FREE AGENT FRENZY IS UNDERWAY FOR MLB PLAYERS, TEAMS…WHO IS GOING WHERE?

Here we go again…the time of the season when teams try to sign a free agent or two that will help them “get over the hump” and into the World Series. At the same time, there are players…free agents, who dream of cashing in on their performance this past season and sign a lucrative, long-term contract.  MLB pundits call this time period…from the end of the World Series to the start of Spring Training  “The Hot Stove League”.

Over 200 major and minor league players are looking for a new team during this off-season. Of those, there are 15 that would be considered “top-notch free agents…players coveted by several teams; players who could get their new team “over the hump”. The question is: will the teams dig deeply into their pockets to sign these players, or will they try to stay under the luxury cap limit: the cap is $197 for 2018.

Two free agents are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the type of contract they desire: Jay Bruce, who played for the Mets and Cleveland in 2017, is seeking a five-year deal worth $89-90 million. That is extremely believable. J.D. Martinez, however, who divided his 2017 season between Detroit and Arizona, is seeking a deal worth over $200 million. You read that right…$200 million! That would be okay if a team wants to sign him to a 15-year deal!

Now, before we try and figure out why there is such a chasm between what Bruce desires and what Martinez thinks he is going to get, let’s compare their production numbers over the past five seasons:

Bruce, who is 30 years old, averaged 28 home runs and 92 RBI from 2013 to 2017. His highest season batting average is .262, accomplished this past season. For Martinez, I had to average his totals from the past four years…the reason being is that he played in only 86 games in 2013 and his numbers from that year would have severely skewed his averages. In the past four seasons, Martinez has averaged 33 home runs and 87 RBI…very comparable to Bruce with one huge caveat: In 2014, Martinez was released by the Houston Astros…the 2017 World Series champions!

To find a comparable productive hitter with a large-scale contract, one can turn to the numbers of Justin Upton. Last year, with the Tigers and Angels, Upton had a .273 batting average with 35 homers and 109 RBI. He recently signed a five-year, $106 million contract to remain with the Angels (Actually, he signed the contract with the Tigers…the Angels added a fifth year to his contract so he would not opt out).

So, what is the reason Martinez is asking for a $200 million contract? One name provides the answer: Scott Boras, his agent. Boras has been the architect of a few gaudy contracts: He got Alex Rodriguez a 10-year, $252 million deal; then, he successfully negotiated long-term contracts for Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg…both of the Washington Nationals. Scherzer signed a seven-year, $210 million contract while Strasburg’s deal is for seven years at $175 million.  In addition to negotiating for Martinez this off-season, Boras and his agency also represents free agents Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Jake Arrieta.  To say that Boras’ agency is slated to make a ton of money this free agent period is an understatement.

An issue facing Boras and his clients is that some teams that have already signed players to long-term contracts are not going to risk going over the luxury threshold. The current Collective Bargaining Agreement has a clause in place that teams who consistently surpass the cap will pay more of a tax than the previous year; so teams like Boston, the Yankees, and the Dodgers are not going to open up their wallets. So, what teams are going to go after the likes of Bruce, Martinez, Hosmer, Moustakas and Arrieta? Stay tuned and we will keep track of who signs where and for how much.

 

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TWO MORE UN-DESERVING MLB MANAGERS GET FIRED

Quick, now:  what do John Farrell and Dusty Baker have in common?  Their teams both won 93+ games over the past two seasons? Nope. That their teams won consecutive Division titles? Uh-Uh!  Oh, those are very good answers!  How about that, for their efforts over the past two seasons, they were both fired from their jobs as managers? You got it!

You will have to forgive me…I was always under the impression that the reason a manager in MLB was fired was because their team failed to make the playoffs! Like, Brad Ausmus of the Detroit Tigers, whose teams missed the playoffs for the third straight year after winning 90 games and a division title in 2014. Nay…Farrell and Baker were let go because their teams failed to advance past the Division series. Really?  There are managers from ten teams in the American League and ten teams in the National League that would have loved to be in the position that Farrell and Baker were at the end of this season.

So, what was the reason given by the Red Sox (Farrell) and Nationals (Baker) for terminating their managers? They wanted to “go in a different direction”. Translation: They want to make it to the World Series or their season would be considered a “bust”. I guess Mr. Dombrowski and Mr. Rizzo don’t realize that only one team from each League makes it to the World Series.

In the case of the Red Sox, I think it was a case of being too greedy…to try and get a fourth World Series title in 13 years after going without a title for 86 years.  Even in the first season without David Ortiz, the BoSox won another division title. Apparently, an early exit from the playoffs, at the hands of a very good Houston Astros team, was too much to bear. Scapegoat: Farrell.

For the Nationals, give them credit…they have been trying! Washington has been in the playoffs four times since 2012; unfortunately, they have not made it past the first round in any of the seasons. They tried with Baker this year and last year; they tried with Matt Williams in 2014; they tried with Davey Johnson in 2012…the result was the same: elimination in the Division Series.

I guess the Nationals thought it was Baker’s fault that Bryce Harper missed 51 games; that shortstop Trea Turner missed 64 games; that Adam Eaton, their projected leadoff hitter and catalyst for the offense, appeared in only 23 games before he went down for the season.  Scapegoat:  Baker!

So, what does a prospective manager need to do in order to keep his job? In the case of the Red Sox or Nationals, you had better get your team to the World Series, or you will wind up in the unemployment line.  Boston is pinning their hopes on Alex Cora. Washington? They are still looking. I just wonder how many prospective managers Washington has to interview until they find one that is crazy enough to try and fill Dusty Baker’s shoes…or Matt Williams’…or Davey Johnson’s.

 

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CFB: MID AMERICAN CONFERENCE UPSETS ARE NO LONGER UPSETS

This coming Saturday, there is a college football game scheduled that will be so far under the radar, no one will notice it.  None of the predictors on College Game Day will say a thing about this one; however, if the road team wins, it will be a cause for celebration…for one particular conference.

The game is between the University of Toledo Rockets and the Miami University Hurricanes to be played on Miami’s home field. What the Rockets would like to do is continue a trend that began way back in 1991 and has continued through the first three weeks of the 2017 season…a Mid American Conference (MAC) team knocking off a so-called “Group of Five” FBS opponent. It seems to happen every year and nobody really cares…except for the teams in the Mid American Conference!

As a definition, the “Group of Five” conferences are the ones in which the four teams picked to play off for the College Football National Championship usually come from one of five conferences: The Atlantic Coast Conference; The Big 10; the Big 12; the PAC 12; and the Southeastern Conference. The other conferences in the FBS are considered mid-major schools and are typically not in the mix for a shot at the National Championship. With the recent spate of upsets by the MAC over “Group of Five” conference schools, however, these teams are now starting to be considered.

Upsets of major college football teams by teams from the MAC began in 1991…in fact, there is even a list of top ten upsets by MAC teams! Five of the top ten upsets occurred in 2003: Northern Illinois upset Alabama (SEC) by a score of 19-16 (had to happen before Nick Saban!); Bowling Green topped Purdue (BIG 10), 27-26; Northern Illinois defeated Maryland (then of the ACC) 20-13; Toledo edged Pittsburgh 35-31; and Marshall knocked off Kansas State, 27-20.

Fast-forward a decade or so and the MAC teams are still pulling off upsets. In fact, these so-called upsets are happening so many times, they are probably not even considered upsets any more. Just in 2017, alone, there have been four games in which MAC teams have knocked off “Group of Five” opponents: on September 9, Central Michigan defeated Kansas (BIG 12), 45-27 and Eastern Michigan topped Rutgers (BIG 10), 16-13. The following week, Ohio defeated Kansas, 42-30; then, in perhaps the biggest upset since that Alabama game in 2003, Northern Illinois turned back Nebraska (BIG 10), 21-17. The rumblings heard in and around Lincoln were severe:  “Fire Coach Mike Riley”; “How Could this Happen?” It is because the MAC is no longer a patsy conference.

As a matter of fact, a MAC team muscled its way into the BCS playoff picture, in 2012.  Northern Illinois University rolled to a 12-1 season and was chosen to play in the Orange Bowl…one of the BCS major bowl games. They were defeated by Florida State, 31-10.  Then, last season, Western Michigan University steamrolled their way to a 13-0 regular season, including wins over Northwestern and Illinois (BIG 10). They did not make the “Final Four” but were invited to the Cotton Bowl to play another BIG 10 team, Wisconsin, and bowed, 24-16. It is safe to say that the Mid American Conference has accorded itself well over the past decade-and-a-half.

Attention “Group of Five” athletic directors:  Don’t schedule a Mid American Conference school unless you are prepared to lose the game!

 

 

 

 

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A COMEBACK FOR THE AGES…AGAIN!

This past January 2, in the Rose Bowl, the USC Trojans trailed the Penn State Nittany Lions by a score of 49-35 entering the fourth quarter.  The Trojans rallied to tie the game and, with no time showing on the clock, Matt Boormeester booted a 46-yard field boal to give USC a 52-49 win.  It was called “A Comeback for the Ages”.

Fast forward exactly eight months to Saturday, September 2.  The UCLA Bruins trailed the Texas A & M Aggies by 34 points.  All Josh Rosen and the Bruins did was to stage the biggest FBS comeback since 2006 as they rallied for a 45-44 win…ironically, in the Rose Bowl which is the Bruins’ home stadium.  It was called “A Comeback for the Ages.”  That lasted one week only, thanks to a miraculous finish by the Washington State Cougars over the Boise State Broncos.

Trailing the Broncos by 21 points going into the fourth quarter, Wazzou rallied to tie the game; then won it in the third overtime. Fans who watched the game at Martin Stadium in Pullman were treated to a tremendous offensive display by both teams.  Some of the statistics:

A total of 856 yards by both teams.

There were 166 total plays

The defenses forced seven total turnovers

Once again, it was labeled as “A Comeback for the Ages”!  That is, until the next one occurs…since there are at least two more months left in the college football season, you can count on another “Comeback for the Ages.”

So, how long did a three-overtime game that started at 7:30 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time last?  Well, the writer that filed the story at 11:50 p.m. For those on the East Coast, that was 2:50 a.m.!  In the morning! I have to believe not too many people on the East Coast watched that game until the end.

College Football Sidebars

  1. After taking delight in watching the Ohio State Buckeyes get hammered by Oklahoma, I was wondering when was the last time the Bucks lost two regular season games. Turns out it was 2011; they actually lost their last three games of the regular season…to Purdue, Penn State and Michigan…then, for good measure, they lost to Florida in the Gator Bowl.
  2. Speaking of losing streaks, how about the Governors of Austin Peay from Clarksville, Tennessee? They have lost 29 games in a row and 49 of their last 50 games. Austin Peay has a long way to go in order to catch the all-time record of 80 consecutive losses by Prairie View A & M.
  3. If you were a football head coach, what kind of play would you call if you had a third down and goal to go…FROM YOUR OWN SEVEN-YARD LINE? It happened to Louisiana Tech this past Saturday. Tech fumbled the ball and it was kicked about four or five times before it was downed at their own seven.  So, that made it third and 93 yards!
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MLB MOURNS LOSS OF THREE ALL STARS

It is always sad when one of the MLB players that you watched and idolized during your childhood passes away.  Within the past three weeks, three All Star players left this world to enjoy life in the next.

On July 29, Lee May, known as the “Big Bopper”, died at the age of 74. The older brother of Carlos May and the grandfather of Jacob May…rookie outfielder of the Chicago White Sox…played 18 years in the major leagues from 1965 through 1982.  He played four seasons with Cincinnati, three with Houston, six with Baltimore and two with Kansas City.  Of the three, May never won a World Series ring although he did appear in two World Series: with Cincinnati in 1970 and with Baltimore in 1979.

Lee May was a three-time All Star who had a total of 2,031 hits, 354 home runs and 1,244 RBI.  His three best seasons were in 1969 when he slugged 38 home runs and drove in 110 runs; 1970 when he hit 34 homers and drove in 94 runs; and 1971 when he hit 39 homers and drove in 98 runs.  Five years later, in 1976, May drove in 109 runs…tops in the American League.

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This past Sunday, it was revealed that Darren Daulton, a 14-year veteran with the Phillies and other teams, died of brain cancer at the age of 55.  What makes that fact interesting is that he is the fifth former Phillies player who died of brain cancer.  Others who have died from the same disease were:  Tug McGraw (father of Country singer Tim McGraw), John Vukovich, Ken Brett (brother of former Royals’ star George Brett) and Johnny Oates.  All five played for the Phillies in the old Veterans’ Stadium. (I will talk more about this in my next blog.)

Daulton, nicknamed “Dutch”, was not highly touted when he was drafted in 1980.  In fact, he was the 629th player taken in that draft.  He played 14 years in the majors, almost exclusively behind the plate as a catcher.  Daulton was with Phillies for all but 52 games that he played for the Florida Marlins in 1997.  That worked out well, because Daulton won his only World Series ring that final season.

A three-time All Star, Daulton collected 2,135 hits, slammed 338 home runs and won a Silver Slugger Award in 1992 when he had a .270 average with 27 homers and 109 RBI. He followed that up, in 1993, with 24 homers and 105 RBI. Of the 1,161 games that he played in his big league career, Daulton caught 965 of them.

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Less than 24 hours after the news of Daulton’s death, it was announced that Don Baylor, former All Star player and Manager of the Year, had passed away at the age of 68.  Nicknamed “Groove”, Baylor played 19 Big League seasons and was considered one of the top hitters in the game.  He played for six teams and went to the World Series three consecutive years…with three consecutive teams!  He won a World Series ring in 1987 with the Minnesota Twins.

Baylor was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the second round of the 1967 draft (39th pick overall). He played for the Orioles for six seasons. His best year for the Birds was 1975 when he hit 25 home runs and drove in 76 runs. On April 2, 1976, Baylor was involved in a “blockbuster” trade with the Oakland Athletics, in which he and pitcher Mike Torrez went to the West Coast in exchange for the prodigious slugger, Reggie Jackson and lefty starter Ken Holtzman.

Baylor remained only one year with the A’s as he signed a six-year, $1.283 million contract (his salary the previous season was $35,000) with the then California Angels. He played with the Angels until 1983 and led them to the American League Championship Series in 1979 and 1982.

The call of the “Big Apple” and the New York Yankees was overwhelming and, on December 1, 1982, Baylor signed a three-year, $2,277 million contract to play in Yankee Stadium. He then went from New York to Boston, to Minnesota and, finally, he ended his career with Oakland, in 1988.

In his illustrious career, Baylor banged out 2,135 hits including 338 home runs.  He was also a pretty good base stealer. In four separate seasons, Baylor hit at least 25 home runs and stole at least 22 bases.

Just five years after appearing in his last game as a player, Baylor was named manager of the new franchise in Colorado…the Rockies.  He was relatively successful…given he was managing a fledgling team…Finishing in fourth place one time, third place three times, and second place once.  In 1995, Baylor was named National League Manager of the Year as he guided the Rockies to a 77-67 record (in a shortened, 144-game season).

Baylor then managed the Chicago Cubs from 2000 through 2004.  His best record at Wrigley Field as 88-74, good for third place, in 2001.

None of these three players may ever make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown; however, many long-time baseball fans will agree that the game will never be the same again without these three (Hall of Famers in their own right) around the batting cages!

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MLB “DOG AND PONY SHOW”…2017 EDITION…IS OVER AND DONE

MLB’s 2017 of its “Dog and Pony Show”…better known as the Trade Deadline flurry of activity…has come and gone.  Some teams made major improvements, some decided to “stand pat” while others left baseball pundits scratching their collective heads. While not wanting to dwell on individuals trades, I did want to throw out a few numbers:

There were a total of 26 trades completed in the week leading up to the deadline (July 15 through July 31). Of those trades, 18 of them involved players who were in the final year of their contracts meaning that they would become free agents at the end of the season. Over the past several years, baseball GMs have tried to tried potential free agents and try to get something in return before letting them walk at the end of the season.

One particular player was traded twice in a span of six days! Jaime Garcia was traded from the Braves to the Twins on July 24.  Garcia made exactly one start for the Twins before he was sent packing again, on July 30, to the Yankees. This sometimes happens during the off-season; however, not many times during the course of the season!

Garcia being traded twice in six days will probably not make the top five all-time weird trades in MLB history.  How about the case of John McDonald, who was actually traded for himself!  On July 22, 2005, McDonald went from Toronto to Detroit.  Less than four months later, he went from Detroit back to Toronto!  At least McDonald did not have to unpack, pack, and unpack again…like Garcia did!

The one difference in this year’s trade activity that I noticed is that a couple of players who were traded are injured and are out for the rest of the season!  Dustin Fowler was part of the Sonny Gray trade with Oakland and was sent to the Athletics…however, he had right knee surgery and is not due to return this season.  Same scenario is true for Matt Strahm, who was traded from the Royals to the Padres.  He had left knee surgery and is out for the season.

Wait…what???

Teams were actually allowed to trade injured players?  Teams traded for these players not knowing if and when theses players will return from knee injuries?  Are you kidding me, right now?  Why would anyone trade for damaged goods? Strahm is a pitcher and his knees are very important to the success of an MLB pitcher.  How can MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred allow this to happen?

What will the Athletics and/or Padres do if these players…somehow…never come back from these injuries?  All I know is:  I would never, EVER, trade for someone who is recovering from knee surgery.

Is all the trading done, now that the deadline passed?  Not really.  A player still can be traded in August; the only caveat is that any players involved in a deal must clear waivers…that means, no other team puts a claim in for said players.  Therefore, we still may or will have some trades still happening.

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IS ESPN BEGINNING A DOWNWARD SPIRAL? MAYBE

The so-called “World Wide Leader in Sports”, ESPN, is starting to feel the pangs of success.  Once considered the only all-sports network, ESPN is now competing with other sports entities and the pressure is being felt.  Within the past 10 days or so, John Skipper…President of ESPN…began laying off employees…over 100 of them, so far!  The fact that a major corporation is laying off hundreds of employees is not the story here.  What the story is: how ESPN is doing it.  From what I have read and heard, ESPN basically told the affected employees, “Nice to see you, thanks for your service, now goodbye!”

Secondly, it appears as if ESPN is not following the basic Corporate rule of “last one hired, first one fired.”  Some of the employees who were let go have been with the network for several years:  Ed Werder, Andy Katz, Danny Kanell, Jayson Stark (WHAT??!!), Ron Jaworski, Doug Glanville, and Jim Bowden are among those who were let go.  Yet, newcomers like Mike Golic, Jr., were retained.  With all due respect to Mike Jr., he should have been the one to go instead of, say, all the others!

What was really incredulous was what Ed Werder tweeted…he said that after ESPN told him he was being laid off, they asked him to stick around for the NFL draft!!!

In addition to all of those employees who were laid off, some long-term employees are going to experience significantly reduced roles.  Ryen Rusillo, Karl Ravech and Hannah Storm will have fewer assignments…perhaps, in a effort to get those veteran announcers to leave on their own.

There have been other personalities who have left “The Mother Ship” as Dan Patrick refers to ESPN.  Patrick left almost ten years ago in order to pursue other opportunities.  He has his own show, “The Dan Patrick Show” and has been quite successful since breaking out on his own.  Colin Cowherd left ESPN for Fox and has also enjoyed much success.  Other personalities to either leave ESPN or retire (perhaps before being laid off) are:  Chris Berman, Mike Tirico, Erin Andrews, etc.

Not only are employees being let go, ESPN is saying goodbye to a couple of long-term programs.  The Sports Reporters, a long-running Sunday show featuring four veteran reporters trading barbs and stories, is going off the air after this Sunday’s show.  The show was anchored for a long period of time by the late John Saunders until he passed away. Mike Lupica tried his very best to fill in as host but the program is still going off the air.

Then, it has been announced that the long-running morning show, “Mike and Mike”, featuring Mike Greenburg and Mike Golic, is going off the air after over 18 years of being together.  Greenberg is going to host a “Today Show”-type television morning show and will be joined by Sage Steele.  With all due respect to Ms. Steele, not having Greenberg and Golic bantering back and forth is going to be a severe loss to morning programming.

With the news of the demise of the above two shows, could “The Sports Reporters” and “Pardon the Interruption” be far behind?  And…oh, by the way, do people really like watching Dan LeBatard, his Papi, and Bomani Jones, all scrunched together in one small place?  If they were any closer, they would have do use much more deodorant!

So, why did all of this happen?  My purely unprofessional opinion is that ESPN simply got “too big for its britches”.  They flipped one successful network into:  ESPN2, ESPN News, ESPNU, not to mention ESPN Classic.  They had too many employees to begin with and it is now taking its toll.  I mean, do you really need five people previewing the NFL schedule on Sunday mornings?  Do you really have to have three people on Baseball Tonight?  Does every football game need two to three people in the booth…and two sideline reporters?

So, apparently, Mr. Skipper is going to try and get leaner and meaner.  The only problem, if all of the good on-air personalities are gone, who is going to be watching the shows?

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