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Jake Arrieta says he expects Philadelphia Phillies to ‘win right away’



CLEARWATER, Fla. — Jake Arrieta arrived at Philadelphia Phillies‘ camp on Tuesday morning with a new contract and a message for the National League: The team is ready to bump up its timetable to contend.

Arrieta, one of the top free agents on the market this offseason, waited until two weeks before Opening Day to finalize a guaranteed three-year, $75 million deal that could max out at five years and $135 million. In a news conference at Spectrum Field, he made it clear he thinks the Phillies’ are further along in their rebuild than public perception suggests.

“The fan base is hungry,” Arrieta said. “You see the Philadelphia Eagles win a Super Bowl, and it makes the other teams in the city that much hungrier to get to that level. I feel like we’re not far away. I think ‘rebuild’ is a loose term. A rebuild doesn’t mean you can’t win now. I intend to come in here and win right away, even though we are technically in a rebuild. And I think the other players agree with me. We intend to win — rebuild or not.”

The Phillies, who finished last in the NL East at 66-96 a year ago and haven’t posted a winning season since 2011, have been among MLB’s most active spenders in a slow market. They signed first baseman Carlos Santana to a $60 million deal in December and spent a combined $34.25 million on veteran relievers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek. The Phillies’ ability to make a late, somewhat surprising strike on Arrieta reflected the state of the market and some concerns over Arrieta’s 2017 numbers and long-term durability.

The Phillies targeted Arrieta as a veteran starter to bring stability to a young, evolving rotation. Aaron Nola, the Phillies’ top returning starter, is 24 years old. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez, the two starters behind him, have yet to break through because of injuries and inconsistent performance. Last year, Philadelphia’s starters ranked 10th in the NL with a 4.80 ERA and ninth with a 2.48 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

“Jake, in our opinion, was the best pitcher available this offseason. Period. Not just the best pitcher — the best player,” said Phillies owner John Middleton. “Handing him the ball every fifth day is going to be great. But it’s what he does in the clubhouse and the dugout and for the other players on the days he’s not pitching that’s going to make a huge difference. We recognize that, and that’s why we really, really wanted him.”

After Arrieta passed his physical exam in Philadelphia on Monday, Middleton’s private plane flew him to St. Petersburg, Fla., for Tuesday’s press conference. A greeting committee welcomed him upon arrival.

Arrieta’s creatively structured contract pays him base salaries of $30 million, $25 million and $20 million through 2020. He can opt out of the deal after 2019, and the Phillies have the ability to void the opt-out and exercise a two-year option that could keep him with the organization through 2022.

Arrieta has a relatively low 1,161 major-league innings on his arm at age 32, but a drop-off in performance and a decline in velocity last season generated some concerns about his staying power. In 2015, Arrieta posted a 22-6 record with a 1.77 ERA and won the NL Cy Young Award while averaging 94.6 mph on the radar gun. Last year, Arrieta’s velocity dipped to 92.1 mph and he went 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA. Opponents logged a .283/.364/.528 slash line vs. his cutter, compared to .186/.239/.271 in 2015.

Arrieta pointed to his 2.28 ERA after the All-Star break — compared to 4.35 in the first half — as a sign that he was able to figure things out and adapt.

“You get to a point in your career where you understand that pitching isn’t all about velocity,” he said. “High velocity or not, I know exactly what I’m doing on the mound and I know how to utilize my stuff to the best of my ability. If that velocity does go back to 95-96, the league is in a lot of trouble.”

Agent Scott Boras said Arrieta never received an offer to re-sign with the Cubs, who upgraded their rotation by signing Yu Darvish to a six-year, $126 million deal last month. Boras said Arrieta included the Phillies on his initial wish list of teams at the start of the free agent season in November.

“I don’t think there’s a wait here,” Boras said. “There’s talent in here that needs experiential refinement, attitude and confidence. When you bring in players like Jake, you probably put the cream in the coffee when it’s ready to drink.”

Familiarity helped play a role in bringing Arrieta to Philadelphia. Phillies president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, general manager Matt Klentak and assistant GM Ned Rice knew Arrieta from their previous tenure in Baltimore. Joe Jordan, now Philadelphia’s player development director, selected Arrieta out of Texas Christian University in the fifth round of the 2007 draft while with the Orioles.

Santana, catcher Cameron Rupp, third baseman Maikel Franco, outfielder Rhys Hoskins and a half dozen other Phillies players and coaches ringed the back wall of Arrieta’s introductory news conference and listened to him preach commitment and accountability.

“There’s a message I really want to send to not only the players, but the entire Phillies Nation: We’re going to promise a fight,” Arrieta said. “There’s no guarantee you’re going to feel good or have your best stuff, or you’re going to get a great night’s sleep the night before a game. But what we can promise is, we’re going to have conviction, we’re going to fight, and at the end of the day, we’re going to win.”

Arrieta’s enthusiasm resonated throughout the Phillies’ spring complex before Tuesday’s Grapefruit League game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“I was talking to Rhys Hoskins on the way out and I said, ‘Are you excited?”’ Middleton said. “He looks at me and he goes, ‘Bleep, yeah.”’

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Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu leaves Tuesday’s game with tightness in left hamstring



Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu left Tuesday’s game against the Texas Rangers with tightness in his left hamstring.

Abreu, who was removed in the top of the third inning after going 1-for-2 at the plate with a single off Rangers starter Doug Fister, was replaced by Matt Skole.

The White Sox said Abreu’s status is day-to-day.

“Fortunately, it looked like he was just cramping up or maybe just a light stretch,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s doing good. I’m sure we’ll preserve our use of him in the next few days and see where he’s at.”

Abreu, who turned 31 in January, has been remarkably consistent since joining the White Sox, hitting .290 or better with at least 25 homers and 100 RBIs every year. He was the unanimous choice for American League Rookie of the Year in 2014.

He is batting .200 in 40 spring at-bats with two home runs and seven RBIs.

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Kevin Towers to be posthumously inducted into San Diego Padres Hall of Fame



SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Padres will posthumously induct Kevin Towers into their Hall of Fame on May 12 as part of a celebration of the 20th anniversary of their 1998 National League championship team.

Towers, who spent 14 seasons as San Diego’s general manager, died Jan. 30 of complications from cancer. He was 56.

The Padres won the NL West four times under Towers, reaching the World Series in 1998 before being swept by the New York Yankees.

“Kevin was the perfect embodiment of what it means to be a Padre and his legacy will continue to live on at Petco Park,” Padres owners Ron Fowler and Peter Seidler said in a statement.

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Alex Cobb fills a hole as Baltimore Orioles try to keep up in AL East – SweetSpot



In the end, Alex Cobb got the contract everyone expected. He just had to wait a little longer than he would have liked. At the start of free agency, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs predicted Cobb would get a four-year, $60 million deal. Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors predicted four years and $48 million. Sources report Cobb’s deal with the Baltimore Orioles will be four years at something close to $60 million.

What’s interesting here is that Cobb cashed in on a long-term deal while Lance Lynn and Mike Moustakas, the two other prominent late signings, had to settle for one-year deals. Moustakas’ situation is easier to understand given the situation at third base across the majors, but on the surface there isn’t much difference between Lynn and Cobb. Both are the same age (Cobb is a few months younger), both had solid results in 2017 coming off Tommy John surgery, and both project to similar WAR for 2018 — 2.1 for Lynn via ZiPS, 2.5 for Cobb.

Yet Cobb gets $60 million and Lynn signed with the Twins for one year at $12 million (which at least allows him to re-enter free agency next season without being attached to draft-pick compensation). There are some underlying differences between them. While Lynn posted a 3.43 ERA with the Cardinals, his peripherals weren’t as good, reflected by his 4.82 FIP. Cobb, meanwhile, has had proven success in the AL East with the Rays, so it’s certainly understandable why he would be a more attractive choice for the Orioles.

How much will he help? Obviously, the Orioles needed rotation help. Before Cobb, the Orioles’ rotation depth chart listed Chris Tillman, coming off a 7.84 ERA, and Gabriel Ynoa, who had a 5.25 ERA at Triple-A. Cobb probably displaces Ynoa and completes a five-man group that also includes Kevin Gausman, Dylan Bundy and Andrew Cashner.

That still doesn’t project as a top rotation. Here are the updated rotation WAR projections from FanGraphs for the AL East:

Yankees: 16.5

Red Sox: 15.8

Rays: 14.7

Blue Jays: 13.5

Orioles: 9.3

That doesn’t even factor in that Bundy, Cobb and Tillman have each had serious health issues in the not-too-recent past. Why does the Orioles’ rotation project so poorly? Strikeouts. There were 149 pitchers last season who threw at least 90 innings. Here’s where Baltimore’s five starters ranked in strikeout rate:

Cashner: 148th

Tillman: 142nd

Cobb: 118th

Bundy: 53rd

Gausman: 51st

Now, strikeouts aren’t everything. But they’re almost everything. It’s very difficult to do what Cashner did last year with the Rangers, posting a 3.40 ERA while averaging just 4.6 K’s per nine innings. You can do it with good defense behind you, a high ground ball rate and a little luck, but those three aspects rarely line up in consecutive seasons.

Of course, Cashner could up his strikeout rate. Cobb could re-discover his splitter/changeup, a pitch that wasn’t effective for him last year, but which he used to great success when he had a 2.82 ERA over 2013 and 2014. Tillman could be healthy. Bundy and Gausman may not have reached their full potential just yet.

So the rotation may not be a disaster and could even surprise. Still, you wouldn’t predict this group to outperform the Yankees’ rotation. Which puts a lot of pressure on the offense. Do you see the Orioles outscoring the Yankees? If you go position by position, you’d give the Orioles the advantage only at second base with Jonathan Schoop over Neil Walker. You can dream on Chris Davis having a bigger year, but he’s now had two straight seasons of declining production and was terrible in 2017. Maybe Tim Beckham is better than Brandon Drury. Even shortstop is more of a toss-up than you may think. Can you tell Manny Machado from Didi Gregorius from their 2017 numbers?

Player A: .259/.310/.471

Player B: .287/.318/.478

The Orioles did a good thing in signing Cobb to fill a weakness. On paper, however, they still look far short of the Yankees or Red Sox. They’ve surprised us before.

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