BRADENTON, Fla. — For veteran free-agent infielder Chris Johnson, the warning signs started months ago, when not only was he without a team, but the phone calls just weren’t coming in.
“After you get past New Year’s and haven’t heard anything — not even a little interest — obviously you start to worry in the offseason. You’re like, ‘Man, is this it? Am I done? Am I not gonna be able to play anymore?'” Johnson said. “[When] you don’t hear anything, and people start talking about ’20 days until pitchers and catchers [report]’ and things like that, then obviously you start to panic a little bit.”
Johnson, 33, isn’t alone. Nearly one week since Grapefruit and Cactus league play began, almost a third of the offseason’s free agents in November are still without teams, which is why many of them are taking part in the Major League Baseball Players Association camp at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
It’s the union’s first spring training camp since the players’ strike in 1995. Former Houston Astros manager Bo Porter is leading the workouts.
Former Astros manager Bo Porter on coaching at the MLBPA free agent camp: “The thought process was, if we’re gonna do it, let’s do it the way spring training is supposed to be run.”
“I’m just asking for an opportunity, really. I’m not asking for a million bucks,” said Johnson, who spent last season on a minor league deal with the Baltimore Orioles. “I’m asking to play for the bare minimum and just have an opportunity to continue my career. And I’m hearing a lot of the same stuff here.”
A lot of theories have been tossed around as to why so many talented veteran free agents remain unsigned, including pitchers Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, first baseman Lucas Duda, third baseman Mike Moustakas and outfielders Jon Jay and Carlos Gonzalez. One theory many in Bradenton suggested is that there’s now too much of a reliance on metrics, versus intangibles like leadership.
“With the value of free agency and players that have major league experience — it’s something that you can’t quantify,” Porter said. “So when you look at bringing in veteran guys that have played the game at a high level and the guys that we have here — these guys’ careers aren’t over with. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit and getting them into camp and getting them an opportunity to continue to prove their value to the game.”
MLBPA union representative Tony Clark believes that to be true with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, 32, who won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2013 and is at the camp. Clark also acknowledged that having up to one-third of teams in full-on “rebuild mode” has also transformed the way the league is doing business.
“We have teams openly suggesting that they’re not as interested in winning today’s ballgame and they’re not as interested in being the last team standing. I did not anticipate being in that world,” Clark said. “So if that is the world we are going to be in, then there are going to need to be some conversations moving forward.”
Players at the camp all wear black MLBPA jerseys. Their schedules are structured the same as a big league camp, starting with drills and fundamentals at 7:30 a.m.
The original intent wasn’t to play any games, but the numbers of unsigned players continued to be high and the talent has been competitive enough to play some exhibition games, which are open to scouts, agents and the media. They’re not sure how long the camp will run, but the hope is that all these players will be gone and signed with teams soon.
Dave Gallagher spent nine years in the big leagues, playing outfield for eight different teams. He is a coach at the MLBPA camp and has raved about the players’ professionalism and attitude despite unfavorable circumstances — but he worries about what will happen when there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
“The one thing I see, and I can see it from talking to these guys, is that they start to lose hope,” Gallagher said. “And it’s a little bit humiliating. I’m sure some of them don’t understand it. To be honest with you, I don’t understand it.”
San Diego Padres acquire All-Star second baseman Adam Frazier from Pittsburgh Pirates, sources say
Frazier, 29, who leads baseball in hits this year, is not a free agent until after the 2022 season.
Pittsburgh is also sending approximately $1.4 million to the Padres in the deal, according to The Associated Press.
Frazier entered Sunday hitting .327 — the second-best average in Major League Baseball — with four home runs and 32 RBIs.
A 2020 Gold Glove finalist and an All-Star this season, Frazier was the Pirates’ second-longest tenured player, behind right fielder Gregory Polanco.
When asked about possibly being traded a week ago, Frazier said he wasn’t letting it distract him.
“It’s pretty cool to be recognized like that and have teams want you,” Frazier said. “It means a lot. It tells you you’re playing well, but I still have to worry about playing baseball.”
With his wife preparing to play for Olympic gold, Jake Reed claimed off waivers by Tampa Bay Rays
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Jake Reed switched teams while his wife was with the U.S. softball team at the Tokyo Olympics.
Reed, a right-hander with a submarine delivery, made his major league debut on July 6 and had a 3.38 ERA in five relief appearances and one start. He was designated for assignment on Wednesday by the Dodgers.
Janie Reed is the starting left fielder and No. 2 hitter on the U.S. team, which plays Japan for the softball gold medal on Tuesday.
Boston Red Sox end Domingo German’s no-hit bid in 8th inning, storm back to beat New York Yankees
BOSTON — Domingo German was simply dominating the Boston Red Sox. Never more so than in the seventh inning, when the New York Yankees right-hander struck out stars J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and rookie Jarren Duran.
As German walked off the mound then with a no-hitter intact and a solid lead, there was no way to envision what was on deck.
The old ballpark was almost silent all afternoon, until Verdugo opened the eighth with a long double for Boston’s first hit, and he raised his arms in celebration at second base.
“I felt like just getting that hit out of the way had everybody just take that big deep breath, didn’t have to worry about getting no-hit anymore,” Verdugo said. “That inning was crazy. From going no-hit to seven innings to putting five up in the eighth, that’s one of the craziest comebacks I’ve ever been a part of.”
With their major league-leading 32nd come-from-behind victory, the Red Sox reclaimed first place in the American League East, a game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays. It was the Red Sox’s 10th win in 13 games this year against their rivals, and it erased a tough 4-3 loss on Saturday, when New York scored four times in the eighth.
What a difference a few hits made. Before those, it was pretty glum in the Boston dugout, according to Red Sox manager Alex Cora.
“Not great, to be honest with you,” Cora said. “Whoever says, ‘We’re a hit away or a baserunner away from getting this going’ … I didn’t sense that. I sensed a lot of frustrated people. [German] was amazing.”
The Yankees, meanwhile, absorbed another brutal loss in a season full of them. They dropped three of four in the series and fell nine games behind Boston. The Yankees now have three losses this season when they’ve led by four or more runs in the eighth inning or later. That ties the most such defeats in a single season in franchise history, and it’s the first time they’ve had three such losses since 1993, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“Really tough one, obviously. Domingo was terrific,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s a tough one we’ve got to get past. Another extremely tough one.”
Boston trailed 4-0 when Verdugo doubled to deep right, and German was lifted after the hit by Boone.
“You know to pitch a no-hitter is one of the hardest things to do in baseball,” German said through an interpreter. “I knew I had a no-hitter going. I was executing pitches to try and be as careful as possible. Verdugo was able to connect there. I thought it was a good pitch.”
Jonathan Loaisiga (7-4) relieved, and Boston broke loose with four straight hits. Hunter Renfroe had an RBI double, Christian Vazquez singled home a run and Hernandez followed with an RBI double, cutting it to 4-3.
“It’s a bad day for me. It’s tough,” Loaisiga said through an interpreter. “It hurts because you had the starter pitching strong. You come into the game hoping to do your job and it doesn’t work out.”
German was trying for the first no-hitter by an opponent at Fenway since the Detroit Tigers‘ Jim Bunning in 1958, when he retired fellow future Hall of Famer Ted Williams on a fly for the final out.
Mixing his well-spotted fastball in the mid-90 mph range with a changeup and curveball, the 28-year-old German struck out 10 and walked just one.
With a 3-0 lead, he began the seventh by fanning Duran. Bogaerts also struck out, swinging at a passed ball that prolonged the inning. German struck out Devers and Martinez, with all four strikeouts coming on third-strike swings.
There have been seven no-hitters in the majors this year, one short of the big league record set in 1884, the first season that overhand pitching was allowed.
There were two near misses on Saturday night: Patrick Sandoval of the Los Angeles Angels got his bid broken up with one out in the ninth at the Minnesota Twins; and Framber Valdez and the Houston Astros‘ bullpen took a try into the eighth.
“It was a pretty special comeback,” Hernandez said.
Rougned Odor had a solo homer and an RBI single for New York. He popped up with a runner on second to end it.
Odor’s bloop, run-scoring single had made it 1-0 in the third.
Boston starter Martin Perez gave up three runs over six innings, striking out six and walking two.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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