(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.
(Via Mark Brown/Getty Images)
IT HAS FINALLY HAPPENED.
Bryce Harper is now a Philadelphia Phillie.
13 years, $330 million.
Let's take a look at the largest contract in sports history and how it impacts the majors, the National League, the NL East, and the Phillies themselves.
So, the majors as a whole. The greatest free agent in sports history signs the largest contract in sports history. It passes Giancarlo Stanton’s extension with the Marlins as the largest contract ever, extensions included. It smashes Manny Machado’s contract with the Padres as the largest free agent contract ever. Still, it seems like he could've gotten more. Remember: there was talk that Harper was a $500 million man, or at the very least a $400 million man. Instead he settles for “only” $330 million, a far cry from passing Zack Greinke's record for highest total AAV of any player ever, and it doesn't even pass Nolan Arenado's record for the highest AAV of any position player. Harper has a full no trade clause, no deferred money (so no Bobby Bonilla situation on our hands), and most importantly: no opt-outs. Bryce Harper will be a Phillie until the day he retires. This (along with Machado's contract with the Padres to a lesser extent) sets a precedent for all future big name free agents, namely one particular center fielder in Anaheim: Mike Trout. As the best player in baseball, Trout is set to become a free agent after 2020, and will likely be the first $400 million or maybe $500 million man in sports history, no matter where he signs.
For the National League, the question is this: does this make the Phillies the favorite to win the NL Pennant? And the answer is this: well, maybe. It's possible, but even though Harper is a generational talent, it's hard to unseat the two-time defending National League Champs in the Dodgers, who return a lot of talent from their NL Pennant-winning teams and add former All-Star center fielder AJ Pollock. Don't count out the Brewers either. They won 95 games a year ago, and also return a ton of talent, including 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich and fellow All-Stars Lorenzo Cain, Josh Hader, and Jeremy Jeffress among others. That's not even mentioning their farm system, including top prospect Corey Ray. It's also worth noting that the two other teams Harper passed on before signing with the Phillies, both of which were the only known teams except the Phillies and Nationals to offer him a contract, are both National League teams: the Giants and the Dodgers. The Dodgers offered a short contract, but the AAV was rumored to be over $45 million. As for the Giants, well, they also offered Harper a deal at least a decade long for at least $300 million like the Phillies did. The difference is that the Phillies contract offer was longer and worth more total money, even if the AAV on the Giants offer may have been bigger. However, we don't know the specifics of either offer.
Well, the Phillies may not quite be the favorite
to represent the National League in the World Series, but are they at least the favorites in their division? Well, in a word, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Let's look at the other teams in the East to prove why the Phillies are the favorite. Starting with the defending East champion Braves. They could potentially have the best infield in the National League, if not the entire major leagues with Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, new addition Josh Donaldson, and Dansby Swanson. Their outfield of Ronald Acuna, Ender Inciarte, and Nick Markakis is solid as well. Why aren't they the favorite? Because of all the moves the Phillies made in addition to signing Bryce Harper. Now let's look at the Marlins. They are absolute trash and never had a chance. Onto the Mets. They have new additions in Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, but Robbie is old and Diaz, while great, is only effective out of the bullpen, and one great reliever doesn't make you the division champs. Jed Lowrie is versatile. And Jacob deGrom is just incredible. They're not the favorite because they always find new hilarious injuries, I mean, Brandon Nimmo missed a game with undercooked chicken. And now for Bryce Harper’s old team, the Nationals. They're probably the second best team in the East, behind the Phillies. They still have Anthony Rendon and Trea Turner, and they're both solid. Juan Soto is ready to become a superstar, and Victor Robles is waiting in the wings. And then there's their three great starting pitchers: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. But they aren't the favorite because they lost Bryce Harper.
Now for the Phillies themselves. Not only did they add a generational talent, but they built around him too. They acquired 2018 All-Star shortstop Jean Segura from the Mariners. They acquired 2018 All-Star catcher JT Realmuto from the division-rival Marlins. They signed Andrew McCutchen, a former NL MVP. They signed David Robertson, who may be the best pitcher in the majors. They retained guys like Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera, and Rhys Hoskins. Pitching, they have former NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta in the rotation, as well as 2018 NL Cy Young finalist Aaron Nola. That's not even mentioning that they just added Bryce Harper.
As for the Red Sox, well, barring a matchup in the World Series, there's not much impacting them. Harper went from one National League team to another, and the only other realistic options for him were other National League teams. No American League teams were in on him, and honestly, it's hard to imagine any American League teams being able to afford him. The usual biggest spenders in the AL, the Red Sox and Yankees, have a lot of money already tied up in other players. The Yankees have Giancarlo Stanton to pay, and the Red Sox have a lot of money tied up in a lot of different players. Still, it's beneficial to not have him in the league.
(Via AP Photo/Jae Hong)
So here I was, just trying to enjoy my Tuesday afternoon, when the bomb dropped. Manny Machado is now a member of the San Diego Padres. So, what does it mean for the Padres, the NL West, Major League Baseball as a whole, and the Red Sox?
Firstly, the Padres. At the major league level on the surface, it's a little troubling. The Padres gave out a monster contract to Eric Hosmer a year ago, and Hosmer only produced a WAR of 1.4 with a .720 OPS. They also gave a lot of money to Wil Myers, who has been injury-prone and positionless for a couple seasons. It echos the Padres of a few years back, where they signed guys like James Shields, Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton, and BJ Upton, only to lose them all within a few seasons. Where it gets interesting though is their minor league system. The Padres have the consensus top farm system in the majors, and their crown jewel is infielder Fernando Tatis Jr, the #2 prospect in all of baseball. Other highlights include former third overall pick lefthander Mackenzie Gore, infielder Luis Urias, and catcher Francisco Mejia. They have ten prospects in the top 100. The real question mark is still the pitching staff, despite having Mackenzie Gore and maybe the return of Anderson Espinoza after two injured seasons.
For the NL West, the Padres may be the favorite in 2021, but they're not there yet. They're just too young. Mackenzie Gore turns 20 this month. Luis Urias is only 21. Fernando Tatis Jr just turned 20. And then there's Francisco Mejia, the “old man” of this group, and he's only 23. For the immediate future, the Dodgers are still likely the favorites in the division, being the team that represented the National League in back to back World Series and all that. They still have Clayton Kershaw, they're getting Corey Seager back from Tommy John Surgery, and that's not even mentioning guys like Cody Bellinger, Kenley Jansen, and recent free agent addition AJ Pollock. And knowing the Dodgers, they'll probably find some other team's major league flameout off the scrap heap and turn him into a productive player like they did with Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, and Max Muncy. Outside of them, there is still the Rockies, who may have lost DJ LeMahieu to the Yankees, but still return Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon, and of course Nolan Arenado. Pitching, they still have young stud Kyle Freeman, and in the pen, even though Adam Ottavino signed with the Yankees, they still have Scott Oberg. They also still have the best manager in the entire division in Bud Black. Fortunately for the Padres, the Diamondbacks (who traded the best position player they've ever had in Paul Goldschmidt) and Giants (who have made no significant improvements) are now behind them in the race for the division title.
Talking about how the majors as a whole is impacted, this move was really unexpected, at least to me. Machado signed the largest free agent contract in sports history (second-largest contract including extensions, behind Giancarlo Stanton's Marlins extension in 2014) at 10 years, $300 million. That part makes enough sense. The shocking aspect is that he did it with the Padres of all teams. All logic seemed to point towards Machado signing in Chicago with the White Sox, since they made the effort to sign his Miami buddies Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay. Another one of his Miami buddies, Albert Almora, plays crosstown for the Cubs. Allegedly, they offered even more for him than the Padres did. Barring that, it looked like the Yankees would be the best bet, since Machado is a shortstop/third baseman from Miami, so he was a huge fan of another shortstop/third baseman from Miami who happened to play for the Yankees while Machado was growing up. Outside of that, the discussion on how this impacts the entirety of Major League Baseball is about Bryce Harper. Harper is still unsigned. Unsurprisingly, this takes the Padres out of the running for him, and given that they went out and signed Machado, have to believe that they were serious. Harper now has his pick from the other 29 teams who are willing to pay him, but logically, it looks like the Phillies are the favorite. And now that Machado has $300 million, Harper will likely ask for at least that much, if not more. Harper's contract, when he signs, will almost certainly beat Machado's and possibly even Stanton's as well.
Now, for the Red Sox. They should be breathing a sigh of relief right now. The Yankees were a legitimate threat for a long time to sign Machado, and now they don't have to worry about that anymore. Remember, just two years ago the Yankees were a game away from the World Series. Just last year they won 100 games. They added Giancarlo Stanton, who is great at baseball, and if they added another player like him, maybe someone to take over for Didi Gregorius (who will miss roughly half the season with Tommy John Surgery) until he was back and healthy, it would put them ahead of the Red Sox, at least on paper. Even though Brian Cashman said he wouldn't pay Manny Machado more than he was paying Stanton, there's nothing saying Machado wouldn't have taken a discount so he could be their next Alex Rodriguez and win multiple World Series rings. Fortunately for the Red Sox, he won't be in the division. He won't even be in the same league anymore. They only have to play the Padres three times in 2019, all in San Diego, and all in late August, barring an unlikely matchup in the World Series.
Now, one of the big ones is off the market. We as a baseball community can now turn all of our attention towards Bryce Harper’s free agency, assuming he actually signs a contract before the regular season starts. This offseason really sucks, doesn't it?
(Via LAT Photographic/autoweek.com)
Finally, the 2019 NASCAR season is upon us. The Great American Race is this Sunday. Now, while the offseason is the shortest of any sport, that doesn't mean that we haven't had some intriguing storylines building for this season. Here are some narratives to watch out for in 2019.
Can the Big Three continue their dominance?
There's 36 races in every NASCAR season. In 2018, Kevin Harvick (8 wins), Kyle Busch (8 wins), and Martin Truex Jr (4 wins) combined to win 20 of them. The three of them, along with Joey Logano, made it to the Final Round of the Chase last season. When the new season begins, will the Big Three continue dominating?
Prediction: No. Busch and MTJ are teammates now, so it's hard to imagine they'll be going all out competing for wins. Except for Busch, he'll probably wreck every other driver on his team to move up to 3rd or something.
Will Jimmie Johnson bounce back?
Jimmie Johnson is one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. Despite that, his 2018 season was (and it hurts me as a huge Johnson fan to say this) terrible. Firstly, he didn't win a single race, despite coming very close at the Roval. He barely snuck into the Chase. He set career lows in wins, laps led, top 5s, and top 10s. Not only that, he lost his Crew Chief, Chad Knaus, and the iconic Lowe's sponsorship, both after a historic run of seven Cup Series titles, including five in a row. Think of it like if Bill Belichick stopped coaching Tom Brady. It's that severe. Is there any hope for Jimmie, at all?
Prediction: Sadly, it looks like Jimmie’s best days are behind him. Am I saying he'll never win another race? No. But he's past his prime and going downhill. Unfortunately, we won't see #8. God, I hope I'm wrong.
How will drivers on new teams do?
Unlike other sports, the NASCAR offseason featured plenty of people changing teams. Just this offseason, we watched Martin Truex Jr go from Furniture Row Racing and the 78 (RIP) to Joe Gibbs Racing and the 19 due to Truex being unable to keep Furniture Row in business despite winning it all in 2017 and coming up just short of repeating in 2018. He replaced Daniel Suarez, leaving JGR and the 19 to instead go to Stewart-Haas Racing at the 41. Suarez replaced Kurt Busch, who finally got it in him to leave Stewart-Haas for the greener pastures of Ganassi and the 1. Outside of that, Daniel Hemric took over the 31 from Ryan Newman (how moved to the 6 for Roush Fenway Racing) and Richard Childress immediately repainted it to the 8. This means the 3 car and the 8 car will be teammates. Finally, Matt DiBenedetto gets the 95 for Leavine Family Racing to replace the retiring Kasey Kahne.
Prediction: MTJ and Kurt Busch will be doing good with their new teams because they're good drivers. DiBenedetto leaving the 32 and Go Fas Racing to the 95 probably won't help him because he just isn't that good. Newman is too old to do a lot with his new team after 17 years in the Cup Series full-time. Suarez has shown flashes but hasn't materialized in anything so far with JGR, so a change of scenery could help him out. Hemric is interesting. It brings me to my next narrative:
Who will win Rookie of the Year?
Hemric is one of five declared candidates for Cup Series Rookie of the Year. Over seven seasons in the Truck Series and Grand National Series, he's racked up 38 top 5s and 69 top 10s, as well as five poles, despite never recording a win. As mentioned, Hemric is driving the 8 car. Next is Tanner Berryhill. Unlike Hemric, Berryhill never raced Trucks. He did race in the Grand National series, last running full-time back in 2014. He recorded 0 top 5s, 0 top 10s, 0 poles, and never finished higher than 17. He didn't even qualify for four races that season. However, he's only 25, so he's still young enough to make his mark in the Cup. He'll be driving the 97 for Obaika Racing. After him is Quin Houff. Only 21 years old, Houff has yet to get a full-time ride in any Series. He has shown potential though. At only 19, he finished 12th at Iowa in the Grand National Series. He ran five races in the ARCA Series over two seasons and recorded tow top 10s, with a high finish of sixth at Charlotte. He'll be in the 77 for Spire Motorsports. Fourth is Ryan Preece. Preece ran part-time in the Grand National Series from 2014-15 and again from 2017-18. His 2016 season was a little underwhelming, recording one top 10 in 33 races, with his highest finish being 10th and six DNFs. In 2017 though? He showed he could be ready for the Cup. Running only four races, he recorded a win, a pole, four top fives, and four top tens. He didn't start lower than sixth. In the cup, he'll be in the 47 for JTG Daugherty Racing. Finally, there's Matt Tifft. Tifft spent two seasons part-time in the Grand National Series before spending two seasons full-time. In those races, he's won two poles, nine top 5s, and 38 top 10s, despite not winning any races. He also ran part-time Trucks for three seasons, recording a top 5 and nine top 10s, but also no wins. In the Cup Series, he'll be driving in the 36 car for Front Row Motorsports.
Prediction: I understand he'll likely be the popular pick, but I have to go with Daniel Hemric here. Yeah, he's older than everyone else in the running, being 28, but he has more experience than all of the other candidates. No, he doesn't have a win in any NASCAR-sanctioned series, but that doesn't detract from the otherwise sheer dominance he's had so far in his career.
And there are my predictions. I'll revisit them after the season to see how I did.