The Meaning of Moncada

Courtesy of Getty Images

Courtesy of Getty Images

The Red Sox have signed 19-year-old Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada to a deal worth $31.5 million, but the organization must pay double that because of Major League Baseball’s international player regulations and the 100 percent tax on contract money once a team passes the cap.

The Sox had over-shot the spending cap and into the luxury tax when they signed Cuban prospect Rusney Castillo to a 7-year, $72.5 million contract last summer, so it made this signing easier for the Sox because it would already have to pay the excess any way. However, because of the logistics of the international free agent restrictions, the Red Sox are now not allowed to sign an international free agent for more than $300,000 until July 2, 2017.

But the Sox aren’t worried about its $60 million investment, because the switch-hitting Moncada was widely believed to have been the number one overall selection in the MLB draft had he been eligible and the draft been today.

Multiple sources, like Jim Callis of MLB.com and Baseball America’s Ben Badler, think Moncada is a top-15 prospect in all of baseball. Kiley McDaniels of Fangraphs is even higher on Moncada. He thinks he’s maybe the fifth-best prospect in the game. The top comparisons for best-case scenario upside of Moncada has been Robinson Cano or Chase Utley.

The Red Sox outspent the New York Yankees, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers in pursuit of Moncada. The Yankees offered $25 million and were willing to spend up to $27 million on Moncada, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

While that’s a great thing for Sox fans to hear, it also makes you wonder because Moncada’s projected positions are second base, third base, or outfield. As much depth as he provides, he also creates problems.

Dustin Pedroia, former American League MVP and resident second baseman, has a contract that runs until 2022. Pablo Sandoval’s deal stretches to 2021, and he’s supposed to man the hot corner. In fact, those two players are two highest-paid players on Boston’s roster.

Two of Boston’s top prospects – Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts – are infielders. The former is a shortstop which has been surrounded with talk that he’ll move to third base. The other is a highly-regarded second basemen who has been forced to play center field since he broke into the majors last May.

Betts is just one member of a crowded outfield.

Hanley Ramirez, the 31-year-old who signed essentially a 5-year contract this off-season, will occupy left field. Castillo will most-likely play center field.

Shane Victorino is coming off an injury-plagued 2014 and entering the last year of his contract.

Allen Craig, acquired in the John Lackey trade last summer, is a suitable bench bat, but is most effective defensively in the outfield.

Jackie Bradley, Jr., hurt his stock as a can’t-miss prospect last season. His defense was as-good-as-promised, but he struck out 121 times in 127 games and hit .198 on the season.

Daniel Nava and Brock Holt are two filler options who played well when the Sox needed them after injuries forced the team to look to the farm system.

With that log-jam, the Red Sox can do a few things.

This Moncada signing does a few things, like making Betts immediately expendable.

The Sox have been publicly infatuated with Philadelphia Phillies ace Cole Hamels, but the asking price of Rueben Amaro Jr., Philadelphia’s GM, has included one of Boston’s top-two prospects (Betts or Bogaerts). With a re-stock at Betts’ infield position – he’s a natural second baseman – and outfield depth, there’s no reason for the Sox to hang onto him.

Furthermore, Boston is planning for life post-Mike Napoli, the team’s current first baseman. Napoli’s contract – $16 million annually – runs out this year. An aging, portly Sandoval could switch across the diamond to first base, in which case Moncada could step in at third next year. The Sox would have a long-term solution on the left side of the infield in Moncada and Bogaerts.

The reduced stress on Sandoval’s body would help his body age more gracefully and – the Sox hope – prolong his power production.

But as for now, Boston has more assets than it knows what to do with.

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

The Best Basketball Team No One Is Talking About

By Guest Columnist Alex Keller

The American Indian tribe known as the Utes, which is where the state of Utah gets its name, dominated the southern part of the Rocky Mountain Range up until the American colonization of the west. The only thing stopping the Utes from controlling more territory to the south was the presence of their ally, the Jicarilla Apache, that ruled over the greater part of Arizona. Not wanting to start a war with their greatest, and more powerful ally, the Utes never attacked Arizona, allowing the Jicarilla to take and hunt on their land as much as they pleased.

Something amazing happened in the American West this year though. No longer are the men to the south far superior the Utes. On the last day of February in Salt Lake City, Chief Delon Wright will lead his Utes into battle for control of the Pacific Athletic Conference against the men from Arizona.

I am not talking about an actual battle between two American Indian tribes. There is going to be a fight however, it is just taking place on the court rather than the battlefield.

On Feb. 28, the University of Utah (20-4,11-2 PAC-12) hosts the University of Arizona (23-3, 11-2) in a game that could decide the fate of the PAC-12. This is the first chance in recent memory that the Wildcats crown could be taken. And what most people do not realize is how how realistic that chance is.

Utah is very good, but get no publicity. It seems like every Monday when the top 25 polls are released, I have said to myself, “Utah is STILL all the way up there?” That is exactly why I have jumped on the Ute bandwagon this year.

To exemplify how little publicity it gets, here are some numbers. They are currently ranked ninth in the Associated Press Poll. They do not have a loss to a team outside the Rating Power Index (RPI) top 50. They are tied with Arizona for the PAC-12 lead. Lastly, the team is led by the best overall point guard in the nation, Delon Wright.

Most would never say Delon Wright is the best point guard in college basketball. In fact, the casual fan does not even know his name. Wright is not flashy, does not put up great scoring numbers relative to the usually named suspects for best point guard like D’Angelo Russell or Jerian Grant and does not play for a high profile team (even though Utah should be high-profile by now). What Wright does, however, is everything that Utah needs to win. He leads his team with 14.1 points and 5.4 assists per game, and is second, despite his position, in rebounds with 4.7 per game.

What separates Wright from other point guards is his efficiency and his defense. He may only score 14 points a game, but he is shooting over 50 percent from the floor and has an almost 3:1 turnover to assist ratio, numbers better than both Jerian Grant and D’Angelo Russell. These numbers are a major reason the Utes have the seventh-best field goal percentage – 49.5 percent – in the nation.

On the other end of the floor, Wright can shut down any opposing guard, and some smaller forwards. He averages 2.2 steals per game, good for fourth among power conference players. Thanks to Wright, Utah only gives up 55.6 points per game, with the highest total of 72 coming against Ball State in their season opener.

In conference play, when the opposition does not break 60, the Utes are 11-0, winning each game by double digits. When opponents score over 60, the Utes are 1-2.

To defeat Arizona, Utah needs to control the pace. As proven from the previous statistic, teams cannot win against Utah if they have to grind for points.

Arizona does present a difficult matchup for the Utes, because the Wildcats are very good at playing a slow-paced, efficient game. That being said, Arizona relies on runs with more up-and-down play to spur its offense when it goes cold. In their first meeting, Arizona runs led to a 69-51 thumping of Utah in Tucson.  If Utah can limit Arizona runs when its offense comes to a standstill, Utah will be in great shape to pull what would be an upset in the eyes of many, and take control of the PAC-12.

Prediction: The Utes can finally make their case for the most powerful in the west with a  64-59 win. Utah, however, loses at Oregon and is forced to grudgingly share the PAC-12 crown with their former oppressor, Arizona.

Alex Keller is a diehard DMV sports fan straight out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His hobbies include geography, consuming various cheese flavored snacks and questioning the decisions made by others. He dislikes irrationality and his greatest pet peeve is feet. If you want to know more, follow him on twitter @AGKe11er  

Mean Girls, Golf Clubs and Toga Times: The 18 Chances of Richie Incognito

courtesy of Getty Images

Last week, the Buffalo Bills inked Richie Incognito to a one-year contract– sneakily, in the slowest news portion of the season: February, the closest thing to a Black Op in NFL terms.

Incognito fought his way back into the league after a suspension, release from the Miami Dolphins and devastating investigation into his locker-room kingpin-ship which, when released by Ted Wells, seemed to put a Mortal Kombat finishing move on the Offensive Lineman’s career. The report details such harsh, catty situations I found it nearly comical – “Mean Girls”-esque – until I realized he did it with seriousness.

At first, I thought of how nice it was that Icognito is receiving a second chance. In fact, Incognito’s received more chances than you may think.

Chance One: University of Nebraska

In 2002, while a Cornhusker, Incognito became a historically good offensive lineman. But then he began acting out. He was accused of spitting on an opponent, was ejected from one game and made a major contribution to a loss for his team when he hit an opponent well after the whistle.

After inciting a fight at practice the next spring, the head coach dismissed him from the team and he enrolled in an anger management treatment facility.

Chance Two: University of Nebraska II: The Locker Room Brawl

Returning from treatment, Incognito was re-instated and played well.

Then, in February, he appeared in court and received a guilty verdict on a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from a fight at a party. In September, after being named a top candidate for the nation’s best center award, he received another suspension for repeated violations of team rules which culminated when Incognito fought a teammate in the locker room. He withdrew from Nebraska shortly thereafter.

Chance Three: University of Oregon

Incognito transferred to Eugene, but only occupied a football roster spot for one week. The coach there said Incognito failed to meet conditions set-up prior to his arrival. While the coach didn’t elaborate, a few of Incognito’s requirements were to complete anger management courses and adhere to strict codes of conduct.

Chance Four: St. Louis Rams I: Toga Times

After Oregon, Incognito entered the NFL Draft and fell into the 3rd round where the St. Louis Rams selected him. In his third season, one year after establishing a consistent starting job, Incognito injured his knee and missed the remainder of the season. A report shortly after detailed Incognito’s intense partying habits, including bashes nearly every night.

Chance Four and a Half: I’d Like To Thank The Academy

Just prior to the 2009 season, Incognito was voted NFL’s “dirtiest player” by a poll of his peers. I don’t know how much stock a front office puts in these polls, but it seems as if a team would at least note one of its players is disliked greatly by his peers.

Chance Five: St. Louis Rams II: The Penalties

In one game he drew three penalties and paid $35,000 in fines. His violations were repeated verbal abuse of a game official, a “major face mask,” and an illegal, dangerous blocking penalty. It tried on Rams management and would lead to further action against Incognito.

Chances Six and Seven: St. Louis Rams III: The Final Go Around

Incognito used up two chances here because of how many warnings he received from the Rams front office. He started all nine games he played in. The opening game of the season, after being flagged for two penalties against the Seattle Seahawks, he saw the bench for losing his composure. Then, on December 13, he was penalized twice more, both of which were 15 yarders for head-butting Tennessee Titans players. In the second half, his coach, Steve Spagnuolo, confronted him and the two engaged in heated verbal spat. Two days later, Incognito received a $50,000 fine from the NFL along with a letter of warning that said “future infractions of the types you have committed may lead to increased disciplinary action up to and including suspension.” Oh, and he also received a pink slip. The Rams released him that day.

Chance Eight: A Look at the First Half

In surveying Incognito’s career up until this point, you see his Rams career, from 2006 until 2009. He drew 38 penalties, including seven unnecessary roughness calls. He led the league in both categories.

Chance Nine: Buffalo Bills I: You Can’t Sit With Us

After his release from the Rams, the Buffalo Bills picked up Incognito. He played right guard on the 12th-best offensive line in football, according to Football Outsiders. He also blocked for Fred Jackson’s 212-yard rushing performance that season. Despite these pluses on his résumé, the Bills pulled the ultimate Mean Girls move and declined to re-sign him.

Chance Ten: Miami Dolphins I: The Subtle Hint

Incognito remained out of trouble for 24 months – his longest stretch since high school. But Richard Seymour punched Incognito in a December 2011 game. Maybe Incognito hadn’t changed.

Chances Eleven: Miami Dolphins I: The Incident Too Inappropriate for Me to Poke Fun At

Then, things went horribly wrong two seasons later.

In 2012, during a team celebrity golf tournament, an inebriated Incognito harassed a female club volunteer.

A police report filed by the victim went like this:

“(Incognito) used his golf club to touch her by rubbing it up against her vagina, then up her stomach then to her chest. After that, he proceeded to lean up against her buttocks with his private parts as if dancing, saying ‘Let it rain! Let it rain!’ and he finally finished his inappropriate behavior by emptying bottled water in her face.”

Despite this, coach Joe Philbin said the team took immediate action, but did not elaborate further.

Later that season, he won the Pro Football Writers 2012 Good Guy Award for Miami with teammate Reggie Bush. This award is given to the player(s) who assists the media to help best do its job.

Chances Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen and Fifteen: The Explosion

This is where it all blew up. Spectacular, high-arching, bright, audience-captivating, conversation-starting, media-consuming, reputation-smithereening explosions.

I won’t bother to re-hash the incident in full, but here are the highlights of the media firestorm from which shrapnel tore through everyone involved, forcing some out of jobs and leaving many with no face to save.

It started when another offensive lineman on Dolphins, Jonathan Martin, left the team in November of 2013 because he felt afraid of retribution for speaking out about bullying from Incognito.

There was a trip to Vegas Icognito stuck Martin with the bill for, threats on Martin’s family and disturbing, hateful, racist text messages which Incognito sent to Martin. The worst is detailed here.

On November 3, 2013, the Dolphins indefinitely suspended Incognito.

Chance Sixteen: Out of the NFL I: Berserk in a Bar

While suspended from the NFL, Incognito hung around in a Fort Lauderdale pool hall with his friend and old teammate Mike Pouncey. He drops N-bombs, F-bombs and looks like a ticking time bomb in the video. This was November, while Incognito was supposed to be in anger management counseling and other rehabilitation facilities.

P.S. This is the first video leakage that TMZ would use to slowly erode the enamel of league-associated approval many NFL players receive. (TMZ would later break every piece of footage on Ray Rice.)

Chance Seventeen: NFL Re-Instatement: Backstreet’s Back

On February 4, 2014, Incognito was cleared by the NFL to become an active player again, free to sign with whatever team he liked.

The New York Times wrote an article with a lead “Are any N.F.L. teams in the market for a player who was found to have engaged in serial harassment?”

Many assumed Incognito was done.

Chance Eighteen: Buffalo Bills II: Operation Incognito

As I detailed above, he’s back in the NFL. Another team thinks they can fix him. (Here’s what he said to convince Buffalo.)

***

Legally, no one can dispute what the Bills did, but in a time for the NFL where it needs to minimize black eyes to its reputation more than ever, this is the worst possible move.

Last fall, I argued against the excommunication of Ray Rice from the National Football League.

I argued this purely from a legal standpoint. If Rice finds employment in the NFL this season, then so be it. He paid his due, went through re-habilitation and earned a second chance.

A second chance.

Icognito used up that one a decade ago.

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

Marshawn Lynch Now Has the Ball

MarshawnLynch

Fewer than 10 minutes after Malcolm Butler of the New England Patriots made a Super Bowl-sealing interception, the Wikipedia page of Darrell Bevell said, “Seattle Seahawks Offensive Coordinator and spawn of Satan.”

Bevell, in fact, wasn’t even the one who made the fateful pass play-call on the goal line with 26 seconds remaining.

Seattle Seahawks coach Carrol elected not to run the ball with the league’s best power back, Marshawn Lynch, in what appeared to be an easy rush at the goal line.

Lynch’s contract has just one year left after Seattle refused to give him an extension while he held out of training camp. Lynch has two options: play next season for $7 million, or retire. The determining factors in his decision could be a flipped bird, a lack of trust, and that fateful play call.

The decision not to give Lynch the ball on the goal-line can be reasoned away by one statistic: “Beast Mode” was s 1-for-5 on scoring from the 1-yard-line this season – including three stuffs in one game against the 30th-ranked rushing defense of the New York Giants, according to Grantland. Furthermore, there were only 26 seconds remaining and the Seahawks only had one timeout. It makes sense to not run the ball.

However, those rushes against the Giants came in a regular season blowout win; this was the biggest moment in both Lynch’s and Quarterback Russell Wilson’s careers up to this point. To not call Lynch’s number – no less in favor of a slant pass to a receiver who’d caught 18 passes lifetime before this – scoffed at everything Lynch represents. It kicked dirt on Lynch’s abilities and if there’s anything a national audience knows about Lynch other than that he loves Skittles, it’s that he hates being disrespected.

This lack of trust to get the ball in the end zone from the coaching staff must have burned Lynch up, especially on the biggest stage. This is the guy who rumbled 67 yards, broke eight tackles and led the Seahawks to the biggest upset of the 2011 playoffs. He carried Seattle’s franchise into prominence and helped younger stars develop. They proceeded to shun him in the biggest moment.

This has happened before. In a situation of far less magnitude, the Seahawks sideline called a pass play on a 3rd and 1 from the 1-yard-line in a 2013 game against the Cardinals.

He flipped off his coach:

FlipTheBird

That was a regular season game.

Had giving his coach the finger not tipped off the defense – not that the Patriots needed it – Lynch very well may have done it again.

(If you’re wondering, Wilson threw a slant pass for a touchdown and the Seahawks won the game.)

Lynch doesn’t seem like the type of player – a la Brett Favre – who needs football to define him. He doesn’t seem like the athlete who hangs around looking for an easy payday and the team camaraderie.

Then again, I don’t know him. His teammates rave about his abilities on the field and his friendship off it. Despite that, many say they don’t know what he’ll do, they say he’s unpredictable.

He’s threatened to walk away from the game before; no one wants to call his bluff.

Lynch, who turns 29 during the NFL Draft weekend, is standing on the 1-yard-line. He has a choice: Run the ball once more for the last year on his deal, or he can pass the torch.

Carroll’s hoping he doesn’t pass.

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

Super Bowl Aftermath

SuperBowl

courtesy of BleacherReport.com

The clock has just crested midnight and the few Patriot fans on my floor are still in utter delirium.

Being in New York meant of the 20 kids in the lounge on my floor watching the game, there were five Patriots fans tops. As we celebrated Malcolm Butler’s incredible, unbelievable interception it was as if we had just won against all the odds.

Instead of a lucky catch doing us in, it was an unheralded rookie making up for such ridiculous catch such a Jermaine Kearse’s. When Kearse caught that juggling ball, I felt like I was 12-years-old, sitting in my living room wondering how physics worked because David Tyree had just hauled in an absurd pass from Eli Manning.

But this time, the Patriots held on.

As confetti rained down, one New England fan ripped apart his Richard Sherman jersey in the snow on the rickety wooden stairs, a few other Pats fans down the hall are being chastised as I write by the Department of Public Safety for smoking a celebratory joint.  I entered my dorm room with arms raised in triumph; my roommate from Cleveland shook his head.

Many others around the building – from Philly or Baltimore or New York City – say we Patriot fans are spoiled. This championship doesn’t mean anything to us because we win all the time. While it’s true – Boston has gone on an incredible run – this championship means so much to us.

For Tom Brady and for the New England Patriots it was a defiant, resilient shout at everyone who doubted.

No more will Patriots fans here, “You haven’t won anything since SpyGate!”

No more will Patriots fans here, “You can’t win without deflated balls!”

No more will Patriots fans here, “Brady can’t win big games!”

The league-wide hatred of the Patriots, culminating this week in the Ballghazi/Deflategate media firestorm, meant that fans of 31 other NFL teams love to root against your team.

Usually with a rivalry there’s one city, one team you hate to see. With the Patriots, every fan dismissed the team as a “bunch of cheaters” and said something irksome that incited frustration and immediately made me defensive.

This game dispelled that notion. Despite the odds, despite the distractions and the early fire alarms, the Patriots captured the title I thought we were sure to win in 2007 and 2011.

The reason I celebrate this championship and embrace this moment is because I know this may be the last one for a long while. It may not be – I hope it isn’t – but it’s possible.

This Patriots win perhaps capped an era in Boston. The winning ways of Boston are fading.

Boston owned the last decade, hauling in seven titles, but this decade looks bleaker and every fan knows that dominance can never be sustained. The moment a championship game ends, Vegas releases predictions for the next season.

The Bruins aren’t scoring goals this season, the Red Sox may have added bats but have no pitching and the Celtics are so far gone who knows when they will re-emerge?

To see the Patriots capture this title is special. Next season Brady will be 38-years-old and Father Time still has never lost. Relishing in this moment, seeing this MVP award – there’s no greater feeling.

The pride of seeing Brady succeed as a New Englander is what I imagine I’ll feel like when my son does something awesome – though to a lesser extent for my kid. I mean Brady. Kind of.

For the third straight Patriots Super Bowl an unheard-of receiver made a name for himself. Tyree. Mario Manningham. Chris Matthews.

But this time, a nameless man on the other side of the ball, one of New England’s own, stood up and took it all back.

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