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Chicago Cubs make Kyle Schwarber a free agent, tender contract to Kris Bryant and others

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs non-tendered 2016 World Series hero Kyle Schwarber on Wednesday, making him a free agent after six seasons with the team, while tendering a contract to 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant as well as shortstop Javier Baez and catcher Willson Contreras.

“He wasn’t surprised,” new Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said of Schwarber in a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday night. “He was disappointed. Any competitor would be.”

Schwarber, 27, was in his final year of arbitration, but the team let him go rather than pay him around $8 million-$9 million next season. The Cubs have not ruled out bringing him back on a lesser deal, though.

“We’ll definitely keep the door open,” Hoyer said. “We’ll continue to talk about ways to bring him back. … We had a good conversation. He’s a Cubs legend. No question about that.”

Schwarber hit .230 with 121 home runs in 551 regular-season games, but he’ll be remembered for his playoff performances, during which he compiled a .981 OPS in 24 games.

He hit .412 in five games as the Cubs’ designated hitter in the 2016 World Series, which Chicago won in seven games over the Cleveland Indians. After missing all but two games of the 2016 regular season — and the ensuing playoff rounds — because of a knee injury, Schwarber came back to star in the World Series.

Manager Joe Maddon made him the Cubs’ leadoff hitter the following year, after Dexter Fowler left via free agency. Schwarber flopped in that role, hitting .190 with a .312 on-base percentage before spending time in the minors.

He rebounded in 2018 and 2019, hitting 64 home runs, but his shortened 2020 season didn’t go well. Schwarber hit just .188 with 11 home runs in 59 games.

The Cubs also said goodbye to another 2016 mainstay, Albert Almora Jr., who was demoted to the alternate site in 2020. And though there is speculation Bryant could be moved before next season, he was tendered a contract for 2021 that should pay him close to $20 million.

In addition to Baez and Contreras, the Cubs also tendered contracts to catcher Victor Caratini and outfielder Ian Happ. Those players, along with Bryant, will either negotiate a one-year or longer-term deals, or go to an arbitration hearing in February to determine their salary.

The Cubs did agree to terms for 2021 with pitchers Colin Rea ($702,500), Dan Winkler ($900,000) and Kyle Ryan, who’s on a split contract that will pay him $800,000 if he’s on the major league team.

Without fans in attendance at Wrigley Field, the Cubs said they lost between $125 million-$140 million in 2020. Front-office and baseball operations staff were let go in a series of cost-cutting moves, and a reduction in payroll was on the agenda for the team this offseason — along with an offensive makeover. The core group of players who won the World Series in 2016 had collectively stalled at the plate.

Schwarber’s release is the first major sign of both the payroll and personnel turnover. And it is the first major decision under new team president Jed Hoyer’s watch, after Theo Epstein stepped down with a year left on his deal.

Schwarber was the Cubs’ first-round pick, fourth overall, in the 2014 draft after attending Indiana University.

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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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