Tagged in: MLB

Washington Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman ‘nowhere close’ to retirement after 2020 opt-out

Back with the Washington Nationals after sitting out last campaign because of COVID-19 concerns, Ryan Zimmerman said Thursday the time away made him realize he is nowhere close to being ready to retire at age 36.

“I missed the game a lot,” Zimmerman said during a video call. “I missed what it takes to prepare every day. As you get older, there’s more and more you have to do to get ready, but I missed all of that, as well.”

The two-time NL All-Star was one of the first players to opt out in 2020. The father of a newborn son, and the son of a mother with multiple sclerosis, Zimmerman decided the safest course of action would be to not play amid a pandemic. There were other factors he contemplated, including whether he would need to change his pregame and postgame routines.

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“Was it really worth it for me to risk injury to myself, the health of my family, at the time, for a season that was 60 games? Who knows if people really thought it was going to make it through? If people thought it was going to count as a real season?” Zimmerman stated.

“I don’t really second-guess or wish I would’ve played.”

Arriving in Florida this time around — he brought his wife and three children — raised new questions.

“You just didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know if I was going to be the weird guy wearing a mask in the grocery store,” Zimmerman said. “… I think a lot more people are more aware now — obviously of themselves, but I think of other people, as well.

Hopefully if anything positive can come out of this, maybe we’ll start caring about other people more, which would be nice. But as far as being down here now for two weeks, I feel a lot more confident than I did flying down here.”

Zimmerman, the first amateur draft pick in Nationals history in 2005, is expected to be the backup to free-agent addition Josh Bell at first base.

“He’s faced all the guys I’m going to face this year,” Bell said. “He knows all the umpires, he knows all the zones, he knows the division more than anyone else on this squad.”

Washington’s first exhibition match is Sunday versus St. Louis, and Zimmerman hopes to appear in more Grapefruit League games, but fewer innings. “He’s the face of this organization — and he will be for a long time. He really will be,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “To have him back here, have him in that clubhouse, talking to the young players, it’s awesome.”

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Trevor Bauer says he is ‘committed to being better’ in Los Angeles Dodgers introduction

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ landmark agreement with Trevor Bauer has been met with clear reservation, and in some instances disdain, by some of the team’s fans, none of which includes his projected on-field performance.

Bauer’s boundless social media activity includes instances that have prompted accusations of online bullying, two of which involved women who became subject to harassment by Bauer’s followers. He has made an anti-transgender joke — something he subsequently denied doing consciously — and has dismissed sensitivities around the Cleveland Indians’ logo, prompting questions about his fit within a liberal market and inside a tight-knit clubhouse that has become increasingly socially conscious.

Bauer, signed to a three-year, $102 million contract with opt-outs throughout, said Thursday that he is evolving.

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“All the conversations I’ve had with people across all walks of life over the last couple of years and all the things I’ve learned — I can say that I have learned from those,” Bauer stated after being presented with his No. 27 jersey during a virtual news conference from Dodger Stadium.

“I’ve spent a lot of time talking to other people to try to understand other perspectives, and I’m doing my best to be better, as I do in all walks of my life. I don’t think that it makes any sense to dive into specific issues in this forum, but I am committed to being better on social media, being better on the field, being better in the clubhouse, being better in life in general.”

Bauer said joining the Dodgers was “a long time coming” and recalled how he used to sit in the left-field bleachers listening to Vin Scully on the radio. Adding Bauer will push the Dodgers well past the 2021 luxury-tax threshold, but Friedman said it would not impact the team’s ability to re-sign Justin Turner or add another right-handed hitter.

The move marks only the second time that a reigning Cy Young Award winner has joined the reigning World Series champions, the other being Roger Clemens with the New York Yankees in 1999.

Bauer probably won’t fulfill his desire to pitch every fourth day, but he’ll join a starting rotation that is legitimately seven-deep, with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, David Price, Julio Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin.

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St. Louis Cardinals bring Yadier Molina back on 1-year deal

The St. Louis Cardinals are bringing back Yadier Molina for an 18th season, the team revealed Monday.

St. Louis agreed to a one-year deal with the catcher, a source told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, confirming multiple reports.

Molina is a rarity, having spent his entire career — 2,025 games — with the Cardinals. The only two players to play more games in a Cardinals uniform in franchise history are Hall of Famers Stan Musial (3,026) and Lou Brock (2,289).

Molina shared a video of his career highlight on Instagram on Monday and ended it with the words “I’m back.”

The nine-time All-Star played 42 of 60 games during the pandemic-shortened campaign, hitting .262 with four home runs and 16 RBIs.

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Molina also became the 12th catcher in major league history to join the 2,000-hit club, and his 2,001 hits currently rank fifth among all active players (and sixth in Cardinals franchise history). Behind the plate, Molina has been a steadying influence for the Cardinals’ pitching staff while also being credited with 170 defensive runs saved as a catcher since 2004.

He has caught 1,989 games, the most with a single franchise in major league history and No. 6 all time among all catchers.

“I think about [the Hall of Fame],” Molina told ESPN before last season. “When I started my career, I had to overcome a lot of obstacles. … All I’ve done is work hard to get better and better every single year to become the best catcher I can be. And my numbers are obviously there. I think that, because of the way I catch, that I’m one of the best catchers to have ever played in baseball.”

Molina, 38, tested positive for COVID-19 in August as the Cardinals were hit by an outbreak just three games into the 2020 season.

He was critical of the statistical-based process — without the usual input from managers or coaches — used to determine the Gold Glove finalists in 2020. The nine-time winner, which ranks third among catchers, had hoped to tie Hall of Famer Johnny Bench for second with 10.

Molina has been a key component to the Cardinals’ success over the years, having helped lead the team to four National League pennants and two World Series titles.

He has a career .281 average with 160 home runs, 932 RBIs, 66 stolen bases and has caught 350 of the would-be 869 baserunners trying to steal a base (40% success rate).

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St. Louis Cardinals officially acquire Nolan Arenado from Colorado Rockies

The St. Louis Cardinals completed their blockbuster trade to obtain All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado from the Colorado Rockies on Monday night.

St. Louis dealt left-hander Austin Gomber and four minor leaguers to the Rockies: infielders Elehuris Montero and Mateo Gil along with right-handers Tony Locey and Jake Sommers.

As part of the trade, Colorado will send cash to St. Louis to offset part of the money Arenado is due in his contract.

Arenado had been set to be paid $199 million over the remaining six seasons of a $260 million, eight-year contract. As part of his agreement to waive a no-trade provision, Arenado agreed to add a season to his deal, which now extends for seven seasons through 2027.

His deal had given him the right to opt out and become a free agent after the 2021 season. His new contract gives him the right to opt out and become a free agent after either the 2022 or 2023 season.

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“Many have heard me say that one of the great things about baseball is that you always have a chance to get better,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said in a statement. “Today we got better! A deal of this nature, acquiring a player of Nolan’s considerable talents, are the ones that can set you apart in many ways.”

The 29-year-old Arenado has hit .293 with an .890 OPS over eight seasons, averaging 35 home runs and 114 RBIs per 162 games. Aided in part by hitter-friendly Coors Field, he has led the National League in home runs three times and topped the majors in RBIs twice.

The Cardinals concluded second in the NL Central last season and lost a first-round playoff matchup versus the San Diego Padres.

Arenado will bump Matt Carpenter out of his role as the starting third baseman and play in an infield with All-Stars Paul DeJong at shortstop and Paul Goldschmidt at first base.

Arenado slumped during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, hitting .253 with eight home runs and a .738 OPS over 48 games before going on the injured list Sept. 21 with a bruised left shoulder. He earned $12,962,963 in prorated pay and won his eighth consecutive Gold Glove. Arenado led the majors with 15 defensive runs saved.

St. Louis brings back much of the same team that made last year’s postseason, including veteran pitcher Adam Wainwright, who finalized an $8 million, one-year deal Friday.

Wainwright is returning for his 17th season with St. Louis, matching Bob Gibson (1959-75) for the second-most seasons with the Cardinals among pitchers, one behind Jesse Haines (1920-37).

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Corey Kluber excited to join Yanks

Limited to one inning in two years, Corey Kluber considers his ability will show with the New York Yankees.

“I consider myself to be healthy at this point. I’m not rehabbing anything or tending to any issues with anything lingering or anything like that,” the right-hander said Thursday, a day after finalizing an $11 million, one-year contract. “I’m basically at a normal stage of my offseason right now.”

Kluber completed his contract on the day AL batting champion DJ LeMahieu finalized a $90 million, six-year contract to remain in pinstripes.

“It’s no secret that I wanted to be back with the Yankees, I wanted to be back in New York. It was frustrating at times because it took so long,” the relieved second baseman said. “I just think the whole free-agent market in general was just slow.”

A three-time All-Star who turns 35 on April 10, Kluber joins a new-look rotation that contains returnees Gerrit Cole, Deivi García and Jordan Montgomery along with Jameson Taillon, who was acquired from Pittsburgh last weekend after missing most of the past two seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

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Kluber won the 2014 and 2017 AL Cy Young Awards with Cleveland, going 56-20 over the 2016-18 seasons. He was hit on the right forearm on May 1, 2019, by a comebacker off the bat of Miami’s Brian Anderson and concluded 2-3 with a 5.80 ERA in seven starts, then was traded to Texas. Kluber tore a muscle in his right shoulder in his Rangers debut on July 26, ending his season after one inning. The injury healed without surgery.

“That was extremely frustrating time for me, but I don’t think I ever got down on myself,” Kluber said. “I think that it’s probably more of overcoming the mental aspect of it as opposed to physical … getting out of that rehab mindset where you’re trying to work through things or feel for things.”

A three-time All-Star who is 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA in 10 seasons, Kluber has worked with Eric Cressey, who started last year as New York’s director of player health and performance.

With age, Kluber has been prepared to make variations to his preparation.

“The biggest thing with those adjustments is listening to my body when something is telling you something, you got to listen to it,” he stated. “I think that there are times when you have to be smart and probably not try to have that mentality just to push through, push through, push through. I think that there’s times when you’re going to get in a little more treatment or maybe back off.”

He already has prepared for reporting to the Yankees by shaving his beard to comply with a team rule.

“It feels a little bit naked but I’m getting used to it,” Kluber said.

He is one of a few additions to the Yankees, who traded reliever Adam Ottavino to Boston and have a pending $2.5 million agreement with Darren O’Day, a bullpen switch that helps them remain below the $210 million luxury tax threshold.

In addition, Luis Severino is expected to return at some point this season from Tommy John surgery last Feb. 27 and Domingo Germán is expected back from a domestic violence suspension that caused him to miss last season.

New York said goodbye to Masahiro Tanaka, who revealed Thursday he had agreed to a two-year contract to return to Japan with the Pacific League’s Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

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Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays reach agreement on 1-year, $18M deal

Infielder Marcus Semien is in agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays on a one-year, $18 million contract, a source familiar with the deal told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Semien will become the second star and fourth free agent added by the Blue Jays during a slow offseason amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Toronto gave outfielder George Springer a $150 million, six-year deal. Toronto also agreed to one-year contracts with right-handers Kirby Yates ($5.5 million) and Tyler Chatwood ($3 million) and re-signed left-hander Robbie Ray to an $8 million, one-year contract.

Coming off a career year in 2019, Semien struggled in 2020 while dealing with a rib injury, as the shortstop hit just .223 with 7 home runs, 28 runs, 23 RBIs and 4 stolen bases for the Oakland Athletics. His production was down largely due to his strikeouts being up, as he fanned on 21.2% of his plate appearances.

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It was a different story for Semien in 2019, when he concluded third in AL MVP voting after posting personal bests with 33 home runs, 92 RBIs and a .285 batting average while playing in all 162 matches. His WAR (8.9) was third in the majors that season, and he parlayed that into a one-year, $13 million deal — more than double his contract after earning $5.9 million in 2018. He earned $4,814,815 in prorated pay for 2020.

Semien was tied for 190th among batters in WAR in 2020, with 0.5. Even with the decline in 2020, he is one of just six hitters to account for at least 9.0 WAR in the past two seasons combined.

Semien’s 151 runs scored since the start of the 2019 season rank second among all American League players, and his 100 extra-base hits rank fifth.

In eight MLB campaigns, Semien, who is above average when it comes to base running, has a .254 batting average with 115 home runs, 380 RBIs, 467 runs scored and 66 stolen bases — but with 731 strikeouts in 3,266 at-bats — for the Chicago White Sox and A’s.

Toronto went 32-28 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, concluding third in the AL East behind the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees and qualifying for the expanded postseason despite behind forced to play home matches in Buffalo, New York, due to Canadian government restrictions on travel. The Blue Jays were swept in two games by the AL champion Rays in a first-round series.

Toronto has an emerging young core and is adding major contracts, while younger players such as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have relatively low salaries because they remain shy of eligibility for arbitration.

It is not clear where the Blue Jays will play home games when the 2021 season starts.

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Jameson Taillon excited to join Yankees, reunite with Gerrit Cole

As Jameson Taillon’s trade from Pittsburgh to the New York Yankees started to sink in, he thought about reuniting with former roommate Gerrit Cole.

“Every night you get a five-star cooked meal,” Taillon stated. “Even if he’s cooking for himself, he’s going to marinate whatever he’s cooking properly. He’s going to do everything with the perfect execution. He’s going to have a perfect wine pairing for it.”

Taillon, recuperating from his second Tommy John surgery, was acquired Sunday for four prospects. He joins a revamped rotation headed by Cole and projected to include Deivi García, Jordan Montgomery and Corey Kluber, who’s pending $11 million, one-year deal is expected to be finalized this week.

A 29-year-old right-hander, Taillon has not pitched since May 1, 2019. In addition to the elbow operations with New York Mets medical director Dr. David Altchek on April 9, 2014, and on Aug. 13, 2019, he also had procedures for a sports hernia on July 8, 2015, and for testicular cancer on May 8, 2017.

He was hit on the head by a 105 mph line drive off the bat of Milwaukee’s Hernán Pérez on July 19, 2016, and stayed in the game.

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“When you’re going through it, it doesn’t seem like as much as it sounds. That sounds crazy. But each injury is separate. Each experience is separate,” he said.

Taillon felt he didn’t fulfill the confidence Pittsburgh showed when he was selected with the second overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft.

He was disappointed the Pirates blew up a group that came through the minors together and admitted “seeing all my good friends get traded in Pittsburgh and to see the direction we were headed … didn’t necessarily light a fire” and he thought a trade “was necessary.”

“I’m jumping into a legendary franchise, a legendary organization,” he said. “I overnight went from a rebuilding organization to a team like the Yankees where I’m stepping in and the only thing they care about is to win. So that’s kind of lit a fire under me.”

When he awoke from his last operation, he decided he needed to relieve pressure on his elbow, putting more work on his legs and shortening his arm motion. He reworked his mechanics with Ben Fairchild, a sports performance manager in Houston who has assisted Andy Pettitte, Mark Melancon, and Anthony Rendon; Pirates director of sports performance A.J. Patrick; Pirates pitching coach Oscar Marin; Pirates bullpen coach Justin Meccage and the Florida Baseball Ranch in Lakeland.

He started throwing bullpen sessions last July and got up to about three innings of batting practice. Taillon thinks his fastball velocity is about 95 mph, where it was before the latest injury, and he gained deception. Taillon plans to leave heavily on his four-seam fastball, alternating curveballs and sliders along with occasional changeups.

Taillon was inspired watching former Pirates teammate Daniel Hudson overcome two Tommy John operations and strike out Houston’s Michael Brantley for the final out of the 2019 World Series for Washington. Taillon looks forward to getting the big league playoffs for the first time with the Yankees.

“New York’s one of those organizations where it’s all about winning. From what I’ve heard, nothing else matters in that clubhouse,” he said.

“It’s a group of guys trying to make each other better, trying to push for October. And I mean, seriously, ever since I got the news that the Yankees are where I was headed, I can’t stop thinking about that. I’ve heard Yankee Stadium in October is just absolutely incredible.”

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Utilityman Daniel Robertson agrees to one-year deal with Milwaukee Brewers worth $900,000

Utilityman Daniel Robertson has agreed to a $900,000, one-year contract with the Milwaukee Brewers that allows him to earn an additional $400,000 in performance bonuses.

Robertson batted .333 with no homers and two RBI in 17 games with the San Francisco Giants last season while making appearances at shortstop, second base, third base and the outfield.

His contract was purchased from Tampa Bay on Aug. 23, and he had $157,808 in prorated earnings during the shortened season. “I feel like the game’s kind of evolving that way,” Robertson stated Thursday.

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“Organizations like to carry a couple of guys that are kind of that Swiss Army knife, who can do a bunch of things. I feel like five years ago, maybe a little bit longer, you had that one kind of guy, that (Ben) Zobrist kind of guy. The game’s evolving and there’s more guys that are putting themselves in that kind of situation or position.”

Robertson, who turns 27 on March 22, had spent the past three seasons with Tampa Bay and had played at least 74 games in each of them.

The Oakland Athletics drafted him in the first round with the 34th overall pick in 2012.

He has a career batting average of .234 with 16 homers and 74 RBI in 249 games. He has a .342 on-base percentage and .354 slugging percentage.

Robertson has made 109 career appearances at second base, 81 at third base and 74 at shortstop. “I would say if any position is my most natural and just instinctual, I love playing third,” Robertson stated.

“But obviously I really have put a lot of work in to play the other two positions and still enjoy those other opportunities as well. I’m just going to keep working, show up to spring ready for any position and just kind of see what happens.”

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Boston Red Sox to be cautious with Chris Sale’s rehab from Tommy John surgery

Chris Sale is under contract for four more years with the Boston Red Sox — plus an option for 2025 — and with the team hoping that he can contribute throughout the length of the contract, the pace for his return from Tommy John surgery is expected to be deliberate, according to sources.

Sale had the elbow reconstruction on March 30, his 31st birthday, and typically pitchers require 12 to 15 months to recuperate from that procedure. There was speculation in December that within that timeline, Sale might be back sooner rather than later — which would fit the pitcher’s aggressive personality.

But Sale is about to embark on Year 2 of his five-year, $145 million deal that was finalized early in the 2019 season, and so both the team and the pitcher have reason to take a long view on his recovery.

The bulk of the left-hander’s production for the Red Sox will happen in the last three years of the deal, and while sources say the team would love for Sale to come back and be a factor at some point in 2021, the Red Sox are apt to take a conservative approach.

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The New York Mets and pitcher Noah Syndergaard, however, are taking a more forceful approach. Though Syndergaard also had his Tommy John surgery in late March, both he and the Mets want to push the timeline on recovery.

Syndergaard will be eligible for free agency in the fall and stands to immediately benefit from a productive season, and the team, in control of Syndergaard for only 2021 before he hits the open market, could use some return on investment from a homegrown player making $9.7 million this year.

The Red Sox acquired Sale in a trade with the White Sox during the 2016-17 offseason, and in the three regular seasons that followed, he made 84 starts and generated a 3.08 ERA, with 763 strikeouts in 519⅔ innings.

Arm trouble forced him to the disabled list late in the 2018 season, but he wound up finishing Boston’s championship-clinching victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers, spinning hard sliders.

After battling more physical problems in 2019, Sale tried to come back in spring training of 2020 before breaking down once and for all.

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Free agent Corey Kluber to throw bullpen session for interested teams next week

Free agent Corey Kluber, the two-time Cy Young Award winner who has been derailed by injuries over the past two years, is on calendar for a normal spring training and will throw for interested suitors next week.

Kluber will conduct a 30-pitch bullpen on the morning of Jan. 13 at Cressey Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where the 34-year-old right-hander has spent half his offseason, his agent, B.B. Abbott of Jet Sports Management, told ESPN on Monday.

Kluber established himself among the game’s most dominant starting pitchers while with the Cleveland Indians from 2014 to 2018, winning 83 games, posting a 2.85 ERA and averaging 218 innings per season.

But he suffered a fractured ulna bone in his right arm on a comebacker in early May 2019, then strained his oblique as he neared a return in late August.

The Texas Rangers traded for him four months later, then watched him suffer a season-ending strain of his teres major muscle — near his right shoulder — 18 pitches into his Rangers debut on July 26, 2020.

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The Rangers declined their $18 million option on Kluber’s contract near the end of October.

Kluber was cleared to resume throwing shortly thereafter and has since thrown three bullpen sessions, Abbott said. He is expected to throw off the mound once more and receive a final MRI within the next nine days.

Kluber’s showcase comes amid a slow-moving offseason, particularly for pitchers.

Of the 30 starters who made up Kiley McDaniel’s top 120 free agents in early December, only seven have committed to teams for 2021 — two of whom did so by taking the qualifying offer.

In a time when teams are especially concerned about pitcher workloads coming off a shortened season and owners are hesitant to spend with another season without fans in attendance, Kluber can provide an established track record at a discount rate.

The risk, however, is obvious — Kluber has accumulated only 36⅔ innings over the past two years.

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