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Just when it seemed as if left-hander Johan Santana might be staying in Minnesota after all, talks with the Yankees were heating up again this weekend.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, the Diamondbacks kissed goodbye to one of their core veterans -- Tony Clark -- and agreed on a contract extension with Bob Melvin, the 2007 National League Manager of the Year, through 2010.
Plus, Mark Prior, who didn't pitch at all for the Cubs last season after shoulder surgery and wasn't tendered a contract, is suddenly a hot prospect again as the free-agent market begins to thin out. And old favorite Kris Benson is having a tryout in Phoenix to show that he can still throw the ball after he also missed the 2007 season recovering from surgery.
All this and more is sizzling on the Hot Stove League grill ...
The Yankees never leave well enough alone, and they're back at it again with the Twins about Santana. Remember when they told Alex Rodriguez he wasn't coming back? Remember when they set a firm deadline to deal for Santana? Yeah, right. It's an age-old negotiating ploy that may have worked with A-Rod, but it certainly isn't going to budge the Twins, who still want two among this trio of New York's brightest young pitchers: Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Phillip Hughes.
"I am not giving up two of the three," Hank Steinbrenner told the New York Post. "That's not going to happen."
So it means the Yankees are right back to square one.
How about this progressive thought? Take Hughes and Kennedy and put them in the rotation behind Chen-Ming Wang, Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina. Leave Chamberlain in the role he was so successful at late last season -- setting up for Mariano Rivera -- then let it rip.
By the way, Johnny Damon told the Post that Pettitte admitting he took human growth hormone as revealed in the Mitchell Report won't be a distraction to the Yankees next season.
"I don't think so. Players know how to deal with anything," Damon said. "Andy is a teammate, and I hope he wins 20 games for us."
Don't cry for me, Arizona, is what Clark told MLB.com this weekend when he revealed that a contract offer for the veteran free agent was swiped off the table after last week's flurry of trades that filled up all the 40-man roster slots -- at least for now.
"[General manager Josh Byrnes] made it evident at that time that they were moving on and that in light of the time of year, they felt it best to not let any more time pass before they made a decision," Clark told MLB.com's Steve Gilbert.
"I am disappointed. As I've said all along, my hope at the end of the day was to remain a Diamondback. That being said, I understand that every organization has to do what they feel is in their best interests. In this instance it means that the organization felt it was best to move forward with new personnel."
With Clark likely heading to his sixth team, he can at least take that copyrighted slogan from this past season with him and perhaps alter it a bit.
How does "Any team, any time" sound?
Another D-backs veteran who could be out the door is second baseman Orlando Hudson, who's going into his walk year before free agency and told the Arizona Republic on Sunday he isn't close to signing a new deal.
"I would love to be there, but I don't think it'll work out. I don't think so, but I would love to get a deal done today," he said. "I would love to stay in Arizona. I love the park. I've got the best manager in baseball. I don't want to go nowhere else. I want to play for Bo-Mel [Bob Melvin]."
Melvin is well-deserving of the extension. He took a team with just about the worst offense in baseball into the NL Championship Series before being swept by the Rockies.
"This is where I want to be long term," Melvin said earlier this year about his future. "Josh has been unbelievable for me, very supportive. He's put together an outstanding baseball operations staff. Everyone, from ownership on down through the clubhouse, we're all on the same page. It's great to be a part of something like that. The future is only going to get better."
Of course, a manager is only as good as his team. And even with adding Dan Haren to the rotation -- replacing Livan Hernandez -- Melvin has to figure out his closing situation, pronto. With the swap of Jose Valverde to the Astros -- unless another move is in the offing -- Melvin's choices are among Chad Qualls, Brandon Lyon and Tony Pena. The first two are competent setup men, while the latter has the stuff, but who knows about his psyche until he does it regularly and faces some adversity?
Valverde saved 47 games last season, some of them pretty nasty. But if a few of those saves were blown, the D-backs would have missed the playoffs.
Prior and Benson:
It was 2003 and there wasn't a thing in the world that Prior couldn't accomplish. Then he couldn't hold a 2-0 lead in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS against the Marlins, and nothing has been the same since. Just ask Kerry Wood.
But with the Dodgers signing Japan's Hiroki Kuroda this weekend, it's time to pick up the scraps of the pitching market. And Prior is definitely one of the scraps. The right-hander has won one game and made nine starts since the end of the 2005 season. And according to his agent, John Boggs, he probably won't be ready to pitch until May, at the earliest.
Yet, there are 11 teams interested in Prior, including the Padres, Mets, and of course, the Yankees.
As far as the Yankees are concerned, they're also in the mix -- along with another dozen teams -- for Benson. The right-hander missed the 2007 season in Baltimore because of a torn labrum, after making 30 starts (11-12 with a 4.82 ERA) in 2006. Last month, the Orioles paid Benson a $500,000 buyout rather than exercise a $7.5 million option.
There may be a gem here. Then again there may not be.
The Phillies have contract offers out to Mike Cameron and Geoff Jenkins in an attempt to fill the outfield void left by free agent Aaron Rowand's signing with the Giants. ... The Cubs are still interested in Twins closer Joe Nathan and Baltimore stud Erik Bedard, the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Sunday. ... The Rockies are listening to offers for left-handed setup man Brian Fuentes, who lost his closing job this past season, the Denver Post wrote. Fuentes is set to earn $7 million in 2008, too much money in that slot for the Rockies. ... With Kuroda signed by the Dodgers, the Mariners are still looking for pitching, having turned their sights on Bedard or free agents Kyle Lohse and Carlos Silva. "We have other options," manager John McLaren told the Seattle Times. "We had another game plan if it didn't work out, and that's where we are now. We've got some coals in the fire. We'll just see where it takes us."