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2018 trade: This year’s World Series MVP for current star

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LOS ANGELES — He didn’t know it at the time, but when Santiago Espinal was traded to the Blue Jays four summers ago, the prize was a player who would be named World Series MVP in a few months.

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Yes, the Blue Jays outfielder was still in the minors at the time, but watching the Fall Classic in October, you better believe Espinal noticed when Steve Pearce of the Red Sox was honored.

“When I was watching the last game and I saw that, I was like, ‘I’ve been traded for the World Series MVP,'” Espinal said Monday as he prepared for his first MLB All-Star Game. “I thought I had to do something about it. I have to prove to myself that I’m worth it.

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“I took it as motivation and that I’m going to work hard and make the most of the opportunity I’ve been given by the Toronto Blue Jays.

“Now I’m here in the big leagues and in the All-Star game.

This deal with the Red Sox, completed on June 28, 2018, was part of the Jays’ selloff as they stripped the roster to the bone. The Red Sox didn’t really want to part ways and felt that Espinal, then in Class A, was expendable.

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However, the Jays saw the upside and gave the 27-year-old native of the Dominican Republic ample opportunity to make his mark in the organization.

Here in 2022, he has now proven to be a great second baseman, earning him a trip to California alongside teammates Vlad Guerrero Jr., Alek Manoah, Jordan Roman and Alejandro Kirk for the Midsummer Classic.

Predictably, Espinal soaked up the experience and channeled it as another motivational opportunity.

“It’s just surreal for me to be in the same locker room as (Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander),” Espinal said. “It’s crazy. When I got on the bus and I saw Cabrera get on, it was like, ‘Holy (holy.)’ It was something I actually had to stop and think about.

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“It gives me even more motivation. I watched this guy on TV as a little kid.”

AL BEASTS

Manoah was never the type to shy away from a challenge. So when asked about pitching in a division in which all five teams have a record of .500 or better, he stuck to the brand.

“We’re an AL Beast,” Manoah said. “It’s like growing up with an older brother and getting kicked, then you have to go up against a kid your own age and it’s easy.

“I think it’s an advantage. If you can get out of the Beast, you’ll be sitting pretty.”

Manoah, who figures to get the nod from American League manager Dusty Baker sometime on Tuesday, believes the intense competition has made him and his teammates stronger.

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“With some of the best teams in baseball, we go to bat literally six series a year against all these guys,” Manoah said. “That’s what sets us up to be a strong team instead of being in a division where you run the show and don’t really get tested.

JUAN ON THE WAY

With fan bases around baseball clamoring for their teams to pitch for Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto — including the Jays — the process has not been pleasant for the player himself.

Of course, the speculation and fallout from that is mostly Soto’s credit, after the 23-year-old became a city with a 15-year, $440 million extension from the Nats.

“It’s pretty frustrating,” Soto said at All-Star media day. “I try to keep my stuff private and I try not to throw it away.

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“It’s really bad but at the end of the day we have to keep playing. It’s really annoying and you don’t know who to trust. But at the end of the day, it’s beyond me what decisions they make.”

AROUND THE BASES

When Baker announced his lineup, he moved first baseman Guerrero to fourth, with Kirk in the bottom of the order and ninth… Guerrero on former manager Charlie Montoya: “He always treated me like I was one of his sons — with a lot of respect. I’ll always admire Charlie for that.” … The Jays’ all-star crew had trouble traveling from Toronto — go for it — and arrived at their LA hotel at 4:30 a.m. Waiting for them? Kirk’s parents … Maybe stealing a page from the NHL if Tuesday’s game tied after nine innings, a mini home derby will decide the game. Each manager selects three players to take three swings. The team with the highest total of homers will be declared the game winner… I totally understand why Guerrero (and probably his employers) don’t want to see him in the Home Run Derby, but it sure would help make the show… Romano (and Guerrero, born in Montreal), will hear the Canadian national anthem played before Tuesday’s game.

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