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Pirates avoid arbitration with Neil Walker and James McDonald

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UPDATE: Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports that Walker will get $3.3 million while McDonald will get $3.025 million.

7:31 PM: The Pirates announced this evening that they have avoided arbitration by agreeing to one-year contracts with second baseman Neil Walker and right-hander James McDonald. No word yet on the terms involved.

Walker was arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter as a Super Two player after batting .280/.342/.426 with 14 home runs, 69 RBI and a .768 OPS last season. The 27-year-old requested $3.6 million and was offered $3 million by the Pirates when arbitration figures were exchanged earlier this month. The two sides have previously expressed interest in a contract extension, so it’s possible they could revisit the possibility down the road.

McDonald was also arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter, though not as a Super Two. The 28-year-old right-hander is coming off an up-and-down campaign in which he posted a 4.21 ERA and 151/69 K/BB ratio over 171 innings. He requested $3.4 million and was offered $2.65 million from the Pirates when arbitration figures were swapped this month.

Report: Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on Sonny Gray

OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 06: Sonny Gray #54 of the Oakland Athletics pitches against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at the Oakland Coliseum on August 6, 2016 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
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The Astros remain in contact with the Athletics on starting pitcher Sonny Gray, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. The Astros have added Charlie Morton this offseason, but the club has been trying to add a big-name starting pitcher to put at the top of the rotation behind Dallas Keuchel.

Gray, 27, was limited to 22 starts in the 2016 season due to a forearm issue. His stats left a lot to be desired, as he finished with a 5-11 record, a 5.69 ERA, and a 94/42 K/BB ratio over 117 innings. Considering how Gray pitched in the previous three years, he’s a good bet to bounce back.

Gray is under team control through 2019, which is a big draw for the Astros. Needless to say, the Athletics would want a haul in terms of prospects. Gray will earn $3.575 million in 2017, having avoided arbitration in his first year of eligibility.

President Obama Welcomes the Cubs to the White House

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As we noted last week, The Chicago Cubs took the unusual step of not waiting until the summer after winning the World Series to make their customary White House visit to meet the president. They did it today, seeing President Obama a few short days before he leaves office.

Despite the fact that Obama is a White Sox fan, he met the Cubs with diplomacy and grace. It’s almost as if he’s been in that business for the past eight years. In return, he was given some gifts by the Cubs: Theo Epstein presented Obama with a No. 44 Cubs jersey, a tile from the center field scoreboard at Wrigley Field, and a lifetime pass to Wrigley as well.

Obama is staying in D.C. after he leaves office this week, hanging around so his daughter can finish high school in the same place she started. Even so, he’s likely going to be back to Chicago a good bit over the rest of his life, so he’ll likely be able to put the free pass to work. Assuming it comes with, like, six companion passes for his Secret Service detail.