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Joe Maddon chats with Gerrit Cole, calls pitcher ‘very bright’

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SAN DIEGO — It was here, at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in downtown San Diego, during the 2014 Winter Meetings, when Joe Maddon landed the ace he coveted for his new team. The team was the Chicago Cubs, and the ace was Jon Lester. Maddon got word near late on a Tuesday night, just as he was returning from dinner.

“Several glasses of wine later,” he said.

Maddon finds himself in a similar situation this year, now managing the Los Angeles Angels, who are deep in the chase for Gerrit Cole.

“We need something like that,” Maddon said. “I anticipate something like that.”

The Winter Meetings began on Monday with Stephen Strasburg agreeing to a seven-year, $245 million deal, a higher-than-anticipated contract that could push Cole into the $300 million range. Maddon has already spoken with Cole, Strasburg and Zach Wheeler, who joined the Phillies on a five-year deal worth $118 million — one on the phone, the other two in person.

He found Cole, the Angels’ primary target from the onset, to be “very bright.”

“He’s very bright, and he’s not afraid to ask you a question,” Maddon said. “… And he has definite ideas on what it takes to be successful, and it’s really apparent in his game also. This guy really knows what he wants to do and how he wants to do it, and what you see in the World Series was no joke and was not an accident. He was prepared to do that. So, I really enjoyed the conversation. I really enjoyed his intellect. Hopefully I’ll get to enjoy it more consistently every fourth or fifth day.”

Cole would be joining a rotation that also includes Shohei Ohtani, who is expected to return to a two-way role next season.

Ohtani, now more than a full year removed from Tommy John surgery, was shut down toward the end of his throwing progression to undergo knee surgery in mid-September. But he threw a bullpen session on Monday and was observed by new pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who texted Angels general manager Billy Eppler the following message:

Shohei looked pretty darn good today. He does it very easy, and we worked on some things in regards to his tempo. Everything synced up really well. I like this guy.

“Thanks, Mickey!” Eppler said, laughing, after reading the message.

Ohtani has only been off the mound a couple of times since resuming his most recent surgery, but the plan is for him to stop throwing by the end of the month and then be ready to do so again when spring training begins so that he doesn’t fall too far behind the only starting pitchers.

Ohtani posted a 3.31 ERA while striking out 63 batters in 51 2/3 innings in 2018 and has amassed an .883 OPS through 792 career major league plate appearances. Maddon is open to the possibility of getting rid of the designated hitter when Ohtani starts so that he could also hit on those days, which was not the case during his rookie season two years ago.

“Why wouldn’t you?” Maddon asked. “That’s another 50 at-bats a year that you’re going to get out of the guy that you wouldn’t get otherwise.”

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Similar to NFL officials, MLB umpires could get mic’d up

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NEW YORK — Big league players, managers and fans might be hearing a lot more from umpires this season.

Much like NFL referees have done for years, umpires could be mic’d up and announce whether reviewed calls are upheld or overturned, sources told ESPN’s Pedro Gomez. They may also explain rules, if necessary.

Major League Baseball and the umpires are actively discussing the possibility. If the technical aspects can be worked out and the umps are comfortable with the concept, they could be mic’d up sometime this year — both sides say there’s lots of work to do, making it uncertain whether this could be in place by opening day on March 26.

“I feel like getting more information on replay reviews would be great. Being able to hear what they see/say about the play will provide a better explanation of the call which will be very beneficial for both sides,” Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Stephen Vogt said.

The NFL and NHL have their referees announce the results of replay reviews. In the NBA, the arena public address announcers relay decisions.

Baseball fans have become familiar with seeing crew chiefs such as Joe West, Ted Barrett and Tom Hallion take off the headsets and signal the ruling from replay center in New York _ either indicating a player is out or safe, or perhaps pointing to where a runner should go.

Under the innovation, an umpire might tell everyone at the park whether a challenged call is confirmed, stands or is reversed. It is not known whether there would be any additional explanation of a ruling beyond the basics.

“It will be helpful to the fans, which is good,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “Sometimes they’re left in the dark as with what is being challenged.”

In the NFL and NHL, the referee is apart from the players when he speaks. MLB likely will want to be sure umps turn off their microphones for any disputes that might result.

“Well, sounds like players might be picked up on the umps’ mic,” longtime outfielder Rajai Davis texted to the Associated Press. “It wouldn’t affect me personally, but it will other guys.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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How Starling Marte trade turns D-backs into threat to Dodgers’ NL West reign

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It was the one trade everyone has predicted all offseason and it finally happened on Monday: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded outfielder Starling Marte to the Arizona Diamondbacks for two prospects. The Diamondbacks needed an outfielder, and with the Pirates stuck in the mire of Nowhere Land it was for them to trade a 31-year-old outfielder while he still had two years of team contractual control remaining.

What are the Diamondbacks getting? Other than a subpar 2017, when Marte was suspended 80 games for a positive PED test, he has been a consistent performer at the plate, with an OPS+ ranging between 113 and 120 every other season since 2015. He did set career highs in 2019 in home runs (23) and slugging percentage (.503) thanks to the lively baseball.

Marte is a two-time Gold Glover, with those awards coming in 2015 and 2016 when he primarily played left field. He played center field the past two seasons and he posted the worst defensive metrics of his career in 2019 with minus-9 defensive runs saved. The Statcast numbers, however, are a little more kind to his glove work, crediting him with two outs above average and a high jump rating. Given his speed remains near-elite, Marte reasonably projects as at least an average defender in center field, sandwiched between David Peralta and Kole Calhoun.

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Pirates trade Starling Marte to Diamondbacks for two prospects

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Outfielder Starling Marte was traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday for two prospects and $250,000 in international signing bonus pool money.

Marte, 31, has spent his entire eight-year career with the Pirates. He has a career .287 batting average with 108 homers, 420 RBIs and 239 steals. He had career highs last season with 23 homers and 82 RBIs.

Marte won Gold Gloves in 2015 and ’16.

The players going to Pittsburgh are right-handed pitcher Brennan Malone, the 33rd pick in the 2019 draft and shortstop Liover Peguero, a toolsy 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic who excelled in short-season ball.

“We’re excited about adding two young players of this caliber and the opportunity we’ll have to help them continue to grow.” Pirates general manager Ben Cherington said in a prepared statement. “In addition, we now have a greater ability to acquire impact-type talent in this year’s international free agent market.”

Arizona was dealing from a farm system that is one of the deepest and best in baseball, along with San Diego’s and Tampa Bay’s.

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