to be relied upon in some way at some point during the year,” Cherington said. “You can never have enough.”
Earlier today, we learned the Rangers were one of seven teams who watched Johan Santana throw during a workout in Fort Myers, Florida. Though Santana wouldn't be available until around the middle of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery, he could serve as depth for a Texas rotation that is suddenly facing some injury problems. Here's some more on the Rangers' pitching explorations…
- Veteran left-hander Joe Saunders worked out with the Rangers today, USA Today's Scott Boeck tweets. The Orioles, who were talking to Saunders earlier this month, are also still interested in the southpaw.
- With Derek Holland and Matt Harrison battling injuries, MLB.com's Richard Justice suggests that the Rangers are a good fit for free agent Ervin Santana. There have been conflicting reports around whether or not Texas is interested in Santana, and the bigger obstacle could be Santana's desire for a four-year contract. Justice suggests that the Rangers could offer Santana one or two guaranteed years plus an option, as Santana could then get back onto the free agent market with more momentum on the open market if he pitches well in Arlington.
- The Rangers agreed to terms with 12 pre-arbitration players on one-year contracts, the team announced. ESPN Dallas' Richard Durrett has the salaries, and as expected, all 12 men made close to the $500K league minimum. The highest-paid of the dozen was left-hander Robbie Ross, who will earn a little under $513K next season. With Mike Trout's record $1MM pre-arbitration deal making news, MLBTR's Zach Links today looked at how teams have different ways of determing pre-arb salaries.
Here's the latest from the Orioles' camp…
- The Orioles' inactivity for much of the offseason made executive VP of baseball operations Dan Duquette a target of criticism, but Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun notes that Duquette ended up with the last laugh by signing Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz at relative bargain prices. While Duquette praised his operations staff for doing their homework to prepare for player acquisitions, he admitted that he wasn't planning on qualifying-offer free agents like Jimenez and Cruz lasting this long. "This is the first full year of the [qualifying offer] implementation, and I'm not sure people understood how the market was going to play out. I can't tell you we envisioned that the market would get to this point," Duquette said.
- Extension talks between the Orioles and J.J. Hardy are still in the very preliminary stages, though one thing Hardy would like to get settled quickly is his future position. "Obviously, that'll be a question that will be answered before all the contract stuff gets figured out and I'd like to know,'' Hardy told Peter Schmuck. "If I'm going to be doing that in a year or two, it would have an impact of some sort." Though Hardy has played every game of his Major League career as a shortstop and Manny Machado was a defensive ace at third last season, it has been presumed that the O's would eventually like to move Machado back to his natural position at short.
- Some more moves could yet be on the way for Baltimore, MLB.com's Brittany Ghiroli opines. The team is still looking for pitching and Joe Saunders makes sense, though Ghiroli notes that "nothing is imminent" between the two sides. The O's were talking to Saunders earlier this month and Ghiroli suspects that Saunders would insist on a Major League contract. Saunders had a short stint with the Orioles in 2012, pitching well in seven starts after being acquired in a late-August trade.
TODAY: Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com provides a list of the other clubs who sent representatives to watch Santana: the Phillies, Blue Jays, Pirates, and Rangers. Scouts in attendance told Heyman that Santana still needs to build his arm strength back up, but looked to be in great shape and threw as expected given his point on the recovery curve.
YESTERDAY, 5:40pm: The Orioles were among the teams to see Santana, tweets Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun. The club could be interested in bringing him in on a minor league deal, says Encina.
3:26pm: Throwing in Fort Myers today, rehabbing starter Johan Santana showed his current form to seven teams, reports George A. King III of the New York Post. Santana mostly threw in the high-70s, topping out at just 81 mph, though he did flash his usually phenomenal change.
Though those numbers sound less than promising, the workout comes very early on in the process for Santana to regain strength on the mound following a second shoulder surgery, reports Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Indeed, a mid-season return has always been the early target for Santana. Agent Peter Greenberg said there is no "firm date," with Santana committed to "tak[ing] it conservatively this time" and "not rushing things."
Per the above two reports, both the Yankees and Twins were among the teams with scouts in attendance.