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.
The Detroit Tigers forced a decisive Game 5 in Oakland on Thursday, while the Boston Red Sox advanced to the American League Championship Series, as both teams eked out tight victories Tuesday.
Though Anibal Sanchez did struggle in Game 3, Detroit found itself facing elimination because its best hitters had done very little over the first three games of the series. The lineup's top five — Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez — had combined to hit just .211, with three extra-base hits and no home runs. This was an extremely small sample size, of course, and the Tigers owned the second-best offense in the league during the regular season. You'd figure the dry spell would end soon. But the Tigers aren't playing with the same lineup anymore. Not with injuries reducing Cabrera to a shadow of his recent self.
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."
Dave Cameron of FanGraphs joined Jonah Keri to break down all four League Division Series. On the docket: Was starting Clayton Kershaw on short rest a good idea? Can the Rays hang with the loaded Red Sox? How do the Cardinals keep churning out these great prospects? And who should the Pirates start in Game 5, the veteran A.J. Burnett or the rookie Gerrit Cole?
Up next, Paul Sporer of Baseball Prospectus and the excellent pitching analysis site PaintTheBlack.com breaks down the Tigers' Game 3 struggles. Should Miguel Cabrera get pushed to DH? If so, who should be benched? How did Anibal Sanchez, the league's ERA leader, get hammered so badly? And what should Tigers fans expect from their team, and starting pitcher Doug Fister, in Game 4?
We wrapped up the show by covering the Oakland A's angle with MLB.com writer Jane Lee. Covered in that chat: How A's pitchers are approaching Cabrera, the surprising success of Oakland's lefty sluggers, and the broader success of the two-time AL West defending champs, and how they continue to win on a tiny budget. Someone should probably write a book about that or something.
Listen to this podcast here. Subscribe to Grantland Sports in iTunes.
We're only seven days into this year's MLB playoffs, and it's hard to figure out how things can get any better. Monday's events were so scintillating, so maddening, so ludicrous, that a dozen attempts at narratives have been tossed in the trash. Instead, we present 19 key moments from a quadrupleheader for the ages.
19. The Rays' defense has been terrible.
A Ben Zobrist throwing error led to the first Red Sox run of the game. It was Zobrist's second consecutive game with an error, after making four in 554 chances all year. Officially, that was the third error in three ALDS games for the Rays, after making just 59 in 163 regular-season games, the second-lowest total in the majors. Between those three miscues, multiple Green Monster adventures by Rays left fielders, and a handful of other mistakes that included a passed ball and a couple of errors in judgment, this ranks as one of the worst stretches for the Rays' normally solid defense in their entire six-year run of success. The Red Sox outplayed the Rays in every way over the first two games of this series. But Tampa Bay's shoddy defense made things worse, and threatened to push the Rays right out of the playoffs.
In case you were busy representing the University of Southern California in its quest to replace Lane Kiffin, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Juan Uribe hit the go-ahead home run and Brian Wilson earned the win as the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched a spot in the NLCS with a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves. "I called those guys before the game to wish them well," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy of Uribe and Wilson, with whom he won the 2010 World Series. "And then I said, 'The queen strikes at midnight.'" When asked why, Bochy said, "Well as it turned out, nothing happened. Which is very frustrating given the massive cash outlay our team made on those two before they left." Bochy then cocked his head to the side and appeared to enter a strange trance before adding robotically, "That said, I can't recommend hiring Tom the Hypnotist enough. Did you know he can be reached at 1-866-HYPNOTOM for all your hypnosis needs?"
Jets quarterback Geno Smith led his team on a game-winning drive and sent the Atlanta Falcons to their third straight loss, 30-28, at the Georgia Dome. The Jets now sit at 3-2 while the Falcons are 1-4, proving that gambling on NFL football before the season is a good idea because it's easy to predict what will happen.
The Tampa Bay Rays are off to Boston for a 2008 ALCS rematch after shutting out the Indians, 4-0, Wednesday night in Cleveland. This was a classic Rays win, one powered by talent, but also flawless preparation.
In case you were busy being harassed by Brian McCann and the party police, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Detroit Red Wings made an early two-goal lead stand up in their first game as an Eastern Conference team, taking their season opener against the Buffalo Sabres 2-1. "It's tough," said Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg after the game. "We had to get rid of all our board shorts and flip-flops, invest in some blazers and khakis." Zetterberg then looked down at himself, attired nattily by Brooks Brothers, and sighed, before saying, "The Eastern Conference sucks. I feel like I sold out, man."
The Tampa Bay Rays will be playing more postseason baseball after surviving their second consecutive elimination game, with a 4-0 win over the Cleveland Indians in the AL wild-card game. When asked how his team dealt with the pressure of back-to-back one-and-done situations, Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "Terribly. Everyone in the clubhouse is a wreck. Lots of shaking and crying. We were this close to just forfeiting." When asked if he was worried about facing the Boston Red Sox, who had the AL's best record this season, Maddon screamed, "Ahhhh! We get the Red Sox? Why?" before vomiting on himself.
The playoffs are a time for triumph and joy, and in a month our lasting image for the season will be some team celebrating a World Series win with champagne and goggles. But it would be wrong to ignore the flip side of that coin. Wayyyy more teams will lose, and their fans will suffer heartbreak and pain. Plus hatred. Deep, ugly, satisfying hatred. The harsh fact is that if you're a fan of the nine remaining teams, there's an 88.888888 percent chance that you'll end up watching someone else's champagne bash with envy and bitterness. You don't want to admit it yet, but you probably are the 89 percent. To help you prepare, here's a quick primer on the most hateable player from each of the remaining teams.
On Monday, we highlighted how the Rays' starting pitching edge, plus just enough offense, would propel them to victory over the Rangers in Game 163. The starting pitching matchup is much tougher to call for Wednesday's Rays vs. Indians wild-card elimination game, which — along with the 10 million kooky things that can happen in a single game — makes calling the result for either team a hell of a challenge.
In a reversal of past failure, the Rays finally took down the team that has absolutely dominated them in the postseason (read: beat them two years in a row in 2010 and 2011 by narrow margins) to advance to the wild-card round. They weren't fazed by the return of Nelson Cruz, or the icy glare of Nolan Ryan behind home plate, or the intimidating towels waved by the Ranger fans who probably thought they were at a football game. As they move on to face the Indians on Wednesday in yet another do-or-die game, here are five quick thoughts to vault us into the actual postseason.
In case you were busy watching Senator Ted Cruz do his best Eli Manning impression, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The New Orleans Saints outclassed the previously unbeaten Miami Dolphins in a 38-17 win, sending a message to the rest of the NFL that they are prepared, after a down year, to return to the ranks of the league's elite. Fortunately we here at ALN got an exclusive leaked copy of the text of that message; here it is in its entirety:
Dear Denver, Seattle, New England, and San Francisco, um, Kansas City? Sure, why not. Kansas City,
Hey, guys, it's the Saints. How are you? We feel like we really lost touch with ya'll last year. And that's our fault. We hate to lay blame or make excuses, but in this case we really feel we must. So much was going on with us, and our coach, and Roger. It's always hard when you get hurt by the ones you love, especially when they aren't being paid to hurt you. But we've moved on, and we'd like to think you guys have too. I heard some of you are even still friends with Roger. That's fine. Seriously, it's fine. That's fine. It's all just fine. Fine. Whatever. You are the company you keep, is what we say down in New Orleans, but do what you must.
In case you were busy arguing that Lane Kiffin really hasn't gotten a fair chance to prove himself as a head coach with a particularly stubborn stop sign, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Tom Brady finally synced up with his young receiving corps, as the New England Patriots built an early lead and held on late, beating the Atlanta Falcons 30-23. "It's tough to beat them when Brady is back on track, but we gave it our all, and I'm impressed with my team," said a gray-haired man claiming to be Atlanta's head coach. "Wait, seriously, I'm Mike Smith," the man said, giving a clearly fake name, before adding, "You've heard of Dan Reeves? Well, I'm the most successful coach this franchise has ever had. We were in the NFC title game last year." The man, likely a deluded extra who wandered off the set of Boardwalk Empire, then added, "No, I'm not the mayor from Boardwalk Empire. For chrissake, come on, are you messing with me?"
The Major League Baseball regular season ended, but there's yet more to be decided as the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers finished the season tied for the second AL wild-card slot, and will play a one-game playoff. That game will determine which team will face the Cleveland Indians in another one-game playoff, which will determine who will be the AL wild-card representative in the postseason. This will be followed by a series of three-inning "mini-games" to determine home-field advantage in each round, which will be followed by a series of three-out home run derbies to determine which manager will be forced to turn in his lineup card first. Then, naturally, will come the dizzy bat competition, which will be just for fun, followed by a three-legged race, which will supplant this year's World Series, and for which, naturally, the Boston Red Sox are the favorites to win what with their flashy red socks likely to be advantageous for maintaining a three-legged race rhythm.
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.
In case you were busy getting taken aback by the presence of hockey news in your Twitter feed, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Max Scherzer got his 21st win and the Detroit Tigers clinched the AL Central with a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Twins. "Fine, fine," said every sabermetrician in the world in unison. "We get it. Scherzer is the Cy Young winner, fine, fine. Fine," before adding a passive-aggressive "it's not the worst decision you guys have made — he is leading in fWAR, which you probably haven't even heard of" while throwing their arms up in the air all at once. Then every sabermetrician muttered under their breaths, "He might not even be the best pitcher on the Tigers, but hey, who are we to know things," adding a derisive "as far as you know, we're in our mothers' basements" in one harmonic voice.
"Eliminated," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, lying flat on his back, after New York's 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. "I am no more. The Yankees are no more." Cashman let his mind think back on the odyssey he had taken this season to arrive at this moment: the Jeter injury, the Rodriguez suspension, the retirement of Rivera, the consistent presence of Jayson Nix in his lineup, until of course Nix got hurt. Everyone had gotten hurt. Cashman balled his fists and yelled at his ceiling, "Who am I?" Suddenly, a great shaking took hold of his office, and the ceiling split before him, as the hand of God itself reached down to grab the balding, drunken GM. "You are the Cash-Man," God intoned with a surprisingly feminine voice, as he was lifted into the air. "You are my Cash-Man. And to prove it—" Suddenly, God threw Cashman in the air, a flash of lightning showed Cashman he was falling back to his office floor amid a rain of American currency, and for just a second Cashman glimpsed the face of God. "Mrs. Steinbrenner?" A clap of thunder sounded, and all went black.