With apologies to those who revel in seeing Steve Delabar face Marco Scutaro, there is no worse time of year for sports fans than this week's four-day dead zone. So what better time to hand out our midseason MLB awards? Here then are the players and teams that have made the biggest impact in the first half, with a sneak peek at a few potential second-half twists. We start with the American League today, followed by the National League tomorrow.
The baseball analytics revolution has helped us answer many questions that might have seemed unknowable before. We can now measure not only a pitcher's velocity but also the exact horizontal and vertical break on his pitches, the precise coordinates of his arm slot, and dozens of other variables. We can calculate the worth of catchers who excel at framing pitches. We can even take the sum of a player's contributions and find a reasonable estimate of his overall value.
Lovely pursuits, all. But mere trivialities next to the most pressing baseball question the world has ever had to face: If Mr. Burns had to re-staff the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team with a lineup full of present-day players, who should he choose?
In case you were out fighting off the pre-Valentine's Day crowds at your local florist, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls, 71-69, at home in a low-scoring matchup of traditional Eastern Conference powers. "Even though we lost, tonight's game was as if the perfect game of my dreams sprung to life before me on the court," said Bulls head coach and former Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau. "The game waved at me. I waved back. 'Hello,' I said. 'You may not be beautiful to others, but to me you are perfection.' The game giggled at me coquettishly, but it would not allow anyone to score. No matter, that only made the game more appealing to me." Thibodeau then, suddenly lost in reverie, began waltzing with an invisible dance partner as he murmured sweet nothings about defensive rotations and clogged passing lanes into her invisible ear.
The wildest day of this Hot Stove season featured the winter's biggest contract for a position player, an affordable two-year deal for a veteran starting pitcher, and a fierce, two-team battle for an underrated starter.
A few hours after the Angels' 11th-hour rush ended with a $125 million deal for Josh Hamilton, the buzz turned to a Cubs-Tigers tug-of-war for Anibal Sanchez. Multiple early reports had Sanchez headed to Chicago for five years and $75 million. But while Hamilton reportedly reneged on a promise to give the Rangers a chance to match any competing offer, Sanchez had no such reluctance, approaching the Tigers to see if they'd match the Cubs' proposal and keep him in Detroit and they did, signing the best remaining pitcher on the free-agent market to a five-year, $80 million contract.
Jumping suddenly and aggressively into the fray, the Angels reeled in Josh Hamilton for five years and $125 million, delivering a sharp blow to the rival Rangers and further cementing the West divisions as the most compelling races for 2013.
Industry consensus had Hamilton ticketed for a return to Texas, given Hamilton's supposed promise to the Rangers that they could match any competing offer and the lack of rumors signaling a megadeal from another team. But as the Angels swept in last offseason to grab Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson at the end of the 2011 Winter Meetings, so, too, did they pull off a shocker here.
The Red Sox are rumored to be interested in Cody Ross, which makes no sense for a team that already has every outfield position and DH covered unless Jacoby Ellsbury's on the block. The problem with an Ellsbury trade, which has also been rumored, is finding a suitable trade partner. The 29-year-old center fielder should get a healthy raise in arbitration following an $8 million salary in 2012. Problem is, he's coming off an injury-wracked season in which he hit a measly .271/.313/.370 and played in just 74 games. He's also a free agent after next season. So you've got a player with a solid argument for 2011 MVP who tanked the next season, now stands to make eight figures, offers only one year of team control, and would likely require a quality pitcher in return. It's baseball, so we should never say never. But if Boston's going to add pitching during or after the Winter Meetings, it might very well be via a straight free-agent signing, rather than a trade.
The race for remaining outfielders is heating up in Nashville, with Josh Hamilton and Shane Victorino both moving closer to long-term deals, and one wild blockbuster rumor sparking a million tweets.
The rumor that lit up the lobbies late Tuesday was a report from ESPN's Pedro Gomez that the Diamondbacks and Phillies were discussing a swap of Justin Upton and Cliff Lee. Yahoo's Jeff Passan followed up, saying all manner of three- and four-team trade ideas had been batted around. But the Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro kiboshed that talk, with one D-backs source saying an Upton-Lee deal "hasn't been discussed" and is "off base," and manager Kirk Gibson adding, "I can tell you that's not going to happen."
News and notes as we roll into Day 2 of the Winter Meetings
• The Rangers signed former Royals closer Joakim Soria to a two-year, $8 million deal. This marks the second straight offseason in which Texas inked a closer rehabbing from Tommy John surgery to a multi-year deal, following the November 2011 signing of Joe Nathan. I hated that deal at the time, writing that Nathan had lost fastball velocity and seen his strikeout rate drop considerably after TJ, and that the Rangers were getting at best a diminished pitcher and, at worst, a pitcher who's about to get injured. I was, obviously, spectacularly wrong. But beyond dwelling on my incredibly poor judgment, the Nathan deal is a great example of information asymmetry. Simply put, teams often know things that we the public do not, even when deploying intelligent statistical analysis. This is doubly true for injured players, or players coming off injury. Doesn't mean we should blindly trust every general manager to make the right decision every time. Only that there might be more to a deal than the obvious circumstances might suggest, such as when a team signs a late-30s relief pitcher with major surgery in his recent past to a multi-year contract.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Russell Wilson's last-second Hail Mary pass fell into the arms of well, it fell into the arms of M.D. Jennings, who plays for the Packers, but the replacement refs awarded Golden Tate a touchdown, upheld it on review, and the Seahawks won 14-12. Luckily, About Last Night was able to obtain a transcript of a post-game phone call between head referee Wayne Elliott and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Here is how you fix the Home Run Derby: Start with an aircraft carrier. Matter of fact, whenever you are "fixing" anything, "start with an aircraft carrier" is always a good jumping-off point. Now you take said aircraft carrier and anchor that bad boy about 350 feet from shore. Not just any shore: Make it a bay that somewhat mirrors the dimensions of a major league baseball park. You see where I am headed with this, don't you? Yep, you're right, the guys on the aircraft carrier have to hit the balls back to land in order to get credit for a home run. Not a bad idea, huh? Well, we aren't done pouring extra awesome sauce on this yet. Every single ball that gets hit off the aircraft carrier has a dollar value, so if you retrieve the ball you can turn it in for a cash prize. Some are worth $500, some are worth $1,000 and the "money ball" is worth $10,000. Now you don't only have the spectacle of the baseballs flying off an aircraft carrier onto the beach, you have the battle for the balls as well. I know what you are thinking: Won't this get ugly? I don't want to watch people tear each other's arms off over a baseball on national television. Fear not: The whole event is recorded, and the stealing of baseballs from the rightful owner (he/she who caught it) will be policed. Are you really going to read this and tell me that this wouldn't drastically increase your interest in the Home Run Derby? If you don't like this idea, you are basically taking a stance against beaches, bikinis, free money, and the United States military. Don't take a stance against beaches, bikinis, free money, and the United States military. That would be dumb.
— David Jacoby
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
The Arizona Wildcats are College World Series champions. Defensive replacement Brandon Dixon hit an RBI double in the ninth inning to break a 1-1 tie, spurring Arizona to a 4-1 win over South Carolina and a two-game sweep in the championship round. Unfortunately for Dixon, the League of Defensive Replacements determined that he was "getting above his station" in a secret meeting and revoked his membership. The vote was nearly unanimous, with only "Weakish" Walter Burrows, Bartholomew "Bad Eyes" Burrows, Timothy "Batless" Burrows, and Edward "Eczema Eddie" Burrows — the famous Burrows quadruplets — voting on Dixon's side.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
LeBron James scored 26 points and the Heat overcame Russell Westbrook's 43 points to beat the Thunder 104-98 and take a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. James hit two huge baskets late in the fourth quarter after suffering thigh cramps that sidelined him for part of the game. Afterward, James seemed to realize the magnitude of what he'd accomplished. "Hey, remember when Michael Jordan had that one game where he played with the flu?" he asked. "Neither do I. It doesn't exist anymore. And if you ever mention it again, neither will you."
1. Sergio Agüero: The Quiet Neighbor
Triangle Blog Brother/Rankonia Writer Emeritus Chris Ryan nominates Agüero, who is this week’s hero:
"Are we underrating Sergio Agüero? He isn't as prone to fireworks or setting off fireworks as Mario Balotelli and he doesn't have a deep, unquenchable love of golf like Carlos Tévez, he just scores goals. Alex Ferguson called Manchester City the noisy neighbors. But the only time there is a noise surrounding the Argentine, nicknamed "Kun" (King), is when he scores. And what a sound he created Sunday.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
LeBron James scored 29 points, grabbed eight boards, and dished out seven assists as the Heat eliminated the Knicks with a 106-94 Game 5 win. After the game, Amar'e Stoudemire stood with clenched fists near a wall in the locker room where three fire extinguishers were hung in close proximity. "Why dost thou tempt me, Lord?!?!" he screamed to the ceiling, before concussing himself with a head-butt.