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Jury selection begins in the human trafficking case against agents of Cuban ballplayers

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Jury selection is underway today in Miami federal courtroom in the case of Bartolo Hernandez and Julio Estrada, sports agents charged with illegally smuggling baseball players from Cuba to the United States. The two are accused of taking as much as $15 million from players, who were placed under duress, sent on dangerous and surreptitious boat voyages, placing them in danger and who were, allegedly, subjected to threats of violence before agreeing to hand over millions to the agents.

Three baseball players have been placed on the witness list: Yoenis Cespedes of the New York Mets, Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox and Adeiny Hechevarria of the Miami Marlins. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and various MLB executives are named as possible witnesses as well. Neither Cespedes, Abreu nor Hechevarria are not accused of wrongdoing.

Potential jurors will be questioned beginning Monday in the case of Bartolo Hernandez and Julio Estrada, both of whom have pleaded not guilty. Opening statements are expected Wednesday.

Steven Matz likely to start season on DL; Zack Wheeler to adhere to innings limit

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Mets manager Terry Collins said on Wednesday, “It’s unlikely that [Steven Matz] will start the season with us.” The final spot in the Mets’ starting rotation will go to either Zack Wheeler or Seth Lugo, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports.

On Wheeler’s innings limit, assistant GM John Ricco said, “There’s going to be some number but we don’t exactly know what that is.” Wheeler missed the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Neither Wheeler nor Lugo have had terrific springs as each carries a 5.11 and 5.56 Grapefruit League ERA, respectively. However, Carig notes that Wheeler has impressed simply by appearing healthy and brandishing a fastball that once again sits in the mid- to high-90’s. Lugo, meanwhile, proved crucial to the Mets last year, posting a 2.67 ERA across eight starts and nine relief appearances.

Rockies sign 30-year lease to stay in Coors Field

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Nick Groke of the Denver Post reports that the Rockies agreed to a $200 million, 30-year lease with the Metropolitan Baseball Stadium District, which is the state division that owns Coors Field. As part of the deal, the Rockies will lease and develop a plot of land south of the stadium, which will cost the team $125 million for 99 years.

As Groke points out, had the Rockies not reached a deal by Thursday, March 30, the lease would have rolled over for five more years.

Rockies owner Dick Monfort issued a statement, saying, “We are proud that Coors Field will continue to be a vital part of a vibrant city, drawing fans from near and far and making our Colorado residents proud.”

The Rockies moved into Coors Field in 1995. It is the National League’s third oldest stadium. In that span of time, the Rockies have made the playoffs three times, the last coming in 2009 when they lost in the NLDS to the Phillies. The Rockies were swept in the 2007 World Series by the Red Sox.