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 Top 10 Players by Position for 2017

This is the next segment in my MLB postseason series. Here, I will be ranking the top players by position for this baseball season. 2017 performance won’t be the sole deciding factor, however it will be the biggest. Guys that missed significant time due to injury will not be considered, so guys like Noah Syndergaard, Michael Brantley, and Yoenis Cespedes will not be considered for these rankings even though they would rank highly when healthy. Also, if a player played at multiple positions throughout the year, I may have taken a little liberties by either putting them where I thought they were at their best or where they played the most. I also considered defense more heavily for some positions (shortstop, catcher) than others (first base).

Starting Pitcher

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Despite injury, Clayton Kershaw was still as dominant as ever (photo credit: Scout.com)

1.Clayton Kershaw-Los Angeles Dodgers

2.Max Scherzer-Washington Nationals

3.Corey Kluber-Cleveland Indians

4.Chris Sale-Boston Red Sox

5.Stephen Strasburg-Washington Nationals

6.Zack Greinke-Arizona Diamondbacks

7.Luis Severino-New York Yankees

8.Robbie Ray-Arizona Diamondbacks

9.Marcus Stroman-Toronto Blue Jays

10.Jimmy Nelson-Milwaukee Brewers

While he did miss a good chunk of time due to injury, Clayton Kershaw nevertheless dominated when he was on the mound and he pitched enough (175 innings) for me to keep him in the rankings. His 2.31 ERA was second in the majors and tops in the NL. Robbie Ray was a guy I had high hopes for going into the season. He did have an ERA of 4.90 in 2016, but his FIP was more than a full run lower (3.76) which suggested he was in for an uptick in production. He did not disappoint, posting an ERA of 2.89 in 2017. Jimmy Nelson was a guy who was under the radar for the entire season. Despite his performance, he was overshadowed by Milwaukee’s prolific offense. Nevertheless, Nelson finished with the 5th best FIP (3.05) in the Majors, even better than Kershaw’s (3.07).

Non-Closing Relief Pitchers

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Andrew Miller continues to thrive in a unique role with the Indians (photo credit: USA Today)

1.Andrew Miller-Cleveland Indians

2.Archie Bradley-Arizona Diamondbacks

3.Pat Neshek-Colorado Rockies

4.Chad Green-New York Yankees

5.Tommy Kahnle-New York Yankees

6.Anthony Swarzak-Milwaukee Brewers

7.Alex Claudio-Texas Rangers

8.Matt Albers-Washington Nationals

9.Ryan Madson-Washington Nationals

10.Dellin Betances-New York Yankees

This is a position that’s always in flux, as you never know what you’re going to get out of your relievers in any given year. For example, Matt Albers makes this list despite the fact that he had an ERA of 6.31 in 2016, his age-33 season. Dellin Betances surely would’ve topped this list at the start of the season had this blog been around at that time. His stuff was as good as ever but he seemed to have lost a bit of his command. But the Yankees don’t need him this season like they have in years’ past, as they have a plethora of reliable bullpen options, such as Chad Green and midseason acquisition Tommy Kahnle and the return of David Robertson.

Closing Pitchers

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Kenley Jansen has locked down the 9th inning for the Dodgers all season (photo credit: DodgerBlue.com)

1.Kenley Jansen-Los Angeles Dodgers

2.Craig Kimbrel-Boston Red Sox

3.Roberto Osuna-Toronto Blue Jays

4.Wade Davis-Chicago Cubs

5.Corey Knebel-Milwaukee Brewers

6.Ken Giles-Houston Astros

7.Raisel Iglesias-Cincinnati Reds

8.Alex Colome-Tampa Bay Rays

9.Brad Hand-San Diego Padres

10.Felipe Rivero-Pittsburgh Pirates

Closer is hard to predict as well as relievers, but I find that typically the top few spots tend to remain roughly the same. I said this before in yesterday’s blog, but the difference between Kenley Jansen and Craig Kimbrel this season is razor-thin, however I give a slight edge to Jansen mainly for the far lower walk rate.  Roberto Osuna ranks at #3 despite an ERA of 3.38 (relatively high for a good closer) in large part due to the fact that the majority of that damage was done in April and he didn’t get a lot of help from his defense (his FIP was 1.74)

Catchers

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Despite the Giants’ struggles, Buster Posey continued to put up big numbers (photo credit: Sportsnaut.com)

1.Buster Posey-San Francisco Giants

2.Gary Sanchez-New York Yankees

3.Salvador Perez-Kansas City Royals

4.Willson Contreras-Chicago Cubs

5.JT Realmuto-Miami Marlins

6.Yadier Molina-St. Louis Cardinals

7.Yasmani Grandal-Los Angeles Dodgers

8.Mike Zunino-Seattle Mariners

9.Tucker Barnhart-Cincinnati Reds

10.Christian Vazquez-Boston Red Sox

Catcher is a hard position to rank right now because it’s so top-heavy. There are only 3 catchers I consider to be elite at the position while the rest have a lot of flaws (in Yadi’s case, it’s just simply aging). I tend to value defense more at this position, which is why you see guys like Tucker Barnhart and Christian Vazquez on this list. If you go by Defensive Runs Saved, which I do, Barnhart was #1 by a large margin at 21. The next closest catcher was Martin Maldonado of the Angels at 10.

First Basemen

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Joey Votto may be the most under-appreciated player in the history of the game (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

1.Joey Votto-Cincinnati Reds

2.Paul Goldschmidt-Arizona Diamondbacks

3.Freddie Freeman-Atlanta Braves

4.Anthony Rizzo-Chicago Cubs

5.Cody Bellinger-Los Angeles Dodgers

6.Jose Abreu-Chicago White Sox

7.Eric Hosmer-Kansas City Royals

8.Ryan Zimmerman-Washington Nationals

9.Edwin Encarnacion-Cleveland Indians

10.Justin Smoak-Toronto Blue Jays

To be honest, you could probably rearrange the top 3 or 4 guys on this list in any order and I probably wouldn’t fight you too much over it. But I have to give the nod to Joey Votto this season just because of how absurd some of the numbers he puts up are. For example, his infield fly percentage, or basically how frequently he hits a lazy popup, was 0.5%, second only to Freddie Freeman, who didn’t hit a single one. But Votto’s been doing things like this for a long time now and that’s without getting into how patient he is at the plate. But I’ll delve more into Votto tomorrow for the top 100 overall players list. Spoiler alert, he’s on it.

Second Basemen

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Jose Altuve may be the smallest MVP since Bobby Shantz at 5’6 (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

1.Jose Altuve-Houston Astros

2.Daniel Murphy-Washington Nationals

3.Robinson Cano-Seattle Mariners

4.Dustin Pedroia-Boston Red Sox

5.Jonathan Schoop-Baltimore Orioles

6.Javy Baez-Chicago Cubs

7.Brian Dozier-Minnesota Twins

8.DJ LeMahieu-Colorado Rockies

9.Jason Kipnis-Cleveland Indians

10.Starlin Castro-New York Yankees

I had a hard time with this one, mainly because second base was a lot deeper than I thought going in. I ended up having to leave guys like Ian Kinsler and Brandon Phillips off this list just because I simply couldn’t find a place for them. It was obvious to put Jose Altuve at the top of this one, given the year he’s had that I’ve talked about ad nauseam during this postseason MLB series of blogs about. In fact, I’d probably say the top 7 or 8 guys was pretty easy. It was rounding out this list that was difficult. In the end, I went with Kipnis and Castro over the other guys based simply on the idea of who I’d rather have at the plate with the game on the line this year, or in the field in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 7 of the world Series.

Third Basemen

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Kris Bryant has been one of the faces of the new Chicago Cubs dynasty (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

1.Kris Bryant-Chicago Cubs

2.Nolan Arenado-Colorado Rockies

3.Josh Donaldson-Toronto Blue Jays

4.Jose Ramirez-Cleveland Indians

5.Anthony Rendon-Washington Nationals

6.Justin Turner-Los Angeles Dodgers

7.Manny Machado-Baltimore Orioles

8.Travis Shaw-Milwaukee Brewers

9.Kyle Seager-Seattle Mariners

10.Alex Bregman-Houston Astros

Third base is absolutely loaded, especially when a guy like Manny Machado finds himself at number 7. Machado would normally be higher, but he had a down year, hitting only .259 and being worth 2.8 WAR. He was heating up by the end of the season, though, as he was hitting .334 in July and August. The Milwaukee Brewers committed highway robbery of the Red Sox by acquiring Travis Shaw in exchange for Tyler Thornburg. Shaw hit cleanup in a dangerous lineup, batting .273 with 31 homers and 101 RBI while Thornburg did not appear in a game this season due to injury and the Red Sox struggled mightily at third base until calling up Rafael Devers and trading for Eduardo Nunez in July.

Shortstop

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Francisco Lindor has been one of the most exciting players in the game since debuting in 2015 (photo credit: USA Today)

1.Francisco Lindor-Cleveland Indians

2.Carlos Correa-Houston Astros

3.Corey Seager-Los Angeles Dodgers

4.Andrelton Simmons-Anaheim Angels

5.Didi Gregorius-New York Yankees

6.Xander Bogaerts-Boston Red Sox

7.Elvis Andrus-Texas Rangers

8.Zack Cozart-Cincinnati Reds

9.Trea Turner-Washington Nationals

10.Jean Segura-Seattle Mariners

Like first base, you could rearrange the top 3 in any order you want and I wouldn’t argue with your decision. Lindor, Correa, and Seager are superstars in this league and will be for at least the next decade. Xander Bogaerts was a tricky one to place. When he’s hot, you can’t get him out. When he’s not, he couldn’t get on base if you threw at him. His below average defense didn’t help either, which was a big factor for shortstop, which I consider to be the most important defensive position. But he seemed to be picking it up after a move to the leadoff spot, batting .284 in the month of September. Zack Cozart has struggled with injuries the last few years but when he’s been healthy he’s quietly been one of the better offensive shortstops in the game.

Left Fielders

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Marcell Ozuna has been one of the more under-the-radar stars thanks to teammates he shares an outfield with (photo credit: Sun Sentinel)

1.Marcell Ozuna-Miami Marlins

2.Justin Upton-Anaheim Angels

3.Michael Conforto-New York Mets

4.Tommy Pham-St. Louis Cardinals

5.Andrew Benintendi-Boston Red Sox

6.Chris Taylor-Los Angeles Dodgers

7.Brett Gardner-New York Yankees

8.Eddie Rosario-Minnesota Twins

9.Marwin Gonzalez-Houston Astros

10.David Peralta-Arizona Diamondbacks

This is probably the thinnest position in baseball right now. While I am a big fan of Ozuna’s, he’s probably the third best outfielder on his own team and would be in the middle of these other outfield top 10s. But getting back on track, there were a lot of breakout players at left field so we could see this position grow more prominent in the next couple of years. Michael Conforto, Tommy Pham, Andrew Benintendi, and Chris Taylor all had big breakout years after either underwhelming in the last couple seasons (Conforto), being primarily a utility guy (Pham and Taylor) or just simply being a prospect (Benintendi).

Center Fielders

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No surprise here, Mike Trout has been among the all-time greats since 2012 (photo credit: Sports Illustrated)

1.Mike Trout-Anaheim Angels

2.Charlie Blackmon-Colorado Rockies

3.George Springer-Houston Astros

4.Christian Yelich-Miami Marlins

5.Lorenzo Cain-Kansas City Royals

6.Byron Buxton-Minnesota Twins

7.Andrew McCutchen-Pittsburgh Pirates

8.Ender Inciarte-Atlanta Braves

9.Jackie Bradley Jr-Boston Red Sox

10.Odubel Herrera-Philadelphia Phillies

Mike Trout is the Khal until he can no longer sit his horse and he’s been sitting the crap out of that horse. Despite missing a month and a half due to injury, Trout still belted 33 home runs , stole 22 bases, and hit .306 while exhibiting his usual great defense in center field. Byron Buxton FINALLY exhibited his potential late this season as his bat finally caught up to his stellar defense and base running. He hit .387 in July and .324 in August and if this kid can put it all together for an entire season, Mike Trout’s going to have to start looking over his shoulder.

Right Fielders

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Since debuting at age 19, Bryce Harper has been well worth the hype for the Nationals (photo credit: Sporting News)

1.Bryce Harper-Washington Nationals

2.Giancarlo Stanton-Miami Marlins

3.Aaron Judge-New York Yankees

4.Mookie Betts-Boston Red Sox

5.JD Martinez-Arizona Diamondbacks

6.Josh Reddick-Houston Astros

7.Avisail Garcia-Chicago White Sox

8.Yasiel Puig-Los Angeles Dodgers

9.Domingo Santana-Milwaukee Brewers

10.Jay Bruce-Cleveland Indians

This was REALLY hard. As much as I wanted to put Judge or Stanton at the top of this list, I just have to give it to Harper, who likely would have coasted to NL MVP had he not stepped on a wet base wrong and missed the last month of the year. But Harper was back to his usual phenom self this season after a rough 2016, batting .319 with 29 home runs and 87 RBI with an OPS of 1.008. While I do think Judge is lurking, that July-August stretch he went through where he couldn’t even hit air is still too fresh in my mind. And 59 home runs is nice, but Stanton’s defense is nowhere near Harper’s. Yasiel Puig finds himself back into relevance after a quietly solid year after disappointing the last couple seasons. He hit .263 with 28 homers, 74 RBI, 15 stolen bases, and ranking first among NL right fielders in DRS.

Those are my top 10s. Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments section below or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.