Why Freddie Freeman lobbied for Dodgers to sign Jason Heyward
PHOENIX — Freddie Freeman began lobbying the front office before last season even ended.
As the Dodgers were making a push for the playoffs in August, their All-Star first baseman noticed a far different situation unfolding with his former teammate and close friend, Jason Heyward, in Chicago.
After a celebrated seven-year run with the Cubs, Heyward’s time with the organization was winding to an obvious end, after the team announced it would release him in the winter. For the first time since 2016, the 33-year-old outfielder was set to become a free agent.
Though Heyward was years removed from the peak of his career — which started with an All-Star rookie season in Atlanta in 2010 and crescendoed with the Cubs World Series in 2016 — Freeman still believed the five-time Gold Glove winner and former first round pick could contribute to an MLB team.
So, despite the start of free agency still being several months away, Freeman began nudging the Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman in Heyward’s direction.
“I put Jason’s name on the radar, then I put it on again and just kept going and going and going,” Freeman said. “I just made sure to let Andrew know how wonderful of a man that guy is.”
The pitch paid off.
After the season ended and Heyward hit the market, the Dodgers were not only the first team to call him, but the most persistent. They saw the potential to retool the veteran’s swing. They liked his defensive versatility at multiple outfield positions. And, of course, they had Freeman’s vocal endorsement.
So, in early December, Heyward and the team agreed to a minor-league contract with an invitation to big league spring training.
And when Freeman walked into the Dodgers’ Camelback Ranch clubhouse this week, he found Heyward’s locker placed right next to his.
“It’s nice,” said Freeman, who came up through the Braves minor-league system with Heyward and spent five seasons playing alongside him in Atlanta. “Just hearing all the rave reviews that the guys are talking about with Jason, I’m just so happy for him. It’s nice to see him next to me again.”
Heyward is no lock to make the Dodgers big-league roster. He is coming off the worst two seasons of his 13-year career. And he has plenty of competition in the outfield, where four or five players — including James Outman, Bradley Zimmer, Steven Duggar and maybe even Trayce Thompson — are vying for the likely last two position player spots on the roster.
Freeman, however, had a glowing review of Heyward’s offseason program — which included time in Southern California training both at Dodger Stadium and with Freeman in Orange County.
“You’re going to see why he was a first-round pick,” Freeman said, optimistic that Heyward’s new swing, which includes moving his hand position farther back, “might have unlocked something.”
“He trains hard, he works hard, his work ethic, he’s been around a long time, he’s won a championship,” Freeman added. “He’s just a wonderful person and it’s big for this team to have him in this clubhouse.”
Rejuvenated Dave Roberts brimming with positivity amid season of change for Dodgers
Something is different about Dave Roberts this spring.
His smile is brighter.
His laughter is more soulful.
“Great to see you!” he hollered at me the other day, the sarcastic greeting he has repeated over the years delivered with so much exuberance that I wondered if he actually meant what he said this time.
Four months removed from a deflating elimination in the divisional round of the playoffs, Roberts looks and sounds more joyful than he’s ever been in his seven-plus years as the manager of the Dodgers.
In the despair that followed his team’s latest October setback, Roberts said he rediscovered what drove him.
Why some MLB players are deemed ‘uninsurable’ for the World Baseball Classic
Clayton Kershaw and Miguel Cabrera have résumés few other baseball players have ever matched. Both are former MVPs and future first-ballot Hall of Famers. Kershaw has three Cy Young Awards. Cabrera has won a Triple Crown and surpassed both 500 home runs and 3,000 hits for his career.
This offseason, both players committed to playing in the World Baseball Classic for their respective countries. Kershaw’s commitment to play for Team USA was considered a coup for a tournament still seeking to establish legitimacy. Without Cabrera, arguably the greatest Venezuelan baseball player ever, the tournament would’ve left a baseball-mad nation unsatisfied.
Both ran into an obstacle earlier this month: securing insurance coverage to participate in the event. Kershaw’s and Cabrera’s contracts, which both expire after this season, were deemed uninsurable because of their injury histories.
Julio Urías, Noah Syndergaard throw first live batting practice of the spring
The Dodgers had their first live batting practice of the spring Saturday, with pitchers Julio Urías and Noah Syndergaard taking the mound.
For Syndergaard, the session came after an encouraging bullpen earlier this week in which his velocity showed an “uptick” from this time last year, according to manager Dave Roberts.
After his live BP on Saturday, Syndergaard said he hadn’t checked the data of his pitches yet but was more encouraged with how he felt as he continues to tweak his delivery following an up and down 2022 season.
Here is video of both pitchers on the mound:
Dave Roberts says Clayton Kershaw should be set for a normal spring workload
Dave Roberts said he doesn’t expect Clayton Kershaw’s spring training routine to be noticeably disrupted now that the pitcher won’t be playing in the World Baseball Classic.
“What he was potentially going to give the USA, certainly the intensity would be ramped up,” Roberts said. “But as far as the volume [of his spring workload], I don’t think that’s going to change. I think that’ll be in line with where he’s always been.”
Kershaw, who had to withdraw from the event because of problems securing insurance, threw his first bullpen of the spring this week.
WBC will never be the World Cup of baseball if paperwork bars stars from playing
Does the World Baseball Classic want to remain a glorified exhibition or does it want to be baseball’s equivalent of a World Cup?
The question is worth exploring in the aftermath of Clayton Kershaw announcing Friday that he was withdrawing from the tournament.
Kershaw said he was 100% healthy.
He said he wanted to pitch.
He said the Dodgers supported him.
Kershaw wouldn’t elaborate on why he couldn’t play for Team USA, but people familiar with the situation said he failed to secure an insurance policy to protect the Dodgers in case of injury.
Dave Roberts sees ‘uptick’ in Noah Syndergaard’s pitch velocity
Dave Roberts said the Dodgers saw an “uptick” in velocity from Noah Syndergaard during his bullpen session this week.
Roberts didn’t say exactly what Syndergaard was at during his session with reporters on Friday morning, but said it’s ahead of where Syndergaard was at this point last spring.
Returning to the velocity he had before Tommy John surgery is a goal he spoke about after signing with the Dodgers in December.
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw won’t take part in World Baseball Classic
PHOENIX — Clayton Kershaw will not pitch in the World Baseball Classic after all.
The future Hall of Fame left-hander made the announcement Friday at Dodgers spring training, calling the development “super disappointing” after spending the last three months preparing to play for Team USA in next month’s event.
Although Kershaw declined to provide specific reasons for his inability to participate, people with knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity because they were unauthorized to speak publicly said the pitcher had a problem finalizing insurance coverage required for the event. His back-injury history was a significant factor, the people said.
Kershaw said he even tried to “work it out on my own” before resigning to Friday’s announcement.