Articles By Charlie Miller
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
We believe that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
Kansas City Royals Mt. Rushmore
The Kansas City franchise began in 1969 and had as much early success as any expansion team prior to free agency. Kansas City won three consecutive division titles from 1976-78, losing in the ALCS to the Yankees each year. Their only seven postseason appearances came within a 10-year window from 1976-85. The primary face on the Royals Mt. Rushmore, no doubt, must be George Brett. Much work must be done to determine the other three. We’ll focus our attention on the 1976-85 era.
One of the greatest third basemen ever, Brett won batting titles in three decades and made 13 consecutive All-Star teams. Of the 20 best seasons in franchise history, Brett was a vital member of 16 of those. It’s impossible to imagine any player ever usurping Brett as the best in team history.
Quiz led the AL in saves in five seasons and from 1982-85 the submariner finished in the top three in Cy Young voting, the only closer ever to accomplish that four straight years. He has 238 saves, many of them in appearances of more than one inning.
White is the only player other than Brett to have his number retired by the Royals. The second baseman won eight Gold Gloves and made 15 consecutive Opening Day starts as anchor of the Royals’ infield.
The beloved lefthander was drafted by the Royals in 1968, a year prior to the big club taking the field for the first time. Splittorff made 392 starts for the Royals from 1970 to 1984, and his 166 wins leads the franchise. Prior to losing his battle with cancer in 2011, he was a broadcaster for the team for more than two decades.
A pharmaceutical magnate named Ewing Kaufman brought baseball back to Kansas City in 1969 and built a competitive, fan-friendly atmosphere. Under his leadership, there were innovations such as the Kansas City Royals Baseball Academy, where the Royals groomed young players outside of the normal player development channels.
The first Cy Young winner in franchise history, Bret Saberhagen, was the ace of the 1985 title team. He won a second award in 1989.
Amos Otis was a fixture in center field during the 1970s and batted .478 with three home runs in the 1980 World Series.
Mike Sweeney earned the respect of fans by the way he carried himself and represented the franchise during the lean years of the 2000s.
Best Current Player
Either Alex Gordon or Eric Hosmer could find his wa y onto this mountain, especially if they lead the team back to the postseason.
Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
We believe that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
Philadelphia Phillies Mt. Rushmore
For a franchise that’s been playing baseball in Philadelphia since 1883, it’s astounding that the organization can boast of only two World Series titles (1980, 2008). The Phillies have won 100 games in a season just twice, but lost that many on 14 occasions. I’m convinced there are two non-negotiable members in this honored quartet: Steve Carlton and Mike Schmidt. Beyond that, let’s roll with the discussion.
The 12-time All-Star, two-time MVP, 10-time Gold Glove winner, eight-time home run leader and Hall of Fame third baseman has a .908 OPS during a non-offensive era. He’s suited up for the Phils more than anyone else — 610 time more than anyone. Needless to say — or maybe not — he leads the franchise in home runs, RBIs, hits, runs, walks and strikeouts. Of the 35 players with more than 1,500 runs and RBIs, Schmidt is one of only 17 who have done it with one team.
Lefty’s tops on the all-time list with 241 wins and 3,031 strikeouts. He made 499 starts for the Phillies, 39 of them shutouts on his way to four Cy Young awards. From 1972-83, the workhorse averaged 19 wins, 274 innings and 230 strikeouts.
Grover Cleveland (Pete) Alexander has 190 wins with the Phils and owns the best winning percentage (.676). Perhaps the first ever steal in the Rule 5 Draft as the Phillies drafted him out of the Syracuse organization in 1910. He won 190 games in seven seasons before being dealt to the Cubs for Pickles Dillhoefer, Mike Prendergast and $55,000.
The rightfielder ranks in the top 5 in many categories including home runs, runs, RBIs and total bases. He spent parts of 15 seasons with the Phillies and had 1,705 hits, batted .326 and had more than 950 runs and RBIs.
Robin Roberts, a Hall of Famer who spent the first 14 of his 19 seasons toiling for the Phillies, is second to Carlton with 234 wins. From 1949-56, Roberts was 172-111, while the rest of the team was 466-483. In the closest call to date, Roberts was edged by Klein.
Richie Ashburn, a four-time All-Star with the Phillies, had 2,217 hits — 17 behind Schmidt — and batted .311 in 12 seasons.
The mysterious Ed Delahanty, who had four brothers in the major leagues, collected 2,214 hits for the Phillies, but 1,848 of them were in the 1800s. That’s a long time ago for fans to really embrace someone.
Best Current Player
The top current Phillie is Jimmy Rollins, although Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are gaining ground. The shortstop already ranks in the top four in total bases, hits and runs.
Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
We believe that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
Pittsburgh Pirates Mt. Rushmore
The club's recent drought of 20 consecutive losing seasons seems like distant history now. Pittsburgh's success has been spotty. The team made the playoffs six times in the 1970s, which was one more time than all of their previous history. I thought the Pirates’ group was fairly straightforward, but there’s certainly room for argument. It’s clear there isn’t a strong pitching history in Pittsburgh.
The greatest Pirate on and off the field. Clemente doubled off Jon Matlack of the Mets for his 3,000th hit in what would be the final regular season plate appearance of his career. In addition to his MVP in 1966 and his three batting titles, he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves.
The Hall of Fame shortstop was just 33 hits shy of 3,000 for the Pirates in 2,433 games. Wagner was the first baseball hero in the city of Pittsburgh starring for the Bucs from 1900 -17.
From 1926-40, Big Poison forged a Hall of Fame career in Pittsburgh with a .340 batting average for the Pirates. He scored 1,493 runs and drove in 1,177 while with the team and amassed 2,868 of his 3,152 career hits.
Pops was the inspirational leader of the “We are Family” group that won the 1979 World Series, as well as the leader on the field, batting .415 with five home runs in the 10 postseason games. He also shared the NL MVP award that season with Keith Hernandez and was instrumental in the 1971 championship as well. From 1971-73 Stargell was in the top three in MVP voting and averaged .296-42-119.
Max Carey played in Pittsburgh for 17 seasons during the Dead Ball Era and had more than 2,400 hits for the Pirates with 688 stolen bases, leading the NL 10 times.
A well-timed home run in 1960 made Bill Mazeroski a legend as did his steady work around the bag at second. The argument over whether he truly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame will be reserved for another day.
For such an historic franchise, the Pirates are short on Mt. Rushmore-worthy pitchers. Wilbur Cooper, winner of 202 games with the team, is the closest pitcher — but not a serious threat to the honorees.
Hall of Fame shortstop Arky Vaughan played just 10 years with the Pirates, but would be a strong candidate to have his likeness carved into the mountain for many franchises. For Pittsburgh, he’s merely the second-best shortstop.
From 1946-52, his first seven seasons in the majors, Ralph Kiner led the NL in home runs each year (sharing the title on three occasions), averaging 42 long balls a season.
When Pie Traynor was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1948, All Simmons, Charlie Gehringer and Jimmie Foxx were among those not elected at that time.
Few current Pittsburgh fans know much about Carey, Traynor, Cooper, Vaughan and even Kiner. But all remember Dave Parker. The Cobra spent just 11 years in Pittsburgh but won the NL MVP in 1978 after finishing third in 1975 and ’77.
Best Current Player
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is now the face of the franchise. The perennial MVP candidate should go down in history as one of the all-time greats in the Steel City.
Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
Baltimore Orioles Mt. Rushmore
Born as the Milwaukee Brewers in 1901, the franchise moved to St. Louis as the Browns in 1902 and has been in Baltimore since 1954. The successful portion has been in Baltimore. Over 52 seasons in St. Louis, there were only 12 winning seasons and eight painful 100-loss years.
I suspect there may be as little debate over these selections as with any team.
It could be argued that Ripken may even be on the MLB Mt. Rushmore. Not so much for his performance — although his numbers are Hall of Fame worthy — but for what he meant to the game at a time baseball needed something spectacular. After the debacle of wiping out the 1994 postseason, Ripken captivated fans all over with his tendency to show up and play every day.
I can’t imagine a third baseman winning 16 consecutive Gold Glove awards. While that may not be an acceptable way to measure defensive greatness, it does mean some measure of respect among peers. He could also hit. Brooks finished in the top 3 in MVP voting four times, winning the award in 1964.
Many women may remember Palmer for his famous Jockey underwear ads, but he was the definition of ace. He won 20 games for the Orioles in eight of nine seasons, missing only an injury-marred 1974 season. He tossed a shutout in the World Series as a 20-year-old facing Sandy Koufax in 1966, and went on to win World Series games in the next two decades.
He was quiet and steady. For five consecutive seasons from 1981-85, Murray finished in the top 5 for the MVP award, but never winning it. Only Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Murray can claim 3,000 hits, 500 home runs and 1,900 RBIs.
There really is little argument here. Frank Robinson is a name that will come up immediately. He won an MVP, triple crown and was part of four pennants and two World Series champions. But his time and production in Baltimore just don’t measure up to the others.
Earl Weaver deserves mention, for sure. He led the O’s to six division titles, four pennants, two World Series championships and won 100 games on five occasions.
The best the St. Louis era can offer is George Sisler. Gorgeous George hit .344 and racked up 2,295 hits in 1,647 games that spanned 12 seasons with the Browns.
Best Current Player
In order for another player to earn his way onto this quartet, he would have to be a Hall of Famer and lifer in Baltimore. Manny Machado is really the only current Oriole with any chance.
Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
Chicago Cubs Mt. Rushmore
The Chicago Cubs haven’t had much to crow about since, well, for a long time. More than 100 years, and we’ll leave it at that. So the number of great Hall of Fame players is not what you would think for a franchise that’s been around this long.
Anyone with the nickname Mr. Cub must be included, right? Banks played in more than 2,500 games and had more than 2,500 hits — all with the Cubs. He also had 512 home runs, most of them as a shortstop.
Most of the Wrigley faithful are thinking, “Who?” But Anson had 3,012 hits for the Cubbies, although 1,000 of them came before Grover Cleveland’s first administration.
The arguments begin to get a bit dicey at this point. Williams teamed with Banks for most of 2,500 games and is ranked in the top four in many all-time categories.
Perhaps known more for his defense than offense as a player, Santo ranks as the second best offensive player in team history behind Anson (according the Baseball-Reference.com WAR stats). Santo was a Cub through and through as a player and later as a broadcaster.
Most New Age Cubs fans probably want to chisel Ryne Sandberg’s face on the mountain rather than cut through the ivy hiding Anson’s. Granted, Sandberg’s career numbers stack up well versus Santo’s. But the gutsy Santo was a gritty player who would do anything to help his team. It's unfortunate he played prior to the WGN Era, which launched Sandberg's popularity.
That same group of fans would also like to see Mark Grace’s image as well. The first baseman lacked power and isn’t in the top 10 in slugging.
Most fans today would mention Fergie Jenkins as the top pitcher, but Charlie Root had 201 wins for the Cubs, 34 more than Hall of Famer Jenkins. It was difficult leaving both of them off the list.
Best Current Player
With the club in full rebuild mode, there don't appear to be any threats at the big league level. With a serious approach-to-the-game attitude adjustment — and maybe a postseason appearance or two — shortstop Starlin Castro could rival any player in team history, yes, even Banks. But the necessary transformation isn't likely to happen.
Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:
MLB Mt. Rushmores
by Charlie Miller
Atlanta Braves Mt. Rushmore
No argument here. He hit 733 home runs as a Brave, the most of any player for a single team. He scored 2,107 runs, had 3,600 hits and 600 doubles. This is as unanimous as you will find with any selection for any team.
Maybe not quite as much of a lock as Aaron, but close since 356 of his 363 wins came in a Braves uniform. As good as Atlanta's pitching was in the 1990s, Spahn still stands high above other starters.
The arguments begin with the second and third heads etched in the mountain. From first overall draft pick to Hall of Famer, Jones has spent his entire professional life dedicated to this franchise. He proved himself as a leader over his last few seasons, and from a stats perspective, he has few peers. Since 1961 (Expansion Era), only seven other players have 450 homers, 2,700 hits, 1,600 runs and 1,600 RBIs. And of those, only Chipper can claim a .300 batting average (.303).
There’s too much pitching history for the other player not to be a pitcher. Smoltz has been closer to being Mr. Brave than his pitching cohorts (and Hall of Famers) Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. Smoltzie has 16 more wins as a Brave than Maddux and 34 fewer than Glavine. But I think his 154 saves more than make up for that. (And Smoltz didn’t succumb to the players’ union and cross over to the hated Mets for more cash.)
Eddie Mathews is the only player to suit up for the franchise in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. And he hit 493 home runs with the team. But Jones bests Mathews in every offensive category but home runs and triples.
Greg Maddux was generally considered the ace when he pitched alongside Tom Glavine and Smoltz, but Maddux won less than 200 games for Atlanta, fewer than either of his fellow aces. Glavine, with a Cy Young award and 244 wins, was difficult to omit.
Longtime Brave Phil Niekro won 268 games, and his career spanned the division winners in 1969-70 and 1982.
I would also submit Bobby Cox’s name for consideration. The general manager/manager turned around a floundering franchise, both with personnel moves and day-to-day moves in the dugout for 20+ seasons in addition to his first four-year stint with the team.
Fans all over the South who fell in love with the Braves in the 1980s thanks to the Superstation TBS, would lobby hard for Dale Murphy. A terrific player and an outstanding man, Murph falls short for this franchise.
Kid Nichols won 329 games, but 297 of those came prior to 1900, so few fans can relate to that.
Best Current Player
Recently the club made long-term committments to both first baseman Freddie Freeman and closer Craig Kimbrel. They are the most viable candidates to play their way into the disccussion. But this is a tough mountain to climb.
Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:
by Charlie Miller
Asserting that baseball's All-Star Week must be overhauled presumes that something is amiss with the current setup. While the All-Star festivities as they currently exist leave much to be desired for me personally, I don’t believe the situation is dire by any means, like say, with the Pro Bowl. Not even close. But here’s how I would dismantle the current system with five purposes in mind: enjoyment and engagement of the fans, fun for players, maintaining a TV spectacle, revenue for the league and protecting players for the purposes of guarding the integrity of the regular season.
First of all, in order to execute recommended changes, we need four days. So, take a four-day break. Many teams already get Thursday off, so give all teams that extra day. This is not a huge departure, so there should be little opposition.
Hold two Futures Games. One for lower-level prospects, say, Rookie League and Single A; one for higher level players, more like AA, AAA. Fans would be treated to two fabulous games and get a glimpse into the future of the sport. One game would basically be 18- to 21-year-olds with enormous talent still finding their way in pro ball. A second game would feature more mature players closer to the big leagues. Players would be eager to play, and the risk/fear of injury would be no more than regular season minor league games. These players would be on a national stage trying to prove themselves in front of scouts, executives, managers, peers and fans. This would satisfy all five criteria outlined above.
Trim All-Star rosters to 25. This is not Little League where every player gets a trophy and everyone gets to be an All-Star. Being an All-Star should mean something. But having 84 players claiming All-Star status waters down those truly deserving. And 15 years from now when we’re voting for the Hall of Fame, seeing that Scott Rolen is a seven-time All-Star makes that criteria sketchy (not that too many voters look at that anyway, but it could make a difference). In the Rolen example, I would submit that in his previous six All-Star appearances, he was worthy five times. He was voted onto the team by the fans in 2005, so we’ll count that. But he’s hitting .241 with a .276 OBP this season. And he’s probably fifth in the pecking order at his position. Yet, now we must call him a 2011 All-Star.
Why do we need 13 pitchers? How many times in real life would a team use 13 pitchers in a game? Even preserving pitchers’ arms should be no reason to use 13 pitchers save an extended extra-inning game. Here’s how the new scenario would work: The starting pitcher goes three innings, two more starters go two innings each, have four closers, at least one from each side, to close out the final two innings. This idea would have managers gameplanning to use seven pitchers under normal circumstances. Now add two emergency starters and two setup/specialist relievers. That’s 11 total. Generally fans can expect to see seven to nine pitchers from each team. The two emergency starters and two or three relievers probably would not get in the game. But, hey, this is the majors, not everybody gets to play. This gives managers legitimate options to play matchups and actually manage for the sake of winning as opposed to managing to get every pitcher in the game. I probably don’t have to remind fans who witnessed the 2002 game why I’m suggesting two emergency starters. But, by all means, I would have position players pitch before calling the game a tie. I just don’t see how any of this really compromises the players’ regular season. And the upside is huge.
This leaves 14 position players, which means only six backups. How that is configured is up to the manager, but this allows for the top players to play the entire game. If Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Ken Griffey Jr. could do it, then so can Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano, Matt Kemp and others. Fans would love that. TV would love that. And really, would that cost those guys a regular season game? If so, then don’t show up, but another change I would make is that only players who show and are ACTIVE are credited with being All-Stars. If you’re not available to play for whatever reason, you can’t carry the name All-Star with you.
Two rules I like are having every team represented. There are only a few instances every 10 years or so that an undeserving player makes the team in order to satisfy this rule. Keeping the rule that allows a catcher to re-enter would also be a good thing.
Host a good old-fashioned Old-timers Game. Forget softball, fans want to see Ozzie Smith, Fred Lynn, Rollie Fingers and Ricky Henderson play a real game. Who can forget the moment when Luke Appling, at age 75, blasted a home run in an old-timers All-Star Game off Warren Spahn in 1982. This would keep the history of the game alive, connect former players with current players and boost the pension fund. Play seven innings with younger guys playing the first few innings and have cameos by older guys later in the game.
Incorporate a few more skills competitions. I know since Barry Larkin blew out his elbow, this has been taboo, but I’d watch Michael Bourn and Nyjer Morgan race around the bases, or from home to first or first to third.
Maybe incorporate more players in home run derby. I don’t have the answers yet, but maybe its having three All-Star outfielders in play and outs are only recorded for foul balls, balls that don’t reach the grass in the air, or are caught by the outfielders. Wouldn’t this be much better than watching kids stumble all over themselves and not making any catches?...Maybe there could be a competition that has hitters of one team try to hit ground balls – not line drives – by infielders of the opposing team….Dare we pit pitchers against a radar gun? Or maybe pitchers should throw to small targets around the plate. Hockey seems to make that work for shooters. Let's get creative here.
Shorten the HR Derby. Not that I'm a fan anyway, but 10 outs is a lot per round. Put outfielders in play and give hitters five outs. Let’s move this along. Adrian Gonzalez waiting an hour and 45 minutes to hit his second time is probably not a good idea. Plus I’d love to see outfielders robbing home runs during the derby. That makes it even more of a team thing.
Monday: HR Derby, Skills competition, Celebrity BS
Tuesday: Futures Games – Doubleheader
Wednesday: All-Star Game
Thursday: Old-timers Game, to include HR Derby and skills competition
Am I the only one?
The voting is in and MLB has tallied up America’s wishes for the starting lineups for the All-Star Game next week. Managers Bruce Bochy of the Giants and Ron Washington of the Rangers have selected their reserves.
While fans clearly see this as a popularity lineup (despite Bud Selig’s attempt to convince us otherwise with the whole World Series home-field shenanigans), not a real All-Star lineup, we seldom agree with the voting results. And, we can’t say that we always agree with the managers either.
We like to select teams that would give us the best chances of winning a real game in view of this season’s performance. We think that should be what an All-Star Game is about.
So, here are Athlon Sports All-Star teams for 2011 — based on production, not reputation.
These are 34-man rosters with every team represented. And we like to emulate real teams as much as possible so we have setup men and closers in the bullpen.
(Stats are current through July 3.)
Starters and batting order
SS Jose Reyes, New York
Maybe the biggest no-brainer in either league, Reyes leads the NL with a .351 average and leads shortstops in most every major category expect RBIs. His 120 hits and 65 runs are dominant.
CF Matt Kemp, Los Angeles
Currently in the top three in all triple crown categories, Kemp leads the discussion for MVP honors. His defensive focus has been renewed this season as well.
LF Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
Among players with enough at-bats to qualify, Braun leads leftfielders in OPS and average. Braun easily leads leftfielders in hits, home runs, RBIs, runs and even stolen bases.
1B Prince Fielder, Milwaukee
The MVP candidate is leading the NL in RBIs and is just one off the pace in home runs. He’s third in OPS and is batting .296.
DH Matt Holliday, St. Louis
Falling just shy of enough plate appearances to qualify, Holliday is a tad higher than Braun in average and OPS, but way short in homers, ribbies and runs.
RF Lance Berkman, St. Louis
The Yankees declined a $15 million option on Berkman, who is still in the MVP talk this season. He’s moved to first base in Albert Pujols’ absence, but spent most of the season in right field. He has 58 RBIs and a .999 OPS.
C Brian McCann, Atlanta
Clearly deserving to start this season, not because he was the hero last the 2010 game, but because he leads NL catchers in home runs (14), RBIs (47) and OPS (.907).
2B Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee
Leads NL second basemen with an .839 OPS and 57 runs.
3B Placido Polanco, Philadelphia
Polanco is third in most offensive categories, but he has been the catalyst for the NL’s best team all season. He’s hit second, third and fifth in the lineup. The former Gold Glove second baseman will also serve as out utility man off the bench.
C Miguel Montero, Arizona
The rising Arizona star leads NL catchers with 21 doubles and 37 runs.
1B Todd Helton, Colorado
Recently played in his 2,000th game as a member of the Rockies. Enjoying a fine comeback season that has been relatively injury-free.
1B Joey Votto, Cincinnati
Tough to leave the reigning MVP off the team, especially when he’s been hitting over .300 all season and has reached base via hit or walk in all but seven starts through June.
2B Brandon Phillips, Cincinnati
Phillips has scored 52 and driven home 45. His Gold Glove defense would come in handy late in a close game.
3B Aramis Ramirez, Chicago
In a down year for NL third basemen, Placido Polanco, Chipper Jones and Chase Headley all received attention. Ramirez owns the best OPS at the position and is second in runs, RBIs and average.
3B Chipper Jones, Atlanta
Okay, a) this is a sentimental pick in Jones’ finals season; b) it gives the NL a second third baseman if Polanco is the backup at second, and; c) Jones has been clutch, hitting .409 with runners in scoring position.
SS Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
Leads NL shortstops with 50 ribbies and plays spectacular defense, but falls way short of Reyes.
SS Starlin Castro, Chicago
The youngster should have many All-Star appearances — and even starts — in his career, but for now he’s a pinch-runner and may get in an inning on defense.
OF Mike Stanton, Florida
The Marlins’ representative is the young Stanton, who leads the team in home runs and tied with Gaby Sanchez for the team lead in RBIs and OPS.
OF Andre Ethier, Los Angeles
He had a torrid April that included a 30-game hitting streak, and leads rightfielders with a .320 average.
OF Hunter Pence, Houston
Pence is hitting .318 and we must have an Astro on the team.
OF Justin Upton, Arizona
The home fans should enjoy watching the rising star and offensive leader of the Diamondbacks
SP Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta
His recent 1-hit shutout of Baltimore cemented his position as our starter. He’s 11-3 with a 1.89 ERA after 15 starts.
SP Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
The steady perennial Cy Young candidate has completed 15 of his first 51 starts with the Phillies. He’s 11-3 this season and his 2.44 ERA is second in the senior circuit.
SP Cole Hamels, Philadelphia
He may get third billing on his own team behind Halladay and Cliff Lee, but Hamels has a 0.94 WHIP with 110 whiffs in 116 innings.
SP Cliff Lee, Philadelphia
Could manager Bruce Bochy just run out Philadelphia pitchers for the entire game? Yes, and would probably do quite well. Prior to his loss to Toronto on Sunday, Lee tossed three complete game shutouts in which he allowed just 10 hits and five walks. In 42 innings in June, he gave up one run (0.21 ERA).
SP Tommy Hanson, Atlanta
Hanson is fourth in the league with a 2.62 ERA.
SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
With a borderline ERA at 3.23, Kershaw is fourth in the league with a 1.06 WHIP and leads the senior circuit with 138 Ks.
SP Ryan Vogelsong, San Francisco
Vogelsong — not Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain or Madison Bumgarner — has been the most consistent starter this season. He leads the Giants with a 2.13 ERA (0.2 shy of enough innings to qualify for the league lead) and Cain is his only teammate with a better WHIP.
SU Tyler Clippard, Washington
The league leader in holds, Clippard has 57 strikeouts and has 40 hits plus walks in his 46 innings.
SU Jonny Venters, Atlanta
Venters would be the key lefty in our pen. He has dominated over 51 innings with 54 whiffs and has allowed just 48 hits and walks.
CL Joel Hanrahan, Pittsburgh
The Pirates’ closer has been perfect in 24 save chances and has a 0.97 WHIP.
CL Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta
No National League rookie has ever recorded 20 saves prior to the All-Star break. Kimbrel has 24 and counting. He sports an impressive 1.12 WHIP.
CL Heath Bell, San Diego
Bell has blown just one opportunity this season and saved 24 games. This may be his last All-Star appearance in a San Diego uniform.
CL Huston Street, Colorado
Tied for the league lead in saves, Street has blown just two and even has one hold.
Athlon's 2011 All-Star Game Snubs
1. Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay
A master with youngsters and at convincing players to believe in themselves and their team.
2. Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels
His teams are aggressive and will play the game at a high intensity. Not afraid to make mistakes.
3. Bruce Bochy, San Francisco
Has an old-fashioned, gut-it-out style and teams that take on that persona. Can win with less.
4. Terry Francona, Boston
Proven he can lead good teams; had trouble motivating teams with less talent.
5. Tony La Russa, St. Louis
Rubs just enough players the wrong way not to be higher on the list. But he wins.
6. Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia
Won’t wow anyone in an interview, but his players always play hard for him.
7. Jim Leyland, Detroit
Old-school baseball leader will protect his players to no end. Guys always know where they stand with him.
8. Rod Gardenhire, Minnesota
Well versed in the “Minnesota Twins Way” dating back to Tom Kelly. Good fundamentals and few mental mistakes — not talent — are hallmarks of his teams.
9. Bud Black, San Diego
Has proven he can win with low expectations.
10. Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
Still learning and finding out that winning in New York isn’t as easy as Joe Torre made it look.
11. Dusty Baker, Cincinnati
Good winning track record, but not exactly a pitcher’s manager.
12. Buck Showalter, Baltimore
Buck does things Buck’s way. Has prepared teams to be winners, but never actually managed his own winner.
13. Ron Washington, Texas
Rocky start in Texas, but proved he could take a team to the Series last season.
14. Ozzie Guillen, Chicago White Sox
Never know what you’re get with Ozzie. Sometimes good; sometimes bad. Mostly good.
15. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh
Maybe the best fit in Pittsburgh since Jim Leyland.
16. Jim Tracy, Colorado
Calm, stoic and in need of good players.
17. Kirk Gibson, Arizona
Too early to tell, but indications point to a bright future at the helm.
18. Ned Yost, Kansas City
Got a raw deal in Milwaukee; needs to be given time in K.C. (just like the young players).
19. Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee
The jury hasn’t even begun to deliberate, but we like his pedigree and the fact that the Brew Crew is winning.
20. Manny Acta, Cleveland
Has enjoyed short-term success in Washington and now Cleveland; most teams prefer long-term success.
21. Jim Riggleman, Washington
Always says yes to jobs, but rarely No. 1 on teams’ lists.
22. Edwin Rodriguez, Florida
Players seem to respect coaches and front office more than E-Rod.
23. Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta
Popular choice to succeed Bobby Cox in Atlanta, but didn’t exactly prove himself in Florida.
24. Eric Wedge, Seattle
May not be given many more chances.
25. John Farrell, Toronto
Much like most of Toronto’s team: Unknown.
26. Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers
Very little about the Dodgers has improved under his watch; then again, the organization is in turmoil from the top down.
27. Mike Quade, Chicago Cubs
Probably won’t be in uniform much longer.
28. Brad Mills, Houston
Will probably suffer same fate as most managers with mediocre players.
29. Terry Collins, New York Mets
Not a good fit in Anaheim or Houston. Certainly not in New York.
30. Bob Melvin, Oakland
Midseason fill-in trying to earn a job in 2012.
With the 2011 Major League Draft final, let’s take a look back through history at the top picks at each slot 1-50. There are some Hall of Famers on the list, but some had to be left out. And there are a few slots that make you scratch your head and ask, “Who’s that guy?”
Dennis Eckersley, Cleveland, 1972
Became a Hall of Fame closer with Oakland after a 150-win career as a starter. The Indians received Bo Diaz and Rick Wise from Boston among others for Eck in a 1978 trade.
Carlos Beltran, Kansas City, 1995
Rookie of the Year for the Royals; too bad they couldn’t afford to keep him.
Cal Ripken, Baltimore, 1978
Seven shortstops were drafted ahead of Cal in 1978, including Buddy Biancalana, Lenny Faedo and Rex Hudler. Evidently, the Orioles thought more of Robert Boyce, Larry Sheets and Edwin Hook, who were drafted ahead of the Iron Man.
Tom Glavine, Atlanta, 1984
Five high school hurlers were selected ahead of Glavine, including Greg Maddux. Glavine wore his draft slot number on his back for 305 major league wins with the Braves and Mets. An Atlanta legend.
Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia, 1995
Two years before taking Rollins at No. 46, the Phillies grabbed Scott Rolen with the same number. Give Rollins the edge here due to loyalty to the franchise. He has meant more to the Phillies than Rolen. The Brewers nabbed Yovani Gallardo here in 2004. He may replace Rollins on this list someday.
Tom Gorzelanny, Pittsburgh, 2003
So, what did you expect? Gerald Laird? Jed Lowrie? You find a better guy.
Joey Votto, Cincinnati, 2002
There were no good options at No. 44 until Votto showed up in 2002. He rewarded the Reds with an MVP in 2010 and likely will win another.
Bob Knepper, San Francisco, 1972
Knepper won 47 games for the Giants before being traded to Houston for Enos Cabell. I guess the Giants wish they had taken Eckersley with this pick, you think?
Dennis Leonard, Kansas City, 1972
As tempting as it was to put Mookie Wilson here, we just couldn’t ignore Leonard’s 144 wins for the Royals during their glory years in 1970s. The three-time 20-game winner played his entire career in Kansas City.
Fred Lynn, Boston, 1973
Two years later, the former USC star would be named Rookie of the Year and MVP for the AL champion Red Sox. Oddly enough, every season from 1980 until his retirement after 1990, Lynn hit below his career average.
Huston Street, Oakland, 2004
Street earned the 2005 Rookie of the Year award. He was traded with Carlos Gonzalez for Matt Holliday after the 2008 season. How’d that work out for ya, Oakland?.
Don Baylor, Baltimore, 1967
Baylor played 511 games over six seasons with Baltimore, getting some MVP votes in 1975. He was then a part of six-player deal just prior to the start of the 1976 season that brought Reggie Jackson to Baltimore. Baylor was named MVP in 1979 with the Angels.
David Wright, New York Mets, 2001
Of the 37 players drafted ahead of Wright, 14 have yet to see time in the big leagues. His 175 home runs and 682 RBIs are second to Mark Teixeira’s 293-947 among players drafted in ’01.
Frank Viola, Minnesota, 1981
Sweet music won a Cy Young in 1987, helping the Twins to the World Series championship. Mike Scott won a Cy Young in 1986 helping the Astros to the playoffs. Adam Jones of Baltimore may trump both in a few years.
Johnny Bench, Cincinnati, 1965
In the first draft ever, the Reds called Bench’s name in the second round. Bench holds the distinction of being the first Hall of Famer drafted. Among the seven catchers selected ahead of Bench were Ray Fosse, Gene Lamont and Ken Rudolph. Twenty years later the Montreal Expos would call Randy Johnson’s name at No. 36.
Johnny Damon, Kansas City, 1992
Economics lesson: In six seasons with the Royals, Damon played in 803 games, scored 504 runs and racked up 894 hits and made a total of $7,089,000. In one season with Oakland he played in 155 games, scored 108 runs, with 165 hits, and made $7,100,000.
Mark Gubicza, Kansas City, 1981
Gubicza won 14 games for the 1985 champion Royals and won 20 in 1988. After making 327 starts for Kansas City he ended his career with two forgettable starts for the Anaheim Angels in 1997.
Dave Burba, Seattle, 1987
Somehow Burba managed to win 115 and lose only 87. That seems better than Milt Wilcox’s 119-113 career record. Those were the best choices.
Dave Magadan, New York Mets, 1983
Magadan made history with eight consecutive hits to begin the College World Series. Actually received some MVP votes in 1990 after hitting .328 for the Mets.
Greg Maddux, Chicago Cubs, 1984
Perhaps the best pitcher of his generation, the Professor won 355 games and logged more than 5,000 innings. He won four consecutive Cy Young awards from 1992-95, and finished in the top five another five times.
Mike Schmidt, Philadelphia, 1971
The Hall of Famer hit 548 home runs for the Phillies with three MVP awards over an 18-year career. He anchored a lineup that won five division titles, two pennants and the 1980 World Series.
George Brett, Kansas City, 1971
Two Hall of Fame third basemen were drafted back-to-back in 1971. Brett is Mr. Royal — with three batting titles, 3,154 hits and a .305 lifetime average. He was the heart and soul of the best teams in franchise history.
Lee Smith, Chicago Cubs, 1975
Smith made closing look excruciating and painful, but he mastered it to the tune of 478 career saves. He had just 180 saves for the Cubs before a trade to the Red Sox for Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi.
Vida Blue, Kansas City Athletics, 1967
Of his 209 career wins, 124 of them came with the A’s. He was named MVP and Cy Young winner in 1971 and was a mainstay in the rotation that won three straight World Series titles from 1972-74.
Alan Trammell, Detroit, 1976
Two shortstops were selected ahead of Trammell in 1976. Neither reached the major leagues. Trammell played 2,293 games, all for the Tigers. He hit .419 in the 1984 postseason with three home runs, nine RBIs and seven runs in eight games.
Bill Buckner, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1968
Forget about the error and remember the 2,715 hits over a stellar 22-year career. Buckner had 837 hits in 773 games for the Dodgers prior to being traded to the Cubs in a deal that brought the Dodgers Rick Monday, the first player ever drafted in 1965. Buckner was then dealt to the Red Sox in a trade for Dennis Eckersley.
Terry Mulholland, San Francisco, 1984
Mulholland played for 11 different teams in a 20-year career that lasted until he was 43. He went from front-line starter to lefty specialist. I suspect Chad Billingsley will make this list here by 2015.
Mo Vaughn, Boston, 1989
Mo was one of the most feared hitters in the American League for a short period of time. Owns an MVP and was a member of three All-Star teams. Jacoby Ellsbury is right on his heels.
Craig Biggio, Houston, 1987
Two years earlier the Cubs drafted Rafael Palmeiro in this slot, and although Palmeiro has huge numbers, he wasn’t half the gamer that Biggio was. Biggio made the All-Star team as a catcher and second baseman, and owns 3,060 hits, 668 of them doubles.
Rick Sutcliffe, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1974
After winning Rookie of the Year with a 17-10 mark for the Dodgers in 1979, two years later Sutcliffe was dealt to the Indians for Jack Fimple, Jorge Orta and Larry White. Oops. He later won a Cy Young with the 1984 Cubs.
Mike Mussina, Baltimore, 1990
Mussina narrowly missed winning 20 games five times before accomplishing that feat in his 18th and final season. He rewarded the Orioles with a 147-81 mark over 10 seasons, then dissed them by signing a huge deal with the Yankees. He made 21 postseason starts, but never won a ring.
Roger Clemens, Boston, 1983
However tainted you may believe Clemens’ record is, he won seven Cy Young awards, an MVP, finished third in Cy Young voting another three times. He retired with 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, 46 shutouts and a 3.12 ERA. In 34 postseason starts, he was 12-8, including 3-0 in eight World Series starts.
Willie Wilson, Kansas City, 1974
The New York Mets are certainly rooting for Ike Davis to take over this slot one day, but for now it’s Wilson. The speedy center fielder stole 521 bases from 1978-87. He owns a batting title and finished fourth in MVP voting in 1980. At age 36, he stole seven bags in a six-game ALCS against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Roy Halladay, Toronto, 1995
Drafted in the same slot as Phillies teammate Cole Hamels, Halladay is among the career leaders for active pitchers in several categories. He owns two Cy Young awards and has finished in the top 5 another four times. His average season since 2002 is 16-7 with a 3.02 ERA.
Lance Berkman, Houston, 1997
A Texan through and through, Houston made the former Rice star the No. 16 pick in 1997 and promoted him to the big leagues in July 1999. Enjoying a resurgence with St. Louis this season, the five-time All-Star has a lifetime .410 on-base percentage.
Jim Rice, Boston, 1971
Between 1975-86, the consistent Rice averaged .307-31-110 with 95 runs (excluding the strike-shortened 1981 season). He won just one MVP, but was in the top 5 six times. In 1978 he had 406 total bases.
Don Gullett, Cincinnati, 1969
For whatever reason, the No. 14 slot isn’t very strong. Lots of above average candidates, but no Hall of Famers. Tino Martinez, Tom Brunansky, Derrek Lee, Jason Varitek, Jeff Weaver and Jason Heyward made the short list. But Gullet enjoyed the most success with his original team. He was the ace of the Big Red Machine in 1975-76 before signing with the Yankees as part of the first-ever free agent class in 1977. He appeared in four World Series with the Reds, the first at age 19 in 1970.
Manny Ramirez, Cleveland, 1991
Before “Manny Being Manny” became popular, Ramirez played eight seasons with the Cleveland Indians, hitting 236 home runs with 804 RBIs. He never won an MVP, but finished in the top 10 for eight consecutive seasons.
Kirk Gibson, Detroit, 1978
The former Michigan State star receiver was drafted into baseball by his home-state team. In 12 seasons with the Tigers, he hit 195 home runs and batted .273. But stats don’t show the impact that Gibson had on his teams. He won the 1988 NL MVP with modest numbers (.290-25-76). Billy Wagner, Nomar Garciaparra and Jay Bruce received consideration here as well.
Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh, 2005
Until McCutchen was drafted, Greg Luzinski (aka The Bull) was the best here. McCutchen is the centerpiece around which the Pirates are rebuilding.
Mark McGwire, Oakland, 1984
Although it’s unfortunate that Big Mac has become synonymous with the Steroid Era, it’s difficult to ignore his 583 homers, 363 of which came in an Oakland uniform.
Kevin Appier, Kansas City, 1987
The righthander spent 13 of his 16 seasons with the Royals, with whom he earned 115 of his 169 wins. He logged more than 200 innings eight times, and had 10 seasons of double-digit wins.
Todd Helton, Colorado, 1995
The former backup to Peyton Manning and closer at the University of Tennessee, Helton has become the face of the Colorado franchise. He is Mr. Rocky.
Frank Thomas, Chicago White Sox, 1989
The Big Hurt terrorized American League pitchers for 16 seasons in a White Sox uniform. He made his major league debut 14 months after being drafted, then played eight seasons before posting his first sub-.300 batting average. He had back-to-back MVPs in 1993 and ’94, and finished his career with 521 home runs, 1,704 RBIs and 1,494 runs.
Barry Bonds, Pittsburgh, 1985
Two of the greatest stars of this generation (Bonds and Derek Jeter) share this slot. Bonds’ numbers are absolutely off the charts (as is his hat size). Seven MVPs — four consecutive — 2,558 walks, 762 home runs and 2,227 runs. He was walked intentionally 120 times in one season. And in his pre-bulked-up days, he won eight Gold Gloves and stole more than 500 bases.
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee, 2005
Mark Teixeira, Dale Murphy and Dwight Gooden all have strong cases, but Braun has become the face of a franchise and is committed to Milwaukee through 2020.
Dave Winfield, San Diego, 1973
Winfield made his major league debut a few weeks after the draft and 3,110 hits, 465 home runs and 1,833 RBIs later he’s in the Hall of Fame. In seven full seasons in San Diego prior to bolting for New York via free agency (when have we heard that before), he averaged .284-22-88 with 19 stolen bases.
Robin Yount, Milwaukee, 1973
Four years later the Brewers drafted another shortstop in the third slot, and fellow Hall of Famer Paul Molitor became a teammate of Yount’s for 15 years in Milwaukee. During their time together, the two combined for 4,736 hits. Yount gets the nod with two MVPs and spending his entire career with the team that drafted him.
Reggie Jackson, Kansas City Athletics, 1966
Jackson owns four home run titles and five strikeout titles, but Mr. October electrified crowds in Oakland, New York and L.A. He was at his best when the lights were the brightest. In 27 World Series games, he batted .357 with 10 home runs. Just what were the Mets thinking with Steve Chilcott at No. 1?
Alex Rodriguez, Seattle, 1993
As tempting as it was to go with Ken Griffey Jr., who energized baseball fans in Seattle; or Chipper Jones, who has spent his entire career with the Atlanta Braves, and most of those seasons in the postseason; the best overall player is Rodriguez. And there is no argument here. A-Rod is among the best to ever play the game.
Well, there you have the best players drafted at each lot, 1-50. In case you’re wondering which team seemed to be the best at spotting talent over the last 47 years, the Kansas City Royals placed seven players on this list. But of course, that is far from a reliable evaluation given that the Giants get credit fro drafting Bob Knepper and the Brewers get no credit for Paul Molitor when counting from this list.
For what it’s worth, the Yankees, Cardinals, Angels and Rangers — franchises that participated in all 47 drafts — did not show up at all. Thurman Munson at No. 4 (Yankees), Ted Simmons at No. 10 (Cardinals), Frank Tanana at No. 13 (Angels) and Mark Teixeira at No. 5 (Rangers) were close calls.
Every year at draft time, we are reminded just how inexact the science of projecting major league really is. Mike Piazza was drafted in the 62 round by the Los Angels Dodgers, presumably as a favor to Tom Lasorda. Wasn’t there a scout somewhere that saw something in Piazza that looked like a potential major leaguer? Keith Hernandez was drafted in the 42nd round back in 1971.
And most baseball fans know that Albert Pujols was drafted in the 13th round (402nd overall) in 1999. So for all the players drafted outside the first few televised rounds of the MLB draft, take heart. The 13th can be a lucky number. In every year of the draft save 1975, some player drafted in the 13th round has reached the majors. Here’s our Top 13th Round Draft picks of All-time. Only players who signed the year they were drafted in the 13th round are included.
1. Albert Pujols, St. Louis, 1999
2. Jim Thome, Cleveland, 1989
3. Steve Finley, Baltimore, 1987
4. Jack Clark, San Francisco, 1973
5. Juan Pierre, Colorado, 1998
6. Lenny Dykstra, New York Mets, 1981
7. Jason Bartlett, San Diego, 2001
8. Matt Lawton, Minnesota, 1991
9. Rod Beck, Oakland, 1986
10. Danny Cox, St. Louis, 1981
11. Mike Stanton, Atlanta, 1987
12. Troy O’Leary, Milwaukee, 1987
Jorge Posada is batting .165. He’s a DH. Of the 13 DHs in the American League with enough plate appearances to qualify, he’s 13th in average and on-base, 10th in slugging and 12th in OPS. Has he earned the respect of fans and teammates? Absolutely. Has he earned the right to be given the benefit of a doubt by his manager? I think so. Does Posada deserve for his manager to come and talk to him about his role? Yes. But should Posada expect to determine his own place in the batting order? No way.
Judging by his reception when announced as a pinch hitter the other night, Yankee fans are obviously proud of what Posada has done for the past 15 years. And they should be. He’s earned that.
But Joe Girardi is paid to give his team the best opportunity to win the American League East division. It’s a tough division, and the Yankees can’t afford to give away games. This team needs more from its DH than a .165 batting average.
I understand that Girardi has few options right now. With Eric Chavez injured and Andruw Jones hitting a whopping .220, it’s not like he has a clear decision. But the point is that the Yankees lineup is Girardi’s decision.
About this time last season, there was an aging DH in the American League whose average had dropped to .200. He was benched, and over the last 20 days of May, he had just 21 plate appearances. That was future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, who recognized his role, didn’t complain and soon retired.
Now I’m not suggesting that it’s time for Posada to retire. He seems to have a fire that Griffey had lost by the time he returned to Seattle, not to mention better skills at this point. Clearly, what Posada has accomplished for the Yankees since 1997 has earned him a special place in the game. But it has not earned him the right to decide when and where he plays.
By Bruce Herman
April 15, 2011
Close-Up on Closers
Tony LaRussa says if chooses to go another way from Ryan Franklin, who’s blown three saves in four appearances, the way he’ll go is Miguel Batista, who has one more career save (41) than years he’s been on earth. Earth to LaRussa: You have Jason Motte.
34-year-old Matt Thornton is seeing his first real chance at closing slipping away, and young Chris Sale has been unhittable one day, hapless the next. Ozzie Guillen says he will now consider Sergio Santos, who’s been effective, but has zero high-leverage experience.
Scott Downs has been activated by the Angels, but while he could close later in the season, he’s well down the pecking order for the foreseeable future.
Gotta think it can’t be too long before Buck Showalter turns to Koji Uehara to save a game. Kevin Gregg has been underwhelming.
I’d predict that Joe Nathan, who squandered yesterday’s lead, would be given a temporary respite – except that Matt Capps replaced him and dished up a walk-off homer.
Playing for Keepers
A prospect to consider if you’re focused on the future:
Michael Pineda, SP, Mariners: Growing pains are inevitable for a 22-year-old who’s already done a lot of growing (6-foot-7, 260 pounds), but the two strong starts merit attention. I consider Pineda the top pitching prospect in the game, and he seems to be at the right place in the right ballpark at the right time.
The fantasy impact of recent transactions:
Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (to DL): The big winner here during Hamilton’s extended absence is Julio Borbon, who was teetering on losing his job to David Murphy. Now there’s room for both. Still-promising Chris Davis was recalled, but it’s hard to see where he fits.
Rafael Furcal, SS, Dodgers (to DL): Declared to be out more than a month and chirping about possibly retiring. Furcal gives way to Jamey Carroll who, you might be surprised to learn, is hitting .299 over the last 365 days.
Chris Snyder, C, Pirates (off DL): Ryan Doumit goes back to being the fourth outfielder and third catcher. Jason Jarmillo was optioned.
J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles (to DL): Cesar Izturis and Robert Andino share time – to no great effect.
Rajai Davis, OF, Blue Jays (to DL): It’s time for Corey Patterson to have his annual three-week hot streak.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals (to DL): No natural heir, but Jerry Hairston Jr. gets some run.
Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers (off DL): George Kottaras will now play once or twice a week.
Joe Mauer, C, Twins (to DL): You and your batting average category want no part of Drew Butera or Steve Holm.
The Friday Sweep
A broad brush of fantasy-relevant notes:
Among the surprising (and impactful) batting order adjustments in the early going:
• Jimmy Rollins to third: One whole RBI so far. How’s that working out?
• Stephen Drew to cleanup: Small sample, but he’s 6-for-13 with 5 RBI there.
• Chase Headley to second: Was just moved, but career OPS in that spot is .520.
• Andrew McCutchen to third: Pegged for 30-plus steals, but as a middle-of-the-order guy, he’s tried only one and was thrown out.
The Giants are pondering switching out Aubrey Huff (to first base) and Brandon Belt (to right). Neither is swinging up to expectations, but the impetus is defensive…Jason Bay, whose return has been pushed back another two weeks, is a glacially slow healer. Between his last year’s concussion and this year’s oblique, he’ll not have played a game in nine months…Zack Greinke should be ready about the same time as Bay, but Grady Sizemore is just a few days away…A.J. Burnett still hasn’t taken a loss in 13 April starts dating back to 2008…League stat leaders include Yunel Escobar in AVG (.438), Alex Gordon in runs (11), Jorge Posada in homers (5) and Sam Fuld in stolen bases (7). Wow.
Houston — We’re told this is one of the more improbable National Championship games in the history of the sport. We have two teams that lost a combined 18 games in the regular season — the most ever in a title game. We have a No. 3 seed that went .500 in the Big East and a No. 8 seed that lost five games in the 11th-rated conference, according to the RPI.
But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe this is what we should have expected. Not back in late January or early February, when UConn and Butler were struggling, both looking like teams that would have trouble winning a game in the NCAA Tournament — if they even got that far. But maybe we should have expected this matchup when the Field of 68 was announced. By that time, both of these clubs had hit their stride, with UConn winning five games in five nights en route to an amazing Big East title and Butler capturing the Horizon League Tournament title on the home court of top seed Milwaukee with surprising ease, 59–44.
Should we be surprised when the best player in America, UConn guard Kemba Walker, has his team in the national title game? Should we be surprised when the defending national runner-up is back in the title game, even with the loss of its best player, Gordon Hayward.
We are surprised, but we shouldn’t be.
- by Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)
Athlon Sports offers up its official predictions for the 2011 Major League Baseball season.
National League East
1. Philadelphia Phillies
2. Atlanta Braves
3. Florida Marlins
4. New York Mets
5. Washington Nationals
National League Central
1. Milwaukee Brewers
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
6. Houston Astros
National League West
1. San Francisco Giants
2. Colorado Rockies*
3. Los Angeles Dodgers
4. San Diego Padres
5. Arizona Diamondbacks
NLCS: Philadelphia over San Francisco
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis
2. Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee
3. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado
4. Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati
5. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Colorado
6. Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia
7. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Florida
8. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco
9. David Wright, 3B, New York
10. Matt Kemp, OF, Los Angeles
NL Cy Young
1. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
2. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco
3. Josh Johnson, Florida
4. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia
5. Ubaldo Jimanez, Colorado
6. Brian Wilson, San Francisco
7. Tim Hudson, Atlanta
8. Matt Cain, San Francisco
9. Zack Greinke, Milwaukee
10. Roy Oswalt, Philadelphia
NL Rookie of the Year
1. Aroldis Chapman, RP, Cincinnati
2. Brandon Belt, San Francisco
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta
4. Craig Kimbrel, RP, Atlanta
5. Jonny Venters, RP, Atlanta
American League East
1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees*
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toronto Blue Jays
American League Central
1. Minnesota Twins
2. Detroit Tigers
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Cleveland Indians
American League West
1. Texas Rangers
2. Los Angeles Angels
3. Oakland Athletics
4. Seattle Mariners
ALCS: Boston over New York
1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Detroit
2. Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas
3. Evan Longoria, 3B, Tampa Bay
4. Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota
5. Carl Crawford, OF, Boston
6. Mark Teixeira, 1B, New York
7. Kevin Youkilis, 3B, Boston
8. Justin Morneau, 1B, Minnesota
9. Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas
10. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Boston
AL Cy Young
1. CC Sabathia, New York
2. David Price, Tampa Bay
3. Jon Lester, Boston
4. Felix Hernandez, Seattle
5. Justin Verlander, Detroit
6. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles
7. Dan Haren, Los Angeles
8. Clay Buchholz, Boston
9. Mariano Rivera, New York
10. Trevor Cahill, Oakland
AL Rookie of the Year
1. J.P. Arencibia, C, Toronto
2. Mike Moustakas, 3B, Kansas City
3. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B/SS, Minnesota
4. Kyle Drabek, SP, Toronto
5. Dustin Ackley, 2B, Seattle
Athlon Sports 2011 World Series: Boston over Philadelphia
With the additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox have a lineup that can score with anyone. And the Sox pitching is clearly deeper than New York's. Philadelphia may have one of the best rotations assembled in several years, but there are holes in the lineup, especially up the middle.
Contracts that make sense from the team’s perspective. Examples of owners spending cash wisely.
Jose Contreras, RP, Philadelphia
Contract: 2 years, $5,000,000
The White Sox and Rockies thought he was washed up a year ago, but the Phillies found a perfect role (setup man) for the former starter.
Carl Crawford, OF, Boston
Contract: 7 years, $142,000,000
In the prime of his career, he’s one of the most explosive offensive players and defensive outfielders wrapped into one. Seven, $161M would have even made sense to us.
Johnny Damon, OF, Tampa Bay
Contract: 1 year, $5,250,000
Since 1998 Damon’s lows are 141 games, 605 plate appearances and 81 runs. He has been durable and a valuable member of every clubhouse.
Scott Downs, RP, L.A. Angels
Contract: 3 years, $15,000,000
We agree with the Angels’ assessment that Downs hasn’t hit the “setup man wall” yet. He’s more than just a lefty specialist. Lefties hit .152 last season, and righties (.243) weren’t much better.
Adam Dunn, DH, Chicago White Sox
Contract: 4 years, $56,000,000
Finally, Dunn has the role he was made for — DH. Apparently, he has accepted the role, but only time will tell. A seven-year average of 40 HRs, 101 RBIs, 107 BBs, 180 Ks. That’s only going to get better at the Cell.
Jon Garland, SP, L.A. Dodgers
Contract: 1 year, $5,000,000
In 2009 Garland made six starts for the Dodgers, going 3–2. L.A. scored just one run in the two losses and three in the no-decision. Of course, his recent injury kills this for the Dodgers, but Garland didn’t pose an injury risk when he signed.
Kevin Gregg, RP, Baltimore
Contract: 2 years, $10,000,000
Gregg has given up just one home run to the 34 batters he has faced in his career at Camden Yards. In some setup/closer combination, Gregg and Koji Uehara should combine for 45 saves.
Ramon Hernandez, C, Cincinnati
Contract: 1 year , $3,000,000
Both Hernandez and the Reds were happy to repeat last year’s deal. Now if he can just repeat his production. We say he will.
Orlando Hudson, 2B, San Diego
Contract: 2 years, $11,500,000
Playing for three different teams in three seasons, he’s averaged .284 and 29 doubles while winning a Gold Glove. Perfect fit in San Diego; pitchers will love his defense.
Aubrey Huff, 1B/OF, San Francisco
Contract: 2 years, $22,000,000
Huff the magic slugger was the poster child for bargain in 2010 when he made just $3,000,000 and became the leader of the Giants. But Huff has proven himself over time to be a run producer and a terrific clubhouse guy.
Paul Konerko, 1B, Chicago White Sox
Contract: 3 years, $37,500,000
Konerko gave the Sox a hometown discount, which helped them sign Dunn. He’ll be only 37 in the final year of the contract, and he’s been durable — having fallen short of 600 plate appearances only three times since 2000.
Hiroki Kuroda, SP, L.A. Dodgers
Contract: 1 year, $12,000,000
Kuroda won 11 times in 2010, and left three games ahead last season and ended with a no-decision. The Dodgers were shut out in six of his starts. So the unlucky righthander takes a $3 million pay cut to stay in L.A.
Cliff Lee, SP, Philadelphia
Contract: 5 years, $120,000,000
The Phillies instantly became the NL favorite for the next couple of years. There’s little risk with Lee in five years, and he ranks among the best in the majors. Now the Phillies must hope their offense doesn’t get old too quickly.
Russell Martin, C, N.Y. Yankees
Contract: 1 year, $4,000,000
Now that he’s healthy, expect a resurgence from Martin as the everyday catcher in the Bronx.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B/SS, Minnesota
Contract: 3 years, $9,250,000
Nishioka won a batting title in Japan’s Central League last season and won a Gold Glove at second base in 2005 and at short in ’07. But all that’s expected of him in Minnesota is to play the game the Minnesota way, which is fundamentally sound and with great effort. He’ll be a hit with the Twins’ players and fans.
Carlos Peña, 1B, Chicago Cubs
Contract: 1 year, $10,000,000
After hitting just .196 last season in Tampa, Peña couldn’t generate interest in a multi-year deal. But he still drives in runs and should thrive at Wrigley in another contract season. The slick fielder will cash in next season.
Jhonny Peralta, SS, Detroit
Contract: 2 years, $10,750,000
Peralta raised his average 13 points after Aug. 22, and made just three errors in 44 starts at short for the Tigers.
Manny Ramirez, DH/OF, Tampa Bay
Contract: 1 year, $2,000,000
While there is always baggage and other negatives associated with Manny, it doesn’t take too much offense to be worth two mil. And Manny appears to be on a mission to prove himself worthy.
Mariano Rivera, RP, N.Y. Yankees
Contract: 2 years, $30,000,000
Very quiet, uneventful negotiations reflect Rivera’s mound demeanor. Most teams would have paid more, but he would never leave N.Y.
Miguel Tejada, SS, San Francisco
Contract: 1 year, $6,500,000
We don’t believe Tejada has enough left to be an everyday shortstop, but he still hits well enough to justify $6.5 million.
Koji Uehara, RP, Baltimore
Contract: 1 year, $3,000,000
In 21 save situations last season, Uehara had 13 saves and six holds. None of his 14 inherited runners scored, and he struck out 11 per nine innings while walking just one per nine.
Javier Vazquez, SP, Florida
Contract: 1 year, $7,000,000
He’s averaged 32 starts, 204 innings and 200 hits over his 13 seasons. His career ERA is more than a half-run lower in the National League.
Jake Westbrook, SP, St. Louis
Contract: 2 years, $16,000,000
Our value matrix actually shows his value as $15,390,000 for two seasons. But pitching coach Dave Duncan should coax the extra $610,000 worth of value out of the veteran.
Kerry Wood, RP, Chicago Cubs
Contract: 1 year, $1,500,000
After a brief, but highly effective, stay with the Yankees, Wood took a 90 percent pay cut coming back to Chicago.
Hey, everybody. What a Super Bowl, huh? Assuming Charlie Sheen passed out in the guacamole, he missed one heck of a show. …
Talk about sitting on top of the world. My Packers just won the NFL championship, pitchers and catchers report this week, and Cameron Diaz is feeding me popcorn as I’m typing. …
MVP Aaron Rodgers credits Kurt Warner with helping him get ready for the big game. Warner’s first words of advice? Don’t let your wife show up with an Elvis haircut. …
I’m hearing Steelers coach Mike Tomlin fired up one heck of a pre-game speech. Well, except for the part about “Let’s go out there and fall behind 21-3!” …
Packers wideout Jordy Nelson had a handful of balls slip through his hands, leaving him second to Christina Aguilera for most drops in the game. … Interesting national anthem by the lovely and talented Ms. Aguilera. Would that be considered a wordrobe malfunction? …
Then there’s Greg Jennings, who caught two touchdown passes. I haven’t seen a Packers wide receiver run such deceptive routes since Max McGee avoided Vince Lombardi in the hotel lobby. …
President Obama was pulling for the Bears in the NFL championship game and picked the Steelers to win the Super Bowl. Let’s all hope he’s got Germany in the next world war. …
So it’s official: The Packers are the kings of the blocking-and-tackling world. Now comes the exhaustive task of planning a victory parade through the street of Green Bay. …
Ben Roethlisberger, when asked how the Steelers could have lost the game: “Three turnovers for one thing.” Plus, he was distracted by the blonde with the big guns sitting at the 40. …
The NFL and the players’ union met for two hours the day before the game. Not that things are looking bad on the labor front, but the only thing they agreed on was that Jerry Jones could use another chin tuck. …
Updated: Monday Feb. 7, 2:23 P.M.
DH Vladimir Guerrero and the Baltimore Orioles reached a deal this week. Should Guerrero perform close to the way he did last season, he'll be a nice trading chip to a contender by midseason. The best value in the top 10 is clearly Mariano Rivera. The following chart ranks the free agents and projected new teams for unsigned free agents for 2011. Years, $/Year and Totals are our projections for new contracts. Some 2010 Salary figures are rounded and all dollar figures are in millions.
|1||Cliff Lee||Phillies||5||120.00||9.00||Phillies' coup just pushed Cole Hamels to a fourth starter.|
|2||Carl Crawford||Red Sox||7||142.00||10.00||The prize position player of the free agent class. Crawford will turn 30 next August and scored 110 runs ad drove in 90.|
|3||Mariano Rivera||Yankees||2||30.00||15.00||Unlike Derek Jeter, Rivera is still performing a premium level. He's a bargain at $15 million. What a classy guy.|
|4||Jayson Werth||Nationals||7||126.00||7.50||Werth is coming off career highs in slugging and OPS, and turns 32 in May. But Nats will regret this one by 2014.|
|5||Victor Martinez||Tigers||4||50.00||7.70||Terrific signing for 2011 and 2012, but Tigers will regret the last two years of this deal, especially if they don't win now.|
|6||Rafael Soriano||Yankees||3||35.00||7.25||Has proven to be an elite closer when healthy. We had him valued at three years, $37 million — as a closer.|
|7||Adam Dunn||White Sox||4||56.00||12.00||It will be interesting to see how Dunn accepts a full-time DH role.|
|8||Paul Konerko||White Sox||3||37.50||12.00||Konerko, Dunn and Carlos Quentin won't provide much defense, but they'll be mashing all summer.|
|9||Adrian Beltre||Rangers||5||80.00||9.00||The career .275 hitter has topped .300 twice: .334 in 2004 and .321 in 2010, both contract years. Rangers beware.|
|10||Derek Jeter||Yankees||3||51.00||22.60||Jeter is no longer an elite player — offensively or defensively. But these negotiations were all about saving face.|
|11||Vladimir Guerrero||Orioles||1||8.00||5.50||Looks and acts like he's 39.While $8 million seems above market, $3 million is deferred.|
|12||Aubrey Huff||Giants||2||22.00||3.00||The poster child for bargains in San Francisco just cashed in big.|
|13||Carlos Peña||Cubs||1||10.00||10.13||Averaged dipped below the Mendoza Line, but he's excellent defensively and still drives in runs. His average will rebound.|
|14||Hiroki Kuroda||Dodgers||1||12.00||15.43||Seems to lose games even when putting up decent numbers. Will stay on the West Coast.|
|15||Jake Westbrook||Cardinals||2||16.00||11.00||Pitching coach Dave Duncan has always been enamored with this guy.|
|16||Carl Pavano||Twins||2||16.50||7.00||After a disaster signing with the Yankees in 2005, Pavano led the AL with seven complete games in 2010.|
|17||Joaquin Benoit||Tigers||3||16.50||He was an integral piece in the Rays' bullpen. May end up closing for Detroit.|
|18||Magglio Ordoñez||Tigers||1||10.00||17.80||Has made just shy of $82 million over the past five years. Now reality will set in.|
|19||Derrek Lee||Orioles||1||8.00||13.25||All significant offensive numbers dropped in 2010 — except whiffs and grounded into double plays.|
|21||Orlando Hudson||Padres||2||11.50||5.00||O-Dog was an All-Star and won a Gold Glove for the Dodgers in 2009. But his salary topped out at $6.25 mil in 2008.|
|23||Manny Ramirez||Rays||1||2.00||18.70||Manny brings a potent bat to the Rays' lineup when his head's on straight.|
|24||Johnny Damon||Rays||1||5.25||8.00||Damon has a string of 15 seasons of at least 140 games. The Rays were the only team offering steady playing time.|
|25||Hideki Matsui||A's||1||4.25||6.00||Swing has slowed down and Oakland is not a good park for him.|
|26||Brad Hawpe||Padres||1||3.00||7.50||From 06-09 he averaged .288-25-93 with a .902 OPS. At 32, he can find his stroke again, but better suited for the AL.|
|27||John Buck||Marlins||3||18.00||2.00||Swatted 20 homers, but walked just 16 times. Doubtful he can maintain his .281 average.|
|28||Jorge de la Rosa||Rockies||2||21.50||5.60||Should pitch himself into bigger money in a few years.|
|29||Juan Uribe||Dodgers||3||21.00||3.25||Although he doesn't look the part, he's above average at three infield positions and is cool in the clutch.|
|30||Scott Downs||Angels||3||15.00||4.00||Lefties hit .152 last season and righties (.243) weren't much better.|
|31||Jose Contreras||Phillies||2||5.00||1.50||White Sox and Rockies thought he was done, but Phillies found a role as a setup man. The third year is a team option.|
|32||Ramon Hernandez||Reds||1||3.00||3.00||Both Hernandez and the Reds happy to repeat last year's deal and production.|
|33||Miguel Tejada||Giants||1||6.50||6.00||Declining skills but showed he could still play a little short. Tejada was Giants' next option after Uribe.|
|34||Jon Garland||Dodgers||1||5.00||4.70||Provides a veteran presence for the Dodgers' staff. The big ballpark is perfect for him.|
|35||Jhonny Peralta||Tigers||2||10.75||4.85||Strong second half gave Tigers confidence he can still contribute. The third year is a team option for $6 million.|
|36||Jim Thome||Twins||1||3.00||1.50||The 40-year-old's OPS of 1.039 was stellar, but almost .400 higher against right-handed pitching.|
|37||Brian Fuentes||A's||2||10.00||9.00||Pretty good deal for the A's as Billy Beane attepts to bolster his bullpen.|
|39||Lyle Overbay||Pirates||1||5.00||7.95||Overbay has a three-year average of .259-17-67, which is below average for a first baseman.|
|40||Jon Rauch||Blue Jays||1||3.50||2.90||May not be a closer, but can be an intimidating presence on the mound. A bargain at $3.5 mil.|
|41||Austin Kearns||Indians||1||1.30||0.75||Made $8 million in 2009. Doubtful he'll see that number again.|
|43||Frank Francisco||Rangers||1||3.63||Accepted arbitration, so negotiations must be close.|
|44||Arthur Rhodes||Rangers||1||3.90||2.00||Turned 41 in October, but he was instrumental in Reds' division title in 2010.|
|45||Lance Berkman||Cardinals||1||8.00||14.50||Cardinals' outfield defense could be atrocious.|
|46||Marcus Thames||Dodgers||1||1.00||0.90||His five-year 162-game average is .254-33-83. He's coming off career highs in average and OBP.|
|47||Grant Balfour||A's||2||8.00||2.05||The Australian with the unfortunate surname was a key part of both of the Rays' division titles.|
|50||Matt Guerrier||Dodgers||3||12.00||3.15||Can pitch every day, but three-year deal is risky.|
|51||Edgar Renteria||Reds||1||2.00||10.00||Talked of retirement. The everyday grind wears on him, but he's a good fit with Paul Janish.|
|52||Koji Uehara||Orioles||1||3.00||5.00||Performed well in the closer role down the stretch.|
|53||Pat Burrell||Giants||1||1.00||9.00||Pat the Bat became Pat the Whiff in the postseason, but may be the best value of the offseason.|
|54||Javier Vazquez||Marlins||1||7.00||11.50||The durable Vazquez started 327 games from 2000-09, winning 128 with more than 2,000 strikeouts.|
|57||Jesse Crain||White Sox||3||13.00||2.00||It seems half of his appearances have been in extra innings.Sox pen needs a lot of help.|
|58||Adam LaRoche||Nationals||2||16.00||6.00||Nats must have patience with notorious slow starter.|
|59||Miguel Olivo||Mariners||2||7.00||2.00||Can throw, is durable and but won't display 20-home run power in Seattle.|
|60||Pedro Feliciano||Yankees||2||8.00||2.90||Tough on lefties, but can't get righthanders out.|
|61||Kerry Wood||Cubs||1||1.50||10.50||Wood took a 90% pay cut.|
|62||Chris Capuano||Mets||1||1.50||Missed all of 2008-09, but five of six starts in September were solid. Will enjoy pitching at Citi Field.|
|63||Chris Young||Mets||1||1.50||6.38||He could earn $4.5 million if he meets all his incentives; would be a sweet deal for Mets who desperately need pitching.|
|64||Kevin Gregg||Orioles||2||10.00||2.00||In four seasons as full-time closer he's averaged 30 saves, closing 82%, with a 1.295 WHIP and 3.79 ERA.|
|66||Jason Frasor||Blue Jays||1||2.65||Accepted arbitration and will combine with Rauch and Dotel for setup/closer trio.|
|67||Jeff Francoeur||Royals||1||2.50||5.00||Kansas City may be the last chance to revive his career.|
|68||Ty Wigginton||Rockies||2||8.00||3.50||Made 86 starts at first, 36 at second and 19 at third; hit 22 homers.|
|69||Yorvit Torrealba||Rangers||2||6.25||0.75||Too much gets by him, but he can still throw a little and he hit .271 last season.|
|70||Bruce Chen||Royals||1||2.00||Yes, he's still in the league, and it was Chen — not Greinke — who led the Royals with 12 wins.|
|71||Vicente Padilla||Dodgers||1||2.00||5.03||Started Game 2 and Game 5 for the Dodgers in the 2009 NLCS as well as Opening Day 2010; now he's a sixth starter.|
|73||Andruw Jones||Yankees||1||2.00||0.50||Anything left in the tank? Ha has another million-plus in incentives, so we say there is. Good deal for Yankees.|
|74||Jerry Hariston||Nationals||1||2.00||2.13||Nice "intangibles" player. Will help the Nats.|
|75||Cesar Izturis||Orioles||1||1.50||2.60||Can pick it at short, but gets the bat knocked out of his hands.|
|76||Dan Wheeler||Red Sox||1||3.00||3.50||With a sub-1.00 WHIP over the past three seasons, the right-handed Wheeler is tough on lefties.|
|77||Dennys Reyes||Phillies||1||1.10||2.00||Hard to believe he's only 34 in April. A classic lefty-only guy.|
|79||Rich Harden||A's||1||1.50||6.50||Easy risk for the A's.|
|81||Jeff Francis||Royals||1||2.00||5.75||Expect an incentive-laden deal.|
|82||Rick Ankiel||Nationals||1||1.50||2.75||Great arm, athletic, has some pop, but nowhere near an everyday player.|
|83||Matt Stairs||Nationals||1||1.00||0.70||Minor league deal for aging pinch hitter.|
|84||Brandon Webb||Rangers||1||3.00||8.50||Offseason reports of velocity and command were not promising, but this is a low-risk venture for the Rangers.|
|85||Adam Kennedy||Mariners||1||ML||1.25||Minor league deal. Had .400 OBP in eight September starts, but slugged just .231.|
|87||Miguel Cairo||Reds||2||2.00||0.50||Great attitude, accepts tough roles. Nice two-year bargain.|
|88||Kevin Correia||Pirates||2||8.00||3.60||The Pirates are shopping at the bargain stores.|
|89||A.J. Pierzynski||White Sox||2||8.00||6.75||Aging vet must accept backup role.|
|91||Brad Penny||Tigers||1||3.00||7.50||Penny could earn another $3 million incentives.|
|92||Rod Barajas||Dodgers||1||3.25||0.50||Doesn't throw well anymore. At age 35 he expects to be Dodgers' primary catcher.|
|93||Chan Ho Park||Japan||Closed the season with a strong September. Career in the States may be over.|
|97||Jason Giambi||Rockies||1||ML||1.75||Former MVP didn't draw much interest.|
|100||J.C. Romero||Phillies||1||1.35||4.25||Just completed a three-year deal that he could only dream about now.|
|102||Melvin Mora||Diamondbacks||1||2.40||1.28||His 2010 salary was his lowest since 2002, but he earned a slight raise.|
|103||Aaron Harang||Padres||1||4.00||12.50||Padres hoping a move to Petco Park from Cincinnati will be the medicine his career needs. Doubtful.|
|NR||Hisanori Takahashi||Angels||2||8.00||1.00||Released by the Mets in November, the Angels believe they have their lefty specialist.|
|NR||J.J. Putz||Diamondbacks||2||10.00||3.00||Worst bullpen in the majors in 2010 in dire need of help.|
|NR||Eric Hinske||Braves||1||1.45||1.00||Braves like his veteran presence — and his production.|
|NR||Melky Cabrera||Royals||1||1.00||3.10||Incentives could push this as high as $1.25 million.|
|NR||Matt Diaz||Pirates||2||4.25||2.55||Braves didn't tender him, so Pirates found a platoon partner with Garret Jones in right field.|
|NR||Scott Olsen||Pirates||1||0.50||1.00||With another $2.5 mil incentives and a club option for $4 million in 2012, Olsen should be motivated.|
|NR||Jack Cust||Mariners||1||2.50||2.65||Hitting stroke shouldn't play well at Safeco.|
|NR||George Sherrill||Braves||1||1.20||4.50||Lefties hit .192 last season; righties .427.|
|NR||Gerald Laird||Cardinals||1||1.00||3.95||Will back up Yadier Molina for about 35 games.|
|NR||Russell Martin||Yankees||1||4.00||5.05||Expect a resurgence from Martin.|
|NR||Henry Blanco||Diamondbacks||1||1.00||0.75||Enters his 14th season by joining his ninth team. Thrown out 43% of base stealers in his career, 50% last season.|
|NR||Randy Choate||Marlins||2||2.50||0.70||Tossed 44.2 innings in 85 games; definition of situational lefty.|
|NR||Edwin Encarnacion||Blue Jays||1||2.50||5.18||Jays waived him, claimed by A's, non-tendered, now back in Toronto. Just business.|
|NR||Xavier Nady||Diamondbacks||1||1.75||3.30||Low budget, low expectations.|
|NR||Jeremy Accardo||Orioles||1||1.08||1.08||Injuries limited Accardo to 6.2 innings for Blue Jays in 2010.|
|NR||Matt Albers||Red Sox||1||0.88||0.68||Induced 11 double plays in 172 ABs against righthanders last season.|
|NR||Tony Gwynn||Dodgers||1||0.42||0.68||Gwynn leaves his dad's old team.|
|NR||Dioner Navarro||Dodgers||1||1.00||2.10||Will split time with Barajas.|
|NR||Wil Nieves||Brewers||1||0.78||0.70||Coming off a career-high 3 homers, but average dipped to .203.|
|NR||Tsuyoshi Nishioka||Twins||3||10.00||Japan||Nishioka won a batting title in Japan's Central League in '09 and won a Gold Glove at second in 2005 and at short in '07.|
|NR||J.P. Howell||Rays||1||1.10||1.80||Missed all of 2010 after May shoulder surgery.|
|NR||Joel Peralta||Rays||1||0.93||Enjoyed a nice summer in Washington with a 0.796 WHIP.|
|NR||Matt Treanor||Rangers||1||0.85||0.75||Back for another season as backup in Texas.|
|NR||Chin-Ming Wang||Nationals||1||2.00||2.00||Didn't pitch in 2010 after nine bad starts in 2009.|
|NR||Bill Hall||Astros||1||3.25||8.53||At 31 there should be something left in the tank, but he's not good defensively at second base.|
|NR||Takashi Saito||Brewers||1||3.00||3.20||Just more proof the Brewers want a title now.|
|NR||Bobby Jenks||Red Sox||2||12.00||7.50||Saves totals have dropped and WHIP has increased every year since 2007.|
|NR||Octavio Dotel||Blue Jays||1||3.50||3.25||Blue Jays will give him every opportunity to close.|
|NR||Craig Counsell||Brewers||1||1.40||2.10||Provides a solid veteran presence on Brewers bench for a team trying to win now.|
|NR||Kyle Farnsworth||Rays||1||3.25||4.50||This is the Rays' answer to rebuilding their bullpen?|
|NR||Dustin Moseley||Padres||1||0.90||Yankees were 5-4 in his nine starts last season.|
|NR||Ryan Rowland-Smith||Astros||1||0.72||0.44||Will Compete for fifth sport in the rotation. Not a good sign for Houston fans.|
|NR||Jose Veras||Pirates||1||1.00||0.55||Whiffed 54 in 48 innings, but was non-tendered by the Marlins.|
|NR||Chien-Ming Wang||Nationals||1||1.00||With 0 major league hits, Wang has a Silver Slugger clause in his deal.|
|NR||Jay Gibbons||Dodgers||1||0.65||0.65||Played for Newark in Indy league in 2009, but slugged .507 in 80 PAs for Dodgers last season.|
|20||Andy Pettitte||Retired||—||—||11.75||Pettitte announced his retirement.|
|22||Hisashi Iwakuma||Japan||—||—||Japan||Oakland was unwilling meet Iwakuma's demand for dollars. He'll be back as a free agent next season.|
|38||Freddy Garcia||Diamondbacks||2||11.00||1.00||Made just 23 starts from 2007-09, but returned from injury to start 28 games and go 12-6 for the White Sox.|
|42||Russell Branyan||Mariners||1||5.00||1.50||Can still rake.|
|48||David Eckstein||Royals||1||3.50||1.00||He keeps getting it done and inspiring teammates and fans.|
|49||Bengie Molina||Orioles||1||3.70||4.50||A lot of teams could use a veteran presence behind the plate.|
|55||Jermaine Dye||Retired||1||4.80||DNP||Received inquiries from multiple teams, but no real offers.|
|56||Kevin Millwood||Diamondbacks||1||4.00||12.00||Days of milk and honey are over as his five-year, $60 million deal expired.|
|65||Orlando Cabrera||Cardinals||1||2.00||2.02||How much will teams play for solid defense and above-average situational hitting? Mr. Showalter?|
|72||Chad Durbin||Phillies||2||10.00||2.13||Had 15 holds and blew just one opportunity. At age 33, he's got plenty left.|
|78||Troy Glaus||Angels||1||1.30||1.75||Should find a suitor at home in SoCal.|
|80||Reed Johnson||Yankees||1||1.00||0.80||Underrated, could be a terrific fourth outfielder.|
|86||Joe Beimel||Rockies||1||0.90||0.85||Since 2007 he's logged just 216.2 innings in 296 games. Always a market for lefties.|
|90||Gregg Zaun||Blue Jays||1||0.60||1.90||Will turn 40 just after Opening Day; old for a catcher.|
|94||Felipe Lopez||Mariners||1||0.70||1.00||Attitude issues could cost him a job.|
|95||Brian Bannister||Padres||1||0.70||2.30||Over three seasons, he's 23-40, 5.58 ERA in 81 starts.|
|96||Justin Duchscherer||Orioles||1||2.00||After missing all of 2009, he made just five starts last April before being shut down.|
|98||Erik Bedard||Mets||1||0.50||Incentives, incentives, incentives.|
|101||Doug Davis||Padres||1||0.70||4.25||Got into the seventh inning just once in eight starts.|
Before teaming with Marv Albert on Turner Sports’ coverage of the NBA, Steve Kerr had enjoyed success on the court, first as a member of a Final Four at the University of Arizona and later as a five-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls and the San Antonio Spurs. Drafted in the second round in 1988, Kerr went on to play 15 seasons in the NBA and retired in 2003 as the league’s all-time leader in three-point field-goal percentage for a season (.524) and a career (.454). He then worked as an NBA game analyst for TNT, left the network to become president of basketball operations and GM of the Phoenix Suns, resigned from the Suns and rejoined Turner in 2010. Kerr will also be part of the expanded coverage of this season’s NCAA tournament. He spoke recently with Jerry Kavanagh.
Q: The last time we spoke, in 2005, you had just left Turner Sports for the Phoenix Suns. Now, you are back with Turner. Just wondering how the transition back to the broadcast booth has been.
Kerr: It’s been great. It’s much easier this time around because of the experience I had the first time. It feels like riding a bike. I’m just jumping right back on. I love working with Marv Albert. He’s the voice of the NBA. So, to work with him is awesome. It’s just been fun to get back to this side of things, where you still get the fun of covering the league and seeing friends on the road, but having a better lifestyle and a better home life.
Q: You have been part of some great casts in your career: a Final Four team at Arizona, five NBA championships with Michael Jordan and the Bulls and Tim Duncan and the Spurs, and president and GM of the Steve Nash-led Suns. And now you’re reunited with Marv. It seems like a rewarding career but also a lot of fun.
Kerr: Oh, it’s so much fun. I always relate Marv to playing on great teams because it’s the same dynamic. When you play with great players, it’s just a lot easier to slide in and do your job and know your role. I feel the same way with Marv. He’s so good at what he does, and it’s just a matter of reading and working off him. We’ve developed a really good relationship and a good synergy on the air.
Q: I once asked him about his all-interview team and where he ranked you. He said not first team; maybe third team.
Kerr: (laughing) That sounds like Marv.
Q: Do you miss the competition on the court?
Kerr: I do. I played, basically, as long as I possibly could, so I don’t have any regrets at all. I don’t wake up thinking, “Man, I wish I was still an NBA player.” But I miss the camaraderie of going to practice and being on the bus with the guys and traveling. That’s one of the great things about pro sports: You get to hang out with your buddies every day. I miss that part of it, and the competition goes right along with that.
Q. And the striving for a common goal?
Kerr: When you’re trying to accomplish something with a group of guys, it’s pretty rewarding. I got back to that with the Suns in a different capacity, but I still felt that competitive fire and loved it, especially when we won (laughing). But I’m fine stepping away from it, especially at this time in my life with my kids at the ages they are: high school and junior high. It’s kind of relaxing now to jump out of the fire.
Q: Are your kids playing?
Kerr: My older son is a senior in high school and he got a scholarship for basketball to the University of San Diego. My daughter is a volleyball player. She’s a sophomore. And my younger son is not really into sports. He’s into other stuff. He’s a seventh-grader. It’s great. I’m home five days a week with this Turner job most weeks. It’s really nice after being on the road so much in the last few years.
Q: What’s the No. 1 story in the NBA these days?
Kerr: The obvious one is the [Miami] Heat. The Heat will be the No. 1 story the entire year, whether they win the championship or not. They’re the big story, and they should be.
Q: Anything else?
Kerr: Everything else sort of plays off the Heat. Boston and the Lakers loaded up after the Heat did what it did. It was almost like an arms race. Orlando makes a big trade in large part because of Miami’s presence in the East and what they were doing. The best teams are all responding to Miami. And then you’ve got some really good teams that are trying to climb back in. San Antonio is a great story; Dallas as well with the consistency that both teams have shown over the last decade. And they both look like championship contenders this year when a lot of people felt like they might have fallen off the map.
Q: Any sleeper teams?
Kerr: It depends on how you’re measuring things. As far as winning a championship, I don’t think there are any sleepers. But as far as just having successful years and teams to look out for, I think Chicago…everybody suspected they would be good, and I think they’re proving that they’re going to be even better than what people thought. The combination of Noah and Boozer and Rose is really a foundation for a potential championship team, and that’s exciting.
Q. What about teams on the rise?
Kerr: Oklahoma City is trying to get to the next step, which is always a more difficult one than the first step, which is just getting to the playoffs. The expectations are higher and they have to rise to the challenge and prove that they can get to that next level. New York has been down in the dumps for so long, and what Amare Stoudemire has done there to kind of revive the city’s love for the Knicks is another great story.
Q: Do you have any game-day rituals? How do you prepare for a telecast?
Kerr: We always have a production meeting in the morning. We talk about the telecast. There’s obviously plenty of preparation and reading that goes on before that. I’m on the internet all week and watching League Pass. I’ve got a pretty good handle on things before the telecast. But that day, I usually have the same routine: I go to the production meeting and then I go get a workout, grab lunch, go over my notes for a couple of hours, and then head over to the arena – nothing very exciting (laughing).
Q: You will be part of the new broadcast deal for the NCAA basketball tournament. How will that work?
Kerr: It’s a partnership with CBS and Turner. The tournament this year will be on four different channels: TNT, CBS, TBS, and truTV. The production will be a collaborative effort between CBS and Turner. You’ll see some of the usual Turner faces, like Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, and Ernie Johnson. They’ll do studio stuff. Marv and I will be a team for some NCAA games. And there will some crossover along the way. I may end up doing a game with some of the CBS guys, and vice versa. It’s a brand-new venture, and I’m thrilled. I love college basketball. I’m excited about joining the tournament. It’s one of the great sporting events in this country.
Hey everybody. Brilliant game-day strategy by Bill Belichick. Who knew he was going to look past the Jets so he could focus all his attention on the Patriots’ 2011 season opener? …When asked why it took so long for the Pats’ offense to click, tailback BenJarvis Green-Ellis said he could only speak for himself. It took him until the third quarter to sign a pre-game autograph for a fan. …
They’ve beaten Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on back-to-back weekends. So what happens if the Jets keep rolling and win the Super Bowl? The network suits are already planning a reality TV show for Rex Ryan: Dining with the Stars. …You’ve got to love the Rexster. If the big lug winds up working the crowds at those endless Super Bowl press conferences, they may have to play the game on Monday night. …Jets-Steelers and Packers-Bears. Whoa. Talk about a couple of great conference championship matchups. I haven’t been this excited since Nordstrom’s canceled my wife’s credit card. …
The wind-chill factor is expected to be minus-20 degrees in Chicago for Sunday’s game — minus-25 if you count Jay Cutler’s personality. …
Ex-Raiders coach Tom Cable has filed a grievance with the league office claiming Al Davis owes him $120,000. If I’m Cable, I wouldn’t sweat it. I’m sure Al will have Jimmy Hoffa hand-deliver a check any day now. …
What were the odds? Vince Carter scored his 20,000th career point against the Knicks on the same day his man scored his 30,000th. …Carmelo Anthony says he plans on being a Nugget for the entire week. When asked what he planned on doing next week, Anthony said he was taking them one lie at a time. …Then you have the Knicks. Sure, they’re an exciting, high-scoring, fast-paced team and all, but come on. When Walt Frazier is your best defensive player, you’ve got issues. …
It’s almost February, sports fans. That means it’s almost time to almost start caring about college basketball. …Just kidding. I love my college hoops. It’s almost as entertaining as watching Bruce Pearl trying to talk his way out of an NCAA investigation. …
Cam Newton is leaving Auburn early to enter the NFL draft, saying it’s always been his dream to play in a league where you can extort money legally. …
Brett Favre sent in his retirement papers to the league office the other day. Well, sort of. Actually, he jotted a note on the other side of that $50,000 check to Roger Goodell. …
If I sound a little more excited than usual today, it’s because valets and butlers report to spring training in less than a month.
Nice to be back with you, sports fans. The Chiefs lost their playoff opener to the Ravens, their NFL-record seventh straight playoff loss since the early ’90s. Things got so bad that fans began chanting “Let’s go Royals!’’ early in the fourth quarter. …
Las Vegas handicappers have installed the over/under at three for the number of wedgies that will be given in the pile during the Ravens-Steelers game. …
Brett Favre, who played for the Falcons and Packers, has been invited to throw out the ceremonial first pass at a cheerleader before this weekend’s game at the Georgia Dome. …
Meanwhile, on the NFL coaching carousel, the Broncos have asked for permission to interview New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams so they can ask him why he thinks he’d make a good coach when he can’t spell his own name. …
Rex Ryan says this weekend’s Jets-Pats matchup is all about Rex Ryan and Bill Belichick. Couldn’t agree more. Whatever coach does a better job of tackling the buffet at Golden Corral wins. …Actually, I was thinking it was all about Rex Ryan, Rex Ryan, maybe a little Bill Belichick, and Rex Ryan. Not to mention Rex Ryan. To say nothing of Rex Ryan or, you know, Rex Ryan. …
This just in. The Cubs, in an effort to be only two starting pitchers short, have acquired right-hander Matt Garza from Tampa Bay. …
Nice effort by the Saints in their loss at Seattle. I figured they were in trouble when Danny Abramowicz dropped that touchdown pass in the second quarter. …
Is it just me? If Andrew Luck wants a degree in architectural design that badly, why can’t he take the cash and hire the profs to be in his posse? …
Congrats to Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven for being voted into the Hall of Fame. I hear next year’s group of candidates is thin once you get past Barry Larkin and Mark McGwire’s dermatologist. …
Manny Ramirez is still looking for a job, but it’s not because he isn’t ready to play. He’s in the best shape of his career after spending the offseason trying to get a comb through his hair. …
The Rockies have signed Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez to deals totaling more than $210 million. Thus their new marketing slogan: There’s no “I’’ in team, but there is an ATM.
Athlon Interview with outgoing WNBA president Donna Orender
Donna Orender succeeded Val Ackerman as WNBA president in 2005. Only the second president in the 15-year history of the league, Orender saw increases in attendance and television ratings during her tenure. She guided the WNBA through a number of successful business ventures, including an extension of its television contract with ABC and ESPN and a marketing initiative that introduced company logos on player jerseys. A former collegiate (Queens College in New York City) and professional (WBL) player, Orender spent 17 years with the PGA Tour before joining the WNBA. She resigned from the league on December 31 and will launch Orender Unlimited, an independent marketing, media, and consulting firm. Orender spoke with Jerry Kavanagh just two days before leaving office.
Q. Are congratulations or condolences in order for you this week in your last days on the job?
Orender: I’m not sure why you would say condolences.
Q. You’re leaving the WNBA after more than five years as its president. There must be some mixed emotions.
Orender: I’m doing it on my own terms. I think that’s great. I’ll miss it. It’s fantastic.
Q. You had a unique perspective, as a former collegiate and professional player, that the leaders of other pro sports leagues do not share. Did that give you any special insight in dealing with the players and the teams?
Orender: I do look at the business in its totality. I could very easily put on my competitive hat and see from the basketball side or the athletic side of the business and I could see it from the business side. And I think what it enabled me to do was to have credibility, which enabled me to bring both sides closer together. Which, surprisingly, you will find in sports doesn’t happen as often as it should.
Q. Why is that?
Orender: I think that if you’re a coach, if you’re in charge of the performance end of the business – that’s what you get paid for, that’s what you get rewarded for – then that’s your 100 percent focus. Ultimately, the quality of the product will drive the business. But in this day and age, the business side and the sports side are much more in lockstep.
Q. Did you share ideas or questions or problems with presidents and commissioners of other sports leagues?
Orender: Actually, I have. Yes.
Q. Can you give me a recent example of something you discussed?
Orender: When there were issues of ownership, expansion…things like that, there would be others that I would talk to about it.
Q. President of a pro sports league is a limited membership. There have been just two presidents in the history of the WNBA. What are the immediate and long-term challenges for your successor?
Orender: I think there’s a good stable base. And I think that much like every other sport, we continue to build on that base. I think exposure to the game is the biggest opportunity. I never worried about the quality of the product. It started early. I could probably say that when it started, it wasn’t the best basketball in the world. But today it is a phenomenal competition played by incredible athletes all put together in a very electric, energetic environment geared toward families. And it’s just a question of getting people in the arenas that really feel and experience the great quality that’s there.
Q. The UConn women’s team has achieved a remarkable measure of success. That’s good for all basketball, not just women’s teams.
Orender: Of course. Listen, any program that can achieve that level of excellence should be applauded. This is a culture that’s about driving results. This is a program that’s all about results, in the most positive of ways.
Q. Tell me something about the WNBA that would surprise basketball fans.
Orender: It’s probably the speed of the play. The points per minute are almost on a par with the NBA. The free-throw percentage is higher than the NBA.
Q. In your blog on December 3, you wrote, “In fitting basketball parlance, the game plan calls for a timeout to be followed by a new set of plays that I had drawn up many years ago that are now ready to be put into the rotation.” What did you mean by that?
Orender: I looked at my career, and there were certain kinds of things that I wanted to do. And there comes a time when you say, “Hey, OK, it’s time to do them.” I happen to really enjoy people. I think the fans of the WNBA really got that. I’ve spoken all over the country, and I would like to continue to develop that aspect of my career, which is speaking to… whether it’s corporate, women, kids, groups all over the country, motivational, inspirational kind of educational talk. So, it’s time to do that. I can only do so much of that with the WNBA. I’d like to write a book, and, so, that takes some time. And I really have an interest in some other areas that I would like to continue to develop. And, so, the timeout is to try to re-engage with my family. I’ve been on the road for a long time now, and so I will try to do that.
Q. Are you still going to be affiliated in some way with the WNBA?
Orender: No, but I’ve always had this philosophy that you can leave physically a place, but the parts will always stay with you and, so, I think I take a large part of the WNBA with me. And judging by the amount of outreach I’ve had – and I haven’t even gone yet – I can fairly expect that I will continue to have some interaction.
Q. What would a highlight reel of your presidency include?
Orender: Probably sitting in the stands with a big smile on my face, surrounded by wonderful fans also just beaming with joy at being able to be connected and participate in such a wonderful experience.
Q. Anything else?
Orender: I can rattle off a lot of the business metrics that our team has achieved over the last six years, and I remain incredibly proud of being able to, you know, push the ball down the court for this league.
Q. What are some of those business metrics?
Orender: Four years of attendance growth, incredible ratings growth and development on ESPN television, the development of a broadband product that I think is truly having a revolutionary impact on televised sports in general. I’m very proud of that. I’m very proud of our CBA and the way that we negotiated our labor agreement that resulted in six years of prosperity, you know, certainty as it relates to our players.
Q. Any regrets?
Orender: You know, just that I wish I could have gotten done more, as any Type-A driven personality would say. I wish I could put 30 hours into my 24-hour days as opposed to 27 or something crazy like that. But no. No regrets.
Q. What more needs to be done?
Orender: Just as I said, you know what I mean? It’s like, every touch, every meeting, every sales opportunity… you know, if I had 10 of those, I wish I could have made 15, you know what I mean? I always feel — no matter what I’m involved in — I always feel an urgency to move forward, drive the bar higher, touch people in a way that’s meaningful, and create something that, you know, is difference-making.
Q. Is there an athlete that you most enjoy watching?
Orender: You know, listen, I am a sports lover. I always have been. I have a great appreciation for talent. You know, watching talent. And, so, I wouldn’t limit myself to one or two. I would tell you that there are many, many athletes that I enjoy watching.
Q. No one player above another that you single out? Or make it a point to watch this game or this player?
Orender: What game is that?
Q. There’s no one who is in town or on [TV] that you think, “I’ve got to go see that player or that game?
Orender: I wouldn’t single anybody out at this point in time. I have a great appreciation for a wide variety of sports. I do have to say this, though, coming from Jacksonville at this point in time, I’m very intrigued to watch the success of Tim Tebow (laughing).
Q. You were a player yourself at Queens College in the 1970s. A lot of changes in the game since then.
Orender: The athletes are bigger, they’re stronger, they’re faster on a more pervasive basis. I would match Annie Meyers Drysdale up to any athlete today in terms of her quickness and speed. And they’re playing the game starting at a much younger age and their skill development is more advanced. So, I would tell you, like in any other sport, the greats of any era probably can compete with the greats of any other era. Because when you’re an exceptional athlete, you’re an exceptional athlete. That said, I just think that the athletes today, and the game today, are a lot quicker and a lot more physical.
Q. Orender Unlimited, your new company: What’s the plan for that?
Orender: My view of the world is that there are endless possibilities, and I’ve been fortunate in my career to have many, many, many experiences. And, so, therefore, if you provide value to companies, within companies, projects can help elevate and help them reach their objective. And Unlimited is such that, you know, it could be. Having had the good fortune to have experience in film media, having launched and created the entire digital business for the PGA Tour, whether it’s in the sponsorship area, strategy…whatever, I also have a big interest in golf and women, creating inspirational, educational programming, and I’ll be working on developing that as well. And I hope to be able to sit on a couple of corporate boards and bring my expertise and experience to that endeavor as well. So, it’s an evolving kind of plan at this point in time, incorporating kind of the things where I think I can bring the most value and, truthfully, the things that I like to do the best.
As the son of John McKay, the legendary football coach at USC and the first head coach of the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Rich McKay grew up around the game. He was a high school quarterback in California and Florida and a ballboy for his father at Tampa Bay. Later on, he earned his undergraduate and law degrees, respectively, from Princeton and Stetson. Rich McKay was a practicing attorney in Tampa before taking the job of general manager with the Buccaneers in 1993. During his 10-year tenure with the Bucs, McKay hired Tony Dungy as head coach and built a team that won the Super Bowl in the 2002 season. He joined the Atlanta Falcons in 2003 as president and general manager and saw the team advance to the NFC title game in his first season. McKay spoke recently with Jerry Kavanagh.
Q. What has been the biggest surprise of this NFL season for you?
McKay: I would say it is some of the teams that probably have not performed as well as I thought they would. I looked at some of those teams, like the Cowboys, and thought they were really going to be a force to be reckoned with. But every year I think that about certain teams, I realize how much injuries play a part and how quickly the league can change. So, every time I get surprised by certain teams’ success or lack of success, I remind myself that I shouldn’t be surprised.
Q. The way the NFL is structured, a team can turn it around pretty quickly or drop precipitously.
McKay: Absolutely, and that’s the way you want the league to be. The word parity…sometimes people give it a negative connotation; I’ve always thought of it in a positive light because it truly means that even if your team hasn’t had success for three years, that doesn’t mean that in the next two years it can’t have a lot of success. That’s how close the margin is, and that’s a good thing for our sport.
Q. You’ve got parity in the NFC West, where a 7-9 team made the playoffs.
McKay: People view that as a negative. But usually that’s very cyclical. Those things can change quickly. I remember how good the Rams were just a few years back. And the 49ers were the dominant team in the ’80s and into the ’90s, so those things go in cycles.
Q. What has been the key to the Falcons’ success this season?
McKay: I think Mike Smith and his staff have done a really good job of staying with the plan and being very basic in our approach. And we’ve been very consistent. We’ve been consistent on offense, defense, and special teams. And when that happens, you tend to win football games.
Q. The Falcons have home-field advantage through the NFC playoffs. Given the Falcons’ record at home, how much of an advantage is that?
McKay: Home field in this league matters a lot. It always has, and it should. Since coach Smith’s been here, I think we’ve only lost three or four home games. So it matters a lot. Hopefully, we can take advantage of it. Winning at home can become a habit. You begin to expect it and to expect good things to happen. That’s a positive because I’ve been in situations when it wasn’t so good, like in my early days in Tampa, where you expected to lose. What happened was, you literally waited for a bad play. And when it happened, then all the players kind of got that expectation in their mind that, “Oh, oh. Here it comes.” And then you lost the game. I think you can have the inverse of that, and that’s what we’ve got going on right now.
Q. There’s a comfort level, too, isn’t there, in playing at home? You don’t have to travel. The players get to sleep in their own beds…
McKay: No question. All of that matters. We’re all creatures of habit, and those habits are easier to keep in sync at home than they are on the road.
Q. You have spoken about reseeding the teams for the playoffs. It seems particularly appropriate now, but that’s not going to happen this year..
McKay: It’s something that’s been discussed before in the league. I wouldn’t say it’s my issue as much as it’s been an issue raised by a number of teams. Jacksonville, I think, submitted two different proposals on it. I think eventually it’s something we should go to. But it’s still got a little ways to go.
Q. How would it work?
McKay: The four division winners are now automatically seeded one through four. In the most recent proposal, the division winners automatically get in the playoffs. So, you are not devaluing the division winners. But only the first two seeds are automatically guaranteed those seeds. And after that the teams are seeded based on record.
Q. What’s the point of reseeding?
McKay: The purpose behind the proposals was to keep more games relevant later in the year and potentially to deal with the [current] situation, where the team with the much better record is going to go on the road. We’ll see. I think people get concerned about devaluing what are division championships. I think that it’s something that will certainly be debated this year. But as it usually does in this league, it will take time to get that thing passed.
Q. Let’s get back to parity. How does a team maintain a continuous atmosphere of winning when the NFL, by its very system (schedule, draft, salary cap, etc.), works against such sustained success?
McKay: Very good point, Jerry. You’re absolutely right. The system is designed to…not necessarily to prevent you [from winning] but to make it difficult for you to win on a continuous basis because of the narrowness and the margin of winning. And so it does work against you in that sense.
But what you have to give your fan base the feeling of is, No. 1, that you’re going to do everything necessary to try to get your team to be the best it can be. And No. 2, that you’re going to try to also win off the field. That is, that you’re going to represent everything that’s supposed to be good about being an NFL city. And by that I mean that your players have got to get out in the community, they’ve got to do the right thing, and they’ve got to touch the fans, not just on the football field but off the field. And I think that when you do those types of things, then when you do have those down years, you’ve built up enough equity that the fans are willing to hang in.
Q. By the way, speaking of off the field, I like that commercial with the Falcons on the school bus. I didn’t see you in it, though. Are you on the bus?
McKay: No. In fact, I was out of town. I decided that I’m better not in that commercial, given my lack of rhythm. [Team owner] Arthur [Blank] is a huge supporter of the Play 60 initiative and the anti-obesity campaign. It married up well with what we’re trying to be about, and so it was nice that we were associated with [the commercial].
Q. You grew up in football and have been around the sport from an early age. What’s the best decision you have made in the game?
McKay: Wow! Now, there’s a hard question. I would say it’s the hiring of certain people. I think it always gets down to people. Hiring Tony Dungy in the [Tampa Bay] franchise and the situation we were in was probably the best decision I could have made for the franchise at that time. That was probably as big a decision as I’ve made. There were plenty of draft picks along the way that I’m real proud of and others that I’m not. But when you’re charged with hiring a coach, that’s an important decision. In essence, that coach ends up becoming the CEO of your franchise and has great impact on your winning and on the perception of your franchise locally.
Q. The last time we spoke, a few years ago, you talked about stocking your roster with draft picks and free agents. I realize that every team needs both, but you said, “You are much better served to develop your own [players], let them understand what your culture is, and then pay them and extend their contracts than to go out and buy the talent in free agency.” Does that still hold true?
McKay: One hundred percent. I’m more committed today than whenever I told you that. Building that culture and raising those athletes within your culture is a lot easier than bringing players in who’ve had success at [other] teams and then trying to fit them into your schemes and into your culture. Look at Pittsburgh and New England. Those are two examples of franchises that have won continuously and have done it by drafting their own and developing their own and keeping their own.
Q. You are chairman of the NFL Competition Committee. Does the game itself and/or the NFL need any changes?
McKay: The game’s in a really good place right now. I think the numbers speak to that. You can never do enough on the player safety side. And I think we will always, and should always, focus on that end, even to the extent of facing public criticism from either ex-players or the media.
Q. Is enough being done to insure the safety of the players?
McKay: I think it is, but you have to continually work on that issue. If you look over the last 15 years, there have been an awful lot of changes made to try to make the game safer and to try to limit the player from any type of unreasonable risk of injury. But I don’t think we should accept where we are. We should keep pushing and make sure we look at every instance in which a player is potentially put into a place that presents an unreasonable risk.
Q. And yet there is talk of an 18-game regular season in a sport that is so debilitating.
McKay: There is, and I’ll leave that to those at the league office and the union who are talking about it. But I think there are things you can do that deal with the whole system and don’t just focus on the two [additional] games but the whole system that goes into the training, the offseason, and everything else. Because those elements all go into player safety. It’s not just the games.
Q. Is there an offseason? It doesn’t seem like there is an offseason anymore.
McKay: (laughing) I don’t know. If you ask some of the people who work here, I think their answer might be that there isn’t much of one.
Q. Jerry Jones just recently said, “Basically, the [economic] model that we have does not work.” He also said that he did not think that a lockout would be disastrous for the game. Do you think there will be a lockout next season? If so, would it be disastrous for the game?
McKay: I say “No comment” to both questions, and I leave it to people with a pay grade much higher than me.
Q. OK, you don’t want to speculate about a lockout, but do you have any predictions about the postseason and the offseason?
McKay: No predictions, Jerry. I’m not a predictor.
Q. Everybody’s a predictor.
McKay: (laughing) Behind closed doors I am.
Q. What are you reading these days?
McKay: I’m into the latest James Patterson. Whatever the latest James Patterson is, he’s on my Kindle and I’m reading him.
Q. Kindle, huh?
McKay: I can’t remember which one it is, but I’ve been all over and into that kind of genre, if you will, lately. I haven’t been as much into serious books. I probably need to get back to do a little more serious reading.
Q. I’m glad you have some time to read. It seems so many people now don’t have time to do anything but work.
McKay: The interesting thing me about me from a reading standpoint is that I’m a late-night reader and I’m an airplane reader. We travel so much during the season, and that gives me the best opportunity to read.
Happy New Year everybody. Great news. Tiger Woods says he’s going to turn over a new fig leaf this year. …
Nice effort by the Big Ten on New Year’s Day. In the aftermath of the disaster, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State have been transferred from the Leaders Division to the Laughingstock Division. …
So another NFL regular season is in the books. Not that, you know, they shouldn’t bother with the playoffs, but Bill Belichick has already prepared his Lombardi Trophy acceptance speech: “Um, thank you.” …NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced today that, due to technical difficulties and the Pats’ dominance, there will be no darkhorses in this year’s playoffs. …
Big news out of the Bay Area. According to a source he once tried to strangle, Tom Cable is history as the Raiders’ head coach. …So why would they dump the Cable Guy? Apparently, Al Davis wasn’t comfortable finishing 8-8. He’s hoping to return to the glory days of 4-12. …