What NBA Free Agency Can Teach Us about the International System & Political Signaling

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By James Neary

The intersectionality of politics and sports is an ever-present fissure in the harsh divisions of America today. You can yell back and forth across the dinner table about why players should or should not kneel, wear black hoodies, or lambast the president. But you can’t argue this: sports ​are politics. Power dynamics, economics, and public relations are obvious driving forces behind both the Warriors and the White House. While this article largely focuses on the context of the NBA and the boisterous atmosphere surrounding free agency headed into this weekend, the concepts mentioned here will be largely applicable to other leagues as well. While to most political scholars the metaphor is apparent, the sports fan less versed in the traditions of Capitol Hill stands to gain a lot from this discussion.

Although the metaphor isn’t perfect, the NBA today can be seen as an international system similar to the one every human on earth calls their own, except for maybe Marxists. Political scholars usually refer to our syste​m as ​anarchy ,which you know the meaning of. Despite the UN and other international organizations’ best effort to instill some rule of law on a global level, realist theory in political science argues that doesn’t mean much. How the NBA functions similarly to this follows: Each team acting as a nation, or ‘black box,’ in which you can hardly see the inner policy, practices, and traditions of the institution itself, but are left instead with the resulting implications of the choices made through their internal processes. There are institutions such as the NBA itself, the NBPA, the television and internet service providers, etc. that do impose rules over combat (games), economics (salary caps), diplomacy (trades), and ethics (dress code). Politically, either from a realist or liberal (not like that, idiots) perspective, the argument can be made both that these institutions do and do not play a leading role in the decisions made by teams.

Now that the overall framework and political theory is established, it’s time to take a look at this year’s NBA free agency circus and see how it corresponds to our political conditions. To be completely forthcoming, I’m a diehard Celtics fan, but I also appreciate the unprecedented grandeur of (IMHO) the greatest player of ever, Lebron. In our metaphor, the games these teams play against each other are representative of actual battle between states. This can be thought of as either military or economic competition, as the former seems to be traded for the latter in recent politics. If you are going with the most basic metaphor, games as battles, then in that context Lebron is equal to the largest concentrated nuclear payload on Earth. Golden State has the most combined nukes, and maybe even the second largest single concentration in KD or Steph. Draymond is kind of like a predator missile: easy to deploy and very destructive, but can cause a lot of unwanted damage. Teams, just like states, are in a constant struggle with others to secure these assets and deploy them effectively on the battlefield to maximize their returns.

As stated above, the metaphor isn’t perfect, but it’s obvious the teams in the NBA (and the WNBA, NFL, CFL, MLB, NHL, MLS, LLWS… maybe not that last one) function according to a framework of power dynamics similar to that of our international system. What prompted this discussion, however, is the ​seemingly exaggerated media circus leading up to Lebron, Kawhi, and PG’s decision to stay or leave their respective teams this year. Sorry to burst the bubble, but I’m of the school of thought that this is not out of the ordinary in any way. It’s the very nature of our political institutions and their derivative economy to systematically bombard us with information every hour of the day, every day of the year. This might be a phenomenon that has developed recently, seeing as the most unrelenting place it manifests itself, in both the political and athletic arenas, is my push notifications. The logic stands though, the NBA or any other sports organization has nothing to gain in a quiet offseason. They lose money, they lose ratings, and they lose traction. Michelle Beadle and Mike Greenberg, on GetUp! On ESPN following the NBA awards, pointed out the balance of awkwardness for having the show so long after the regular season (when the votes were cast) and of politics for having so much invested in such an ambitious event. So there it is, whether through free agency, championship parades, fallings out between superstars, or fashion shows, the NBA will always give you as much to talk about in the offseason as it can.

 

That being said, what was about this offseason in particular that prompted such a discussion on the intersectionality of sports and politics? To be honest, I think the average basketball fan is becoming increasingly aware of this connection due to the rate at and ease with which we see these developments. What has been particularly noticeable this offseason is the amount of political signaling going on between teams and parties. Magic Johnson, proving to be a very skilled statesmen, has executed some of the better attempts at this so far. Signaling to fans his resolve, he recently committed to stepping down as President of Basketball Operations for the Lakers if he were unable to land some big free agents this offseason or next. Signaling resolve is often used by leaders during international combat, but can be utilized in economic and diplomatic relations as well. Perhaps most similar to Magic’s case in a relevant American context, Republican Senate Candidate for Missouri Austin Petersen challenged grassroots Republican primary adversary Tony Monetti to a high stakes unofficial ballot in which the loser would resign. Both candidates initially agreed, but Monetti backed out, signaling weak resolve to his voting base while Petersen signaled strong. US Rep Maxine Waters’ call for private discrimination against members of the Trump administration and Senator Chuck Schumer’s condemnation of her remarks are also signals of resolve relevant to their respective voting bases. Magic Johnson’s recent strategic move, however, is also indicative another political phenomenon we’ve seen play out on the international stage recently. What Magic did was essentially ‘draw a line in the sand,’ as President Obama did in 2012 with his denunciation of the Assad regime in Syria. What weight these red lines actually hold in practice however, is up for debate.

Besides just the words of Magic Johnson, there have been numerous occurrences of political signaling in recent days of the NBA offseason. Perhaps the most obnoxious form of signaling is coming from Lavar Ball. When looking at the dynamics of the Kawhi Leonard situation, Lavar’s endless media stunts, self-promotion, and cold takes make perfect sense. The Spurs, a franchise notorious for flying under the radar and giving the media as limited access as possible, see Lavar as significant cost to obtaining Lonzo from the Lakers. The fact that it’s the Spurs makes that cost significantly higher than it would be for any other team as well. Knowing that the Lakers will probably have to deal Zo or Kuzma to San Antonio to grab Kawhi, Lavar is making it exponentially more difficult for that deal to happen with his son. Therefore, Lavar is setting up Lonzo, a pass-first and lanky rebounding point guard, to play with two of the greatest two-way wings of all time. A pretty brilliant move in my opinion, and one that echos Israel’s attempts to leverage as much power as they possibly can to shift the international relation strategies of the United States more in their favor.

 

The metaphors and political connections in this scenario between the Lakers, Spurs, and Lebron do not stop there obviously. You have virtue signaling, like in that horrible poem that Lakers intern wrote for softy Paul George. Commitment signaling, like in how Kyrie was absent from the Celtics bench in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals this year. I think it could even be reasonably argued that Lonzo’s diss track to Kuzma was a signal to Lebron that he was willing to part ways with his good friend to make space for him. The Lakers, evidently thought this was poorly executed, as they reprimanded the two rising sophomores for their antics, thus signaling to Lebron their capabilities. Lebron has even engaged in this signaling himself, most probably by orchestrating leaks from his camp that he doesn’t want to hear any pitches, most absurdly by wearing a hat during the finals saying “There is no magic pill.” It seems that every year, every summer, there has developed this atmosphere of circus surrounding NBA free agency. I hope that I’ve established this atmosphere is far from unprecedented or unreasonable. Applying frameworks of political science, including organizations of international systems, political signaling, and power dynamics is useful for understanding the neverending onslaught of Joel Embiid’s tweets and Stephen A.’s rants involving the NBA.

Kansas City Chiefs Trade QB Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins

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The NFL offseason hasn’t even started yet and it’s already more interesting than MLB’s. There probably wasn’t a trade in the world with more implications to it than this one. The Kansas City Chiefs trade quarterback Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins for cornerback Kendall Fuller and a third round pick. The Redskins followed that up by signing Smith to a 4-year $94M extension, $71M guaranteed to add on to the one year left on his deal that he already had with KC. Smith is coming off a career year in Kansas City as he finished with 4042 yards passing with 26 TD’s and 5 INT’s and was the highest-rated QB in the NFL with a rating of 104.7 in 15 games played. Smith now becomes the quarterback of a Redskins team that disappointed in 2017, going 7-9 and missing the playoffs.

The Chiefs look to be all in on Pat Mahomes, it seems. Mahomes was the 10th pick in the 2017 Draft out of Texas Tech and a guy the Chiefs forfeited their 2018 first rounder to the Bills in order to acquire. Mahomes got to start in Week 17 and he was pretty solid, going 22-35 with 284 yards with no TD’s and 1 INT, as he led the Chiefs to a 27-24 victory over the Broncos. Mahomes has probably the most talented arm I’ve ever seen but he came out of a college system at Texas Tech that translates about as poorly to the NFL as humanly possible. He didn’t appear in an NFL game until that Week 17 matchup against the Broncos and while he still does have some things to work on, he did a lot of things to be excited about.

But if I’m Kirk Cousins, I am PISSED OFF. Cousins had been the constantly franchise-tagged starting quarterback for the last few years now, even leading the Redskins to a playoff berth in 2015. He kept trying to get a contract extension to be in DC long-term but the Redskins refused to give it to him, instead opting to franchise tag him every year and basically make every year a contract year for him. Then the Redskins go and trade for a guy to replace you that has one year left on his deal and he immediately gets a huge extension despite not having taken a snap for the team yet. Kind of a dick move, Snyder. If there is a silver lining to all of this it’s that now Cousins can get out of this toxic relationship and play for a team that will be more than willing to give him the extension that he’s earned (because let’s face it, Cousins is in the discussion for top 10 quarterbacks in the league right now).

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So who are some teams that should make a run at Cousins? Well for starters the Cleveland Browns. Now yes, Cleveland is a place where quarterbacks go to die, but Cousins is a far better quarterback than anybody that has passed through Cleveland since their revival in 1999. If anybody can break the streak of horrendousness, it’d be Cousins. Plus this draft class is not very Browns-friendly so perhaps Cousins would be the safer route to go. He’ll command a lot of money, sure, but the Browns don’t really have any big contracts and are expected to have over $100M in cap space this offseason.

Another team that should consider Cousins is the Broncos. There’s a lot of talent on this team but they’re being held back by poor quarterback play. They’ve gotten the most out of Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch hasn’t developed the way they’d hoped. Kirk Cousins could be just what they need to get back into not only playoff contention, but maybe even Super Bowl contention. They’re expected to have about $28M in cap space this offseason so they’ll probably have to shed a contract or two before they’ll have the space to sign Cousins, but it’d definitely be a sacrifice worth making in order to return the team to its former glory. Plus the Broncos pick 5th and the two best quarterbacks in this year’s class, Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold, will both likely be gone by then so free agency may be the safest route.

The Jets are another team that should be in on Cousins. They pick after the Broncos at #6 in the 2018 Draft so they’re just as unlikely to land Rosen and Darnold as Denver is. Plus the Jets will have the cap space, as they’re expected to have about $79M in available funds this offseason. The Jets got the most out of the 38 year-old Josh McCown and it’s high time they got younger at the position because Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg are definitely not the answers for the future.

The Arizona Cardinals could also be a team that could take interest in Cousins. After Carson Palmer’s retirement, there’s a huge hole at the quarterback position that will need to be filled if they want to contend in the very difficult NFC West. They’ve got about as much cap space as the Broncos so they will likely need to cut some dead weight to be able to afford Cousins, but again, like with Denver, it’d be worth it. The need is also greater for Arizona because they’re picking 15th this year and not only will Rosen and Darnold be gone by then, but probably Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield, too.

The Bills ought to be interested in Cousins because they pick 21st and 22nd thanks to a trade with the Chiefs and unless they use that package to trade up into the top 5, there’s no way they’re landing any of the top quarterback prospects. They’ve got about $31M in space so if they signed Cousins, they probably wouldn’t be able to get anybody else without shedding some contracts. The Bills made the playoffs for the first time in the 21st century last season but poor quarterback play from Tyrod Taylor buried them in the Wild Card Game against the Jaguars. Speaking of segues…

The Jaguars are the last team that I think should be in on Cousins. Their lack of faith in Blake Bortles was a big factor in their losing the AFC Championship game to the Patriots despite the fact that Bortles was playing some of his best football in that game. Signing Cousins could be the difference in blowing a 10-point 4th quarter lead in the AFC Championship game to not only going to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history, but winning it. They’ve only got about $25M in free space so they’re going to have to lose a few deals before they’re able to make a run at Cousins.

So with the trade of Alex Smith, this offseason just got a Hell of a lot more interesting, especially as it pertains to Kirk Cousins. Let me know what you think of this trade in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

Things I Prefer Over the Pro Bowl

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For those who have followed my blog, you may know that I hate the Pro Bowl. It’s a great idea in theory, but there is so much risk involved for a pointless game that it really defeats the purpose. Just ask Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, who hasn’t been the same since he injured his hip at the Pro Bowl a couple years ago. Plus, to try and protect players, they’ve neutered the rules so much that they’ve taken out some of the more exciting elements of football, such as blitzes and complex schemes (at least, they’re exciting to ME, that is). I’ve literally seen a Pro Bowl where the players went a couple of plays as if it were their walkthroughs. It’s bad. It’s not even in Hawaii this year, which takes away a lot of the incentive to actually attend the game for these players. So let’s take a look at a few things that are more enjoyable for me than this awful game.

1. WWE’s Royal Rumble

This one’s not really a joke, I genuinely love this event, and it’ll be on at the same time as the Pro Bowl so automatically you’ll get better TV, provided you’re willing to shell out the money for this Pay Per View. Nobody illegally streams anyway, that’s definitely not the better route to go.

2. My Own Birth

At least with this I’ll get to watch and see for myself if I came into the world exactly how my mom says I did: ass first.

3. 2 Girls 1 Cup

I don’t feel human emotions when I watch the Pro Bowl. I did feel the very real human emotion of disgust the one time I watched this.

4. Jar Jar Binks

I’ve seen the theories that he’s actually a Sith lord. It’s not as farfetched as you might think. In fact, it could’ve been that Jar Jar was going to be an inverse of Yoda, someone who appears to be “goofy” at first but it’s just an act. Unfortunately for the Star Wars prequels, it was executed SO poorly.

5. Any “Vine Star’s” Youtube Channel

Except maybe that Retro Spectro guy. Other than that, guys like Logan and Jake Paul deserve my eyes more than the Pro Bowl does, and that’s saying a lot considering the heat Logan’s (deservedly) going through.

6. People Arguing About Politics

Like I said at #3, I don’t feel human emotions when I watch the Pro Bowl. I feel anger when I watch people argue about politics. Nobody respects anyones opinion anymore, they just try to talk over each other and be the loudest in the room.

7. People Getting “Triggered” Over the Slightest Thing

It’s one thing if you had a genuinely traumatic experience. But if somebody makes a joke about being OCD and you get offended by it, go fuck yourself. It’s probably not nearly as offensive as the Pro Bowl.

8. This MLB Offseason

At least I’ll be able to get some things done while nothing happens in baseball.

9. Sportscenter the 6

God that show makes me cringe sometimes.

10. People Bitching about the new Star Wars Movies

They’re good movies. Unfortunately in this day and age, if there’s a single flaw with these movies, that makes them bad in the eyes of the “fans.”

11. People Bitching about the Game of Thrones Scenes that don’t Coincide with the Books

We get it, you read the books. I read them too. There’s some stuff in the books that sucks too, get your nose out of the sky.

12. Amy Schumer stand-up

This one might be a little harsh, I’m sorry Pro Bowl, that was a low blow.

13. The First Few Episodes of Friends

I love the Friends series. But my God the first few episodes are painfully unfunny. Once the story gets going, though, the humor really picks up.

14. The How I Met Your Mother Ending

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more betrayed by a series finale. Luckily, if you skip the last episode, you actually do have some solid closure since you basically know everything that happened by that point.

15. People Who Debate LeBron James vs Michael Jordan

This is mainly due to how over-saturated the argument has become. It’s really obnoxious and I’d rather wait until LeBron’s career is over before I really get involved with the debate.

16. ‘Let’s Play’ Videos

The only time I’ll watch a Let’s Play video is if I’m considering buying a video game and I want to see if I’d like it. Otherwise these things are almost as pointless as the Pro Bowl.

17. New Simpsons Episodes

It’s really a shell of its former self, but that’s beating a dead horse at this point. I read somewhere that they’re ending after 30 seasons, but I don’t remember where I heard that or if it’s even true.

18. Feminazis

I’m all for equal rights for women, believe me. But there are some who take the movement so far that they give a bad name to people who are actually trying to make positive change. I’ve got no issue with feminists. It’s feminazis where I take issue.

19. People Who Don’t Follow Baseball Saying it’s Boring

Baseball can be slow at times, I’ll admit. But if you’re going to bitch about it, you’re not doing anybody a favor. Baseball is a thinking man’s game.

20. People Who Go To Comments Sections to Bitch About How they don’t like a Video or Article or any other Content

Thankfully I have yet to experience such a thing, but I’ll read comments sections for other things and whenever I read someone who says “this sucks,” I think to myself “then why are you watching/reading?” Just don’t consume it, it’s really not that difficult.

21. Trigonometry

This shit almost kept me out of college. It’s pretty much only useful if I want to measure the size of a mountain, which I don’t. I’ll just take peoples’ word for it.

22. NCAA’s Pay-for-Play Issue

Just let the kids do endorsement deals for Christ’s sake. Still not as big a mess as the Pro Bowl, though.

23. Reality TV

Shows like “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” “Jersey Shore,” and “The Bachelor/ette” do almost as much damage to the human brain as the Pro Bowl.

24. Hiking

It’s just walking up a hill. I mean I’ll gladly do it if my friends invite me, but it’s pretty low on my to-do list.

25. Any other Sport’s All Star Game

Baseball, basketball, and probably hockey (I wouldn’t know, I’ve never caught an NHL All Star Game) at least have some form of entertainment to them. MLB’s is a traditional baseball game while the NBA’s doesn’t care about defense and players go out of their way to do highlight plays.

And finally, things I’d rather watch the Pro Bowl over.

1. Get Kidney Stones

This is probably my biggest fear. If you gave me the choice of watching hundreds of hours of Pro Bowl footage and never get a kidney stone, or get just one kidney stone and never watch the Pro Bowl, I would choose the former every time.

And that’s it. Let me know what you like better than the Pro Bowl in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10. I’m starting to give up on my Patreon account because none of you are donating to it. Except my dad. Thanks, Dad!

Derek Jeter’s Tenure as Marlins Owner is Not Off to a Great Start

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As I’m sure you’re well aware of by now, people are none too pleased about the job that Derek Jeter has been doing as Marlins owner. While there have been a lot of missteps thus far, I don’t think the criticism is totally warranted. When it was announced that Jeter was a part of a group that included Jeb Bush that would be buying the Marlins from Jeffrey Loria, people got pretty excited, as pretty much anything Jeter’s name is attached to will be great. However, the Marlins haven’t even played a game yet and he’s already come under fire for the decisions he’s made.

It all starts with the Giancarlo Stanton trade. Now yes, this was a salary dump, but there are a lot of people screaming about collusion because Jeter sent arguably the most exciting player in baseball to a team he played 20 years for and received next to nothing in return. All it cost the Yankees to acquire the NL MVP was Starlin Castro and two prospects that weren’t even highly touted in their own organization. I don’t hate the move to trade Stanton. He was coming off the best year of his career and his stock will never be higher (until he learns how easy it is to hit bombs in Yankee Stadium), plus he’s in the prime of his career, making him even more valuable. The contract was a bit of a sticky situation, however, as he’s still got 10 years and over $290 million remaining on that deal, which was the main driving force behind trying to trade him. But surely the Yankees would be able to afford it. I wouldn’t have minded the trade had the Marlins received the likes of Gleyber Torres, Estevan Florial, or Justus Sheffield. But none of them were sent. Hell, the Yankees acquired Torres from the Cubs for a half season of Aroldis Chapman! Surely the deadliest hitter in the game with 10 years of team control would reel in more than a reliever whom you’d only have for a couple months, right? Again, I get that this was a salary dump, but you do realize that prospects make dirt right? The criticisms here are totally fair.

What’s worse is that Jeter wasn’t even at the Winter Meetings to justify his trade to the other GMs. Nobody knew where he was or why he wasn’t there. That was until…

 

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photo credit: The Comeback

As you can see, Jeter attended the Monday Night Football game between the Dolphins and Patriots instead of attending the Winter Meetings. Normally I would love this move because it would tell the fans that you’re buying in to the culture of the city. However, it was so poorly timed, being that one of the most important days of the offseason were going on halfway across the country, that he got ripped to shreds on social media for it.

Then he traded Marcell Ozuna, which I didn’t have any problems with, mainly because the return they got from the Cardinals was pretty good, as they received a couple of their best prospects for a guy who could become the face of this organization. But the fact that the Marlins had already traded 3 of their best players before Christmas time (Dee Gordon to Seattle being the other) had a lot of people nervous. And that’s not just the fans, even some players as well! Centerfielder Christian Yelich and catcher JT Realmuto have both demanded trades as they don’t want to be part of a team that’s tanking. Now people have hit the panic button.

Jeter held a town hall-style meeting to allow fans to air their grievances. As you can probably guess, it didn’t go well. People started screaming and all Hell broke loose and Marlins Man gave a “do you know who I am?” to Jeter before announcing he would not be renewing his season tickets. For those who don’t know, Marlins Man is probably the most famous super fan in baseball right now, as he can often be spotted sitting behind home plate at all the big games decked out in a bright orange Marlins jersey and visor. Also, fun fact, if you search “Marlins Man” on Getty Images, you only get pictures of Ichiro.

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photo credit: Miami Herald

It’s basically the equivalent of when Fireman Ed was giving up his Jets season tickets when they were in their peak dumpster fire years. You know you’ve screwed up when a guy whose sole identity revolves around your team has forsaken you.

But it’s not like this is anything new for Marlins fans. Jeffrey Loria would screw you in a different way. For the 2012 season, the Marlins built a brand new stadium with taxpayers’ money, one that the people didn’t want, then acquired a plethora of talent like Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and manager Ozzie Guillen. They were even going to be featured in the Starz series “The Franchise,” which was a Hard Knocks-style show that followed an MLB team for an entire season. Well by the Trade Deadline everybody had been traded because the Marlins were at the bottom of NL East, everybody was underachieving, The Franchise had been cancelled, and the Marlins were a laughingstock. So the Marlins have some experience being loathed by their fans.

Here’s what the Marlins lineup currently looks like:

1. Starlin Castro-2B

2. Martin Prado-3B

3. Christian Yelich-CF

4. Justin Bour-1B

5. JT Realmuto-C

6. JT Riddle-SS

7. Derek Dietrich-LF

8. Some Minor Leaguer-RF

9. Pitcher’s Spot

As you can see, this is a problem, especially where the outfield is concerned. Aside from Christian Yelich, there are no outfielders on the 40-man roster with big league experience. I took some liberties putting Dietrich in left field because he is a swiss army knife-type player but he is typically an infielder. As for the right fielder, there was nobody I could put in there. Maybe they could call up Magneuris Sierra, whom they acquired from the Cardinals for Ozuna. Plus, if Yelich and Realmuto are granted the trades they requested, that lineup gets even thinner. One can forgive Marlins fans for being alarmed.

It’s not uncommon for a new owner to gut his team and fill it with his guys. But just the way Jeter has been getting rid of players with minimal returns has been what has irked the Marlins faithful. But who knows? Maybe Jeter is on to something with the moves he’s made. One thing is for sure, though, if the Marlins aren’t anywhere near .500 in 2018, the torches and pitchforks will come out. What do you think of Jeter’s moves? Let me know in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

 

Evan Longoria Traded to the Giants

One of the most shocking moves of the offseason for me occurred while I was getting a haircut. I was sitting in a chair watching MLB Network while my mom took a razor to my luscious locks when I saw on the breaking news bottomline something different than the Zach Britton injury that had been steadily moving across all morning:

Rays Trade Evan Longoria to the Giants

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This was one of, if not the, last moves I expected to see when I was getting my haircut. Longoria is the face of the Tampa Bay Rays, and while it’s a very short existence for the franchise, he’s still the first guy you think of when you think about the Rays. Like what Ted Williams was to the Red Sox, or what Mike Schmidt was to the Phillies, Evan Longoria was to the Rays. Plus, there weren’t any rumors that this was a possibility. Longoria was under contract for another 5 years, so trying to get the most out of him before he hit free agency wasn’t really an excuse. But upon learning why he was being traded, things made a lot more sense.

Evan Longoria somehow was really enjoying his time in Tampa, which is something that is rare to come by. Not a knock against the city, I’ve been a few times and never had a bad experience. It’s just the conditions surrounding the organization that make things surprising that he was so content there. First of all, that stadium sucks. Tropicana Field is perhaps the biggest dump of a stadium I’ve ever seen, certainly the worst I’ve caught a game in. Plus, the Rays just don’t draw a crowd. Whether that’s because of the bad stadium or whatever other reason, people just don’t show up for Rays games. It’s pretty apparent when you see boatloads of empty seats in the crowd or when the opposing team’s chants drown out anything Rays fans do. It’s a team that’s going to struggle to compete on a year-to-year basis just because of the fact they can’t even draw fans when they’re competing for a World Series, so their payroll is always going to be at or near the bottom of the league so they’re rarely players in free agency. Yet for whatever reason, Longoria was content there. His being content was actually a driving force behind why this trade occurred.

Evan Longoria was set to gain 10-5 rights in April 2018. What are 10-5 rights, you ask? They only apply to players who have been in the Major Leagues for 10 years and have been with their current team for at least the last 5, hence the 10-5 name. Once you reach that mark, you can veto any trade you like. It’s a built-in trade clause from the most recent CBA, which rewards veterans for their loyalty to a team. Longoria was set to hit his 10th year in the Majors when opening day 2018 came around. If that were to happen, given his contentment with his situation, the Rays would never be able to trade him if they ever wanted to rebuild. He would have been in a similar situation to Giancarlo Stanton, who could essentially pick his destination, regardless of what the returning package might have been. So essentially, it was now or never for Tampa. Simply put, Longoria’s loyalty to the Rays was what got him traded.

Coming to Tampa Bay in the trade from the Giants is top prospect Christian Arroyo, who will likely replace Longoria at third base, veteran outfielder Denard Span, and pitching prospects Matt Krook and Stephen Woods. I know nothing about Krook or Woods except their barely within the Giants’ top 30 prospects. This was more about acquiring Arroyo than anything. Plus the Rays also sent some cash to San Francisco so that this trade doesn’t put them over the luxury tax. Arroyo was rushed to the Majors in 2017, failing to reach the Mendoza Line in limited action before returning to the Minors. Span had an ugly season, particularly in the field, as his -27 DRS was worst in the Majors at any position, next worst being Dexter Fowler at -18, a 33% dropoff between worst and second worst. I don’t know the specific details of Span’s contract, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up being one of those players that gets waived by the team that just acquired him to gain some sort of compensation, much like the Braves did by releasing Adrian Gonzalez immediately after acquiring him in the Matt Kemp trade with the Dodgers. Span is set to make $11 million in 2018 and $12 million in 2019 before becoming a free agent in 2020, so I’ve got to imagine the Rays would rather not pay that kind of money to a guy who hasn’t had a league-average WAR since 2014 (2.0), especially when they’re an organization that’s strapped for cash as it is. Quite frankly I’d be surprised if Span suited up in a Rays uniform in 2018.

As for the Giants, I had figured they’d be the favorites for Mike Moustakas’ services, as I noted in my free agent rankings, however the acquisition of Longoria effectively takes them out of the running. They’re trying to improve on what was potentially a fluky 2017 season where they tied with the Tigers for the worst record in the Majors and, thanks to a poorly-timed Pablo Sandoval walkoff home run in game 162, won’t even have the #1 pick in the draft to show for it, as that home run gave the Tigers the tie-breaker. So here is what a potential Giants lineup looks like with Longoria.

1. Gorkys Hernandez-CF

2. Joe Panik-2B

3. Buster Posey-C

4. Evan Longoria-3B

5. Brandon Belt-1B

6. Brandon Crawford-SS

7. Hunter Pence-RF

8. Mac Williamson-LF

9. Pitcher’s Spot

I can’t imagine the Giants are done making moves because that outfield is AWFUL. Two guys who would likely be in the minor leagues in any other organization and a past-his-prime Hunter Pence. They’ll need to make other moves if they hope to have a successful 2018 season and I think one guy they’ll set their sights on is Lorenzo Cain, formerly of the Kansas City Royals. Experts are projecting that Cain is going to command somewhere in the $80 million range for the life of his contract, which I would guess would be for five years, giving an average annual salary of $16 million, which should be within San Francisco’s budget. They may need to also look for a veteran that could come on the cheap, maybe somebody like Chris Young. But if the Giants go into 2018 with this lineup, I can’t envision them escaping the basement of the NL West.

As for the Rays, it looks like they’re all in on another rebuild because after the trade, their lineup looks like this:

1. Corey Dickerson-DH

2. Kevin Kiermaier-CF

3. Steven Souza-RF

4. Brad Miller-1B

5. Wilson Ramos-C

6. Mallex Smith-LF

7. Ryan Schimpf/Christian Arroyo-3B

8. Adeiny Hechavarria-SS

9. Daniel Robertson-2B

This has the look of a team that doesn’t anticipate to compete in 2018 and it wouldn’t shock me at all to find them in last place in the very competitive AL East.

That’s it for today’s blog. Let me know what you thought of the Longoria trade in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.

Angels sign Shohei Ohtani

Finally, the first domino of the MLB offseason has fallen. After the Marlins traded Dee Gordon to the Mariners for a bunch of prospects, it seemed like only a matter of time before the floodgates opened. Well, they have, as the Anaheim Angels have signed Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani just a day after Gordon was traded. Ohtani is probably the most intriguing player to come out of Japan since Ichiro mainly because of the prospect of his being a 2-way player. Not only can he hit 100 mph with his fastball on the mound, but he is also very capable of hitting a baseball a very long way.

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Ohtani has been a professional baseball player for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the Japan Pacific League since he was 18 years old. When he wasn’t pitching, he was playing the outfield there. His best all-around season was easily his 2016 season, as he hit .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBI, while on the mound he went 10-4 with a 1.86 ERA and struck out 174 batters over 140 innings. So naturally, when it was made public that he had intentions to play overseas in the United States, Major League Baseball got interested.

It was a very interesting signing process, as Ohtani would tell several high profile teams that he didn’t want to play for them, most notably the Red Sox, Yankees, and Twins, all of whom made the postseason in 2017. He even put the Phillies in a bodybag with this comment.

There was some backlash from fans and some members of the media, many of whom criticized Ohtani for being arrogant and seeming to not care so much about winning. Eventually, he narrowed his list down to 7 teams: the Angels, Mariners, Padres, Dodgers, Cubs, Rangers, and Giants. Last I had heard, it appeared that the Mariners were the frontrunners to acquire the talented star, which didn’t surprise me as the Mariners had always been a preferred destination for Japanese players, as it is the closest team to their home country (Ichiro and Kenji Johjima come to mind as well as a few others whose names I’m spacing on). This was as recently as Friday morning, just hours before it was reported he was signing with Anaheim.

Earlier Friday afternoon, Ohtani had made his decision and will be signing with the Anaheim Angels (I refuse to call them the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim after all these years because that’s stupid. They’re in Anaheim. They’ve been called the Anaheim Angels. What’s the point of putting Los Angeles in front?). Reportedly one of the deal makers for Ohtani was a Facetime call with Angels superstar outfielder Mike Trout, who couldn’t meet in person because his wedding is today. It’s unknown what Trout said, but it must have been really convincing because the Angels were never really considered to be favorites to land Ohtani. The most in international bonus money they can offer is around $2.3 million, which is significantly less than what the Mariners and Rangers could have offered. Ohtani’s booking fee is less than the likes of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, luckily for the Angels, as it’s only around $20 million, whereas the former two had booking fees of around $50 million each. As of right now, we don’t know what his actual contract is going to be, but I doubt it’s going to be anywhere near what other Japanese superstars have gotten based on the most recent CBA.

So where does Ohtani fit in with the Angels? It’s hard to say, really. They’d be fools not to give him a chance to be a two-way player so it will certainly be intriguing to see how manager Mike Scioscia decides to use him. He’s battled injuries throughout his career in Japan so he’s a guy they may want to keep a close eye on health-wise. I have a feeling that being a two-way player may have something to do with his injury history and it could impact him greatly in the Major Leagues. I think after enough DL stints, Scioscia will decide enough is enough and have him stick to one or the other. But for the beginning of the year, at least, he will more than likely do both. It’s likely that he will be in the starting rotation for much of the year and in games he doesn’t pitch in, we could see him DH for the Halos, allowing him to go through a normal regimen for a starting pitcher while also getting a few hacks in. I doubt he’ll see much time in the field, as the Angels already have one of the better outfields in baseball, with Mike Trout in centerfield, Justin Upton in left, and Kole Calhoun in right. Albert Pujols is currently the DH but the only reason he’s still on the roster right now is because of that monstrous contract. If Scioscia really wants to keep him in the lineup, that will likely bump the incumbent CJ Cron from his duties at first base. It seems that Cron is the odd man out in this situation and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him traded sometime in the near future. Cron is only 27 years old and is making the Major League minimum right now, so you can bet there will be teams calling GM Billy Eppler about him. Here’s what the Angels lineup would look like with Otani:

1. Andrelton Simmons-SS

2. Mike Trout-CF

3. Shohei Ohtani-DH/P

4. Albert Pujols-1B

5. Justin Upton-LF

6. Kole Calhoun-RF

7. Luis Valbuena-3B

8. Martin Maldonado-C

9. Jefry Marte-2B

That has the potential to be a very formidable lineup. It’s also worth mentioning that on days that Ohtani is pitching, the Angels could decline their option to use a DH and have him bat for himself. People often forget the DH in the AL isn’t mandatory, it’s an option that’s given to each team, but naturally they use it because most pitchers aren’t exactly Shohei Ohtani with a bat in hand. As for the starting rotation, it would look something like this:

1. Garrett Richards

2. Shohei Ohtani

3. Matt Shoemaker

4. Tyler Skaggs

5. Andrew Heaney

Not as formidable-looking, but it has the potential to be very good if these guys can stay healthy (which has been a MAJOR issue for this bunch the last couple years). Personally, I think Ohtani is better as a pitcher, as his fastball can hit as high as 102 mph with a splitter/sinker that just falls off the table at the end. He was also most consistently good as a pitcher in Japan, as his highest batting average outside of his 2016 season is .274, while his ERA has consistently been under 3 since his rookie year. The main issue for this kid has been health, as he missed a large chunk of his 2017 season due to injury. But when healthy, this is what he can do (just a heads up, it’s long as shit, about 22 minutes).

So that ends one of the more interesting free agent sagas of recent memory. Once the details of his contract are finalized, we can get back into focusing on what other high profile players will do, which I’m chomping at the bit for because the highest-profile free agent to sign with a new team so far is Doug Fister with the Rangers. Not exactly what I’d call earth-shaking.

Also, what is the deal with the spelling of his last name? Every site I go to that talks about this guy, they either spell his last name “Otani” without the ‘h’ or “Ohtani” with the ‘h.’ For this blog, I went with the ‘h’ because that was how it was spelled on the back of his jersey in the video I embedded. But seriously, try googling both spellings. Google doesn’t correct you for the wrong one. If anybody knows why that is, PLEASE tell me, because it is so confusing to me.

So this is what a Saturday is like without college football picks. I know, I did promise I would do a whole Army-Navy segment before, but when I got to writing it, I came to the realization that I don’t know nearly enough about them to do the kind of blog I wanted to do. Then Ohtani signed and I felt that would take precedent. Fear not, I will still pick that game.

Projected Score: Navy 20 Army 17

Sorry West Point, but the Midshipmen regain bragging rights after losing last year for the first time since 2001. But it’s going to be a quick game as neither team commits many penalties and there is a LOT of running the football and very few reasons to stop the clock.

That’s my semi-double-blog for this week. What do you think of the Ohtani signing? How about your thoughts on the Army-Navy game? Let me know in the comments section below and on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10 and contribute to my Patreon.