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Nationals’ Juan Soto 2nd-youngest with home run in 1st World Series game

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HOUSTON — Washington Nationals star Juan Soto became the second-youngest player in baseball history to hit a home run in his first World Series game, sending a titanic, 417-foot shot over the train tracks in left field at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night, three days before his 21st birthday.

The left-handed-hitting Soto took American League Cy Young favorite Gerrit Cole deep to the opposite field in the fourth inning of Game 1 between the Nationals and Houston Astros. Only the Atlanta Braves‘ Andruw Jones, who was 19 years, 180 days at the time of his Game 1 homer in the 1996 World Series, was younger.

Soto is the fourth-youngest player to hit a home run in a World Series game, joining Jones, Miguel Cabrera (20 years, 187 days) and Mickey Mantle (20 years, 352 days), who hit a pair in 1952.

He wasn’t done either.

In the fifth inning, Soto delivered a two-run double off Cole to deep left field to put Washington ahead 5-2.

As the cleanup hitter for the Nationals in his second major league season, Soto hit .282/.401/.548 with 34 home runs and 110 RBIs. His bases-loaded single in the wild-card game propelled the Nationals into the division series, where his solo home run off Clayton Kershaw in the eighth inning of Game 5 helped send the game to extra innings before Howie Kendrick’s go-ahead grand slam.

Entering the World Series, Soto was hitting .237/.326/.421 this postseason. In his first at-bat against Cole, he struck out on a high fastball — the same pitch he later hit out for the historic home run.

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Sources — Pirates hire Ben Cherington as new GM

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have hired Ben Cherington as the team’s new general manager, according to multiple reports and confirmed by ESPN.

Cherington served as GM of the Boston Red Sox for four years, winning the World Series in 2013.

He stepped down as the Red Sox’s general manager during the 2015 season after Dave Dombrowski was named Boston’s new president of baseball operations.

In September 2016, Cherington was hired by the Toronto Blue Jays to be their vice president of baseball operations.

He takes over in Pittsburgh for executive vice president and general manager Neal Huntington, who was fired after a 12-year stint.

Since late September, the Pirates have fired Huntington, manager Clint Hurdle and team president Frank Coonelly.

Travis Williams has been hired to replace Coonelly while the managerial position remains open.

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Reports — Pirates hire Ben Cherington as new GM

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have hired Ben Cherington as the team’s new general manager, according to multiple reports.

Cherington served as GM of the Boston Red Sox for four years, winning the World Series in 2013.

He stepped down as the Red Sox’s general manager during the 2015 season after Dave Dombrowski was named Boston’s new president of baseball operations.

In Sept. 2016, Cherington was hired by the Toronto Blue Jays to be their vice president of baseball operations.

He takes over in Pittsburgh for executive vice president and general manager Neal Huntington, who was fired after a 12-year stint.

Since late September, the Pirates have fired Huntington, manager Clint Hurdle and team president Frank Coonelly.

Travis Williams has been hired to replace Coonelly while the managerial position remains open.

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AL Central offseason preview — Francisco Lindor’s future, Twins’ rotation in focus

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With free agency underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams?

Here’s a look at the AL Central, where the teams at the top could be in a state of flux and the ones at the bottom aren’t going anywhere.

Team-by-team offseason previews: NL East | NL Central | NL West | AL East

Minnesota Twins: Are the free-agent starters a problem or an opportunity?

2019 record: 101-61
2020 World Series odds: 30-1

The Twins kind of came from nowhere to record the franchise’s first 100-win season since 1965, and only its second ever. Then came four straight losses to the Yankees in the division series that suggested execs Derek Falvey, Thad Levine & Co. have plenty of work to do. That’s not to suggest Minnesota isn’t well positioned. Twelve of last season’s top 15 performers by bWAR are either under contract for next season or are otherwise under team control. There isn’t a money-suck among the bunch. Rookies and soon-to-be rookies Luis Arraez, Nick Gordon, Stephen Gonsalves and Brusdar Graterol are positioned to help in the near term, with top prospects Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff not far behind them.

The Twins have two areas of concern. First, there is statistical regression. Yes, that’s boring, but it has to be accounted for — a number of Minnesota’s key performers last season outstripped their projections by a good amount. So as a group, regression has to be built into expectations. And along more pure baseball lines, there is the starting rotation. As in: The Twins enter the offseason without one.

Jose Berrios is a fine building block for next year’s group. But the other four members of last season’s stable rotation — Michael Pineda, Jake Odorizzi, Martin Perez and Kyle Gibson — are free agents. (This assumes that Odorizzi turns down Minnesota’s qualifying offer.) The Twins have the funds to throw a fair bit of money at this issue, so expect them to do so. Two bedrock starters and some depth to augment internal options seem like the top items on the winter to-do list. Well, that and figuring out how to repeat last season’s record-breaking power display by the offense. — Bradford Doolittle

2019 record: 93-69
2020 World Series odds: 14-1

The Indians’ run of three straight division titles ended even as they improved from 91 to 93 wins — despite Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco combining for just 19 starts and Trevor Bauer getting traded at the deadline. Still, a big cloud hangs over the organization: What to do with their superstar shortstop? Francisco Lindor has two seasons of team control remaining until free agency but is eventually looking at a $300 million-plus contract the Indians won’t be willing to shell out. They could keep him and try to win the Central, a realistic option if Kluber comes back healthy and Carrasco is at full recovery after his leukemia scare. Or they could trade him now to extract maximum value in return.

The Indians could essentially follow both paths in one mega-deal: trade Lindor and still contend by getting a major-league-ready shortstop in return plus other help. One possibility is a deal involving Corey Seager of the Dodgers. The Indians will also be seeking outfield help after their outfielders hit just .253/.318/.417 in 2019, ranking 23rd in the majors in OPS. Also, Jason Kipnis is a free agent, although Christian Arroyo, the former Giants top prospect acquired from the Rays, may be given a chance at second base. — David Schoenfield

Chicago White Sox: Will the White Sox get serious in the free-agent market?

2019 record: 72-89
2020 World Series odds: 75-1

The White Sox are getting close to being pretty good. With the right moves, they might be headed toward becoming more than good. After an anticlimactic offseason last winter, it’s time for GM Rick Hahn and his staff to sound the bell that the South Side rebuild has transitioned to the next phase.

With not a single veteran on the books for as much as $10 million, the timing will never be better for the White Sox to lock down the top couple of spots of their roster with in-their-prime stars. Chicago can and should match any offers for the Gerrit Coles, Anthony Rendons and Stephen Strasburgs of the world, and if it takes an opt-out here or an extra year there to close the deal, so be it. White Sox fans have been very patient.

Of course, you don’t spend just to spend, and if the White Sox have to accept defeat and hope for a big swing or two next winter, that happens. There would still be plenty of fairly easy upgrades that could be made this offseason to a maturing roster that lacked depth in 2019. First, a big-hitting corner outfielder is a must. Their production in right field last season (.565 OPS, six homers) was almost impossibly bad. Legit options for DH are near the top of the list. And while the Sox will have a promising rotation with or without Cole or Strasburg, they need to max out on bullpen depth, which already has a pretty solid back end.

Things are about to get good on the South Side, but with a modicum of aggressiveness, things could get better than good. — Doolittle

Kansas City Royals: Will the Royals do anything at all this winter?

2019 record: 59-103
2020 World Series odds: 1,000-1

Let’s assume that the Royals simply don’t want to part with Whit Merrifield, no matter how much you think they should. Whether or not that’s the case, Kansas City has a pretty clean payroll situation. Closer Ian Kennedy ($14 million in 2020) would probably have more trade value at next summer’s deadline, even though he’s entering a walk year, simply because his 2019 season probably isn’t enough proof of concept to entice a taker for the entirety of his salary. Dealing Danny Duffy now, after a poor 2019 season, would be selling very low. So there aren’t really any flip-type deals to be made — if they’re holding on to Merrifield.

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