Wander Franco to Play for Dominican Republic Team for Olympic Qualifing Tournament

Wander Franco is hoping to hit the field at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

The 19-year-old Dominican professional baseball shortstop in the Tampa Bay Raysorganization, the top prospect in Major League Baseball, and longtime star Jose Bautista plan to play for the Dominican Republic as the country tries to qualify for the Olympics later this month, according to ESPN.

Wander Franco

Franco, who turned 19 on Sunday, would strengthen a Dominican team jockeying for one of the remaining two qualifying spots in baseball’s return to the Olympics after a 12-year hiatus. He and Bautista, 39, would round out a roster that faces strong competition at the Americas Qualifying Eventon March 22-26 in Tempe and Surprise, Arizona.

Among the teams vying to win the tournament and its single qualifying spot: The Dominican Republic, the United States, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. 

The winner will join host nation Japan, Israel, Mexico and South Korea, who already have qualified, while the second- and third-place teams at the event will have an opportunity to lock up the sixth spot at the final qualifying tournament. 

Originally scheduled to be held in Taiwan from April 1-5, the tournament was postponed Sunday because of coronavirus fears until June 17-21 — barely a month before the Tokyo Games’ opening ceremony.

The additions of Franco and Arizona Diamondbacksinfielder Geraldo Perdomo, 20, to the Dominican roster will give the team perhaps the most dynamic middle infield in the tournament. Franco is a transcendent talent who evaluators believe could play in the major leagues today — a powerful, speedy, contact-oriented switch hitter whose slick glove and strong arm allow him to patrol shortstop with aplomb.

While not as highly touted, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Perdomo is an elite athlete whose eye and bat-to-ball talents were rare for someone who played all of last season at 19. A natural shortstop, he played about half his games during the Arizona Fall League at second base and will return there for the Dominican team.

Bautista is expected to play first base, a position he manned 30 times in more than 1,650 major league games during which he hit 344 home runs and drove in nearly 1,000 runs. He last played in the major leagues in 2018, though he spent this winter working out as a pitcher in hopes of returning as a two-way player, sources said. Bautista, who represented the D.R. in the 2009 and 2017 World Baseball Classic, may not pitch in the qualifier but is expected to play a significant role as the D.R. faces Puerto Rico, the United States and Nicaragua during the tournament’s round-robin first round. The two best teams from each four-team pool will face off in a final round that awards the winner and keeps the second- and third-place teams alive.

Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association agreed last week to allow players who are on teams’ 40-man rosters but not active in the major leagues to join their countries’ qualifying-event teams. The potential infusion of talent could theoretically help a team like the United States, which suffered an embarrassing loss to Mexico at the Premier12tournament in November that prevented Team USAfrom qualifying.

Jose Martinez Traded to the Tampa Bay Rays

Jose Martinez is headed to the Sunshine State…

The St. Louis Cardinals have traded the 31-year-old Venezuelan professional baseball player and Randy Arozarena to the Tampa Bay Rays for touted left-handed pitching prospect Matt Liberatore and low-level catching prospect Edgardo Rodriguez, the teams announced Thursday night.

Jose Martinez,

St. Louis also sent a competitive balance Round A pick (38th overall) to Tampa Bay, which sent its Round B pick (66th overall) to the Cardinals.

The Cardinals and Rays had been in active conversations with multiple teams as Tampa Bay tried to add outfield help and St. Louis sought to divest itself of its surplus, according to sources with knowledge of the teams’ intentions.

Liberatore, 20, is a consensus top-100 prospect and is regarded by some as the second-best left-handed prospect in the minor leagues behind San Diego’s MacKenzie Gore.

Chosen with the 16th pick of the 2018 draft, Liberatore spent 2019 in the Rays’ low-A affiliate with Bowling Green of the Midwest League and posted a 3.10 ERA over 78⅓ innings. He struck out 76, walked 31 and allowed only two home runs.

With a farm system regarded as the best in baseball, Tampa Bay reached into its cache of prospects to supplement its major league team, which won the American Leaguewild-card game and took the Houston Astrosto a deciding fifth game in the division series.

The Rays had been targeting outfield help to complement left fielder Hunter Renfroe, center fielder Kevin Kiermaierand right fielder Austin Meadows. They should get it with Martinez, a right-handed batter who hit .305 with 17 home runs and 83 RBIs in 2018. His numbers dipped some this past season, as Martinez posted a .269-10-42 line and missed time in August with a shoulder injury.

Martinez has a .296 batting average since his first full season in the majors in 2017, which is the eighth-best mark in the National Leagueamong the 83 players with at least 1,000 at bats, per ESPN Stats & Informationresearch.

The speedy Arozarena, meanwhile, was called up by St. Louis in August when Martinez went on the injured list. The Cuba-born 24-year-old was hitting .344 in the minors before his call-up, and then went 6-for-20 for the Cards during the regular season before making five postseason appearances (0-for-4). 

Rodriguez, 19, was in the Gulf Coast League this past season, hitting .400 in limited action (25 at-bats).

Avisail Garcia Agrees to Lucrative Two-Year Deal with the Milwaukee Brewers

Things are brewing for Avisail Garcia

The 28-year-old Venezuelan professional baseball player and free-agent outfielderhas agreed to a two-year, $20 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, according to the MLB Network.

Avisail Garcia

Garcia batted .282 with a career-high 20 home runs and 72 RBIs for the Tampa Bay Rays last season. He played in 125 games, and he provided depth and another strong defensive option in the outfield as Rays manager Kevin Cashjuggled different alignments.

In five seasons with the Chicago White Sox, Garcia hit .271 with 74 home runs and 289 RBIs, including posting career highs in batting average (.330) and RBIs (80) in 2017, when he was an MLB All-Star.

Knee and hamstring injuries limited him to just 93 games during his final season for the White Sox in 2018, but he reverted to his 2017 form last season and helped the Rays reach the American League Division Seriesfor the first time since 2013.

A seven-year veteran of the major leagues, Garcia has a career average of .273 with 96 home runs and 374 RBIs.

Jonathan Villar Traded to the Miami Marlins

Jonathan Villar is headed to the Sunshine State…

The Miami Marlins have acquired the 28-year-old Dominican professional baseball player from the Baltimore Orioles for minor league left-handed pitcher Easton Lucas.

Jonathan Villar

Villar, an infielder, was reportedly placed on waivers last week as the team sought a trade partner.

The Marlins also claimed first baseman Jesus Aguilaroff waivers after he was designated for assignment last week by the Tampa Bay Rays.

A switch-hitter, Villar turned in a career year for Baltimore last season, hitting .274 with career highs in hits (176), home runs (24) and RBIs (73) in 162 games. He ranked third in stolen bases in the American League, with 40.

“He was a tremendously exciting player for us, a joy to have,” general manager Mike Elias said Monday. “It was hard to let him go, but we’ve got to keep an eye on our strategic objectives, which is prioritize the future right now.”

Villar was too expensive to keep around. He’s eligible for arbitration and likely to earn about $10 million next year, so Elias opted to trade the 28-year-old as part of a more substantial teardown.

“It makes a lot of sense, and it’s something you have to do,” Elias said.

The GM described Villar as “a guy who’s going into his last year of arbitration with the team and facing free agency who is set to command a large salary with his play this year and years past” — qualities that don’t fit with the master plan for rebuilding the team.

“We’re going to miss him, but this is the right move,” Elias said.

Baltimore finished last in the AL East in 2019, the first season with Elias at the helm. From the outset, Elias made it clear that the roster will be overhauled before being injected with young talent.

The Orioles also reached a one-year agreement with lefty Richard Bleier and offered 2020 contracts to first baseman Trey Mancini, infielder Hanser Alberto and right-handers Dylan BundyMiguel Castro and Mychal Givens.

“These are guys that had good years and continue to grow and are deserving of the opportunity to keep going forward,” Elias said.

Aguilar was an All-Star for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2018, when he had 35 home runs and 108 RBIs. This season, he had 12 homers and 50 RBIs for the Milwaukee and Rays.

Aguilar, 29, is expected to share time at first with Garrett Cooper, who had 15 homers and 50 RBIs for Miami this season.

Aguilar has a .256 average, with 63 homers and 215 RBIs in six seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay.

To make room on Miami’s 40-man roster, infielder JT Riddle and right-handed pitcher Tayron Guerrero were designated for assignment. Riddle then was not offered a contract, making him a free agent.

Houston Astros’ Yordan Alvarez Named American League Rookie of the Year

Yordan Alvarez has slugged his way to the top…

The 22-year-old Cuban Major League Baseball player and Houston Astros slugger has capped off his meteoric rise by becoming the franchise’s third Rookie of the Year winner and second since the club moved to the American League.

Yordan Alvarez

Alvarez was a unanimous selection of the award’s 30 voters. Baltimore Orioles pitcher John Means finished second, with Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe third, Chicago White Sox outfielder Eloy Jimenez fourth and Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Cavan Biggio fifth.

Alvarez began the past season with Triple-A Round Rock after entering the year ranked as the 34th-best prospect by Baseball America and Houston’s eighth-best prospect by ESPN‘s Keith Law. He provided an early glimpse of things to come by hitting three homers for Round Rock in his second game of the season. By the end of April, Alvarez had mashed 12 homers, hit .354 and driven in 30 runs in just 22 games, spurring calls for a promotion to the big league club.

That call finally came in early June. In his big league debut against the Baltimore Orioles on June 9, Alvarez homered off of Dylan Bundy. He never stopped hitting, finishing with 27 home runs in 87 games, tying the mark for most home runs by a rookie who played in 100 games or fewer. He served as Houston’s designated hitter in 74 of his 87 outings and helped the Astros win the ALpennant.

Across two levels this season, Alvarez hit .324 with a .690 slugging percentage, 50 home runs and 149 RBIs in 143 games. His 1.067 OPS in the MLB was the highest ever for a rookie with at least 350 plate appearances.

Alvarez’s consistency was remarkable: He had an OPS of 1.140 at home and .985 away, 1.083 against righties and 1.038 against lefties and at least .999 in each of the four months in which he appeared in the majors.

“The humility he has in handling success at this level, and the coverage that he’s getting and all the attention, he’s just been very humble,” Astros manager AJ Hinch told ESPN during the season. “He’s also hungry to learn. He’s a quiet man by nature, and his demeanor is very low-key. But he’s always in tune with other players and other people and the information.”

Hinch also tweeted congratulations to Alvarez after he was announced as the winner on Monday.

An imposing 6-foot-5, Alvarez hit a 474-foot homer off Texas Rangers‘ Mike Minor on July 19. In early September, he homered into the third deck at Minute Maid Park, a shot so prodigious that the Astros wrapped the seat in vinyl to commemorate it.

After going just 1-for-22 during Houston’s six-game win over the New York Yankeesin the AL Championship Series, Alvarez rebounded to hit .412 with a home run during the Astros’ seven-game loss to the Washington Nationals in the World Series.

The Los Angeles Dodgers signed Alvarez out of Las Tunas, Cuba, on June 15, 2016. The Astros acquired him six weeks later in exchange for reliever Josh Fields. As Alvarez began to make his way through the Houston organization, his offensive reputation began to spread through one of baseball’s most bountiful farm systems.

“When he was brought over to the States, we started to hear some chatter from the backfields that, at one point, I think he hit a car with one of his home runs,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told ESPN this season. “It was one of those things where if you’re around and you have a half day to go watch the back field, find this guy and watch him hit. Because it’s pretty special. It snowballed from there.”

Shortstop Carlos Correa was the Astros’ last AL Rookie of the Year winner, taking the honors in 2015. The only other Rookie of the Year recipient in franchise history was Hall of Famefirst baseman Jeff Bagwell, who won the award in 1991, when the Astros were in the National League.

Anthony Rendon Among This Year’s MLB National League MVP Finalists

Anthony Rendonhas made the final cut…

The 29-year-old Mexican American Major League Baseball star has been named a finalist for the National League MVP award.

Anthony Rendon

Rendon, who hit key home runs in Games 6 and 7 of the World Series to help lead his Washington Nationals team to their first championship, will face off against Los Angeles Dodgersoutfielder Cody Bellingerand Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelichfor the MLB honor. Yelich won last year’s NL MVPaward with 29 of 30 first-place votes.

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike TroutHouston Astros third baseman Alex Bregmanand Oakland Athleticsshortstop Marcus Semienare finalists for the American League MVPaward. Trout is seeking his third MVP award after winning in 2014 and ’16. He finished second in 2012, ’13, ’15 and ’18.

Houston’s Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander are finalists for the AL Cy Young Award along with Tampa Bay Rays’ Charlie Morton, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America said. Verlander won the 2011 Cy Young with the Detroit Tigers, when he also was voted MVP.

New York Metsace Jacob deGromis a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award after getting 29 of 30 first-place votes last year. He is competing with Washington’s Max Scherzerand the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu. Scherzer is a three-time Cy Young winner.

New York Mets first baseman Pete AlonsoAtlanta Braves right-hander Mike Soroka and San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.are finalists for the NL Rookie of the Year. Houston designated hitter Yordan Alvarez, Tampa Bay second baseman Brandon Lowe and Baltimore Orioles‘ left-hander John Means are the top candidates in the AL.

The New York Yankees‘ Aaron BooneMinnesota Twins‘ Rocco Baldelliand Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash are finalists for AL Manager of the Year. Atlanta’s Brian Snitker is a finalist to win the NL award for the second straight season, joined by the Milwaukee Brewers‘ Craig Counsell and St. Louis CardinalsMike Shildt.

Rookies of the Year will be announced on November 11, followed by Managers of the Year on November 12. Cy Young winners will be announced on November 13, and MVPs on November 14.

Gio Urshela Helps New York Yankees Break MLB Team Home Run Record

Gio Urshela has helped his team smash its way into the annals of Major League Baseballhistory. 

The 27-year-old Colombian professional baseball player and his fellow “Bronx Bombers,” aka the New York Yankees, hit a home run in the top of the fifth inning against the Baltimore Orioles to break the MLB record for most home runs by a team against a single opponent in one major league season. 

Gio Urshela

Urshela’s homer, off a 97 mph sinker from reliever Miguel Castro that went over the left-center-field fence for a two-run shot, was the team’s 49th homer against the Orioles. 

During their 14-2 win at Camden Yards on Wednesday, the Yankees went deep five times. That gave them 52 homers against Baltimore to smash the record.

The record-breaking 49th homer came in the top of the fifth inning, when Gio Urshela sent a 97 mph sinker from reliever Miguel Castro over the left-center-field fence for a two-run shot.

Urshela also homered in the sixth. 

Catcher Kyle Higashioka went deep in the fourth and ninth innings, and leftfielder Cameron Maybinlaunched a 436-foot solo blast in the ninth.

Higashioka’s fourth-inning homer off starter John Means tied the MLB record held by the 1956 Yankees, who hit 48 homers against the Kansas City Athletics

The Yankees have 11 players with multi-homer games against Baltimore this season, breaking the record of 10 set by San Francisco Giantsagainst the Los Angeles Dodgersin 1958.

“We have guys up and down the lineup who can hit the ball, so it is no surprise to see what we did,” Higashioka said. “It was nice to be a part of it.”

The Yankees finished 10-0 at Camden Yards. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the 14th time in MLB history that a team has gone 10-0 or better on the road against an opponent and the first time since the 2002 Boston Red Soxwent 10-0 at the Tampa Bay Rays.

They have four games remaining against the Orioles this season, all next week in New York.

“Everyone has a lot of confidence, I think, in one another,” manager Aaron Boonesaid. “That’s the sense you get because we’ve proven throughout the year they can get it done throughout the lineup. Whether it’s been the bottom of the order, the middle, the top, it seems like it’s come from a lot of different places. They take a lot of pride in making it difficult on the pitchers and passing the baton and they have a lot of confidence in the guys in front of them and behind them.”

On Monday, the Yankees set a record by hitting their 32nd home run at Camden this season. That was the highest total by a visiting team at any stadium in one season, breaking the record of 29 held by the 1957 Atlanta Braves(at the Cincinnati Reds’ former Crosley Field).

They’ve only added to it since. Leading the barrage for New York is infielder Gleyber Torres, who has launched 10 of his 23 homers this season against the Birds. Nine of catcher Gary Sanchez‘s 24 home runs have been at Baltimore’s expense, and more than half of outfielder Clint Frazier‘s 11 dingers (six) have come against the O’s.

The Yankees slugged 17 home runs in their three-game sweep of the Orioles, hitting five on Monday and six on Tuesday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, they’re the second team in MLB history to hit five or more homers in three straight games, joining the 1977 Red Sox, who did so against the Yankees at Fenway Park.

The Yankees have hit 203 home runs this season, second in baseball behind the Minnesota Twins (224).

Brandon Gomes Named Assistant General Manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers

Brandon Gomesis movin’ on up in management…

The 34-year-old Latino former Major League Baseball pitcher has been promoted to vice president and assistant general manager with the Los Angeles Dodgers, continuing the former Tampa Bay Rays player’s climb up the front-office ranks.

Brandon Gomes

Gomes had been serving as director of player development since 2016. He joined the Dodgers’ front office after a five-year career with the Rays.

Gomes began with the Dodgers as their minor league pitching coordinator under then-director of player development Gabe Kapler, who now manages the Philadelphia Phillies

Gomes answers to president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who like Gomes, is a Tulane Universitygraduate. Friedman was general manager in Tampa Bay for much of Gomes’ pitching career there.

Farhan Zaidi, who had been the Dodgers’ GM, left in November to join the rival San Francisco Giants. Friedman had said the team wouldn’t necessarily be filling his position.

Wilson Ramos Agrees to Two-Year Deal with the New York Mets

Wilson Ramos is headed to the Big Apple…

The 31-year-old Venezuelan professional baseball catcher has agreed to a two-year contract with the New York Mets, according to ESPN.

Wilson Ramos

The deal is pending a physical. Once completed, it will be worth a total of $19 million, according to Fancred.

Ramos, who was acquired by the Philadelphia Phillies from the Tampa Bay Rays at July’s trade deadline, is solid defensively and is a proven commodity offensively with a career .273 batting average and 109 home runs.

The veteran catcher, who made $10.5 million in 2018, batted .306 between the Phillies and Rays last season with 15 home runs and 70 RBIs.

Ramos also has been lauded for his veteran presence in the clubhouse and his ability to handle pitching staffs.

The two-time All-Star spent six-plus seasons with the Washington Nationals (2010-16) after breaking into the majors with the Minnesota Twins in 2010. He won a Silver Slugger award in 2016 after belting 22 homers with 80 RBIs and a .307 batting average with the Nationals.

Edwin Encarnacion Traded to the Seattle Mariners

Edwin Encarnacion is headed to the Emerald City…

The 35-year-old Dominican professional baseball player has been acquired by the Seattle Mariners from the Cleveland Indians, sending Carlos Santana back to Ohio as part of a three-team trade that also includes the Tampa Bay Rays.

Edwin Encarnacion

The Indians will receive first baseman Jake Bauers from the Rays, while Tampa Bay will get third baseman Yandy Diaz from Cleveland. The Indians also are sending minor league pitcher Cole Sulserto the Rays and the 77th pick in the 2019 competitive balance draft to the Mariners.

Tampa Bay will send $5 million to Seattle, and the Mariners will pay $6 million to Cleveland.

Encarnacion hit .246 with 32 home runs for the Indians last season. He was third in the American Leaguewith 107 RBIs. His streak of seven consecutive seasons with at least 30 home runs leads all active players.

“We’re excited to add a proven offensive performer in Edwin Encarnacion,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. “In addition, by adding another draft pick for 2019, we have another opportunity to add to the talent in our minor league system.”

However, with the Mariners having made a flurry of moves — recently trading star second baseman Robinson Cano and closer Edwin Diaz — the team wouldn’t tip its hand if Encarnacion would be staying.

“We’ll see how it goes with Edwin, whether he stays with us or he moves on to another destination,” Seattle assistant general manager Justin Hollander said.

Santana returns to the Indians, where he started his career in 2010 before signing with the Philadelphia Phillies in free agency prior to last season. He was traded to the Mariners on December 3.

Encarnacion mostly served as the Indians’ designated hitter in 2018 but also started 23 games at first base. Cleveland ranked 23rd in the majors last season with a .312 on-base percentage from their first basemen. Santana provides an immediate upgrade in that department, as he had a .365 OBP during his eight seasons with the Indians and a .352 OBP with the Phillies.

Overall, Encarnacion has 380 career home runs with 1,156 RBIs and a .264 batting average.

He is guaranteed $25 million: $20 million next season and a $5 million buyout of a $25 million club option for 2020.

Santana signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Phillies last offseason and has a base salary of $17 million in 2019 and $17.5 million in 2020. His contract has a club option for the 2021 season worth $17.5 million with a $500,000 buyout.

He hit .229 with 24 home runs and 86 RBIs in 2018.

Coming off their third straight AL Central, the Indians had been expected to make a move at the meetings, presumably with ace Corey Kluber or pitcher Trevor Bauer.

“Not sure how to feel,” Indians star Jose Ramirez tweeted.

Yonder Alonso hit 23 homers with 83 RBI last season as the Indians’ first baseman. He’s signed for 2019 with an option for 2020 — with the additions of Santana and Bauers, perhaps Alonso could end up in a trade along with one of Cleveland’s star pitchers.

Tampa Bay was eager to get Diaz, who hit .283 with 28 RBIs in 88 games for Cleveland in the last two seasons. Highly regarded at 27, his opportunities were limited with the Indians because they already had a talented infield.

“The key to this deal for us is how we feel about Yandy Diaz,” Rays vice president Chaim Bloomsaid. “We really like his bat. He hasn’t gotten an opportunity to show it regularly at the major league level just being blocked by some of the players that the Indians have had.”

Bauers made his major league debut last season and hit .201 with 11 homers and 48 RBI in 96 games for Tampa Bay.

Sulser spent last season in Triple-A and Double-A, going a combined 8-4 with a 3.86 ERA in 47 relief appearances.

Tampa Bay will send the Mariners $2.5 million in two installments by May 1 and Aug. 1 next year. Seattle will send Cleveland a pair of $1 payments on or before May 1 and Aug. 1 next year, and $2 million on or before each of those dates in 2020.