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Twins owner 'on board' with pursuing Darvish

Pohlad 'intrigued' by free-agent right-hander
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have been linked to free-agent right-hander Yu Darvish all offseason and have stated their interest publicly, but for the first time, owner Jim Pohlad confirmed he would OK a deal for Darvish for the right price.

Pohlad, speaking to fans during a question-and-answer session during TwinsFest at Target Field on Saturday, was asked about Darvish and indicated he's interested in signing the ace.

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have been linked to free-agent right-hander Yu Darvish all offseason and have stated their interest publicly, but for the first time, owner Jim Pohlad confirmed he would OK a deal for Darvish for the right price.

Pohlad, speaking to fans during a question-and-answer session during TwinsFest at Target Field on Saturday, was asked about Darvish and indicated he's interested in signing the ace.

Dozier willing to engage in extension talks

"I'm on board with that," Pohlad said while on stage, bringing cheers from Twins fans at the event. "There are some interesting names and some interesting opportunities there, but I'm as intrigued by [Darvish] as anybody and attracted to [signing him] as anybody."

Video: Twins steady in pursuit of top-tier starter

Twins president Dave St. Peter echoed Pohlad's comments that the club remains engaged with Darvish, who is the top starting pitcher on the free-agent market.

"There is mutual interest in seeing if something makes sense for both parties," St. Peter said. "We are not there yet today but that could accelerate here in the near future."

Video: St. Peter, Pohlad look ahead to the 2018 season

The Twins have some payroll flexibility, as they don't have any players signed to a contract beyond 2019. Their projected Opening Day payroll is roughly $105 million, which is slightly less than last year when they opened the season with a $108 million payroll.

Signing Darvish, however, would likely push their payroll past $120 million, which would be a club record. The Twins, though, have three prominent players in the last year of their contracts: Joe Mauer ($23 million), Ervin Santana ($13.5 million) and Brian Dozier ($9 million), although Santana's $14 million club option for 2019 vests if he reaches 200 innings pitched.

Derek Falvey, the club's chief baseball officer, indicated on Friday that the Twins have room in their budget for a frontline starter even after committing $16.75 million over two years to reliever Addison Reed last week.

"Any player we add, there won't be a budget limitation," Falvey said. "If we bring the right deal to Jim, he'll support it."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

 

Minnesota Twins, Yu Darvish

Todd Frazier and the thumbs-down Mets fan finally met and ... exchanged cheerful thumbs-downs

It was the meme that spawned a team-wide trend. When Todd Frazier hit a home run in a Yankees-Rays game hosted at Citi Field due to the effects of Hurricane Irma in Florida last September, a fan in the stands was not pleased

That fan is a lifelong Mets fan, it'd later be discovered, and his dissatisfied reaction and delightfully deadpan facial expression gave the Yankees a new method of on-field communication. The meme took off, and various members of the Yankees mimicked it on the bases for the rest of the season.

Get ready for 50 of the greatest bat flips of all time

Ah yes, the bat flip. Throughout baseball's glorious history, we have witnessed some truly epic tosses of the lumber.

MLB Network will air "The Top 50 Bat Flips of All Time" on Sunday, at 10 pm E.T., and Cespedes Family BBQ will be live-tweeting it.

To get you ready for such an incredible event, we rounded up some of our favorite bat flips of all time.

Hanley on Red Sox: 'We can be world champs'

Veteran feels ready to rake, help Boston push for title
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- A healthier pair of shoulders has given Hanley Ramirez a burst of excitement heading into 2018.

The way Ramirez feels right now, there's little to stop him from having a monster year -- one that could end with a parade in Boston.

MASHANTUCKET, Conn. -- A healthier pair of shoulders has given Hanley Ramirez a burst of excitement heading into 2018.

The way Ramirez feels right now, there's little to stop him from having a monster year -- one that could end with a parade in Boston.

"We can be world champs," Ramirez said Saturday at Red Sox Winter Weekend. "We can be a world champ in 2018, that's the goal. We've just got to stay healthy and fight together. I think we have one of the best teams in the big leagues by name. We've got to do the work on the field. You see the Astros. They do the work on the field. They do have a couple of big names [also], but they know how to get the job done on the field. That's what we've got to do -- get the job done."

After an offseason operation on his left shoulder and maintenance improvements on the right one, Ramirez feels ready to rake again like he did in 2016 -- as opposed to last year, when he hit .242 with 23 homers and just 62 RBIs.

"I know I can hit," Ramirez said. "I can get 100 RBIs and 30-plus homers if I'm healthy. That's what we're working for this offseason. No offseason for me, and [it's] starting to show."

Video: Cora sees big year for Hanley after clutch October

Without question, Ramirez looks leaner than he did last season. He compares it to two years ago, when he had a similarly productive offseason and wound up belting 30 homers with 111 RBIs.

"But this year, everything feels quicker, I feel faster and I feel leaner in my body," Ramirez said.

Less than a month after his 34th birthday, Ramirez feels young.

"I'm going to be Miami Hanley doing damage on the field," he said.

But as prolific as Ramirez was in his prime with the Marlins, those seasons didn't end the way he envisions this upcoming one in Boston.

"And [get] past the first round. That's the goal after the last two years," Ramirez said. "We've got to go far, and we have the team to do it. That's the key. First we have to make it to the playoffs, and then make it to the second round. That's what we haven't been able to do, to cross that line right there, and that's our biggest goal from this year."

The Yankees have definitely upped the ante by acquiring Ramirez's former teammate Giancarlo Stanton.

"Good for them," Ramirez said. "We believe in what we've got. We've got a pretty good team. And it's going to be a tough division, but it's going to be a good year. I think the baseball this year [in the rivalry] is going to be even better than last year with what they did. They got that big bat, and the Red Sox, they have pretty good players, Mookie [Betts], Benny [Andrew Benintendi], the young guys, they can do it all."

After strong rookie year, Benintendi eyes more

The Red Sox still might have another addition if they can sign slugger J.D. Martinez. But wouldn't that impact Ramirez's playing time, given that the outfield is full and Boston re-signed Mitch Moreland to play first base?

"No, you've just got to hit. If you hit, you're gonna play. That's all you've got to do," Ramirez said. "You've got to produce. If we can get him, it would be huge for our lineup. I know I can hit, and I'm gonna hit -- it's not gonna affect me. You've just got to be a good teammate and be ready to go wherever they need you to."

Video: Werner on contract discussions with J.D. Martinez

As far as Ramirez's future with the Red Sox goes, his option for 2019 will vest if he gets 497 plate appearances in '18.

"I just want to win," Ramirez said. "If we win, that's going to be taken care of. I'm not thinking about the 500 at-bats. Definitely I want to stay here. This is the team that signed me when I was 16. The first thing we have to do is just win and see what happens after."

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook.

 

Boston Red Sox, Hanley Ramirez

Lindor excited about landing on R.B.I. 18 cover

Indians' rising star among the faces and ambassadors of the game
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor leaned over to examine the large poster that had just been unveiled to his left at Tribe Fest on Saturday. When Tom Hamilton, the radio voice of the Indians, asked the young shortstop what he thought of the new cover for R.B.I. Baseball 18, Lindor cracked a smile.

"I love it. I love it," Lindor said amid cheers from his audience at the Huntington Convention Center. "They made me look good in that picture. So, thank you R.B.I. for making me look a lot better."

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor leaned over to examine the large poster that had just been unveiled to his left at Tribe Fest on Saturday. When Tom Hamilton, the radio voice of the Indians, asked the young shortstop what he thought of the new cover for R.B.I. Baseball 18, Lindor cracked a smile.

"I love it. I love it," Lindor said amid cheers from his audience at the Huntington Convention Center. "They made me look good in that picture. So, thank you R.B.I. for making me look a lot better."

Lindor was announced as the new cover athlete for R.B.I. Baseball's latest installment at the Indians' annual fan fest, and the selection was more than fitting. Over the past three seasons, Cleveland's dynamic shortstop has quickly established himself not only as one of the faces of Major League Baseball, but as an ambassador for the game.

R.B.I. Baseball 18

When the idea of playing baseball for a living began to take hold of Lindor's childhood dreams, he did not simply want to reach the Majors. The shortstop is not shy about saying he always envisioned himself becoming one of the best players in the game, as well as an inspiration to kids.

Being on the R.B.I. 18 cover is another way for Lindor to keep extending his reach in the game.

"It's unreal. It' a dream. It's a blessing," Lindor said on Saturday. "I'm blessed to be playing this game -- and to have things like that [cover], that's a plus. I thank the Lord for everything, and I thank the Indians organization and everybody that made this posssible."

Lindor follows in the footsteps of past R.B.I. Baseball cover selections Corey Seager (2017), Mookie Betts ('16) and Anthony Rizzo ('15). The classic video game, which was relaunched by Major League Baseball in conjunction with the MLB Players' Association in '14, will be available this March for PlayStation 4, the Xbox One family of devices, Nintendo Switch, iPhone, iPad and Android-supported phones and tablets.

While Lindor said he would "take on anybody" who challenged him in R.B.I. Baseball 18, the shortstop admitted to having taken some losses on the video-game front lately back home.

"My nephew beats me all the time, so I definitely have got to get better," Lindor said with a laugh. "The first game I beat him, and I beat all my friends. It was like a group of four. Then, I don't know what happened. I went on a losing streak. I haven't won a game since. It's fun. I love whenever you can play against somebody and see what they've got. Competition, wherever it is, it's always cool."

Video: R.B.I. Baseball 18 reveals Lindor on the cover

Both on and off the field, Lindor has earned a reputation for his infectious enthusiasm. During Players' Weekend last August, for example, the Indians' shortstop went as far as wearing the nickname, "Mr. Smile," on the back of his jersey. Lindor describes himself as a big kid, and that has been on full display over his three seasons with the Tribe. After dynamic defensive plays or big hits, that smile quickly surfaces.

Behind the scenes, Lindor has strived since his rookie year to get involved in as much as possible -- especially if working with aspiring ballplayers is involved. He has participated in MLB Network's Play Ball series, started a charity program called, "Lindor's Smile Squad," to host children and adult athletes with disabilities at select home games, and has donated his time on numerous occasions to Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) programs, not only in Cleveland, but around the country.

All of that said, Lindor's off-field achievements alone did not clinch his place on the R.B.I. cover.

Lindor has developed into one of baseball's brightest young stars and one of the top shortstops in the game. The switch-hitter was the runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015, an All-Star in '16 and '17, picked up both Gold and Platinum Glove Awards in '16 and added a Silver Slugger to his trophy case in '17. Two years ago, Lindor also helped lead the Indians to the World Series.

Cleveland won its second straight American League Central crown last season, as it racked up 102 victories and set an AL record with a 22-game winning streak. Along the way, Lindor set career highs in home runs (33), doubles (44), RBIs (89), slugging percentage (.505) and OPS (.842) in 159 games. He set the single-season club records for homers by a middle infielder and extra-base hits (81) for a shortstop. For his work, Lindor finished fifth in voting for the AL Most Valuable Player Award (two spots behind teammate Jose Ramirez).

Lindor said he is excited to see what 2018 has in store for the Tribe.

"We all know we can win it," Lindor said. "We all know we've got what it takes. We've been there. We just haven't closed it. I'm looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to being with my new teammates and my old teammates, and everybody throughout the whole season.

"It's so much fun going from Day 1 in Spring Training all the way to the last day of the season. A lot of things happen. Whether it's good things, bad things, a lot of things happen. A lot of good moments. A lot of time for me to smile, so I love it."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Cleveland Indians, Francisco Lindor

Making sense of unsigned free agents

Salary structure could be shifting away from big deals for aging players
MLB.com @JPosnanski

For years now, it has been clear to many people around the game that baseball is in the midst of a salary bubble … and eventually that bubble is probably going to burst. That might be what we're seeing now with the collection of very good ballplayers -- J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Yu Darvish, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Arrieta, Mike Moustakas, etc. -- still looking for their club even as Spring Training looms barely a month away.

To be fair, this also might be something else. It might just be a perfect storm. There are a lot of things happening. The biggest spending teams all seem eager to get under the luxury-tax threshold. The best players in this year's market (particularly Hosmer and Martinez) do not seem a great fit for many teams. Next year's free-agent class (led by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado) will be one of the best in baseball history.

For years now, it has been clear to many people around the game that baseball is in the midst of a salary bubble … and eventually that bubble is probably going to burst. That might be what we're seeing now with the collection of very good ballplayers -- J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Yu Darvish, Lorenzo Cain, Jake Arrieta, Mike Moustakas, etc. -- still looking for their club even as Spring Training looms barely a month away.

To be fair, this also might be something else. It might just be a perfect storm. There are a lot of things happening. The biggest spending teams all seem eager to get under the luxury-tax threshold. The best players in this year's market (particularly Hosmer and Martinez) do not seem a great fit for many teams. Next year's free-agent class (led by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado) will be one of the best in baseball history.

But look at this: Best as I can tell, there are at least eight 30-something players out there who are still owed more than $100 million by their teams:

1. Miguel Cabrera (34 years old)

Six years, $184 million left in deal, plus vesting option

2. David Price (32 years old)

Five years, $157 million left in deal, can opt out after this year

3. Joey Votto (34 years old)

Six years, $150 million left in deal, plus $7 million buyout

4. Max Scherzer (33 years old)

Four years, $148 million left in deal, much of it deferred

5. Robinson Cano (35 years old)

Six years, $144 million left in deal

6. Zack Greinke (34 years old)

Four years, $138 million left in deal

7. Chris Davis (31 years old)

Five years, $115 million left in deal

8. Albert Pujols (38 years old)

Four years, $114 million left in deal, plus $10 million personal services contract

There are still some excellent players on this list -- Scherzer won the National League Cy Young Award last year, Votto was an MVP candidate -- but there are some contracts in there that clubs might regret. Four more years for Pujols, who had an 81 OPS+ last year. Six more years for Cabrera, who was seventy points below his career average last year. Five more years for Davis, who slugged .423 last season at age 31, two years after hitting 47 homers and getting that deal.

Even the contracts that look good now are likely to look worse next year, and even worse the year after that. That, sadly, is how aging works. If you were a general manager, would you give out any of those contracts? Maybe the Scherzer one.

People around the game have known for a while now that the aging curve of baseball players crests and begins to fall much earlier than most people believe. In the 1970s and 1980s, it was quite common for people to say that baseball players hit their peak at 32.

We know now that not only is 32 well into the decline phase of most baseball players, it is actually past the end of many careers. Just look at this year's Hall of Fame ballot: Orlando Hudson had his last productive season at 31; Johan Santana was done at 31; Andruw Jones was done at 30. There is some thinking now that many players actually crest more in the first three or four years of their time in the big leagues.

That thinking cuts hard against the salary structure as we have long known it. For decades, teams have paid top dollar for the decline seasons of the best players. Maybe a handful of those contracts worked out. Most were destructive. I only listed the $100 million contracts above. But the Yankees owe 34-year-old Jacoby Ellsbury $68 million for the next three years and they are reportedly struggling to trade him. The Royals owe 34-year-old Alex Gordon $40 million for the next two years, plus a buyout. The Cubs owe Jon Lester $75 million, plus a conditional buyout, for the next three years, and they are hoping that at age 34 he can bounce back from a rough season.

What does it mean this year? We are probably seeing it play out. Martinez is coming off a crazy year; he hit 29 home runs in just 62 games for Arizona. Even if that was a fluke, well, what team in baseball couldn't use that sort of bat? Thing is, Martinez is 30 years old. He might age better than his comps listed on Baseball-Reference, such as Jason Bay (last good year at 30), Geoff Jenkins (last good year at 30) and Kevin Mitchell (last good year at 32, but inconsistent the two years before that). A team would have to make a bet. And teams are less likely to make a big bet. Instead of a seven-year deal, it's a four- or five-year one. Instead of $27 million a year, it might be $20 million. And so on.

Video: MLB Tonight talks J.D. Martinez's free agency

Arrieta is 31. Some pitchers age well. Some don't. His Baseball-Reference comps don't inspire much confidence, either. Pete Vuckovich was basically done at 29. Tim Belcher had a bunch of uninspiring seasons before having one renaissance year at 34. Arrieta does famously keep himself in great shape, so that could make him a better bet.

Our own Mike Petriello has been hammering home the point again and again that at almost 32, Cain is the type of player who ages well. Cain was really good in 2017 and it is surprising that more teams -- particularly teams in desperate need of a center fielder -- aren't going harder after him. Maybe they are and it just hasn't been made public yet.

Video: Flanagan on players possibly returning due to market

Point is, for a long time we have seen the outline of the bubble. A friend of mine likes to call this "the future we already know." We all know that sooner or later teams will stop giving out six- and seven- and 10-year contracts that carry players into their late 30s and early 40s because it almost never makes sense. Players looking for big paydays after several excellent years will find that the payoff isn't as big as they hoped.

Maybe it happens this year. Maybe not. Scott Boras and other agents might still have a surprise or two left this offseason, and maybe Hosmer and Martinez and others will manage to sign gigantic long-term deals. But time runs out on the old way of doing business. The bubble is bursting.

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.

 

A new species of wasps in Florida was named after Ichiro Suzuki

Although Ichiro Suzuki rose to fame in the United States with the Mariners, he's made many new fans recently in his forties with the Marlins. One of those fans is a research scientist named Jose Fernandez-Triana.

Fernandez-Triana works for the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes and in a recent study published by ZooKeys, he named a new species of wasps after Ichiro. This is Diolcogaster ichiroi.

HOF class could set record for living inductees

MLB.com @Marathoner

When Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson reveals the Baseball Writers' Association of America 2018 election results Wednesday on MLB Network and MLB.com, it is expected to set a record for most living inductees over any five-year span.

The record for most living Hall of Famers elected in any five-year period is 20, from 1969-73. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell are already bound for induction on July 29 thanks to the Modern Baseball Era ballot results last month, making it 19 living electees so far from 2014-18.

When Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson reveals the Baseball Writers' Association of America 2018 election results Wednesday on MLB Network and MLB.com, it is expected to set a record for most living inductees over any five-year span.

The record for most living Hall of Famers elected in any five-year period is 20, from 1969-73. Jack Morris and Alan Trammell are already bound for induction on July 29 thanks to the Modern Baseball Era ballot results last month, making it 19 living electees so far from 2014-18.

Complete Hall of Fame coverage

Chipper Jones, Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero are all projected to join them based on the BBWAA vote, at least based on Ryan Thibodaux's ballot tracker, which lists each of the three well above 90 percent with nearly half of all ballots known. That would make it 22 living inductees.

A candidate must appear on at least 75 percent of the ballots for election.

"Hall of Fame Induction Weekend is when fans can come out to salute their heroes with the ultimate honor of being elected," Idelson said on Friday. "Earning election is difficult even in this era of many living electees. Only one percent of those to wear a Major League uniform end up with a plaque in Cooperstown.

"Cooperstown is about the history of the game, but those who create the history help bring the museum to life. Having a number of living electees, all of whom are deserving, certainly helps to embrace a wider fan base."

The only real question is how notably the record is shattered. Edgar Martinez and Trevor Hoffman continued to exceed the 75 percent mark in the latest tracking, so even 23 or 24 is feasible.

This could be the fourth time in the last five years that as many as three former players are voted in by baseball writers. Before 2014, you had to go back to 1999 to find the last time a trio was elected by writers: Nolan Ryan, George Brett and Robin Yount.

The 17 living electees from 2014-17 already marked the most in any four-year period since 1972-75, two shy of the record set from 1969-72.

Here's another way to look at the stark contrast between these past five years and the five years before them: From 2009-13, there were 14 Hall inductees. Only six of those were elected by the BBWAA, half as many as from 2014-17. And of those 14 inductees, only three elected by the Veterans Committee were living at the time: executive Pat Gillick, manager Whitey Herzog and umpire Doug Harvey (who passed away on Jan. 13).

It is important to note that this five-year record would be for "living" electees, because in 2006, the Hall inducted 17 former Negro Leaguers, plus Bruce Sutter.

Here is a look at the five-year plaque rush:

2018: Morris and Trammell, with at least a few more likely

2017: Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez (BBWAA); John Schuerholz and Bud Selig

2016: Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza (BBWAA)

2015: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio

2014: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas (BBWAA); Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre

Three of those 2014 inductees represented the powerhouse Braves era, and that representation is still going strong. If three names (including Jones) are announced Wednesday and we have a record of 22 living Hall of Fame electees in this five-year span, then Braves fans can claim six key reasons, or a stunning 27 percent. Never mind that Maddux chose to go without a team logo on his plaque because of his success with the Cubs, Dodgers, and Padres.

"When you look back at the 1990s and early 2000s, the Braves were winning their division virtually every year," Idelson said. "Although it resulted in only one championship, their prolonged excellence over a decade plus, it's emblematic that the guys who have earned elections have represented great teams, from their general manager to their manager to their 1-2-3 pitchers to potentially Chipper Jones as the second No. 1 Draft pick ever."

Even if the living-electee wave slows down in the next few years, it would likely have little effect on Hall tourism. Mariano Rivera will be eligible in 2019 and Derek Jeter a year later. Yankees fans will migrate upstate en masse for those probable first-ballot inductees.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com and a baseball writer since 1990. Follow him on Twitter @Marathoner.

 

MLB Network to unveil top 50 finishes in history

MLB.com

What is your favorite finish of a game in baseball history? Is it Carlton Fisk waving his home run just inside the Fenway Park foul pole? David Freese willing the Cardinals to World Series glory? Or one of the countless other classics? Or maybe you can't decide?

MLB Network can help. Baseball's No. 1 television network is taking a deep dive this weekend as it counts down the wackiest, the wildest, the most memorable endings in baseball history. "MLB Network Countdown: Top 50 Greatest Finishes Of All-Time" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.

What is your favorite finish of a game in baseball history? Is it Carlton Fisk waving his home run just inside the Fenway Park foul pole? David Freese willing the Cardinals to World Series glory? Or one of the countless other classics? Or maybe you can't decide?

MLB Network can help. Baseball's No. 1 television network is taking a deep dive this weekend as it counts down the wackiest, the wildest, the most memorable endings in baseball history. "MLB Network Countdown: Top 50 Greatest Finishes Of All-Time" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.

It's a list that's bound to both spark debate and bring back memories. The best games are the ones that go down to the wire, to extra innings, to the last out of the last game. It keeps you holding your breath, biting your nails, grinding your teeth to the end of the night. Those are the games you remember forever. Usually, one of these games is almost too much for one night. This Sunday, you can go back and recap 50 of them, all at one time.

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

 

Long-term talks quiet with Blue Jays, Donaldson

Toronto, star third baseman have yet to make progress on contract extension
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays avoided arbitration with star third baseman Josh Donaldson earlier this month, but there still has not been any progress on a long-term contract extension. In fact, the two sides haven't even talked about it.

Donaldson expressed his desire at the end of the 2017 to sign a multi-year contract and remain with the Blue Jays for the rest of his career. His hope was that the two sides would find common ground this offseason, but that has yet to happen.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays avoided arbitration with star third baseman Josh Donaldson earlier this month, but there still has not been any progress on a long-term contract extension. In fact, the two sides haven't even talked about it.

Donaldson expressed his desire at the end of the 2017 to sign a multi-year contract and remain with the Blue Jays for the rest of his career. His hope was that the two sides would find common ground this offseason, but that has yet to happen.

Toronto secured some short-term security by signing Donaldson to a one-year deal worth $23 million, which is a Major League record for an arbitration-eligible player. The problem is that Donaldson was initially hoping for a lot more term than that, but he admitted on Saturday afternoon that the Blue Jays have yet to approach his agent.

"I think there's progress, because we were able to get the deal done that we were able to get done," Donaldson said. "I kind of let my agent take care of what's going on, as far as those types of talks. He fills me in whenever there's information that's going on with that. To my knowledge, there hasn't been [any talks] up to this point. I think it will be a fluid situation at some point, it's just not now."

Donaldson, at least publicly, has not given up hope that his agent will sit down with the Blue Jays before the start of the regular season. A new deal is still possible, but it also seems as though Toronto is intent to start the year with Donaldson on a short-term deal and then re-evaluate midway through the season.

The 32-year-old slugger remained patient and professional while being asked countless questions about his contract situation during Toronto's Winter Fest at Rogers Centre. He'll need to maintain that diplomatic approach throughout the year, because the speculation is not going away any time soon.

Video: Josh Donaldson is the No. 3 third baseman right now

Donaldson's name seems to get mentioned in the rumor mill on a weekly basis, even though the Blue Jays have been adamant that he will not be dealt this offseason. That trend will continue during the regular season, and visiting reporters likely will make it a routine to try to find out clues about his future destination. That would be problematic for a lot of players, but Donaldson seems to be taking it in stride.

"I don't think about it," Donaldson said. "I think distractions are things that you allow to be distractions. It's not something that's a distraction to me. I'm very comfortable with where I'm at in this game, the things that I've done for this game and in it.

"It's not a distraction, because I know it's going to be handled at some point. My mom always told me that you don't always get things right away when you want it. Patience is a virtue, and I definitely think that being patient has worked out up to this point, and I'm going to continue to do it."

The Blue Jays, for their part, haven't said much about the contract situation. Donaldson has been linked to the Cardinals throughout the offseason, but those two ballclubs worked out a pair of deals and neither one involved talking about Toronto's franchise player. That should be considered a strong indication that Donaldson will open the 2018 season with the Blue Jays, but after that, everything is up in the air.

"Not aware of those discussions," general manager Ross Atkins said in reference to the trade talks. "Those are rumors I believe people are speculating on."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays, Josh Donaldson

Steph Curry joined Hunter and Lexi Pence for a couple friendly rounds of Mario Kart

Friday night, Steph Curry visited Coral Sword -- a Houston coffee and game shop owned by Lexi and Hunter Pence -- for a friendly game of Mario Kart.

In terms of character selection -- which everyone knows is crucial to success -- Hunter revealed he is committed to Luigi in all Mario games. Curry went with Yoshi to start, but was more willing to experiment with different characters.

Rolen a better player than most remember

Third baseman did it all over 17-year career with four teams
MLB.com @JPosnanski

Let's take this head-on: There are only nine position players, nine total players, who have 70 or more Wins Above Replacement in both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs configurations and are not in the Hall of Fame.

Two of them are active: Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre. They should both enter Cooperstown on the first ballot; Pujols in particular will probably be a vote or two away from unanimous.

Let's take this head-on: There are only nine position players, nine total players, who have 70 or more Wins Above Replacement in both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs configurations and are not in the Hall of Fame.

Two of them are active: Albert Pujols and Adrian Beltre. They should both enter Cooperstown on the first ballot; Pujols in particular will probably be a vote or two away from unanimous.

So that leaves seven. Two of those are not yet eligible: Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. Jeter will sail in first ballot and, like Pujols, will likely get 99 percent of the vote. Rodriguez, well, he has some issues to face, so we will see how his voting goes.

We're down to five. Three of the five would absolutely be Hall of Famers -- and would have been elected a long time ago -- had it not been for a scandal that tarred their reputations and crushed their chances. We all know Barry Bonds' story. Rafael Palmeiro failed a drug test and so, despite 3,000 hits and 500 homers, he fell off the ballot. And Pete Rose never even made it on the Hall of Fame ballot after he was permanently banned from baseball for betting on games.

That leaves two.

One is Chipper Jones, who will sail in this year with one of the highest vote totals in Hall of Fame history.

The other, as you gathered from the headline, is Scott Rolen.

How in the world does Rolen -- a player who was rarely thought of as one of the three or four best players in the game, a player with mildly interesting, but hardly revolutionary, offensive numbers, a player who was often not the best on his own team -- how does he have 70 WAR? This is precisely the sort of thing that makes so many people skeptical of WAR as a statistic. Rolen has a higher WAR than Tony Gwynn, Ernie Banks, Ichiro Suzuki, Duke Snider, Dave Winfield and dozens of other Hall of Famers.

Video: Sneak peak of Scott Rolen HOF roundtable discussion

How is this possible? Was Rolen that good of a player, or is this a blip in the system? Well, it's easy to tell you why Rolen has 70 WAR, and then you can decide from there what you think about it.

Rolen was a terrific high school athlete in Jasper, Ind. He was actually the runner-up for Indiana's coveted "Mr. Basketball" award. He signed to play basketball at Georgia for Hugh Durham, the Bulldogs' legendary coach.

"He could have played for us right away," Durham said.

But the Phillies drafted Rolen in the second round in 1993 and kept pushing up their offer until they convinced him to play baseball instead.

"This is what I've always wanted," Rolen told the Evansville paper. "It's kind of a dream come true. Right now, anyway."

It's that "Right now, anyway" tag at the end of the quote that defined Rolen. He always seemed to have a sort of, "Hey, this all could come crashing down tomorrow"-vibe about him. I do wonder if that is why he never quite got the mad love that his play deserved.

Video: Tony La Russa thinks Rolen is worthy of Hall of Fame

Before getting into the WAR calculations: There is something quirky and funny about his National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1997. Rolen was actually called up in '96 and got 146 plate appearances, which at first glance seems to make him ineligible for the award -- the rule says that a player can only be considered a rookie if during the previous seasons he has not exceeded 130 at-bats.

But the key part of that is the phrase "at-bats." It's not plate appearances. On Sept. 7, 1996, Rolen started for Philadelphia in a game against the Cubs. In the first inning, he had his 130th at-bat; Steve Trachsel struck him out. Then, Rolen came up in the third for what would have been his 131st at-bat (exceeding rookie limits) … only Trachsel hit him with a pitch. As you know, a hit-by-pitch does not count as an at-bat. Rolen was taken out of the game the next half inning, did not play the rest of the season and finished with exactly 130 at-bats.

That freed Rolen up to be a fully-qualified rookie in 1997. He hit .283/.377/.469 with 21 homers, 92 RBIs and 93 runs, winning the Rookie of the Year Award unanimously.

Video: Scott Rolen began his great career with the Phillies

Rolen was a very good player in Philadelphia. He won four NL Gold Glove Awards, drove in 100 runs twice and put up an MVP-type season in 1998, though he ended up finishing 20th in the voting.

Actually, 1998 is a good year to break down why Rolen's WAR is so much higher than you expect. The MVP that year was Sammy Sosa, who hit 66 home runs, scored 134 runs and drove in 158 runs. He had 6.4 WAR that season. Rolen, who hit .290 with 31 homers, 110 RBIs and 120 runs scored, had a 6.7 WAR.

How did Rolen have a higher WAR when his offense was so much less impressive? Well, as you guessed, Sosa contributed many more runs with his offense (54 WAR Runs Batting, or Rbat, to 33, a substantial 21-run lead).

There wasn't a huge difference in Rolen and Sosa's baserunning and runs lost with double plays. Rolen gained zero runs, while Sosa lost five runs. So, that makes it 49 to 33 for Sosa.

But then comes defense. Rolen had a good defensive season that year (and, more or less, every year) and added 12 runs to his total. Third base is a difficult and important defensive position, so he also gets a two-run positional adjustment. That gives him 47 runs above average.

Meanwhile, Sosa gained three runs for his defense, but because he was a right fielder, his positional adjustment is minus-six. That gives him 46 runs above average, and thus, Rolen is just ever so slightly ahead, even though Sosa had a much better offensive season.

This is instructive for why Rolen's career WAR is so high. Let's dig deep here. Rolen was a very good hitter over his career. He hit .281/.364/.490 with 517 doubles and 316 home runs. You're probably not blown away by that -- especially in the days after we talked about Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield -- but his 234 Rbat is a good total. It compares well with Hall of Famers (Andre Dawson, Robin Yount, Kirby Puckett) and non-Hall of Famers (Harold Baines, Danny Tartabull, George Foster). Just so you know: The average WAR for players with between 230 and 240 Rbat is 49, which is a very good career.

Video: Rolen is a finalist for the Hall of Fame in 2018

But obviously, Rolen's 70 WAR is way above that. Why? Because Rolen was good at a lot of things. He was a good baserunner for his career, so you add 13 runs there. He hit into more double plays than average, so you take away four of those. That gets us to 243 runs above average.

Add the positional adjustment: That's 34 runs for playing third base. Now we're up to 277. And then, add his brilliant defense. By defensive WAR, Rolen ranks as the third-best third baseman in baseball history, behind only Brooks Robinson and Adrian Beltre. His defense is worth almost as much as his offense: 175 runs.

That puts him at 452 runs above average and 720 runs above replacement level.

That's a 70 WAR.

That is a flat-out Hall of Fame-level WAR.

So now we have to ask: Does any of that pass the smell test? Rolen was a seven-time All-Star, which is good, but not extraordinary. He only once finished in the top 10 in MVP voting (2004), and that year he was a pretty distant fourth, having received one first-place vote. He never led the league in any offensive category and, because of injuries, played in just 2,038 games -- 14 players on this year's ballot played in more games than Rolen. He just doesn't strike anyone as a gut-level Hall of Famer.

But the counterargument is this: Players like Rolen, who do everything well -- hit with power, get on base, run the bases and play great defense -- are destined to be underappreciated. It's part of Bill James' first rule of overrated and underrated.

Specialists and players who do two or three things are overrated. Players who do several things well are underrated.

Video: Rolen was key to Cardinals' 2006 World Series title

Rolen did several things well. He never hit 35 home runs, but he hit between 25 and 34 seven times. He hit 30 or more doubles in a season 10 times. He never led the league in anything, but he finished second in doubles once, second in triples once and second in RBIs once.

Rolen moved around, playing for four teams (Bill James rule No. 10: "A player who has a good career with one team will be thought of more highly than a player who does the same things, but with several different teams") and was a superb third baseman for all of them. He helped his team in many different ways.

Rolen should stay on the ballot and have his Hall of Fame case thoroughly discussed. Early voting suggests he has a good chance of getting the 5 percent necessary to stay on the ballot, but it will be close. I had one last vote to give after voting for my nine definites, and there were several excellent players to choose from. I decided to give that vote to Rolen. I think he was a great player, greater than many remember.

Joe Posnanski is a national columnist for MLB.com.

 

Arenado not going to rest on his laurels

After the sting of an early postseason exit, Rockies 3B sets '18 goals
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado skipped the team plane last fall and spent several depressive days in Phoenix after the Rockies' 11-8 loss to the D-backs in the 2017 National League Wild Card Game, filling his time with diversions, while longing for a baseball game that was not to come.

"I kind of hid a little bit," Arenado said to local media at Coors Field on Saturday, the final day of the Rockies Winter Caravan. "My mom and dad stayed with me a little bit. I think they were worried I was going to jump off a cliff, maybe. They wanted to check up on me a little bit. I want to thank them for staying with me, hanging out with me. They were hurting, too.

DENVER -- Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado skipped the team plane last fall and spent several depressive days in Phoenix after the Rockies' 11-8 loss to the D-backs in the 2017 National League Wild Card Game, filling his time with diversions, while longing for a baseball game that was not to come.

"I kind of hid a little bit," Arenado said to local media at Coors Field on Saturday, the final day of the Rockies Winter Caravan. "My mom and dad stayed with me a little bit. I think they were worried I was going to jump off a cliff, maybe. They wanted to check up on me a little bit. I want to thank them for staying with me, hanging out with me. They were hurting, too.

"It was just good to get away. I didn't want to fly home. I was kind of scared -- I didn't want people to see me here after we lost. ... Just to get away, I golfed. I went to a concert [Post Malone] -- by myself -- because nobody wanted to go with me. I actually enjoyed my down time. So when I got home I was ready to train and get back going."

The down time was sad, but it was short-lived. After winning his fifth straight Gold Glove Award, and every other significant defensive accolade at his position, and taking his third straight Silver Slugger Award, Arenado found himself in the weight room, on the field and in the batting cage quickly. He said a week hasn't passed that the loss to the D-backs -- in which he went 2-for-5 with a home run -- hasn't replayed itself in his mind. He isn't the only one. The game comes up in phone calls with teammates.

No wonder Arenado couldn't put his bat and glove away for long.

"I wanted to play more baseball," he said. "My cousin [Josh Fuentes, who put himself on the big league radar with a .307 performance at Double-A Hartford in the Rockies' organization] went to go play winter ball. And I was kind of jealous of him."

Pushing for more with the Rockies -- whose postseason appearance was their first since 2009 -- is motivation enough. Arenado doesn't have time to obsess about the recent Top 10 Third Basemen Right Now, which aired on MLB Network. "The Shredder," which makes judgments based on an alphabet soup of stats, rated the Cubs' Kris Bryant No. 1 and Arenado No 2. Fans, however, chose Arenado tops -- as did one of the panelists, former Major League third baseman Mike Lowell.

Video: Nolan Arenado is the No. 2 third baseman right now

"I appreciate the fans and the support, absolutely," Arenado said. "But there are a lot of great players out there and there are a lot of good third basemen. I remember when I got drafted, people were telling me that third base isn't really a position where it's really going off yet, like there's not that many. And now during my time in the big leagues a lot of [teams] have good third basemen.

"I can see why people pick other players. I can also see why other people pick me. It's all good. I don't take it personal. I just go play baseball."

Arenado enters 2018 with loftier goals than numbers or acclaim.

"As weird as it sounds, I would like to try to get to bed earlier," Arenado said. "That's something I'm trying to take pride in this next year. I find myself staying up a little later, my mind racing and thinking about the game. And then I find myself going to bed at like 2 or 3 [a.m.]. Little things like that, I feel can make an impact in the game. Trying to get to bed earlier, trying to take of my body, go get massages, take that more serious.

"Obviously, I want to be a better fielder, a better hitter, but that's baseball. I'll continue to work at that. But I think those are little mental things I'm trying to work on to help me excel at my game a little bit more."

If the Rockies succeed in the postseason, imagine how much better Arenado will sleep.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.

 

Colorado Rockies, Nolan Arenado

Tick, tock: Will MLB implement pitch clock?

Pace of play has improved in Minors, but opinion is divided at Major League level
MLB.com @castrovince

If we see the implementation of a pitch clock in an attempt to speed up the pace of play in 2018, it will be nothing new to the scores of players who have come up through the Minor League ranks in recent years.

The pitch clock has been a part of life at the Double-A and Triple-A levels since 2015. So players like Indians outfielder Greg Allen, who was in Double-A in '16 and '17, have already adjusted to playing ball on the clock.

If we see the implementation of a pitch clock in an attempt to speed up the pace of play in 2018, it will be nothing new to the scores of players who have come up through the Minor League ranks in recent years.

The pitch clock has been a part of life at the Double-A and Triple-A levels since 2015. So players like Indians outfielder Greg Allen, who was in Double-A in '16 and '17, have already adjusted to playing ball on the clock.

"At first, you're a little over-conscious of it, with it being so new," Allen said. "But the more time that you spend with these game clocks, it becomes more of a normal aspect of the game. You don't pay attention to it too much."

That's an important point to consider at a time when MLB and the players' union disagree on how best to address the lengthening game times at the Major League level. Sources told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi that this past week, the MLBPA rejected MLB's most recent proposal regarding pace of play rules, which included a pitch clock and limitations on catchers' mound visits per inning.

Baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement permits MLB to impose on-field changes unilaterally when at least one year of notice is given to the union, and MLB initiated that process early in 2017. But Commissioner Rob Manfred has said his preference is to make changes with MLBPA cooperation. Manfred and MLBPA executive director Tony Clark are reportedly slated to meet this coming week to discuss the issue further.

Across the game, there is a desire for clarity with regard to rule changes before the exhibition season begins.

"We have to be in position to prepare our players with what the rule changes are," Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. "It goes unnoticed, but it's something in Spring Training where you have to make sure guys are prepared for it. You have to come up with a different routine. So hopefully they tell us soon."

Indians reliever Andrew Miller, one of four elected MLBPA player representatives, said he understands why Major League Baseball wants to improve the pace of play, but doesn't agree with what was proposed.

"Everybody agrees we can be better and everybody agrees it would be a positive if we get games to move a little bit better, be shorter and the downtime was tightened up," Miller said. "It's just how to get there. A lot of players, myself included, are not fans of the pitch clock. This isn't something we're trying to pick a fight on. It's more just how you get there."

Despite the rejection by the union at large, some veteran players don't mind the pitch clock idea.

"I don't think players want to be there for three and a half hours, fans don't want to be there for three and a half hours and umpires don't want to be there for three and a half hours," Red Sox ace Chris Sale said. "I like working pretty quick, keeping my guys behind me in it. Plus, there's not much else to do. You're the only guy out there. Catch the ball, get on the mound and throw it. I'm a fan of it, but I don't speak for everybody on that."

With last season's average game coming in at three hours, five minutes -- the longest in MLB history -- MLB has shown interest in adopting a clock similar to the ones employed in the high levels of the Minors, where there is a 20-second limit between pitches with no runners on base. Umpires have the discretion to issue warnings, but pitchers charged with violating the rule are called for an automatic ball and batters are called for an automatic strike.

According to Baseball America, in the five Double-A and Triple-A leagues with pitch clocks, the average nine-inning game time dropped dramatically in 2015, when pitch clocks were instituted, before rising the next two seasons. In '15, the average game time in the Pacific Coast League dropped 13 minutes and the International League dropped 16 minutes. In the two years since, both of those leagues have seen a total increase of eight minutes, which means the technology has still been effective in speeding up the game relative to 2014, but not to the extreme degree witnessed in the first year in which it was utilized.

Those who have come up through those levels in recent years can speak to the impact the pitch clock has on proceedings.

"Honestly, you don't even notice," said Rangers pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx, who pitched in 11 Minor League seasons before reaching the big leagues last year. "Your job is to get outs. Honestly, that is how I took it. I know some other guys struggled with it, but I didn't even notice it. I just got up there, took my sign and didn't worry about the [clock]."

Allen said it was rare to see automatic balls and strikes applied.

"Sometimes [umpires] would give guys more leeway, other times they were more strict," Allen said. "All in all, the amount of times a guy actually had a ball or strike called wasn't a high number. But the fact that guys are aware of the clock is what makes the biggest difference."

Tribe pitcher Mike Clevinger, who has spent the last two seasons bouncing between Triple-A and the big leagues, felt similarly, but said established big leaguers might have a harder time making the adjustment.

"I feel like it might even cause more of a delay," Clevinger said. "Because once it gets called, how many people are going to come talk to the umpire? So now we're looking at three minutes of arguing instead of the 45 seconds it took someone to do their Nomar Garciaparra routine to get in the box."

Speaking of former members of the Red Sox, David Ortiz said he supports MLB's effort to pick up the pace.

"They do [have to pick up the pace], because the game is turning a little boring because of the time," Ortiz said. "Now that I'm on this side watching the game, I know. When you're watching a three- or four-hour game, it gets a little complicated. I think MLB needs to do whatever it takes to keep up with the pace of the game. The thing is, if you want to have the millennials watching the game, you definitely need to do something, because this is the ADD that comes with this new generation."

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he has no issue with the clock, but he is more concerned about the potential limitation of mound visits.

"I don't like seeing catchers going out to the mound all the time, but sometimes you need it," Gibbons said. "Whether it's to change a sign or when you bring in a new kid up here, first time up, or new to the organization. There are some things in game early on that they need to talk things out. That might present a problem throughout the league but the pitch clock, I think everybody can deal with that."

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. MLB.com reporters Rhett Bollinger, T.R. Sullivan, Gregor Chisholm and Ian Browne contributed to this story.

 

Blackmon open to contract extension with Rox

Center fielder does not want to be distracted by talks during season
MLB.com @harding_at_mlb

DENVER -- Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon views the one-year, $14 million contract he signed to avoid arbitration as a beginning.

Beginning of what? Well, Blackmon believes all will be revealed in good time.

DENVER -- Rockies center fielder Charlie Blackmon views the one-year, $14 million contract he signed to avoid arbitration as a beginning.

Beginning of what? Well, Blackmon believes all will be revealed in good time.

Blackmon, who led the National League in batting (.331) for the first time, and topped multiple other categories, is eligible for free agency after this season.

The idea of the Rockies signing him to a multiyear deal lingers. In a sense, much has changed -- Blackmon is an established star and the Rockies, after years of struggle, are coming off a postseason appearance. But at the same time, Blackmon can view it as nothing having changed.

Video: Blackmon, Rox agree to $14M deal to avoid arbitration

Blackmon, speaking Saturday at Coors Field during the final day of the Rockies Winter Caravan, acknowledged that maybe an extension before the season is possible, but ultimately his energy must go into his play.

"It's a two-way street," Blackmon said. "I really like playing here. It's been a great place to be. I like the people. I like the teammates. And I've also been on a one-year situation for the past three to four years, so it doesn't really change anything for me. I'm used to that go-out-and-produce mindset. Hopefully, something happens. That would be great.

"But I don't plan to let that get in the way of me playing baseball. I don't plan to be thinking about that during the season. That's my time to work. I don't want to be distracted."

While money doesn't necessarily change things, it could force him to adjust one thing. He still drives the 2004 Jeep Laredo he has had since high school. Maybe something new is on the horizon.

But it's not out with the old.

"I might get something else, but I'm not going to get rid of [the Jeep]," Blackmon said.

Worth noting

• Manager Bud Black reviewed the various possibilities at first base. The Rockies could revisit Ian Desmond, whom they signed last year, but Desmond is a fit in the outfield. There's more in-house.

"Ian's there," Black said. "We've got Ryan McMahon. Don't be surprised to see Pat Valaika play some first base. We're going to move him around the diamond. Jordan Patterson was in camp last year on the 40-man roster, played some first base in Triple-A and at big league Spring Training last year.

But this is, Black added, pointedly, "As of Jan. 20."

Mark Reynolds took the position last season after Desmond sustained a broken hand in Spring Training, and he was a Final Vote candidate for the All-Star Game. The Rockies are talking about a reunion. If not Reynolds, the Rockies could seek a similar right-handed-hitting veteran to pair with the left-handed-hitting McMahon.

• Blackmon was not happy with his performance in last year's 11-8 loss to the D-backs in the NL Wild Card Game -- something he discussed in December. On Saturday, he said experiencing the playoff mentality was valuable.

"As soon as you start playing pro ball, they grind this mentality into your head that it's a long season: Don't get too up, don't get too down, don't let one at-bat ruin your mindset because there's always tomorrow," he said. "And then you go play a one-game playoff, and there's not a tomorrow. It changes your mentality a little bit.

"So as I've gone into my offseason, I had this mentality that, 'OK, I've got to play 162 games, plus playoffs.' And really, playoffs are the only thing that matters."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and like his Facebook page.

 

Colorado Rockies, Charlie Blackmon