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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Mickey Callaway had his first big managerial decision Friday, and it came down way before the New York Mets‘ first pitch was delivered by starting pitcher Zack Wheeler.

A day before when the Mets announced their lineup for their Grapefruit League opener against the Atlanta Braves, prized first baseman Dominic Smith was scheduled to bat cleanup.

However, Callaway scratched Smith on the updated lineup card when the clubhouse opened on game day.

Right-handed slugger Peter Alonso was penciled in at first base, while lefty-swinging Smith was out.

“I didn’t even see the lineup when I left yesterday, so I didn’t even know,” Smith said in his first interview at his locker.

“It’s spring training. Everybody’s got to get work in and everybody needs ample amount of time to show the coaches what they can do.”

Smith, 22, initially said being taken out of the order wasn’t frustrating and that “it’s the first game, we have a lot more.”

That explanation changed dramatically a few minutes later after a trip to Callaway’s office as Smith met with the media for a second time.

“We had a little discussion. I know everybody’s wondering why I’m not in the lineup today. Yeah, I was late a little bit today,” Smith said.

He said he wasn’t that late but “late enough to be a problem.” He agreed he shouldn’t have cut it that close on time.

“I’m human. I apologized. That’s stuff that shouldn’t happen. It’s unacceptable in any locker room — no matter if it’s the Mets or wherever you play. That’s just something that won’t happen again,” the 2013 first-round draft pick promised.

“This is my job, my career, my livelihood. I feel like I definitely did let them down today.”

Smith hit .198 with 9 homers and 26 RBIs in 49 games for the Mets after being called up from Triple-A Las Vegas, where he hit .330 in 114 games.

With New York signing 35-year-old five-time All-Star Adrian Gonzalez last month, Smith finds himself battling the four-time Gold Glove Award winner for playing time and a roster spot.

Callaway wasn’t at all impressed by Smith’s tardiness.

“It’s a little shocking. He’s trying to win a job, and it’s unfortunate,” Callaway said.

The manager has repeatedly stressed the importance of accountability in his first camp with the Mets. He has said he holds his players to a high standard and they have to own up to their actions.

“We have expectations for guys, and if they don’t meet that expectation, then we have to hold them accountable. That’s why Dom wasn’t in the lineup today,” Callaway said after his club rallied for a 6-2 win over Atlanta.

The manager didn’t say whether or not Smith would start Saturday against St. Louis.

Smith understood the decision and thought it was just.

“He actually was pretty fair. He asked me what I thought the decision should be, and I agreed with him. That’s the only way it should be,” Smith said.

“He’s been preaching that since day one — accountability.”

Game notes
Third baseman Todd Frazier, who has a strong reputation as a clubhouse leader, said Smith would learn from his mistake: “He’s a young guy. He’s still trying to understand the game. Can’t really have that kind of stuff, though. You’d rather be overly early than five minutes late. You see he’s not playing today.” … Five students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School walked up to home plate with Mets captain David Wright to deliver the lineup card prior to New York’s game against Atlanta. The Parkland, Florida, school lost 14 students and three teachers in the Feb. 14 shooting. Mets players wore hats with SD logos in practice and during the game. The Mets will sign the caps and auction them off to support those affected by the tragedy at the Broward County school. … Wheeler allowed a leadoff single but recorded a pair of strikeouts in his one inning of scoreless work. “My goal is to go out there and get ahead of hitters, strike one, whatever it may be,” Wheeler said. The right-hander added Callaway told him a few days ago not to worry about his role on the pitching staff: “He said to try to go out and win a job. That’s my goal.” … Callaway had a lengthy discussion with plate umpire and fellow Memphis native Andy Fletcher early in the game. “He used to umpire my little league games when I was 10. I’ve known him for years and years and wanted to say hi.”

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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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