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Option calls due in by midnight Monday

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Teams and players will have to announce by midnight on Monday night whether they’re exercising or declining their 2012 options. The Cubs’ Ryan Dempster struck first Saturday, exercising his $14 million player option to stay in Chicago. Here are some of the other calls still to be made:

Grady Sizemore (Cle) – The Indians hold a $9 million option on Sizemore that ranks as one of the toughest calls of the offseason. Dealing with injuries for the third straight season, Sizemore hit .224/.285/.422 with 10 homers in 268 at-bats. Still, he’s just 29 and he was one of the AL’s best players four years running from 2005-08. For $9 million, the Indians should take the chance that he bounces back. (Update: MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian is reporting that the Indians will decline the option and pay a $500,000 buyout.)

Aramis Ramirez (ChC) – Even though Ramirez overcame a rough start to hit .306/.361/.510 with 26 homers, it’s long been assumed that the Cubs would decline their $16 million option on his services. That doesn’t seem likely to change with Theo Epstein in town.

Brandon Phillips, Francisco Cordero (Cin) – The Reds have been trying to work out new deals with both in lieu of picking up options worth $12 million. Phillips’ option is sure to be exercised if nothing can be worked out. Cordero seems likely to get a two-year deal worth significantly less than $12 million per season.

Marco Scutaro (Bos) – Scutaro’s contract includes a rare double option that allows Scutaro to return at a lesser price if the Red Sox decline to pick up their half of the option. However, all indications are that the Red Sox will pick up their half and bring their shortstop back at $6 million for 2012.

Nick Swisher (NYY) – The Yankees have weighed a bid for Carlos Beltran, but their plan is to exercise Swisher’s $10.25 million option. Even if they decide later that they’d rather have Beltran, Swisher should be tradeable at that price.

Yadier Molina (StL), Robinson Cano (NYY) – It’s long been obvious that these two are getting exercised. Molina will make $7 million in 2012, while Cano will get a hefty raise to $14 million.

Shohei Otani may come to the United States after 2017

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Last week it was widely speculated that Shohei Otani, the highly-touted Japanese pitcher/designated hitter who stars for the Nippon Ham Fighters, would not come to the United States to play due to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The upshot: the new CBA caps money available to international free agents under age 25 at $5-6 million and Otani, 22, would be worth way more than that, so why take the pay cut?

Now, however, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that the Fighters are set to post Shotei Otani following the 2017 season. Passan says that his sources have told him that there are potential ways around the limit on spending for under-25 players like Shohei Otani and he links a Japanese article from Sponichi which says the Fighters would post him after the 2017 season.

It’d be interesting to see what that loophole is. Without knowing the exact terms of the CBA on this score it’s impossible to know, but one possibility is that there are different rules applicable to those with professional experience in other countries as opposed to amateur free agents.

Whatever the case, the notion that we could see Otani in the U.S. at age 23 or 24 is pretty exciting.

Report: Phillies close to signing Joaquin Benoit

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.

Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.

The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.