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Oliver not expected back; trade to Texas unlikely

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ARLINGTON -- The Rangers have spoken to the Blue Jays about left-handed reliever Darren Oliver, but industry sources said a trade is unlikely to happen.

Oliver may end up retiring rather than returning to Toronto. The Blue Jays made a move to reinforce their left-handed relief options by claiming pitcher Tommy Hottovy from the Rangers on Thursday.

Oliver, who was Texas' No. 1 setup reliever in 2010-11 before signing with Toronto, is under contract for 2013 at a salary of $3 million. Oliver's agent, Jeff Frye, has requested that the Blue Jays renegotiate his client's salary or trade him to the Rangers.

Right now, the Blue Jays aren't inclined to do either one, and general manager Alex Anthopoulos said this week the club is moving forward on the assumption Oliver will not be back.

"We'd love to have Darren back," Anthopoulos said. "We'd love to have him back at any point. If he calls tomorrow, thrilled. If he calls two days before Spring Training, thrilling."

Oliver, 42, agreed to a one-year contract with the Blue Jays for the 2012 season. The contract also called for a $3 million club option for 2013 that the Blue Jays picked up after Oliver went 3-4 with a 2.06 ERA in 62 games this past season. The 2.06 ERA was the fourth lowest by a left-handed reliever with a minimum of 40 innings pitched.

Jeremy Affeldt had a 2.70 ERA for the Giants last season and signed a three-year, $18 million deal this winter to stay in San Francisco. Sean Burnett, who had a 2.38 ERA for the Nationals, signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Angels.

The Rangers acquired Hottovy on a waiver claim from the Royals on Nov. 18. He has a career 4.05 ERA in 17 Major League relief appearances with the Royals this past season and the Red Sox in 2011. He was designated for assignment on Monday to make room on the 40-man roster after the Rangers officially announced the signing of free-agent outfielder/first baseman Lance Berkman.

Robbie Ross and Michael Kirkman are Texas' primary left-handed setup relievers. The club also claimed left-handed reliever Jeff Beliveau and re-signed veteran Neal Cotts to a Minor League deal.

The Rangers have talked about the possibility of moving Ross into the rotation. But he was their best left-handed setup reliever in 2012, and they may not want to move him unless they can find another lefty for the bullpen.

But the Rangers are still planning to take a look at Ross as a starter in Spring Training. If he makes a strong impression, they may still go that route and adjust accordingly. If so, left-hander Martin Perez, who finished last season as the fifth starter, could end up in the bullpen. He had a 5.88 ERA as a starter and a 4.50 ERA as a reliever in his short time with the Rangers.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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