Prince Fielder

Previewing the Home Run Derby: Prince Fielder aims for third crown

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Prince Fielder can join Ken Griffey Jr. as the only three-time winners of the Home Run Derby on Monday night, but to do it, he’ll have to best Chris Davis, who is currently on pace to hit 60 bombs this year.

This year’s Home Run Derby field is unusual in that it features just three players currently among baseball’s top 20 home run hitters:

Davis – 37
Pedro Alvarez – 24
Robinson Cano – 21
Michael Cuddyer – 16
Fielder – 16
Yoenis Cespedes – 15
David Wright – 13
Bryce Harper – 13

Davis is the major league leader, of course, but the next three on the list are absent: Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Gonzalez, who chose to pull out due to injury. Other All-Stars with 20 homers missing include Domonic Brown, Nelson Cruz, Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Bautista.

Besides Fielder, 2011 champ Robinson Cano is the only other former HR Derby winner in the field. David Ortiz no longer appears interested in competing after winning in 2010 and finishing tied for third in 2011.

Fielder and Cano are also the only holdovers from last year’s field. Fielder won with 28 homers, include 12 in the finals to beat Bautista. Cano, who hit 32 homers in winning in 2011, went homerless last year, the only player to do so the last three years. He should be pretty motivated tonight.

Alas, Cano is one of the biggest long shots, according to Bovada:

Davis: 11/4
Fielder: 3/1
Harper: 5/1
Alvarez: 6/1
Cespedes: 6/1
Cano: 13/2
Wright: 10/1
Cuddyer: 14/1

One other thing that should be noted here: since Citi Field altered the fences prior to 2012, it’s been a better home run park for right-handed hitters than left-handers. Before that, the opposite was true.

For that reason, I think Cespedes is the real sleeper pick tonight, though it wouldn’t surprise if expends a little too much energy in round one and doesn’t have enough left for the subsequent rounds. The last time a round one leader went on to win the Derby was Fielder in 2009.

But Fielder should be considered the favorite based on experience. My guess is that Davis disappoints. The Home Run Derby is typically about pulling the ball, and Davis hits his homers all over the place. As for Harper, while I think he’ll win one or two eventually, I doubt it’s his time just yet.

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
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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.