MLB Notes: Albert Pujols looks to test knee

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MLB Notes: Albert Pujols looks to test knee

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols hopes to begin agility drills and light running in a couple of days to test his surgically repaired right knee.

Pujols underwent arthroscopic surgery on the knee in October, what he considered a minor cleanup procedure, but says he will ease into spring training with the hopes of being fully healthy for opening day. There's no reason to rush things in mid-February with the season nearly two months away (see full story).

Cards extend GM Mozeliak
JUPITER, Fla. -- The St. Louis Cardinals have agreed to a three-year contract extension with general manager John Mozeliak and exercised the 2014 option for manager Mike Matheny.

The 44-year-old Mozeliak will now be with the Cardinals through 2016. Matheny, in the second year of a two-year contract, is now guaranteed through next year. Terms were not announced.

Chairman William DeWitt says the management team shares the same vision and he praised both managers, saying Matheny did a "remarkable" job in his first season, coming within a win of taking the team to a second straight World Series (see full story).

Francona plans speech
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Terry Francona has his speech planned. To him, it's the biggest one he'll give all season. 

With Boston in his rear view mirror, Cleveland's new manager will stand before the revamped Indians on Friday and outline his expectations for training camp and the upcoming season. Francona, who spent a year as a broadcaster after eight seasons with the Red Sox, said it's vital to set the right tone with his team, one that has been overhauled by an unexpected spending spree.

The Indians invested $117 million in guaranteed money on free agents this winter, with the signings of outfielders Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn accounting for $104 million.
Bourn, an All-Star with Atlanta last season, arrived at the team's training facility on Thursday. He'll be introduced at a news conference shortly after the Indians have their first full-squad workout (see full story).

Youkilis changes sides
TAMPA, Fla. -- Kevin Youkilis has taken part in his first workout with the New York Yankees.

The one-time Boston Red Sox third baseman was part of a pre-spring training session Thursday at the Yankees' minor league complex.

Youkilis took batting practice and also stopped at Steinbrenner Field, where New York's pitchers and catchers held their second day of workouts, and talked with manager Joe Girardi.

A three-time All-Star, Youkilis figures to be the Yankees' starting third baseman for at least the first half of the season while Alex Rodriguez recovers from hip surgery. Youkilis agreed to a $12 million, one-year contract in December (see full story).

Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

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USA Today Images

Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura and former major leaguer Andy Marte died in separate traffic accidents early Sunday in their native Dominican Republic.

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo said Ventura died on a highway leading to the town of Juan Adrian, about 40 miles (70 kilometers) northwest of Santo Domingo. It was not clear if Ventura was driving.

Metropolitan traffic authorities say Marte died when the Mercedes Benz he was driving hit a house along a road between San Francisco de Macoris and Pimentel, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) north of the capital.

Ventura, 25, burst onto the baseball scene with a 100 mph fastball and an explosive attitude to match. He was a fierce competitor always willing to challenge hitters inside, then deal with the ramifications when they decided to charge the mound.

He went 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues, and the next year he helped the long-downtrodden Royals reach the World Series for the first time since 1985. He proceeded to dominate San Francisco in both of his starts, though the Royals would ultimately lose in seven games.

"Our prayers right now are with Yordano's family as we mourn this young man's passing," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said in a statement. "He was so young and so talented, full of youthful exuberance and always brought a smile to everyone he interacted with. We will get through this as an organization, but right now is a time to mourn and celebrate the life of Yordano."

Born June 3, 1991, in Samana, Dominican Republic, Ventura quit school at 14 and was laboring on a construction crew to support his family when he heard about a tryout, which led to a spot in the Royals' academy on the island.

The right-handed Ventura went 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA last season, and wound up pitching his entire career for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.

Fans began arriving at Kauffman Stadium shortly after Ventura's death was announced, leaving flowers, hats and other mementos outside the stadium. Flags outside the ballpark also were lowered to half-staff.

Marte, a 33-year-old infielder, played in the Major Leagues from 2005-2010 with Atlanta and Cleveland and returned in 2014 with Arizona. He hit .218 with 21 home runs and 99 RBIs in the big leagues. He spent the last two seasons in South Korea, where he hit 22 homers last year.

Both Ventura and Marte were part of the Dominican winter league team Aguilas Cibaenas, though neither was playing this season.

"We have awoken this Sunday with this sad news that we have lost a special being," club president Winston Llenas said in a statement about Marte that was issued before Ventura's death became known.

Ventura is the second young star pitcher to die in past four months. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, 24, was among three men killed in a boating accident in September.

Two other active Dominican baseball players have died on the country's dangerous highways in recent years.

St. Louis Cardinal outfielder Oscar Taveras -- a close friend of Ventura -- died in 2014 when he crashed in his hometown of Puerto Plata. He was 22. Shortstop Andujar Cedeno died at age 31 in a 2000 crash in the city of La Romana.

A 2015 study by the World Health Organization found that the Dominican Republic had the highest traffic accident death rate in the Americas, with a rate of 29.3 per 100,000 inhabitants.

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.