AP Source: Antonio Brown asks Steelers for trade
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
Wednesday, February 13
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers still haven’t decided whether there’s a path for wayward wide receiver Antonio Brown to return in 2019.
Not that it matters to Brown. He’s already made up his mind.
A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press the perennial Pro Bowler has formally asked the Steelers for a trade, the latest move in a game of brinksmanship by the 30-year-old designed to force Pittsburgh to move him by the start of training camp this summer.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to publicly discuss personnel matters.
Brown appeared to make his decision official in a social media post released on Instagram on Tuesday. The video includes highlights from Brown’s career with the Steelers while lyrics from “Do What I Want” by rapper Lil Uzi Vert plays in the background.
“SteelerNation thank you for nine big years!!!” Brown wrote. “Time to move on and move forward.”
The post came shortly after Brown was found guilty in absence on a charge of reckless driving in a suburban Pittsburgh court on Tuesday morning. Brown was charged in November for driving his black sports car over 100 mph in a 45 mph zone. He paid a $426.77 fine. Brown did not attend Tuesday’s hearing.
Brown still has three years remaining on the $72 million contract he signed in the spring of 2017, and remains one of the most dynamic performers in the league. He is the only player in NFL history with six consecutive 100-catch seasons and he hauled in 104 receptions for 1,297 yards and a franchise-record 15 touchdowns in 2018.
Still, Brown’s behavior became increasingly erratic last fall. The nadir came before Pittsburgh’s game against Cincinnati in Week 17. The team sent him home with an apparent leg injury on the Friday before the game and he failed to provide coach Mike Tomlin with an update until Sunday morning, when his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, let Tomlin know that Brown was available to play.
Tomlin opted to make Brown inactive and Brown did not show up to clean out his locker or conduct an exit interview with the coaching staff. He pulled out of the Pro Bowl with an injury and team president Art Rooney II indicated the team had been unable to make contact with Brown in the weeks after Pittsburgh finished 9-6-1 and failed to reach the playoffs.
Rooney, however, stressed last month he did not plan to “disparage” Brown and did not close the door on Brown’s possible return. That still might be the case, whether Brown wants to come back or not.
There is no major rush with another month before the new league year begins, though Pittsburgh could work out the parameters of a deal by March 13. Brown’s contract counts $21.12 million in 2019, a number that inches north to $23.62 if Brown receives a $2.5 million roster bonus he’s scheduled to receive on March 17.
The number seems daunting, but for once the Steelers are not right up against the salary cap thanks in large part to running back Le’Veon Bell’s decision to sit out 2018 rather than sign his one-year franchise tender. The $14.4 million Bell forfeited will roll over into 2019, giving Pittsburgh some flexibility to absorb a loss if Brown plays elsewhere.
Cutting Brown is almost certainly off the table, but what Brown could command on the trade market is uncertain. Pittsburgh received a third-round pick from Oakland last season for Martavis Bryant, who carried the weight of unmet expectations and a record that included multiple violations of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Brown doesn’t have that kind of baggage, though his behavior in recent months could give potential suitors pause. The list of his transgressions in recent months includes a pending civil lawsuit in Florida claiming he hurled objects from the 14th floor of an apartment building that landed near a toddler; threatening an ESPN reporter through social media ; and his 100 mph sprint through the northern Pittsburgh suburbs on Nov. 8.
Several of Brown’s teammates, including second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, talked openly at the Pro Bowl about Brown remaining with the team that took a flyer on him in the sixth-round of the 2010 draft and helped him evolve into one of the best receivers of his generation. Brown apparently wants no part of a reconciliation.
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Reds open camp with new manager, rotation and hope
By GARY SCHATZ
Tuesday, February 12
GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — A new manager and coaching staff. Three new starting pitchers. The Reds begin their season with a whole new look and hopes that their run of last-place finishes could be coming to an end.
There’s a very different vibe as Cincinnati opens camp with its first workout by pitchers and catchers on Wednesday. Offseason trades remade the rotation and the everyday lineup, sparking hope after four straight 90-loss seasons.
“There is a lot more expecting to win and a lot less hoping to win,” pitcher Michael Lorenzen said Tuesday.
The change started at the top. The Reds fired manager Bryan Price after a 3-15 start last season and decided not to keep interim Jim Riggleman. David Bell was hired as manager, a move that resonated with Reds fans. His grandfather, Gus, and father, Buddy, played for the Reds.
The 46-year-old Bell inherited a roster that lacked proven starters, the main thread in the losing seasons. Three trades brought starters Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark and Alex Wood, who will join Anthony DeSclafani and Luis Castillo in the rotation. Gray agreed to a $38 million, four-year contract as part of the trade from the Yankees. Roark and Wood can become free agents after this season.
Bell hasn’t yet decided how he’ll slot the starters as spring training opens.
“The very first step is building relationships,” Bell said. “We haven’t set a schedule yet, but we will set up a rotation very soon.”
The Reds also acquired outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp from the Dodgers. Both of them are free agents after the season as well.
Cincinnati’s attendance slipped to 1.6 million last season, the Reds’ smallest since 1984 at Riverfront Stadium. They hired Bell and made the trades hoping to show fans that they were working to become competitive again in the NL Central.
“There is new energy in the organization and in the city,” Bell said Tuesday. “We can’t underestimate the importance of that. We want people excited about our team.
“There is a difference, I think, about being excited and feeling that there is something special. I think we are in the early stages of that. Things are moving in the right direction.”
Bell’s main challenges will be figuring out the rotation and deciding how to fill the hole in center field, where Billy Hamilton used to play. Lorenzen is in a group of pitchers being considered for various roles, including long relief. Bell also plans to try him in the outfield during spring training.
Lorenzen he was 4-2 with a 3.11 ERA and one save in 42 relief appearances and three starts last season. He batted .290 and led major league pitchers with four homers — including one grand slam — and 10 RBIs in 31 at-bats.
As a pinch-hitter, he went 3 for 13 with two homers. From June 24-30, he homered in three straight at-bats, including the grand slam. He became the first major league pitcher to homer in three straight at-bats since Colorado’s Mike Hampton in 2001.
“You could see him in the outfield the second half of camp,” Bell said. “He’s preparing to help our team any way he can.”
Lorenzen worked out in the outfield in the offseason. He pitched and played outfield at Cal State-Fullerton, batting .335 his final season there.
“I love that they understand that I’ve played both my whole life,” Lorenzen said. “They don’t have to put me in bubble wrap. Playing center field is the best thing I do on the field. Defense has been my strength since I was 9 or 10.”
Notes: San Francisco claimed RHP Jose Lopez off waivers. The Reds waived him a day earlier to open a spot for left-hander Zach Duke, who agreed to a $2 million, one-year deal. Lopez went 5-13 for Triple-A Louisville last season.
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Bobrovsky, Blue Jackets shut out Capitals 3-0
By MITCH STACY
AP Sports Writer
Tuesday, February 12
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — With the Columbus Blue Jackets clinging to a 1-0 lead with less than five minutes left, the Washington Capitals finally started to make Sergei Bobrovsky work. The Columbus goalie was up to the task.
Bobrovsky made 13 of his 20 saves in the third period, Nick Foligno got an insurance goal with 3:48 left and Artemi Panarin added an empty-netter with 10 seconds remaining in the Blue Jackets’ 3-0 win over Washington on Tuesday night.
Bobrovsky — whose days in Columbus are probably numbered since he’s refused to re-sign with the club — got his 27th career shutout. The Blue Jackets won their fourth straight and remained in third place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind Washington.
Columbus faces the division-leading New York Islanders on Thursday night after playing one of their most complete games of the season.
“We played the right way tonight, our speed, our commitment to checking, our reloads,” Foligno said. “I just felt like everyone was in sync with how we were playing. A pretty dominating performance by our team against a really good team.”
The Capitals were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after beating Los Angeles at home on Monday night and embarking on a season-long, six-game road trip.
Bobrovsky didn’t have to work especially hard, at least not until late in the game. His counterpart had a busier night. Braden Holtby had 29 saves and held off the Blue Jackets on four power plays, three in the first period, with a bunch of close calls.
“There’s plenty of excuses that we could probably use, but we weren’t playing good enough for each other,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said.
“It kind of snowballs if every guy is a little bit of a step behind, you just can’t get anything going,” he said. “Starting in our end every time, we just kind of missed that momentum, that flow to the game that you need in these types of situations.”
Anthony Duclair scored on an odd-man rush 6:32 into the second period, snapping a shot in between Holtby’s pads from the left circle for his 11th goal of the season.
The first period was scoreless, with Holtby surviving an aggressive Blue Jackets forecheck that resulted in 25 shot attempts, 11 of them on target. He made nice nearside saves on two shots by Cam Atkinson during Columbus’ first power play, and Foligno hit the post from close range late in the period.
The Capitals didn’t get to double figures in shots on goal until more than halfway through the second period.
“They looked a little sluggish in a back-to-back game, but it’s still a very good team,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “I loved our energy.”
Bobrovsky didn’t plan to dwell on his third shutout of the season.
“The day after tomorrow it’s the next game,” he said. “We’re going to enjoy tonight and have to be ready to work.”
NOTES: Washington was shut out for the third time in 11 games. … Columbus F Brandon Dubinsky missed his fourth game with an injured hip. … Eric Robinson was recalled from Cleveland of the AHL on Monday and Mark Letestu was sent back down. … Atkinson became the sixth player to appear in 500 games with Columbus. Retired forward Rick Nash is the team’s franchise leader with 674 games played.
UP NEXT: Washington: At San Jose on Thursday. Columbus: Hosts the New York Islanders on Thursday.
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Theo Epstein: Joe Ricketts emails don’t reflect Cubs’ values
Tuesday, February 12
MESA, Ariz. (AP) — Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein criticized emails from the patriarch of the family that owns the team and said Addison Russell won’t play for Chicago again unless he meets the team’s high expectations while completing his domestic violence suspension.
Splinter News published emails last week that included Joe Ricketts making Islamophobic comments, such as “Islam is a cult and not a religion.” Others included conspiracies about former President Barack Obama’s birthplace and education.
Ricketts, who founded TD Ameritrade, apologized for the emails. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts last week said in statement that his father’s emails don’t reflect the values of the Cubs.
“The emails were upsetting to read, and especially upsetting to think that some of our fans were put into a position where they had to consider their favorite team and some of those types of views,” Epstein said Tuesday ahead of the start of spring training.
Epstein said the emails were filled with “ugly, disgusting views.”
“When you play baseball and work in baseball, you are forced to understand and respect everyone’s different backgrounds. It’s been such a force of good to develop empathy,” Epstein said. “If you want to win in baseball, you have to embrace diversity fully, and being around people with different backgrounds has to help you understand people or you won’t last long in this game.”
Russell accepted a 40-game suspension last year for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy after a series of allegations made by his ex-wife. He will be eligible to return in early May, barring postponements.
“I stayed in good contact with Addison,” Epstein said. “Addison is well aware that he has been given a conditional second chance by this organization. There are a lot of standards we are going to hold him to. He has to continue to put the work in to be a better person, a better citizen, better teammate, better member of society, better father.
“The good news is he has really taken things to heart, and has put a significant amount of work in. He has fully and enthusiastically complied (with) what Major League Baseball has put in front of him. We will continue to hold Addison to an incredibly high standard, or he won’t play a regular season game as a Chicago Cub ever again.”
Russell took batting practice and played catch on one of the back fields. He has a non-guaranteed one-year contract for $3.4 million.
Cubs employees have participated in a training program to increase awareness of domestic violence. Epstein said there’s no guarantee it will never happen again in the Cubs organization.
“You can still take every step necessary to ensure this is the safest possible workplace,” Epstein said. “Outside of these walls we’ve engaged with a number of groups that do tremendous work with domestic violence. … We took our pledge to become a small part of the solution very seriously, knowing this took place on our watch.”
After winning the 2016 World Series for their first title since 1908, the Cubs lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 NL Championship Series and to Colorado in last year’s NL wild-card game.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his slogan for this year is: “Own it now.”
“We did not like the way the season ended,” Maddon said. “When you have the extra month, you get more determined to get back and prove yourself again. I’ve had a lot of conversations with the players and we want to make a statement this year. The goal every year is to play the last of the game of the year and win it. That’s no different this year. … In order to get to that point, we have to own each moment.”
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No pressure? Bailey’s job is to keep champion Beavers on top
By ERIC OLSON
AP Sports Writer
Tuesday, February 12
Oregon State has won 111 of its last 130 baseball games, is coming off its third national championship since 2006 and its career coaching wins leader Pat Casey retired last fall.
Enter Pat Bailey, the 63-year-old interim head coach who hopes to earn the permanent job for 2020.
“People think there’s a lot of pressure,” Bailey said. “I’m going to be who I am. I can’t be somebody else. In terms of the pressure part, I just think people a lot of times put undue pressure on themselves and make things out to be a lot bigger than what they are.”
Bailey has been through this before, though not at this level. He was successor to Casey at George Fox College in Oregon and won the Division III championship four years before he joined Casey’s Oregon State staff in 2008. As a high school coach in Oregon, Bailey replaced a two-time state champion coach at West Linn and led the program to a state runner-up finish before he left for George Fox.
Athletic director Scott Barnes named Bailey interim coach last September when Casey announced he was retiring after 24 seasons. Casey remains as a senior associate athletic director. Bailey’s task is to keep the Beavers doing what they’ve been doing.
“Our expectations are extremely high,” he said.
The Beavers begin the defense of their national title in Surprise, Arizona, when the Division I season opens Friday. They open against New Mexico, play Gonzaga on Saturday and Minnesota, the team they beat in super regionals, on Sunday.
Kevin Abel, who as a freshman won a record four games in the College World Series and threw a two-hit shutout against Arkansas in Game 3 of the finals, heads a pitching staff that remains mostly intact. Bryce Fehmel, a 10-game winner last year, and Grant Gambrell are the Nos. 2 and 3 starters, and 16-save closer Jake Mulholland returns.
The Beavers posted some of the best numbers in program history last year, and six of the players from the everyday lineup are gone. They still have catcher Adley Rutschman, the 2018 CWS Most Outstanding Player and possible No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball draft in June, along with first baseman Zak Taylor and outfielder Preston Jones.
“I think we’re going to be fine offensively,” Bailey said. “We’re going to score runs. We’re going to find ways. And honestly, batting average isn’t as important as on-base percentage and run production. That’s what we’re working on.”
The Beavers, 12th in the nation in fielding last year, are without No. 4 overall draft pick Nick Madrigal at second base and Pac-12 defensive player of the year Cadyn Greiner at shortstop. Andy Armstrong will start at second after filling in for an injured Madrigal last season. Junior-college transfer Beau Phillip takes over a shortstop. Bailey’s undecided on who’ll play third. Joe Casey or Jones will play left field, Kyler McMahon or Jones will be in center and Tyler Malone will be in right.
The Beavers will be going for a third straight CWS appearance. In 2017, they won their first two games in Omaha before going out with two straight losses to LSU. Last year, they lost their CWS opener before winning four straight to reach the best-of-three finals.
“Our freshman year, making it so far and then coming up short, there was a lot of motivation there,” Rutschman said. “I think we have the same motivation now. It’s just coming from a different place, from having won a national championship and having that unbelievable experience, knowing that nothing else besides that is really going to be the same.”
Ten other teams to watch, with 2018 record:
The preseason No. 1 team in three polls and SEC favorite returns eight position players from the team that came up one win short of making the CWS. The Commodores add one of the top freshman pitchers in the nation in 6-foot-4, 235-pound fireballer Kumar Rocker.
Antoine Duplantis needs 85 hits to overtake ex-Tiger Eddy Furniss as the SEC’s career leader. Friday night starter Zack Hess returns, and so does Eric Walker after missing 2018 because of elbow surgery. AJ Labas, a 2018 Freshman All-American, had shoulder surgery and is out.
TEXAS TECH (45-20)
The Big 12-favorite Red Raiders have made the CWS three of the last five years and have four straight seasons with at least 45 wins. They averaged better than 8 runs per game in 2018, and they figure to be one of the top scoring teams again with 3B Josh Jung and OF Gabe Holt back.
The Bruins, picked to win the Pac-12, got good news last summer when INF Matt McLain chose to go to school after being drafted No. 25 overall by the Diamondbacks. UCLA is strong up the middle, and OF Garrett Mitchell has recovered from a concussion.
With four straight CWS appearances and seven since 2010, the Gators never seem to lack for talent. They should survive losing two hitters who accounted for 34 home runs, as well as the top two starters and the record-setting closer.
FLORIDA STATE (43-19)
All-time NCAA coaching wins leader Mike Martin enters his 40th, and final, season at FSU. His Seminoles are ACC favorites despite lots of youth. Veteran 3B Drew Mendoza and lefty ace Drew Parish return.
Gophers won their first regional since 1977 and will be led again by Big Ten pitcher of the year Patrick Fredrickson (9-0, 1.86 ERA) and a premier closer in Max Meyer (16 saves).
IF/OF Andrew Daschbach and OF/P Kyle Stowers combined for 27 of the team’s 55 homers, and Brendan Beck (8-0) and Jack Little (16 saves) are everything one would expect of Stanford pitchers.
NORTH CAROLINA (44-20)
The Tar Heels, who beat Oregon State in their CWS opener, are looking for redemption after collapsing in the last two innings of an elimination game against the Beavers. There’s plenty of pitching, and 1B Michael Busch is back to lead the offense.
That ninth-inning, two-out, two-strike foul ball that dropped between three Razorbacks in Game 2 of the CWS finals cost Arkansas a shot at its first national championship. Time to move on. 3B Casey Martin should contend for SEC player of the year, there’ll be plenty of offense and closer Matt Cronin is one of the best.