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Díaz, Mets ink $102M, 5-year deal, record for MLB closer

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/mlb-sports-business-new-york-mets-billy-eppler-e7a6e974c951ca5fdeb6684bfa8db7df

NEW YORK (AP) — With a record contract for Edwin Díaz, his swift return to the New York Mets was music to their ears.

Díaz and the Mets completed their $102 million, five-year deal Wednesday — the largest for a reliever in baseball history. The star closer can opt out after three seasons, and the agreement includes a team option for 2028.

The 28-year-old Díaz became a free agent Sunday following a dominant season with the Mets. Needing to rebuild most of their pitching staff, they started at the back end of the bullpen and quickly locked up the right-hander before other teams were permitted to negotiate with him.

“Edwin has every attribute we look for in a closer,” general manager Billy Eppler said in a news release. “He’s a tremendous competitor, has a burning desire to be the best and possesses the stuff to compete with any hitter in the league. We are thrilled he’ll be anchoring our bullpen moving forward.”

Díaz went 3-1 with a 1.31 ERA and 32 saves in 35 chances this year, making his second All-Star team. He had 118 strikeouts in 62 innings over 61 appearances as New York won 101 games — second-most in club history — and earned the top National League wild card for its first playoff berth in six years.

Harnessing his 100 mph-plus fastball and wipeout slider, Díaz became the third major league pitcher to face at least 200 batters and strike out more than half of them, joining closers Aroldis Chapman in 2014 and Craig Kimbrel in 2012. Díaz’s rate of 17.13 strikeouts per nine innings ranked second in big league history behind Chapman’s mark of 17.74 in 2014.

Along the way, Díaz became a fan favorite at Citi Field with his rousing entrance to the popular tune “Narco” by Blasterjaxx and Timmy Trumpet.

“Sound the trumpets! It’s official. Edwin Diaz deal is done,” Mets owner Steve Cohen tweeted Wednesday after Díaz passed his physical.

The aggressive move by the Mets took one of the top arms off the market before baseball’s free-agent frenzy even begins this offseason.

Díaz’s deal broke the previous high for a reliever, set when Chapman returned to the New York Yankees after the 2016 season for an $86 million, five-year agreement. Chapman voided the last two years and reached a $48 million, three-year contract that brought his earnings to $104 million over six seasons.

Eppler said late in the season he told agent Joel Wolfe the team was interested in re-signing Díaz, and expressed that to the pitcher directly as players were leaving the clubhouse following the final game.

“Began dialogue, I don’t know, 12, 15 days after that. We had a good amount of dialogue over the last week before we really dug into some numbers and kind of walked through some structures. Once we could outline kind of a framework, it was just a matter of calling everyone on the line,” Eppler said at the GM meetings in Las Vegas.

“We trust the player. We trust the character. He wanted to get something done. He wanted to stay here. He was very upfront about that and we were ready to go, so we felt it was a really good match.”

Under Cohen, who bought the Mets after the 2020 season, New York became baseball’s biggest spender this year for the first time since 1989. The Mets’ payroll was $273.9 million as of Aug. 31, with final figures that include bonuses yet to be compiled.

New York was eliminated by San Diego in the wild-card series, and a string of key players became free agents after the World Series, including center fielder Brandon Nimmo and starting pitchers Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker.

The Mets must decide by Thursday whether to exercise a $14 million club option on 35-year-old righty Carlos Carrasco, who went 15-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 29 starts.

In the bullpen, nearly all of the team’s top relievers besides Drew Smith became free agents, including Adam Ottavino, Seth Lugo, Trevor May, Joely Rodríguez and Trevor Williams.

New York faced a Wednesday deadline on whether to exercise an $8 million mutual option on reliever Mychal Givens.

Díaz’s turnaround in New York following a wretched debut has been nothing short of remarkable.

After leading the majors with 57 saves and compiling a 1.96 ERA in 2018 for Seattle, Díaz was acquired in a polarizing trade that also brought an aging Robinson Canó (and $100 million left on his contract) to the Mets for a package that featured touted prospect Jarred Kelenic.

The reliever served up a whopping 15 home runs in 58 innings during his first season with the Mets in 2019, going 2-7 with a 5.59 ERA and seven blown saves in 33 opportunities. He lost his job as closer down the stretch, and fans booed him relentlessly.

Now, he’s set to be trumpeted at Citi Field and paid riches for years to come.

In addition to retaining Díaz, the Mets claimed Tayler Saucedo off waivers from Toronto on Wednesday. The 29-year-old left-hander had no record and a 13.50 ERA in four appearances with the Blue Jays this season.

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AP Sports Writer Mark Anderson in Las Vegas and AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Source: https://apnews.com/article/mlb-sports-business-new-york-mets-billy-eppler-e7a6e974c951ca5fdeb6684bfa8db7df

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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.

POLL POSITION

Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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