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The Blue Jays signed George Springer in the offseason, but the Mets also had interest in Springer but did not make a hard push because a decision has not been made on whether the designated hitter will again be used in the National League this season. Gregory Bull/Associated Press

 

The status of a possible designated hitter rule this season for the National League remains in limbo after the MLB Players Association on Monday reportedly rejected a proposal from MLB officials.

The proposal would have allowed for a universal DH for the second straight year, as opposed to having the position only in the American League, as was the case from 1973 through 2019. Amid the immense disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic last year, MLB implemented a number of alterations to the 2020 season, including a universal DH, a significantly shortened schedule and an expanded postseason.

In exchange for extending the DH to the National League, MLB asked for an expanded postseason again this year, which caused the union to balk, as first reported by MLB Network. The issue for the union could be an asymmetry between the two bargaining chips, given that the universal DH is thought to also have appeal to MLB executives, just not to the degree it has to the MLBPA, and that there is much more money at stake with the expanded playoff, with that revenue going mostly to team owners.

Another problem for the proposed re-implementation of the expanded playoff, which went from 10 to 16 teams last year, is that some players fear it could depress free agency spending. If it takes fewer wins to reach the postseason, owners might not feel as much urgency to shell out for high-value players. (A counterargument could be that more owners might believe their teams have shots at the postseason and would be emboldened to pursue roster upgrades.)

The uncertainty over whether the NL will have a DH this season has complicated decisions in free agency, which began in November. After George Springer agreed to a six-year, $150 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, there was speculation that the New York Mets, who had been linked to him, might have gone harder after the former Houston Astros outfielder if they knew they had a DH spot.

As noted Monday by The Athletic, sluggers such as Marcell Ozuna and Nelson Cruz are waiting to see whether there will be more of market for their services and whether some teams could be delaying roster decisions until they have more clarity.

“It’s just kind of hanging over everyone’s head,” an NL executive said last month to Sports Illustrated. “Like, What is the deal?”

Several weeks later – and less than a month before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training – there still is no deal between MLB and its union that would allow for a DH on all teams. MLB’s collective bargaining agreement expires in December, and many observers expect to see a universal DH in the 2022 season after it is adopted in a new CBA. How that issue will be resolved for the upcoming season remains to be seen, but Monday’s impasse did nothing to dispel NL pitchers’ plans to work on their bunting skills.

PHILLIES: The Philadelphia Phillies and two-time All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto agreed on a $115.5 million, five-year contract, two people familiar with the deal told The Associated Press.

Both people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Realmuto’s deal was pending a successful physical.

Realmuto gets $20 million next season, of which $10 million is deferred, with $5 million each payable in 2026 and 2027. He gets $23,875,000 in each of the final four years.

He does not have a no-trade provision. The deal includes a $1 million assignment bonus if traded.

Realmuto’s average annual salary of $23.1 million will become the highest for a catcher, topping the $23 million Joe Mauer averaged in a $184 million, eight-year deal with the Minnesota Twins that covered 2011-18.

BLUE JAYS: Shortstop Marcus Semien agreed to an $18 million, one-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press.

Semien will become the second star and fourth free agent added by the Blue Jays during a slow offseason amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Toronto gave outfielder George Springer a $150 million, six-year deal. Toronto also agreed to one-year contracts with right-handers Kirby Yates ($5.5 million) and Tyler Chatwood ($3 million) and re-signed left-hander Robbie Ray to an $8 million, one-year contract.

Semien hit .223 with seven homers, 23 RBI and .679 OPS in 53 games last season, his sixth with Oakland. He earned $4,814,815 in prorated pay from a $13 million salary.

Semien finished third in AL MVP voting in 2019, when he hit 33 homers with 92 RBI with an .892 OPS.

INDIANS: Free-agent second baseman César Hernández has agreed to return to Cleveland on a 1-year contract, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The team and Hernández have an agreement, which includes a club option for 2022, in place and it will become official once medical tests have been completed. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because it could be days before everything is finalized.

Hernández had a solid season for the Indians in 2020 after he was signed as a free agent following seven years in Philadelphia. He batted .283 in 58 games, led the AL with 20 doubles and played excellent defense, committing just four errors. His return softens the impact of Cleveland losing All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor, who was traded to the New York Mets earlier this month.

NATIONALS: Left-handed reliever Brad Hand finalized a $10.5 million, one-year contract with the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, giving the team more strength and flexibility in the back end of its bullpen.

The deal includes $6.5 million in salary that will be deferred without interest. The deferred money will come in payments due $1.5 million next Jan. 15, $3.5 million on Jan. 15, 2023, and $1.5 million on Jan. 15, 2024.

The 30-year-old Hand led the majors with 16 saves during the pandemic-truncated 2020 season for the Cleveland Indians, compiling a 2.05 ERA, .169 opponents’ batting average, 29 strikeouts and four walks in 22 innings over 23 appearances. He did not allow a home run last season.

Cleveland declined Hand’s $10 million option after last season, triggering a $1 million buyout and making him a free agent eligible to sign with any major league club.

ORIOLES: The Orioles filled a hole in their infield by agreeing with free agent Freddy Galvis to a one-year, $1.5 million contract.

Galvis broke into the big leagues with Philadelphia in 2012 and spent the last two years with Cincinnati. The 31-year-old hit .220 with seven homers and 16 RBI during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

Galvis is expected to take over as Baltimore’s shortstop from Jose Iglesias, traded to the Los Angeles Angels in December. Galvis played 33 games at shortstop last season and 16 at second base.


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