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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Chris Archer believes the Tampa Bay Rays are capable of having the best rotation in the major leagues.

“We have some very dynamic arms in this room,” the two-time AL All-Star said after reporting to spring training, where a bevy of young starters and prospects are competing for roles on a staff that will have a different look after losing Alex Cobb to free agency.

“I say this every year, because we always have a special organization when it comes to arms, but I’m willing to put it up against everybody in the league,” Archer added. “And in order for us to back it up, we have to produce. I think everybody in here is capable of doing that.”

Archer, 29; Jake Odorizzi, 28; Blake Snell, 25; Nathan Eovaldi, 28; Matt Andriese, 28; and Jake Faria, 24, are the leading candidates for the Rays’ five-man starting rotation entering camp.

That could change if Odorizzi, subject of trade speculation this winter, winds up being dealt to trim payroll.

Adding to the intrigue is the presence of promising prospects Brent Honeywell, Yonny Chirinos, Jose DeLeon and Ryan Yarbrough — long shots to make the Opening Day roster who nevertheless may get an opportunity to contribute this season.

Archer, 10-12 with a 4.07 ERA a year ago when he worked at least 200 innings for the third consecutive season, is excited about the possibilities.

“I know there are a lot of pitching staffs out there excited about what they have, but as far as our depth — one through seven, eight, nine, even 10 guys — we’re going to have three or four guys in Triple-A who could be starting in the big leagues somewhere for somebody,” Archer said.

“I’ll put it up against anybody’s,” the right-hander added. “And at the end of the season, we can look at the numbers and see how we all fared.”

With just five players 30 years or older — catcher Wilson Ramos, outfielder Denard Span and relievers Sergio Romo, Chaz Roe and Dan Jennings — on the 40-man roster, Tampa Bay has one of the youngest clubs in baseball.

The Rays enter 2018 with a streak of 560 consecutive games started by pitchers under 30, the longest such stretch in the majors.

Archer, an All-Star in 2015 and 2017, is eager to lead the way again.

“In order for us to be successful, we have to pitch at our top capabilities,” he reiterated.

“We don’t have to be anything more than what we are. But we have to produce, just like on the position-player side — offense, defense, everybody has to be clicking,” Archer added. “We talk about that every year, but pitching is our strong suit, and we need to take full advantage of it.”

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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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