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Red Sox CEO says no notable progress in search; fans back Jason Varitek

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CEO Sam Kennedy said the Boston Red Sox haven’t made any notable progress in the search for a new manager as of late Friday but would like to have one in place for the start of spring training in mid-February.

“It’s got to be someone who fits the culture of this team and has a knowledge of what it’s going to take to put a championship team on the field in 2020,” Kennedy said during the team’s winter festival Friday in Springfield, Massachusetts. “It’s a tall task to get someone in place, but Chaim (Bloom) and (Brian O’Halloran) will get it done for sure.”

If it was up to the fans, the answer would be easy: Jason Varitek.

Supporters in Springfield pleaded for Boston’s front office to hire the former catcher and team captain as a replacement to Alex Cora, whom the team parted way with Wednesday due to his involvement in a cheating scandal while bench coach for the Houston Astros in 2017.

Members of the team’s leadership group were hit with “Hire ‘Tek!” chants throughout Friday night, and principal owner John Henry was interrupted several times by fans voicing their support. Henry paused and nodded in acknowledgement, and Bloom, the team’s new chief baseball officer, used the opportunity to appease the crowd.

“I think if you poll the audience, they would just get this done right now,” Bloom said to big applause.

Fans also peppered retired Red Sox legends David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez with questions about the managerial vacancy during a separate panel.

Ortiz was asked if he would accept a managerial or front office job with the team but said that he wasn’t at a good point in his life to do so.

The 44-year-old former designated hitter is still recovering after being shot last June in what authorities called a case of mistaken identity in his native Dominican Republic.

“One day I will be (ready),” Ortiz said.

Martinez said that whoever the Red Sox settle on will be the right choice.

“I guarantee you whoever comes over to manage this great team that we have, it’s probably gonna be the closest to the perfect person that we could ever get,” Martinez said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Teams spreading the love on Valentine's Day

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It’s Feb. 14, and love is in the air across the sports world. From the Washington Nationals to the Golden State Warriors, here are some of the sweetest messages we’ve seen today.

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Tony Kemp says he refused to take part in Astros’ sign stealing

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MESA, Ariz. — Called up in September 2017 by Houston, Tony Kemp immediately was asked by teammates whether he wanted to be a part of the Astros‘ sign-stealing scheme. He says his answer was a firm no and that he didn’t feel further pressure to take part.

“That stood,” the second baseman said Friday after arriving in Oakland‘s spring training camp and reuniting with former Astros teammate Mike Fiers, who went public in November about Houston’s sign stealing that rocked the baseball offseason. “Once I got there in September, the system was already in place, and I just tried to keep my head down and play hard and not really concern myself with it.”

Kemp said what Houston did was wrong and, when asked whether the 2017 World Series title is tainted, noted: “That’s a good question. Everyone’s going to have their own speculations about it, everyone’s going to have their own opinions about it. I’m not sure.”

Houston manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were fired last month, on the same day commissioner Rob Manfred suspended them over the sign-stealing scheme. Former Astros bench coach Alex Cora was dismissed as Boston Red Sox manager, and ex-Astros player Carlos Beltran lost his job as New York Mets manager.

Kemp said he appreciates the apologies by Astros players, which he considered sincere, and said “you definitely feel for them.”

“I’m not going to say that things that were going on over there were necessarily right. Those things were wrong,” said Kemp, who was acquired by the A’s from the Chicago Cubs last month. “I think that they’re feeling remorse now. You see those guys and how they feel and how they’re acting and you can definitely tell that there was some wrongdoing there.”

Kemp planned to speak to his new teammates individually rather than make a statement in front of the group.

“If I was more involved, then I think a statement would be the right thing to do, but we’re all grown men and I think if you have questions you can come up and ask me and I’ll be straightforward with you,” Kemp said. “I think that if teammates have questions and want to come up to me, I’ll be more than welcome to answer the questions.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin met with Kemp on Friday and agreed with the infielder’s approach to getting to know his new teammates, many of whom he faced in the minor leagues. Melvin said the reception might be different had Kemp been a regular player for the Astros in recent years, saying, “I think this thing gets closed pretty quickly as far as his time over there in Houston.”

“He’s got a real clear conscience about what happened,” Melvin said. “Most of our guys know him. I think in the position that he’s in, I don’t need to call a meeting and have him talk to everybody. The guys know they can go up to him and talk to him in groups. Everything I heard was all good, move forward with him. We’re happy to have him.”

Fiers, a 15-game winner last season who pitched his second career no-hitter, has declined to speak in detail about the Astros situation or his role as whistleblower. He said he approached Kemp on Friday.

“I’ve always respected Tony. He’s always been a good guy,” Fiers said. “Always got along with him. Good dude to have on the field and as a teammate.”

Kemp said he chose not to participate in the sign-stealing system because “I was comfortable with the way I was swinging the bat at the time in Triple-A.”

“Once I got called up, I just felt like I was going to trust my abilities up there,” he said. “I just didn’t want any distractions.”

He also didn’t have a guess as to how many players were stealing signs because he hadn’t been there long.

“In ’17, that was my choice,” he said. “I had four or five months in the big leagues under my belt at that time, and I just felt like at the time that I didn’t want to use it. I’m not going to sit here and say bad things about the people who did, but it is what it is. We move forward, and now we’re in the same division, so now it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a healthy competition. I think everyone’s looking forward to it.”

Oakland won 97 games each of the past two seasons to finish second in the American League West behind Houston. Kemp, who will get regular work at second base this spring, realizes the matchups with the Astros will now have new meaning and might be difficult for Fiers at times.

“I think that leaving Houston and going to a different team, I think you have to at least say, ‘Hey, they do some things, you might have to switch your signs up or you might need to do something,'” Kemp said. “For Fiers, it’s a tough situation to be in because you have teammates in Houston but you also have new teammates. It’s a sticky situation.”

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MLB raising minimum salary for minor leaguers in 2021

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NEW YORK — Major League Baseball is raising the minimum salary for minor league players in 2021, according to a memo sent Friday from the commissioner’s office to all 30 teams and obtained by The Associated Press.

Two years after successfully lobbying Congress to exempt minor leaguers from federal minimum wage laws, MLB opted to give those players a wage increase between 38% and 72%. The bump was discussed at last week’s owners meetings and confirmed in the memo from Morgan Sword, executive vice president of baseball economics and operations.

Players at rookie and short-season levels will see their minimum weekly pay raised from $290 to $400, and players at Class A will go from $290 to $500. Double-A will jump from $350 to $600, and Triple-A from $502 to $700.

Minor leaguers are paid only during the five-month season and don’t receive wages during the offseason or spring training.

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 negotiations, a plan criticized by small-town fans and politicians at the local and national level.

“MLB’s priorities include reducing the travel burden on players and improving player working conditions,” Sword wrote. “These and other objectives only can be achieved with agreement of the National Association, or absent an agreement, following the expiration of the current PBA in September. However, we can move forward unilaterally with our goal of improving compensation for minor league players.”

A group of minor leaguers filed a lawsuit against major league teams in February 2014, claiming most earned less than $7,500 annually in violation of several laws. While the case has not yet gone to trial, Congress passed legislation stripping minor league players from protection under minimum wage laws. Congress put the “Save America’s Pastime Act” onto page 1,967 of a $1.3 trillion spending bill in 2018 at MLB’s urging.

The most talented players frequently get hundreds of thousands _ even millions _ of dollars in signing bonuses, but there are also players who sign for as little as $1,000. The financial burden has prompted some players to use tattered equipment, accept charity from more fortunate teammates, or in the case of one player, to live out of a school bus.

By comparison, the major league minimum is $563,500 this year, and the top players make over $30 million annually. For players on 40-man rosters on option to the minors, the minimum is $46,000 this season.

Commissioner Rob Manfred repeatedly has said player wellness is MLB’s priority in negotiations, seeking improvements in facilities, travel and salaries. MLB teams are fully responsible for minor league player salaries under the current PBA.

At the winter meetings in December, Manfred became agitated when asked why improving minor league salaries was being offered as a defense of the proposal.

“Obviously there is a way to pay people more without reducing the number of franchises,” Manfred said. “I think the question there becomes who should bear all of the costs associated with the player-related improvements that we think need to be made in the minor league system.”

The Toronto Blue Jays independently issued 50% raises to their players with minor league contracts before the 2019 season. They are the only team known to have paid their players more than the minimum.

Only players on 40-man rosters are part of the major league players’ union.

Minor league salaries have been stagnant for years, and players have strained to make ends meet on as little as $5,500 per season. Some players live in overcrowded apartments, sleeping on air mattresses, subsisted on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and sacrificed potential training hours to work better-paying jobs in the offseason.

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