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Cubs institute pay cuts, Pirates announce furloughs amid coronavirus pandemic

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates are trimming payroll while they await word on the fate of the Major League Baseball season.

The Cubs are instituting pay cuts because of the coronavirus crisis, but there will be no furloughs through the end of June. The Pirates announced Thursday they are instituting furloughs for several employees in business operations beginning on June 1.

Chicago’s cuts were based on compensation, a person with direct knowledge of the situation said. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein and president of business operations Crane Kenney took the highest reductions.

The person, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, says 80% of associates are taking a pay cut of 20% or less.

The MLB season has been ion hold since spring training was suspended March 12 because of the pandemic. The commissioner’s office and the players’ union are talking a deal to resume, and teams could take more drastic employment measures with administrative staff if the negotiations are unsuccessful.

Pirates president Travis Williams says the team also will be reducing pay for many of its remaining employees in business and baseball operations beginning next month.

The Pirates’ executive staff had already accepted voluntary pay cuts for the remainder of the calendar year.

“We care deeply about all of our employees and understand the impact this will have on them,” Williams said in a statement. “These decisions are very difficult, but are necessary for us to endure this crisis and emerge as strong as possible when we are able to resume normal operations. We look forward to welcoming our employees back to work at that time.”

Williams says the team will cover medical, dental and vision benefits for furloughed employees and their families, and help them with securing unemployment benefits. No baseball operations staff with the Pirates were furloughed.

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MLB launches wood-bat league for draft-eligible prospects

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NEW YORK — Major League Baseball is creating a minor league for top eligible prospects leading to the summer draft.

The wood-bat MLB Draft League is launching with five teams and could add a sixth, MLB said Monday. Teams will play a 68-game regular season that includes an All-Star break that would coincide with the draft in early July.

Teams are being awarded to communities that lost franchises as MLB moved to shrink the affiliated minor leagues from 160 to 120 teams this offseason following the expiration of the Professional Baseball Agreement, which governed the relationship between the majors and minors. MLB has planned to eliminate the separate governing body of minor league baseball.

The founding members of the MLB Draft League are located in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New Jersey: the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the State College Spikes, the Trenton Thunder, the West Virginia Black Bears and the Williamsport Crosscutters. MLB said it is in discussions with a sixth team that it hopes to announce soon.

The league will be operated by Prep Baseball Report — a scouting, events and media organization focused on youth ball — and former Cape Cod League coach Kerrick Jackson has been appointed president.

MLB said in a statement that players will “receive unprecedented visibility to MLB club scouts through both in-person observation and state-of-the-art scouting technology, and educational programming designed to prepare them for careers as professional athletes.”

“We are thrilled to partner with Prep Baseball Report and the founding members of the MLB Draft League to create a one-of-a-kind league that will attract the nation’s top players who are eligible for each year’s MLB draft and allow local fans to see top prospects and future big-league stars in their hometowns,” said Morgan Sword, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball economics and operations. “This announcement continues MLB’s commitment to preserving and growing baseball in communities around the United States.”

MLB announced in September that the Appalachian League, formerly a Rookie-level affiliated league, would be transformed into a wood-bat college summer league.

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How Adam Wainwright’s love for fantasy football has benefited more than 30 charities

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It’s that time of year, when executives are checking the waiver wires and looking to make moves to improve their teams. But in this case, the front office gurus in question are baseball players themselves and their teams consist of football players.

For many baseball players, fantasy football is their offseason vice — that and a round of golf. In both cases, the players come for the trash talk and stay for the competition.

“We’re so competitive, by nature,” free agent pitcher Adam Wainwright said. “We’ll compete on who can eat their cereal the fastest. Fantasy football has provided baseball players with a fun outlet. It brings clubhouses together. Trades, trash talking, checking scores — and it keeps players close in the offseason.”

Through his charitable foundation Big League Impact, Wainwright took things to another level this fall. He commissioned a “Players Only League” that benefits not only his own foundation but 31 other charities. Each participant, 32 MLB players in all, played for the charity of his choice. The league, which conducted drafts every week with teams having $50,000 to spend on players, had two-week running matchups and is down to the final four: Wainwright is taking on Cincinnati Reds pitcher Sonny Gray in one semifinal, while former big leaguer Matt Holliday faces off against Arizona Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed in the other.

And while the competition has been fierce, the passion comes in earning money for charitable causes. Each round resulted in more money for the winning players’ charity of choice. High point totals and a “second chance” bracket provided extra ways to earn.

“That’s one of the coolest parts about it,” Gray said. “And if you’re out early, there are still ways to make money for your charity.”

Gray has raised about $15,000 so far for Project One Four, a charity created by Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price to help youth organizations. Due to the pandemic, golf tournaments, celebrity cook-offs, black tie affairs and many other fundraisers have been canceled, so creativity has been needed to raise money for worthy causes. Enter Wainwright and Big League Impact, which matched each player’s $5,000 entry fee in contributing to the pool for the charities.

“We’re starting to catch some notoriety among the players,” Wainwright said. “They know we’re going to have fun and do some cool things to help out their charities. That’s my goal. To empower players around the league, who have huge platforms but don’t know how to use those platforms just yet.”

It’s the perfect mix of passions for Wainwright, who might have a fantasy football “addiction,” according to those who know him. They were only half-kidding, as Wainwright is in five leagues this year.

“Let’s see, there’s my Triple-A team from 2005,” he said. “My home league with my best friends. The clubhouse league with the Cardinals. That’s A-1 priority because you’re looking at those guys in the face every day.”

“He’s always been more concerned with his fantasy football teams than just about anything else,” Holliday, a former teammate, said of Wainwright. “He’s Mr. Tough Guy on game days [when he’s pitching], not talking to anyone, but if you have a good trade, you can talk to him about fantasy football.”

Holliday is playing for his own foundation, Homers for Health, which has raised nearly $3 million for Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis.

You might think Wainwright, as a free agent, would be more concerned with where he’ll play baseball next season after spending the last 15 years with the Cardinals. But a recent 40-minute phone call produced very little baseball talk. His interest, besides fantasy football, is in helping people. After hanging up, he texted back, not about who he’s starting at quarterback this week, but to emphasize the best part of the whole tournament.

“The coolest thing about everything we do is knowing that there are people around the globe who have clean water that didn’t,” Wainwright wrote. “That have a feeding program that were hungry. That have access to doctors and medicine that had no hope of help before. That have a roof over their head for the first time. And that are free from the bondage of trafficking. All because of a bunch of baseball players working together to make a difference.”

That same sentiment was echoed by the other final four participants. The baseball players have a passion for helping, while at the same time enjoying some competition against each other. The combination wasn’t lost on Holliday, a good friend of Wainwright’s, who is hopeful they meet in the final. Holliday also openly wondered how the commissioner of the league made it to the semifinals.

“I question it,” Holliday said with a laugh. “He’s in charge of this deal, but he always finds his way into the finals. If I didn’t know him so well, and his character, I would question some of the shadiness.”

That’s just a taste of the trash talking that goes hand-in-hand with fantasy football. Wainwright beat Washington Nationals star Max Scherzer in the previous round and made sure to let him know about it.

“Max is a great trash talker,” Wainwright said. “No doubt about it. We’ve had battles on the baseball field, pre and postgame. This was big for me. It’s not as important as baseball, but it’s pretty close as far as bragging rights go.

“He’s really ticked off about it. I won a side bet off of him too.”

While Wainwright, Gray and Holliday are talking some trash, Ahmed, the fourth semifinalist, wants to be known as the “quiet assassin,” though he did question why he was the 30th seed going into the tournament. Ahmed has raised $12,000 so far for Compassion International, which sponsors children in the world’s poorest countries.

“I have to take that up with Waino,” Ahmed said of being the 30th seed. “What’s that all about?”

The Diamondbacks star might feel like he’s playing with house money after beating Clayton Kershaw in the last round.

“He [Kershaw] has beaten me so many times on the field, it’s hard to count them so it feels good to get that little revenge,” Ahmed said. “I didn’t know the format at first. First couple of weeks, I went over budget every time. I had to re-edit and adjust my lineup.”

Texas Rangers pitcher Kyle Gibson was eliminated from the main bracket in Round 1, losing to former teammate Jason Castro. Gibson has continued on in the second-chance bracket as he’s making a difference for his charitable organization, Help One Now, which is building a high school in the Haitian village of Ferrier.

“It’s really cool to see the charities impacted,” Gibson said.

Asked who the best trash talker is, Gibson picked another player eliminated in Round 1.

Lance Lynn likes to talk,” Gibson said. “When he wins, he definitely lets you hear about it. He’s not doing very well in the Rangers league either, so it’ll be a little quieter in the clubhouse.”

So who does he like in to win it all and make $50,000 for his charity? (The charity of the runner-up gets $25,000.)

“[Wainwright] took out Scherzer,” Gibson said. “He was on fire all year. Waino has found his groove. I’ll go with my guy. He set [the league] up and had a big year.”

Several players kidded about the issue of Commissioner Wainwright making it to the semifinals.

“Man, it’s always a little sketchy when the host makes a deep run,” Gray said, enjoying the chance to sting his semifinal opponent. “This is the best thing to be able to trash talk about. Baseball is your career, everyone is doing their own thing and competing. But this is a different level.”

Wainwright had plenty to say on the subject of winning his own tournament, suggesting his dedication to the competition, rather than his being commissioner, has been the key.

“I don’t know how good it looks to win your own event, but I’m going to try to do it,” he said. “I don’t care about the optics because it will help our charities do a lot of great things in this world. … I won our clubhouse league last year and that’s what everyone said. ‘Oh, he sets his own rules. He does whatever he wants to win.'”

Mentioning the Cardinals’ clubhouse league gave Wainwright an opening for a shot across the bow there too.

“I’m all over [teammate] Tommy Edman right now because he has one good player, Patrick Mahomes,” Wainwright said. “Everyone else is the worst player times eight.”

Wainwright’s secret is simple. He’ll bother you until he gets what he wants.

“I’m relentless on trades,” he explained. “If I want a player and the guy says, ‘No, I’m not trading him’, by the fourth week in a row of asking, I might wear him down.”

Players find the trash talk comes much easier in fantasy football than in baseball, where livelihoods are at stake. Wainwright said there have been many times when he has faced a hitter on the same Sunday he was playing him in fantasy football, and the fantasy matchup gets much more attention. Gray loves it because nothing is off limits.

“Oh, for sure,” he said. “Everything comes up when you’re running around out there. It’ll be talked about. This is a big matchup.”

It also gives the players a bit of an understanding what baseball fans go through when they play fantasy baseball.

“I don’t take any offense to it,” Gray said. “A lot of times, baseball fantasy owners are very accurate in their statements.”

Trash talking while earning money for charity is about as good as it gets for these players. The back and forth could go on and on, but the semifinals are underway. Two weeks from now, the players only league will be down to just two.

“This is just a great way to raise awareness and money,” Ahmed said.

And what of that 30th seed?

“It’s giving me a little added motivation to win the whole thing,” he said with a laugh. “We miss that competitive outlet in the offseason, so this is good. I’m enjoying it and want to do it for years to come.”

And that’s Wainwright’s goal as well, to grow the league and earn as much money as possible, not just for his own charity but for many around baseball. If he wins his own tournament, so be it.

“It’s happened a lot over the years,” he said. “I have five leagues I play in.”

And beating Wainwright will make it that much more special for his competitors.

“That’s why you play, to beat the host, right?” Gray said. “He has the home-field advantage. And I already know it’s all over his mind so that makes it even more fun. I’ll sit back and watch Project One Four fantasy points roll up. He knows he’s going to have to bring it.”

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Sources — Mike Minor, Kansas City Royals agree to 2-year deal

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Left-handed starter Mike Minor and the Kansas City Royals are in agreement on a two-year deal that is pending a physical, sources confirmed to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

With the deal, Minor returns to the city where he revitalized his career as a reliever in 2017.

Minor, who turns 33 on Dec. 26, has since become a rotation stalwart. He was traded from the Texas Rangers to Oakland for the stretch drive as the Athletics wrapped up the American League West title last season.

Minor went 1-1 with a 5.48 ERA in his four starts in Oakland after the trade, in which Texas received two players to be named later and international slot money. Overall, he went 1-6 with a 5.56 ERA and 62 strikeouts for both teams in 2020.

His fastball velocity took a step back last season, and his propensity for giving up fly balls showed in his allowing 11 home runs in 56 2/3 innings. His average of 17.7 pitches per inning was his highest rate since his rookie season in 2010 with the Atlanta Braves.

In nine major league seasons, Minor has a 71-66 record with a 3.98 ERA and 1,048 strikeouts with the Braves, Royals, Rangers and Athletics. He missed the 2015 and ’16 seasons after having Tommy John surgery, and he was moved to the bullpen after signing with the Royals in 2017, going 6-6 with six saves and a 2.55 ERA.

The Rangers signed him prior to the 2018 season and moved him back to the rotation, and he delivered, going 26-18 in the 2018 and ’19 seasons while earning his first All-Star nod.

The Athletic was first to report the agreement.

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