Rapid Reaction: Sox Signings

Today the Boston Red Sox announced the signings of Third Baseman Pablo Sandoval and Shortstop Hanley Ramirez.

The 5-year, $100 million deal and the 4-year, $88 million contract, respectively, make sense. (Ramirez also has a fifth-year vesting option worth $22 million.)

They seem like logical signings for a few reasons: They are high-priced, but over fewer years than some may have thought they’d receive on the open market. These are deals like-minded of the Sox past – not the ones reminiscent of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez – but the Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes contracts. They overpay for the short-term, which is now making sense, particularly in Victorino’s case.

Furthermore, the free agent class this year had exactly two significant, game-changing bats available. The Red Sox offense, anemic last season, tied for the fourth-fewest runs scored in the American League, signed both of them.

Also, they perfectly fit the Sox scheme. Sandoval is a defensively solid, albeit not flashy, third baseman while being a consistent contact hitter with the possibility of pop. Sandoval also leaves the afar fences of AT&T, where the San Francisco Giants play, the biggest pitcher-friendly park in the majors, for a hitter-benevolent Fenway. He’s young, like-able, and does not mind playing under pressure – see his World Series performances three of the last five years – so there’s no worry of him Carl Crawford-ing. (Read: wilting in the spotlight.)

Sandoval, dubbed with many nicknames, is known as the “Round Mound of Pound” which shows that his defensive prowess just complements his hitting. The switch-hitter provides the lineup with flexibility while allowing the pudgier corner-man to also become a pretty good Designated Hitter when David Ortiz, who just turned 39 years old, eventually retires.

This also means that Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, whose injuries and inconsistent play have had him bouncing back and forth between Triple-A Pawtucket and the Sox for the better part of three years, time in Boston is most likely up. It’s not that the 26-year-old isn’t valuable, he just has become too unreliable to count on.

So after re-tooling the hot corner, the Sox went to work on solidifying the other position of the left side of the infield: Short.

They signed Hanley Ramirez, the coveted Sox prospect who went to the then-Florida Marlins for what turned out to be the haul of Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett which led the team to the 2007 World Series crown.

But signing Ramirez, who is one step away from going from a “minor disaster” at shortstop to a full-blown car wreck, presents a problem.

Xander Bogaerts used to man the position, or did at the beginning of last season anyway, until the Sox favored bringing back Stephen Drew instead.

Now the question is: Who will play short?

Most likely it’ll be Bogaerts, because management has said that they prefer the younger phenom in place of Ramirez, but then that presents a quandary because this is a typical Red Sox move: Sign a big bat and then figure out which position works for him later.

The speculation has Ramirez as the 2015 opening day Left Fielder, but then that means Yoenis Cespedes, traded for at the deadline in exchange for ace Jon Lester – and more on him in a moment – would have to move. And where?

Cespedes could move to the spacious right field in Fenway – he has the arm and mobility – but then that displaces St. Louis import Allen Craig. All this comes with the question marks of Shane Victorino’s health, Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s bat, and Rusney Castillo’s translation to the American market.

Oh, and right, they have Mookie Betts, who Red Sox management firmly believes will be an All-Star soon, who does not have a position or even defined role on the team. The same goes with the other highly-touted prospects third baseman/outfielder Garin Cecchini and center fielder Manuel Margot.

There are three slots, and a lot more than three names.

So where do the Red Sox go with all this?

After signing Sandoval and Ramirez, it doesn’t make the Boston front office any likelier to penny-pinch, but the extent they will go to re-sign Lester must be questioned after spending what could be, if Ramirez reaches his vesting option, $210 million today alone.

If the Sox don’t get Lester: One, their rotation will lack a top-shelf guy, and two, they need one to win the World Series and they know it.

Then comes the long-awaited prospect-overhaul in exchange for Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels. It’s rumored that he may veto any trade to an American League ball-club, but this move makes all too much sense considering how bad the Phillies will be next year and the multitudes of young talent Boston could entice a re-building Philadelphia team with.

The deal would most likely be centered around Cecchini or Betts and then fodder and other solid prospects to force the Phillies to give up Hamels.

It doesn’t matter that this Red Sox team lost 91 games just a season ago, because they’re reloading.

When they take the field next April on Opening Day, Sandoval will be manning the hot corner, but every other position, who knows?

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York as a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter, Kanye West, and using the word “wicked.” He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

Giancarlo Stanton Gets PAID

It looks like Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins Outfielder, is about to get paid.

And when I say paid, I mean PAID.

The Marlins ownership signed Stanton, who turned 25 earlier this month, for $325 million across a 13-year deal.

Stanton’s contract is now the largest in sports history, eclipsing the “paltry” $275 million Alex Rodriguez got over a 10-year time frame.

The Marlins slugger’s deal includes an opt-out clause after age 30, which he’ll turn after the 2019 season, as well as a full no-trade clause.

Stanton, you may be surprised to find, is not represented by Scott Boras, though I’m sure he was fuming when he saw the mega-deal that the Wasserman Group engineered for the Outfielder. Someone inking a monster deal without Boras is sort of like the most popular kid in high school not being invited to a party.

Stanton’s agency also represents Texas Rangers Pitcher Yu Darvish, Arizona Diamondbacks First Baseman Mark Trumbo, and San Francisco Giants Short Stop Brandon Crawford.

When you look at the deal in terms of salary, things don’t look so bad for the Marlins. It rings up at $25 million per year, less than Clayton Kershaw (OK, I get that one), Miguel Cabrera (That’s fair), and…Justin Verlander? (Oh no. The Tigers are in for it on that one.)

In no terms is that a ludicrous amount of money to pay a baseball player. In fact, this contract annually puts Stanton on the plane of Ryan Howard, Felix Hernandez, and Josh Hamilton. Yes, only King Felix out of those three players are still good, but the contract is understandable in that sense.

However, where it gets crazy is the 13 YEARS.

It may seem like a little much, but I can understand the Miami Marlins incentive to lock this guy up quickly, and for a long time.

Stanton just finished his fifth season in Miami, leading the NL in home runs (37) and hitting at a .288 clip. He also had 105 RBI, 24 intentional walks, and a .555 slugging percentage. This is second season (the first was 2012) leading the NL in slugging percentage. He could’ve added to those numbers if he hadn’t missed the Marlins last 17 games because of his season-ending injury, sustained Sept. 11 when Milwaukee Brewers Pitcher Mike Fiers hit Stanton in the face with a pitch, breaking several bones and leaving lacerations.

Stanton flat-out great, but this deal’s approval from Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria probably has a little bit to do with regret from the time Marlins traded Miguel Cabrera at 25 years old to the Detroit Tigers for pittance because they didn’t want to pay him. Cabrera has gone on to make five all-star teams, three-peat in AL batting titles (2011-13), and win a pair of AL MVPs.

This may be Loria saying he regrets getting it wrong with Miguel, and he’d be damned to let it happen a second time.

But letting anything cloud your judgment, like past regrets, isn’t the way to go when talking about a contract of this length.

Stanton’s deal is tied for the second-lengthiest deal in the history of all sports with Washington Capitals Winger Alexander Ovechkin and right behind Shea Webber, a defenseman for the Nashville Predators of the National Hockey League. The New Jersey Devils of the NHL once tried to sneak a 17-year deal past the league office until the brass in the NHL called out the Devils for circumventing the cap.

Anyway, you get it, it’s a long time.

And, things can go wrong. So many things.

INJURY:

First off, freak injuries can happen at any time, to any player. The likelihood of a player being injured on your team increases exponentially the longer you have him (hm, 13 years, hm).

A $325 million investment in anything is risky, but in a human body? There is no security there.

HUMAN NATURE:

So, Stanton just got paid. He’s never signed such a lucrative deal before – well, no one has – but who knows how he will react.

What if Stanton’s a guy who does far more eating than training in the off-season now? What if he slacks on his upkeep because he knows he has to show up to get his huge check? I’m not saying Stanton is one of those guys, because those guys are scum-bags who only play well in contract years, but there’s no way to predict how he’ll react.

And if not this season, maybe the next. This deal is so long that anytime in the first five years anything little happens, it may be catastrophic.

NATURAL DECLINE:

Then, like everyone has seen over the past two decades, baseball players break-down – quickly. I’m not saying Stanton did steroids, because I don’t believe he did, but the trend for baseball players over the past two decades has been to play at a consistently high level, followed by a year of solid production, and then whoops! fall off the table.

Yes, that trend is toward older players but this deal carries Stanton through his 38-year-old season. Somewhere around 33 or 34, he might start to decline heavily. This means Miami would be footing a bill of $25 million every year of five years for a below average, aging Outfielder.

But if it works, Jeffrey Loria will look like a genius.

You can see why he felt like he had to do this: Letting go of another power hitting prodigy at 25 years old? He couldn’t.

The Marlins are thinking relatively short-term with their best prospects stashed away, but ready to emerge soon. They can become a contender soon because Stanton alongside teammate Marcell Ozuna form a baseball bashing duo that hasn’t been seen in quite a while. Plus, they’ve now managed to corner the market on the skill in baseball toughest to find right now: Power.

Though the contract may be 13 years long, it will take just one season ending with a win that’ll make this worth it for the Marlins.

And they think Giancarlo Stanton is the man to get them there.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York as a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter, Kanye West, and using the word “wicked.” He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

100 Weeks of “Purely For Sport”

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One snowy night last February, nearly 14 months after I started Purely For Sport, I sat on the blue- and white-striped cushions of the couch in my bedroom with my head in my hands. I couldn’t stop smiling.

My phone buzzed incessantly, lying on the couch next to me. Moments previous, scrolling through my Twitter feed, a notification popped up from ESPN the Magazine columnist Chris Jones.

Earlier that day, I had sent Jones my post, which I wrote based off his “Point After” column in the Mag. He tweeted back at me. Not only that, he liked my writing.

He tweeted my link to his 20,000 followers and my notifications filled up with people saying incredibly nice things about my work. They weren’t the first people compliment my writing, but parents, teachers, and friends are supposed to be nice.

The post climbed to 1,000 viewers that night. I alternated between sitting on my couch, shaking my head in wonder, and pacing around my room trying to expend some of this adrenaline energy. At one point, I did my best Kevin Garnett impression by thumping my chest and bellowing in happiness. I think. I don’t remember everything, but I do recall I was so loud my sister came downstairs to make sure everything was alright.

But back then, in my state of delirium, I didn’t know that it was only the beginning.

The best was yet to come.

***

Back up even further…Christmas Eve 2012.

Sitting on the leather sectional in my living room, I anxiously put the final touches on the “Pilot” for this blog.

The goal: Practice writing columns in preparation for what I hoped to be a career in sports journalism.

I began timidly, not writing anything too controversial. The first foray into gray was a declaration that the Celtics were primed for a playoff push (they lost in the first round). Then I critically blasted the 2013 Boston Red Sox off-season signings by Ben Cherrington (they went on to win the World Series).

I am never  seldom  oftentimes wrong in my predictions, but that takes nothing away from the writing itself.

Days, weeks, months passed. I kept writing for Purely For Sport. I continued to inundate my friend’s Facebooks with shameless self-promotions because I wanted people to read, to comment, to talk with me about sports because, as an English teacher told me once, “Fortier, you can read and discuss sports  ad nauseum.”

As the posts began to pile up, I tried to take new angles and write about things that weren’t included in the regular coverage of a news story.

As a small blog with few professional contacts, it’s impossible to deliver breaking news updates. Also, because I’m uninterested in opinion-based arguments like “Top 5 NBA Point Guards,” I commented on issues larger than just the game, like marijuana legalization, college athlete compensation, and the true meaning of Fantasy sports.

***

My first break-through came when my Nana referred the editor of The Houlton Pioneer Times to my blog. He liked it and eventually published me. Seeing my byline and words in ink … I remember the feeling: Elation mixed with satisfaction. I loved it. I needed to chase that feeling.

Over the next year, the blog led me to pursue other passions. I announced games and became a reporter for the local paper on behalf of an independent high school football team in my area.

I never allowed complacency to set in. I kept expanding, reaching higher. Bigger markets, more words. In mid-December of 2013, many inquiries led to two job shadows; one with the television station New England Sports Network (NESN) and another with WEEI, Boston sports-talk. I eventually was offered an internship with WEEI.

This opportunity invigorated me and I doubled-down on my writing. Two months later, I wrote the article about Chris Jones, and that was another success.

The Dennis and Callahan Show, which is where I worked at WEEI, started production at 5:30 A.M. daily. This meant I had to be out of my house in New Hampshire at 3 A.M. every Monday and Tuesday morning throughout the whole summer. It was a great deal of driving on such little sleep, but the experience showed me what it’s like to work in a large, competitive market.

Everything your teachers tell you about a real job is true, starting with the fact that no one cares about your self-esteem. You’ll get yelled at if you make a mistake. You’ll get short deadlines. You’ll be asked to talk about things you know nothing about. You’ll drive across town to get a coffee order – and drive back when you mess it up.  By the way, if you can’t speak Starbucks – it turns out a “grande” is only a medium – then you should learn before you become an intern.

Three years of high school Spanish taught me a little...

Three years of high school Spanish taught me a little…

Even now, I’m sitting in my dorm room at Syracuse University, where I am fortunate enough to be attending one of the best journalism institutions in the country in the Newhouse School of Public Communications.

My blog was one of the things that got me here.

I don’t know how much of a factor actually having a blog was in admission, but I know with absolute certainty that my every Monday commitment has improved my writing to the point where I was admitted.

At the beginning of SU’s semester, I went to a general interest meeting for one of the media outlets on campus where I tried to impress one of the managing heads with the total views I’ve received on the blog. Admittedly, I came across as a little arrogant, though I certainly didn’t intend to.

“Honestly, man,” he said. “No one here gives a s*** about what you did in high school.”

The guy was only half-right.

He may not have cared about my blog itself, but the skills I have – the skills I learned through blogging – is what he cares about. So either way the blog only helps.

And the writing really has drastically improved. (For proof, read the Pilot.) I’ve become clearer, more organized, and more creative. By committing to this practice every week, it has done so many positive things for me.

I say all this not to brag – and I hope it does not come across that way – but to show people how they can work towards what they want to achieve.

***

Being at Syracuse has given me so many opportunities, but the best chances have come from working at The Daily Orange, the campus newspaper.

Two weeks ago, I got to travel with the newspaper crew down to Clemson. I chronicled the adventures here.

ClemsonWeekend 123

You always hear that southern culture is all about barbecue, sweet tea, and football, but you don’t truly understand until you go there. I didn’t truly understand how much they loved football until my story blew up.

A notification buzzed across my phone from the WordPress mobile app, “Wow! Your stats are booming!”

Puzzled, I went to look. It had been three days since I’d posted a story, I couldn’t quite figure where the hits were coming from. There had been 300 unique visitors in an hour, then 458, then 537. It kept climbing.

I sat down in the chair at my desk and watched the counter tick upwards. At some point around 1,500 unique visitors in a single day, I called my friend Alex into the room. I jumped up and down, unintelligibly yelling. He shook his head, seemingly unable to believe what he saw.

Somewhere around 2,000 I fell asleep. I woke up and saw that October 27th had brought 3,295 unique visitors to Purely For Sport.

To put that in perspective: In the 22 months I’d been writing on the blog before I posted the Clemson blog, I had brought in just over 5,500 viewers.

The views didn’t stop coming.

I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from until my friend Chandler, who goes to Clemson, called.

“Hey man,” he said. “Notice anything with the views on your blog?”

Uh, yes. I had.

It turns out he had posted the article in the Clemson Class of 2018 Facebook page, which garnered attention and then was shared around. Then, TigerNet.com – a Clemson fan-site with over 120,000 active users – posted it on its front page. From there it was shared to ClemsonInsider.com, another CU fan site, and MaxPreps, a recruiting web site.

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In five days the post had received over 10,000 visitors. It still hasn’t stopped, just about 20 or so people still find it every day, over two weeks after it was originally posted.

If you needed any more proof that Southerners love their football, take the fact that a Syracuse fan wrote some nice things about being at their game and it received 10,000 hits. Their zealous generosity and desire to share everything creates such a sense of community.

A friend of mine said later, “That’s crazy. You’re so lucky!”

But I like to think it wasn’t luck. Of course, none of this would’ve happened without Chandler sharing it – and he has my never-ending thanks – but I believe that if you work hard enough and long enough at something, then you’ll write the right thing at the right time.  You just need to do it often enough to give yourself that chance.

***

In preparation for this article I’ve gone back and done a lot of reading over the articles I wrote within the first few months of publishing. In a way, it’s like reading someone else’s work.

The paragraphs are painfully long, ditto to the sentence structure. If I used the same word in close proximity, I’d head over to the trusty Thesaurus.com and plug in the word to find another. Reading through, I see words like “cannikin” and “agglutinate” which I’m not sure I could define for you now.

It got pretty bad...

It got pretty bad…

I used to, as one person said to me, “pull out the SAT booklet every time I sat down to write” but nowadays I sit down the keyboard and go. I’m happier with the results.

Something else I’ve found: One of the best ways to improve your writing is reading. This thought has been echoed by many professional writers that I’ve talked to. Autobiographies by Frank Deford and Robert Lipsyte, as well as every edition of The Best American Sports Writing, are sources of great lessons as well as entertainment.

Another great way is to make plenty of mistakes, which I certainly have throughout writing here.

Starting to write too late at night, starting a post without an ending in mind, and not fully fact-checking are just a few of the things that I’ve learned not to do through this process. Some of those mistakes you only make once.

***

As I write about the things I’ve been fortunate enough to experience, I remember all the help I received to get here.

Chris Jones, the entire The Daily Orange staff, the professional staff at WEEI and NESN, and the newspapers I’ve worked at have given me indispensable advice that I’ve used to help improve myself as a writer. The editing of some family and a few of my teachers throughout the past two years has also been incredibly valuable.

I also appreciate my mother, Mary, and sister, Sarah, who’ve supported me throughout the process and gave me time when I needed to write and come home early from things so I can finish a post. My girlfriend, Gabrielle, has been equally as supportive and understanding.

You, the reader, also have all my gratitude for making this such a wonderful experience. As of today, 16,631 unique viewers have navigated to this site and for that I am so thankful. Anytime anyone takes their time to read something I have written I appreciate it. I write partly for myself, but also partly for the reader. I love receiving feedback on my work, enjoying the compliments and taking not of the criticism.

From the Clemson article, a woman emailed me to tell me how much she liked the piece.

“Y’all come back now, ya hear?” the woman wrote. “Signed, Granny Wilson.”

How awesome is that?

Deserving of the most thanks, though, is undoubtedly my first editor, my father. He’s taken his time to read my work, put up with my complaints at his notes, and steered me away from clichés the past 100 weeks. He’s been a constant, honest sounding board for my ideas and thoughts who I can never thank enough.

***

99 Mondays later, nearly 700 days after I first pressed “Publish” for the first time, here we are.

Since then I’ve written features about people I’ve been lucky enough to meet, complaints of an exasperated arm-chair quarterback, and even made things up for satirical articles.

I love writing every Monday. This blog has allowed me opportunities for things I never expected, ranging from the professional (an internship) to the personal (connecting with Clemson fans).

Sometimes it’s taken me until late at night to finish the posts, sometimes it’s a slow news week and I don’t know what to write about. But overall, this is what I love to do. I am lucky enough to know now, at my age, what I want to do for the rest of my life. That’s why every Monday for the past 100 weeks, you’ve been able to find me here practicing what I love, pursuing my dream.

And I cannot wait to keep going.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York as a freshman at Syracuse University. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter, Kanye West, and using the word “wicked.” He’s not a fan of purposefully misspelt business names (“Kathy’s Kut & Kurl”) or grammatical error’s. You can follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR or email him at sam.fortier@yahoo.com. 

The 2016 World Series Re-Cap: Giants Win Again

Panda-monium.

The orange and black confetti floated down upon the hysteric spectators, kayakers joyously splashed their paddles in McCovey Cove, and Barry Bonds raised both fists high in the air like he’d bat-flipped one of his signature moonshots. You didn’t even need AT&T phone service to hear the roar that thundered from the home crowd.

The San Francisco Giants have just made it a true dynasty with their 2016 World Series win. San Francisco won 7-6 on Pablo Sandoval’s walk-off, three-run blast with two down in the bottom of the ninth inning. The home-run came off of Seattle Mariners’ much-maligned Closer, Jonathan Papelbon

This is the Giants fourth championship in seven seasons, narrowly defeating Seattle in seven games. They have now won the 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016 championships.

Of course, Papelbon ended up in Seattle after his career in Philadelphia, strained after a vulgar gesture to the crowd, came to an end after he failed to reach the milestones required for his vesting option in 2016. The Mariners swooped in after letting the aging Fernando Rodney walk.

Sandoval, the “Panda” himself, was not expected to stay in San Francisco after the 2014 Series, but he did via a six-year deal worth $125 million that, surprisingly, out-bid the New York Yankees.

The San Francisco Giants win was especially impressive despite the suspension of their ace Madison Bumgarner, the 2014 Series hero.

Bumgarner, you probably remember, violated Major League Baseball’s strict Performance Enhancing Machine rules. Bumgarner’s bionic left arm he used to propel the Giants to the 2014 title was only recently discovered as he started all six games needed for San Francisco to defeat the Joe Maddon-led Chicago Cubs in this year’s NLCS.

As a punishment MLB suspended him for 211 games.

“I only kinda-sorta have to deal with steroids,” second-year MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “But I want it to be known that I take an equally tough stance on PEMs.”

The pitcher that filled Madison Bumgarner’s large, beer-swilling hole during his suspension was Jake Peavy. The 35-year old hurler was not re-signed by San Francisco after 2014, so he signed a one-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles went on to win the 2015 World Series.

Peavy then went back to the Bay Area on a two-year contract. A major factor in Peavy’s return to San Francisco was his duck-boat that he bought after the 2013 season with the Boston Red Sox.

“It’s just such a nice venue,” Peavy said. “I blend in with the trolleys and driving up and down the hills and then into the water … man! I feel like I should compete in America’s Cup!”

Peavy’s success with the Giants this year netted him his fourth World Series ring in four years.

Many questioned if the Giants would even make the final series of baseball this season after going down 2-0 to the Cubs in the NLCS, but a bad start for Jon Lester and a sudden power-drought for Jorge Soler and Javier Baez opened the flood gates for a Bay Area tidal wave.

Another reason baseball experts didn’t project the Giants to win the World Series was their 2015 campaign. An 86-76 record was decent, but not good enough to make the second Wild Card spot in a loaded National League which featured two upstarts in the Miami Marlins and Milwaukee Brewers.

Their 2015 record also continued a pattern in the years between their title triumphs. In 2011 they went 86-76, and then in 2013 they went 76-86.

Vegas odds put a 2:1 line on a 76-86 record next season for the Giants.

And, oh yeah, they’re already the 2018 World Series favorite.