As I type this, it’s early afternoon on Monday, Jan. 4. And unless something has changed by the time you read this, the rather remarkable lack of activity by NL Central teams is holding strong and steady. Put it this way: I think I’ve spent more money on ingredients for crab cakes this winter than the five NL Central teams have spent on players.
Well, maybe not. But crab meat, the real stuff, is damn expensive.
Two free agents have signed major-league contracts with NL Central teams so far.
The Cubs gave RHP Jonathan Holder a one-year deal for $750,000. In parts of five seasons with the Yankees, the reliever appeared in 35 games and posted a 4.38 ERA.
The Brewers signed a backup catcher, Luke Maile, to a one-year deal worth $825,000. Maile, 30, has played in 216 MLB games for the Rays or Blue Jays over five seasons. His big-league career batting average is .198, with a .556 OPS.
That’s it. Nothing from the Cardinals, Reds or Pirates.
Surely this will change, right?
There must be some excellent-value buys out there for the Cardinals, right?
If January is the new December in the baseball free-agent market, then please nudge the Cardinals’ front office and let them know it’s OK to shop now.
READING TIME, 5 MINUTES:
Some good news and cause for happy talk: as you’ve probably heard by now, the men’s basketball teams at Illinois, Missouri and St. Louis U all showed up in the weekly Associated Press Top 25 poll. Illinois is No. 12, Mizzou is 13, and SLU (No. 23) entered the rankings for the first time this season. See, 2021 is off to a positive start.
The three big locals hadn’t been ranked simultaneously since Feb. 7, 1994. (Mizzou was 15th, SLU 17th, and Illinois No. 24.) … so how did the three teams fare during the remainder of the season? Norm Stewart’s Tigers climbed as high as No. 3 in the poll, finished 28-4 and came up one game short in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Arizona in the West regional final … Guided by Charlie Spoonhour SLU (23-6) played in its first NCAA Tournament game but lost to Maryland in the first round … Illinois, coached by the wonderful Lou Henson, went 17-11 and lost to Georgetown in the NCAA first round.
In a new column at MLB.com, my pal Will Leitch named the best player on each of the 30 teams. His choice for the Cardinals? That would be starting pitcher Jack Flaherty. “Many of the Cardinals’ plans were made assuming Flaherty was going to be an NL Cy Young Award contender,” Leitch wrote. “He now needs to be one.”
On This Day in St. Louis Pro Sports History: In 1942 Rogers Hornsby became the 14th player selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, getting 78 percent of the vote. Hornsby and Ted Williams are the only players in MLB history to win the Triple Crown twice … in 1984 the STL football Cardinals released quarterback Jim Hart, age 39, after his 18 seasons with the team. Hart passed for 247 touchdowns and 34,639 yards in 199 games as a Cardinals … in 1999 the NHL fined the Blues $1.5 million and ordered the team to give a first-round draft pick to the NJ Devils for tampering with free-agent defenseman Scott Stevens. At the time it was the largest fine ever imposed on a pro sports franchise in North America. Stevens, who joined the Devils as compensation for the Blues’ signing of power forward Brendan Shanahan in 1991, was a restricted free agent when the Blues tendered him an offer sheet worth $17 million over four years in July, 1994…in 2002 the Cardinals announced a three-year, $27 million deal with starting pitcher Matt Morris. The contract came weeks after Morris finished third in the 2002 Cy Young Award voting after going 22-8 with a 3.16 ERA.
AS OTHERS SEE US:
Baseball writer Andy McCullough (The Athletic) offered a New Year’s Resolution for all 30 MLB teams. What about the Cardinals?
“Win the NL Central, since no one else seems interested,” McCullough wrote. “The teams in the Central must be enthralled by the (NFL’s) NFC East division. For them, winter 2021 looks like a race to the bottom. The Pirates traded Josh Bell, one of their few quality big leaguers. The Reds and Brewers are cutting salary. The Cubs just dumped Yu Darvish. And the Cardinals declined a reasonable option on Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong. Despite the belt-tightening around Busch Stadium, St. Louis retains enough talent on its pitching staff to recapture the division. Is it too much to ask for one last offensive hurrah from pending free agents Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler?”
(Bernie comment: I’ll let the dear readers answer the Carpenter-Fowler question. And I encourage everyone to consider taking out a bargain-rate subscription to The Athletic. The site is a treasure of excellent writing and reporting.)
A TOUR OF THE NFL:
— For reasons that we know by now, Kansas City is the team to beat in the AFC. But there’s a legit threat in Buffalo. The No. 2 seed Bills are peaking at the right time and look awfully dangerous. The 13-3 AFC East champs were monstrous down the regular-season stretch, winning nine of their last 10 games including their final six. (And the one defeat, at Arizona, came on a fluke “Hail Murray” pass on the last play.) I know; the Chiefs rushed for 245 yards and beat the Bills 26-17 on Oct. 19. But that was a long time ago. With quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs setting franchise records, the Bills have averaged 38 points in their nine games since losing to the Chiefs. And during their 6-0 blitz to end the regular season, Buffalo won the six games by an average of 20 points. This is the Bills’ best record since 1991.
— There’s some buzz about the Baltimore Ravens, who cruise into the AFC playoffs with a five-game winning streak. John Harbaugh’s team averaged a smashing 267.4 yards rushing in their 5-0 surge, and quarterback Lamar Jackson has restored his confidence after a midseason wobble. But do you trust Jackson to win in the playoffs? Not me; not yet. He’s 0-2 in the playoffs and couldn’t handle the pressure. That’s a concern — small sample or not. The Ravens are a 6.5 point favorite at Tennessee on Saturday. When the teams played during the regular season, the Ravens blew a 21-10 lead in the second half and fell in overtime. Jackson was ordinary in that game, passing for 178 yards and rushing for 51.That was on Nov. 22. Jackson is playing better now but still has much to prove.
— Having Baker Mayfield and those hellraising Cleveland Browns in the playoffs will be fun. They’re currently a four-point underdog for Sunday’s AFC playoff game at Pittsburgh. But the Browns are never dull. Cleveland is back in the NFL postseason for the first time since 2002.
— With the regular season in the books, let’s revisit Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and the endless debate over their individual importance to the New England dynasty. In their first season apart since Belichick made the young Brady his starter in 2001, the evidence stacks heavily in Brady’s favor. Brady led Tampa Bay to an 11-5 record and first playoff berth since 2007. New England went 7-9 with a lurching offense that wheezed to a No. 27 league ranking in yards and points. Brady threw 40 touchdown passes. With Cam Newton in Brady’s place, the Patriots passed for only 12 touchdowns, tied for worst in the NFL. Belichick’s 7-9 record was his poorest since a 5-11 mark in 2000 — the year before Brady became the starter. And this season Belichick’s Pats finished third in the AFC East — a division the Patriots owned by winning it 17 times in Brady’s 19 seasons as starting QB.
— Add Brady: In New England, he didn’t have to go on the road for many postseason games. But as Tampa Bay’s quarterback, Brady will immediately hit the road for Saturday night’s NFC Playoff game at Washington. The Bucs are an 8-point favorite. Keep this in mind: Brady had 21 TD passes and two interceptions on the road this season. (That ratio was 19-10 at home.)
— Not a hot take, but: I don’t think Mike McCarthy is a good coach. He used to be a good coach, in Green Bay, but it’s easy to look like a good coach when you have quarterback Aaron Rodgers rescuing the Packers time after time. McCarthy’s failure to use a replay challenge on a non-catch by the Giants late in the game — a glaring error that led to NYG’s winning field goal to eliminate Dallas from playoff contention — is the kind of mistake that might motivate owner Jerry Jones to make another call to Urban Meyer. McCarthy is 17-26 in his last three seasons as a head coach. (His last two seasons in Green Bay and his first year in Dallas.)
— More on bad coaching: Great investment, Raiders owner Mark Davis! How’s that Jon Gruden contract working out for the Raiders? In the last two seasons we’ve seen Gruden’s team utterly collapse down the stretch. … When the Cincinnati Bengals hired Zac Taylor as head coach the national reaction was “WHO?” Exactly. Taylor is 6-25-1 in two seasons … if you include three playoff games, Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson is 23-27-1 since leading the 2017 Eagles to a Super Bowl upset over New England. Just another lesson for me, and for you: we shouldn’t be so quick to bestow the “genius” tag on coaches. The best coaches prove it over an extensive period of time. Pederson’s work in Sunday’s season-ending loss to Washington … it doesn’t get much worse than that.
— Mr. (Aaron) Rodgers all but put the league MVP Award under lock and key with Sunday’s four-TD performance in Green Bay’s 35-16 win at Chicago. It was a big win; the Packers clinched the No. 1 seed in the NFC. At age 37 Rodgers had an extraordinary regular season, leading the NFL in touchdown passes (48), completion percentage (70.7), passer rating (121.5) and QBR (84.4.) Rodgers was picked off only five times in 526 passing attempts. A quarterback has won the MVP for the last seven years; Rodgers will make it eight in a row. BTW: only one quarterback age 37 or older has thrown more touchdown passes than Rodgers in a season ,,, Denver’s Peyton Manning was 37 when he struck for 55 TD passes in 2013.
— About quarterbacks and their ownership of the MVP: Derrick Henry may offer an objection. In Tennessee’s 41-38 win over Houston the mighty running back plowed through the Texans defense for 250 rushing yards and two TDs as his Titans (11-5) wrapped the AFC South title.This season Henry rumbled for a league-leading 2.027 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. Henry is the eighth player in NFL history to amass 2,000-plus rushing yards, following O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Jamal Lewis, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson. A final note on Henry: combining last season with this one, he’s rushed the ball a remarkable 681 times. Three hundred rushing attempts in a season is unusual in the present-day NFL. The exceptions are Adrian Peterson, Ezekiel Elliott and Henry. But Peterson’s hasn’t had 300-plus rushes in a season since 2015.
— Everybody seems to agree that Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence will go No. 1 overall to Jacksonville. Does this mean Ohio State QB Justin Fields will be chosen second overall, by the NY Jets? If Fields goes off on the Alabama defense in the Jan. 11 CFB championship, will the draft boards change?
— Kansas City and Green Bay have the first-round byes in this year’s NFL postseason tournament. Does it really matter? The numbers say YES. In the past seven seasons the only teams that made it to the Super Bowl were the teams that had playoff byes. The 2012 Ravens were the last team to advance to a Super Bowl (and then win it) without the cushion of a playoff bye.
Thanks for reading The Bits …
Please listen to the Bernie Show, weekdays from 3-6 p.m, on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. You can access the show and the show podcast at 590thefan.com