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Angels’ Shohei Ohtani a finalist for AL MVP; fired Cardinals skipper Mike Shildt in running for NL Manager of the Year

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NEW YORK — Two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels is a finalist for American League MVP in voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

The BBWAA revealed finalists for AL and NL MVPs, Cy Young Awards, Rookies of the Year and Managers of the Year on Monday night. The winners — decided on ballots sent at the end of the regular season — will be revealed next week.

Ohtani is in the final three of AL voting along with two Toronto players, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Marcus Semien.

The 27-year-old Ohtani hit .257 with 46 homers, 100 RBI and a .965 OPS as the Angels’ full-time designated hitter, while also going 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA in 23 starts on the mound. It was his first full season in both roles — he won Rookie of the Year in 2018 even after an elbow injury shut him down as a pitcher after 10 starts.

Former St. Louis Cardinals skipper Mike Shildt was nominated for NL Manager of the Year less than a month after he was fired. The other finalists are Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell and San Francisco’s Gabe Kapler.

The Cardinals won 17 straight games down the stretch and made the postseason for the third time in four years under Shildt, but the 2018 Manager of the Year was cut loose because of what general manager John Mozeliak termed “philosophical differences.” Oliver Marmol was promoted from bench coach to replace Shildt.

The NL MVP race is down to Philadelphia’s Bryce Harper, Washington’s Juan Soto and San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. Harper is the only former MVP of that trio, earning the honor in 2015 with the Nationals.

Max Scherzer is a finalist for a fourth Cy Young Award after splitting the season between the Nationals and Dodgers, but all the other finalists would be first-time winners.

Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes and Philadelphia’s Zack Wheeler are finalists in the NL, while the AL honor is down to the Yankees’ Gerrit Cole, the White Sox’s Lance Lynn and the Blue Jays’ Robbie Ray, who is now a free agent.

Postseason star Randy Arozarena and teammate Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays are finalists for AL Rookie of the Year along with Astros right-hander Luis Garcia. Franco appeared in just 70 games but still got attention after reaching base in 43 consecutive games, matching Frank Robinson’s record from 1956 for the longest by a player age 20 or younger.

Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson, Reds second baseman Jonathan India and Marlins left-hander Trevor Rogers are finalists for NL Rookie of the Year.

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Marcus Semien, Texas Rangers agree to 7-year deal, sources say

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Infielder Marcus Semien and the Texas Rangers are in agreement on a seven-year contract, sources familiar with the deal told ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Sunday.

After struggling in the shortened 2020 with the A’s, Semien bet on himself last offseason, accepting a one-year offer from the Blue Jays in an attempt to rebuild his value and re-enter free agency. He bet right. Semien moved to second base with Toronto and responded with one of the best power seasons from a second baseman in major league history, hitting .265/.334/.538 with 45 home runs, breaking Brian Dozier’s record for home runs by a second baseman.

The move to second base went smoothly as well as Semien won a Gold Glove. He played every game for the second time in three seasons (and has missed just 10 games over the past four) and led the majors with 86 extra-base hits. While he played in the shadow of teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. throughout the season, Semien finished second in the AL in Baseball-Reference WAR behind Shohei Ohtani and third in FanGraphs WAR behind Ohtani and Guerrero, then finished third in the MVP, matching his result in 2019, and making him the only player with two top-three MVP finishes in the past three seasons.

Even including 2020, when he hit .223, Semien leads all position players in both bWAR and fWAR since 2019.

In order to cash in on his big season, Semien brought on Scott Boras as his new agent. He’s entering his age-31 season after turning 31 in September and reportedly went into free agency seeking a $200 million contract. The last position player that age (or older) to receive that much in free agency was Robinson Cano, who signed a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Mariners prior to the 2014 season.

Semien’s approach at the plate was a little different in 2021 than during his 2019 breakout season, when he hit .285/.369/.522 with 33 home runs. He walked more that season, but became more aggressive in 2021, especially on fastballs as 36 of his 45 home runs came on fastballs. That approach did leave him more vulnerable to breaking balls, as he hit .193 against curveballs and sliders compared to .246 in 2019.

One evaluator told ESPN’s Buster Olney in October that “I know [Semien’s] power numbers jumped [in 2021], but I wouldn’t expect that’s going to continue. He’s not really a home run hitter.” Perhaps, but Semien’s approach did become more geared to power. He became more adept at pulling the ball in the air – he pulled 39 of his home runs, many of those right down the line — and increased his fly ball rate from 25.5% in 2019 to 36.7%.

Originally drafted by the White Sox out of the University of California, Semien returned to the Bay Area when the A’s acquired him in 2015. He famously struggled defensively early that season at shortstop, committing 24 errors by the end of June (he finished the season with 35 errors, the most in a season since 2000). Through work with A’s coach Ron Washington, however, Semien became an above-average shortstop, finishing with plus-17 Defensive Runs Saved combined over the 2016-19 seasons.

He was even better at second base, leaving Semien attractive to teams seeking a player at either up-the-middle position, although Semien had stated his preference was to return to shortstop. He also comes with an A+ reputation as a person and teammate, leading one insider to tell Olney, “I would put my head on the pillow every night knowing that the money I spent to sign him is going to be worth it.”

ESPN’s David Schoenfield contributed to this report.

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Sources — Minnesota Twins, CF Byron Buxton agree to long-term extension

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Center fielder Byron Buxton and the Minnesota Twins are in agreement on a long-term, nine-figure contract extension, sources familiar with the deal told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

He had been scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2022 season.

Buxton set career bests last season with a .306 batting average and 19 home runs but was limited to 65 games because of injuries.

Because of various injuries, he has played in more than 100 games just once in his career, in 2017 when he appeared in 140 games and won his only Gold Glove Award.

For his career, Buxton has a .248 average, 70 home runs and 204 RBIs in seven seasons, all with the Twins.

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MLB free-agency grades – Tampa Bay Rays look to solidify rotation with Corey Kluber

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The Tampa Bay Rays won 100 games in 2021, proof that a great starting rotation need not be necessary in this era of baseball, at least not with every team. It’s not that the Rays’ rotation was terrible — it finished a respectable sixth in the American League with a 4.08 ERA — but the team had obvious holes. Consider:

  • The Rays’ top two starters in terms of innings pitched were Ryan Yarbrough (5.11 ERA) and Michael Wacha (5.05 ERA).

  • Rays starters finished 14th of the 15 AL teams in innings pitched.

  • The Rays were 13th in quality starts, finishing ahead of only the Twins and the Orioles.

So it’s no surprise the Rays would look to bolster their rotation this offseason, especially since Wacha has already departed to the Boston Red Sox. On Sunday, they agreed to terms with two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber on an $8 million deal that could earn him up to $13 million.

Kluber, coming off two seasons of injuries (he made seven starts with Cleveland in 2019 and one start with Texas in 2020), signed a similar deal with the Yankees ($11 million) in 2021. It started well — a 5-3 record with a 3.83 ERA and a no-hitter through May 19 — but then Kluber missed three months with a shoulder strain. His final six starts came in late August and September, after he returned from his shoulder injury, and in those outings he pitched more than 4⅔ innings just once with a 5.40 ERA.

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