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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Evan Longoria is in his first season as a San Francisco Giant after 10 years in a Tampa Bay Rays uniform, but he still follows his old organization from a new league and the opposite coast. He’s giving a thumbs-down to one particular roster move this spring.

The Rays made a surprising decision Saturday when they designated outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment during a flurry of transactions. Longoria, who took his spring training physical on Sunday at Scottsdale Stadium, pronounced himself baffled by the decision.

“It’s kind of a shame,” Longoria said. “I don’t understand it. The guy was an All-Star last year. He’s in his early prime. He’s still controllable. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. Corey will end up somewhere and continue to be the player that he is. But I kind of just feel bad for the Rays’ fan base.

“And I feel bad for the guys this year who were probably counting on Corey to put up numbers to help the team win. I’m not going to take too many shots. But I think it’s pretty obvious that the guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFA’d.”

The Rays saved about $10 million from their projected 2018 million payroll with three transactions Saturday. They traded starter Jake Odorizzi, who will make $6.3 million this year and is eligible for free agency after the 2019 season, to the Minnesota Twins for minor league shortstop Jermaine Palacios, and they realized additional savings by acquiring first baseman/DH C.J. Cron from the Los Angeles Angels for a player to be named and designating Dickerson.

The Rays have seven days to trade or release Dickerson. By making the move now, they’re obligated to pay about $1 million of his $5.95 million salary for 2018.

“It’s obviously not a common move to do something like this, but we’ve had enough conversations that we felt this was the best way to get things resolved for him and for us,” Rays general manager Erik Neander told the Tampa-St. Petersburg media on Saturday. “With the conversations that are ongoing with Dickerson, we felt this was the best way to go.”

Cron will make only $2.3 million this season and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2021. Dickerson, in contrast, will be a free agent in 2020. Cron brings some right-handed balance to a Tampa Bay lineup that had a surplus of left-handed bats.

Dickerson, 28, tailed off in the second half last season after making his first All-Star team. He has a .280/.325/.504 slash line in 2,102 MLB plate appearances, and he ranked fourth on the Tampa Bay roster with 2.6 WAR in 2017.

The Rays acquired Dickerson from the Colorado Rockies as part of a four-player trade in January 2016.

Longoria, who left Tampa Bay for San Francisco in a five-player trade in December, wondered about the message the Rays’ decision to part with Dickerson might have on the team’s players as well as the fan base.

“It’s really hard to come into a clubhouse and expect to win when you give away your best players,” Longoria said. “Corey was our best player last year. He was better than me. Logan Morrison hit 38 home runs, but overall, Corey was our best player.

“He has two or three years of MLB service time, and his numbers have been great. I don’t know how you just let the guy go. He can only continue to improve, in my opinion.”

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We’ll be ready to host spring training, delay or no delay

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After sending a letter to Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred that suggested delaying spring training “to allow for the COVID-19 situation to improve here,” Cactus League executive director Bridget Binsbacher told ESPN on Monday that the 10 Phoenix-area facilities that host teams will be ready to open if games start as scheduled.

“If it is determined that spring training is going to start on Feb. 27, we’re prepared for that,” Binsbacher told ESPN in an interview. “Our focus is having a safe, secure experience for all involved. We believe we can do that on the 27th. We believe we can do that a month from the 27th.”

Binsbacher’s letter, which was co-signed by six mayors, two city managers and a president of a tribal community, cited the Phoenix area’s high COVID-19 infection rate and a model that “projects a sharp decline in infections in Arizona by mid-March.” Fifteen teams are scheduled to arrive in Arizona around mid-February, with games slated to begin Feb. 27. The Cactus League has no authority to change the schedule.

The letter comes as MLB and the MLB Players Association attempt to juggle a series of issues, including the viability of starting games on time, in a continuation of their strained relationship that manifested itself last season with Manfred’s implementation of a 60-game schedule. The union is insistent on playing a full 162-game season this year and continues to chafe at the notion of anything less.

In a statement, the MLBPA said: “While we, of course, share the goals of a safe spring training and regular season, MLB has repeatedly assured us that it has instructed its teams to be prepared for an on-time start to spring training and the regular season.”

The league, in a statement, said: “As we have previously said publicly, we will continue to consult with public health authorities, medical experts and the players association whether any schedule modifications to the announced start of spring training and the championship season should be made in light of the current COVID-19 environment to ensure the safety of the players, coaches, umpires, MLB employees and other gameday personnel in a sport that plays every day.”

Binsbacher said the Cactus League had worked with spring-training facilities, other local sports and MLB since September — and that MLB did not specifically request the letter. The concern from officials expressed in it goes against the actions taken by sports franchises and others in the Phoenix area. The Arizona Coyotes and San Jose Sharks are playing regular-season NHL games in Glendale, the Phoenix Suns are having regular-season NBA games downtown, and high schools across the area are participating in all sports.

One issue with baseball, Binsbacher said, is the influx of tourists — six in 10 who attend spring-training games are from out of state, she said — and the packed schedule teams play. “The big difference here,” she said, “is we’ve got 32 to 36 days straight of spring training.”

Further, Binsbacher said, the likelihood of the COVID spike in Arizona abating is greater with every day delayed. Arizona leads the United States in COVID case rate and death rate, a position it has held for most of January. The state is averaging nearly twice as many cases per 100,000 people than the average in the United States.

“We know that there’s a vaccine and that it’s going to have been administered,” Binsbacher said. “The projections say that the cases will plummet by mid-March. That makes it absolutely more manageable to do this with every additional day.”

A December executive order by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey limited the number of people at a public event to 50 “unless the city, town or county in unincorporated areas has determined that adequate safety precautions which are consistent with the guidance issued by both the CDC and ADHS for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 are documented as part of the request.” If the mayors or other leaders insist spring training will not come to Phoenix, it could scuttle the Cactus League — though sources doubt they have the political will to do so, particularly as other sports are held in the area.

The Grapefruit League in Florida, meanwhile, saw its first ballpark, Roger Dean Stadium, start ticket sales Monday for St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins games in February and March.

Any spring training delay could theoretically have an effect on the regular season — something the MLBPA is treating as a nonstarter and MLB understands would cause regular-season games to move into October and postseason games to November. Already the discussions between the union and league about potential playoff expansion and the implementation of the universal designated hitter have gone nowhere. The MLBPA, sources said, rejected and didn’t counter an MLB proposal to expand the playoffs this year to 14 teams, fearful that a diluted playoff system would disincentivize teams from spending in free agency.

With the current collective-bargaining agreement set to expire in December, the relationship between the sides has remained frosty. Whether the letter is simply much ado about nothing or the first salvo in the latest fight between the two remains to be seen.

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MLB to hold first pre-draft combine from June 20-28 in Cary, North Carolina

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Major League Baseball will hold its first-ever pre-draft combine June 20-28 in Cary, North Carolina, at the USA Baseball National Training Complex.

The group of invited players will be chosen in consultation with MLB scouts, and the event will include a tournament involving 88 of those players through the 26th, to give scouts in-game looks of the players in addition to combine testing. There will also be medical, educational and various performance assessments happening at the event.

It will be a unique information-collecting opportunity for teams, timed in the leadup to the 2021 MLB draft, which is July 11-13 in Atlanta around the All-Star Game festivities. The draft will be at least 20 rounds.

This year will also see the return of MLB’s PDP (prospect development pipeline) event for 2022-eligible draft prospects on July 22 through Aug. 1, also to be held in Cary. The event was skipped in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic and will return to being one of the key early-summer events for 2022 prospects, taking place just after the 2021 draft has concluded.

Both the pre-draft combine and PDP events are voluntary and free of charge for participants.

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Jameson Taillon excited to join Yankees, reunite with Gerrit Cole

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NEW YORK — Jameson Taillon‘s trade from Pittsburgh to the New York Yankees started to soak in, and he thought about reuniting with former roommate Gerrit Cole.

“Every night you get a five-star cooked meal,” Taillon said. “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, whose 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 operations 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.

“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.

“I hate seeing videos of the way I used to throw. It disgusts me,” he said. “I kind of had like a coming-to-grips moment where I said, you know what, my current set of mechanics and what I’m doing isn’t working. That’s just the cold, hard truth. I need to change something or else my career is going to be over. So I stripped it all the way down. With rehab, all you have this time. I had 12, 15, 16 months to strip it down and kind of revamp my mechanics and revamp my career.”

Taillon was inspired watching former Pirates teammate Daniel Hudson overcame 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 reaching 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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