Indian Wells

At the GM meetings replay, expanded September rosters, pitcher headgear on the agenda

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We’ve been handling the transaction developments from the GM meetings — Walt Weiss’ hiring, the Jason Bay thing, etc. — in individual posts, but there are a couple of catchall items being discussed by the baseball brass at Indian Wells.

Replay is one.  We’ve long known that some expansion is coming, likely to fair/foul calls and to trapped balls. But Joe Torre says that maybe more is being discussed:

“[Bud Selig] was talking about really basically fair-foul, trap plays. But we’re looking into more than that,” said Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president for baseball operations. Torre did not detail what types of calls a broader expansion might include.

Seems like, if baseball is going to go incremental with it, the next logical step would be outs on the basepaths. Tags at second on steals, perhaps, if they wish to avoid reviewing plays with mutliple baserunners in motion. Force outs at first base. That’s just my speculation, of course.  Also:

GMs also discussed altering the longtime rule allowing active rosters to expand from 25 to 40 from Sept. 1 through the rest of the regular season. Some teams have been reluctant to use the larger limit late in the season. They have cited not wanting to disrupt minor league teams in their playoffs, and those decisions have led to big league games in which teams have differing numbers of available players.

One solution mentioned earlier this year, and mentioned by Torre yesterday, was having set expanded roster numbers in September. Rather than allowing teams to differ, with some having the same old 25 and others having up to 40 guys in the dugout, you can expand up to say 28 or 30 available per game, firm, and use any number of minor leaguers to fill those extra spots on a day-by-day basis.

Finally, there was talk about head protection for pitchers, ranging from helmets to Kevlar-lined caps.  These are preliminary discussions, however, and a full report on the feasibility and utility of such measures is due to be given teams at the Winter Meetings next month.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.