Smoltz close to joining Red Sox, but in what role?

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John Smoltz turned in another strong minor-league rehab outing over the weekend,
tossing six innings of one-run ball at Triple-A. He now has a 1.56 ERA
and 13/2 K/BB ratio in 17.1 innings spread over four rehab starts, and
reportedly could be just one more successful appearance away from
debuting with the Red Sox.

“He’s getting closer and closer, you can see it,” manager Terry
Francona said. “Even the way he talks about it, he’s not rehabbing
anymore. He’s attacking hitters and making pitches, which is good to
hear.” While he’s pitching well, it’s still unclear what the Red Sox
plan to do once they decide that Smoltz is ready to join the rotation.

There are some rumors that Boston has been shopping Brad Penny, who has a 5.85 ERA in 11 starts, but Rob Bradford of WEEI.com lays out a scenario
for keeping both starters around by skipping some of Smoltz’s initial
turns in the rotation or possibly even using him as a reliever. To his
credit, Smoltz sounds willing to take on whatever role the Red Sox
want:

I want to be ready every five days. We talked about it, there may be
a time where I have to miss a start. Those scenarios play out so many
different ways it does me no good trying to figure them out. I just
want to be ready. I’m in a position to be readily available to them, in
whatever capacity or role that means. I’ve done [relieving] my whole
career and I could do it again. But it hasn’t been brought up to me.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t exactly starving for relief help either,
as the bullpen leads all of baseball with a 2.76 ERA. Lost in the
speculation about what the Red Sox will do with Penny and Smoltz is
that they also have Clay Buchholz waiting in the wings at Triple-A and
the 24-year-old right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA, 57/12 K/BB ratio,
and .159 opponents’ batting average in 10 starts there. Not bad for a
No. 8 starter.

Yadier Molina will not enter contract negotiations during the 2017 season

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina is still open to extension talks during the last week of spring training. Once Opening Day rolls around, however, Molina has preemptively nixed any contract negotiations until the end of the 2017 season, when he’s scheduled to hit free agency.

Molina wants to stay with the Cardinals, or so he’s telling reporters, but he’s also “not afraid” to test the free agent market this fall should a deal fail to materialize. Via Goold:

I would love to stay, but at the same time I’m not afraid to go to free agency. I’ve still got many years in the tank. Believe me. I feel great. I feel like a 20-year-old kid. I’m not afraid to go to free agency.

The 34-year-old backstop is entering his final year under contract, though Goold points out that he has a $15 million option for 2018 that he can choose to decline in the event that it’s exercised by the team. He’s reportedly searching for a figure closer to those made by other top catchers like Buster Posey and Russell Martin.

The 2017 season will mark Molina’s 14th year in the Cardinals’ organization, building on a career that has spanned seven All-Star campaigns, nine postseason runs and two World Series championships in St. Louis. He batted .307/.360/.427 with eight home runs and a .787 OPS for the club in 2016.

Colby Rasmus could start 2017 on the disabled list

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Colby Rasmus isn’t ready to take outfield reps just yet. According to Rays’ manager Kevin Cash, that’s a red flag, one that could potentially postpone Rasmus’ debut as the club’s designated hitter and outfielder in 2017. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Rasmus will need to prove he can play a defensive position before getting cleared for the active roster, something which the veteran outfielder has yet to do this spring.

Rasmus, 30, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Rays following his two-year run with the Astros. He batted a meager .206/.286/.355 with 15 home runs and a .641 OPS in 2016 and was shut down in late September with an unspecified hip/groin issue. Entering the 2017 season, he’s expected to work his way back to a full-time role after undergoing surgery to repair his core muscle and left hip labrum last October.

The Rays also finalized their one-year, $1.2 million deal with catcher Derek Norris on Saturday and will need to clear room for him on the 40-man roster. Topkin speculates that the move could send Rasmus to the 60-day disabled list, though the outfielder is not projected to miss more than a couple weeks of the regular season.