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Multiple teams in contact with Jared Burton
As the calendar turns to February and the days before pitchers and catchers report tick down, the free-agent market remains well stocked with right-handed relievers. Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano are the most notable, but several others are still hoping to latch on before spring training begins.

One of those lesser names is Jared Burton, whose peripherals chose an inopportune time to slip toward mediocrity. The 33-year-old had shoulder surgery in April 2011, then recovered to enjoy the best year of his career, posting a 2.18 ERA in 62 innings with the Twins in 2012. He was worse in 2013, or perhaps just considerably less fortunate, as his 3.82 ERA better reflected his FIP, which moved from 3.34 to 3.64. Then 2014 came, and Burton’s strikeout rate plummeted from 21.7 percent to 16.9 percent as his walk clip continued a steady ascent, reaching 9.2 percent, its highest point since the aforementioned debridement operation on his shoulder.

What’s curious about all this is that Burton’s stuff hasn’t really eroded during this three-year decline in performance. His fastball still averages between 92-93 mph, his changeup is still an asset that helps him to neutralize left-handed batters, and his slider is what it always has been: a reasonable tertiary offering. When you’re a 60-ish-inning reliever, sometimes all it takes is a few bad apples to spoil the barrel.

On April 15th, for instance, Burton was asked to hold the line in the top of the ninth inning of a game the Twins already trailed, 5-2. He began by coaxing groundballs from Jose Bautista and Josh Thole, but issued a two-out walk to Edwin Encarnacion. Then, he walked Dioner Navarro. And then, he walked Moises Sierra, who only walked that one time in 67 plate appearances between Opening Day and May 14th, and lost his job with the Blue Jays along the way. Burton regained his composure and control, and got ahead of Brett Lawrie, 1-2, only to serve up a grand slam, before Ryan Goins grounded out to end the inning. If you forgive that one disastrous outing, Burton’s walk rate decreases to 8.3 percent, just 0.5 percentage points above his 2013 pace; tossing one more mess would pull him even. Such is life for a non-dominant reliever.

What this means, though, is that a team that gambles on Burton might find itself a decent seventh-inning reliever—one who does not need a lefty complement. And amid his flaws, the right-hander appears to have one intriguing skill: No reliever who’s logged at least 180 innings over the past three seasons has induced popups at a higher rate (18.0 percent). In fact, only Tyler Clippard (17.7 percent) is close.

Infield flies aren’t quite as good as strikeouts, but they’re close: Very few of them drop in for hits, and of those that are caught, very few allow baserunners to advance. And while Burton is solidly pedestrian when compared to other relievers who’ve compiled 180-plus frames since 2012 on strikeout rate alone, he shoots up to 18th when K% and IFFB% are summed, checking in at 38.3 percent in that made-up category, ahead of the also-unemployed K-Rod (34.8) and Soriano (34.1). Both have other merits—they walk fewer batters, for one—but there’s a case to be made for Burton, who rests between closers Jonathan Papelbon and Addison Reed on the K%+IFFB% leaderboard, especially for clubs whose ballparks are generous when it comes to foul territory in the infield.

That might be why multiple teams are toying with the idea of signing the ex-Twin, according to FOX Sports’ Jon Morosi, whose tweet suggested that the ball might be in Burton’s court. If that’s the case and Burton is simply taking his time deciding on his next home, a deal might materialize in the next few days.

Padres have talked with Brewers about Luis Sardinas
Rookie Padres GM A.J. Preller has had a busier offseason than just about any of his 29 counterparts, but that doesn't mean he’s content with his roster. The middle infield might be San Diego’s most glaring weakness, after a flurry of blockbuster trades overhauled the outfield, and Preller reportedly has an eye on a player with whom he’s intimately familiar.

FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal tweeted Friday that the Friars have at least phoned the Brewers about Luis Sardinas, the ex-Rangers prospect who went to Milwaukee in the deal that shipped Yovani Gallardo to Texas. Preller, previously director of international scouting and assistant GM with the Rangers, was involved in Sardinas’ signing out of Venezuela in 2009 and saw his ascent up the chain all the way to Arlington.

The switch-hitting Sardinas did little of note in his major-league debut, batting .261/.303/.313 in 125 plate appearances when pressed into duty by the rash of injuries that gutted the Rangers roster. He is a glove-first player and a plus-plus runner, per Jason Parks’ scouting report from the Rangers’ 2014 top 10 list, on which Sardinas ranked fourth. In San Diego, that could make him a regular beginning on Opening Day.

With Everth Cabrera gone in the wake of a PED suspension, down year, and trouble with the law—the last of which is still unresolved pending a court hearing on a charge of resisting arrest—the Padres’ shortstop depth chart features the light-hitting Alexi Amarista and Clint Barmes. The former compiled a .245 TAv in 2014, which would’ve placed him toward the bottom among big-league shortstops, with most of those below him contributing well above average defense. A switch-hitter who can play five or six positions, Amarista is a handy utility man, but it’s not difficult to see why Preller is seeking alternatives.

Rosenthal added a caveat to his tweet, noting that Preller and Brewers GM Doug Melvin haven’t spoken in a while, but this might be a story worth revisiting later this month or next if neither of the internal options impresses in camp.