The Cincinnati Reds have been busy signing their (mostly) young talent to multi-year extensions this offseason. In December, pitcher Bronson Arroyo signed a three-year deal that will take him through the age of 36. He’s the only player the Reds extended that’s over the age of 27. Shortly after extending Arroyo, the Reds signed 23-year-old Jay Bruce and 27-year-old and reigning NL MVP Joey Votto to six and three-year deals, respectively. On Thursday, the Reds signed pitcher Johnny Cueto, 25, to a four-year deal and are reportedly pursuing an extension with 27-year-old pitcher Edinson Volquez.
The moves signal that the 2010 NL Central champs are serious about contending for the foreseeable future. Since arriving in Cincinnati in 2006, Arroyo has won at least 14 games four times, including a career-high 17 last season. Arroyo also won a Gold Glove last season. Cueto went 12-7 last season with a respectable 3.64 ERA. Bruce hit 25 home runs last season, though 19 of those came at the Great American Ballpark — about as hitter-friendly a park as you’ll find. The main concern with Bruce is his strikeout numbers; he’s had more than 100 twice in his three major league seasons, and a career-high 136 last year.
The New York Yankees signed outfielder Andrew Jones to a one-year, $2 million deal Thursday, according to the New York Post. Add to that, their signings of veterans Mark Prior and Russell Martin, and you’ll notice that this offseason for the Bombers has not exactly been filled with blockbuster additions. Oh, I almost forgot they also brought in lefty-specialist Pedro Feliciano — huge deal. The only “big name” player the Yanks brought in is set-up man Rafael Soriano, and not everyone in the organizationwas on board with that move.
Offensively, the Yankees added guys who combined to hit .251, with 24 home runs, 74 RBI and 15 stolen bases last season in Martin and Jones. Comparatively, the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Red Sox bring a combined .302 batting average, 50 home runs, 191 RBI and 47 bags from last season. Gonzalez and Crawford each had more RBI individually than Martin and Jones did combined. So while the Yankees brought in two former All-Stars who are far from what they were, the Red Sox brought in two superstars in their prime. This is the type of offseason New Yorkers expected from the Mets, but not the Yankees.
Russian billionaire and owner of the New Jersey Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, said on Wednesday night that the Nets are no longer pursuing a trade that would bring Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey. Whether or not that was a negotiating ploy to scare Denver into making a deal remains to be seen, but we’re advising against New Jersey making a deal unless they’re assured he will sign a contract extension. The Nets and Nuggets had been in discussions for months, reportedly nearly reaching a deal that would have included the Detroit Pistons and up to 17 players.
Anthony has made it known that he only wants to play for the Knicks. The Nuggets reportedly don’t like what the Knicks have to offer, though recently Knicks GM Donnie Walsh said he believes he can acquire multiple first-round picks from other teams to send to Denver. The Nuggets presumably would also get Landry Fields, Bill Walker, Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler, and the expiring contract of Eddy Curry as part of deal. But this presents a problem; the team would be significantly weakened just to bring him in, making them less of a contender, and therefore less appealing.
Rookie running back James Starks was drafted out of Buffalo with the 193rd pick by the Green Bay Packers, only after he was shafted at the last second by the Chicago Bears. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Bears had decided they were going to take Starks with 181st pick and had already begun negotiations with his agent. Bears’ former director of college scouting, Greg Gabriel, says he was on the phone explaining rookie minicamp to Starks when general manager Jerry Angelo informed him they would be picking quarterback Dan LeFevour instead of Starks:
I then had to tell the player (a player that I had developed a good relationship with over the previous two years) that in fact we were not drafting him. Hearing a kid go from being extremely excited to silence was not easy. It was the most embarrassing moment I had experienced while scouting. In my mind everything is about integrity, and I felt our integrity had been damaged.”
Gabriel should be embarrassed, but more for Angelo than himself. Gabriel was doing what he was supposed to be doing, when Angelo essentially forced him into being the bad guy. I understand that the NFL is a business and Angelo was doing what he thought was best for his team and he certainly is allowed to change his mind, but integrity has to mean something. It obviously does to Gabriel, and I’m sure it does to Starks now if it didn’t before.
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols reportedly has set a Spring Training deadline for contract extension negotiations, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Without an extension, Pujols will become a free agent after this season. In either case, Pujols has the chance to become one of the highest paid players in baseball history — right up there with Alex Rodriguez.
Even if a deal isn’t done by the time Spring Training starts and Pujols ends up becoming a free agent, it seems likely that he will stay in St. Louis after this year. The most obvious teams — those willing to spend that kind of money — already have talented, high-paid first baseman. The Yankees and Red Sox have Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez respectively; the Phillies have Ryan Howard, and the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera. Just a few years ago the Mets would have been a possibility, but their owners lost money in the Bernie Madoff scandal and have tried to cut spending as a result.
In his 19th year in the NBA, Celtics center Shaquille O’Neal is a far cry from the explosive young player he was when he entered the league with the Orlando Magic. He’s not the still explosive, but bulkier player he was during his time with the Lakers or the Heat. What he is now is a role player who can step up and show flashes of his old self when called upon, as he did on Friday night against the Bobcats:
Shaq’s game has always been predicated on power, which makes sense considering he’s currently listed at 325 pounds, though opponents have always claimed his weight was a conservative estimate. Despite the power, he’s also always displayed incredible footwork and hands for a man his size — two attributes that have allowed him to continue playing even as his athleticism diminished. All that takes a backseat to the fact that Shaq has accepted his new role. With the Celtics he has shown a willingness to come off the bench and fill-in for the injured Kevin Garnett. If Allen Iverson were actually willing to accept such a role, he’d probably still be in the NBA instead Turkey.
Current Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo recently told the New York Daily Newsthe New York Giants intentionally pulled back their defensive playcalling against the Patriots during the final game of the regular season in 2007. Spagnuolo was the defensive coordinator for that Giants team. However, Spagnuolo said the fact that the defensive scheme was scaled back does not mean the team did not play hard or want to win:
“You know, as much as we wanted to win that game – all of us did – and we played it to win it, we made a decision defensively we weren’t going to jeopardize trying to win the Tampa Bay game by throwing out our whole game plan in the 16th game of the season. So there was a little bit of a pullback there.”
The Patriots won that game, with the Giants — who led the NFL sacks that year with 53 — only sacking Tom Brady once and giving up 356 yards passing. Despite the loss, the game seemed to serve as a catalyst for New York’s playoff and eventual Super Bowl run. Now it appears that maybe the contrast in defensive play calling between that game and the Super Bowl was what allowed the Giants to sack Brady five times in their Super Bowl victory. Though quarterback Eli Manning was named MVP of the game, anyone who watched knows the defensive line should have won the award collectively. And it looks like the sly behavior of the Giants coaches paid off.
In his fifth year in the NBA out of Kentucky, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo has established himself as one of the premier point guards in the league. He leads the NBA in assists per game with 13.4 — nearly three assists more than the guy in second, Steve Nash. He’s second only to Chris Paul in steals per game, and is one of only two players, the other being LeBron James, with multiple triple-doubles. Despite all that, this week for Rondo has been about buzzer-beaters. Check out Rondo’s second buzzer-beater of the week (the first came on Monday against the Rockets):