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Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora happy to be back with team

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Alex Cora spent the last year on the sideline following a suspension for his role in the Houston Astros‘ sign-stealing scandal. Now, sitting back in his manager’s seat with the Boston Red Sox after the team gave him a second chance to lead, Cora is soaking in every moment of being back in spring training.

“This is where I wanted to be. This is where I’m at,” Cora said last week. “I love every second of it, and I’m not going to take it for granted.”

Cora became one of Boston’s most popular sports figures after leading the Red Sox to a World Series championship in 2018, his first season in the Fenway Park manager’s seat. When Boston fired Cora after the unraveling of the Astros trash-can banging scheme, many Red Sox players expressed disappointment that Cora would no longer be their manager.

“He’s someone that we all enjoyed playing for and I loved to just sit and have a nice conversation with him baseball-wise,” Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts said last January. “He’ll be someone we’ll miss a lot, me especially.”

If there was doubt about whether the Red Sox clubhouse would embrace Cora following the fallout of the sign-stealing scandal, those questions were quickly answered in the early days of spring training.

“You know everything we went through, winning the World Series in 2019, I just feel happy that he’s back,” said pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. “He’s like a father, like a brother. Sometimes I feel like a teammate when I talk to him and that’s part of the relationship that we have together and we can make it better. We will make it better.”

Even when Cora was not managing the Red Sox, Chris Sale said he maintained regular communication with the skipper, especially as he was beginning his rehab from Tommy John surgery.

When asked to describe the impact of Cora’s return to the team, Sale invoked the words camaraderie, trust and passion. Around the Red Sox clubhouse, Sale is known as a leadership figure who brings an old-school approach to the game, regularly seen wearing an “All me, PED free” t-shirt, who doesn’t speak in clichés.

“He wants to win, he does everything to better himself, the coaching staff, the team, the organization,” Sale said. “Being able to have that trust in the captain, he’s the guy running the show, he’s the guy putting the lineups up, he’s doing pitching changes and having that trust in knowing that he’s got your back to the very end.”

This year, Cora brings a season’s worth of pent-up enthusiasm and excitement about baseball he wasn’t able to channel while watching games from his couch instead of the dugout, something he hopes can help Boston avoid a repeat of 2020’s last-place finish in the American League East.

“I’m going to do it the same way I’ve done it in ’18 and ’19,” Cora said. “Confident, with conviction, and trying to put these guys in situations to be successful. This is the way I know how to do it. This is what I do, and let’s see where it takes us.”

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A $245 million payroll?! Why the Los Angeles Dodgers are outspending every other MLB team by a mile

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THE LOS ANGELES DODGERS spent $100 million to renovate Dodger Stadium ahead of the 2020 season, an ambitious undertaking that modified most of the infrastructure in an effort to modernize baseball’s third-oldest ballpark.

“Irony of ironies,” Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten said. “After all these years of being the most beautiful stadium ever built to watch the game of baseball, we now also added 21st-century amenities. We have two acres of entertainment, and new food, and new history displays, and kids’ areas, and merchandise. Now we have elevators, and escalators, and connecting bridges — we now have all of that! We have a front door! You’ve seen pictures of it — it’s amazing!”

And it has all been just sitting there, untouched, for a year.

Kasten told CNBC in late October that a fan-less 2020 season led to revenue losses “north of $100 million” for the Dodgers, adding that it would take the franchise “years to catch up.” Three weeks later, the team followed a leaguewide trend in issuing organizationwide layoffs. Three months after that, they splurged on Trevor Bauer, brought back Justin Turner and raised a payroll that now is approaching a whopping $245 million, according to Cot’s Contracts, 26% higher than that of the second-place New York Yankees and the only one on pace to exceed baseball’s luxury-tax threshold.

The Dodgers’ payroll is high, but manageable, given their flexibility to creep back under that threshold in a year or two. Their roster is loaded with stars, but their abundance of young talent makes it seem as if the Dodgers’ run of excellence — consisting of eight consecutive division titles, a 2020 World Series championship and a 2021 PECOTA projection of 104 wins, the highest known number that system has ever produced — might never end. They have built a baseball utopia, evolving into the type of juggernaut their sport rarely produces. While most of their competition reels from the revenue losses of the coronavirus pandemic, which kept fans away from ballparks for an entire season, the Dodgers are doubling down.

How?

As one rival executive noted: “I think it’s important to go back to the beginning.”

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Who is 2021 MLB draft’s No. 1 pitching prospect? Scouting Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker

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In last week’s early 2021 MLB draft rankings, Vanderbilt right-handers Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker were second and third, respectively, on the list — and the top two pitching prospects on our board.

I had a chance to see the two pitch back-to-back in both ends of a doubleheader on Sunday in Nashville against Georgia State, so here’s a deep dive on both prospects and what could cause their stock to rise (or fall) heading into the 2021 MLB draft starting July 11 in Atlanta.

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Cincinnati Reds OF Shogo Akiyama returns to camp after wife seriously injured

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. — – Cincinnati Reds outfielder Shogo Akiyama returned to spring training after a week away to be with his wife, who was seriously injured when a tree fell on her in a park in Ohio.

Akaya Akiyama was hospitalized after being injured by the tree last week while she was walking in Sharon Woods in Cincinnati. Her husband said Thursday that her condition is improving.

“I was in the hospital with her, I was spending time with [the] kids,” the 32-year-old Akiyama said through a translator at the team’s spring training complex in Goodyear, Arizona. “I think it was the inevitable time that I needed with this week away.”

Manager David Bell said Akiyama won’t be in the lineup for a spring training game until Sunday.

The Reds signed the Japanese player to a three-year, $21 million contract before the 2020 season. He played in 54 games last year, hitting .245.

“That’s bigger than baseball,” Reds pitcher Lucas Sims said. “Being able to see him today, it made us all happy and glad to know that she’s doing all right. Hopefully, everything gets back to normal.”

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