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Sifting for relief bargains

12.21.10 at 11:10 am ET
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The acquisitions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler have been the headline moves in the reshaping of the Red Sox bullpen. But the Sox have also made a number of less prominent moves that could prove significant in determining how much the team is able to improve a relief corps that ranked among the worst in the American League last year.

A year ago, after all, it was the completely unheralded signing of Scott Atchison that provided the Sox with their most effective bullpen newcomer. Though Atchison spent early stretches of the season in the minors, he eventually emerged as the most trusted relief option behind Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, as the right-hander appeared in 43 games and, despite a 4.50 ERA at the end of the year, enjoyed stretches of significant success. More notably, the best reliever in the American League last year, Joaquin Benoit, produced a 1.34 ERA for the Rays after signing a minor league deal with Tampa Bay last offseason.

“That’s the way bullpens are built,” said one American League executive. “It might not be with headline guys.”

It is entirely possible that this season, the most significant addition to the Sox bullpen will be neither Jenks (who agreed to a two-year, $12 million deal) nor Wheeler (who has a one-year, $3 million deal with a club/vesting option for 2012) but instead one of the players whom they have brought on board in a minor league deal. Such is the nature of the incredibly unpredictable year-to-year performance of relievers. Whether because of injuries or under-performance by expected staple members of the bullpen, others will have a chance to emerge.

That being the case, it is worth taking stock of what a few relievers who signed minor league deals will make should they contribute in the majors:

Andrew Miller, $1.3 million

Jason Bergmann, $700,000

Rich Hill, $580,000

Lenny DiNardo, $500,000

In an offseason where the market for middle relievers has exploded — and in which, a couple years from now, plenty of multi-year deals for middle relievers will be viewed through the prism of regret — if any of those pitchers end up contributing meaningfully at the major league level in 2011, those salaries will seem like bargains. And, in a worst-case scenario for the Sox, such deals represent low-risk propositions. Should any of those players either not contribute or struggle, the Sox can part ways with few regrets.

There are few guarantees with signing a host of pitchers to minor league deals. After all, pitchers such as Joe Nelson, Brian Shouse and Alan Embree who competed for Red Sox bullpen roles after signing minor league deals for the 2010 season ended up contributing little.

But given the risks associated with bigger money deals that include big league guarantees, and given the potential upside of such signings, they represent a potentially important component of bullpen construction.

Read More: andrew miller, bobby jenks, dan wheeler, jason bergmann

Nuggetpalooza looks at Carl Crawford

12.21.10 at 9:36 am ET
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* – Loves to face (min. 20 PA):

Josh Towers: 20-for-47 (.426) with two doubles, a triple, and five HR (1.212 OPS);
John Lackey: 21-for-45 (.467) with three doubles, a triple, and two HR (1.178 OPS)

* – Hates to face (same minimum):

Roger Clemens: 1-for-20 (.050) with six strikeouts;
Miguel Batista: 4-for-24 (.167) with four strikeouts;

Those numbers against Lackey include 10-for-15 (.667) over the last two seasons… Lackey has allowed on OPS of over 1.100 to three opposing batters (min. 30 PA):  Manny Ramirez (1.467), Crawford (1.178), and Jason Giambi (1.105)… Towers is the only pitcher that has allowed more than three HR to Crawford.

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Yankees may turn to prospects to fill out rotation

12.21.10 at 7:56 am ET
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The Yankees wanted Cliff Lee, but saw him spurn their nine-figure offer to head to Philadelphia instead. The best alternative on the market this winter was 2009 Cy Young winner Zack Greinke, but according to multiple reports, New York decided not to pursue the right-hander over concerns about his fit for the market. They want Andy Pettitte back, but the 38-year-old has informed the club that he is leaning towards retirement, GM Brian Cashman said (according to Jack Curry of the YES Network, via twitter).

The rest of the free-agent market is less than promising. Carl Pavano is the closest thing to an appealing pitcher on the market, and his previous four-year tenure in New York was such a disaster that the Yankees are almost certain not to pursue him. The trade market beyond Greinke does not offer obvious solutions. While there has been speculation that New York could make a run at 2010 AL Cy Young winner Felix HernandezCashman told ESPN.com, ‘€œThat ain’€™t happening.’€

So where do the Yankees turn now? According to the same ESPN.com piece, Cashman feels that he might have little choice but to seek internal answers for his rotation behind returning starters CC SabathiaPhil Hughes andA.J. Burnett.

‘€œI’€™m not saying I want to do it,’€ Cashman told the website, ‘€œbut I may have to do it.’€

It appears that 23-year-old Ivan Nova (who went 1-1 with a 4.91 ERA for the Yankees in seven starts last year) is a virtual lock for the rotation. If Pettitte changes his mind and returns to pitch in 2011, that would round out the Yankees’€™ five. But if he does not, then Cashman said that he was prepared to turn to a prospect without major league experience, with the article citing Andrew Brackman, Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Hector Noesi and left-hander Manny Banuelos as possibilities. None of those pitchers has ever thrown a big league pitch.

While the Yankees might not make a big move this offseason, however, that does not foreclose the possibility of the team adding a starter in the coming months. Cashman suggested to ESPN.com that his team need not make a move before the July 31 deadline for non-waiver trades.

‘€œIn the past, we might have gone out and traded away prospects just to get someone in here,’€ Cashman said. ‘€œBut realistically, I have until July to get this solved.’€

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Marlins sign Ricky Nolasco to extension

12.20.10 at 6:37 pm ET
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You can scratch another potential Yankee pitching target off the list as the Marlins have reportedly agreed to terms with Ricky Nolasco on a three-year contract extension worth $26.5 million. The deal locks up the core of the Marlins young staff with Josh Johnson signed for the next three seasons, as well.

There had been speculation that the Marlins might make Nolasco available if they couldn’t come to agreement on an extension.

Read More: Hot Stove, Marlins, ricky nolasco, Yankees

Report: Yankees looking at Freddy Garcia

12.20.10 at 2:48 pm ET
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Now that the Yankees have lost out on Cliff Lee and failed to land Zack Greinke, the New York Daily News reports that they have begun to look at one-time Seattle ace Freddy Garcia. The News also reports that the Yankees knew they weren’t going to get Greinke.

Now they are waiting on Andy Petitte to decide if he wants to return and they have requested the medical reports on Garcia, who had a bounce-back season with the White Sox after three injury-plagued years.

Read More: freddy garcia, Hot Stove, Yankees,

Rick Ankiel headed to Nationals

12.20.10 at 1:21 pm ET
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Outfielder Rick Ankiel agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract (plus performance bonuses) with the Nationals. Ankiel, a former pitcher, played for the Royals and Braves in 2010, batting .232 with six home runs and 24 RBIs.

Read More: Hot Stove, Rick Ankiel,

Royals sending Zack Greinke to the Brewers

12.19.10 at 9:47 am ET
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According to multiple reports, the Kansas City Royals are trading 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke, along with shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and $2 million, to the Milwaukee Brewers for shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain, and pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi. OnMilwaukee.com first reported the deal.

The 27-year-old Greinke had recently requested a trade from the Royals. He is signed through the next two seasons, making $13.5 million in both 2011 and ’12.

The centerpiece of the package coming back to the Royals is Escobar, a 24-year-old Baseball America deemed Milwaukee’s top prospect. While the shortstop hit just .235 in his first full major-league season, he is considered a future leadoff hitter and defensive standout. The 24-year-old Cain had a standout season in two minor-league levels, with speed serving as the primary focus of his game, stealing 33 bases in 37 attempts last year.

The two minor-league pitchers headed to the Royals are both former first-round draft picks.

While there was some question whether or not the Yankees had interest in Greinke considering how New York’s pressure-packed environment might be handled by a pitcher who has battled a social anxiety disorder, the deal officially keeps one of the majors top pitching talents away from the Yanks. After missing out on Cliff Lee, New York is still thought to be searching for top-of-the-rotation pitching help.

Greinke has said that he has overcome any issues related to his disorder, and could play in any sort of market, but did admit to WEEI.com that New York might be an exception.

‘€œ[The environment] had a lot to do with [signing the extension], for sure,’€ said Greinke. ‘€œNow, maybe New York would bother me, but I don’€™t think anywhere else would bother me anymore. Even though I’€™m in Kansas City, I’€™ve gotten used to it a lot more. New York, I still might have trouble in New York. I probably would. But I think almost everyone does.’€

At one point, there was a report out of Kansas City that the Red Sox were one of the teams to have expressed interest in Greinke.

Read More: Hot Stove, zack greinke,
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