Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /2014-ncaa-tournament-east-region-preview-sleepers-and-upset-picks
Body:

A region-by-region preview of this year's NCAA Tournament, complete with a rundown of March Madness' top teams, Sweet 16 sleepers to watch out for, potential first-round upsets and Cinderella stories from this year's Big Dance.

EAST
New York


Top TeamVirginia (1)
The Virginia Cavaliers (28–6, 16–2 ACC) became the first team other than Duke or North Carolina to win the ACC regular season conference title outright since Maryland in 2002 — the same year the Terrapins were crowned NCAA Tournament champs. The Wahoos also swept the ACC Tournament title before earning their first No. 1 seed since the days when Ralph Sampson patrolled the paint in Charlottesville. Coach Tony Bennett’s team may not be the most exciting to watch and the Cavs roster doesn’t read like an NBA Draft preview, but UVa has proven capable of beating any team in the country on any stage. With a methodical style of play, suffocating defense and backcourt — Malcolm Brogdon (88.6 FT%) and London Perrantes (82.9 FT%) — that knows how to ice a game in the closing minutes, Virginia will be a maddeningly tough out in March, or maybe even early April.

Sweet 16 SleeperNorth Carolina (6)
It’s been a roller coaster ride for Tar Heel hoops fans this season. UNC jumped out of the gate with a loss to Belmont, then reeled off wins over Louisville, Michigan State and Kentucky, followed by a 1–4 start to ACC play. A 12-game winning streak was halted by back-to-back losses — at Duke and vs. Pitt — heading into the NCAA Tournament. But with heady point guard Marcus Paige (17.4 ppg, 4.3 apg), forward James Michael McAdoo (14.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and two-time NCAA champion coach Roy Williams, the Heels have the pieces to dance into the Sweet 16.

Upset AlertHarvard (12) over Cincinnati (5)
The Crimson don’t play like a stereotypical Ivy League champ. Tommy Amaker’s club is not going to small-ball and backdoor-cut like the great Princeton teams of yesteryear. Harvard can go blow-for-blow with some of the best in the nation, as it did during a five-point loss at Connecticut and a 15-point win over Boston College earlier this season. The Crimson have six players who average at least 9.3 points per game, led by wingman Wesley Saunders (14.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.9 apg), point guard Siyani Chambers (11.1 ppg, 4.7 apg) and active big man Steve Moundou-Missi (10.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg).

South Region Preview
East Region Preview
West Region Preview
Midwest Region Preview

 

Teaser:
The Virginia Cavaliers are the beast of the East Region
Post date: Sunday, March 16, 2014 - 21:53
Path: /golf/conversation-arnold-palmer
Body:

There have been better players with prettier swings. But there has never been a more important golfer than The King, Arnold Palmer. He almost single-handedly quadrupled purses, grew the game beyond the country clubs and brought it into our living rooms, and assembled an Army of devoted followers. He won — and lost — with more flair than any other athlete.

As hard as it might be to believe, this spring marks the 50th anniversary of Arnold Palmer’s last major championship victory. He won the 1964 Masters at Augusta National, earning his fourth green jacket in seven years and giving him a seventh professional major title.

Although there would be several close calls, there would be no more major titles, although Palmer kept contending for another decade, winning his last PGA Tour event, the 62nd of his illustrious career, at the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1973. He would keep competing into his 50s and go on to support the Champions Tour for years.

Today, at age 84, Palmer remains a top earner in the golf endorsement world and one of the game’s most prominent figures, a beloved elder statesman. In addition to myriad business interests, Palmer hosts his own PGA Tour event, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which will be contested for the 36th straight year at the Bay Hill Club in Orlando.

Athlon gained an audience with The King to ask him a variety of questions on all manner of subjects.

Athlon Sports: What current player reminds you most of yourself?

Arnold Palmer: I’ve had a lot of people remark on who might be a lot like I am, and the name that comes up most of the time is Phil Mickelson. He’s left-handed and I’m right-handed, so we’re not similar there, but the compliments that he gets and the way he treats the fans and a lot of the way he plays the game … I suppose if I look I can see some things I enjoy doing and did in my career. I think he’s a very thoughtful guy, and that is certainly in his favor as far as my thoughts are concerned. And he’s a good closer. He’s had some unfortunate things at the U.S. Open, but he has finished very well most of the time.

Athlon: Speaking of Mickelson, what do you make of his British Open win and the way he won it at Muirfield?

Palmer: That was a great victory. He came on very good. He seemed to be playing with a consistent desire to win the championship. It was positive throughout. That was obvious in his play.

Athlon: What is your take on the anchored putter debate? Such a stroke is scheduled to be banned starting Jan. 1, 2016.

Palmer: I’m a little outspoken as far as the anchored putter is concerned. I’m opposed to it. You shouldn’t need to or be allowed to anchor a club against your body in any part of the golf swing. Of course you can find people who will argue with that and find fault with my opinion. When you touch your body you’re getting an aid that isn’t meant to be in the golf swing.

Athlon: Speaking of the rules, a new Decision (18/4) was enacted for 2014 that stipulates if a high definition video or replay is the only way to determine that a ball moved, the player will not be penalized. (Tiger Woods got a two-stroke penalty under a similar scenario at the BMW Championship.) Do you like this change?

Palmer: I think I go back to the rules of the game. It’s the player's responsibility to charge himself with the penalty. If he thinks he has done something wrong, it’s a penalty — whether he sees it with the naked eye or with HD isn’t the matter. It’s his own opinion of what he did during that transaction.

Athlon: Who is in your dream foursome, among people you have played with?

Palmer: It is very difficult to narrow it down. I certainly have people I’ve enjoyed playing golf with. One of the things I’ve always said is if you play 18 holes of golf with a person, you have an opportunity to really get to know that person. A lot of the people I have played with I have really come to that conclusion; it is a way of getting to learn about a person. So who would they be? My father would be one of the most interesting people in my group. Dwight D. Eisenhower would be one I enjoyed being with and playing golf with. I could go down a list. Jack Nicklaus, of course — people like that. Gary Player. People I have respected and enjoyed through the years. I could name hundreds of people I have enjoyed being with. I think of Bob Hope as another one. These are people I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Athlon: Who’s left that you wish you could play with?

Palmer: I was on my way one time to play golf with Jack Kennedy in Palm Beach. He hurt his back the day before and had to cancel the golf. That was not long before he was killed and I never played with him. I would have enjoyed that and trying to get to know him better.

Athlon: Do you regret that you didn’t get to play with today’s equipment in your prime? Do you think modern equipment has been good for the game?

Palmer: I suppose I have mixed feelings about that. Having played as far back as wooden shafted golf clubs and now seeing what they are doing with shafts alone, titanium … wood is a thing of the past now in golf clubs. So I’m not sure sometimes how things might be different. It’s very difficult to say. One day I did a competition with myself and I used the old model golf clubs with wooden shafts and leather grips and played one ball, and the other I used all the modern stuff, the graphite shafts, the titanium heads and so forth. The difference for nine holes was 2 strokes. But the modern stuff won…

I do think the modern golf ball, the modern shafts, the heads, the technology that has been put into the game is certainly an opportunity to improve your performance. And I think that is good for the game, for those trying to play the game.

Athlon: Do you feel it would still help to have the golf ball reined in?

Palmer: I think there is no question about the fact that some day in the near future we’re going to have to bring the ball back, cut it down. Bring it back to a more playable situation as far as distance is concerned. If technology continues to improve… and that takes in a lot of territory — dimples of golf ball, type of material we use, composition of the golf ball. I feel strongly those things will have to be adjusted.

Athlon: It's a Ryder Cup year. Are you surprised that the Ryder Cup has evolved into one of the biggest events in golf?

Palmer: Not really. I think the Ryder Cup was something that started with the rivalry of the nations involved. It’s a good competition, and I thought it was from the beginning. It will continue to be a good competition. I suppose it will continue to improve, and maybe there will be different rules or means of selecting teams. But that is progress and that will be something that is probably inevitable.

Athlon: Could someone today serve as playing captain as you did? (Palmer was the last U.S. playing captain, at the 1963 Ryder Cup at East Lake.)

Palmer: It was certainly fun for me. It was something where I was thoroughly honored to be the captain and to be playing on the same team. It was a lot of fun. And of course I enjoyed the competition and I enjoyed my team. They were very supportive in the matches that we were playing. I’m not sure how that would work out today.

Athlon: Why do you think the U.S. has struggled in the Ryder Cup? (Europe is 7-2 going back to 1995.)

Palmer: I think golf is becoming more international as days go by. The international community and golf community is certainly getting better and better all the time. The competition will be something that we all have seen grow and take note of, and it’s been great for the Ryder Cup.

Athlon: Do you get into the Ryder Cup as fan?

Palmer: I certainly am interested. Some of these matches, as a fan, you’ve got to have an interest in what’s happening. And if you know the golf courses and those situations, it becomes exciting and interesting.

Athlon: Is the Golf Channel everything you hoped it would be? (Palmer helped found the channel, which launched in 1995.)

Palmer: I always thought the Golf Channel was something that would be great. I have to admit that in the early days I was skeptical of what you would do for 24 hours. Working with that as I did, it was quite interesting. Of course I think the Golf Channel has done marvels for the game and the golfing public. It has been a godsend. And it’s something that will continue to be healthy for the golf public.

Athlon: If you had to pick one career highlight, what would it be?

Palmer: I don’t think there is one. I’ve had some good and bad. Certainly I’ve been very fortunate that I was able to win a lot of golf tournaments, including a lot coming from behind. I’ve lost a few, too, that have taken me down. And in all instances I feel it’s a great opportunity that I’ve had to be able to play and compete in those circumstances to way back in the middle 1950s.

 Certainly I’ve been very fortunate that I was able to win a lot of golf tournaments, including a lot coming from behind. I’ve lost a few, too, that have taken me down. And in all instances I feel it’s a great opportunity that I’ve had to be able to play and compete in those circumstances to way back in the middle 1950s.

Athlon: Is there a biggest disappointment?

Palmer: I haven’t won the PGA Championship. That is certainly one that I immediately think of. I would have loved to have added it to my resume. But I had a lot of success with the PGA Championship. I had a couple that I finished second in and some other close calls. (Palmer had six top-10s at the PGA, including two runner-up finishes.) I literally just didn’t make the shot that I needed to make at the right time. It’s sort of like how Sam Snead never won the U.S. Open.

Athlon: What is your take on reigning Masters champion Adam Scott’s future?

Palmer: I think he is a wonderful young man. I think he has a fantastic future in the game. He’s got a great golf swing, great personality. He’s learned to compete around the world. I feel very strongly about him. I am very pro Adam Scott.

Athlon: Tiger Woods will be trying to win your tournament for the ninth time at Bay Hill. To what do you attribute his success?

Palmer: I think he knows the golf course very well. He came here and played as a junior and won, won on this golf course as an amateur. He is very familiar with playing golf in the central part of Florida. And of course Bay Hill is a course that is somewhat tuned to his game. That is quite obvious given his number of victories.

Athlon: Do you have a personal recipe for an Arnold Palmer?

Palmer: I made the whole thing. I did it for a special reason and it has worked out very well. I am very pleased with the drink, I am very happy that people have supported it and enjoyed it. I put the combination together originally and that is what we do. And that is a secret!

This interview appears in the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports Golf Annual, on newsstands now. Order your copy today.

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 12:19
Path: /mlb/cleveland-indians-2014-preview
Body:

Was 2013 just a nice little season by the Indians or a springboard to bigger things? AL Manager of the Year Terry Francona asked that question in December at the winter meetings at Disney World, and the answer has yet to reveal itself. The Indians caught MLB looking last season when they won 92 games and made the postseason for the first time since 2007 by claiming the AL’s first wild card spot. They have not had consecutive winning seasons since 2000-01, and based on the pitching defections, that streak may stay intact through 2014. In the rotation, the Indians lost 13-game winner Ubaldo Jimenez and 10-game winner Scott. They released closer Chris Perez, third in franchise history in saves, and lost key relievers Joe Smith and Matt Albers to free agency. Most of the offense that finished fifth in the AL in runs last season returns. To make up for the pitching losses, the Indians need more production from Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, who signed big free-agent contracts before the 2013 season but turned in subpar performances.

 

Rotation
Justin Masterson, coming off a career season, will once again be the No.1 starter, followed by Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister. The fifth spot will be determined among Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer. To compensate for the loss of Jimenez and Kazmir, it’s imperative that Masterson, Kluber and McAllister stay healthy. Masterson was knocked out of the rotation by an oblique injury in early September, and Kluber and McAllister missed time because of finger injuries. Salazar, the Indians’ most exciting home-grown starter since Bartolo Colon, has never pitched a full season in the big leagues. Carrasco and Tomlin are rebounding from Tommy John surgery, while Bauer spent most of 2013 at Class AAA Columbus trying to rework his delivery.

 

Bullpen
John Axford lost his closer’s job with the Brewers last April and spent the rest of the season pitching in a setup role with Milwaukee and St. Louis. The Indians signed him to a one-year $4.5 million deal to replace Perez as closer, a role in which Axford earned 105 saves for Milwaukee from 2010-12. Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw will be Axford’s top setup men with Allen probably getting the first shot at closing if Axford falters. Outfielder Drew Stubbs was traded to Colorado for Josh Outman, who should replace Rich Hill as the Tribe’s left-handed specialist. Marc Rzepczynski has the inside track to be the second lefty in the pen, while righthander Vinnie Pestano will try to re-establish himself as one of the AL’s top setup men after struggling last season with a sore elbow.

 

Middle Infield
Three years ago, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was the Indians’ best overall position player, but his game has slipped the last two seasons. Now that title belongs to second baseman Jason Kipnis, who is coming off his first All-Star appearance. The only thing holding back Kipnis, who led the Indians in runs, hits, RBIs and steals, is a tad more consistency at the plate. Cabrera, who has seen his OPS drop for three straight seasons, is entering his walk year after batting a career-low .242 last season. Cabrera is sure-handed with a good arm but ranks low on most defensive metrics. Mike Aviles is an experienced backup in the middle infield.

 

Corners
While Swisher will be at first base, third base could be a revolving door. Swisher, who played a career-high 112 games at first last season, watched his OPS drop below .800 (.763) for just the second time in the last eight years. He led the Indians with 22 homers but was bothered by a sore left shoulder and couldn’t handle the pressure of batting cleanup. Last season ended with Lonnie Chisenhall and Aviles platooning at third. The Indians want Chisenhall to seize the job. Catcher Carlos Santana, Swisher’s main backup at first, could get some at bats at third after playing the position in winter ball.

 

Outfield
In their big free-agent signing of the winter, the Indians added left-handed-hitting David Murphy to platoon in right field with Ryan Raburn. Murphy is coming off a bad season with Texas — he hit only .220 with 13 home runs — but the Indians believe he’ll improve their stats against righthanders. Murphy is a .280 lifetime hitter against righties but struggled against them last year. Bourn, coming off surgery on his left hamstring, will open his second season in center. In his first year in the AL, Bourn stole just 23 bases and had an on-base percentage of .316, down 32 points from his final season in Atlanta. Left fielder Michael Brantley hit .375 with runners in scoring position and played the entire season without making an error. He doesn’t have much power — 16 home runs in 1,220 plate appearances the past two seasons — but he does have a respectable 133 RBIs over that span.

 

Catching
Yan Gomes took the starting job away from Santana last August even though he didn’t make the team out of spring training. Not only did Gomes handle the pitching staff and throw out 41 percent (20-for-49) on the basepaths, but he also batted .294 (86-for-293) with extra-base power. It remains to be seen how Gomes handles the burden of catching full-time. The emergence of Gomes makes Santana the backup at catcher, first and third base and the primary DH. He is coming off a solid offensive season and showed he could handle batting cleanup.

 

DH/Bench
Last year the bench players named themselves the Goon Squad and were one of the best units on the club. On the Goon Squad, all roads lead to Jason Giambi, 43, the part-time DH and clubhouse Yoda. Giambi played only 71 games last year, but hit nine homers with 31 RBIs. Aviles can play second, short, third and the outfield. Raburn, who is especially effective against lefties, hit 16 homers and drove in 55 runs in just 243 at-bats. If Santana doesn’t start at third, he’s expected to be the regular DH and backup catcher. Should the Indians go with three catchers, veteran Matt Treanor will get a look. Justin Sellers has been a pleasant surprise in the spring and could make the team as an extra infielder.

 

Management
Francona made GM Chris Antonetti, the man who signed him to a four-year deal in October 2012, look good in 2013. One area in which the Indians need to improve this season is their play against good teams. They went 8–31 last year against Detroit, Boston, the Yankees and Tampa Bay and 84–39 against everyone else. Antonetti believes the Indians have a better roster entering the 2014 season than they did a year ago. He is especially high on the starting pitching, noting the improved depth behind Masterson, Salazar, Kluber and McAllister. It would help if he hit on a couple of minor-league free agents as he did last season with Raburn and Kazmir.

 

Final Analysis
The Indians had a chance to build on their momentum with another winter of signings and trades. But that didn’t happen. After shaking things up with the signings of Swisher and Bourn for a combined $104 million before last season, they moved cautiously this offseason. In signing Swisher and Bourn, they spent against this year’s revenues from MLB’s national TV contracts, which somewhat depleted their resources. Issues with attendance could be another reason ownership may have chosen not to make a bigger play on the free-agent market. Despite being in contention from late April, the Indians drew only 1.6 million fans, second-fewest in the big leagues. The Rays, who beat the Indians in the wild card game, were the only team that drew fewer fans. Overall, this is a team that will be a factor in the AL Central but didn’t do enough in the offseason to pass favored Detroit and must contend with surging Kansas City to stay in the wild card race.


Lineup
CF Michael Bourn (L)
His .316 OBP was his lowest in five years as he had trouble adjusting to the AL.
1B Nick Swisher (S)
Hit .263 with seven homers and 17 RBIs in September stretch run.
2B Jason Kipnis (L)
Hit .307 (114-371) with 25 doubles and nine homers from June 5 through the end of the season.
DH Carlos Santana (S)
The Indians went 33–15 with Santana batting in the cleanup spot.
SS Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
Hit just .209 (54-for-258) at home compared to .276 (69-for-250) on the road.
LF Michael Brantley (L)
Made at least one start in every spot in the lineup except No. 9.
RF David Murphy (L)
He’s a career .365 (27-for-74) hitter at Progressive Field, his new home ballpark.
C Yan Gomes (R)
Ranked third in OPS (.826) for MLB catchers who had at least 275 plate appearances.
3B Lonnie Chisenhall (L)
Helpless against lefties, hitting .111 (4-for-36) with one homer and six RBIs.


Bench
INF Mike Aviles (R)
Replaced injured Asdrubal Cabrera for 19 straight games at shortstop in June.
1B Jason Giambi (L)
Veteran slugger has six pinch-hit, walk-off homers, the most in MLB history.
OF Ryan Raburn (R)
His 1.020 OPS against lefthanders ranked fifth in AL for hitters with at least 100 plate appearances.
INF Justin Sellers (R)
In 82 games with the Dodgers over the past three seasons, he batted .199 with three homers and a stolen base.


Rotation
RH Justin Masterson 
Went from 15 losses in 2012 to career-high 14 victories in 2013.
RH Danny Salazar 
Opened year at Class AA and ended it by starting the AL wild card game against the Rays.
RH Corey Kluber
Won four of his last five starts after coming off the disabled list in September.
RH Zach McAllister
Former third-round pick of the Yankees pitched five or more innings in 19 of his 24 starts.
RH Josh Tomlin
Didn’t walk a batter in 29.1 combined innings last year as he rebounded from Tommy John surgery.


Bullpen
RH John Axford (Closer)
Appeared in 75 games last season, but none as a closer after April 7.
RH Cody Allen
Finished second in the AL with 77 appearances as a rookie, second-most in club history
RH Bryan Shaw
Went 5–0 with a save and did not allow a run in 13 September appearances.
LH Josh Outman
Lefties hit just .198 (22-for-111) against him last year with the Rockies.
LH Marc Rzepczynski
After he was acquired from St. Louis on July 30, the opposition hit just .159 (11-for-69) against him.
RH Vinnie Pestano
Went 6-for-9 in save situations, but other than that 2013 was a nightmare.
RH Carlos Carrasco
The Indians love his arm and want him to start, but he seems more comfortable in the pen.


2013 Top Draft Pick
Clint Frazier, CF
The Indians selected the 19-year-old high schooler with the fifth overall pick in the 2013 draft and sent him to the Arizona Rookie League after signing him for $3.5 million. Frazier homered in his first professional at-bat, tripled in his second and drove in four runs. Frazier hit .297 (51-for-182) with 11 doubles, five triples, five homers and 28 RBIs in 44 games for Arizona. He swung and missed a lot (61 times) and drew just 17 walks. Look for him to play next season at Class A Lake County. In his senior year at Loganville (Ga.) High School, Frazier hit .485 with 17 homers, 45 RBIs and 22 steals. He hit a school-record 63 homers at Loganville. The right-handed-hitter, has power and speed, but is still probably four to five years away from the big leagues. In Arizona, he hit .318 (14-for-44) against lefties, but all five of his homers came against righthanders.

 

Top Prospects
OF Tyler Naquin (22)
The center fielder/leadoff hitter put together a nice year at Class A Carolina and Class AA Akron. He performed well in the Arizona Fall League, too.
SS Francisco Lindor (20)
Lindor hit .303 overall at Carolina and Akron, but his season ended prematurely with a stress fracture in his back.
1B Jesus Aguilar (23)
He hit 16 homers and drove in 105 runs at Class AA Akron before tearing up winter ball in Venezuela.
SS/2B Jose Ramirez  (21)
The speedy infielder was a September call-up from Class AA and made the wild-card roster.
SS Dorssys Paulino (19)
Son of former big leaguer Jesus Sanchez can hit for average and power.
RHP Cody Anderson (23)
Named Indians Minor League Pitcher of the Year after a strong season at Class A Carolina.


Beyond the Box Score
Walk this way Jason Giambi, 42, became the oldest man in history to hit a walk-off homer on July 29 when he beat the White Sox. Almost two months later, Giambi broke his own record with another walk-off homer, once again against the White Sox.
Now that’s a scoop The Indians officially announced the signing of outfielder David Murphy to a two-year $12 million deal on Nov. 25, but it was old news by then thanks to his five-year-old daughter, Faith. On Nov. 19, Faith was at her Dallas-area preschool listening to teachers talk about Thanksgiving and the roles played by the Pilgrims and Indians. Faith piped up and told the teachers, “My dad is going to the Indians.” A couple of hours after Murphy confirmed the news to teachers and some parents when he picked up Faith at school, word of the signing appeared on Twitter.
Feel the beet Catcher Yan Gomes had a career day on May 20 as he went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and a walk-off 10th-inning homer against Seattle. Asked what he credited his performance to, Gomes said, “I drank a bottle of beet juice before the game.”
Ying and yang The Indians went 4–15 against Detroit last season and 17–2 against the White Sox. They must do better against the defending Central champs.
Is Brody home? On June 4 a small amount of marijuana was delivered to the residence of Chris Perez, the Indians’ former closer, in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River. Police and drug enforcement agents followed the package and arrested Perez and his wife, Melanie, on misdemeanor drug charges. The packages  were addressed to Brody Baum, the Perez’s dog. Baum is Melanie Perez’s maiden name.
Help me In the early morning of Sept. 27, Scott Kazmir was returning to his Minneapolis hotel room when his elevator got stuck on the 27th floor. Kazmir called Mike Seghi, director of team travel, who alerted the hotel and fire department, but it took them an hour-and-a-half to get Kazmir free. He didn’t enjoy the wait. “I sat down, fetal position pretty much,” said Kazmir. “I was just sitting in the corner rocking.” On Sept. 28, Kazmir struck out 11 in six innings in a 5–1 victory over the Twins. “It was nice being on the mound in all that wide open space,” he said.

Teaser:
Overall, this is a team that will be a factor in the AL Central but didn’t do enough in the offseason to pass favored Detroit and must contend with surging Kansas City to stay in the wild card race.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:45
Path: /mlb/minnesota-twins-2014-preview
Body:

During their first 50 seasons in Minnesota, the Twins had a total of two seasons with 95-plus losses: 1982 and ’99. After averaging 97 losses the past three seasons, fans were demanding change, but it didn’t come in the form of a managerial firing. That hasn’t happened for this franchise since Ray Miller gave way to Tom Kelly with 23 games left in the 1986 season. Ron Gardenhire returns for a 13th season at the helm, and this time his trusted pitching coach, Rick Anderson, will have some talent in the rotation. Whether it leads to a quick turnaround remains to be seen, but the days of “Pitch to Contact” appear over. Meanwhile, for all their starting pitching woes, the Twins’ offense posted the third-most strikeouts in history and finished with just 614 runs in 2013. That was the lowest run total in any full season for the Twins since 1968, the year before the pitcher’s mound was lowered.

Rotation 

The Twins, who rank last in the majors in rotation ERA over the last three seasons, threw some money at the problem. First, they signed workhorse righthander Ricky Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million deal that ranks as the richest the Twins have ever given in free agency. Of the 31 active pitchers with more than 1,000 innings since the start of 2008, Nolasco ranks third in fewest walks per nine innings (2.0). Next, they reeled in former Yankees mega-prospect Phil Hughes for $24 million over three years. Hughes had fallen on hard times in New York, but if his troublesome back holds up, he is primed for a return to prominence. As much as the fans wanted them to clean house, the Twins couldn’t bring themselves to cut righthander Mike Pelfrey loose after his stabilization year post-Tommy John surgery. They handed him a two-year, $11 million deal that could grow to $14.5 million if he hits all his incentive targets. Add it up, and the Twins guaranteed $84 million to three righthanders in hopes of climbing back to respectability sooner than expected. Workaday righthander Kevin Correia returns as well, but the fifth slot in the rotation is up for grabs. Ideally at some point in 2014, top pitching prospect Alex Meyer will be recalled from Triple-A Rochester and thrust into the rotation for years to come. For now, however, it will be a battle among lefties Scott Diamond and Kris Johnson and righties Kyle Gibson, Samuel Deduno and Vance Worley.

Bullpen 

As bad as the Twins’ rotation was in 2013, the bullpen was pretty solid. First-time All-Star Glen Perkins, the closer, continued to nail down 90 percent of his save chances. He’s signed through 2015 with a club option for 2016, so if the Twins can just get him the ball with a few more leads, the victory total should climb. Veteran setup man Jared Burton struggled at times with command issues, but journeyman Casey Fien stepped in to help carry the burden of the eighth inning. Former independent leaguer Caleb Thielbar roared past Brian Duensing to claim top situational lefty honors. Failed starter Anthony Swarzak settled nicely into his long relief role and led all major-league pitchers in relief innings. Rule 5 pickup Ryan Pressly came flying out of the gates but scuffled at times over the final three months. He could face a challenge from towering righty Michael Tonkin.

Middle Infield 

Failed 2012 shortstop Brian Dozier overcame a slow first half and blossomed into a power-hitting second baseman over the final three months. Dozier needs to improve his on-base abilities if he wants to stay near the top of the lineup, but he throws his body around on defense and seems to be one of the club’s few unquestioned positional building blocks. He also works well with shortstop Pedro Florimon, the deceptively strong defender who ranked behind only Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons in defensive runs saved at the position in 2013. The switch-hitting Florimon still needs work with the bat, but he’s wiry strong and still has enough upside at age 27 for the Twins to stick with him for at least another year.

Corners 

The timing couldn’t have been more convenient. Just as the Twins were getting set to trade former American League Most Valuable Player Justin Morneau to Pittsburgh, Joe Mauer was suffering the serious concussion that ultimately caused him to give up catching for good in November. Mauer, 30, has made 54 starts at first base over the past three seasons and should have no trouble making the transition. Less wear and tear also could boost his offensive production, not that he needs too much work in that area anyway. Versatile Trevor Plouffe returns at third base, but most believe it’s only a matter of time before he’s on the move again, this time to make way for 20-year-old slugger Miguel Sano. Issues in his throwing elbow have slowed Sano’s progress a bit, but he could start knocking on the door with a strong first half in the minors.

Outfield 

Defense could again be a concern unless former first-rounder Aaron Hicks can re-assert himself and win a spring battle with Alex Presley. The Twins are lumbering at the corners with Josh Willingham in left and bat-first slugger Oswaldo Arcia in right. Presley is slightly above average as a defender, but he needs to prove he can get on base against major-league pitching and use his speed more productively as a base-stealer. Willingham is coming off a frustrating season interrupted by cleanup surgery on his left knee. This is the final year of a three-year, $21 million deal that had been the largest the Twins ever granted to an outside free agent. The streaky Arcia struggles to hit lefties, but his upside and potential importance are obvious, especially for a power-challenged lineup.


Catching 

Rookie Josmil Pinto is the first option after a breakout season in 2013, including a highly productive September audition in the majors. However, his defensive limitations and nagging issues in his throwing shoulder caused the Twins to dump Ryan “No Mitt” Doumit on Atlanta and use the savings to sign veteran Kurt Suzuki as insurance. Now it appears the club is cashing in on the insurance and committed to going with Suzuki as the regular. Suzuki’s power and throwing numbers have dropped off, but he can still handle a pitching staff and blocks balls with the best of them. The most likely scenario is that Pinto will be sent back to Triple-A for more seasoning, but the hard-working Venezuelan should return by midseason.  Either journeyman Eric Fryer or versatile Chris Herrmann will serve as Suzuki’s backup until then.

DH/Bench 

Former Twins standout Jason Kubel was brought back on a minor-league deal that could pay him up to $3 million if he reclaims his former hitting prowess. Kubel’s brother-in-law is Tonkin, the hard-throwing relief prospect for the Twins. With Mauer’s move to first, former first-rounder Chris Parmelee and indy-league survivor Chris Colabello must battle for playing time. Eduardo Escobar is an energy guy with a better glove than you think at shortstop. Another ex-Twin, Jason Bartlett, was brought back on a minor-league deal as well after missing the past season-and-a-half with knee issues.

Management

Twins president Dave St. Peter proudly calls Terry Ryan “the most disciplined general manager in the game,” a title that remains even after the targeted spending of this offseason. Organizational stability is of vital importance to the Pohlad family, a belief shown once more by the decision to give Gardenhire a two-year extension coming off 291 combined losses the past three seasons. Ryan, 60, essentially has a lifetime contract after building the clubs that reeled off six American League Central titles in nine seasons from 2002-10. The highly respected GM has brought back trusted scouting associates such as Wayne Krivsky and Larry Corrigan since returning to the role in November 2011.

Final Analysis 

After bolstering their rotation, the Twins are closer to competing again in the American League Central but recognize that their true return to prominence won’t come until top-shelf prospects such as Byron Buxton, Sano and Meyer begin to arrive. A frustrated fan base has filled more seats than you might expect at well-regarded Target Field, but they will need to see another winning product before too long. What’s more, Mauer’s prime years are being wasted.   


Lineup
CF    Alex Presley (L)     

Has a career .377 OBP in 1,242 Class AAA plate appearances, but just a .304 OBP in the majors.
2B    Brian Dozier (R)     

His 18 homers broke Tim Teufel’s 29-year-old franchise mark for most homers by a Twins second baseman.
1B    Joe Mauer (L)     

His career .323 average leads all active players by nearly two full points. Albert Pujols is second.
LF    Josh Willingham (R)     

Combined on-base/slugging percentage of .709 was lowest of his career when playing 13 or more games.
DH    Jason Kubel (L)    

Before falling off in 2013, he had posted adjusted OPS between 105 and 137 for six straight seasons.
3B    Trevor Plouffe (R)     

His WAR (per Baseball Reference) nearly doubled (to 1.9) despite seeing homer total drop from 24 to 14.
RF    Oswaldo Arcia (L)    

Streaky slugger torched Oakland and the White Sox for combined eight (four apiece) of his 14 rookie homers.
C    Kurt Suzuki (R)     

Hit 11 homers combined past two seasons after averaging 14 from 2009-11 with Oakland.
SS    Pedro Florimon (S)     

Trailed only Braves Gold Glover Andrelton Simmons for Defensive Runs Saved (12) among shortstops.


Bench
UT    Eduardo Escobar (S)     

Showed league-average range at shortstop last season but was poorly rated defensively at third.
OF    Darin Mastroianni (L)     

Surgery on his left ankle limited him to 30 games in 2013, but he can handle all three outfield spots.
INF    Jason Bartlett (R)     

Hasn’t played since May 2012 but says his knee is fully recovered.  
C    Josmil Pinto (R)     

Posted an adjusted OPS of 165 in dazzling 21-game September audition.


Rotation
RH    Ricky Nolasco     

Has thrown more than 1,151 innings over the past six seasons, 24th in MLB.
RH    Phil Hughes      

Has gone 34–21 over past two even-numbered seasons, 9–19 in past two odd years.
RH    Kevin Correia     

ERA and adjusted ERA have dropped three straight years even as innings have climbed.
RH    Mike Pelfrey     

Fielding Independent stats were more encouraging than his 5.79 home ERA.
LH    Scott Diamond     

His 3.57 K/9 rate ranked fourth-worst out of 496 pitchers with at least 20 innings.


Bullpen
LH    Glen Perkins (Closer)     

First-time All-Star had only four save chances over the final 25 games.
RH    Jared Burton     

WHIP spiked by 37 percent to 1.258 after career year in 2012.
RH    Casey Fien      

Had a 1.016 WHIP with 73 strikeouts in 62.0 innings pitched last season.  
LH    Caleb Thielbar     

Held left-handed hitters to .482 OPS, among the best for any situational lefty.
LH    Brian Duensing     

Lefties hit 40 points higher (.303) against him than right-handed hitters in similar number of chances.
RH    Anthony Swarzak     

Long reliever’s WAR (1.7) per Baseball Reference trailed only Perkins on the Twins.  
RH    Ryan Pressly     

Rule 5 pick stuck all year but struggled to 5.59 ERA after mid-June (28 outings).


2013 Top Draft Pick
Kohl Stewart, RHP
A star quarterback from Houston, Stewart passed up a chance to follow Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M. The Twins took Stewart fourth overall and signed him for a $4,544,400 bonus. A Type 1 diabetic, Stewart missed close to three weeks in the Gulf Coast League after cutting his foot on a seashell. He was shut down for the final two weeks of the Appalachian League season due to shoulder soreness and was kept off the mound at instructional league, but he should be fine for spring training. Stewart’s fastball touches 96 mph with above-average life and command. He puts hitters away with a mid-80s power slider. His curve and change are improving, meaning he could brandish four above-average big-league pitches.

Top Prospects
CF Byron Buxton (20) 

Blessed with all five tools, the No. 2 overall pick blew through Class A in his first full pro season and swept Minor League Player of the Year honors.
RHP Kyle Gibson (26) 

Taken three spots before Mike Trout, Gibson also had to overcome Tommy John surgery en route to 10 uneven big-league starts (6.53 ERA) last season.
3B Miguel Sano (20) 

The Dominican super prospect pounded 35 combined homers last season at Class A and AA.
RHP Alex Meyer (24) 

A shoulder strain cost him 10 weeks last season, but he was hitting 100 mph again in the Arizona Fall League.
2B Eddie Rosario (22) 

The former fourth-rounder was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a drug of abuse for the second time.
RHP Jose Berrios  (19) 

The highest-drafted pitcher from Puerto Rico has a fastball that touches 95 mph, but he struggled with his command in the Midwest League.
LHP Lewis Thorpe (18)

Used a 95-mph fastball to dominate Team USA at the 18U World Championships in Taiwan.


Beyond the Box Score
Franchise player Even while missing the final 39 games after suffering a concussion on Aug. 19, Joe Mauer still finished second in the American League with a .324 batting average. His .404 on-base percentage ranked third in the league. The Twins went 49–61 (.445) with Mauer in the starting lineup and 17–35 (.327) without him. Good thing they have him signed through 2018 at $23 million per season ($115 million total).
Escape from New York Phil Hughes, a former 18- and 16-game winner, had little trouble handling the pressures of New York. A bigger issue for the 27-year-old righthander was his former workplace, Yankee Stadium. While going 4–14 in 2013, Hughes posted a 6.32 home ERA that ranked fourth-worst among the 184 pitchers to work at least 40 home innings. On the road, his 3.88 ERA ranked 78th out of 165 pitchers with at least 40 innings. Hughes’ home OPS allowed was .909 compared to .735 on the road. To put it another way, that was the difference between the OPS of National League MVP Andrew McCutchen (.911) and ex-Twins first baseman Justin Morneau (.734).
Short list In bringing back Ron Gardenhire after three straight 90-loss seasons, the Twins hope to repeat history as well as buck it. Of the past eight managers brought back after three straight 90-loss seasons since World War II — according to Jacob Pomrenke of the Society for American Baseball Research — just one has ever managed that team to another winning record: Tom Kelly. Gardenhire’s predecessor and mentor followed four straight 90-loss seasons (1997-2000) with an 85–77 record and a second-place finish in 2001 before retiring at age 51.
Back for more Ricky Nolasco’s only previous career start at Target Field came last April 23 in the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader necessitated by a snowout the previous day. Originally scheduled to pitch the afternoon game, Nolasco switched places at the last minute at the insistence of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, who didn’t want rookie phenom Jose Fernandez pitching in extreme cold. It was 42 degrees at first pitch for the second game, which Nolasco won after allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits and a walk over five innings.

Teaser:
After bolstering their rotation, the Twins are closer to competing again in the American League Central but recognize that their true return to prominence won’t come until top-shelf prospects such as Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano and Alex Meyer begin to arrive.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:39
Path: /mlb/detroit-tigers-2014-preview
Body:

Over the winter, the Tigers underwent the type of overhaul befitting a disappointing loser, not a 93-win division champ that came within two wins of a second straight World Series berth. They switched managers, traded their cleanup hitter, jettisoned their starting shortstop and swapped a front-line starting pitcher for a trio of younger players. Not every move made sense on its own (the return for righthander Doug Fister seemed egregiously light), but taken as a whole, the Tigers got younger, more athletic and more versatile — traits that could serve them well in 2014, when they should again be favorites in the AL Central. When your roster includes the best hitter in the game (Miguel Cabrera) and two of the last three AL Cy Young winners (Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer), you have a very good head start.

Rotation 

The Tigers, looking to shed a starting pitcher for some usable pieces and payroll flexibility, may have preferred to move righthander Rick Porcello, but everyone else wanted Fister. And so, it was Fister who was sent to Washington for two young lefty pitchers and a utility infielder. Hard as it was to say goodbye to a pitcher who had won 32 games in two-plus years in Detroit — plus three more in the postseason — the Tigers have the pieces to make fans forget Fister, as long as things go according to plan. This is still a formidable rotation, headed by Scherzer and Verlander, and with Anibal Sanchez and Porcello slotting in as Nos. 3 and 4. At the back end, the trade of Fister gives young lefty Drew Smyly, whom the organization is very high on, the chance to move from the bullpen to the rotation as the fifth starter.

Bullpen 

The loss of Joaquin Benoit to free agency and the signing of veteran Joe Nathan to a two-year deal means the Tigers will be sporting their fourth closer in three years in 2014. Nathan may be 39 now, but he is coming off a resurgent season that saw him post career bests in WHIP (0.897) and home run rate (0.3 per nine innings). Flamethrowing phenom Bruce Rondon will be back in the eighth inning role, and while Smyly’s move to the rotation will cost the bullpen its top lefty from 2013, the Tigers hope Ian Krol, acquired in the Fister trade, can handle that role. Veteran Phil Coke and 25-year-old Jose Alvarez present additional options from the left side. And on the right side, free-agent signee Joba Chamberlain, returning from elbow surgery, is an intriguing addition, joining Rondon, veteran Al Alburquerque and Luke Putkonen.

Middle Infield 

The Tigers are basically starting over here, after letting double-play combo Omar Infante and Jhonny Peralta walk away via free agency and replacing them with Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias. The former, a three-time All-Star in Texas, was acquired in November in the blockbuster Prince Fielder trade, while the latter won the Tigers’ trust with his excellent fill-in work during Peralta’s 50-game PED suspension in 2013. Perhaps most important, the Tigers got a combined nine years younger up the middle with these moves, and both Kinsler and Iglesias are better defenders than the men they replaced — which should go over well with the Tigers’ pitching staff.


Corners 

The combination of Cabrera and Fielder sounded great in theory when the Tigers added the latter via a nine-year megacontract in January 2012. But in reality, the lack of defensive range at the corners was difficult to overcome, especially when Fielder’s power fell off a cliff in 2013 (a career-low .457 slugging percentage). By trading Fielder over the winter, the Tigers allowed Cabrera to move back to first base, his natural position, while opening third base for top prospect Nick Castellanos. The rising star, just 22, completed his minor-league apprenticeship with a .276/.343/.450 season at Triple-A Toledo in 2013. Together, the Castellanos/Cabrera combo at the corners should be significantly better defensively than the Cabrera/Fielder combo it replaces.

Outfield 

The Tigers’ plan to return the same outfield they used in 2013 was derailed by Andy Dirks’ back injury, which led to surgery. He’ll be out until June. Supersub Don Kelly and speedster Rajai Davis will share the duty until Dirks in healthy enough to play everyday. Austin Jackson is still in center and veteran Torii Hunter in right. Of immediate concern is stopping Jackson’s offensive slide, which saw his OPS suffer a 100-point fall in 2013 over the year before. At his best, Jackson is a top-flight leadoff man. But he hasn’t been at his best in while. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jackson batting fifth with Kinsler leading off. Meantime, like clockwork, you can put Hunter down for his usual .300 batting average, 15-to-20 homers and above-average defense in right field.

Catching 

Since his spectacular 2011 breakthrough (.295/.389/.506), Alex Avila has seen his OPS fall nearly 200 points. Now, at 27, he is best described as a decent-hitting catcher, good for a dozen homers or so and a respectable .700 OPS. Avila’s real value, though, is behind the plate, where he has earned a well-deserved reputation as one of the best game-callers in baseball. Verlander, Scherzer and Sanchez all saw their ERAs rise by a half-run or better whenever someone other than Avila caught them in 2013. He may never have another year at the plate like he did in 2011, but the Tigers don’t necessarily need that.

DH/Bench 

Victor Martinez, now two years removed from the knee injury that cost him all of 2012, returns as the Tigers’ primary DH and occasional spot-starter at first base and catcher. He is now Cabrera’s personal protector. The team made solidifying its bench a major part of their offseason plan, and the additions of Davis (as a fourth outfielder or possibly the right-handed half of a platoon in left field) and Steve Lombardozzi (as a utility infielder) have accomplished that mission. One other key: Davis can serve as a late-inning pinch-runner, something they sure could have used in the 2013 postseason. These additions also should make the Tigers less reliant on Kelly — who remains useful, but in limited quantities. Because Lombardozzi isn’t a great option to back up at shortstop, the Tigers could also give infielder Hernan Perez a roster spot. At backup catcher, the Tigers appear poised to go with organizational man Bryan Holaday, after Brayan Pena was allowed to walk via free agency.

Management 

The Jim Leyland/Dave Dombrowski duo produced four playoff berths, three division championships and two American League pennants in eight years together in Detroit, and while the lack of a World Series title will taint that legacy in some minds, there were few GM/manager combinations in this generation that worked better together or produced more success. While Leyland retired, Dombrowski remains — at least for now. (He is considered to be a candidate to replace Bud Selig as commissioner.) In Brad Ausmus, the Tigers have a young and highly inexperienced manager, but one for whom communication appears to be a strong suit. Ausmus has a long way to go to match Leyland’s 1,769 career wins, but even Leyland had to start somewhere.

Final Analysis 

The Tigers underwent a lot of change for a team with such a winning pedigree — not all of it with a win-now mantra in mind. But the goal was to remain a World Series contender while keeping one eye pointed towards the future. It will be difficult for them, in the short term, to replicate Fielder’s power, Fister’s consistency and Leyland’s grizzled brilliance. But they also got better in some small (and not-so-small) ways, most notably the improved infield defense and the increased versatility of their bench. In the AL Central, the Indians made a surprising run at the Tigers’ dominance in 2013 and figure to be right there again in 2014, along with the emerging Royals. The Tigers’ ability to hold them off for another year will probably depend on the health of those horses at the front of their rotation and the big fella at first base.


Lineup
CF    Austin Jackson (R)    

With Ian Kinsler also capable of leading off, Jackson needs to produce to keep spot.
2B    Ian Kinsler (R)    

Career .349 on-base percentage will play well at top of Tigers’ lineup.
1B    Miguel Cabrera (R)    

Two-time defending AL MVP is best right-handed hitter in the game.
DH    Victor Martinez (S)    

Cleanup spot is key because of protection for Cabrera; was mostly Prince Fielder in ’13.
RF    Torii Hunter (R)    

Batted primarily in No. 2 spot in ’13, but can be run-producer further down.
C    Alex Avila (L)    

Now three years removed from career year in ’11, but he’s still a capable hitter.
LF    Don Kelly (L)    

Jim Leyland favorite can play all three outfield spots, plus first, second and third.
3B    Nick Castellanos (R)    

Tigers think he’s ready to play every day; Fielder trade opened up third-base spot.
SS    Jose Iglesias (R)    

Filled in admirably for Jhonny Peralta in ’13; now gets the everyday job.


Bench
INF     Steve Lombardozzi (S)    

Versatile infielder can hit from both sides and also play some left field.
OF    Rajai Davis (R)    

Could start in left field against lefties, and should have great value as pinch-runner.
OF    Ezequiel Carrera (L)
  
Played everyday for Indians during last two months of 2012 hitting a respectable .272.
C    Bryan Holaday (R)    

Has only 46 plate appearances in big leagues, but played well in spot duty.


Rotation
RH    Max Scherzer    

Moved from front-line starter to true ace with Cy Young season in ’13.
RH    Justin Verlander    

Wins, innings, strikeouts, ERA+ were all five-year lows for veteran ace.
RH    Anibal Sanchez    

Had career year in first full season with the Tigers; fourth in Cy Young voting.
RH    Rick Porcello    

In fifth big-league season, had career-bests in  WHIP and K rate.
LH    Drew Smyly    

Tigers hope his swing-and-miss stuff as reliever in ’13 translates to rotation.


Bullpen
RH    Joe Nathan (Closer)    

Four years removed from elbow surgery, appears to have regained stuff.
RH    Bruce Rondon    

Hard-throwing youngster will close someday, but not in ’14.
LH    Ian Krol    

Part of Doug Fister trade, he will try to reprise Smyly’s role as lefty setup man.
RH    Al Alburquerque    

Struggled for consistency in ’13, but has big arm and misses bats.
RH    Joba Chamberlain    

Former Yankees phenom gets new chance in new organization.
LH    Phil Coke    

Veteran swingman had an awful ’13 — career-high 1.670 WHIP — but he’s valuable when on his game.
RH    Luke Putkonen    

Performed well in sixth- and seventh-inning roles in spot duty in ’13.


2013 Top Draft Pick
Jonathon Crawford, RHP
After not having first-round draft picks in 2011 or 2012, having the 20th overall pick in 2013 felt like a luxury, and the Tigers made a relatively safe pick by choosing Crawford, a righthander out of the University of Florida. While Crawford doesn’t have enormous upside, he projects as a No. 3 starter in the big leagues and could get there relatively quickly. He possesses a fastball that touches 95 mph, but his best pitch is probably his slider, which he throws in the mid-80s and can throw in any count. He had a successful pro debut in 2013, posting a 1.89 ERA in eight starts in the short-season New York-Penn League, and could start 2014 in Low-A ball. It’s not out of the question that he could make the big leagues in 2015.

Top Prospects
RHP Jake Thompson (20)

Strong showing in Low-A (3.13 ERA, 9.8 K/9 IP) and new curveball made 2013 a solid year for this second-round pick.
C James McCann (23) 

Made big strides at plate (.277/.328/.404) and was rewarded with spot on Futures Game roster. Likely to start in Class AAA but could earn a roster spot in bigs at some point.
3B Nick Castellanos (22) 

Organization’s top prospect hit his way to big leagues in 2013, gets everyday third-base job in 2014 thanks to Miguel Cabrera’s move to first.
LHP Robbie Ray (22) 

Centerpiece of the Tigers’ haul from Nationals in Doug Fister trade; has front-line-starter upside.
OF Steven Moya (22) 

Massive (6'6", 230 pounds) specimen has top-flight power, but struggled with strike zone at High-A, whiffing 106 times in 388 plate appearances.
SS Eugenio Suarez (22) 

Took step forward with strong showing at Double-A, but projects as more of a utility type in majors.
2B Devon Travis (23) 

Great athlete, emerged as prospect during strong 2013 (.351/.418/.518, 22 steals in Class A).
RHP Corey Knebel (22)
The former University of Texas closer took the Midwest League (Low-A) by storm last summer. He held opponents to a .133 average and whiffed 41 over 31 innings.


Beyond the Box Score
Health watch Miguel Cabrera’s health will continue to be a major concern for the Tigers. Though he played in 148 games in 2013, it was the fewest since his rookie season of 2003, as he dealt with nagging injuries to his hip, back, groin and abdominal wall. He underwent surgery after the ALCS to repair a sports hernia and is expected to be ready for spring training. But he’ll be 31 in April, and for a player with his size, any minor problem can quickly become a major one.
Solid fit Rajai Davis was the perfect addition as an extra outfielder, given his ability to hit lefties (.294/.354/.425 for his career). He will likely wind up in a platoon with Andy Dirks in left field, given the latter’s struggles against lefties (.234/.306/.325 last season).
Planning ahead Part of the Tigers’ motivation for their big offseason moves (the trades of Prince Fielder and Doug Fister) was to gain some payroll flexibility, in anticipation of the looming contract battles with Cabrera and Max Scherzer, both of whom could become free agents after the 2015 season. Including the $30 million they paid to Texas, the Tigers saved about $76 million in the Fielder trade alone.
Bullpen woes The Tigers’ bullpen issues in 2013 were laid bare in the postseason, when, in 11 total games, they gave up 18 runs after the sixth inning — including 12 to the Red Sox in the six-game ALCS, essentially costing them a World Series berth. The Tigers initially targeted Brian Wilson as a closer candidate but were rebuffed and turned their attention to Joe Nathan, whom they eventually signed to a two-year deal.
Veteran closer Can Nathan fix the Tigers’ ninth-inning problems? He did have an excellent year in 2013, but that was partly attributable to a difficult-to-sustain .228 BABIP. Few closers in history have had success at such an advanced age (39). In fact, since 2000, only three pitchers — Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Todd Jones — have finished 50 or more games at age 39 or older.
Questionable deal Many industry observers ripped the Tigers for the Fister trade, arguing that they didn’t get enough in return for a pitcher whom they perhaps undervalued. Indeed, as measured by fWAR, Fister was the ninth-most valuable pitcher in the game from 2011-13, just behind David Price and just ahead of Cole Hamels.

Teaser:
The Tigers underwent a lot of change for a team with such a winning pedigree — not all of it with a win-now mantra in mind. But the goal was to remain a World Series contender while keeping one eye pointed towards the future.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:16
Path: /mlb/chicago-white-sox-2014-preview
Body:

Rebuild and restructure are words the Chicago White Sox have preferred to avoid for decades, primarily because that has not been the game plan. They were a Go For It franchise. Maybe these two words fit better for the Sox strategy for 2014 — overdue overhaul. The message was pretty clear long before the Sox finished with 99 defeats and went 26–50 inside the AL Central. General manager Rick Hahn moved briskly to shed payroll, dealing Jake Peavy and Alex Rios in July, and then got more determined to build a younger, more athletic team during the offseason. It’s unlikely to translate into a 2014 contender, but if the young players Hahn collected from the Tigers (Avisail Garcia), Diamondbacks (Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson), Rangers (Leury Garcia) and Cuba (Jose Abreu) deliver, then the White Sox already have the young pitching to become factors in the AL Central soon.

Rotation 

There is a reason Chris Sale finished fifth in AL Cy Young voting with a losing record (11–14). Sale averaged better than a strikeout per inning and limited opposing hitters to a .230 average. He’s the most dominant lefthander in a rotation that will feature three lefties — and White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper is convinced that Sale, 25, is the best southpaw in the league. Sale has pitched in consecutive All-Star games, winning the 2013 game while pitching two hitless innings. The White Sox lefthander who is not as well known is the staff’s second starter — Jose Quintana. He pitched 200 innings, 64 more than his rookie season, but finished 9–7 because Sox hitters didn’t do their part. He mixes four pitches well, walking less than two batters per start. The top rotations excel at spots three, four and five, and that’s where the White Sox have work to do. John Danks, another lefty, leads the rotation on payday ($14.25 million) but is working to regain velocity after 2012 shoulder surgery. Although Danks recovered to make 22 starts, he allowed an alarming 27 home runs in 138.1 innings and didn’t match his pre-surgery strikeout ratio. If his velocity does not improve, his control must. The final two spots opened with the trades of Peavy (Red Sox) and Hector Santiago (Angels). Erik Johnson is a durable righthander who dominated the Southern League and also excelled in the International League before getting five solid September starts. Andre Rienzo was actually promoted ahead of Johnson. He throws harder with less command. That pair and former Royal Felipe Paulino, on the mend from 2012 elbow surgery, are the top righthanders. The White Sox signed former Giant Eric Surkamp, which means they are considering a four-lefty rotation.

Bullpen 

The Sox sent Addison Reed and all 40 of the team’s saves to Arizona, but Cooper never worries about finding a closer. He’ll remind you that the 2005 World Series champs used three. Nate Jones is likely to move his triple-digit fastball from the eighth inning to the ninth. But if he’s not ready for prime time, veterans Matt Lindstrom and Ronald Belisario have pitched in the ninth inning. The Sox have two other young powerful right-handed arms in Daniel Webb and Jake Petricka. Cooper would love to see Mitchell Boggs rediscover his command that allowed him to collect 34 holds and strand 83 percent of inherited runners for the Cardinals in 2012. Manager Robin Ventura likes to have left-handed specialists, so the Sox acquired Scott Downs. Donnie Veal has the edge for the second spot, but if his control disappears, watch for rookie Charlie Leesman.

Middle Infield

Shortstop Alexei Ramirez delivered the strangest season of his six-year career, stealing a career-high 30 bases while hitting a career-low six home runs and making a career-worst 22 errors. The Sox need more pop and reliability. Second baseman Gordon Beckham started fast and then suffered a fractured hamate bone. He failed to hit with power and did not deliver on Gold Glove predictions, either. If the Sox deal either veteran at some point this season, they will have to rely on a fading Jeff Keppinger or rookies Luery Garcia or Marcus Semien.



Corners 

The corners are not as settled as the middle. Paul Konerko’s 15-season reign as the team’s first baseman will end as he moves to a part-time role. The Sox expect Abreu, a 27-year-old free agent from Cuba, to replace Konerko’s middle-of-the-order power. His next big-league game will be his first professional game in the U.S. There is also a plan for third base, but the transition might not be as swift. Davidson, the MVP of the Futures Game, should be the guy by midseason, but he might not be ready in April, so look for Conor Gillaspie (lefty) and Keppinger (righty) to share the spot in a strict platoon.

Outfield 

Hahn was not thrilled with much from his outfield last season — hitting, baserunning, catching the ball, thinking the game. So he has started almost completely fresh. Avisail Garcia was a prize in the Tigers’ system, and the Sox expect him to grow into a 25-homer, 100-RBI middle of the order stud who will play an All-Star right field. In a perfect world, Garcia also steals 20 bases. The expectations for center fielder Eaton are different, but equally high. Hahn sees an on-base machine who will take walks and pepper the gaps. Eaton’s arrival moves Alejandro De Aza into a left-field platoon with Dayan Viciedo. De Aza’s power spiked last season with 17 home runs, but he struck out 147 times and was repeatedly thrown out on the bases. Viciedo’s power took a vacation. He slipped from 25 home runs to 14 while driving in 56 and also making fielding mistakes. The Sox expected more.

Catching 

Hahn has work to do here if Tyler Flowers and Josh Phegley struggle again. Flowers failed to hit and lost the spot to Phegley in July and then underwent shoulder surgery in August. Phegley started fast, hitting three home runs in his first five games. But pitchers took advantage of his aggressiveness. He hit .206 with five walks in 204 at-bats. Neither was great defensively; the Sox were second in the AL with 21 passed balls. Adrian Nieto, a 24-year-old switch-hitter is a remote possibility this season. He spent last year in Single-A.

DH/Bench 

Can a team win with two first basemen/designated hitters on its bench? The White Sox will find out, because Konerko’s move to part-time player means he is likely to share the DH role with Adam Dunn, a free agent in 2015. With three guys (add Abreu) who can only play first base, the Sox will need flexibility from their other reserves. That’s good news for Leury Garcia, a swift middle infielder who can also play third and the outfield. Gillaspie can also play first and Keppinger can play across the infield. Jordan Danks could win the 25th spot because of his left-handed bat.



Management

Ventura learned the realities of managing last summer. In 2012, he was calm and consistent. When the White Sox nearly won the division, he was credited with transferring those qualities to his players. In 2013, Ventura was calm and consistent. When the White Sox disappeared, he was blamed for not stirring any energy within the group. Ventura remains perplexed by the team’s defensive meltdowns. For a team with solid starting pitching and offensive issues, Ventura knows that fixing the defense must be a spring training priority. He and Hahn are working to address another issue — a smarter approach to hitting. The Sox ranked last in the AL in walks and next-to-last in on-base-percentage. Hitting coach Jeff Manto was fired with one game left in the season, replaced by Todd Steverson. He arrives from Oakland where he served as the minor-league hitting instructor for an organization that preaches on-base percentage daily.

Final Analysis 

After you lose 99 games, the first goal has to be .500 baseball, not contention. That is only realistic for this team if the starting pitching, led by Sale, Quintana and Danks, performs like one of the best units in the AL. The bullpen has a nice mix of young power arms and veterans but lacks a proven closer. But offense and defense are the issues. With their reliance on pitching, the Sox have to catch the ball the way they did in 2012 — and hope that Avisail Garcia, Abreu, Eaton and Davidson begin to form the core that will make this franchise contenders in 2015 and beyond.

Lineup
CF    Adam Eaton (L)    

Hit .252 with 17 extra-base hits in 250 at-bats while battling injuries with Diamondbacks.
2B    Gordon Beckham (R)    

Started fast, but wrist and leg injuries erased his power, limiting him to 24 RBIs and five home runs.
RF    Avisail Garcia (R)    

Has been compared to his pal, Miguel Cabrera, and showed a nice bat during his stint with the Sox.
DH    Adam Dunn (L)    

Still the team’s primary power threat (34 homers, 86 RBIs) but those Ks (189) crush too many rallies.
1B    Jose Abreu (R)    

Signed six-year, $68 million contract thanks to power he flashed for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic.
SS    Alexei Ramirez (R)    

Sox need him to hit more than six home runs and make fewer than 22 errors while continuing to steal 30 bases.
3B    Conor Gillaspie (L)    

Hits righties (.261) considerably better than lefties (.159), which makes him a perfect platoon candidate.
C    Tyler Flowers (R)    

Had first crack at replacing A.J. Pierzynski, but 94 Ks in 256 at-bats (plus eight passed balls) a major red flag.
LF    Alejandro De Aza (L)    

Making overdue shift from center field and bringing his 48 extra-base hits and 84 runs scored with him.

Bench
1B    Paul Konerko (R)    

Power numbers slipped to 12 home runs and 54 RBIs, but plans to make a rousing farewell tour.
UT    Leury Garcia (S)    

Can play six positions but will never secure any of them hitting .204 without power.
OF    Dayan Viciedo (R)    

Sox expected 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, but he gave them 14 and 56 with sub-par defense.
INF    Jeff Keppinger (R)    

Makes consistent contact but failed to score (38) or drive in (40) nearly enough runs.
C    Josh Phegley (R)    

Started with three home runs, eight RBIs in his first five games; added one HR and 14 RBIs in final 60 games.


Rotation
LH    Chris Sale    

Will be a prime Cy Young contender if he continues to strike out 226 hitters in 214.1 innings with a 3.07 ERA.
LH    Jose Quintana    

Contender for Mr. Unappreciated finished 9–7 while allowing 188 hits in 200 innings with 164 strikeouts.
LH    John Danks    

Made determined return from shoulder surgery with drop in velocity that resulted in 28 home runs in 138 IP.
RH    Erik Johnson    

Looked major-league ready in five September starts, winning three games and striking out 18 in nearly 28 IP.
RH    Felipe Paulino    

Struggled at two minor-league levels in the Royals organization in first season back from Tommy John.


Bullpen
RH    Nate Jones (Closer)    

Has shown he can deliver more than a strikeout per inning, getting 89 in 78 last season.
RH    Matt Lindstrom    
Possible closer because of his ability to generate double plays (15) and keep the ball in the park.
LH    Scott Downs    

Durable veteran returns for 13th season because of his ability to retire left-handed hitters.
LH    Donnie Veal    

The Sox loved the 29 strikeouts in 29 innings but worry about the 16 walks.
RH    Ronald Belisario  

Inconsistent veteran makes his American League debut after striking out 49 in 68 innings with the Dodgers.
RH    Daniel Webb    

Looked promising during September call-up, striking out 10 in 11.1 innings


2013 Top Draft Pick
Tim Anderson, SS
The White Sox have always been a franchise attracted to players with tools, and they proved that again when they drafted Tim Anderson, a shortstop from East Central Community College in Decatur, Miss., with the 17th overall selection. Anderson grew up playing basketball in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and did not seriously pursue baseball until his junior year, one reason SEC programs did not heavily recruit him. The White Sox hope that he develops as a leadoff hitter who can steal bases. Many scouts evaluated him as the fastest player in the draft, and Anderson showed that speed by stealing 24 bases in 68 games in Low-A ball. He hit .277 with little power and will have to improve his contact rate after striking out 78 times in 267 at-bats. Anderson prefers to play shortstop, but many believe that he’ll have to move to center field.

Top Prospects
OF Courtney Hawkins ()
The youngest player in the Carolina League, Hawkins showed power, but struck out in nearly 42 percent of his at bats.
RHP Erik Johnson (24)
Powerful 6'3" righthander struck out 149 across three pro levels and went 3–2 with a 3.25 for the big club in 2013.
3B Matt Davidson (23)
Futures Game MVP launched 17 home runs in Class AAA and three more with the Diamondbacks.
2B/SS Marcus Semien (23)
Southern League MVP showed solid glove and speed while hitting .261 in September call-up.
RHP Chris Beck (23)
The 6’3” righthander walked only three in 28 innings after promotion to Class AA.
2B Micah Johnson (23)
Led the minor leagues with 84 steals while advancing from Low-A to Class AA.

Beyond the Box Score
Face of the franchise The White Sox acquired Paul Konerko from the Reds before the 1999 season, and by 2000 he replaced Frank Thomas as the team’s everyday first baseman. Now he's embarking on a farewell tour. This season, officially his last, Konerko will have three official roles — part-time first baseman, part-time designated hitter and full-time clubhouse sage. Konerko has officially served as the team’s captain since 2006. He says the primary reason he decided to return for his 16th and final season was to serve as a mentor to younger players and re-create the winning culture the Sox lost in 2013.
Cuban ambassador Minnie Minoso’s popularity has never subsided with White Sox faithful — and neither has his legacy. Minoso, who made his debut with the Sox in 1951, was the team’s first Cuban-born player. Now 88, Minoso remains a White Sox ambassador as well as a guy who has helped the franchise become a favored destination of three key Cuban players. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez joined the Sox in 2008. Left fielder Dayan Viciedo followed in 2010. This season the Sox should have a threesome because first baseman Jose Abreu elected to sign with Chicago over other interested franchises.
Latin America's Team Cuba won’t be the only Latin American country with baseball fans trying to track White Sox games. When righthander Andre Rienzo pitched against Cleveland last July 30 he became the first Brazilian-born player to pitch in the major leagues. Rienzo added to his resume by winning his first game against the Royals on Aug. 21. He finished 2–3 and will compete for a spot in the Sox rotation. Don’t forget the folks in Colombia, either. With 15 career wins, Jose Quintana has more victories than any pitcher from that nation.
Forecasting the future Conor Gillaspie is in a battle to keep his job as the White Sox third baseman. He’s not ready to give in. But when the time comes for Gillaspie to try something else, he’ll be ready. Gillaspie is a confirmed weather nerd. He studied meteorology at Wichita State and loves a complex Midwest forecast. “I love blizzards, heavy snow,” Gillaspie says. “I love that stuff. You have to find something you are interested in outside this game just in case.”

Teaser:
After you lose 99 games, the first goal has to be .500 baseball, not contention. That is only realistic for this team if the starting pitching, led by Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and John Danks, performs like one of the best units in the AL.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:11
Path: /mlb/kansas-city-royals-2014-preview
Body:

This is the year, finally, the Royals believe that everything comes together after an often-tortuous reconstruction project over the last seven-plus years under general manager Dayton Moore. The youthful core showed signs of blossoming last year in compiling a 43–27 record after the All-Star break, which enabled the Royals to play meaningful games in September for the first time in a decade. This offseason saw Moore address the club’s three biggest questions by signing two free agents, pitcher Jason Vargas and second baseman Omar Infante, and acquiring right fielder Norichika Aoki in a trade from Milwaukee. So everything appears in place, but the clock is ticking. Staff ace James Shields, acquired a year ago in a franchise-defining trade that sent outfielder Wil Myers to Tampa Bay, will be a free agent after the 2014 season.

Rotation 

Vargas arrives on a four-year deal for $32 million as the replacement for Ervin Santana, who chose free agency by rejecting a qualifying offer. While Vargas projects as the unit’s No. 2 starter behind Shields, which is where Santana slotted, club officials dismiss that label. They simply want Vargas to make 30 starts, give them 200 innings and give the team a chance to win every time out. In effect, they want him to be a left-handed Jeremy Guthrie, who achieved a career high last season with 15 victories by pitching to contact and using the Royals’ magnificent defense (and the spacious Kauffman Stadium dimensions) to his benefit. Beyond Shields, Vargas and Guthrie, the Royals will hold a spring audition to determine the final two slots. It figures to be a high-quality battle with three of the organization’s prize prospects — Danny Duffy, Yordano Ventura and Kyle Zimmer — in the mix. Club officials prefer that at least one of them (Duffy is the best bet) breaks camp with the club. Once again the Royals will bring back veteran Bruce Chen. Over the past four seasons, the lefthander is 44-33 (.571). During that time the club has played at a .457 clip, so he must be doing something right. The only other real alternative at this point is Wade Davis, who struggled as a starter, but excelled as a reliever. Another youngster, Chris Dwyer, could also pitch his way into consideration. Duffy, Ventura and Zimmer all have front-of-the-rotation potential. If one of them reaches that level, and Vargas, Guthrie and Chen effectively become the No. 3, No. 4 and No. 5 guys, this could be an imposing rotation.


Bullpen 

All-Star closer Greg Holland will be hard-pressed to repeat his 2013 success (a 1.21 ERA in 68 games, 47 saves in 50 chances and 103 strikeouts in 67 innings) but, even if he slips from superhuman to stellar, he still provides the bullpen with an air-tight anchor. Beyond Holland, the Royals have an enviable mix of power arms from both sides in righties Kelvin Herrera and Aaron Crow and lefty Tim Collins; tough side-armers in righthander Louis Coleman and lefty Donnie Joseph, and a number of other guys — such as lefty Francisley Bueno and righty Michael Mariot — who would be prime setup guys on other clubs. And that doesn’t even include Davis, who is likely to be the unit’s top setup reliever. Luke Hochevar held that role at the end of last season, when he fashioned a 1.92 ERA in 58 games. But he went under the knife with Tommy John surgery in early March, so the Royals won’t see him throwing in earnest until this time next season.

Middle Infield

Utilityman Emilio Bonifacio blossomed last season when installed as the regular second baseman after arriving in an August trade from Toronto. He batted .285 with a .352 on-base percentage in 42 games while adding a speed element with 16 steals in 18 attempts. He also helped stabilize the lineup by serving as the No. 2 hitter. That seemed to solve a longstanding problem. So what did the Royals do? They upgraded by signing Infante to a four-year deal, with a club option for a fifth year, at $30.25 million. Infante batted .318 last season in Detroit, and his arrival made Bonifacio expendable. Alcides Escobar regressed sharply last year at the plate, falling from a .293/.331/.390 slash to .234/.259/.300, but he remains one of the game’s best defensive shortstops. If Infante and Aoki perform as expected, it probably won’t matter what Escobar hits. But, yes, the Royals are hoping for an offensive rebound.

Corners 

First baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas are, no pun intended, the two most visible cornerstones of Moore’s effort to rebuild the Royals through the draft. Hosmer appeared to find himself last season after a disappointing sophomore slide in 2012, but Moustakas remains more potential than production. That potential is still considerable, and the Royals likely will continue to show patience in waiting for it to emerge, but that patience isn’t endless. They made a proactive move in December to get Danny Valencia from Baltimore for outfielder David Lough. Valencia batted .304 last season in 52 games, primarily against left-handed pitchers.

Outfield

An already crowded outfield grew still more crowded — prior to the Lough trade — when the Royals acquired Aoki from the Brewers for lefty swingman Will Smith. Really, though, that deal did much to stabilize the roster and lineup. Aoki becomes the right fielder and leadoff hitter, which enables All-Star left fielder Alex Gordon to shift lower in the lineup, where the Royals need additional pop. Gordon, the No. 2 pick in the 2005 draft, might never be a star, but he should provide 20-plus home runs and 80-plus RBIs on a consistent basis. Oft-injured Lorenzo Cain, when healthy, is one of the game’s top defensive center fielders. Those injury concerns mean the Royals probably will hold onto speedy Jarrod Dyson as a hedge. That puts Justin Maxwell at risk, although he performed well in a platoon role — slugging .505 in 111 plate appearances — after arriving in a July 31 trade from Houston.

Catching 

Salvy Perez is well on his way to becoming the face of the franchise as an All-Star who, at age 23, combines offensive pop (a .301 career average and growing power) with Gold Glove defensive skills. His contract also might be the most club-friendly in baseball — a combined $5.25 million over the next three seasons with club options totaling for $14.75 million for 2017-19. The only issue, and it’s a major one, is that he’s already missed time for concussions — primarily from taking foul tips off his mask.



DH/Bench

Billy Butler drew scads of criticism from Royals’ fans after showing a sharp decline from 2012 and, yet, he still led the club with a .374 on-base percentage and 82 RBIs. The Royals also showed a willingness to trade Butler as they worked to refine their roster; a trade loomed as likely if they had succeeded in signing free-agent Carlos Beltran. A desire to free up the DH role in future years, to keep Perez’s bat in the lineup (for example), probably means Butler’s future with the Royals is limited. Still, he’s a potent bat and, in a go-for-it year, a commodity worth holding onto. The backup catcher figures to be Brett Hayes. If he plays more than a handful of games due to a Perez injury, it will be a problem. That leaves space for three other reserves if, as expected, the Royals go with 12 pitchers. Dyson seems to be a near-lock because of Cain’s injury history. That leaves the final spots likely to go to Valencia and Maxwell.

Management

Moore and his staff loaded up this season for a big roll of the dice because Shields and Aoki are pending free agents. The Royals probably overpaid, at least in terms of years, to sign Vargas and Infante. The hope is that both will be sufficiently productive in the first few years to make that gamble pay off. So, the Royals took some risks, but they needed to do so. This franchise hasn’t tasted the postseason since its 1985 World Series title.

Final Analysis 

This is the best team, on paper, the Royals have fielded in at least 20 years. It still might not be good enough to chase down Detroit in the American League Central Division, but it should, at minimum, make a real charge at a Wild Card berth.


Lineup
RF    Norichika Aoki (L)    

Newcomer provides lineup with true leadoff hitter. He stole 50 bases over last two seasons with the Brewers.
2B    Omar Infante (R)    

Should fill club’s long-time hole at second base after hitting .318 with the Tigers in 2013.
1B    Eric Hosmer (L)     

Shows signs of blossoming into a genuine star. Hit .302 with 79 RBIs last season.
DH    Billy Butler (R)    

Homers dropped from 29 in 2012 to 15 in ’13, but he should benefit from better lineup protection.
LF    Alex Gordon (L)    

Dropping down aids need for mid-order pop. Has been durable, with 600-plus ABs in three straight seasons.
C    Salvy Perez (R)    

Only concern, really, is whether Perez — one of the team’s three ’13 All-Stars — avoids concussions.
3B    Mike Moustakas (L)    

Pivotal year for former top prospect — the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft — whose clock is ticking.
CF    Lorenzo Cain (R)    

Can he stay healthy? That’s all that matters for one of the game’s elite defensive outfielders.
SS    Alcides Escobar (R)    

Glove alone makes him a plus, but more bat needed. Dropped to .234 after hitting .293 in ’12.


Bench
C    Brett Hayes (R)    

Fine as a backup who is needed only once a week — as long as Perez is healthy.
OF    Justin Maxwell (R)    

Last season he hit. 347 when ahead in the count, .210 when even or behind.
3B    Danny Valencia (R)    

Offers a solid alternative if Moustakas struggles at third. Hit .304 with the Orioles last season.
OF    Jarrod Dyson (L)    

Speed and defense make Dyson a nice extra outfielder. Stole 34 bases in 2013.


Rotation
RH    James Shields    

Proved last year — his first in Kansas City — to be staff leader the Royals had long needed.
LH    Jason Vargas    

A contact lefty who should benefit from superb defense. On his third team in last three years.
RH    Jeremy Guthrie    

No reason he can’t repeat last year’s success, when he won a career-high 15 games.
LH    Danny Duffy    

Former third-round pick has all the tools to be an impact starter.
LH    Bruce Chen    

The Royals were 9-6 in his 15 starts last season, all coming after July 11.


Bullpen
RH    Greg Holland (Closer)    

Is there a better closer in the American League? Gave up 40 hits in 67 innings last season.
RH    Wade Davis    

Got hit hard last season, but the guess is he gets one more chance as a starter.
RH    Kelvin Herrera    

Rebounded well last year after rough first half. Allowed 15 hits in final 23.1 innings.
LH    Tim Collins    

When he has command, he dominates. Strikeout rate dipped from 12.0 per 9 IP in ’12 to 8.8 in ’13.
RH    Aaron Crow    

Royals’ first-round pick in 2009 has the tools, just needs to throw strikes.
RH    Louis Coleman    

Seems to get overlooked despite 3–0 record, 0.61 ERA in 2013.
LH    Donnie Joseph    

Third-round pick of the Reds in 2009 could be that situational lefty that all clubs covet.


2013 Top Draft Pick
Hunter Dozier, 3B
It raised eyebrows when the Royals chose Dozier, a shortstop from Stephen F. Austin, with the eighth overall pick when he was generally viewed, at best, as a late first-round talent. By getting Dozier to agree to a below-slot price, the Royals had enough pool money left to grab lefty Sean Manaea — a top college lefthander who dropped due to injury concerns — with the 34th overall pick. Dozier then made the maneuver look masterful with a breakout pro debut that helped short-season Idaho Falls win the Pioneer League crown. Dozier also spent a few weeks at Low-A Lexington, where he shifted positions to accommodate shortstop Raul Adalberto Mondesi, one of the organization’s top prospects. Now, Dozier is a fast-track third baseman who could be ready to challenge for big-league time within two years.

Top Prospects
RHP Kyle Zimmer (22) 

Turned dominant last year after a small tweak in his delivery seemed to unlock his potential; will get a long look in big-league camp.
OF Bubba Starling (21)

Club officials insist they’re pleased by the progress of this raw-but-toolsy player, but it’s time for him to take a major step forward.
RHP Yordano Ventura (22)

Even if he isn’t the next Pedro Martinez (and he might be), there’s no longer talk of shifting him to bullpen because of diminutive size.
SS Raul Adalberto Mondesi (18) 

Scouts continue to rave over his advanced skills and label him a virtual can’t-miss as an impact shortstop.
LHP Sean Manaea (22)

Was a potential No. 1 overall pick last June before dropping due to pending hip surgery; he could be an absolute steal.
OF Jorge Bonifacio (20)

Missed time last year because of a broken hand, but his potential is a big reason the Royals were willing to trade Wil Myers.
RHP Miguel Almonte (20)

Shows advanced stuff and poise; could move quickly after strong first full season of stateside ball.

Beyond the Box Score
All-Star talk The Royals had three players selected last season to the All-Star Game for the first time since 1988. All three took the field in the seventh inning at Citi Field in New York — catcher Salvy Perez, left fielder Alex Gordon and relief pitcher Greg Holland. Further, Perez’s single in the eighth inning marked the first All-Star hit by a Royals player since Bo Jackson went 2-for-4 with a homer and a stolen base in the 1989 All-Star Game at Anaheim, Calif.
Moore extended General manager Dayton Moore received a two-year contract extension in late November, which binds him to the club through the 2016 season. Moore took the post in June 2006 and will, if he remains in place for the full term of his extension, become the longest-serving GM in franchise history.
Gold Standard The Royals had three Gold Glove recipients for the first time in franchise history. Gordon won a third straight award in left field, while Perez and first baseman Eric Hosmer were first-time recipients. The Royals also had two players who were finalists at their position — shortstop Alcides Escobar and center fielder Lorenzo Cain.
Record Payroll It’s getting harder and harder to cast owner David Glass as a penny-pinching tightwad. The Royals set a franchise record for payroll for the second straight year at an estimated $95 million. The payroll was $38.2 million as recently as 2011.
Revamped staff Manager Ned Yost received a new two-year contract after the season and revamped his staff by adding two ex-managers and one long-time manager from the club’s minor-league system. Former Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu is the new bench and catching coach; former Cubs manager Dale Sveum is the new third-base and infield coach; and Mike Jirschele, who spent the last 11 seasons as the manager at Class AAA Omaha, will fill unspecified duties on the big-league staff.
Extra sauce DH Billy Butler introduced his own brand of barbecue sauce last spring to barbecue-mad Kansas City as a fund-raising project for his Hit-It-A-Ton foundation, which provides food for needy families. Butler also contributes with his bat: a ton of food (roughly $250) for every homer and a half-a-ton of food (roughly $125) for every double.

Teaser:
This is the best team, on paper, the Royals have fielded in at least 20 years. It still might not be good enough to chase down Detroit in the American League Central Division, but it should, at minimum, make a real charge at a Wild Card berth.
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 10:06
Path: /college-football/ranking-all-128-college-football-coaching-jobs-2014
Body:

Every college football program is unique and has its own set of challenges. But some programs are clearly better than others.

So what exactly determines the best job in a conference or in college football? Each person’s criteria will be different, but some programs already have inherit advantages in terms of location, money and tradition. Texas, USC, Florida and Alabama are some of the nation’s best jobs, largely due to some of the factors mentioned previously. Do they have their drawbacks? Absolutely. But it’s easier to win a national title at Texas than it is at Oklahoma State.

Debating the best job in the nation or any conference is always an ongoing discussion. The debate doesn’t start with a small sample size but should take into account more of a long-term (both past and future) in order to get a better snapshot of the program.

With all of this in mind, we have tried to rank the jobs in college football based on the attractiveness from a coaching perspective. As we mentioned above, many factors were considered. Tradition, facilities, location, budget and recruiting ability are just a few things we considered. But in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach if we had a blank slate and all of the jobs were open?

(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)

Ranking College Football's Coaching Jobs for 2014

1. Texas

Pros: Texas offers the complete package: Great school in a great town with great tradition. Also, it’s located in a state that treats high school football like a religion.

Cons: Texas has a ton going for it (see above), but the Longhorns are only 25–14 in the last three seasons. The program is not immune to losing. And while Texas is a recruiting power, there are three other AQ conference schools in the state, and virtually every other national power dips into Texas to recruit as well.

Final Verdict: It’s easier said than done — just ask David McWilliams and John Mackovic — but everything is in place to win big on a consistent basis at Texas. Yes, the Longhorn Network creates a few headaches for the coaches, but elite talent is close in the recruiting ranks and money isn't a problem. And without a conference championship game, there's a favorable path to a spot in college football's playoff format.
 

2. Florida

Pros: Location. Location. Location. Florida is a public university in a state that produces a tremendous amount of top-flight talent. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium offers one of the best atmospheres in college football, and the fan base is as rabid as there is in the nation.

Cons: Expectations are sky-high at a school that won two national championships in three seasons from 2006-08. If you don’t win — and win big — things can turn ugly very quickly. Just ask Ron Zook or even Will Muschamp after 2013.

Final Verdict: Florida presents one of the elite coaching opportunities in college football. You have everything at your disposal to compete for national championships on an annual basis. There is no excuse not to be good at Florida.
 

3. Alabama

Pros: Tradition. With the possible exception of Notre Dame, no school in the country has more tradition than Alabama. The Tide have won 23 SEC championships and (depending on who you ask) 15 national titles. The facilities are top-notch, the fans are passionate and the recruiting base is strong.

Cons: Coaching football at Alabama is arguably the most stressful job in collegiate athletics. It’s takes a certain kind of coach to deal with that type of scrutiny.

Final Verdict: Alabama is unquestionably one of the premier jobs in the nation. The coach who can deal with the demands of the job — like Nick Saban — will win at a very high level in Tuscaloosa.
 

4. USC

Pros: The USC coaching staff has the ability to stock its roster with elite talent without ever having to jump on a plane. The program has a rich tradition, but it doesn’t live in the past; the Trojans were dominant in the 2000s, winning seven straight Pac-10 titles (2002-08) and two national championships.

Cons: USC is the top job in L.A., but the city does have another program with tremendous potential. It doesn’t take much of a dip to lose your status as the No. 1 program in your own town.   

Final Verdict: If you’re a West Coast guy, coaching the Trojans is as good as it gets. It’s the best job in the Pac-12 and you are in the most fertile recruiting area in the country.
 

5. Ohio State

Pros: There are eight FBS schools in Ohio, but there is only one school named The Ohio State University. The Buckeyes have been a consistent force on the field and in recruiting since Woody Hayes took over in the early 1950s.

Cons: Expectations are extremely high in Columbus. Consider the case of John Cooper: In 13 seasons, Cooper went 111–43–4, winning 10 games or more five times. But he went 2–10–1 against Michigan and lost his job after the 2000 season.

Final Verdict: Everything is in place to win a national championship at Ohio State. The facilities are top-notch, the fans are passionate, and the recruiting base is outstanding. Just don’t lose to Michigan.
 

6. Oklahoma

Pros: Oklahoma has been a dominant force in college football dating back to the late 1930s. The program has consistently been able to dip into Texas and steal more than its share of elite players on an annual basis. The Big 12, with no Nebraska and no conference title game, offers an easier path to a national championship for OU.

Cons: The state does not produce enough talent to stock the Sooners’ roster with the type of players needed to compete for championship. Recruiting at a high level out of state is a must.

Final Verdict: Not every coach has won big at Oklahoma — John Blake went 8–16 in three seasons (1996-98) — but it is clearly one of the marquee jobs in the nation. Winning a national championship is well within your reach.
 

7. Notre Dame

Pros: Notre Dame has three unique advantages compared to almost every school in the country — a national following, its own television contract and an unparalleled history that includes 11 consensus national titles.

Cons: Brian Kelly has returned Notre Dame to national prominence, but there was a long stretch in which the Fighting Irish struggled to compete at an elite level. From 1998-2011, ND went 99–72 with an unthinkable six non-winning seasons. The school’s relatively high academic standards can make recruiting more challenging. Also, Notre Dame lacks the home-state recruiting territory of other national powers. Indiana is not great state for high school football.

Final Verdict: Notre Dame might not be the same job it was 20 years ago, but this is still a great situation for the right coach. You can win a national title with the Fighting Irish.
 

8. Georgia

Pros: Georgia has tremendous tradition and is located in arguably the finest college town in America — Athens. The Peach State might not produce talent at the same rate as Florida, Texas or California, but metro Atlanta is always strong, and small towns such as Columbus, Valdosta and Warner Robins consistently produce elite talent.

Cons: There are really no negatives to be found at Georgia, other than the fact that you are competing in the very difficult SEC, and you have a fan base that demands you win at a high level.

Final Verdict: Georgia is a great situation, but you clearly have to have the right guy in place to win big. After Vince Dooley won the third of three straight SEC crowns in 1982, the Bulldogs went nearly two decades — and went through two more coaches — before their next league title, won by Mark Richt in 2002.

9. LSU

Pros: It’s become a bit of a cliché, but there really is nothing like being in Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night in the fall. That environment is one reason the Tigers are able to recruit so well. The other? The state of Louisiana is arguably the most underrated talent producer in the nation.

Cons: LSU has so much going for it, but why have so many coaches failed to win at a high level in Baton Rouge? From 1971 though 2000, the Tigers only won one outright SEC championship, in 1986 under Bill Arnsparger.

Final Verdict: It’s hard to find a reason why LSU would not be a desirable coaching position. Sure the competition is tough and the fans are demanding, but that comes with the territory. The school has won two national titles in the past 11 seasons.
 

10. Michigan

Pros: Michigan has as much tradition as any school in the country. The Wolverines have been a national power since the 1890s and they play in one of the largest venues in the country, 109,901-seat Michigan Stadium. The program’s success and the school’s academic reputation have allowed Michigan to be a major player in recruiting both in the Midwest and nationally.

Cons: Michigan is an old-school program that is very set in its ways. A coach who comes in with a new philosophy — for example, Rich Rodriguez — will have a tough time being accepted.

Final Verdict: Michigan is no doubt an elite job, but as we saw in the Rodriguez era — he won a total of 15 games in three years — you have to be the right fit to win big in Ann Arbor.
 

11. Florida State

Pros: You can make the argument that Florida State offers all of the positives of Florida without the brutal competition of the SEC East. Would you rather battle Clemson, NC State and Boston College or Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina every year? A new indoor practice facility was a needed addition for the Seminoles to keep up in college football's arms race.  

Cons: Florida State has a nice following, but its fans can be on the fickle side. Last season, when the Seminoles were chasing a national championship, Doak Campbell was “only” filled to 92 percent capacity. Not bad, but not quite up to standards of most programs of similar stature. Also, the ACC has been relatively weak in recent seasons. Could that hurt Florida State in the new playoff format? Probably not, but we have to be nitpicky when talking about one of the top 10-15 jobs in the nation.

Final Verdict: Florida State enjoyed an unbelievable run of success from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. But the Noles lost five games or more three times from 2006-10. Winning isn't automatic, but the Seminoles are coming off a national championship, and Jimbo Fisher clearly has steered this program back on track.
 

12. Oregon

Pros: As long as Phil Knight and the University of Oregon remain in good graces, this program will be blessed with tremendous financial resources. The Nike founder and former Oregon track athlete has donated over $100 million to the school’s athletic department. In addition, the Ducks have a tremendous home field advantage at 54,00-seat Autzen Stadium, regarded as the most raucous atmosphere in the Pac-12.

Cons: Right now, it’s difficult to find many good reasons why the head coaching position at Oregon would not be attractive. The school does lack tradition, but the Ducks have averaged nine wins per season since 1994.

Final Verdict: Ten or 15 years ago, Oregon wouldn’t be nearly as high on this list, but Knight’s money, Mike Bellotti’s recruiting and Chip Kelly’s offensive wizardry transformed this program. It is now clearly one of the most-desirable positions in the country.
 

13. Texas A&M

Pros: Texas A&M’s facilities are among the very best in the nation. Kyle Field was a bit on the old side and is being renovated, but as far as the facilities for recruiting — football complex in the south end zone, the indoor practice facility — A&M has very few rivals. The recruiting base is among the best in the country, and the Aggies, the only SEC school in the state of Texas, should be able to battle the University of Texas for the best players in the state. 

Cons: Even with so much going for it, Texas A&M has had trouble sustaining success throughout its history.   

Final Verdict: Texas A&M is a very intriguing position. It has everything you would want in a job — great facilities, strong following, tremendous recruiting base — but the competition in the SEC West is fierce. If you win at A&M, you will have earned it.
 

14. Penn State (Note: These rankings do not take NCAA sanctions into consideration.)

Pros: Penn State is an enormous state university in an extremely fertile recruiting area. The Nittany Lions play in the second-largest facility in the country (Beaver Stadium, capacity 107,282), and they have won two national championships in the past 30 years

Cons: Penn State recovered nicely in the latter half of the 2000s, but it’s a bit disconcerting that a program with so much going for it was capable of having four losing seasons in a five-year span like Penn State did from 2000-04. Truly elite programs should not suffer through prolonged droughts.

Final Verdict: Penn State is difficult to evaluate at this point. Sanctions are not supposed to affect these rankings, but Penn State is a unique case. This is a great job, but the program will not compete at a high level until the sanctions are over.
 

15.  Auburn

Pros: Auburn and Georgia are the only two schools in the SEC with at least five winning conference seasons in each of the past four decades. Clearly, this program can be a consistent winner in the nation’s most difficult conference.

Cons: Auburn is a state school with a great following, but it will always be No. 2 in Alabama behind the Crimson Tide from Tuscaloosa.

Final Verdict: If your ego can handle being the second most important coach in the state, then Auburn can be a destination job. The school — with its fine tradition, strong facilities and outstanding recruiting base — has proven over time that it can compete on a national level. The Tigers, after all, won the BCS crown in 2010 and played for the title in the 2013 season.
 

16. Tennessee

Pros: Who wouldn’t want to recruit to picturesque Neyland Stadium, with its 100,000-plus orange-clad zealots cheering on the Vols each week? And while Tennessee has struggled in recent years, the program enjoyed tremendous success in the not-too-distant past. From 1989-2001, the Vols went 80–20–1 in the SEC and claimed four league titles. During that span, they were ranked in the final top 10 of the AP poll seven times.

Cons: The Vols must recruit nationally because the state of Tennessee does not produce enough BCS conference players to stock the school’s roster. This is not a concern for UT’s chief SEC rivals Florida, Georgia, LSU, Auburn and Alabama.

Final Verdict: Tennessee is a great place to coach, but the Vols have slipped down the SEC food chain over the past decade. We now have Tennessee as the No. 7 job in the SEC.
 

17. Nebraska

Pros: Strong tradition. Amazing facilities. Passionate fans. Those three things don’t guarantee success, but they are a nice place to start. The Big Ten West Division has some good programs — Iowa and Wisconsin — but Nebraska should be in position to compete for a division title on an annual basis.

Cons: The Huskers won three national titles in the 1990s, but the program slipped a bit over the past decade. The state of Nebraska does not produce many high-end BCS conference players each year, and the program no longer has the sex-appeal to steal elite players from the East Coast like it did in the 1970s and 80s.

Final Verdict: Nebraska is a unique coaching position. You have everything in place to win big — except a local recruiting base. How big is that hurdle? Significant but not insurmountable. The Huskers are no longer a top-10 job but still very desirable.
 

18. UCLA

Pros: UCLA shares the same built-in recruiting advantages as its cross-town rival USC. The 2000s were relatively lean, but UCLA won or shared three Pac-10 titles in the 1990s and four in the ‘80s.

Cons: Life can be tough when you are forced to share a city with one of the elite programs in the nation. And while the Rose Bowl is a beautiful place to play, the facility is 30 miles from campus.

Final Verdict: The Pac-12 is a very good league, but USC and Oregon are the only programs that have enjoyed sustained success in the past 15 years. The right coach can have this program in contention for conference titles on a consistent basis.
 

19. South Carolina

Pros: South Carolina is home to arguably the most loyal fans in the nation. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, Gamecock fans routinely filled 80,000-seat Williams Brice Stadium even though their team averaged only six wins per season. In addition, the facilities are great, and the recruiting base is strong.

Cons: Steve Spurrier has broken through in recent years, but South Carolina football has historically been one of the nation’s most underachieving programs.

Final Verdict: South Carolina has won 18 SEC games in the past three seasons — by far its best stretch since joining the league — but we’re still not ready to put this program on the same level as SEC royalty like Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida.  
 

20. Clemson

Pros: Clemson is an SEC-like school that has the luxury of playing an ACC schedule. The fans are rabid, the stadium is huge (capacity 81,500), and unlike many of its ACC brethren, Clemson is a football school.

Cons: Clemson seemingly has so much going for it, yet the program has only won two ACC titles since 1990. If you are a coach interested in the job, you’d have ask yourself the following question: Why has this program frequently underachieved?

Final Analysis: Clemson presents a great opportunity. The program is a major player in the recruiting game, is willing to pay big for a coaching staff and it has so many built-in advantages compared to almost every school in the league. The Tigers have the ability to compete for the ACC title on an annual basis.
 

21. Miami

Pros: With the possible exception of USC and UCLA, no school in the country has a better local recruiting base. And while the Canes have struggled in recent years, the program won a national championship as recently as 2001 and played for a title in ’02.

Cons: Miami has a small fan base and has struggled to fill its stadium. Last season, the Canes ranked 36th in the nation in attendance, averaging 53,837 per game (according to the NCAA at least) at Sun Life Stadium. The facility is 20 miles from campus and lacks the big-time college football atmosphere.

Final Verdict: Miami is an intriguing job. The recruiting base is outstanding — which gives you a great opportunity to win — but the position lacks many of the other qualities that make coaching at a big-time school so attractive.
 

22. Oklahoma State

Pros: T. Boone Pickens is a very wealthy man, and he’s a big fan of Oklahoma State football. As a result, the Cowboys boast some of the best facilities in the nation. And these facilities help the O-State coaches tap into a fertile recruiting ground in nearby Texas.

Cons: Since Oklahoma State joined the Big Eight in 1960, the Cowboys have finished ahead of Oklahoma five times. The school will always be the No. 2 program in the state.

Final Verdict: In a vacuum, Oklahoma State would be a wonderful place to coach, but if you have your sights set on competing for a national title on a regular basis, Stillwater might not be the place for you. There’s a reason the school has only won two conference titles since the mid-1950s.
 

23. Washington

Pros: This is a proud program with great tradition. The Huskies won a national title in 1991 and claimed at least a share of five Pac-10 titles from 1990-2000. UW is in a great city (Seattle) and has an SEC-like following when things are going well.

Cons: The school has addressed the program’s only significant weakness — facilities — with the $250 million renovation to Husky Stadium. Washington’s in-state recruiting base is solid but lags signficantly behind the four California teams in the Pac-12.

Final Verdict: The past decade has proven that it can be difficult to win at Washington. But this is still a very good job. Is it a great job? Not anymore. But it is still a prestigious program that can attract elite talent. You can win at UW.
 

24. Wisconsin

Pros: Wisconsin has been transformed into a football school over the past two decades. Badger faithful pack 80,321-seat Camp Randall Stadium each week and create one the best environments in the nation. Madison also is a great place to live.

Cons: The school’s local recruiting base isn’t strong; the state has not produced a national top-100 player since 2007. Also, the Badgers have only been relevant on the national scene since the early 1990s. Wisconsin lacks the tradition of many of its Big Ten rivals.

Final Verdict: Barry Alvarez turned Wisconsin from a Big Ten afterthought to a significant player in college football. But the Badgers’ place as a top program is far from secure. Wisconsin, more than most of the other schools in the Big Ten on this list, needs the right coach in place to remain successful.
 

25. Arkansas

Pros: Recently renovated Reynolds Razorback Stadium — with its 72,000 seats and upgraded LED video screen — is one of the most underrated venues in the nation. Arkansas is the only BCS program in the state, giving the school an advantage in recruiting homegrown talent.

Cons: The Hogs have found it tough to win consistently since bolting the Southwest Conference for the SEC in the early 1990s. Arkansas is 85-95-2 in the SEC and has only once had back-to-back winning seasons in the league.

Final Verdict: Arkansas is quite similar to several of the non-elite coaching positions in the SEC. It’s a good job, but it’s not a destination job for a coach with national title aspirations.
 

26. Michigan State

Pros: Michigan State seemingly has everything in place to be a major player in the Big Ten — great fan support (averaged 72,328 per game in ’13), good facilities, strong recruiting base and decent tradition.

Cons: Despite all of the positives listed above, Michigan State has only won two Big Ten titles — in 2009 and 2013 — in two decades and has only averaged 6.1 wins in the 47 seasons since claiming a share of the 1966 national championship. Also, there’s the Michigan thing: No matter how much success the Spartans enjoy, they will always be the second school in the state behind Michigan.

Final Verdict: Michigan State has been an underachiever and will never be the No. 1 program in its own state. Still, it’s a good job. If you can change the culture in East Lansing —which Mark Dantonio has apparently done — there is no reason Michigan State can’t contend for Big Ten titles on a semi-regular basis.
 

27. Virginia Tech

Pros: Virginia Tech has a very strong (and underrated) recruiting base, most notably the Hampton Roads-Tidewater area — better known as the ‘757’ by recruiting gurus. The Hokies also have a passionate fan base that creates a tremendous environment at Lane Stadium.

Cons: The school has only been relevant on the national scene under Frank Beamer’s watch. Can another coach recreate the magic when Beamer steps aside?

Final Verdict: Virginia Tech isn’t quite college football royalty, but it’s not far off. Prior to a 7-6 mark in 2012, the Hokies had won at least 10 games in the previous eight straight seasons. You can win a national title in Blacksburg.
 

28. North Carolina

Pros: The school is an easy sell for a recruiter: It’s is one of the premier public institutions in the nation, and its location, in picturesque Chapel Hill, is ideal. UNC has also made a huge financial commitment to football in the past decade.

Cons: North Carolina is — and always will be — a basketball school. That is something that every football coach must accept. And while the school has enjoyed pockets of success, it’s been difficult to win consistently at UNC. Since Mack Brown bolted for Texas after the 1997 season, the Tar Heels have averaged 3.4 ACC wins.

Final Verdict: North Carolina’s lack of success over the years might surprise even a knowledgeable college football fan. The Tar Heels have not won an ACC championship since 1980 and have not strung together back-to-back winning ACC seasons since the mid-90s. Still, this is a desirable position for a coach. It’s a great school that has made a strong commitment to the football program.
 

29. Louisville

Pros: Louisville has solid facilities and is in a good spot geographically to consistently attract top recruits. Kentucky is not a great talent producer, but Louisville can recruit Ohio and Illinois due to its proximity to those states and has always done a good job recruiting Florida. Also, the school “survived” the realignment wars, finding a home in the ACC. This article is more of a long-term reflection of the job, but it's hard to ignore Louisville's athletic department, which could be the best in the nation.

Cons: The school lacks football tradition and doesn’t have the fan base that most top 25 programs possess. When the Cards are good, they draw well. But in 2009, in the final season of the Steve Kragthrope era, they ranked 71st in the nation in attendance, averaging 32,540 per game. Moving to the ACC is a huge plus for the program, but Louisville also is moving into a harder league in a division featuring Clemson and Florida State. The Cardinals went from the No. 1 program in the American to the No. 6 job in the ACC.

Final Verdict: Like many of the schools in the ACC, Louisville is only as good as its coach. Bobby Petrino won big in his four years. Kragthorpe flopped in his three seasons. Charlie Strong won 37 games in four years. With the right fit, Louisville competes for league titles. The move to the ACC helps with stability and the long-term outlook for this program, making the Cardinals a fringe top 25-30 job in the nation.
 

30. Ole Miss

Pros: Historically, Mississippi produces as many Division I prospects per capita as any state in the nation. There is plenty of competition for these recruits (Mississippi State, Alabama, LSU, etc.), but a good coach will be able to keep the Rebels stocked with solid talent. Support for Rebel football is also very strong; the Rebs averaged 59,303 per game in 2013. Also, Ole Miss’ facilities have improved tremendously in the past five years.

Cons: You have to go back to the early 1960s to find a time in which Ole Miss was a major player in the SEC. The Rebels haven’t won a league title since 1963, and they are only team in the West (outside of SEC West newcomer Texas A&M) that has not played in an SEC Championship Game.

Final Verdict: Ole Miss has made the commitment to its football program, but it takes more than a commitment — and more than one top-10 recruiting class — to beat the elite SEC programs on a consistent basis. This job has great potential, but Ole Miss hasn’t “arrived” yet.
 

31. Missouri

Pros: Missouri has an underrated recruiting base. There is a solid crop of instate talent every year, and Mizzou does a decent job landing players from Texas and Illinois.

Cons: It’s been tough to win consistently at Missouri. Dating back to the days of the Big Eight, the Tigers have only had eight winning seasons in league play since 1983. The SEC East presents several huge challenges on an annual basis.

Final Verdict: Missouri is a good job — but not a great job. You can average eight wins per season and go to decent bowl games. Can the Tigers be a consistent threat to win the SEC East? Coming off a division title in 2013, can Missouri maintain its place at the top of the SEC East. Or will programs like Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee rise back to the top?
 

32. Iowa

Pros: Three key elements make Iowa an attractive job — it’s the top school in the state (sorry, Iowa State), it has a strong tradition of excellence (five Big Ten titles since 1981, two BCS bowls since ‘03) and it has great fan support (67,125 per game in ’13).

Cons: Iowa might be the top dog in the state, but the hunting grounds aren’t very fertile. To remain competitive, the Hawkeyes’ staff will always have to go into other teams’ home states to recruit.

Final Verdict: It’s difficult for a school that doesn’t have a strong local recruiting base to compete for national title. It can be done — Nebraska won three titles in the 1990s — but that is a very big hurdle to climb.
 

33. Stanford

Pros: Stanford offers the best combination of elite academics (top 5 in U.S. News & World Report) and big-time college football. The school’s outstanding reputation allows the staff to recruit nationally.

Cons: Until recently, sustained success had been tough to achieve on The Farm. From the late 1970s through the late 2000s, Stanford was unable to string together more than two straight wining seasons. The school’s strict academic standards — even for athletes — shrinks the recruiting pool considerably.

Final Verdict: Stanford is not for everybody, but it is a great job for a coach who embraces the school’s mission. The Cardinal struggled for much of the 2000s, but this is a program that has emerged as a national power in recent years. 
 

34. Baylor

Pros: Baylor’s recruiting base has always made it an intriguing job. There is more than enough talent in the state to stock a talented roster, even with Texas and Texas A&M grabbing most of the elite players. The school will open a new, 45,000-seat Stadium on Brazos River in 2014. It will be among the nicest facilities in the nation.

Cons: Baylor will always be down low on the food chain among the FBS schools in the state of Texas. As a small, private school, support will always be an issue. In 2012, on the heels of a 10-win season that produced a Heisman Trophy winner, Baylor only averaged 41,194 per game to rank last in the Big 12.

Final Analysis: Art Briles is proving that Baylor can compete in the Big 12. The Bears have won 29 games in the past three seasons — the best three-year stretch in school history. The new stadium and the university’s commitment to the program should allow Baylor to remain relevant if Briles ever bolts for greener pastures.
 

35. West Virginia

Pros: West Virginia has an SEC feel to it. There are no pro sports to share the spotlight with in the Mountain State; the Mountaineers are the game in town.

Cons: West Virginia’s recruiting base isn’t as strong as many of its rivals in the Big 12. The state simply doesn’t produce many elite-level prospects.

Final Verdict: History tells us that West Virginia is a very good job. The school has won at least 10 games six times since 1988. But it’s not a job without its challenges. It’s a strange geographic fit in the Big 12, which presents some difficulties on the recruiting trail.  
 

36. BYU

Pros: BYU has been one of the most consistent winners in college football over the past four decades. Since 1973, the Cougars have only had three losing seasons — all in the 2000s under Gary Crowton — and they have a national title (1984) on their resume. The school’s LDS Church affiliation gives it an inside track to land the elite Mormon recruits from all over the country.

Cons: The recruiting pool, while national to some degree, is somewhat limited at BYU; the school has trouble attracting black players. BYU’s decision to bolt the Mountain West and become an Independent will be a move to watch over the next 10 years. Does it hurt in terms of the playoff picture? Can the Cougars challenge for a spot in one of the top bowl games?

Final Verdict: BYU is a unique position. For the right coach, it’s a great job. You can win a bunch of games in Provo, but it remains to be seen if the Cougars can become a national player as one of only four FBS independent schools.
 

37. Pittsburgh

Pros: Pittsburgh is located in the heart of Western Pennsylvania, which gives the Panthers a solid recruiting base. The school also shares its football facility with the Pittsburgh Steelers — which can be a positive (NFL influence) or negative (no on-campus stadium).

Cons: It’s been tough to win consistently at Pitt over the past three decades. The Panthers have only had a winning record in 15 of the 32 seasons since Jackie Sherrill bolted.

Final Verdict: Former coach Dave Wannstedt proved that you can attract talent to play at Pittsburgh. But it’s a school with a ceiling. The Panthers should consistently win seven or eight games per season, but can you win a national title? Not likely.
 

38. Arizona State

Pros: The Sun Devils have made a significant investment in their facilities in recent years, with an indoor practice bubble and new weight and locker rooms. And recently, the program began its renovation project on Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona State has won three Pac-12 titles in its 30-plus years in the league (1986, ’96 and ’07). Oh, we can’t forget about the weather.

Cons: While the school has experienced pockets of success (three league titles), the Devils have strung together back-to-back winning Pac-12 seasons only twice since John Cooper bolted in 1987.

Final Verdict: Arizona State offers a pretty good situation for a school without a strong local recruiting base. The weather is great and the tradition is good enough. USC, Oregon and UCLA will always the top jobs in the league, but with the right coach in place, ASU can be a consistent force in the Pac-12.
 

39. Arizona

Pros: Arizona has never been a Pac-12 power, but the school has more than held its own for much of its 32 years in the league. The Wildcats had 11 winning Pac-10 seasons in a 13-year stretch from 1982-94. Good coaches have shown the ability to attract talent to Tucson.

Cons: Since 1995, Arizona has only had a winning Pac-12 record three times — 1998, 2008 and 2009.

Final Verdict: Being a good recruiter is obviously important at every school, but it is of paramount importance at Arizona. The school is without many of the built-in advantages (tradition, top facilities, etc.) that exist at some of the Pac-12 programs, so you have to convince players to come to Arizona for reasons other than the weather.
 

40. Maryland

Pros: Maryland has enjoyed pockets of success over the last three decades. Bobby Ross won three straight ACC titles from 1983-85 and Ralph Friedgen went a combined 31–8 from 2001-03, and won eight-plus games in 2008 and 2010. And while it isn’t to the Oregon/Nike level, the school’s close ties with Under Armour is a positive.

Cons: The move to the Big Ten will help the school in many ways, but it might have a negative impact on the football program’s recruiting. Maryland isn’t going to beat out many Big Ten schools for prospects from the Midwest, and the school won’t have the same appeal for many players in the Mid-Atlantic Region and Southeast now that the Terps won’t be playing an ACC schedule.

Final Verdict: Maryland was a lower-tier job in the ACC. And it will be a lower-tier job in the Big Ten. You can win games, but it will be very difficult for any coach to compete for championships in the current landscape, especially in a division that features Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
 

41. Texas Tech

Pros: Texas Tech has proven it can win consistently. Prior to 2010, the Red Raiders had been .500 or better in league play — SWC and Big 12 — 22 times in the previous 25 seasons. The school has recently invested in the program with an $84 million renovation to Jones AT&T Stadium.

Cons: While the program has managed to remain competitive, winning titles has been very difficult in Lubbock. The school has not won an outright conference title since 1955, when it claimed its third straight Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship. Also, recruiting to Lubbock — the outpost of the Big 12 — can be a bit difficult.

Final Verdict: Texas Tech might be the fourth most attractive job in its own state, but it’s still a very good program that has proven it can’t remain relevant in the Big 12.
 

42. TCU

Pros: TCU is located in the heart of the most fertile recruiting area in the country. The Horned Frogs have vastly improved their facilities over the past five years and now are a member of one of the nation’s top conferences.

Cons: TCU is now back in a power conference, but it’s still a small private school (8,000-plus undergrads) in league comprised mostly of massive state schools. The fan base will never be as large as many of its rivals.

Final Verdict: Perhaps no school other than Boise State has improved its national profile in the past 5-10 years as much as TCU. The school is back in a power conference after bouncing around for 16 years in the mid-major ranks (WAC to C-USA to MWC). This is not an elite job — TCU will always take a back seat to Texas, Texas A&M and even Texas Tech in its own state — but it’s a much better opportunity for a coach than it was 10 years ago.
 

43. California

Pros: Cal is one of the premier public institutions in the nation located in a great area, giving the Bears a recruiting edge against most of the other schools in the Pac-12. The school is also located in the fertile recruiting area of Northern California. And the facilities, long time an issue at the school, have recently received a major upgrade.

Cons: Bears have had trouble winning consistently; they have two Pac-12 titles (none outright) since 1958.

Final Verdict: Cal is an intriguing job. There is a lot to like, but there are certain drawbacks. You can win in Berkeley, but the culture of the university will likely prevent the football program from ever reaching elite status.
 

44. North Carolina State

Pros: The facilities at NC State are among the finest in the ACC. The spectacular Murphy Center, a football-only building, houses coaches’ offices, the weight room and dining area for the players, among other things. The school’s recruiting base, the Carolinas and Virginia, is strong.

Cons: The school doesn’t have a strong record of success. NC State hasn’t won an ACC title since 1979 and has had only six winning league seasons since 1990.

Final Verdict: This program has underachieved over the past decade. Everything is in place — facilities, fan support, recruiting base — to be a consistent winner in the ACC. 
 

45. Boise State

Pros: Boise State has dominated its league like no other school in the nation over the past decade. The Broncos won at least a share of the WAC eight times in the their final 10 years in the league, and they are 31–7 in their first three seasons in the Mountain West. The school has also been able to crash the BCS party two times in the past eight seasons.

Cons: The move from the WAC to the Mountain West is a plus, but the Broncos’ schedule strength — or lack thereof — will continue to be an issue as it fights for respect in the polls.

Final Verdict: With its blue turf and its deep bag of trick plays, Boise State has created a brand for itself on the college football landscape. This is a cozy job for someone not interested in all of the perks that come with coaching at a school with an SEC-type fan base.
 

46. Georgia Tech

Pros: Georgia is annually one of the top talent-producing states in the nation, giving the Yellow Jackets’ staff an opportunity to land quality recruiting classes despite the fact that the University of Georgia is the top Dawg in the state. Tech has also proven over time that it can win consistently in the ACC; the Jackets have been .500 or better in league play in 19 straight seasons.

Cons: Georgia Tech will always be the second-most popular program in its own city, which is probably more of a problem for the school’s fans than its players and coaches. The male-to-female ratio (about 2-to-1) at the school can’t help recruiting, either.

Final Verdict: Georgia Tech might not come to mind when you think about some of the top programs in the nation, but this is a solid football school with underrated tradition. It’s been proven that you can win titles — both ACC (2009, 1998, '90) and national (1990). 
 

47. Kentucky

Pros: Kentucky, after firing Joker Phillips, has made a commitment to football. The school has announced facilities upgrades, and the pay scale for the new staff is significantly higher. And while the state of Kentucky doesn’t produce many SEC-level players, Kentucky should be able to recruit nearby Ohio and still can dip into Georgia and Florida because of the school’s membership in the SEC.

Cons: Football, while important, will always be the No. 2 sport at Kentucky. And even though the school has some recruiting advantages — see above — it’s tough to win at a high level in the SEC when you can’t depend on stocking your roster with in-state talent.

Final Verdict: The level of competition in the SEC is better than ever. For example, Vanderbilt has climbed ahead of UK — for now — on the food chain. Mark Stoops is off to a great start, but it will difficult to win consistently at Kentucky.
 

48. Mississippi State

Pros: Mississippi State has shown an ability to field a competitive team on a semi-regular basis in the past two decades. The Bulldogs have had a winning overall record in 11 of the 22 seasons since the first wave of SEC expansion in 1991. That’s not great, but it’s better than most college football fans might expect. Support for Mississippi State football is at an all-time high; the Bulldogs averaged 55,695 (101.1 percent of capacity) at Davis Wade Stadium last season.

Cons: Recruiting top players to Starkville can be difficult. Not only does MSU have to battle Ole Miss for the best of the best in the state, but Alabama, Auburn and LSU are almost always in play for Mississippi’s top players.

Final Verdict: This is the toughest job in the SEC West — and maybe the entire league. Good coaches have shown the ability to remain relevant in the league, but it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Mississippi State can win a division that includes Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. 
 

49. Vanderbilt

Pros: Vanderbilt is an elite academic institution located in a great city. The school is spending more money than ever on athletics, from salaries for the coaching staff to the new indoor practice facility. While there is pressure to win at every school, expectations — even now after back-to-back nine-win seasons — will never be as great as other programs in the league. You aren’t going to get fired at Vanderbilt after one bad season.

Cons: Even with the recent upgrades, Vanderbilt trails the rest of the SEC in the facilities arms race. As the only private school in the SEC, the Commodores have the smallest fan base in the league — by far. Also, the academic requirements make recruiting that much more difficult for a staff that already has to overcome many hurdles. There is a reason that Vanderbilt went 29 years (from 1983 through 2011) without enjoying a single winning record in the SEC.

Final Verdict: James Franklin proved that a recruit can have the best of both worlds — get a Vanderbilt education and win games in the nation’s best conference. Still, this is a very difficult job, maybe the toughest of any school in an AQ conference. Can Derek Mason continue to build on what Franklin accomplished?
 

50. Rutgers

Pros: Rutgers’ location affords the coaching staff the opportunity to stock its entire roster with local talent. The facilities have been upgraded in recent years, most notably the $102 million expansion to High Point Solutions Stadium. Also, being just over 30 miles from New York City — the media capital of the world — can’t hurt. Moving from the Big East/American to the Big Ten is a huge opportunity for Rutgers and certainly helps the overall appeal of this job.

Cons: The school has almost no tradition; prior to the mid-2000s, the program was irrelevant. And while support for Rutgers football has grown in recent years, pro sports will always be No. 1 in the metropolitan area.

Final Verdict: Long considered the sleeping giant on the East Coast, Rutgers emerged as a consistent winner in the Big East/American. Whether or not this is a true destination job is up for debate, but it’s clear that you can win a bunch of games and go to bowl games at Rutgers. In a division that features Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, the Scarlet Knights have an uphill battle to compete for a division title on a yearly basis. But with the right coach, Rutgers can consistently compete for winning seasons.
 

51. Virginia

Pros: Virginia is a great school in a great college town, and the state consistently produces a high number of BCS-level recruits.

Cons: The school has a surprisingly bad track record in football. George Welsh had a nice run in the 1980s and '90s, but other than that, the Cavaliers have had a tough time fielding a consistently competitive program. UVa has won a total of two championships (both shared) in its 56 years in the ACC. Recruiting can also be tough at Virginia, based on the school’s relatively stringent academic standards.

Final Verdict: This school should be able to be consistently competitive in the ACC. Other than its lack of tradition, everything is seemingly in place to elevate the profile of this program. 
 

52. Illinois

Pros: Illinois’ local recruiting base — from Chicago down into St. Louis — is among the best in the Big Ten. The facilities (weight room, practice facility, locker rooms, etc.) are strong, and the stadium has received some renovations in recent years.

Cons: Basketball is — and will always be — the top sport at Illinois. Football, for whatever reason, has never been much of a threat to break into the upper echelon of the league. Also, the fan support at Illinois isn’t as strong as the top programs in the Big Ten. Last year, the Illini averaged only 43,787 fans per game.

Final Verdict: Despite being the fifth most populous state, Illinois checks in No. 10 in our list of the Big Ten’s most attractive coaching positions. There is a lot to like about the job, but there are also reasons why the school has only won three Big Ten titles (two outright) since the early 1960s.
 

53. Colorado

Pros: Colorado lacks the tradition of some of the Pac-12 powers, but this program has enjoyed strong pockets of success over the past 25 years. The Buffs won three Big Eight championships in a row from 1989-91 (along with a national title in ’90), and they won four Big 12 North titles in the 2000s. With the right coach in place, this is a school that will attract quality players.

Cons: The facilities at Colorado lag behind most BCS conference schools, and the school’s commitment to athletics has been questioned in recent years. The Buffaloes recently announced a $170 million facility upgrade proposal, which is a step in the right direction. Also, the CU fans can be fickle; Folsom Field (53,750) has rarely been filled to capacity over the past few seasons.

Final Analysis: Three different coaches have won 10 games in a season since 1990, so it’s possible to win big at Colorado. But until the school makes a significant commitment to the program — which it claims to be doing now — CU cannot be considered an elite job.


54. Oregon State

Pros: This is not longer the Oregon State of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. The program has proven it can be relevant in the Pac-12 for an extended period of time.

Cons: Oregon State is No. 2 program in a state that does not produce a high volume of Pac-12-quality players. The school has improved its facilities, but they pale in comparison to what the University of Oregon — funded by Nike — has to offer.

Final Verdict: This job is far more attractive now than it was in 1997, when Mike Riley began his first stint as the boss in Corvallis. But it’s a difficult job. Almost every school in the league has more going for it — from tradition to fan base to recruiting base — than Oregon State.
 

55. Utah

Pros: Prior to its move to the Pac-12, Utah had emerged as one of the few non-BCS conference teams that was able to compete on the national scene. The Utes have averaged 8.7 wins over the past 10 years, highlighted by two perfect seasons punctuated by BCS bowl wins. As a member of the Pac-12 South — along with USC and UCLA —  the Utes should enjoy success recruiting in Southern California.

Cons: Utah is a decent state for high school talent, but there aren’t nearly enough high-level players to stock the rosters both at Utah and BYU. 

Final Verdict: Utah had carved out a niche as one of the top non-BCS programs in the nation. The move to the Pac-12, however, changed the profile of the program. It’s uncertain if Utah can be a significant player in the Pac-12 on a consistent basis. The Utes are just 5-13 in the Pac-12 over the last two seasons. It’s tough to envision this program being a more desirable destination than USC, UCLA and both of the Arizona schools.
 

56. Minnesota

Pros: The Gophers have a relatively new stadium that provided a significant upgrade from the outdated Metrodome. As the only Division I (FBS or FCS) program in the state, Minnesota should land its fare share of in-state recruits.

Cons: Minnesota is a tough sell for out-of-state recruits. The weather is bad and the program lacks tradition. 

Final Verdict: Minnesota is a program with a ceiling — and Glen Mason hit that ceiling (winning five to eight games in most seasons with an occasional 10-win breakthrough).
 

57. Purdue

Pros: Purdue is a program that has experienced consistent success in the Big Ten during the BCS era. The Boilermakers went 48–32 in league play during the first 10 years of the Joe Tiller era. Support is solid when the program is winning.

Cons: Purdue is one of three BCS programs in a state that does not produce a high volume of elite recruits.

Final Verdict: Coaching is important at every school, but Purdue is the type of school that can win consistently with the right man in place (Joe Tiller) but will struggle with the wrong man (Danny Hope). Is Darrell Hazell the right coach to get this program back on track? 
 

58. Syracuse

Pros: As recently as the early 2000s, Syracuse was a top-25 program. The Orangemen, as they were called then, won nine games or more eight times in a 15-year span from 1987-2001. Doug Marrone had the program headed in the right direction before bolting to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Scott Shafer did a nice job in his first season, continuing to provide traction for a program that seems to be taking steps in the right direction. There's also discussion about a new stadium for the Orange.

Cons: The program has been an afterthought in the past decade, with only four winning seasons since 2001. Support has not been great, either. In the first year of ACC play, Syracuse averaged just 38,277 fans per game.

Final Verdict: Syracuse is a tough job. It’s tough to lure elite recruits from the South, specifically Florida, to upstate New York, and there simply aren’t a lot of top-flight prospects in the Northeast. Much like Louisville and Pittsburgh, moving to the ACC provides long-term stability for this program. 
 

59. Northwestern

Pros: As the only private school in the Big Ten, Northwestern can be an attractive option for a top-flight recruit from the Midwest who is looking for an elite academic institution. The university approved a $225-250 million facilities overhaul for all of the athletic programs in 2012. Football will no doubt be a huge beneficiary.

Cons: It will always be a struggle to keep up with the elite programs in the Big Ten, from a recruiting and facilities standpoint.

Final Verdict: You can win at Northwestern, but it will always be a challenge.
 

60. Boston College

Pros: Boston College was one of the most consistent programs in the nation from the late 1990s through the late 2000s. The Eagles averaged 8.7 wins from 1999-2009 and won one Big East title (2004) and two ACC Atlantic Division titles (2007, ’08). The school’s strong academic reputation will allow it to recruit top students from the Northeast who want to remain close to home.

Cons: Similar to Syracuse, Boston College will always have a difficult time recruiting elite players from outside its region. There's talent in the Northeast, but it's not enough to consistently compete with Florida State and Clemson for division titles in the Atlantic Division. 

Final Verdict: Once the model of consistency, Boston College slipped to the bottom of the ACC food chain under Frank Spaziani. However, this program is back on track under Steve Addazio. The Eagles made a bowl in 2013, and Addazio reeled in a solid recruiting class to add to the foundation. Again, this ranking isn't about 2014 or '15. However, Addazio seems to be the right guy to get the program back on track, which should help Boston College become a consistent bowl team once again in the ACC.
 

61. Kansas State

Pros: Kansas State has averaged 8.4 wins over the past 20 years and been ranked in the final AP poll 11 times over that span. Support for K-State football is very strong, especially when the team is winning.

Cons: Only one man has been able to win at Kansas State. This might be more of an indictment of Ron Prince than the program, but the Wildcats went a combined 9–15 in the Big 12 in the three seasons between Bill Snyder’s two tenures.

Final Analysis: It’s tough to evaluate this coaching position. There are seemingly a bunch of hurdles — poor recruiting base, remote location, lack of tradition prior to the 1990s — but Snyder has managed to win at a high level on a consistent basis. Can another coach succeed in Manhattan? We’ll find out soon enough.
 

62. Cincinnati
Cincinnati is in a prime location when it comes to recruiting, being in Ohio and relatively close to Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. Despite the program's recent success, fan support has remained tepid at best and despite the school's best efforts, the Bearcats appear stuck in the American Athletic Conference for the forseeable future. Still, this is a place where the right man can win, as five different coaches have won at least seven games twice since 2000.

63. Washington State
Only four Pac-12 schools have played in the Rose Bowl in the past 11 seasons. USC, Oregon, Stanford and … Washington State. That, along with the fact the Cougars won 10 games in three straight seasons (2001-03) proves that you can win games in Pullman. However, Pullman is the most remote outpost in the Pac-12. It can be difficult to attract prospects from California to play collegiately in Eastern Washington. The school has upgraded facilities in recent years, but it still lags behind most schools in the league on this front. Washington State’s biggest hurdle is its location. In a league that includes four teams in California, one in Phoenix, one in Seattle and one just outside Denver, it’s tough to remain relevant when your school is 280 miles from the nearest big city (Seattle).

64. Iowa State
Cyclone fans sure love Iowa State football. Last season, the school averaged 55,361 fans per game (100.6 percent of capacity) at Jack Trice Stadium. Not bad for a school that has had one winning season since 2006. The school is second on the food chain in a state that does not produce many FBS-caliber recruits. Dan McCarney enjoyed a nice run in the early 2000s, but it’s been very difficult to sustain success in Ames. Outside of the strong support for a passionate fan base — though that does carry significant weight — it’s difficult to find too many positives about the coaching position at Iowa State. There’s a reason the school has not won more than seven games in consecutive seasons since the late 1970s.

65. Houston
Houston is an elite area for high school talent, as is the whole state of Texas, but there also are plenty of mouths to feed and the Cougars are near the back of the line. New stadium is a plus for Houston as it enters its second season in the American Athletic Conference.

66. UCF
UCF is located in the heart of the talent-rich Sunshine State and near the bottom of the pecking order after Florida, Florida State and Miami. Clearly a program on the rise and should be one of the top teams in the American Athletic Conference on an annual basis.

67. South Florida
South Florida has a tremendous local recruiting base, and the Bulls proved they can be a consistent winner inn the FBS ranks, averaging 8.4 wins from 2006-10. However, South Florida does not have an on-campus stadium and will always have a tough time beating out the Big Three — Florida, Florida State and Miami — for top prospects.

68. Kansas
While it’s difficult to win at Kansas, it can be done. Glen Mason won 10 games in 1995, and Mark Mangino won 12 — and played in a BCS bowl — in 2007. The school has invested in facilities over the past decade. The weight room is top notch. Crowds at Phog Allen Fieldhouse are arguably the best in college basketball, but support for Kansas football is not nearly as strong. Last season, the Jayhawks ranked 63rd in the nation in attendance with 37,884 per game at Memorial Stadium. Also, KU is second on the food chain in a state that doesn’t produce many high-level recruits. Kansas is one of the toughest AQ conference jobs in the nation when you factor in the recruiting base, lukewarm support and the fact that no coach since the 1950s has enjoyed sustained success in Lawrence.

69. Indiana
The school has increased its commitment to the football program in recent years, most notably an upgrade in facilities that includes a new weight room, a new scoreboard and an academic center, among other things. Basketball is king at Indiana University and in the state of Indiana. The school’s recruiting base is weak, and there are two other BCS programs in the state. There’s a reason Indiana hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons 1993 and ’94 and hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 1967. It’s tough to win in Bloomington.

70. Fresno State 
Prime location makes it the second-best job in the Mountain West.

71. Wake Forest
Jim Grobe has been the only one to win consistently at the academic-minded, small private school since the early 1950s.

72. Duke
Basketball, academics and a lack of support are the main obstacles to sustained success on the gridiron in Durham, N.C. Did the program turn a corner with the Coastal Division title in 2014?

73. East Carolina
Solid program with good support, recruiting base and tradition.

74. SMU
SMU's location and recruiting base are the only reasons why the Mustangs aren't lower as brand recognition, tradition and fan base support are basically non-existent.

75. San Diego State
Sleeping giant has shown signs of life in recent years.

76. Connecticut
Conference realignment has not helped the Huskies when it comes to attracting the Northeast's top recruits.

77. Southern Miss
No member of the reconfigured C-USA has a stronger tradition of winning.

78. Northern Illinois
Recruiting base will ensure that you will always have a talented roster at NIU.

79. Colorado State  
There is plenty of tradition, but the Rams have had two winning seasons since 2004.

80. Tulsa  
It’s the third best job in a decent state for high school talent.

81. Navy  
The Midshipmen have emerged as the best option of the Military Academies.

82. Toledo  
Each of the last nine coaches have won at least eight games in a season at Toledo.

83. Utah State  
Aggies are a distant third in their own state, but Gary Andersen proved you can win in Logan.

84. Nevada  
Move to the Mountain West has made it harder to win in Reno.

85. Marshall  
Herd should be able to stock roster with players from Ohio and Pennsylvania.

86. Ohio   
Frank Solich is the first coach to win consistently since the 1930s.

87. Air Force  
The Falcons are always good but never great. 

88. New Mexico  
Great location — unless you have to recruit.

89. Wyoming
Pokes have few built-in advantages, which makes it hard to sustain success. Tough place to attract talent.

90. Memphis
This program has plenty of room to grow. Move to the American Athletic Conference is an upgrade, and with the right coach, the Tigers can make some noise in their new league.

91. Miami (Ohio)  
The Cradle of Coaches has lost its luster.

92. Louisiana Tech  
Great talent base to recruit. Move to Conference USA is a plus for a program that was a misfit in the WAC.

93. Temple
Upgraded by moving from MAC to the American Athletic Conference, but this program has a long ways to go in terms of tradition, fan support and national perception.

94. Bowling Green  
Urban Meyer isn’t walking through that door.

95. UTEP  
Still in Texas, but El Paso is a long way from everything.

96. North Texas  
There are plenty of players, but it’s the ninth-best job in the state.

97. UL-Lafayette   
Ragin’ Cajuns should be able to consistently compete for Sun Belt titles. UL-Lafayette led the Sun Belt with an average attendance of 25,976 per game.

98. Hawaii   
It’s tougher to recruit at Hawaii than most would imagine and facilities are an issue.

99. UNLV   
Getting players never seems to be an issue. Winning is.

100. San Jose State  
Great location and plenty of talent available in California to recruit.

101. FAU   
Strong recruiting base and a new stadium have raised FAU’s profile.

102. Middle Tennessee  
Decent location, but fan support has been low despite strong success.

103. Western Kentucky   
Hilltoppers have made a steady climb since joining the FBS ranks.

104. Arkansas State   
Red Wolves have been able to hire good coaches. Retaining them is next step.

105. Troy  
Should be one of the top jobs in the Sun Belt on an annual basis.

106. Central Michigan  
Good coaches have proven they can win big at CMU.

107. Rice   
It’s one of the toughest jobs in an elite state for talent.

108. UTSA   
The Roadrunners are in a better league (C-USA) than Texas State (Sun Belt). A program on the rise.

109. Army   
Kids would rather play for Navy and Air Force.

110. Western Michigan  
It’s No. 4 in its own state and No. 4 in the MAC West.

111. Tulane   
Move to the American Athletic Conference and new stadium will raise Tulane’s profile. However, it's still a tough job.

112. Akron  
Zips have one league title in school history.

113. Kent State   
Only two winning seasons since 1987.

114. ULM   
2012 was the school’s first with a winning record since joining FBS ranks.

115. Ball State   
It’s the fifth-best job in its own division.

116. Georgia Southern
Good tradition and a solid location in a state with plenty of talent. Should be one of the top programs in the Sun Belt. 

117. Texas State  
It’s got the potential to be one of the best jobs in the Sun Belt.

118. South Alabama  
Jaguars will have to start stealing some recruits from in-state Sun Belt rival Troy.

119. Old Dominion

Restarted football in 2009 after a 69-year absence. Monarchs have a strong recruiting area, and a new stadium could be on the way. There's a lot of potential here. 

120. Buffalo   
Turner Gill (and Jeff Quinn in 2013) proved winning is possible at Buffalo. Improvements appear to be coming to UB Stadium.

121. Appalachian State
Remote location, but picturesque campus. Won three consecutive national championships from 2005-07.

122. Georgia State  
Panthers will move up the food chain if they can recruit well locally. 

123. FIU   
Great location. Little tradition. Questionable leadership in the athletic department. 

124. UAB   
UAB desperately needs an on-campus stadium. There's enough talent in the state of Alabama for the Blazers to succeed.

125. UMass   
Attendance is an issue at Gillette Stadium, but a renovated McGuirk Stadium should help this program grow in the MAC.

126. New Mexico State   
At least Las Cruces is a nice place to live. Moving to the Sun Belt should help this program in terms of overall stability.

127. Idaho   
Moving to the Sun Belt is a positive, but this program has just one winning season in the last 14 years.

128. Eastern Michigan  
Attendance is a concern, especially with the University of Michigan less than 10 miles down the road.

Teaser:
Ranking All 128 College Football Coaching Jobs for 2014
Post date: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /college-football/ranking-big-tens-college-football-coaching-jobs-2014
Body:

Every college football program is unique and has its own set of challenges. But some programs are clearly better than others.

So what exactly determines the best job in a conference or in college football? Each person’s criteria will be different, but some programs already have inherit advantages in terms of location, money and tradition. Texas, USC, Florida and Alabama are some of the nation’s best jobs, largely due to some of the factors mentioned previously. Do they have their drawbacks? Absolutely. But it’s easier to win a national title at Texas than it is at Oklahoma State.

Debating the best job in the nation or any conference is always an ongoing discussion. The debate doesn’t start with a small sample size but should take into account more of a long-term (both past and future) in order to get a better snapshot of the program.

With all of this in mind, we have tried to rank the jobs in the Big Ten based on the attractiveness from a coaching perspective. As we mentioned above, many factors were considered. Tradition, facilities, location, budget and recruiting ability are just a few things we considered. But in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach if we had a blank slate and all of the jobs were open?

(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)

Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the Big Ten for 2014

1. Ohio State

Pros: There are eight FBS schools in Ohio, but there is only one school named The Ohio State University. The Buckeyes have been a consistent force on the field and in recruiting since Woody Hayes took over in the early 1950s.

Cons: Expectations are extremely high in Columbus. Consider the case of John Cooper: In 13 seasons, Cooper went 111–43–4, winning 10 games or more five times. But he went 2–10–1 against Michigan and lost his job after the 2000 season.

Final Verdict: Everything is in place to win a national championship at Ohio State. The facilities are top-notch, the fans are passionate, and the recruiting base is outstanding. Just don’t lose to Michigan.
 

2. Michigan

Pros: Michigan has as much tradition as any school in the country. The Wolverines have been a national power since the 1890s and they play in one of the largest venues in the country, 109,901-seat Michigan Stadium. The program’s success and the school’s academic reputation have allowed Michigan to be a major player in recruiting both in the Midwest and nationally.

Cons: Michigan is an old-school program that is very set in its ways. A coach who comes in with a new philosophy — for example, Rich Rodriguez — will have a tough time being accepted.

Final Verdict: Michigan is no doubt an elite job, but as we saw in the Rodriguez era — he won a total of 15 games in three years — you have to be the right fit to win big in Ann Arbor.
 

3. Penn State (Note: These rankings do not take NCAA sanctions into consideration.)

Pros: Penn State is an enormous state university in an extremely fertile recruiting area. The Nittany Lions play in the second-largest facility in the country (Beaver Stadium, capacity 107,282), and they have won two national championships in the past 30 years

Cons: Penn State recovered nicely in the latter half of the 2000s, but it’s a bit disconcerting that a program with so much going for it was capable of having four losing seasons in a five-year span like Penn State did from 2000-04. Truly elite programs should not suffer through prolonged droughts.

Final Verdict: Penn State is difficult to evaluate at this point. Sanctions are not supposed to affect these rankings, but Penn State is a unique case. This is a great job, but the program will not compete at a high level until the sanctions are over.
 

4. Nebraska

Pros: Strong tradition. Amazing facilities. Passionate fans. Those three things don’t guarantee success, but they are a nice place to start. The Big Ten West Division has some good programs — Iowa and Wisconsin — but Nebraska should be in position to compete for a division title on an annual basis.

Cons: The Huskers won three national titles in the 1990s, but the program slipped a bit over the past decade. The state of Nebraska does not produce many high-end BCS conference players each year, and the program no longer has the sex-appeal to steal elite players from the East Coast like it did in the 1970s and 80s.

Final Verdict: Nebraska is a unique coaching position. You have everything in place to win big — except a local recruiting base. How big is that hurdle? Significant but not insurmountable. The Huskers are no longer a top-10 job but still very desirable.
 

5. Wisconsin

Pros: Wisconsin has been transformed into a football school over the past two decades. Badger faithful pack 80,321-seat Camp Randall Stadium each week and create one the best environments in the nation. Madison also is a great place to live.

Cons: The school’s local recruiting base isn’t strong; the state has not produced a national top-100 player since 2007. Also, the Badgers have only been relevant on the national scene since the early 1990s. Wisconsin lacks the tradition of many of its Big Ten rivals.

Final Verdict: Barry Alvarez turned Wisconsin from a Big Ten afterthought to a significant player in college football. But the Badgers’ place as a top program is far from secure. Wisconsin, more than most of the other schools in the Big Ten on this list, needs the right coach in place to remain successful.
 

6. Michigan State

Pros: Michigan State seemingly has everything in place to be a major player in the Big Ten — great fan support (averaged 72,328 per game in ’13), good facilities, strong recruiting base and decent tradition.

Cons: Despite all of the positives listed above, Michigan State has only won two Big Ten titles — in 2009 and 2013 — in two decades and has only averaged 6.1 wins in the 47 seasons since claiming a share of the 1966 national championship. Also, there’s the Michigan thing: No matter how much success the Spartans enjoy, they will always be the second school in the state behind Michigan.

Final Verdict: Michigan State has been an underachiever and will never be the No. 1 program in its own state. Still, it’s a good job. If you can change the culture in East Lansing —which Mark Dantonio has apparently done — there is no reason Michigan State can’t contend for Big Ten titles on a semi-regular basis.
 

7. Iowa

Pros: Three key elements make Iowa an attractive job — it’s the top school in the state (sorry, Iowa State), it has a strong tradition of excellence (five Big Ten titles since 1981, two BCS bowls since ‘03) and it has great fan support (67,125 per game in ’13).

Cons: Iowa might be the top dog in the state, but the hunting grounds aren’t very fertile. To remain competitive, the Hawkeyes’ staff will always have to go into other teams’ home states to recruit.

Final Verdict: It’s difficult for a school that doesn’t have a strong local recruiting base to compete for national title. It can be done — Nebraska won three titles in the 1990s — but that is a very big hurdle to climb.
 

8. Maryland

Pros: Maryland has enjoyed pockets of success over the last three decades. Bobby Ross won three straight ACC titles from 1983-85 and Ralph Friedgen went a combined 31–8 from 2001-03, and won eight-plus games in 2008 and 2010. And while it isn’t to the Oregon/Nike level, the school’s close ties with Under Armour is a positive.

Cons: The move to the Big Ten will help the school in many ways, but it might have a negative impact on the football program’s recruiting. Maryland isn’t going to beat out many Big Ten schools for prospects from the Midwest, and the school won’t have the same appeal for many players in the Mid-Atlantic Region and Southeast now that the Terps won’t be playing an ACC schedule.

Final Verdict: Maryland was a lower-tier job in the ACC. And it will be a lower-tier job in the Big Ten. You can win games, but it will be very difficult for any coach to compete for championships in the current landscape, especially in a division that features Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State.
 

9. Rutgers

Pros: Rutgers’ location affords the coaching staff the opportunity to stock its entire roster with local talent. The facilities have been upgraded in recent years, most notably the $102 million expansion to High Point Solutions Stadium. Also, being just over 30 miles from New York City — the media capital of the world — can’t hurt. Moving from the Big East/American to the Big Ten is a huge opportunity for Rutgers and certainly helps the overall appeal of this job.

Cons: The school has almost no tradition; prior to the mid-2000s, the program was irrelevant. And while support for Rutgers football has grown in recent years, pro sports will always be No. 1 in the metropolitan area.

Final Verdict: Long considered the sleeping giant on the East Coast, Rutgers emerged as a consistent winner in the Big East/American. Whether or not this is a true destination job is up for debate, but it’s clear that you can win a bunch of games and go to bowl games at Rutgers. In a division that features Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, the Scarlet Knights have an uphill battle to compete for a division title on a yearly basis. But with the right coach, Rutgers can consistently compete for winning seasons.
 

10. Illinois

Pros: Illinois’ local recruiting base — from Chicago down into St. Louis — is among the best in the Big Ten. The facilities (weight room, practice facility, locker rooms, etc.) are strong, and the stadium has received some renovations in recent years.

Cons: Basketball is — and will always be — the top sport at Illinois. Football, for whatever reason, has never been much of a threat to break into the upper echelon of the league. Also, the fan support at Illinois isn’t as strong as the top programs in the Big Ten. Last year, the Illini averaged only 43,787 fans per game.

Final Verdict: Despite being the fifth most populous state, Illinois checks in No. 10 in our list of the Big Ten’s most attractive coaching positions. There is a lot to like about the job, but there are also reasons why the school has only won three Big Ten titles (two outright) since the early 1960s.
 

11. Minnesota

Pros: The Gophers have a relatively new stadium that provided a significant upgrade from the outdated Metrodome. As the only Division I (FBS or FCS) program in the state, Minnesota should land its fare share of in-state recruits.

Cons: Minnesota is a tough sell for out-of-state recruits. The weather is bad and the program lacks tradition. 

Final Verdict: Minnesota is a program with a ceiling — and Glen Mason hit that ceiling (winning five to eight games in most seasons with an occasional 10-win breakthrough).
 

12. Purdue

Pros: Purdue is a program that has experienced consistent success in the Big Ten during the BCS era. The Boilermakers went 48–32 in league play during the first 10 years of the Joe Tiller era. Support is solid when the program is winning.

Cons: Purdue is one of three BCS programs in a state that does not produce a high volume of elite recruits.

Final Verdict: Coaching is important at every school, but Purdue is the type of school that can win consistently with the right man in place (Joe Tiller) but will struggle with the wrong man (Danny Hope). Is Darrell Hazell the right coach to get this program back on track? 
 

13. Northwestern

Pros: As the only private school in the Big Ten, Northwestern can be an attractive option for a top-flight recruit from the Midwest who is looking for an elite academic institution. The university approved a $225-250 million facilities overhaul for all of the athletic programs in 2012. Football will no doubt be a huge beneficiary.

Cons: It will always be a struggle to keep up with the elite programs in the Big Ten, from a recruiting and facilities standpoint.

Final Verdict: You can win at Northwestern, but it will always be a challenge. 
 

14. Indiana

Pros: The school has increased its commitment to the football program in recent years, most notably an upgrade in facilities that includes a new weight room, a new scoreboard and an academic center, among other things.

Cons: Basketball is king at Indiana University and in the state of Indiana. The school’s recruiting base is weak, and there are two other BCS programs in the state.

Final Verdict: There’s a reason Indiana hasn’t had back-to-back winning seasons 1993 and ’94 and hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 1967. It’s tough to win in Bloomington.

Teaser:
Ranking the Big Ten's College Football Coaching Jobs for 2014
Post date: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 07:15
Path: /mlb/boston-red-sox-2014-preview
Body:

The Red Sox were in the process of building a bridge when they decided to make it a launch pad. The shocking World Series title that followed brought the joy back to Boston baseball after two years of relentless negativity. What it didn’t do was change “The Plan.” General manager Ben Cherington intends to construct a homegrown powerhouse, which is why the Red Sox likely will take a step back in 2014 in service of a better tomorrow. Rather than bob blindly for apples in free agency — previous attempts left them soaked and sputtering — they watched their starting center fielder, catcher and shortstop hit the market. Within a month, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were gone, while Stephen Drew remains adrift in draft-compensation limbo. No matter. The Red Sox view turnover as a necessary step in the process of great teams staying that way, and rookies Xander Bogaerts and, perhaps Jackie Bradley Jr., will step right into the lineup as the roster makeover begins. If they deliver, that bridge may just lead into orbit once again.


Rotation 

If there’s a hangover from the title, this is where you’ll find it. Red Sox pitchers tossed an extra 142.1 high-stress innings in the playoffs, and most of those innings fell on the shoulders of their stout starters. Ace Jon Lester, for instance, saw his season total jump from 213 innings to 248, while John Lackey climbed from 189.1 to 215.1. Prior World Series winners have watched their starters suffer in ensuing seasons, and with a shortened winter of rest, the Red Sox will be jumping right back into the fire. The most fascinating hurler to watch will be Lester, whose regular season was workmanlike (15–8, 3.75) but whose postseason was otherworldly (4–1, 1.56). In the second half, he regained a 97 mph fastball and 93 mph cutter pretty much out of nowhere, and he looked like a Cy Young contender. If he maintains that form while seeking a contract extension, watch out. The rest of the rotation could go either way. Righthander Clay Buchholz led the Cy Young race until a June shoulder injury shelved him for three months. He survived on guts thereafter, but the Sox want to see more than 16 starts. Lackey, meanwhile, will need to be monitored after throwing so many innings in his return from Tommy John. Veterans Jake Peavy and Ryan Dempster are vying with lefthanders Felix Doubront and Chris Capuano for the final two spots, with Dempster and Capuano likely the odd men out.


Bullpen

Koji Uehara: Greatest closer of all time? For half a season, anyway, it’s hard to argue anyone’s ever been better. The trick for the 39-year-old (on April 3) will be even roughly approximating his 2013 season for the ages, when he went 4–1 with a 1.09 ERA and 21 saves before allowing just one run and no walks in 13 lockdown postseason appearances. He’s far from alone. The Red Sox boast one of the deepest bullpens in the game, and there’s no secret to its success — throwing strikes. Uehara, righthander Junichi Tazawa and free-agent acquisition Edward Mujica combined to whiff 219 and walk only 26 last year. The return from a broken foot of lefthander Andrew Miller (14.1 K/9) should bolster a solid group that also includes lefty Craig Breslow and rookie righty Brandon Workman. There’s plenty of depth, too, with offseason acquisition Burke Badenhop — who’s tough on righthanders — and Dempster and Capuano also in the mix.


Middle Infield 

Rookie of the Year and MVP of the past, meet Rookie of the Year and MVP of the future. In second baseman Dustin Pedroia and Bogaerts, a shortstop, the Red Sox boast a pair of homegrown talents who could turn double plays for the next eight years. Pedroia is anxious to retake the field after playing all of last season with a torn thumb ligament that required November surgery. Bogaerts, meanwhile, proved wise beyond his years at age 21 in the playoffs and is a franchise-caliber talent. The Red Sox can only hope this pair is magic.

Corners

As the Red Sox watched free agents depart over the winter, they steadfastly maintained that they wanted Mike Napoli back, and the feeling was mutual. The slugging first baseman turned down at least one three-year offer to re-sign for two years and $32 million, bringing the beard back to Boston. Napoli set a franchise record for strikeouts (187) but more than compensated with homers (23), RBIs (a career-high 92), and a penchant for drama, living up to his reputation as a star on the brightest stage. The other side is murky, thanks to a sophomore slump out of third baseman Will Middlebrooks, who looked like a lineup anchor before becoming unmoored. If Middlebrooks struggles, prospect Garin Cecchini could get the call.


Outfield 

With Ellsbury gone, this group will have a new look. Bradley is a ball-hawking center fielder who struggled in his introduction to big-league pitching, batting just .189. However, his minor-league numbers track very closely to Ellsbury’s at a similar age, and the Red Sox believe in his on-base ability. But just as the Red Sox were prepared to hand him the job in center, along came the long lost Grady Sizemore. That's right. The once promising megastar for the Cleveland Indians, Sizemore is in camp with Boston and making believers everyday that he can be the center fielder. Right fielder Shane Victorino will be looking to defend his Gold Glove and once again come up clutch. The left field tandem of Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava, meanwhile, brings tough at-bats and the ability to win a game with one swing. Gomes, in particular, is an underrated defender, while Nava merely finished fifth in the American League in on-base percentage.


Catching

And here’s where the Red Sox rolled the dice. Once they benched Saltalamacchia in the World Series, it became clear they’d be in the market for a new backstop this winter. The only question was whether they’d open the purse strings for free agent Brian McCann. They didn’t, and then they missed out on Philadelphia’s Carlos Ruiz, too. That left them in scramble mode, and they settled on veteran A.J. Pierzynski, a 37-year-old who doesn’t exactly embody their ideals as a hitter (.297 OBP in 2013), but who was willing to sign for one year while prospects Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart develop.


DH/Bench 

No designated hitter has earned enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, but with all due respect to Edgar Martinez, David Ortiz is making the strongest case yet. When last we spied Big Papi, he was rampaging through the Cardinals to the tune of a .688 average and World Series MVP. Even at age 38, Ortiz remains by far the best designated hitter in baseball, which gives the Red Sox a huge advantage at a position that has strangely become a state of flux elsewhere. As for the bench, Jonathan Herrera comes aboard from Colorado to man second, third and short, while Mike Carp has the flexibility to play first or the outfield. Also returning is David Ross, widely considered the best backup catcher in baseball.


Management

The Red Sox could not be in better hands. Cherington just won the Executive of the Year Award — a piece of hardware that somehow eluded predecessors Theo Epstein and Dan Duquette — and John Farrell finished second to good friend Terry Francona in the AL Manager of the Year race. Cherington and Farrell work in perfect harmony, with similar views on franchise building and lineup construction that reflect Farrell’s wealth of experience as a farm director and pitching coach. Also deserving credit is John Henry’s ownership group, which not only recognized the flaws in their over-reliance on free agency but also empowered Cherington to make the changes that resulted in a title.


Final Analysis 

The Red Sox need to be realistic about teams that come out of nowhere — they often return there. While the Sox could certainly contend for another World Series and will be right in the thick of the AL East race, they’re more likely to cede the stage. Last year they avoided major injuries (besides Buchholz) and got bounce-back years from virtually all of their 30-something free agents. Those players are now a year older, and an injury to Ortiz or Pedroia or even Victorino could be devastating. On the flip side, they’re beginning the process of getting younger with Bogaerts and Bradley, but entrusting two vital defensive positions to rookies generally isn’t a World Series-winning strategy, at least in Year 1. It’s Years 2 and beyond that have the Red Sox so excited.

Lineup
LF    Daniel Nava (S)    
He may not be the leadoff prototype — he’s slow, and will platoon with Jonny Gomes — but he gets on base.
RF    Shane Victorino (S)    
The key for the Flyin’ Hawaiian will be staying healthy — back and hamstring troubles slowed him last year.
2B    Dustin Pedroia (R)    
The hope is that offseason thumb surgery allows Pedroia to regain the pop that made him an MVP.
DH    David Ortiz (L)    
The best DH in baseball history has shown no signs of slowing down but will be hard-pressed to top 2013.
1B    Mike Napoli (R)    
Strikeouts are just part of a package that thankfully includes homers and clutch hits.
SS    Xander Bogaerts (R)    
The rookie gets his first crack at a full-time job, and the expectation is that he’ll one day be a superstar.
C    A.J. Pierzynski (L)    
Free swinger doesn’t really fit the Sox mold offensively, but he was best one-year solution.
3B    Will Middlebrooks (R)    
The pressure will be on the youngster, who could lose his job to farmhand Garin Cecchini if he struggles again.
CF    Jackie Bradley Jr. (L)    
The plan all along had been to replace Jacoby Ellsbury with Bradley, who must prove he’s ready.

Bench
OF    Jonny Gomes (R)    
The spiritual and emotional leader of the team can also play a little, especially against lefthanders.
UT    Mike Carp (L)    
Carp knows his role — produce as a pinch-hitter and spot starter, even if it means sporadic at-bats.
INF    Jonathan Herrera (S)    
The Red Sox wanted protection around the infield, and Herrera provides it at three positions.
C    David Ross (R)    
Baseball’s best backup catcher is recovered from two concussions and will probably start around 60 games.


Rotation
LH    Jon Lester    
Lester was a postseason monster (4–1, 1.56), and the Red Sox hope it carries over.
RH    Clay Buchholz    
Buchholz must prove he can stay healthy, because there’s no questioning his ability when he’s on the field.
RH    John Lackey    
Fans were chanting Lackey’s name by the end of 2013, when he looked like the ace he was with the Angels.
RH    Jake Peavy    
Peavy is trade bait and may not make it through the season, but as far as No. 4 starters go, he’s rock solid.
LH    Felix Doubront    
Veteran Chris Capuano will also be in the running for this spot, but Doubront has far more dynamic stuff.


Bullpen
RH    Koji Uehara (Closer)    
Attempting to duplicate one of the best seasons by any reliever, ever. He pounds the strike zone relentlessly.
LH    Andrew Miller    
Assuming his broken foot is healed, Miller is a weapon as a power arm who can dominate lefties and righties.
RH    Junichi Tazawa    
Had moments last year when it appeared he’d fall out of favor, but he rallied in the playoffs (1–0, 1.23).
LH    Craig Breslow    
Emerged as one of the team’s most dependable setup men and is a legitimate eighth-inning option.
RH    Edward Mujica    
Under-the-radar signing of the Cardinals’ deposed All-Star closer provides insurance if Uehara falters.
RH    Burke Badenhop    
Acquired from the Brewers because of his right-on-right ability (.574 OPS against in 2013).
LH    Chris Capuano    
The veteran lefty can get tough lefthanders as well as take sporadic spot starts.


2013 Top Draft Pick
Trey Ball, LHP
For all the excitement over arms like Henry Owens, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, and Anthony Ranaudo, the highest ceiling may just belong to this former two-way standout. Scouted as a pitcher and center fielder, the 6'6" Ball went No. 7 overall to the Red Sox, who loved his mix of low-90s fastball, plus changeup and improving curveball. They signed him away from a scholarship to the University of Texas with a $2.75 million bonus. As is often the case with first-year pitchers, the Red Sox took things slowly with Ball, who made just five starts in the Gulf Coast League totaling seven innings (0–1, 6.43). He projects to open the season at Class A Greenville, and the Red Sox are in no rush to get him to the big leagues. Rival executives believe the 19-year-old could be posting numbers as eye-opening as Owens’ once he gets a couple of years under his belt.

Top Prospects
RHP Matt Barnes (23)
Power pitcher with some command issues could join back of rotation in 2015 or maybe become a closer.
LHP Henry Owens (21)
The 6'6" southpaw is one of the best prospects in the game. Led minors in opponents’ average (.177), second in Ks (169).
RHP Allen Webster (24)
Has tremendous pure stuff, with a sinker that has approached 100 mph, but confidence is a major issue.
3B Garin Cecchini (22)
The minor-league leader in OBP (.443) could be here quickly if Will Middlebrooks struggles.
C Blake Swihart (21)
The athletic switch-hitter has a Buster Posey-like build (6'1", 175) and 20-homer potential.
2B Mookie Betts (21)
He may be a man without a position, thanks to Dustin Pedroia, but he’s got surprising power and speed.


Beyond the Box Score
Rich enough Think Dustin Pedroia is upset about Robinson Cano getting $240 million from the Mariners just months after Pedroia signed an extension that will earn him $109 million in that time? Guess again. Pedroia has a pet response when told he’s underpaid: “Are you kidding? I’m as rich as (expletive).”
Souvenir The Red Sox had one goal from the start of spring training — to ride Boston’s famous duck boats, which is how the city fetes its champions. Jake Peavy took that desire one step further, cutting a check for $75,000 and transporting one of the amphibious World War II era vehicles to his ranch in Alabama, where he intends to paint it Red Sox colors.
Magic Mike Mike Napoli put his money where his mouth is. The slugging first baseman — last seen wandering the streets of Boston shirtless following the World Series title — maintained all along he didn’t want to leave, and he proved it by leaving a three-year offer on the table from another club to re-sign for two years and $32 million. “This is where I want to be,” Napoli says.
Switching back Leg injuries forced postseason hero Shane Victorino to bat only right-handed from August on, and he excelled. This season, however, he plans to resume switch-hitting. “I worked so hard to be a switch-hitter,” he says. “I don’t want to stop.”
Shagadelic Rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. is considered a potential Gold Glover in center, and it traces back to a unique practice he calls “power shagging.” Rather than just catch lazy fly balls during batting practice, Bradley turns every swing into a game situation, sprinting from gap to gap and watching the hitter in the box intently. “I’m always trying to work on something,” he says. “You might see the same ball in a game.”
Closing strong Closer Koji Uehara’s teammates have grown to love him not just because of his indomitable stuff, but his sense of humor. The 38-year-old constantly complained about his age and would jokingly answer calls to warm up with, “No thank you.” After one comeback against the Yankees paced by the offense, Uehara burst into the clubhouse screaming, “Save for Koji!” Notes outfielder Daniel Nava: “If you can’t embrace Koji, you can’t embrace anybody.”

Teaser:
The Red Sox are beginning the process of getting younger with Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley, but entrusting two vital defensive positions to rookies generally isn’t a World Series-winning strategy, at least in Year 1. It’s Years 2 and beyond that have the Red Sox so excited.
Post date: Monday, March 10, 2014 - 11:34
Path: /mlb/toronto-blue-jays-2014-preview
Body:

The Blue Jays went all-in on 2013, trading several top prospects, boosting the payroll, attracting more fans — but winning only one more game and finishing last in the American League East. Most of the same cast returns for another try, with a lot less optimism but also much less hype. Don’t count them out, but don’t start planning that parade route, either.


Rotation

Almost everything that could have gone wrong for the rotation did go wrong last season, as the Blue Jays’ starters often dug too deep of a hole for the offense to make up. We say almost because of Mark Buehrle, who proved again that he is the living example of the timeless baseball cliché: Never get too high or too low. Wherever he has pitched in the last five years — the White Sox, the Marlins or the Blue Jays — Buehrle has had 12 or 13 wins in each season, with nine to 13 losses, an ERA between 3.59 and 4.28, and at least 200 innings. He turns 35 in spring training, and until he shows otherwise, the Jays can expect the same for 2014. The rest of the rotation is harder to predict. R.A. Dickey had a respectable first season in Toronto but was unable to remain at the Cy Young level he displayed with the Mets in 2012. The knuckleballer was 4–7 with a 5.18 ERA through the end of May and gave up 23 homers in 18 home starts (with a 4.80 ERA), compared to 12 homers in 16 road starts, with a 3.57 ERA. Brandon Morrow has been a full-time starter for four seasons with the Jays but has yet to throw 180 innings in a season. He has more strikeouts than innings for Toronto but missed most of last season with an entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm. Morrow was throwing simulated games in Arizona in December. The Jays admit that they need him but also that he is a major question mark. The back of the rotation should be filled by J.A. Happ, who lost two months after a line drive to the head last season, and someone from the group of Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers, Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek — most likely Drabek.


Bullpen
As bad as the Blue Jays’ rotation was, the season could have been a lot worse if not for one of the league’s better bullpens. The Jays ranked ninth in the majors in bullpen ERA, at 3.37. Righty Steve Delabar and lefty Brett Cecil both made the All-Star team before injuries and ineffectiveness spoiled their second halves. Even so, both are assets for this season in a bullpen that could have interchangeable closers in Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos, who showed that he was over his elbow problems. “They both could be very valuable for us,” manager John Gibbons said at the winter meetings. “The night that Janssen is not doing it, we've got Santos to do it.”


Middle Infield

The Blue Jays liked what they saw late in the season from second baseman Ryan Goins, who hit only .252 but showed enough to make him the incumbent, according to Gibbons, going into spring training. Goins, 26, is a .273/.330/.376 hitter in the minors, without much speed, so he seems to have limited upside. Shortstop Jose Reyes is all about upside; the question is always whether or not he will be on the field to display it. Reyes has played in more than 133 games only once in the last five seasons, missing two months last season with an ankle injury suffered in April. He hit well enough (.296/.353/.427) but finished with only 15 stolen bases in 21 attempts and has four years left on his six-year, $106 million contract.


Corners 

The Blue Jays alternated between Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind at first base, with each starting more than 70 games at the position and providing good pop. Encarnacion, 31, quietly had another remarkable season. In an era of ever-increasing strikeout totals, he fanned only 62 times, compared to 82 walks, and still managed 36 home runs. He’s that rare contact hitter who also has exceptional power. Third baseman Brett Lawrie started the season with a rib strain and also missed time with a sprained ankle. His production has gone steadily down since his impressive rookie showing in 2011, but in fairness, he has battled health problems and is only 24. He still has time for the breakout season many have predicted.


Outfield
The Blue Jays see Melky Cabrera as an everyday left fielder. But Cabrera, who cashed in off an artificially inflated 2012 season that included a drug suspension, was nothing special last season, hitting .279 with three homers and a .322 on-base percentage in 372 plate appearances. Center fielder Colby Rasmus strikes out a lot, and while he has never really grown as a player over five years, he showed good range in the outfield and is a power threat who mashes righthanders (.284/.359/.534). Right fielder Jose Bautista is one of baseball’s premier power hitters and has made the All-Star team in each of the last four seasons, but he has played only 210 games the last two years, missing time with a wrist injury in 2012 and a hip problem late last year.


Catching

The Blue Jays parted ways with J.P. Arencibia, whose occasional power was not enough to make up for an astonishingly poor on-base percentage. In his place, they signed Dioner Navarro, a switch-hitter who has improved his OBP in each of the last four seasons. The Jays gave Navarro a two-year, $8 million deal, even though he made only 53 starts for the Cubs last year and has not been his team’s regular catcher since 2009 with Tampa Bay. At 30, he should be able to handle the increased workload, with Erik Kratz and Josh Thole on hand to back up. Kratz, a 29th-round draft pick by the Blue Jays in 2002, is a .220 career hitter with 18 homers in 378 major league at-bats, mostly with the Phillies.


DH/Bench

Like Rasmus, Lind crushes righthanders but really struggles against lefties. Only three of his 23 homers came against lefthanders, who held him to a meager .208 average. Lind did chase fewer pitches out of the strike zone, and the overall patience at the plate resulted in a strong .357 overall OBP, his best mark since 2009. The Blue Jays picked up his $7 million option for 2014, but he faces free agency after this season with one last chance to show teams the potential he flashed five years ago. Off the bench, Anthony Gose has excellent speed and worked on his skills in winter ball; he could challenge Cabrera for playing time. Another spare outfielder, Moises Sierra, is out of options and has value as a right-handed bat, especially given how poorly Lind and Rasmus hit lefties. Infielder Maicer Izturis had his worst offensive season but offers versatility as an option at third, short and second.


Management
General manager Alex Anthopoulos, a Montreal native, understands the potential of the Blue Jays, who are the only team in Canada and are backed by a communications giant. He traded top prospects on a bet that 2013 could be the year the Jays broke a two-decade postseason drought — and lost badly. But even last April, Anthopoulos was looking beyond one season. “This team’s not built only for ’13,” he told the New York Times. “No matter what happens, this team has a chance to be together for a while.” True to his word, Anthopoulos kept the core largely intact and retained Gibbons, the feisty, folksy manager who understands the marketplace, manages his bullpen effectively and works well with the front office.


Final Analysis

It would be fitting, in a can’t-predict-baseball kind of way, if the Blue Jays made their move just when the rest of the league stopped paying attention. It could happen, because there’s undeniable talent on this roster. But last season showed that relying on injury-prone hitters and a rotation full of questions was no guarantee to produce a winner. The Jays need to improve their defense, generate runs consistently in ways other than the homer and, above all, get more from a rotation whose 4.81 ERA last season ranked 29th in the majors, ahead of only the Twins. That’s asking an awful lot in a division with the World Series champion Red Sox, the strong-armed Rays, the free-spending Yankees and an Orioles team that has averaged 89 wins the last two years. Toronto could surprise, but will more likely stay in the cellar.

Lineup
SS    Jose Reyes (S)    
Incredible stat of the year: Reyes had 382 at-bats and zero triples.
LF    Melky Cabrera (S)     
One more year to prove the Blue Jays weren’t suckered by his PED-fueled success.
RF    Jose Bautista (R)     
Powerful anchor of lineup must stay healthy for a full season. Has 152 HRs since 2010.
1B    Edwin Encarnacion (R)     
Stolen from Reds in ’09 deal for now-retired Scott Rolen. Has 214 RBIs in last two seasons.
3B    Brett Lawrie (R)     
At 24, he still has potential to live up to promise he showed as a rookie in 2011.
DH    Adam Lind (L)     
Free-agent-to-be has never repeated ’09 peak, but had solid .854 OPS last year.
CF    Colby Rasmus (L)     
This may be what he is: good power, lots of strikeouts. Productive, but not a star.
C    Dioner Navarro (S)     
Learned plate discipline (.365 OBP) while playing for the Reds with Joey Votto.
2B    Ryan Goins (L)     
Tied franchise record by hitting safely in first eight career games.

Bench
INF    Maicer Izturis (S)     
His sickly .597 OPS knocked him from a possible starting role.
C    Josh Thole (L)     
Light hitter but has good rapport with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.
OF    Anthony Gose (L)     
Former second-round pick of the Phillies has 250 steals in parts of six minor-league seasons.
OF    Moises Sierra (R)     
His name, if not his stats, conjures up two notable sluggers of the ’90s.
C    Erik Kratz (R)     
Power bat gives Jays a threat in lineup when Navarro gets a day off.

Rotation
RH    R.A. Dickey     
Battled inconsistency and nagging injuries to pile up innings and go 14–13.
LH    Mark Buehrle     
At least 10 wins and 200 innings for 13 consecutive seasons.
RH    Brandon Morrow     
Oblique muscle injury cut short 2012 season; last year, it was forearm trouble.
LH    J.A. Happ     
Starts fresh after season marred by three-month recovery from liner off head.
RH    Kyle Drabek    
Former first-round pick is returning from major surgery.

Bullpen
RH    Casey Janssen (Closer)    
Named Jays Pitcher of the Year after recording 34 saves and 0.987 WHIP.
RH    Sergio Santos     
Jays hope third Toronto season’s a charm after he had a 1.75 ERA in 29 games.
RH    Steve Delabar     
All-Star in the first half, injured and ineffective in the second half.
LH    Brett Cecil     
Former starter found success in relief, where his fastball plays up.
LH    Aaron Loup     
Doesn’t have Cecil’s stuff, but had better ERA than his fellow lefty.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Clinton Hollon, RHP
After failing to sign their top draft choice in 2011 — right-handed pitcher Tyler Beede, who chose Vanderbilt over the Jays — Toronto did not sign Phillip Bickford, whom they chose 10th overall but who enrolled at Cal State-Fullerton instead. The Jays did not make another pick until the 47th selection, when they nabbed Hollon, a high school righthander from Kentucky. In 17.1 innings spread between the Gulf Coast and Appalachian leagues, Hollon had 15 strikeouts and a 3.12 ERA. He has a mid-90s fastball and an exceptional slider, and a March 2012 report on ESPN.com called him the best pitcher among all high school juniors. Scouts did not share that opinion when Hollon was a senior — there was a reported issue with his ulnar collateral ligament — but only seven high school pitchers were drafted ahead of him, and the Blue Jays had reason to be pleased by his brief pro debut.

Top Prospects
OF D.J. Davis (19)
Faded after a hot start for rookie-level Bluefield, hitting .240 with 76 strikeouts in 225 at-bats. He does, however, have 38 steals in 118 career games.
RHP Aaron Sanchez (21)
Followed up a solid season for Class A Dunedin by posting a 1.16 ERA in 23.1 innings in Arizona Fall League.
RHP Marcus Stroman (22)
Duke product transitioned from bullpen to rotation and went 9–5, 3.30 in 20 starts at Class AA New Hampshire.
RHP Roberto Osuna (19) 
Held his own in Midwest League at age 18 and has more strikeouts than innings over three pro seasons.
LHP Sean Nolin (24)
Lost his MLB debut last year, but is 23–10, 2.95 across four seasons in minors.
LHP Daniel Norris (20)
Second-rounder from 2011 has 143 strikeouts in 133.1 pro innings, but a 5.40 ERA.

Beyond the Box Score
One and done Chad Mottola got just one season to try to spark the Blue Jays’ offense as hitting coach. When Toronto’s run total decreased for the fourth year in a row, the Jays let Mottola go and replaced him with Kevin Seitzer, the former All-Star third baseman who previously coached for the Royals and preaches using the whole field.
Feelin’ the love The Blue Jays improved their record by just one win last season while dropping in the standings from fourth place to last. But they were big winners at the box office. Their makeover after the 2012 season boosted ticket sales significantly, and the club exceeded 2.5 million fans for the first time since 1997.
Head games J.A. Happ missed three months last season after suffering a fractured skull when a line drive by the Rays’ Desmond Jennings struck him just below his left ear. Happ, who also sprained knee ligaments when he fell, said he first worried that the blood he felt around the ear was brain fluid. But he insisted after returning that he would not — and could not — be afraid. “I think it’s just knowing that hesitation is going to cripple your ability to perform,” Happ told the New York Times in August. “If you pitch a little scared, you’re not going to be finishing pitches.”
Good as Gold At 14–13, R.A. Dickey did not come close to repeating as a Cy Young Award winner in 2013. But in his debut season in Toronto, Dickey did become the first Blue Jays pitcher ever to win a Gold Glove Award. The Jays had gone seven years without a Gold Glove winner, since Vernon Wells won in 2006.
On the move The Blue Jays’ spring training home in Dunedin, Fla., sits next to a library, fitting snugly into a residential area with limited parking options and tight workout facilities for the players. But while other teams have fled their complexes for plush new surroundings, the Jays have been loyal to Dunedin since their first spring as a franchise in 1977. That appears to be changing now, with the Jays and the Houston Astros close to finalizing an agreement to move across the state to a shared complex to be built in Palm Beach Gardens. Tentatively, the new facility would open in 2016, with help from $100 million in taxpayer funds.

Teaser:

It would be fitting, in a can’t-predict-baseball kind of way, if the Blue Jays made their move just when the rest of the league stopped paying attention. It could happen, because there’s undeniable talent on this roster. Toronto could surprise, but will more likely stay in the cellar.
Post date: Monday, March 10, 2014 - 11:23
Path: /mlb/tampa-bay-rays-2014-preview
Body:

New Year’s Day passed without the intensely rumored trade of David Price. As one of the most desirable players to hit the market in recent years — a Cy Young winner in his prime with two years remaining before free agency — he is certain to command an enormous return. Tampa Bay, however, has the luxury of patience. The club can use him to patch roster holes for this season, wait and assess its pennant prospects at the trade deadline, or defer the decision for a year. As it stands, the team is equipped to return to the postseason with largely the same cast as in 2013. Once again, the pitching and defense will be asked to run interference for an unexceptional batting order. The bullpen roles need to be sorted out, but the starting rotation looks solid with or without its ace. It’s a familiar formula for the Rays — one that positions them for annual AL East contention, but not necessarily for a deep run in October. “There hasn’t been an offseason with minimal turnover,” GM Andrew Friedman said over the winter. “It’s who we are.” But who they are in 2014 may not be discernible until he pulls the trigger on Price. Or not.


Rotation
Price was a different pitcher, for better or worse, last season. His average fastball declined 2.0 mph from 2012, when he won 20 games. He also used it far less frequently, and became more control-oriented following a scare with triceps pain, walking only three of 258 batters in one stretch. He’s had elite success with either approach, and he’s the Rays’ most influential “clubhouse guy.” Similarly, Matt Moore’s heater has cooled off — from 95.3 as a rookie to 92.3 last year, when he lost confidence in it. After starting 8–0 with a 2.18 ERA, he scuffled through a long series of tedious starts, leaning on his changeup due to a baffling lack of fastball command. Though tarnished a bit, he can be a star if he figures it out. Alex Cobb passed Moore in the pecking order thanks to the emergence of a dynamic two-seamer to go with his deluxe changeup. He’s an extreme groundball pitcher who allowed three or fewer earned runs in 19 of his 22 starts. Chris Archer, whose .226 opponents average led AL rookies (min. 100 innings), features crackling stuff and a high ceiling. “He’s got such a strong mental game,” manager Joe Maddon says. “(He) really understands routine and process.” Throwing quality strikes to left-handed hitters has been anything but routine for him. Jeremy Hellickson, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year, regressed shockingly. Like Moore, his fastball location evaporated, making his bread-and-butter changeup far less effective. He underwent arthroscopic elbow surgery in January, so he won’t be available until May at the earliest. Rookie Jake Odorizzi is more than ready to step in, and affords the Rays the luxury of easing Hellickson back in slowly, probably out of the bullpen initially.


Bullpen
The Rays have made a science of cobbling together harmonious bullpens, but the back end of this one could be a game of musical chairs. Its composition starts, as usual, with reclamation projects. They need either Heath Bell or Juan Carlos Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) to turn back the clock two years. From 2009-11, the duo combined to save 224 games. Since then, the former has been nothing but hittable and the latter has undergone Tommy John surgery. After the Orioles backed off of an agreement with former Oakland closer Grant Balfour citing physical concerns, the Rays swooped in and brought Balfour back to Tampa Bay where he pitched from 2007-10. Balfour, who saved 38 games for the A’s last season, is the favorite to close. If he can, the rest should fall into place. Bell, who still throws hard but has a tendency to hang his curve, could be an effective setup man. Elastic-armed Joel Peralta has been effective in the eighth inning, while a pair of live-armed lefties indulge Maddon’s matchup mania. One-pitch pony Jake McGee threw 84.7 percent of his offerings at 95 mph or higher, and Cesar Ramos, who was actually more effective against righties last season, held opponents to a .138 average with two outs and runners in scoring position.


Middle Infield 

All four infielders were Gold Glove finalists in 2013, including second baseman Ben Zobrist and shortstop Yunel Escobar, whose 11 combined errors tied for the third-fewest ever by a keystone combo. Both led the league and set team records for fielding percentage at their posts. Zobrist’s versatility extends to numerous positions. The team’s all-time walks leader, he has driven in more than 70 runs in five straight seasons. Escobar drips with mustard, but the Rays relished his game enough to pick up his option, confident he has more bat than he showed last year.


Corners

Evan Longoria remains the nexus of the offense. Lacking protection, he gets pitched around and is forced to expand the zone, resulting in so-so batting averages and soaring strikeout sums, but only Miguel Cabrera hit more home runs among AL third sackers. His next will match Carlos Peña for the franchise record. The re-signing of James Loney to play first base was a mixed blessing. Having never gone deep more than 15 times in eight seasons, he’s not the positional prototype. On the other hand, there are no prospects in the offing; he was the best available option; he raked .299 against both righties and lefties; and, like Longoria, he has few peers as a defender.


Outfield
For a team that struggles to score, the offensive sequencing must work with precision — meaning the Rays will need big years from leadoff man Desmond Jennings and potential mid-order masher Wil Myers. Jennings has yet to develop into “that guy.” Although he’s shown flashes of being an all-around center fielder in the Jacoby Ellsbury mold, he gets himself out too much and can be misplay-prone. Maddon calls Myers “the proverbial five-tool guy. Maybe the six-tool with the makeup.” The 23-year-old reigning Rookie of the Year projected to .293-24-98 over 162 games but will have to amend his three strikeouts-per-walk ratio and shake off a horrid postseason. Steady David DeJesus was re-upped to man left field in a platoon with Sean Rodriguez. Both are rangy and athletic with borderline bats.


Catching
The Rays look to their catchers for defense first. Good thing. Their .636 OPS from the position during the last five seasons is the majors’ lowest. New starter Ryan Hanigan did an injury-impacted .567 last year for the Reds, but he is, as per Friedman, “tremendously talented” behind the dish. A future manager-type who is worshipped by his pitchers, Hanigan threw out runners at twice the rate of Rays receivers in 2013.


DH/Bench 

Unless a much-needed left-handed stick is added, the plan is to rotate the outfield starters and Matt Joyce at DH. He walks into some home runs against righthanders but hasn’t come close to fulfilling his promise. The sparse bench talent as a whole is offset by the endless versatility of players such as Zobrist and Rodriguez, as well as rookie Vince Belnome. Outfielder Kevin Kiermaier, the organization’s 2013 Defensive Player of the Year, has a chance to stick. Baseball Prospectus once called Jose Molina’s pitch-framing skills “so superlative that it made him the best pitch-for-pitch defensive catcher of the past 60 years.” So there’s that.


Management

The only thing smaller than this team’s payroll is its margin for error. With four postseason appearances in six years — an achievement 10 franchises have never equaled in their histories — owner Stu Sternberg, president Matt Silverman and executive VP Friedman have dexterously stayed within it. To their model of scouting, advanced data analysis and sleight-of-hand money management, Maddon adds a meld of baseball sophistication, motivational sloganeering and everybody-have-fun-tonight zaniness. The total package is the best in the game.


Final Analysis 

If and when the Rays move Price, they undoubtedly will help secure future viability with a package of premier prospects. To secure present viability as a possible contender, they must also get some near-term help coming back. There is a dire need for pop from the left side, another base-stealer, and a bench bat or two. Puttying up every fissure may be unrealistic, but this team has never had the luxury of covering all the bases; it just keeps the pressure on the opposition in hopes of one day getting all the way home if someone else drops the ball.

Lineup
CF    Desmond Jennings (R)    
Hit AL-best .492 (30 for 61) with three HRs when he made contact on the first pitch.
LF    David DeJesus (L)    
Attempting to play a full season for a winning team for the first time in his 12-year career.
2B    Ben Zobrist (S)    
Staffed multiple positions in the same game an MLB-leading 36 times.
3B    Evan Longoria (R)    
No. 3 all time in extra-base hits (373) for a third baseman through six seasons.
RF    Wil Myers (R)    
First player to lead AL rookies in RBIs in fewer than 90 games since Hoot Evers in 1946.
1B    James Loney (L)    
Set Rays franchise record with .351 batting average on the road.
DH    Matt Joyce (L)    
Rays were 35–13 when he hit in either the 2-, 6- or 7-hole in the batting order.
C    Ryan Hanigan (R)    
Gunned down the highest percentage of base-stealers in the NL each of last two seasons.
SS    Yunel Escobar (R)    
Fifth among shortstops in fielding percentage (.982) over the past three campaigns.

Bench
C    Jose Molina (R)    
Second to his brother Yadier among active catchers with 25 career pickoffs.    
UT    Vince Belnome (L)    
Triple-A Durham MVP ranked second in International League with .408 OBP.
OF    Kevin Kiermaier (L)    
Batted .307 in Double-A — .001 away from Southern League batting crown.
UT    Sean Rodriguez (R)    
Committed only one error in 90 total games at five different positions.


Rotation
LH    David Price    
Went 9–4 with 2.53 ERA in 18 starts following return from 47-day DL stint.
RH    Alex Cobb    
Went 2–2 with 3.06 ERA against AL teams that made the postseason in 2013.
LH    Matt Moore    
Was youngest lefthander since Babe Ruth in 1917 to open a season 8–0.
RH    Chris Archer    
Only pitcher ever to defeat the Yankees each of the first three times he started against them.
RH    Jake Odorizzi    
Twice has been removed after pitching at least seven innings of a combo no-hitter in the minors.

Bullpen
RH    Grant Balfour (Closer)    
In three years in Oakland as a setup man and closer, Balfour held opponents to a .187 average and registered a hold or save in 105 of 116 save situations.
RH    Heath Bell     
Tied Huston Street for most home runs allowed (12) by an NL reliever.
RH    Joel Peralta    
Set major-league record (calculated since 1952) with 41 holds in 2013.
RH    Juan Carlos Oviedo    
Saved 92 games for Marlins from 2009-11, when he was known as Leo Nunez.
LH    Jake McGee    
Was saddled with third-highest inherited runners scoring percentage (46.2) in majors.
RH    Brandon Gomes    
Has held right-handed hitters to .195 average in career, but .318 vs. lefties.
RH    Jeremy Hellickson    
Opponents’ average with runners in scoring position rose from .194 in 2011-12 to .333 last season.

2013 Top Draft Pick
Nick Ciuffo, C
The Rays have drafted only one catcher who’s ever had as many as 150 hits in their uniform (Toby Hall, in 1997). If Ciuffo becomes the second, it won’t be for quite awhile. The 19-year-old South Carolina High School Player of the Year batted .258 without a homer in rookie ball, but threw out 14-of-37 base-stealers, after being picked 21st. His left-handed swing might produce average power eventually, but he’s not really dialed in to the strike zone right now. He’s been compared by some scouts to A.J. Pierzynski for his bat and intensity, but with more defensive tools. GM Andrew Friedman describes Ciuffo as “very animated” and “extremely driven.” The club signed him for slot away from South Carolina, which had offered him a scholarship when he was 14.

Top Prospects
RHP Taylor Guerrieri, (21)
Last June, Guerrieri was one of the top pitching prospects in the game. By October, he was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery while serving a suspension for recreational drug use. Boom or bust.
RHP Jake Odorizzi (24)
Took a step forward in the second half and may ultimately outperform the No. 4 starter tag pinned on him.
LHP Enny Romero (23)
Has command issues to conquer, but showed off his live arm in a key spot start late last year. Groomed for the 2015 rotation.
SS Hak-Ju Lee (23)
Speedy, slick defender who was off to .422-hitting start in Triple-A before blowing out his knee on April 20.
CF Andrew Toles (21)
Rocket led Midwest League with .326 average and 16 triples, and stole a team-record 62 bases. Awful SO-to-BB ratios, though.
RHP Alex Colome (25)
Explosive stuff, but inability to physically handle a starter’s workload will probably relegate him to relief duties.

Beyond the Box Score
Faithful Fans A Tampa Bay Times story alerted the Rays front office to a group of their most “devoted” fans — elderly Benedictine Sisters who donned team jerseys to watch every game on their tiny, archaic tube television, cheering good plays and grousing about losses. So last August, the club invited them to make the 90-minute trip to The Trop, where they were assigned VIP seating and presented with a modern TV to rock at the monastery.
Scouting Slump Joe Maddon calls the draft “our version of free agency,” but lately it’s been a poor substitute. As of Opening Day last year, none of the 253 players the Rays drafted from 2008-13 were on an MLB roster. They were the only team in baseball that did not have a draft pick during that span in the majors. By September, four had made debuts, albeit two (Derek Dietrich and Zac Rosscup) with other teams.  
Techno Joe It comes as no surprise that Maddon is looking forward to this season’s instant replay innovations. “Of course I like it,” says the progressive poobah. “I like flat-screen TVs with high definition. I like air conditioning in my 1956 Bel Air. I like computers. That group that argues against technology and advancement, I challenge them to throw away all this stuff. Their microwaves, throw them away. To just bury your head in the sand and just reference old-school all the time is really a poor argument.”
Relocation Reset The 2013 Rays were the first team with the lowest turnout in the majors ever to reach the postseason. The last two editions were the first 90-win teams in history to finish at the bottom of a league in patronage. Negotiating a way out of their lengthy Tropicana Field lease with the city — ostensibly to build a new ballpark — has become more of a possibility with the mayoral defeat of polarizing hard-liner Bill Foster by Rick Kriseman. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig has lost patience: “You look at a club that’s competitive that’s averaging 18,000 people a game. That may have been OK in 1956. It’s not OK today.”
Wins at All Costs The Yankees are the only team to win more regular-season games than the Rays since 2008 — 564 to 550. For that privilege, they’ve shelled out approximately $905 million more dollars in salary — or $64.7 million per victory.

Teaser:
The only thing smaller than this team’s payroll is its margin for error. With four postseason appearances in six years — an achievement 10 franchises have never equaled in their histories — owner Stu Sternberg, president Matt Silverman and executive VP Friedman have dexterously stayed within it.
Post date: Monday, March 10, 2014 - 11:23
Path: /mlb/baltimore-orioles-2014-preview
Body:

Two years after posting a winning record and making the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, the Baltimore Orioles look like a team that’s destined to finish closer to the bottom of the AL East than the top. The rotation lacks innings-eaters, the back end of the bullpen lacks a proven closer, and it’s anybody’s guess who will bat leadoff or play second base. The Orioles have a nice core group of players, one of the best in baseball, but that’s probably not enough to put them ahead of the big spenders in their own division. Or even ahead of the Rays.


Rotation 

Chris Tillman is the undisputed ace of this staff after winning 16 games with a 3.71 ERA last year and being chosen to the All-Star team. But he may have more help this season. Ubaldo Jimenez, signed just before spring training, won 13 games for Cleveland last season after putting together a terrific second half. Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris are pretty much assured spots in the rotation. Chen, who missed two months with an oblique injury, is the likely No. 3 starter behind Tillman and Jimenez. He just needs to maintain his effectiveness past the sixth inning. Gonzalez seems to benefit from extra rest, which isn’t always available to him. Norris was bothered by elbow stiffness in September. The fifth spot could go to lefthander Zach Britton, who’s out of options, but he’ll need to earn it, as well as have one of the others slip. Former first-round pick Kevin Gausman has an outside shot at making the rotation, but he’s probably still a year away. The club would like him to have another solid season at Triple-A.


Bullpen 

The Orioles backed out of their two-year, $15 million agreement with Grant Balfour following his physical, leaving Tommy Hunter as the likely replacement for closer Jim Johnson, who posted 101 saves the past two seasons. Hunter has four career saves, all of them in 2013. It’s a gamble. There are quality setup men in Darren O’Day and Ryan Webb, who signed a two-year, $4.5 million deal after the Marlins non-tendered him. The club believes in Suk-Min Yoon from Korea enough to sign him to a three-year deal. He has enjoyed success in Korea and in international competition. He could be a huge boost by providing quality innings for starters who last only five innings. Two other righthanders acquired during the offseason, Brad Brach and Edgmer Escalona, might be competing for one spot. Brian Matusz dominates lefthanders and struggles mightily with righthanders, earning him the designation of lefty specialist. Troy Patton is the other lefty in the pen, but he’ll sit out the first 25 games while serving a suspension for a second positive test for amphetamines. The Orioles have lots of candidates for the long relief spot, including Josh Stinson and Britton, both out of options.


Middle Infield

J.J. Hardy is a certainty at shortstop despite all the trade rumors swirling around him over the winter. He’s in the final year of his contract, and the Orioles want to talk about an extension for him. He’s topped 20 home runs in three consecutive seasons and gives the team Gold Glove defense. He’s the infield leader. Second base is a riddle after Brian Roberts left via free agency. Former Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty is the leading candidate to replace him, but he’ll have to beat out Jemile Weeks, who was acquired from the A’s for Johnson. Jonathan Schoop might be the long-term solution, but he’s expected to begin the year at Triple-A Norfolk.


Corners 

Manny Machado won a Gold Glove in his first full season in the majors, and his first full season at third base. He pretty much dazzled on a nightly basis, and any talk of moving him to shortstop, his natural position, has been tabled for now. After suffering a serious knee injury last in the year, he’s spent the winter trying to make himself ready by Opening Day. If he’s still a bit gimpy in April, Flaherty will likely hold down the fort at third. But Machado will be sorely missed both offensively and defensively. Chris Davis finished third in AL MVP voting after belting 53 home runs and driving in 138 runs. He also was a finalist for a Gold Glove at first base after looking so bad at the position in 2012. The Orioles are set at the corners, but Rule 5 pick Michael Almanzar will try to stay on the roster as a backup at both positions.


Outfield 

Center fielder Adam Jones won his third Gold Glove and his first Silver Slugger Award after totaling 35 doubles, 33 homers and 108 RBIs. He’s played in 162 and 160 games the past two seasons, respectively, so he can add durability to his impressive résumé. Nick Markakis is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $15 million this year. The Orioles hold a $17.5 million option for 2015, but it’s not likely to be exercised. Markakis remains a plus-defender, but he posted a career-low 24 doubles, 10 homers and .685 OPS. He must rediscover his power. Nate McLouth is gone, having signed a free-agent deal with the Nationals, and David Lough is expected to replace him in left field. Lough, acquired from the Royals for infielder Danny Valencia, finished eighth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting. He’s a plus-defender who hits lefties much better than McLouth. Nolan Reimold, recovering from a second surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck, could platoon with Lough. Henry Urrutia is raw defensively and better suited to DH. The Orioles also signed former Giants outfielder Francisco Peguero and will give him a shot to win a job.


Catching 

The Orioles haven’t made any progress in signing Matt Wieters to an extension. He’s two years away from free agency and a Scott Boras client. This may not end well. In the meantime, Wieters continues to provide stellar defense behind the plate, and he’s got 20-plus homer power. However, his average slipped to .235 and his OBP to .287. That’s a concern. Baltimore native Steve Clevenger, acquired from the Cubs last July, is the frontrunner to back up Wieters. Johnny Monell, acquired from the Giants, is on the 40-man roster and will try to unseat Clevenger.


DH/Bench

Baltimore waited until the final hour in the offseason to jump into the free agency fray. The club signed former Ranger Nelson Cruz in addition to Jimenez as teams were assembling in Florida and Arizona. Cruz provides a huge boost at DH. Last season. the Orioles were among the worst in the league in production from the extra hitter. The Orioles lack a backup middle infielder if Flaherty is starting at second base. He could slide over to shortstop if the Orioles keep Weeks and put him at second. Almanzar will be given every chance to stick on the 25-man roster, but he’s limited defensively. He’d have to serve as a backup at the infield corners. Lough and Reimold may end up sharing left field and the fourth outfield spot. With the signing of Cruz, Urrutia may be the odd man out. He’s limited defensively and Cruz won’t leave him many at-bats at DH. Outfielder Steve Pearce is out of options, and the Orioles will try to find a spot for him. They like his bat, though his skill set is too similar to Reimold’s. Can they both exist on the same roster?


Management

The Orioles have posted a winning record in Dan Duquette’s two seasons as executive vice president of baseball operations. They made the playoffs in 2012 for the first time since 1997. His specialty is depth moves, which prove valuable at times but don’t appease a frustrated fan base that’s still waiting for a big signing or trade. The Johnson deal with the A’s was extremely unpopular with players, and manager Buck Showalter couldn’t have been celebrating it. Showalter is one of the best managers in the game — few if any operate a bullpen any better — but he can only do so much. Will he grow frustrated with the Orioles’ refusal to spend money and regret signing that extension? The club’s reputation took another serious hit with the Balfour fiasco, raising questions over how much owner Peter Angelos is calling the shots.


Final Analysis 

The Orioles made big strides over the past two seasons, even without qualifying for the playoffs last season, but they appear to have taken a step backward, even considering the late flurry of roster upgrades heading into spring training. The Orioles have an outstanding nucleus of players in Jones, Markakis, Machado, Hardy, Davis and Wieters. Most clubs envy the Orioles for rolling out that group each night. But the rotation has too many guys who can’t regularly work into the late innings; Hunter is no sure thing at closer; and making Flaherty the starting second baseman weakens the bench. At some point, the only way to keep pace in baseball’s toughest division is to make a big acquisition.

Lineup
RF    Nick Markakis (L)    
Could bat in leadoff spot by default and is a career .329/.375/.441 hitter atop the order.
3B    Manny Machado (R)    
Orioles still confident Machado will be ready by mid-April, if not Opening Day, after undergoing knee surgery.
1B    Chris Davis (L)    
Team MVO led majors with 53 home runs, 96 extra-base hits and 370 total bases.
CF    Adam Jones (R)    
Had 30 home runs, 100 runs and 100 RBIs in same season for first time.
DH    Nelson Cruz (R)    
After serving a 50-game suspension for his connection with Biogenesis, Cruz rejected Texas’ $14.1 million qualifying offer and settled for eight million from the O’s.
C    Matt Wieters (S)  
 Coming off career-low .235 batting average and .287 OBP, but his defense remains superb.
SS    J.J. Hardy (R)    
Exceeded 20 homers for a third straight season and won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.
LF    David Lough (L)    
Placed eighth in AL Rookie of the Year voting with Royals after hitting .286.
2B    Ryan Flaherty (L)    
More valuable in a utility role but might be forced to start as Brian Roberts’ replacement.


Bench
OF    Nolan Reimold (R)    
Limited to 56 games past two seasons with injuries and two surgeries to fuse vertebrae in neck.
INF    Jemile Weeks (S)    
Will compete for second base job after arriving in Jim Johnson trade with A’s.
C    Steve Clevenger (L)    
Local product acquired from Cubs with Scott Feldman in Jake Arrieta/Pedro Strop trade.
OF    Henry Urrutia (L)    
Cuban import may be caught in numbers game and begin the season at Triple-A while working to improve outfield skills.
INF    Michael Almanzar (R)    
Rule 5 pick from Red Sox replaces Danny Valancia as right-handed corner infielder/DH.


Rotation
RH    Chris Tillman    
Emerged as staff ace after winning career-high 16 games and logging 206.1 innings.
RH    Ubaldo Jimenez    
The free agent from Cleveland posted a 1.82 ERA in 13 second-half starts.
LH    Wei-Yin Chen    
Tends to lose effectiveness after sixth inning, as evidenced by 10.57 ERA in seventh last year.
RH    Miguel Gonzalez    
Was 7–3 with a 3.48 ERA in first half and 4–5 with a 4.22 ERA in second half.
RH    Bud Norris    
Was 4–3 with a 4.80 ERA in 11 games (nine starts) after trade with Astros.


Bullpen
RH    Tommy Hunter (Closer)    
Leading in-house candidate to be closer despite only four career saves, all coming in 2013.
RH    Darren O’Day    
Righthanders batted .154 against club’s top setup man, but lefties hit .309.
RH    Ryan Webb    
Orioles signed former Marlins sinkerballer to two-year, $4.50 million deal.
RH    Suk-Min Yoon    
The Orioles singed the native of Korea to a three-year deal that guarantees him $5,575,000 and could be worth more than $13 million.
RH    Brad Brach    
Spot opens up for former Padre if Hunter is needed to close; struck out 31 in 31 innings pitched in ’13.
LH    Brian Matusz    
Lefty specialist prefers to start but is hurt by righthanders’ career .305 average.
LH    Troy Patton    
Will miss first 25 games while serving suspension for second positive test for amphetamines.
RH    Josh Stinson    
Possible swingman is out of options; allowed one earned run in 11.1 relief innings.
LH    Zach Britton    
Former top pitching prospect (third-round pick in ’06) is out of options and fighting for roster spot.


2013 Top Draft Pick
Hunter Harvey, RHP
The son of former major league closer Bryan Harvey was the third consecutive righthander taken by the Orioles in the first round, joining Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. Harvey was an easy sign out of Bandys High School in North Carolina, making it known before the draft that he had little interest in going to college (he didn’t even commit to a school). Harvey’s youthful face and slender build make him appear as though he’s in middle school, but he pitched like a pro, allowing five earned runs in 25.1 innings, with six walks and 33 strikeouts. The Orioles split his time between the Gulf Coast League and New York-Penn League, and he could advance to Low-A Delmarva in 2014. He’s still got a few years to go before joining any rotation conversations in Baltimore.

Top Prospects
RHP Kevin Gausman (23)
Will compete for a rotation spot after 2013 debut (3–5, 5.66 ERA) but could start at Triple-A and wait his turn.
RHP Dylan Bundy (21)
Didn’t pitch last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery but could return to the staff in the second half of the 2014 season.
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (20)
Went 10–7, 3.41 ERA in 25 starts at Class A Frederick and Class A Bowie.
INF Jonathan Schoop (22)
Played five games with Orioles in 2013 but likely everyday second baseman at Class AAA Norfolk in April. Could get call-up if Ryan Flaherty and Jemile Weeks struggle.
LHP Tim Berry (23)
From 50th-round pick to spot on the 40-man roster after posting 3.85 ERA in 27 starts at Class A Frederick in 2013.
C Michael Ohlman (23)
Put on 40-man roster after hitting .313/.410/.524 with 29 doubles and 13 homers at Frederick.
C Chance Sisco (19)
Second-round pick in 2013 draft batted .371/.475/.464 with 11 RBIs in 31 games in Gulf Coast League.

Beyond the Box Score
Simple formula The Orioles drew 2,357,561 fans to Camden Yards last season. Why is this important? It’s the first time since 2005 (2,624,740) that their attendance rose above 2.3 million. All it took was two straight winning seasons.
Glove love The Orioles had six finalists for the Rawlings Gold Glove Award: Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters. That’s the most of any club in baseball. Hardy, Jones and Machado won, pushing the Orioles (67) past the Yankees (65) for most by any AL team.
Silver rush The Orioles led the majors with three Silver Slugger winners — Davis, Hardy and Jones, who each received their first award. The three winners were the most in a single season in Orioles history, and the first since DH Aubrey Huff in 2008.
Doubling up Jones and Hardy were two of four players in the majors to win Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger Awards in 2013. They joined Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt and St. Louis’ Yadier Molina.
Going Yards The Orioles hit 115 home runs at Camden Yards, the third-most in club history behind 127 in 2012 and 121 in 1996. The 115 homers at home led the majors by 13 over the Cubs. The 232 total home runs hit at Camden Yards set a record, passing the 229 hit in 1996.
Mistake-free The Orioles’ 119 errorless games set a major-league record, surpassing the 2008 Astros (113 in 161 games) for most since 1900. They committed 54 errors to set a major league record for fewest in a 162-game season, surpassing the 2003 Mariners (65). The Orioles also led the majors with a .991 fielding percentage to break the 2007 Rockies record of .989.
Hit parade The Orioles were the third team in baseball history to have four players with at least 105 hits at the All-Star break, joining the 1954 Cardinals and the 1969 Reds. For the Orioles, Machado had 128 hits, Jones 117, Markakis 108 and Chris Davis 108.  
All hands The Orioles hit into a triple play in the eighth inning of an April 12 game at Yankee Stadium. The scoring went 4-6-5-6-5-3-4, the first time that every infielder got a putout or assist in a triple play since the Cubs on Aug. 8, 1985. It was the 18th time in Orioles history that they hit into a triple play.

Teaser:
The Orioles made big strides over the past two seasons, even without qualifying for the playoffs last season, but they appear to have taken a step backward, even considering the late flurry of roster upgrades heading into spring training.
Post date: Monday, March 10, 2014 - 11:09
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/2014-march-madness-ncaa-tournament-schedule-and-key-dates
Body:

From the NCAA conference touranments to Selection Sunday to the Championship game, here are the key dates for 2014 March Madness:

NCAA Tournament 2013Conference championship games

Saturday, March 8: Ohio Valley
Sunday, March 9: Atlantic Sun, Big South, Missouri Valley
Monday, March 10: Colonial, MAAC, Southern
Tuesday, March 11: Horizon, Northeast, Summit, West Coast
Wednesday, March 12: Patriot
Saturday, March 15: America East, American, Big 12, Big East, Big Sky, Big West, Conference USA, MAC, MEAC, Mountain West, Pac-12, Southland, SWAC
Sunday, March 16: Atlantic 10, ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Sun Belt, WAC

Selection Sunday
March 16

First Four
Dayton, Ohio
Tuesday, March 18 and Wednesday, 19

Round of 64 and 32
Thursday, March 20 and Saturday, March 22:
Buffalo, N.Y.
Milwaukee
Orlando
Spokane, Wash.

Friday, March 21 and Sunday, March 23:
Raleigh, N.C.
San Antonio
San Diego
St. Louis

Sweet 16 and Elite Eight
Thursday, March 27 and Saturday, March 29
West Regional: Anaheim
South Regional: Memphis

Friday, March 28 and Sunday, March 30
Midwest Regional:
Indianapolis
South Regional: New York City

Final Four and National Championship Game
Saturday, April 5 and Monday, April 7

Arlington, Texas

Teaser:
2014 March Madness: NCAA Tournament schedule and key dates
Post date: Monday, March 10, 2014 - 08:12
Path: /college-football/ranking-accs-college-football-coaching-jobs-2014
Body:

Every college football program is unique and has its own set of challenges. But some programs are clearly better than others.

So what exactly determines the best job in a conference or in college football? Each person’s criteria will be different, but some programs already have inherent advantages in terms of location, money and tradition. Texas, USC, Florida and Alabama are some of the nation’s best jobs, largely due to some of the factors mentioned previously. Do they have their drawbacks? Absolutely. But it’s easier to win a national title at Texas than it is at Oklahoma State.

Debating the best job in the nation or any conference is always an ongoing discussion. The debate doesn’t start with a small sample size but should take into account more of a long-term (both past and future) in order to get a better snapshot of the program.

With all of this in mind, we have tried to rank the jobs in the ACC based on the attractiveness from a coaching perspective. As we mentioned above, many factors were considered. Tradition, facilities, location, budget and recruiting ability are just a few things we took into account. But in the end, we simply asked ourselves the following question: Where would we want to coach if we had a blank slate and all of the jobs were open?

(Note: Current or impending NCAA sanctions were not a factor in these rankings.)

Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the ACC for 2014

1. Florida State

Pros: You can make the argument that Florida State offers all of the positives of Florida without the brutal competition of the SEC East. Would you rather battle Clemson, NC State and Boston College or Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina every year? A new indoor practice facility was a needed addition for the Seminoles to keep up in college football's arms race.  

Cons: Florida State has a nice following, but its fans can be on the fickle side. Last season, when the Seminoles were chasing a national championship, Doak Campbell was “only” filled to 92 percent capacity. Not bad, but not quite up to standards of most programs of similar stature. Also, the ACC has been relatively weak in recent seasons. Could that hurt Florida State in the new playoff format? Probably not, but we have to be nitpicky when talking about one of the top 10-15 jobs in the nation.

Final Verdict: Florida State enjoyed an unbelievable run of success from the late 1980s through the early 2000s. But the Noles lost five games or more three times from 2006-10. Winning isn't automatic, but the Seminoles are coming off a national championship, and Jimbo Fisher clearly has steered this program back on track.

2. Clemson

Pros: Clemson is an SEC-like school that has the luxury of playing an ACC schedule. The fans are rabid, the stadium is huge (capacity 81,500), and unlike many of its ACC brethren, Clemson is a football school.

Cons: Clemson seemingly has so much going for it, yet the program has only won two ACC titles since 1990. If you are a coach interested in the job, you’d have ask yourself the following question: Why has this program frequently underachieved?

Final Analysis: Clemson presents a great opportunity. The program is a major player in the recruiting game, is willing to pay big for a coaching staff and it has so many built-in advantages compared to almost every school in the league. The Tigers have the ability to compete for the ACC title on an annual basis.

3. Miami

Pros: With the possible exception of USC and UCLA, no school in the country has a better local recruiting base. And while the Canes have struggled in recent years, the program won a national championship as recently as 2001 and played for a title in ’02.

Cons: Miami has a small fan base and has struggled to fill its stadium. Last season, the Canes ranked 36th in the nation in attendance, averaging 53,837 per game (according to the NCAA at least) at Sun Life Stadium. The facility is 20 miles from campus and lacks the big-time college football atmosphere.

Final Verdict: Miami is an intriguing job. The recruiting base is outstanding — which gives you a great opportunity to win — but the position lacks many of the other qualities that make coaching at a big-time school so attractive.

4. Virginia Tech

Pros: Virginia Tech has a very strong (and underrated) recruiting base, most notably the Hampton Roads-Tidewater area — better known as the ‘757’ by recruiting gurus. The Hokies also have a passionate fan base that creates a tremendous environment at Lane Stadium.

Cons: The school has only been relevant on the national scene under Frank Beamer’s watch. Can another coach recreate the magic when Beamer steps aside?

Final Verdict: Virginia Tech isn’t quite college football royalty, but it’s not far off. Prior to a 7-6 mark in 2012, the Hokies had won at least 10 games in the previous eight straight seasons. You can win a national title in Blacksburg.

5. North Carolina

Pros: The school is an easy sell for a recruiter: It’s is one of the premier public institutions in the nation, and its location, in picturesque Chapel Hill, is ideal. UNC has also made a huge financial commitment to football in the past decade.

Cons: North Carolina is — and always will be — a basketball school. That is something that every football coach must accept. And while the school has enjoyed pockets of success, it’s been difficult to win consistently at UNC. Since Mack Brown bolted for Texas after the 1997 season, the Tar Heels have averaged 3.4 ACC wins.

Final Verdict: North Carolina’s lack of success over the years might surprise even a knowledgeable college football fan. The Tar Heels have not won an ACC championship since 1980 and have not strung together back-to-back winning ACC seasons since the mid-90s. Still, this is a desirable position for a coach. It’s a great school that has made a strong commitment to the football program.

6. Louisville

Pros: Louisville has solid facilities and is in a good spot geographically to consistently attract top recruits. Kentucky is not a great talent producer, but Louisville can recruit Ohio and Illinois due to its proximity to those states and has always done a good job recruiting Florida. Also, the school “survived” the realignment wars, finding a home in the ACC. This article is more of a long-term reflection of the job, but it's hard to ignore Louisville's athletic department, which could be the best in the nation.

Cons: The school lacks football tradition and doesn’t have the fan base that most top 25 programs possess. When the Cards are good, they draw well. But in 2009, in the final season of the Steve Kragthrope era, they ranked 71st in the nation in attendance, averaging 32,540 per game. Moving to the ACC is a huge plus for the program, but Louisville also is moving into a harder league in a division featuring Clemson and Florida State. The Cardinals went from the No. 1 program in the American to the No. 6 job in the ACC.

Final Verdict: Like many of the schools in the ACC, Louisville is only as good as its coach. Bobby Petrino won big in his four years. Kragthorpe flopped in his three seasons. Charlie Strong won 37 games in four years. With the right fit, Louisville competes for league titles. The move to the ACC helps with stability and the long-term outlook for this program, making the Cardinals a fringe top 25-30 job in the nation.

7. Pittsburgh

Pros: Pittsburgh is located in the heart of Western Pennsylvania, which gives the Panthers a solid recruiting base. The school also shares its football facility with the Pittsburgh Steelers — which can be a positive (NFL influence) or negative (no on-campus stadium).

Cons: It’s been tough to win consistently at Pitt over the past three decades. The Panthers have only had a winning record in 15 of the 32 seasons since Jackie Sherrill bolted.

Final Verdict: Former coach Dave Wannstedt proved that you can attract talent to play at Pittsburgh. But it’s a school with a ceiling. The Panthers should consistently win seven or eight games per season, but can you win a national title? Not likely.

8. North Carolina State

Pros: The facilities at NC State are among the finest in the ACC. The spectacular Murphy Center, a football-only building, houses coaches’ offices, the weight room and dining area for the players, among other things. The school’s recruiting base, the Carolinas and Virginia, is strong.

Cons: The school doesn’t have a strong record of success. NC State hasn’t won an ACC title since 1979 and has had only six winning league seasons since 1990.

Final Verdict: This program has underachieved over the past decade. Everything is in place — facilities, fan support, recruiting base — to be a consistent winner in the ACC. 

9. Georgia Tech

Pros: Georgia is annually one of the top talent-producing states in the nation, giving the Yellow Jackets’ staff an opportunity to land quality recruiting classes despite the fact that the University of Georgia is the top Dawg in the state. Tech has also proven over time that it can win consistently in the ACC; the Jackets have been .500 or better in league play in 19 straight seasons.

Cons: Georgia Tech will always be the second-most popular program in its own city, which is probably more of a problem for the school’s fans than its players and coaches. The male-to-female ratio (about 2-to-1) at the school can’t help recruiting, either.

Final Verdict: Georgia Tech might not come to mind when you think about some of the top programs in the nation, but this is a solid football school with underrated tradition. It’s been proven that you can win titles — both ACC (2009, 1998, '90) and national (1990). 

10. Virginia

Pros: Virginia is a great school in a great college town, and the state consistently produces a high number of BCS-level recruits.

Cons: The school has a surprisingly bad track record in football. George Welsh had a nice run in the 1980s and '90s, but other than that, the Cavaliers have had a tough time fielding a consistently competitive program. UVa has won a total of two championships (both shared) in its 56 years in the ACC. Recruiting can also be tough at Virginia, based on the school’s relatively stringent academic standards.

Final Verdict: This school should be able to be consistently competitive in the ACC. Other than its lack of tradition, everything is seemingly in place to elevate the profile of this program. 

11. Syracuse

Pros: As recently as the early 2000s, Syracuse was a top-25 program. The Orangemen, as they were called then, won nine games or more eight times in a 15-year span from 1987-2001. Doug Marrone had the program headed in the right direction before bolting to the NFL’s Buffalo Bills. Scott Shafer did a nice job in his first season, continuing to provide traction for a program that seems to be taking steps in the right direction. There's also discussion about a new stadium for the Orange.

Cons: The program has been an afterthought in the past decade, with only four winning seasons since 2001. Support has not been great, either. In the first year of ACC play, Syracuse averaged just 38,277 fans per game.

Final Verdict: Syracuse is a tough job. It’s tough to lure elite recruits from the South, specifically Florida, to upstate New York, and there simply aren’t a lot of top-flight prospects in the Northeast. Much like Louisville and Pittsburgh, moving to the ACC provides long-term stability for this program. 

12. Boston College

Pros: Boston College was one of the most consistent programs in the nation from the late 1990s through the late 2000s. The Eagles averaged 8.7 wins from 1999-2009 and won one Big East title (2004) and two ACC Atlantic Division titles (2007, ’08). The school’s strong academic reputation will allow it to recruit top students from the Northeast who want to remain close to home.

Cons: Similar to Syracuse, Boston College will always have a difficult time recruiting elite players from outside its region. There's talent in the Northeast, but it's not enough to consistently compete with Florida State and Clemson for division titles in the Atlantic Division. 

Final Verdict: Once the model of consistency, Boston College slipped to the bottom of the ACC food chain under Frank Spaziani. However, this program is back on track under Steve Addazio. The Eagles made a bowl in 2013, and Addazio reeled in a solid recruiting class to add to the foundation. Again, this ranking isn't about 2014 or '15. However, Addazio seems to be the right guy to get the program back on track, which should help Boston College become a consistent bowl team once again in the ACC.

13. Wake Forest

Pros: Jim Grobe proved it can be done at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons won 11 games and captured the school’s second-ever ACC title in 2006. The school also recently received a $7.5 million donation to build a new sports performance center, which will house the football offices and the strength and conditioning facility. 

Cons: No one has been able to sustain success at Wake Forest. The program has enjoyed three straight winning seasons only once (from 2006-08) since the early 1950s.

Final Verdict: The overall strength of the ACC academically doesn’t allow Wake Forest, a small private school, to differentiate itself like programs such as Vanderbilt in the SEC, Northwestern in the Big Ten and Stanford in the Pac-12. If a strong student wants to play football in the ACC, there are several attractive options — North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia Tech — that have better overall football programs.

14. Duke

Pros: Duke has struggled to compete in football for the majority of the past 40 years, but the school, consistently ranked among the top-10 in the country academically, still has a strong national brand. While the Blue Devils have struggled to be competitive in the ACC over the long haul, winning the Coastal last season showed it can be a factor with the right coach and talent. 

Cons: The interest in the football program at Duke is not high — and that is being kind. This past season, the Blue Devils won the Coastal Division yet only averaged 26,062 fans per game, ranking 81st in the nation. Much like Wake Forest or even Northwestern from the Big Ten, it's very difficult to attract elite talent. 

Final Verdict: David Cutcliffe has made Duke respectable, but it’s hard to envision this program making much of move in the ACC. The lack of tradition and lack of support make Duke football a tough sell to top recruits. This program is making progress, and renovations to Wallace Wade Stadium should help Cutcliffe keep the Blue Devils in the mix for a bowl game each year. 

Teaser:
Ranking the ACC's College Football Coaching Jobs for 2014
Post date: Monday, March 10, 2014 - 07:15
All taxonomy terms: Funny, nascar tattoos, Overtime, NASCAR
Path: /nascar/21-best-and-worst-nascar-tattoos-ever
Body:

NASCAR fans are a very proud group of people. And they're also very into getting tattoos. So when you combine those two, you get a lot of people willing to put some very large and ornate NASCAR-related tattoos on their bodies. And we're the winners of that combination because we get to see the crazy, funny and insane things people have put on their skin (and most of them are about Dale Earnhardt). 

So with that, here are the 21 best and worst photos of NASCAR tattoos. We don't feel the need to tell you which ones fall in the "Best NASCAR tattoo" file and which ones fall in the "Worst NASCAR tattoo" file. You'll know them when you see them.

1. The Triple Decker
This looks like what happens when you ask M.C. Escher to design your NASCAR tattoo. Between the depth, the detail and the back skin rolls, you could get trapped staring for hours, like one of those magic eye paintings.

 

2. She’s Got Leg
Not sure if you can have a daughter after getting a tattoo like that. Also not sure if a woman who exists solely as a tattoo can catch an STD, but if it is possible, this one looks like a good candidate to make it happen.

 

3. The Devil is in the Details
That’s a proper tribute to Dale Earnhardt. Because you can’t really say good-bye to a fallen icon without Looney Tunes characters (and a little ass crack).

 

4 R.I.P. Dale Earnhardt
And on the flipside, it’s probably not the best idea to pay tribute to a man who died in a car crash by showing his trademark car number going up in flames.

 

5. Danica Patrick Arm Candy
Two things are very clear here. 1) This guy likes checking out his arms in the mirror. 2) This guy is left-handed.

 

6. Rev Her Up
What’s more offensive: the Confederate flag or the fact that they didn’t even bother to use an attractive chick in the tattoo-porn?

 

7. Face Off
In a race, the checkered flag means the event is over. In this guy’s case, it means any chance of getting health insurance is over.

 

8. Rock Hard Abs
We wonder how many times he’s gotten laid with the line, “Hey honey, check out my six pack.” Actually, we just wonder how many times he’s gotten laid, period.

 

9. Treasure Fail
No man should ever make that part of his mid-section the focus of anything. He could have the cure for cancer tattooed down there and nobody would be able to look long enough to read it.

 

10. Compact Tat
Nothing against the Chevy Impala, but giving it a shout out in arm ink is probably the best way to destroy the “bad-ass” factor of a tattoo. You’d probably look a little scarier with a PT Cruiser on your arm.

 

11. Gentlemen, Start Your Engines
Remember, it’s called a “tramp stamp” for a reason. Just because you see the checkered flag, doesn’t mean you came in first.

 

12. Ford, Hear Our Prayer
Nothing pleases the big man upstairs like having his message associated with the logo of a struggling car company that has to recall thousands of its products on a regular basis.

 

13. Is That A Muppet?
Guy walks into a tattoo parlor: “Hey, I'm a NASCAR fan, can you just doodle a little on my arm and see what you come up with?”
Tattoo artist: “I’m kinda busy, can my seven-year old son do it?”
Guy: “Sure.”
Tattoo artist: “So you want him to draw it on there with a marker before we start inking you up?”
Guy: “Nah, just give him the needle and we’ll see what we wind up with.”

 

14. He’s Got A Lead Foot
There goes any chance of wearing Tevas to your daughter’s wedding.

 

15. Back It Up
We’re still not sold on the favorite racer lower back tattoo. It’s kind of like Dale Earnhardt Jr. is quietly smirking at you any time you roll around in the sheets with your special lady.

 

16. In Dale We Trust
A real quality shout out to a legend that includes the three most important things for a tattoo tribute: classy art, bible verse and bacne.

 

17. Puttin’ on the Schlitz
You may have laughed when you first looked at this picture, but think about it for a minute. Doesn’t this guy have life figured out way better than the rest of us? He clearly knows what he wants and knows how to get it.

 

18. Bringing Up The Rear
Ladies and gentlemen, one NASCAR tramp stamp to rule them all! That’s none other than Danica Patrick representing both her country and her sport with a half-American flag, half-checkered flag on her lower back. God bless America.

 

19. King Cobra
Admit it: There was nothing cooler when you were eight years old than snakes and cars. Kudos to this guy for making sure he never stops feeling that way.

 

20. Get Your Head in the Game
At least he can grow hair over that now that Earnhardt changed his car number. What’s that? He’s bald? Oh dear, that’s unfortunate. Wait a minute, is that a Bucs logo on his neck? Man, this just keeps getting worse and worse.

 

21. A Touch of Green...
He's waiting until he gets his next paycheck to get the rest of the colors. 

 

By Vito Pugliese

Teaser:
<p> NASCAR fans really like to put NASCAR ink on their bodies</p>
Post date: Friday, March 7, 2014 - 16:51
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/baseballs-unwritten-rules
Body:

When Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez finally broke from a strut to admire his home run and into a trot around the bases, his showboat pace was slowed by the history he dragged alongside.

Last June, Atlanta lefty Paul Maholm hit Gomez’s knee with a pitch and left a bruise Gomez remembered long after the welt’s mosaic faded. Gomez got his payback on Sept. 25 by catapulting Maholm’s pitch deep into Turner Field’s seats. Gomez spat spite at Maholm as he rounded the bases and headed home, focusing his glare so intently on the lefty that he didn’t see who came to greet him. Because Gomez wouldn’t walk the line, Braves catcher Brian McCann met him on the basepath. About 10 feet from the plate, McCann made a stand against Gomez. Baseball’s sacred, though shifty, code of conduct had been breached, and McCann was there to make sure the Brewers’ center fielder didn’t sidestep justice.

“I did what I felt any catcher would do in that situation,” McCann told reporters the next day. “I stand by what I did. I’m sticking up for this team. That’s part of baseball.”

Described by players and managers as a necessary part of the game, a revealing part of the game within the game, and also a “macho” part of the game, baseball’s unwritten code can also be a nebulous part of the game, as hard for fans to interpret as it is for players to articulate. The code governs how to play and how to police, as McCann did. Transgressions vary. Players know one when they see one.

The 2013 season offered a range of examples, from conflicts to comeuppance to the chlorinated. An exchange of beanballs led to a dugout-clearing brawl between the Diamondbacks and Dodgers. L.A. later celebrated a playoff berth by plunging and romping, uninvited, in Chase Field’s pool, irking Arizona. Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig rankled opponents (and some teammates) with his exuberance, typified by his finger-pointing tribute to a triple in the playoffs. Boston pitcher Ryan Dempster captured a communal acrimony when he hit the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez (below) in August with a purpose pitch. Rodriguez read the pitch as a vigilante response to his appeal of a 211-game PED suspension. There were 28 batters hit in just 19 games between rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. In the weeks before McCann blocked Gomez, Atlanta had two dugout-clearing brouhahas sparked by opponents’ homer-watching etiquette. McCann jawed with Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez about admiring his first career home run, educating the kid on the code in his self-deputized roles:

Judge. Jury. Catcher.

“The showing up part is one that’s really interesting to me because everybody’s got their own perception of what ‘showing up’ is,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon says. “For me, a lot of that has to do with the manager and maybe the leaders within that team. If they feel somebody has gone overboard (they) call them on it. … But it’s just a part of the culture in all sports. It’s generational. Hey, afros and high socks and everything changes, man, so just live with it.”

“It’s a macho game,” says Dirk Hayhurst, a former big-league pitcher who is now a bestselling author of The Bullpen Gospels and Bigger Than the Game. “It can be hard to explain. … It’s like, ‘I don’t want people to think that we can be messed with, so we’ll do this frontier justice thing. That will show them we’re men, just in case the 25 other men over there didn’t realize they were playing men. We’re not going to stand for it.’ It does sound kind of ludicrous.”

The Dodgers dealt with the nuances of the code as Puig tested patience with his polarizing, pyrotechnic displays. During the playoffs, veteran Carlos Beltran, then with the opposing Cardinals, said Puig “must think he’s still playing somewhere else” and had yet to learn “to act with more calm.” Displays like Puig’s proved cultural as much as generational. One player’s celebration is another’s affront. Some see joy where others see immaturity. Tolerance is different from age group to age group, culture to culture, and even franchise to franchise. The line, several players say, is crossed when a player’s showmanship “shows up” the opposing team.

Puig’s theatrics toed the line.

Gomez chiding Maholm crossed it.

“Absolutely there’s an ESPN factor,” says Gary Bennett, a former catcher who spent 13 years in the majors. “Getting the highlights. Dressing things up. It has changed how you police things. On a 3-0 pitch, if a young player tried to kill the ball (20 years ago), a veteran might put a pitch in his ribs. Now they can swing out of their shoes. The thing I learned is you had to find that line between enthusiasm and ‘showing someone up.’ That can be personal. You let them have their moment, but you don’t let them embarrass your pitcher.”

On June 11, Arizona righty Ian Kennedy popped Puig’s nose with a questionable pitch. L.A. starter Zack Greinke hit catcher Miguel Montero in what was later described as “an apple for apple” answer. Kennedy responded by pelting Greinke.

The code ran amok. Both teams stormed the field. A fracas ensued.

“Somebody knocks you on your fanny, you get a good clean lick, you take your number and get them back cleanly,” Arizona manager Kirk Gibson says. “Nobody is trying to hurt anybody, ever. It’s just good competition. They lick me, I lick them. And in the end sometimes it just comes down to who is standing, whether that’s physical or mental. Last year, we weren’t standing at the end.”

Utilityman Skip Schumaker saw how the beanbrawl galvanized the Dodgers. L.A. won 55 of its next 74 games, climbing from 7.5 games back in the NL West to 13.5 ahead.

“When we cleared with Arizona that was the start of our serious run,” Schumaker says. “It does a lot for bringing a team together. You’re fighting for one another; you see who wants to fight with you.

“Not everyone gets it. But if you know how to do it right, you can show a lot about the kind of teammate you are.”

Initial penalties from the brawl included suspensions of eight players or coaches for a combined 24 games, 10 for Kennedy.

The game’s increased likelihood of suspension has influenced the code, sometimes as a deterrent and sometimes by prolonging bitterness until a suspension doesn’t sting. Monitoring strike zones has caused a more subtle change. Two former catchers say years ago umpires would have schooled a young player like Puig. They describe how an irritated ump could expand the strike zone to send a message. QuesTec ended that. Advances in technology, suspensions, and salaries have turned the code from a binary decision — take a lick, give a lick — into calculus.

It’s foolish “to enforce morality with a 91 mph fastball,” Hayhurst says.

Tony La Russa, a National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee in 2014, always said such decisions made him queasy, but he had firm policies. La Russa insists that he never fired first. Any retaliation was going to be below the shoulders and be signaled by the manager. He didn’t want pitchers freelancing, and he’d rather have hitters furious at the manager than distrustful of a teammate. And, the target would be the best player. Big apple for apple. During the Cardinals’ frisky exchanges with Milwaukee in the La Russa era, Ryan Braun came to know the drill, literally. “That would stop everything. Tony wanted to end it,” a Cardinals player says. Other teams that respond similarly shift the onus from an individual to an entire club and “put that concern in their dugout, not ours,” Bennett says.

The code can be complex and contradictory. Hayhurst explains: “If you get caught stealing signs, you get drilled. If you peek back at the signs, you get drilled. If you figure out signs from the dugout, that’s good detective work.” Hard slides can earn a plunk, or praise. Context matters. The score does, too. Admonishing a player for celebrating a homer is far different than retaliating for a teammate getting hit, but both illustrate tenets of the code: A club will do what it takes to show it will not be embarrassed and that it cannot be intimidated.

“There (are) rules that we all understand,” Gibson says. “Situations call for it, and you want to do the right thing. You want to be a good teammate and a solid player. And the ones who don’t (understand it) don’t stay around.”

In the days after his run-in with McCann, Gomez apologized, expressing on Twitter that he “should have done better to control myself.” He acknowledged his code break and sought to avoid further injury or insult. The code’s cascade effect had McCann protect his pitcher, Gomez’s teammates protect him, and the Braves rush to protect their catcher. Yelling became pushing — and Gomez never did touch home plate.

By rule, the run counted.

By code, so did McCann’s point.

—Written by Derrick Goold for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 21 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!

Teaser:
Baseball's Unwritten Rules
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/what-happened-top-players-2004-mlb-draft
Body:
In every sport, certain drafts stand out as stronger than others. The 2003 NBA version, which included LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, is considered a landmark. The ’83 NFL crop that included John Elway, Dan Marino, Eric Dickerson, Bruce Matthews and Jim Kelly was particularly robust. The ’04 MLB class may not have been on a par with those two, but it included some pretty impressive talent, like Justin Verlander, Dustin Pedroia, Jered Weaver, Billy Butler and Hunter Pence. Even the lesser lights distinguished themselves somewhat. For instance, Philip Humber threw a perfect game. 
 
2004 MLB DRAFT TIDBITS
» Of the 30 players selected in the first round, 19 were pitchers, and seven of those were lefties. The next most popular position was shortstop, with four prospects chosen.
» MLB clubs had an appetite for experience, choosing 17 players from the college ranks and all of them from four-year schools. Rice University produced three of the top eight choices.
» Only four of the players selected came from colleges or high schools above the Mason-Dixon Line. Everybody else was from the South — or California. 
 
1. Padres: Matt Bush, SS
Mission Bay (Calif.) HS
Bush never played an inning in the majors during a career that featured a position switch and legal troubles that eventually resulted in his being jailed for running over a man while intoxicated. San Diego converted Bush to a pitcher in May 2007, and he was signed by Tampa Bay in 2010. But Bush was never able to get past the Class AA ranks before the DUI incident derailed his career for good in March 2012.
 
2. Tigers: Justin Verlander, RHP 
Old Dominion (’05-13, Detroit)
After a brisk move through two levels of minor-league ball, Verlander made his debut with the Tigers in 2005, and in 2006 won 17 games. Verlander captured the 2011 Cy Young Award after going 24–5 with a 2.40 ERA and an MLB-leading 250 strikeouts. Verlander is one of the premier power pitchers in the game and has led the majors in Ks on three occasions. A stalwart who often gains velocity on his fastball as the game progresses, Verlander signed a seven-year, $180 million contract in March 2013 that could grow to $202 mil.
 
3. Mets: Philip Humber, RHP 
Rice (’06-07, Mets; ’08-09, Minnesota; ’10, Kansas City; ’11-12, Chicago White Sox; ’13, Houston)
Despite having collected only 16 wins during his eight-year major-league career, Humber is well known for the perfect game he threw for the ChiSox on April 21, 2012, against Seattle. Humber struggled with elbow problems during his minor-league career and had Tommy John surgery. Humber bounced between the big leagues and minors from 2006-10 and appeared in only 26 games, but he became a full-time starter with the White Sox in 2011 and went 9–9. After posting a 5–5 mark in 26 total appearances in 2012, Humber slid to 0–8 with the Astros in ’13.
 
4. Devil Rays: Jeff Niemann, RHP
Rice (’08-12, Tampa Bay)
Despite enduring a couple surgeries and a broken leg suffered from a batted ball, Niemann has been a solid starter during his five major-league seasons. He won 13 games in 2009, 12 the following season and 11 in ’11. But he suffered the broken leg after only eight starts in 2012 and later underwent shoulder surgery that forced him to miss the entire 2013 campaign. 
 
5. Brewers: Mark Rogers, RHP
Mount Ararat (Maine) HS (’10, ’12 Milwaukee)
Rogers has had a star-crossed career, thanks to injury and suspension. He has appeared in 11 games during his major-league career, with his most productive stint a 3–1 record in seven starts during the late part of the 2012 season. Rogers struck out 41 in 39 innings during the stint. He became a free agent after the 2013 season, which he spent in the minors. 
 
6. Indians: Jeremy Sowers, LHP
Vanderbilt (’06-09, Cleveland)
The lefty showed promise during his rookie season, compiling a 7–4 record with a 3.57 ERA and two shutouts in 2006. But arm troubles and ineffectiveness torpedoed his high hopes, and he was unable to post a record over .500 the next three seasons. After a 6–11 mark in 2009, Sowers did not make the big club the next year and was removed from the 40-man roster. He recently retired.
 
7. Reds: Homer Bailey, RHP
La Grange (Texas) HS
(’07-13, Cincinnati)
Despite not becoming a fully made member of the Reds’ starting rotation until 2012, Bailey has had a solid career. He has thrown no-hitters each of the last two seasons and tied for second in the majors with 33 starts in ’12, the year he went 13–10 with a 3.68 ERA. Despite going 11–12 in 2013, he had a 3.49 ERA and a career-high 199 strikeouts. 
 
8. Orioles: Wade Townsend, RHP
Rice 
Townsend was drafted by Baltimore but couldn’t reach an agreement with the team and returned to school to finish his degree. Tampa Bay selected him in the ’05 Draft, but he lasted only parts of five years in pro ball, the last in the independent ranks, thanks to shoulder problems and ineffectiveness. In 2010, Toronto released him, effectively ending his career.
 
9. Rockies: Chris Nelson, SS
Redan (Ga.) HS (’10-13, Colorado; ’13, N.Y. Yankees, ’13 L.A. Angels)
It took a while for Nelson to reach the majors, but in 2010 he landed with the Rockies. His best year came in 2012, when he hit .301 in 111 games, with 21 doubles. The good times didn’t last, though, and he was traded to the Yankees in late April 2013. After a two-week tour in New York, Nelson was waived. He caught on with the Angels and played in 33 games.
 
10. Rangers: Thomas Diamond, RHP 
University of New Orleans (’10, Cubs)
Diamond appeared to be headed toward the majors on a fast track until a torn elbow ligament torpedoed his quick rise. Texas designated him for assignment in 2009, and the Cubs claimed him. Diamond pitched in 16 games for Chicago in 2010 and posted a 1–3 record. His debut came in a 4–3 loss to the Brewers, but he struck out 10 in six innings, tying a franchise record for most Ks in a first start. He never made it back to the majors.
 
11. Pirates: Neil Walker, C
Pine-Richland (Pa.) HS (’09-13, Pittsburgh)
Walker has spent five seasons in the majors with the Bucs, the last four as a lineup regular. But it wasn’t until ’11 that he settled in at his current position, second base, after playing all over the infield and outfield. In 2011, he pounded 36 doubles and knocked in 83 runs, while last year, he clubbed a career-best 16 homers. 
 
12. Angels: Jered Weaver, RHP
Long Beach State (’06-13 L.A. Angels)
During his eight years with the Angels, Weaver has been one of the most durable and productive pitchers in the big leagues. Before a broken elbow suffered on a line drive off the bat of Mitch Moreland sidelined him in April 2013, Weaver had made at least 30 starts in five straight seasons. He posted an 18–8 record with a 2.41 ERA in 2011 and a 20–5 mark with a 2.81 ERA the next season. In August 2011, Weaver signed a five-year, $85 million contract. 
 
13. Expos: Bill Bray, LHP
William & Mary (’06, Washington; ’06-12, Cincinnati)
For a three-season stretch between 2008-11 (he missed ’09 after Tommy John surgery), Bray was a reliable bullpen lefty for the Reds, pitching in 63 games in ’08 and 79 in 2011. Bray wasn’t overpowering, but he had solid control and didn’t allow too many runs. In 2008, he posted a 2.87 ERA. After pitching in just 14 games in 2012, Bray became a free agent but couldn’t catch on with the Nats in ’13.
 
14. Royals: Billy Butler, 3B
Samuel W. Wolfson (Fla.) HS (’07-13, Kansas City)
Throughout his seven-year career, Butler has proven to be a strong force in the lineup for K.C. He can hit for power and average and has been a steady first baseman. Butler’s biggest year was 2012, when he hit .313, with 29 homers and 107 RBIs. He earned an All-Star invitation that season and won the Silver Slugger for first basemen. Butler slugged 51 doubles in 2009 and has hit .300 three times.
 
15. Diamondbacks: Stephen Drew, SS
Florida State (’06-’12, Arizona; ’12, Oakland; ’13, Boston)
Although Drew’s career has been something of an up-and-down ride, the 2013 season was quite rewarding. Signed by Boston to a one-year deal, Drew spent most of the year in the lineup and tied his career best with 67 RBIs. In the sixth game of the World Series, Drew hit a homer that helped propel the Sox to victory and the World Series title. 
 
16. Blue Jays: David Purcey, LHP
Oklahoma (’08-11, Toronto;  ’11, Oakland, Detroit; ’13 Chicago White Sox)
Purcey spent the first two seasons of his major-league career as a starter but became a reliever after that and has spent four years bouncing between the minors and the big show. His most productive season was 2010, when he appeared in 33 games for the Blue Jays and posted a 3.71 ERA. The lefty pitched in 24 games for the White Sox in ’13 with a 2.13 ERA.
 
17. Dodgers: Scott Elbert, RHP
Seneca (Mo.) HS (’08-12, L.A. Dodgers)
Just when it appeared that Elbert’s big-league career was heating up, he succumbed to elbow problems and had Tommy John surgery in June 2013. Elbert pitched sparingly for the Dodgers from ’08-10, but he logged 47 appearances in 2011 and 43 in ’12, posting strong ERAs both times.
 
18. White Sox: Josh Fields, 3B
Oklahoma State (’06-09, Chicago White Sox; ’10, Kansas City)
In 2007, it appeared as if Fields had established himself as a slugging corner infielder and outfielder by hitting 23 homers in 100 games with the White Sox. But that was his high-water mark in the majors. Despite spending five seasons in the big leagues, Fields was out of MLB after 2010, and following a one-year stint in Japan, he bounced around the minors in several organizations. He spent 2013 with the Phillies’ Triple-A team.
 
19. Cardinals: Chris Lambert, RHP
Boston College (‘08-09, Detroit; ’09, Baltimore)
Lambert bounced between the majors and minors in 2008 and ’09, beginning as a starter but becoming a reliever. He compiled a 1–3 record with a 7.36 ERA during his big-league stops and was out of baseball after the 2009 campaign.
 
20. Twins: Trevor Plouffe, SS
Crespi Carmelite (Calif.) HS (’10-13, Minnesota)
Plouffe was used at short, second and third during his time in the minors, but he became the Twins’ main third baseman in 2012. Plouffe has shown a little bit of pop — he hit 11 homers in June 2012 — and he’s a solid fielder and a versatile player who can fill in all over the infield and also handle some work in left and right.
 
21. Phillies: Greg Golson, OF
Connally (Texas) HS (’08, Philadelphia; ’09, Texas; ’10-11, N.Y. Yankees)
The Phillies had big plans for Golson when they chose him, but he never developed into a big-league outfielder. Though he has played parts of four seasons in the major leagues, he never saw more than 24 games in one year and has a career batting average of .195.
 
22. Twins: Glen Perkins, LHP
Minnesota (’06-13, Minnesota)
When the hard-throwing Perkins went 12–4 in 26 starts in 2008, the Twins thought they had a stalwart. But he never replicated that success as a starter and ended up in the bullpen. It wasn’t a bad move. Perkins became a closer in 2012 and logged 16 saves during the second half of the year. In 2013, he compiled 36 saves and earned a spot on the American League All-Star team as an injury replacement.
 
23. Yankees: Phil Hughes, RHP
Foothill (Calif.) HS (’07-13, New York Yankees)
It’s hard to tell which version of Hughes you’re going to get. In 2010, he went 18–8 and made the All-Star Game. Two years later, he was 16–13. But Hughes was 4–14 with a 5.19 ERA last season and has been the type of maddening pitcher who teases with his potential to “turn the corner,” only to take a step back just as he heads in that direction. Still, the Minnesota Twins saw fit to give him a three-year, $24 million deal in late November.
 
24. A’s: Landon Powell, C
South Carolina  (’09-11, Oakland)
Powell spent parts of three years with the A’s, playing primarily at catcher but also some first base and DH. His best statistical season came in ’09, when he hit .229 with seven homers and 30 RBIs in 46 games. He spent 2012 and ’13 in the minors before being released. 
 
25. Twins: Kyle Waldrop, RHP
Farragut (Tenn.) HS (’11-12, Minnesota)
Overall, the righty pitched in 24 games out of the bullpen for the Twins and posted a 2.53 ERA in 17 appearances in 2012, before elbow problems shelved him. He spent 2013 in the Pirates’ system but appeared in only five games.
 
26. A’s: Richie Robnett, CF
Fresno State
Robnett impressed scouts with his skills throughout his college career and into his first few seasons in the minors, but his raw talent never translated into big-league ability, and he never played a game in the majors.
 
27. Marlins: Taylor Tankersley, LHP
Alabama (’06-08; ’10, Florida)
Tankersley compiled an 8–2 record during the 2006 and ’07 seasons as a solid left-handed bullpen option for the Marlins but pitched in only 25 games during 2008, as an elbow stress fracture plagued him. He missed ’09 after undergoing surgery and had a strong ’10 campaign as a lefty specialist, holding left-handed hitters to a .200 average. He signed with the Mets in 2011 but spent the season in the minors.
 
28. Dodgers: Blake DeWitt, 2B
Sikeston (Mo.) HS (’08-10, L.A. Dodgers; ’10-12, Cubs; ’13, Atlanta)
A versatile player who can handle work at second, third and the outfield, DeWitt had his best year in 2010 when he hit .261 with 24 doubles and 52 RBIs in 135 games with the Dodgers and Cubs. He spent most of 2013 in the minors with the Atlanta organization, reaching the big leagues for just four games in April.
 
29. Royals: Matthew Campbell, RHP
South Carolina
Campbell spent a few years in the minors but never came close to reaching the big leagues, failing to climb out of Class A ball.
 
30. Rangers: Eric Hurley, RHP
Samuel W. Wolfson (Fla.) HS 
(’08 Texas)
Hurley made five starts for the Rangers in 2008 and posted a 1–2 record with a 5.47 ERA. He spent time in the Angels and Twins organizations but was never able to escape the minor leagues.
 
 
Other notable selections
Gio Gonzalez, LHP
White Sox (Rd. 1 – Supplemental) Monsignor Pace (Fla.) HS
Gonzalez has become one of the game’s top young pitchers, winning 63 games in the last four years.
 
Huston Street, RHP
A’s (Rd. 1 – Supplemental) Texas
The 2005 Rookie of the Year and 2012 All-Star has become a reliable closer for three teams.
 
Yovani Gallardo, RHP
Brewers (Rd. 2) Trimble (Texas) Technical HS
The Milwaukee power starter has won 72 games over the past five years, including 17 in 2011.
 
Hunter Pence, OF
Astros (Rd. 2) University of Texas-Arlington
His lively bat made him a key part of the Giants’ 2012 World Series championship team.
 
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Red Sox (Rd. 2) Arizona State
The 2008 MVP and 2007 Rookie of the Year has been part of two Red Sox world championship teams.
 
Kurt Suzuki, C
A’s (Rd. 2) Cal State Fullerton
Has been a reliable backstop with limited pop in his bat whose best year came with Oakland in ’09.
 
Jason Vargas, LHP
Marlins (Rd. 2) Long Beach State
Vargas has won 33 games in the past three years, including 14 in 2012 with Seattle. 
 
Adam Lind, OF
Blue Jays (Rd. 3) South Alabama
Versatile player who has hit at least 23 home runs four times in his eight seasons with Toronto.
 
Ian Desmond, SS
Expos (Rd. 3) Sarasota (Fla.) HS
Fixture in Washington is a two-time Silver Slugger winner and earned an All-Star berth in 2012.
 
Ben Zobrist, SS
Astros (Rd. 6) Olivet Nazarene University
Over the past five years, there hasn’t been a more versatile player in the majors than Zobrist.
 
Dexter Fowler, OF
Rockies (Rd. 14) Milton (Ga.) HS
The Rockies' center fielder for the past five years has shown good speed and the ability to hit for average.
 
Mark Reynolds, 3B
Diamondbacks (Rd. 16) Virginia
A classic slugger, Reynolds has shown the ability to slam home runs while struggling to hit for average.
 
Mark Trumbo, 1B

Angels (Rd. 18) Villa Park (Calif.) HS
Trumbo has proven he can hit for power, if not average, during his four years in the majors.
 

—Written by Michael Bradley for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 21 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!

Teaser:
What Happened to the Top Players in the 2004 MLB Draft?
Post date: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 11:15
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/how-cuban-players-became-baseballs-hottest-export
Body:

If you ask Carlos Rodriguez why there are more Cuban players entering the major leagues than ever before, his answer is quick, humorous and right on time.

“There are 68 million reasons,” he says.

Rodriguez, Tampa Bay’s director of Latin American scouting, is referring to the six-year, $68 million contract the White Sox bestowed in late October upon first baseman Jose Abreu. It was the largest deal in club history, and it serves as the latest example of how eager MLB clubs are to collect the talent on the island that sits 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

The Sox hope Abreu joins the collection of recent defectors who have made significant contributions to major-league teams in the past couple years. Aroldis Chapman and his 100-mph fastball have transformed the Reds’ bullpen. Yoenis Cespedes is a power-hitting fixture in the middle of the Oakland lineup. And who can forget the performance last year of Yasiel Puig, who energized the Dodgers with his power, aggressiveness and flamboyant personality? Those three aren’t the only Cuban players in the bigs right now. In fact, Abreu joins Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo on the White Sox roster. But his arrival in the United States demonstrates just how much teams covet players from Cuba and how those performers want to find a way to reach the U.S. to play ball at the highest level.

“When there is an economic incentive and an opportunity cost of not coming over, the risk-reward is higher,” Rodriguez says. “People are finding more creative ways of getting out, and there is a bigger network of people helping out.”

For decades, Cuban players have made significant contributions to MLB teams, dating back to Minnie Minoso from 1949-63 (and a couple P.R. stunt appearances later on) but also including Tony Perez, Luis Tiant and Tony Oliva. Because of dictator Fidel Castro’s edict that no one could leave the island without permission, many great players — particularly in the 1970s and ‘80s — never reached the majors. Two of the most famous are Omar Linares and German Mesa, who were considered All-Star quality talents who couldn’t escape Castro’s clutches.

There was always something of a mythical status accorded the Cuban player, who could be viewed during certain international competitions but rarely seen in his natural habitat. Because of that legend, Cuban players might be held in higher esteem than their counterparts from other Latin American countries.

That has helped MLB teams develop considerable affection for players from the island — and vice versa. Last summer, even the Phillies, for whom big-money foreign players have been anathema, signed pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a six-year, $50 million deal. Although the money figure has dropped due to Gonzalez’s injury problems, the Phillies expect the righty to be a part of their rotation in 2014. With each subsequent player, the money seems to grow. Chapman received $30.25 million from the Reds. The A’s bestowed $36 mil on Cespedes, and Puig’s contract is worth $42 million. After never giving an international player a contract of more than $2 million, the Phillies went all in for Gonzalez. A couple months later, Abreu’s deal rocked the majors.

“Any time Cuban players made it to the U.S. as veterans from their professional league, there was always an interest in signing them,” Cardinals assistant GM Michael Girsch says. “It was a trickle in previous years, but now it has opened up, and we’re signing them.”

The flow could increase considerably in coming years, thanks to a variety of factors. One is the growing number of people trying to broker deals to sneak ballplayers off the island to safe nations. These “brokers” (some call them smugglers; others refer to them as traffickers) hold onto the men until agents sign deals to represent the players and bring them to the U.S., where they can be evaluated. The brokers make money, and there may even be some funds heading back to Cuban officials who conveniently look elsewhere as players are leaving the island.

“Are they letting it happen?” asks Cincinnati senior director of scouting Chris Buckley. “Maybe some money is going back to the Cuban government. We’ve heard all types of things. It’s a little suspicious.”

In order to make that cash flow more official, Cuba announced in late September that it would allow players to sign with other countries’ professional leagues. That was strictly prohibited under Fidel Castro, but his brother Raul, has a different view of the impact of big-dollar contracts on the socialist experience, especially if some of that dough makes its way to Havana. There are some issues to be worked out with the U.S. regarding tax dollars’ flowing back to Cuba, a transaction that would be in violation of America’s strict ban on commercial dealings with Cuba. That is something of a technicality, and it would be surprising if some system weren’t created to overcome the issue.

“People are trying to get a piece of the pie,” Rodriguez says. “Before, maybe the money wasn’t as big an incentive.”

Anybody who watched Puig play during the 2013 season shouldn’t have been surprised at all by his hard-driving style. That’s how they play ball in Cuba. “The Cuban players are traditionally known as ultra-aggressive and playing very hard,” Rodriguez says. “They are intimidating and brash and play an alpha style of baseball. They are definitely very brash and confident. They feel that if they can compete in Cuba, they can play anywhere in the world.”

The young outfielder tried to stretch singles into doubles, went after every fly ball with abandon and could be fooled — sometimes badly — by off-speed pitches. It didn’t matter to Puig if he failed; he was going to keep moving forward at 100 mph, sliding into home after a walk-off dinger and refusing to acknowledge the accomplishments of those who went before him, as Puig did when he snubbed former Diamondbacks great Luis Gonzalez.

There’s an old saying that explains why Dominican players are such free swingers: “You don’t walk off the island.” In other words, playing small ball isn’t going to get you noticed. That’s no different in Cuba, even though it’s tougher to get off that island than it is to reach the majors from the D.R.

When Cuba competes in international competitions, it does so to win. That’s a by-product of Castro’s desire to prove to the world that his country’s socialism produces greatness, the old Soviet-style system of rewards for performance and a bunker mentality of sorts that comes from being isolated from much of the world.

“The Cuban hitters go up there swinging,” Buckley says. “The pitchers are very aggressive and have no problems throwing at a hitter. Of course, let’s see how that translates to big-league play.”

Before that can be considered, the player has to become eligible to play. First, he has to escape the island and the close scrutiny of the government. The breakaways aren’t quite as dramatic as they once were, but it still isn’t easy. Recruiters and other intermediaries bring players to other countries, usually Mexico or a Caribbean land, to establish residency. And there are always concerns among those who leave about how family members who remain in Cuba will be treated. The next step is obtaining clearance from the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control. Because the U.S. has an embargo in place against Cuba, the defecting players are almost looked at as “products” of the island. The OFAC — a Division of the Department of the Treasury — “…administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on U.S. foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries and regimes...” It isn’t a particularly onerous process, but it does take some time. The final hurdle is say-so from Major League Baseball. Once all of that is taken care of, it’s time to find out if the guy can play.

“When they are cleared, we can evaluate them in a more controlled setting,” Rodriguez says. “We can see them take batting practice and do other things.”

Those assessments are vital with Cuban players. Yes, they fare well in international competition. And the stars stand out in domestic leagues, too. Making the jump to the majors isn’t as easy as getting from the island to the United States. After all the wrangling that goes into defecting and getting signed, there is the small issue of whether the player in question is any good. It may be beneficial to stage formal workouts for the prospects, but determining whether they can play still requires some faith, rather than an analysis of considerable amounts of data. No matter how highly touted the level of competition in the Cuban leagues might be, it still isn’t close to big-league quality.

“Some of the pitching there is at the high (class) A ball or Double-A levels,” Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin says. “Only occasionally do they run into quality pitching.

“We talk about how hitting is down in the major leagues because there are so many pitchers with power arms. The players coming over here from Cuba and Japan are in for rude awakenings, because they will be seeing quality pitching every day. It’s a big adjustment. Players like Puig and Cespedes are very talented guys, but you have to be careful.”

The good thing about acquiring a Cuban player is that the relative cost is low. Those who saw the contract the White Sox gave to Abreu might laugh at that statement, but it’s true. Yes, the money can be high, but there are no other penalties. Teams don’t lose draft picks for signing Cuban players. And they don’t have to surrender top prospects as they do when making deadline trades. So, there is nothing on top of the contracts — which can be admittedly high — when it comes to importing Cuban talent. For instance, when the Reds acquired pitcher Mat Latos from the Padres after the 2011 season, they had to part with righty Edinson Volquez and three top minor leaguers. “That’s a high cost,” Buckley says. Chapman’s six-year, $30.25 million contract wasn’t cheap, but that was the flamethrower’s only price.

“When you sign someone like Chapman, it’s just money, a lot of money, but we’re in the business of evaluating talent,” Buckley says. “We should be able to tell.”

When a player makes it through the clearinghouse process, is deemed talented enough to warrant a major-league contract and actually proves he can play, there is still one final component that can make the transition from Cuba to MLB daunting. Because the island is so backward, the U.S. lifestyle can be a huge shock. Just walking into a supermarket can be a transformative experience.

Putting these naïve players into a professional setting, with all of the outside influences and media attention, can create some serious problems.

“They have to learn the laws and our way of life,” Rodriguez says. “You have to have people monitoring what they do 24/7. Most of the players who come over here never drove a car before. It’s a real adjustment period.

“They have to learn everything — how to deal with fans and media and even how to order food.”

That they can learn. Skills like throwing 100-mph cheese and hitting for power and average aren’t so easily acquired.

And are worth the price.

—Written by Michael Bradley for Athlon Sports. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 21 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!

Teaser:
How Cuban Players Became Baseball's Hottest Export
Post date: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 15:45
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/who-are-worst-sports-teammates-all-time
Body:

The locker room is a sacred place. It is also an extremely fragile place.

The smallest change in attitude or perception can cause one to implode or splinter in the worst possible way. Critical injuries, lack of leadership from the coaching staff or a nosey, overbearing owner are a few reasons why the delicate pursuit of a championship can be derailed. Other times, the locker room can be infested with teammates who clearly aren't committed to winning. It can rub off on others, can be a distraction in the media and is obviously a terrible way to represent yourself in your community to so many who look up to those in pro sports. Sometimes — most times — these athletes have so much talent that they continually are given chances to succeed. It generally leaves fans wondering what if?

Here are some of the most parasitic and dangerous teammates of all-time:

Ryan Leaf, QB, NFL
The torrid and tawdry tale of the San Diego Chargers' first-round pick in the 1998 NFL Draft is well documented. His off-the-field drug issues as a coach alone make him one of the most tragic members of any locker room in all of sports. Yet, simply as an NFL quarterback, Leaf failed to live up to his 6-foot-5 frame. He was in yelling matches that nearly developed into physical altercations with teammates, general managers, fans during practice and one famous reporter who should have "knock(ed) it off." The list of bizarre and ignorant decision-making is shocking. He skipped the final day of the rookie symposium. He complained to the front office about a standard rookie credit card prank. He constantly blamed teammates publicly for his poor play. He missed practice with an injury to play golf. He refused to have surgery when doctors told him he should. There is a reason he won only four of his 21 career starts.

Tonya Harding, Figure Skater
Aside from never being able to get to the arena or onto the ice on time, I'm not sure it gets any worse than physically assaulting your teammate with the direct intent of ending their career. On Jan. 6, 1994, Harding conspired with ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, to break teammate and competitor Nancy Kerrigan's right leg. They hired a man named Shane Stant to assault Kerrigan at Cobo Arena in Detroit, causing Kerrigan to withdraw from the 1994 US Championships. The attack didn't keep Kerrigan from competing in the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer where she won the silver medal. Harding would end up pleading guilty to conspiracy.

Latrell Sprewell, Guard, NBA
Few players have wasted more talent on nonsense than Sprewell. Not many players can say they have literally choked their head coach. His excuse? "It's not like he was losing air or anything." Spree's laundry list of locker room dust-ups is too long to comb through. But choking your coach and publicly wondering how he was going to feed his family on a $21 million contract is enough to make this list.

Richie Incognito, OL, NFL
Spitting on players, fighting in games, fighting during practice and in bars all dot his resume. And that was just before he transferred from Nebraska to Oregon in college. Repeated incidents in the NFL have led to Incognito playing for three different teams, each ending with a bang. The latest, of course, coming in the Miami Dolphins' locker room involving supposed friend Jonathan Martin. He is widely regarded as one of, if not the, dirtiest player in the NFL.

Manny Ramirez, OF, MLB
No one makes you shake your head quite like Man-Ram. Yes, he has had physical altercations with teammates and even apparently knocked over an elderly secretary. He was an extraordinary hitter and one of the most bizarre outfielders in the history of the game. Cutting off throws, disappearing into the Green Monster and landing on the baseball only scratch the surface. He was also suspended for using steroids while playing for the Dodgers late in his career. But Manny is also guilty of the worst crime in all of sports: intentionally not playing hard. Manny Being Manny was great for a laugh — if you didn't play with him.

John Terry, Centre Back, English Premier Soccer
One of the most decorated English soccer plays of all-time, Terry won "Dad of the Year" in 2009. The voters must not have known about his bar fights, airport altercations, handicap parking tendencies and general sleaziness. He has been investigated for racial abuse and was busted for having an extramarital affair with a teammate’s significant other. Well done, sire.

Carlos Zambrano, SP, MLB
He was suspended for arguing with teammate Derrek Lee. He got in a fight between innings with catcher Michael Barrett. His temper and childish behaviors were caught on film numerous times on the North Side of Chicago. Why do you think new management was willing to pay millions for him NOT to be in their clubhouse? In recent news, he had to apologize for starting a brawl in the Venezuela's winter series final.

Bill Romanowski, LB, NFL
The burly and physical tackler was a menace on the field as one of the nastiest hitters in the game and off the field as one of the worst teammates. During his playing days, he was linked to potential steroid use that likely led somewhat to his insane practice habits. No less than six major violent incidents with teammates dot Romanowski's resume. He shattered Marcus Williams' eye-socket, ending his career, broke Kerry Collins' jaw and attacked Tony Gonzalez. He kicked another teammate in the head, spit in another's face and was known to aim for an extra-sensitive area of the body with the football from time to time. Now several years removed from the game, Romanowski has since toned down his antics dramatically and has been slowly working to rebuild his image off of the field.

Barry Bonds, OF, MLB
Possibly the most talented and most high profile player on this list, it seems awfully appropriate that the seven-time MVP never won a World Series. The stories from teammates, fans and reporters stretch out longer than one of his bombs into the Bay. Not showing up for team photos, blaming teammates for failed drug tests, berating journalists, distracting the team and constantly distancing himself from his team. There is a report from Rob Dibble that Pirates players would offer steak dinners and cash to opposing pitchers if they would hit Bonds. He was hit 106 times in his career and, for the most part, his home run record is sneered at for a reason.

Delonte West, G, NBA
This one isn't too hard. Over a three-year period, West was traded three times and eventually waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves. His career began unceremoniously when officers found a concealed handgun in his pocket and, I can't make this up, a shotgun in a guitar case on his back during a speedy stop — while on a motorcycle. In 2010, he got into a locker room fight with Von Wafer, one that witnesses say West instigated. In 2012, he wasn't allowed to attend the Mavericks' trip to the White House and he reacted with an intense Twitter rant. Finally, and even I will admit, the most far-fetched tale involving West is of his alleged indiscretions with The Chosen One's Mom. No, I am not kidding. He never averaged more than 12.2 points per game in any season and averaged in double figures only three times in eight years in the NBA.

Terrell Owens, WR, NFL
Constantly throwing teammates under the bus, Owens' selfish attitude on and off the field cost his locker room any cohesion and, at times, cost his team yards on the field. Effort was never his issue like some other prima donna wideouts in the NFL, but to blame quarterbacks and coaches for his own failures is absurd. And to infer certain things about Jeff Garcia in a negative way is unacceptable, distasteful and classless. Especially, coming from a guy as vain as T.O.

Gilbert Arenas, G, NBA
He has long been known to berate and verbally abuse teammates. He has also been connected with some of the more vicious rookie hazings. However, being suspended for nearly an entire season because you brought a handgun into the locker room takes the cake. Which is unacceptable, especially if you are a career 42.1 percent shooter.

Steve Smith, WR, NFL (Carolina)
Multiple fights with multiple teammates during training camps have made Smith a constant headline even before the season gets started. He has been sued, fined, suspended and sent to anger management training for the better part of a decade. It’s not working. He has long been one of the most talkative — and generally not using pleasantries — players in all of the NFL.

Jeff Kent, 2B, MLB
Few players have ever been as abrasive as Mr. Kent. Stories of Barry Bonds — yes, Barry Bonds — having to play the role of peacekeeper in the Giants' clubhouse should tell you all you need to know about Kent. Teammates, media, coaches and fans can't stand to be around him. Neither could the people on "Survivor" apparently.

The "Worst" of the Rest:

Albert Haynesworth, Defensive Lineman, NFL
A paycheck player who refused to play certain positions and never stayed in shape following his payday.

Keyshawn Johnson, Wide Receiver, NFL
Was always wondering why the Jets were throwing the ball "to that little white guy." Hmmm...

Stephon Marbury, Guard, NBA
Constantly battling with teammates and even his GM, he single-handedly derailed the Knicks.

Allen Iverson, Guard, NBA
Game effort was never the issue. His Diva persona and attitude towards practice was.

Joe Horn, Wide Receiver, NFL
On the field antics and sleeping with a teammate's wife qualifies Horn for this list.

JaMarcus Russell, Quarterback, NFL
Lazy, out of shape and unfocused in regards to anything that had to do with winning games.

Milton Bradley, Outfielder, MLB
Eight teams in 12 years for the short-tempered maniac. Also has had multiple domestic abuse issues.

Teaser:
Who are some of the worst teammates of all-time in pro sports?
Post date: Friday, February 28, 2014 - 16:30
All taxonomy terms: Funny, NFL
Path: /nfl/funny-faces-40-yard-dash-nfl-combine
Body:

No one said that running the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was easy. And from the labored looks on the faces of the athletes running it, it's true. Enjoy this image gallery of the football players trying to grunt one out at the combine.  

 

 

 

Images from NFL.com

 

 

Teaser:
No one said that running the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was easy. And from the labored looks on the faces of the athletes running it, it's true.
Post date: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - 12:57
All taxonomy terms: Brandel Chamblee, Tiger Woods, Golf
Path: /golf/deconstructing-tiger
Body:

Brandel Chamblee of the Golf Channel shares his thoughts about Tiger Woods' unprecedented approach to the game of golf. 

It is a curious fact that, a hundred years from now, when golfers are discussing Tiger Woods the way we discuss Ben Hogan or Jack Nicklaustoday, they will have to talk about Tiger's swing by the year or vintage, the way one talks about great wines. Or perhaps the way we talk of ancient history using the preposition "circa" before the date. Because the Tiger Woods of 1997 was vastly different in form from the Tiger Woods of 2000, and different yet again in 2007, and different still today in 2014. Among his mind-blowing accomplishments, ascending to the number one spot in the world and dominating the world of professional golf with four completely different swings might be the most “in your face" feat ever achieved in sport.

Tiger may have been born to play golf, but it seems he was also born to build and destroy.

Michael Jordan worked harder than his peers to improve his form, but the mechanics he used to score over 3,000 points in the 1986-87 season looked essentially identical to those he used to hit a jumper with 5.2 seconds left to clinch the NBA Championship for the Bulls against the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals. Gordie Howe played professional hockey in five different decades, and in his 2,421st game, his style was just as recognizable as it was in his rookie season of 1946. Imagine if either of these athletes, after being colossally successful early in their careers, had completely changed the way they played their respective sports — not once, but four times, and after each change became the best again. It would just never happen, not once, let alone four times.

Young athletes, new to their sport, make changes to their form as they learn what works and what doesn't based upon coaching and trial and  error, but once they have the mechanics down, their form, with few exceptions, is as recognizable as a fingerprint for the rest of their careers. Don’t get me wrong — athletes, especially golfers, are always tinkering, but once a modicum of success has been achieved, changes for the most part amount to refinements.

Exceptions, of course, are players who failed early in their careers and then went back and dismantled and rebuilt swings, only to come back famously different golfers, like Ben Hogan in the 1940s and, most recently and less famously, Matt Kuchar. None of this happened to Tiger Woods, who exploded onto the scene in 1996 and won The Masters by 12 shots in 1997 only to completely scrap that record-breaking swing. What he came back with two years later was the best swing in the history of golf.

Build and destroy.

In 2000 Tiger started history's most dominant, astonishing stretch of golf with a longer, wider, spot-on plane and more versatile swing. He won four professional majors in a row by as much as 15 shots and made 142 consecutive cuts. What is the purpose of pursuing a method in sport, except in hopes of becoming the best, the most consistent and the most dominating athlete of your era, if not of all time? Tiger did just that, and then, as if he was tired of driving a two-year-old car, he traded it in for a newer model.

Build and destroy.

By 2007, Tiger’s swing, flatter and narrower, looked nothing like his swing that won four majors  in a row, but his scoring average of 67.79 was exactly the same as his scoring average of 2000, and so was his dominance, if not his ability to win by blowout margins.

Build and destroy.

As Tiger has aged and his body has grown, his swing has flattened (and his major championship win total has flatlined).
In 2013 Tiger won five times (no one else won more than twice on Tour) and became the No. 1 player in the world again by a wide margin — and the swing he uses today is completely unrecognizable compared to the swings he’s used in the past, which makes one think that Tiger could take any method, tie one hand behind his back and tattoo Nike on everyone’s forehead with the other while continuing to win. Clearly, it’s not the method he uses but perhaps the belief in that method that matters most. Or perhaps it’s just that he goes to a place mentally that no one else can grasp. Perhaps he’s always there. Either way, at 38 years old, Tiger has not only done things in golf no one has ever done or will ever do, but he’s also done things in golf no one has ever even thought to do.

Like Shakespeare, who created anew almost 2,000 words when other writers struggled even to use that many, Tiger is the most singular figure golf has ever known.

Still, it has been almost six years since he won a major, and that is the one thing he hasn’t done with his new swing and it is the one thing that matters most. At 38 years old, the man whose record Tiger is chasing, Jack Nicklaus, had won 14 majors, and in his 38th year he added an Open Championship at St. Andrews, a place where he had won before. Tiger is playing at three major venues this year where he has previously won, and there is every reason to think 2014 will be the year in which Tiger starts his major ascendancy again. The swing changes are done, and he’s too old to change again; all that’s left is to compete.

Build and destroy.

-Brandel Chamblee
Golf Channel Analyst

@ChambleeBrandel

This article appears in the 2014 edition of Athlon Sports' Golf Annual, on newsstands now. Order your copy today.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, February 24, 2014 - 12:59
Path: /nascar/perspective-ricky-craven-talks-todays-nascar
Body:

Ricky Craven didn’t put a full-court press on Victory Lane during his Sprint Cup driving career. He won only twice over a span of 11 years, but in his life as a racing analyst for ESPN — a role he’s held since 2008 — he has emerged as one of sports television’s most respected commentators.

Calm, confident and reasoned in his comments, Craven has established himself as a whip-smart analyst in a sport that often defies easy analysis. He doesn’t use catchphrases or wild rants but instead attempts to tell listeners why events unfold and what to expect around the next turn.

A driver in the Sprint Cup Series in 1991 and from 1995-2004, Craven, now 47, scored wins at Martinsville and Darlington (in a famous, grinding finish with Kurt Busch) before exiting the driver’s seat for good after the 2006 Nationwide Series season.
Craven shared some of his perspective with Athlon Sports.


Athlon Sports: How do you see a race as an analyst versus how you experienced one as a driver? How is the perspective different?
Ricky Craven:
From a driver’s perspective, you’re not as aware of the big picture and what is required to pull off an event and how one or two things during the race affect so many others. Most athletes are programmed to be selfish. It’s what you need to be to compete and succeed. Some things appear one way from the driver’s seat, and the same things I see today I say, ‘OK, wow, that looks different and has a completely different effect.’

Years ago, races ended under caution. A race ended at Talladega under caution, and fans showed their displeasure by throwing things over the fence. I was appalled by it, but I also felt something I’d never acknowledged before in all the years I had driven race cars. The race finishing under caution has a horrible effect on the paying customer. It’s like, ‘We paid to see the checkered flag fly at 200 miles per hour, not 80. That’s what we came for.’ From the seat I occupy today, it was a fabulous decision to go to the green-white-checker finish. As a driver then, I wouldn’t have seen it that way.


How has racing changed for the driver since you retired?
There’s more parity, and the margins between a good car and a bad car are very narrow. There’s more strategy now on pit road. Not that we didn’t have strategy, but there’s a much greater emphasis on preserving track position now — whatever is required to do that or to get that. It’s arguably the most competitive time in the history of the sport. The double-file restarts are a bonus. I think it’s the most important aspect of the race for the drivers now, because there’s an opportunity to capitalize on three or four spots that otherwise might take 60 laps to gain. You can get three or four spots in a lap on a restart. That’s changed the game.


Some racing insiders say the car is 60 or 70 percent of the quality equation and the driver is the rest. How do you see that dynamic?
It’s 50-50 for a good car and a good driver to finish top 10. I think it’s 70-30, driver, for those drivers that are perennial top-5 drivers. The reason I say that is it’s not that a driver can carry a car. These cars are just too sensitive, but their willingness to run right on the edge and have that talent to back it up, that’s what separates the winners and the top-10 drivers.

Drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch — they run extremely hard to finish off a win or a top-5 day. I think some drivers are guilty of depending too much on a good car. They would say, ‘I need the car that Jimmie has.’ I think those drivers will continue to finish eighth to 15th because very, very, very seldom are they going to have that car. Frankly, Jimmie doesn’t have that car week in and week out. When he does, he capitalizes on it with a maximum-point day. But what about the days when he wins because he just laid it on the line? We see that out of some drivers — Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick — but Jimmie Johnson makes a living out of it. Jimmie Johnson doesn’t win a lot of races on fuel mileage or pit-road strategy. He just outruns you. Those drivers who can contribute 70 percent are in the minority — a select, very special group.


Do you think the relative importance of the driver has changed with the Gen-6 car?
I don’t think so. I think the driver has always been the determining factor. In other words, you could have 20 good drivers and we might have seasons where we have 15 or 16 winners, but the drivers who win year in and year out — they could switch teams and win. Matt Kenseth is a great example of that. Late in life, he moves from the only organization he’s been with (from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing) and has arguably the best year of his career statistically. You look at Clint Bowyer, who is a very good race car driver. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him yet. I watch the in-car camera, and he lives on that edge. There has to be a willingness to do that, where other drivers just aren’t that comfortable on the edge. When Clint transitioned from Richard Childress Racing to Michael Waltrip, in some people’s minds, Waltrip’s program wasn’t ready for Clint. And that obviously wasn’t correct. They’ve capitalized and run extremely well. The old saying is that the cream rises to the top. If the driver is given enough time with the car, he’ll medal.


Do you think the sport has to have compelling competition pretty much every week to thrive, or can it roll along sort of on the back of the drivers’ personalities and the color and the noise?
I think the latter is more important. If we think back to some of the key figures in our sport, there are drivers who had dominant seasons — Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon. There have been some other excellent drivers who won a few races in a year and maybe won a championship, but they didn’t carry the same flavor as the elite that put up big numbers and were the drivers to beat and had a bull’s-eye on them.

Eventually, somebody is going to step up and challenge the status quo. Ernie Irvan is a good example. When I was racing, he came along and became a formidable challenger to people. All of a sudden, he was a guy who was willing to ruffle some feathers and move people out of the way. Somebody labeled him ‘Swervin’ Irvan.’ If he hadn’t gotten hurt, I think he would have continued to put up some big numbers and would have been challenging for a championship. He still had a good career. But it takes that kind of personality, like a Kevin Harvick has or even a Kyle Busch has.

As it relates to Jimmie Johnson, the reason we haven’t seen that great rivalry, that heated rivalry, between him and someone else is that he typically doesn’t win at someone else’s expense. He’s not that guy who roughs up the other drivers, but he wins like the elite drivers did. But he goes about it differently.


Can you put what Johnson has done in the last decade into historical perspective?
Very difficult. I emptied the tank to win two races in Cup. I remember winning Rookie of the Year in 1995 and thinking that I would have double-digit wins in my career. It didn’t work out. There was a period when I didn’t think I was going to win a Cup race, but I can tell you I emptied the tank trying to.

Then I see Jimmie win, and he makes it look easy. And I know it’s not easy. At this point in his life, a lot of drivers’ skills diminish. Their focus diminishes because they’ve acquired so many things and they have so much distraction, and that all comes at a price. I haven’t seen an ounce of that from Jimmie Johnson. I see him prepare like an extremely talented athlete who’s scared to death that he’ll underachieve or never win a title. He doesn’t operate like he’s satisfied. He operates like there’s an urgency. He works harder than most. He has a greater focus than most. He has less distraction than most. Those are some of the ingredients that make him so difficult to beat.

He also has this tremendous ability to preserve relationships. It’s so well documented that some of the best in our sport eventually have the feeling that ‘I’m not getting the credit I deserve’ or something along those lines, and there was a separation. They still won races, but they didn’t continue on that pace that they had with that magical combination. We all marvel at what they’ve done. Chad (Knaus) and Jimmie have preserved that, and that’s at the very core of their success.


Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to run with the top group, but the wins have been few and far between. And he’s still looking for that first championship. What’s missing?
What’s missing the last few years was attitude. I go back to my introduction to Dale Jr. It was toward the end of my career. There has never been a question in my mind that he has the skills to be a champion in Sprint Cup. And I’ve never deviated from that. But he’s been on a hell of a ride as far as being tested and the ups and downs. I would say most people would be mentally exhausted. Dale Jr. lost his dad in this sport. I don’t how he got through that. When you put all that in a bowl and stir it up, it’s an awful lot.

But what I see right now — in the past few months, maybe he finally turned the corner. Maybe he’s finally sleeping better. Maybe he’s finally relaxed. Maybe he’s finally got that edge. But I see it in his eyes. I hear it in his voice. I see it in his interviews. There’s no question there was a difference in him in the second half of 2013. He’s got that fire. All the hard work from Steve Letarte has helped put good cars under him and rebuilt that confidence.

If Dale preserves that attitude through the offseason, he’s going to have a very good 2014. It’s going to be his best at Hendrick Motorsports. It might be his last push, but it’s going to be a good one.


Talk about Tony Stewart. What are you looking for from him this year considering what he went through in 2013?
He’s very resilient. He’s as mentally tough as anybody I’ve met, but he has a hurdle to clear in that any time you’re out of the race car, particularly later in life, you have some catching up to do. And there are some timing issues. When you jump back on the horse, it comes back to you, but it doesn’t mean that your motor skills and all the things that you perfect are going to be there in February and March.

And this is something that gets lost, but the cars are constantly changing. The cars are constantly being adjusted and changed in an effort to gain speed. You hear teams talk all the time about what they ran at a track in the spring doesn’t work in the fall. So Tony lost that whole last part of the season where the cars continued to evolve. He has some catching up to do, and, frankly, it won’t be easy.

He’s been quiet, almost stealth-like, but I’m hearing he’s working hard. I expect him to come out of the gate like a bear, but he will have some catching up to do.


What about his team? There’s quite a volatile collection of drivers there with Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch coming on board. What do you expect from them?
I expect Harvick and Busch will make the Chase. They’re just that good, and they’ll be in good equipment. I’m hedging a little bit, and that is based on one thing and one thing only, but it weighs heavily with me: Mark Martin didn’t run well in that 14 car (as a substitute for the injured Stewart).

Mark Martin is as good as anybody I’ve raced against. I know he’s an anomaly in that he’s doing this at such a late age. But he didn’t run Mark Martin-like in that car. That concerns me a little.

At the end of 2013, there wasn’t a really good measure. Danica (Patrick) was still going through the learning curve. Ryan (Newman), even though he made the Chase, he didn’t run that well in the last 10 events. And Mark was put in a situation where he had to get acclimated to the team, and it just didn’t seem to synchronize. That has me scratching my head a little.


There’s talk in the garage that NASCAR is looking to make some significant changes to the 2015 Sprint Cup schedule with the arrival of the new television contract. What do you think? Should the schedule be worked on extensively? Are other changes needed?
I think we’re in pretty good shape. I think we could use one less mile-and-half track in the Chase. Seems like we’re a little out of balance there. I’m not for or against the idea of a road course in the Chase. That’s not that important to me. I’d love to have another short track in the Chase. To me, short-track racing is one of the pillars of our sport.

I think the one big challenge for our sport is that I think we would benefit from taking 30 to 40 percent of the seats out of the grandstands. This has gone on long enough. We had a tremendous build-out when the economy was firing on all cylinders and there was an abundance of extra cash for people to travel and be entertained. The sport is healthier than it appears when you view the grandstands.

I feel good about our sport. I feel that we’re making progress, but we’re going to be perceived as underachieving as long as the grandstands are half-full or half-empty, depending on an individual’s perspective.

I don’t see why we would want that perception. The only way I know to correct that is to do away with the empty seats.


Which driver might be the next to step up into Johnson-Kenseth territory?
It’s such a tall order to try to predict that somebody will be in that company. Usually, we only see a few in a generation. We had Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. With all due respect to all the others, we’re talking multiple championships and winning on all types of tracks.

When I look ahead, I’d say the most obvious is — or was — Kyle Busch. Kyle has 90 percent of the tools to do what the three I just mentioned have done. The 10 percent he’s missing might not come until he’s 32, 33, 34 years old. Some drivers get it younger than that. He’ll be at his best in terms of mental toughness and being able to manage races when he’s a little later in life.

The risk is that the other components diminish so that he’s not able to have the level of success to join that elite group. And some of it comes down to endurance. It’s one of the liabilities of starting really young. Do you get tired of it? Are you physically conditioned to be at your best when it matters most?


There were some competitive races in 2013, but there also were some that can’t quite be described as barnburners, particularly at some of the 1.5-mile tracks. Is there an easy solution to that? Can rules be changed? Can something be done to boost the competition at those tracks?
The tug of war is this — speed is an important contributor to the entertainment value of our sport. A lot of people suggest that we’re going too fast and that we need to slow the cars down, but that seems contradictory to what NASCAR is synonymous with. It’s got to be about speed. Track records are exciting. As the cars go faster, the drivers truly are challenged through the middle of the turn to manage that speed. Does it contribute to the aerodynamic issues that we have with the cars from second on back? It does, but there are things that correct some of that.

There are two things that are obvious to me. One is to get the front end (of the car) off the racetrack. The front end being sealed to the racetrack (with ground splitters) creates so much front grip and really magnifies the dependence. If the car out front had a couple of inches between itself and the racetrack and had some air going underneath it, the car is not going to drive as well. It’s not going to have as much straightaway speed. It’s going to create more drag or more resistance. I’m not smart enough to understand why we continue to seal off the front ends.

The other thing, and the ultimate fix — which is monumental to accomplish but it is the ultimate fix — is to not react as quickly to repaving tracks. The new asphalt creates more grip, more speed, but makes the car sensitive and edgy, not allowing for side-by-side racing. The best racing we have is at Atlanta and Texas, which is a throwback to what Darlington used to be. The reason that works, and the reason it worked at Michigan before they repaved it, is because as the tires wear the drivers are challenged to adjust their line through the corners in an effort to preserve that tire wear. It brings another element into the equation.

You can run hard early in a run, but it will come at the expense of a long run. Or you can run moderate the first 20 laps and you’ll catch all the cars in front of you in the long run. There’s some strategy. It’s fun to watch. I love that type of racing. It’s why you hear drivers rebel about tracks being repaved. When they’re repaved, at least early on, they become single-lane racetracks, and they don’t allow options. Drivers love options.


By Mike Hembree
Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikehembree
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
An exclusive Q&A with former NASCAR driver and current commentator Ricky Craven.
Post date: Friday, February 21, 2014 - 18:10
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball
Path: /college-basketball/perry-wallace-first-african-american-basketball-player-sec
Body:

Bob Warren arrived at Professor Perry Wallace’s office at American University in 2006, and delivered a message nearly 40 years in the making.

 “Forgive me, Perry,” Warren said, “There is so much more I could have done.”

The former basketball teammates at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., hadn’t seen each other since 1968, when Warren was a senior and Wallace, a sophomore, was the first and only African-American ballplayer in the entire Southeastern Conference.

Wallace’s mind raced back to the days that nearly destroyed him, but he also thought of the healing and reconciliation that had come later, and he believed that it wasn’t the “good, decent and humble guys like Bob Warren” who needed to go on living with that sort of regret, anyway.

 “We are fine,” Wallace assured Warren. “Don’t think another thing of it. We were all just kids.”

Today, 46 years after Perry Wallace became the first African-American basketball player in the Southeastern Conference, and the first black scholarship athlete to play a full SEC season in any sport, it’s nearly impossible to fathom an SEC without black stars. But for there to be a Shaquille O’Neal at LSU, a Charles Barkley at Auburn, a Dominique Wilkins at Georgia, — for their even to be a Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker, Emmitt Smith or Cam Newton — there had to be Perry Wallace, a man who quietly broke barriers in the southern sanctuary of sport.

Buses, movie theaters, lunch counters, schools and many city and state governments were all desegregated before the most hallowed of grounds, the athletic fields of the former states of the Confederacy. Steve Martin, a walk-on baseball player at Tulane during the Green Wave’s final year as a member of the SEC, was actually the first African-American student-athlete in the league, followed by Nat Northington, a football player at Kentucky who played in four varsity games before transferring. So it was Wallace, the valedictorian of his high school class and an engineering double-major at Vanderbilt, who became the first African-American to complete a full season and career as a varsity athlete in the SEC. And nothing about the experience was easy.

On road trips through the Deep South, he was the target of the vilest of catcalls. Back home in Nashville, his parents received letters threatening to kill or castrate their son. On campus, he was ignored by many of the same white students who cheered his prowess on the basketball court. Many of his black neighbors and peers criticized him for attending a white university. The pioneering experience was relentlessly difficult; Henry Harris, the first black basketball player at Auburn, later committed suicide, and Wallace said it took years before he was able to come to terms with his own ordeal.

 
After decades of distance, there is now a deep and powerful relationship between Vanderbilt and its trailblazing alum. Athletic Director David Williams calls Wallace a “hero,” and he was instrumental in retiring Wallace’s jersey and inducting him — in the inaugural class — into the university’s athletic hall of fame. Wallace, a professor at the American University law school in Washington, D.C., frequently travels to Nashville to speak to Vanderbilt students, served as the voiceover talent for a season ticket campaign, and sits on the school’s athletic advisory committee. He speaks French, sings opera, practices law, has testified before the United Nations, and is a proud husband and father. Though he’s not sure he’d do it all over again if he had the chance, he knows he’s left a powerful if underappreciated legacy, both in sports and society. When fans gaze upon his jersey hanging above the student section at Memorial Gymnasium, he hopes that they will appreciate his contributions not only “as bearing on equality in sports, but, as with Jackie Robinson, extending out to contribute to progress in larger ways.” Looking for a role model in the world of sports? Look no further than Perry Wallace.

—By Andrew Maraniss

Maraniss has spent the last eight years researching and writing a biography of Perry Wallace. The book, "Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South" will be published by Vanderbilt University Press, with a publication date of November 2014. For more information or to be added to an e-mail list for updates on the title, exact publication date and author appearances, email [email protected]

Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University.

Teaser:
Perry Wallace: The first African-American Basketball Player in the SEC
Post date: Friday, February 21, 2014 - 15:45
All taxonomy terms: Denny Hamlin, NASCAR, News
Path: /nascar/denny-hamlins-back-back
Body:

Is Denny Hamlin’s back back? That is Question One in the Joe Gibbs Racing camp as the 2014 Sprint Cup season begins. The potent Toyota team, with one of the sport’s strongest lineups (Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Hamlin), remains in search of its first Cup championship carrying Toyota colors, and a healthy Hamlin can be a big player in that quest.

After a convincing win in Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited exhibition race it looks like all systems go.  Denny Hamlin

The 2013 season was more or less a lost year for Hamlin. After he suffered a compression fracture in his back in a brutal crash with Joey Logano as they raced for the win in the season’s fifth race, at Fontana, Calif., Hamlin sat out four weeks, essentially losing hope of running for his elusive first championship and falling into a sort of test-driver status for his teammates as they pursued the title.

Hamlin wrestled with back issues much of the year, climbing out of the car in pain after practice at Richmond and enduring painkiller injections in his spine in search of relief. He chose rehabilitation over surgery in hopes of making his return easier and faster.

As 2014 rolls out, the good news is that Hamlin capped 2013 by winning the season’s final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and is one-for-one in Daytona. Although the former victory was overshadowed by Jimmie Johnson’s rush to yet another championship, the win reinforced Hamlin’s status as a top driver and, importantly, kept alive his streak of winning at least one Cup race per season since his full-time debut in 2006.

It was an exclamation point on a tough year.

“You just look at the small victories,” Hamlin says. “That’s all I could do — take pride in the small victories that we had here and there.

“Now everyone is starting over clean again in 2014. For me, when you come back after missing four or five races (and have) one or two bad finishes — my Chase hopes are over. You’re kind of racing for nothing, really. It’s hard to find the motivation to perform at 100 percent when you’re trying to find yourself, trying to figure out what feel you need, really when you feel like you’re not racing for anything.”

Hamlin says his back began responding more positively in early September, just as the schedule was moving into its Chase segment.

“Right around when the Chase started, I went in for some treatment (and) got an injection that numbed the pain,” he says. “That really allowed me to get back in the gym, get back to doing rehab again. That was the point for me where I started to get better inside the car.

“Richmond was probably the worst that I felt of any weekend. When you can’t go through a corner, you can’t feel the race car because you’re getting lightning bolts of pain through your back.”

Hamlin’s car was a lightning bolt in the Unlimited, a race in which he led the most laps and won all three segments.

“I realized after the win in Homestead, how I was feeling, that we run as good as I feel,” Hamlin said. “When I feel comfortable in the car, especially in long runs and everything, I can do just about anything I need to do to be a race winner.”

If Speedweeks will tell the tale of his recovery, the story so far is shaping up to be a healthy one.


By Mike Hembree
Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikehembree
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.

Teaser:
Denny Hamlin returns from an injury-plagued season to make a statement in NASCAR's Speedweeks in Daytona.
Post date: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 - 19:33

Pages