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Yankees place Hicks on DL ponder outfield moves

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TORONTO — After just one game, the New York Yankees‘ once-crowded outfield became suddenly thin when the team was forced to place center fielder Aaron Hicks on the 10-day disabled list Friday.

The move had first-year manager Aaron Boone juggling his defense earlier into the new season than he anticipated.

All that juggling could lead to a short-term lineup that includes Aaron Judge playing center field and Giancarlo Stanton playing left. Both have predominantly played right field at the major league level.

“Stanton in left field is a possibility, and right field,” Boone said. “I think we might see him in both places the next two days.”

If all goes according to the Yankees’ now stepped-up plans regarding injured outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (oblique), by the end of next week, he could rejoin the team, putting an end at this stage to the outfield movement involving Stanton and Judge.

Ellsbury, who went on the 10-day DL retroactive to Monday, will be available to the Yankees at the earliest next Thursday when they host the Baltimore Orioles. He’s currently still at the team’s spring training facility in Tampa, Florida, appearing in minor league games as he attempts to work his way to about 55 spring training at-bats.

General manager Brian Cashman said he likely wouldn’t get those full 55 at this stage, given the lack of outfield depth.

“We’re not in a perfect world,” Cashman said. “So this will necessitate us taking him when he’s physically ready, but maybe not totally finished off.”

The hope is that Hicks would return from his right intercostal muscle strain (the muscle is part of the rib cage) a week from Sunday. An MRI revealed he had a grade 1 strain, the lowest classification of such an injury. The switch-hitting outfielder also said pain wasn’t an issue for him with this injury, unlike a similar oblique problem that cost him much of last season.

Hicks will now take three days off before resuming baseball activity with the goal of getting back in the lineup seven days after that.

His injury forced the Yankees to recall outfielder Billy McKinney from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. McKinney torched his way through big league spring training, tying for the team lead with five home runs and 13 RBIs.

McKinney wasted no time getting into the big club’s batting order in this latest stint. He is scheduled to make his major league debut Friday night, batting seventh and playing left field, as Brett Gardner moves over to center.

Gardner is the root of the Yankees’ thinking when it comes to possibly getting Judge some time in center field as Hicks heals.

“As I’ve told [Gardner], as I think I’ve told you guys, especially early, I don’t want to run him into the ground. I don’t want to wear him out,” Boone said to reporters. “We’re obviously in a situation of need right now. But we still have to look at it through that lens. I’ve got to protect him.”

At the start of spring training, it seemed the Yankees might have too many outfielders. But after Clint Frazier suffered a concussion in an early-spring training game at the end of February and Ellsbury sustained the oblique injury around the same time, that backlog took a couple of big hits.

If the Yankees get in truly dire straits, second baseman Tyler Wade also could get time in the outfield. Boone said that he will start getting practice work there, after spending all spring focusing on winning an infield job.

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Corey Kluber becomes free agent after Texas Rangers pass on $18M option

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers on Friday declined the $18 million contract option on right-hander Corey Kluber, who lasted just one inning in his only start before a shoulder injury ended his season.

Kluber gets a $1 million buyout, and the club has said it is interested in re-signing Kluber to a less expensive deal.

The Rangers acquired the two-time Cy Young Award winner from Cleveland last offseason in exchange for hard-throwing reliever Emmanuel Clase, who was suspended 80 games after testing positive for a banned performance-enhancing substance.

Kluber threw 18 pitches in his only inning for the Rangers, leaving with shoulder tightness in a 5-2 loss to Colorado in the third game of the season. The 34-year-old was diagnosed with a small tear in his shoulder muscle the next day.

It was Kluber’s first appearance with a team other than Cleveland, and his first start in almost 15 months after his right forearm was broken by a line drive in what ended up being his final start for the Indians on May 1, 2019. Kluber was close to returning later that season when an oblique injury sidelined him again.

Kluber’s five-year run as an Opening Day starter ended this past season. He was 98-58 with a 3.16 ERA for the Indians and pitched at least 200 innings five straight seasons before breaking his forearm.

The Rangers planned to have Lance Lynn, Mike Minor and Kluber as their top three starters this past season. Lynn is all that remains for now. Texas hung on to its best pitcher despite being out of contention at the trading deadline in the pandemic-shortened season. Minor was traded to Oakland for two minor leaguers.

Texas also assigned right-hander Luke Farrell to the minor leagues, and right-handed reliever Ian Gibaut was sent to Minnesota on a waiver claim.

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Major League Baseball cancels owners meetings, winter meetings due to COVID-19

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After shortening the 2020 Major League Baseball regular season, the COVID-19 pandemic is already impacting the offseason, as the league announced Friday the cancellation of both the owners meetings in November and the winter meetings in December. Instead, agendas will be conducted virtually as needed.

The cancellation of the winter meetings is a big blow to the sport because it’s the annual time for organizations — both on the major league and minor league side — to come together in one place. Job fairs, trade shows and award announcements are normal winter meetings events, along with trade talks. None will take place in person in 2020.

The general managers meetings, held in early November, had already been canceled. The owners meetings were scheduled for Nov. 17-19 in Arlington, Texas, while the winter meetings were to be held Dec. 7-10 in nearby Dallas.

Baseball has not announced any changes to the schedule for spring training, but it’s possible it won’t start on time, according to sources familiar with the situation.

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Milwaukee Brewers decline 2021 options on Jedd Gyorko, Eric Sogard, Ben Gamel

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MILWAUKEE — The Brewers have declined 2021 options on infielders Jedd Gyorko and Eric Sogard as well as outfielder Ben Gamel.

Gyorko and Sogard each had $4.5 million options and now instead become eligible for free agency. Gamel remains under team control after the Brewers declined a $2.55 million option on him.

The moves come one day after the Brewers declined a $15 million option on 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun, whose 352 career homers make him the franchise’s all-time leader in that category. Braun, who is due a $4 million buyout, said during the season he was contemplating retirement.

Gyorko, 32, batted .248 with nine homers and 17 RBIs in 43 games and 117 at-bats this season. His .838 OPS was the highest of any Brewers player with at least 60 at-bats. He played mostly against left-handers but became the Brewers’ primary first baseman by the end of the season.

Sogard, 34, hit .209 with one homer, 10 RBIs and a .560 OPS in 44 games. He had a .281 on-base percentage and .278 slugging percentage.

Gamel, 28, batted .237 with three homers, 10 RBIs and a .718 OPS in 40 games.

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