Normative Narratives


Monday Morning QB: March Madness Starts Early This Year (link to a video of the brawl between Mexico and Canada in the WBC)

The World Baseball Classic has been about as exciting as anyone could ask for up until this point. The Italian team has been the surprise story of the tournament, emerging from a tough division along with Team USA to make it to the single elimination games. The remaining 8 teams are:

USA, Italy, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Cuba, and Japan.

This list includes some surprises and some obvious names. It was nice to see team USA advance past group play for the first time. The Netherlands may come as a surprise, but players from Curacao (a small island state near Venezuela) help bolster the team’s roster. The Dominican Republic boasts a powerhouse lineup and are many peoples’ favorite to win the whole tournament. Two-time defending champion Japan, whose roster includes a whopping ZERO MLB players, have no intention of letting that happen. There is lots of talent in this WBC, and it has been fun to see some of the non-MLB players getting a chance to shine on a global stage.

It has not been so much fun for everyone; some teams suffered frustrating eliminations. Team Venezuela was expected to go far in this tournament, but could not make it out of a difficult division featuring the D.R. and P.R. Teams Canada and Mexico showed their frustration in the form of a bench clearing brawl (although Canada was not yet eliminated at that point). The Canadian team, up 9-3 in the 9th inning, bunted to get a runner on base (aggregate score is a tie-breaker for group play in the WBC). This prompted Mexican 3B Luis Cruz to tell his pitcher to intentionally hit the next Canadian batter. After several failed attempts, the batter (Rene Tosoni) was hit, and a bench clearing brawl ensued.

It is unfortunate that tempers had to boil over, as the WBC is supposed to be about different countries coming together under the umbrella of Baseball, but it just goes to show you how seriously players take this tournament. The action will only get more intense, as games are now single elimination (although I wouldn’t expect anymore brawls; you want that, go watch any Hockey game).

Congrats to Tiger Woods, whose dominant performance at Doral earned him his 17th World Golf Championship Title. Tiger has paid enough for his transgressions; it is good for him and the game of golf to see him return to championship form.

Congrats to Bernard Hopkins, who over the weekend broke his own record to become the oldest Boxing title holder at 48 years old. “On Saturday, Hopkins beat 30-year-old Tavoris Cloud for the IBF light heavyweight championship.”

Joe Flacco backed Anquan Boldin’s assertion that he will not take a pay cut to stay on the Ravens next year. Joe should really use some of that money he got to hire himself a math tutor, or at least have someone explain how the salary cap works. There was arguably no other player who was more important to Joe Flacco’s playoff success than Boldin, who “in the playoffs, caught 22 passes for 380 yards receiving (95 yards per game) and four touchdowns.” Flacco should put his money where his mouth is, and agree to shave a few million dollars of his record-setting contract in order to bring back the guy who most helped him win the Super Bowl and secure said contract. Boldin has been the Raven’s leading receiver since he came to the team from Arizona three years ago.

Flacco owes much of his success to Boldin, and a small restructure would allow Boldin to stay on the team (Boldin has stated he does not want a pay raise, but he will not take a pay cut either):

“Boldin told USA Today on Saturday he’s unwilling to slash his salary in order to stay with the team, citing “principles.”

“At no point, no matter how well I played, would I come back to the table and say, ‘I need more money.’ The contract that I signed was the contract that I intended to play out,” he told USA Today.”

I believe Boldin is right here, but Flacco “backing him” is a bit of a joke unless he is willing to structure his deal in a way that will allow the Ravens to keep Boldin. In a salary cap league, one man’s record contract is (potentially) coming out of his teammate’s pocket. A great WR can make a QB better, and Boldin’s ability to go up and get the ball has undoubtedly made Flacco better.

Two weeks ago I said that Flacco’s legacy may be determined by how flexible he is with his contract. Signing such a large deal puts a considerable amount of responsibility on Flacco to allow the Ravens the salary cap flexibility needed to ensure they can continue to surround him with championship caliber talent. I never would’ve thought such an opportunity would present itself so soon, but this is an opportunity for Flacco to prove to the city of Baltimore that money is not everything, and that winning is what is most important to Flacco (just to be clear, this would be a very small portion of Flacco’s 6 year 120.9 million dollar contract, as Boldin was only set to make $6 million next year before he was asked to restructure his deal).  

Talk is cheap Flacco. While it is nice to back your WR, it’s time to put your money (which we all know you now have more of than you could ever need) where your mouth is.

Update: It appears that Boldin has been traded to the 49ers for a 6th round pick (once he passes a physical). It’s amazing to me that the team couldn’t figure out a way to keep it’s most consistent weapon following it’s Super Bowl victory and record-setting contract for Joe Flacco, but there you have it. As former teammate and now undisputed No. 1 Ravens WR Torrey Smith put it upon learning of the trade, “This business is BS at times,”Enhanced by Zemanta.

The Ravens lost a big piece in Boldin. Boldin was not the most physically gifted WR at this point in his career, but he was a strong No. 2 WR with exceptional hands who always played bigger than he actually was. The Ravens have a True No. 1 WR in Torrey Smith, but nothing certain after that. Will they draft someone or sign a free agent? Do they believe the explosive Jacoby Jones is ready to make the next step as an every-down WR?

This could end up being a big mistake by the Ravens (I think it is), time will tell.


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Monday Morning QB: The Joe Flacco Contract Edition

First and foremost, congratulations to The New Rochelle Huguenots basketball team on their section 1 class AA New York State championship win yesterday. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 24 hours, the Huguenots won on a 60 foot shoot with 0.1 seconds left in the game by Khalil Edney (who is also led New Rochelle to a state title in football as the QB last November). After the initial inbounds pass was stolen by Mt. Vernon, Edney rushed into action, picking up the loose ball and chucking a beautiful arching 60 foot shot all in one motion. This highlight has been on ESPN and news outlets nationwide, and I would not be surprised if it ultimately wins a 2013 ESPY. (Edney is currently undeclared as far as college goes, it will be interesting to see how this recent success affects how heavily he is recruited).

Ray Rice was happy for Edney and the city of New Rochelle for continuing its championship ways, as evidenced by his tweet following the game: “CITY OF CHAMPIONS NEW RO STAND UP WE RULE WESTCHESTER #914”

Rice is also presumably happy that his Quarterback, Joe Flacco, just signed a record-setting 6 year $120.9 million contract. Rice’s foreseeable future is with the Ravens, having signed a 5 year $40 million contract last summer. Certainly neither man will ever have to worry about personal finances again.

But is Flacco’s deal, which is the largest in NFL history, the right move for the Ravens? Certainly after coming off a dominant playoff run, capped off by a Super Bowl victory, everyone knew Flacco was in for a huge pay day. But did the Ravens give him too much money? For comparison’s sake, here’s how Flacco’s deal compares to other big deals for star QBs:

Tom Brady: 5 years $33 million

Ben Roethlesberger: $11 million next season (base $2.6 million + bonuses)

Aaron Rodgers: $9.25 million next season

Drew Brees: 5 years $100 million (2013 salary, $9.75 million)

Matt Ryan: $10 million next season

Tony Romo: $11.5 million (plus another $5.3 million against the cap)

Phillip Rivers: $12 million next season

Eli Manning: “He will make $13 million in base salary and his salary cap hit, including signing bonus tops the league: $20.85 million”

Peyton Manning: $20 million base salary next season

Joe Flacco: 6 years $120.9 million, base salary next season unknown as details of the deal remain uncertain.

There are a number of things a team can do to soften the salary-cap blow of signing such a large deal. The team could provide a large signing bonus, or make the contract “front or back loaded” (and then restructure the deal if the team needs salary cap flexibility in the future, assuming the player is willing to play ball). As I am not an expert on NFL contracts and what does and doesn’t count against the salary cap, we’ll just assume for now that Flacco will allow the Raven’s to be flexible with his contracts salary cap impact.

The issue with such a large contract is amplified in a sport with a salary cap. No one will fault Joe Flacco for cashing in on this opportunity; he is a young star QB coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance, whose value will never be higher. The issue here is are the Ravens putting too many eggs in this basket—will they be able to afford to keep the talent around Flacco needed for the Ravens to continue to be perennial Super Bowl contenders?

The best way I can think to pose this question is as a hypothetical. Had Flacco not resigned with the Ravens, would you have wanted your team to sign him to this contract? Is the contract too large, or did Flacco play up to it? When you look at that list of QBs, Flacco is set to make a lot more than some guys who have had considerably more success in the NFL than he has. Flacco’s career Passer Rating of 86.3 is impressive, but only 10th best among active QBs. On the other hand, he does have the record for road playoff wins (6), and is only now entering the prime of his NFL career.

(The road playoff record is a fickle stat; if you’ve had Super Bowl success, it becomes a defining number for “road-warriors” such as Flacco (6-4) and Eli Manning (5-1). If on the other hand you’ve struggled and never won a SB, it will become a forgotten stat, as it has been for Mark Sanchez (4-2).)

In salary cap sports we sometimes see guys take less money so there is more available to sign other guys (think of the Miami Heat’s big 3 or Tom Brady’s recent contract extension). With Ray Lewis retiring, and Ed Reed possibly following him, the Raven’s will have big holes to fill in their defense, which has historically been their strong point. Will the Ravens be able to afford All-Pro caliber replacements on defense after giving the big bucks to their offensive play-makers (Rice and Flacco)?

At the end of the day, Joe Flacco worked hard and earned this record-setting contract. How he continues to mature into an elite QB going forward, and the flexibility he allows the Ravens in restructuring his contract down the road, will go a long way in determining his NFL legacy. The Raven’s did the right thing by signing Flacco to a big deal. It is now up to him to live up this contract not only on the field but off the field as well.

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Monday Morning QB: Baseballs Best Outfields

The Pro Bowl was less of a disaster than last year, although Peyton Manning’s speech to take the game seriously did not seem to work for the AFC, as they got trounced 62-35 by the NFC. I think the Pro Bowl can be saved by:

A) always having it in Hawaii (so guys want to come) B) making it the week after the Super Bowl so more guys can participate (how much fun would it be to have Ray Lewis play in one last Pro Bowl after the Super Bowl before he retires?) and C) add a skills competition of sorts (NFL players are among the most physically gifted athletes in the world, lets highlight those abilities for everyone to see!).

The NHL season continues, as the Rangers seem to be getting into form. The Knicks won a nail-biter versus the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday behind Melo’s 42 point performance (including 9 3-pointers, tying a NYK franchise record). Amar’e seems to be getting back into game shape, and the Knicks as a whole are getting healthier.

Without football to focus on this weekend, my mind started to wander to the upcoming MLB season. With the trade from the Diamondbacks to the Braves, the Upton brothers will be playing on the same team next season. The combination B.J Upton, Justin Upton, and Jason Heyward have people wondering how this Braves OF stacks up against the rest of the majors. Without further ado, a ranking of my top 10 outfields going into the 2013 MLB season (for shits-and-giggles, here’s how the analysts ranked-em’, obviously lots of similarities but also some differences):

1) LA Angels: Not much of an argument here, when your outfield consists of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Mark Trumbo. This outfield has 3 legitimate MVP candidates, and should combine for 100+ HRs, 300+ RBIs and close to 300 runs. All three have above average arms, and Trout and Hamilton are both above average fielders. No other OF can compare to the Angels. (If they decide the go with Peter Bourjois for defense and put Trumbo at DH, they still have the best OF in MLB in my opinion).

2) Atlanta Braves: Wow, this outfield is currently number 2 and has a chance to be a top 3 outfield for the next 10 years if they can keep the talent they now have healthy. The Upton brothers are both 5 tool players, although Justin has showed a higher ceiling than B.J. thus far in their respective careers. Jason Heyward is another 5 tool player, who had a bounce back year last year after a prodigious sophomore slump. I look for Justin to get back to his MVP-caliber 2011 form, Jason to continue to progress into a perennial All-Star, and B.J. to have a career year as a part of this tandem. When I think of this groups potential (90+ HR, 300+ RBI, 300+ runs, 90+ SBs), I cannot think of any other OF ever to put 3 legitimate 5 tool outfielders together in the primes of their careers like this (doesn’t mean it’s never happened, I just can’t think of a comparable OF, can you?).

3) LA Dodgers: Oh boy, it’s an arms race in L.A., with the focus on big OF bats. The combination of Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford makes this a top 10 OF itself. Add in Andre Etheir, a career .290 hitter who will benefit from a stronger supporting cast this season, and you got the number 3 OF in the league.

4) St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Holiday is a stud OF, who can hit for power and average. Carlos Beltran had a comeback year last year which should carry over into the upcoming season. John Jay is not as much of a household name as the other two guys, but despite injuries this kid had a great 2012 campaign which he is sure to roll-over into 2013.

5) New York Yankees: I may be accused of being a homer ranking the Yanks this high, and that may be a fair accusation. Here’s why I am so high on the Yanks OF this year (and really their whole lineup); it features a great balance of power, speed, and contact hitting. Granderson will hit 40+ HRs and should steal 20+ bases (while probably hitting .230-.260, his “Achilles heel” as a hitter is strikeouts/batting average). Ichiro hit well over .300 after coming to the Yanks, while showing both power and speed. Brett Gardner is coming back from injury and should be healthy. If he play a full year he is a lock for 50+ steals, and I believe he will finally play up to his potential and hit over .300. The Yankees outfield may not have as much power as other years, but they can all play very well both offensively and defensively. If you doubt this prediction, just wait and see.

6) Toronto Blue Jays: It is well documented that I have been “High on [the] Jays” this whole offseason, and why not with the acquisitions they have made. Jose “Joey Bats” Bautista will be among the league leaders in HRs again this year. Rajai Davis provides a spark with his speed, which should work nicely with Reyes’ speed and ability to get on base as well. The wildcard in this group is Melky Cabrera; the guy almost had a batting title before testing positive for PEDs last season. While he may not be “batting title good”, Melky is still an above average hitter and fielder in the prime of his career. The Blue Jays are no joke this year, and neither is their outfield.

7) Oakland Athletics: A surprise team from last year, whose success I expect to carry over into the upcoming season. Josh Reddick matured into one of the premier power hitters in the game last season. Yoenis Cespedis, a Cuban defect, rewarded the A’s confidence in him by producing in a big way (particularly after the All-Star break). Coco Crisp was very good for the A’s down the stretch, although it remains to see how they juggle both Crisp and the newly acquired Chris Young. Having too many good OFs to start at once, however, will not cost you a spot on this list.

8) Baltimore Orioles: Another surprise team from last year that should be as good in the upcoming season. Adam Jones has developed into a top 10 OF (arguably top 5) with 5 tool talent. Nick Markakis and Nate McClouth are both similar players. Neither one will wow you with eye-popping offensive numbers, but both will hit for a high average, have respectable power numbers, display excellent base-running skills and play great defense. The overall talent of the Orioles OF earns them a spot on this list.

9) Cincinnati Reds: The Reds did their best “Big Red Machine” impression last year, and seem likely to make another playoff run this year. The addition of Shin-Soo-Choo will bolster an OF already featuring Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick. Bruce is a premiere power hitter (hitting 30+ hrs each of his last 2 years and 20+ each of his first 5 seasons, it is hard to believe this guy will only be 26 years old this season). Ludwick was a pleasant surprise for the Reds, clubbing 26 HRs in a nice bounce-back season for the vet. When your OF has 100 HR potential, (although anything over 90 would surprise me), your OF gets on this list.

10) Milwaukee Brewers: The Brew-Crew finish-out this top 10 list. First and foremost, Ryan Braun has established himself as one of the premiere OFs in the league. The guy can do it all, and is a perennial MVP candidate. The PED scandal did not seem to slow him down at all last season–Braun is primed for another huge year. Carlos Gomez is one of the fastest guys in the league, and last year showed some of the “pop” that was missing in his swing (hitting a career high 19 HR last season, with 14(!) coming in the second half). Norichika Aoki showed the ability to get on base and steal with regularity, and should have a full time gig given the ineffectiveness of Nyger Morgan last season.

Honorable Mention: Nationals, Marlins, Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox, Rockies

This is certainly a topic which is open for discussion / debate. If you disagree with my rankings, be sure to let me know how you would ranks these teams in the comment section. If anyone would like me to explain any of the “honorable mentions” in more detail, be sure to ask.

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Monday Morning: QB The Harbaugh Bowl

MLB lost two historic figures this weekend, Stan Musial and Earl Weaver. Musial was one of the greatest hitters of all time, a fan favorite in St. Louis during and after his playing career, and by all accounts a gentleman who played the game the right way. Weaver was a greatly successful manager for the Baltimore Orioles. He won close to 1500 games, 4 pennants, and 1 WS title in his 17 years managing the Orioles. Both men will be greatly missed in the MLB community.

The NHL season kicked off this weekend. The New York Rangers looked rusty, losing their first 2 games. Their rivals, the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins, both looked very good; it will be a difficult road to the Stanley Cup this year.

On to the NFL; the playoffs have eliminated all but two teams, who will now face off in two weeks in the Super Bowl. Those teams are the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. I was 7/10 in predicting playoff winners, not too shabby! Considering the Broncos gave their game away, and the Seahawks probably should’ve beaten the Falcons, I feel I only really got one game “wrong”—49ers vs. Packers. Even still, 70% is pretty good.

This Super Bowl matchup should be very interesting. We have two brothers, Jim and John Harbaugh, who will be head coaching against each other; without checking I can safely say this is the first time brothers have head coached against each other in the Super Bowl. Both teams boast shutdown defenses and high powered offenses. These two teams, well coached and well balanced, should give us a very competitive Super Bowl. I know I am looking forward to more than the commercials this year.

So who will win the Lombardi trophy this year? Surely, a strong argument can be made for each team. The Ravens bring playoff experience to the table, Joe Flacco appears to be on top of his game, as does Anquan Boldin. Ray Rice and Torrey Smith are All-Pro caliber players, and Jacoby Jones is an X factor as both a slot receiver and a return man. On the defensive side of the ball, there is no question that Ray Lewis and the gang will come ready to play.

The 49ers are equally dangerous. Colin Kaepernick showed poise last weekend, running a balanced offense after falling behind 17-0 in the first quarter of the NFC championship game. Frank Gore is an elite running back, and Vernon Davis creates match-up nightmares. Michael Crabtree has emerged as a true number 1 WR, and Randy Moss seems to be getting on the same page as Kaepernick. The 49ers can beat you in so many ways on offense; it is hard to believe Kaepernick will be starting only his 10th game when he takes the field in New Orleans on February 3rd. On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers are as good as anybody.

Ultimately, it will come down to 3rd down efficiency and who wins the turnover battle. I know this is a bit of a cop-out; almost every NFL game comes down to these two statistics. However, with two teams as balanced as these on both sides of the ball, with head coaches who know each other so well, I can’t think of anything else that could swing this game. Perhaps the deep ball, as both QBs have the ability to make big strikes through the air (although both teams secondaries have the ability to shut down the deep game as well).

I’m calling this one for the 49ers. I don’t think any team, even the Raven’s, can stop all the weapons the 49ers have. That option play, where either Kaepernick or Gore/James keeps the ball, is so hard to stop, just ask the Falcons defense.

Either way, it should be a game for the ages. There will be tons of speculation over the next two weeks (as well as memorable sound bites from media week), at this point all we can do is tune in and see what actually happens when the two teams take the field.


Monday Morning QB: New Year, New NFL Super bowl Champion

The Giants season ended a lot like their last Super bowl defense. This time, no one literally shot themselves, but with missed opportunities to lock up a playoff spot earlier in the year (8-5 after week 14), it certainly feels like the team collectively “shot itself in the foot”. The Bears also fall into this category; oh well, better luck next year guys.

It is almost funny going onto ESPN today, as almost every story is about a head coach, GM, or coordinator who was fired from a NFL team that struggled this year. Not at all surprising, but an insight into just how unforgiving an industry professional sports can be.

Congrats to the L.A. Clippers, who went 16-0 this month and have won 17 straight games! The combination of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin has been dominant, and depth in the form of role players such as Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, and Lamar Odom (just to name a few) have the Clippers poised to make a deep playoff run. Despite the highly publicized signing of Dwight Howard by the Lakers, it appears the Clippers are now the team to beat in L.A. This is a true “changing of the guard”, as the Lakers have been the big brother in L.A. as long as I can remember.

Back to the NFL, Let’s do a little Wild Card breakdown:

Colts v Ravens:

This will be an interesting game; a high powered offense versus one of the game’s best defenses. Can rookie Andrew Luck continue his meteoric rise to NFL stardom? Will Ray Lewis be effective when activated from injury, or perhaps even more effective after a long break (he is old; the injury could have been a blessing in disguise keeping him fresh). The match-up to watch here is how the Colt’s defense plays against the Ravens offense. If they can keep Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, and Torrey Smith in check, I like their chances. Andrew Luck won’t become the first rookie to make it to the Super bowl, but his season does not end next weekend either.

Predicted Winner: Colts (I may just be thinking wishfully, but who doesn’t want to see Peyton v. Luck in the playoffs?)


Bengals v. Texans:

The Bengals have a high powered offense, but little to fear after that. The Texans have one of the most complete teams in the NFL; a solid QB, an All-Pro RB and WR, and a defender in J.J. Watt who strikes fear in the hearts of NFL QBs. I got the Texans in this one all the way, possibly by a large margin.

Predicted Winner: Texans


Seahawks v. Redskins:

This has got to be the first time two rookie QBs have faced off in an NFL playoff game, right? RGIII has been nothing short of amazing since week one of the season, beating Drew Brees at home. Russell Wilson has had more of a traditional rookie season, but eventually got it together and tied Peyton Manning’s rookie TD record with 26. RGIII is the better QB, but the Seahawks are the better team in every other aspect of the game (particularly on defense; the Seahawks are one of the league’s best, the Redskins one of the worst). I’m calling this one for the Seahawks.

Predicted Winner: Seahawks


Vikings v. Packers:

Fun, fun, fun, a rivalry game in the playoffs (so is Ravens-Colts I suppose). A week 17 rematch, I expect different results this time around. Adrian Peterson has been unstoppable this year; coming off a knee injury and a slow start, “All Day” AP finished only 9 yards shy of Erik Dickerson’s single season rushing record. This though should keep AP warm during an otherwise cold post-season, as the Christian Ponder lead Vikings will not beat Aaron Rodgers and the gang for the second time in two weeks. This one will probably be a shootout, as neither team has a great defense, which favors the Packers who can move the ball more effectively through the air. The “cheese-heads” have legitimate Super bowl aspirations, and must first knock off the surging Vikings to get there.

Predicted Winner: Packers


There are my NFL Wildcard predictions, we’ll have to tune-in next weekend to see what actually happens.