Where might Colby Rasmus play next year?

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If the rift between Tony La Russa and Colby Rasmus forces the Cardinals to part with their 24-year-old center fielder, there will surely a be a ton of interest. Rasmus is hitting .266/.352/.496 in his second big-league season, and he’s not close to reaching his ceiling. He’s also a Gold Glove-caliber defender. He should be a building block in St. Louis, but if the Cards decide to make a move, it’s not like they’ll have to settle for 10 cents on the dollar. Let’s look at some of the teams that could be interested:
Boston: The Red Sox are thinking of moving on from Jacoby Ellsbury anyway and there’s certainly no better long-term replacement available than Rasmus, though with Mike Cameron signed and Ryan Kalish showing some potential, the Red Sox wouldn’t necessarily need to bring in a center fielder to replace Ellsbury. Whether a Boston trade would work would likely come down to how the Cardinals feel about Ellsbury. They could certainly use the leadoff hitter, but Ellsbury’s stock has taken a hit as a result of his injury-ruined season. The Cardinals would probably want a top prospect to go along with him, perhaps right-hander Casey Kelly or shortstop Jose Iglesias. Ellsbury and Jed Lowrie for Rasmus could be more to Boston’s liking.
Tampa Bay: B.J. Upton has stepped it up offensively in recent weeks and hasn’t exhibited the signs of laziness that got him benched earlier this season, but if the Rays could use him and one of their young pitchers to upgrade to Rasmus, it’d be a brilliant move. Jeremy Hellickson would be off limits, but Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann could work. My guess is that the Cardinals would want top outfield prospect Desmond Jennings instead of Upton.
L.A. Dodgers: Matt Kemp for Rasmus? It’d seem to work great as a challenge trade. Kemp is one of the few players in the game with as much natural talent as Rasmus, and while he has taken a big step backwards this year, he was probably one of the NL’s top 10 players a year ago. He’s also just two years older than Rasmus. The big issue is that he’s also two years closer to free agency. Kemp will make $6.95 million next year and will be arbitration eligible in 2012 before becoming a free agent. That might be enough to scare the Cardinals off, unless maybe the Dodgers are willing to add in some young talent.
Atlanta: Just imagine Rasmus and Jason Heyward playing together for the next several years. Now move on, because it seems pretty unlikely to happen. The Braves have the pieces to tempt the Cardinals in left-hander Mike Minor, right-hander Julio Teheran and possible future closer Craig Kimbrel, but they’re going to need those guys soon with Derek Lowe looking like an iffy bet going forward and Billy Wagner set to retire.
San Diego: The Padres haven’t made big trades in recent years, but maybe they’ll be willing to roll the dice now that they seem so well set up for 2011. Rasmus would be a huge get as a long-term center fielder, and with Chase Headley and pitchers like Cory Luebke, Luke Gregerson, Wade LeBlanc and Tim Stauffer, they can part with pieces that could contribute in St. Louis immediately.
Washington: It’d be quite a coup if the Nationals could solve their center-field problems with Rasmus, but they don’t seem to match up very well with the Cardinals. They can afford to part with either Ian Desmond or Danny Espinosa, yet they need to hold on to most of their young pitching. Jordan Zimmermann and Drew Storen would be awfully attractive pieces if made available, but both should stay put. The Nationals can afford to be aggressive in free agency in an effort to beef up their offense.
L.A. Angels: Peter Bourjos is truly outstanding defensively and he’ll make the minimum these next three years, so the Angels might as well stick with him and look to upgrade elsewhere. Maybe they could build a trade package around Bourjos and their other young talent, but they just have too many weaknesses to tie up so many resources in a single upgrade at a position where they could be OK.
N.Y. Yankees: Simply because they can never be ruled out of these things. Still, if the Yankees go get themselves an outfielder this winter, I expect it will be Carl Crawford.
N.Y. Mets: The only way a deal would make much sense here is if the Cardinals fell in love with Angel Pagan and were willing to take him and some lesser talent for Rasmus. Upgrading in center won’t be a priority for the Mets this winter.

Shohei Otani may come to the United States after 2017

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Last week it was widely speculated that Shohei Otani, the highly-touted Japanese pitcher/designated hitter who stars for the Nippon Ham Fighters, would not come to the United States to play due to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The upshot: the new CBA caps money available to international free agents under age 25 at $5-6 million and Otani, 22, would be worth way more than that, so why take the pay cut?

Now, however, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that the Fighters are set to post Shotei Otani following the 2017 season. Passan says that his sources have told him that there are potential ways around the limit on spending for under-25 players like Shohei Otani and he links a Japanese article from Sponichi which says the Fighters would post him after the 2017 season.

It’d be interesting to see what that loophole is. Without knowing the exact terms of the CBA on this score it’s impossible to know, but one possibility is that there are different rules applicable to those with professional experience in other countries as opposed to amateur free agents.

Whatever the case, the notion that we could see Otani in the U.S. at age 23 or 24 is pretty exciting.

Report: Phillies close to signing Joaquin Benoit

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.

Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.

The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.