After the lockout and a new collective bargaining agreement, the MLB teams and the player agents will resume their pairing ritual. The available athletes will find homes. The teams will find solutions – maybe.
Fans and the media hot take industrial complex will sound off after every signing, declaring that the team (A) has the smartest collection of talent evaluators in the history of team sports, and or (B) the team’s front office is filled with clowns and buffoons that are absolutely clueless about everything.
These signings will be likened to James Monroe and Robert R. Livingston’s historically profound negotiations with France that led to the famous Louisiana Purchase, and no, I’m talking about deposed LSU coach Ed Orgeron perhaps buying a bar and grille that serves mounds of steaming crawfish, or Brian Kelly’s search for a proper mansion in Baton Rouge.
Dang it, I miss this stuff.
And when CBA negotiators are finally tire of trying to stab each other with plastic knives and forks after lunch is delivered to the conference room, maybe they’ll reach a settlement that gets the business of baseball back on track. Both sides will be happy – at least for 15 minutes or so – but a deal will be in place. The trade rumors and free-agent gossip will return.
1) If Joe Kelly has interest in pitching for the Cardinals again, then I am here for it. But how much does the Cardinal connection matter? Probably means something, but let’s not get carried away here. Joe Kelly was a Cardinal at the big-level for two-plus years. He’s a Southern California native that’s perfectly content living in LA with his wife and three kids. And by all accounts, he loved pitching for the Dodgers. Los Angeles declined to pick up a $12 million club option for 2022 and paid Kelly a $4 million buyout instead. That’s the only reason why Kelly is available, but the Dodgers want him back in 2022.
Who wouldn’t want “Mariachi Joe?”
“Joe is one of a kind,” Dodgers president Andrew Friedman said. “I love what he brings to a clubhouse. Awesome competitor. He’s another guy that we’ll very much be in the mix for. He and (wife) Ashley get to go through and figure out what makes sense for them. We have a lot of balls in the air with really talented players that are free agents.”
2) Kelly, who turns 34 in five months, still has good stuff. The right handed reliever has more than maintained his velocity; last season his fastball averaged 98.1 mph. His 2.86 ERA in 2021 represented the best full-season showing of his career, and that was backed up by a fine fielding independent ERA of 3.08. Last season Kelly struck out 27.5 percent of batters faced (good), walked 8.2 percent (just OK), limited hard contact (very good), kept the ball in the ballpark (outstanding) and had a 59% groundball rate (excellent.) He’s still tough on LH batters and has remained effective when pitching with runners on base. Kelly’s 2.69 ERA since the 2019 All-Star break is tied for 22nd among MLB relievers that have worked at least 70 innings.
3) What, if any, are the concerns over Kelly? The Cardinals haven’t done well in scoping out their projections on aging relievers. Kelly has had injuries, including shoulder surgery. (He got roughed up early in the 2019 season while coming back from the surgical procedure, but found his form later on.) In the 2021 postseason Kelly had to leave Game 5 of the NLCS with a slight biceps tear. Original reports stated Kelly wouldn’t be ready for the start of the 2022 season, but that timetable was refuted by Kelly’s surgeon. There is no structural damage to the biceps, and began a throwing program on Nov. 4. The other concern: money. Kelly figures to be in demand, and the Cardinals need bullpen help, but it comes down to how much they’re willing to pay. That’s their usual guidebook.
4) Coach Brad Underwood and the Fighting Illini are rolling. Their 87-83 win at Iowa was the fifth in a row for Illinois, which is now 2-0 in Big Ten play. This is one of the best early-season shows in college basketball. The score in Iowa City was close only because of the Illini’s 18 turnovers. But everything else? My goodness: a 52-23 rebounding advantage including a 19-9 on the offensive boards. The Illini made 11 three-pointers, and hit on 24 of 28 free throws. The 6-6 senior Jacob Granderson had 21 for Illinois, as did Alfonso Plummer.
The Hawkeyes couldn’t handle the Illini muscle. Which is to say, they couldn’t cope with the mobile mountain that is Kofi Cockburn, who trucked the undersized home team with 17 points and 18 rebounds. In his first six games Coburn is averaging 22.8 points and 11.8 rebounds and shooting 65.4 percent. Pick a metric; Kofi rates among the highest-rated players in the nation.
“You never want to force anything,” Grandison said after Monday’s win. “But when you throw it in there, good things happen.”
The Illini have to clean up their turnover mess. They’ve turned it over on 22.6% percent of their possessions, which ranks 313th in the nation. But according to KenPom, Illinois is 16th nationally in offensive efficiency, 26th in defensive efficiency, and rated 13th overall. And just wait until the dynamic guard Andre Curbelo (concussion) can play without limits. He’s missed the last four games.
5) St. Louisan Jameson Williams already is being posted as a potential Top 10 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. The lightning-bolt Alabama receiver is averaging a blistering 21.4 yards on 68 receptions with 15 touchdown catches. The Cardinal Ritter alum is the scariest deep threat in college football, and he’ll be a popular prospect with NFL scouting departments. In a mock draft – yes, already! – Jameson is projected to go No. 11 overall, to New Orleans. He’s 14th on PFF’s board of the Top 100 draft-eligible players in CFB.
“The single biggest riser at the receiver position this year, Williams has put himself into Biletnikoff Award contention after transferring from Ohio State,” PFF wrote. “Williams is the first receiver off the board because players with his kind of speed don’t last long in the draft. He would represent the perfect complement to Michael Thomas.”
6) It’s been a challenging season for Our Town’s Jayson Tatum, who is dealing with a lot of noise as he tries to find his shooting rhythm and the most beneficial role for the right role for the Boston Celtics.
In an ESPN story late last month, writer Tim Bontemps quoted an anonymous Eastern Conference assistant coach saying this about Tatum: “He’s about Jayson Tatum.” The coach questioned Tatum’s commitment to winning and added, “and if he does (care), it is on his terms.”
“I laughed,” Tatum told The Athletic in response to the anonymous slam. “I think when people get upset or you get a reaction out of somebody, it’s probably because they feel like it’s kind of true. But I just laughed because I know it’s not true. I know my teammates, my coaches, anybody I’ve ever been around, selfish is the last thing.”
Early in the season Boston guard Marcus Smart was frustrated by the approach of Tatum and fellow Celtics star Jaylen Brown. When Smart was asked about the sputtering offense Smart said, “I would just like to play basketball. Every team knows we are trying to go to Jayson and Jaylen and every team is programmed and studies to stop Jayson and Jaylen. I think everybody’s scouting report is to make those guys try to pass the ball. They don’t want to pass the ball and that’s something that they’re going to learn.”
Yikes. But at least Tatum and the Celtics are improving. Boston has won three out of its last four entering tonight’s game at the LA Lakers. Tatum’s shooting percentages are on the rise – but he’s still well below his career standards.
In his first four NBA seasons Tatum shot .458 from the floor overall, and .396 from three-point range. His effective field goal percentage was .489. But this season the two-time NBA All-Star is in a shooting slump: .406 overall, .322 from three-point range, and has an effective field goal percentage of .468.
And while Tatum is averaging a healthy 25.2 points per game, he’s taking 21.7 shots per game (from the floor) to get there. Coming into this season Tatum averaged 15.3 shots per game over his first four seasons. Boston is 13-11.
“I don’t get mad,” Tatum told The Athletic. “It’s frustrating, but I think it’s part of it. I think that’s just the world we live in. They’re always just going to talk about what you’re doing. Never about what you’ve accomplished and stuff like that. It’s just what you’re doing right now. And I think that’s what kind of drives some players. It’s like, don’t be complacent. I’m always focused on what I can do next. And I’m sure the narrative will change when we get to the championship one day. So we’ll see.”
7) Bill Belichick, what can you say? I guess we can say it again: The Greatest Coach in NFL History. After a down year (2020) in the transition from having Tom Brady to not having Tom Brady, Belichick’s New England Patriots have won seven in a row to take control of the AFC East with a 9-4 record. Their 14-10 win at Buffalo on Monday night was a Belichick masterwork. In extreme, blustery and freezing conditions Belichick had his team run the ball 46 times for 222 yards and a touchdown. Rookie quarterback tested the swirling winds with only three passing attempts, completing two.
Monday night marked only the seventh instance in NFL history in which the winning team attempted three or fewer passes – and the first time that’s happened since 1974. Also, this was the first time in a decade and the fourth time since 1982 that a winning team pulled it off while completing no more than two passes.
This game was compelling. I was riveted. Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels obviously they believed a few things going in: (1) the Patriots could power through Buffalo’s surprisingly soft defense and it made no sense to risk wind-blown passes; (2) the Patriots could dominate a Buffalo offense that has a terrible rushing attack that prevented the Bills from taking a ground-heavy approach. And (3) the Bills would feel the pressure and gradually self-destruct – which they did, especially in the red zone.
Quarterback Josh Allen wasn’t bad throwing the ball, but the incompetent Bills coaching staff gave away one advantage. As quarterbacks go, Mac Jones isn’t much of a runner. But Josh Allen is a fantastic runner – by design or freelance – who can breakaway at any moment. But against New England Allen rushed only six times for 36 yards – and 21 of the yards came on one run. In his first three seasons Allen averaged 521 yards rushing per year and ran for 25 touchdowns. Allen could have been weaponized as a runner to get the win, but this obvious strategy was largely disregarded by the Buffalo coaches. The Bills ended up with only 99 yards on the ground.
8) Belichick and McDaniels are doing a spectacular job with Mac Jones, the best rookie QB in the NFL this season. But they put their egos aside. Jones put his ego aside. The Patriots were built to run and rebuilt to defend, and they had the discipline to stick with an unconventional game plan. This wasn’t about showing the nation what Mac Jones could do. This was about the only thing that’s ever mattered to Belichick: winning.
That’s the brilliance of Belichick.
He can win with a great quarterback.
He can win with no quarterback.
9) The Golden Days Era committee swung and missed with it’s failure to put the late Dick Allen into the Hall of Fame. He needed one more vote to make it, and just came up short. These voting decisions are never easy, but Allen belongs.
This seems to be part of the usual tug-of-war and the preference for traditional baseball stats over the metrics that provide critical context and a more meaningful and comprehensive assessment of a player’s career. Allen did not reach the old-school symbols valued by the voters: didn’t get to 500 homers, didn’t get to 2,000 hits, didn’t bat 300 for his career, light on the RBI count. But the modern metrics tell a more complete story. There is so much information out that shows us the greatness of Allen’s hitting, so I’d think everyone on the committee would utilize these tools instead of relying on baseball-card stats.
As Hall of Fame baseball writer Jayson Stark pointed out: In 11 seasons from 1964 through 1974 there were 17 future Hall of Fame hitters who amassed 4,000 or more plate appearances over that time. Dick Allen, who isn’t in the Hall of Fame, did have 4,000+ plate appearances over the 11 seasons.
Stark gave us the leaderboard for those 11 years:
Dick Allen 165
Willie McCovey 161
Henry Aaron 159
Frank Robinson 159
Henry Aaron .941
Dick Allen .940
Willie McCovey .937
Henry Aaron .561
Dick Allen .554
Willie McCovey .541
Willie Stargell .541
Park adjusted runs created, or wRC+
Dick Allen 163
Willie McCovey 158
Frank Robinson 158
Henry Aaron 158
As you can see, Allen was 63 percent above league average offensively for an 11-year stretch, and the game’s best all-around hitter for more than a decade — and that, my friends is proof of Hall-worthy hitting.
There are many other piles of metrics-based numbers that reinforce and reaffirm this opinion: Dick Allen should be in Cooperstown.
10) There’s a fabulous new show on HBO or HBO Max. “Landscapers.” Here’s the storyline, and this isn’t a spoiler: “Starring Olivia Colman and David Thewlis, Landscapers tells a unique love story involving a seemingly ordinary British couple who become the focus of an extraordinary investigation when two dead bodies are discovered in the back garden of a house in Nottingham.”
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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