Scott Boras says teams are more eager to talk about free agents this year

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Last year was the slowest offseason, free agent signing-wise, since the days of collusion in the 1980s. Agent Scott Boras suggested at the general manager meetings yesterday, however, that a thaw may be coming for the frozen hot stove:

“Clubs are wanting meetings and wanting to get in front of the players. They’re all telling me they want to make much earlier decisions. I did not hear any of that last year . . . “I think all of [his top clients] have the possibility of signing much earlier than that.”

He didn’t talk too much about why there has been a change in this regard — and no non-Boras agents have observed what he has, it seems — but one might think that the quality of Boras’ free agents this year — Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg lead his stable of talent looking for new teams — has something to do with it. Last year he had Bryce Harper, who was obviously a blue-chipper, but he didn’t have a top pitcher like Cole and Strasburg. It could very well be that teams are more eager to move quickly on pitching talent.

We’ll see soon enough whether this is just a sense Boras has or whether teams actually will, in fact, move more quickly this hot stove season.

Ramon Laureano’s suspension reduced from 6 games to 4

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OAKLAND, Calif. — Oakland Athletics center fielder Ramon Laureano had a six-game suspension reduced to four games Friday after appealing the penalty for his role in a benches-clearing brawl with the rival Houston Astros.

Major League Baseball said a settlement had been reached and the A’s were informed of the decision. Laureano was set to begin the four-game suspension Friday night and will miss a three-game weekend Bay Bridge Series against the San Francisco Giants. After sitting out Monday at Arizona, he will be eligible to play Tuesday against the Diamondbacks.

Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron received a 20-game suspension and a fine Tuesday for his role in the fracas at Oakland last Sunday. Laureano also received a fine.

Cintron’s suspension is the longest for an on-field transgression in 15 years, since Texas pitcher Kenny Rogers received 20 games for his altercation with two cameramen in 2005.

Laureano was hit by a pitch from Humberto Castellanos with one out in the seventh inning of Oakland’s 7-2 victory – the third time he got hit in the series and the fifth time overall for an A’s batter. Houston players weren’t plunked at all. He pointed at Castellanos and began exchanging words with a gesturing Cintron then left first base, threw down his batting helmet and began sprinting toward the 41-year-old Cintron.

Astros catcher Dustin Garneau tackled Laureano before the A’s outfielder got to the hitting coach. Laureano is a former Astros player and the rival clubs have been the top two teams in the AL West the past two years. A’s pitcher Mike Fiers, another former Houston player, revealed the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal in November to The Athletic.