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    Wednesday, September 27, 2023

    Abreu, Bogaerts among key players in new spots

    San Diego's Xander Bogaerts bats during the first inning of a spring training game against Texas on March 1, 2023 in Peoria, Ariz. (Charlie Riedel/AP Photo)

    Chicago — Baseball begins again on Thursday with opening day. For some players and managers, it's also their first regular-season game with a new team.

    Here is a closer look at a couple people in new places who could have a big impact this year:

    1B José Abreu, Houston Astros: Abreu has been one of baseball's most consistent performers since his big league debut in 2014. He had at least 25 homers and 100 RBIs in six of his first nine seasons. The three-time All-Star hit .317 with 19 homers and 60 RBIs during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, winning the AL MVP award.

    After beginning his major league career with the Chicago White Sox, Abreu finalized a $58.5 million, three-year contract with the World Series champions in November. The addition of Abreu — with his steady presence in the lineup and clubhouse — became even more significant when Houston second baseman Jose Altuve broke his right thumb during the World Baseball Classic.

    SS Xander Bogaerts, San Diego Padres: One of the biggest surprises of free agency was Bogaerts' $280 million, 11-year contract with San Diego in December. But Bogaerts' deal strengthens the Padres' star-studded lineup and the team's infield defense.

    The 30-year-old Bogaerts won two World Series titles while spending his first 10 years with Boston. He hit .307 with 15 homers and 73 RBIs in his final season with the Red Sox. With Bogaerts in the fold, the Padres could have four players with shortstop experience in their starting infield — perfect timing with baseball's new limits on defensive shifting.

    OF Daulton Varsho, Toronto Blue Jays: Varsho was acquired in a December trade after he set career highs with 27 homers, 74 RBIs and 16 steals in 151 games with Arizona last year. He was selected by the Diamondbacks in the second round of the 2017 draft and spent his first three seasons with the team.

    The 26-year-old Varsho should help balance Toronto's heavily right-handed lineup, which also includes Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Matt Chapman and George Springer. He also is a versatile defensive upgrade in the outfield who can even fill in at catcher in a pinch.

    SS Trea Turner, Philadelphia Phillies: Turner's $300 million, 11-year contract with the NL champions sure seems like an ideal match of player and team. Turner brings his speed and athleticism to a Philadelphia lineup that — at full strength — includes sluggers Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber and J.T. Realmuto.

    Turner, a World Series winner with Washington in 2019, hit .298 with 21 homers and a career-high 100 RBIs for the Los Angeles Dodgers last year. He also swiped 27 bags in 2022, and the bigger bases and new limits on pickoffs could make him an even more dangerous baserunner this season.

    Manager Pedro Grifol, Chicago White Sox: There is lots of talent on the White Sox, who have ace right-hander Dylan Cease atop their rotation and All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson in their lineup. But the team flopped to an 81-81 record last year and missed the playoffs after making the previous two postseasons.

    Enter Grifol, who was hired in November after Tony La Russa stepped down late last season because of health issues. Grifol, a former minor league catcher, spent the previous 10 seasons in a variety of coaching roles with Kansas City. He was widely praised during spring training for his attention to detail and the pace of the team's workouts, but there is pressure to get the club turned around this year.

    C Sean Murphy, Atlanta Braves: Murphy was acquired in a three-team trade in December in Atlanta's biggest offseason move. The Braves, winners of five consecutive NL East titles, then signed the catcher to a $73 million, six-year contract, counting on his continued development behind the plate.

    The 28-year-old Murphy set career highs with a .250 batting average, 18 homers and 66 RBIs in 148 games with Oakland last season. He also is known for his defense, winning a Gold Glove in 2021. Murphy and Travis d’Arnaud should give Atlanta one of baseball's best catching tandems.

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