Hot Stove MLBlog: News, notes and analysis

Hot Stove MLBlog: News, notes and analysis

The offseason maneuvering is in full swing. Stay up on all the trades, signings, rumors and analysis with the Hot Stove MLBlog.

Reds deny Oswalt rumors
The topic of Roy Oswalt and the Reds being a potential match hasn't gone away in the past several weeks, despite the denials from general manager Walt Jocketty. Rumors flared up again over the weekend as other clubs appear to be declining their interest. The Cardinals were the latest team to reportedly back off.

Speaking by phone on Tuesday from Goodyear, Ariz., Jocketty emphatically denied the Reds were in on Oswalt.

"The media has been putting us into it. I'm tired of it," Jocketty said. "I try to be upfront with you guys. I've gotten a lot of calls from people. I'm not saying something couldn't ever happen but there's nothing to lead me to believe we will sign him."

"I don't know where he's going. We haven't had any serious discussions with him. We've had no contact with that player."

On another topic -- the Reds are no closer to an extension with 2B Brandon Phillips

"Not really," Jocketty said. "We really haven't had a chance to talk with them. Hopefully in the next few weeks, it's something we can address."

Jocketty said he did not believe Phillips' side had set any deadline for talks ending before the season starts. "I think this could go on for a while," Jocketty said.

-- Mark Sheldon

Orioles remain interested in Manny
Are the Orioles in on Manny Ramirez? Well, they have some interest, especially given that they'd like to add a veteran bat before Spring Training and the free agency pool has all but dried up.

Enrique Rojas of ESPNDeportesLosAngeles.com reported earlier Friday that Ramirez is deciding between the O's, Athletics and Blue Jays. But how serious is the Orioles' interest in Manny? I don't know, and it's tough for anyone to say accurately at this point. Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette -who had Ramirez while GM in Boston- hasn't ruled out the scenario all offseason, which is why I'm hesitant to do so now.

To recap, Ramirez will face a 50-game suspension for violating the MLB drug policy should he sign a new contract and play in 2012. Working in his favor is he would come at a cheaper cost than any other older DH-type on the market, such as Johnny Damon. But he also comes with significant drawbacks. In addition to the suspension, Ramirez typically brings a media circus, and I'm not sure how that style would play out with manager Buck Showalter. And then there's the question of performance: how much does Manny have left in the tank? The Orioles saw firsthand last year with Vladimir Guerrero that a veteran past his prime isn't exactly the exciting cleanup hitter they need.

With just about two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, all signs point to Ramirez making a decision soon.

-- Brittany Ghiroli

Rockies, Belisle reach contract extension
The Rockies and right-handed reliever Matt Belisle on a one-year contract extension through 2013, the club announced Friday morning. Terms were not immediately known.

Last season, Belisle, 31, went 10-4 - a career high for wins in a season - with a 3.25 ERA in 74 appearances. Belisle had appeared in a career-high 76 games the previous year, and over the last two years is 17-9 with a 3.07 ERA.

This is the third time Belisle and the Rockies have reached an agreement in about a year. He signed a one-year deal last winter to avoid arbitration, then he and the Rockies worked the agreement into a two-year, $6.125 million contract.

Belisle, who joined the Rockies as a non-roster invitee in 2009, is 36-32 with a 4.48 ERA, 401 strikeouts and 131 walks in 306 appearances, including 43 starts, with the Reds (2003, 2005-08) and the Rockies.

-- Thomas Harding

Yankees talking with Bill Hall
The Yankees have engaged in discussions with free agent Bill Hall about a possible utility role, the New York Daily News reported.

Citing a person with knowledge of the situation, the newspaper reported that Hall is considering "a couple of teams." The Yankees would likely only offer Hall a Minor League contract with a chance to make the club in Spring Training.

Hall, 32, batted a combined .211 last season with the Astros and Giants. The Yankees currently have Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena in line as bench candidates who can play multiple infield positions and some outfield.

-- Bryan Hoch

Angels bring back Rodriguez on Minors deal
The Angels previously inked reliever Francisco Rodriguez (not K-Rod) to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training. Rodriguez, the Mexico native who was signed as an amateur free agent by the Angels in 2005, will make $481,000 if he makes the big league club.

The 28-year-old right-hander was designated for assignment this offseason, then slipped through waivers and became a free agent. During his rookie season in 2010, Rodriguez put up a 4.37 ERA and a 1.521 WHIP in 43 appearances. Last season, though, shoulder woes limited him to 13 2/3 innings in the Majors and 10 innings in the Minors.

In seven seasons in the Minors, Rodriguez has gone 25-37 with a 5.27 ERA in 215 games (47 starts).

-- Alden Gonzalez

Rangers to meet with Oswalt Monday; What about Cardinals?
Roy Oswalt remains one of the biggest names on the free agent market this offseason, and it looks like the Rangers have some interest in adding him to their already-loaded pitching staff.

The club is planning to meet with Oswalt and his agent, Bob Garber, on Monday for a get-together that is "exploratory," MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan reports. The addition of Oswalt could be costly, particular for a club that has three arbitration cases remaining and not much opportunity in the starting rotation.

"He's somebody we've talked about, but we're happy with our rotation and our pitching staff," general manager Jon Daniels said. "He's intriguing, but I'm not sure exactly how it fits." Oswalt lives in Mississippi and has a long-standing relationship with Rangers club president Nolan Ryan. The Cardinals are also interested, and are high on Oswalt's list, but St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak denied this weekend that a deal is in the works.

The Cardinals, who are also pretty well set in terms of starting pitching, are reportedly at least seriously in the running for Oswalt. MLB Network Radio reported Friday night that a deal was very close, and ESPNBoston.com reported that night that Oswalt has "elected to stay in the National League" and that he is "likely" to sign with the Cardinals "soon."

But, as MLB.com's Matthew Leach reported, Mozeliak wrote in an e-mail that reports were "not true."

-- Joey Nowak

Greinke, sans agent, open to extension
Brewers pitcher Zack Greinke, who is currently operating without an agent, told MLB.com's Adam McCalvy that he would still consider a contract extension.

Greinke is preparing to enter his second season with Milwaukee and the final year of his four-year, $38 million extension he signed in January 2009. He cut his ties with CAA Sports last year, after the Brewers acquired Greinke in a trade with the Royals.

"It'd be me in charge as of right now," he said. "So, we'll see how long that lasts."

Greinke, who was 16-6 with a 3.83 ERA and 201 strikeouts last season with the Brewers, had this to say about a possible extension: "I'll talk to them about it. I don't really want to talk to anyone else about it. But I like the business of baseball. It's exciting for me. It's not like I plan on being my agent, but it is exciting being able to know what's going on behind the scenes."

-- Joey Nowak

Indians' deal with Lugo is off
The Indians reached an agreement on a Minor League contract with veteran infielder Julio Lugo more than a week ago, but MLB.com has learned that the proposed deal is no longer expected to come to fruition.

Lugo, 36, was going to receive an invitation to attend Spring Training with the big league club with a shot at competing for a bench job. His chances of making the Opening Day roster appeared thin, and now he will re-enter the free-agent pool.

In parts of 12 Major League seasons -- including stops with the Astros, Rays, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cardinals, Orioles and Braves -- Lugo has hit .269 over 1,352 career games. Last year, he signed a Minor League contract with Atlanta in May, but was ultimately released in September.

Lugo hit .231 (12-for-52) in 13 games for Triple-A Gwinnett and .136 (6-for-44) in 22 games with the Braves during the 2011 season. The infielder hits right-handed and has experience at second base, shortstop, third base and in the outfield.

Right now, the Indians have 20 non-roster invitees in the fold for this spring.

--Jordan Bastian

Reds add Jeff Francis
Looking to supplement their rotation with extra depth, the Reds reached a Minor League deal late Wednesday with left-handed pitcher Jeff Francis, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com and MLB Network.

Reds general manager Walt Jocketty told MLB.com last week that his club was interested in adding Francis, a free agent.

Francis, 30, was 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA in 31 starts last season with the Royals. Most of his career had been spent with the Rockies from 2004-10. He was a 17-game winner in 2007.

Lifetime, Francis is 61-66 with a 4.78 ERA in 181 games (180 starts).

-- Mark Sheldon

Betancourt contract with Rox goes official
Rockies reliever Rafael Betancourt passed his physical, which makes his new contract official. The Rockies picked up his 2013 option and added an option for '14 for Betancourt, who became the team's closer late last season.

In addition, Betancourt and new Rockies catcher Ramon Hernandez were boyhood friends and state all-star teammates in Venezuela. Hernandez's history with young pitchers should help the Rockies' staff.

-- Thomas Harding

Angels extend offer to Ayala, nothing imminent
The Angels are one of a handful of teams that have tendered a formal offer to Luis Ayala, but a source familiar with the negotiations said the free-agent reliever is still weighing his options and a decision is not imminent.

It's unclear at this point whether the Angels have offered a Major League or a Minor League contract, but they are believed to be in the mix along with the Orioles, Yankees, Astros and perhaps others. Considering he's coming off a bounceback season with the Yankees, one that saw him post a 2.09 ERA and a 1.268 WHIP in 56 innings, the 34-year-old right-hander would likely command a Major League deal.

The Angels were among four teams interested in adding Francisco Cordero, but he wound up agreeing to terms on a one-year, $4.5 million contract with the Blue Jays on Tuesday. Cordero is reportedly headed to Toronto to serve as a setup man -- a pretty clear indication that the Blue Jays' offer trumped that of the Angels and other suitors.

-- Alden Gonzalez

Cespedes declared a free agent
Yoenis Cespedes is now a free agent.

On Wednesday, Major League Baseball sent out a notice to the clubs advising them that Cespedes, as a resident of the Dominican Republic, is not subjected to the Amateur Draft and may now sign as a free agent.

On Tuesday, the outfield prospect established residency in the Dominican Republic.

Cespedes, who just finished a stint with Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League, recently said the Marlins, Cubs, White Sox, Orioles, Tigers, and Indians have expressed the most interest in signing him. He is expected to command a contract greater than the one received by Cuban left-handed pitcher Aroldis Chapman, who signed a six-year, $30.25 million deal with the Reds in January 2010.

The Marlins are on record saying they believe Cespedes' best fit is in Miami, with its strong Cuban community. The club is prepared to make a substantial offer -- between four and six years -- for the power-hitting outfielder.

Reports that he is not interested in signing with the Marlins are not true, an industry source said.

Cespedes hit .333 with 33 home runs, 99 RBIs and 11 stolen bases over 90 games in Cuba during the 2010-11 season, and many believe he can be inserted into the 2012 Opening Day starting lineup for the team that signs him.

He hit .143 with one home run and 10 strikeouts in 35 at-bats for the Aguilas.

-- Jesse Sanchez

Reds get Valdez, sign Masset
Bypassing the free-agent market for backup infielders that can play shortstop, the Reds executed a trade Wednesday that brought utility infielder Wilson Valdez from the Phillies for left-handed reliever Jeremy Horst.

Valdez spent the last two seasons in Philadelphia and batted .249 with a .294 on-base percentage, one home run and 30 RBIs over 99 games in 2011. A lifetime .243 hitter, the 33-year-old Valdez has also spent time with the White Sox, Mariners, Padres, Dodgers and Mets.

Out of Valdez's 342 career big league games, 190 have been played at shortstop where he owns a .980 fielding percentage. Many might remember him doing the Reds in as the winning pitcher of the May 25, 2011 game that lasted 19 innings at Citizen Banks Park. With his team out of pitchers, Valdez moved from second base and pitched a scoreless top of the 19th inning.

Also, Nick Masset signed a two-year contract to avoid arbitration. Terms were not immediately known.

-- Mark Sheldon

Reports: Red Sox have made offers to Oswalt, Jackson
The two most alluring starting pitchers who remain free agents have both received offers from the Red Sox, according to reports Wednesday.

Roy Oswalt's received a "significant" offer, according to CBS Sports' Danny Knobler, while Jim Bowden of ESPN reported via Twitter that the Sox have made an offer to Edwin Jackson, whom they prefer over Oswalt.

Oswalt was limited by back problems last year, so Jackson could be viewed as a more sure thing, at least in terms of innings. Oswalt reportedly is being selective with possible destinations, turning down an offer from the Tigers.

-- Evan Drellich

Marlins primed to bid on Cespedes
Cuban sensation Yoenis Cespedes is on the verge of becoming a free agent, and the Marlins are expected to make a strong push for the 26-year-old outfielder.

Cespedes has established residency in the Dominican Republic, which had kept him in a holding pattern for months. Now, the outfielder is awaiting approval from Major League Baseball to be declared a free agent.

Recently, Cespedes said the Marlins, Cubs, White Sox, Orioles, Tigers and Indians had expressed the most interest. The Marlins are on record saying they believe Cespedes' best fit is in Miami, with its strong Cuban community. They are prepared to make a substantial offer -- between four and six years -- for the power-hitting outfielder.

There is a feeling within the organization that another impact bat is needed to reach the postseason, and Cespedes is a five-tool player. The Marlins also feel Cespedes can handle center field, but some wonder if that is his best position. Because of his size, he may profile more as a corner outfielder. But he has the speed to play all three positions.

In recent weeks, Cespedes got some game experience while playing with Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League. He showed glimpses of his power, but he's also rusty.

If he signs with Miami, he certainly would get a strong look in Spring Training, but chances are he would open the season at either Triple-A New Orleans or Double-A Jacksonville.

If everyone is healthy and Cespedes wins the center field job for Opening Day, Emilio Bonifacio then could go back to being a super-utility player.

The bottom line is the Marlins feel they would be a more rounded and deeper team with Cespedes.

-- Joe Frisaro

Cespedes gains residency in Dominican
The bidding is about to begin.

Cuban outfield prospect Yoenis Cespedes has established his residency in the Dominican Republic and is now waiting on approval from Major League Baseball to be declared a free agent, his representative, Edgar Mercedes, said.

Cespedes, who just finished a stint with Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League, recently said the Marlins, Cubs, White Sox, Orioles, Tigers, and Indians have expressed the most interest in signing him.

He is expected to command a contract greater than the one received by Cuban left-handed pitcher Aroldis Chapman, who signed a six-year, $30.25 million deal with the Reds in January 2010.

-- Jesse Sanchez

Yankees could trade for a DH
In a conference call with reporters discussing the Michael Pineda trade, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that he'd be more inclined to trade from his pitching depth to acquire a designated hitter than to sign one on the free-agent market.

When the Yankees officially announced the signing of right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, they'll have seven starters vying for five spots. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Pineda, Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett and Freddy Garcia are the other six.

"Maybe I use our excess pitching to find a bat," Cashman said. "That's a possibility. ... We stretched the payroll to get [Kuroda] done, so I'm not sure what we have financially. I think we'll look at the trade market first and foremost and see where that takes us."

Among the DH options out there, the Yankees have reportedly heard from Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Vladimir Guerrero and Raul Ibanez, but are not thought to consider any of them an urgent priority.

-- Bryan Hoch

Angels still in the mix to land Cordero
Free-agent closer Francisco Cordero expects to pick a team by the end of this week, and the Angels are one of four finalists for his services, a source with knowledge of the negotiations told MLB.com.

The identity of the other three clubs is not known at this point, but one of the four, the source said, is a championship-contending team looking to slot him in the eighth inning. That may be the Phillies, which could use a setup man for the recently signed Jonathan Papelbon. The Orioles have also reportedly been in touch. The Rays, which have a need in the ninth inning, are not one of those other three clubs, however.

At this point in the offseason, with the closer's market dried up and a return to the Reds seemingly not possible, Cordero is open to signing a one-year deal, which would be huge for an Angels club that has already inked Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson to long-term deals this offseason and doesn't have much money to spend.

In Anaheim, Cordero would supplant 24-year-old Jordan Walden, who finished last year with a 2.98 ERA and 32 saves but fell off in September. Cordero, 36, is a three-time All-Star with a career 3.17 ERA and 327 saves. Last year with the Reds, he posted a 2.45 ERA and a 1.019 WHIP, and converted 37 of his 43 save chances.

The market for Cordero has taken a while to develop, mostly because teams figured a return to Cincinnati was a foregone conclusion. Once Ryan Madson signed a bargain-rate one-year, $8.5 million deal to be the Reds' closer, though, interest around the league intensified.

The Angels were one of the first teams to reach out to Cordero's representative, Bean Stringfellow, and have been in touch throughout the offseason, according to a source. They've also been in touch with right-handed reliever Luis Ayala.

-- Alden Gonzalez

Reds add Harris
The Reds agreed to terms with utility player Willie Harris on a Minor League contract, two sources confirmed to MLB.com on Monday.

Harris, who will be invited to camp as a non-roster player, can earn an $800,000 base salary if he makes the club and his overall salary can reach $1 million with incentives.

Last season with the Mets, Harris batted .246 with a .351 on-base percentage, two home runs and 23 RBIs in 126 games while earning $800,000. A left-handed hitter that has played 11 big league seasons for the Orioles, White Sox, Braves, Nationals and Mets, Harris is a lifetime .240 hitter with a .330 OBP.

-- Mark Sheldon

Cuban lefty Concepcion works out for Rangers
Free-agent pitcher Gerardo Concepcion worked out for the Rangers in front of a contingent that included owner Nolan Ryan at the team's complex in the Dominican Republic on Monday, and the club is among the favorites to sign the Cuban left-hander.

The Rangers, Yankees, Cubs and White Sox have expressed the most interest in signing the left-hander, according to Concepcion's agent, Jaime Torres. The Marlins, Phillies, Giants, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Royals have also shown interest.

Concepcion has one offer on the table, and is expected to sign a Major League contract during the next two weeks, the agent said.

"Everything is great. I really don't know how to describe it," Concepcion, 18, said by phone from the Dominican Republic. "All the training and exercise I have done is paying off. I've worked so hard to get here. I'm so happy. It's like a dream come true."

Concepcion, who was named Rookie of the Year in the Cuban Serie Nacional in 2010-11, after posting a 10-3 record and a 3.36 ERA in 21 games with Industriales de la Habana, defected from Cuba last June during the World Port Tournament in the Netherlands. He later established residency in Mexico, and was declared a free agent last week.

He has been working out in the Dominican Republic and starred in a showcase for Major League scouts on the island last Thursday.

-- Jesse Sanchez

Millwood reportedly signs with Mariners
Nine days after making the trade that cleared out Michael Pineda's spot in their starting rotation, the Mariners have apparently signed a possible replacement in veteran right-hander Kevin Millwood.

News of an agreement between the Mariners and Millwood came via his own family, through a posting on Facebook by his sister Erika. It was subsequently confirmed by CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman, who reports that it is a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training.

Millwood, who turned 37 on Christmas Eve, last season went 4-3 in nine starts with the Rockies, who returned him to the Majors in mid-August after he had spent most of the year in the Minors in the Yankees and Red Sox organizations.

The Mariners would be the seventh club of Millwood's career, during which he has compiled a record of 163-140 with a 4.10 ERA. He also has a no-hitter to his credit, against the Giants on April 27, 2003 while with the Phillies.

A two-time 18-game winner with the Braves in 1999 and 2002, Millwood reportedly had a chance to remain in Colorado on a $1 million contract with an additional $1 million in incentives.

-- Tom Singer

Ayala now on Angels' radar
The Angels have expressed interest in free-agent reliever Luis Ayala, a source with knowledge of the situation told MLB.com. Right now, though, it appears they're one of four clubs interested in giving the 34-year-old right-hander a big league contract, an industry source said.

Ayala signed a Minor League deal with the Yankees last February and had a big bounce-back year, posting a 2.09 ERA and a 1.268 WHIP in 56 innings (spanning 52 appearances). For his big league career, he has a 3.47 ERA and a 1.286 WHIP in seven seasons.

Ayala has been lights out while pitching for the Yaquis de Obregon of the Mexican winter league this offseason, giving up just two earned runs in 19 2/3 innings (good for an ERA of 0.92) while striking out 13 batters and walking four. A report out of Mexico said Ayala was choosing between the Angels and Orioles, but a source said that of Saturday, teams hadn't begun tendering formal offers.

The Angels signed veteran reliever LaTroy Hawkins to a $3 million contract in December and are looking to add more depth to a bullpen that was tied for the American League lead in blown saves last season. Ayala could be drawn to Southern California because of its strong Mexican-American presence and its close proximities to Ayala's native country.

-- Alden Gonzalez

Scutaro dealt from Red Sox to Rockies
BOSTON -- The Red Sox traded shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Rockies in exchange for right-hander Clayton Mortensen, the clubs announced on Saturday.

Scutaro will be Colorado's starting second baseman. For the Red Sox, the main motive of the deal was to clear some salary space, so they could add another proven starter to their rotation.

Veteran free agent Roy Oswalt is one intriguing possibility. Edwin Jackson is another candidate on the free-agent market. The White Sox are said to be dangling righty Gavin Floyd in trade talks.

Mortensen is a veteran of three seasons, who has compiled a 4-8 record and 5.12 ERA over 24 appearances (13 starts).

-- Ian Browne

Lincecum, Giants moving toward deal
Tim Lincecum and the Giants are edging closer to a contract agreement that would enable the parties to avoid a potentially divisive salary arbitration hearing.

Industry sources confirmed Friday that negotiations between the club and Lincecum have progressed since Tuesday, when they exchanged proposed figures for one-year contracts. Lincecum requested $21.5 million, $500,000 short of the record amount Houston's Roger Clemens sought in 2005. The Giants countered with $17 million, the largest arbitration offer a team ever has made.

It was not known whether the sides were discussing a one-year contract, which Lincecum said last season he'd prefer, or a multiyear deal, such as the two-year, $23 million pact he agreed to minutes before he and the Giants were scheduled to launch an arbitration hearing last year.

Lincecum, winner of two National League Cy Young Awards and a four-time All-Star, is likely to become the highest-paid Giant for 2012. Teams and arbitration-eligible players tend to split the difference between the figures they respectively submit. Lincecum's midpoint of $19.25 million would exceed the $19 million that left-hander Barry Zito is slated to earn this year.

Lincecum became the only unsigned arbitration-eligible Giant when right-hander Sergio Romo agreed to a one-year, $1.575 million deal. That represented a 250 percent increase from Romo's 2011 wage of $450,000. Since Romo filed for $1.75 million and the Giants offered $1.3 million, he received slightly more than the midpoint figure of $1.525 million.

After beginning the offseason with 13 arbitration-eligible players, San Francisco has come to terms with six of them since Monday: Romo, fellow right-hander Santiago Casilla, third baseman Pablo Sandoval and outfielders Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan and Nate Schierholtz.

-- Chris Haft

More moves coming for Reds?
The Reds have added a closer, a left fielder, a starting pitcher and a lefty setup man. What's next?

Infielder ... maybe.

The free-agent market for infielders who can play shortstop and back up rookie Zack Cozart is rather thin. It's thin enough that Reds general manager Walt Jocketty is thinking trade rather signing someone from the open market.

"We're still talking to a couple of clubs," Jocketty said late Friday. "We'll know something by next week, hopefully. I don't think there's a lot of guys out there free agent wise."

Jocketty did not divulge which clubs he was chatting with.

Of the free-agent shortstops, there's only Ryan Theriot, Miguel Tejada and former Red Edgar Renteria. In recent days, ex-Red Orlando Cabrera retired and Jack Wilson signed with the Braves.

Jocketty said that there has been some interest shown to Theriot.

"We've talked to him, had some conversations," Jocketty said.

Asked if he was optimistic something could get done, Jocketty responded "not today."

• If the Reds sign nobody and don't pull off a trade, Jocketty said he'd be comfortable going with what is already in house. That would mean Cozart and Paul Janish would be the team's shortstops, with Cozart on the inside track to start.

• The Reds are continuing to look at adding to their depth with possible Minor League contract offers. One player they're taking a look at, Jocketty confirmed, is pitcher Jeff Francis. The left-handed Francis, 30, was 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA in 31 starts last season with the Royals. He was with the Rockies from 2004-10 and was a 17-game winner in 2007.

-- Mark Sheldon

A's reportedly have strong interest in Manny
Manny Ramirez is turning the heads of at least a few teams as the outfielder looks to return to Major League Baseball, but no club is more interested in the 12-time All-Star than the A's, according to a report by ESPN.

The 39-year-old Ramirez, who retired last season after violating the league's banned substances policy for the second time, has been working out in Miami and plans to have open workout sessions for interested teams later this month.

The Orioles and Blue Jays already have watched Ramirez hit, according to the report, but a source told ESPN that Oakland is "very interested" in Ramirez.

"The Orioles and Blue Jays saw Manny work and Baltimore liked what it saw, but Oakland has been the team that has expressed the most interest, even before having him work out," the source told ESPN.

Ramirez, a 19-year veteran, has hit .312 with 555 home runs during his career with the Indians, Red Sox, Dodgers, White Sox and Rays.

If Ramirez were to sign with a team, he would serve a 50-game suspension stemming from his positive test last season. Ramirez and MLB had previously agreed on lowering the suspension from 100 games, which is the typical punishment for a second positive test.

-- Cash Kruth

Pena returns to Rays
Carlos Pena is returning to the Rays after spending a year away, a source confirmed on Friday.

The 33-year-old first baseman's one-year contract is worth $7.25 million. Pena spent the 2007-10 seasons with Tampa Bay before joining the Cubs as a free agent last offseason, and his two best seasons came with the Rays (46 home runs in '07, 39 in '09).

Pena's home run total for the Cubs last year (28) matched his output with the Rays in 2010. He hit .225 with a .357 on-base percentage in 2011, marks that are in line with his respective .239 and .352 clips lifetime.

Pena will take a pay cut from his $10 million salary a year ago.

-- Evan Drellich

Dombrowski: Prince 'probably not a good fit'
Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski finally mentioned Prince Fielder by name during the Winter Caravan stop Thursday afternoon at the Michigan state capitol in Lansing. He normally doesn't do that with free agents.

Dombrowski's answer on the subject went about as expected.

"Of course we'd consider Prince Fielder," Dombrowski is quoted by MLive.com as saying. "But realistically, it's probably not a good fit."

Agent Scott Boras, Dombrowski reportedly said, probably wouldn't agree to a one-year contract, and that's the kind of deal the Tigers are seeking to replace Martinez.

"We anticipate Victor Martinez coming back in 2013 and playing at the level he was at last season," Dombrowski said.

As witnessed from the Johnny Damon saga two years ago, Boras has a talent for negotiating directly with owners. But given that experience, it's hard to imagine Dombrowski making his remarks without feeling highly confident that's not going to change.

"I would just say the fit is really not there at this point," Dombrowski said.

Realistically, if Fielder can get a long-term deal somewhere else, it's hard to envision him passing it up. And if Boras can take the Tigers' desire for a one-year fix and tie it to another of his many free-agent hitters, Boras could be in better shape.

-- Jason Beck

Rockies reportedly agree to extension with Betancourt
The Rockies have reportedly agreed to a contract extension with reliever Rafael Betancourt, according to Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes.

The deal reportedly guarantees the right-hander a $4.25 million mutual option for 2013 and adds an option in 2014 for the same salary. He will earn $4 million in 2012, a part of his current contract.

As one of baseball's best relievers, Betancourt, who will turn 37 in April, posted an ERA of 2.89 in 2011 and saved eight games while then-Rockies closer Huston Street was on the disabled list.

With Street being traded to the Padres this off season, Betancourt will likely take over as Colorado's closer this year.

-- Quinn Roberts

Cubs sign Rodrigo Lopez
The Cubs have signed Rodrigo Lopez to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training. A Mexican baseball magazine first reported the signing.

Last January, Lopez, 36, signed with the Braves but did not make the roster out of Spring Training. He was traded to the Cubs in May, and pitched in long relief and made 16 starts. He was 6-6 with a 4.42 ERA in 26 games. In a four-game stretch June 28-July 18, Lopez was 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA, posting three quality starts.

The Cubs are expected to announce all the non-roster invitees next week.

-- Carrie Muskat

Yanks have heard from Vlad, Ibanez
The Yankees have heard from the representatives for free agents Vladimir Guerrero and Raul Ibanez about their opening at designated hitter, Newsday's Ken Davidoff reports.

Guerrero and Ibanez could join a crowd of candidates vying for the Yankees' attention in the wake of last week's Jesus Montero trade to the Mariners. New York is known to have reached out to the representatives for Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Carlos Pena, but it is believed that the Yankees have only between $1 million and $2 million to spend on a DH.

Internally, the Yankees are touting a tandem of Andruw Jones and Minor League slugger Jorge Vazquez to tackle DH duties, while also using the spot to help rest players like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira. Davidoff's report also noted that Jack Cust's representatives talked to the Yankees, but Cust agreed to a contract with the Astros on Tuesday.

-- Bryan Hoch

Astros reach one-year deal with Cust
Jack Cust, who has hit 105 home runs in a 10-year Major League career that has spanned six teams, has agreed to a one-year deal with the Astros that includes an option for 2013, according to a baseball source.

The deal is pending a physical and could be announced as soon as Wednesday. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow declined to comment.

Cust, 33, appeared in 67 games before being cut loose last July by the Mariners, for whom he batted .213 with three homers and 23 RBIs. He spent the previous four seasons with the Oakland A's, hitting 97 homers and driving in 281 runs in that span. He's played primarily left field, right field and designated hitter in his career.

-- Brian McTaggart

Rockies make offer to veteran Moyer
For now, the Rockies' 2012 potential Opening Day starting rotation can be called the "under-30 club." But that could change, considerably, with one potential signing.

Looking for a veteran to help guide the young rotation, the Rockies could be bringing in 49-year-old left-hander Jamie Moyer. The Rockies have made an offer of a Minor League contract, and a club official told MLB.com on Tuesday morning that "it's in his court."

Moyer had Tommy John ligament transfer surgery in his throwing elbow in December 2010 and worked for ESPN as an analyst last year, but stated all along he oped to pitch again in 2012. He went 9-9 with a 4.84 ERA for the Phillies in 2010.

By making the offer, the Rockies are signaling that they believe Moyer can be a help to them, not merely a novelty, although his potential signing sparks folks to go digging for trivia. For example, when Moyer made his Major League debut for the Cubs on June 16, 1986, the following competitors for the Rockies' 2012 rotation had not been born: Jhoulys Chacin (Jan. 7, 1988), Tyler Chatwood (Dec. 16, 1989), Juan Nicasio (Aug. 31, 1986), Drew Pomeranz (Nov. 22, 1988) and Alex White (Aug. 29, 1988).

One of Moyer's teammates on the 1986 Cubs was Rockies television color commentator George Frazier, then a relief pitcher.

The Denver Post, which reported the offer to Moyer on Monday night, also reported that the Rockies are looking at trading for a second baseman, with the Red Sox's Marco Scutaro and the Mets' Justin Turner as possibilities.

-- Thomas Harding

Reds get Ludwick
MLB.com has learned via a source Monday night that outfielder Ryan Ludwick has agreed to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2013. The dollar figure remains unclear, but the Reds weren't expected to spend a lot to fill their opening for a fourth outfielder.

Ken Rosenthal at FOX Sports and MLB Network was first with the story.

Ludwick, 33, batted .237 with 13 home runs last season in a combined 139 games with the Padres and Pirates. He has a history with Reds general manager Walt Jocketty, having played for him with the Cardinals. Ludwick spent the 2007-09 seasons in St. Louis and hit a career best 37 homers with 113 RBIs in 2008.

This fills the Reds need for a fourth outfielder that can mainly play left field in a quasi-platoon with Chris Heisey.

-- Mark Sheldon