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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.

Read More: Hot Stove, jesse crain,
Red Sox bring back Lenny DiNardo at 8:30 pm ET
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The Red Sox are bringing back a familiar face.

The team has agreed to terms with left-handed pitcher Lenny DiNardo on a minor-league, split contract. DiNardo confirmed the agreement by phone from Fort Myers, where he is working out. He has taken the team’s physical, with results of an MRI being the only thing remaining to finalize the deal. DiNardo said that he will be ready as either a starting depth option or as a reliever.

DiNardo, 31, spent three years with the Sox from 2004-06 after being selected from the Mets in the Rule 5 draft. He went 1-3 with a 5.53 ERA in 43 games as both a starter and reliever for Boston. He was selected off waivers by the Oakland A’s following the 2006 season, and DiNardo ended up turning in the best year of his career in 2007 under then-Oakland (and now Sox) pitching coach Curt Young. He went 8-10 with a 4.11 ERA in 35 appearances (20 starts) that year.

“[Young] really helped me focus on using my changeup more. And I attribute that whole year to that pitch basically,” said DiNardo. “Up to that point I was mainly just a fastball, cutter guy and I’€™d throw more curveballs and changeups and in 2007 what turned me around was that I would throw a changeup in any count. If I threw 100 pitches previous to 2007 I’€™d throw less than 10 changeups and in a few of the games in 2007 if I were to throw 100 pitches it was boosted up to 35 changeups.

“That’€™s Curt Young. He’€™s a left handed pitcher who had similar stuff to me and we kind of felt eye-to-eye on a lot of things. He really helped me out.”

However, he struggled to an 8.73 ERA in the majors in 2008 (with the A’s) and 2009 (with the Royals), and ended up spending much of those seasons as well as all of 2010 (back with the A’s) in the minors. He underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his elbow in the middle of the 2010 season, but was back on the mound by Sept., and now feels fully healthy.

Now, pending the results of his MRI, DiNardo is back with a familiar team and pitching coach in the Sox and Young.

Read More: curt young, Hot Stove, lenny dinardo,
Sources: Red Sox in ‘ongoing discussions’ with reliever Dan Wheeler at 4:59 pm ET
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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.

Read More: dan wheeler, Hot Stove,
Sources: Matt Guerrier turns down Red Sox to sign with Dodgers 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,
Red Sox ‘getting closer’ to a deal with reliever Matt Albers 12.14.10 at 7:46 pm ET
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According to Peter Gammons of NESN and the MLB Network, the Red Sox have signed free agent reliever Matt Albers. A source familiar with the negotiations said that a deal is “not done,” but that it is “getting closer.”

The 27-year-old (he turns 28 in January), who was non-tendered by the Orioles earlier this month, was 5-3 with a 4.52 ERA in 62 games for the Orioles in 2010, striking out 49 and walking 34 in 75 2/3 innings. He has spent parts of the last five seasons in the majors, mostly as a reliever, forging a 15-25 record and 5.11 ERA. In 2008, after he was traded from the Astros to the Orioles as part of the package for Miguel Tejada, Albers had a 3.49 ERA in 49 innings, but with a 26-to-22 strikeout-to-walk rate.

Albers has a low-90s fastball that he mixes with a curve. While his career strikeout numbers (5.8 per nine innings) are fairly unimpressive, he gets a significant number of groundballs, making him an intriguing buy-low possibility on a Sox relief corps that is lacking a groundball-inducing option. Albers has a career 1.05 groundball-to-flyball rate, roughly 33 percent better than league average. In 2010, that jumped to a 1.33 groundball-to-flyball ratio, the sixth-highest mark in the AL (min. 50 innings).

News of the Sox’ interest in Albers was first reported by the Boston Globe.

Read More: Hot Stove, matt albers,
Source: Red Sox unlikely to offer any reliever three years at 4:37 pm ET
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It would not be unprecedented. The Red Sox have done it before — once. But while there is no formal club policy against offering three-year contracts to relievers, according to a source familiar with the club’s thinking, the Sox would only go to such lengths to sign a pitcher whom the club deemed to be one of the best in the game.

While there are several strong options on the relief market right now, only one — Rafael Soriano — could be considered one of the top relievers in the game, and since he is virtually certain to seek a job as a closer (a job that the Sox have filled both for 2011 by Jonathan Papelbon and likely beyond by Daniel Bard), the Sox are unlikely to make a play for him. And so, even though a pair of relievers (Joaquin Benoit and Scott Downs) have set the upper end of the market for middle relievers this winter by signing three-year deals, the likelihood is extremely small that the Sox would offer a three-year deal to a bullpen arm this winter.

The Sox gave out their only three-year relief deal under GM Theo Epstein to closer Keith Foulke following the 2003 season. That paid off in 2004, when Foulke proved a crucial contributor to the Sox’ World Series, but offered a case study in the perils of long-term relief deals in 2005 and 2006, when Foulke missed substantial time with injuries and performed poorly, ultimately losing his job to Papelbon.

The Sox have signed relievers to two-year deals that included vesting options. Both Alan Embree and Julian Tavarez were signed to such deals. Embree made enough appearances for his option to vest, while Tavarez did not, but had his option picked up after emerging as a valuable swingman in 2006 and 2007. Both pitchers ended up being designated for assignment in the third year of their deals.

That history may have informed the Sox’ approach with Downs, the free-agent left-hander whom they aggressively tried to acquire both at the trade deadline and again in free agency.

Downs represented a potentially good fit for the Sox as a southpaw with an outstanding track record (he had a 2.36 ERA over the last four years) and a proven ability to succeed in the AL East. According to multiple major league sources, the Sox had significant interest in Downs, especially after signing Crawford.

In part, that represented the fact that the cost of Downs ‘€“ a Type A free agent for whom the Sox would have to give up a draft pick ‘€“ would not be quite as steep. The Sox had already signed Crawford as a Type A who would cost them their first-round draft pick; Downs, ranked lower among Type A free agents by the Elias rankings system, would have thus cost a second-round pick.

Even so, while the team would have been interested in him for two years, the Sox made the decision to back off of Downs. The team decided that a three-year deal was more than it wanted to invest in a reliever, particularly given Downs’€™ age (34) and the fact that he would cost a pick.

A case can be made that Downs was the best setup man on the market this offseason. That being the case, even while the Sox have interest in other available relievers such as (according to multiple industry sources) Matt Guerrier and Jesse Crain as well as (according to ESPN.com) Kevin Gregg, among others, none is likely to receive a deal with three guaranteed seasons.

Read More: bullpen, Hot Stove, jesse crain, kevin gregg
Yankees sign Russell Martin; Sox had limited interest at 11:20 am ET
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According to multiple reports, the Yankees have reached an agreement to sign catcher Russell Martin. Martin hit .248/.347/.322 with five homers in 2010 before a hip injury ended his season with the Dodgers in mid-August. The Dodgers did not tender him a contract earlier this month, fearing they would have to give the arbitration-eligible catcher a raise on the $5.05 million he earned last year.

The Red Sox were also interested in Martin, but their discussions with him were primarily as a depth option in case either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Jason Varitek was injured in spring training. A source familiar with the discussions suggested that the Sox discussed a deal that featured little guaranteed money with the 28-year-old.

Martin’s batting average and OPS has gone down in each of the last three years. But he is also a two-time All-Star who as recently as two seasons ago was regarded as one of the best all-around catchers in the game, and at 28, he remains young enough that there could be upside.

Read More: Hot Stove, Russell Martin,
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