Alex Rodriguez has confirmed that he will play for the Dominican Republic this spring in the World Baseball Classic after competing for the United States in 2006.

"I'm fulfilling a promise not only to my mother, but to me as well. She always wanted me to play for the Dominican team and wear this uniform," Rodriguez told the New York Daily News. "I'm very proud to represent the Dominican team. It's a dream come true."

Though born in New York, Rodriguez's parents were born in the Dominican Republic, and WBC rules allow a player to elect the team other than his birth country if he has ancestors from that country.

Rodriguez was not sure if he would play for the USA or the Dominican in 2006 before deciding to play for the U.S. This time, he knows with certainty which uniform he will wear.

"I am 100 percent sure I will play for the Dominican Republic team. This time, there will be no doubt. I was very proud to play for the United States, but that's the past and this is the present. It's going to be a very special day to see the 'R' and the 'D' on my cap and across my chest," said Rodriguez, referring to the Spanish abbreviation of Republica Dominicana. "It's a special day for my family and all the Dominican baseball fans."

Willis shaping up in plans for big season: Dontrelle Willis is focused on conditioning this offseason, according to his agent.

"There's no target weight, but he's really thin now. He's been running a lot and eating very carefully," Matt Sosnick told Detroit Free Press. "He's a guy who has a lot of pride. He feels really strongly that he's going to have a big year."

Sosnick says Willis' goal is to win at least 15 games for the Tigers next year.

Matsuzaka brings added benefit to Red Sox: The presence of Daisuke Matsuzaka helped lure Junichi Tazawa from Japan to Boston.

"When we signed Daisuke it was for baseball reasons," general manager Theo Epstein told the Boston Herald. "We saw it as a unique opportunity to acquire a 26-year-old, top-of-the-rotation starter. But we certainly hoped and considered the fact that signing Daisuke would allow us to establish a heightened presence in Japan and around the world, really, and that someday, there might be some ancillary benefits."

One benefit has come in the signing of 22-year-old pitcher Tazawa, who admitted he spoke with Matsuzaka before signing with the Red Sox. With Matsuzaka and fellow Japanese pitcher Hideki Okajima, Tazawa was confident about being able to fit in if he signed with the club.

"I think there was definitely an influence from Daisuke being here," said Tazawa, who went 13-1 with a 0.80 ERA in 21 games this season for Nippon Oil of the Japan Industrial League. "To me, he's the best [Japanese] player, and to be able to learn from him is an incredible opportunity for me."

Pedro Martinez making plans to pitch in 2009: Pedro Martinez told the New York Daily News that he still has plans to pitch in 2009. What he isn't saying is which team he may pitch for.

"I haven't really thought about baseball. But I do want to play. I'm not going to talk about it until January. I'm away from all that. I know I'm a free agent. One thing -- I'm getting ready because I know how long it takes to get ready. I'm working out. I'm doing everything I have to do," Martinez said. "Right now, I'm fishing, training and at home with the family."

Martinez struggled with injuries and the death of his father, Paolino Jaime, in 2008. Martinez admitted that his father's deteriorating health over the past year was affecting him, even though he rarely showed it.

"I didn't think I was affecting my family so much. I was really worried about all that. That affected my soul, my attitude, my way of thinking. You know, sometimes you fall down in depression a little bit and you don't even notice it," Martinez said. "Now I can tell I was really hurting. I was trying to be very professional about how I was handling things. I'm glad I did a good job about keeping it away from everybody."

Ross closer to home after signing with Braves: The Braves added a backup catcher when they signed David Ross to a two-year deal. A Florida native, Ross played with Cincinnati and Boston last season.

"He's lived in Tallahassee for quite some time, and it was a great opportunity for him and his family to play close to home for a team he's admired for a long time," agent Ryan Gleichowski told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Oliver set for return to Angels: The Angels regained one of their free agents when Darren Oliver accepted the team's offer for arbitration.

"He put himself in a good spot to capitalize," Mike McCann, Oliver's agent, told the Los Angeles Times. "Hopefully, he'll do the job like he has the last couple of years."

Oliver went 7-1 with a 2.88 ERA in 54 games in 2008 after going 3-1 with a 3.78 ERA in 2007.

Healthy Bedard back on track: The Mariners may be active on the trade market at the Winter Meetings because they have a surplus of what everyone wants: pitching. One name that might draw some interest is Erik Bedard, who missed roughly half of the 2008 season due to injuries but who is healthy now.

"He feels great, and he looks great," general manager Jack Zduriencik told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer of Bedard. "I've heard that he was not 100 percent [healthy] last year. The fact that he is so upbeat now is very encouraging to me. He should roll into Spring Training ready to go."

Carpenter expected to throw in January: Chris Carpenter underwent a nerve-conduction test last week, and Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said that the results were encouraging.

"It was a very positive report," Mozeliak told MLB.com. "Clearly, the nerve is healing. It's healing at the normal rate. ... It's doing exactly what they expected it to do. Most importantly, he's regained his shoulder strength to almost the level he had prior to this even happening. So that's positive news as well.

"Right now, he's scheduled to start his throwing program in middle-to-late January, and as of today he's expecting a normal spring."

Shoppach ready to keep working: Kelly Shoppach had a big year for the 2008 Indians, stepping in when Victor Martinez missed more than two months following elbow surgery. In 112 games overall, Shoppach batted .261 with 21 home runs, 27 doubles and 55 RBIs. With the Winter Meetings now in motion, Shoppach knows that it's possible he'll be moved.

"Like I've always said, I'll do what they tell me to do," Shoppach told MLB.com. "One day in the big leagues is better than 100 days in the Minor Leagues. You keep your mouth shut, and you do the best you can."

With his wife, Jennifer, expecting their third daughter in January, Shoppach knows that more people than just him are affected if he's traded.

"I don't think I care so much about myself," he said. "The stress is more on my family. We're trying to make arrangements for where we're going to live in Cleveland, because you have to start thinking about those things. It's tougher on my family than me, because I understand the business and how things can change at a moment's notice."

Reed Johnson gives Cubs options in outfield: As the Chicago Cubs enter the Winter Meetings, many have speculated that they'd like to add an outfielder. While that may be true, general manager Jim Hendry says that doesn't mean there isn't a spot for Reed Johnson in the outfield.

"When I look at Reed, I don't say, 'Hey, that's our part-time center fielder,'" Hendry told MLB.com. "I look at Reed Johnson as a guy on a lot of clubs who could play all three spots. He gives us great possibilities, as far as an additional player we could add."

Greene plans on improvement: Khalil Greene, who was traded from San Diego to St. Louis last week, thinks the Cardinals will be rewarded by his performance in 2009.

"I know I'm capable of performing next year better than I have, and it's not just last year, but better than every year," Greene told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There are always things you can do to improve."

Meek dazzles in winter ball: Evan Meek, who was acquired by the Pirates in the 2007 Rule 5 draft, posted a 2.93 ERA and struck out 14 in 15 1/3 innings in the Mexican Pacific League.

"The kid has been throwing bullets all winter," Pirates Latin American scouting director Rene Gayo told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "And it's not just the velocity. He's pitching the daylights out of the ball. He's got it all going on."

Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington has definitely taken notice of Meek's performance.

"Evan threw the ball well the remainder of season and again this winter in Mexico," Huntington said. "If he continues to have a productive offseason, shows quality stuff with control in Spring Training, he could very easily position himself to make our bullpen."

-- Red Line Editorial