January 24, 2014

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Hat Tip to the New York Yankees

By: Matt Bowen

The New York Yankees are back to their old ways. Never mind that Super Bowl Sunday has yet to happen and we’re in the heart of a bitter winter, the Yanks are making a splash this MLB offseason.

Just when fans may have thought the franchise was going into a period of dark ages, think again. The Yankees are the most iconic team in sports history—they win often. With 27 World Series rings to date many have grown too loath the “Evil Empire” but one can’t help but respect them.

Yankee Stadium

Will the Yankees be contenders in 2014?

They last won it all in 2009 and with the passing of legendary owner George Steinbrenner in 2010. Steinbrenner was infamous for going out and acquiring any player he deemed fit to don the famous pinstripes, many times with a hefty payday. Since 2008 when the team spent a massive $441 million during the offseason in free agency, the team only spent a total of $227.8 million combined.

It seemed as if the Yankees have tightened the reins on the checkbook since “The Boss” passed onto baseball heaven.

The team let second baseman Robinson Cano walk via free agency this offseason and head west to the Seattle Mariners. The going price for Cano was only a cool $240 million. Wait. Those were the contracts the Yankees used to acquire and suddenly they were passing.

Was their new philosophy to build from within?

Suddenly baseball fans everywhere began to debate if the Yankees were in decline without Steinbrenner’s robust leadership.

Had they’re buying power lost its punch? Had the Yankees lost their appeal?

Think again.

This offseason, the team has once again emptied its pockets.

But why would the team go back to spending so much?

The answer is simple—they’re the New York Yankees. The have a reputation to maintain.

Since 2010 the Yankees have won 95, 97, 95, and 85 games, respectively.

Many MLB teams may consider 85 wins, the Yankees’ amount in 2013, an acceptable season. Not the Yanks. Couple that with the fact that the despised Boston Red Sox won their third World Series since 2004 and the Yankees had to make a splash this offseason.

Mission accomplished.

Yes, they lost Cano, but they acquired free agents Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka.

Correct—there’s a disturbance in the force. The Yankees have once again drawn a line in the proverbial sand and let it be known that they are the team to beat. Many teams had their hat in the ring for the Tanaka sweepstakes yet the Yankees came out king of the mountain.

Their star-studded lineup is shining a bit brighter at the moment. It’s been proven in sports that money doesn’t always buy championships, but the Yankees have definitely bought themselves some momentum heading into the 2014 MLB season. It may have cost the Yankees $491 million this winter but winning it all is simply priceless.

For better or worse balance has been restored in baseball. Hat tip to the Yankees for being so special.

December 9, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Seattle Mariners roll the dice with Robinson Cano: We’ve seen insane baseball deals before and one would think that with Alex Rodriguez’ contract turning into a disaster and Albert Pujols on the decline after signing his monster contract that Major League Baseball teams would finally learn a lesson. The Seattle Mariners, though, remained undeterred by those warning shots and promptly signed New York Yankees’ second baseman Robinson Cano to a ten-year $240 million deal. Cano’s a fine player and one of the best second basemen in all of baseball, but that’s a big, big number. To be fair, in 2013, he led all American League players at that position by a wide margin in home runs, RBI, and batting average. Cano’s obviously extremely valuable but the chances that this contract will turn into a mistake remain high. The infielder is still in his prime, but at 31, that won’t last long. It’s a scary thought what Cano will be doing five years from now at 36, but ten? He’ll be 41 when this deal is over and paying a player tens of millions of dollars past the age of 40 is borderline suicide.

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols hasn't been as dominant since joining the Angels. How will Robinson Cano perform in Seattle?

New York Yankees to feature new look in 2014: Speaking of Cano, the New York Yankees will have a new look in 2014. Not only did they allow their second baseman to walk, but they also let Curtis Granderson sign with the New York Mets. That doesn’t mean the free-spending Yanks aren’t ready to make any moves in the offseason, though. New York first dropped a bombshell, signing Jacoby Ellsbury away from the Boston Red Sox to a seven-year deal worth $153 million. They also scooped up catcher Brian McCann and most recently, signed outfielder Carlos Beltran to a three-year $45 million deal. Those moves won’t guarantee success but if nothing else, New York will have a significantly different look in 2014.

Florida State and Auburn will square off for title: The Ohio State Buckeyes had their chance to play for the BCS Championship, but let it slip through their fingers in a 34-24 season-ending loss to Michigan State this weekend. That opened the door for the SEC Championship winner and Auburn routed Missouri in a 59-42 win to move into college football’s title game. There will be those that still favor Alabama over Auburn, but the Tigers certainly deserve to play for the championship after their wacky victory over the Crimson Tide. Auburn could present a stiff challenge but Florida State has just rolled over everyone they’ve faced this season – I’ll take the Seminoles in this one.

Steve Sarkisian becomes next USC football coach: The USC Trojans have their next football coach after hiring Steve Sarkiaian last week. The move raised some eyebrows to be certain as USC took a bit of a risk on this hire. Sarkisian does have major college football experience, having served the last five seasons as the head coach of the Washington Huskies, but didn’t have a ton of success there. To be fair, he did have four winning seasons in his five years there … but just barely. Three of those seasons, he was a modest 7-6 and his career 34-29 record hardly is much of an inspiration for a program with as much prestige as USC football. The hire may work out, but there’s no question the new coach has a lot to prove.

He’s back – Kobe returns in loss on Sunday: The Los Angeles Lakers got their star back over the weekend as Kobe Bryant returned to play his first game since his ACL injury. Bryant’s time was limited and he had only nine points in a loss to the 7-12 Toronto Raptors. The guard played 28 minutes and was clearly a bit rusty, shooting only 2-9 from the field and racking up a monster eight turnovers. You can expect some more rusty play out of him as well as limited minutes to start until he can get going.

Matt Prater hits record field goal: The Denver Broncos trailed the Tennessee Titans in the first half of their game on Sunday, but they recovered in part from an NFL-record field goal kicked by Matt Prater. Prater connected on a 64-yarder, breaking the league record of 63 yards held by four players. The feat is an amazing one to be sure, but don’t be surprised if the record falls in the near future. With kickers’ legs getting stronger, Prater’s record might not stand for long. After all, David Akers and Sebastian Janikowski, both kicked 63-yard field goals in each of the past two seasons and Prater’s kick on Sunday marked the third consecutive year that feat was achieved.

Gary Kubiak fired as Houston Texans’ coach: The Houston Texans have had a rocky year and as the season comes to a close, the franchise canned their head coach Gary Kubiak as a result. The move was understandable as the Texans not only had a subpar year, but a downright horrible one. The team was 2-11 at the time of Kubiak’s firing – good enough for worst in the league. When you factor in that Houston was 12-4 last season and reached the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs, the team clearly expected more and woefully disappointed this season. The Texans had a few problems in that quarterback Matt Schaub was injured and subsequently benched, and All-Pro running back Arian Foster was placed on injured reserve with a back injury. Still, to go from 12-4 to a 2-11 record (including 11 consecutive losses) is disastrous and it’s little surprise that someone had to pay the price.

September 18, 2013

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Paying Homage to Mariano Rivera

By: Matt Bowen

A sad day is upon us—as the 2013 MLB season nears to a close New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera will officially retire from baseball.

Mariano Rivera will retire after the 2013 MLB season.

Rivera has been transcendent throughout his 19-year MLB career because of arguably the most devastating pitch in baseball history—his cutter. It’s not easy to be an MLB closer.  Like a kicker in the NFL, a few blown chances will equal unemployment.  Rivera is different, a rare breed. He’s the best in the business past, present, and foreseeable future.

This fact may be a hard pill to swallow for baseball fans who love to hate the Yankees, but respecting Rivera, especially as he gracefully bows out of the game is imperative. In fact, every team he’s faced this year for the final time sent him off with a gift as a sign of respect—multiple teams donated to his charity, but others had interesting gifts.

The Minnesota Twins poked fun at the 43-year-old righty by giving him a rocking chair made out of broken bats. The Tampa Bay Rays crafted a unique sand sculpture with Rivera’s nickname, “The Sandman.” The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, an oil painting of him, the San Diego Padres, a beach cruiser. One team takes the cake in the gift department though and it’s none other than the Yankees most despicable rival, the Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox were classy and gifted the No. 42 from the manual scoreboard in historic Fenway Park.  This has sentimental value for all of baseball. You see, the No. 42 was retired by Major League Baseball in 1997 to show respect to Jackie Robinson on the 50th anniversary of his integration into the big leagues. Being grandfathered into the number, Rivera is the only player still wearing No. 42. When he’s gone, it’s gone.

The number is not all that will be gone on September 29 in Houston when the Yankees close out the season against the Astros. The best closer of all time will be undoubtedly closing the game whether the Yankees are in a save situation or not.

Gone will be the oldest active player in the game. Gone will be “The Sandman”, a five-time World Series champion whose 651 career saves are a remarkable 50 higher than former Padres shutdown man, Trevor Hoffman.

Compared to active players, Joe Nathan of the Texas Rangers is the next closest on the list with 337 career saves. Considering Nathan is 38 years old, it’s safe to say that he won’t be surpassing Rivera on the all-time lists anytime soon.

In fact, there’s only one active player who may give the record a run for its money. That player is Craig Kimbrel of the Atlanta Braves. At only 25 years old, Kimbrel already has 136 saves under his belt. A fun fact about Rivera—he didn’t break into the majors until he was 25. Even with a four year head start Kimbrel would have to average 27+ saves/year for the next 19 years to eclipse the untouchable one. That’s easier said than done, especially because such longevity is hard to fathom.

Rivera has been around so long because of his deadly cut-fastball. One pitch has afforded him an iconic career in pinstripes.

Gone will be the greatest of all time.

July 30, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Alfonso Soriano returns to Yankees: In desperate need of offense with so many injuries to key players, the New York Yankees turned to a familiar face, trading for outfielder Alfonso Soriano. Soriano began his career in New York as a second baseman before later playing for the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, and most recently, the Chicago Cubs. The outfielder is past his prime, but a recent hot streak was proof that he can still provide a surge of power. After hitting only nine home runs in the first three months of the season, Soriano has hit nearly that many already in July with eight this month heading into this past weekend.

Jeremy Maclin out for year: NFL training camps are underway and that can only mean one thing – injuries won’t be far behind. The biggest casualty thus far may be the Eagles’ young wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, who is out for the season after tearing an ACL in a practice. With perhaps their best wideout injured, Philadelphia’s season gets off to a rocky start. The team still has DeSean Jackson at receiver, but Maclin’s loss gives rookie head coach Chip Kelly less to work with on offense – his area of expertise.

Jaromir Jagr signs with New Jersey Devils: Even at 41, Jaromir Jagr isn’t ready to hang up his skates. After playing for the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars last year, the winger has signed a one-year $2 million deal with the New Jersey Devils. Jagr isn’t the player he once was, but still has a little left in the tank after scoring 35 points (including 16 goals in 45 games this past season). Plus, with Ilya Kovalchuk leaving New Jersey to play in Russia, the team was in desperate need of scoring. Jagr ranks eighth all-time among NHL players in scoring and his 681 career goals are good for tenth overall.

Lebron > Kobe in ESPN poll: When it comes to the most popular player in the NBA, LeBron James passed up Kobe Bryant for the first time in a few years according to an ESPN poll. Bryant had beaten out James the past few seasons, but after his second consecutive title, James overtook him last week. Really, it’s just proof that time heals all wounds. Immediately after the much-scrutinized “Decision” broadcast where James announced his intention to leave Cleveland for Miami, he took a huge publicity hit and was even viewed as a villain by many. But after a few years with the Heat and winning a couple of rings, liking LeBron is once again okay.

101 Russian women set a skydiving record: Yeah, I’m not even going to try to add anything to this. Feel free to watch for yourself.

Matt Garza pickup costly for Rangers: Matt Garza may not quite be a household name, but the pitcher could be the best starter that gets dealt before baseball’s trade deadline this season. At 7-1 with a 2.87 ERA, Garza is having a career year and was heavily desired by contenders before he was traded to the Texas Rangers by the Cubs. Garza didn’t come cheap, however. He cost Texas two of their top prospects entering this season, pitcher Justin Grimm and first baseman Mike Olt. Both have struggled to a degree this season, but Grimm has seven wins with the major league team while Olt has 12 home runs in the minors. The trade also cost the Rangers C.J. Edwards, a flamethrower who has dominated Rookie League and Class A in the minors the past two seasons. Also, keep in mind that Garza could only be a rental player as he’s due to become a free agent after this year. All things considered, the Rangers need to not only make the playoffs, but maybe even reach a World Series for this trade to come out in their favor.

Tim Hudson injury hurts Braves: Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson suffered a devastating injury last week when his ankle was broken by the Mets’ Eric Young, Jr. in a collision at first base. The injury was a big one as the veteran will miss the rest of the season. That hurts Atlanta’s playoff chances at least a bit and the team is already looking around for a potential trade. The Braves hold a comfortable lead in the NL East, but should the team hold on for a playoff spot, Hudson’s veteran presence will be sorely missed in the postseason.

Matt Harvey likely to end season early: Similar to what the Washington Nationals did with prized young pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the New York Mets are planning to keep Matt Harvey on a limit for the rest of the year. Mets manager Terry Collins has said Harvey has about ten more starts left instead of the 13 or so he may reach if he continued to pitch every fifth day. While similar to Strasburg’s situation, though, it’s a bit different considering the Mets aren’t likely to be in the playoffs as the Nats were. One thing that will be interesting, though, is to see if the loss in starts costs Harvey when it comes to the Cy Young voting.

June 6, 2013

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10 MLB Teams That Will Miss The Playoffs

By: Joe Williams

It is hard to believe, but the MLB season is already one-third of the way over. Obviously, nobody has locked up a playoff spot yet, but several teams have dug themselves into such a big hole that they won’t be able to climb out of it. Therefore, it’s time to eliminate a third of the teams. Who are the 10 teams that aren’t going anywhere in 2013?

After signing Josh Hamilton in the offseason, the Angels would be disappointed to miss the playoffs.

Miami Marlins

We knew the Marlins would be bad after another fire sale sent their top talent elsewhere, but did we know they would be this bad? They are on pace to lose 120 games and are starting to make the Astros look pretty good.

Houston Astros

Speaking of the Astros…switching leagues hasn’t seemed to help their winning percentage and they are again headed for a 100-loss campaign. On the bright side, the worst they can finish in the AL West is fifth, instead of sixth like they were in the NL Central last year.

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers went 6-22 in May and were outscored by 50 runs. They weren’t just losing games. They were getting crushed. And now things could be getting worse with the news of a possible suspension coming for Ryan Braun.

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are currently in last in the A.L. East. They are under .500 at home. Their pitching staff is near the bottom of the league. All the big-name acquisitions have been disappointing and the division is too tough.

San Diego Padres

They have not been the same since the 2010 season when they blew the lead in the N.L. West and missed the playoffs by a game. The Padres aren’t the worst team in California, but they aren’t going to the playoffs.

Los Angeles

The “honor” of worst team in California is a tie between the Angels and Dodgers . Both teams entered the season with world championship aspirations and are playing .440 ball and well back in the playoff chase. The superstar signings haven’t paid off and it’s going to be a long summer in a city that is used to seeing meaningful games in October.

Chicago

Speaking of big cities with disappointing teams…why can’t the Cubs or White Sox get anything going? Neither team has been to the playoffs since 2008 and it’s not happening in 2013 either. But it does look like they’ll battle for best team in Chicago all season long.

New York

I might as well go all-in on the big market clubs being left home this October. I’m not going out on a limb to say that the Mets won’t be playing past game 162, but I’ll throw the Yankees in that boat too and make it 11 teams that aren’t going to be in the playoffs this year. Sure they’ve had guys stepping up for their injured stars all year and have guys coming back, but I’ll take the younger and fresher teams like Baltimore, Tampa Bay and Cleveland to hold off the Yankees in the AL East and Wild Card races.