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Ian Desmond’s former teammates stunned he’s still looking for work

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Spring training is under way and the regular season starts a little over a month from now, but shortstop Ian Desmond is still without a team. Desmond, 30, is a former All-Star and a three-time Silver Slugger Award winner who has compiled three 20/20 seasons. He is one of only a handful of good players yet to sign on the dotted line, along with Dexter Fowler.

Desmond’s job situation has stunned his former Nationals teammates, Ken Rosenthal reported for FOX Sports on Monday.

Nationals shortstop Danny Espinosa said, “I’m shocked.”

Right-hander Max Scherzer said, “Of course I’m surprised.”

Right fielder Bryce Harper, the reigning National League MVP, seemed almost speechless.

“I don’t think anybody has words for it,” Harper said. “It’s pretty incredible to even be talking about it right now. I really don’t know what to say.”

Harper elaborated, pinpointing the qualifying offer system as the culprit. He said it’s “something baseball definitely needs to change.”

Desmond rejected the Nationals’ $15.8 million qualifying offer in November to become a free agent. A player who turns down a qualifying offers has draft pick compensation attached to him, meaning that his new team forfeits a first round draft pick (if it’s unprotected) or second-highest pick (if protected) to sign him.

Howie Kendrick was a particularly prominent case in which a team very clearly valued the draft pick more than the free agent. The Dodgers only came around on Kendrick when he lowered his asking price, settling for a two-year, $20 million deal on February 4.

MLBPA executive Tony Clark said earlier this month that he isn’t happy with the system and hopes to discuss it when the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated after the current one expires after the season. It’s easy to see why the players and the union have some unpleasant feelings about the current system.

Astros owner Crane expects to hire new manager by Feb. 3

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston Astros owner Jim Crane expects to hire a new manager by Feb. 3.

The Astros need a new manager and general manager after AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow were fired Monday, hours after both were suspended by Major League Baseball for a year for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Crane said Friday that he’s interviewed a number of candidates this week and has some more to talk to in the coming days.

Crane refused to answer directly when asked if former Astros player and Hall of Famer Craig Biggio was a possibility for the job. But he did say that he had spoken to Biggio, fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell and former Astros star Lance Berkman in the days since the firings.

“We’ve talked to all of our Killer B’s,” Crane said referring to the nickname the three shared while playing for the Astros. “They’ve contacted me and they’ve all expressed that they would like to help. Berkman, Bagwell, Biggio have all called and said: ‘hey, if there’s anything I can do, I’m here for you.’”

“So we’ll continue to visit with those guys and see if there’s something there.”

Crane says his list is still rather extensive and that he hopes to have it narrowed down by the end of next week. He added that he expects most of Hinch’s staff to stay in place regardless of who is hired.

Crane has enlisted the help of three or four employees to help him with the interview process, including some in Houston’s baseball operations department.

“We compare notes,” he said. “I’ve learned a long time ago that you learn a lot if four or five people talk to a key candidate and you get a lot more information. So that’s what we’re doing.”

Crane’ top priority is finding a manager with spring training less than a month away, but he said he would start focusing on the search for a general manager after he hires a manager. He expects to hire a GM before the end of spring training.

“We should have another good season with the team pretty much intact … so I don’t know why a manager wouldn’t want to come in and manage these guys,” he said. “They’re set to win again.”

The penalties announced by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred on Monday came after he found illicit use of electronics to steal signs in Houston’s run to the 2017 World Series championship and again in the 2018 season. The Astros were also fined $5 million, which is the maximum allowed under the Major League Constitution, and must forfeit their next two first- and second-round amateur draft picks.

The investigation found that the Astros used the video feed from a center field camera to see and decode the opposing catcher’s signs. Players banged on a trash can to signal to batters what was coming, believing it would improve the batter’s odds of getting a hit.

With much still in flux, Crane was asked what qualities are most important to him in his next manager.

“Someone mature that can handle the group,” he said. “Someone that’s had a little bit of experience in some areas. We’ve just got to find a leader that can handle some pressure and there’s going to be a little bit of pressure from where this team has been in the last few months.”

Despite his comment about experience, Crane said having been a major league manager before is not mandatory to him.

“We made some mistakes,” he said. “We made a decision to let that get behind us. We think the future is bright. We’ll make the adjustments … people think we’re in crisis. I certainly don’t believe that.”