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San Francisco Giants plan to exercise Buster Posey’s $22M option if he wants to keep playing

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SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Giants plan to exercise Buster Posey‘s $22 million club option for the 2022 season as long as the veteran catcher wants to keep playing after a stellar year.

Posey, whose contract includes a $3 million buyout, helped lead the Giants to a franchise-record 107 wins and their first NL West title since 2012 by playing regularly down the stretch this year as he demonstrated his health and durability during his 12th major league season. The 34-year-old Posey opted out of the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign to care for prematurely born adopted twin girls.

“He is in our estimation the best catcher in baseball this year,” Farhan Zaidi, Giants president of baseball operations, said Monday. “… Obviously want to have conversations with Buster and continue to have internal conversations about that but having him on this team next year is a high priority.”

Posey caught five of the final six regular-season games and 10 of the last 13 as San Francisco clinched the division on the final day. He batted .304 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs, showing his surgically repaired right hip had finally regained full strength three years post-op.

Zaidi, manager Gabe Kapler and San Francisco are still dealing with the sting of a 2-1 loss to the rival Dodgers in the decisive Game 5 of the NL Division Series on Thursday night.

The Giants certainly missed first baseman Brandon Belt, who fractured his left thumb Sept. 26 at Colorado after being hit on the hand with a pitch while squaring to bunt. The 33-year-old Belt batted .274 with a career-high 29 homers and 59 RBIs.

He is someone else Zaidi is committed to keeping — while starting pitching also will be a top priority this offseason. A one-year qualifying offer to Belt might be considered as he wraps up a $72.8 million, five-year contract that took him from 2017 to 2021.

“You can talk about his value both in how he played down the stretch and how much we missed him when he went down. Really, really important part of this team,” Zaidi said. “The qualifying offer decision we’ll have to think more about and I’m sure we’ll have some conversations with his representation as we did during the year. He’s happy here, I think he feels really appreciated. And we appreciate him. He’s been one of the best hitters in baseball over the last couple of years. He’s a big part of this team and we’ll certainly hope that those are productive dialogues.”

Zaidi realizes retaining Kris Bryant might be a tough task after the Giants acquired him from the Cubs at the July trade deadline. Bryant gave Kapler many options with his ability to play all three outfield spots and the infield.

“We recognize that he’s superstar talent and it’s going to be a really competitive market for his services,” Zaidi said. “I’m sure we’ll have conversations there but he’s going to have a long line of suitors so we’ll just have to see how that develops.”

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MLB Players Association to make counteroffer to league in Monday meeting

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The Major League Baseball Players Association plans to make an in-person labor proposal to the league on Monday, sources told ESPN, countering MLB’s offer last week that did little to loosen the gridlock that has gripped the sport after the league locked out the players Dec. 2.

Should the players’ offer do little to advance the negotiations that thus far haven’t yielded any substantive progress, the scheduled start to spring training in mid-February will grow that much unlikelier. And the longer discussions on a new collective-bargaining agreement last, the more they jeopardize Opening Day on March 31.

The gap between the players and league remains significant, with the union seeking major financial gains in a number of areas and owners trying to hold firm with what they currently pay in salaries. Other issues players have said remain a priority include anti-tanking measures and fixing service-time manipulation.

Any concessions players make in their offer could provide a roadmap to the negotiations. Before implementing the lockout, the league asked the union to drop three areas of discussion: earlier free agency for players, salary arbitration after two years instead of three and changes to the revenue-sharing plan. The union did not agree to the condition when presented with it Dec. 1, and the league left the bargaining table, locking out the players hours later.

Forty-three days later, the league returned to the union with an offer that included paying players with two to three years of service based on a formula, slight modifications to the draft lottery it previously had proposed and a mechanism that would reward teams with draft picks when top prospects who started on opening day rosters win awards.

The proposal did little to entice players, who after losing financial ground during the previous labor agreement want to make gains this time around.

News of the MLBPA’s expected counterproposal was first reported by The Associated Press

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Robot umpires at home plate moving up to Triple-A for 2022, one step away from major league baseball

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NEW YORK — Robot umpires have been given a promotion and will be just one step from the major leagues this season. Major League Baseball is expanding its automated strike zone experiment to Triple-A, the highest level of the minor leagues.

MLB’s website posted a hiring notice seeking seasonal employees to operate the Automated Ball-Strike system. MLB said it is recruiting employees to operate the system for the Albuquerque Isotopes, Charlotte Knights, El Paso Chihuahuas, Las Vegas Aviators, Oklahoma City Dodgers, Reno Aces, Round Rock Express, Sacramento River Cats, Salt Lake Bees, Sugar Land Skeeters and Tacoma Rainiers.

The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game in July 2019 and experimented with ABS during the second half of that season. The system also was used in the Arizona Fall League for top prospects in 2019, drawing complaints of its calls on breaking balls.

There were no minor leagues in 2020 because of the pandemic, and robot umps were used last season in eight of nine ballparks at the Low-A Southeast League.

The Major League Baseball Umpires Association agreed in its labor contract that started in 2020 to cooperate and assist if commissioner Rob Manfred decides to use the system at the major league level.

“It’s hard to handicap if, when or how it might be employed at the major league level, because it is a pretty substantial difference from the way the game is called today,” Chris Marinak, MLB’s chief operations and strategy officer, said last March.

MLB said the robot umpires will be used at some spring training ballparks in Florida, will remain at Low A Southeast and could be used at non-MLB venues.

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Tampa Bay Rays say split-season plan with Montreal rejected by MLB

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays‘ proposed plan to split the season between Florida and Montreal has been rejected by Major League Baseball.

Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg announced the news on Thursday.

“Today’s news is flat-out deflating,” Sternberg said.

The idea of playing in both the Tampa Bay area and Montreal has been discussed over the past several years after attempts to build a new full-time ballpark locally failed.

Montreal had a big league team from 1969, when the expansion Expos began play, through 2004. The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals for the 2005 season.

The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the team has played since its inaugural season in 1998, expires after the 2027 season.

Since Sternberg took control in October 2005, the once-struggling franchise has been a success on the field but not at the box office.

Despite reaching the World Series in 2008 and 2020, the Rays have annually ranked near the bottom in attendance. The Rays averaged about 9,500 for home games last season, 28th in the majors and ahead of only Miami and Oakland.

St. Petersburg mayor Ken Welch feels a new stadium in his city remains a possibility. Governmental officials have been working on a redevelopment plan for the Tropicana Field site.

“We are working with our county partners and city council to put together the best plan possible, which will work in conjunction with my planned evolution of the Tropicana Field master development proposals,” Welch said in a statement. “With this collaborative approach, I am confident we can partner with the Tampa Bay Rays to create a new and iconic full-time home for Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg while also achieving historic equitable economic growth.”

Sternberg said the team will definitely explore options in the Tampa Bay area.

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