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SAN DIEGO — Theo Epstein remembered when he first met Kevin Towers, as a 21-year-old intern working in the San Diego Padres‘ public relations department. Towers was the new general manager.

“I was just out of college,” said Epstein, the Chicago Cubs‘ president of baseball operations. “I was just a nobody, a faceless kid trying to be invisible and not get in the way. But there was never such a thing as a nobody to Kevin Towers — he just wasn’t wired that way.”

Baseball executives and managers left spring training to gather at San Diego’s Petco Park on Sunday and celebrate the life of Towers, who died from complications of a rare form of thyroid cancer on Jan. 30 at the age of 56.

Hall of Famers Trevor Hoffman and Tony La Russa were in the audience, along with Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black and San Francisco Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, both Padres managers under Towers. New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson also were on hand.

Kirk Gibson, who managed Arizona to the 2011 NL West title when Towers was the Diamondbacks’ GM, was among the speakers.

“He looked at players differently,” Gibson said. “When we won, we won with scrappy players. I’m just grateful I got to spend time with Kevin Towers. He meant so much to me and my family.”

A Padres draft pick in 1982, Towers was San Diego’s general manager from 1995 to 2009 and Arizona’s GM from September 2010 until September 2014.

“There are few people that can have a moment like this,” said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, who replaced Towers as the Padres’ GM. “People came from far and wide to be here.”

Towers led the Padres to four NL West titles and the 1998 NL pennant.

“I took over for him, and he always treated me so well,” Hoyer said. “We would meet for beers or talk on the phone, and it was always with KT wanting to help me do a better job. That doesn’t always happen, and with me being a first-time GM, I just always appreciated that he treated me the way he did.”

Former St. Louis and Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty hired Towers as a special assistant in 2015, what turned out to be Towers’ final baseball job.

“The first time I met Kevin was in 1995 at the GM meetings, and I’m sure it was at the bar,” Jocketty said. “And from that time on, our relationship and friendship grew. He was one of the guys that always brought all the GMs together. Kevin loved life and lived it to the fullest. He suffered a lot in the last two years, but he always stayed positive and fought a brave fight. There will never be another KT.”

Epstein went on to become the GM who in 2004 helped Boston win its first World Series title since 1918 and in 2016 directed the Cubs to their first championship since 1908.

“He was my friend, my boss and my mentor,” Epstein said. “He didn’t care if you were the president of the team, an intern or a backup beat writer for a newspaper — he treated you like you want to be treated. That was KT. It didn’t matter who you were or who you weren’t. He treated you with love and respect. And if he liked you, you were lucky enough to be dragged into his orbit, and then you were in for the ride of your life.”

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Baltimore Orioles reach one-year deal with recovering Trey Mancini

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BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Orioles agreed to a one-year deal with recovering slugger Trey Mancini on Friday but haven’t come to terms yet with outfielder Anthony Santander.

The Orioles and Santander exchanged salary arbitration figures Friday, with Baltimore offering $2.1 million and Santander asking for $2,475,000. The sides can still settle on a number until an arbitrator hears the case and makes a ruling next month.

Mancini missed the entire 2020 season while recovering from stage 3 colon cancer. He signed on deadline day last January for $4.75 million and was preparing for another solid season before being diagnosed with cancer. The first baseman/outfielder was voted team MVP in 2019 after batting .291 with 35 home runs and 97 RBIs.

Mancini, 28, has been working out this offseason and expects to play a full season this year on a team in the midst of a significant rebuild. Before being sidelined, he averaged 28 homers over his three full seasons and remains one of Baltimore’s most potent offensive threats.

Santander is arbitration-eligible for the first time, and the timing works well for the budding outfielder. Although limited to 37 games in 2020 because of injuries, he hit 11 homers and 13 doubles in only 153 at-bats and drove in 32 runs. He received around $550,000 in 2020 and should receive a significant raise in 2021.

His breakout season came in 2019, when he batted .261 with 20 homers and 59 RBIs in 93 games.

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Cardinals, ace Jack Flaherty still without deal, swap arbitration figures

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ST. LOUIS — – The St. Louis Cardinals and ace Jack Flaherty have not agreed to terms on a 2021 contract and they swapped figures for salary arbitration Friday.

The 25-year-old Flaherty asked for $3.9 million and the team offered $3 million. The sides can come to an agreement until an arbitrator hears their case and makes a decision next month. If left to the arbitrator, the ruling will go entirely to one side or the other — no settling in the middle.

After finishing fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2019, Flaherty went 4-3 with a 4.91 ERA over nine starts during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He made one postseason start, pitching one-run ball over six innings in a 4-0 loss to San Diego in the deciding Game 3 of their first-round series.

Flaherty was set to make $604,000 last year and ended up with $223,889 in prorated pay.

This is Flaherty’s first season eligible for arbitration, and he’s not eligible for free agency until after the 2023 season.

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New York Yankees roll dice on Corey Kluber

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Timing is everything, in sports as well as life. If the timing is right between Corey Kluber and the New York Yankees, with whom the longtime ace was finalizing a one-year, $11 million deal late Friday, it will be good news for the pitcher in the long term — and perhaps even better for the team in the short term.

Speaking of timing, in the larger context of this winter’s free-agent market, the timing of Kluber’s free agency reveals an irony when you consider the similar status of former Cleveland teammate Trevor Bauer. Kluber is nearly five years older than Bauer, but for five full seasons (2014 to 2018), Kluber was the most dominant starting pitcher in the American League, leading the circuit in wins (83) and WAR (31.7), according to Baseball-Reference. He won two Cy Young Awards and finished third in the balloting two other times.

In each of those seasons, he was better than Bauer, with the debatable exception of Bauer’s breakout season in 2018, when both star righties ranked among the American League’s top Cy Young candidates. Yet here we are, two seasons later, and it’s Bauer, not Kluber, who is the most coveted pitcher on the market. It was Kluber, not Bauer, who had to audition for teams, throwing a reported 30 pitches before scouts and other interested parties earlier this week at a gathering at which as many as 25 teams were represented.

If anything, that should help light a fuse under Kluber. So, too, will the short duration of his new contract, which is in part a result of his own preference, according to the Newark Star-Ledger, as he hopes to set himself up for a bigger payday next year. That has to be A-OK for the Yankees, who have acquired a pitcher who has thrown just 36⅔ innings over the past two seasons. In 2020, which represents the whole of Kluber’s career with the Texas Rangers, he threw 18 pitches, or 12 fewer than he threw at his showcase earlier this week.

For Kluber, the deal is a chance to prove his outstanding career has a promising second act in the works. For the Yankees, it’s a low-risk, high-upside deal for a hurler who only recently was among the elite of the elite but whose recent string of injuries renders a multiyear splurge as just too risky.

So what kind of Klubot did the Bombers just acquire?

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