LAS VEGAS – In a swap of underachieving center fielders that is certain to raise CC Sabathia's comfort level in the New York Yankees' clubhouse, the Milwaukee Brewers are close to sending Mike Cameron to the Bronx for Melky Cabrera.
A Brewers source said early Thursday that the deal was nearly completed, but as the day wore on it became less likely because the Yankees want the Brewers to pick up a portion of Cameron's salary.
Cameron is Sabathia's close friend, and the Brewers had been reluctant to trade him until Sabathia decided that he wasn't going to return to Milwaukee. Once Sabathia accepted his seven-year, $161 million deal, not only did it make sense for the Brewers to unload Cameron, it stands to reason he could land in New York.
The deal would enable the Brewers to unload the $10 million owed to Cameron in 2009 while acquiring an inexpensive alternative in Cabrera, who made $460,000 last year and still isn't eligible for arbitration.
Neither player is especially productive. Cameron hit 25 home runs but batted only .243, playing in 120 games because he was suspended for the first 25 games after testing positive for a banned stimulant. Cameron, who will turn 36 in January, is a .250 hitter in a career that began in 1995. He has hit more than 20 home runs seven times and is regarded as one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball.
The switch-hitting Cabrera, 24, was handed the center field job with the Yankees in 2006, but his production has steadily declined and he batted only .249 with eight home runs and 49 RBIs in 2008. He was sent to triple-A in August.
BURNETT GETS BRONX RUSH
The Yankes are honing in on free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett as their complementary piece of choice to go with Sabathia, making a five-year offer for $85 million to $91 million that Burnett's other heavy suitor, the Atlanta Braves, are reluctant to match.
Burnett, 31, made a career-high 34 starts in 2008, avoiding injury for one of the few seasons in his 10-year career. He was 18-10 for the Toronto Blue Jays, compiling six more victories than his previous career high.
DIAMONDBACKS FILL SECOND BASE HOLE
After nearly signing free-agent Ramon Vazquez and considering several other alternatives to replace three-time Gold Glove winner Orlando Hudson as their second baseman, the Arizona Diamondbacks signed Felipe Lopez to a one-year contract worth about $6 million.
Lopez flourished near the end of last season after being traded by the Washington Nationals to the St. Louis Cardinals, batting .385 in the last 43 games. He also went 15 for 31 against the Diamondbacks in September, something that must have resonated with Arizona GM Josh Byrnes.
Vazquez, meanwhile, is close to signing a two-year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The versatile 32-year-old would give Pittsburgh insurance if they trade shortstop Jack Wilson or second baseman Freddy Sanchez. Vazquez played 26 games at shortstop last season for the Texas Rangers, the most at that position since he played 108 games at short for the Padres in 2003.
RULE 5 DRAFT
The annual Rule 5 draft usually results in a few teams grabbing players left unprotected by other clubs that eventually become established major leaguers. Two years ago, the Cincinnati Reds grabbed Josh Hamilton from the Tampa Bay Rays and the Kansas City Royals took Joakim Soria from the San Diego Padres. Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals took outfielder Brian Barton, who stayed in the major leagues all season.
It will be tougher for a team to find a nugget of that caliber in today's Rule 5 draft at the Bellagio hotel because of a rule change that enables teams to protect players for an additional year before they are required to be placed on the 40-man roster. The old rules stipulated that unprotected international players in a farm system for four years, high school draft picks in the system for three years and college picks in the system for two years were eligible for the Rule 5. Now each of those years has been bumped up by one.