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Eric Cooper, MLB umpire for 21 years, dies at 52

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Major League umpire Eric Cooper has died at the age of 52, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred announced in a statement on Sunday.

“This is a very sad day across Major League Baseball,” Manfred said in the statement. “Eric Cooper was a highly respected umpire, a hard worker on the field and a popular member of our staff. He also served as a key voice of the MLB Umpires Association on important issues in our game. Eric was a consistent presence in the Postseason throughout his career, including in this year’s Division Series between the Yankees and the Twins. He was known for his professionalism and his enthusiasm, including for our international events.

“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Eric’s family, friends and all of his fellow Major League Umpires. We will honor Eric’s memory during the World Series. Eric will be missed by the entire Baseball family.”

Cooper, a major league umpire for 21 years including this season, most recently worked the ALDS between the Yankees and Twins earlier this month. He joined the Major Leagues in 1999 after a minor league career that began in 1990.

The Iowa native worked behind the plate for three no-hitters in his career: both of White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle’s and one by Red Sox pitcher Hideo Nomo. He also worked the 2014 World Series, where he was behind the plate for Game 2 between the Royals and Giants.

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Sources — Yankees say Jacoby Ellsbury got unauthorized medical treatment

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The New York Yankees intend to not pay Jacoby Ellsbury the remaining $26 million due under his contract, contending he violated the deal by receiving unauthorized medical treatment, sources confirmed to ESPN’s Buster Olney on Friday.

According to multiple reports, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman sent a letter to Ellsbury and his agent, Scott Boras, informing them the team had converted his contract to a nonguaranteed deal.

The Yankees said Ellsbury, who has not played since 2017 due to myriad injuries, was treated by Dr. Viktor Bouquette of Progressive Medical Center in Atlanta without the team’s permission, according to multiple reports.

The New York Post first reported that the Yankees didn’t intend to pay Ellsbury, who had two years remaining on his $153 million, seven-year contract when he was released Wednesday.

Ellsbury and The MLB Players’ Association can file a grievance challenging the conversion of the contract to nonguaranteed.

Ellsbury is owed $26,285,714 by the Yankees in one of their biggest free-agent mistakes: $21,142,857 for next season plus a $5 million buyout of a $21 million team option for 2021. If Ellsbury is not paid, that amount would come off the Yankees’ luxury-tax payroll next year.

He was released Wednesday to clear a 40-man roster spot as the Yankees added seven players to protect them from next month’s Rule 5 draft.

Now 36, Ellsbury hit .264 with 39 homers, 198 RBIs and 102 stolen bases in 520 games over four seasons with the Yankees. He spent his first seven seasons with the Boston Red Sox and was an All-Star in 2011, and he arrived in New York with a .297 career average, 65 homers, 314 RBIs and 241 steals for Boston.

Ellsbury injured an oblique muscle in his right side early during spring training in 2018, developed a bad back and had hip surgery Aug. 6 to repair a torn labrum in his left hip. He experienced plantar fasciitis in his right foot during his rehab program before spring training this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Where does Jacoby Ellsbury rank among MLB’s worst big-money free-agent signings ever?

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Midway through the 2019 season, a member of the New York Yankees organization assessed the laundry list of injured players, providing updates on rehabilitation schedules, the latest baseball activities for those ailing, and possible timelines for their respective returns to the lineup.

When I brought up Jacoby Ellsbury, the response was an incredulous stare.

As in: Really? There was no expectation he would play this year, and in the end, Ellsbury didn’t play much for the Yankees over the course of his seven-year, $153 million contract before his release this week. Ellsbury competed in 520 games over four seasons. He did not play in any games for the Yankees in 2018 or 2019 and won’t in 2020, the last year of the contract.

He scored 273 runs, hit 39 homers, stole 102 bases and generated 8.1 fWAR in his time with the Yankees. Mike Trout and Alex Bregman had more fWAR than that in 2019 alone.

That value deficit is why Ellsbury’s deal will go down as one of the worst big-money contracts in baseball history. Using a Fangraphs search tool, Sarah Langs of MLB.com pegged the Ellsbury contract value at $63 million, so what the Yankees got in return was almost $100 million less in value. (According to the New York Post, the Yankees are filing a grievance to recoup some of the Ellsbury contract.)

What follows are some of the least productive free-agent contracts we’ve seen in baseball, among deals of at least $50 million.

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Jose Abreu agrees to 3-year, $50 million contract with White Sox

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The Chicago White Sox have agreed to a three-year, $50 million contract with Jose Abreu, the team announced Friday.

Abreu, who made his third All-Star team in six seasons with the White Sox, led the American League with 123 RBIs in 2019 while batting .284 with 33 home runs.

“This is a dream come true for me and my family,” Abreu said in a release by the team. “To the fans, I told you I would come back. I never doubted it. Everybody knows the group of talented players that we have, and I want to help guide them and together make the Chicago White Sox a championship team.”

The first baseman/designated hitter, who will turn 33 in January, showed he can still catch up to fastballs as he ranked among the leaders in overall exit velocity, but he struggled with breaking pitches and rarely walks.

Abreu signed a one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer last week, choosing to forgo free agency before agreeing to the new contract with the White Sox.

In an interview after the season, he told the team’s website: “I always look at [Derek] Jeter’s story and I look at Mariano [Rivera]’s story, who played their whole career with one team. I haven’t been here that many years, but I want it to be that way for me, with the Chicago White Sox. That’s why I say if they don’t sign me, I’ll sign myself. I’ll play for free.”

Under the new deal, Abreu will receive a $5 million signing bonus, $11 million in 2020, $16 million in 2021 and $18 million in 2022, with $4 million deferred. Abreu also has a full no-trade clause in 2020 and a limited one in 2021, according to a copy of the agreement obtained by ESPN.

Abreu’s signing is the second big move of the offseason for the White Sox, who announced Thursday that they had agreed to terms on a four-year, $73 million contract with All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal.

ESPN’s Jeff Passan contributed to this report.

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