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Players react as MLB punishes Houston Astros for sign-stealing

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After MLB commissioner Rob Manfred handed out his historic punishments to the Houston Astros for his determination on Monday that they had stolen signs using a camera-based systems, players both active and retired from other teams chimed in with their thoughts about the suspensions and about cheating.

The punishments handed down — a $5 million fine, lost draft picks, and 2020 suspensions for both general manager Jeff Luhnow and field manager AJ Hinch, among other penalties — triggered more than reactions, but also harsh consequences. Both Luhnow and Hinch were fired by team owner Jim Crane as a consequence of MLB’s announcement.

Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger was particularly pointed in his reactions, pointing out what was at stake in particular:





Perhaps predictably, Trevor Bauer wasn’t shy about sharing his opinion, tweeting a reference to the popular Kermit the Frog sipping tea meme attached to Hinch’s past comments about cheating accusations:



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Minor League Baseball says player raises shouldn’t mean fewer teams

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NEW YORK — Minor League Baseball says planned salary raises for its players in 2021 paid by Major League Baseball should not lead to contraction, and it has sent a proposal to MLB as part of negotiations for a new agreement between the levels.

The commissioner’s office sent a memo, obtained by The Associated Press, to all 30 teams Friday announcing wage bumps for minor league players between 38% and 72%.

The raises come as MLB is negotiating with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body of the minors, to replace the Professional Baseball Agreement that expires after the 2020 seasons. MLB proposed cutting 42 of the 160 required affiliated teams during those talks, a plan criticized by minor league team owners, fans and politicians.

MiLB said in a statement Saturday it “fully supports MLB’s decision to raise the pay rates for players in affiliated Minor League Baseball” but added it “believes MLB can afford these salary increases without reducing the number of players by 25 percent.

“We have provided MLB with a specific proposal on how we can work together to ensure improvements to older facilities and reduce travel between series through limited realignment. We look forward to continued good faith negotiations with our colleagues at MLB and our principal goal remains to preserve Minor League Baseball in as many communities as possible.”

Minor league player salaries are paid entirely by MLB teams. Commissioner Rob Manfred said at the winter meetings in December that the league would like MiLB to share some of the costs associated with “player-related improvements.”

MLB has voiced frustration that bargaining stalled following that proposal and has urged the NAPBL to resume negotiations and “commit to working in good faith toward a better, more modern working agreement for our two leagues.” The sides are scheduled to meet next week.

Response from minor league players to news of the wage increases was largely positive. Concern remains that the raises — which will bring minimum salaries to between $4,800 and $14,000 per season, depending on the level — may not be enough to help players fully address issues around housing, nutrition and training hours sacrificed in the offseason as they take on other jobs.

Anxiety also remains that the raises could be a precursor to a reduction in affiliates.

“What does it mean for us? I’m not sure,” said Jeremy Wolf, a former minor league player who founded More Than Baseball prior to last season. His organization raises funds and provides other services for minor league players, including assistance with housing, equipment, food and post-baseball plans.

The group has also tried to provide some level of representation for minor league players, who are not eligible for the major league players’ union unless they are placed on a 40-man roster by a big league team.

“I do know that what we’re doing for the game is incredibly important,” Wolf told The Associated Press. “We’re showing that minor leaguers have value. That baseball has value. In the middle of all of the problems within baseball, we’re that bright spot bringing the game back to people and communities that love and want it to thrive.

“The owners are going to do what they’re going to do, but as long as we make sure players have a voice in all of this, we’re doing our job.”

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Angel’s Shohei Ohtani gets driver’s license for first time

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TEMPE, Ariz. — Shohei Ohtani doesn’t just drive the ball anymore.

The Los Angeles Angels‘ two-way star said he got his California driver’s license in the offseason, putting the 25-year-old behind the wheel of a car for the first time.

“I’m enjoying it,” Ohtani said through his interpreter Saturday after rolling up to the Angels’ spring training complex in his Tesla. “I was able to pass it the first time, so, not too much stress.”

Ohtani never got a license in his native Japan because the process is longer and more expensive, and he didn’t need to drive himself anywhere in Sapporo thanks to public transportation and his team. Since he joined the Angels in 2018 and moved to car-centric Southern California, he had been driven around by other people.

Ohtani said he thinks he’s a “pretty good” driver already, although he still hasn’t driven onto the Los Angeles area’s famous freeways by himself.

With his recovery from Tommy John surgery in its final stages, Ohtani has plenty of other work to do this spring as he prepares to return to the Angels’ rotation in mid-May.

Ohtani will be able to hit for the Halos from the opening game of spring, but manager Joe Maddon has said the team is ramping up his pitching work gradually in a bid to keep him fresh for the long season ahead.

Ohtani made 10 starts for the Angels during his AL Rookie of the Year season in 2018, going 4-2 with a 3.31 ERA and a 1.161 WHIP. Although he clearly demonstrated the tantalizing talent that made every team in baseball eager to land his services, Ohtani is taking nothing for granted as he prepares for his mound return.

“I still can’t say I’m fully confident, because I only pitched in 10 games,” Ohtani said. “A lot of the teams were facing me for the first time. I think in that case, the pitcher has the edge. So after I face the same team multiple times and still have good results, that’s probably when I’ll start building more confidence.”

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Red Sox won’t rush Chris Sale’s return from illness, Ron Roenicke says

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Boston Red Sox starter Chris Sale, still recovering from a case of the flu and pneumonia, continued to work with teammates Saturday at spring training. But interim manager Ron Roenicke made it clear Boston will not rush Sale’s progress, even if it means he misses Opening Day.

Roenicke told reporters in Fort Myers, Florida, that Sale, who missed the last six weeks of last year’s regular season with a left elbow injury, played catch on Saturday, stretching out his arm and that the thought is that he’s “progressing along fine.”

Sale has made the past two Opening Day starts for Boston.

“We’re going to still go a little bit easy with him,” Roenicke said. “He’s huge for our starting rotation, and he’s one of the best pitchers in the game. So whenever we can get him to start up, it would be silly for us to try to push him to come back sooner than probably he should physically.

“It’s not worth taking a risk on having him Opening Day exactly and where we’re pushing him to get him there. He’s important to us as we go through the season, and hopefully get into the playoffs, and keep him strong there.”

Sale, 30, like the Red Sox overall, struggled last season, finishing 6-11 with a 4.40 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 147 1/3 innings. He won his last two starts in August, over the Dodgers and Indians, before the club shut him down.

Boston, a year after winning the World Series, finished in third place in the American League East, at 84-78.

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