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Astros to keep George Springer as leadoff batter, Dusty Baker says



Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker said Sunday that he will keep outfielder George Springer as the team’s leadoff hitter this season.

“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” he told reporters.

Springer has been the Astros’ leadoff hitter since 2016, when he was inserted into the spot by former manager A.J. Hinch in May of that season.

Hinch was fired by Astros owner Jim Crane after Major League Baseball suspended the manager for a season as a result of the team’s sign-stealing scheme. With Baker taking over this season, it wasn’t a given that he would leave Springer atop his lineup until he made the news official Sunday.

Springer has excelled in the leadoff spot, winning two Silver Slugger awards and earning three consecutive All-Star selections. Last season, he set career highs in home runs (39), RBIs (96), batting average (.292) and on-base percentage (.383).

“I told Springer the other day that he reminded me of past leadoff hitters — Bobby Bonds, Felipe Alou, Tommy Agee,” Baker told reporters. “These guys were hitters and sluggers at the same time, and he can either get on base or it’s 1-0 our favor. This guy, he’s one of the best. You don’t win Silver (Sluggers) just by taking (pitches). I love it, actually.”

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Blue Jays president says 4 weeks of spring training needed before season



TORONTO — With no sign of when training camps can resume, Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro says he thinks Major League Baseball would need at least a month of workouts and exhibition games before regular-season play can begin.

Opening Day has been postponed until at least mid-May because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Knowing that so many players are not even having any access to throwing at all or hitting at all, but most importantly just throwing, and probably limited access to just training and exercise, it’s hard to imagine we could get ready in less than four weeks,” Shapiro said in a teleconference with Toronto reporters.

Shapiro cautioned that training camps aren’t likely to reopen for some time yet.

“I do think that we’re, by and large, waiting for some sort of flattening of the curve and recognition that we have done our best to limit the strain on the healthcare system and the economic system,” he said. “Until that time, the exact outcome and impact on our schedule, and all of the corresponding business that cascades off that, really can’t be determined.

“It certainly looks like we are not dealing with days and likely not weeks, but closer to months,” he said.

Speaking from his Toronto home, where he and his family are isolating themselves, Shapiro said he expects negotiations between Major League Baseball and the players’ union on an industry-wide plan to compensate players for missed games to conclude “in the next 24 to 48 hours.”

All but three of Toronto’s major league players have left the team’s spring training site in Dunedin, Florida. Those that remain are South Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu, Japanese right-hander Shun Yamaguchi and right-hander Rafael Dolis, who is from the Dominican Republic.

Shapiro said the three players “did not have any place to go.” They are the only players who maintain access to Toronto’s Florida facilities.

Ryu is accompanied by his wife, who is seven months pregnant.

Shapiro said no Blue Jays players or staff have displayed any symptoms of the new coronavirus, and that no one has been tested.

Some 30 minor league players and four staffers who have been unable to go home are being housed in a Dunedin-area hotel, Shapiro said. Eighteen of those players are from Venezuela, and cannot return home.

Shapiro said Toronto’s big league players have been given individualized workout plans, while minor league players still at the team hotel in Florida have received workouts they can perform in their rooms.

“The physical exercise they can do is as much about mental health and maintaining some semblance of normalcy and routine, and probably a little bit less baseball-specific,” Shapiro said. “There’s almost no one who could maintain game-ready shape in light of circumstances.”

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Olney — MLB, union must work together in face of financial challenges



In the face of the looming international crisis that is taking lives, it feels almost disrespectful to ask questions out loud about issues of far less importance. When the priorities are protective masks, accessible testing and increased hospital capacity, most everything else is deferred, or settled out of sight.

Quietly, Major League Baseball officials and the MLB Players Association are working through a laundry list of pending process questions tied to the calendar. What to do about termination pay for players who don’t make 40-man rosters. The draft. The international signing period.

It’s a good thing that it’s all being done out of sight, because there is little appetite for a public debate about how to resolve service-time questions, arbitration and free-agent eligibility. Not when families are huddled in their homes, concerned about jobs, food, loved ones.

In recent years, the relationship between MLB and the union has been worse than at any time since the mid-1990s, the last time the sport was shut down by a labor stoppage. But as a respected former player said Saturday, moving forward, the sides need each other. Collaboration is required under current circumstances and beyond, because the baseball industry may not look anything like it did at the outset of spring training just more than a month ago.

It’s impossible to know when games will resume. It’s hard to even guess at this point what the temporary and permanent damage to the business model will be. For agents and executives, the idea of entering into any serious contract talks over a player now would be pure folly because the context is impossible to define.

Six weeks ago, it was widely assumed that several $400 million deals were on the horizon, for the likes of Mookie Betts and Francisco Lindor, following the winter spending spree for Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon and others.

Now … who knows? Who knows what the financial landscape will be going forward?

The Philadelphia Athletics were baseball’s preeminent team in 1929, stacked with future Hall of Famers Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Cochrane and Al Simmons, managed by another Hall of Famer, Connie Mack. But Wall Street crashed, the Great Depression began and the Athletics’ attendance dropped significantly, from more than 800,000 in ’29 to just under 300,000 in 1933, and Mack sold off Grove and Foxx.

Two teams suffered significantly the last time that MLB play was interrupted for an extended period of time. At the time of the players’ strike in 1994, the Montreal Expos seemed to have a real shot at reaching the World Series, with a 74-40 record and a lineup that included Larry Walker, Moises Alou and Marquis Grissom, and a rotation built around Pedro Martinez. After the strike ended, Montreal’s ownership stripped the roster for the financial savings — and per-game attendance plummeted from 24,543 in ’94 to 17,683 in ’95. The franchise never recovered and was moved to Washington in 2005.

The Blue Jays’ attendance also took a big hit, and similarly, payroll was stripped. A model franchise that won back-to-back titles in 1992 and 1993 would not appear in the playoffs again until 2015.

History shows us that when baseball comes back from hard times, some franchises will recover quickly and move on — and some may struggle.

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With the relationship between MLB and the union getting ugly in recent years, a recalibration is needed, and it might already be underway. The goal of both sides is to identify what’s fair for everyone in a new context, including the game’s devastated patrons.

I asked a baseball official the other day, via text, what the baseball industry will look like when this is over. Really, it’s a question applicable for most industries. “I guess it would depend on the state of the world,” he responded.

• The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Major League Baseball could cancel the 2020 draft, an option that could be attractive for practical considerations. Colleges and high schools are shut down, players aren’t being evaluated as usual because games aren’t being played, and of course, if the established draft rules remain in place, then teams would be required to sign players to bonuses at a time when, as mentioned, nobody knows what the financial landscape will be.

From the perspective of amateur players, however — especially elite players likely to be taken early in the draft — this may not be in their best interests. Undoubtedly, there will be some players who will want to move into professional baseball as soon as possible for the sake of family and financial needs. Imagine if you are an elite college pitcher expected to be chosen near the top of this year’s draft class, and your parents’ income has been devastated by the coronavirus. Your instinct might be to sign professionally as soon as possible. A canceled draft would undercut that effort.

In the eyes of Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin, coach of many big leaguers past, present and likely future, it will be important to keep the process as normal as possible.

“From a collegiate standpoint, there is still much decision on what to do with seniors, juniors, etc. on the extra year,” he wrote in an email response to questions about the possible cancelation of the draft. “I am not sure what the NCAA is going to do, but it has communicated publicly about restoring years for student-athletes. That in itself creates a major issue for college baseball and we are not built to handle that … educationally, physically or feasibly.”

“I understand that seniors lost a year of eligibility, as well as opportunities at having a season or a postseason, but everyone lost a year of something. We cannot get that back. Ted Williams lost three years of his career to the military; life happens.

“As much as I would personally like our seniors back, it creates a clog in the system, you have seniors staying in, the potential of juniors granted another year as well, then high school seniors coming in right behind them. When you have no movement of players, you have a collegiate system that is combustible, too many players with not enough space. We have to move forward and keep natural movement in the system.

“Major League Baseball impacts the entire amateur landscape — it naturally creates an ‘in and out’ system of players. Right now, most professional teams have evaluated college and junior college players through last spring, last summer, last fall and the early part of this spring. They have built up a credible database on many eligible collegiate players. This being the case, it makes sense for them to modify the draft in numbers.”

Corbin continued: “Keep the draft restricted to collegiate seniors, juniors, junior college players and draft-eligible sophomores. Higher-profile juniors and eligible sophomores will be at a premium, but the senior player becomes more of a ‘safer stock,’ so to speak. They are older, have played higher level games and have been evaluated more. For one year, the high school player enters college or junior college — if a kid wants professional baseball sooner than three years, then he can attend junior college for a year — this allows the industry to evaluate this class of kids over the next year or three years.”

This way, Corbin writes, “Spending is down and player entry into professional baseball is less — this keeps movement in the system. For a Northern person, it’s like letting the water trickle through your pipes so they won’t freeze. Same situation here, the system has to move, but move at a smaller rate so that both organizations (college and professional baseball) can realize and handle the volume of players and the economic impact that will occur because of the virus. These are my ideas and my ideas only, but I think they make sense for Hofstra University as much as Vanderbilt.”

If small-market teams don’t feel they have the resources to participate in this year’s draft, an alternative is for MLB and the union to negotiate a one-time arrangement through which draft picks can be dealt for future assets. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the Baltimore Orioles, who hold the No. 2 pick in the draft, did not want to commit the millions of dollars required under the current system because of concerns over revenue loss. For this year and this year only, perhaps, an amendment could be made enabling the Orioles to flip that draft choice for future selections.

• On the Baseball Tonight podcast, some former players have told great stories recently, including David Freese (discussing the epic Game 6 of the 2011 World Series in vivid detail) and David Wells, who talks about the all-time great ’98 Yankees and a 24-hour period that included a “Saturday Night Live” after-party, Jimmy Fallon, a hangover and a perfect game.

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Ten MLB players to follow on social media during the coronavirus shutdown



One of the hurdles Major League Baseball has dealt with during the social media boom has been its schedule. Because of the daily grind of the season, baseball players have largely maintained less active social media profiles than their counterparts in other sports. With the coronavirus pandemic putting most of the world on pause, baseball players unexpectedly find themselves with time off this spring.

They’ve used some of that time to post about this real-life episode of “Black Mirror” that has turned their reality upside down. It’s given fans a glimpse — often silly, sometimes a bit more serious — into an unprecedented situation.

Here are 10 players we think are worth following to keep tabs on how those in the game are dealing with the disruption to the 2020 MLB season and their lives.

Sean Doolittle, Washington Nationals

Platforms: Twitter and YouTube

Why you should follow him: Among the sport’s most thoughtful voices on the internet, Doolittle has remained characteristically active, whether it’s posting about the pile of books he’s planning on reading while social distancing, sharing videos of his dog, recording a Q&A for fans or getting his hair cut on YouTube by his wife, Eireann Dolan. More importantly, Doolittle has also committed to donating 25,000 meals to help families deal with school closures and employment uncertainty during the pandemic.

Signature post (so far):

Hunter Pence, San Francisco Giants

Platforms: Twitter, Instagram and YouTube

Why you should follow him: Long one of baseball’s most eccentric personalities, Pence has been particularly active on social media since social distancing became the cultural norm. Though lighthearted, Pence’s posts stress that “love, kindness, and humanity aren’t taking a break.”

Signature post (so far): Pence’s wife, Alexis, runs a busy YouTube account, where the couple recently posted vlogs of a day of self-quarantine and of their grocery shopping, including Pence’s thoughts on baseball postponing its season and ways not to spread germs.

Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati Reds

Platform: YouTube

Why you should follow him: A polarizing personality, Bauer has never been afraid to share his opinions on social media, and the Reds’ righty has taken a unique approach to the pandemic by filming vlogs for YouTube while organizing a recent sandlot game with his media company, Momentum, that made headlines. Through his vlogs, Bauer gives his subscribers a peek into his life and his unfettered thoughts on baseball.

Signature post (so far):

Alex Bregman, Houston Astros

Platforms: Instagram and TikTok

Why you should follow him: In the wake of the Astros sign-stealing scandal, Bregman locked up his comment section on Instagram, but he has opened them back up in recent weeks. Since posting his first TikTok with Internet sensation Charli D’Amelio, Bregman has maintained an active TikTok account where he does everything from dancing to working out to showing off his MLB The Show squad. On Instagram and Twitter, he’s asked Houston “to come together as a community” and is helping to assemble quarantine food kits to help fight the coronavirus.

Signature post (so far):

Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays

Platform: Twitch

Why you should follow him: Snell is a prolific Twitch streamer, and he regularly invites his followers to watch him play Fortnite. The setting allows Snell, a former Cy Young winner, to interact in real time with fans. In the early days of the quarantine, Snell has played video games with other big leaguers, such as Gavin Lux and Willie Calhoun. Snell also posted his first TikTok recently.

Signature post (so far):

Tim Anderson, Chicago White Sox

Platforms: Twitter, Instagram and YouTube

Why you should follow him: Anderson has social media accounts that are clearly run by the man himself. His tweets and posts showcase his uniquely outspoken perspective. Beginning with the controversy that arose from one of his bat flips, Anderson has emerged as a player who “doesn’t care” about the unwritten rules and hopes to bring fun — and personality — to the sport.

Signature post (so far): Anderson started a YouTube channel this spring, featuring raw montages of his days in spring training, giving a behind-the-scenes glimpse into his professional life. While the channel has gone quiet since the spread of the coronavirus, don’t expect it to be mute for long.

Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres

Platform: Instagram

Why you should follow him: Tatis routinely shares his most fun life moments on his Instagram account, including a road trip to San Diego with teammate Franchy Cordero.

Signature post (so far): While it’s impossible to embed Instagram stories due to their temporary nature, disappearing from accounts after 24 hours, following Tatis there will give you an intimate look at the life of a rising star in a unique era.

Marcus Stroman, New York Mets

Platform: Twitter

Why you should follow him: Stroman updates his fans with what’s on his mind year-round on Twitter, so of course the recent events are no exception. Stroman regularly posts motivational quotes and insights.

Signature post (so far): Stroman began stirring things up on Baseball Twitter on Thursday — and got us dreaming of a brighter future — when he started a conversation about the 2021 World Baseball Classic team for the United States, getting online commitments from three guys on our list — Bauer, Snell and Clevinger — plus Walker Buehler, Trevor Story, Eric Hosmer, Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado and Pete Alonso. Alonso added he “might cry” if he were named to the American squad.

Randy Dobnak, Minnesota Twins

Platform: Twitter

Why you should follow him: Dobnak rose into the consciousness of baseball fans last year as the Uber driver turned ALDS starting pitcher. Dobnak maintains a comical Twitter account where he has tweeted — and retweeted others — regularly during the suspension of baseball.

Signature post (so far):

Mike Clevinger, Cleveland Indians

Platform: Twitter

Why you should follow him: The Cleveland right-hander likes going back and forth with fans on Twitter, and he emerged as one of the Astros’ most vocal critics online back when sign stealing was the biggest problem on the minds of baseball players. That made him an essential follow before the virus, but there could be even more to come during this quarantine, as Clevinger recently tweeted that he’s looking to start a vlog with teammate Zach Plesac during this time off …

Signature post (so far): … so stay tuned.

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