General Sports: February 12

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-The Indianapolis Colts have hired former Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive coordinator Frank Reich to be their next head coach. Reich had been the Eagles’ OC each of the last two seasons as the team saw a significant uptick in production between year 1 and year 2. While many credit Doug Pederson for calling the “Philly Special” (despite it being an illegal formation…yes I’m still salty), Reich played a huge role in designing and developing that play. As Trey Wingo noted on Twitter, this may actually be an upgrade over the failed Josh McDaniels hire, as the Colts will now be landing the OC that won the Super Bowl, rather than the one that lost. Reich’s offensive scheme relies heavily on run-pass options, or RPO’s, and they were extremely effective in the Eagles’ wins over the Vikings and Patriots. Under his system, Carson Wentz went from an intriguing quarterback with a lot of potential to the MVP frontrunner and after his injury, Nick Foles went from a guy who hadn’t been good since 2013 into Super Bowl MVP. With so much uncertainty surrounding the Colts’ quarterback situation given Andrew Luck’s unknown health, getting a guy like Reich could become an excellent hire.

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-Paul Pierce had his number 34 retired by the Celtics and it was quite the ceremony as Celtics legends were spotted all over the place, from Bill Russell to Kevin Garnett to Rajon Rondo. It didn’t end well for the Celtics as the new-look Cavaliers smoked the boys in green 121-99, but it was a nice moment for the Celtics legend Pierce. Speaking of the Cavs, they looked really sharp as a new unit and it seems like they made all the right trades at the deadline. It’s still early, but early returns are promising.

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-People are just now freaking out over Eagles tackle Lane Johnson’s comments about the Patriots’ culture even though the interview in which that took place on Pardon My Take aired on Friday. I’m what PMT refers to as an “Award-Winning Listener” and when I heard what Johnson had to say, I didn’t really care. He said that the Patriots seem to build their culture around fear and doesn’t get the sense that Patriots players really enjoy their time in Foxboro. He also went on to state that he would rather win 1 Super Bowl and have a blast doing it than win 5 and be miserable. I don’t know why people are making such a fuss over this. One little complaint I’d have with this statement is word choice and it’s literally just one word I disagree with: fear. I don’t think the Patriots build their culture around fear, I think they build it around what’s best for business. It’s no secret that playing for the Patriots requires one to be pretty uptight and about as professional as humanly possible. But professional football is a business, it’s not about having fun at that stage. If you are having fun, great, you’re one of the luckiest people on Earth that you get to not only play football for a living, but have a blast doing it. But that business-like mentality isn’t exclusive to the Patriots. Most teams try and conduct themselves in a similar fashion, the Patriots get more publicity for it because of their run of success. You could tell that the Eagles were a much more laid back group from as early as Week 1, as their endzone celebrations were some of the best in the newly relaxed league. It worked out well for them, just like the Patriots’ business-like approach works well in Foxboro. So really, I think people need to calm down about Johnson’s comments.

-I almost got caught looking very silly during my wrestling broadcast on Sunday.

During this match, I was reading my notes and giving off information about each wrestler when I happened to glance up at the perfect possible moment when Devin Skatzka landed the pin. This would’ve gotten pretty ugly because it was a huge win for Indiana to get themselves back into the meet with Northwestern. Northwestern ended up winning reasonably handily, but this pin made things interesting. It actually happened so fast (28 seconds) that I never even got a chance to introduce the Northwestern wrestler. Had I missed the pin, it could’ve derailed the whole broadcast. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

-The NCAA released their first bracket preview where they showcased where each team stands right now in the March Madness rankings, only doing the top 4 seeds for each region. The teams are:

1 Seeds: Virginia (#1 Overall), Villanova, Xavier, Purdue

2 Seeds: Cincinnati, Duke, Auburn, Kansas

3 Seeds: Michigan State, Texas Tech, Clemson, North Carolina

4 Seeds: Tennessee, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Arizona

I haven’t been keeping up with college basketball like I wanted to but I promise I’ll at least post my bracket when the time comes. But overall I find these seedings to be very interesting, especially considering where a lot of these teams were at the start of the season. I doubt very many people would’ve guessed that traditional football schools like Auburn, Clemson, and Ohio State would rank very highly as well as Xavier and Purdue being 1 seeds along with Cincinnati and Texas Tech being amongst the 16 best teams. But I’m very excited for March Madness season because I have no effing clue who’s going to win. Usually there’s one team you can confidently point to and say “those guys are going to go far” but I could very easily see all of these teams collapsing at any given time. Is it March yet?

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-There have been reports that the Nationals are interested in signing Jake Arrieta, which should be absolutely TERRIFYING for the rest of the National League. A potential rotation of Max Scherzer, Arrieta, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Tanner Roark is so wildly unfair that the Nats may go weeks without letting up a run. Roark could be the number 1 pitcher on a weak staff but on this possible Nationals’ staff, he’s the fifth man. Though signing Arrieta would take the Nationals from slim chances to re-signing Bryce Harper to zero chance. We saw that Yu Darvish got a 6-year $126M deal with the Cubs on Saturday and Arrieta has a far more impressive resume so he’s certainly going to command more money. He may want to sign soon, though, because pitchers and catchers report for most teams on Valentine’s Day.

That’s going to do it for this edition of General Sports, let me know what you think of each storyline in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Cubs Sign Yu Darvish

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NOW we get into the juicy stuff. After a long while, Yu Darvish has signed a 6-year $126M contract with the Chicago Cubs after 5 and a half years with the Rangers and half a season with the Dodgers, where he helped them on a World Series run (even if his actual World Series performance left a lot to be desired). Darvish is one of the most talented pitchers in the game but hasn’t been able to realize a lot of his potential due in large part to injury, namely Tommy John surgery which cost him much of 2014, all of 2015, and much of 2016. Darvish was finally healthy in 2017 and he had a solid year, going 10-12 with a 3.86 ERA and 209 strikeouts between the Rangers and Dodgers. He looks for a fresh new start with a talented Cubs rotation that underperformed in 2017 but looks to get back on track to try and return to their championship glory from 2016.

Here’s how the Cubs’ rotation is expected to look with Darvish in the mix and the now expected departure of former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta, whom I will get to in a moment:

1. Jon Lester

2. Yu Darvish

3. Kyle Hendricks

4. Jose Quintana

5. Tyler Chatwood/Drew Smyly

That’s a pretty formidable rotation provided everybody pitches to their ability. Couple that with an extremely potent lineup and the Cubs have all the makings of a World Series favorite. Though pitching to their ability is the big concern here. Lester is coming off his worst season since 2012, as he went 13-8 with a 4.33 ERA and 180 strikeouts. He turned 34 last month so one has to wonder if his skills may be on the decline. Quintana was very inconsistent last season. His month-by-month ERA was a big indicator to that. Starting in April, Quintana’s monthly ERA’s were 5.22, 5.91, 1.78, 3.45, 5.73, 2.51. So of those 6 months, 3 were really bad and 3 were either solid or excellent. It all averaged out to an ERA of 4.15, which is a far cry from what we know he’s capable of. Hendricks was probably Chicago’s most consistent starter in 2017 as he went 7-5 with a 3.03 ERA and 123 strikeouts during an injury-plagued season. When healthy, Hendricks is capable of being the ace of this loaded staff but if Chicago is going to make another run at the World Series, they’re going to need him on the mound every five days.

Which brings me to Jake Arrieta. The 2015 NL Cy Young winner seems to not be returning to Wrigley with the signing of Darvish, however I expect now that Darvish has signed, Arrieta will soon follow. I think the main reason it’s taken this long for either guy to sign was because they were waiting each other out, trying to see what the other would get so that they could use it as a comparison in their negotiations. Now that Arrieta has seen that Darvish is valued by the Cubs at $21M per year, he can use that to his advantage to make even more. All he has to say to teams that want to pay him comparable money to Darvish is “Yu is valued at $21M, he’s injured all the time, he doesn’t even have a Cy Young award and he sucked in the World Series. I have a Cy Young Award and a 2.38 ERA in the 2016 World Series.” Immediately that’s going to land him at least $25M. So Arrieta ought to send Darvish a thank you card for signing first, though this for sure means that Arrieta won’t be returning to the Cubs.

However this presents an interesting conundrum for the Cubs and it has everything to do with next offseason. Bryce Harper has made it known, whether intentional or not, that his first choice to sign in the 2018 offseason would be with the Chicago Cubs. He’s childhood friends with Cubs superstar third baseman Kris Bryant and he named his dog “Wrigley.” The writing is on the wall for that one. However, Harper will be just 26 years old when he hits free agency and many have speculated he may command Major League Baseball’s first ever $400M contract. Will the Cubs be able to afford that with the current payroll they have? Not likely. So there will need to be some work done on the salary front and many potentially key players needing to be moved in order to afford that deal. It can be done, though, and I do expect we’ll be seeing Harper in Cubby blue starting in 2019.

That’s going to do it for this piece on the Yu Darvish signing. Let me know what you think this does for the Cubs’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

MLB Free Agent Power Rankings

Before I get into the power rankings, I want to just say Rest in Peace to Roy Halladay, who died in a plane crash on Tuesday. He was 40 years old. Halladay was a husband and father of two and was widely considered to be one of the best human beings in baseball, as he was very involved in the community, from charity work to coaching little league. He was also a phenomenal pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, winning the Cy Young Award in 2003 and 2010, an 8-time All Star, and the embodiment of a workhorse. Since 1998, when Halladay made his Major League debut, no pitcher has thrown more complete games than Halladay’s 67. He retired in 2013 and that number since 1998 still hasn’t been caught. For a while, it was pretty safe to say that Halladay was the best pitcher in baseball, as his stretch between 2008-2011 was some of the most dominant years of pitching I’ve ever seen. His 2010 season was particularly special, as it included a perfect game against the Marlins and a no hitter in his postseason debut (second in postseason history) against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS. Rest in Peace, Roy Halladay (1977-2017), you will be missed by all.

On a happier note, free agency has officially kicked off in Major League Baseball and speculation as to who’s headed where and who is due for a big contract will be the talk of the next four months or so. This year’s class is essentially the warmup to the Bryce Harper/Manny Machado class of 2018 that will be sure to shake the foundation of baseball to its core, but it is still loaded with plenty of star power. So without further ado, let’s get into the rankings.

#10. Zack Cozart-Shortstop

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photo credit: FirstAndMonday

Zack Cozart has been the shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds for a few years now but has battled injuries and hasn’t played a full season since 2014. However when he has been healthy, he’s been very effective, especially in the last two seasons, 2017 being his best. He hit .297 this season in 122 games with 24 home runs and 63 RBI while also playing some solid defense, which accumulated to a WAR of 5.0. He also earned his first All Star nod, and in turn, won a donkey from Joey Votto. You read that correctly. Here’s the story. Cozart may not be a household name, but he’s been playing the best baseball of his career and whichever team signs him will have themselves a heck of a player, provided he can stay healthy.

Projected Team: Signs with New York Mets

#9. Carlos Santana-First Baseman/DH

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photo credit: Waiting for Next Year

Carlos Santana is an oddity mainly because he often batted leadoff for the Cleveland Indians despite being a first baseman that lacks speed. It’s mainly because he draws a LOT of walks thanks to having one of the best eyes for the plate in baseball. He’s been really consistent these last two seasons, as he batted .259 in both 2016 AND 2017, and his on base percentage was .366 in 2016 and .363 in 2017. His power numbers were down from 2016, he hit a career-high 34 in 2016 and 23 in 2017, but he is still a threat to go yard if a pitcher hangs one on him.

Projected Team: Returns to the Cleveland Indians

#8. Jay Bruce-Outfielder

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photo credit: Sporting News

Jay Bruce has spent the majority of his career with the Cincinnati Reds but since being traded to the Mets in 2016, he’s had some of his best success at the plate. He hit 33 home runs between the Reds and Mets in 2016, then hit 36 bombs and drove in 101 runs between the Mets and Indians in 2017. He has only hit fewer than 20 home runs in a season once (2014) and that was by far the worst year of his career. He also has one of the strongest outfield arms in the game and many teams are hesitant to run against him.

Projected Team: Signs with the Toronto Blue Jays

#7. Mike Moustakas-Third Baseman

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Kansas City Royals

photo credit: MLB Trade Rumors

Moustakas had a MONSTROUS offensive breakout this season, hitting 38 home runs (his previous best was 22) and 85 RBI while hitting a solid .272. Moustakas was a key cog in the Royals’ 2015 championship run, and his defense has typically been a major positive at the hot corner (however it has been steadily trending downward since 2012). Moustakas is one of four players on this list from the 2015 champion Royals team (three of which were still with KC at the end of the 2017 season) and he will be a big factor for whomever signs him.

Projected Team: Signs with San Francisco Giants

#6. Wade Davis-Closing Pitcher

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photo credit: Bleed Cubbie Blue

Wade Davis is one of a plethora of pitchers with promise who flamed out as starters, but once they moved to the bullpen, they rescue their careers. Davis is probably the best example of this and has been absolutely dominant since he was named the closer of the Royals in 2015 and he was a big boost for the Cubs’ bullpen in 2017. Davis was Chicago’s only All Star in 2017 and had a 2.30 ERA, which was actually his WORST since he became a reliever in 2014. Just let that sink in.

Projected Team: Returns to Chicago Cubs

#5. Lorenzo Cain-Outfielder

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals

photo credit: Baseball Prospectus

Lorenzo Cain has been pretty consistent since 2014, his average typically hovering around the .300 mark with moderate power while playing some solid defense in centerfield. I wouldn’t say Cain is an elite player, but he’s a good one who will be an impact on any lineup, best part being you pretty much know what you’re going to get out of him. Health was an issue for him in 2016 but he was totally healthy in 2017, playing in 155 games.

Projected Team: Signs with New York Yankees

#4. Eric Hosmer-First Baseman

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photo credit; The Inquisitr

Eric Hosmer is the last of 4-straight members of the 2015 Royals on this list. While I did note in my luck blog that he was probably the luckiest hitter in baseball in 2017, he is still one of the better first basemen in the game. He’s coming off his best season as a pro, slashing .318/.385/.498, all career highs, and tied his career high of 25 home runs while playing in all 162 games. He’s a below-average defender at first base, but that’s probably the one position where I don’t care too much about defense, unless they are absolutely abysmal.

Projected Team: Signs with Boston Red Sox

#3. Jake Arrieta-Starting Pitcher

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photo credit: Fan Rag Sports

Jake Arrieta’s second half of 2015 was perhaps the most dominant stretch of pitching I have ever seen. It’s kind of been downhill since, though it is almost impossible to do much better. He’s still one of the game’s better pitchers, as he had an ERA of 3.53, his worst since joining the Cubs, but still better than what you get out of most pitchers. He was hurt, however, by the fact that opponents had a .279 BABIP against him, a career-worst, which may suggest that he just got unlucky last season.

Projected Team: Signs with Texas Rangers

#2. Yu Darvish-Starting Pitcher

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photo credit: Sports Illustrated

Yu Darvish had a terrible showing in the Dodgers’ World Series loss to the Astros but that shouldn’t put a damper on peoples’ opinions on his abilities as a pitcher. When healthy, Darvish is one of the most electrifying righties in baseball. He had a 3.86 ERA on the year, 3.38 since his trade to the Dodgers from the Rangers at the Trade Deadline, as he played his first full season since missing much of 2014, all of 2015, and much of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery. He’s never struck out fewer than 10 batters per 9 innings in his career and his control has gotten better each season, as he has cut down on his walks per 9 every year (technically it did go up by 0.02 from 2016-17, but that’s so minuscule that I think it’s fair to overlook).

Projected Team: Resigns with Los Angeles Dodgers

#1. JD Martinez-Outfielder

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photo credit: Sports from the Basement

Holy shit did JD Martinez have a big year. Between the Tigers and Diamondbacks (where he was traded at the Trade Deadline), Martinez hit .303 with 45 home runs and 104 RBI, numbers that would easily have him in the MVP discussion had he not switched leagues. 29 of those 45 bombs came in his 2 months in Arizona, as he helped catapult the Diamondbacks to a playoff run. Martinez missed the first month of the season due to injury but upon his return he was unstoppable, and I think it’s fair to expect that he continue to thrive, as he only just turned 30 in August.

Projected Team: Resigns with Arizona Diamondbacks

Others that just missed the list: Todd Frazier-Third Baseman, Eduardo Nunez-Utility, Alex Cobb-Starting Pitcher, Carlos Gonzalez-Outfielder, Jonathan Lucroy-Catcher

Those are my free agency rankings for this season. Agree with my list? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.