Juan Francisco Leads Dominican Republic to Country’s First-Ever Baseball Olympics Medal

2020 Tokyo GamesJuan Francisco is the Domincan Republic’s new hero…

The 34-year-old Dominican former professional baseball first baseman homered to help give the Dominican Republic a four-run, first-inning lead, then hit a tie-breaking, two-run double off Seunghwan Oh in a five-run eighth inning to help lead his team to a 10-6 victory over South Korea to claim the bronze in men’s baseball at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Juan Francisco

Melky Cabrera had four hits for the Dominicans (3-3), who won a baseball medal for the first time, and the country’s first-ever team medal.

South Korea (3-4), the 2012 London Games gold medalist, took a 6-5 lead in a four-run fifth inning against five pitchers. Kang Baek-Ho hit a go-ahead single.

Oh (2-1), a 39-year-old right-hander who pitched in Major League Baseball blew a save for the second time in the tournament.

Kansas City farmhands Jeison Guzman and Erick Mejia singled in the eighth, Seattle Mariners prospect Julio Rodriguez walked and Oh threw a wild pitch that tied the score.

Dominican Republic Baseball

Francisco, a six-year big league veteran whose last major league at-bat was in 2014, had struck out in his three previous plate appearances and nine times overall. The 34-year-old doubled to the left-center gap for an 8-6 lead, and Boston Red Sox prospect Johan Mieses followed with a long two-run homer to left.

Francisco hit .208 (5 for 24) with two homers and five RBIs during the tournament, the last for baseball in the Olympics until at least 2028.

Cristopher Mercedes (1-0), who pitches for the Central League‘s Yomiuri Giants, threw 3 1/3 shutout innings through the eighth as the fourth reliever out of the Dominican bullpen.

Jumbo Diaz, four years removed from his last big league appearance, relieved with two on in the ninth and got three straight outs for the save.

Rodriguez, a 20-year-old at Double-A Arkansas, put the Dominicans ahead 2-0 on an afternoon of intermittent rain when he sent a 0-1 pitch well over the left field wall. Francisco drove the next pitch in the last row of the right-field seats for his second Olympic homer and a 3-0 lead.

Mieses walked, and that was it for South Korea starter Kim Min-woo, who allowed four runs, three hits and a walk in one-third of an inning. Charlie Valerio added a sacrifice fly.

Dominican starter Raul Valdes, a 43-year-old left-hander who was the oldest player in the tournament, gave up five runs and nine hits in four-plus innings. Valdes’ last big league appearance was for Houston in 2014.

Rodriguez was hit on the right hand by a pitch from Park Se-Woong in the sixth but stayed in the game.

Jhan Marinez‘s first attempt to relieve was foiled when the bullpen cart started to the mound when he had just one leg on it, causing him to stumble. He got back on and walked his only batter.

Wander Franco to Make Major League Baseball Debut with the Tampa Bay Rays

It’s a Rays of sunshine for Wander Franco

The 20-year-old Dominican professional baseball player and top MLB prospect is officially headed to the big leagues and will be called up from the minors by the Tampa Bay Rays.

Wander Franco

Franco is a switch-hitting infielder who entered the season ranked as the No. 1 prospect in Major League Baseball, according to ESPN‘s Kiley McDaniel.

In 39 games for Triple-A Durham, Franco hit .315/.367/.586 with seven home runs and 35 RBIs.

He’ll join the Rays for their series against the Boston Red Sox beginning Tuesday in Tampa, Florida.

The Rays are the midst of a six-game losing streak, their longest since an eight-game skid in May 2018, including four walk-off losses in their past five games, the last two of those 10-inning defeats to the Seattle Mariners.

The Rays have hit only .222/.300/.361 in June, ranking 25th in the majors in OPS, so they will turn to Franco to provide some offensive spark. Regarded as one of the best pure hitting prospects in recent decades, Franco has a career minor league average of .332 with more walks than strikeouts. He has thrived in Triple-A East, ranking 10th in OPS despite skipping Double-A while being the youngest player in the league.

Franco has played primarily shortstop at Durham, starting 28 games there, while also playing some third base and second base. Rookie Taylor Walls has been the primary shortstop for the Rays since they traded Willy Adames to the Milwaukee Brewers, but Walls has hit .237 with one home run in 26 games. Joey Wendle started at shortstop Sunday, but his best position is third base, which should clear shortstop for Franco if Walls is the player sent down to open a roster spot for Franco.

“Franco has been the best prospect in baseball for almost two years because of his unique combination of pedigree, tools and performance. He was the best international prospect in his signing class at least two years before he signed and is the best prospect baseball has seen in at least five years,” McDaniel wrote in his preseason top 100 rankings.

Franco will debut at 20 years and 113 days old, which will make him the second-youngest player in Rays history behind B.J. Upton, who debuted in 2004 at 19 years and 347 days.

Jose Godoy Becomes 20,000th Player in MLB History

Jose Godoy has earned special place in Major League Baseball history…

When the 26-year-old Venezuelan professional baseball catcher, the back up catcher for the Seattle Mariners, made his big league debut on Friday night, he became the 20,000th player in MLB history.

Jose Godoy

There was no fanfare at Petco Park when Godoy came in to catch in the sixth inning with the Mariners trailing 12-1 against the San Diego Padres. Godoy, who signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011 and joined the Seattle system last winter, grounded out and walked in his two plate appearances.

But to fans who had been tracking the procession to 20,000 on the Twitter postings by the website Céspedes Family BBQ, it was a big deal.

The Mariners got in the spirit, too, marking the occasion with a “Jeopardy!“-style answer to: “Who is José Godoy?”

The list of big leaguers began in 1871 and ranges from A to Z — there has never been a player whose last name started with X, although there have been several with first names that start that way, including Red Sox star Xander Bogaerts.

First on the alphabetical chart is pitcher David Aardsma, who moved into the top spot ahead of Hank Aaron when he started out in 2004 for San Francisco. Aardsma’s last season was 2015 — that was the same year the player last on the list, pitcher Tony Zych, made his debut with the Mariners.

Of the 20,000 players overall, 266 have reached the Hall of Fame. Walter Alston played two innings in his only game in 1936 for the Cardinals, striking out in his lone at-bat and making an error at first base — and later reached Cooperstown as the longtime manager of the Dodgers.

Felix Hernandez Signs Minor League Deal with Baltimore Orioles

Felix Hernandez has a new deal…

The Baltimore Orioles have agreed to sign the 34-year-old Venezuelan-American veteran professional baseball pitcher, nicknamed “King Félix,” to a minor league contract.

Felix Hernandez

Hernandez won an American League Cy Young Award, two ERA titles and made six MLB All-Star teams over 15 seasons with the Seattle Mariners before becoming a free agent last offseason.

Hernandez signed a minor league deal with the Atlanta Braves and looked sharp during spring training, but he ultimately opted out of the pandemic-shortened 60-game season.

In his most recent big league action, Hernandez went 1-8 with a 6.40 ERA in 2019. He hasn’t finished with an ERA under 4.00 since 2016, and his last All-Star appearance was in 2015. He has won 169 games and owns a 3.42 career ERA.

Hernandez could earn a rotation spot with the rebuilding Orioles, who have 2019 All-Star left-hander John Means locked in as a starter but not much else. They traded Alex Cobb to the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday, leaving Keegan AkinDean KremerJorge LopezWade LeBlancThomas Eshelman and Bruce Zimmermann as the only returning players to start at least one game in 2020.

 

Baltimore has also announced it has agreed to minor league deals with infielders Seth Mejias-Brean and Malquin Canelo, right-handers Dusten Knight, Konner Wade and Spenser Watkins, and left-hander LeBlanc.

Nelson Cruz Reportedly Agrees to One-Year, $13 Million Contract with Minnesota Twins

Nelson Cruz is twinning again…

The 40-year-old professional baseball player, a designated hitter and right fielder, and the Minnesota Twins are reportedly in agreement on a one-year, $13 million contract, according to ESPN.

Nelson Cruz

Cruz has been a linchpin of the Bomba Squad Twins‘ lineup. And he’ll be back right in the middle of it in 2021.

The slugger, who hit .303 with 16 home runs, 33 RBIs and a career-high OPS+ (169) in the pandemic-shortened season, finished sixth in the American League MVP voting and was selected as the Marvin Miller Man of Year in the annual Players Choice Awards.

The award goes to the player whom his peers “most respect based on his leadership on the field and in the community.” Cruz donated a fire engine and an ambulance and helped build a police station in his hometown of Las Matas de Santa Cruz in the Dominican Republic, and his Boomstick 23 Foundation has contributed wheelchairs and crutches, and he set up a clinic to provide medical and dental care.

His mission to help his hometown and other towns in the Dominican Republic led to him receiving the Muhammad Ali Sports Humanitarian Award at the 2020 ESPYS.

Cruz played last season on a $12 million deal after swatting a team-high 41 home runs while reaching 108 RBIs in 2019, despite two stints on the injured list for a wrist problem. He has reached the 40-homer mark four times in his career; Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth hold the all-time mark with five seasons. Cruz also was the 57th player in major league history to reach 400 career home runs.

His .992 OPS in 2020 ranked fourth in the AL and was the fifth-best mark in MLB history by a player in his age-39 season or older, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. And he led all major leaguers with a 1.182 OPS on pitches in the strike zone over the past two seasons.

From 2014 to 2018, no player in the majors hit more home runs than Cruz (203). In 16 major league seasons, Cruz, a six-time MLB All-Star who has three Silver Slugger Awards, has hit 417 home runs with 1,152 RBIs and a .278 batting average for the Twins, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers.

“Long Gone Summer” Documentary, Highlighting Sammy Sosa’s 1998 Home Run Chase, Headed to ESPN

Sammy Sosa’s summeris heating up…

The 51-year-old Dominican former professional baseball right fielder will be the focus of a special documentary to air on ESPN.

Sammy Sosa

Sosa, who played in the Major League Baseballfor 19 seasons, primarily with the Chicago Cubs, is part of the focus of AJ Schnack’s, Long Gone Summer, an official selection of the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.

It chronicles Mark McGwire and Sosa’s storied 1998 home run chase. For the first time, both men discuss that summer at length, including its undeniable complications.

The 1998MLB home run chase was between McGwire, a first baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Seattle Mariners’ Ken Griffey Jr., and Sosa, a right fielder for the Cubs. It resulted in McGwire and Sosa breaking Roger Maris‘ long-standing and highly coveted record of 61 home runs. 

McGwire broke Maris’s record on September 8 against the Cubs and finished with 70 home runs. Sosa finished with 66.

The documentary will air on Sunday, June 14 at 9:00 pm ET.

The film will be made available on ESPN+immediately after its premiere, along with the rest of the 30 for 30 library.

Jennifer Lopez & Alex Rodriguez Looking to Make Bid for the New York Mets

Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez have the New York Mets on their minds…

The 50-year-old Puerto Rican superstar and her 44-year-old Dominican American fiancé and former-baseball-star-turned-sports-commentator have retained J.P. Morgan to represent them in raising capital for a possible bid for the Mets team, according to multiple reports.

Jennifer Lopez & Alex Rodriguez

A three-time American League MVP, Rodriguez retired in August 2016 with 698 home runs, a .295 average and 2,086 RBIs in 22 years. He was suspended for the 2014 season for violations of Major League Baseball‘s drug agreement and labor contract.

A-Rod earned about $448 million as a player. The 14-time All-Star started his career with the Seattle Mariners, signed a record contract with the Texas Rangersin December 2000, and then moved from shortstop to third base when he was traded from the Rangers to the New York Yankees ahead of the 2004 season.

Lopez, a multi-hyphenate, has launched a number of companies, as well as invested in others globally.

The Mets’ ownership is headed by Fred Wilpon, brother-in-law Saul Katza nd Fred Wilpon’s son Jeff, the team’s chief operating officer. The team said December 4 it was negotiating an agreement with Steve Cohen. The hedge fund manager bought an 8% limited partnership stake in 2012 for $40 million. The deal under discussion would have seen him acquire an 80% controlling share in a transaction that values the team at $2.6 billion, and the Wilpons would have remained in place for five years.

The sides announced the deal’s collapse on February 6, and the Mets’ owners said they intended to find a new buyer. Allen & Co. represents the Mets’ owners.

Given the drop in equities prices caused by the new coronavirus pandemic, the next few months figure to be a difficult time to raise money for a bid.

Bartolo Colon Signs with Mexico’s Monclova Acereros

Bartolo Colonis headed south of the border.

The 46-year-old Dominicanprofessional baseball right-handed pitcher has signed with the Monclova Acereros of the Mexican Baseball League.

Bartolo Colon

The Acereros, defending champions of the Triple-Acircuit, announced the signing of Colon on Friday. The team didn’t provide details of the contract.

“Bartolo Colon would be an important piece of the pitching staff of the current champions, becoming one of the bigger signings in our baseball history,” the team said in a press release. “The ‘Big Sexy‘ show would be something the Monclova fans will be able to enjoy.”

Colon hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2018 with the Texas Rangers. He became the top winning pitcher born in Latin America, getting his 246th career victory on August 7, 2018, against the Seattle Mariners.

Colon is 247-188 in 565 games — 552 as a starter — since his MLBdebut with the Cleveland Indians in 1997. He also was the 2005 AL Cy Young Award winner while with the Los Angeles Angels.

Marcell Ozuna Agrees to One-Year, $18 Million Deal with the Atlanta Braves

Marcell Ozuna has 18-million reasons to smile…

The 29-year-old Dominican professional baseball player and free agent outfielder, nicknamed “The Big Bear,”and the Atlanta Braves have reached an $18 million, one-year deal that puts him on the team he helped beat in the playoffs last year.

Marcell Ozuna

Ozuna hit .429 with two home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in their five-game win over the Braves in the National League Division Series.

Ozuna hit .241 with 29 home runs and 89 RBI last season. His low batting average was something of an oddity because he ranked among the major league leaders in the highest percentage of hard-hit balls, according to Statcast.

Ozuna is a two-time MLB All-Star who spent his first five seasons with the Miami Marlins, then was traded and played two years in St. Louis.

Ozuna’s signing leaves infielder-outfielder Nicholas Castellanos as the last remaining major free agent with spring training set to start in about three weeks.

The two-time NL East champion Braves have been busy this offseason. On Monday, they signed former AL Cy Young Award winner and longtime Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez to a minor league with an invite to big league spring training.

Edwin Encarnacion Agrees to One-Year Deal with the Chicago White Sox

Edwin Encarnacionis headed to The Windy City…

The 36-year-old Dominican professional baseball first baseman and designated hitter and the Chicago White Sox have reached an agreement on a one-year deal for $12 million with a club option for 2021 at $12 million, according to ESPN.

Edwin Encarnacion

Encarnacion batted .244 in 109 games last season with the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees. The Yankees acquired the three-time All-Star from Seattle in June to bolster a lineup sapped by injuries. With cash from the Mariners in the trade, the deal cost New York just $8 million of the $25 million he was owed in 2020, including a $5 million buyout.

Encarnacion was leading the American Leaguewith 21 homers at the time, but a strained left oblique limited the first baseman/designated hitter down the stretch. He hit .249 with 13 homers, 37 RBIs and an .856 OPS in 44 regular-season games with New York.

He hit .308 while the Yankees pounded the Minnesota Twins in the AL Division Series, but he slumped badly in the AL Championship Series against the Houston Astros.

Encarnacion has averaged 37 homers and 106 RBIs since 2012 and helped slug the Toronto Blue Jaysto back-to-back appearances in the ALCS in 2015 and 2016. His 239 homers in Toronto ranks third behind Carlos Delgado(336) and Jose Bautista(265) on the Blue Jays’ career list.

His three-run drive in the 11th inning to beat the Baltimore Oriolesin the wild-card game in the 2016 playoffs gave Toronto one of its most indelible moments since Joe Carter‘s World Serieswalk-off handed the Blue Jays a second consecutive title in 1993.

Through his 14th season, Encarnacion has a career .263 average with 414 home runs and 1,242 RBIs for Cincinnati Reds, Toronto, Cleveland Indians, Seattle and the Yankees.