Rays sign 16-year-old lefty from Czech Republic

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It remains to be seen whether the Rays are interested in giving B.J. Upton a long-term contract, but Tampa Bay did sign Stepan Havlicek over the weekend.
Who is that, you ask? Well, he’s a 16-year-old left-hander who pitched for the Czech Republic’s junior national team and now he’s the first European player ever signed by the Rays. Here’s a report on Havlicek from the scout who found him, John Gilmore:

Stepan has a loose, quick arm with good follow through. His fastball has run and his curveball depth. For a young player, he has great control and goes right after hitters.

Havlicek is listed by the Rays as 6-foot-1 and 160 pounds, and he’s expected to begin his pro career this summer in the MLB-run Australia Academy. So for all you keeper-league fantasy owners out there, get him on your cheat sheets for 2015
If things go well for Havlicek he’ll become just the sixth Czech-born player in MLB history and the first since the 1960s, but believe it or not things will need to go really well for him to become the country’s best player. Elmer Valo went to high school in Pennsylvania and played most of his 20-year career for the Philadelphia A’s, but he was born in Ribnik, Czechoslovakia in 1921 and went on to collect 1,420 hits with a juicy .398 on-base percentage as a big leaguer from 1940-1961.

Brett Lawrie will take a pay cut to avoid arbitration with White Sox

MIAMI, FL - AUGUST 12: Brett Lawrie #15 of the Chicago White Sox fields a ground ball during batting practice before the start of the game against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on August 12, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
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Infielder Brett Lawrie successfully avoided arbitration and signed a one-year contract with the White Sox on Friday, per a team announcement. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman added that the deal was for $3.5 million, significantly lower than the $4.125 million Lawrie was paid by the White Sox in 2016.

The White Sox acquired Lawrie last December in a swap for minor league arms Zack Erwin and J.B. Wendelken. After splitting time at second and third base for the Athletics in 2015, Lawrie slotted in at second base and DH for the White Sox and batted .248/.310/.413 with 12 home runs in 384 PA. While it’s strange to see a healthy, fairly productive player receive a salary reduction in arbitration, Lawrie missed nearly half of the season with a strain in his left hamstring, though he’s projected to return at full health by the start of the 2017 season.

Cubs sign LHP Brian Duensing to a one-year, $2 million deal

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 04:  Brian Duensing #50 of the Baltimore Orioles throws a pitch in the eleventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays during the American League Wild Card game at Rogers Centre on October 4, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Left-hander Brian Duensing signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Cubs on Friday, per a report from FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman.

The free agent spent the bulk of his 2016 season with the Orioles after receiving a call-up from Triple-A Norfolk in early June. He underwent elbow surgery several weeks later when a freak bullpen injury revealed cartilage chips and inflammation in his pitching elbow, but recovered to finish the season with a 4.05 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings for the club. The Orioles utilized him for a final out during the AL Wild Card game, during which Duensing recorded a five-pitch strikeout in the ninth inning of their 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays.

The 33-year-old is currently expected to bulk up the Cubs’ left-handed relief corps, with fellow left-hander Mike Montgomery slated for the rotation in 2017.