Matthew Pouliot

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Pirates acquire LHP Andrew Oliver from Tigers

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Left-hander Andrew Oliver, considered one of the bright lights in the Detroit farm system a couple of years ago, was shipped off to Pittsburgh for minor league catcher Ramon Cabrera on Wednesday.

Oliver, a 2009 second-round pick out of Oklahoma State, was rushed to the majors in 2010, only to go 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA in five starts. He also made two starts for the Tigers in 2011, but he spent all of 2012 in Triple-A, going 5-9 with a 4.88 ERA and a 112/88 K/BB ratio in 118 innings. The Tigers tried him as a reliever at the very end of the year, and while he did strike out 20 in 16 2/3 innings, he also walked 12.

Cabrera, the son of former Diamondbacks first baseman and Japan League superstar Alex Cabrera, hit .279/.342/.367 in 384 at-bats for Double-A Altoona last season. The 23-year-old is considered below average defensively and it seems unlikely that his bat would play well anywhere other than catcher, so his chances of having a future in the majors hinges on him improving behind the plate. He could return to Double-A or move up to Triple-A with the Tigers.

There hasn’t been any word yet on whether the Pirates intend to use Oliver as a starter or a reliever, but given that he’s primarily a two-pitch guy with his fastball and slider, the bullpen would make the most sense for him.

Mariners, Phillies weigh Raul Ibanez return

Raul Ibanez
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Having already seen Russell Martin and Eric Chavez sign elsewhere, the Yankees could next lose Raul Ibanez to a more interested suitor. FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Mariners, Phillies and Rangers are interested in the 40-year-old.

According to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman, Ibanez would prefer to remain with the Yankees, but he’s growing a bit antsy since they’ve been slow to move. Ibanez already intends to retire to Seattle, so rejoining the Mariners might be attractive to him.

If Ibanez returned to Seattle, it’d be his third stint with the team. He also played for the Phillies from 2009-11. Ibanez hit .240/.308/.453 with 19 homers and 62 RBI in 384 at-bats for the Yankees last season. He also contributed three memorable homers in the postseason.

No progress on Justin Upton four-team trade talks

Justin Upton
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Both CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman and FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal are reporting that talks between the Diamondbacks, Rangers, Indians and maybe the Rays on a Justin Upton deal have failed to progress.

Heyman reports that talks are at a standstill and that the Diamondbacks need more in return for Upton than Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. Other than that, he’s not sure what the hold up.

Rosenthal writes that the talks are essentially at the same point where they were since before the start of the meetings.

Heyman previously indicated that the Rangers could send top pitching prospect Martin Perez and more to Cleveland for Cabrera and then use him to get Upton. However, they might also have to send some of their own minor league talent Arizona’s way to make such a deal materialize.

Other variations of the trade have the Diamondbacks trading one of their top young pitchers, Trevor Bauer (their preference) or Tyler Skaggs (Cleveland’s preference) to get Cabrera from the Indians.

Tampa Bay’s involvement in the deal would probably include James Shields going to Texas and then Rangers third baseman Mike Olt getting sent somewhere. Olt would be a fix for the Rays as a long-term first baseman, but he’d have more value to a team that could use him at third.

Anyway, it doesn’t sound like there’s much chance of an Upton trade materializing today. A Jason Kubel deal might be more likely.

Mariners add Jason Bay on one-year deal

Jason Bay
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This is what’s known in the business as taking a flier.

According to Andy Martino of the New York Daily News, the Mariners have added Jason Bay on a one-year contract after he hit .165/.237/.299 in 194 at-bats last season and then accepted a buyout from the Mets. The Mariners will see if Bay can can recapture the form that helped him bat .267/.384/.537 with 36 homers and 119 RBI in his last year in the AL with the Red Sox in 2009. In the three years since, he’s batted .234/.318/.369 with a total of 26 homers in 986 at-bats.

Bay is a native of British Columbia and he already lives in Seattle in the offseason, so it’s the perfect situation for him.

Bay’s addition won’t stop the Mariners from continuing to pursue bats. They’ve been mentioned in connection with free agents Josh Hamilton, Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher and Adam LaRoche, as well as in the Justin Upton trade speculation. If the Mariners do pick up another hitter or two, it’d seem to close off any route Bay might have to a starting job. Realistically, he’s probably going to end up competing with Casper Wells for one spot on the bench as a DH against lefties and occasional backup outfielder, and he’ll need a big spring just to have a shot.

Jeff Keppinger for $12 million is a bit of a reach

Jeff Keppinger
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Obviously, it’s a good idea not to give three-year contracts to part-time players unless you have to. Unfortunately, in this winter’s free agent market, the White Sox felt they had to. Jeff Keppinger probably had multiple teams interested in him at $8 million for two years, so the first team to go to $12 million for three was the one that got him.

In Keppinger, the White Sox are getting an infielder who provides most of his value as a starter against lefties. He’s a lifetime .269/.321/.358 hitter against righties, and he doesn’t make up for it with his glove, which is poor at second and probably a bit below average at third.

Keppinger’s list of comparables doesn’t make him look like a very good bet as he heads into his age-33 season. Keppinger hit .296/.341/.402 with 21 homers and five steals from ages 30-32. I found nine other second and/or third basemen who posted OPSs from .720-.770, hit fewer than 40 homers and stole fewer than 20 bases from ages 30-32. Here’s how they performed from 33 onward:

Steve Buechele: .177/.262/.215, 29 OPS+ in 130 AB
Jamey Carroll: .274/.353/.333, 89 OPS+ in 2,162 AB
Mike Gallego: .225/.299/.292, 59 OPS+ in 612 AB
Vance Law: .209/.303/.276, 66 OPS+ in 134 AB
Dave Magadan: .280/.382/.372, 101 OPS+ in 1,057 AB
Joe Randa: .282/.339/.432, 100 OPS+ in 1,748 AB
Johnny Ray: .277/.308/.371, 92 OPS+ in 404 AB
Denny Walling: .252/.320/.355, 88 OPS+ in 812 AB
Joel Youngblood: .252/.323/.353, 92 OPS+ in 842 AB

Carroll, of course, is still going.

Magadan would seem to be a nice comp for Keppinger, but he was the far better hitter (he was also left-handed). Magadan had a career 116 OPS+ prior to turning 33, whereas Keppinger is at 97. Randa had more power than Keppinger, but he’s the best hope for the White Sox here, as he was a better old player than a young one.

Buechele and Ray only made it to 33. Law actually went to Japan for his age-33 season before coming back and playing one more year in MLB.

While Keppinger is a useful player, he’s a worse bet than he was a year ago, when he was also a free agent (he was non-tendered by the Giants) and when the White Sox had no interest in him.  The White Sox already had a right-handed hitting third baseman in Brent Morel who may well prove to be the better player once defense is factored in. I realize funds are limited, but I think the White Sox would have been better off trading Gavin Floyd or Matt Thornton to free up money for a bigger offensive upgrade than they were giving Keppinger $4 million for each of the next three seasons.