The Cubs have asked Ryan Dempster to prepare for a return to their starting rotation in 2007, setting up a potential competition for the club's closer role.
"Lou [Piniella] talked to him at the end of the year about it," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry told the Chicago Tribune. I think Dempster prefers to be a starter. We're talking about a guy who won 15 games as a starter and went to an All-Star Game in that role. We think he will be able to contribute to our rotation."
After winning 15 games for Florida in 2001, Dempster started 33 games in 2002 for the Marlins and Reds. After elbow surgery, he moved to the bullpen full-time with the Cubs in 2006 and in 2007 converted 28 of 31 save chances for the Cubs. In the last three years, he has converted 85 of 99 chances.
Carlos Marmol, who had 99 strikeouts over 69 1/3 innings, a 1.43 ERA and yielded just a .169 average to opponents this past season, is expected to be a candidate, along with veteran right-hander Bob Howry. Kerry Wood, who is a free agent, might also be a candidate for the role if he re-signs with the Cubs.
Lidge ready to thrive in Philly: Veteran closer Brad Lidge, who finished with 19 saves last season with the Astros, is now a member of the Phillies after he was traded in a five-player deal on Wednesday.
"He's got outstanding stuff and has been a guy who has pitched very well since he first came up," Phillies general manager Gillick told MLB.com. "It's not a secret we've been looking for pitching, and this certainly helps us there."
Lidge, meanwhile, is looking forward to pitching a Philadelphia -- a market considerably larger than Houston.
"I guess it'll be like when we were in the middle of the postseason, with all of the media and attention we get," Lidge said. "That kind of adrenaline and excitement will hopefully be beneficial to me. When you have a lot of adrenaline in situations, it might push you and you'll excel. I'm optimistic about it."
Myers headed back to rotation: Gillick has asked Brett Myers to return to the rotation in 2008.
Myers was the Phillies' Opening Day starter last season but moved to the closer role by May and came to relish the role. He excelled with 21 saves and a 2.81 ERA in 48 games, but the acquisition of Lidge earlier this week from the Astros prompted Gillick to request the move.
"Pat asked me how I felt about it and I said I'd do whatever was best for the team," Myers told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "It's a little disappointing because I felt closing was good for me. But the team has other needs and I can do both. I'm not surprised. You could read between the lines."
Gillick told the newspaper the club was filling a need in the rotation as much as the bullpen by trading for Lidge.
"Brett Myers is better than any starter available," Gillick said. "I think he was disappointed from the standpoint he wanted to stay at the back end of the bullpen," said Gillick. "But he realized what this does for us from a team standpoint."
Bourn, Geary are newest members of Astros: Going into the offseason, Houston Astros and general manager Ed Wade wanted to add a center fielder to the team, allowing Hunter Pence to move to right field in the process.
The Astros accomplished their goal Wednesday when they dealt closer Lidge and infielder Eric Bruntlett to Philadelphia for center fielder Michael Bourn, reliever Geoff Geary and Minor League third baseman Michael Costanzo.
The centerpiece to the trade is Bourn, a speedy left-handed hitter who grew up in the Houston area and played for the University of Houston.
"[Bourn] can be a top-of-the-lineup catalyst for a club," Wade told Astros.com. "I've seen the pure speed, not only the pure speed, but the base-running ability. He's an outstanding athlete who can hit at the top of the order. He can get on base; he has outstanding base-stealing ability. [Manager Cecil Cooper] will figure out who hits in the two hole, and we feel with Pence, [Lance] Berkman and [Carlos] Lee in the 3-4-5 spot this kid's going to be on base and have the ability to score a lot of runs."
Bourn is expected to hit leadoff for the Astros after hitting .277 with 18 steals in 19 attempts for the Phillies last year. He had 119 at-bats in 105 games for the club.
Geary was 3-1 with a 4.41 ERA in 57 appearances for the Phillies in 2007. He has pitched in 216 career games with Philadelphia, going 13-4 with a 3.94 ERA and one save.
"To me, Geoff is a good sixth-seventh-inning pitcher," Wade said. "He's a sinker-slider guy, not a real big guy, but he can get up 91, 92 [miles per hour] consistently. At times he elevates the ball a little bit and gets hurt, but he'll go through stretches where's he's very effective and he's got great durability. He can go out there and give you multiple innings, he can go out there back-to-back days. Those are the guys who, from a durability standpoint, can be bullpen savers for you."
Hunter checking out the turf: Torii Hunter, a member of the Chicago White Sox? It's possible, according to MLB.com.
In a recent interview on a Chicago radio station, Hunter said he has an affection for U.S. Cellular Field. "I play well in Chicago," said Hunter on ESPN AM 1000. "The grass is true [at U.S. Cellular Field], and everything is going good for that place right now."
In the end, Hunter added, money and place in the standings does not necessarily matter as much as a good playing surface.
"That's 100 percent accurate," he said. "Listen to those words and that will tell you where I might be ending up. I have to visit fields where I've never played and see if the grass runs true. I love defense so much that if the field is not right, I'm not taking it."
As for the free agency process, Hunter seems to have a plan in place.
"You don't want to wait too late, but you don't want to jump on it too early," he said. "I don't want this decision to be rushed because it could be a decision of a lifetime.
"I'm going to kick back and think back about it. Whatever team I end up with, I think I'm going to end my career there."
Royals' Soria to start season as closer: Joakim Soria, who was at one point considered a candidate to move into the Kansas City Royals' starting rotation, appears now to be set to remain as the team's closer in 2008 barring a move that brings another closer-caliber pitcher to Kansas City.
"From a strategic standpoint," general manager Dayton Moore told the Kansas City Star, "we're confident he can be successful in either role. Obviously, he was successful at the back end of our bullpen. If we started the season today, he'd be our closer."
Soria did work as a starter at times in the Minor Leagues, but in his rookie season was strictly a reliever with the Royals. In 62 games, he was 2-3 with 17 saves and an ERA of 2.48.
Rays' Baldelli waiting for hamstring test results: Rocco Baldelli has spent nearly as much time on the disabled list as on the field during his career. Now, he is waiting for test results that may help determine why he has trouble with his hamstrings.
"It's good and bad," he told the St. Petersburg Times. "It's good that I don't have anything specific that doctors can categorize as being the problem. And then also we don't know exactly what's causing the problem. But I really think we'll find everything out before Spring Training."
Baldelli, who played in only 35 games in 2007, has started to work out again in Rhode Island as he is set to be ready to be starting for the Rays next season. Baldelli doesn't care if he is starting in the outfield or serves as the team's designated hitter.
"Right now, I just want to play," Baldelli said. "Whatever I have to do to play, I'll do it. I just want to help this team out because I know this team is going in a great direction right now and I want to be a part of it. At this point, I'm going to do whatever I have to do to stay on the field."
Rockies' Atkins won't need to pack bags: Garrett Atkins has been mentioned in trade rumors for seemingly the last year. Rockies general manager Dan O'Dowd admits that other teams have inquired about Atkins, but O'Dowd said he sees Atkins staying in a Rockies uniform.
"He is one of the better corner bats in the Major Leagues," O'Dowd told the Rocky Mountain News. "He is still young and hasn't reached his ceiling. We see him getting better."
With third base prospect Ian Stewart waiting in the Minors, it was speculated widely that the Rockies would make Atkins available on the trade market. But O'Dowd said he is willing to let Stewart get more time in the Minors and let him compete for a spot at second base if the team doesn't re-sign free agent second baseman Kaz Matsui.
In three Major League seasons, Atkins has a .306 average with 320 RBIs. He has topped .300, 100 RBIs and 25 home runs the past two seasons. Atkins is happy to hear he will probably not be traded.
"Obviously, I'm happy to hear that they want to stick with me and be the third baseman," Atkins said. "I'm glad to feel a part of the Rockies organization. You never want to go somewhere else when you are with a team that has won. We got to the World Series and I feel we can do it again.
"On another team, you don't know where you are going. You don't know what opportunity that team will have. Here, I know the guys, and we know what we are capable of doing."
Damon likely back with the Yankees: Johnny Damon met with Yankees manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman during the General Managers Meetings in Florida and came away with the impression that he won't be traded during the offseason, Newsday reported.
"They realize how important I am to the team," Damon said. "The way it looks, I'll definitely be back."
Damon started the season in center field before seeing playing time at designated hitter and left field. Cashman said he will look at all trade possibilities, but he doesn't expect to move Damon.
"Like anything else, you don't rule anything out. But I feel Johnny is an important part of this club. I'd love to see him out in left field every day and leading off for us," Cashman said.
Is Torrealba a good match for Marlins: The Marlins reportedly have set their sights on free agent catcher Yorvit Torrealba.
"Yorvit would love it," Melvin Roman, Torrealba's agent, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "They're a good team, a young team, and Yorvit would be a great fit there. We're going to be open to whatever situation. Florida is a good team that I know will be attractive for him."
The newspaper, quoting an "industry source," said Torrealba has been targeted by the Marlins because of his ability to work with young pitchers. He received a lot of credit this season in Colorado for the production of young Rockies starters Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales, and closer Manny Corpas.
Casto spending fall in Arizona: Outfielder Kory Casto made his Major League debut with the Nationals in 2007, as he played in 16 games and got 54 at-bats. But he is part of the team's contingent playing in the Arizona Fall League, trying to put the finishing touches on his Minor League career.
"It's hard, because it's so different than the regular season," Casto told the Washington Post. "You're waking up at 7:30 a.m. You're playing at 12:30 under a hot sky. At home [in Oregon] it's rainy and 50 now. There's some challenges. But it's nothing you can't deal with, and it's important."
Many use the Arizona Fall League to get more at-bats, while others use it to try something new. Casto, who played 12 games in the outfield and two at first base in the Majors, is getting more playing time at first base this fall.
"You have to treat it like a work session, where if you're 0-for-4, who cares?" said Casto, hitting .245 in 49 at-bats. "At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter as far as a pennant race goes or anything like that. It's a place to kind of try some things that you maybe wanted to try, but maybe there was a little fear of doing something new."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.