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Bernie Sanders, Rob Manfred meet over proposed minor-league cuts

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NEW YORK — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders met Monday with baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred to discuss MLB’s proposal that would drop 42 minor league teams from their leagues after the 2020 season.

MLB is negotiating a new agreement with the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the governing body of the minors. The initial proposal would primarily impact lower-level teams in short-season leagues.

Sanders, a senator from Vermont, sent Manfred a letter on Nov. 25 calling the plan “an absolute disaster for baseball fans, workers and communities throughout the country.”

MLB issued a statement Monday saying it “understands that we have an obligation to local communities to ensure that public money spent on minor league stadiums is done so prudently and for the benefit of all citizens.

“MLB also must ensure that minor league players have safe playing facilities suitable for the development of professional baseball players, are not subjected to unreasonable travel demands, are provided with compensation and working conditions appropriate for elite athletes, and have a realistic opportunity of making it to the major leagues.”

It added that it “is committed to negotiating with minor league baseball to find solutions that balance the competing interests of local communities, MLB clubs, minor league owners and the young players who pursue their dream of becoming professional baseball players.”

Sanders issued a statement saying Manfred asserted “he is committed to a good faith negotiation” and “is open to solutions that would maintain professional baseball in the 42 communities while addressing concerns about facilities, working conditions and wages for minor league players.”

Sanders said he “and other members of Congress will be carefully monitoring the progress of negotiations on behalf of fans.”

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Yu Darvish left with more questions in aftermath of Astros scandal

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CHICAGO — In the aftermath of the Astros‘ cheating scandal, Yu Darvish has been left wondering: Was he tipping pitches during the 2017 World Series or were Houston players stealing signs?

In the two-plus years since, the right-hander had thought it was the latter. He was rocked by the Astros that postseason while a member of the Dodgers, and Houston players afterward told him he was tipping pitches.

But now, after a Major League Baseball investigation found that the Astros illegally stole signs that year, Darvish isn’t so sure.

“That’s what I want to know,” he said Friday at the Chicago Cubs‘ winter fan convention.

“A couple of Astros players told me I was tipping pitches, but now it comes out they were stealing signs. Was I tipping or were they stealing?”

Such questions have mounted throughout baseball since MLB commissioner Rob Manfred unveiled the league’s report on the Astros on Monday.

For Darvish, it hit especially close to home.

While with the Dodgers, he had a combined 1.59 ERA in the 2017 NL division and championship series. But against Houston in the World Series, his ERA ballooned to 21.60. He gave up four runs in 1.2 innings in Game 3 in Houston, then got hit hard again in Game 7 in Los Angeles, taking the loss as the Astros captured their first World Series title.

It’s left Darvish with more questions than answers.

“I know they were stealing signs, but at the same time I was not good during the World Series,” he said.

His World Series struggles likely had long-term results, as well.

He was a free agent after that season, and the Cubs later admitted teams may been scared off by Darvish’s performance against the Astros, giving Chicago an easier path to signing him to a six-year, $126 million contract.

It also took Darvish time to mentally recover from the two losses. Coupled with arm issues that ended his 2018 season prematurely, it wasn’t exactly the best stretch of his career, and he’s still wondering if what Houston did contributed.

“I’m better for what I went through,” Darvish said. “But, yeah, everyone is wondering about pitching against them.

“It’s tough to pitch. We’re losing the strike zone. It’s getting smaller. They want [us] to [pitch] quicker. And the hitters are stealing signs.”

Cubs pitchers hope the playing field will be level after the league completes its investigations. MLB also is probing whether the Boston Red Sox used video to decode opponents’ sign sequences and passed the information to their players in 2018, as alleged in a report by The Athletic.

Cubs players echoed what many others in the game have said: The Astros aren’t the only ones cheating.

“You just don’t know to what extent,” right-hander Kyle Hendricks said. “Is it legal sign stealing or illegal? Hopefully this offseason will eliminate that stuff.”

Cubs president Theo Epstein praised the league’s beefed-up investigation arm for its due diligence in the scandal. Both Epstein and star first baseman Anthony Rizzo are adamant the Cubs have never gained an edge using technology in that manner.

The goal is for no team to be able to do it.

“We applaud Major League Baseball’s efforts to step up in this situation and make sure the games are played with integrity,” Epstein said.

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Red Sox CEO says no notable progress in search; fans back Jason Varitek

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CEO Sam Kennedy said the Boston Red Sox haven’t made any notable progress in the search for a new manager as of late Friday but would like to have one in place for the start of spring training in mid-February.

“It’s got to be someone who fits the culture of this team and has a knowledge of what it’s going to take to put a championship team on the field in 2020,” Kennedy said during the team’s winter festival Friday in Springfield, Massachusetts. “It’s a tall task to get someone in place, but Chaim (Bloom) and (Brian O’Halloran) will get it done for sure.”

If it was up to the fans, the answer would be easy: Jason Varitek.

Supporters in Springfield pleaded for Boston’s front office to hire the former catcher and team captain as a replacement to Alex Cora, whom the team parted way with Wednesday due to his involvement in a cheating scandal while bench coach for the Houston Astros in 2017.

Members of the team’s leadership group were hit with “Hire ‘Tek!” chants throughout Friday night, and principal owner John Henry was interrupted several times by fans voicing their support. Henry paused and nodded in acknowledgement, and Bloom, the team’s new chief baseball officer, used the opportunity to appease the crowd.

“I think if you poll the audience, they would just get this done right now,” Bloom said to big applause.

Fans also peppered retired Red Sox legends David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez with questions about the managerial vacancy during a separate panel.

Ortiz was asked if he would accept a managerial or front office job with the team but said that he wasn’t at a good point in his life to do so.

The 44-year-old former designated hitter is still recovering after being shot last June in what authorities called a case of mistaken identity in his native Dominican Republic.

“One day I will be (ready),” Ortiz said.

Martinez said that whoever the Red Sox settle on will be the right choice.

“I guarantee you whoever comes over to manage this great team that we have, it’s probably gonna be the closest to the perfect person that we could ever get,” Martinez said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys. They’re set to win again,” he said.

Crane says his list is still pretty extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

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