Red Sox didn’t learn the first time

The Boston Red Sox suffered for a very long time. Maybe not as long as the Chicago Cubs but still for over eight decades. The Curse of the Bambino finally broke in 2004, when Boston made its long-awaited return to the series  . The Sox won in spectacular fashion, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in what was expected to be a seven-game series.

Three years later, the Sox were back in the World Series, this time facing the Colorado Rockies. Boston once again looked dailed in and downed the Rockies in just four games. Manager Terry Francona became the first manager to ever win his first eight world series games and the Red Sox had their second title in four years.

When 2013 rolled around, the Red Sox once again found themselves back in the World Series with a chance to win its third title in nine years. Boston met a familiar foe in St. Louis once again and actually failed to sweep their opponent. However, the Sox still went on to win the series in six games and became something of a dynasty with three titles in nine years.

Rick Porcello
Porcello’s 5.44 ERA would mark a career worst.

Following their 2013 World Series victory, Boston seemed to hit the reset button. Jacoby Ellsbury left in free agency. Jake Peavy, Felix Dubront, Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes, John Lackey, and Andrew Miller away in the waning days of July for various prospects and draft picks. This was two seasons after the Red Sox sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett away to Los Angeles in return for a bunch of prospects and some salary relief. The Red Sox went from having a top three payroll entering 2012 to have some room to spend. The Sox were very lucky to have been able to escape some of those torturous deals by dumping them on the Dodgers.

It seemed like the Red Sox had turned a corner. With Ben Cherington, a disciple of saber metrics guru Theo Epstein, as the general manager, many thought the Red Sox would begin to search for more affordable deals that avoided any massive inflation to the salary cap. 2014 rolled around and Boston struggled as expected with all of its young talent trying to work itself out.

Pablo Sandoval
Sandoval, a career .291 hitter, has only hit .260 this season with a career worst for on base percentage and slugging.

The next offseason though, Boston seemed to ditch the prolonged rebuilding effort and wanted to make a splash. They spent a combined $180 million to bring in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Cherington also brought in Rick Porcello from the Tigers and by early April had given an $82 million dollar contract over the next four years. By opening day, the Red Sox had managed to commit $262 million over the next five years for only three players.

Boston was spending money on these players as if they were sure things that couldn’t possibly fail. Meanwhile, Porcello has a 5.81 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP at this point in the season. Porcello has also given up more runs than any other Red Sox’s pitcher this season, third most among all pitchers in MLB. On the offensive side, Sandoval and Ramirez have only hit 23 extra base hits combined. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts have more on their own. Ramirez and Sandoval also have the 90th and 94th best averages in the bigs. Ramirez has been redeeming at least with his 19 home runs but Sandoval has only managed to hit 8. That would be his lowest total since his rookie year where he only played 41 games.

Hanley_Ramirez
Ramirez has a history of missing extended amounts of time due to injury but has been a very capable homerun hitter for Boston this year.

All three players have been mediocre this season. Each of them is putting up career worsts in multiple categories. And it only cost Boston $48.5 million for this season. It just goes to show that trying to buy your way back into contention barely ever works. The crazy thing though is that Boston seemed like they had figured that out already as they begun moving the massive contracts on their books. Baseball is a spenders game but the spending has to come wisely.

The Red Sox also had perfect examples of value contracts on their roster already. Betts and Bogaerts, Boston’s two best hitters, are costing the Sox just over a million dollars for both of their contracts. If that isn’t maximizing players on rookie contracts, I don’t know what is. And we’ve seen that spending big doesn’t always work. Obviously the Yankees have had unparalleled success but that’s the exception. Boston has success buying championships with a top-five payroll before but since the year 2000, only 5 of the 15 World Series Champions were teams with a top-five payroll. It is far from a guarantee.

Boston is headed for a second straight season at the bottom of the AL East with several of expensive disappointments on the roster for years to come. It would be more acceptable if Boston’s pay roll was down and the team was testing young players. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case and this team is now just even more disappointing.

John Farrell will likely have a little bit longer that he can ride the success of 2013 before it starts to wear off. If Boston continues to strikeout on a big contract players though, him and Cherington could be out of a job soon.

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Another step in the right direction for MLS

Yesterday was a very good day for MLS. The most obvious point would be the MLS All Star’s victory over English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur. Obviously it would be more impressive if it wasn’t an All Star team playing against a normal club team but all the same it was a great spectacle for fans of soccer. They got to see one of the better English teams in person and see the top talent MLS has collected over the past few years.

Tranquillo Barnetta
Barnetta will join the Union in the coming days.

MLS clubs also announced two big signings yesterday. Philadelphia Union signed Tranquillo Barnetta on a free transfer from Bundisliga side Schalke FC. Barnetta might not be the biggest name but he represented Switzerland at the 2014 World Cup and has 75 caps for the national team. Then Eastern Conference rival New York Red Bulls announced the signing of Gonzalo Veron from San Lorenzo in Argentina. The 25-year old spent the last three years playing in the top division of Argentine football. Neither one of the signings is head turning or prolific but it underlines a greater theme going on in MLS this season.

Veron and Barnetta follow Didier Drogba and Shaun Wright-Phillips as MLS signings from the past week. Drogba is the biggest name there by far but the other three are all well respected players. Overall, they just add to the collection of big names and new talent infused into MLS over the last two seasons.There is still a ways to go before the league can start luring top players stateside during their prime.

Gonzalo Veron
The Red Bull hope Veron can bolster their attack as a winger.

However, this is easily the best collection of talent MLS has ever seen. That isn’t saying much but the level of talent in MLS exceeds previous level by a substantial amount. The success the LA Galaxy and the Red Bulls saw in the International Champions Cup highlights that fact. The MLS is starting to gain on the rest of the world in terms of being a competitive soccer league. They are nowhere near touching England, France, Italy or Spain but they might now find themselves more on par with Eredivisie in Holland or many of the South American leagues. They have certainly surpassed the Scottish Premier League and the Swiss Super League. I’m not saying that every team in MLS could beat teams from these countries but that the level of talent is higher overall.

Andrea Pirlo
Pirlo has already come over and begun his career with the expansion team NYCFC.

American soccer is still in infancy by comparison to Europe or South America but these recent additions have certainly caught them up, even if it was only marginally. On top of that, these big name signings continue to bring in new fans. Even if these guys are older, the sheer name recognition is bringing fans in the door. So far this season, average attendance per game is up almost 2,000 fans per game. Over the course of a season that makes a huge difference. MLS is on pace for a record setting season when it comes to total attendance, one that will push it to almost the same average attendance as Serie A in Italy and Ligue 1 in France.

There is no ignoring that soccer has taken hold in the US anymore. MLS is well on it’s way to challenging other leagues for the country’s attention. Average attendance for MLS games have surpassed NBA and NHL games. Granted hockey and basketball are held in much smaller arenas it is still a step in the right direction. MLS is not great by any stretch but it should no longer be considered a joke as it was even five years ago.

Giovani Dos Santos
Dos Santos is the latest international star to join the Galaxy.

If names like Andrea Pirlo, Stephen Ger   ard and Giovanni Dos Santos continue to choose to come to MLS despite their usually older age, MLS will eventually begin to draw other talent. It takes time and the league has started the gradual process. Hopefully this means that now it is only a matter of time for the league to really grow in terms of play. With rumors that Christiano Rinaldo and Zaltan Ibrahimavic could one day make their way to MLS, there is no shortage of aging stars looking to continue playing. Hopefully some of the younger stars begin to follow.

Why the NFL had no choice with Brady

The NFL is a joke these days. The fact that you can sit there and think to yourself, well what are you referring to here is some indication of how much so. It could be the laughable attempts to improve player safety, the failure to address domestic violence or the continued drug related suspensions. In this case, I’m actually referring to none of those though and I’m focusing on the NFL time and time again reducing or repealing player suspensions.

It has been a long six months for Tom Brady. Usually, the Super Bowl champion would get at least a little time to relax and savor his victory. Instead, he has spent his offseason in the midst of a private investigation regarding the deflation of footballs in the AFC Title Game against the Colts. Brady was subjected to questioning first by the league then later by independent investigators under Ted Wells. The whole story was poked and prodded as much as possible and the media (yes myself included) had a field day with it. It was a supposed stain on the legacy of Brady and the Pats Super Bowl win.

Tom_BradyYet as time has gone on, no real hard evidence has surfaced. The Wells report indicates that Brady “more likely than not” was aware of the situation. Brady once again refuted the claims but the league imposed a four-game ban on the New England quarterback for the start of next season.

That didn’t settle anything though as the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and Brady went on to appeal the suspension. That to weeks of trials and further investigations into the situation. What surfaced most recently definitely puts Brady in some hot water. It turns out he had destroyed his cell phone and sim card while the NFL was trying to acquire them as evidence. He claims it was a normal procedure for him as he was replacing his old phone. I can bet Brady wouldn’t want his own personal information, messages or photos falling into the wrong hands and winding up online. It makes sense to destroy. Unfortunately, he just picked a really bad time to do it.

The phone destruction doesn’t necessarily prove anything but it certainly makes Brady look guilty and that was enough for the NFL to vote to uphold the suspension. Brady and the NFLPA are now appealing that decision because apparently you can appeal everything in the NFL. Maybe Brady has a point that the NFL doesn’t have enough hard evidence but that’s not why they are making an example of him.

As I have made clear the NFL is a joke with reducing and repealing suspensions. So it should come as no surprise that the league feels it is pressured to uphold Brady’s suspension to save face. The NFL can attempt to be as harsh as it wants but it has previously set precedents that the NFLPA will often use as a way to negotiate down a suspension. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the length of some of them either (see Ray Rice, domestic violence). In short, the NFL has looked weak and it seems like the NFLPA has just been pushing them around.

Tom BradyThe league has no desire to look weak obviously. Already this summer Greg Hardy and LeVeon Bell had suspensions reduced after appealing the decision. The league needed to make a stand and show that it is capable of dishing out a suspension then upholding it. The NFL gave itself no choice but to uphold the suspension. Brady just seems to be caught in the crossfire. Now I can’t tell you if Tom Brady is innocent or not. That much has not been clear. What is clear is the overall lack of cohesion between the NFL and the NFLPA and the amount of leeway Commissioner Roger Goodell has with suspensions.

The NFL was in many ways forced to implement a system that established standard sentences regarding domestic violence punishments. The league also has a system in place for violations of the substance abuse policy. However, outside of those two categories, there is a lot left open for interpretation. That is where Goodell simply seem to slap an arbitrary number of weeks on the table and say it is final. The league needs to find a way to avoid that at all costs. That sort of uncertainty surrounding the suspension allows it to be appealed. Brady’s situation is unique but that does not mean that Goodell should choose what he feels is warranted. It is more than clear that Goodell’s judgement is questionable at best.

The easiest thing for the league to do is arrange an outside board that collaborates with the NFLPA to assign suspensions that fall outside the realm of domestic violence or substance abuse. That was not everything is being appealed before it even hits the table and Goodell is removed from the equation.

As for Brady, there is only one way that the league will relent on his four-game suspension, if he admits that he was involved or had knowledge of the situation. Even then, it would only cut his suspension in half. I don’t see Brady going this far only to back off and say he knew. Whether he did or not. I think Brady is just going to have to bite the bullet and sit out the four games. No one seems capable of coming to his rescue. Not even the NFLPA. The NFL is determined to make up for past weaknesses.  It is at war. And it seems determined to win.

Players in make or break years

Every NFL player is under intense scrutiny but these ten players have the heat turned up just a bit higher.

Mike_WallaceMike Wallace, Minnesota Vikings
The speedster who looked like an inevitable star in Pittsburgh took his talents to South Beach and then disappeared. Well not completely disappeared but he never became the star that the Dolphins paid him to become. He was still productive though, tallying 1792 yards and 15 touchdowns during his two years in Miami. However, Wallace found himself looking for a job at season’s end and now joins a young Minnesota team. With Charles Johnson bursting onto the scene and Corradelle Patterson still trying to find his way, there is room for Wallace in this team. However, if Patterson rediscovers his rookie year form and either Stephan Diggs or Jerrell Wright starts showing promise, don’t be surprised if Wallace’s time with the Vikings is short.

Trent_RichardsonTrent Richardson, Oakland Raiders
The 2012 draft is full of running backs that failed to live up to their billing. The most successful pick turned out to be Alfred Morris and that was in a draft where the potential of guys like Doug Martin and David Wilson had GMs drooling. Richardson is likely the most disappointing of them all though and now entering his fourth season, Richardson is joining his third team in as many years. Averaging a pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry heading to Oakland is not a good sign. This is likely the former Alabama products last chance to stick in the league. If he fails in Oakland, no one else is going to gamble on him again.

RG3Robert Griffin III, Washington
RG3 has had expectations heaped on him since day one. He electrified the league as a rookie but a knee injury and some adjustment to the read option offense have largely quashed what looked to be a promising career. However, the Redskins have not had a whole lot of success rotating other quarterbacks into the lineup, spare a Monday Night Miracle by Colt McCoy. Griffin is going to get one last shot at turning it around in Washington and recapturing his Rookie of the Year performance. This is the final year of his contract and if he does not show signs of marked improvement, you can be sure that Washington will not be looking to renew his deal. That would definitely put Griffin in the conversation for biggest draft bust of all time.

Geno SmithGeno Smith, New York Jets
Geno Smith probably doesn’t need reminding that he is running out of time in New York. Smith has failed to make a great first impression in his first two season with the Jets and now with Ryan Fitzpatrick waiting in the wings, Smith has real competition. Pair that with the fact that the team has a new coach and a new GM and that spells the end of Smith’s tenure in the Big Apple at the first sign of trouble. The Jets have indicated that they will give Geno every chance to win the starting job and grow but if he struggles at any point, don’t be surprised to see Todd Bowles turn to Fitzpatrick.

Percy_HarvinPercy Harvin, Buffalo Bills
Joining his fourth team in as many years is not how most people thought you would be describing Percy Harvin back in 2012. But after a trade to Seattle that was marred with injuries and another trade to the Jets that was average at best, Harvin is now set to join the Bills. He could fit the roll of a C.J. Spiller type of do it all player. However, this team is searching for an identity with a new coach. Harvin has some background with the coach in question as he played for Rex Ryan in New York just last year. If Harvin fails to impress though or cannot stay on the field, he could find himself bouncing to yet another team.

Prince_AmukamaraPrince Amukamara, New York Giants
The former first round pick is set to enter his fifth big league season. However, Amukamara has only played all 16 games once so far in his career. Over the past four years, Prince has been unavailable for 20 of New York’s games. Amukamara started off last season promising with 3 picks and 11 pass deflections in the first half of the year before once again suffering a season ending injury. With Dominique Rogers-Cromartie on one side, the Giants will be relying on Amukamara on the other. If he fails to hold up or cannot survive the rigors of a full season, New York will more than likely begin searching for his replacement.

Jarvis_JonesJarvis Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers
58 total tackles and 3 sacks is not what Pittsburgh thought they were getting when they drafted Jarvis Jones in 2013. The former first rounder came in with a lot of promise as a pass rusher but has failed to make much of an impact. Jones hasn’t managed to stay healthy either, appearing in only 21 games over the past two seasons. The Steelers’ once great defense is now a shell of itself in need of some new stars. The chance for Jones to step up is certainly there but with Pittsburgh tabbing Bud Dupree in the first round of this year’s draft, he will certainly have some competition.

Jay_CutlerJay Cutler, Chicago Bears
Believe it or not, Jay Cutler wasn’t always unpopular in Chicago. After the last two years of mediocre play which included being benched in favor of Jimmy Clausen, Bears fans’ indifference towards Cutler has turned to anger and disgust. He hasn’t always had the best offensive line in front of him, but Cutler has certainly had his fair share of targets to throw too. With Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett in his arsenal Cutler had no excuses. Yet he still tossed 18 interceptions in 15 games. At 32, Cutler is running out of time to win over the fans, and the management in Chicago.

May 10, 2013; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Bjoern Werner (92) walks off the field after practicing in the Colts Rookie Minicamp at the Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Bjorn Werner, Indianapolis Colts
Two years into his professional career, Werner has failed to turn too many heads. He was selected in the first round by Indianapolis back in 2013 with the label of a project. However, he has failed to develop a whole lot with only 68 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 28 career games. Nagging injuries have certainly played into Werner’s slow development but that isn’t a reassuring excuse. Werner will likely have to duke it out with Trent Cole and Erik Walden just to get playing time. Once he gets it, he needs to capitalize or he will be out of a job.

Sam_BradfordSam Bradford, Philadelphia Eagles
Signing the richest rookie contract in history at the time was great for Sam Bradford. It turned out to not be so great for the Rams. Bradford only managed to play 49 games in 5 seasons for St. Louis. Coming off his second ACL tear in as many years, many doubt that Bradford is a reliable starting quarterback option. Bradford might be the player with the best chance to breakout this year on this list joining the playoff-hopeful Eagles. Chip Kelly has high hopes for him but if he hits the shelf again due to injury, don’t expect Bradford to be back again.

NFL coaches under the most pressure

Sean_Payton

5. Sean Payton New Orleans Saints

It is starting to feel like a pretty long time ago now that Payton made that Super Bowl run with the Saints. In fact this will be the sixth year that the Saints are removed from that championship season. Only seven players still remain from that New Orleans Super Bowl team. In the five years since the Lombardi Trophy, Payton has only managed two playoff wins. After a mediocre at best year in 2014, the Saints seemed like they were starting to clean house as the core of the team ages. A youth movement is sure to be coming sooner rather than later in New Orelans. Payton’s fate is likely tied to quarterback Drew Brees. If the now 36 year old quarterback decides to hang it up soon, it is likely Payton will be gone as well.

Marvin_Lewis4. Marvin Lewis Cincinnati Bengals

It might seem a little odd for Lewis to appear on this list considering he has four consecutive winning seasons behind him. Then you might remember the Bengals post season woes under Marvin Lewis are well documented. In six tries now, Lewis has come up empty. That makes it 12 seasons now under Lewis that he has failed to win a single playoff matchup. As the Bengals come into the season with a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, expectations should be reasonably high for Cincy. However, in a division with the Ravens and Steelers, the Bengals are often an afterthought which is why Lewis only comes in at number four on this list. The only thing that might save Lewis is that he recently signed a contract extension through 2016. However, if he fails to win a playoff game this year, Cincinnati’s front office might pull the trigger anyway.

Jeff_Fisher3. Jeff Ficher St. Louis Rams

I read an article recently saying that Jeff Fisher gets more benefit of the doubt than anyone for absolutely no reason. He almost led the Titans to a Super Bowl victory in 1999 but came up a yard short. That is pretty much Fisher’s only claim to fame here. He is entering his fourth year as the coach of the Rams and St. Louis has actually posted a worse record every year under Fisher. The Rams have yet to post a winning season under Fisher and there has been no talk of the playoffs around the organization. This team has not challenged the top of the division Cardinals or Seahawks either. In fact, a Fisher coached team hasn’t won a playoff game since 2003. Even in the tough NFC West, you eventually have to see results. If Fisher fails once again to even come close then it could be game over for him in St. Louis.

2. Chip Kelly Philadelphia Eagles

Jerry Jones fills both the owner and general manager roll in Dallas and tends to come under a lot of pressure for it. Chip Kelly now occupies the position of head coach and general manager. That means that he is destined to come under a lot more fire than he already has. In his first two seasons in Philly, Kelly has seen good results. He has put up winning seasons and even earned a playoff berth in 2013. However, Kelly has done a lot of house cleaning in his two years, expunging the team of it’s starting quarterback, running back, top two receivers and a good chunk of it’s offensive line. Many have criticized Kelly for trying to coach a pro team as he would a college one. So far it has worked but after Kelly gambled big time this offseason trading away LeSean McCoy and letting Jeremy Maclin walk in free agency, he is going to have some angry fans to answer to if things go south. This is Philadelphia we’re talking about here, newly minted most hated fan base in the league. Don’t expect them to wait patiently while Kelly continues to toy with the makeup of the roster. Kelly is definitely on a short leash.

joe_philbin1. Joe Philbin Miami Dolphins

Joe Philbin joined the Dolphins from the Packers in 2012 with some expectations. He was the mastermind behind the Packers Super Bowl run on the offensive side. He was given a rookie quarterback to mold in Ryan Tannehill and Dolphins’ fans understood that the team needed a year or two to really compete. Now entering year four of the Philbin era, the rebuild seems complete with Tannehill well installed and some big name acquisitions on both sides of the ball (i.e. Ndamokung Suh, Branden Albert, DeVante Parker). However, Miami has been middling around .500 for three straight seasons and does not really seem poised to take down division rival New England. Many of the draft picks under Philbin have been a mixed bag as well. It might not be widely speculated but there is definitely a ton of pressure on Philbin and Miami to perform this season. If Philbin provides another merely average season finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs, the Dolphins could be looking to start fresh under some new guidance.