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Toronto Blue Jays don’t have deal with Michael Brantley, source says

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While the Toronto Blue Jays remain among the teams interested in free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley, they have not reached an agreement on a contract, a source familiar with the situation told ESPN.

Earlier, ESPN had reported that the Blue Jays and Brantley had struck a deal for him to join former Houston Astros teammate George Springer, who Tuesday agreed to a six-year, $150 million contract with Toronto, sources confirmed.

The demand for Brantley, 33, remains strong because of his high contact rate, low strikeout ratio and polish at the plate. In 46 games with the Astros in 2020, alternating between left field and DH, Brantley hit. 300, with five homers, 22 RBIs and an OPS of .840.

He has hit at least .300 in five seasons since 2014, tied with four others for the most such seasons in baseball in that time span. He also has struck out in just 10.1% of his plate appearances since 2014, third best in baseball in that time span, with a minimum of 2,000 plate appearances.

Injuries have troubled Brantley over his 12-year career with the Cleveland Indians and Astros, in which Brantley has a .297 average, with 114 homers, 640 RBIs and a .794 OPS. He’s been an All-Star four times, and in 2014 finished third in the MVP voting.

Brantley was playing on a two-year, $32 million contract he signed before the 2019 season.

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

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Chaim Bloom — Red Sox have talent to bounce back in 2021

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One by one, the Boston Red Sox have arrived at spring training spouting the same, stubborn message.

From Eduardo Rodriguez — “Don’t sleep on us” — to Chris Sale’s — “We plan on going and making some noise” — there is optimism at the team’s complex despite the 24-36 record in the pandemic-shortened season that left them last in the AL East.

“2020 did not go the way anybody wanted,” said Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom, who in his first year traded 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts, hired and fired a manager and dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I don’t want the stain of last year to have people look past the talent that we have,” Bloom said in a video call with reporters on Sunday. “This is a time for hope, for renewal. … I know that we have just been through a long, cold winter. But it’s important for us to take the time to take a breath, feel lucky that we get to do this and see all the possibilities.”

Three days of pitcher and catcher workouts can’t erase everything that went wrong in 2020. But Bloom said that — so far — everything has gone well this year, especially in comparison to last spring.

“The more uneventful, the better,” he said.

After playing only 60 games last year, preparing for a full season again has introduced uncertainty to spring training. Among the questions: How best to prepare pitchers for a full load a year after they made no more than a dozen starts and threw less than 65 innings.

“Anybody who thinks they can tell you what last year means … I don’t buy it. We’re all just using the best information we have, using all the information we have,” Bloom said. “There’s going to be some art to this, it’s not just science.”

Rodriguez, who missed all of 2020 due to a heart problem that stemmed from his coronavirus infection, has already thrown one bullpen session and is a “full go” to proceed.

“We’ve got to make sure we take care of him,” Bloom said. “He’s coming off something nobody has really experienced, so we’ve got to be mindful of that.”

Sale’s recovery from Tommy John surgery is also on schedule, presumably for a midseason return.

“One of the greatest sights of spring training so far has been watching Chris Sale throw a baseball. We’ve been waiting to do that for a long time,” Bloom said, adding that the team will be cautious. “We’ve got to do it the right way with him.”

The Red Sox are also optimistic that a more normal season will allow third baseman Rafael Devers to snap out of the defensive struggles that had him leading the majors with 14 errors in 57 games. And manager Alex Cora is betting — $5, in fact — that three-time All-Star J.D. Martinez will bounce back from the worst season of his career, when he batted just .213.

“J.D. got mad at me because I only bet one dollar a few months ago that he’s going to have a better season,” Cora told reporters. “I’ll raise the bet to five dollars that he’ll have a better season.”

The team also hasn’t ruled out re-signing center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., who remains a free agent. Bradley batted .239 in eight seasons — though it was up to .283 in 2020 — but provided spectacular defense in center field.

“We love Jackie and we’ve stayed in touch with him throughout the winter,” Bloom said. “We’re going to continue to do that until it resolves.”

After finishing 16 games behind Tampa Bay in the 60-game season — and nine in back of the wildcard Yankees — the Red Sox would need everything to go right to make a run at the playoffs. Bloom said that a World Series title remains the goal, but allowed that the season could be a success if he sees progress toward building a long-term contender.

“I would love to get to the end of this year and be able to look and see that next core that is going to be the center of a sustainable championship contender, and to see that core taking shape,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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San Francisco Giants reach one-year contract with right-hander Aaron Sanchez

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Right-hander Aaron Sanchez finalized a $4 million, one-year contract with the San Francisco Giants on Sunday, giving the club another experienced starter to join Johnny Cueto in the rotation.

The Giants said Sanchez could earn up to $2.5 million more in performance bonuses based on starts: $250,000 each for 16 and 18 starts and $500,000 each for 20, 22, 24 and 26 games started. He has been plagued by injuries in recent years.

The 28-year-old Sanchez hasn’t pitched since 2019, sitting out last year’s shortened season while recovering from surgery on his pitching shoulder. He went 5-14 with a 5.89 ERA over 27 starts and 131⅓ innings playing for Toronto and Houston.

A 2016 All-Star for the Blue Jays, he made only 20 starts in 2018 and eight starts the year before because of a blister and split fingernail.

The Giants cleared room on the 40-man roster for Sanchez by designating right-hander Trevor Gott for assignment.

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Washington Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg says ‘Numbness in my whole hand’ led to surgery

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The nerve issue in Stephen Strasburg‘s wrist that ended his 2020 season after five innings would get aggravated every time he threw a baseball, he said Sunday, and “basically would go from numbness in my thumb to numbness in my whole hand.”

Speaking to reporters for the first time since before he was shut down in August, the Washington Nationals ace said the problem went away immediately after the 15-minute carpal tunnel surgery.

The 2019 World Series MVP began preparing for this season much earlier than usual, doing a light catch on Nov. 1 instead of mid-December, and throwing bullpens early in January instead of late in the month.

“Endurance-wise, stamina-wise, I feel like I’m a lot further along than I have [been] in years past,” the right-handed starter explained. “I wanted to give myself some extra time to work through some mechanical things and be ready to go on day one.”

That he was: The 32-year-old was throwing off a mound alongside teammates during Friday’s workout.

“He’s one of our workhorses. And not to see him out there was tough. But for me, if he was ever going to get hurt and ever fix an issue, last year would’ve been the time,” manager Dave Martinez said. “I’m glad he got it fixed, and I’m glad he feels great.”

Strasburg said the stop-start nature of last year’s pandemic-affected schedule — spring training was stopped in March, then teams resumed preparations in July — was tough on his arm.

There was a period of uncertainty about when the so-called “summer camp” would start, so Strasburg would throw into a net to try to stay ready.

It was when things picked up again that the numbness first surfaced.

“If I knew it was going to start when it did, I definitely would have just not picked up a baseball for some time,” he said. “It ended up hurting me more than helped me.”

Game notes
Martinez said SS Trea Turner “possibly” could shift from leadoff to the No. 2 or 3 spot in the lineup. “We’re running a lot of different lineups, different numbers, talking to a bunch of our analytical people. Honestly, I would like to get (CF Victor) Robles up at the top of the lineup, even if it’s just against left-handed pitching.” … The Nationals would love to avoid the sort of poor start they managed to overcome in 2019 (19-31), so how do they do that? Martinez said he might ask position players to play seven, eight or nine innings of the last 10 days of exhibition games. “I want these guys to be May 1 ready come April 1,” he said.

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