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A’s should bail on Kouzmanoff, start LaRoche

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Now even his glove is letting him down: Kevin Kouzmanoff committed his fourth error in four games Tuesday, eclipsing his total from 2009 when he set a record for fielding percentage by a third baseman with three errors in 311 chances.

But while that’s probably a fluke, Kouzmanoff’s atrocious hitting likely isn’t.  He’s opened this season at .267/.250/.333 with one RBI in four games. In 147 games since joining the A’s, he’s hit .247/.282/.394 with a dreadful 99/24 K/BB ratio in 566 at-bats. He entered last year as Oakland’s cleanup hitter, only to get dropped steadily as the year went on. This season, he’s batting eighth.

The next move is to simply pull him from the lineup. After an excellent spring in which he hit .333/.388/.583 with four homers and 13 RBI in 60 at-bats, Andy LaRoche made his first start of the season last night. Playing shortstop, he went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. The A’s might as well give him a shot.

Of course, it’s no given than LaRoche would be an upgrade.  The 27-year-old has hit .226/.305/.339 in 1,090 at-bats as a major leaguer.  Even Kouzmanoff, who also excelled with the bat this spring, has that beat. LaRoche, though, probably has the greater offensive upside, and he does offer more range at third base. He wouldn’t be the first hitter to break through after getting the boot from the Pirates.

Kouzmanoff isn’t worthless.  But we do know what he is: he offers just enough power and defense to justify a spot in a starting lineup, but he clearly ranks in the 20-30 range among major league third basemen. LaRoche may not be any better, but it’s worth a shot and the A’s would still have the insurance policy to fall back on.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

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Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.