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Cubs announce Ryan Dempster, not Carlos Zambrano, as Opening Day starter

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Cubs manager Mike Quade announced this afternoon that Ryan Dempster will be the Opening Day starter, telling Carrie Muskat of MLB.com that he slept on the decision last night and let his “instinct” make the call.

Ultimately which pitcher takes the mound on Opening Day is mostly meaningless, as everyone in the rotation will be in line to start 32-34 games as long as they remain healthy all season, but Quade turning to Dempster is interesting given that Carlos Zambrano has drawn six straight Opening Day assignments for the Cubs.

Zambrano was demoted to the bullpen for a stretch last season and logged just 130 innings for the lowest workload since he was a 21-year-old rookie in 2002, but he was brilliant after rejoining the rotation in mid-August with an 8-0 record and 1.41 ERA in his final 11 starts. He finished with a 3.33 ERA overall, while Dempster had a 3.85 ERA in 215 innings.

Instead of starting Game 1 for the seventh consecutive season Zambrano will follow Dempster, with Matt Garza taking the mound in Game 3 after coming to the Cubs in an offseason trade with the Rays.

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.