Orioles could make dominant setup man Koji Uehara available


Baltimore took care of one potential free agent-to-be by signing shortstop J.J. Hardy to a three-year, $22.5 million extension, but Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun speculates that the Orioles will be shopping setup man Koji Uehara leading up to the July 31 trade deadline.

Uehara has around $1 million remaining on this year’s contract and his deal also includes a $4 million option for 2012 that vests with 55 appearances or 25 games finished. Right now he’s on pace for 70 appearances and 33 games finished, so any team that deals for Uehara would be doing so with an eye on keeping him for next season.

He didn’t draw a ton of interest as a free agent, in part because of injury concerns and in part because of a limited track record as a reliever, but Uehara has been healthy and dominant this year with a 1.88 ERA, .150 opponents’ batting average, and 58/8 K/BB ratio in 44 innings.

Combined with his work out of the bullpen last season and the 36-year-old right-hander now has a 2.35 ERA, .187 opponents’ batting average, and 113/13 K/BB ratio in 88 career innings as a reliever. If the Orioles make him available plenty of contending teams should be very interested.

Blue Jays sign Danny Espinosa to minors deal

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Free agent middle infielder Danny Espinosa signed a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays, the team announced Saturday. The deal includes an invite to spring training, where Espinosa is scheduled for his first split-squad game against the Orioles this afternoon.

Espinosa, 30, was inked to another minor-league deal with the Yankees in January. The veteran infielder was competing for an infield job until the team picked up second baseman Neil Walker on a one-year, $4 million deal last Monday. Prior to his release, he slashed .160/.276/.320 with one home run through his first 12 games with the Yankees this spring. He didn’t fare much better in the majors last year, either, batting a cumulative .173/.245/.278 with six home runs and a .523 OPS in 295 PA for the Mariners and Rays.

Blue Jays starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is still dealing with a bone spur in his heel and has officially been ruled out for Opening Day, which could clear a path for Espinosa to claim a starting role in Toronto. Of course, he won’t be the only candidate under consideration — Yangervis Solarte and Aledmys Diaz are still in the mix as well, though no final decision appears to be made just yet.