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Keppinger, Chavez, Blanton & Bay move at meetings

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Keppinger, Chavez, Blanton & Bay move at meetings

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Jeff Keppinger, Joe Blanton, Jason Bay and a diamond full of players wound up in different places Wednesday at the winter meetings while top contenders waited for a pair of free-agent prizes to make their decisions.

Eric Chavez, Randy Choate and Sean Burnett also joined new teams. The lone trade was minor, with Detroit sending left-hander Andy Oliver to Pittsburgh for a young catcher.

Former MVP Josh Hamilton and former Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke remained in play. They're the driving forces in this market and depending on where they go, more moves are likely to follow.

Texas would like to re-sign Hamilton, at the right price. The slugger was in Nashville this week but has left, and his agent met with Rangers general manager Jon Daniels on Tuesday night.

``Obviously, one of the bigger dominoes,'' Daniels said. ``Trying to get the first one to fall.''

New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey keeps drawing attention. He lives near the Opryland Hotel and dropped in for a visit, though there's no change in his situation. Signed for next season, he wants a new contract while several clubs, including Boston, want to trade for the reigning NL Cy Young winner.

In the meantime, some deals stayed on deck. No telling if any of them will get done before the meetings end Thursday with the Rule 5 draft for players left off 40-man rosters.

``We wondered if one of the guys went off, (if) it would speed up. We'll see,'' Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said. ``It seems like it may be moving a little bit.''

Also in the mix: Cleveland shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, amid speculation Arizona is trying to get him in a multi-team swap.

All-Star third baseman David Wright of the New York Mets became the first player to step up to the brightly lit podium in the press room. Standing at the spot where trades and signings are usually announced, his appearance was expected.

Wright was in town to talk about his $138 million, eight-year contract, the largest in team history. The lifetime .301 hitter is a six-time All-Star and turns 30 in two weeks. A Mets fan growing up, Wright said he wanted to spend his entire career with the club.

``I've never pictured myself in a different uniform,'' he said.

``It just feels like there's so much unfinished business and I'd like to finish what I've started,'' he added. ``Honestly, it wouldn't mean as much to me winning somewhere else as it would obviously winning here.''

Away from the dais where Wright spoke, inside the suites at the sprawling 2,881-room hotel, several players changed jerseys.

Keppinger agreed with the Chicago White Sox on a $12 million, three-year contract, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because there was no announcement.

The versatile infielder hit .325 with a career-high nine home runs and 40 RBIs for Tampa Bay last season. At 32, the well-traveled Keppinger is known for making contact and has more walks than strikeouts during his eight-year career with the Rays, San Francisco, Houston, Cincinnati, Kansas City and the Mets.

Keppinger is likely to play third base for the White Sox. Kevin Youkilis finished the season at that spot for Chicago last season, then became a free agent. The New York Yankees and Arizona also had been interested in Keppinger.

Arizona wound up with Chavez, giving the corner infielder a $3 million, one-year contract, a person with knowledge of the deal said.

The 34-year-old Chavez hit .281 with 16 homers in 278 at-bats for the Yankees, seeing time at first base, third base and designated hitter. The six-time Gold Glove winner lives in the Phoenix area.

Bay and the Seattle Mariners agreed on a one-year deal, a person familiar with the negotiation said. The 34-year-old outfielder is hoping to resurrect his career with the Mariners after three disappointing and injury-plagued seasons with the Mets.

The Los Angeles Angels added Blanton and Burnett to their retooled pitching staff, and St. Louis signed Choate for its bullpen.

The Chicago Cubs and outfielder Nate Schierholtz closed in on a $2.25 million, one-year contract, a person familiar with the negotiations said. Baltimore kept outfielder Nate McLouth and Colorado re-signed pitcher Jeff Francis.

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AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman in Chicago contributed to this report.

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Orioles are not letting postponement get in the way of their pitchers' development

Orioles are not letting postponement get in the way of their pitchers' development

The Orioles were supposed to be in the midst of their opening series of the 2020 season against the Yankees this weekend.

But due to the league’s shutdown because of coronavirus, Camden Yards remained empty on what would have been Opening Day. 

Now, the Orioles are stuck with decisions on how to keep their players — notably their pitchers — in form for whenever the season comes back. The problem is, however, that no one knows when baseball will return.

“I think we’ll hopefully have a better idea as we go along,” manager Brandon Hyde said a little over a week ago on a conference call, “But as of right now, it’s a real individualized plan for everybody that our medical team as well as our trainers, strength coaches, pitching coaches, have all gotten together with on conference calls and how we were going to really talk and put these plans in place for our pitchers.”

John Means, who was likely the starter for the season opener against the Yankees, has already kept up with live batting practices.

For a young team like the Orioles, development is paramount. That’s not the easiest thing to work through when there’s not a set end date for baseball’s return.

“But the first thing was to get our pitchers in a healthy place, a safe place, and now we’re talking about what kind of throwing program that they’re going to be on here for a while with an unclear date of when that’s going to end,” Hyde continued.

While the starting rotation, likely, would’ve been a bit older at the outset of the season with Asher Wojciechowski (31), Alex Cobb (32) and Wade LeBlanc (35) all figured to see significant innings, the youth movement of the pitching staff was likely to come later in the season. 

Now, there’s a whole lot of uncertainty surrounding a unit that was the league’s worst just a season ago.

“I think it is impactful in that there’s a lot of development to be had by a lot of players, obviously,” Hyde said. “This can cripple the development a little bit in that you want guys to get innings, you want guys to get at-bats, you want the guys to go through full seasons. That’s really important, especially early on in understanding what it takes to live through a full season and to compete for a full season, so that’s going to be cut short. But it’s something that everybody is dealing with.”

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The quietest Opening Day in Camden Yards’ history

The quietest Opening Day in Camden Yards’ history

BALTIMORE — At first glance, the corner of West Camden and Eutaw Street in Baltimore offered no signs anything was amiss. 

The wind breezed lightly through the city on a late-March afternoon, where the temperature neared 60 degrees and partly cloudy skies allowed the sun to shine bright on an early spring day. 

The trees that bloomed all around Oriole Park at Camden Yards at every street corner meant warmer weather was here and baseball season had arrived.

On Thursday, though, there was no baseball. There won’t be baseball Friday either, and there won’t be baseball for, at the very least, a few more weeks — and perhaps longer. 

Two weeks ago, Major League Baseball announced the postponement of the regular season due to the coronavirus pandemic. There still isn’t a known start date for the 2020 regular season. Instead of Yankees ace Gerrit Cole making his AL East debut against John Means — the likely starter for the Orioles — baseball stood still.

“It’s going to be weird knowing that we’re not playing,” manager Brandon Hyde said last Thursday on a conference call. “But there are a lot bigger things than Opening Day right now and a lot bigger things going on in the world.”

The coronavirus pandemic has led to businesses operating in a limited capacity, if at all, as every aspect of life around Baltimore and the U.S. has changed drastically in the last two weeks. As Thursday proved, not even the Orioles are insusceptible. 

Opening Day almost assuredly wasn’t going to be the start of a miraculous run toward relevance for the Orioles. But it was the first chance for fans to see the new look Orioles squad, now in the second year of a rebuild, try and get halfway to the total wins they had over the Yankees last season — two. 

And with the game postponed, perhaps the most human part of Opening Day was canceled, too.

Pickles Pub wasn’t filled to the brim with Orioles fans clad in orange and black, paying no mind to the time or the drinks in their hands. Street vendors weren’t selling hot dogs to parents and kids who decided playing hooky for the day would be a better use of their time. 

John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” didn’t blare through the speakers in the late afternoon for the seventh-inning stretch, either. 

Instead, one of baseball’s most beautiful parks was quiet on the most celebrated day of the season.

Neighborhood streets and parking lots around Camden Yards were filled with cars, but only because everyone sat at home with no baseball game to attend to. 

The earliest, and 66th, Opening Day in Baltimore Orioles history didn’t happen. The Orioles are now ontrack, should the season resume, for the latest Opening Day in history. 

For now, the park will remain closed. Over 10 days ago, the CDC recommended gatherings of more than 50 people be stopped for at least eight weeks, which could lead to some clues as to when Eutaw Street is filled once again.

That reality is, however, that the corner of West Camden and Eutaw will remain quiet for the foreseeable future. 

Opening Day will come for Baltimore in the 2020 season. 

The biggest question, though, is when?

“Opening Day is such a special day, and there’s a lot of emotions that go through everyone involved in an opening day ceremony,” Hyde said. “It’s something you never forget. This year is going to be pushed back. Now, we’re going to be looking forward to the 2020 opening day, whenever that is.”

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