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NY Sports Report with Mike Lalor: MLB and NBA analysis

NY Sports Report with Mike Lalor: MLB and NBA analysis

On Wednesday, February 17th, Pitchers and Catchers started to report to Major League Baseball Camps in both Florida and Arizona. What a welcome and warming sight after the recent blast of Arctic air that dominated much of the central and eastern parts of the United States during President’s Day weekend.

Now, 108 days after Kansas City Royal closer Wade Davis struck out New York Mets SS Wilmer Flores to end the World Series at Citi Field on a Sunday night at the start of November…baseball is coming back. Winter is on notice.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll populate the Around NY Sports blog with division previews across both the American and National Leagues – building on our offseason coverage of the local teams and the Spadora on Sports Hot Stove show back in January.

But, in a sport whose parity at the top of the standings to start this decade reflects more of an egalitarian opportunity to win a World Series than for an NFL team to win a Super Bowl, there is a growing concern and perception about the competitive nature of multiple franchises. Whether you view “tanking” as a pejorative word, and something more associated recently with NHL and NBA franchises — or you view “tanking” as an inaccurate description for what is actually better described as “competing within the parameters of the current economic system” – something is going on.

To consider:
• From 2011-2013, the Houston Astros lost over 105 games for 3 straight seasons (2011: 56-106; 2012: 55-107; 2013: 51-111). The Astros – and more importantly their fans — were the first team to experience such misery since the expansion-era New York Mets from 1962-1965

• Last year’s National League included:
o Philadelphia Phillies (63-99)
o Cincinnati Reds (64-98)
o Atlanta Braves (67-95)
o Milwaukee Brewers (68-94)
o Colorado Rockies (68-94)
o San Diego Padres (68-94)

• In the 2015-2016 offseason, these teams did very little to improve themselves:
o The Phillies made subtle improvements to their rotation (RHP Jeremy Hellickson and RHP Charlie Morton) but are clearly in rebuilding mode after trading away LHP Cole Hamels at least year’s trade deadline and moving away from their former keystone combo of SS Jimmy Rollins and 2B Chase Utley (both with LA in ’15).

o The Reds traded LHP Aroldis Chapman – although facing discipline through MLB – to the New York Yankees at a below market price, for 4 minor leaguers; the Reds also traded away 3B Todd Frazier for prospects; and, down the stretch from last July-September, Cincinnati almost exclusively started rookie pitchers.
o The Braves brought back a haul of prospects from SS Andrelton Simmons (Angels), OF Cameron Maybin (Tigers), and RHP Shelby Miller (Diamondbacks), but their team is stripped down for 2016, as they prepare to move into their new Cobb County, GA stadium in 2017.

o The Brewers continued to tear down with the recent trades of SS Jean Segura (Diamondbacks) and LF Khris Davis (A’s); their rotation this year will include RHP Jimmy Nelson, RHP Wily Peralta, and a host of young pitchers and supporting journeymen. C Jonathan Lucroy is likely next to move elsewhere before this July’s trade deadline.

o The Rockies did sign OF Gerardo Parra, and relievers Jason Motte and Chad
Qualls….and traded with the Rays for LHP Jake McGee. But, they also traded away talented hitting OF Corey Dickerson to Tampa in the McGee deal…and both Colorado and San Diego are teams straddling the fence of being all-in, or going into complete restructure-mode.

• Conversely, in the American League, the only team that won less than 70 games was the Oakland A’s (68-94). In fact, last season was the first time the A’s won less than 74 games since 1997. So, while many often think of the A’s as a small-market team – and they are – President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane and GM David Frost often work smartly, and aggressively, to keep the team competitive even during down cycles.

• The following Free Agent players of note are still on the market. The team the player last served with in 2015 is in parentheses (*tied to draft pick compensation due to receipt of a qualifying offer last November):
o RHP Yovani Gallardo* (Rangers)
o SS Ian Desmond* (Nationals)
o OF Dexter Fowler* (Cubs)
o 1B Pedro Alvarez (Pirates)
o 1B Justin Morneau (Rockies)
o SS Jimmy Rollins (Dodgers)
o 3B David Freese (Angels)
o 3B Casey McGehee (Marlins)
o 3B Juan Uribe (Mets)
o OF Marlon Byrd (Giants)
o OF David Murphy (Angels)
o OF Jeff Francoeur (Phillies)
o OF Will Venable (Rangers)
o OF Matt Joyce (Angels)
o OF David DeJesus (Angels)
o OF Chris Denorfia (Cubs)
o OF Ryan Raburn (Indians)
o OF Alex Rios (Royals)
o OF Drew Stubbs (Rangers)
o OF Grady Sizemore (Rays)
o OF Austin Jackson (Mariners)
o OF Shane Victorino (Angels)
o RHP Tim Lincecum (Giants)
o RHP Josh Johnson (Padres)
o RHP Alfredo Simon (Tigers)
o RHP Kyle Lohse (Brewers)
o RHP Aaron Harang (Phillies)
o RHP Jeremy Guthrie (Royals)
o LHP Mike Minor (Braves)

Analysis: There are a number of poor teams in the National League – although I think the particular league is circumstantial and cyclical in this case – who have not improved themselves this offseason. In actuality, these bottom feeder National League team continue to trade-off assets for prospects, lowering payroll. Meanwhile, that is the longest list of available free agents still unsigned that I can remember since the Collusion years of 1985-1987.

In this case, I do not currently sense a collusive conspiracy – but teams are obviously “deliberately restructuring”, ““competing within the parameters of the current economic system”, or “tanking”. Right? It’s obvious. And….it’s hard to blame them.

Baseball’s current system rewards bad teams with top draft picks, and even provides / enables these bad teams with additional money to use throughout the draft. And, if you are President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail in Philadelphia or John Hart in Atlanta, you see the fruits of the Astros “labor” after Houston tore down their roster from 2011-2013. The Astros gained high draft picks – including SS Carlos Correa, RHP Mark Appel (since traded to Philadelphia for future closer Ken Giles), OF George Springer, RHP Lance McCullers, Jr. – and have returned to contention. Led by President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, the Cubs also deliberately tore down and restructured during a long rebuild from 2011-2014; they are now stocked with talent and about to make a run at their first World Series title since 1908.

Baseball needs to look at this – and I know Commissioner Rob Manfred and his team are. As are MLBPA President Tony Clark and his team in advance of the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations, with the CBA expiring on December 1, 2016.

Baseball will consider a number of options here, to include:
• Draft Lottery: a draft lottery similar to the NBA and NHL to discourage teams for trying to finish with the worst record
• Permitting the trading of draft picks: potentially allowing teams to trade draft picks (current not permitted)
• Curbing additional money provided to teams at the top of the draft and for international players pools: re-looking providing money to teams at the top of the draft with an industry already flush with revenue (example: look at Kansas City’s payroll, now well into the mid-$100Ms)
• Revising the qualifying offer: as I wrote last week, re-examining the purpose and rules that govern the qualifying offer, and re-looking whether poor teams should retain protected Top 10 picks when they do sign a FA who was extended a qualifying offer
• “Floors” for team payroll: again back to revenue – establishing a “floor” for team payroll, counter-balancing the luxury tax that teams current over $189M in team payroll pay back into MLB’s central fund on an annual basis
Other notes:
• On Sunday at PNC Park this season, the Pirates will wear their retro-“We Are Family” uniforms from their last World Championship in 1979….complete with the yellow jersey, black painter caps. That is awesome. The Royals brought back their Powder Blue uniforms at home for their fans several years ago…also on Sundays and select days, and it was a huge hit. More teams should bring back their late-70s, early-80s looks….think about it Phillies, Cardinals, and Mariners!
• The Orioles – as they did with DH Nelson Cruz in 2014 when they won the AL East – are making a run at some late-February free agents, including the aforementioned OF Dexter Fowler and RHP Yovani Gallardo.

NBA shoot around:
• NBA returns from the All-Star Break. The NBA returned from a 7-day break on Thursday night with Utah (26-26) traveling to Washington (23-28), Chicago (27-25) at East-leading Cleveland (38-14), and San Antonio (45-8) at the Staples Center to play the L.A. Clippers (35-18). All include teams in playoff position, or just outside playoff position, in the case of Washington, who is 3 games behind the Charlotte Hornets for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference.

• An uneventful trade deadline. The NBA trade deadline came and went at 3pm on Thursday (2/18). It was uneventful, after much discussion about the potential move of either PF Kevin Love (Cleveland) or PF Al Horford (Atlanta) to Boston…with Boston, in return, potentially spending some of their abundant capital in draft picks…particular the draft picks they acquired at the expense of the Brooklyn Nets during the 2013 offseason. Atlanta PF Jeff Teague did not move, either….as he was rumored to be on the move to several places prior to the deadline, including potentially, to the Knicks. PF Blake Griffin did not move from the Clippers, although there seemed to be some interest on the part of Denver. Of note:

o Detroit. The Pistons appeared to have improved themselves with the acquisition of F Tobias Harris from Orlando in exchange for PG Brandon Jennings. The Pistons also acquired big-man Donatas Montiejunas and swingman Marcus Thornton from the Houston Rockets. Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons are poised to make a run at a playoff spot, as they are just 1 GB of Charlotte for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference.

o Washington. The Wizards acquired disgruntled Phoenix Suns F Markieff Morris in exchange for F Kris Humphries, F Dejuan Blair, and a protected (1-9) 1st round pick in 2016. It will be interesting to see if that deal propels Washington back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, or backfires with Morris not meshing in with the team and coaching staff. Washington has looked to play smaller and stretch the floor this year, but they did not have a Power Forward or “Stretch 4” who could step outside, make shots, and create his own shot. Morris can fill most of those requirements. On the other hand, the Suns had an asset that everyone knew they wanted to unload, and they were able to gain some expiring contracts and a 1st round pick. This will be interesting to watch.


• Golden State “watch”. At 48-4, the Golden State Warriors have 30 games remaining in the regular season. To beat the 72-10 mark of the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls, the Warriors will need to finish the stretch at 25-5 or better. That seems attainable for this phenomenal team. In their matchups for the week ahead: the Warriors (48-4) play a back-to-back this Friday and Saturday. On Friday (2/19), they will play in Portland against the Trail Blazers (27-27), and on Saturday (2/20), they will play at the L.A. Clippers in primetime on ABC. They then head out on a Southeast stretch, where they play at Atlanta (2/22), at Miami (2/24), and at Orlando (2/25). It will be fun to see if the Warriors can do it – Talking baseball and basketball: Tanking vs. Rebuilding…and a quick NBA shoot around


On Wednesday, February 17th, Pitchers and Catchers started to report to Major League Baseball Camps in both Florida and Arizona. What a welcome and warming sight after the recent blast of Arctic air that dominated much of the central and eastern parts of the United States during President’s Day weekend.

Now, 108 days after Kansas City Royal closer Wade Davis struck out New York Mets SS Wilmer Flores to end the World Series at Citi Field on a Sunday night at the start of November…baseball is coming back. Winter is on notice.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll populate the Around NY Sports blog with division previews across both the American and National Leagues – building on our offseason coverage of the local teams and the Spadora on Sports Hot Stove show back in January.

But, in a sport whose parity at the top of the standings to start this decade reflects more of an egalitarian opportunity to win a World Series than for an NFL team to win a Super Bowl, there is a growing concern and perception about the competitive nature of multiple franchises. Whether you view “tanking” as a pejorative word, and something more associated recently with NHL and NBA franchises — or you view “tanking” as an inaccurate description for what is actually better described as “competing within the parameters of the current economic system” – something is going on.

To consider:
• From 2011-2013, the Houston Astros lost over 105 games for 3 straight seasons (2011: 56-106; 2012: 55-107; 2013: 51-111). The Astros – and more importantly their fans — were the first team to experience such misery since the expansion-era New York Mets from 1962-1965

• Last year’s National League included:
o Philadelphia Phillies (63-99)
o Cincinnati Reds (64-98)
o Atlanta Braves (67-95)
o Milwaukee Brewers (68-94)
o Colorado Rockies (68-94)
o San Diego Padres (68-94)

• In the 2015-2016 offseason, these teams did very little to improve themselves:
o The Phillies made subtle improvements to their rotation (RHP Jeremy Hellickson and RHP Charlie Morton) but are clearly in rebuilding mode after trading away LHP Cole Hamels at least year’s trade deadline and moving away from their former keystone combo of SS Jimmy Rollins and 2B Chase Utley (both with LA in ’15).

o The Reds traded LHP Aroldis Chapman – although facing discipline through MLB – to the New York Yankees at a below market price, for 4 minor leaguers; the Reds also traded away 3B Todd Frazier for prospects; and, down the stretch from last July-September, Cincinnati almost exclusively started rookie pitchers.

o The Braves brought back a haul of prospects from SS Andrelton Simmons (Angels), OF Cameron Maybin (Tigers), and RHP Shelby Miller (Diamondbacks), but their team is stripped down for 2016, as they prepare to move into their new Cobb County, GA stadium in 2017.

o The Brewers continued to tear down with the recent trades of SS Jean Segura (Diamondbacks) and LF Khris Davis (A’s); their rotation this year will include RHP Jimmy Nelson, RHP Wily Peralta, and a host of young pitchers and supporting journeymen. C Jonathan Lucroy is likely next to move elsewhere before this July’s trade deadline.

o The Rockies did sign OF Gerardo Parra, and relievers Jason Motte and Chad Qualls….and traded with the Rays for LHP Jake McGee. But, they also traded away talented hitting OF Corey Dickerson to Tampa in the McGee deal…and both Colorado and San Diego are teams straddling the fence of being all-in, or going into complete restructure-mode.

• Conversely, in the American League, the only team that won less than 70 games was the Oakland A’s (68-94). In fact, last season was the first time the A’s won less than 74 games since 1997. So, while many often think of the A’s as a small-market team – and they are – President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane and GM David Frost often work smartly, and aggressively, to keep the team competitive even during down cycles.

• The following Free Agent players of note are still on the market. The team the player last served with in 2015 is in parentheses (*tied to draft pick compensation due to receipt of a qualifying offer last November):
o RHP Yovani Gallardo* (Rangers)
o SS Ian Desmond* (Nationals)
o OF Dexter Fowler* (Cubs)
o 1B Pedro Alvarez (Pirates)
o 1B Justin Morneau (Rockies)
o SS Jimmy Rollins (Dodgers)
o 3B David Freese (Angels)
o 3B Casey McGehee (Marlins)
o 3B Juan Uribe (Mets)
o OF Marlon Byrd (Giants)
o OF David Murphy (Angels)
o OF Jeff Francoeur (Phillies)
o OF Will Venable (Rangers)
o OF Matt Joyce (Angels)
o OF David DeJesus (Angels)
o OF Chris Denorfia (Cubs)
o OF Ryan Raburn (Indians)
o OF Alex Rios (Royals)
o OF Drew Stubbs (Rangers)
o OF Grady Sizemore (Rays)
o OF Austin Jackson (Mariners)
o OF Shane Victorino (Angels)
o RHP Tim Lincecum (Giants)
o RHP Josh Johnson (Padres)
o RHP Alfredo Simon (Tigers)
o RHP Kyle Lohse (Brewers)
o RHP Aaron Harang (Phillies)
o RHP Jeremy Guthrie (Royals)
o LHP Mike Minor (Braves)

Analysis: There are a number of poor teams in the National League – although I think the particular league is circumstantial and cyclical in this case – who have not improved themselves this offseason. In actuality, these bottom feeder National League team continue to trade-off assets for prospects, lowering payroll. Meanwhile, that is the longest list of available free agents still unsigned that I can remember since the Collusion years of 1985-1987.

In this case, I do not currently sense a collusive conspiracy – but teams are obviously “deliberately restructuring”, ““competing within the parameters of the current economic system”, or “tanking”. Right? It’s obvious. And….it’s hard to blame them.

Baseball’s current system rewards bad teams with top draft picks, and even provides / enables these bad teams with additional money to use throughout the draft. And, if you are President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail in Philadelphia or John Hart in Atlanta, you see the fruits of the Astros “labor” after Houston tore down their roster from 2011-2013. The Astros gained high draft picks – including SS Carlos Correa, RHP Mark Appel (since traded to Philadelphia for future closer Ken Giles), OF George Springer, RHP Lance McCullers, Jr. – and have returned to contention. Led by President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, the Cubs also deliberately tore down and restructured during a long rebuild from 2011-2014; they are now stocked with talent and about to make a run at their first World Series title since 1908.

Baseball needs to look at this – and I know Commissioner Rob Manfred and his team are. As are MLBPA President Tony Clark and his team in advance of the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations, with the CBA expiring on December 1, 2016.

Baseball will consider a number of options here, to include:
• Draft Lottery: a draft lottery similar to the NBA and NHL to discourage teams for trying to finish with the worst record

• Permitting the trading of draft picks: potentially allowing teams to trade draft picks (current not permitted)

• Curbing additional money provided to teams at the top of the draft and for international players pools: re-looking providing money to teams at the top of the draft with an industry already flush with revenue (example: look at Kansas City’s payroll, now well into the mid-$100Ms)

• Revising the qualifying offer: as I wrote last week, re-examining the purpose and rules that govern the qualifying offer, and re-looking whether poor teams should retain protected Top 10 picks when they do sign a FA who was extended a qualifying offer
• “Floors” for team payroll: again back to revenue – establishing a “floor” for team payroll, counter-balancing the luxury tax that teams current over $189M in team payroll pay back into MLB’s central fund on an annual basis
Other notes:

• On Sunday at PNC Park this season, the Pirates will wear their retro-“We Are Family” uniforms from their last World Championship in 1979….complete with the yellow jersey, black painter caps. That is awesome. The Royals brought back their Powder Blue uniforms at home for their fans several years ago…also on Sundays and select days, and it was a huge hit. More teams should bring back their late-70s, early-80s looks….think about it Phillies, Cardinals, and Mariners!

• The Orioles – as they did with DH Nelson Cruz in 2014 when they won the AL East – are making a run at some late-February free agents, including the aforementioned OF Dexter Fowler and RHP Yovani Gallardo.

NBA shoot around:
• NBA returns from the All-Star Break. The NBA returned from a 7-day break on Thursday night with Utah (26-26) traveling to Washington (23-28), Chicago (27-25) at East-leading Cleveland (38-14), and San Antonio (45-8) at the Staples Center to play the L.A. Clippers (35-18). All include teams in playoff position, or just outside playoff position, in the case of Washington, who is 3 games behind the Charlotte Hornets for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference.

• An uneventful trade deadline. The NBA trade deadline came and went at 3pm on Thursday (2/18). It was uneventful, after much discussion about the potential move of either PF Kevin Love (Cleveland) or PF Al Horford (Atlanta) to Boston…with Boston, in return, potentially spending some of their abundant capital in draft picks…particular the draft picks they acquired at the expense of the Brooklyn Nets during the 2013 offseason. Atlanta PF Jeff Teague did not move, either….as he was rumored to be on the move to several places prior to the deadline, including potentially, to the Knicks. PF Blake Griffin did not move from the Clippers, although there seemed to be some interest on the part of Denver. Of note:

o Detroit. The Pistons appeared to have improved themselves with the acquisition of F Tobias Harris from Orlando in exchange for PG Brandon Jennings. The Pistons also acquired big-man Donatas Montiejunas and swingman Marcus Thornton from the Houston Rockets. Stan Van Gundy’s Pistons are poised to make a run at a playoff spot, as they are just 1 GB of Charlotte for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference.

o Washington. The Wizards acquired disgruntled Phoenix Suns F Markieff Morris in exchange for F Kris Humphries, F Dejuan Blair, and a protected (1-9) 1st round pick in 2016. It will be interesting to see if that deal propels Washington back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, or backfires with Morris not meshing in with the team and coaching staff. Washington has looked to play smaller and stretch the floor this year, but they did not have a Power Forward or “Stretch 4” who could step outside, make shots, and create his own shot. Morris can fill most of those requirements. On the other hand, the Suns had an asset that everyone knew they wanted to unload, and they were able to gain some expiring contracts and a 1st round pick. This will be interesting to watch.


• Golden State “watch”. At 48-4, the Golden State Warriors have 30 games remaining in the regular season. To beat the 72-10 mark of the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls, the Warriors will need to finish the stretch at 25-5 or better. That seems attainable for this phenomenal team. In their matchups for the week ahead: the Warriors (48-4) play a back-to-back this Friday and Saturday. On Friday (2/19), they will play in Portland against the Trail Blazers (27-27), and on Saturday (2/20), they will play at the L.A. Clippers in primetime on ABC. They then head out on a Southeast stretch, where they play at Atlanta (2/22), at Miami (2/24), and at Orlando (2/25). It will be fun to see if the Warriors can do it – I think they can.

• The locals:
o The Knicks swing back into action on Friday (2/19) at Brooklyn, and then travel up to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves on Saturday night (2/20).

o The Nets Sean Marks as their new General Manager. Marks, 40, is a former NBA player from New Zealand, who recently served on San Antonio’s bench as an Assistant Coach for the Spurs 2014 championship team, and in the last years, in the front office working for Gregg Popovich and GM R.C Buford as an Assistant General Manager.

Next week: we’ll start the baseball Division previews with the AL West.

I think they can.

• The locals:
o The Knicks swing back into action on Friday (2/19) at Brooklyn, and then travel up to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves on Saturday night (2/20).

o The Nets Sean Marks as their new General Manager. Marks, 40, is a former NBA player from New Zealand, who recently served on San Antonio’s bench as an Assistant Coach for the Spurs 2014 championship team, and in the last years, in the front office working for Gregg Popovich and GM R.C Buford as an Assistant General Manager.

Next week: we’ll start the baseball Division previews with the AL West.

Mike Lalor can be heard talking NY Sports on the Spadora on Sports radio program. His blog can be found at SpadoraOnSports.com

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