The Royals hire Willie Aikens

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The Royals hired a former player as a minor league coach yesterday. No biggie. Happens every day. Except this minor league coach is Willie Mays Aikens, who spent nearly 14 years in federal prison for selling crack in the mid 90s.

Aikens — who had a breakout performance in the 1980 World Series — has been working in construction and giving anti-drug talks in the Kansas City area since his release from prison in 2008.  Now he has a chance to finally get back into baseball.  Aikens made a lot of mistakes in his life, but he has paid for them. More than paid for them, actually, given that his original prison sentence was held — along with many others — to have been too long given the government’s unconstitutional treatment of crack cocaine offenders compared to powder cocaine offenders.

I last thought about Aikens when Ron Washington got in trouble for taking cocaine last year. At the time I wrote a longish post about cocaine in baseball. It’s a part of the game’s recent history relatively few people know about.  They should learn more (and here’s an excellent and entertaining book about it all if you want to learn more).  Unlike steroids or amphetamines in baseball, cocaine destroyed the lives of many players. Even ending at least one.  It was serious business that has largely been overlooked since the PED stuff took off.

Anyway: good luck Willie Aikens. I hope you and the Royals take full advantage of your second chance in the game.

Tanner Scheppers leaves Cactus League game with lower core injury

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Rangers’ bullpen candidate Tanner Scheppers left Friday’s Cactus League game with pain in his “lower half,” according to reports by Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The specifics of the right-hander’s injury have yet to be determined, but he was accompanied by the athletic trainer when he exited the game and is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Saturday.

Scheppers, 30, has a long history of elbow and knee injuries. He missed all but 8 2/3 innings of the 2016 season after undergoing a procedure to repair torn articular cartilage in his left knee. While he appeared healthy enough through his first seven appearances this spring, he failed to impress with three runs, five walks and six strikeouts over 7 2/3 innings with the club.

Should Scheppers find himself on the disabled list for another lengthy stay, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan speculates that his absence could clear some room in the bullpen for Rule 5 draft pick and fellow righty Mike Hauschild. Hauschild, 27, has dealt seven runs, five walks and 15 strikeouts through 17 1/3 innings in camp.

Report: Jose Ramirez close to four-year extension with Indians

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Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan reports that third baseman Jose Ramirez is finalizing a four-year extension with the Indians. The deal is said to be worth north of $30 million, and may crest $50 million if all options are exercised. While the extension won’t take effect until the 2018 season, it guarantees Ramirez a $26 million sum with two options worth $11 and $13 million and will give the Indians control of the infielder through the 2023 season.

Ramirez, 24, is entering his fifth season in the Indians’ organization. He posted career-high numbers during his first full season in the majors, slashing .312/.363/.461 with 11 home runs, 22 stolen bases and 4.8 fWAR in 2016. He’s projected to have a strong follow-up season at the plate and will likely see some time at second base as Jason Kipnis works his way back from a shoulder injury.

Although 2016 only showcased the beginning of Ramirez’s success with the club, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman says it’s a standard move for Cleveland to “sign their stars early,” and indicates that Ramirez was rumored to want the deal. Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors adds that the extension will keep Ramirez under club control through three arbitration-eligible years and one year of potential free agency.