The Rays Tank: The Dude moves on, Berkman to the Rangers

Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE

And the NHL Lockout is over!

Whether you were watching the Seahawks top the Redskins, the Clippers top the Lakers, and/or Downton Abbey, you were probably not paying attention to baseball. There's a couple minor moves to report, but nothing comes close to the biggest news of the weekend:

The NHL Lockout is over, and that is worth celebrating!

There are many reasons to be critical of the NHL, but bringing the Lighting back to the community is only great news for Tampa Bay fans and the Downtown Tampa area, and I hope the sport is received well.

Hockey will be starting in about two weeks, feature a 48- or 50- game season - depending on the speed of paperwork, and should be one giant playoff push. Needless to say, I'm excited. (Details on the new CBA here.)

***

In baseball news, the Dude is getting paid.

The Dodgers have reportedly signed J.P. Howell for $2.75M, and the time has come for Rays fans to ice the Ice Man.

No more crazy faces. No more jerseys unbuttoned so low he pitches with a deep-V. No more will The Dude abide in the Rays bullpen.

I wish him the best of luck as he looks to replace Randy Choate (who signed for three years of similar money in St. Louis). Coming of shoulder surgery in 2011, it took a few months before Howell found his groudball groove. By June, his GB% was above .500, and his strikeouts came around in July. Given his improvements, he should be able to match Choate's 8.05 K/9 and 62.0 GB% in Los Angeles next season.

Without Howell, the Rays will move forward with three southpaw relievers locked in on the 40-man roster: F\firebreathing Jake McGee, long-reliever Cesar Ramos, and stick-in-the-mud Alex Torres - not to mention a pitcher that could step in to Howell's 2012 role, Frank De Los Santos, who posted a 6.80 K/9 in AAA with a 2.50 BB/9 and has favorable GB tendencies. FDLS will likely start the year back in Durham, but look for him down the road should a wormburner or a LOOGY get injured.

Elsewhere, Lance Berkman is returning to baseball, agreeing to terms with the Rangers for $10M and a vesting option for 550 PA. The signing gives Texas their own log jam at first base and DH, with Mitch Moreland, Mike Olt, Ian Kinsler (assuming Jurickson Profar is promoted), and Berkman vying for playing time between the two positions. Moreland could play right field, but Texas should be welcoming Craig Gentry into the fold, and the Rangers are even pursuing an outfielder from Arizona.

LINKS

- Meanwhile, MLB.com's Steve Gilbert is reporting that the Diamondbacks are willing to slot OF prospect Adam Eaton back in AAA if they do not find a team willing to give a proper trade for one of their surplus outfielders. In our recent poll, Eaton scored as the most desired outfielder should the Rays make a trade with Arizona, topping Justin Upton and Jason Kubel with 32% of the vote.

- In other news, the Yankees have claimed former Rays prospect Russ Canzler off waivers to finish off their fiscally-responsible winter. Canzler has logged innings at 1B and LF, but is a poor defender, so let's hope he plays the field in New Yankee Stadium. He belted 22 HR's at AAA and then 3 in 19 games with the Indians last season.

- Fangraphs: Bill Petti looks at offensive volatility and beating win expectancy.

- The Hardball Times on Koji Uehara, the Cliff Lee of the bullpen?

- Yesterday, Luis Suarez had the best handball since Thierry Henry's '09 World Cup Qualifier against Ireland. The Refs saw it, but ruled the handball incidental and allowed the goal. Oh Luis. Generally speaking, everyone loves to hate him.

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