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While MLB goes young, here’s why the Giants are doubling down on players in their 30s

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Editor’s note: This story originally ran on Feb. 23, 2018.

The San Francisco Giants sold out 530 straight games before their streak ended in July, and they feel obliged to put a competitive product on the field for all those die-hard ticket holders by the bay. Even in rough years, the Giants are committed to staying the course rather than selling off big-name assets, punting on contention and pacifying the fan base with prospects and sumptuous garlic fries at AT&T Park.

That approach failed to yield positive results in 2017, when the Giants finished last in the National League West for the first time since 2007. But the players who form the nucleus of the lineup and the heartbeat of the clubhouse are grateful for the opportunity to stay together and have a crack at redemption.

“I’m very happy to be a part of an organization that is doing that,” catcher Buster Posey said. “I thought about it when the Rays [designated] Corey Dickerson [for assignment] after he hit 27 homers. I’m glad I didn’t get drafted by the Rays.”

Posey, Hunter Pence, Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt will all be 30 or older this season, and they have dealt with the inevitable speculation about a lost step here or declining bat speed there.

Rather than bringing in an injection of youth to change the mix, the Giants are doubling down on the whole “veteran presence” narrative this spring.

San Francisco’s two big offseason acquisitions provided hope and consolation for veteran players who feel unwanted in the current climate. Shortly before Christmas, the Giants acquired third baseman Evan Longoria from Tampa Bay for outfielder Denard Span, infielder Christian Arroyo and minor league pitchers Matt Krook and Stephen Woods. In January, they added Andrew McCutchen from Pittsburgh for pitcher Kyle Crick, minor league outfielder Bryan Reynolds and $500,000 in international bonus pool money.

As a tandem, Longoria and McCutchen have a combined eight All-Star appearances, a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP award, five Silver Sluggers and four Gold Gloves on their résumés. At 32 and 31, respectively, they’re also older than Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and some other players who caused such a frenzy on the winter trade market.

Both have been through some trying times of late, though. Longoria’s .737 OPS last season was the second lowest of his 10 seasons with Tampa Bay. McCutchen overcame a slow start to log a .279/.363/.486 slash line for the Pirates last season but only after enduring a series of indignities. He has been moved out of center field and into right because of declining defensive metrics, and he spent a chunk of his final season in Pittsburgh fending off trade rumors and whispers that his skills had eroded.

McCutchen and Longoria have found a welcoming environment in San Francisco against a tough offseason backdrop as dozens of free agents — the vast majority of them 30 and older — have had to scramble for minor league deals or are still unemployed.

“I think it’s our job as a group here to go out and prove the value of the veteran player,” Longoria said. “There are a lot of teams, for whatever reason, who are doing themselves a disservice not signing these guys. It’s kind of a shame there are teams consciously making an effort not to improve — whether it’s monetarily or because of controllability or they don’t want to sign guys because of age. There are a lot of obvious fits for the free agents out there, and teams aren’t going after them.”

The Giants had an average age of 29.6 last season — fourth highest in baseball behind the Blue Jays, Angels and Mariners — and that number could increase with the addition of Longoria, McCutchen, Austin Jackson, Gregor Blanco and Tony Watson. San Francisco added five 30-and-older players at a time when agents and players have expressed concern that midlevel veterans in particular are being squeezed by the CBA and the impact of sabermetrics and changing baseball economics.

“I was reading some comments from commissioner [Adam] Silver during the NBA All-Star Game about players coming in younger and putting pressure on older, veteran guys,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said. “There are only so many jobs available, and some of that is at work here. Because we’ve had a tremendous influx of young talent into our game, some of it is related to analytics. But baseball is such a team game, I think there’s always going to be a place for that veteran player who gives you things in the clubhouse that you can’t quantify by analytics.”

Many MLB executives have privately expressed skepticism about the staying power of older players now that baseball has tried to eliminate performance-enhancing drugs and amphetamines through stronger testing. Giants’ executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean regards that viewpoint as overly simplistic.

“If you look at somebody’s résumé and track record, if you’re an above-average or good or great player at a young age — and you’re athletic and in the right place at the right time on teams that help you get the best out of your game — you’re probably going to age in a better fashion,” Sabean said.

“I don’t think the industry gives itself enough credit with the initiatives we’ve taken with sports science, rest and recovery, nutrition, offseason conditioning, in-season conditioning, the new off days built into the schedule and the new ways to travel that are more elite and more first class. You would think we would have the ingenuity of continuing to get more and more out of that player who’s getting into X age.”

Longoria showed he still has plenty left in the tank in 2016, when he hit 36 homers and slugged .521 in 160 games, but he slid statistically last season. Some talent evaluators think he’ll benefit from getting off the Tropicana Field turf and having the luxury of blending in as a supporting player on a Giants roster that features Posey and Madison Bumgarner as the main attractions. One veteran scout theorized that Longoria, a California native, will be energized by a return to the West Coast and the nightly sellouts at AT&T after years of playing before meager crowds in St. Petersburg, Florida.

“I think it’s our job as a group here to go out and prove the value of the veteran player. There are a lot of teams, for whatever reason, who are doing themselves a disservice not signing these guys. It’s kind of a shame there are teams consciously making an effort not to improve — whether it’s monetarily, or because of controllability, or they don’t want to sign guys because of age.”

Evan Longoria

Longoria is looking forward to visiting three big league parks — in San Francisco, San Diego and Atlanta — where he has yet to play a game. He also has to bone up on a slightly different style of play and the roster machinations he’ll encounter in the National League.

“It’s something I’ll have to get used to, but it’s still baseball,” Longoria said. “We still play three outs and nine innings and there are a lot of similarities. The 7-8-9 spots are usually structured a lot differently, and there are a lot more bunts. I’ve been confused over double-switches in the past when we played an interleague game. I was like, ‘Where is this guy going? I don’t know what they’re doing.’ But that’s pretty easy to get used to.”

While Longoria is owed a guaranteed $86 million through 2022, McCutchen has economic motivation to perform well this year. Barring a contract extension with the Giants, he’ll hit the free-agent market next winter at age 32.

The NL West will be formidable this season, with the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies all coming off postseason appearances and the Padres fortified by the addition of Eric Hosmer. As the Giants address their challenges on the field, they’ll try to restore some organizational pride and strike a blow for players on the wrong side of a trend.

“Do I think teams are discounting the value of early-30-year-olds? Yes, I do,” Posey said. “We have kind of an important team here to show the value of it. I think if you’re a good baseball player and you dedicate yourself to the game, you still have plenty of value. There shouldn’t be guys out there begging for offers who are 31, 32 or 33 years old.”

Not too long ago on the other side of the bay, the Oakland A’s made a splash by zigging when other organizations zagged and spawning the concept of Moneyball. Have the Giants found a new market inefficiency to exploit? The results in San Francisco this summer might help provide the answer.

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How Dodgers phenom Gavin Lux wants to make a difference in Kenosha

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Gavin Lux is only 22 years old, still technically navigating through his rookie season. He’s trying to figure out his swing, trying to learn the pitching in Major League Baseball, trying to live up to the lofty expectations of being a highly rated prospect and trying to carve out a role on a Los Angeles Dodgers team that stands among the most talented in recent memory.

Lately, though, Lux has found himself consumed by his hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin, a lakeside community of around 100,000 people that has become embroiled in the racial tension that has risen across the nation over the last four months.

Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot seven times in the back by a white police officer with his three children in the car on Aug. 23, sparking several nights of protests that escalated into violence and led to the shooting death of two demonstrators.

Lux has spent a lot of these past few weeks thinking about his family and friends back home, particularly his brother-in-law, a cousin of Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon, and his nephew, both of whom are Black.

It helped spur him into action.

“I can’t look at my nephew in the eye and say, ‘Hey man, I didn’t fight for you,'” Lux said. “Naw, I can’t do that.”

Lux has been in touch with business owners and community leaders to gather intel on the best ways to help. The details are still hazy, but he has vowed to be proactive. He wants to set up a fundraiser for the businesses that have been impacted, and he wants to get back into the community as soon as the Dodgers’ postseason run is over. The hope is to put together some sort of charitable event, perhaps a softball game or a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, to raise money and help bring the community back together.

“I feel like anybody can just write a check,” Lux said, “but this is where I grew up.”

Gordon is also from Kenosha. So is Minnesota Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes and social media influencer Tristan Jass. Lux is hoping to recruit all three in an effort to slowly pick up the pieces. Before a recent game against the Colorado Rockies, Lux spoke to ESPN about the dynamics of his hometown and the challenges it faces. (This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.)

How quickly did you realize you needed to do something?

Lux: It took a couple of days just to sit and talk to some family members and some friends and some other people in the community that were affected. I was like, “Man, there’s gotta be something I could do to use my platform to be able to help.”

What were you hearing from your friends and family members about what it was like over there during that time?

Lux: It was a crazy time. A lot of different people were affected, businesswise, a lot of families were affected. They just said a lot of the city was struggling and that it was definitely just a completely different vibe from what it usually was. The community, for me, feels like it’s a tight-knit community. It’s not a super small city, but everybody kind of knows everybody, it feels like. Just to see everybody go through it a little bit, it kind of hurt me.

You’ve spent the vast majority of your life immersed in being a baseball player, and so much of your mindset has been set on what it’s going to take to get to the major leagues and stay there. Had you gotten to a point where you thought far enough ahead about how you would ultimately use your platform, or did this event trigger that for the first time?

Lux: It’s always in the back of my mind, but for it to hit so close to home, it caused a trigger where I was like, “Man, I do have a little bit of a platform, I can help. How can I help? What is the best way to help?” Those were kind of the thoughts that went through my head. Having it happen in my hometown definitely triggered it. But you see guys on our team like [Justin Turner] and [Clayton Kershaw] doing so many good things in the community, Mookie [Betts]. Pretty much everybody on our team is doing something good. Just being around those guys and seeing what they’re doing — it rubs off on me where it makes you want to help people and do good. That’s how it happens, you know?

How would you describe what it was like to grow up in Kenosha?

Lux: Everyone supports each other, and it really does feel like a tight-knit community. It’s right next to the water, you’re always going to the beach in the summer, stuff like that. I love the city. People might have the wrong [impression] about it, but it’s a really good city. And to grow up there, I feel lucky.

This can be difficult to pick up on while you’re still growing up, but did you ever consider it to be a racially divided city?

Lux: No, I don’t think so. Honestly I don’t. I don’t know if what happened triggered that. But I honestly don’t think it is. I really don’t. You see these protests and you see people doing these gatherings and stuff like that, and there’s people from all different walks of life. To say it’s racially divided — I don’t think it’s accurate at all.

What was Aug. 26 like for you? Your hometown NBA team [the Milwaukee Bucks] decides to boycott a playoff game, and then later that night you’re in the clubhouse in San Francisco where your teammates ultimately decide not to play against the Giants.

Lux: I support our whole team, obviously. I support equality and all that. For me it was emotional. Kenosha was affected, obviously. And if you have conversations with your teammates and other African-American people, you really understand what is going on. People just have to have these conversations to understand what is going on. To hear from some of my teammates and other people — I’m all in. I support the hell out of whatever we’re gonna do here.

Mookie has been very proactive in the fight against social injustice, and Kershaw has gone out of his way to educate himself on the topic. What have you learned about the Black Lives Matter movement while sharing a clubhouse with them?

Lux: You gotta put yourself in a guy like Mookie’s shoes and really understand what he’s saying and his real-life experiences. Not just Mookie, either. There’s a lot of other people, other family members and friends that I’ve talked to. You have to try to put yourself in their shoes and realize what’s going on and try to get an understanding. I keep saying this, but you just have to have these conversations. They might not be the most comfortable conversations ever, but to understand, you have to have them.

What have your conversations with your brother-in-law and your nephew been like in recent weeks?

Lux: Pretty emotional, actually. These are people that I really care about and love, and hearing them get emotional about it, it really hits home. It’s emotional. I want to see my nephew grow up and have the same opportunities that other people do.

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MLB Sunday Spotlight – Will Twins or Cubs last longer in playoffs?

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With the 2020 MLB season hitting the home stretch (already!), ESPN has a Sunday doubleheader with four teams hoping to make some noise in October. The Giants and A’s get things going at 4 p.m. ET, followed by Twins-Cubs at 7 p.m. ET.

To get you ready for the twin bill, we asked national baseball reporters David Schoenfield and Jesse Rogers some key questions about the teams.

The Oakland Athletics haven’t advanced in the playoffs since 2006. Will they break that slump this year?

Jesse Rogers: Not if they play the Cleveland Indians in the first round. The A’s starters are good but none give you that scare the Indians can throw at you. Cleveland has its own issues, which might show up in a longer series. But shutting down an offense for two games? That should be Cleveland’s specialty this postseason.

David Schoenfield: The good news is that after three straight losses in the wild-card game (2014, 2018, 2019) the A’s will at least get a best-of-three opportunity this time. The strength of the team is the bullpen, which isn’t the worst thing to have going for you in a short series. Manager Bob Melvin would have quick hooks for his starters and rely on his relievers. As of now, the A’s would actually play the Astros in the first round and they’ve gone 7-3 against Houston. Those games have been extremely low scoring, with the A’s averaging just 3.8 runs per game and Houston 2.5.

I’ll say A’s over Astros, but I’m with Jesse if they meet Cleveland, I’ll go with the Indians shutting an Oakland offense that will be without Matt Chapman and has seen Marcus Semien and Matt Olson fail to replicate their 2019 production.

How are the Chicago Cubs doing as well as they are with Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hitting around .200?

Rogers: Pitching. Just like the Indians, the Cubs have been fueled by the top end of their rotation as well as an improving bullpen. There isn’t a need to look deeper than Yu Darvish (Whose return to dominance I profiled here), Kyle Hendricks and ‘no-hit’ Alec Mills as a good part of the reason the Cubs are in first place despite some down years by their stars.

Schoenfield: The Cubs haven’t hit — but nobody has in the NL Central. Are they using balls left over from 2014 in that division or something? Entering the weekend, the Cubs actually rank 17th in the majors in wOBA, which isn’t great, but is still the best in the division. Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Jason Kipnis have helped to make the offense respectable and the pitching/defense entered the weekend allowing the second fewest runs per game in the NL, behind only the Dodgers.

Which of the two teams — the Twins or the Cubs — will last longer in the playoffs?

Schoenfield: Well, it looks like the Twins are pretty much locked in to face the Yankees in the first round, it’s just a matter of where that series will be played. The Twins, of course, are riding a seemingly impossible streak of 16 consecutive postseason defeats going back to the 2004 Division Series. Thirteen of those losses have come against the Yankees. You can’t really say the Yankees are in their heads because these have been different groups of Minnesota players, but it’s fair to venture that the Twins would probably rather face anybody else in the first round. When they met last season, the Twins’ rotation was on fumes because of injuries and they’re in better shape this year with Kenta Maeda having a terrific season. In fact, dare I suggest the Twins do this: Skip Maeda in Game 1 and use Randy Dobnak or a bullpen game against Gerrit Cole and then go Maeda in Game 2 and Jose Berrios in Game 3?

(So my answer is the Cubs will last longer.)

Rogers: Neither. They’ll both go out after the first round.

Schoenfield: Ahh, Jesse, you underrated the Cubs. The bottom of the NL is terrible. They’re going to play the Giants or Marlins or Reds or Phillies; I’ll take the Cubs over any of those teams, although Darvish’s postseason history is, umm, a pause for concern.

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Yankees tie franchise record with 12th straight win vs. Red Sox

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BOSTON — The New York YankeesBoston Red Sox rivalry is considered one of the greatest in all sports.

But in the past two years, it has certainly turned into a one-sided affair.

The Yankees pummeled the Red Sox 8-0 on Saturday night for their 12th consecutive victory over their AL East rivals, tying a franchise record. The Yankees have won 12 straight games vs. Boston and 17 of the last 18 games between the clubs since July 28, 2019.

“It’s probably a little bit fluky, a little aberration,” said manager Aaron Boone when addressing the franchise’s record-tying streak. “Obviously, [the Red Sox] haven’t quite been the same team this year with some of the guys they’ve lost and some of the guys in their pitching staff that they’ve lost due to injury.

“And this year I know we’ve played them at some times when we’ve been playing really well. We’ve stolen a couple wins from them, like late last night. Last year, we caught them at a good time at the end of the year. Look, it’s always fun beating those guys. We obviously respect who they are and all the great games we’ve had to play against them, but … enjoy it while it lasts.”

The Yankees’ current win streak against Boston is their longest since winning 12 straight from Aug. 16, 1952 to April 23, 1953. It’s only the third time in franchise history that the Yankees have won 12 straight games against the Red Sox (also May 27-Aug 23, 1936).

J.A. Happ, who worked eight scoreless innings to earn his second win of the season, said the Yankees were mindful of the winning streak and hoped to set a new record on Sunday when they play their last game of the season at Fenway Park.

“I know we have a good team and we’re playing well,” Happ said. “We are aware of that number [12 straight], excited to get out there tomorrow and try to take the nod [set the record] there. We recognized it tonight that we could tie it.”

“We’re focused on trying to put ourselves in a really good position for the playoffs, and winning [Sunday] would set the record — and that’s going to be really cool thing if we do,” added outfielder Clint Frazier, who went 3-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs.

The Yankees have now won a season-high 10 straight games, matching their longest winning streak since June 2012. During their current streak, the Bronx Bombers have hit 29 home runs and have outscored opponents 85-25.

At 31-21, the Yankees clinched their 28th consecutive winning record since 1993, the second-longest stretch in MLB history behind only their own streak of 39 straight winning seasons from 1926-64. The Yankees’ “magic number” to clinch a postseason berth currently stands at one.

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