Orioles could make dominant setup man Koji Uehara available

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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.

Report: Cardinals, Yadier Molina making “major progress” on contract extension

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Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Cardinals and catcher Yadier Molina are making “major progress” on a contract extension. Molina told the team he won’t discuss an extension during the season, hence the rapid progress.

Molina is entering the last guaranteed year of a five-year, $75 million contract signed in March 2012. He and the Cardinals hold a mutual option worth $15 million with a $2 million buyout for the 2018 season. The new extension would presumably cover at least the 2018-19 seasons and likely ’20 as well.

Molina is 34 years old but is still among the most productive catchers in baseball. Last season, he hit .307/.360/.427 with 38 doubles, 58 RBI, and 56 runs scored in 581 plate appearances. Though he has lost a step or two with age, Molina is still well-regarded for his defense. The Cardinals also value his ability to handle the pitching staff.

Sandy Leon homered twice in one inning, including a grand slam

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Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon achieved a rare feat during Monday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition against the Orioles: he homered twice in one inning. One of those homers happened to be a grand slam.

Leon led off the top of the fifth inning with a solo home run off of Logan Verrett. Verrett continued to get knocked around, giving up three singles and a walk before being relieved by Brian Moran. Moran gave up a walk to load the bases, then a single to knock in a run and keep the bases loaded. Leon stepped back to the plate and swatted a grand slam to left field, making it an eight-run fifth for the Red Sox. The Sox would tack on one more before the inning was mercifully ended.

How often do players homer twice in one inning during the regular season? Not that often. Since 2010, the feat has been accomplished four times in the American League and twice in the National League. The Orioles’ Mark Trumbo was the only one to do it last year.

As for Leon, he’s on track to open the season as the starting catcher in Boston, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reported last week.