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TAMPA, Fla. — Giancarlo Stanton said it best the other day: These six weeks in spring training are about getting ready for the real entertainment — the 162 games that begin on March 29.

But spring training is entertaining as well! You should go! Take a vacation, quit your job, drop out of school, bring your dog, do whatever it takes. In particular, get down to George Steinbrenner Field. The Yankees have a new manager, a new slugger and some exciting young kids fighting for jobs. Before you start sweating those Gary Sanchez mound visits in the regular season, there is must-see action taking place in Florida as the Yankees kick off their spring schedule Friday against the Tigers.

Here’s what the Bronx Bombers have going on in the Grapefruit League:

Stanton and Aaron Judge taking their first cuts

It all starts with these sultans of swat. Stanton hit 59 home runs last year with the Marlins, while Judge hit 52 as a rookie. Can they challenge the record for home runs by teammates? Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle combined for 115 home runs in 1961 with the Yankees. That might seem like a possibility, but the over/under betting line in Vegas is only 87½, suggesting it’s a long shot to get to 115. Remember, the only players to hit 50-plus home runs in consecutive seasons are Babe Ruth, Ken Griffey Jr. and three players tainted by performance-enhancing-drug allegations — Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez.

Take the over. Even if spring home runs don’t count.

Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar fighting to make the Opening Day roster

We love rookies! Torres is Keith Law’s No. 5 prospect and Andujar is No. 54. While the trade for Brandon Drury makes it less likely the Yankees open with both rookies in the infield — GM Brian Cashman indicated the primary intent is to play Drury at third base — it should make for some intriguing competition.

“I think they’re both going to be tremendous players,” manager Aaron Boone said Tuesday. “I love who they are. You can tell they enjoy being on the baseball field. You can tell they’re confident in their ability, the way they move around, yet there’s a humility about them.”

Torres is healthy after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow last summer. While he said he feels “like a little kid with a new toy,” he has also played just 55 games above Class-A and last played on June 17. There could be some rust, so some time in Triple-A wouldn’t be a surprise, even aside from the issue of keeping him in the minors for service-time reasons.

“Performance matters to a degree, but it’s a super small sample size … so I feel like if either one of those guys were to make our Opening Day roster, it would be clear in our eyes and probably somewhat of a consensus that there’s no denying these guys belong on the club,” Boone said.

The outfield defensive alignment playing out

OK, you want to watch Judge and Stanton hit, not play the field. But defense is important, too, and you can’t play two right fielders. Plus, they’re both good defenders, and not just in the proverbial “he moves really well for a guy that big” sense. Both ranked in the top five in the majors in defensive runs saved in 2017.

This much we know: While Stanton and Judge have both joked about playing center field — “You know, I’m primarily a center fielder,” Judge cracked, referring to his college days — Boone said that’s one thing we won’t see. What does pain Boone is moving one of them from right field. “I struggle with the fact that we’re taking any or both of them out of their comfort zone if we flirt with left field,” he said.

Boone has hinted that Brett Gardner, who played 151 games last season, might sit a little more often against lefties after hitting .209/.299/.291 against them last season. When Gardner doesn’t start or when Sanchez DHs, Judge or Stanton will have to play left. Best guess: Given Stanton’s history of injuries, he spends more time at DH than Judge, and when he plays the field, he goes to right field with Judge playing left.

Then there’s Jacoby Ellsbury, the fifth wheel in the four-man outfield/DH setup. Considering that Boone said “Aaron Hicks became a dude last year,” the implication seems to be that Hicks is the starting center fielder. So come watch Aaron Hicks be a dude.

Boone beginning to fill out the lineup card

Here’s the thing with spring lineups: Don’t pay too much attention to them, especially early on. We know Stanton thrived in the 2-hole with the Marlins in 2017, slugging .675 in 110 games batting second. Judge’s best numbers also came when he was hitting second. Boone said the plan is to have one hit second every game — we just don’t know which one.

“That’s one thing that’s a starting point for me,” Boone said. “Whether that’s Giancarlo or whether that’s Aaron, that remains to be seen. We’ll see how it shakes out. But obviously similar skill sets, the ability to get on base with the high power. I definitely like one of them in the 2-hole, most or all the time.”

Educated guess: Judge hits second, Stanton third and Sanchez cleanup. Judge had the higher on-base percentage and is the better baserunner, so if he’s going to draw 100-plus walks again, hitting in front of Stanton makes sense. But there’s no wrong decision here. It’s also possible Boone breaks up the three righties by hitting Greg Bird or Didi Gregorius cleanup.

Dellin Betances searching for the strike zone

This Yankees bullpen is illegal in 17 states, but Betances almost has to prove himself all over again this spring. The big right-hander made his fourth straight All-Star team, but he had trouble throwing strikes, with 44 walks in 59⅔ innings. Not only was he wild, but it was the lightest workload of his career. By the end of the 2017 season, he was so low on then-manager Joe Girardi’s pecking order that he pitched just one inning in the American League Championship Series. Betances admitted he entered last season in a bad frame of mind after losing his arbitration case (and hearing team president Randy Levine call him a “victim” in a scheme to get non-closers paid more than fair market value).

Still, Betances is a dominant presence and had the sixth-highest strikeout rate among relievers. For his career, he has averaged 14.4 K’s per nine innings, and batters hit just .141 off him in 2017. Of course they hit only .141! A 6-foot-8 monster throwing 99 mph who didn’t always know where the ball was going. So come to Steinbrenner Field to see whether Betances is earning his way into Boone’s trust.

The next generation of Yankees starters climbing the mound

The rotation is pretty much set — Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery in some order — but nobody makes it through a season with five starters, so spring training will be an opportunity for some of the young starters to make an impression. Chad Green will be stretched out as a starter, but his best role remains as a multi-inning weapon, so that leaves a young wave of potential starters: Chance Adams, Luis Cessa, Domingo German, Domingo Acevedo and Justus Sheffield. That could be the Triple-A rotation — one better than, say, the Miami Marlins will run out there.

Sheffield was having none of that idea. “I want to pitch in the Bronx,” he told me. Sheffield is a baseball rat, a kid who Tim Naehring, the team’s VP of baseball operations, said has the “it” factor. Sheffield is a lefty with a three-pitch arsenal and fastball touching 96 in the Arizona Fall League. He pitched in Double-A last year and could be in the majors quickly when his command improves.

Boone’s managerial style taking shape

As Boone has constantly stressed, spring is about getting individual players ready for the regular season. We already know he’s going to be much more personable than Girardi and make a stronger connection to the players — that’s why he was hired in the first place. He’s going to rely on and trust his coaching staff. The real test will come when the real games start and a player is unhappy about his playing time, or when Boone uses a certain reliever instead of another and gets criticized for that decision. Until then, everybody is happy and ready to play some ball.

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Sources — Boston Red Sox, Enrique Hernandez agree to 2-year, $14 million deal

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The Boston Red Sox have agreed to a two-year, $14 million deal with Enrique Hernandez, sources confirmed to ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Friday.

Hernandez, originally acquired from the Miami Marlins as part of a seven-player trade in December of 2014, was a key cog for the Los Angeles Dodgers over these last six years because of his infectious energy, defensive versatility and production against left-handed pitching.

Hernandez, 29, is a career .240/.313/.425 hitter, making him slightly below league average, but can provide premium defense as a middle infielder and in the outfield. From 2016 to 2020, Hernandez compiled 5.7 FanGraphs wins above replacement.

One of his greatest highlights with the Dodgers came in October, when he hit the game-tying home run in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.

MLB Network was first to report the deal.

ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez contributed to this report.

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Davey Johnson hospitalized with COVID-19, former New York Mets spokesman says

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Former New York Mets manager Davey Johnson is in a Florida hospital with COVID-19, according to former Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz.

Horwitz said he spoke with Johnson briefly on Friday.

Johnson, 77, was a four-time All-Star second baseman and managed the Mets to their most recent World Series title in 1986.

He played for Baltimore (1965-72), Atlanta (1973-75), Yomiuri (1976), Philadelphia (1977-78) and the Chicago Cubs (1978), winning a World Series title in 1970 and making the final out of the Orioles’ 1969 Series loss to the Mets. He hit .261 with 136 homers and 609 RBIs, getting picked for All-Star teams from 1968 to ’70 and again in 1973.

Johnson managed the Mets (1985-90), Cincinnati (1993-95), Baltimore (1996-97), the Los Angeles Dodgers (1999-2000) and Washington (2011-13), leading his teams to a 1,372-1,071 record and six first-place finishes. He also managed the U.S. to a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics and fourth place at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.



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Hank Aaron was one of the five best MLB players ever

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So much of Henry Aaron’s baseball legacy is attached to three numbers — 715, 755 and whatever Barry Bonds’ career home run total ended up at — that we too often overlook his all-around brilliance on the field. Put it this way: If you turned his 755 home runs into outs, he still finished with more than 3,000 hits. Or another way: He played 23 major league seasons and was a 25-time All-Star (there were multiple All-Star Games early in Aaron’s career).

Even though he is widely regarded as one of the top five players in MLB history, Aaron has remained underrated among the all-time greats. He played most of his career in the shadow of Willie Mays, his contemporary who was the more visually breathtaking player thanks to Mays’ defense in center field. Many still consider Babe Ruth the greatest right fielder. So Aaron ranks merely as the second-best player of his generation and the second-best right fielder of all time.

When experts and fans talk about the best hitters in the game’s history, they usually talk about Ruth and Ted Williams and Bonds, or even singles hitters like Tony Gwynn, before Aaron’s name comes up. No player, however, played with such sustained, consistent excellence for so long as Aaron.

Showing up every day isn’t glamorous, but it’s one way you topple Ruth and hit 755 home runs. As a rookie with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954, Henry Aaron fractured his ankle in early September, ending his season at 122 games. Maybe he wasn’t quite Cal Ripken as an Ironman, but Aaron didn’t miss many more games after that. From 1955 to 1968, he played 2,157 out of a possible 2,214 games, missing an average of just 4.1 games per season. In 1969 and 1970, then 35 and 36 years old, he fell all the way down to 147 and 150 games.

Along the way, he never had even a single bad season. His only MVP award came in 1957, but Aaron finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting 13 times during an era in which the National League was packed with future Hall of Famers vying for the award and finished in the top three in three different decades. Here’s one way to look at his high level of play for nearly two decades:

Most 6-WAR seasons
Aaron 16
Bonds 16
Mays 15
Ruth 14
Tris Speaker 14

Most 7-WAR seasons
Bonds 14
Aaron 13
Mays 13
Ruth 12
Lou Gehrig 11

Mays is right up there with Aaron, but even Mays faded in his late 30s. Mays’ last 30-homer season came at age 35 in 1966. From age 36 on, he hit 118 home runs. Aaron hit a career-high 47 home runs at age 37, and from age 36 on he hit 201 home runs.

That’s another testament to Aaron’s consistency. Forty-seven other players have hit at least 47 home runs in a season — 15 of them more than once — but Aaron is still second all-time in home runs. Since he finished his career in 1976, four players have hit more home runs through age 30 than Aaron. None of them could keep it going in their 30s:

Up to age 30
Alex Rodriguez: 464 HR, 85.0 WAR
Ken Griffey Jr.: 438 HR, 76.2 WAR
Albert Pujols: 408 HR, 81.4 WAR
Andruw Jones: 368 HR, 61.0 WAR
Henry Aaron: 366 HR, 80.7 WAR

After age 30
Rodriguez: 232 HR, 32.5 WAR
Griffey: 192 HR, 7.6 WAR
Pujols: 254 HR, 19.4 WAR
Jones: 66 HR, 1.7 WAR
Aaron: 389 HR, 62.4 WAR

In 1955, in his second season in the majors, at just 21 years old, Aaron hit .314 with 27 homers, 105 runs and 106 RBIs, his first great season. In 1973, at 39 years old, he hit .301 with 40 home runs — in just 120 games. But Aaron wasn’t just a slugger. He finished with a .305 career average, hitting .300 14 times, even though many of his peak seasons came in the 1960s, in the most difficult hitting conditions since the dead-ball era. In an interview with MLB Network just last month, Aaron said the thing he was most proud of was that “I didn’t strike out.”

Indeed, he never struck out 100 times in a season and finished with more walks than strikeouts. Keep in mind that Ruth, playing in an era with far fewer strikeouts than even Aaron’s era, led his league five times in strikeouts. Ruth fanned in 12.5% of his plate appearances, Aaron in just 9.9% of his. Maybe that’s why Aaron was such a good clutch hitter and RBI guy. He hit .324 in his career with runners in scoring position, and in “late and close” situations when the game is most on the line, he hit .318/.407/.576 — better than his overall line of .305/.374/.555.

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Tim Kurkjian remembers the impact of Hank Aaron, which extended far beyond the baseball diamond.

Bonds might have passed Aaron on the home run list, but Aaron is still the all-time leader in RBIs and total bases. Using the unofficial list at Baseball-Reference.com (RBIs are considered official only since 1920), Aaron’s 2,297 outpace Ruth’s 2,214. Pujols stands at 2,100, but 2021 will likely be his last season.

Years ago, Aaron stepped into the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball booth. At one point, there was a runner on second base with no outs. Joe Morgan asked Aaron how often he tried to move the runner along to third — expecting, perhaps, Aaron to say he played the game the “right way” and hit the ball to the right side. Aaron let out a big, hearty laugh. “Never,” he said. “I always tried to knock the guy in.”

The total bases record might be even more unbreakable. Aaron has 6,856 — well ahead of Stan Musial’s 6,134. If another player came along and replicated Musial’s numbers, he would still need to hit 181 home runs to break Aaron’s record.

More tributes: Eternal connection to Black baseball | BBTN podcast

Aaron wasn’t just a dominant hitter, but also an outstanding fielder and baserunner. He won three Gold Gloves, and while fielding metrics from his era are informed estimates, Baseball-Reference rates him ninth among right fielders in runs saved at plus-98 for his career. He stole 240 bases with an excellent success rate, and when he hit 44 home runs and stole 31 bases in 1963, he became just the third player to go 30-30 in the same season (after Ken Williams and Mays). Joe Torre, his longtime teammate with the Braves, said he never saw Aaron make a mistake on the field. To top it off, while he appeared in just three postseasons (the 1957 and 1958 World Series and 1969 National League Championship Series), he hit .362/.405/.710 with six home runs in 17 games.

He’s fifth all-time among position players in career WAR:

Bonds: 162.8
Ruth: 162.1
Mays: 156.2
Ty Cobb: 151.0
Aaron: 143.1

You can add Ted Williams to the conversation (121.9 WAR despite missing several prime years due to World War II and the Korean War) — although Williams wasn’t the fielder or baserunner that Bonds, Mays and Aaron were. So, yeah, top five is accurate, probably ahead of Cobb once you make a timeline adjustment, and you can judge what you want to do with Bonds.

What about playing at the same time as Mays? OK. Sure. Mays’ greatness did seem to make Aaron a little underappreciated, even back in their playing days. Not everyone from that time necessarily agreed, however. Here’s a quote from Hall of Fame third baseman Pie Traynor in 1964: “I’ll take Hank Aaron any day over Mays. Give me a guy who’ll go out there and play every game, never get tired, doesn’t complain and won’t faint on you. … You don’t hear much about Hank, yet he’s just as good a fielder, runner and a steadier and better hitter.”

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