Add Jay Payton’s name to the list of veteran center field candidates the Diamondbacks are considering as the clock continues to tick toward the opening of spring training.
Payton, 32, has already been traded once this year. After hitting .260 with eight home runs and 55 RBIs in 143 games for San Diego, he was dealt to the world champion Boston Red Sox on Dec. 20 along with infielder Ramon Vazquez in exchange for outfielder Dave Roberts.
But with attempts to acquire Eric Byrnes from Oakland and Mike Cameron from the New York Mets hitting stumbling blocks, baseball sources say Arizona is talking to the Red Sox about a possible deal for Payton, which would be a cheaper alternative to both Cameron ($14 million and two years left on his contract) and Byrnes (about a $2 million arbitration award expected). Payton made $1.5 million last year.
The Diamondbacks made one move Wednesday, signing reliever Jose Jimenez to a minor league contract. Jimenez, who owns the only no-hitter against the Diamondbacks in team history (back when he was a starter with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999), agreed to a non-roster deal that will pay him $750,000 if he is added to the major league roster.
Arizona was reportedly close to a deal with the A’s to acquire Byrnes in a deal that was to have involved Diamondbacks reliever Jose Valverde. But the Contra Costa (Calif.) Times, citing an informed baseball source, reported last Thursday that Valverde — who is coming off surgery to repair a frayed rotator cuff — failed a physical examination that was a precursor to any deal, forcing Arizona to rework its trade offer.
Arizona general manager Joe Garagiola Jr. denied that Valverde, who had rotator cuff surgery in September, isn’t healthy ("He hasn’t failed any type of physical — to say that is an incorrect statement’’) and added that trainer Paul Lessard told him Valverde would begin throwing side sessions soon.
The Houston Astros — with a huge hole in center field after Carlos Beltran bolted for the Mets as a free agent — remain a suitor for Byrnes, who appears headed to arbitration after he and the A’s traded salary figures Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Cameron’s situation in New York is also complicated. After first making it known he wasn’t pleased about moving from center field to right to make room for Beltran, Cameron held a conference call with the New York media Monday night to say he hasn’t requested a trade and will reluctantly give right field a try.
"Can you imagine someone coming in and telling you to do something different from what you’ve always done?’’ Cameron said. "It’s hard, because I work so hard to try to excel at a certain spot. I think I can definitely, maybe, excel at this. We’ll see what happens; I don’t know for sure."
If Cameron changes his mind — or if the Mets decide to move his salary in the hopes of signing free agent first baseman Carlos Delgado — both the A’s and D-Backs remain interested. But each team would require the Mets to include cash, which could defeat the purpose for New York.
SHORT HOP: Jimenez, 31, made the switch to the bullpen and was a closer for Colorado, collecting 102 saves over four seasons (2000-03), including a club-record 41 in 2002. But his record was a combined 4-20 over his last two seasons. He signed as a free agent with Cleveland last year and struggled with the Indians, going 1-7 with a 8.42 ERA and eight saves in 31 appearances.
"He’s a veteran who, if he can come in and do the job, can add a lot of experience to a very young bullpen,’’ Garagiola said. "We have a closer (Greg Aquino), but Jose is a guy who saved a lot of games in Colorado and has the ability to close games. He had a tough time finding his role in Cleveland but we saw a lot of him in Colorado and felt he’s a guy we’d like to have around.’’