Ruben Amaro Jr. shoots down Justin Upton for Cliff Lee rumor

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Pedro Gomez of ESPN.com has the most interesting rumor of the winter meetings so far:

Justin Upton being shopped around is well known, but Cliff Lee as the return would seemingly come out of nowhere (although can there really be “out of nowhere” when Ruben Amaro Jr. is involved?). Lee has three years and $87.5 million remaining on his deal, while Upton is owed $38.5 million for the next three seasons.

UPDATE: Not so fast, apparently. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Repuplic spoke to a Diamondbacks source who said the Upton-for-Lee deal “hasn’t been discussed” and is “off base.”

UPDATE #2: Amaro very strongly denied the Gomez report, calling it “absolutely and unequivocally false.”

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.