Scrappy utilityman Nick Punto was placed on the disabled list for a second time this season Wednesday, this time because of a strained forearm.
Punto missed the first three weeks of the season following hernia surgery. Because of injuries throughout the St. Louis infield, he had played pretty regularly since returning on April 20 and he was hitting .262/.355/.385 in 65 at-bats. That’d be a career-high .740 OPS for the long-time Twin if he could keep it up.
Replacing Punto on the roster and making his major league debut is 2007 first-round pick Pete Kozma. The 23-year-old Kozma, known strictly for his fine defense at shortstop, was hitting just .220/.284/.284 in 141 at-bats for Triple-A Memphis. He had 31 strikeouts and no homers in 38 games.
Bypassed again was third baseman Matt Carpenter. Carpenter appeared to make a strong impression on the Cardinals this spring, but the team declined to give him a try when either Skip Schumaker (elbow) or David Freese (hand) landed on the disabled list and he went unselected again now despite an OPS 250 points higher than Kozma’s.
Schumaker figures to be the first one to return out of the three injured infielders. Tyler Greene, who was sharing time with Punto at second base, will get most of the starts there for now.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Blue Jays have narrowed their search for a new general manager down to two candidates: current interim GM Tony LaCava, and Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins. Former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos resigned last month.
LaCava was promoted to interim GM on November 2 and has already made a handful of moves along with new president Mark Shapiro. The club acquired Jesse Chavez in a trade and signed pitchers Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to multi-year deals.
Atkins worked under Shapiro in the Indians organization for 15 seasons, so it is no surprise that he is a finalist for the open GM position.
Update (7:58 PM EST): Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart met with Cueto earlier this month in the Dominican Republic and made a contract offer that the right-hander turned down. The Diamondbacks maintain interest in the free agent.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Diamondbacks spoke with Bryce Dixon, the agent of free agent starter Johnny Cueto. However, Rosenthal notes that Cueto’s price tag is expected to exceed the Diamondbacks’ comfort level.
Cueto, 29, is one of a handful of highly touted starting pitchers in this offseason’s free agent class. He is joined by David Price and Zack Greinke, among others. Jordan Zimmermann inked a deal in the neighborhood of $110 million over five years with the Tigers on Sunday morning, which will serve as a barometer for Cueto.
Cueto finished the 2015 regular season, between the Reds and the Royals, with a 3.44 ERA and a 176/46 K/BB ratio over 212 innings. He made 13 shaky starts with the Royals, but outside of a shellacking in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, pitched well in the post-season. Cueto pitched a complete game in Game 2 of the World Series against the Mets, helping put the Royals up two games to none at the time.
As a result of switching teams during the season, Cueto was not eligible to receive a $15.8 million qualifying offer. This means that Cueto, unlike Zimmermann for example, does not come attached with draft pick compensation.
Nick Cafardo provides this interesting nugget in his Sunday notes column at the Boston Globe …
Hanley Ramirez, 1B-DH, Red Sox — There’s now talk in the front office that Dave Dombrowski is trying to move Ramirez in a deal. The Mariners, Orioles, and Angels seem to be the targets, and all three make sense.
Cafardo notes that “there are huge hurdles to cross” before a trade could happen — like how much of Hanley’s remaining salary the Red Sox would have to eat and what positions the soon-to-be 32-year-old is able to play defensively at this point in his career.
Boston’s higher-ups have asked Ramirez to learn first base and drop 20 pounds this winter. Whatever team is looking to acquire him would probably have to be comfortable with him serving primarily as a designated hitter.
Hanley is owed $68.2 million over the next three seasons and he carries a $22 million vesting option for 2019. He batted just .249/.291/.426 in 105 games this past year.
Ben Zobrist posted a cool .809 OPS (120 OPS+) in 126 games this summer between Oakland and Kansas City while appearing defensively at second base, third base, and both corner outfield positions.
His steady bat and defensive versatility make him a fit for just about every club in Major League Baseball, and the defending National League champions are among the teams in hot pursuit …
It’s a little odd to see the rebuilding Braves listed there given that Zobrist is 34 years old, but Rosenthal says the interest stems from a “desire for him to serve as [a] model for younger players” as the club prepares to open a new ballpark in 2017. Wasn’t that supposed to be Nick Markakis‘ job?
Zobrist and his agent Alan Nero are believed to be seeking a four-year deal.