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Nick Punto Rumors
Let's continue our tour of the divisions with news from the NL Central…
- "The Reds’ handling of Aroldis Chapman is beginning to resemble Joba Chamberlain 2.0," writes Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan. Cincinnati is leaning towards using Chapman as a reliever this season but Passan argues that a pitcher with Chapman's potential should be given the chance to start and not worry about being shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen. Another note from the piece is that Chapman's velocity is down to the 92-95 mph range this spring, but Chapman has been pleased with his improved command and his new pitch, a splitter.
- Like Chapman, Jeff Francis has pitched well this spring but may not find a spot in the Reds rotation, prompting ESPN's Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter) to consider Francis an "affordable alternative for teams in the John Lannan hunt." Francis signed a minor league deal with the Reds that contains an opt-out clause for March 28 that he could exercise if he doesn't think he'll find a job in Cincinnati. (In regards to Lannan, he could be off the trade market altogether given Chien-Ming Wang's hamstring injury today.)
- Nick Punto told reporters (including Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch) that his top two offseason options were the Cardinals and Red Sox, but the Cards never made him a contract offer.
- Astros minor leaguer Angel Heredia has been suspended for 50 games following a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs, reports The Associated Press. Heredia, a right-handed pitcher, played for Houston's Dominican Summer League team.
It sure didn't take long for Ben Cherington to replace Jed Lowrie. Hours after sending Lowrie and Kyle Weiland to Houston for Mark Melancon, the Red Sox GM announced the signing of Nick Punto to a two-year deal. The contract guarantees Punto $3MM and offers him the chance to earn an additional $500K in incentives, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (Twitter links).
Punto spent the 2011 season with the Cardinals and played second, short and third. He had just 166 plate appearances, but posted a .278/.388/.421 line for a career-best .809 OPS. The switch-hitter's career batting line sits at .249/.325/.327, so he may not be able to replicate this year's offensive performance in 2012-13.
But in all likelihood, Cherington didn't add Punto for his bat. UZR suggests Punto is a strong defender at short, second and third. Overall, he has been an above-average defender in each season that he's logged significant MLB playing time. However, he's 34 and maintaining his historically strong defense may be unrealistic.
A round-up of news from around the majors….
- The Mariners will be hard-pressed to contend with AL West superpowers like the Rangers and Angels, but Larry Stone of the Seattle Times argues the club shouldn't think about trading Felix Hernandez. Stone thinks such a deal would cause a "backlash" among M's fans and "there's still plenty of time to consider a Hernandez trade down the road if the Mariners' situation gets more dire."
- Michael Cuddyer was frustrated by the negativity surrounding the Twins last season and isn't sure if the team will be able to contend in the near future, reports Phil Mackey of ESPN 1500 Radio. The Twins have had a three-year, $24-$25MM offer on the table to Cuddyer for the last few days and the Rockies may also be willing to go to three years for the veteran. Mackey speculates the Cardinals could check in on Cuddyer to help fill the void left by Albert Pujols.
- Octavio Dotel tells MLB.com's Jason Beck that his choice of teams came down to the Tigers and the Brewers. Dotel says the Padres were also interested in signing him as a setup man.
- MLB.com's Todd Zolecki has contract details for a number of new Phillies, most notably Jonathan Papelbon.
- Carlos Beltran hasn't gotten much attention this winter, and Fangraphs' Eric Seidman names seven teams who could be a fit for the free agent outfielder.
- Nick Punto is "at or near [the] top" of the Braves' list of backup infield options, reports David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (via Twitter).
- A rival executive tells FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi (Twitter link) that the Mets won't trade David Wright. "He’s more valuable to them than he would be to any other team," the exec says.
Derrick Goold and Tom Timmermann of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch have a round-up of what the Cardinals could be planning now that Albert Pujols has left town…
- The Cardinals "have explored what the market is" for Carlos Beltran. Beltran would see most of his playing time in center field, since Allen Craig is slated to be the everyday right fielder.
- Jimmy Rollins' desire for a five-year contract will probably keep the Cards out of the bidding unless Rollins is willing to accept a shorter-term deal. The team is still talking to Rafael Furcal and would like to bring back Nick Punto as a veteran backup, should the Cardinals decide to look within and give Tyler Greene a shot at the everyday shortstop job.
- The team is looking for a left-handed reliever and have spoken to representatives for Mike Gonzalez and J.C. Romero.
- The planned $110MM payroll for 2012 won't be lowered because Pujols is gone, said GM John Mozeliak.
- In regards to the Jake Westbrook/Kyle Lohse trade rumors, Mozeliak said no deals materialized and one of the starters would be dealt only if the Cards need to "reallocate" some money towards another move.
The latest on the Braves…
- The Braves would not be a suitor for Hanley Ramirez if the Marlins decide to trade him, reports David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. They've got Tyler Pastornicky penciled into the starting shortstop role for 2012, though GM Frank Wren seeks "a traditional backup shortstop," not a semi-regular. O'Brien says the Braves don't want to make a multiyear commitment. I'd consider Nick Punto a semi-regular and a candidate for a two-year deal, but O'Brien says he is a Braves target.
- Next week's potential non-tenders are not among the Braves' targets, Wren told reporters including MLB.com's Mark Bowman.
- The Cardinals offered Pujols a nine-year, $198MM extension in January, confirmed Goold. Though this would be the third-largest contract in baseball history, the average annual value of $22MM would have the game's best hitter outside of the all-time top ten. Cardinals GM John Mozeliak wouldn't comment on whether the January offer still stands.
- Mozeliak explained his Pujols timeline to Goold: "I don't feel like right now everything outside of Albert's situation is urgent. That said, the one takeaway we have to have in the next couple weeks is what is the likelihood of us getting something done (with Pujols). I think directionally, that's what we're looking for as we move into the winter meetings and toward (the holidays)."
- One pressing factor might be the division-rival Cubs, who have "serious interest" in Pujols according to a Goold source, yet the talks so far have been preliminary. Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports reported that the Cubs are showing interest in Pujols and Prince Fielder. Goold says Pujols has indicated a desire to meet face-to-face with any legitimately interested party, so perhaps a sit-down will occur with the Cubs soon.
- Octavio Dotel's agent Dan Horwits told Goold, "Dotel would like to be a Cardinal. Obviously, the Cardinals have some other contracts to address first, and we understand that." This week the Mets, Reds, Tigers, and Angels have been named as other suitors for the 38-year-old righty.
- J.C. Romero's agent Melvin Roman told Goold he has heard from the Cardinals and expects to have a discussion at the Winter Meetings. The 35-year-old southpaw is open to a one-year deal after allowing 44 baserunners in 24 2/3 big league innings this year. In September, Romero said his first choice was to return to the Rockies.
- Mozeliak commented on his team's shortstop situation to Goold: "If we had to wake up and give Tyler Greene an opportunity (at shortstop) we would be comfortable with that." The Cardinals have an internal debate about whether to give Greene the job, Mozeliak told B.J. Rains of FOXSportsMidwest.com. Rafael Furcal is willing to wait on the Pujols negotiations to a point, though you have to think he'll pounce if a strong three-year offer comes along from another team. Goold believes Jimmy Rollins could be a possibility for the Cardinals at shortstop if Pujols signs elsewhere.
- Regarding the bullpen, Mozeliak told Rains, "There may be some things that we look at in January to add depth to that but I don't think we see anything short term on that now."
- Rains also learned that Bryan Anderson and Tony Cruz will compete for the Cardinals' backup catcher job, and the team has interest in retaining free agent infielder Nick Punto.
The Cardinals announced that they signed Nick Punto to a one-year deal, according to MLB.com's Matthew Leach (on Twitter). It's a $700K deal, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Agent Charles Schneider represents the longtime Twin.
Punto hit .238/.313/.302 in 288 plate appearances for Minnesota last year. He played second, short and third in 2010, his seventh campaign in a Twins uniform. Punto has never hit more than 4 home runs in a season, but the switch-hitting 33-year-old can steal a base and back up around the infield. He'll presumably play a similar role to the one Brendan Ryan has in the past few seasons.
The Indians and Punto had "meaningful negotiations" earlier in the winter.
Let's take a look at some Twins tidbits..
- The Twins and Carl Pavano are still close to a deal but appear to be in a temporary holding pattern, writes Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune. The sides still have some details to work out but they've agreed to put the talks on hold through Tuesday.
- Tabling the talks with Pavano should allow the Twins to focus on their potential arbitration cases. Matt Capps, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Delmon Young are all scheduled to swap figures with the Twins on Tuesday. Christensen points out that the Twins settled all eight of their potential arbitration cases at the eleventh hour last year.
- The Twins made some attempts to retain Jesse Crain but ultimately knew that relievers Brian Fuentes, Matt Guerrier, and Jon Rauch would sign elsewhere, according to Christensen.
- Nick Punto is still on the open market but the Twins don't have any plans to bring the infielder back, writes Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune. Punto, 33, has spent the last seven years with the Twins, hitting .248/.323/.324.
In a chat with fans today, Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dished out some information about the Cardinals' remaining offseason wants, some free agent rumors and the Albert Pujols extension talks. Here are some of the highlights…
- Strauss thinks it's "feasible" that Pujols could agree to an extension that doesn't stretch over as many years (maybe a five- or six-year deal) but pays him the highest average annual salary in baseball history. This way Pujols gets his big payout, but it doesn't leave St. Louis on the hook for a huge salary in the seventh or eighth year of a longer contract.
- The Cardinals are looking for some infield depth at shortstop and third base, plus another starter to provide rotation depth. They're looking for players with Major League experience to fill these roles, but on non-guaranteed contracts.
- There is "little enthusiasm" for bringing back Brad Penny. Strauss isn't sure Penny would be content with serving as an emergency starter out of the bullpen.
- If the Cards sign a backup infielder, it will have to be an infielder who is "adroit" at third base in case David Freese can't handle the everyday job. This seems to rule out a return to St. Louis for David Eckstein, but Strauss says Nick Punto "is a popular name within some quarters of the organization." We haven't heard much about Punto since the Winter Meetings, where the former Twins infielder engaged in "meaningful negotiations" with Cleveland.
- The Cardinals believe Mitchell Boggs and/or Jason Motte can develop into a solid closer, so there isn't much interest in Rafael Soriano.
- The Red Sox have made an offer to reliever Matt Guerrier, reports WEEI.com's Alex Speier (as passed along in a tweet from WEEI.com's Rob Bradford).
- Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review looks at how Jay Bruce's extension might influence a future extension offer from the Pirates to Andrew McCutchen.
- Lyle Overbay would be a familiar solution to Toronto's search for a first base/DH partner for Adam Lind, but MLB.com's Gregor Chisholm thinks Overbay "does not appear to be a good fit" since Overbay wants an everyday job. Chisholm's piece also contains several quotes from Alex Anthopoulos from the winter meetings and what the Jays might look to do during the rest of the offseason.
- The Indians and Nick Punto had "meaningful negotiations" at the winter meetings, reports MLB.com's Jordan Bastian.
- Manny Ramirez will receive $15MM in deferred payments from the Dodgers over the next three years and $1.94MM for each of the next 16 years from the Red Sox, reports Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com (with a tip of the cap to Cot's Baseball Contracts).
- Larry Stone of the Seattle Times looks back at the 11-year contract Dave Stieb signed with the Blue Jays before the 1985 season.
- Also from Stone, Jack Zduriencik says the Mariners could be in the market for an extra infielder.