Despite losing closer Rafael Soriano and setup men Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, and Dan Wheeler to free agency the Rays’ bullpen leads the league with a 2.82 ERA and they’re close to adding left-hander J.P. Howell to the relief mix.
After struggling as a starter Howell moved to the bullpen full time in 2008 and went 13-6 with 20 saves, 171 strikeouts, and a 2.48 ERA in 156 innings over the next two seasons, but he missed all of last season following shoulder surgery.
Howell threw a scoreless inning at Triple-A over the weekend and manager Joe Maddon told Rick Stroud of the St. Petersburg Times that he’s on schedule to rejoin the Rays around May 15.
Before that happens he’ll need to show that he can work back-to-back games and Howell’s fastball clocked in at just 84-86 miles per hour during the rehab appearance, but even when he was dominating in 2008 and 2009 his average fastball was just 86 mph.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Royals and first baseman Eric Hosmer have discussed a long-term contract extension. However, Hosmer also indicated that he will head into free agency if a deal is not consummated by Opening Day.
Hosmer, 27, avoided arbitration with the Royals last month, agreeing to a $12.25 million salary for the 2017 season. He is one of four key Royals players who can become a free agent after the season along with Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain. If Hosmer does reach free agency, he would arguably be the top free agent first baseman.
Hosmer finished the past season hitting .266/.328/.433 with 25 home runs and 104 RBI while making his first All-Star team.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Yankees have signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, pending a physical. Assuming the deal is finalized, Sherman notes that the Yankees will have Niese work as both a starter and a reliever in big league camp this spring.
According to Sherman, the Yankees were interested in lefty relievers Jerry Blevins and Boone Logan, but didn’t want to commit at their asking prices. They are looking for a lefty set-up man along with Tommy Lane.
Niese, 30, pitched for the Pirates and Mets last season, finishing with a 5.50 ERA and an 88/47 K/BB ratio over 121 innings.