Thursday, December 17, 2015

Super Bowl Bizaro Style

It is interesting when you think of past champions and Dynasties in sports. How different would thinks look if you flipped the outcomes of say the NFL’s Super Bowl results? All those Iconic teams now relegated to runners up and also-rans. Suddenly legacy’s have changed and how we view teams and players would have changed dramatically.
Not to look into every Super Bowl but a few of the notable changes are interesting to look at.

Take for example the San Francisco 49’ers. One of the greatest franchises in NFL history. Now, in bizzaro world would only have 1 victory on their record and that win would come on the legs of Colin Kapernik…not Joe Montana. Montana would likely not be held in such high regard as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game.

The Dallas Cowboys and especially Troy Aikman would also be a team with a lot less shine on their star. America’s team would still have 3 championships but they would have come very early on in the first 15 years of the NFL.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are no longer a Dynasty and Terry Bradshaw is likely not on the Fox broadcasts each Sunday morning.

The New York Giants now have only 1 title, and it is not with Eli or Tom Coughlin.

Now lets look at some of the teams that have a much more favorable history now. Take a team like Minnesota.. 4 titles in the first 11 Super Bowls looks a lot more impressive now.

The next 3 teams would have made the biggest u-turn and greatly changed peoples perception of greatness.

The Denver Bronco’s and John Elway would now be 4-2 in the Super Bowl and Elway is probably heralded as the greatest QB in the history of the league.

The Buffalo Bills are now probably the greatest Dynasty in the NFL winning the Super Bowl 4 straight years. Jim Kelly is now probably pushing Elway for top spot on the QB list.

 The Miami Dolphins are interesting to look at now too. All of a sudden Dan Marino has his 1 championship and is elevated in the minds of fans and media alike. What is even more interesting to think about is that there would now not be an undefeated Miami team and all that narrative of them popping Champaign after the last undefeated teams takes a loss

Strangely .  it is in the New England Patriots that this flip may actually be a benefit to their legacy.  As strange as it sounds based on Tom Brady’s record/legacy and how the Patriots are perceived throughout the league they may actually come out even more impressive.  Brady would now be 2 and 4 respectable but not great. But now he also becomes the QB of the only team to go undefeated and win the Super Bowl, He beats Eli and the Giants twice. Is his legacy even more impressive despite losing 4 Super Bowls? Keeping in mind he gets to keep everything else that makes Tom Brady great.

It is an interesting debate to have not only for football but all sports. How much worse are the Toronto Maple Leafs now? 8-13 and no cups since 1960.
Montreal Canadians now 6-24 not such an impressive championship record either.

It is interesting to think about and some interesting debates could be had at the local sports bar. Both team and personal legacies would be greatly impacted. For those who value championships when evaluating players and their careers might be forced to change their tune. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Scorched Earth - The Rebuild of the Braves in Atlanta

The Cubs may have ‘Take me out to the ball-game’ during the 7th inning stretch and the Red Sox may play ‘Sweet Caroline’ In Atlanta they will be playing the Roof is on Fire and instead of the tomahawk Chop and the War Chant fans will be belting out “We don’t need no water let the mother#$%&*r burn, Burn mother#$%&*r burn!!”

It is interesting to listen to a lot of Braves followers and fans were all up in arms when all the trades began last season when the Braves moved Jason Heyward. Then after that Justin Upton was moved, then Evan Gattis and finally the apparent crushing blow when fan favorite Craig Kimbrel was moved on the day before the beginning of the season. Most everyone figured that this team was going to be a train wreck in 2015. I was not one of those people. I actually was not so pessimistic on how the on field product was going to be. A lot of power went out the door and the fireballer Kimbrel was gone but even so the players that were left were not bottom of the barrel. The 2014 season was a very frustrating one as a fan as it seemed like every game the team was trailing every game until at least the 7th and if there was not a home run hit, the team was going to lose something to 2 or 3. The team struck out at near historic amount that season and that is just not a fun style to watch and clearly not a successful style to play. Like they say ‘good pitching will beat good hitting’ most of the time. The days of ‘Chicks digging the long ball’ seem to have passed. You need to be able to generate offense in other ways with a couple of legit power threats.

Fast forward to mid 2015, the team managed to be at or near the .500 mark with a much improved farm system. Now with that said the end of the season went off the tracks right after Jason Grilli was injured and then all the trades moved a lot of the players that were keeping the team afloat (Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Jim Johnson and Alex Woods being the main ones).  Add to that Freddie Freeman’s wrist trouble, it was just too much to overcome. Fans began to get very vocal and unhappy. They reverted back to questioning the front office and whether the plan was worth the poor product on the field.

What it did was put the Braves in a position to truly position themselves to start from the ground and build almost from the real bottom of the barrel. They created payroll flexibility for the future and based on the dismal finish ‘earned’ a top 3 position in the 2016 draft. Also, not the worst thing in the world. They say that you can’t be a little bit pregnant and middle of the pack is the worst place to be. Not good enough to be good and not bad enough to get real cornerstone players.

Then the end of the season comes around and outta nowhere, the best defensive player in baseball today…maybe ever and yet another fan favorite in Andralton Simmons gets shipped to the Angles. Just like the feeling was when Kimbrel was traded fans were shocked and not pleased. Simmons was still young and signed and looked to be part of the core in the rebuild. The knee-jerk reaction to this is ‘what the hell’? but then, when you take a moment to think about it it does make sense. Move him now while his value is high and his range is still there. His offense has dropped of late but his glove is still elite. Moving him before his defensive prowess begins to decline flip him for a good package. They got back a solid stopgap shortstop in Erick Aybar and more prospect arms to added to the ever improving farm system. That brings us to the real deal, the Winter Meetings Blockbuster!

Nothing will help a fan base jump back to your side like a good trade. A trade that just about every ‘expert’ and team executive agree was a huge win for the Braves. When those people who know the game and are major decision makes agree that it was a steal what the Braves got in return for Shelby Miller (SS Dansby Swanson, OF Ender Inciarte and pitching prospect Aaron Blair) and comments like ‘incredible haul’ and ‘that is the worst trade I have ever seen’ has got to make both management and Braves fans alike fell much better about themselves and where thy are positioned now going forward during this rebuild. A lot of people are focusing on the 2 top prospects the Braves got in return but one could argue that Inciarte may be near as valuable as Miller is and to add anything above that is just icing on the cake.

Inciarte fills the right now need for a center fielder and helps field a much more complete MLB lineup for 2016 and going forward.

I will look at the prospects and farm system later but for now lets just look at the on field makeup as it stands right now. Now no one is going to claim that they are a potential playoff or wild card team but maybe they are not going to be the embarrassment that people thought they might be going into 2016. There is reason to believe that the lineup that they can roll out may be able to keep them from being a true bottom feeder and actually show some resemblance of a major league club.

If 1B Freddie Freeman can come back healthy from last years wrist injury he will be a good backbone of the lineup. Erick Aybar is a veteran SS and should prove to be a good placeholder for the short term, Nik Markakis is a great glove and if he can continue to get stronger from last years neck surgery his contributions should be felt. Having a good young CF like Inciarte fills a big hole while waiting for prospects to develop. The final big piece of the starting lineup is the duo, or tandem from catchers A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers. A.J. is coming off a revitalizing year and Tyler Flowers is a low risk high reward guy. Both should prove to have decent bats in the lineup wile offering great mentoring and development to a very young staff and having both veterans and strong defensive catchers that know how to call games and frame pitches should be a huge asset to the large crop of developing young arms. Where things may get interesting are some of the wild cards that are in Left, 3B and 2B. Hector Olivera season will be interesting to watch and if he is able to adjust and produce like the Braves hope he could be a welcome addition but no one knows how he is going to progress in his first full MLB season after coming over from the Dodgers. Then there is the revolving door that will be 2nd and 3rd . There are a slough of guys that will likely split time at both positions at any given time you could see Emilio Bonifacio, Gordon Beckham, Adonis Garcia, Daniel Castro and Jace Peterson at either of the 2 positions respectively. No one knows what any of these guys are going to do so maybe these guys may surprise and be moderately effective but nothing you can bank on just yet. Also there are the 2 ‘Mentors’ with the huge

The way that Braves GM John Coppolella wheels and deals it is unlikely that this is how things will look on day 1 but for now the 8 positions doesn’t appear to be as dismal as some people may have may think. There will no doubt be more movement and tweaking as the days and weeks go by.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

The Off Season Guessing Game

The baseball Hot Stove Season is now upon us and the rumour mill is already in effect as it relates to Free Agency. What I would like to do is start writing blogs on what the Atlanta Braves might do, what they have done and  what the team may look like on opening day. Yeah, that isn’t happening, and nor will it for now and for the foreseeable future.

Trying to guess what Braves GM John Coppolella  and the Braves front office is thinking is like trying to understand why cats do the things that they do. Trying to predict what will be the next shoe to fall as it relates to the rebuilding process and then the other side of that coin of fielding a somewhat competitive team in 2016.

Just when you think the Braves are done their wheeling and dealing for young controllable arms they make another deal. Then you think all the roster players that may go are gone, another deal is made to free up money.

Trying to predict the next big splash is anyone’s guess and maybe even those same decision makers don’t even know right now. The one (or two) whispers that are a little confusing is the bantering about of names like Shelby Miller and Julio Tehran. With all the arms that the Braves have and are acquiring, they have not yet began to flip some of that pitching into some legitimate bats but that is likely bound to happen at some point. The question is from what pool are the Braves going to draw from. Miller was the Braves Ace last year. A lot of fans may not know that by looking at his 6-17 record but he was the victim of VERY POOR offence and a VERY SHAKEY bullpen. If they can flip him for a really good young player under club control for at lest as much as Miller or more the Braves would seriously have to look at making that move. Tehran can be all world or struggle mightily. He was up and down last year but began to seemingly figure things out the last 2 months of the season.

The one adage in baseball has always been, “when you think you have enough pitching, go out and get some more.” But those people have never seen just how anemic the Braves offence was at the end of the 2015 season.

If the team wants to be good going into SunTrust Field in 2017 there needs to be some core pieces in place sometime during the 2016 season. At some point some of those pieces have to come to town at some point.

So without getting into specific names, what we can do is ask questions about what the team might do in the Rule 5 Draft and also what they may do on the international free agent market next year with the flexibility they attempted to gain as part of previous deals that has also procured that plethora of good young prospect arms. Is there someone out there that the Braves are looking at that could provide a big bat that they so sorely need.

So instead of answering questions I guess I will just have to ask a bunch. How much money is available. What is more of a priority, fixing the offence or building a bullpen that is not going to go into critical meltdown 80% of the time they are called upon. With all the potential good young arms waiting in the wings you are going to need to have catchers that can work and help bring along some of the young guys that may make the big league roster. That is why signing AJ Prizinski was a smart move, sure he swung a decent bat last season but also seemed to work well with the young pitchers he handled last season. He is worth the investment if he can help bring along the young arms.