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Why Kris Bryant could be the MVP of this summer’s MLB trade deadline

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Jed Hoyer’s phone will be ringing plenty this July. If you’re looking for an All-Star caliber third baseman, the Chicago Cubs president has got one for you. How about a left fielder? He has someone who fits there too. Right field and even center field are covered as well. And he also has a first baseman, in case yours goes down with an injury.

And the best part of a potential trade with Hoyer is that all five players come in the form of one: Former MVP Kris Bryant.

“I was walking through the hallway after the game [thinking] I don’t even know what position I play anymore,” Bryant said with a smirk earlier this week. “I like to look at the lineup each and every day and find out where I’m playing. Kind of reminds me of club ball growing up. I was playing all over the field and never knew exactly where I was going to be.”

Bryant is the rare star willing to play all over the diamond while continuing to put up elite numbers at the plate. After several years of injuries, he’s healthy and performing at an MVP level again. His 1.010 OPS, going into Sunday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals on ESPN, would be a career high, surpassing his .939 mark when he won the NL award in 2016.

“He feels comfortable out there,” manager David Ross said. “He really is a guy that is willing to do what’s best for the team. Over my time as a player, that’s not always a case for superstar players. He is willing to be uncomfortable at other positions.”

“I feel like he has to carry an extra bag [of gloves] to the yard lately.”

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Bryant is the third former MVP, along with Jackie Robinson and Johnny Bench, to start a game at five positions in a single season. If he starts just three more at first base, he’ll be the first former MVP to start at least five games at five different positions in a single season.

“I think when you think of versatility, normally, you think little guy, utility infielder that can play short and second and third,” Hoyer said. “His ability, at his size and offensive profile, sometimes we don’t give him enough credit for being the kind of athlete that he is. It’s helped our team almost as much as his offense this year.”

The ability to move Bryant around the diamond has helped the Cubs stay near the top of the NL Central despite an injury-plagued start to the season, which actually makes Hoyer’s midseason decision tougher.

About half the Cubs’ roster will become free agents in November — headlined by Bryant, Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo. When the team traded Yu Darvish last winter, it signaled a transition phase that Hoyer acknowledged going into the season.

Now the team president will have to weigh the benefits of trading a player, whose combination of versatility and production could bring as big a haul as anyone at the deadline, against where his team sits in the standings come July.

“He’s not someone you’re hiding out there just to get his bat in the lineup,” said an NL scout who has seen the Cubs this year. “He can play the outfield. That’s what I’d tell anyone who asked.”

And the same selling points Hoyer may make to other teams in July are the ones Bryant’s agent will undoubedly be making this coming winter. The versatilty is a new wrinkle for the pending free agent as teams won’t ever have to worry he’s blocking a young prospect. They can just move Byrant to another position.

“You have a player who can get in the batter’s box and be who he is. He can hit 1, 2, 3, 4. He has offensive versatility to go along with defensive versatility,” Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, said in a phone call this weekend. “I see guys making $7-8 million a year, who are good players, and can play five positions, but they aren’t middle-of-the-order guys.”

Of course, Bryant has to keep hitting to cash in as injuries have been his only obstacle in recent years. Shoulder, wrist, knee and ankle issues are a few that have slowed him the past few years but simply put, he’s never had a bad year when healthy. And he is now.

“The bottom line is it slowed his bat down,” said Mike Bryant, his dad and hitting coach. “Any injuries to the shoulder, wrist or hand, slowed it down.”

The scout concurred that Bryant’s bat speed is back and he is getting around on inside pitches as much as ever. A setup tweak, which includes a new routine in the on-deck circle, has paid off, according to his dad. The only place to get him out these days is down and away.

His confidence is brimming and he’s as aggressive as ever, swinging at the first pitch more this season than previously in his career.

“It doesn’t feel like I’m doing it a lot more,” Bryant said. “I’m just out there being myself and being aggressive on a pitch in the zone. It’s nothing consciously or different, just sometimes you go on runs where you get better pitches to hit on the first pitch and you take advantage of it.”

There is one other way Bryant’s saga with the Cubs could end — by not ending at all. Though the team and Boras haven’t come close to a long-term deal, the turn at the top from Theo Epstein to Hoyer could lead to a new line of dialogue. Bryant made a point of mentioning the open line of communication with the Cubs’ new boss in spring training.

With only a few months until 29 other teams can bid for him, would Bryant forgo all that at this late date? Doubtful. But that won’t stop Hoyer from engaging with Boras before July 31. He has to, at least to know what he has moving forward.

“It’s a totally logical thing for you to say,” Hoyer said. “You do want to have a feel for that. “If we do have conversations, we’re not going to talk about it on a Zoom. It doesn’t help this process.”

With the versatility Bryant has displayed all year, there’s one person more than anybody who wants to see Bryant remain a Cub for as long as he’s filling out the lineup card.

“I don’t want Kris Bryant going anywhere,” Ross has said more than once.

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Fan who hit Alex Verdugo with baseball at Yankee Stadium banned from all MLB parks

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NEW YORK — The fan who hit Boston Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo with a baseball thrown from the Yankee Stadium stands has been banned for life from attending major league games.

The decision was confirmed Sunday by spokesmen for both the New York Yankees and Major League Baseball.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora briefly pulled his team off the field in the sixth inning Saturday night after Verdugo was struck in the back by a ball thrown from the left-field seats. He did not appear to be hurt.

An angry Verdugo shouted at fans and was restrained by first-base coach Tom Goodwin as the game was held up in a driving rain. The fan was ejected from the ballpark.

“While the Yankees appreciate the spirit and passion of our fans in our various rivalries — especially with the Red Sox — reckless, disorderly and dangerous behavior that puts the safety of players, field staff or fellow fans in jeopardy will not be tolerated,” the Yankees said in a statement Sunday.

“There is absolutely no place for it at Yankee Stadium. The safety of everyone at Yankee Stadium, including guests in the stands and players on the field, will always be the top priority for the Yankees organization every time we open our doors.”

Verdugo said he tossed the ball into the stands to a young Red Sox fan, but a Yankees fan intercepted it and threw it back onto the field, hitting the outfielder.

“It’s awful, embarrassing, unacceptable,” New York manager Aaron Boone said afterward.

Verdugo returned to left field when play resumed following a discussion with umpires near Boston’s dugout.

“It felt like it was targeted towards me and it don’t sit well with me,” he said.

New York won 3-1 in a game called after six innings due to heavy rain.

NJ.com reported Sunday the fan was not arrested.

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Pittsburgh Pirates swipe 3 runs off bizarre mistake by New York Mets pitcher Taijuan Walker

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PITTSBURGH — Now this was Bucco Bizarro at its best.

The Pittsburgh Pirates swiped three runs Sunday when New York Mets pitcher Taijuan Walker mistakenly batted a fair ball into foul territory, prompting a wild argument in which Mets manager Luis Rojas was ejected.

With the bases loaded and one out in the first inning, Kevin Newman hit a dribbler down the third-base line. The ball started out in foul territory but then began spinning back toward the line.

Walker swooped in and swatted at the ball, trying to make contact while it was still in foul ground. But TV replays showed the ball was touching the chalk when Walker hit it, and plate umpire Jeremy Riggs correctly called it a fair ball.

The ball rolled toward the Pirates’ dugout and the Mets did not react to retrieve it, and all three Pittsburgh runners took off and came around to score.

Rojas immediately ran out to argue the call and was quickly ejected. Walker was charged with an error on the play, while Newman was credited with a single and one RBI.

Walker, in his first outing since pitching in the All-Star Game on Tuesday night, then walked pitcher JT Brubaker and was pulled from the game. He allowed six runs on four hits and four walks while recording just one out.



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Surprised by promotion, Brandon Marsh set to make MLB debut in outfield for Los Angeles Angels

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Brandon Marsh is making his major league debut and playing center field for the Los Angeles Angels in Sunday’s game against the Seattle Mariners.

Marsh is considered the top prospect in the Angels’ organization. He was drafted in the second round in 2016 and was batting .382 with two home runs and six RBIs in his last eight games with Triple-A Salt Lake.

Manager Joe Maddon said before the game that he hopes Marsh can remain on the roster the rest of the season, even when three-time AL MVP Mike Trout and Justin Upton return from stints on the injured list.

“I told [Marsh] don’t think you have to do anything differently. It’s the same game,” he said.

Marsh said he was surprised about being called up at this point of the season, especially since he had not been back at Salt Lake that long after missing nearly a month with right shoulder inflammation.

Infielder Kean Wong was optioned to Salt Lake to make room for Marsh.

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