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Don Mattingly really, really doesn’t want to play Matt Kemp in center field

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Here’s how much Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is committed to keeping Matt Kemp from playing center field: Not only is Mattingly regularly playing Andre Ethier there despite his clearly being stretched range-wise, yesterday Scott Van Slyke got the nod in center field while Kemp remained in left field.

Van Slyke is 27 years old and it was the first time he’s ever started a game in center field as a big leaguer. Even in the minors he rarely played center field, spending much more time in the corner spots and at first base. In fact, last time Van Slyke played center field in the minors was way back in 2010 at Double-A.

Kemp has nearly 7,000 career innings in center field, but to keep from using him there now Mattingly is willing to make Ethier his everyday center fielder and use a career-long left fielder/first baseman like Van Slyke in center field.

Mattingly predictably explained the decision by saying that he wants to give Kemp time to get comfortable as a regular left fielder rather than moving him back and forth, but … still. Ethier is perhaps a passable center fielder if you squint very, very hard, but Van Slyke in center field isn’t even squint-able.

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)
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.