Theo Epstein and Ryan Dempster stir up trade speculation with public chat

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There was an odd scene at Wrigley Field yesterday as Cubs president Theo Epstein and right-hander Ryan Dempster had a one-on-one chat while sitting in the stands during batting practice.

Dempster was in uniform and by choosing to have their conversation in public with multiple reporters looking on they had to know that it would create tons of speculation about the Cubs trading the 35-year-old impending free agent.

Dempster revealed only that they “discussed a lot of things and obviously there are a lot of things being talked about … we talked about being on the same page and trying to do what is best for our team.”

However, according to Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago the conversation was indeed about potential trades. And because Dempster has the right to block any move as a 10-and-5 player presumably Epstein was laying out various scenarios to gauge his willingness to pitch for other teams.

Terrible run support has kept Dempster from an impressive win-loss record, but he’s started 11 games with a 2.31 ERA and 63/20 K/BB ratio in 74 innings. While perhaps not quite a No. 1 starter Dempster has had a sub-4.00 ERA in four of the past five seasons and would no doubt generate plenty of interest from contenders leading up to July 31.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.