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Buster Olney’s top 10 teams — Yankees, Dodgers have some competition

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Mike Trout, the player with the most significant contract in baseball, does not play for the Dodgers. Neither does Bryce Harper, who has the second-biggest contract, nor Giancarlo Stanton, Gerrit Cole, Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, Albert Pujols, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, etc., etc. In fact, the biggest financial obligation that the Dodgers have with any individual player is $46.6 million, owed to Clayton Kershaw for 2020 and 2021.

The Dodgers haven’t and won’t announce the details of Andrew Friedman’s newly signed contract, but based on his last deal and industry precedent, it’s likely that the Dodgers owe more money, as of this morning, to their head of baseball operations than to anybody in uniform.

But it would be misleading to say the Dodgers haven’t spent big money, or aren’t going to spend. Since Frank McCourt agreed to sell the franchise to the group headed by Guggenheim, L.A. has consistently had one of the largest — if not the largest — payrolls in the majors.

2013: $220 million (2nd)
2014: $209 million (1st)
2015: $272 million (1st)
2016: $254 million (1st)
2017: $226 million (1st)
2018: $191 million (3rd)
2019: $197 million (4th)

The Dodgers’ investments have paid off, with seven consecutive National League West championships and an average of about 96 wins — over 1,000 games of dominance. Their average margin in winning the West has been about nine games, and if you ask a lot of evaluators with other teams, they will tell you that the Dodgers have the best players, by far, and the most efficient organization.

But as every Dodgers fan and every Dodgers player is well aware, the team still hangs on the memory of Kirk Gibson’s miracle home run in 1988 because L.A. hasn’t won the World Series since. Just one championship would change the perception of what the Dodgers have accomplished since Friedman took over, and they’ve come so very close — falling in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series to the Astros, who will soon be hammered with penalties for illicit sign stealing, and losing to the Red Sox in ’18. They began the NL playoffs last fall as the favorites, but were beaten by the eventual champion Nationals in the divisional round.

They’ve worked to find the finishing pieces, whether it be the addition of the best available starting pitcher in the 2017 summer market (Yu Darvish) or the best position player before the 2018 trade deadline (Manny Machado).

The perception of a lot of Dodgers fans is that they haven’t gone all-in. Bill Plaschke wrote about this the other day, and spoke with club president Stan Kasten about it, and the biggest reason for that feeling is that under Friedman, they haven’t grabbed one of the mega-contract players. The most expensive players have landed elsewhere.

And you know what? That’s been a good thing for the Dodgers.

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Source — Ryan Zimmerman agrees to 1-year deal with Nationals

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The Washington Nationals and Ryan Zimmerman have agreed to terms on a $2 million contract for 2020 that includes the possibility of earning $3 million more in incentives, a source confirmed to ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Friday.

The agreement was first reported by The Washington Post.

When Zimmerman, 35, became a free agent, he figured he either would be back with the Nationals — or out of baseball.

“I think I’ve made my intentions pretty clear,” Zimmerman said in December. “It’s either play some more here or play more golf.”

He was the first player drafted by the Nationals in 2005 after the club moved from Montreal to Washington, and he has played in every one of their 15 seasons. He holds franchise career records for hits, doubles, total bases, homers and RBI.

Zimmerman was around for the consecutive 100-loss seasons in 2008 and 2009, the frequent trips to — and early exits from — the playoffs from 2012 to 2017, and, of course, the World Series championship last year.

Injuries limited him to 52 games and a .257 average with six homers and 27 RBIs in 2019, although he was a key contributor in the postseason. He is expected to share time at first base in 2020 with newcomer Eric Thames and holdover Howie Kendrick.

“He’s the classiest big leaguer I’ve ever been around. He’s the culmination of a lot of hard work. The guy’s been through some trials and tribulations. We all forget about the first six, seven years, when he played 160 games every year. I saw needles in his shoulder. I saw him play when he probably shouldn’t have played earlier in his career,” general manager Mike Rizzo said late last season. “That’s the kind of man he is and the kind of player he is. You see when he’s a healthy player, he’s a pretty damn good one still.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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Reports — Ryan Zimmerman agrees to 1-year deal with Nationals

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First baseman Ryan Zimmerman, considered by many the heart and soul of the Washington Nationals, has agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract to return for a 16th season according to multiple reports.

The deal, first reported by the Washington Post, could max out at $5 million if Zimmerman, 35, reaches all of the performance bonuses for games played and plate appearances, according to the Post.

Zimmerman was the first draft pick in Nationals history after the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington in 2005. He made his debut with the team late that season and has been a fixture ever since, hitting .279 with 270 homers and 1,015 RBIs. Zimmerman played in just 52 games in 2019, when he dealt with a foot injury, hitting .257 with six homers and 27 RBIs.

Zimmerman was a fixture at first base this past postseason as the Nationals won their first World Series title. He homered in the NLDS and also had the first World Series homer in team history when he took Houston’s Gerrit Cole deep in Game 1.

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Athletics’ Mike Fiers declines to discuss whistleblower role

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers didn’t have any more to say regarding his role as a whistleblower.

Fiers declined Friday to answer questions about revealing the sign-stealing scandal that has engulfed Major League Baseball, instead saying he simply wanted to focus on the future. He spoke a day ahead of an A’s fan event, his first public appearance since divulging that the Houston Astros used electronics to illicitly steal signs from opposing catchers in 2017.

“I don’t want this to be a distraction to them, I want them to be ready for the season,” Fiers said. “For me it’s all about getting ready for the season, playing baseball and not being a distraction to this team.”

Fiers said he would take “baseball questions.” As for the cheating scam and its aftermath, “I’m not talking about that right now,” he said.

“We’re moving forward,” he reiterated several times without saying whether he expected to face scrutiny with his decision to disclose the Astros’ cheating.

Fiers told The Athletic in a story published in November that his former club had used a camera in center field to steal signs on the way to winning the 2017 World Series championship.

His current manager and teammates were quick to applaud him for what he did.

“A lot was reported to the league, but it’s tough to get something done unless a player that was there comes out and says something. It wasn’t going to go down any other way,” manager Bob Melvin said. “And this is significant enough that it needed to be addressed. And as time goes on, he’ll be revered for doing this, for making the game a better place.”

“You’re seeing more sentiment come his way right now, as it should, because there’s no place for this in baseball. This crosses a serious line. It needed to happen and MLB did what they should have done with it. And hopefully we’re past this because it’s an ugly black mark on the game,” he said.

Fiers’ disclosure of Houston’s elaborate scheme led to the seasonlong suspensions by MLB and ensuing firings of Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch. Alex Cora was dismissed by the Boston Red Sox after commissioner Rob Manfred identified him as “an active participant” in the cheating scandal when he was Astros bench coach. Cora led Boston to a title the following year, in 2018.

The Mets also parted ways with manager Carlos Beltran, who played for the Astros in 2017. Hired this offseason, Beltran was let go before ever managing a game for New York.

That means Fiers took out three managers — 10% of the majors — with one set of comments.

“There’s a lot that goes into that decision, it’s not just a purely spiteful or anything like that about making someone else pay,” Oakland closer Liam Hendriks said. “It was about saving people’s careers. It was about rectifying for those people whose careers that have been lost because of something like this.”

“But it shows a lot of courage to be able to come up and say what he said knowing the backlash, knowing the repercussions of his actions. Talking to him, he is completely sound of mind with his decision, he is happy with the decision, and regardless of how certain people have been viewing him and been talking about him, he is happy with what’s come from it,” he said.

Fiers, 34, spent part of the 2015 season and all of 2016 and ’17 playing for the Astros.

Fiers pitched the most innings for the Astros in 2017, but was left off the postseason roster after compiling a 5.22 ERA. He signed with Detroit as a free agent the following offseason.

He is back in the American League West and set to begin the second season of a two-year contract worth more than $14 million that he signed with Oakland in December 2018 that pays him $8.1 million this season.

The low-budget A’s finished second in the division to Houston each of the past two seasons, winning 97 games in consecutive years.

“Clearly MLB’s drawing the line,” A’s general manager David Forst said, noting he isn’t wondering where Oakland might have been in the standings. “I don’t think about it that way. It’s not for us to look back and say, ‘What if?”

Houston, which won a majors-best 107 games last year, plays its first regular-season road series at the Oakland Coliseum beginning March 30. Fiers won’t have to bat against Houston, so it’s unclear what kind of response he will receive from around the majors.

When asked if he would handle the situation the same way again, Fiers again turned toward baseball.

“I just want to focus on this team and not the past,” Fiers said.

White Sox left-hander Dallas Keuchel on Friday became the first member of the ’17 Astros to publicly apologize for the team’s sign-stealing scheme.

Keuchel was at a Chicago fan event and was asked about Fiers. Keuchel called it a “tough subject” because players rarely tell secrets outside the locker room.

“It sucks to the extent of the clubhouse rule was broken and that’s where I’ll go with that,” Keuchel said. “I don’t really have much else to say about Mike.”

Fiers has been one of the steadiest starters for the A’s, pitching his second career no-hitter on May 7 against the Reds and finishing the year a career-best 15-4 with a 3.90 ERA over 33 starts and his most innings yet at 184⅔.

“There’s a lot of people I don’t think would have had the courage to come out and say it until they maybe have been retired,” Hendriks said. “My hat’s off to him, he stood up tall and put the name behind the investigation that started this whole thing. We’re happy the game’s being cleaned up, and Mike Fiers is a big part of that.”

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