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Chicago Cubs avoid arbitration with Kris Bryant, Javy Baez

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CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs avoided arbitration with two players who will be free agents after 2021, as third baseman Kris Bryant settled with the team for $19.5 million for the upcoming season while shortstop Javy Baez will make $11.65 million.

Both players are coming off subpar 2020 campaigns. Bryant dealt with several nagging injuries, limiting him to just 34 games. He hit .206 with four home runs. Baez hit .203 with eight home runs.

Bryant, 29, will enter his seventh season with the Cubs after the club called him up 10 days into his rookie year in 2015 to keep him for an extra season before he hits free agency. Otherwise, he would be a free agent this winter.

Bryant filed a grievance against the team for being denied a full year of service time but lost the case last offseason. He has also been the subject of trade rumors, as he’s unlikely to sign an extension with the team.

Meanwhile, Baez, 28, is more likely to stick with the Cubs long term before he hits the open market. He was negotiating with the team last March before the league shut down amid the coronavirus pandemic. Those talks have not reignited yet but should pick up again in spring training.

The Cubs also settled on 2021 salaries for catcher Willson Contreras for $6.65 million and pitcher Zach Davies for $8.6 million.

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Philadelphia Phillies’ Bryce Harper says NL East is a ‘juggernaut of a division’

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If Philadelphia Phillies right-fielder Bryce Harper is to get back to the postseason for the first time since 2017, he knows his team will have to earn it by getting through a stacked NL East.

“I think this is the best division in baseball, I don’t think that’s even a question,” the 28-year-old star said in a videoconference call on Thursday. “We have five teams…that are really good. I think this is going to be a juggernaut of a division.”

The Phillies finished in third place last season, four games under .500, as Harper played with a bad back, which at times prevented him from throwing a baseball. After an offseason of rehab, the pain is gone and he’s ready to lead the Phillies, though there were times this winter he had doubts what the club’s roster would look like.

“We were kind of sitting there, figuring out what we wanted to do as an organization,” Harper said.

Then Dave Dombrowski was hired as team president and everything changed. Harper knew the organization meant business.

“When he came in, it was kind of like ‘Whoa, here we go,” Harper said. “You don’t really bring in Dombrowski unless it’s a win-now kind of move. I think Dombrowski has done a great job. … The way Dombrowski works, he may not be done yet.”

Harper cited the re-signing of catcher J.T. Realmuto and revamping a depleted bullpen as difference-making moves by Dombrowski this winter. But the Phillies will have to outduel a revamped New York Mets team as well as the defending division winners, the Atlanta Braves, to assure themselves a postseason bid.

“I hate being home for Halloween,” Harper said. “I can tell you that. … The town needs it [the postseason]. The city of Philadelphia deserves it. Everyone knows what the last couple years looks like. We’re looking forward.”

Harper signed a 13-year, $330-million deal with the Phillies before the 2019 season only to see his former team, the Washington Nationals, win the World Series that fall. The Nationals are also an NL East contender in 2021 while the Miami Marlins were a postseason entrant in 2020, giving all five teams in the group reason for hope this season. Harper’s assessment of the division might be spot on.

“I just want to be able to win,” he said. “We’re going to try everything in our power to do that as an organization. Success as a team instead of success as individuals is what you want.”

Harper had nothing but positive things to say about the Phillies as an organization, despite some failings on the field. They’ve let him be himself, and with Dombrowski in the fold, Harper might finally get his wish to return to the playoffs.

“I love postseason baseball,” Harper said. “I love the mentality of it. It’s always a lot of fun. The fans are craving it so much.”

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Francisco Lindor channels Eddie Murphy, sports classic ‘Coming to America’ New York Mets jacket

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Francisco Lindor continues to endear himself to the fan base of his new team, rocking a replica of the New York Mets jacket worn by Eddie Murphy in the classic movie “Coming to America” while making his entrance at the team’s spring training facility Thursday morning.

“Good morning, my neighbors,” Lindor says in a video tweeted by the Mets, repeating the iconic line Murphy’s character, Prince Akeem Joffer, yells from the balcony of his Queens apartment in the 1988 comedy.

The sequel to “Coming to America” — called “Coming 2 America” — is scheduled for digital release on March 5 via Amazon.

The four-time All-Star shortstop came to New York this offseason, along with starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco, after the Mets traded infielders Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez, along with minor leaguers Isaiah Greene and Josh Wolf, to the Cleveland Indians.

New Balance recently made Lindor a rare baseball player with a signature sneaker, announcing on Monday the release of the Lindor 1, part of the brand’s first-ever MLB sneaker and apparel collection.

Lindor has embraced Mets culture so far, rocking blue hair, but his contract status with the team remains a question, with the shortstop scheduled to hit free agency after the season.

“We haven’t found the time [to negotiate], and I obviously have to get to know the organization, get to know the people, and they have to get to know me,” Lindor said Monday about a potential extension with the Mets. “If something comes up, we’ll see in the future; that is between my agent and Sandy [Alderson, team president] and the rest of the staff. It’s been nonexistent, the conversations. It’s too early, I think.”



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Fantasy baseball rookie rankings for 2021

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It’s the season for fantasy baseball rankings, and this one is for players that are rookie/prospect eligible, which has both a service time and playing time component. Some already have major-league experience, but all are still considered Rookie-of-the-Year eligible. I’m ranking them for 2021-only value, so not for their dynasty or keeper league value, and based on a head-to-head category scoring, but will mention players with standout skills for points leagues (like hitters strikeout-to-walk ratio) as relevant. When referencing average around contact (batting average), power (homers), and plate discipline (strikeout-to-walk ratio), average is a .250 batting average and 15-18 homers in a 550 plate appearances, and 9% walks with 23% strikeout rate for hitters, while for pitchers the important averages are a 4.45 ERA and 9.0 K/9.

Almost every pitcher mentioned here is a starter, and those pitcher averages include relievers, so the standard for an average, or No. 4 starter, is actually lower than that, particularly in strikeout rate. There’s a balance between impact/ability and opportunity/playing time which will be noted in the blurb, but the top dozen or so players will be opening day starters that will have to be seriously injured or really underperform to lose their spots. And if you have strong preferences for a particular type of prospect, moving one up/down a few spots is fair, as these rankings are pretty tightly-packed from top to bottom.

1. Randy Arozarena, OF, Rays

Arozarena has the unique combination of everyday tools, a clear spot in the lineup, not enough experience to have graduated prospect status, but a historic run of performance down the stretch in 2020. I don’t think he’s a runaway number one, since there isn’t infield eligibility and he won’t be truly elite in any category, but should be above-average in every category, unless your league uses hitter strikeout rate.

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