4:10 p.m. EDT update: Crasnick is still on the Willingham beat; he reports that the Rays are making a “serious run” at the free agent. He’d presumably replace Johnny Damon as their primary designated hitter, though they could try turning him into a first baseman, and he’d likely bat cleanup behind Evan Longoria in the order.
FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal adds that the nothing is close, but that the Rays are one of the three or four finalists for Willingham.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that nine teams have expressed interest in free agent Josh Willingham, including the Red Sox, Reds, Indians and Twins.
Willingham, who turns in 33 in February, was seeking a three-year deal at last check. He set career highs with 29 homers and 98 RBI in what was likely his lone season with the A’s in 2011, but his .810 OPS was actually his worst mark in his six years as a regular.
Willingham’s history of back problems make him a risk on a long-term deal, but he does have a more potent bat than fellow free agents Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel. A three-year deal worth about $8 million per season is realistic. He’d probably be the top candidate to step in as Boston’s primary designated hitter if David Ortiz left. The Reds would use him in left field, while the Indians could try him as a first baseman. Minnesota likely views him as a fallback option in case Cuddyer exits.
Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports that the Blue Jays and right-hander Jesse Chavez had an arbitration hearing on Friday, with a decision expected today.
Chavez, who was acquired from the Athletics this offseason, requested $4 million and was offered $3.6 million by the Blue Jays when arbitration figures were exchanged last month. Toronto is known as a “file-and-trial” team, so they bring these cases to a hearing unless a multi-year deal can be reached. The three-person panel of arbitrators will choose one salary or the other.
Chavez, 32, posted a 4.18 ERA and 136/48 K/BB ratio in 157 innings across 26 starts and four relief appearances last season. He’s expected to compete for the fifth spot in Toronto’s rotation this spring.
After trading Ender Inciarte to the Braves as part of the Shelby Miller deal, Yasmany Tomas will go into 2016 as a regular in the Diamondbacks’ lineup. Signed to a six-year, $68.5 million contract in December of 2014, Tomas batted .273 with nine home runs and a .707 OPS over 426 plate appearances during his first season in the majors last year while struggling defensively between third base and right field. Third base is out as a possibility at this point, but the Diamondbacks are mulling over another defensive change for him.
According to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale said Friday that the club has discussed moving Tomas to left field and David Peralta to right.
“We’re definitely talking about it,” Hale said. “(Outfield coach) Dave McKay and I, (General Manager Dave Stewart) and (Chief Baseball Officer) Tony (La Russa), we think it might be best to switch them around.”
When the third base experiment flopped, the Diamondbacks put Tomas in right because they felt he would be the most comfortable there. The metrics weren’t kind to him. He’ll now have a full spring training to work on things if the club decides to make a change. Peralta isn’t the defender that Inciarte was, but he’s better than Tomas, so it’s understandable why the Diamondbacks would change their alignment.
Tomas is likely to be a liability no matter where he plays, but the Diamondbacks won’t mind as much if his bat begins to meet expectations. For a team with designs on the postseason, he’s a big key for this lineup.
The Associated Press is reporting that the Cubs and starter Jake Arrieta have avoided arbitration, agreeing to a $10.7 million salary for the 2016 season. That marks the highest salary on a one-year deal for a pitcher with four years of service, the AP notes. Arrieta and the Cubs were set to go before an independent arbitrator but now can simply focus on the season ahead.
Arrieta, 29, is in his second of three years of arbitration eligibility. He had filed for $13 million while the Cubs countered at $7.5 million. The $5.5 million gap was the largest among players who did not come to terms with their respective teams by the January deadline. The $10.7 million salary is $450,000 above the midpoint between the two submitted figures.
Arrieta won the National League Cy Young Award for his performance this past season, narrowly edging out Zack Greinke, then with the Dodgers. Arrieta led the majors with 22 wins, four complete games, and three shutouts. With that, he compiled a 1.77 ERA and a 236/48 K/BB ratio across 229 innings.
Once a top prospect in the Orioles’ minor league system, Arrieta struggled in the majors but found immediate success with the Cubs in 2013 after the O’s traded him along with Pedro Strop in exchange for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman.
Per Baseball America’s Matt Eddy, the Giants have signed infielder Conor Gillaspie to a minor league deal. Gillaspie was selected by the Giants in the supplemental round of the 2008 draft, then was traded to the White Sox in February 2013.
Gillaspie, 28, hit a meager .228/.269/.359 with four home runs and 24 RBI in 253 plate appearances between the White Sox and Angels during the 2015 season. Almost all of his playing time has come at third base but he can also play first base if needed.
The Giants, thin on depth, will allow Gillaspie to audition in spring training for a spot on the 25-man roster.