The Seattle Mariners have agreed to terms with Robinson Cano on a 10-year, $240 million contract, marking the most dramatic example to date of a franchise taking the $26 million per team per year in new national TV money and actually spending it. It’s a good deal for Cano and a potentially great one for the Mariners.
That new TV deal, announced 14 months ago, granted broadcast rights to Fox and TBS through 2021. Combine that with the league's existing ESPN deal, and teams now stand to earn $12.4 billion over the lifetime of the contracts, more than doubling previous totals. Last winter and so far this winter, we hadn't seen many teams that lack the big media-market power of L.A. or New York or Boston spending top dollar to land marquee players. The closest we'd come was Minnesota signing right-handed starters Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes in rapid succession to contracts worth a combined $73 million. This free-agent class, like last year's, is short on superstars, but it still felt odd that the small- and medium-market clubs that had suddenly received a huge windfall of cash seemed content to stick the money under their mattresses, rather than spending it on good players who could help win games. Credit the Mariners for finally getting it.
Who needs the winter meetings? Apparently not Major League Baseball’s general managers, who, while evidently hopped up on krokodil, executed a flurry of trades and free-agent deals a week before the sport's offseason confab at Disney World. The 48-hour swirl of signings and swaps saw Jacoby Ellsbury commit the ultimate heel turn, the Nationals further solidify their starting rotation, and the A's begin filming their audition tape for Hoarders: Bullpen Strong. Tuesday's action was largely a series of middling moves and “my garbage for your trash” trades, but taken cumulatively, the effect was, well, startling.
As with any period of great upheaval, the stunned citizenry must have questions. Let's try to answer five of them, starting with the big one.
In case you were busy calling out traders on Twitter, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Golden State Warriors exploded for 42 points in the fourth quarter as they overturned a 27-point deficit to beat the Toronto Raptors 112-103. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was incensed after the game, saying, "The Warriors, they're who we thought they were. That's why we took the damn court." Casey then pounded the podium and yelled, "Now if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! But they are who we thought they were! And we let them off the hook." When told of Casey's comments, Warriors point guard Stephen Curry frowned and asked, "This doesn't mean I'm Rex Grossman, does it? Because I really don't want to be Rex Grossman."
In the marquee move of a busy day of major league hot stove action, sources are reporting that outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury will leave the world champion Boston Red Sox, having agreed to terms on a seven-year deal with the New York Yankees. When asked if he saw himself as following in the footsteps of former Red Sox outfielder Johnny Damon, who also moved to the Yankees after winning a World Series title, Ellsbury's eyes darted as he said, "What? No. Who? Who's Johnny Damon? You're crazy." When asked if he was Johnny Damon posing as Jacoby Ellsbury, Ellsbury glared and said, "Why can't you just be cool? If you were cool you wouldn't ask these questions." Ellsbury was then asked if he had ever existed, or if he had always been a clever ruse designed to extend Johnny Damon's career, to which Ellsbury replied, "Seriously, why won't you just let me have this? Please just let me have this."
A flurry of moves over the past few days has the hot stove firing earlier than usual this offseason. With the Prince Fielder–Ian Kinsler blockbuster swap already thoroughly examined, let's explore what these other trades and signings mean for the teams, the players, and the rest of the winter.
New York Yankees
What they've done: The Yankees signed catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract with a vesting option that could take the deal to six years and $100 million.
What it means: McCann gives the Yankees' offense a big boost. A few years ago, the Bombers fielded a lineup stuffed with power hitters and big on-base threats, the kind of attack that would wear down opposing pitchers and bash teams into submission, making up for New York's sometimes shaky run prevention. That formula unraveled in 2013, with major injuries knocking multiple boppers out of the lineup, reducing the Yankees' offense to no. 28 in baseball on a park-adjusted basis. Chris Stewart, the team’s primary receiver, hit an abysmal .211/.293/.272. Since 2006, McCann’s first full season, only four catchers have delivered more offensive value. Strip out Victor Martinez and Mike Napoli, who no longer catch, and McCann trails only Joe Mauer and Buster Posey; and once the 2014 season starts, Mauer won't be catching, either.
In case you were out getting a terrifying vote of confidence from an eccentric Russian oligarch, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
A rough day for the Manning family saw the Dallas Cowboys all but eliminate the Giants' scant playoff hopes with a 24-21 win at the Meadowlands. "The bad news is, we're probably headed home in December," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said after the game as he stroked his weird red mustache. "The good news is, Cooper said I can finally go to Space Camp this offseason. So it's all good news, because Space Camp is gonna be so worth it!"
A punt misplayed by Denver's Tony Carter in overtime proved to be the difference, as the New England Patriots beat the Denver Broncos, 34-31, in an instant classic. "At least I'm not that guy. At least I'm not Tony Carter," said world's saddest man Gary Pittson while watching the game's highlights from a motel room in West Memphis, Arkansas. The Ultimate Clarity: A Life-Changing Life System information session he had attended at the Memphis Airport Marriott had been a bit of a bust, if Pittson was being honest with himself. Sure, the day's speaker, former Denver Broncos offensive lineman Tony Jones, was possessed of Ultimate Clarity, but he couldn't see how the principles of confidence and serenity that Jones was espousing could apply to his life. Jones was a millionaire, and he was famous, and he was a Super Bowl champion. Pittson was a nobody. Also, the session was expensive, so much so that after paying for his flight and the fees and the books, Pittson certainly couldn't afford to stay at the Marriott, but being so far away made it hard to participate in the more social aspects of the information session. Pittson shook his head, looked back up at his TV, and took a deep breath as the highlight repeated itself. "At least I'm not that guy," Pittson said to no one. "At least I'm not Tony Carter."
Alex Rodriguez was the talk of the baseball world Wednesday, storming out of his own arbitration hearing, appearing on Mike Francesa's show to proclaim his innocence against PED charges, and simultaneously pointing out real injustices in MLB's attempt to suspend him while also coming off as incredibly disingenuous.
In case you were busy demanding a recount of People’s Sexiest Man Alive voting, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
Rodney Stuckey scored 21 points off the bench as the Detroit Pistons heaped more woe onto the New York Knicks with a 92-86 win. Meanwhile, in Bayside, Queens, a father and his son watched the game together. "I hope the Knicks win!" the boy exclaimed, long after it was clear the Knicks were certainly not going to win. "Remember, son," the father said as the clock wound down. "Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane." The father then grabbed his boy by the shoulders. "That's why we watch the Knicks. Not to win. We never win. But to remember not to hope. Never hope, my boy. Promise me you'll never hope."
In front of a star-studded audience in Stillwater, including Kevin Durant, sophomore Marcus Smart put up 39 points as Oklahoma State throttled Memphis 101-80. "Man, there are so many kids out there this year," the 19-year-old Smart said after the game. "Think they know what's up. They don't." Smart, who is 12 months older than Jabari Parker, then added, "I get it, I was that age once." Smart shook his head, age having worn his face visibly, and added, "But now I know about the real world. About hard work, discipline. I've been in college for a whole year, man. I've traveled all over Big 12 country. I took Art History 104. Shit. The things I know, I could write a 1,500-word paper on them. These kids? They'd be lucky to pump out 800 words. Lucky."
The baseball season is a long and lonely road. And so is the offseason. To preserve his sanity, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter keeps a diary. These are excerpts from The Captain's private journal.
Monday, November 18
The offseason's usually a time for rest. For relaxation. For rejuvenation. Not that you take even a single day totally away from baseball, because every new day represents a chance to improve yourself. Even if you're not running wind sprints or taking the thousand daily ground balls that are a part of your usual mid-November routine, you could be working on the mental part of the game, which is secretly the most important aspect of winning. You'd think that would be obvious, but you'd be surprised at how many people fail to grasp that reality. It's the last great overlooked strategy for building a champion. It's mind over matter.
In case you were busy stridently fighting off accusations of having brought the weather with you, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Adam Wainwright guided the Cardinals into the NLCS, throwing a complete game as St. Louis eliminated the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 6-1 win, because of course he did. David Freese hit a clutch home run in an elimination game, because of course he did. Yadier Molina was a rock both behind the plate and in the lineup all series long, because of course he was. Two of St. Louis's three Matts — Holliday and Adams — picked up the third, a slumping Carpenter, because of course they did. And the St. Louis Cardinals will now move on to the NLCS, where they will have home-field advantage against the Los Angeles Dodgers, because of course they will. In the NLCS the Cardinals will play a hard-fought, professional series, where win or lose the players will be able to leave with their heads held high, because the St. Louis Cardinals are the St. Louis Cardinals and will always be the St. Louis Cardinals.
The St. Louis Blues, meanwhile, continue to back up their preseason hype, getting a goal from Alexander Steen with 21 seconds left in regulation to edge the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, 3-2, and maintain their perfect start to the NHL season. Looking forward, the Blues will somehow contrive to both win their division by 12 points and get swept out of the Western Conference finals by inferior opposition, leaving them unable to hold their heads up high, because the St. Louis Blues are the St. Louis Blues and will always be the St. Louis Blues.
In case you were busy faking injuries to run down the clock at your office, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Boston Red Sox are in the ALCS after holding off the Tampa Bay Rays, who set a postseason record with nine pitchers in their 3-1 loss. Rays manager Joe Maddon was unable to hide his disappointment after the game, saying, "This one's on me boys. The pitching was fine; I kept going out there meaning to bring in better hitters. But my timing was a mess." Maddon then signaled to the press corps, replacing himself in the press conference with the team's pitching coach Jim Hickey, who shook his head and said, "He meant to bring in [hitting coach] Derek Shelton. Joe's going to be ruing this loss all offseason."
Nineteen-year-old San Jose rookie Tomas Hertl scored four goals, including a through-his-legs goal-of-the-year candidate, as his Sharks decimated the New York Rangers in a 9-2 win. Hertl, who pulled off the feat in his third NHL game, said afterward, "Well I hope this'll show the San Jose organization that I'm ready for a call-up to the big show. No rush, but I think this proves I have the skills to make it at the top." When told he was already at the top level of professional hockey, Hertl responded, "No. No. Please. Enough with the pranking of youngsters. There's no way the team we were up against was a top-tier team tonight. You're yanking me and it's rude."
The baseball season is a long and lonely road. To preserve his sanity, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter keeps a diary. These are excerpts from The Captain's private journal.
Thursday, September 26: vs. Tampa Bay Rays
You wanted it to be a special night.
You wanted it to be perfect for Mo. Because more than anybody, he deserved it.
You wanted that last moment on the mound, in front of the Yankee Stadium crowd, to stay in his memory forever. For him to hear the roar of the home fans every time he closed his eyes. For it to be the moment he always dreamed it might be.
And then for the reality to be even better than that.
Yesterday was the saddest of days. Mariano pitched at Yankee Stadium for the last time in his career, and the last man to wear no. 42 is now just three games from retirement. But endings are also a time for celebration, so let's accentuate the positive and honor the parting gifts given during the season to the greatest closer of all time. Some were great, some were awful, but all of them were, technically, gifts. Here they are, ranked from worst to first.
This was Mariano Rivera's last home game at Yankee Stadium, and for most of it, the crowd was dead silent. At the start, the Bleacher Creatures performed their roll call ritual, chanting "MA-RI-A-NO!" to close it out. Then, silence. That can happen when Alex Cobb is throwing a one-hitter against you for seven innings, when your team's been knocked out of the playoffs on the way to being swept by a ballclub with a payroll one-quarter the size of yours.
Throughout Thursday night's Yankees-Rays contest, the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium showed various "Thanks, fans" messages. David Robertson's head popped up. CC Sabathia's. Curtis Granderson's. On through the roster the thank-yous went, until Rivera's face flashed onto the screen. This was the next burst of life, a moment more than two hours in, when the near-capacity crowd finally roared its approval.
It all began building to a crescendo after that. In the top of the eighth, Rivera got up and starting warming up in the bullpen.
In case you were busy spending your EA settlement money as quickly as possible, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Led by running back Frank Gore, the San Francisco 49ers rebounded from two consecutive heavy defeats in style, beating the St. Louis Rams, 35-11. "We couldn't run the ball," said Rams coach Jeff Fisher after the loss. "And they could run the ball." Fisher, a longtime member of the league's competition committee, then added, "That's not fair. At some point it's like, let's at least swap some linemen so that it's a good game. What happened to sportsmanship?"
Mariano Rivera played his final game at Yankee Stadium, throwing 1⅓ perfect innings in New York's 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Rivera, who has spent the season being given gifts on a de facto nationwide farewell tour, was approached by manager Joe Girardi after the game. "I bet you noticed we hadn't given you anything," Girardi told Rivera. "I had, but I don't mind; this organization has given me everything," Rivera said. Girardi smiled, and told his longtime closer, "I saved that third wish for a reason," before yelling, "I wish for Mariano to be free!" Suddenly, a swirl of blue light came from the ground, and the lamp that Rivera had quietly carried with him for his entire Yankees career shattered as if made out of glass. "Now run. No more saving us," Girardi whispered in Rivera's ear. "Now you can save yourself." Rivera then thanked Girardi before awkwardly reminding him that he was still contracted to play the final series of the season at Houston.
The baseball season is a long and lonely road. To preserve his sanity, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter keeps a diary. These are excerpts from The Captain's private journal.
Thursday, September 19: at Toronto Blue Jays
Sometimes you find yourself watching a game in slow motion.
It's not the same thing as the game slowing down for you when you're in the zone, when the ball's coming at you like it was hit through a swimming pool, and you feel like you've got all the time in the world to chase it into the hole, twist your body as you hang in the air forever, and deliver a perfect jump-throw to first to get the runner by a step.
Or when you're locked in at the plate, and here comes that slow-ball again, headed for the outside corner, so you reach across and hit it over the short porch in right.
I'm talking about a different kind of slow motion.
The kind when you're sitting on the bench and watching a disaster about to happen right in front of you, and you're powerless to stop it. The kind when you're down 3-1 at the beginning of the seventh, and you just need to keep it close to give the offense a chance to get the lead back for you. And you're sitting next to Girardi, because you're on the DL, but as Captain, you're like a second bench coach in the dugout. You're right there for your manager, who might want some advice in a tight spot.