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Notable MLB free agents are signing in Japan and South Korea during lockout; will bigger names follow?

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Back in 1987, with Major League Baseball’s owners colluding against the players to suppress salaries, Bob Horner took matters into his own hands. Horner, a former All-Star and Rookie of the Year Award recipient, had homered 54 times and posted a 121 OPS+ for the Atlanta Braves in the 1985 and 1986 seasons, making it all the more jarring when he agreed to a one-year contract with the Yakult Swallows. The Swallows, part of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, were willing to do what no MLB club would deign itself to do: pay Horner what he believed he was worth, or nearly $2 million. 

“The Japanese called and made a good offer,” he said, according to a Los Angeles Times article. “I was at the point of thinking I was going to sit out the whole year.”

Horner didn’t enjoy his time in Japan. He later turned down a multi-year offer from the Swallows to return to the majors, where he suffered a career-ending shoulder injury a year later. Still, fans of a certain age might have thought about Horner once or twice already this offseason. With MLB’s franchise owners locking out the players on Dec. 2, the hot stove has been snuffed out. (“Any contact with major league players or agents on any topic is prohibited,” is the league’s instruction to front-office personnel.) The only transaction news to devour in the time since has been the steady drumbeat of MLB players pushing off America’s shores for more certainty in Japan’s NPB or the Korean Baseball Organization, the world’s No. 2 and 3 leagues.

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The holiday weekend alone saw third baseman Rio Ruiz, a veteran of parts of six big-league seasons, and Chris Gittens, who appeared in 16 games with the New York Yankees, sign with Asian league teams. They join a growing list of departees that includes Yasiel Puig, Freddy GalvisIvan Nova, and so on. Former Pirates top prospect Gregory Polanco was also reportedly close to a deal in Japan. It’s enough to make a casual observer wonder: is there an exodus underway, and could even bigger names flock overseas if MLB’s lockout endures into the spring?

“I’m actually not sure that is the case,” an Asian league scout told CBS Sports when asked if players seemed more willing to move to Japan or South Korea. “I’d like it to be, I thought it might be, but it looks a little ‘business as usual’ to me.”

To the scout’s point, the most notable players heading to Asia have had extenuating circumstances surrounding their exits. Puig, for example, had trouble landing a MLB contract even before he settled a civil lawsuit alleging he had sexually assaulted a woman. Galvis, meanwhile, signed a contract that could pay him up to $6 million over two seasons, a fair amount more than he would’ve received in the majors. As for Polanco … well, even MLB front-office types aren’t sure how to explain that one.

“I would guess that the profiles of the bigger names, generally, aren’t profiles that are valued here as much as they used to be,” an analyst said of the players who have signed overseas. ” I’m not sure what to make of the Polanco signing though.”

Ruiz, Gittens, and most of the other recognizable names booking international flights are the kinds who would have left MLB during a normal offseason anyway. What makes their exits notable this winter is how there’s no MLB activity going on to otherwise overshadow or break up the rhythm. Factor in how the talent pipeline is flowing only one way — Japanese starters Masahiro Tanaka and Tomoyuki Sugano both forewent opt-out clauses that would’ve allowed them to join MLB, and star outfielder Seiya Suzuki’s posting process won’t be completed until after the lockout — and it’s easy to perceive MLB’s talent pool as draining at an unsustainable pace.

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So, what would happen if the lockout were to drag on into the spring, and perhaps even threaten the chances of MLB having a standard exhibition or regular season — might a player of greater standing emerge as the modern-day Horner?

“I don’t think bigger talents will move overseas,” the analyst said, “it’s just a weird opportunity right now for the Asian clubs.” 

“The uncertainty surrounding what the market is going to look like post-lockout is the clearest reason why some of these fringe players are going overseas,” an agency source said. “The top-of-the-market free agents are still going to have teams pursuing them, but the marginal types have zero leverage and teams are going to move through that group of players quickly so more guys are seeking security.”

It is worth noting that not all fringe types see Asia as the destination. According to what multiple sources told CBS Sports, a Houston Astros player toward the bottom of their 40-man roster was nearing an agreement to play overseas before asking his front office to shop him around to other MLB teams. The Astros didn’t find a taker ahead of the lockout, but the player still appeared to opt against proceeding with his move across the ocean.

Even if flocks of MLB players wanted to stick it to MLB’s owners by signing in Japan or South Korea, both leagues have measures in place that protect against an exodus. KBO limits the amount of foreign-born players who are allowed on rosters and caps the earning potential of first-year international players to just $1 million. NPB isn’t as strict about how many foreign players a team can sign (KBO’s cap will technically increase in 2023 with the addition of minor-league spots), but it does limit the number of them who can be active in any given game. Of course, such legislation will prevent a flood, but it won’t stop some players from considering an Asian league — specifically Japan — if the lockout goes long enough. 

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One thing that’s for certain is that no player leaving for NPB or KBO this winter is taking the same risk Horner did when he signed with the Swallows. Enough players have returned to MLB with improved stocks after stints overseas — be it Nick Martínez, Josh Lindblom, Eric Thames — to view it as a viable route to a payday.  

“The amount of information and data teams are getting on players overseas is as vast as it’s ever been,” the agency source said. “It’s pretty easy for a guy to bet on his stuff and go to Japan, or wherever, and double the amount of money they were offered stateside in a season.”



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Packers’ Aaron Rodgers sets up QB Danny Etling’s long rushing TD during mid-game interview in preseason win

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Quarterback Danny Etling scored a 51-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of Friday’s preseason victory over the New Orleans Saints, yet the highlight of the play wasn’t the touchdown run itself — but who was on air when the play occurred. Etling took the snap and ran to his right untouched for the touchdown with Aaron Rodgers being interviewed mid-game. 

Needless to say, Rodgers was pretty excited when Etling — the third-string quarterback — had the big play for the score. 

“What did I tell ya. What did I tell ya. What did I tell ya,” Rodgers said as he clapped his hands and smiled. “Yeah baby, I love it. I love it.” 

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This isn’t the first time Etling ran a naked bootleg and scored on a long touchdown run. Etling scored on an 86-yard touchdown run on a naked bootleg to his right during his time with the New England Patriots in 2018 — and this touchdown looked eerily similar. In fact, Rodgers was complimenting Etling’s athleticism and reminiscing about that very run minutes before he took off for the score Friday night.

Etling has bounced around the league, being waived and signed by the Patriots, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks several times. Etling also was on the Minnesota Vikings practice squad, the Denver Broncos practice squad, the Packers practice squad and the Jacksonville Jaguars practice squad. He actually was assigned to the Packers practice squad and later signed by the Jaguars and assigned to their practice squad last December.

Overall, Etling has been involved in 27 transactions since entering the league in 2018 — yet has never played a regular season snap in the NFL

For one night, the former seventh-round quarterback from LSU recaptured his rookie year magic. No one at Lambeau Field may have been happier than Rodgers. 

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Watch Everton vs. Nottingham Forest: How to live stream, TV channel, Saturday’s Premier League start time

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The Premier League is back in action on Saturday.

Who’s Playing

  • Nottingham Forest @ Everton
  • Current Records: Nottingham Forest 1-1; Everton 0-2

Paramount+ is the only place to watch every minute of every Serie A match this season, not to mention select games in Italian. Sign up now with offer code ITALY to get a special one month free trial. A subscription also gives you access to other sports content including every UEFA Champions League and Europa League match, the NFL on CBS, and countless movies and shows. Get it all free for 1 month with promo code ITALY.

What to Know

Everton will look to defend their home turf on Saturday against Nottingham Forest at 10 a.m. ET.

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This past Saturday, Everton fell a goal shy of Aston Villa, losing 2-1. That was Everton’s second consecutive one-goal defeat against Villa.

Speaking of close games: Nottingham Forest won by a goal, slipping past West Ham United 1-0. The Nottingham Forest offense checked out after the first half but had enough goals banked to take the contest anyway.

Nottingham Forest’s victory lifted them to 1-1 (10th place with three points) while Everton’s loss dropped them down to 0-2 (18th place with zero points). We’ll see if Nottingham Forest can repeat their recent success or if Everton bounces back and reverse their fortune.

Craving even more coverage of the world’s game? Listen below and follow ¡Qué Golazo! A Daily CBS Soccer Podcast where we take you beyond the pitch and around the globe for commentary, previews, recaps and more.  

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How To Watch

  • Who: Everton vs. Nottingham Forest
  • When: Saturday at 10 a.m. ET
  • Where: Goodison Park
  • Online streaming: Peacock
  • Caesars Sportsbook odds: Everton -111; Draw +245; Forest +325

Featured Game | Everton vs. Nottingham Forest

Series History

This is the first time these teams have played each other within the last six years.

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How to watch Fulham vs. Brentford: Premier League live stream info, TV channel, time, game odds

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The Premier League returns to action on Saturday.

Who’s Playing

  • Brentford @ Fulham
  • Current Records: Brentford 1-0-1; Fulham 0-0-2

Paramount+ is the only place to watch every minute of every Serie A match this season, not to mention select games in Italian. Sign up now with offer code ITALY to get a special one month free trial. A subscription also gives you access to other sports content including every UEFA Champions League and Europa League match, the NFL on CBS, and countless movies and shows. Get it all free for 1 month with promo code ITALY.

What to Know

Fulham will look to defend their home turf on Saturday against Brentford at 10 a.m. ET.

This past Saturday, Fulham and Wolverhampton tied 0-0, good for one point each.

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Meanwhile, Brentford got themselves on the board against Manchester United this past Saturday, but Man United never followed suit. Brentford took their game against the Red Devils by a conclusive 4-0 score. The Brentford offense checked out after the first half but had enough goals banked to take the match anyway.

After their draw, Fulham will be looking to earn the full three points in this match.

Craving even more coverage of the world’s game? Listen below and follow ¡Qué Golazo! A Daily CBS Soccer Podcast where we take you beyond the pitch and around the globe for commentary, previews, recaps and more.  

How To Watch

  • Who: Fulham vs. Brentford
  • When: Saturday at 10 a.m. ET
  • Where: Craven Cottage
  • Online streaming: Peacock
  • Caesars Sportsbook odds: Fulham +145; Draw +240; Brentford +190

Featured Game | Fulham vs. Brentford

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