The Rays addressed their need for a closer by acquiring Heath Bell in a three-team trade at the beginning of December. Fernando Rodney, who had been their closer for the past two seasons, became a free agent at the conclusion of the 2013 regular season, but the right-hander has yet to sign with a new team. As a result, pitching coach Jim Hickey says he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Rodney ends up returning to the Rays, according to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times.
GM Andrew Friedman also said he would “see if anything makes sense” in terms of adding additional relievers. If the Rays were to sign Rodney, he would likely remain as the closer, pushing Bell into a set-up role. Bell had good defense-independent numbers last season but gave up way too many home runs (12 in 65.2 innings) and allows an unusually high rate of hits on batted balls for a back-end reliever. Meanwhile, Rodney had an historically great season in 2012 (0.60 ERA) and still had one of the better seasons of his career last year (3.38 ERA).
The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.
Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”
Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”
The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.
There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.
Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.