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MLB announces pace of play initiatives for '18

MLB.com @_dadler

Major League Baseball will implement new pace of play rules for the 2018 season, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday, but there will be no pitch clock this season.

After consulting with the MLB Players Association and all 30 clubs, MLB announced its slate of rules changes, among them a limit on mound visits per game.

Major League Baseball will implement new pace of play rules for the 2018 season, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday, but there will be no pitch clock this season.

After consulting with the MLB Players Association and all 30 clubs, MLB announced its slate of rules changes, among them a limit on mound visits per game.

A pitch clock -- giving the pitcher a certain amount of time to deliver the ball -- had been one of the major proposals considered. MLB decided to defer implementation of a pitch clock, as well as a between-batter timer, in order to give players an opportunity to respond to the new rules and positively affect pace of play throughout the 2018 season.

"I am pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with the Players Association to take concrete steps to address pace of play with the cooperation of players," Manfred said in a statement. "My strong preference is to continue to have ongoing dialogue with players on this topic to find mutually acceptable solutions."

New phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout will be installed and monitored, limiting the ability of teams to steal signs, which is viewed as a contributing factor to the increasing number of mound visits. Rules governing when players can and cannot leave the batter's box between pitches, instituted during the 2017 season, remain in effect.

"Players were involved in the pace of game discussion from Day 1, and are committed to playing a crisp and exciting brand of baseball for the fans, but they remain concerned about rule changes that could alter the outcome of games and the fabric of the game itself -- now or in the future," said Tony Clark, the MLBPA executive director.

Here is a breakdown of the new rules:

• Mound visits: Mound visits will be limited to six per team per nine innings. Teams will receive an additional visit for every extra inning played. Any manager, coach or player visit to the mound will count as a mound visit. Visits to the mound to clean cleats in rainy weather, to check on an injury or potential injury or after the announcement of an offensive substitution are excepted. Also, normal communication between player and pitcher that do not require either to vacate their position on the field do not count as a visit. If a team is out of visits, the umpire will have discretion to grant a visit at the catcher's request if he believes there has been a cross-up between the pitcher and catcher.

Video: Hot Stove on mound visits regarding pace of play

• Between-inning breaks: As has been the case since the start of the 2016 season, a timer will count down between innings from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised games, from 2:25 in nationally televised games and from 2:55 for tiebreaker and postseason games. The difference now is that at the 25-second mark, the umpire will signal for the final warmup pitch and the pitcher must throw it before the clock hits 20. The batter will be announced at the 20-second mark and the pitcher must begin his windup to throw the first pitch of the inning as the clock hits zero. Another important change is that a pitcher is no longer guaranteed eight warmup pitches between innings. However, he can take as many as he wants within the countdown parameters noted above. The timer will start on the last out of the inning, unless the pitcher is on base, on deck or at bat, in which case the timer shall begin when the pitcher leaves the dugout for the mound. If the final out of the inning is subject to replay, the timer begins when the umpire signals the out.

• Timing of pitcher changes: The timing clock -- as listed above -- also applies to pitching changes, and it will begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track.

Video: Hot Stove on batter's box rule, replay review changes

• Instant replay: All club video review rooms will now receive direct slow-motion camera angles in order to speed up challenges and the resulting review. New phone lines will connect the rooms to the dugout and will be monitored to prevent their use for sign stealing.

Summary of 2018 Rule Changes

I) Mound Visits 
1. Number
A. 2018 Championship Season. Mound visits without a pitching change shall be limited to six (6) per team, per nine innings. For any extra-innings played, each Club shall be entitled to one additional non-pitching change mound visit per inning.  
B. OBR 5.10(l). Official Baseball Rule 5.10(l), which governs mound visits by a manager or coach, remains in effect (i.e., a pitcher must be removed on the second visit by a manager/coach in an inning). 

2. Definition of Mound Visit. A manager or coach trip to the mound to meet with the pitcher shall constitute a visit. A player leaving his position to confer with the pitcher, including a pitcher leaving the mound to confer with another player, shall also constitute a mound visit, regardless of where the visit occurs or the length of the visit, except that the following shall not constitute mound visits:
A. Discussions between pitchers and position player(s) that (i) occur between batters in the normal course of play and do not require either the position player(s) or the pitcher to relocate;
B. Visits by position players to the mound to clean spikes in rainy conditions;
C. Visits to the mound due to an injury or potential injury of the pitcher; and
D. Visits to the mound after the announcement of an offensive substitution.

3. Cross-Up in Signs. In the event a team has exhausted its allotment of mound visits in a game (or extra inning) and the home plate umpire determines that the catcher and pitcher did not have a shared understanding of the location or type of pitch that had been signaled by the catcher (otherwise referred to as a "cross-up"), the home plate umpire may, upon request of the catcher, allow the catcher to make a brief mound visit. Any mound visit resulting from a cross-up prior to a team exhausting its allotted number of visits shall count against a team's total number of allotted mound visits.

II) Inning Breaks and Pitching Changes
1. Time of Break. The timer will count down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised championship season games, from 2:25 for breaks in nationally televised championship season games, and from 2:55 for tie-breaker and postseason games as follows: 

Time Remaining | Required Action
25 seconds: 
Umpire signals pitcher to complete last warmup pitch.
20 seconds: Batter's announced and must leave on-deck circle, batter walk-up music shall begin, and pitcher shall complete last warmup pitch.
0 seconds: Pitcher must begin motion to deliver first pitch.

A. The pitcher may take as many warm-up pitches as he desires, but regardless of how many warm-up pitches he has thrown, he must deliver his final warm-up pitch at least 20 seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change. OBR 5:07 will be revised to reflect that pitcher is not guaranteed eight warm-up pitches. 
B. The umpire shall signal for the last warm-up pitch at 25 seconds, unless a special circumstance (as described below) applies. 
C. The batter must leave the on-deck circle and proceed directly to the batter's box when the pitcher throws his final warm-up pitch.  
D. The pitcher must begin his motion for the first pitch as soon as the batter steps into the box and is alert to the pitcher; provided, however, the pitcher cannot begin his motion for the first pitch more than five seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change so that television is ensured to be back from commercial break. 

2. Special Circumstances. A Player will be excused from following the time limits set forth above if the umpire determines that any of the following special circumstances are present:  
A. There is a delay in normal warm-up activities during the inning break due to no fault of the Players (e.g., injury or other medical emergency, equipment issues, playing field or grounds crew issues);
B. The umpire believes the pitcher is at a legitimate risk of injury if he does not receive additional time to throw warm-up pitches; 
C. The umpire believes the batter is at a legitimate risk of injury if he does not receive additional time to enter the batter's box; 
D. Any other special circumstances which, in the umpire's judgment, warrant allowing the pitcher to throw after the deadline. 

3. Start of Timer for Inning Breaks
A. Last Out of Inning. The timer shall start on the last out of an inning for an inning break.   
B. Close Plays/Replay Review. The Field Timing Coordinator shall delay the start of the timer if the final out of the inning is a close play that may be reviewed by instant replay. If the final out of the inning is determined in instant replay, the timer shall start as soon as the out is signaled by the umpire.  
C. Pitcher or Catcher On Base/On Deck. If a pitcher ends an inning on base, on deck, or at bat, the timer shall reset when the pitcher leaves the dugout for the mound. If a catcher ends the inning on base, on deck, or at bat, the timer will reset when the catcher enters the dugout (and another catcher must begin warming up the pitcher). 
 
4. Start of Timer for Pitching Changes
A. Pitcher Crosses Warning Track. The pitching change timer shall begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens) to enter the game. In the case of a pitching change that occurs during an inning break, the timer shall reset if previously started as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens).  
B. Relief Pitchers Must Promptly Leave Bullpen. Relief pitchers shall leave the bullpen promptly following an appropriate signal by their manager or coach. During the playing of God Bless America, or any other extended inning event previously approved by the Office of the Commissioner, the timer will begin at the conclusion of the song or event. 
 
5. Enforcement. Umpires shall direct players and enforce the inning break and pitching change time limits on the field. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline for just cause by the Office of the Commissioner pursuant to Article XI(C) of the Basic Agreement.

III. Batter's Box Rule
The batter's box rule that was in effect during the 2017 season will remain in effect during the 2018 season.

IV. Video Replay Review
The following adjustments will be made to the video replay technology:
A. Install capability for all Club video review rooms to receive direct slow motion camera angles for the 2018 championship season; 
B. Install new phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout, and monitor the communications over those lines to prevent their use for sign-stealing.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Bryce: 'I'm focused on this year,' not free agency

Harper wants to see Nationals fulfill postseason promise in 2018
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Before he began his first press conference of the spring, Bryce Harper sat down at the table, adjusted his hat and then pulled out his phone. He had prepared a statement to read to the jam-packed room, ready to cut off the questions he knew would be coming.

Harper said he would not be answering any questions about his future beyond the 2018 season, when his highly anticipated free agency is set to begin. He directed all inquiries to his agent, Scott Boras, and threatened to walk out of the room if asked about his impending free agency.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Before he began his first press conference of the spring, Bryce Harper sat down at the table, adjusted his hat and then pulled out his phone. He had prepared a statement to read to the jam-packed room, ready to cut off the questions he knew would be coming.

Harper said he would not be answering any questions about his future beyond the 2018 season, when his highly anticipated free agency is set to begin. He directed all inquiries to his agent, Scott Boras, and threatened to walk out of the room if asked about his impending free agency.

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule | Gear

"I will not be discussing anything relative to 2019, at all," Harper said Monday afternoon. "I'm focused on this year. I'm focused on winning and playing hard, like every single year."

Harper's impending free agency will be one of the biggest storylines throughout all of MLB this season. He will headline perhaps the biggest free-agent class in baseball history, which will include stars such as Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson and potentially even Clayton Kershaw. Harper is expected to be the biggest prize considering his rare combination of talent, accomplishments and youth. He will turn just 26 years old this October, but is already a five-time All-Star, former Rookie of the Year and the National League Most Valuable Player Award winner.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Rarely do players in their prime at that age hit the open market, so some predict Harper could command the largest contract in baseball history as a result -- even topping the 13-year, $325 million pact Giancarlo Stanton signed with Miami in 2014.

However, Harper still has one season left on his contract in Washington, and he intends to stay focused on that.

"I just think every single year I go in, I have my same goals, I have my same plans. And that's to win," Harper said. "That's to be prepared to focus on every single day and do the things I can to help this team win."

Video: Bryce Harper ranks third on the Top 100 Right Now

Harper proved again last season that he is one of the sport's most dynamic players when he stays on the field. In 111 games last year, he belted 29 home runs with a 1.008 OPS and was worth 4.8 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs. But a bone bruise and hyperextended left knee caused Harper to miss about a month, only to return just in time for the postseason. Aside from a mammoth home run in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against the Cubs, Harper struggled to find his timing for much of that playoff series.

The knee did not hinder him at all this offseason, however, and Harper showed up to camp appearing to have gained a few more pounds of muscle. Rangers outfielder Joey Gallo has worked out with Harper for years in the offseason and said Harper was "as focused as he's ever seen him" this winter. It's similar to a year ago, when Harper arrived to camp having added a few pounds of muscle and then played like an MVP candidate for the season's first half before his injury.

"Stay healthy. That's all I want to do," Harper said. "If I stay healthy, I can be one of the best players in the game."

The Nationals are hopeful for more of the same this season.

Video: Collier discusses Harper's focus on 2018

Along with Harper's contract status, the Nats have a few other prominent players with expiring contracts, meaning 2018 might be Washington's final chance to win the World Series with its current core. Harper has been a key contributor to the Nationals' teams that have won four division titles in six seasons, even as a few members of the rest of the cast have moved on recently.

"I think I've been lucky enough to play for a great team," Harper said. "We've gotten to the playoffs numerous times. You look at a young guy like [Dan Marino] that gets there their first year and never gets back. It's tough. You always want to get there and get there and get there, because you might never get back.

"Every single year you come in here and try to win ballgames and do the things you can to help this team win. We all want to come together and pull on the same rope. We do it every single year. We're expected to win. That's how it is. You always have that pressure, you always have that pressure to win and everything like that. But we've got a great team, and we've been so close."

This could be the final time Harper arrives to the Nationals' complex in West Palm Beach for Spring Training. And if so, his focus remains on this final season, and he does not want to look to anything beyond.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Bryce Harper

Lincecum reportedly has MLB offer, not from SF

MLB.com @MannyOnMLB

Tim Lincecum has a guaranteed Major League contract offer, according to SB Nation's Grant Brisbee.

Lincecum, a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner who hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2016 with the Angels, reportedly hit 93 mph with his fastball during a showcase for about 20 scouts outside Seattle on Thursday.

Tim Lincecum has a guaranteed Major League contract offer, according to SB Nation's Grant Brisbee.

Lincecum, a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner who hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2016 with the Angels, reportedly hit 93 mph with his fastball during a showcase for about 20 scouts outside Seattle on Thursday.

Hot Stove Tracker

The 33-year-old right-hander was a four-time NL All-Star in nine seasons with the Giants, whom he helped win three World Series championships in 2010, '12 and '14. His final season with San Francisco was cut short when he underwent hip surgery to repair a torn labrum in '15.

From 2008-11, Lincecum posted a 2.81 ERA with 10.0 K/9 innings with the Giants, becoming the first pitcher in MLB history to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards in his first two full seasons (2008-09). He gave up one run on three hits over eight innings, striking out 10 Rangers in San Francisco's title-clinching victory in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series, the franchise's first championship since moving from New York in 1958.

The Angels signed Lincecum to a one-year deal in May 2016, and he made nine starts over which he posted a 9.16 ERA. His fastball velocity averaged 88.4 mph, down from a mid-90s fastball he featured when he first arrived in the big leagues.

In Thursday's showcase, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand that the diminutive Lincecum had a new physique, looking "ripped," without "an ounce of fat on him."

Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.

Tim Lincecum

Felix, Yadi lead select group in it for long haul

With Hosmer leaving KC, here's a look at players who have stuck with one club
MLB.com @williamfleitch

Over the weekend, Eric Hosmer agreed to a big honking eight-year, $144 million contract with the Padres, a team eager to show it's ready to contend in the near future, for better or for worse. Hosmer is many things, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, a one-time All-Star, a World Series champion, but more than anything else, he has been a Royal.

Hosmer, along with Salvador Perez, is the physical avatar of one of the two most successful eras in Royals history. He started out as the superstar prospect who pointed to a better future, then became the slightly disappointing young player once he reached the Majors, to the leader of a team that won a World Series, to a legitimate top-shelf down-ballot MVP Award candidate, to ultimately the most Royal thing of all: A free agent who left town.

Over the weekend, Eric Hosmer agreed to a big honking eight-year, $144 million contract with the Padres, a team eager to show it's ready to contend in the near future, for better or for worse. Hosmer is many things, a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, a one-time All-Star, a World Series champion, but more than anything else, he has been a Royal.

Hosmer, along with Salvador Perez, is the physical avatar of one of the two most successful eras in Royals history. He started out as the superstar prospect who pointed to a better future, then became the slightly disappointing young player once he reached the Majors, to the leader of a team that won a World Series, to a legitimate top-shelf down-ballot MVP Award candidate, to ultimately the most Royal thing of all: A free agent who left town.

Hosmer played seven years in Kansas City, and he is among the all-time franchise leaders in several categories, from homers (eighth) to RBIs (eighth) to hits (ninth) to games played (11th). (It is worth noting that he's not in the top 25 in all-time Royals bWAR, even though current and recent Royals like Alex Gordon, eighth, Lorenzo Cain, 13th, and Perez, 21st, all are).

Video: Butera, Duffy and Herrera react to Hosmer departure

Had Hosmer re-signed with the Royals, like many suspected he would, he likely would have moved into the top five, and maybe even the top two (he wasn't catching George Brett in anything) in almost every Royals career category. He would have been Mr. Royal, the representation of this era of Royals baseball in a way similar to the way Brett was in the '80s.

But he didn't, because players of course rarely do anymore. It has become an article of faith that the days of Stan Musial and Carl Yastrzemski and Cal Ripken, Hall of Famers staying with the same franchises their entire careers, are long in the past, though it is worth noting that Chipper Jones, Alan Trammell, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Barry Larkin, Jim Rice, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken have all been inducted in the last decade. (And Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter are coming in the next few years.) But certainly finding guys who stay with one team their whole career are few and far between. You'd be surprised how few players have even made it deep into their second contract with one team.

So, today, we look at the longest-tenured active careers with one team, for both pitchers and hitters. It can be a little tricky for pitchers, because, due to injuries, sometimes pitchers can play for one franchise for a decade without actually, you know, pitching all that much. So we'll look at the top 10 in career innings pitched for one team for pitchers (which eliminated some relievers, but not all), and total games played for hitters. Hosmer had a chance to top the latter list someday. But that opportunity ended this weekend. He'll have to buy his own beers in Kansas City from now on. (Thanks to Baseball Reference's Play Index for the research help.)

PITCHERS

10. Dallas Keuchel, Astros, 984 2/3 IP (debuted in 2012)
Keuchel had a 5.21 ERA in his first two seasons over 38 starts before turning it on in 2014 and then winning the Cy Young in '15. It feels like Keuchel just got here, another reason it's so amazing to see him in the top 10 already. (No. 11 on this list is Chris Archer, by the way.)

Video: Keuchel discusses pitching again in Spring Training

9. Julio Teheran, Braves, 1,009 2/3 IP (debuted in 2011)
Teheran first appeared in Atlanta when he was 20, which is why it feels like he's been around forever even though he only turned 27 a couple of weeks ago. For what it's worth, Greg Maddux didn't even get to Atlanta until he was 27.

8. Corey Kluber, Indians, 1,091 IP (debuted in 2011)
Kluber has now thrown more than 203 innings a season for four consecutive seasons, and that's not even counting the postseason. He didn't make his first start for Cleveland until he was Teheran's age. The Indians have him under contract through 2021, when he will be 34.

7. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals, 1,099 2/3 IP (debuted in 2010)
It's a little disconcerting seeing Strasburg on this list, isn't it? It seems like just yesterday that he was the phenom who was going to change the sport. Also: So much of his career has been about reducing his innings. But here he is. The Nationals will be paying him through 2030, by the way.

Video: Strasburg is the No. 5 starting pitcher right now

6. Chris Tillman, Orioles, 1,118 1/3 IP (debuted in 2009)
A free agent this offseason, news broke Monday that Tillman is returning to the O's on a one-year deal, according to multiple sources. Considering he had a 7.84 ERA last season, perhaps he should consider himself fortunate to be pitching in 2018 at all.

5. Homer Bailey, Reds, 1,124 IP (debuted in 2007)
There is a special slot on this list for Bailey, who is here because of the rarely used "they can't get rid of his contract so let's call it 'longevity'" principle. The Reds are hoping Bailey can "lead' their rotation, which might be asking a lot of a guy who hasn't had an ERA under 5.56 since 2014. They owe him $49 million over the next two seasons (counting a $5 million buyout after 2019), so, suffice it to say, Reds fans will still be seeing plenty of the Christian Bale doppleganger for a while.

4. Madison Bumgarner, Giants, 1,508 2/3 IP (debuted in 2009)
Now we're getting somewhere. The final four pitchers on this list are all staples, the faces of their franchises for a decade now. Bumgarner finally had the injury season in 2017 many had feared, but because of a bike crash rather than wear and tear. He is somehow still only 28.

Video: Bumgarner discusses his excitement for 2018 season

3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals, 1,891 2/3 IP (debuted in 2005)
Wainwright has had the two worst seasons of his career the past two years, and there has been enough worry about him that he felt compelled to have a news conference last week saying he'd no longer be taking retirement questions. The Cardinals still want him to hold a spot in the rotation or, failing that, at least the chance to bow out gracefully. He'll remain beloved no matter what happens: Clinching a World Series your rookie season as a closer and then becoming an ace over the next few years will do that.

2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers, 1,935 IP (debuted in 2008)
He's about 400 innings behind Sandy Koufax, and he's now almost the same age Koufax was when he retired. (He'll turn 30 a month from today.) Whether he passes Koufax depends entirely on whether or not he re-signs with the Dodgers at the end of the year. He may have a few outside suitors.

1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners, 2,502 1/3 IP (debuted in 2005)
It was the worst year of King Felix's career, though his strikeouts crept up a tick, maybe a positive sign moving forward? The Mariners are not asking too much from him anymore; they'd just like him to have a smile on his face again.(Pssst: A playoff appearance might help that.)

HITTERS

10. Brett Gardner, Yankees, 1,218 games (debuted in 2008)
Usually you have to be a Hall of Famer for a Yankee to make this list, but Gardner has proven just handy enough to stick around for a decade now. It probably ends this season: He's a free agent after the World Series. (No. 11 on the list is Freddie Freeman, by the way.)

Video: Outlook: Gardner is productive but may not match 2017

9. Elvis Andrus, Rangers, 1,379 games (debuted in 2009)
How have we gotten so impossibly old that baby-faced Andrus is a grizzled veteran now? We're going to blink and Rougned Odor is going to be 53.

8. Alex Gordon, Royals, 1,412 games (debuted in 2007)
Gordon holds the Bailey spot on this list, a guy who's going to remain here not because of his play, but because of his dreadful contract. It's possible the Royals had Gordon in mind when deciding not to give Hosmer that eighth year.

7. Joey Votto, Reds, 1,430 games (debuted in 2007)
Votto maybe had his best season in 2017 and would have been this scribe's choice for National League MVP. If the Reds haven't traded Votto already, they certainly aren't going to now. His contract could go all the way through 2024, when he'll be 40 and probably still getting on base in half his at-bats.

Video: Votto on gaining weight, creating winning culture

6. Ryan Braun, Brewers, 1,458 (debuted in 2007)
Braun was expected to be trade bait at the non-waiver Trade Deadline last season, but the Brewers ended up in a pennant chase, so they needed him. Braun could have been a Brewers legend if it hadn't been for, well, you know, but even with all the outside unpleasantness, the Brewers have gotten a great deal on his contract, and he's still cheap for the next three years. He may end up retiring a Brewer after all?

5. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox, 1,503 games (debuted in 2006)
A moment to remember players who dropped out of the top 12 last year: Andre Ethier (whom the Dodgers aren't bringing back), Evan Longoria (traded to San Francisco) and Andrew McCutchen (ditto). Laser Show is going to play second base for the Red Sox until he dies, and probably a little while after that.

4. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals, 1,552 games (debuted in 2005)
It's funny to think that when Zimmerman was a prospect, we all referred to him as "a player in the Expos' organization." He never wore Montreal garb, sadly, but he did hit a career high in homers last year.

Video: Outlook: Zimmerman may have trouble repeating '17

3. David Wright, Mets, 1,583 games (debuted in 2004)
Included because he's under contact and wants to come back. He hasn't made it into a game since May 27, 2016. The Mets insurers are rooting for him to come back, and so should you.

2. Joe Mauer, Twins, 1,731 games (debuted in 2004)
Mauer's mammoth contract finally expires after this year, and while it might not have been the most efficient spending of cash, the guy is still productive and useful. Paul Molitor thinks he's "going to be a lifelong Twin," but that might be optimistic. Amazing stat: Mauer has played in 14 postseason games and lost 13 of them.

1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals, 1,747 games (debuted in 2004)
It really is remarkable that the top guy on this list is an everyday catcher. Carson Kelly is knocking on his door, but Yadi is signed through 2020 and remains the most beloved Cardinal since Ozzie Smith. He'll be allowed to play as long as he wants in one capacity or another. He's 18th in all-time games caught; if he catches 130 this year (and he's only been under that once in the last decade), he'll pass Lance Parrish for 12th.

Video: Outlook: Molina could continue power surge

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

D-backs, Red Sox still front-runners for J.D.

MLB.com

The free agent considered the best slugger in this year's market still remains available in J.D. Martinez. The 30-year-old outfielder enjoyed a career year in 2017, slugging .690 with 45 home runs in 119 games, 29 of which came in 62 games for the D-backs following a mid-July trade with the Tigers.

The team that has been connected to Martinez the most this offseason has been the Red Sox, who are in need of a power upgrade in the middle of their lineup. There reportedly is a five-year, $125 million offer still on the table from Boston.

The free agent considered the best slugger in this year's market still remains available in J.D. Martinez. The 30-year-old outfielder enjoyed a career year in 2017, slugging .690 with 45 home runs in 119 games, 29 of which came in 62 games for the D-backs following a mid-July trade with the Tigers.

The team that has been connected to Martinez the most this offseason has been the Red Sox, who are in need of a power upgrade in the middle of their lineup. There reportedly is a five-year, $125 million offer still on the table from Boston.

D-backs and Red Sox still appear to be the front-runners to sign Martinez
On Monday, Arizona CEO Derrick Hall told reporters that he doesn't think the team is done making moves and "would be surprised if we broke camp with the exact same roster and team that we have now." Hall confirmed that the D-backs have remained in contact with Martinez and view him as one of their options.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are still negotiating with Martinez, according to a report Monday from Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston. Earlier in the day, Red Sox owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner had declined to go into detail on the state of those negations when speaking to reporters, with Werner referring further questions to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

The Boston Globe's Pete Abraham also reported Monday morning that the door was still open for a deal between the Sox and Martinez, despite Martinez and Boston seemingly having reached a standoff in talks recently.

According to Abraham, that window for Martinez and the Red Sox to agree to a contract wouldn't remain open indefinitely. He reported the Red Sox are prepared to either "move on entirely" or pursue alternative options to bolster their lineup, according to the report. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 19.

Red Sox aren't out yet on Martinez
According to a report from The Boston Globe's Pete Abraham on Monday, the door is still open for a deal between the Sox and the top free-agent hitter remaining on the market -- despite Martinez and Boston seemingly having reached a standoff in talks recently.

However, Abraham reports that the window for Martinez and the Red Sox to agree to a contract won't remain open indefinitely. The Red Sox are prepared to either "move on entirely," or pursue alternative options to bolster their lineup, according to the report.

Red Sox owner John Henry and chairman Tom Werner spoke to reporters on Monday and were asked about the club's negotiations with Martinez, but declined to go into detail on their current state. Werner referred further questions to president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 19.

Martinez most likely to return to Arizona?
In light of his report this week stating that the D-backs are exploring "creative ways" to re-sign Martinez, and with Martinez's alleged standoff with the Red Sox, MLB Network insider Jon Heyman predicts in a post for FanRag Sports that Arizona is the club most likely to land the top hitter on the market.

Martinez has made it no secret he would prefer to play the outfield, where he would likely contribute sparingly at most in Boston, and he is said to have loved his time with the D-backs, who this offseason hired one of his personal hitting coaches, Robert Van Scoyoc. Most projections have the D-backs teetering on a postseason spot for '18, particularly with the re-tooled Giants and five-time reigning NL West champion Dodgers housed in their own division, not to mention the Rockies, whom Arizona played in the NL Wild Card Game last year.

As it stands, Yasmany Tomas is currently slated to be the D-backs' everyday right fielder. While Tomas does offer power potential -- he hit 31 homers in his last full season in 2016 -- his .307 OBP and 50 strikeouts over 180 plate appearances last year shown signs of liability. As was the case when the D-backs acquired him from the Tigers last summer, Martinez would provide a much-needed injection to the lineup. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 15.

D-backs exploring "creative" ways to re-sign Martinez
Looking to bridge the gap in overall dollars with J.D. Martinez, the D-backs are reportedly crafting "creative" ways to retain the slugger, which may include a shorter-term deal with more dollars per year and opt-outs, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman.

A comparable deal was struck two years ago between the Mets and Yoenis Cespedes, who -- like Martinez -- was traded during the previous summer, was a critical part of his new club's eventual postseason berth and hit the market that winter. Cespedes signed a three-year deal with the Mets worth $75 million in January 2016, and opted out after earning $27.5 million in the contract's first season. He then re-signed with the Mets that November on a four-year, $110 million deal, essentially earning the contract he initially sought in terms of dollars and length.

Martinez is said to have enjoyed his three-month stint with the D-backs, and he has welcomed a potential reunion, but only under the right circumstances. However, Arizona is apprehensive about a longer-term deal that could hinder them from retaining star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, per Heyman.

Goldschmidt has two years and $25.6 million left on what has been a very team-friendly contract. Over the life of that deal (five years and $32 million, which bought out all three of his arbitration years), Goldschmidt has been a National League MVP finalist three times, including 2017. He will likely land a much more lucrative deal if he hits free agency.

It's believed that Martinez, 30, was initially seeking a seven-year deal in the $200 million range, and that Boston had offered a five-year deal in the $125 million range. But a report by of the Boston Globe on Tuesday said the Sox offer was closer to $100 million, which may be why the D-backs are still in the mix for Martinez. It's been reported that Martinez would be willing to hold out into Spring Training for the right contract. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 13.

Question of common ground with D-backs
The possibility of J.D. Martinez returning to Arizona remains in play, according to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal, who on Sunday tweeted that the slugger's agent, Scott Boras, met with D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick last week.

The question is whether they can find common ground on a deal, according to Rosenthal. Boras and Kendrick met earlier this offseason to discuss the free-agent outfielder, according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman. MLB.com's Steve Gilbert confirmed Monday that Kendrick has met with Boras multiple times this offseason, including once last week.

The Red Sox have long been considered the favorites for Martinez, and have reportedly offered a five-year deal worth $125 million. While many in the industry still see Boston as Martinez's ultimate landing spot, the fact that the two sides have yet to reach a deal suggests that the door is still open for other suitors. Arizona, where Martinez hit .302 with 29 home runs and 65 RBIs while slugging .741 and posting a 1.107 OPS in 62 games after a midseason trade from Detroit, would certainly make a lot of sense.

D-backs general manager Mike Hazen was asked Monday where things stood with Martinez.

"We're still fully engaged in the entire market," Hazen said. "We're looking at all alternatives and exploring any way to continue to make the team better. Nothing specific on any situation."

However, as Gilbert points out, the one thing standing in the way of a reunion is money. The D-backs' payroll is currently sitting at about $125 million, which would be a franchise record for an Opening Day roster. Still, the D-backs might be able to bring Martinez back on a one-year deal or find a creative package to make it all work. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 12.

D-backs still in the mix
The D-backs are still searching for a power bat in the outfield and Martinez remains on the market, so a reunion could still be in the works.

Although Arizona doesn't have nearly the budget of Martinez's other suitor, the Red Sox, there are plenty of factors that might draw the slugger back to Chase Field.

Martinez reportedly wants to play in the outfield, but without a trade, he would become a designated hitter in Boston. Furthermore, AZ Central's Nick Piecoro points out that the D-backs hired one of Martinez's personal hitting coaches, Robert Van Scoyoc, this offseason, and Martinez enjoyed his experience last year on a young team that has an upward trajectory.

MLB Network insider Jon Heyman also reported that D-backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick has repeatedly met with Martinez's agent, Scott Boras, this offseason.

Of course, bringing back Martinez on a long-term deal could push the D-backs' payroll to its limits after signing Zack Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract two years ago. It might also make it difficult to re-sign franchise cornerstones A.J. Pollock and Paul Goldschmidt, who can hit free agency in one and three years, respectively. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 9.

Red Sox still in, but planning for alternatives
The Red Sox still want Martinez, but they are also laying the groundwork for alternatives in case they are unable to sign the free-agent slugger, according to a report from NBC Sports Boston's Evan Drellich on Friday.

Per the report, Boston has recently been in touch with Logan Morrison's camp. Morrison, also a free agent, would fill the same power-hitting designated hitter role in the Red Sox lineup that Martinez would. Morrison hit 38 home runs for the Rays last season.

Contrasting reports about Martinez's feelings toward signing with the Red Sox had emerged recently, with Drellich reporting that Martinez and the Red Sox continued to be involved in "a good-faith process" after MLB Network Insider Ken Rosenthal had reported Martinez was "fed up" at the inflexibility of Boston's offer and preferred to sign elsewhere. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 9.

D-backs may extend long-term offer
While the Red Sox remain a strong contender to land Martinez, the D-backs are talking with the slugger about a long-term offer, USA Today reported on Wednesday night. It was previously reported that Arizona had made a one-year offer to Martinez. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 7.

J.D., Red Sox continue 'good faith' talks
Martinez is not "fed up" with the Red Sox, according to reports from the Boston Herald and NBC Sports Boston. It was earlier reported that Martinez would rather sign with another club as a result of Boston's "inflexibility" in increasing its offer.

"J.D. is involved in multiple negotiations and is pleased with the participants and the good-faith process," Scott Boras, Martinez's agent, reportedly said. "Suggestions otherwise are not accurate."

The Red Sox, looking to upgrade an offense that produced an American League-low 168 home runs in 2017, have long been viewed as the favorite to land Martinez this offseason. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 7.

Red Sox patient in pursuit of big bat
Agent Scott Boras suggested to NBC Sports Boston that J.D. Martinez could wait out part of Spring Training rather than sign a deal he doesn't like.

That could result in the Red Sox moving on from Martinez. MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported that Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has acknowledged that possibility and will continue to take a "wait and see" approach with so many alternatives still available. Though the Red Sox would benefit from signing Martinez, they do have an incumbent designated hitter in Hanley Ramirez, and they re-signed first baseman Mitch Moreland this winter.

If the Red Sox don't flinch, what would Martinez's remaining market look like? That is unclear.

There is little doubt that Martinez has grown into one of baseball's most productive sluggers, but he'd likely be limited to a DH role at this point. The Giants were interested earlier this offseason, but that was before acquiring Andrew McCutchen and Austin Jackson. Few expect the D-backs to fund a reunion. The Blue Jays reportedly were interested earlier in the offseason.

But Boston has always been the spot where Martinez expected to sign -- as did the rest of baseball. There is still a fit, but at this point, it no longer looks so guaranteed. -- This report was first posted on Feb. 7.

J.D. Martinez

Yo-ga? Focused Cespedes more flexible

Mets slugger determined to avoid leg injuries that hampered him last season
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Following two consecutive seasons defined by leg injuries, Yoenis Cespedes knew he needed to make a change. But he perhaps did not realize how deep the problem ran until he stepped into a yoga system for the first time this winter. That day, Cespedes could not even finish the class.

"For a person who is not flexible, it is really tough doing yoga," he said through an interpreter.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Following two consecutive seasons defined by leg injuries, Yoenis Cespedes knew he needed to make a change. But he perhaps did not realize how deep the problem ran until he stepped into a yoga system for the first time this winter. That day, Cespedes could not even finish the class.

"For a person who is not flexible, it is really tough doing yoga," he said through an interpreter.

Over time, Cespedes improved, though he still considers himself a beginner. He plans to continue doing yoga this spring; it's part of a three-pronged plan for Cespedes to avoid the types of injuries that have sidelined him all too often the past two seasons and throughout his career.

Spring Training: Info | Tickets | Schedule | Gear

"The yoga has been working for me," Cespedes said. "The last couple seasons, when I showed up down here, my lower back was very tight, and I haven't felt that yet. … My muscles are more flexible right now. When I used to work out with heavy weightlifting, I was strong, but I wasn't flexible. Right now, I am flexible because of the yoga."

In addition to yoga, Cespedes spent his offseason running more than ever before while reducing the amount of weight that he lifted. Gone are the days of Cespedes doing 900-pound bear squats at trainer Mike Barwis' Port St. Lucie studio. Instead, Cespedes focused on exercises he never before paid much heed to, hoping to match the 159 games he played in 2015.

Video: Outlook: Cespedes could rebound if healthy in 2018

His ultimate individual goal hasn't changed -- "I want to be an MVP," said Cespedes, who owns a .900 OPS in 270 career games with the Mets. But his journey to achieve that has been different.

"Injuries are unpreventable, but what I learned is to prepare more to avoid those kinds of things this season," Cespedes said.

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In the same Spring Training clubhouse as Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, David Wright, Todd Frazier and other headline-grabbing Mets, Cespedes has evolved into something of a forgotten man. No longer does he roll into camp in fancy cars. No longer does he parade around on horseback.

Now 32 years old, Cespedes is still in his prime, entering the second season of a four-year, $110-million contract. In year one of that contract, he appeared in just 81 games due to leg issues, missing six weeks at one point because he tried to play through a tweaked hamstring. He never wants to have a season like that again.

"He's taken the first step. He had a great offseason," Mets manager Mickey Callaway said. "We have to hold him accountable for the things he's going to do. We've got to make sure he's going about his business the right way, fulfilling all those routines that are going to be necessary for him to go out and play every day. But he's taken the first, great step toward that."

Added Callaway: "We want Cespedes on the field as much as possible, that's for sure."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo, Instagram and Facebook.

New York Mets, Yoenis Cespedes

How these 5 teams can still win the offseason

Cards, Brewers among clubs a move or two away from winter dominance
MLB.com @RichardJustice

It would seem the Astros have already won the offseason. When the World Series winner gets better, that has to be the automatic call. In a typical offseason, we would have already shipped the big shiny trophy to Astros GM Jeff Luhnow.

Here's a preliminary ranking of the offseason winners:

It would seem the Astros have already won the offseason. When the World Series winner gets better, that has to be the automatic call. In a typical offseason, we would have already shipped the big shiny trophy to Astros GM Jeff Luhnow.

Here's a preliminary ranking of the offseason winners:

1. Astros
2. Yankees
3. Angels
4. Brewers
5. Cardinals

Honorable mention: Twins, Mets, Blue Jays, Padres, Athletics, Rockies

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

But wait, there's still time. Polls remain open. Even with Eric Hosmer (Padres) and Yu Darvish (Cubs) off the market, the list of unsigned free agents includes a bunch of difference-makers, including starters Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb, outfielder J.D. Martinez, third baseman Mike Moustakas, first baseman Logan Morrison and closer Greg Holland.

Hot Stove Tracker

Let's run down our list, offer a modest proposal or two and check out what the final standings could look like:

Cardinals

Modest proposal: Sign Holland and Moustakas.

Bottom line: Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has rebuilt his team since Opening Day 2017, and the offseason additions of left fielder Marcell Ozuna, starting pitcher Miles Mikolas and reliever Luke Gregerson have been nice finishing touches.

Even if they don't catch the Cubs in the NL Central, the Cardinals are positioned to return to the postseason. But they could make up more ground on the Cubs with another addition or two.

Brewers

Modest proposal: Sign Arrieta, trade for Rays right-hander Chris Archer.

Bottom line: The Brewers' solid offseason has included the additions of outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, but they still could use help in the rotation, and while signing Wade Miley to a Minor League contract could pay off, Arrieta and Archer could vault Milwaukee into the top spot.

Video: Brewers, Twins vying for sign free agent Jake Arrieta

Twins

Modest proposal: Sign Lynn.

Bottom line: The Twins have already had a great offseason with the trade for right-hander Jake Odorizzi to go with the earlier additions of relievers Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney and the signing of right-hander Anibal Sanchez. But with ace Ervin Santana sidelined until May or June because of a finger injury and with their young starters still figuring things out, the Twins could go a long way toward flat-out winning the offseason with one more starting pitcher.

Yankees

Modest proposal: Sign either Moustakas or one of the available starting pitchers.

Bottom line: The Yankees have been quiet since acquiring reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton in December, and that should worry the rest of baseball. GM Brian Cashman would like to trade center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury to free up payroll, and don't discount his ability to make one more acquisition and push the Astros from the top spot.

Angels

Modest proposal: Sign a starting pitcher.

Bottom line: Angels GM Billy Eppler has had a huge offseason already with the additions of Shohei Ohtani, Ian Kinsler and Zack Cozart and the re-signing of Justin Upton. If the Angels knew starters Garrett Richards, Matt Shoemaker, Tyler Skaggs and Andrew Heaney could get through the season healthy, they'd be ready to roll. But all of those pitchers have had health issues in recent seasons, so a veteran addition to the rotation would help the Angels make up more ground on the Astros in the American League West and further position them for a postseason run.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Minnesota Twins, St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Angels

Patient Phils could be on cusp of greatness

Breakout season would go long way to woo Harper, Machado in '19
MLB.com @castrovince

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies made some major investments this winter, and not just in the bluetooth speakers that have made their clubhouse, their morning workouts and even the empty hallways of Spectrum Field consistent sources of musical accompaniment at the behest of rookie skipper Gabe Kapler. They signed Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million contract that was a behemoth by the standards of a cost-conscious industry, and they committed nearly $35 million over two years to Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek for the bullpen.

But if they were to dole out some more dollars for a dependable veteran starter like Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb, well, that would be music to the ears of those who think the Phillies are a lot closer to legit contention than people give them credit for.

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies made some major investments this winter, and not just in the bluetooth speakers that have made their clubhouse, their morning workouts and even the empty hallways of Spectrum Field consistent sources of musical accompaniment at the behest of rookie skipper Gabe Kapler. They signed Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million contract that was a behemoth by the standards of a cost-conscious industry, and they committed nearly $35 million over two years to Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek for the bullpen.

But if they were to dole out some more dollars for a dependable veteran starter like Jake Arrieta, Lance Lynn or Alex Cobb, well, that would be music to the ears of those who think the Phillies are a lot closer to legit contention than people give them credit for.

Hot Stove Tracker

And maybe, eventually, to the ears of Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.

More on those guys in a sec, but first, what are we to make of this 2018 Phillies club, as currently constructed?

"It's a real similar situation to Houston in '15, when I got there," Neshek said. "Last year, it was kind of messy [96 losses], but I feel like we're way ahead of where Houston was then. I like our core, and I know they have the money to add if we start winning. I think it's an up-and-coming team that's going to be pretty good. And the NL East isn't that great this year."

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Evaluators from other clubs put the Phillies on the list of teams likely to add a starter between now and Opening Day. But in a market that has finally achieved some movement in recent days, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak's public comments on the matter indicate we shouldn't expect anything earth-shattering, even as enticing as a depressed price tag for Arrieta might be.

"We're pretty disciplined," Klentak told reporters last week. "We've gone through this rebuild, we've acknowledged that it was going to be painful for a few years. It has been. We're not going to do anything to compromise the future of that. We're going to continue to do this right. We're competitive as anybody else is, but we're not going to radically change our valuation on a potential acquisition based on emotion."

This tact is in line with the typical rebuild timetable.

Though the Phillies took a frustrating step back in the standings last year, their overall outlook is still that of a club on the rise and, potentially, on the cusp. The addition of Santana and a full season of Rhys Hoskins and J.P. Crawford provides tremendous OBP ability for what could be a breakout offense. The bullpen looks deep (the Phillies might even go with as many as nine relievers at times this year), and Aaron Nola (119 ERA+ in 168 innings last year) is one of the more exciting young arms in the game. Certainly, there's an argument for the Phillies seeing what they have before they sign off on another sizable contract.

"I think they're waiting to see signs of life," Neshek said, "then they're going to help us."

Video: Kapler on playing a bold, fearless style of baseball

What is atypical, however, is what's looming ahead -- a once-in-a-generation free-agent class fronted by Harper and Machado. It's no secret the Phillies have aligned their payroll picture around the idea of landing one (both?) of those franchise-changers.

"I think they could go sign two really ridiculous guys if they wanted to," Neshek said with a smile.

But while money does, indeed, talk louder than the aforementioned speakers, neither Harper nor Machado is going to sign up for an iffy standings situation. The Dodgers are going to be in the market for Harper, and the Yankees for Machado. The Cubs and Red Sox could be involved, too. These are big-market ballclubs that double as clear contenders now, in the recent past and, in all likelihood, in 2019 and beyond.

Video: Rhys Hoskins reflects on 2017, looks forward to 2018

So it is imperative that the Phillies take a big step forward this year. That is the thought that inspired Klentak and Co. to bid boldly on Santana and the 'pen, surprising some in the industry with their aggressiveness. But with those contracts and the Odubel Herrera extension literally the only monetary commitments on the books in the coming years on a club replete with revenue streams, why stop there?

The Phils' rotation picture is iffy, to say the least, and the worry is that it undercuts the sweeter sounds emanating from the rest of the roster. This team can't afford another "messy" mark.

You see Nola's image on billboards near the Carpenter Complex for good reason. His high-strikeout/low-walk/high-ground-ball profile makes him a rising star. Beyond Nola, though, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Jerad Eickhoff, Zach Eflin and Ben Lively combined for a 5.24 ERA in 91 starts last season. While the Phillies have to let some of those guys take their lumps and figure things out at the big league level, they need somebody to lend a dose of dependability and, perhaps, a between-starts example of how to prepare.

"I like our starting staff," said Nola, "but you can always benefit from a veteran."

Video: Nola thinks Phillies can contend in 2018

For the Phillies, the benefit of at least contending for a Wild Card spot in 2018 would extend beyond the obvious enthusiasm it would engender from the Philly faithful. It would make the pitch to Harper and/or Machado that much more inviting.

Arrieta, Lynn and Cobb are all still sitting there, and they are all capable of taking this rotation -- and, ergo, this team -- to another level. Serenade one of them, and the music might reach the ears of next year's prominent free-agent pair.

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.

Philadelphia Phillies

Darryl and Doc took NYC, MLB by storm

MLB.com

Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today we look back on the careers of former Mets stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight "Doc" Gooden.

For much of the 1980s, the Mets featured one of the most feared hitters and most dominant pitchers in the game. Fresh off a run of seven consecutive losing seasons, New York returned to contention with the emergence of two young phenoms -- outfielder Strawberry and pitcher Gooden, players whose careers will forever be intertwined.

Over the course of February, which is Black History Month, MLB Network and MLB.com are looking back at some of the most prominent African-American players in MLB history. Today we look back on the careers of former Mets stars Darryl Strawberry and Dwight "Doc" Gooden.

For much of the 1980s, the Mets featured one of the most feared hitters and most dominant pitchers in the game. Fresh off a run of seven consecutive losing seasons, New York returned to contention with the emergence of two young phenoms -- outfielder Strawberry and pitcher Gooden, players whose careers will forever be intertwined.

In Strawberry and Gooden's seven years together on the Mets from 1984-90, the club posted a winning record each season, including a World Series championship in '86. In that span, the Mets never finished worse than second place in the National League East and went 666-466, including two 100-win seasons.

Each player debuted with impressive rookie campaigns, claiming NL Rookie of the Year honors in consecutive years. A 21-year-old Strawberry broke into the big leagues first, batting .257 with 26 home runs and 74 RBIs in 122 games in '83. Gooden followed in '84 by leading the Major Leagues with 276 strikeouts at age 19. He went 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA in 31 starts, finishing second in NL Cy Young Award voting behind Rick Sutcliffe.

They both competed for the NL in their first All-Star Game in '84. For Strawberry, it was the first of eight straight appearances, while Gooden was making his first of four trips to the Midsummer Classic.

The following year, in his sophomore campaign, Gooden turned in arguably his most successful season, posting a 24-4 record with a 1.53 ERA, 16 complete games and 268 strikeouts. He won the NL Cy Young Award, made his second All-Star team and led the NL in wins, ERA and strikeouts to claim the first pitching triple crown since 1972 (Steve Carlton).

Video: Remembering Gooden's historic achievement in 1985

The individual peak of Strawberry's career also came while wearing a Mets uniform. In '87, he joined the 30-30 club with 39 home runs and 36 stolen bases to pair with a .284 average -- his highest for a full season -- and 104 RBIs. He followed that up with another 39 home runs, 101 RBIs and 29 stolen bases in '88, winning his first Silver Slugger Award and finishing as the runner-up to the Dodgers' Kirk Gibson for the NL MVP.

Strawberry and Gooden's best team season came in '86 when the Mets won a franchise-best 108 games en route to the World Series, where they defeated the Red Sox in seven games. It marked the Mets' second and most recent title. Strawberry and Gooden returned to the postseason with the Mets in '88, but they lost to the eventual-champion Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.

Video: Take a look back at some of Strawberry's best moments

Strawberry and Gooden's careers diverged after the 1990 season when Strawberry left in free agency to play three seasons with the Dodgers. He spent three seasons in Los Angeles, where his production took a notable dip, then played sparingly for the Giants in '94. Gooden, meanwhile, remained with the Mets through the '94 season.

Both players battled substance-abuse issues, each serving suspensions for testing positive for cocaine during their careers. Strawberry was suspended for the beginning of the '95 season, while Gooden missed the entire season. Strawberry returned to baseball in June that year by signing with the Yankees, eventually reuniting with Gooden, who inked a deal with New York in '96 after a year away from the game.

Though neither player was able to recapture the individual success of their days in Queens, Strawberry won World Series rings with the Bronx Bombers in '96, '98 and '99, though he missed the '98 postseason while undergoing treatment for colon cancer. Gooden contributed to the Yankees' 2000 title team when he rejoined them during his final year in the Majors.

Gooden wrapped his 16-year career with a 194-112 record, a 3.51 ERA and 2,293 strikeouts through 430 games (2,800 2/3 innings). Strawberry retired after 17 seasons one year earlier in '99, finishing with a .259 career average, 335 homers, 1,000 RBIs and 221 steals in 1,583 games.

Neither player received enough votes in their first year of Baseball Hall of Fame eligibility to remain on the ballot, but fittingly, the former New York stars, whose careers will forever be entwined, were elected to the Mets Hall of Fame together in 2010.

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

New York Mets, New York Yankees

Yanks GM Cashman: 'I need another ring'

MLB.com @BryanHoch

TAMPA, Fla. -- Out of respect for what the Astros, Indians and Red Sox accomplished last season, Brian Cashman refuses to classify his Yankees as World Series favorites, but the general manager is making his objective clear for the upcoming season.

"I need another ring," Cashman said. "I've got rings, but there's other guys in there that don't have rings. Some have rings somewhere else. They want a Yankee ring. I think having a ring with the 'NY' on it means more than any of the other ones out there, in my opinion."

TAMPA, Fla. -- Out of respect for what the Astros, Indians and Red Sox accomplished last season, Brian Cashman refuses to classify his Yankees as World Series favorites, but the general manager is making his objective clear for the upcoming season.

"I need another ring," Cashman said. "I've got rings, but there's other guys in there that don't have rings. Some have rings somewhere else. They want a Yankee ring. I think having a ring with the 'NY' on it means more than any of the other ones out there, in my opinion."

Video: Justice discusses potential Yanks-Astros rematch

Cashman has scored four World Series rings in his 20 years as GM, winning three straight championships from 1998-2000 and again in '09. He was the assistant GM when the Yankees won their 1996 title.

Coming off a 91-win regular season that saw the Yankees advance to within one victory of the World Series, and with the addition of National League MVP Award winner Giancarlo Stanton in a December trade with the Marlins, Cashman said that he senses the spring buzz "is a lot louder and more positive."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"I guess time will tell, but there is a lot of excitement about what we did last year and the offseason additions," Cashman said. "We've got ground to make up. Despite what happened in the postseason, the Red Sox won the division, and Cleveland and Houston each won 100-plus games. They were the best teams in the American League. We know our work is cut out for us."

Shock and awe

Brett Gardner spent part of his Monday morning hitting alongside Stanton underneath the first-base grandstand at George M. Steinbrenner Field, marveling at how the ball echoed off the slugger's bat. When they had completed their rounds, Aaron Judge stepped into the box.

"I wish I could feel what they feel when they hit a baseball, and be able to hit it like they do," Gardner said. "It's pretty humbling for me to get in there sandwiched between those two guys. It just kind of reminds me that my job is to get on base and let those guys hit the ball over the fence."

Gardner said that last year's late run was a welcome change for the Yankees, and he sees the American League Championship Series loss as an appetizer for what is yet to come.

"Yankee Stadium, the way it was last October, that's something that none of us that were on the field will forget," Gardner said. "I've experienced that before several years ago, but it was good to feel again. A lot of those guys, that's the first time they've experienced something like that.

"I know that's one thing that Giancarlo is excited about, coming over here, is having a chance to play into October. I think in Miami, it was a difficult situation for him to be in. He's excited to be over here and have an opportunity to win and play in New York. We're obviously excited to have him."

Third degree

Miguel Andujar focused on his defensive footwork during his winter workouts in the Dominican Republic, and the 22-year-old third-base prospect believes that he is ready to take on a starting role in the big leagues.

"During the offseason, I was working with a coach out there, doing a lot of work on my consistency and rhythm," Andujar said through an interpreter on Monday. "And the same I've been doing here with [infield coach Carlos Mendoza]. That's the key. I want to be more consistent and grounded when playing defense."

Video: Quick Hits: Torres and Andujar

Infielders Danny Espinosa, Jace Peterson, Gleyber Torres and Tyler Wade will also see reps at third base, but Andujar's focus is solely on the hot corner. Andujar's bat made noise last year, including three hits and four RBIs in his June 28 debut against the White Sox.

"It was an exciting moment and an exciting experience, to be able to be here and learn from and have fun with the other guys," Andujar said. "After I got sent down, it served as motivation to me to do the best I could and the best I can to get back here."

He said it: "We surprised a lot of people. It was exciting, not just for the organization and the players, but the fan base. To see all the talent we have, all these guys coming up, really being ready for prime time. I think being able to add the NL MVP to an already good lineup is exciting. I think that it has the potential to be pretty special." -- Gardner

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees

Tale of the fantasy tape: Cubs vs. Cardinals

Which National League Central rival has superior talent?
MLB.com @FredZinkieMLB

After losing to the Cubs in the 2015 National League Division Series, the Cardinals have missed the postseason in each of the past two years, while Chicago has gone on to win two straight NL Central crowns as well as the '16 World Series championship.

Before these teams write the next chapter in their storied rivalry, we can get a head start on assessing them by comparing the fantasy value of their key players for the upcoming campaign. Find out below if St. Louis can be expected to regain the advantage or if the Cubs are headed for another season atop the division.

After losing to the Cubs in the 2015 National League Division Series, the Cardinals have missed the postseason in each of the past two years, while Chicago has gone on to win two straight NL Central crowns as well as the '16 World Series championship.

Before these teams write the next chapter in their storied rivalry, we can get a head start on assessing them by comparing the fantasy value of their key players for the upcoming campaign. Find out below if St. Louis can be expected to regain the advantage or if the Cubs are headed for another season atop the division.

Catcher: Although he is coming off a late-career power uptick in 2017 (18 homers, 82 RBIs), Yadier Molina is unlikely to post a repeat performance after averaging six homers and 52 RBIs across the three previous seasons. The veteran falls well behind Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, who is already among the game's elite offensive backstops entering his third big league campaign.
Winner: Cubs

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First base: Having produced 100-plus RBIs and 90-plus runs in each of the past three seasons and at least 31 home runs in four straight, Anthony Rizzo is a safe second-round option in 2018 drafts. Matt Carpenter is a solid mixed-league option after averaging 24 homers and 91 runs scored with an .864 OPS across the past three years, but he'll be drafted much later than his Cubs counterpart.
Winner: Cubs

Second base: Coming off a season in which he hit .273 with 23 homers, 75 RBIs, 75 runs and 10 steals across 508 plate appearances, Javier Baez should populate all shallow-league rosters. The same cannot be said for Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong, a lifetime .256 hitter who has totaled just nine long balls and 15 stolen bases across the past two campaigns.
Winner: Cubs

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Shortstop: Although he possesses plenty of potential as a former elite prospect who is still just 24, Cubs shortstop Addison Russell is coming off an injury-plagued season in which he was unable to take a step forward following a promising 2016 campaign (21 homers, 95 RBIs). Russell should be drafted later than Paul DeJong, who lacks plate discipline (0.17 BB/K ratio in '17) but hit 25 long balls across 443 plate appearances in his rookie year.
Winner: Cardinals

Third base: Although he fell short of lofty expectations last season, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant remains a viable Round 1 option entering his age-26 campaign. Bryant holds a wide advantage over Jedd Gyorko, who has 30-homer potential but is unlikely to make a significant impact in other categories.
Winner: Cubs

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Left field: Although he tallied 30 homers over 486 plate appearances last season, Kyle Schwarber remains a risky mixed-league option due to his penchant for striking out (lifetime 30 percent strikeout rate) -- which will likely lead to continued struggles in the batting-average department (career .222 average). The Cardinals score an easy point at this position, as offseason acquisition Marcell Ozuna should be an early-round pick following a memorable showing in '17 (37 homers, 124 RBIs, .312 average).
Winner: Cardinals

Center field: After emerging as a five-category stud last season (23 homers, 25 steals, .306 average), Cards center fielder Tommy Pham now merits an early-round pick in all '18 drafts. The Cubs' center-field situation pales in comparison, as promising youngster Ian Happ will likely see his fantasy value limited by frequent whiffs (31.2 percent strikeout rate in '17) and an expected timeshare with Albert Almora Jr.
Winner: Cardinals

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Right field: Although he dealt with injuries and played just 118 games as a result, Dexter Fowler posted career-best marks in home runs (18) and RBIs (64) during his initial year with St. Louis. The veteran is a more stable late-round option in mixed leagues than Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward, who has hit just .243 with 18 homers combined in two seasons with Chicago and will likely make his most valuable contributions on the defensive side of the ball.
Winner: Cardinals

No. 1 starter: Carlos Martinez is knocking on the door to be a fantasy ace, but that door will remain closed until he lowers his WHIP (1.22 across 2016-17). This position will be scored a draw, with Martinez and new Cubs right-hander Yu Darvish (career 3.42 ERA, 11.0 K/9 rate) each warranting attention once the top 10 starters are off the board.
Winner: Push

Video: Analyzing Darvish's fantasy value with Cubs

No. 2 starter: Having made 32-plus starts in five straight seasons and tallied a personal-best 207 K's last year, Cubs southpaw Jose Quintana (career 3.53 ERA) is a better fantasy option than Luke Weaver. The Cards youngster flashed exciting potential (1.49 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 12.1 K/9 rate) across a six-start stretch from Aug. 23 to Sept. 20 last year, but he lacks experience.
Winner: Cubs

No. 3 starter: After leading the Majors in ERA two years ago (2.13) and producing a 3.03 mark last season, Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks holds an edge over Michael Wacha, who is a serviceable late-round option with a lifetime 3.84 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP.
Winner: Cubs

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No. 4 starter: Although he took a major step backward last year (4.33 ERA, 1.32 WHIP), Cubs lefty Jon Lester still warrants a significant fantasy investment due to his track record. The veteran is a preferable option to Miles Mikolas, who excelled during three seasons in Japan (2.18 ERA) but has struggled in previous big league opportunities (5.32 ERA).
Winner: Cubs

No. 5 starter: After thriving away from Coors Field (3.18 ERA) but posting a 5.17 ERA at home as a member of the Rockies from 2012-17, Tyler Chatwood should enjoy pitching for the Cubs. The breakout candidate holds an edge over former ace Adam Wainwright, who owns a 4.81 ERA with a 1.44 WHIP since the outset of '16 and is no longer a viable mixed-league option.
Winner: Cubs

Closer: Both clubs are trying new ninth-inning options and might not have a 30-save reliever. The Cubs' Brandon Morrow (2.06 ERA, 0.92 WHIP in 2017) may have more upside, but he comes with significant injury concerns. Both Morrow and the Cards' Luke Gregerson (4.57 ERA, 1.34 in '17) belong in the second half of mixed-league drafts, making this position a draw.
Winner: Push

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Setup Men: Led by Carl Edwards Jr. (2.98 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 12.8 K/9 rate last year), the Cubs have multiple setup men with the potential to help those in deep mixed leagues. But with Tyler Lyons (2.83 ERA, 1.09 WHIP in 2017) able to provide immediate help in deep mixed formats and Alex Reyes (1.57 ERA, 10.2 K/9 rate in '16) nearing a return from Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals could have an impressive setup crew of their own.
Winner: Push

Final verdict: Both clubs earned four wins on the offensive side, but the Cubs have a major advantage in the pitching department. They remain NL Central favorites by picking up an 8-4 victory (with three ties) in this Tale of the Fantasy Tape.

Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.