Jennings not bothered by trade rumors

Jennings not bothered by trade rumors

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Jason Jennings' ears had to be burning brightly enough to light the entire city of Frisco, Texas, where he makes his offseason home.

But Jennings insisted that he was not hot and bothered over being one of the most prominent players in trade rumors as baseball's Winter Meetings opened on Monday. Jennings is with the Rockies for $5.5 million in 2007, but because he is a free agent at season's end and hasn't agreed to a contract extension, the club is entertaining trade proposals.

"I don't really know what to expect to happen, but I can't really worry about it because I have no control over it," Jennings said by phone. "I'm ready to pitch for the Rockies. They picked up my option, so that's what I'm planning to do -- get ready, go to Tucson and get ready for the season."

That's good. If Jennings let all the trade talk send his head spinning, it might just shoot right into orbit by the time the meetings close on Thursday.

Media reports have linked Jennings to the Cubs, Mets, Rangers and Twins, and the Mariners are among the clubs that are interested. By Monday afternoon, the buzz in the lobby at the Walt Disney World Dolphin seemed to center on the Twins' interest.

General manager Dan O'Dowd said that the club and Jennings' agent, Casey Close, are still in negotiations, so there is nothing forcing a trade this week -- or anytime before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, for that matter. O'Dowd described the Rockies' offer as "significant," but it's not a final one.

O'Dowd also said that the Rockies want to meet with all interested clubs this week, so even if a move occurs, it will be only after several days of Jennings-centric headlines.

The market for free agents this winter is the most lucrative since 2000. The higher salaries have increased Jennings' leverage in negotiations with the Rockies, but because teams would face far higher salaries for this winter's free agents, the market has increased the Rockies' chances of making a favorable trade.

The Rockies are in search of a starting center fielder, and dealing Jennings would mean they'd need a young starter.

"I know there is a lot of interest in 'J.J.,' " O'Dowd said. "I also know that we're asking for a lot."

O'Dowd understands that some fans might not be happy with dealing Jennings after the team spent years building through the Minor League system.

"[If Jennings is traded], ultimately, the proof will be in the product of the players we'll get back. They'll have to be good players," O'Dowd said. "They could be young players, they may be players no one knows of, but still, at some point in time ...

"We're going to be faced with this decision with all of our young players when they get to the five-plus [seasons of service time, and thus on the verge of free agency] area. The Minnesota Twins are faced with those decisions every year, too, the Oakland A's -- every market this size is faced with the same decision. Some we hold on to, some we can't."

Jennings knows enough about how the market to know better than to involve himself in assessing it.

"I leave that up to Casey," he said. "I don't try to look up numbers. I don't try to compare myself to other pitchers and see who's getting what. I'd drive myself crazy doing that."

In other developments:

Hawkins headed to town: O'Dowd said that right-handed reliever LaTroy Hawkins was in Denver on Monday and will undergo a physical on Tuesday to complete his one-year, $3.8 million contract with a club option.

O'Dowd noted that Hawkins, who pitched for the Cubs and Orioles last season, would have cost the Rockies about $1 million less in last year's market. O'Dowd said that the starting pitching market "moved significantly above that, but that $10 million pitcher next year could be $8 million."

The Rockies would like to have another setup type, O'Dowd added.

Center-field chatter: The Rockies don't have to deal Jennings for financial reasons, O'Dowd said.

"We can bring everybody we want to bring back and still look for a center fielder within our budget," he said. "If the right center fielder came along, we'd still have money to go get him."

Such center fielders as Kenny Lofton and Darin Erstad are believed to fit in the Rockies' payroll budget.

O'Dowd also said that even though the Rockies are looking to upgrade in center, several clubs have inquired about the young center fielders the Rockies already possess.

Bullpen chance: O'Dowd said that hard-throwing right-hander Juan Morillo, whose fastball has been clocked at 100 mph or greater several times, will be tested in the bullpen during Spring Training.

Morillo, 23, went 12-8 with a 4.62 ERA and 132 strikeouts (but a league-leading 80 walks) at Double-A Tulsa. In his Major League debut, on Sept. 24, he gave up seven runs in four innings of a no-decision against the Braves at Coors Field.

Morillo has been shut down in the Dominican Republic because of a shoulder strain, but it's being called "nothing serious," and he'll figure into the Rockies' offseason.

In addition, right-hander Denny Bautista, acquired from the Royals at the deadline, has been dominant as a reliever in the Dominican.

O'Dowd said that outfielders Ryan Spilborghs and Choo Freeman have played well in Mexico, but Freeman is currently out with a back strain. Spilborghs has replaced Freeman in center.

Thomas Harding is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.