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Castro: After LoMo add, Twins should sign arm

Landing Arrieta, Cobb or Lynn would help Minnesota challenge Cleveland
MLB.com @castrovince

When asked if he was done pursuing upgrades after the Jake Odorizzi addition last week, Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said, "I won't turn my phone off." That's good, because, soon enough, Logan Morrison's agent was on the line, and now a Twins offense that was already on the rise has added some affordable power in the form of a reported one-year, $6.5 million pact with LoMo.

But even with that move complete, Falvey better not power off that phone just yet. After all, an opportunity to legitimately contend in the American League Central might come calling earlier than people expect.

When asked if he was done pursuing upgrades after the Jake Odorizzi addition last week, Twins chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said, "I won't turn my phone off." That's good, because, soon enough, Logan Morrison's agent was on the line, and now a Twins offense that was already on the rise has added some affordable power in the form of a reported one-year, $6.5 million pact with LoMo.

But even with that move complete, Falvey better not power off that phone just yet. After all, an opportunity to legitimately contend in the American League Central might come calling earlier than people expect.

The Twins are on the short list of clubs that still ought to be seriously engaged in the markets for Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb. Any of the three are capable of providing the kind of quality innings that would make the Twins more serious threats to challenge the Indians' perceived stranglehold on their division.

Let's first address that stranglehold, shall we?

The Indians are back-to-back defending champs in the Central, and their quiet winter shouldn't force us to forget that they had the AL's best record in 2017. The Twins played their best baseball of the season in the final two months of '17, winning 34 of their final 57 ... and they got smoked in the Central anyway. They dropped 11 games in the standings in that stretch thanks in large measure to the Tribe's AL-record run of 22 straight wins.

Though it is obvious that the Indians likely won't be repeating that streak in '18 and lost some key pieces in Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith, it is equally obvious that they return as Central favorites.

Video: STL@SF: Lynn fans four over eight scorless innings

Prior to the LoMo signing, the Indians were projected by FanGraphs to beat the Twins by 12 games and by PECOTA to win by 16 games. As I write this, those projections haven't been updated to account for Morrison's impact on the Twins at first base and DH, but I'm going to go out on a limb and guess they don't have him down as a 12- or 16-win player. Really, there is no realistic addition the Twins could make between now and Opening Day that is going to alter the bottom line that the Indians are prohibitive favorites in this division.

But knowing what we do about baseball -- especially in my tortured hometown of Cleveland -- it's not impossible to imagine the calculus changing as 2018 evolves.

The Indians are a juggernaut, yes, but possibly a more fragile one than they were a year ago. I mentioned the free-agent losses, with their only substantive addition being Yonder Alonso, who, like Morrison, is no sure thing to repeat his 2017 successes. (Both Morrison and Alonso have career OPS+ marks of 109, but Alonso had a 133 mark and Morrison a 135 mark in '17.)

Cleveland went out of its financial comfort zone in adding Edwin Encarnacion a year ago, and that has proven to be a one-time splurge after what the Indians hoped would be another deep October run burned out quickly in the Division Series against the Yankees (the Indians remained in baseball's lower-third in attendance). The Indians are largely counting on whatever gaps arise from their free-agent losses -- especially in the bullpen -- being plugged internally or addressed with in-season trades.

Here's the number that stands out to me when assessing the Indians' staying power: seven. That's how many starters they used last season, the fewest in MLB. Their starters accounted for 66 percent of their total innings pitched, the most in MLB. That's good fortune and impact that we know too well can be difficult to maintain in this game, and the departure of Shaw, who averaged 72 innings out of the 'pen over the last five years, might be a big deal if the Indians don't maintain health and length from their splendid starting staff. (Danny Salazar's shoulder inflammation is an early test of their depth.)

Video: MIN@TB: Cobb K's seven Twins in solid home start

Analysis of literally any team in baseball can involve the "key injuries would change things" rationale, sure. But because pitching health has such an air of etherealness in this sport, the Tribe's situation is worth highlighting.

And the Twins' opportunity is worth maximizing.

The Twins, who scored the most runs in baseball in the second half last season and have already rebuilt their bullpen with Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed, went into this winter hoping to capitalize upon general manager Thad Levine's past Texas connections in an effort to lure Yu Darvish into their rotation. They've had to settle instead for the swap for Odorizzi, who pitched through some back trouble en route to an ERA+ that was exactly league average last year, and a non-guaranteed pact with Anibal Sanchez, whose last two seasons have been an absolute mess.

It can't be overstated how much the Twins' pitching culture has changed with the arrival of Falvey and Levine and their analytical inputs, and it's possible they can "fix" both of those guys. But even with staff ace Ervin Santana only expected to miss a month following finger surgery, Jose Berrios coming off a bit of a breakout (113 ERA+ in 145 2/3 innings) and capable of more, and valuable prospects Stephen Gonsalves and Fernando Romero on the horizon, the Twins need more in the realm of reliability.

Morrison's arrival already has the Twins looking at a franchise-record payroll just north of $117 million. But this club has just $38 million on the books for 2019 and literally nothing locked in for 2020, aside from the obvious expenditures that will come from guys like Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton making bank in arbitration. Maybe something in the realm of $20 million per year for Arrieta, who reportedly is still seeking a six- or seven-year commitment at age 32, is simply too rich for the Twins' tastes, and if so, that's understandable. And giving up the 75th overall pick in the Draft for signing any qualifying-offer recipient is not nothing.

But if something in the general range of the three-year, $38 million deal Tyler Chatwood signed with the Cubs presents itself with Lynn or Cobb (and that feels increasingly realistic with Opening Day approaching), the Twins ought to pounce.

At worst, such a move would strengthen their standing in what could be an elevated bar of entry in the AL Wild Card picture this year (as I write this, the Twins are projected by FanGraphs at 81 wins, with the Blue Jays penciled into the second Wild Card at 86) and in a division that's going to evolve considerably come 2019, when the Indians will be faced with the free agencies of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

At best, such a move would properly position the Twins should the Indians start falling and an AL Central opportunity come calling in 2018.

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.

Minnesota Twins, Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn

Sox expected to announce J.D. deal Monday

According to sources, Red Sox, slugger ironed out contract language following physical
MLB.com @IanMBrowne

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After a productive weekend of collaboration between the Red Sox and slugger J.D. Martinez, the sides are close to formalizing the five-year, $110 million contract that was agreed upon last week, two sources told MLB.com.

A press conference is expected to be held on Monday morning, which is the one-week anniversary of when the Red Sox and Martinez agreed to terms on a deal that includes opt-outs after the second and third seasons.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After a productive weekend of collaboration between the Red Sox and slugger J.D. Martinez, the sides are close to formalizing the five-year, $110 million contract that was agreed upon last week, two sources told MLB.com.

A press conference is expected to be held on Monday morning, which is the one-week anniversary of when the Red Sox and Martinez agreed to terms on a deal that includes opt-outs after the second and third seasons.

View Full Game Coverage

Martinez came to Fort Myers on Wednesday for a physical. The Red Sox determined from the physical that Martinez is fully healthy for 2018. However, they spotted an issue that could be of concern at some point over the length of the contract and sought some other medical opinions.

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From there, the Red Sox and agent Scott Boras, who represents Martinez, worked through the situation all weekend cooperatively and professionally, as both sides just wanted to protect themselves with additional contract language.

Martinez had a sprained Lisfranc ligament in his right foot last year and a right elbow injury in 2016. It is unknown what the precise medical issue is that delayed the formalization of the much-anticipated union between the Red Sox and Martinez.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

The Red Sox continued to go about their business without Martinez on Sunday, defeating the Orioles, 7-1, in a Grapefruit League game.

Manager Alex Cora will be excited to greet Martinez once he arrives, but he said Sunday morning he's too consumed with other things to be stressed about the delay in officially adding the new slugger.

Once Martinez arrives officially, he will wear his familiar No. 28, thanks to Cora, who gave up that number earlier this week and switched to 20.

Video: Red Sox add slugger J.D. Martinez to lineup

Red Sox Nation has been abuzz all week with the news of Martinez's coming.

The right-handed-hitting masher wields the type of pure power bat the Red Sox missed so much in 2017 -- David Ortiz's first in retirement. Martinez roped 45 homers last year in just 432 at-bats. That power will be a welcome addition to a Boston team that finished last in the American League with 168 homers last year.

It will be interesting to see if Martinez, an all-fields hitter, tries to pull the ball more often at Fenway. He has played just seven games in Boston in his career and made the most of them, going 12-for-27 with two doubles.

An outfielder, Martinez will get a lot of his playing time for the Red Sox at designated hitter. Boston has a strong outfield of Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts. Hanley Ramirez will become the team's primary first baseman, sharing time there with Mitch Moreland.

Video: Browne on how Cora will use Martinez in the outfield

With strong table-setters like Betts and Benintendi slotted in for the top two spots in the lineup and Ramirez likely to hit third, Martinez should have no problem breaking the personal best of 104 RBIs he set last year.

The Red Sox are excited about adding the 30-year-old veteran to their impressive young nucleus of Betts, Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Bradley.

It was Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, then the Tigers' general manager, who scooped Martinez up just two days after the Astros released him in March 2014.

In the 520 games since Houston let Martinez go, he has produced a line of .300/.362/.574 with 128 homers and 350 RBIs. He looks forward to continuing that momentum with Boston, where he will be reunited with two former teammates from Detroit -- David Price and Rick Porcello.

Dombrowski established Martinez as his top target as soon as the offseason started and never wavered, even when negotiations slowed.

His patience is about to be rewarded.

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

Boston Red Sox, J.D. Martinez

On-field car trouble leads to slapstick moment

On Sunday, the Astros beat the Cardinals, 7-3, at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium in Jupiter, Fla. In the bottom of the seventh inning, there was a brief on-field delay caused by something you could really only imagine happening at Spring Training.

A car was on the field for some seventh-inning-stretch festivities, and when it was all over it was time to leave. But, as the driver and grounds crew would quickly find out, it wouldn't be that easy. What ensued was straight out of a slapstick comedy. 

Brotherly love: Seagers share field for first time

Corey, Kyle square off in spring game; 7 years separated them as kids
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb and @kengurnick

PEORIA, Ariz. -- They're as close as baseball brothers can be, working out together every winter in North Carolina, rooting each other on from afar during the season and sharing ideas via text or phone on a near-daily basis.

But Kyle Seager is seven years older than Corey Seager and never played with or against him growing up. Other than buying a ticket to see his younger brother play a World Series game in Houston last October, the Mariners third baseman hadn't even seen his sibling play in person since Corey was 11.

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PEORIA, Ariz. -- They're as close as baseball brothers can be, working out together every winter in North Carolina, rooting each other on from afar during the season and sharing ideas via text or phone on a near-daily basis.

But Kyle Seager is seven years older than Corey Seager and never played with or against him growing up. Other than buying a ticket to see his younger brother play a World Series game in Houston last October, the Mariners third baseman hadn't even seen his sibling play in person since Corey was 11.

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Until Sunday, that is, when Kyle and Corey lined up against each other at Peoria Stadium as Seattle beat Corey's Dodgers, 2-0, in Cactus League action.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Corey, playing designated hitter for the Dodgers, avoided the temptation to drop a bunt down on Kyle and instead grounded out to the right side of the infield in his first two-at-bats and then struck out in his final plate appearance.

Kyle went 2-for-2 with a pair of singles, making him 4-for-4 this spring, though he was thrown out at third trying to advance during a rundown in the first inning, tagged out by Dodgers backup shortstop Donovan Solano.

"Being out there and being on the same field as him, it was pretty cool," Kyle said. "It worked out because he wasn't playing shortstop, because I think he'd have given me a lot more grief if he'd tagged me out on that play. So that worked out."

The Mariners jokingly tried to pick Kyle's brain for any tips on how to get Corey out in their morning meeting.

"I think there's a little brotherly love there, and I can't blame him for it," said Mariners starter Marco Gonzales, who got Corey to ground out in his first at-bat. "He didn't give away any secrets. He just said he built that swing and he's proud of it.

"So I took that as, 'All right, I better bring my stuff today,'" Gonzales said with a smile. "But when he grounded out, 'Seag' threw me the ball and I told him, 'I'm sorry,' and he just kind of smirked and laughed and said, 'It's all right.'"

Tweet from @Dodgers: Little bro vs. big bro. #DodgersST pic.twitter.com/F44Tfxct52

Kyle wore the nickname "Corey's brother" on his jersey during Players Weekend last season and sings the praises of his younger sibling every chance he gets, while Corey regards his older brother as a role model and someone he's looked up to his entire life.

Which made it odd, Corey acknowledged, to look over and see his big brother striding to the plate in the first inning.

"It's hard to think about. It's him, you've been around him your whole life and watched him play a ton," Corey said. "It's still weird. You still feel like a fan in the stands watching him. It was a really cool moment."

Kyle, 30, was a 2014 All-Star for Seattle and has been a fixture at third base for the past 6 1/2 seasons. But Corey has already been to two All-Star Games for the Dodgers, won the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year Award and played in 26 more postseason games -- including the World Series at age 23.

"It's been pretty cool just getting to work with him and watching how he's progressed over the years," Kyle said. "He's doing everything right and he's doing really good."

The Mariners and Dodgers have played each other in previous springs, but one of the two brothers always happened to have the day off when their teams aligned -- until Sunday.

It won't be long before they square off again. The Mariners host the Dodgers in a three-game Interleague series on Aug. 17-19. The Seagers' parents didn't make the trip to Arizona, but they will be at Safeco Field for that gathering.

"That one's already on the schedule," Corey said. "They'll be there for sure."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001. Listen to his podcast.

Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers, Kyle Seager, Corey Seager

For Grandy, trip to Africa helped produce a Gift

Outfielder met Ngoepe at skills clinic in South Africa in 2007
MLB.com @gregorMLB

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Curtis Granderson has traveled all over the world as an official ambassador for Major League Baseball. He has been to Asia, Europe and New Zealand, but it's a 2007 trip to South Africa that he has spent a lot of time thinking about lately.

Memories from that decade-old journey have come flooding back. Granderson arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the goal of growing the sport he fell in love with as a kid. He ran clinics and talked to local youth. What Granderson didn't know back then, was that he was also meeting one of his future teammates.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Curtis Granderson has traveled all over the world as an official ambassador for Major League Baseball. He has been to Asia, Europe and New Zealand, but it's a 2007 trip to South Africa that he has spent a lot of time thinking about lately.

Memories from that decade-old journey have come flooding back. Granderson arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the goal of growing the sport he fell in love with as a kid. He ran clinics and talked to local youth. What Granderson didn't know back then, was that he was also meeting one of his future teammates.

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Gear

At the time, Africa had never exported a professional baseball player to North America, and as far as Granderson knew, it wasn't about to happen any time soon. But that's one of the reasons he was there. The short-term objective was to encourage more people to play the sport, but the long-term plan was to develop a pipeline of young talent that one day would chase their big league dreams.

Unbeknownst to Granderson, the player who would break down all of the barriers was taking part in his clinics. A young infielder with soft hands and incredible range by the name of Gift Ngoepe went through all of the drills on those South African backfields, hoping somebody would take notice. Less than a year later, Ngoepe would become the first African-born player to sign with a Major League team.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"They said there was a Detroit Tiger, Major League Baseball player, coming down and everybody was excited to meet him," said Ngoepe, who was 17 at the time. "Then, [Granderson] was there a short period of time in Johannesburg. He caught some of the kids and told them stories about the Major Leagues and just gave them inspiration [for] wanting to pursue life in baseball."

For Ngoepe, it was his first exposure to a big league ballplayer. He wasn't new to the sport -- Ngoepe grew up living in a 7 1/2-by-9-foot room adjacent to a field, where his mother worked as a clubhouse attendant for the Randburg Mets -- but he never envisioned making a living by playing baseball, because nobody from his country had ever done it before.

Video: DET@TOR: Ngoepe crushes a solo homer to left-center

Granderson's message was simple. It doesn't matter where you come from, what your skin color is, or how big you are, never stop chasing your dreams. Granderson used his own story about growing up in basketball-crazy Chicago and frequently being told he was too small, or not fast enough to make it, as motivation in life. Those lessons aren't restricted to a baseball field, but hearing the struggles of someone who made it only added fuel to the fire for Ngoepe.

Ngoepe showed enough during those initial clinics that he was invited to participate in MLB's academy in Tirrenia, Italy, the following year. That was when at least one scout stopped paying attention to where Ngoepe was from and instead focused on his skill set. Shortly after that, he signed a contract with the Pirates and his professional journey was under way.

The first person to accomplish just about anything usually paves the way for someone else. In Ngoepe's case, it didn't take long to realize that. MLB has been around for more than a century, but until last season there wasn't a single player to make the Majors out of Africa. Now, there could be two from one family, as Ngoepe's brother Victor signed with the Pirates organization in '16. Sometimes, all it takes is one person to break down the stereotypes.

Video: PIT@MIA: Victor Ngoepe on his older brother's callup

"I think from a player standpoint, as long as you have somebody you can connect with and go, 'Wow, he actually did it when a lot of people didn't say he could. I'm from his neighborhood, I'm from his city, I'm from his country. Maybe that can be me,'" Granderson said.

"From a scouting standpoint, when you see a lot of people who have a very similar makeup to someone like Gift -- like his brother -- [you] realize that there are a lot of things we can explore [in Africa] by coming to observe and coming to scout. Worst case, bring him over here to the U.S. and give him an opportunity to run around and play with some of the talent over here."

Granderson has always looked back on that trip to South Africa as one of the highlights of his baseball career, but he wasn't aware of Ngoepe's history until the two were reunited midway through last season. During a Mets trip to Pittsburgh, Ngoepe approached Granderson to share his story.

In a way, Ngoepe's journey helped validate a lot of the work that Granderson has done in communities all over the world. Ngoepe isn't here because of Granderson, but he's in North America because someone finally gave him an opportunity, and that's what Granderson's trips overseas were all about.

"For me, it was like, 'Wow,' I got a chance to meet somebody during the baseball ambassador trip, and part of the reason they brought me over there, was to promote the game to hopefully get the first Major League Baseball player to come out of it, and he was the guy," Granderson said.

"I had a chance to have a little bit of impact in it and now here we are together, in Blue Jays uniforms going out there, doing a lot of the same things we talked about back in 2007. Now, instead of me being the one teaching, now I'm learning from him and we're going out there to do our best to improve our careers and make the most of it."

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, Curtis Granderson, Gift Ngoepe

Cespedes' first spring homer goes a long way

Yoenis Cespedes knows how to make an entrance. We know him to show up to the Spring Training facilities in his fancy whips, but this is how we really know him -- hitting bombs -- and he did that Sunday when the Mets took on the Marlins:

Scherzer the head of the class among aces

Dominance of Nationals' star over past five seasons sets him apart
MLB.com @MikeLupica

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- His name is John Graham, and there may have been kids happier to be at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on this day than he was. But probably not. Graham, who is 56, suffered a stroke last March, and was diagnosed with prostate cancer after that. He says that when he was first starting to get better, his goal was no more complicated than Spring Training baseball: Being well enough to go back and be at a ballpark like this.

"I thought about days like this," he said. "I thought about the chance to watch somebody like Max Scherzer pitch."

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- His name is John Graham, and there may have been kids happier to be at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches on this day than he was. But probably not. Graham, who is 56, suffered a stroke last March, and was diagnosed with prostate cancer after that. He says that when he was first starting to get better, his goal was no more complicated than Spring Training baseball: Being well enough to go back and be at a ballpark like this.

"I thought about days like this," he said. "I thought about the chance to watch somebody like Max Scherzer pitch."

View Full Game Coverage

I asked him if he knew Scherzer might be pitching when he bought tickets for the first Sunday of Spring Training games here, Nationals against the Braves. He smiled and shook his head.

"I have a friend in the ticket office," he said. "He told me who was starting for the Nats." Graham nods at his wife sitting next to him. "When she got home from teaching yoga, I told her, 'We're going to the ballpark.' She said, 'We were just there two days ago.' I said, 'That was two days ago. One of the best pitchers in the world is pitching today.'"

He was talking about Scherzer -- and maybe Scherzer isn't merely one of the best pitchers in the world. He is possibly the best -- winning two Cy Young Awards in a row, and three in five years. We talk about Clayton Kershaw all the time. We also saw what Scherzer's old teammate, Justin Verlander, did for the Astros. There are other aces, though not as many as you think. Chris Sale of the Red Sox is one. Jake Arrieta, currently unemployed, has better numbers over the past five years than you might think.

Video: Scherzer accepts second straight NL Cy Young Award

But when you add it all up, it is not so hard to make the case that the ace of all the aces in baseball right now is Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals.

"When the Nats got him from Detroit, I thought he was just some guy they had who wasn't Verlander," Graham said. "Boy, was I wrong."

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Scherzer, great as he is, was absolutely in Verlander's shadow when they were both with the Tigers. He didn't start one of the first two games of the Nats' playoff series against the Cubs last season because he was recovering from a hamstring injury. So Scherzer only got one postseason start in the same October in which Verlander really did look like as much of an ace as he had ever been in his life in pitching a complete game against the Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series -- with the Astros down in the series, three games to two.

But when you look at his total body of work over the past five regular seasons and factor in those three Cy Young Awards, you can see why it isn't much of a challenge to say Scherzer is first among equals. Even if there aren't all that many equals.

Here are some stats from Matt Kelly at MLB.com:

ERA
1. Kershaw: 1.95
2. Greinke: 2.83
3. Arrieta: 2.86
4. Scherzer: 2.87
5. Sale: 3.01
6. Verlander: 3.56

Strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB)
1. Kershaw: 6.9
2. Sale: 5.8
3. Scherzer: 5.0
4. Greinke: 4.2
5. Verlander: 3.2
6. Arrieta: 3.1

Strikeout rate
1. Scherzer: 30.6 percent
2. Kershaw: 30.4 percent
3. Sale: 30.0 percent
4. Arrieta: 24.7 percent
5. Greinke: 23.5 percent
6. Verlander: 23.4 percent

Batting average against
1. Kershaw: .197
2. Arrieta: .204
3. Scherzer: .205
4. Sale: .221
5. Greinke: .230
6. Verlander: .238

OPS against
1. Kershaw: .529
2. Arriera: .595
3. Scherzer: .608
4. Sale: .624
5. Greinke: .639
6. Verlander: .678

Innings pitched
1. Scherzer: 1,092 1/3
2. Sale: 1,038
3. Verlander: 991 1/3
4. Kershaw: 991
5. Greinke: 963 2/3
6. Arrieta: 826 2/3

Wins
1. Scherzer: 89
2. Kershaw: 83
3. Greinke: 81
4. Sale: 70
5. Arrieta: 69
6. Verlander: 64

Home runs allowed
1. Arrieta: 63
2. Kershaw: 66
3. Greinke: 94
4. Verlander: 107
5. Sale: 110
6. Scherzer: 116

Video: Martinez on Scherzer's first start of the spring

Scherzer has given up more home runs than the other guys, yes he has. Here it is, see if you can hit it. He gave up a monster on Sunday afternoon in West Palm Beach to the second batter he faced, Dansby Swanson, who hit one over everything in left field until it landed in front of the Astros' "World Champion" sign out there. But he struck out Austin Riley, swinging, to end the first and struck out two more guys in the second. It was clear to see -- even in this small sampling, even on the first Sunday of spring games, with beer vendors yelling "Dilly Dilly" as they tried to sell Bud Light and fans like John Graham ridiculously happy to be here -- that you could have taken Scherzer's slider, in particular, from this first Sunday of spring games all the way to Opening Day.

Kershaw has a Hollywood stage, and such a famous baseball platform, in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. Verlander isn't just a champion now, he has his own profile raised by having a famous model wife like Kate Upton. The Dodgers wouldn't trade Kershaw for anybody. The Astros wouldn't trade Verlander for anybody. But Scherzer, at least so far in Washington, has more than been one of the great free-agent pitching acquisitions of all time -- even if the Nationals paid $210 million over seven years to get him.

Now three years into that deal, the 33-year-old is 51-25 in 98 starts for Washington, with an earned run average of 2.76, never making fewer than 30 starts. He has pitched a no-hitter. He has struck out 20 in a game. Now, his first Spring Training start of 2018. On the last Sunday in February, Scherzer already looked like he was ready for the last Thursday in March, which is when the Nationals will open their regular season in Cincinnati.

Scherzer's Sunday ended in the top of the second, when he struck out Dustin Peterson. Seven batters, three strikeouts, goodbye. He was walking off as soon as the ball was in the catcher's glove.

In the shade behind third base, John Graham smiled. Like a kid.

"The best," he said.

He was either talking about Scherzer. Or the day. Or both.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com. He also writes for the New York Daily News.

Washington Nationals, Max Scherzer

Carpenter, Waino started a prank competition

Spring is a time of new beginnings. The days get longer, flowers come into bloom and a new season of baseball starts.

For Cardinals teammates Adam Wainwright and Matt Carpenter, spring in 2018 also marks the start of a new competition: The Scare Games. Throughout the season, they'll attempt to scare each other and record their attempts at doing so.

Wainwright started off the games with an early win:

Lefty-slugger LoMo, Twins agree to deal

According to source, deal is for one year with vesting option
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins are surprisingly set to add a left-handed power bat, as they agreed to terms with slugger Logan Morrison on a one-year deal worth $6.5 million with escalators and a vesting option that could make it worth $16.5 million over two years, a source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi on Sunday.

The club, however, has not confirmed the news, as Morrison must pass his physical. The Twins had an open roster spot after losing reliever J.T. Chargois on waivers to the Dodgers.

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins are surprisingly set to add a left-handed power bat, as they agreed to terms with slugger Logan Morrison on a one-year deal worth $6.5 million with escalators and a vesting option that could make it worth $16.5 million over two years, a source told MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi on Sunday.

The club, however, has not confirmed the news, as Morrison must pass his physical. The Twins had an open roster spot after losing reliever J.T. Chargois on waivers to the Dodgers.

Castro: After LoMo add, Twins should sign arm

"There's a lot out there and people are talking, but if it happens, we have things to take care of to make it official," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "That's all I can say."

Morrison, 30, is coming off a breakout year that saw him hit .246/.353/.516 with 38 homers, 22 doubles and 85 RBIs in 149 games with the Rays last year. He figures to see most of his time at designated hitter, as Joe Mauer remains Minnesota's starting first baseman. It hurts Kennys Vargas' chance of making the roster, as Morrison is now the backup to Mauer and likely the primary designated hitter. Vargas is out of options and can't be sent to the Minors without clearing waivers.

"I've heard a lot of good things about him," said Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson. "Everybody knows he can hit. We're excited to have anybody like that with that kind of power in our locker room for sure."

The Twins have a lineup that leans left-handed with Mauer, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Jason Castro hitting from the left side along with switch-hitters such as Jorge Polanco, Eduardo Escobar, Robbie Grossman, Ehire Adrianza and Vargas. But the Twins couldn't pass up on the opportunity to add such a productive bat to the lineup.

Video: BAL@TB: Morrison mashes a solo homer to right

Morrison also adds insurance for the Twins in case Miguel Sano misses time with his surgically-repaired shin or is suspended for his alleged sexual assault. Sano will be eased into Spring Training games as he works on his conditioning. Escobar remains Sano's primary backup at third.

Morrison is a career .245/.330/.433 hitter with 122 homers, 148 doubles and 382 RBIs in 864 games with the Marlins, Mariners and Rays. His career high in homers before last season was 23, set in '11 with the Marlins.

Morrison benefitted by changing his swing mechanics to get the ball in the air more, increasing his launch angle from 12.1 degrees in 2016 to 17.4 degrees last year, per Statcast™. His average exit velocity actually decreased from 90.3 mph to 88.5 mph, but he hit 24 more homers in '17 than he did in '16.

Morrison remains outspoken but has matured since his time with the Marlins, when he had a strong presence on social media early in his career. He was teammates with Twins right-hander Jake Odorizzi the last two seasons in Tampa Bay and also played under current Twins bench coach Derek Shelton, who was his hitting coach with the Rays in 2016.

"I've heard good things," said reliever Addison Reed. "He's a good player. I can't believe it took this long for him to sign with a team, but I'm glad he's on our side. It's looking good. Last year, they surprised a bunch of people, and in this offseason they did nothing but add pieces. Nobody is gone and the only thing is we added pieces. This team got better, and it's going to be an exciting season."

Morrison is the sixth free agent the Twins have signed to a Major League deal this offseason, as he joins pitchers Fernando Rodney, Zach Duke, Anibal Sanchez, Michael Pineda and Reed. They also traded for Odorizzi last week. There remains a chance the Twins could add another starter via free agency, but even if they don't, the players like how aggressive the front office has been to improve the team.

"There's definitely guys available," Gibson said. "We know we're ready to make the next step. Any time you can add pieces like that for upgrades, you're creating more competition. Because if he's at DH, it means someone else doesn't hit. So it's only making us a deeper and better team."

Video: Zinkie on Morrison's fantasy value with Twins

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

Minnesota Twins, Logan Morrison

Business as usual: Kershaw throws clean inning

Ace 'on same page' with Dodgers entering opt-out season
MLB.com @kengurnick

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Clayton Kershaw breezed through a perfect inning against the Mariners in his first Cactus League game on Sunday and fended off a reporter seeking his reaction to Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi's statement that the pitcher and club have an "open dialogue" as he enters his opt-out season.

"That's a good way to put it, for sure," Kershaw said of Zaidi's comment, adding that he and the club are "on the same page as far as everything's going."

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PEORIA, Ariz. -- Clayton Kershaw breezed through a perfect inning against the Mariners in his first Cactus League game on Sunday and fended off a reporter seeking his reaction to Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi's statement that the pitcher and club have an "open dialogue" as he enters his opt-out season.

"That's a good way to put it, for sure," Kershaw said of Zaidi's comment, adding that he and the club are "on the same page as far as everything's going."

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Such optimistic comments were absent three springs ago when Zack Greinke was entering an opt-out season. Greinke eventually left for Arizona.

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On the mound, Kershaw was efficient in the Dodgers' 2-0 loss to Seattle. He made 11 pitches and retired Ben Gamel on a comebacker, Jean Segura on a fly to left that required Matt Kemp to fight off a tough sun and Robinson Cano on a grounder to shortstop.

Kershaw then went to the bullpen to throw a simulated inning. New bullpen acquisitions Tom Koehler and Scott Alexander followed with an inning each, Alexander charged with one run.

Dodgers Spring Training info

"It was good to get back out there," Kershaw said. "With a crowd, facing a different team, it helps a little bit."

Video: LAD@SEA: Kershaw on his scoreless outing vs. Mariners

Manager Dave Roberts was pleased.

"Everything he wanted out of this outing, he got," Roberts said.

Tweet from @Dodgers: Hello to you too, @ClaytonKersh22. #DodgersST pic.twitter.com/DJnkR8jo2G

Seager's elbow improving
It's an elephant in the room, the elbow injury that hurt shortstop Corey Seager on every throw at the end of last season and has him behind schedule as he continues to build arm strength.

But Seager said Sunday he's made steady progress in his throwing program. He said he hasn't considered the possibility of moving to first base (pushing Cody Bellinger to the outfield and Chris Taylor to shortstop) if the elbow goes bad again.

"Yesterday I was around 145 [feet]. I've got one or two more of those and then I can throw to bases," said Seager, who is 1-for-6 this spring and returned Sunday after Saturday's stomach illness.

Roberts said he believes Seager could be ready for the season with seven to 10 exhibition games in the field.

"He's getting closer," Roberts said. "Very confident."

Brotherly love: Seagers square off

Misc. arms dept.
Left-handed reliever Tony Cingrani was throwing hard in his first bullpen session since missing three days with a tight left shoulder.

Right-handed pitching prospect Walker Buehler was throwing at least as hard in his first bullpen session. Roberts said Alex Wood scrapped his windup after an "epiphany." No such epiphany for Buehler, who still uses an old-school windup.

Right-handed reliever J.T. Chargois, claimed off waivers from the Twins on Friday, arrived in camp and participated in workouts Sunday. Roberts said Chargois was healthy and already had thrown two bullpen sessions with the Twins.

The slender Chargois (pronounced shag-WAH) is said to possess triple-digit heat, but he also missed almost the entire 2017 season with an elbow stress reaction that did not require surgery. He was a second-round pick from Rice University in 2012 and had Tommy John surgery in '13.

On the back fields with a hefty front-office presence, the project du jour was right-hander Dennis Santana, who threw batting practice. The 21-year-old with an upright delivery was added to the 40-man roster in November after splitting last year between Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa. In four Minor League seasons, he has allowed only 14 home runs in 311 2/3 innings.

What's next
Wood and his stretch delivery start for the Dodgers on Monday against the Rangers and lefty Mike Minor in Surprise at 12:05 p.m. PT.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001. Listen to his podcast.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Clayton Kershaw

Top remaining FA starters drawing interest

Teams ready to pounce when price is right for Arrieta, Cobb, Lynn
MLB.com @jonmorosi

Yu Darvish's six-year, $126 million contract with the Cubs was supposed to clarify the starting-pitching market and create a cloudburst of signings.

Yet, two weeks have gone by and Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are still available.

Yu Darvish's six-year, $126 million contract with the Cubs was supposed to clarify the starting-pitching market and create a cloudburst of signings.

Yet, two weeks have gone by and Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are still available.

The issue isn't a lack of interest. One source said Saturday night that the Brewers, Yankees, Phillies, Rangers, Orioles and Nationals are among the teams continuing to monitor the top available starting pitchers.

The Yankees have maintained contact with Lynn throughout the offseason. In some ways, the Yanks are an even better fit for Lynn today than earlier in the month, when it seemed possible that a signing of Mike Moustakas would occupy a large percentage of the team's remaining budget for players.

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By instead acquiring Brandon Drury from the D-backs, the Yankees added a potential everyday third baseman who will earn close to the Major League minimum in 2018. Thus, the Yanks have preserved roughly $25 million in spending power for additional signings, trades and callups this year -- while still remaining under the luxury-tax threshold of $197 million.

Why is Arrieta still unsigned?

So Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has two choices: He can shop for a pitching upgrade now, when the calendar may begin exerting downward pressure on the asking prices for Arrieta, Lynn and Cobb. Or Cashman can wait until the non-waiver Trade Deadline, when he can leverage one of the top farm systems in baseball after assessing the development of 25-year-old Jordan Montgomery and the health of the team's more veteran starters.

Meanwhile, there's plenty of intrigue within the industry surrounding the Nats' plans. Washington GM Mike Rizzo sounded content with his roster in comments to MLB.com's Jamal Collier over the weekend. Right-hander A.J. Cole, 26, begins camp as the favorite to be the team's No. 5 starter, in a rotation headlined by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark.

But rival club officials believe the Nationals will be opportunistic if Arrieta, Lynn or Cobb falls into their price range. With Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Gonzalez all beginning contract years, the team's collective urgency is extraordinarily high. The franchise is desperate to win a playoff series -- at the very least -- for the first time since relocating to Washington, D.C.

And then there is the Scott Boras factor. Boras represents Arrieta, along with six of the Nats' eight highest-paid players in 2018, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts: Scherzer, Harper, Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, Gonzalez and Matt Wieters. The longstanding relationship between team and agent could create the right circumstances for a deal.

From the standpoint of strategic spending, the acquisition of a starting pitcher now would be tantamount to finding Gonzalez's replacement one year early -- although there's optimism within the organization that right-handed prospect Erick Fedde will be a full-time member of the rotation by 2019, if not before.

Meanwhile, the Angels aren't looking seriously at free-agent starting pitchers, but they would consider free-agent closer Greg Holland at the right price.

Holland, 32, is coming off a season in which he reestablished himself as an All-Star closer and led the National League with 41 saves. Blake Parker, who has 10 career saves in the Major Leagues, currently projects to be the Halos' closer.

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network.

Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn

Source: Reds add Revere to OF competition

Veteran agrees to Minor League deal, likely to vie with Ervin for roster spot
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds have agreed to a Minor League contract with veteran outfielder Ben Revere and will invite him to Spring Training, a source told MLB.com on Sunday.

Revere's deal is pending him passing a physical. Terms were not immediately known.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds have agreed to a Minor League contract with veteran outfielder Ben Revere and will invite him to Spring Training, a source told MLB.com on Sunday.

Revere's deal is pending him passing a physical. Terms were not immediately known.

Spring Training information

Cincinnati is adding Revere to compete for a spot as a reserve outfielder behind the four-man rotation of Billy Hamilton, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker. He can play all three outfield spots and would likely compete with Phillip Ervin for the fifth outfielder's role.

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Revere, 29, batted .275/.308/.344 with one home run and 20 RBIs in 109 games for the Angels last season.

Over an eight-year career with the Twins, Phillies, Blue Jays, Nationals and Angels, Revere is a .284/.319/.343 hitter.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Ben Revere

Swanson greets Scherzer with long home run

MLB.com @mlbbowman

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Asked to at least generalize what he focused on changing during the offseason, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson smiled and replied, "Let's just say self-awareness."

Swanson was surrounded by hype when the D-backs took him with the first overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft. He became the focus of many marketing campaigns after debuting with the Braves in '16, and he had a successful first two months as a Major Leaguer.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Asked to at least generalize what he focused on changing during the offseason, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson smiled and replied, "Let's just say self-awareness."

Swanson was surrounded by hype when the D-backs took him with the first overall pick in the 2015 MLB Draft. He became the focus of many marketing campaigns after debuting with the Braves in '16, and he had a successful first two months as a Major Leaguer.

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But after Swanson struggled throughout last season, it's easy to say that too much might have been asked of him, too soon. This year, Swanson has returned mentally refreshed, yet still confident, intent on turning the page on 2017. He provided an encouraging sign when he homered off Max Scherzer during the first inning of Sunday's 9-3 loss to the Nationals at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

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"I fine-tuned some things during the offseason, stuff I believe in and stuff I believe will pay huge dividends moving forward," Swanson said. "Now, it's more of a matter of making them a habit instead of continuing to do the things I don't need to be doing."

Spring Training results, especially those produced during the first week of the Grapefruit League season, might not matter. But when a player is coming off a season during which he hit .232 with six homers and a .636 OPS, homering off a three-time Cy Young Award winner should at least be viewed as a welcome confidence booster.

"I think it has to [help], but I'm going to get right back at it tomorrow," Swanson said.

Swanson's home run, which nearly hit an office building located behind the left-field bullpen, came against a 1-0 fastball that was high and inside. It was certainly an enticing pitch for the Braves' shortstop, who hit .329 with a .529 slugging percentage against pitches on the inner third of the plate, according to Statcast™.

It's proven to be his sweet spot: when Swanson returned in early August from his brief demotion to Triple-A Gwinnett, he showed better plate discipline and seemed less susceptible to sliders and other pitches thrown on the outer third. But he still hit just .220 with a .284 slugging percentage against pitches that were located on the outer third of the plate.

Swanson appreciated the results of his first-inning at-bat against Scherzer, but he said he was even more encouraged by the quality contact he made when he lined out to right field against Austin Voth during the fourth inning.

"Any time you can hit the ball well the other way, it shows good signs," Swanson said. "Today, overall was a good day. I just need to move forward with things."

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Dansby Swanson

Reggie: Stanton has 'ingredients' to succeed

Yankees likely won't pursue free-agent starters; Wilson expected to report Monday