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Baseball Daily Dose

Jung Injury Could Pave Way For Kiner-Falefa

by Ryan Boyer
Updated On: February 22, 2022, 10:20 am ET

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Josh Jung had been hoping to win the Rangers’ starting job at third base during spring training, whenever it gets going (more on that in a minute). Now he’s just hoping he doesn’t need surgery.

Jung suffered a left shoulder injury while lifting weights at the team’s spring training facility earlier this month. He was examined by team physician Dr. Keith Meister last week and diagnosed with a labral strain.

The 24-year-old will be re-evaluated sometime this week before the next steps are taken regarding his rehabilitation. The injury is to Jung’s non-throwing shoulder, which would seem to give him a better shot to avoid an extended absence.

That said, a strain is, by definition, a tear, and it’s possible Jung will need to have it surgically-repaired. An operation would seemingly knock him out for, at minimum, a large chunk of the season.

This is the first time Jung was sidelined by injury. Last spring, he needed surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot. He missed almost the first two months of the season as a result.

Jung was fantastic after returning from that injury, putting together a .326/.398/.592 batting line with 19 home runs and 61 RBI across 342 plate appearances between Double- and Triple-A. He was even better at Triple-A than he was at Double-A, posting a 1.088 OPS.

The No. 8 overall pick in the 2019 Draft out of Texas Tech, Jung might have had a shot to debut last year had he not gotten off to a late start. Now, the injury cloud is again hovering over the organization’s top position player prospect.

With Jung out of commission for a while, Isiah Kiner-Falefa would appear to have a clear path to the Rangers’ third base job.

Kiner-Falefa, of course, won a Gold Glove in 2020 for his slick fielding at the hot corner. He was moved to shortstop in 2021 and was a standout defensively there, as well, finishing third at the position in Defensive Runs Saved. However, with the team’s offseason additions of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager, third base was always going to be Kiner-Falefa’s best shot at playing time.

Offensively, Kiner-Falefa was up-and-down last season, ultimately finishing with a .271/.312/.357 batting line with eight home runs, 53 RBI, 74 runs and 20 stolen bases. He made some of the weakest contact in the game with an exit velocity of just 85.5 mph, and he also pounded it into the ground with a 53.7 percent groundball rate.

Because of the stolen bases and other adequate counting stats, Kiner-Falefa was actually quite valuable in fantasy leagues where he had catcher eligibility in 2021. That eligibility shouldn’t carry over into 2022, though. Even if he does wind up playing regularly, it would have to be a really deep league for him to be playable at shortstop or third base.

The Rangers also have Andy Ibanez and possibly Nick Solak as options at the hot corner. Ibanez should have a role on the big club after putting up a .321/.362/.514 batting line over the final two months last season, although he’s probably best suited for a utility role. Solak showed promise in 2019 but has a .675 OPS since the start of 2020. He also hasn’t played third base since 2019.

The Rangers have reportedly kicked the tires on a potential trade for Matt Olson. That would mean displacing Nathaniel Lowe, who does have some experience at third base, albeit very limited. Kris Bryant is also on the free agent market and could handle third before moving to the outfield when Jung is ready. Both of those possibilities seem remote, though, especially after the club already spent so much money on their offense.

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MLB, MLBPA meet again on Monday

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association on Monday kicked off a week of negotiations which ultimately figure to determine whether Opening Day will start on time or be delayed.

Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Florida – which would normally on February 21 be housing dozens of Cardinals and Marlins players going through spring training workouts – was the site of Monday’s talks. In addition to the normal negotiating teams for MLB and the MLBPA, there were also a contingent of 10 players and two owners present. Some others logged in via Zoom.

Discussions went on for over five hours, although the majority of that time was spent with the two sides separated and talking amongst themselves.

If there was progress made Monday, it was baby steps. MLB upped their pre-arbitration bonus pool offer from $15 million to $20 million. That would cover 30 players. The MLBPA, meanwhile, has previously asked for $115 million for 150 players.

The league also has offered to increase the number of Draft lottery-eligible teams from three to four. The players want it to be eight clubs.

Finally, MLB also has withdrawn its proposal asking the MLBPA for the ability to reduce the minor league roster sizes from 180 players (190 during the offseason) down to below 150. Along with it, they took off the table the proposal to limit the number of times a player can be optioned in a season to five.

There was no revised Competitive Balance Tax proposal Monday. That’s arguably the biggest sticking point in these negotiations and also arguably where the two sides have the most ground to make up, so there’s plenty of legwork to do there. It also seems there were not comprehensive talks regarding minimum salaries. Or, if there was, it hasn’t been reported on to this point.

So, yes, there’s plenty of work to do. But just meeting face to face for a while and agreeing to meet again Tuesday afternoon seems like a good thing. The two sides have pledged to continue negotiations all week, if needed, as they attempt to hammer out a deal by MLB’s February 28 “deadline.”

Quick Hits: Oliver Perez has reportedly announced that he plans to retire following the conclusion of the Mexican League season. … The Dodgers have signed Robbie Erlin to a minor league contract. … The Reds have signed Zack Godley to a minor league contract. … The White Sox have signed Dwight Smith Jr. to a minor league contract.