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2016 - 2017 MLB Off-Season  Rating:  Rating
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 Posted: Sun Feb 19th, 2017 06:17 am
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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Bryce Harper says he knows ''exactly why'' he went from NL MVP honors in 2015 to a decidedly less-successful 2016.

He's just not willing to share that reason.

Or at least he wasn't on Saturday, when he met with reporters a day before the Washington Nationals' first official full-squad workout of spring training.

"That's all last year. That's what you go through and you build and you grow and you try to maintain. And that's what I'm going to try to do again this year," Harper said, playing with a ball in his hands while talking. "Try to just maintain what I can and do everything I can possible to help this team win. And I was (in the) lineup last year and tried to help this team win every single day."

He hit only .243 with 24 homers and 86 RBIs for the NL East champions last season, significant drop-offs from the .330, 42 and 99 of a year earlier, when Harper became the youngest unanimous MVP in major league history.

Still only 24, the right fielder is already a four-time All-Star and was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2012.

Asked Saturday if he feels he can pinpoint why his production dipped in 2016, Harper began by responding, "Yeah, I mean, I know exactly why."

But then he danced around follow-up questions seeking specifics.

One example: Harper spoke about "staying in the lineup" last season as if it were a chore, but he did not say that he was injured.

"Tried to play 150 games last year," Harper said, adding that he would go to manager Dusty Baker to tell him he wanted to remain in the lineup.

Harper appeared in 147 games.

"I'd say, 'Hey, man, how you feeling?' I could see him slowing down," Baker said. "And there were some times I didn't have to lobby at all, because I said: 'OK, man, we've got 15 days in a row. I'm going to try to give you Sunday off.' And he says, 'I'll be ready to win the game, late in the game.' ... With certain guys, your horses come to play. That's why they're horses. I haven't had any trouble with Bryce. He's very easy to get along with. He's very respectful. He's very respectful of authority."

Baker said he thinks he's got "a pretty good handle" on what went awry for Harper last season.

And the manager said he's spoken to Harper about the sorts of changes that are required of a hitter after teams try new ways of attacking him.

"The game is about constantly adjusting," Baker said. "Let's face it: He's way ahead of most guys (24) years old."

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 Posted: Sun Feb 19th, 2017 06:18 am
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Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts made what will likely be his easiest decision of the season Saturday, naming Clayton Kershaw his Opening Day starter.

It's the seventh straight season in which the left-hander will get the honor, putting him in some esteemed company. Kershaw ties Don Sutton and Don Drysdale as the only three Dodgers to start seven Opening Days, while also tying Sutton as the only two pitchers in franchise history to get the start seven consecutive times.

While Kershaw has been exceptional throughout his nine-year career, on Opening Day he's been particularly dominant. The three-time Cy Young winner owns a 4-0 record and 0.93 ERA over his six starts. He tossed a seven-inning, one-hit shutout to pick up the win over the San Diego Padres last season.

The Dodgers open their season at home against the Padres once again on April 3.

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 Posted: Sun Feb 19th, 2017 06:19 am
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Manny Machado and Yordano Ventura certainly had their bad blood on the field, but when the news of the Kansas City Royals right-hander's death reached the Baltimore Orioles star, their differences became an immediate afterthought.

"It's sad what happened," Machado told reporters, according to Eduardo Encina of the Baltimore Sun. "My condolences go to the family and I know they're still grieving. I know it just sucks. I know we had our altercations on the field but you know what, you leave stuff on the field. Once you step between those lines, it's (the) gridiron. We're out there grinding, playing for each other, playing for our team, playing for the name across our chests.

"You know, once you step (off) the field, those are things you don't want to happen. I was just trying to reach out to the family and see if they needed anything. I wanted to send some stuff out. It's just sad to see a great guy like that and a great baseball player who had a bright future ahead go down like that."

Machado and Ventura were involved in a benches-clearing brawl in June when the Orioles third baseman took exception to taking a 99-mph fastball to the ribs. After being hit, Machado charged out to the mound and engaged in a fistfight with Ventura.

The melee ended in a nine-game suspension for Ventura and a four-game suspension for Machado.

At the time, Ventura said that he did not hit Machado intentionally, but rather the ball slipped out of his hand.

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 Posted: Sun Feb 19th, 2017 06:20 am
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Former Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart has had plenty of time to reflect since his firing in October.

During his two seasons at the helm, Stewart made a handful of moves that eventually led to his dismissal, but he believes his decision to trade 2015 No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson, outfielder Ender Inciarte, and right-hander Aaron Blair to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for right-hander Shelby Miller and pitching prospect Gabe Speier may have been his worst.

"I should have stuck to my gut, although I think that Shelby Miller is going to be everything I thought he was going to be when I traded for him. But my gut the whole time said not to trade Dansby Swanson," Stewart told MLB Network Radio, according to USA TODAY Sports.

"I ended up giving in to it and letting, in my opinion, a good player get away. If anything, maybe substituting with another player, that may have been the one thing that I wish I could have a redo."

Miller's first season in the desert was a complete disaster, with the 26-year-old going 3-12 with a career-worst 6.15 ERA and 1.67 WHIP across 101 innings. He was even demoted to Triple-A for eight starts.

Swanson, meanwhile, enjoyed a strong start to his major-league career after being called up in August. He hit .302/.361/.442 with three home runs and seven doubles in 38 games and heads into the 2017 season as Atlanta's starting shortstop.

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 Posted: Sun Feb 19th, 2017 06:22 am
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Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper doesn't appear to have much time for Noah Syndergaard, or the New York Mets.

The former National League MVP refused to get into a war of words Saturday when asked about an Instagram comment from December in which Syndergaard referred to Harper as a "douche."

"Syndergaard does what he does. The Mets do what they do," Harper told reporters, according to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post.

Noah Syndergaard, barstool commenter..Bryce Harper hater pic.twitter.com/sR0FRXwhZ8

— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) December 31, 2016
Syndergaard eventually deleted the New Year's Eve comment, and went on to call himself a douche on Twitter two days later.

Douche https://t.co/9omPWOpbyZ

— Noah Syndergaard (@Noahsyndergaard) January 3, 2017
Harper has gotten the better of Syndergaard during their young careers, with the Nationals outfielder hitting .278/.391/.333 with six strikeouts and three walks in 18 at-bats against the right-hander.

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 Posted: Mon Feb 20th, 2017 06:09 am
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Eric Hosmer could be facing his final season in Kansas City.

Though the Royals are said to be looking to lock up their first baseman to an extension, they could be priced out of his market if he enters free agency following the 2017 season, as FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports the club is anticipating he will seek a 10-year deal on the open market.

If Hosmer and the club don't agree to a deal before Opening Day, the 27-year-old hinted he intends to test the market after the upcoming season.

"I don't know if it's going to heat up now in spring training," Hosmer told Rosenthal. "But during the season, I don't like being bothered with that stuff. If something doesn't happen here, I don't see anything during the season really happening."

Related - Report: Royals won't concede to losing several key members to free agency in 2018

Rosenthal notes that the timing of Hosmer's free agency could complicate matters for the Royals. Third baseman Mike Moustakas and center fielder Lorenzo Cain will also become free agents after the season, and high-revenue clubs such as the Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies could target Hosmer in their search for a first baseman.

Though he understands the small-market Royals will be hard-pressed to retain Hosmer, general manager Dayton Moore intends to do everything possible to keep the first baseman in Kansas City long term.

"We as an organization have a strong desire to extend Eric," Moore said, according to Rosenthal. "We're confident in his desire to be here in Kansas City. As with him and all our players, we'll work as hard as we can to execute a deal."

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 Posted: Mon Feb 20th, 2017 06:10 am
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TEMPE, Ariz. - Albert Pujols is almost ready to get a running start on the second half of his mega-contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

Pujols is making steady progress in his recovery from foot surgery. The three-time NL MVP is doing rehabilitation work at the Angels' spring training complex with the goal of being ready to play on Opening Day.

"It's been really good," Pujols told reporters on Sunday. "No soreness at all afterward. That's a good sign, anytime you get to start hitting in the cage and moving around and doing agility (drills). I expect myself to probably get a little sore when I get on the field, because it's a different movement than being on carpet or whatever. I don't think I'll have any setbacks."

Pujols is running on a weight-minimizing treadmill and swinging in the cage while the Angels take a deliberate approach to his health during their extra-long spring training. Pujols had surgery on his right foot in December after a less invasive treatment program didn't work quickly enough, but he believes he can be back in playing form in April.

"Yeah, it had to be done," Pujols said. "A lot of people asked, 'Why didn't it happen right after the season?' Well, you just don't do surgeries right away. You go through the procedure, you do the treatment, and that's what I did. ... If I'm ready to go, then I'm ready to go."

Pujols turned 37 last month, and the Angels are eager to preserve their cleanup hitter's health as he continues his chase for 600 homers this spring. He enters the season with 591 career homers after hitting 31 last season.

His bat is a key to the Angels' hopes for a return to playoff contention after they slumped to 74-88 last year, their worst season of his half-decade with the club.

Pujols has five years and $140 million remaining on the lavish free-agent contract given to him by Angels owner Arte Moreno in late 2011. Pujols provided solid value for that money last season, but he realizes his health will determine his ability to fulfill the rest of it.

Pujols is likely to play largely as a designated hitter again this season while the Angels minimize his movement until he is fully healthy. He played only 28 games at first base last season, along with 123 as a DH.

Pujols loves playing in the field, saying it improves his hitting by keeping him in the rhythm of the game. Yet he understands why Luis Valbuena and C.J. Cron are likely to be at first base for the Angels, at least to start the season.

''It's not like DH is bad,'' he said. ''I mean, it's part of the game. As long as I'm in the lineup and helping this team out, that's what I'm going to do.

''I spoke to several guys that have done this,'' Pujols added. ''One of those guys was David Ortiz. I spoke to him about DHing the last couple of years, and Edwin Encarnacion. They just gave me a couple of routines that I put together, and it makes it a little bit easier for me, because it's hard just sitting down and waiting until you have to hit. If I'm ready to be in the field, I'm going to take that step. But if I'm not ready, then DH is where I'm going to be.''

Pujols picked good players for advice: Ortiz and Encarnacion were the only AL hitters who drove in more runs than him last season.

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 Posted: Mon Feb 20th, 2017 06:11 am
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Vidal Nuno's tenure with the Los Angeles Dodgers looks to have lasted just four months, as the club has shipped the southpaw to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for minor-league right-hander Ryan Moseley, the teams announced Sunday.

Los Angeles acquired Nuno from the Seattle Mariners in November in exchange for backstop Carlos Ruiz.

Nuno, a left-hander with experience in the bullpen and in the starting rotation, crafted a 3.53 ERA in 55 games with Seattle last season, making one start with the club. In four MLB seasons, Nuno owns a career 4.02 ERA in stints with the New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Mariners.

Moseley, an eighth-round pick by the Orioles in the 2016 draft, posted a 3.20 ERA in 12 games in Single-A in 2016.

To make room for Nuno on the 40-man roster, Baltimore designated T.J. McFarland for assignment.

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 Posted: Mon Feb 20th, 2017 06:12 am
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Brian Dozier participated in Minnesota's first full-squad workout on Sunday.

Yup, he was a little surprised, too.

Dozier set career highs with 42 homers and 99 RBIs last season, one of the few bright spots in a 103-loss season for the Twins. The second baseman was rumored to be on the move for much of the winter, but nothing materialized.

"Being honest with you, I thought that I wasn't coming back," Dozier said.

Dozier said he was asked all the time if he would be with the team when it opened camp.

"It was every single day," he said. "It just seemed like it just dragged out publicly for too long. I'm an internal guy to begin with. I don't like stuff, anything out in the open. To read your name every single day for that long of a period is, that's probably the most frustrating thing about it."

Led by Dozier's breakout season, the Twins hit 200 homers last year and finished 16th in the majors in runs scored. With Dozier back alongside promising youngsters Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, Minnesota's lineup could be even better this season.

"Brian - three years in a row - has climbed in production and you mix in some of the talented kids we had and a couple more veterans that can contribute, we have the pieces there to make our offensive game do its part," manager Paul Molitor said.

The 23-year-old Sano hit 25 homers and drove in 66 runs despite missing a month with a hamstring injury. Buxton, also 23, had a strong September, batting .277 with seven homers and 18 RBIs.

"With the young team that we've got and the year that we had, it's easy for certain people to go unnoticed and certain teams to go unnoticed" Buxton said. "If you look around the group that we have in here, it's very talented. We just have to come together and find that medium and everything starts clicking for us and we get rolling. We could be pretty scary.

"We know last year how we felt and we don't want to feel that again, so this year we came in ready to go and prepared."

Three-time batting champ Joe Mauer also is looking for a rebound season after a couple of subpar years.

"Inside this clubhouse we feel like we have a lot of talent," he said. "We're young. We realize last year could be a teaching tool for that. A lot of guys last year were in their first full season, second year, and hopefully they progressed and will be ready for it this year."

Dozier wants the Twins to move past the youth tag.

"I'm not really a big fan of 'young' and putting those labels - so to speak - as the reason we lost 100 games," he said. "You can't really rely on the young factor. After a year in the big leagues you're not really in baseball terms - young."

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 Posted: Tue Feb 21st, 2017 08:58 pm
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Matt Wieters has found a new home, and it's just a short drive down the I-95.

The Washington Nationals reportedly agreed to a two-year, $21-million deal with the veteran catcher, a source tells Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Wieters will reportedly earn $10 million in 2017 and will have the chance to opt out after year one.

Wieters spent his entire eight-year career with the Baltimore Orioles before hitting free agency this winter. During his time with the club, he earned four All-Star appearances and a pair of Gold Gloves.

The 30-year-old was the top catcher on the market this winter and the best remaining free agent available despite coming off a down year in which he hit .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs, 17 doubles, and 66 RBIs in 124 games.

Wieters rattled off three straight 20-plus homer seasons from 2011-2013 but his production's dipped since undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2014. He still remains a strong defensive catcher, throwing out 35 percent of base stealers last season.

Wieters will take over as the Nationals' starting catcher, leaving offseason acquisition Derek Norris and Jose Lobaton to compete for backup duties. The club could also use one of them as trade bait.
The Nationals lost last year's starting catcher, Wilson Ramos, to free agency this winter after he signed a two-year, $12.5-million deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.
It's believed the Rays were also interested in Wieters on a one-year deal.

Last edited on Tue Feb 21st, 2017 08:58 pm by lobo316

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 Posted: Tue Feb 21st, 2017 08:59 pm
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For the first time since 2009, Edwin Encarnacion arrived at spring training in Arizona and not Florida.

The three-time All-Star landed in camp last week now a member of the Cleveland Indians following a whirlwind offseason that saw him ink a three-year, $60-million deal with the reigning American League champions.

The winter certainly didn't go as anticipated for Encarnacion, who hit the market following a year in which he belted 42 home runs and a career-high 127 RBIs. What was expected to be a bidding war turned out to be far from it, as the 34-year-old's market never really developed, and he ended up choosing between Cleveland and a reported one-year deal from the Oakland Athletics days before Christmas.

"I didn't know free agency was going to be so challenging," Encarnacion told Jorge L. Ortiz of USA TODAY Sports. "There were times when I wasn't drawing the interest I thought I would, and it got me down."

Prior to officially hitting the open market, Encarnacion received a four-year, $80-million offer from the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite hoping to return to Toronto - a place where he spent the last eight years - Encarnacion rejected the early offer in order to field others.

Much to his surprise, however, the Blue Jays quickly moved on and inked Kendrys Morales to a three-year, $33-million deal several days later.

"Toronto was always my first option, but I had never been a free agent, and anybody who gets to free agency wants to find out what's out there," Encarnacion said. "I think they got too hasty in making their decision, but now I'm with Cleveland and I’m happy to be here."

Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro also acknowledged his own surprise with how Encarnacion's market developed when speaking last month, claiming that no one could have predicted how it eventually played out.

"I think there's not an expert, not an agent, and there's not a team that thought the market would go the way it did. Certainly not Edwin's agent, and certainly not Edwin," Shapiro said in January. "At the time we talked to Edwin, two weeks after we made that offer to Edwin, three weeks after we made that offer to Edwin, a month after we made that offer to Edwin, he still thought he was going to get far more dollars than what we offered and he ended up signing for less than what we offered."

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 Posted: Tue Feb 21st, 2017 09:01 pm
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The New York Mets have the back end of the bullpen figured out in case they find themselves without ninth-inning man Jeurys Familia for an extended period of time.

With Familia possibly facing a lengthy suspension from MLB for his involvement in a domestic violence incident in October, Mets manager Terry Collins told the New York Post's Mike Puma on Monday he's prepared to use Addison Reed as the club's closer.

That swap would then prompt the Mets to bump Fernando Salas up to the setup role, a change from the seventh-inning duties he was primarily given last season.

"As of today he would be that guy, because he has done it before and he's been successful at it," Collins told Puma. "As we have seen in the last couple of years, the big inning is the seventh inning. How can we piecemeal that to get to the eighth inning? How can we get to Addison and then Jeurys in the last couple of innings?

"We've got to make sure early in the year, no matter how long Jeurys may be gone, we've got to find those answers - especially early in the year when guys aren't going seven innings. Your starting pitching is going five. You have got to get through six and seven."

The Mets may not have to wait long for a decision regarding Familia, as Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters earlier this offseason he expects the league's office to decide on a possible punishment for the closer before Opening Day.

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 Posted: Tue Feb 21st, 2017 09:02 pm
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GLENDALE, Ariz. - Although Franklin Gutierrez officially joined the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday afternoon, the veteran outfielder had already been working out at their spring training complex for two days.

The Dodgers reached a deal with him last week, but they couldn't formally announce his arrival because they hadn't been able to clear a spot for him on their 40-man roster until they traded veteran left-hander Vidal Nuno to Baltimore for a prospect on Sunday.

The Dodgers' extraordinary depth is a luxury for manager Dave Roberts, but it also means spring training is uncommonly important as they begin the difficult process of trimming this roster to a 25-man group.

For instance, Roberts can choose among 10 legitimate big-league starters for his five-man rotation. The club also must make tough calls from the bullpen to the outfield, and the process takes another step forward Tuesday with the first full-squad workout.

"You could say that we have more depth," Roberts said Monday. "You could argue that. I think that's a good thing. ... The confidence that we have in our clubhouse is real. We've got some pretty good players."

The Dodgers entered spring training with a roster so deep that they couldn't immediately announce the signing of Gutierrez or the return of Chase Utley. The well-liked veteran infielder is likely to play a utility role this season because Los Angeles already improved its infield by acquiring second baseman Logan Forsythe from Tampa Bay in a trade for pitching prospect Jose De Leon.

Los Angeles' struggles against left-handed pitching last season were perhaps the only major blot on its resume, so the Dodgers went out and got Gutierrez, described by Roberts as ''a lefty killer.'' Gutierrez is a career .289 hitter against lefties.

The Dodgers didn't hesitate to trade Nuno, a proven big-league reliever acquired in November, because they're loaded with left-handed relief talent.

Gutierrez was once a top prospect for the Dodgers, and he went to Los Angeles' spring training in 2003 with Roberts, who was a Dodgers outfielder.

''He was a lot lighter back then, but always a really good athlete, good defender,'' Roberts said. ''It's nice that we do have some history, and I was excited to get him signed. He looks great.''

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 Posted: Tue Feb 21st, 2017 09:03 pm
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Rick Ankiel, the former St. Louis Cardinals hurler whose bouts of wildness on the mound eventually forced him to find a new position, admitted Monday he needed some liquid courage to rediscover his form after suffering through a nasty case of the yips as a rookie.

Plugging his upcoming memoir on "The Ryan Kelley Morning After," Ankiel divulged a sordid little nugget about how he bounced back following his epic implosion in the 2000 postseason. Racked with nerves before his first start of the 2001 campaign, Ankiel said he sipped on a bottle of vodka to get through his season debut at Bank One Ballpark, where the anxious left-hander allowed just two runs while fanning eight over five innings and earned the win in a 9-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"Before the game, I'm scared to death," Ankiel said. "I know I have no chance. Feeling the pressure of all that, right before the game I get a bottle of vodka. I just started drinking vodka. Low and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted. I'm sitting on the bench feeling crazy I have to drink vodka to pitch through this. It worked for that game. (I had never drank before a game before). It was one of those things like the yips, the monster, the disease ... it didn't fight fair so I felt like I wasn't going to fight fair either."

As it turns out, that was his best start of the season, as Ankiel's control issues quickly returned, leading to his demotion to Triple-A in May. He wouldn't return to the big leagues until 2004, when he managed a 5.40 ERA over 10 innings as a September call-up. The following season, Ankiel converted to a full-time outfielder.

"I think the overall lesson from the book is about getting back up," Ankiel added. "You're going to get knocked down ... everyone gets knocked down. There's definitely those lessons in there when you look at my story. Now I got it all out there."

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 Posted: Wed Feb 22nd, 2017 02:36 am
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The Chicago Cubs may be the hottest ticket in baseball in 2017 after ending a historic 108-year World Series curse this past season, but there still remains one person who doesn't intend on reaching out to the organization about a reunion during their recent success.

Sammy Sosa recently sat down with former Cubs employee Chuck Wasserstrom to discuss a number of subjects including a potential return to Wrigley Field to lead the seventh-inning stretch or partake in a Cubs convention.

Sosa wouldn't mind a return to the Windy City, but he isn't interested in begging for forgiveness in order to do so.

"I never say ‘No’ to that. I owe something to the people – to the crowd in Chicago. For that, I would come back," Sosa told Wasserstrom in an interview which appeared on his blog. "But I’m not going to go up there and say, ‘I’m here. Please bring me back and give me a chance.’ No way. I’m not hungry. I have too much pride. They know where they can find me. They’re in their way; I am in my way. If they want to have a meeting – of course … I’m a gentleman. I’d never say ‘No’ to that. If one day it happens, I’d be happy. And if it doesn’t, we can talk again on Skype."

Sosa's career in Chicago ended in turmoil after he left the final game of the 2004 season - which eventually became his last with the Cubs - early, lied about when he actually left, and had his boombox destroyed in the clubhouse by a teammate before his eventual trade to the Baltimore Orioles.

Sosa, the owner of 609 career home runs and a 1998 MVP award, discussed his final day with the organization and admitted his wrongdoing, and expressed his regret with how everything ended in Chicago.

"My relationship with the organization was great. The last day of the season, the last game, I asked (assistant trainer) Sandy Krum to talk to Mr. Dusty Baker and ask him if I could leave early. He said yes, that I could go. That was a mistake by me. I should have stayed there. It was the last game. My intention was to finish my career in Chicago. That was my intention all the way. I never wanted to leave Chicago.

"I should have handled that situation differently, yes indeed. I recognize my mistake. But look, I have my pride, and I know I had a tremendous career in Chicago. When nobody knew who Chicago was, I put Chicago on the map. Like you said, if I could have done it again, I would have done it differently. The only thing we cannot do is turn back time. We can’t do that. But hey, we have to move forward. I understand I made a mistake. I regret it, definitely, but I have to move on."

The slugger retired from baseball after the 2007 season, finishing with a career slash line of .273/.344/.534 during 18 seasons. A 2009 New York Times report later claimed he was among a list of players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, although Sosa denied the allegations.

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