Two-way player Shohei Ohtani has agreed to a two-year, $8.5million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

Ohtani, 26, and the Angels avoided arbitration after agreeing to terms on Monday.

The 2018 American League (AL) Rookie of the Year is set to enter his fourth MLB season with the Angels in 2021.

"OFFICIAL: The Angels have agreed to a two-year, $8.5million contract with Shohei Ohtani," the team wrote on Twitter.

"With the agreement, an arbitration hearing is avoided."

Ohtani is hitting .269 in his MLB career, with 47 home runs and 147 RBIs.

He is 4-3 as a pitcher in 12 starts, including an ERA of 4.39.

Ohtani pitched in just two games in 2020 after suffering a flexor strain in his right elbow, on which he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2018.

Yadier Molina has agreed to terms on a new deal to extend his St Louis Cardinals career into an 18th MLB season.

The 38-year-old catcher's new contract was announced by the Cardinals on Monday.

Molina made his MLB debut with the Cardinals in 2004 and has gone on to win two World Series with the team, while being named an All-Star nine times.

"We are excited to announce that we have agreed to terms with Yadier Molina on a new contract!" the Cardinals wrote on Twitter.

"We will have more details tomorrow on Yadi continuing his Cardinals legacy."

Reports said Molina, who was a free agent, had agreed to a one-year extension with the Cardinals.

Molina's 2,025 games for the Cardinals ranks as the third most for the team, behind Stan Musial (3,026) and Lou Brock (2,289).

He is sixth for hits (2,001), seventh for RBIs (932), 10th for home runs (160) and 22nd for runs scored (713).

The Cardinals made the MLB playoffs in 2020 before falling to the San Diego Padres in the National League (NL) Wild Card Series.

"This season is about making sure history remembers us as we wish to be remembered. This season is about adding to our legacy. And I can't wait, Dodger fans."

While the Los Angeles Dodgers are yet to announce the deal, Trevor Bauer revealed his free-agency decision via his YouTube channel on Friday.

Hot off being crowned the National League (NL) Cy Young award winner with the Cincinnati Reds in 2020, Bauer is getting paid after the opting to join World Series champions the Dodgers instead of the New York Mets in a record-breaking deal.

Bauer - the first Cy Young winner to enter free agency since Greg Maddux in 1992 - is reportedly due to earn $40million in 2021 and $45m in 2022. The 2021 salary would make him the highest-paid player in MLB history, a record he would break again the following year.

The right-handed ace will help form an intimidating Dodgers bullpen, which also includes past Cy Young winners Clayton Kershaw and David Price, plus star pitcher Walker Buehler.

As Bauer looks to experience success in Los Angeles, where Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager spearheaded the Dodgers to World Series glory for the first time since 1988, we take a look at the numbers behind the 30-year-old using Stats Perform Data.

Bauer joins Cy Young club but is success on the horizon?

Bauer led the NL in ERA (1.73), WHIP (0.795), opponents' batting average (.159), opponents' BABIP (.215), adjusted ERA-plus (276), hits per nine innings (5.1), shutouts (two) and complete games (two) in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign.

He also ranked second in strikeouts (100) and strikeouts per nine innings (12.3).

In nine seasons since he broke into the majors with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012, Bauer is 75-64 with 1,279 strikeouts and a 3.90 ERA. His only All-Star selection came in 2018.

Bauer is the eighth reigning Cy Young award winner to change teams that subsequent offseason after taking his talents to LA, and the fourth to do so in free agency, following Catfish Hunter (1975), Mark Davis (1990), Maddux (1993), David Cone (1995), Pedro Martinez (1998), Roger Clemens (1999) and R.A. Dickey (2013).

Did those players go on to enjoy further success?

Hunter made two All-Star teams with the New York Yankees in 1975 and 1976, Maddux won the NL Cy Young in that 1993 season with the Atlanta Braves as well as in 1994 and 1995 while he also earned All-Star selection between 1994-98 and in 2000, to go with Gold Glove honours in his first 10 years in Atlanta, where World Series victory followed.

Cone was an All-Star with the Yankees in 1997 and 1999, Martinez earned Cy Young Awards with the Boston Red Sox in 1999 and 2000, made All-Star teams in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002 (and in 2005 and 2006 with the Mets).

Clemens was a Cy Young winner with the Yankees in 2001 and the Houston Astros in 2004. He also made All-Star teams in 2001 and 2003-05 (the latter with the Astros), while Dickey's first year in Toronto saw him secure Gold Glove status.

Ace trio to lead back-to-back bid?

The star-studded Dodgers now boast three Cy Young winners in superstar Kershaw, veteran Price and Bauer.

The last team with three? The 2014 Detroit Tigers, who had a certain Price, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in their rotation.

That 2014 Tigers side went 90-72 and won the American League (AL) Central, but were swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Division Series (ALDS) 3-0. 

The Cy Young trio started those three playoff games, combining to go 0-2 with a 4.43 ERA. Detroit did not acquire Price that year until the trade deadline; from August 1 to the end of the regular season, the Tigers were 32-25 with a 3.94 team ERA (3.97 from starters).

The Dodgers are the first World Series champions to add a reigning Cy Young award winner that offseason, after the 1999 Yankees, who prised Clemens to New York and went on to win the ultimate prize that year. 

But how does Bauer compare to three-time Cy winner Kershaw (32) and 2012 recipient Price (35)?

Bauer's career numbers do not really measure up to the other two, especially Kershaw, with the exception of his strikeout rate - the younger Bauer comes in at 9.7, level with Kershaw and ahead of Price (8.8).

But just looking at the last three seasons, Bauer has more than held his own.

Since 2018, Bauer has a .211 BA allowed percentage - fewer than Kershaw (.220) and Price (.241).

When it comes to strikeouts per nine innings, Bauer comes in at 11.2, ahead of Price (9.7) and Kershaw (9.2), while the Dodgers recruit (1.0) has fared much better than Price (1.3) and Kershaw (1.2) when it comes to home runs per nine innings.

Bauer also has postseason and World Series experience, having made 10 playoff appearances with the Cleveland Indians and one with the Reds. 

In the NL Wild Card Series against the Braves last season, Bauer allowed just two hits and struck out 12 over 7.3 innings.

The Los Angeles Angels have acquired World Series champion and All-Star Dexter Fowler from the St Louis Cardinals, it was announced on Thursday.

MLB veteran Fowler is swapping the Cardinals for the Angels in exchange for a player to be named or cash considerations.

The Cardinals – who secured star third baseman Nolan Arenado in a blockbuster trade with the Colorado Rockies on Monday – are also sending the Angels $12.75million as part of the deal.

Fowler will reunite with Angels manager Joe Maddon after the pair teamed up during the Chicago Cubs' triumphant World Series run in 2016.

The 34-year-old Fowler – in the final year of a five-year-, $82.5m deal – left the Cubs for the Cardinals ahead of the 2017 season.

Fowler batted .233/.317/.389 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 31 games during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign.

In his last full season, Fowler hit .238/.346/.409 with 19 homers, 24 doubles and 67 RBIs in 150 games in 2019.

Since debuting with the Rockies in 2008, Fowler is a career .259/.358/.418 hitter with 127 home runs, 253 doubles, 82 triples and 516 RBIs in 1,453 games.

The Angels have not reached the playoffs since being swept by the Kansas City Royals in the 2014 American League Division Series (ALDS).

The St Louis Cardinals made a splash after acquiring Nolan Arenado on Monday.

It cost five players, but the Cardinals fleeced the Colorado Rockies to bring in a five-time All-Star via a blockbuster trade.

The Cardinals will reportedly receive $50million in cash considerations, new deferrals in Arenado's contract that has six years and $199m remaining, and the waiving of his no-trade clause.

Arenado only signed an eight-year, $260m contract with the Rockies prior to the 2019 MLB season but Colorado opted to make a deal with the Cardinals.

The 29-year-old's arrival is a significant addition and quickly establishes the Cardinals as the team to beat in the National League (NL) Central ahead of the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates.

St Louis – eyeing their first World Series championship since 2011 – now boast a formidable corner-infield combination in Arenado and six-time All-Star Paul Goldschmidt.

We take a look at the numbers behind Arenado using Stats Perform data as the World Series-chasing Cardinals eye success in 2021.

 

Arenado's a genuine star

The third baseman's record speaks for itself.

Eight Gold Gloves, four Silver Slugger awards and four Platinum Gloves, to go with three NL home run and NL RBI leader honours.

Arenado is one of two players in MLB history to win a Gold Glove in each of his first eight seasons in the majors, along with former Seattle Mariners favourite Ichiro Suzuki.

While he was hampered by a shoulder injury during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season – tallying 46 hits, 23 runs, eight homers and 26 RBIs in 182 at-bats for the Rockies, Arenado was coming off a career-best .315 with 41 home runs and 118 RBIs in 2019.

Arenado had five successive seasons with at least 35 home runs and 110 RBIs from 2015-19 (before the shortened 2020 season) – tied for the longest streak in NL history, alongside ex-Cubs star Sammy Sosa (1997-2001).

The Cardinals, on the other hand, have never had a third baseman hit 35-plus home runs in a season in their history.

St Louis are one of five current franchises that have never had a third baseman hit 35-plus homers in a season (34 in 1992 and 2004), and they are the oldest team (1882) in that group, ahead of the Boston Red Sox (1901), Washington Nationals (1969), Mariners (1977) and Miami Marlins (1993).

After making his debut with the Rockies in 2013, Arenado has amassed 1,206 hits, 649 runs, 235 homers and 760 RBIs at an average of .293 in his career.

Since his first MLB appearance almost eight years ago, only Nelson Cruz (287), Mike Trout (267) and Edwin Encarnacion (265) have hit more homers than Arenado.

Arenado, though, tops the list for most RBIs since 2013 – ahead of new team-mate Goldschmidt (720), who sits fourth.

In the postseason, Arenado has two runs, one homer and three RBIs while averaging .190 in 21 at-bats.

The Cardinals – beaten in the Wild Card Round last season – lost to the Nationals in the 2019 National League Championship Series (NLCS), while they went down to the Red Sox in the 2013 World Series.

The 2021 Major League Baseball season will start as scheduled after players rejected a proposal to delay and shorten the campaign due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It was proposed that the start of the season be pushed back from April 1 to April 29 and the number of games each team must play be cut from 162 to 154.

However, the MLB Players Association (MLBPA) rejected the offer, meaning spring training and opening day will go ahead as initially planned if an agreement on health and safety protocols can be reached.

"On the advice of medical experts, we proposed a one-month delay to the start of spring training and the regular season to better protect the health and safety of players and support staff," read an MLB statement.

"A delay of the season would allow for the level of COVID-19 infection rates to decrease and additional time for the distribution of vaccinations, as well as minimising potential disruptions to the 2021 season that currently face all sports.

"The offer included starting the regular season on April 29th and playing a 154-game schedule that would pay players in full as if playing 162 games. We also proposed two changes from the 2020 season that were overwhelmingly popular with our fans – for this season only, featuring a modified expanded postseason (seven teams per league) and the universal designated hitter rule.

"This was a good deal that reflected the best interests of everyone involved in the sport by merely moving the calendar of the season back one month for health and safety reasons without impacting any rights either the players or the clubs currently have under the Basic Agreement or Uniform Player's Contract for pay and service time.

"In light of the MLBPA's rejection of our proposal, and their refusal to counter our revised offer this afternoon, we are moving forward and instructing our clubs to report for an on-time start to spring training and the championship season, subject to reaching an agreement on health and safety protocols.

"Our 2020 season taught us that when the nation faces crisis, the national game is as important as ever, and there is nothing better than playing ball. We were able to complete a 2020 season through Herculean efforts and sacrifices made by our players, club staff and MLB staff to protect one another. We will do so again, together, as we work towards playing another safe and entertaining season in 2021."

A release from the MLBPA said: "Late last week, the MLBPA for the first time this offseason received a proposal from MLB to delay spring training and opening day by approximately one month.

"Under the proposal, the end of the season would be delayed one week, the regular season would be shortened to 154 games and all 30 teams would be required to play several doubleheaders. Players would also be required to accept previously rejected proposals that link expanded playoffs with expansion of the designated hitter.

"Although player salaries would not be initially prorated to a 154-game regular season, MLB's proposal offers no salary or service time protections in the event of further delays, interruptions, or cancellation of the season.

"The MLBPA executive board and player leadership reviewed and discussed the owners' proposal throughout the weekend and today [Monday]. The clear-cut result of these deliberations is that players will not accept MLB's proposal, will instead continue preparations for an on-time start to the 2021 season, and will accept MLB's commitment to again direct its clubs to prepare for an on-time start. 

"We do not make this decision lightly. Players know first-hand the efforts that were required to complete the abbreviated 2020 season, and we appreciate that significant challenges lie ahead. We look forward to promptly finalising enhanced health and safety protocols that will help players and clubs meet these challenges."

The St Louis Cardinals have acquired five-time MLB All-Star Nolan Arenado in a blockbuster trade with the Colorado Rockies.

St Louis and Colorado announced the deal on Monday, with the Cardinals sending Austin Gomber, Elehuris Montero, Tony Locey, Mateo Gil and Jake Sommers to the Rockies in exchange for Arenado and cash considerations.

The Cardinals will reportedly receive $50million in cash, new deferrals in Arenado's contract that has six years and $199m remaining, and the waiving of his no-trade clause.

Arenado signed an eight-year, $260m contract with the Rockies prior to the 2019 season but Colorado opted to deal the eight-time Gold Glove Award winner.

The 29-year-old was hampered by soreness in the AC joint of his left shoulder during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, tallying 46 hits, 23 runs, eight homers and 26 RBIs in 182 at-bats for the Rockies – who missed the playoffs.

Arenado was coming off a career-best .315 with 41 home runs and 118 RBIs in 2019.

A Gold Glove winner in each of his eight seasons in Colorado, where he made his debut in 2013, Arenado has amassed 1,206 hits, 649 runs, 235 homers and 760 RBIs at an average of .293 in his career.

In the postseason, the four-time Silver Slugger and four-time Platinum Glove winner has two runs, one homer and three RBIs while averaging .190 in 21 at-bats.

The Cardinals, who lost in the Wild Card Round last season, quickly become favourites to win the National League (NL) Central, which consists of the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Not since 2011 have the Cardinals won the World Series.

J.T. Realmuto is getting paid.

Arguably the best all-round catcher in MLB, Realmuto has signed a lucrative five-year contract to remain with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Realmuto's new deal is reportedly worth $115.5million, which sets a record average annual value for a catcher at $23.1m per season – eclipsing Joe Mauer's $23m per season for the Minnesota Twins (2011-18).

The 29-year-old – just the third catcher in league history to sign a contract in excess of $100m – is also the first catcher to sign a deal worth more than $100m in free agency after being acquired from the Miami Marlins in a four-player trade two years ago.

The Phillies, who also boast former National League (NL) MVP Bryce Harper, have locked up a two-time All-Star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner as their future becomes clearer.

We take a look at the numbers behind Realmuto using Stats Perform data as the playoff-chasing Phillies eye an upturn in fortunes in 2021.

 

One of MLB's finest

While big-hitting Harper dominates the headlines, Realmuto is arguably Philadelphia's most important player.

Over the last two seasons, the Phillies have won 52.8 per cent (94-84) of their games with Realmuto in the line-up, while they are just 34.1 per cent (15-29) in his absence.

The Phillies average 5.22 runs per game when Realmuto takes to the field compared to 3.43 if he has been rested or sidelined.

Since joining the Phillies in 2019, Realmuto ranks first in a number of categories among catchers – RBI (115), slugging percentage (.492), hits (194), runs (125), doubles (42) and stolen bases (13), while he is equal second for home runs (36).

Realmuto found a home in Philadelphia's number four spot last season. His 11 home runs out of the fourth position ranked second only to the Cincinnati Reds' Eugenio Suarez (13) among clean-up hitters, while his 31 RBIs were third.

Behind the plate, Realmuto has thrown out 41 runners trying to steal over the past two seasons – 14 more than any other catcher.

As a percentage, he has thrown out 39.0 percent of runners attempting to steal since joining the Phillies, second best among those with at least 100 games caught since 2019 (Roberto Perez, 45.0 percent).

Realmuto is one of three Phillies catchers to win a Gold Glove (2019), along with Bob Boone (1978 and 1979) and Mike Lieberthal (1999).

He has 95 home runs and 44 stolen bases in his 732 career games. The only other catcher in MLB history to have at least 90 homers and 40 steals within his first 750 career games was Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk.

Realmuto has proven his durability and defensive skills since his first full season in 2015. He ranks second in MLB with 5615.1 innings caught (behind Yadier Molina) and also ranks second in runners thrown out stealing with 113 (behind Jonathan Lucroy).

 

Playoffs overdue for Realmuto and Phillies

For all of Realmuto's impressive numbers, there is one glaring absence.

Realmuto has never played in the postseason; his 732 career games are the most by any active catcher who has never featured in the playoffs.

It comes as two-time World Series winners the Phillies try to emerge from the postseason wilderness.

The Phillies reigned supreme in 1980 and 2008, but Philadelphia have not made the playoffs or finished a season with a winning record since going 102-60 in 2011 – Joe Girardi's men ended the coronavirus-shortened 2020 campaign 28-32.

Winners of seven NL pennants, Philadelphia have gone nine consecutive seasons without a playoff berth – only second to the Seattle Mariners (19) for the longest active drought in MLB.

Philadelphia, meanwhile, have the most successive campaigns finishing .500 or worse, a run of nine putting them ahead of the Kansas City Royals and Los Angeles Angels (both five).

The Philadelphia Phillies re-signed star catcher J.T. Realmuto, the MLB franchise announced on Friday.

Realmuto will remain in Philadelphia on a five-year deal, reportedly worth $115.5million that sets a record average annual value for a catcher at $23.1m per season – eclipsing Joe Mauer's $23m per season for the Minnesota Twins (2011-18).

The two-time All-Star and Silver Slugger was out of contract after being acquired by the Phillies from the Miami Marlins in 2019.

Realmuto, 29, signed a one-year contract in his final season of salary arbitration eligibility in 2020 before finally reaching an agreement with the Phillies over a lucrative extension.

During the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, Realmuto had 46 hits, 33 runs, 11 homers, 32 RBIs and four stolen bases in 47 games for the Phillies.

Since making his MLB debut in 2014, 2019 Gold Glove winner Realmuto has amassed 749 hits, 380 runs, 95 homers, 385 RBIs and 44 stolen bases.

Bryce Harper's Phillies have not made the playoffs since 2011 after going 28-32 in the National League (NL) East last year.

The New York Yankees have bolstered their rotation with the signing of two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber.

Kluber and the Yankees agreed to a one-year contract reportedly worth $11million, the MLB franchise announced on Wednesday.

The three-time All-Star spent the 2020 season with the Texas Rangers, where he only made one appearance due to a torn teres major muscle in his right shoulder.

Since the end of the 2018 season, Kluber has made just eight starts due to injuries.

But the 34-year-old right-handed pitcher – who won the American League (AL) Cy Young Award with the Cleveland Indians in 2014 and 2017 – has 1,462 career strikeouts, seven shutouts and a 3.16 ERA.

It comes after the star-studded Yankees also confirmed the return of star DJ LeMahieu on a six-year deal heading into the 2021 campaign.

LeMahieu's deal is through the 2026 season and reportedly worth $90m after starring for the Yankees, who lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2020 American League Division Series (ALDS).

The three-time All-Star finished the season with 10 home runs and 27 RBIs, leading MLB with a batting average of .364.

LeMahieu was also first in the American League (AL) in on-base percentage (.421) and on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (1.011).

The 32-year-old infielder's efforts saw him finish third in the AL MVP voting and he was the second base Silver Slugger for the second straight year.

George Springer believes the Toronto Blue Jays are "built to win for a long time" after arriving from the Houston Astros in a blockbuster move in free agency.

The Blue Jays lured MLB World Series champion and MVP Springer to Toronto on a six-year, $150million contract – the largest deal in franchise history.

Toronto, who returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2016 before being swept by eventual World Series participants the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild Card Round, had made Springer their number one target and landed one of the most coveted free agents this offseason.

Springer brings a wealth of postseason experience to an exciting young core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio in Toronto, where the Blue Jays also boast number one right-handed pitching prospect Nate Pearson.

And Springer is excited, telling reporters on Wednesday: "I think they're right there. When you play against this team like I have, you could see the talent, could see the potential in their line-up, in their staff, in their arms.

"I think this team is built to win, and I think they're going to be built to win for a long time."

Springer leads MLB with 136 home runs from the lead-off spot since 2015. The Blue Jays as a team have 129 homers from the lead-off spot over that time, per Stats Perform.

A two-time Silver Slugger, Springer has 39 lead-off home runs in his career – fourth most all-time behind Rickey Henderson (73), Ian Kinsler (48) and Brady Anderson (44).

Springer has recorded seven career World Series home runs – most from the lead-off spot all-time – and he is 19-for-56 (.339) in the World Series in his career. No other current Blue Jays player has a World Series hit in their career.

The three-time All-Star's 174 home runs since debuting in MLB via Houston are third most by an Astro in a player's first seven career seasons, behind only Jeff Bagwell (187) and Lance Berkman (180).

In Toronto, Bichette is the first shortstop in MLB history to have a .300-plus batting average and a .500-plus slugging percentage in each of his first two seasons (minimum 125 plate appearances in both seasons).

Blue Jays team-mate Biggio became the first player in league history to have at least 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 100 walks through his first 159 career games (that is how many games he has played so far).

As for Guerrero, he is the only MLB player currently 21 or younger who has at least 100 career RBIs.

Based on age at the time of games, the Blue Jays had the most hits (234), runs (148), home runs (38), RBIs (137), XBH (93) and BB (103) in 2020.

"This line-up reminds me a lot of them [the Astros]," 31-year-old outfielder Springer said midweek. 

"It is a young line-up but it's a very talented, advanced younger line-up. From everything I've seen, they're very, very ambitious. They want to win, they work hard. That's awesome to see."

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins, who is eyeing the franchise's first World Series title since 1993, added: "What he's done, his athleticism, his character, his resilience and his perseverance.

"He will overcome challenges and we believe that he's going to be a very, very good player, not just for the beginning of his contract but for the duration."

The Toronto Blue Jays have confirmed the signing of star free agent and MLB World Series champion George Springer on a six-year deal.

Reports emerged earlier this week that Springer, one of the most coveted free agents this offseason, was set to sign a lucrative, long-term, $150million contract with Toronto.

The emerging Blue Jays, who returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2016, have been looking to make a splash in free agency as they seek to add experience to an exciting young core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio.

And in a boost to their hopes of clinching a first World Series success since 1993, Toronto on Saturday confirmed the deal for Springer – a World Series winner and MVP with the Houston Astros in 2017.

Springer tallied a team-high 14 homers, 37 runs, 50 hits and 32 RBIs with a .265 average in 189 at-bats as the Astros reached the AL Championship Series (ALCS) last season.

Having made his Astros debut in 2014, 31-year-old Springer amassed 174 home runs – the third-most by a Houston player in their first seven career seasons – 567 runs, 832 hits and 458 RBIs with a .270 average in 3,087 at-bats.

A three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger, Springer has hit 19 postseason home runs from 63 games, tied for fourth on the all-time list, behind Rickey Henderson (73), Ian Kinsler (48) and Brady Anderson (44).

The New York Mets had been Toronto's main competition for Springer's signature, but the Blue Jays were able to offer the best deal.

According to league sources, the Mets' final offer came in at $120m to $125m over six years.

The Blue Jays and Mets had been the two finalists for Springer for much of this offseason, but New York’s additions of star shortstop Francisco Lindor and others put the Blue Jays in the driver's seat, where they could use the payroll flexibility that comes with such a young team.

Hall of Fame outfielder Hank Aaron, one of baseball’s most iconic sluggers who held Major League Baseball’s cherished career home runs record for 33 years, died on Friday at his Georgia home at the age of 86. 

The Atlanta Braves, the team where Aaron spent all but two of his 23 major league seasons, confirmed the franchise icon's passing in a statement.  

"We are absolutely devastated by the passing of our beloved Hank," said Braves chairman Terry McGuirk. "He was a beacon for our organisation first as a player, then with player development, and always with our community efforts. His incredible talent and resolve helped him achieve the highest accomplishments, yet he never lost his humble nature."

Aaron was named to a record 21 All-Star teams and won two National League batting titles and the league's Most Valuable Player award in 1957, but his most notable accomplishment came near the end of his distinguished career. On April 8, 1974, the then 40-year-old homered off the Los Angeles Dodgers' Al Downing at Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium to surpass Babe Ruth's MLB record of 714 home runs – a mark that had stood since 1935. 

The achievement was met with both fanfare and vitriol in some cases, with Aaron often subjected to overt racism in the form of hate mail and even death threats from those who objected to his pursuit of Ruth's record. 

Following a two-year stint with the Milwaukee Brewers, Aaron retired in 1976 with 755 homers. Though Barry Bonds would later exceed that number in 2007, "Hammerin' Hank" still ranks as MLB's all-time leader with 2,297 RBIs, 6,856 total bases and 1,477 extra-base hits.  

"Hank Aaron is near the top of everyone's list of all-time great players. His monumental achievements as a player were surpassed only by his dignity and integrity as a person," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. 

"Hank symbolised the very best of our game, and his all-around excellence provided Americans and fans across the world with an example to which to aspire.  

"His career demonstrates that a person who goes to work with humility every day can hammer his way into history -- and find a way to shine like no other."

Born in Mobile, Alabama. In 1934, Aaron broke into professional baseball at age 17 as a shortstop with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League in 1952 and had his contract purchased by the then-Boston Braves shortly afterward. He reached the majors in 1954 with the Braves then having moved to Milwaukee, and won his first NL batting crown two years later after hitting .328 in 153 games. 

Aaron followed up with a sensational 1957 campaign in which he led the majors with 44 homers and 132 RBIs while batting .322 to claim his only NL MVP. The Brewers capped that season by defeating the New York Yankees in seven games for the franchise's lone World Series title in Milwaukee.  

Aaron would lead the NL in both homers and RBIs three more times during his career and won another batting title in 1959. He also won three straight Gold Gloves from 1958-60 and completed his career with 3,771 hits, third in MLB history behind Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. 

One of only four players in MLB history with 600 homers and 3,000 hits (Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez), Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1982. He was named on nearly 98 percent of ballots.  

"Henry Louis Aaron wasn't just our icon, but one across Major League Baseball and around the world," McGuirk added.

Aaron returned to the Braves as an executive following his playing career and was further honoured by MLB in 1999 with the establishment of the Hank Aaron Award, given to the top offensive performer in both the American and National Leagues.  

A strong advocate of civil rights, Aaron received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush in 2002.  

Aaron joins a list of several Hall of Fame members who have passed away in the past calendar year, a group that includes Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Phil Niekro, Tom Seaver, Tommy Lasorda and Don Sutton.

Niekro and Sutton also had extensive ties to the Braves, as Niekro pitched 20 seasons for the franchise and Sutton spent several years with the team as a television and radio analyst. 

George Springer is reportedly packing his bags and heading to the Rogers Centre.

Widespread reports claim the Toronto Blue Jays have agreed to a six-year, $150million contract with star free agent and MLB World Series champion Springer – the largest deal in franchise history, eclipsing Vernon Wells' $126m extension in 2006.

The emerging Blue Jays, who returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2016, had been looking to make a splash in free agency after recruiting ace Ryu Hyun-jin ahead of the 2020 campaign.

Toronto appear to have landed their number one target and one of the most coveted free agents this offseason, despite interest in the likes of Francisco Lindor and DJ LeMahieu, as they challenge the likes of the New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox in the American League.

Springer – a World Series winner and MVP with the Houston Astros – brings a wealth of postseason experience to an exciting young core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio in Toronto, where the Blue Jays also boast number one right-handed pitching prospect Nate Pearson.

Teoscar Hernandez also had a breakout season for the Blue Jays, resulting in his first Silver Slugger Award.

But what does Springer's arrival mean for the Blue Jays in their pursuit of a first World Series crown since 1993? We take a look using Stats Perform data.

Experience and lead-off ability

Springer led the Astros to ultimate glory in 2017.

The 31-year-old outfielder tallied a team-high 14 homers, 37 runs, 50 hits and 32 RBIs with a .265 average in 189 at-bats as the Astros reached the AL Championship Series (ALCS) last season.

Springer leads MLB with 136 home runs from the lead-off spot since 2015. The Blue Jays as a team have 129 homers from the lead-off spot over that time.

A two-time Silver Slugger, Springer has 39 lead-off home runs in his career – fourth most all-time behind Rickey Henderson (73), Ian Kinsler (48) and Brady Anderson (44).

Springer has recorded seven career World Series home runs – most from the lead-off spot all-time – and he is 19-for-56 (.339) in the World Series in his career. No other current Blue Jays player has a World Series hit in their career.

The three-time All-Star's 174 home runs since debuting in MLB via Houston are third most by an Astro in a player's first seven career seasons, behind only Jeff Bagwell (187) and Lance Berkman (180).

In 15 career games at the Blue Jays' Rogers Centre, Springer has slashed .358/.453/.604 with seven extra-base hits and 10 RBIs.

Springer to compliment Toronto's young star power

It has been a long time since Jose Bautista's memorable bat flip and back-to-back trips to the ALCS in 2015 and 2016.

But Guerrero, Gurriel, Bichette and Biggio have given Blue Jays fans a lot to be excited about.

The big-hitting quartet took the MLB by storm during last season's coronavirus-shortened campaign, lighting up the league and helping Toronto to a 32-28 record before losing to eventual World Series participants the Rays in the AL Wild Card Round.

Bichette is the first shortstop in MLB history to have a .300-plus batting average and a .500-plus slugging percentage in each of his first two seasons (minimum 125 plate appearances in both seasons).

Blue Jays team-mate Biggio became the first player in league history to have at least 20 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 100 walks through his first 159 career games (that is how many games he has played so far).

As for Guerrero, he is the only MLB player currently 21 or younger who has at least 100 career RBIs.

Of players aged 25 or younger, the Blue Jays topped a number of categories last season.

Based on age at the time of games, the Blue Jays had the most hits (234), runs (148), home runs (38), RBIs (137), XBH (93) and BB (103) in 2020.

The Toronto Blue Jays have reportedly reached a deal to sign star free agent and MLB World Series champion George Springer.

According to MLB.com and ESPN, the Blue Jays have agreed to a six-year, $150million contract with Houston Astros outfielder Springer, pending a physical.

The emerging Blue Jays, who returned to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2016, have been looking to make a splash in free agency as they seek to add experience to an exciting young core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, while Toronto also boast the number one right-handed pitching prospect in Nate Pearson.

Toronto had been eyeing the likes of Francisco Lindor and DJ LeMahieu, before the former joined the New York Mets and latter re-signed with American League (AL) rivals the New York Yankees.

But, after recruiting ace Ryu Hyun-jin ahead of the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, the Blue Jays appear to have landed another big fish as they dream of World Series glory for the first time since 1993.

The reported deal to bring Springer – one of the most coveted free agents this offseason – from Houston would be the largest in Toronto's history, eclipsing Vernon Wells' $126m extension in 2006.

A World Series champion and MVP in 2017, Springer tallied a team-high 14 homers, 37 runs, 50 hits and 32 RBIs with a .265 average in 189 at-bats as the Astros reached the AL Championship Series (ALCS) last season.

Since making his MLB debut with the Astros in 2014, two-time Silver Slugger Springer has amassed 174 home runs, 567 runs, 832 hits and 458 RBIs with a .270 average in 3,087 at-bats.

The 31-year-old and three-time All-Star has hit 19 postseason home runs – tied for fourth on the all-time list.

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