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So, Mike Trout has signed the largest extension in history. 12 years, $430 million to stay in Anaheim until his age-39 season. He has a full no-trade clause and no opt-outs. For all intents and purposes, he is an Angel for life. What could this deal mean for Trout, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the AL West, the American League, all of Major League Baseball, and the Red Sox?
First, the man himself. Mike Trout is far and away the best player in baseball. It's not even close. Since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2012, three players have recorded 9+ WAR in a season. Mookie Betts did it once. Bryce Harper did it once. And Trout did it five times. In three of those seasons, Trout broke 10 WAR. Let's put those three times into some context. 19,429 players have played in Major League Baseball. Eight have recorded 10+ WAR in three seasons. Seven are in the Hall of Fame (or should be) and the eighth is Trout. Five of those players, including Trout, have recorded three 10+ WAR seasons before turning 30. Trout is the only one to do it before turning 27. He's incredible at nearly everything baseball has to offer, and is easily worth $430 million, if not even more.
For the Angels, well, they won't do much, at least not yet. Their major league roster has pieces, even outside of Trout. Andrelton Simmons is the greatest defensive player this side of Ozzie Smith, and his offense has substantially improved as well. Shohei Ohtani is a superstar both pitching and hitting when healthy, even if he won't be doing both until 2020. Their pitching is a little suspect, but maybe, just maybe, they can resurrect the Dark Knight in Matt Harvey. In the minors, they have one all-world prospect in outfielder Jo Adell. He is the consensus top prospect in their organization, and all three top prospect ranking sites are high on him, all naming him a top 15 prospect in all of Minor League Baseball. Outside of him, they also have catcher/first baseman Matt Thaiss, who could get some major league playing time this season to give Albert Pujols a day off, and Jordyn Adams, an incredibly athletic outfielder who signed to play football at North Carolina before opting to play baseball instead.
However, this does not change the outlook for the AL West in the short term. The favorites to win the division are still the Astros. They may not have a player as good as Trout is, but they still have a young core coming off back to back 100-win seasons, a World Series win, and an ALCS appearance. There's also the upstart A's, who themselves just won 97 games in 2018 and keep most of the same players for this season. On the other side, they're still better than the Rangers, who are in an all-out rebuild, and the Mariners, who can't decide if they want to blow it all up or try to actually contend for their first postseason berth since 2001. However, they'd probably still be better even without re-signing Trout.
As for the American League, again, not much changes in the short term. The Angels are still not quite World Series contenders, and it isn't bold to say they're not quite playoff level. I previously mentioned that the Houston Astros and Oakland A's are ahead of them in their own division, and that's ignoring the other two in the league. The big ones are the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, who also won 100 games despite Aaron Judge missing significant time and Giancarlo Stanton spending much of the second half with a hamstring injury, both in the AL East. The AL Central is probably the weakest division, with four of its five teams in a rebuild. The one that isn't, the Cleveland Indians, is the weakest of all of the American League’s playoff teams, but still better than the Angels.
For the entirety of Major League Baseball, there's one team most impacted: the Phillies. They, of course, recently signed Bryce Harper to the then-largest contract in sports history, 13 years for $330 million. Trout has been connected to the Phillies ever since it first appeared the end of his Angels tenure was in sight. Trout is from south Jersey, but grew up a Phillies fan. He's still connected to Philadelphia, as he is frequently seen at Philadelphia Eagles games as a season ticket holder. The Angels made sure he could never go home, and personally I don't believe that it was a coincidence the Angels paid Trout exactly $100 million more than the Phillies paid Harper. Still, it's hard to feel bad for them, given they added a historically great player, even if he isn't Mike Trout.
Now for the Red Sox. While they still have to deal with Trout for the next decade, well, at least he's out of the division. Trout, shockingly, is amazing against the Red Sox. He's slashed .311/.408/.527 with a .935 OPS, 52 hits, 8 home runs, 31 runs scored, and 7 stolen bases in 9 attempts against the Red Sox. And when he plays in Fenway Park? He might be just as good: .350/.441/.475, a .916 OPS, 28 hits, 14 runs scored, and 6 stolen bases, although he has yet to hit his first Fenway home run. Still, with how great Trout is (and how much of a hitters park Fenway is) don't be surprised when it finally happens.
The difference between Mike Trout and every other young player in the majors today is this: guys like Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper, Jose Altuve, whoever- they're all great players. Some historically so. In ten or fifteen years, we could be talking about them as Hall of Famers. Mike Trout is already a Hall of Fame player as it is. In ten or fifteen years, we could be talking about him as the greatest player of all time. And that right there is why he's worth the largest contract in the history of sports.
First of all, if you want to be technical, then the King, Richard Petty, has 201 career NASCAR wins in a National Series, winning a race in the Convertible Series in 1959. But nobody seems to count that, even though non-Cup Series races are counted for Kyle Busch's 200* career wins.
*Kyle Busch, only including Cup Series wins, has 53 career wins. Not the most ever, but still impressive.
So, why should Busch's wins count towards his career totals? He's the all-time leader in Grand National and Truck Series wins, so why shouldn't that be celebrated? Well, they should be. After all, being an all-time great in one series is incredible. Being an all-time great in all three National Series is incredible. Being the greatest of all time in two of them is almost unthinkable. But he's not the greatest of all time, and his 200 wins shouldn't be compared to Petty. And there's a few reasons why.
Busch needed three series to do what Petty did in one
Unless you want to be overly pedantic like I was at the beginning and say that Petty has 201 over two series, then Petty won every race in his motorsports career in one series: the Cup. If we only include Kyle Busch's Cup Series wins, well, it looks like this:
1. Richard Petty, 200
2. David Pearson, 105
3. Jeff Gordon, 93
11. Kyle Busch, 53
That 53 wins is incredible. Historically great. He's likely to pass the father of the King himself, Lee Petty, this season. But the gap between Busch and Richard Petty is still 147 away. But in case the fact that only one driver in the history of the sport has that many wins isn't enough for you, let's look at it this way: The highest number of wins Kyle Busch has ever gotten in a season is 8 (which he did twice, in both 2008 and 2018). Assuming he wins that many races every season for the next 18 seasons, then that puts him at 197 wins. Just short. He'd have to come back at the age of 52 to win three more races. And that's rare to even get to that age at all. For comparison, Jeff Gordon (who has 93 wins) retired full-time at 43. Dale Earnhardt (who has 76) tragically died at 49. David Pearson (who has 105) was out of racing at 51. He'd unretire at 54, only to retire again during qualifying of a race. Petty made it to 52, but only recorded one top 10 finish.
The cars are different in Grand National and Trucks
This should really go without saying, but just in case, I'll cover it anyway. Firstly, the Trucks. Even the most casual racing fans or anyone who knows anything about cars know that stock cars are different than pickup trucks, so I won't go into that here. Now, for the big one. Cup vs Grand National. The cars look similar, so how different can they be? For one, Grand National racecars are smaller than Cup Series cars by about five inches. They're also lighter than their Cup series counterparts, weighing about 100 pounds less. The last big difference: the Cup cars have a more powerful engine than Grand National Series cars. There are other, smaller differences, like Cup Series cars using fuel injectors rather than carburetion, but those are the most important and well known ones.
Petty faced tougher competition than Busch did
This isn't to say the competition Busch faced was “bad”. Jeff Gordon's in the Hall of Fame. Tony Stewart will likely be inducted this year. Jimmie Johnson is a lock once he retires. Even guys like Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Joey Logano aren't exactly “bad”. They just don't compare to who Petty raced with. Dale Earnhardt. Darrell Waltrip. Cale Yarborough. Bobby and Donnie Allison. Rusty Wallace. Junior Johnson. And that's not even mentioning his legendary rivalry with The Silver Fox, David Pearson. I could go on, but you get the point. It gets even worse when you look at the drivers Busch is facing outside of the Cup Series. Sure, Christopher Bell could be something once he gets called up to the Cup from Grand National, and Justin Allgaier is a really good Grand National driver, but guys like them are definitely in the minority. Most of the drivers Busch faces in these two series are faint memories in the minds of NASCAR fans. Guys like Matt Crafton. Jeff Green. Stephen Leicht. Jeffrey Earnhardt. If they're not has-been's or never-were's, their development is being stifled because Busch is just dominating their entire series. So sorry Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson, John Hunter Nemechek, and others, your time to shine has been taken by a full-time Cup Series driver who is likely heading to the Hall of Fame. The best way to describe it is if Mike Trout also played in the minor leagues, or if Patrick Mahomes or Lebron James played in college and the pros simultaneously.
Kyle Busch is a historically great driver. Seriously. I know I've been ripping into him this entire time, but I mean it. The sheer dominance he's shown throughout all three NASCAR national series is unlike anything we've seen before, and it's unlikely we'll ever see anything like him again. When he retires, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone saying he isn't a Hall of Famer. He even has the hardware to back it up. A Rookie of the Year in the Grand National Series and the Cup Series in back to back seasons. He won a Grand National Series Championship back in 2009, and a Cup Series Championship back in 2015. The only reason he hasn't won one in Trucks was because NASCAR stepped in and stopped full-time Cup drivers from winning titles in the lower series. That 2015 season started with him breaking his leg and missing 11 races, and ended with him winning his only Cup title. So, congratulations on 200 wins Kyle Busch.
But you're still a long way away from catching the King.
(Via Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
The Patriots have won the Super Bowl. But that's no reason not to reload, like they've been doing for the last nearly two decades. After losing important free agents like Trey Flowers and Cordarrelle Patterson, the Patriots find themselves in need of more receivers and edge rushers. While it's not exactly a dire need, they should probably be filled sooner rather than later. How could the Patriots add to their roster in free agency and trades?
Randall Cobb: While he's not the biggest name, his versatility is rivaled by few in the NFL. Bill Belichick has made it known that he's a fan of Cobb, and it's easy to see why. Injuries limited Cobb to 9 games in 2018, but the former Kentucky quarterback has shown he can do it all in his career. He can catch passes, run the ball, return kickoffs and punts, and even pass the ball if necessary. He can fill the Cordarrelle Patterson role, and he might be even better than Patterson was. He isn't as athletic as CP and doesn't have CP's blazing speed, but he's just as versatile and probably a better football player than CP is.
Pierre Garcon: Garcon is the longest-tenured player on either side of the ball on this list. An 11 year NFL veteran, Garcon is coming off of back to back injury-filled seasons with the 49ers. However, just before he went to San Francisco, he was still productive for the Washington Redskins, posting over 1000 yards in 2016. He also led the NFL in receptions in 2013. And just remember: Garcon hasn't had a great quarterback since he was on the Colts with Peyton Manning all the way back in 2010.
Michael Crabtree: Crabtree had some of the best hands in the history of the NFL when he entered the league. In his ten NFL seasons since then, he's been kind of a letdown, only going over 1000 yards twice. But I would argue that it isn't really his fault. His quarterbacks since he came into the league have been mediocre at best and bad at worst. Alex Smith. Colin Kaepernick. Derek Carr. Joe Flacco. His best quarterback was probably Lamar Jackson, and even he needs to work on his passing. Getting him a quarterback like Tom Brady would be nothing but good for him, even as he starts to decline.
Demaryius Thomas: Another former Peyton Manning receiver, Thomas posted five consecutive seasons with over 1000 yards from 2012-16, then posted 949 in 2017. His 2018 was a bit of a down year, but to be fair, he did change teams for the first time in his career, and half of the season, his quarterback ess Case Keenum. He's probably the biggest name on this list, and adding him would make a solid 1-2 punch with Josh Gordon, and even if Gordon isn't cleared for whatever reason, he'd still draw the #1 corner to let guys like Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, and Braxton Berrios do their thing against other defensive backs.
Eric Berry: A former All-Pro, Berry has made the Pro Bowl in every season he's been healthy. The problem is he just can't stay healthy. He missed 15 games in 2012 with a torn ACL. He missed 10 games in 2014 with cancer. He missed 15 games in 2017 with an Achilles injury. He missed 14 games in 2018 with bone spurs. So, would signing Berry even be worth it after his injury history? Well, maybe. He can't stay healthy. But signing him on a relatively small contract on the off chance he stays on the field could vastly improve the Patriots secondary. However, despite Berry's talent, that might be too much to ask.
Justin Houston: The Patriots need edge help. Michael Bennett and Deatrich Wise won't cut it. Re-signing John Simon and having Derek Rivers come back from injury is a start, but losing Trey Flowers is huge. Just like Eric Berry, Houston is a former Chief. His best season was back in 2014, when he recorded 22.0 sacks. Even in 2018, his 9.0 sacks were 1.5 more than the Patriots 2018 leader, Trey Flowers. Add to that Houston is just turning 30, and it's not at all a stretch to say he still has a few years left of sacking quarterbacks at a high level. However, Houston does have a bit of an injury history, although nothing like Berry's. He tore his ACL in 2015, and that prematurely ended his season. This injury also kept him out the first 11 games of 2016. He does miss a few games here and there every season, but that's mostly due to age and not any major injuries except for his ACL tear. A contract for him should also be relatively cheap.
Emmanuel Ogbah: Ogbah is kind of a wild card. He recorded only 3.0 sacks last season, but he's only 25. He hasn't begun to fulfill his potential yet. He's currently the odd man out in Cleveland, and the Browns are looking to trade him. Myles Garrett and the Browns trade for Olivier Vernon have essentially overshadowed him. His asking price shouldn't be too high either, because he hasn't been doing a lot in the NFL, even though he was a former second round pick. Even though the Patriots have six picks in the first 101, they shouldn't have to touch too many of them to make a potential Ogbah trade work.
And there are players the Patriots should take a look at. However, it's unlike Bill Belichick to go after any big names, even if those “big names” aren’t really that big. Of course, they can still swing a trade for almost anyone within reason with their aforementioned early round picks. And there's nothing really stopping Belichick from signing someone not on this list, or just getting another no name receiver for depth. He could also keep all of his picks in this draft class and try to fill up the Patriots that way.
(Via Mark Konezny/USA Today Sports)
Shockingly, Antonio Brown has been traded to the Raiders. This came as somewhat as a surprise, since just recently it looked like all signs pointed to Brown getting traded to Buffalo. Now that he's in Oakland, what does it mean for all the teams involved, the AFC as a whole, and the New England Patriots?
First, for the Raiders. On the surface, it seems like a good thing to acquire arguably the best receiver in the NFL and a probable future Hall of Famer. And on the surface, it looks good for Brown, too. He wanted out of Pittsburgh and that's exactly what he got. But there's a couple reasons why this deal might not turn out great for the Raiders and Brown. For Brown, we need to look at the quarterback situation in both cities. For the Steelers, they had Big Ben Roethlisberger. Is he the greatest quarterback in the league? No. But is he at least good enough to win games in the NFL? Yes he is. Let's compare that to the Raiders quarterback situation. They have Derek Carr. Don't let the three Pro Bowls fool you, he isn't that good. How many times has he thrown for more than 30 touchdowns in a season? Just once in five years. What about for less than ten interceptions? Again, only once. 4000 yards? Once. Winning 10 games? Once. Making the playoffs? Once, and he didn't even play due to a leg injury. So it's completely fair assume that Antonio Brown's stats could suffer with the Raiders, at least in his first season.
Now, for the Steelers. It wasn't that long ago they seemed to be a legitimate threat to the Patriots as the top team in the AFC. And now, they've lost arguably the best receiver in the NFL and arguably the best running back in the NFL in back to back seasons. Now, to be fair to the Steelers, James Conner and Juju Smith-Schuster have performed admirably in their absences. However, there's no indication that Conner will be as good of a receiver out of the backfield as Le'veon Bell was, and there's no indication Smith-Schuster will be as good against #1 cornerbacks as Antonio Brown was. But even if Conner is the next Le’veon Bell, and even if Smith-Schuster is better than Antonio Brown, there's one factor that hurts their team that they have no control over: Ben Roethlisberger's age. Big Ben is 37 and not getting any younger. And unlike, say, Tom Brady and Drew Brees at 37, Ben's an old 37. Yes, he did lead the NFL in passing yards at 37, but that's because he also led the NFL in both completions (by 22) and completions (by 36) Ben also led the NFL in interceptions. He missed the Pro Bowl. He's also publicly flirted with retirement over the past few seasons, although funny enough he's been more willing to come back for another season now when it's never been more clear that he should retire.
For the entire AFC, let's take this by division. First, the AFC South. The South was the least impacted by the Antonio Brown trade, because none of their teams were involved with the trade, and none of their teams were even in on Brown to begin with. Then we have the AFC East. For a moment, it looked like Antonio Brown was a Bill. But that trade would be shot down before it ever really happened. Even if it did happen though, it's hard to say that this trade would unseat the Patriots as the top team in the division. Next is the AFC West. Where do the Raiders stand after trading for Brown? Well, they're not the favorite. Not even close. The Chiefs, led by reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes, the team that took the Super Bowl Champion Patriots to overtime in the AFC Championship, is probably still the favorite to win the division. Barring that, the San Diego Chargers also won 12 games last season and won a playoff game. The Raiders are at best the third best team in the division, and even then it's really a toss up between them and the Broncos as to who is the West's worst team. Finally, for the division most impacted by the trade, the AFC North. The Steelers have been the favorites to win the North for years now. It's not a foregone conclusion, like with the Patriots in the AFC East, but for years predicting the Steelers to win the North was far from bold. Now? They just might be the third best team in the North. The Bengals are terrible. Ignoring them, the Steelers won't be a popular pick to win the division. The most popular picks will be the reigning division champs in the Ravens, but don't discount the upstart Cleveland Browns from incredibly making it back to the playoffs.
For the Patriots, the best news they could've gotten is that Antonio Brown isn't a Bill. It wouldn't be enough to take the Bills seriously, and even if it was, Tom Brady owns the Bills anyway, and one player, even one as great as Antonio Brown, wouldn't put a team ahead of the Patriots in the division. Other than that, after what seems like a decade of the Patriots going to Pittsburgh every year, the Steelers will come to New England. It's already tough enough to beat the Patriots in Gillette, but when you lose two great skill players, that's just making it that much tougher. As for the Raiders, the Patriots are not scheduled to play them at all next season. The only chance the Patriots have to face Brown and the Raiders in 2019 is a potential playoff matchup, and that's incredibly unlikely given how bad the Raiders are outside of Brown. The Patriots are still the favorite to win their third straight AFC Championship and their fifth in six years. The only other team that could give them trouble in their way is still the Chiefs.
(Via Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)
Steven Wright is done. The days of Steven Wright, American League All-Star have been over for a while, but so are the days of Steven Wright, serviceable major league starter, and the days of Steven Wright, major leaguer could be done as well. But it doesn't feel that long ago we were talking about how he could last a while in Boston, so how did we get here?
Let's go back to 2006. Wright is a collegiate pitcher for the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, sporting a 2.30 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 109.2 innings pitched. While he wasn't setting the world on fire by any means, he still impressed the Cleveland Indians enough to draft the junior in the second round of the 2006 MLB draft, 56th overall. He'd remain in the Indians organization for the next five and half seasons at a variety of levels in the Indians organization, but he'd never reach the majors. This is in stark contrast to another Indians pick from that same draft, Chris Archer, who not only made the majors, but also made two All-Star teams with the Tampa Bay Rays. But the Indians kept pressing on with Wright, for better or for worse. They tried multiple gimmicks with him, including moving him from the rotation to the bullpen and back and, more importantly for this, sending him back down to Single-A at age 26 to learn the thing that would contribute to his rise: the knuckleball. Despite introducing the knuckler to his pitching repertoire, the Indians dealt him a season and a half later to the Red Sox for Lars Anderson, a first baseman and left fielder with eight major league hits to his name whose major league career ended after cups of coffee every season from 2010-12. By compassion, Steven Wright's time in the big leagues was just about to begin.
Wright would get his cups of coffee in 2013 and 2014, appearing in a combined ten games those seasons, including a start each of those years. Half of those games were as September call-ups, but he still made it to the bigs, two years after the Indians gave up on him. The next season, the 30 year old Wright wouldn't make the team on Opening Day, but he'd spend a lot of time in the majors, finally fulfilling his rookie status. He'd be up and down in 2015, but it was 2016 where he'd forever make his mark in the history of baseball.
2016 was the first time Wright made the major league team on Opening Day. He'd set career highs in innings pitched, strikeouts, and ERA+, with career lows in ERA, WHIP, and FIP. The 31 year old who another team had given up on was an AL All-Star. This wasn't just a matter of having to get every team an All-Star representative either. This Red Sox team was stacked. They'd send five other All-Stars to the Midsummer Classic: Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr, David Ortiz, and Craig Kimbrel. All of those guys except Kimbrel (who is a reliever, after all) started the game. Wright truly deserved to be here. This was him at his peak. He was the best he'd been, and the best he'd ever be again.
As the old saying goes, what goes up must come down. It was the injuries that started the decline for Wright. His All-Star campaign would be cut short due to an injury in his throwing shoulder he suffered running the bases in Dodger Stadium. His 2017 wouldn't fare any better. In the beginning of May, Wright's season would be ended with knee surgery. He performed badly in his limited time this season, including an 8.25 ERA in 24 innings. He would return in 2018, and he wasn't terrible on the field. He had a 2.68 ERA, but only in 53.2 innings pitched. Off the field would be a completely different story. He would be suspended by Major League Baseball for domestic violence, and missed the first month of the season because of this. He'd also be in and out of the major leagues, on and off of the disabled list, just generally reminiscent of the Steven Wright of old, pre-2016, pre-All-Star form. Despite this, the season ended on a positive note, with the Red Sox winning the World Series. And now, there's this. An 80 game suspension for PEDs. Effectively half the season has already been wiped out for him, and we have barely even started spring training.
Now, for the title. Is Steven Wright really the world's last knuckleballer? I mean, sure it's great for clicks, but how accurate is it? Well, after doing the research, I've come to the conclusion that Steven Wright is the last known knuckleballer on the planet. Does that mean nobody else throws knucklers anymore? No, there's probably someone somewhere who throws it. But if you scout pitchers in high school, college, the minor leagues, Japan, wherever- you'd be hard-pressed to find another pitcher who throws a knuckleball. But what about in the majors? Surely there's another knuckleballer except Steven Wright, isn't there? They last for so long, I mean, both Niekro brothers lasted over twenty years in the majors. Charlie Hough lasted 25. There just has to be someone still kicking around somewhere.
But, there really isn't.
Let's look at two of the most famous knuckleballers of this century, and just check in on them.
Tim Wakefield lasted a solid two decades in the majors. But he's also been retired for eight years. So it can't be him.
RA Dickey stuck around for a decade and a half in the big leagues. He even won a Cy Young Award in 2012, becoming the first and likely last knuckleballer to win the award. He's been retired for two years. It can't be him.
There's nobody left. Steven Wright truly is the last knuckleballer in the world. But due to injuries, suspensions, and just general poor performance, we may have unknowingly watched the final knuckleball thrown in major league history.