MLB Notes: Reds fire manager Dusty Baker

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MLB Notes: Reds fire manager Dusty Baker

Dusty Baker is out as manager of the Cincinnati Reds, three days after his team lost the National League wild-card game to Pittsburgh.

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the Reds will announce Friday that Baker will be replaced. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because there had not yet been an official announcement. It was not immediately clear whether Baker was fired or chose to step down.

The 64-year-old Baker had one season left on a two-year contract he signed last October.

Baker guided the Reds into the playoffs three of the last four years, but they never advanced.

Cincinnati went 90-72 this season and finished third in the NL Central behind St. Louis and the Pirates. The Reds lost their final five games of the regular season and cost themselves a chance to host the wild-card playoff, which they dropped 6-2 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.

Baker has managed 20 years in the majors with San Francisco, the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati. His teams have won five division titles and he is a three-time NL Manager of the Year (see full story).

Yankees: Rodriguez files suit against MLB
NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez sued Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig, accusing them of pursuing "vigilante justice" as part of a "witch hunt" designed to smear the character of the Yankees star and cost him tens of millions of dollars.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in New York State Supreme Court, seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for what it alleges was a relentless campaign by the league and Selig to "destroy the reputation and career of Alex Rodriguez."

The suit was filed during the first week of hearings in the grievance by the Major League Baseball Players Association to overturn the 211-game suspension of Rodriguez imposed by MLB on Aug. 5 for alleged violations of baseball's drug agreement and labor contract. The suspension stemmed from baseball's investigation of the Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic, headed by Anthony Bosch.

A decision on the grievance by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz is not likely for several months (see full story).

Cardinals: Pujols sues Clark over steroid comments
ST. LOUIS -- Albert Pujols sued Jack Clark on Friday over comments on a local radio show accusing the three-time NL MVP of using steroids.

The lawsuit between former Cardinals stars was filed in Circuit Court in St. Louis County, where Clark lives. It seeks unspecified damages that would be donated to charity, and asks for a determination and declaration that Clark's statements are false.

The petition says Pujols' "character and reputation are impeccable and beyond reproach" and cites his charitable work with the Pujols Family Foundation, while calling Clark "a struggling radio talk show host" who was chasing ratings in the first week his new show was on the air.

Pujols, a nine-time All-Star, played for the Cardinals from 2001-11, then left to sign a $240 million, 10-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

"My lawyers have told me that the upcoming legal fight will not be an easy one, and that in cases like this even a liar can sometimes be protected under the law," Pujols said in a statement. "I have never shied away from standing up for the truth, and I believe that the principles at stake are too important to sit back and do nothing" (see full story).

Mets: Harvey to have surgery, miss 2014
NEW YORK -- Mets ace Matt Harvey will have surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his right elbow, an operation that will sideline him for the 2014 season.

The 24-year-old, who started the All-Star game for the National League was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament on Aug. 26 but said he wanted to try to rehab the elbow and avoid surgery.

The Mets said Friday that Dr. James Andrews will operate during October.

Projected recuperation time for elbow ligament operations is about a year.

The No. 7 pick of the 2010 amateur draft, Harvey went 9-5 with a 2.27 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 178 1-3 innings (see full story).

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."