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Source: Astros reach agreement with Bill Hall 12.17.10 at 3:13 pm ET
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A baseball source confirmed that the Astros have reached an agreement with free agent Bill Hall to be their regular second baseman. The news was first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com (via twitter), who said that the deal is for $3 million deal and includes a mutual option for the 2011 season.

Hall, who turns 31 later this month, spent this year as a utility man for the Sox, hitting .247/.316/.456/.772 with 18 homers and 46 RBI in 119 games. With his performance, Hall hoped to prove that he was ready to return to everyday duty as a free agent.

“Obviously, I do want to be an everyday player again,” he said during the season. “I feel like I’ve got a lot of baseball left in me. I’m not on my last legs. I’m just 30.”

His performance in Boston as a versatile player who appeared at every position except for catcher and first base led the baseball world to reach the same conclusion, resulting in his agreement to terms with the Astros.

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Red Sox still talking to Dan Wheeler, not engaged with Brian Fuentes 12.17.10 at 2:45 pm ET
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According to industry sources, the Red Sox continue to have conversations with right-hander Dan Wheeler about a potential deal to bring the Rhode Island native to Boston, but the team is not focused on left-hander Brian Fuentes.

Wheeler, 33, who was drafted out of Pilgrim High School in Warwick (R.I.), has been with the Tampa Bay Rays since the middle of the 2007 season, when he was acquired from the Astros in a trade for Ty Wigginton. Wheeler had a 3.35 ERA in 48 1/3 innings in 2010, and he struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings. However, his innings total was the lowest of his professional career, and he has seen his workload go down in each of the last three years. Over his last three full seasons with the Rays, he has a 3.24 ERA while striking out 7.5 batters per nine innings, while walking 2.5 batters per nine.

Fuentes was seen as a likely subject of Red Sox interest this offseason, coming off a year when he had a 2.81 ERA and 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings for the Angels and Twins. Over the last three years, most of which he spent as a closer, Fuentes had a 3.15 ERA and 9.5 punchouts per nine innings.

He missed time twice during the 2010 season due to back woes, resulting in his lowest innings tally since 2004. Still, he was very sharp down the stretch, tossing 9 2/3 innings for the Twins without allowing an earned run. He held opponents to a .181 average and .607 OPS in 2010, and dominated lefties to the tune of a .128 average and .371 OPS.

But, after the Sox’ reported two-year deal with Bobby Jenks, the team’s appetite for multi-year deals for middle relievers may have been exhausted, despite an AOL FanHouse report that the Sox and Yankees are engaged in a fight for the left-hander’s services.

Read More: brian fuentes, dan wheeler, Hot Stove,
Red Sox spring training tickets on sale Jan. 8 12.17.10 at 11:47 am ET
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The Red Sox announced that they will put spring training tickets on sale on Sat., Jan. 8, at the City of Palms Park box office, on the team website and by phone at 888-REDSOX6. Handicap accessible seating is also available by calling 877-REDSOX9. Hearing impaired patrons may call the TTY line at 617-226-6644.

Those in Fort Myers can take part in a number of events at City of Palms Park from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Another one bites the dust: Reliever Jesse Crain reportedly signs with White Sox 12.15.10 at 9:21 pm ET
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According to Peter Gammons of NESN and the MLB Network (via twitter), the White Sox have signed right-handed reliever Jesse Crain to a three-year deal. Crain was regarded by some as having the best stuff of any available right-hander on the market.

Crain had 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 2010, and 7.7 punchouts per nine over the last three years. But while he has electric stuff — a mid-90s fastball and a wipeout slider — his year-to-year results have been wildly inconsistent over the last five years. Here they are, from 2006-10: 3.52, 5.51, 3.59, 4.70, 3.04.

One talent evaluator noted that his results have not consistently matched his stuff, while another raved about what the 29-year-old is capable of.

“On a championship team, he’d be a great right-hand setup guy who could come in and crush you,” he said. “Someone like Crain, someone will give him three years.”

Once again, that is a length that the Sox typically do not go to for a reliever, having done so only once (for Keith Foulke) under GM Theo Epstein.

The White Sox, however, were willing to go to such lengths. Crain’s decision to stay in the AL Central could be to his benefit since, while he was dominant against most of the 17 clubs he faced last year, he had an 11.70 ERA in 10 innings against AL East opponents.

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Sources: Red Sox in ‘ongoing discussions’ with reliever Dan Wheeler 12.15.10 at 4:59 pm ET
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The Red Sox are talking with reliever Dan Wheeler about helping to shore up their bullpen. (AP)

The Red Sox have been engaged in ongoing discussions with right-hander Dan Wheeler about the possibility of coming to Boston, according to sources familiar with the talks. While no deal is done at this time, one source proclaimed optimism about the direction of negotiations.

The 33-year-old free agent, who was drafted out of Pilgrim High School in Warwick (R.I.), has been with the Tampa Bay Rays since the middle of the 2007 season, when he was acquired from the Astros in a trade for Ty Wigginton. Wheeler had a 3.35 ERA in 48 1/3 innings in 2010, and he struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings. However, his innings total was the lowest of his professional career, and he has seen his workload go down in each of the last three years. Over his last three full seasons with the Rays, he has a 3.24 ERA while striking out 7.5 batters per nine innings, while walking 2.5 batters per nine.

Wheeler has appeared in 21 postseason games for the Rays and Astros, forging a 3.38 ERA while striking out 28 and walking eight in 26 2/3 innings. He was drafted in the 34th round by the Rays in 1996, and has since spent time with the Braves, Mets and Astros organizations before returning to Tampa Bay.

The Rays declined a $4 million option for his services for the 2011 season, instead opting to pay a $1 million buyout. The Rays also declined to offer the veteran salary arbitration. He earned $3.5 million last season in the final year of a three-year, $10.5 million deal he signed with the Rays prior to the 2008 season.

Rob Bradford contributed to this report.

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Fine wine or vinegar: What history says about how Carl Crawford will age 12.15.10 at 12:16 pm ET
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To this point in his career, Carl Crawford has emerged as one of the great base stealers in big league history. (AP)

When watching Carl Crawford, one trait jumps out above all others: Speed.

At 29, he is already one of the most prolific base stealers in major league history. His 409 career steals rank 37th of all time. After years of seeing the outfielder torture Red Sox catchers, little explanation is necessary to explain how much Crawford’s presence on the bases can transform a game.

The same can be said of the outfielder’s defense. In 2010, Crawford was finally awarded a Gold Glove for his tremendous work in left field, thus becoming the first American League left fielder in nearly 30 years to receive the honor. According to fangraphs.com, he has been – far and away – the best defensive player in the game for the last three years as measured by UZR, having saved 52 runs compared to an average fielder at his position.

Speed is what has helped to make Crawford a star. Speed is the trait that made him a $20 million a year player for the Red Sox.

There is little doubt that the left fielder is growing as a hitter. He had career highs in homers (19) and OPS (.851) in 2010, but if you take away Crawford’s legs, he’s fighting players like Vladimir Guerrero and Hideki Matsui for a one-year deal in the $4 million to $5 million range.

But speed is a tool that starts to decline almost from the earliest days of a player’s major league career. And so it is fair to wonder: What will Crawford be over the life of his seven-year deal? How do players who are phenomenal base stealers at an early age perform as the odometer turns over from their 20s into their 30s?

That is the question the Sox confronted while trying to decide how far to go in their bidding. In addition to a thorough scouting analysis of Crawford, the team also asked analyst Bill James to study what could be expected of the outfielder before signing him to the biggest contract issued by this ownership regime. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: bill james, bobby bonds, carl crawford, eddie collins
Sources: Matt Guerrier turns down Red Sox to sign with Dodgers 12.15.10 at 11:38 am ET
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As first reported by Erik Boland of Newsday (via twitter), reliever Matt Guerrier has agreed to a three-year deal with the Dodgers. One source with knowledge of the negotiations said that the deal is not done as of Wednesday morning, but that the Dodgers and the pitcher are working in that direction.

The right-hander had been offered a two-year contract with a vesting option for a third year by the Red Sox, according to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, but Guerrier apparently opted to go for the longer guarantee. Boland reports that the Yankees were also among the teams pursuing the right-hander.

Guerrier was one of the most consistent and durable pitchers on the relief market this year, having posted ERAs of 3.40 or better in five of his last six seasons. He had also made 73 or more appearances in the last four seasons with the Twins. Despite a relatively low strikeout rate (5.9 per nine innings in his career, 5.3 per nine innings in 2010), he established himself as an effective middle reliever who was able to induce groundballs.

“Guerrier is consistent,” said a scout of an AL team. “He’s a steady sixth, seventh inning guy.”

Guerrier is the third middle reliever to receive a three-year deal this winter, joining Joaquin Benoit and Scott Downs. The Sox are unlikely to go to such lengths in pursuing bullpen help, having signed just one reliever (Keith Foulke, a closer) to a deal of that length under GM Theo Epstein.

Read More: Hot Stove, matt guerrier,
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