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Texas Rangers plan for Isiah Kiner-Falefa to be starting shortstop over Elvis Andrus

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The Texas Rangers will give Gold Glove-winning third baseman Isiah Kiner-Falefa the opportunity to be their starting shortstop next season and have told Elvis Andrus to prepare to play all infield positions.

Andrus, at 32 the longest-tenured Ranger after 12 seasons, is the only player remaining from their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011.

Manager Chris Woodward said Tuesday that the Rangers wanted to give both Kiner-Falefa and Andrus clarity on the plans so they would know how to approach their offseason workouts.

“This wasn’t an easy decision based on what Elvis has done for the organization. We’ve had many discussions about this. But I think it comes down to, do we believe in Kiner as a shortstop? I want to see it. I want to answer that question,” Woodward said. “Can he handle the position? I believe he can.”

Woodward said Kiner-Falefa still had to earn the starting spot at shortstop, and has told Andrus he would have the opportunity to “prove us wrong.”

Andrus played only 29 games last season because of lingering back issues and hit only .194 with three homers and seven RBI. He is owed $28.5 million over the next two seasons.

The 25-year-old Kiner-Falefa started 15 games at short, and made 42 starts at third base after earning that spot with his performance in camp before the pandemic-delayed and reduced schedule. The Rangers had signed veteran third baseman Todd Frazier last offseason, but he ended up splitting time between third and first base before getting traded at the deadline.

Kiner-Falefa hit .280 in his third big league season. The Rangers had even used him as a catcher his first two seasons as a way to get him in the lineup.

“He’s a natural shortstop. He’s always been a plus defender,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “He’s taken a step forward with the bat, and I think as we look at not just this year but the next few years, you’ve obviously got a pretty unique free agent class a year from now, and I think as we look forward we want to make sure we’ve answered some of the big questions we might have not just now but in future offseasons and future times of potential acquisitions.”

Second baseman Rougned Odor, at 26 and also signed for two more seasons, will also have to compete to keep his starting job. He led Texas with 30 RBI in 38 games and matched Joey Gallo with a team-best 10 homers, but hit only .167. Seven of his 11 hits in September were homers, and he struck out 47 times in 138 at-bats.

Nick Solak led all MLB rookies with 56 hits while primarily playing in the outfield. But his best position is second base, where he had 16 starts.

“He has to prove that he can handle the second base position defensively. That is probably the most important piece of this,” Woodward said. “Let’s focus on second base to see how good of a second baseman he can possibly be. I think we’ll see a better version of him.”

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Brad Hand, Washington Nationals agree to 1-year, $10.5M deal

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Closer Brad Hand and the Washington Nationals are in agreement on a one-year, $10.5 million contract, sources familiar with the deal told ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Sunday.

Hand had another solid season as the closer for the Cleveland Indians, leading the major leagues with 16 saves, but he was a victim of the team’s salary purge heading into 2021. Cleveland declined his $10 million option in exchange for a $1 million buyout.

Cleveland tried to deal the 30-year-old left-hander after the season but was unable to find a trade partner.

Hand was acquired from the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline in 2018. In two-plus seasons with Cleveland, he had 58 saves in 65 chances and a 2.78 ERA and 154 strikeouts in 107 innings over 111 games.

Hand went 2-1 with a 2.06 ERA and was 16-for-16 in save chances during the pandemic-shortened 2020 60-game season. However, his blown save against the New York Yankees led to the Indians’ elimination in the American League Wild Card Series.

The Padres claimed Hand off waivers from Miami early in the 2016 season and he developed into a two-time All-Star. Known for his slider, he has 105 saves in 128 chances, with a 3.65 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 608 2/3 innings pitched.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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In Jameson Taillon, did New York Yankees trade for latest starter who will dominate after leaving Pittsburgh Pirates?

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The year 2018 wasn’t that long ago. It really wasn’t, despite how it seems. The Red Sox beat the Dodgers in the World Series that year and while it feels like an epoch has passed since that happened, the highlight reels of that matchup are in full color, not black and white.

I fixate on 2018 because after the New York Yankees agreed to acquire right-hander Jameson Taillon from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for a middling package of four prospects on Sunday, that year has a special relevance for Bronx denizens sketching out their team’s new-look rotation.

Let’s say Luis Severino returns from his Tommy John surgery rehabilitation sometime in June, Corey Kluber‘s shoulder holds up enough that he holds down a rotation spot, Gerrit Cole keeps being Gerrit Cole, Taillon is a full go and, just for the fun of it, that New York’s low-key minor league invite, righty Jhoulys Chacin, bounces back enough to win the No. 5 slot. The quintet would probably slot like this: Cole, Taillon, Kluber, Severino and Chacin.

In 2018, those five starters combined to go 83-38 (a .686 winning percentage) over 164 starts with a 3.16 ERA and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings. They put up 94 quality starts. Together, they compiled 22.3 WAR, per baseball-reference.com. The MLB-leading WAR total for any rotation in 2018 was 22.4, by the Astros, but of course that total was bolstered by the presence of Cole.

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New York Yankees acquire pitcher Jameson Taillon from Pittsburgh Pirates for four prospects

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The New York Yankees have added another bounce-back candidate to their starting rotation, acquiring Jameson Taillon from the Pittsburgh Pirates for four minor league prospects, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan and multiple reports.

Pittsburgh will receive pitchers Miguel Yajure and Roansy Contreras, infielder Maikol Escotto and outfielder Canaan Smith in the trade, sources told Passan.

Taillon, 29, was the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2010 and was a 14-game winner for the Pirates in 2018. But the hard-throwing right-hander appeared in just seven games in 2019 and missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow.

The Yankees agreed to the trade less than two weeks after signing two-time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber, who also is looking to rebound from back-to-back injury-marred seasons.

Taillon and Kluber, if healthy, could provide the Yankees with much-needed experience and depth in their rotation behind ace Gerrit Cole.

With free agent Masahiro Tanaka‘s future uncertain and fellow veteran J.A. Happ having joined the Minnesota Twins, New York could face a shortage of proven starting pitching options after Cole.

Besides Taillon and Kluber, the other candidates for the Yankees’ rotation include left-hander Jordan Montgomery, who has appeared in just 12 games since his 2018 Tommy John surgery, youngsters Deivi Garcia and Clarke Schmidt, former All-Star Luis Severino, who missed all of last season because of Tommy John surgery, and Domingo German, who also missed the entire 2020 season while serving a suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy.

Taillon is on schedule to return in 2021 after recovering from the August 2019 operation, which was the second Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

The trade marks the latest step in a rebuild for the Pirates, who also acquired multiple prospects in earlier offseason trades that sent All-Star first baseman Josh Bell to the Washington Nationals and starting pitcher Joe Musgrove to the San Diego Padres.

Pirates manager Derek Shelton told reporters last month that any trades would be made “for the betterment of the Pirates moving forward.”

As for the Yankees, the trade also reunites a pair of former teammates in Taillon and Cole, who were both highly touted prospects in Pittsburgh’s organization and played together with the Pirates in 2016 and 2017.

Taillon most recently pitched in the majors in 2019, when he went 2-3 with a 4.10 ERA in seven starts. He went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA the previous season.

Taillon, who is under contract for $2.25 million in 2021, also missed time during the 2017 season while battling testicular cancer. His first Tommy John surgery was performed in 2014, when he was pitching in the Pirates’ minor league system.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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