Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Week 5 Review

5 weeks into the college football season and we have complete chaos and it is FANTASTIC.

Let’s start with the Top 10 last week as 4 teams lost by a total of 73 points, and one of those losses was by just 2 points by #6 Notre Dame.  That means the other 3 lost by a combined 71.  #3 Mississippi and #8 Georgia each lost conference games by 28 points (38-10 finals in both games).  # 7 UCLA, coming off of a 26-point win on the road against a ranked Arizona team, lost by 15 at home against a then 2-2 Arizona State team.  Throw that on top of #1 Ohio State struggling against Indiana, who played without their starting QB and RB.  We also had #2 Michigan State nearly blowing a 21-point lead to hang on to beat lowly Purdue 24-21.  Basically what I am saying is that even the best teams in the country don’t look dominant.

Before we get into conference breakdowns after 5 weeks of the season, how about this little bit of food for thought, for the 1st time since October 10, 2010 no SEC team in ranked in the Top 5 in AP Top 25.  That is 80 straight weeks.

On to my thoughts about each conference through 5 weeks.
- Is anybody in the ACC good enough to make it to the 4-Team CFB Playoff from the ACC?  The conference only has 2 undefeated teams remaining (Clemson and FSU) and they have to play each other in 5 weeks.  And strength of schedule isn’t going to help anyone in this conference as 5 of the 14 teams already have 3 losses this year.
- As much as I enjoyed watching the Clemson/Notre Dame game on Saturday, I came away not having any idea how good Clemson really is.  Sure they beat a Top 6 Notre Dame team, but they barely beat ND.  They looked really good for 2 ½ quarters, looked decent for 1 quarter and looked flat out bad for the final 7 minutes or so.  The ACC Atlantic is pretty down, so the Tigers don’t have many chances to prove to their voters how good they really are.
- After watching Florida State sneak by teams all last season, but still make it into the playoffs because they were the undefeated defending champion, may have tainted me a bit about Jimbo Fisher and his squad.  I immediately have only seen them play twice this year, but they haven’t been very impressive if you ask me.  Yes they are undefeated, but beating up on Texas St, then struggling with South Florida, BC and Wake isn’t blowing the doors off of anyone.  I just don’t trust them to be the team we are once again being led to believe they are.  I don’t think it would really surprise anyone if they lost any of their next 3 games (vs MIA, vs LOU, @ GT) and then they still have Clemson and Florida waiting on their schedule.
- The Coastal Division is once again completely up for grabs.  The overwhelming preseason favorite and defending division champ, Georgia Tech, has started 0-2 in conference play.  The team most “experts” picked to finish 2nd place in the division, Virginia Tech, is 0-1 and just had their worst offensive outing in 29 years.  The crazy thing is that you can’t count either of those teams out yet.  Each of the last 3 years the winner of the Coastal Division has had AT LEAST 2 losses in the conference.  Right now, both Duke and North Carolina seem to be the front-runners.  Both teams have already beat Georgia Tech, and Duke also has a win Boston College making them 2-0 just 5 weeks in.  The Blue Devils do play 3 of their next 4 and 5 of their final 7 on the road however, including a trip to Chapel Hill to take on UNC in 5 weeks.  North Carolina has 2 “should-be” wins up next and the close with a tough 5 game stretch, including 3 of those 5 on the road.  As I mentioned, this division is anyone’s for the taking.

- The Top 4 teams in the Big XII (TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma & Oklahoma State) have clearly separated themselves as best in the conference.  All 4 are still undefeated, but none of the 4 have had what anyone would call a signature win to this point.  Oklahoma State is probably #4 of those 4 teams, but their schedule gives them the potential to get to 8-0 before having to face any of the other 3 top teams.  TCU also has their schedule back-loaded and doesn’t face 1 of the other top teams until November.  However, they play 2 of the 3 teams on the road.  Baylor, who hasn’t beat anyone yet, plays all the other teams in successive weeks, with the final 2 games against Oklahoma State and TCU on the road inside a 6 day window.  As with the other 3 teams, Oklahoma has their schedule back loaded and won’t face any of them until November 14th.  It should make for an interesting next month or so as all 4 of these teams should remain undefeated.  The downfall, the Big XII still does not have a conference championship and these 4 teams beating up on each other in the final month of the season could keep all 4 out of the CFB Playoff.
- What is going on at Texas?  Since playing in the National Championship Game to conclude the 2009 season, Texas is just 37-32.  In those 32 losses 21 are by double digits and 16 (half) are by 20+ points.  Texas went to Charlie Strong, a man who made a name for himself by coaching defense, to turn things around last year.  All he has done is go 7-11 while giving up an average of 27.8 in those 18 games.  In just year 2 of his 5 year deal Charlie Strong is on the hottest of hot seats.  Next up for the Longhorns, the 10th ranked Oklahoma Sooners, who have beaten Texas in 4 of their last 5 meetings in the Red River Rivalry Game.
- Kansas is the worst team of any P5 team in FBS football.  The real question, are they the worst P5 team EVER?  Kansas is 0-4 this season and that includes a lost an FCS team in South Dakota State.  They also have losses to Rutgers and Iowa State, both who only have 1 other win this season and those came against FCS schools too.  Memphis is the other school to beat Kansas this season, 55-23 and that was a down game for the Tigers.  Memphis had 651 yards of offense outgaining Kansas by 292 yards.  The Tigers also had 3 turnovers or that game could have been much worse.  Next up for the Jayhawks is Baylor, who very well could put up 100 if they wanted to on Saturday against Kansas.  The good news for Jayhawk fans… Midnight Madness is Friday.

Big Ten:
- Ohio State this year reminds me a whole lot like Florida State last year.  Florida State was the preseason #1 team as the defending National Champions, with a returning starting QB from that team (OSU has 2).  Sound familiar?  FSU then slept walked through the majority of their regular season schedule, and amazingly did just enough to be selected into the CFB Playoff as the #3 seed.  Ohio State is on that exact path.  Everyone knows that Ohio State has the players and talent to compete and probably beat any team in the country.  It seems like Ohio State knows this too, which is not a good thing.  The good thing for Ohio State is that the Big Ten is not good this year, so they could just coast through conference play.  The bad news is that if someone does upset them, they will be eliminated from playoff contention.  Ohio State should cruise in their next 5 games before playing games against Michigan State and Michigan in back-to-back weeks to close the season.
- Yes, I said Michigan there as I referred to a big game with Ohio State and NOT because it is a rivalry game.  Most people expected Jim Harbaugh to turn things around at Michigan, but I don’t think anyone thought it would be so soon.  Michigan is now 4-1 this year with their only loss coming in their opening game on the road against Utah, which doesn’t exactly look like a bad loss at this point, does it?  During their 4-game win streak the Wolverines have outscored their opponents 122-14, including 2 straight shutouts.  I’m not saying Michigan is back, but they are well on their way.  We will learn a lot more about Big Blue over the next 2 weeks (vs Northwestern, vs Michigan St.).  This Michigan team looks good enough to compete in the vastly overrated Big Ten East, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they beat the Buckeyes at the Big House this year.
- I mentioned that the Big Ten East is overrated, that must mean that the Big Ten West not rated at all.  The West is currently led by Iowa, Northwestern and Illinois; while typical powers like Nebraska and Wisconsin are a combined 5-5 so far this season.  Iowa, Northwestern and Illinois are a combined 14-1 this year, they combined for 18 wins total last season.  Northwestern has a tough test this weekend (@ Michigan), and Iowa has Illinois and Northwestern in back-to-back weeks coming up, but those 2 teams are in good position to really make a run at the West Division title.
- How bad does Maryland need to get before Randy Edsall is fired?  Not to kick a guy when he is down, but Edsall wasn’t even that good before he got to Maryland when he was at UCONN.  In his 12 years at UCONN before leaving for Maryland Edsall was 74-70 and UNDER .500 in conference play (22-26) in a bad Big East.  That somehow got him a promotion to the Maryland job.  Since taking over in College Park he has gone 22-33 (10-23 in ACC/Big Ten) in 4+ seasons.  So far this season the Terps have been blown out in all 3 of their losses, losing by 21 to Bowling Green, 39 to WVU and getting shutout 28-0 by Michigan Saturday.  They get #1 Ohio State this week.  Maryland probably won’t be favored in another game this season until their finale with Rutgers. 

- Does anybody want to win the PAC-12?  No, seriously.  We are 5 weeks into the season and only 2 teams are undefeated and those 2 teams play each other this week!  Even crazier is that there are just 3 teams still undefeated in conference play.  7 of the 12 teams in the conference have multiple losses already.  At this rate we are going to have two 7-5 teams playing each other for the conference title.  More confusing is the complete inconsistency week in and week out by some of these teams.  UCLA went on a 3 game stretch of coming back from 10 points in the 4th quarter to beat an average BYU team, to blowing out #16 Arizona on the road, to coming home and getting blown out by an unranked Arizona State team.  That same Arizona State team lost by 28 at home to USC last week before upsetting UCLA.  The whole conference is a mess.
- As I mentioned, the PAC-12 only has 2 undefeated teams left (which will be just 1 after Saturday) and just 3 teams with 1 loss.  If the PAC-12 hopes to get into the CFB Playoff this season they better hope 1 of those 5 teams run the table.  That is possible with the teams we are talking about (Cal, Utah, USC, UCLA, Stanford) when you look at their schedules, but is it likely considering what we have seen so far from this conference?

- Florida is 5-0, should we be taking them serious yet?  They finally have an offense, so that is a plus considering the defense has always been there, but they have been putting up numbers against the likes of Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi.  Sure Ole Miss was ranked #3 and just beat Alabama, but they have been doing it with offense, not their D.  We have seen this before from Florida, so I am going to wait before I get on the bandwagon, although I’m willing to acknowledge that this team has the potential to be pretty good.  The good news for the Gators is you only have to be “pretty good” to win the SEC East.  The real test will be in 2 weeks when Florida plays LSU under the lights in Death Valley.
- Speaking of questioning how good teams are, has anybody snuck under the radar more than Texas A&M this season?  A&M is 5-0 and already has 2 wins against SEC West teams.  They also opened the season with a convincing win over then-ranked Arizona State.  Despite all of that they just barely snuck into the Top 10 in the rankings this week.  The Aggies have a week off before they host Alabama, which should be a match-up of Top 10 SEC teams.
- LSU is good, really good, but I’m still having a tough time buying in to any team that has yet to hold a team under 19, a team that has allowed 24 to Syracuse and 22 to Eastern Michigan.  LSU has the Heisman Trophy winner in Leonard Fournette, but they are going to need more on offense as the schedule gets tougher, because as I mentioned, that defense is not a typical LSU defense.
- In case you missed Nick Saban’s media session today, Alabama isn’t out of this thing yet.  Bama had a statement win Saturday when they smacked Georgia 38-10 in Athens and just reminded everyone that they are still the King of the SEC until further notice.  Bama still has games against Texas A&M on the road and at home versus’ LSU, but if they get past those 2, you’ll probably be seeing back in the CFB Playoff.
- I have decided that Chip Kelly has no chance at keeping his job with the Philadelphia Eagles after this season, so the next question is what college team does he end up with?  The list of 5 I came up with was Miami, Maryland, Texas, Tennessee and South Carolina.  Those 5 teams are all probably going to be in the hunt for a coach come December, so now we need to find out who are legitimate candidates.  Miami won’t want to pay what Kelly will demand, so they are out.  Maryland has the money with the backing from Kevin Plank, I just can’t see them going that big after Kelly and I’m not sure Kelly will burn his bridges with Phil Knight at Nike by going to Team Under Armour.  Texas would be by far the most entertaining prospect and something I could see happening if UT doesn’t get Saban this time around.  This leaves 2 SEC schools in Tennessee and South Carolina.  Tennessee may want to hold off on yet another coaching change, they have had 3 since Phil Fulmer left in 2008, but Butch Jones just hasn’t panned out like they had hoped.  They went for the splash hire when Fulmer retired and got burned by Lane Kiffin who left after 1 season to go to USC.  Would they be willing to try it again?  The other candidate is South Carolina who, by my guess, will be forcing long time head coach Steve Spurrier to retire after this season.  USC has always been close in the SEC and has shown that they want to take the big step into being an SEC power, but they have never quite gotten there.  Chip Kelly would change that.  Chip Kelly could make South Carolina an immediate threat in the SEC East, which means contending for SEC Championships on a regular basis.  Texas would be the more entertaining spot for Kelly, but South Carolina is the best fit for both parties.

- Notre Dame is really good.  I realize they lost on Saturday to Clemson, but they showed me more in that game than in the 4 prior combined.  At the beginning of the season I thought they would be 5-2 at best after they opened with a tough 7 game stretch.  Texas hasn’t lived up to expectations and I guess they could still lose to Navy and or USC, but beating Georgia Tech they way they did and coming back and nearly beating Clemson showed me how good they really are.  Now I wonder where they will go from here.  ND has 7 games remaining and should be the favorite in all but maybe 1.  If this Notre Dame team goes 11-1 is that good enough to get into the CFB Playoff?  Is 10-2 good enough for a BCS bowl?  Personally I don’t think a 1-loss independent team gets into the playoff (another reason ND should join a conference full time), but this team might just be good enough to do so.  Do I think they are one of the top 4 teams in the country? No, but wins against USC and on the road against Stanford, as well as others losing might get them there.
- Watch the Group of 5 to make a run at one of the BCS bowls this season.  Teams like Memphis, Temple and Toledo are all undefeated with good wins.  Boise State has 1 loss, but has been very good other than their stumble to BYU in week 2.

Here are a few games to keep an eye on this Saturday:
Georgia Tech @ Clemson
Navy @ Notre Dame
Northwestern @ Michigan
Florida @ Missouri
Cal @ Utah

I know it’s not much, but hang in there for one more week.  Week 7 is loaded with great games.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Sports Fix : MLB Postseason

In this edition of The Sports Fix we focus on the format and scheduling of the Major League Baseball Postseason.  About two weeks ago the NBA re-formatted their playoffs and it made me think that baseball should also re-think how they do things in the postseason.  The NBA playoffs make a ton more sense now, but the way they did it makes no sense (Top 8 teams in conference make the playoffs regardless of division.  Great for getting the best teams in, but why have divisions now?).  Okay, that is WAY too much NBA discussion.

Anyway, let me start by saying the double Wild Card in baseball is silly.  And yes, I realize that last year the 2nd Wild Card team, San Francisco, went on to win the World Series, but that isn’t changing my opinion.  You have 162 regular season games for a reason, if you can’t get into the Top 4 in your league, then you probably don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.  There is no need for the Wild Card Game except to sell an extra playoff game to owners and add it to the TV contract.  So even though there are about 7,851 reasons not to have the Wild Card Game, money talks and it ain’t going away any time soon.

My first change to the MLB Postseason is changing the idea of the “wild card” team as an automatic road team in their 1st series.  Why punish a team for finishing with a better record than a division winner?  Or maybe the better question, why reward a division winner for winning a bad division?  This is the 4th year of the Wild Card game and it will be the 3rd time in 4 years that one of the winners of that game will have a better record than one of the division winners.  With my format, I would simply seed the remaining teams AFTER the Wild Card Game 1 through 4 based on their regular season record.  This still give the division winners a pass into series play, but now it rewards the wild card team for what they did in the regular season.  This gives the wild card winner a chance to avoid the top team and if they were really good in the regular season, it would give them the ability to host a divisional series.  If the goal is to get the best two teams in the World Series, this is the best way to do that.

And if the goal is to get the best two teams into the World Series, one can assume that it is also to crown the best team as World Champion.  To do that there must be a change to the scheduling in the playoffs.

We saw last year with Madison Bumgarner and his amazing post season run that a pitcher can dominate an entire postseason simply because the schedule allows it.  That shouldn’t be the case.  Teams play 3 and 4 game series with a 5 man rotation all season only for that to change in the postseason, when teams play 2 (sometime 1) games before getting a day off.  The Giants played 17 playoff games (including the Wild Card Game) and Bumgarner was able to start 6 of them and pitch a 7th.  This wasn’t because Bruce Bochy rushed his ace out there on short rest either.  Bumgarner had his normal rest between every one of his 6 start.  That was because the Giants played those 17 games over 29 days.

Here is how we change things.  This season the playoffs begin on October 6th with the AL Wild Card Game.  Game 7 of the World Series is scheduled for November 4th.  I am fine with the mid-week wild card games, I like it actually.  I also am fine giving a day off after the wild card game before the start of the divisional series.  That travel day is needed for the winner of the Wild Card Game.  That is about all that I like about the current schedule.

In the Divisional Series you should play the 1st 4 games without a day off.  Yes I realize that there is a travel day between games 2 and 3, but guess what? Both teams make the same trip, there is absolutely no advantage for 1 team over another.  This gives the 2 teams a true 4-game series.  If the series is still tied after 4 games, I would give 1 day off before game 5.  This is for both travel and to allow the aces for each team to pitch in the deciding game.

I use the same idea when scheduling the League Championship Series too.  However, this series goes 5 games before either team has a day off.  That forces teams to use their entire rotation (just like they would in the regular season) and it eliminates 1 travel day.  There would be no day off between games 2 and 3 even though the series moves cities.  An off day for the 2nd travel day once again gives each team a breather and allows both coaching staffs to get their pitching staff in order for the final 2 games.

The World Series would be identical to the LCS’s.  Also the World Series would NOT be determined by the mid-season exhibition that baseball likes to call the All-Star Game (sorry Bud Selig).  I would just rotate back and forth between leagues like it was done for 100 years before Bud screwed things up.

This scheduling doesn’t eliminate November baseball (that is for another Sports Fix at another time), but it does force the teams to play the playoffs the same way they played the 162 games that earned them a spot in the postseason.

These changes may seem minor, but they would certainly help baseball from dragging the season out any longer than it already has to.  It would also help crown a true champion that would be determined using the same standards and methods as teams use from April through September, rather than changing them for the most important part of the season. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Week 3 Review

I was on vacation last week, sorry there was no Week 2 Review. Family first!

Ok, so here are my thoughts both from week 3 and through the 1st 3 weeks of the college football season.

Ohio State looks a whole lot like Florida State did last year as the defending champions.  The Buckeyes were sluggish in their opener and trailing at the half on the road against Virginia Tech.  It wasn’t until after knocking out the Hokies starting QB that Ohio State took control.  Then in week 2, the Buckeyes shutout a bad Hawaii team, but even in that game they were less than impressive.  Speaking of less than impressive, starter Cardale Jones has now thrown more interceptions than touchdowns this season and if you believe him, has been demoted.  In week 3 the Buckeyes were held to just 1 offensive touchdown against Northern Illinois.  Nothing against NIU, but even the best MAC teams shouldn’t be able to hang around with the team most think is the most talented in the country.  I hope that the pollsters are willing to look at the weak schedule and the weak conference that stands in front of Ohio State when they fill out their weekly ballots.  The defending champion Seminoles dropped to #4 last year by playing the same way as Ohio State has started this season.

Speaking of Ohio State, has Urban Meyer outsmarted himself?  He had 3 talented and experienced quarterbacks returning this season and he picked the one with the least amount of experience and the one that fits his style of offense the worst.  Not that Cardale Jones isn’t a fantastic QB, one that would probably be starting for about 80% of the schools in the country, but he should be #1 at Ohio State. Not this year.  Moving Braxton Miller to wide receiver has been a great move so far for the Buckeye offense.  But not playing JT Barrett at QB from day 1 is inexcusable.  Barrett accounted for almost 3,000 yards through the air last year and nearly 1,000 yards on the ground, scoring 45 touchdowns last year.  That after not being named starter until a week before the season, when Braxton Miller was injured.  Meyer is an outstanding coach, one of the best, but he played this one wrong.

Sticking with the Big Ten, how about Northwestern?  3-0 this season, while holding those 3 opponents to just 16 total points.  2 of those 3 teams are Stanford, who just dropped 41 on USC and Duke, who had scored 92 in their 1st 2 games.  The last time the Wildcats started this well on defense was 1948.  That year, they went on to claim their only bowl victory in school history, beating Cal 20-14 in the Rose Bowl.

George O’Leary, you remember him, the guy who lied on his resume and was forced to resign as head coach at Notre Dame after just 5 days, yeah, now he wants to be the AD at Central Florida.  He stated at the beginning of the season that he wanted the position and that he was willing to make this be his final season as head coach at UCF.  Well, he is going to the extreme to get that AD gig.  Central Florida is now 0-3 this week after losing to Furman at home.  Furman is an FCS team that has now won just 2 of their last 13 games.  I think the administration at UCF may be hiring a new head coach this year no matter if O’Leary is the new AD or not.

Notre Dame has been bit by the injury bug as badly as anyone this season, but losing a player due to celebration makes their newest injury that much tougher.  Notre Dame defensive back Drue Tranquill will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury after breaking up a pass in the endzone during Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech.  This isn’t the 1st time something like this has happened and it won’t be the last.  It was a completely innocent action and ended in terrible luck for Tranquill and the Irish, but it is ridiculous how national media pundits are criticizing this kid.  He is a college kid having fun, playing a game he clearly loves, let’s not take that away from college athletics.

By the way, in case you missed it, Notre Dame is now 3-0 beating three Power 5 conference teams.  Yes, Texas is no good and Virginia is one of the worst teams in the ACC, but Georgia Tech is one of the best in that conference and the Irish took it to them on Saturday.  I’m still not sold that ND is a serious playoff contender (they will need to go undefeated for that to happen), but it is still impressive.  Notre Dame gets a breather this week against UMASS before going to Clemson the following week.

What has happened to Jeremy Johnson and the Auburn offense?  After a quick start out of the gate this season in the opener against Louisville, the Auburn offense has been flat out bad.  Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is supposed to be an offensive genius, but they have been everything but through 3 games this year.  His starting quarterback, Johnson, has thrown for just 5 touchdowns and 6 interceptions this season.  He has also run for just 59 yards, and that includes a 65 yard run Saturday (yeah, you do the math).  Things don’t get easier for the Tigers as they continue their SEC schedule this week against Mississippi State.  Don’t be surprised if you see Johnson on the bench if things don’t go the Tigers way on Saturday.  Behind Johnson on the depth chart is a very highly regarded recruit, Sean White.

Auburn wasn’t the only team from Alabama to take a tough L on Saturday, as their rival Alabama also lost their SEC opener, falling to Ole Miss for the 2nd straight season.  The loss snapped the Tides 17 game home winning streak and completely through a wrench into the SEC West standings just 3 weeks into the season.  LSU and Mississippi seem to be the front runners after big wins on Saturday, but Texas A&M and Mississippi State have also looked good this season.  With the new playoff format, 1 more slip up for teams like Auburn, Alabama or Mississippi State and their playoff chances are gone.  Should be an interesting final 10 weeks in the SEC West.

As we look at teams from the SEC that can’t afford another loss, what should we make of the PAC-12?  Does anyone want to win that conference, and even if so, should we already eliminate them from playoff contention?  Just 3 weeks into the season and only 4 PAC-12 teams are still undefeated, and only Cal out of the PAC-12 North.  No offense to Cal, but they aren’t running the table this year.  Their 3 wins have come against Grambling, San Diego State and a 1-point win over Texas, because they missed an extra point with a minute to go in the game.  As a matter of fact, Cal could lose 5 of their next 6 and nobody would be surprised.  Arizona, Utah and UCLA are the remaining undefeated teams from the PAC-12 South.  UCLA has looked the best of those 3 teams.

As we continue to look at how strong each of the Power 5 conferences are, this past week the Big Ten and the ACC went head-to-head in 5 games.  None of the games featured top teams from their respective conference, but that might be for the better.  5 teams from the middle of each conference probably give us a better idea at how strong each conference actually is.  In those 5 games, the ACC won 3, while the Big Ten won 2.

I mentioned earlier that I thought that Notre Dame would have to go undefeated to get into the playoff this season.  That being the case, why are teams still playing as Independents with this current format?  We saw last year that the lack of a championship game hurt the Big XII.  Independents don’t only not have a championship game, they have no real base for comparison.  BYU also plays as an Independent, and I now after 3 weeks they are basically playing for nothing after their 24-23 loss to UCLA on Saturday.  Credit to BYU for scheduling such a tough slate, which included road games at Nebraska, UCLA and Michigan and a home game against Boise State to open the season.  The schedule eases up after that, but that is a brutal start for any team.  Notre Dame might be able to afford a loss more than BYU because of their challenging schedule, but even a 1-loss Irish team is not a shoe-in for the playoff.

We are 3 weeks in and should have a decent grasp on what we have seen to this point in the season, so here are my Top 4 teams as of today (and a few that are just on the outside looking in).
1. Mississippi
2. LSU
3. Ohio State
4. Oklahoma
Next 4 (in no order)… Notre Dame, Clemson, UCLA, Georgia

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Week 1 Review

Some quick thoughts after the 1st week of the college football season.

Michigan is improved, but Harbaugh still has a lot of work to do.  Last year the Wolverines lost at home to Utah 26-10, with the Utes scoring the final 16 points for the win.  Michigan lost this year, but put up a fight the whole way.  Losing 24-17 on the road and were a recovered onside kick away from making the game REAL interesting.

Utah could be really good if they found some more play makers on the offensive side of the ball.  Devontae Booker is the only threat the Utes have and he is a good one, but they need more.  Booker carried the ball 22 times and scored on the ground.  He also was their leading receiver with 7 catches in week 1 vs Michigan.

TCU got a road win versus a Power 5 team, but they didn’t look very impressive in doing so.  It is just one game, but the Horned Frogs couldn’t finish drives and had to settle for field goals on too many drives.  They certainly didn’t look like what you would expect from the 2nd best team in the country.

Duke and David Cutcliffe have found their quarterback.  Cutcliffe has been a quarterback guru everywhere he has coached but has yet to find one at Duke, until now.  Thomas Sirk made his debut with the Blue Devils Thursday night against Tulane and the junior QB was 27-40 for 289 and 2 scores.  He also ran the ball 15 times for 68 yards.

New Baylor QB Seth Russell throws a really nice ball; he has great touch on the deep ball.  It is only a 1 game sample, but it looks like the Baylor offense won’t miss much with Russell stepping in for Bryce Petty.  Russell actually adds a little more athleticism to the quarterback position for the Bears.

Hawaii and Colorado was a perfect example of why a preseason game in college football is not a terrible idea.  The two quarterbacks combined to go 42-78 and just 360 yard.  It also had 18 punts, 14 penalties and five turnovers and was utterly unwatchable.

Stop FCS games!  Yes every year you get teams like Washington State and Kansas that lose to the FCS, but you also get games like Georgia Tech beating Alcorn State 69-6 with GT running for 476 yards and Ole Miss beating Tennessee-Martin 76-3 which included a 55-0 lead and Mississippi THROWING a touchdown pass in the 4th quarter.  Those games need to stop.

Continue playing on the road against Group of 5 teams if you are a Power 5 team.  It creates the chance of upsets and it immediately gives these lower level FBS teams a showcase home game that the players and fans can look forward to.  In the opening week only we saw teams like Temple beat Penn State at home.  Western Michigan playing with in-state foe Michigan State into the 4th quarter and Central Michigan leading Oklahoma State in the 2nd half before falling short.  Those games are great for the little guys and a real challenge for the big boys.  A win-win for everybody.

Malik Zaire is fun to watch run Brian Kelly’s offense at Notre Dame.  It seems to be pretty clear why Everett Golson transferred out of Notre Dame, because he was good, but Zaire has the potential to do some special things for the Irish this season.  Zaire went 19-22 for 313 and 3 scores in the opener against Texas.

Notre Dame is either really good or Texas is absolutely awful.  It reality it is probably somewhere in between.  Charlie Strong is in year 2 of a huge rebuild at Texas, so nobody expected a CFB Playoff bid, but I would imagine that the fan-base didn’t expect the worst loss to open the season since 1988 (@BYU 47-6).

I loved watching the aggressive play and play-calling of the Temple defense against Penn State.  Temple is a team that is full of players that didn’t get recruited by Penn State and despite being overmatched at almost every position that didn’t change their style of play and it paid off, limiting Penn State to just 54 yards in their final 12 drives of the game.

The Penn State offensive line is awful.  I really like Christian Hackenberg and I would love to see what he could do if his O-Line could keep him clean, but that doesn’t look like it will happen in his time at Penn State.  Hackenberg was sacked 10 times by Temple on Saturday.  Some are thinking that Hackenberg could be the top QB selected in next year’s NFL draft.  That will only happen if he survives this season.

Oregon lost the Heisman Trophy winner and 2nd overall pick in quarterback Marcus Mariotta, yet the Ducks didn’t miss a beat in their 61-42 win over Eastern Washington.  Oregon racked up 731 yards and 34 first downs on offense.  That includes running for 485 and 6 touchdowns.  They also didn’t lose their quick score attach either.  All of the Ducks scoring drives were under 3 minutes except their final score in the 4th quarter, that one lasted 3:20.

Tons of stars lost for the season already in just one week.  Quarterbacks Taysom Hill (BYU) and Terrel Hunt (Syracuse), running backs Tarean Folston (Notre Dame) and James Conner (Pitt) and defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA) are all highly regarded players that are done for the season already due to injuries.  We also have All-American linebacker Scooby Wright from Arizona, safety Mike Caputo from Wisconsin, wide receiver Mike Williams from Clemson and Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer out for a considerable amount of time with lesser injuries.

Will Muschamp joining the coaching staff at Auburn is a very good thing.  We all know that Gus Malzahn knows offense and can put up some points, but now he has a defense behind it.  Muschamp, the former Florida head coach has always been a great defensive mind and now he able to focus on just that.  In the opener versus Louisville, Auburn scored 1 defensive touchdown on an 82 yard fumble return in the 1st half and set up another one with a 35 yard interception return in the 2nd half.  Auburn jumped out to a 24-0 3rd quarter lead before Louisville final got on the scoreboard.

Alabama’s running game is crazy good.  The Tide have had guys like Eddie Lacy and Mark Ingram in recent years, but Derrick Henry might be the best of the bunch.  Henry ran for 147 on 13 carries and 3 scores against Wisconsin on Saturday.  His back up Kenyan Drake ran 10 times for 77 yards and a score.  He also had 2 catches for 48 yards.  This 1-2 punch from Alabama is as good as we have seen from the Crimson Tide.

High Octane is illegal in Houston, TX.  Arizona State and the Fighting Todd Graham’s had only 291 yards of offense (3.55 ypp) and two turnovers against Texas A&M Saturday.  Of the Fighting Todd Graham’s 1st 12 drives, they punted 9 times, fumbled twice and scored just one touchdown.

I still love watching Todd Graham lose.  I don’t think that will change any time soon either.

I love watching Penn State lose.  I know that won’t change any time soon.

Hail Mary conversions are fun. 
West Coast teams should never be forced to play noon EST.  Stanford played Northwestern at Noon.  The players woke up at 4:30 to try to make up for the time difference and prepare for the game, it didn’t help.  The Cardinal looked sluggish from the get go.  They finished the game with just 2 field goals and only 240 yards of total offense.  They also turned the ball over twice.

Baker Mayfield showed why he was named the starter for the Oklahoma Sooners after camp.  Mayfield threw for 388 yards and 3 scores in his collegiate debut.  He also ran for another touchdown.  He unseated Trevor Knight who was the returning starter, who accounted for over 3,100 yards and 30 touchdowns in his 1st 2 years at OU.

Josh Rosen looks to be the real thing at UCLA.  The #1 rated quarterback out of high school last year won the starting job at UCLA in fall camp and impressed in his debut.  Rosen threw for 351 and 3 touchdowns, going 28 of 35 in a 34-16 win over Virginia.

Ohio State looked pretty impressive in their opener.  After the Buckeyes got things going they looked unstoppable, and remember they were playing without 4 starters that were suspended.  I still am not sure that Cardale Jones is the best option for the Urban Meyer offense, but he also isn’t a bad option to have.  With their toughest game out of the way, if Ohio State loses at any point in the season it would be a huge upset.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

College Football Preseason Top 25

We are less than 24 hours from the start of college football season and with that comes my Preseason Top 25.  Let’s be honest, most preseason Top 25 rankings are nowhere close to being accurate by the end of the year, and actually they could hurt teams that start the season low or even unranked as they try to climb the rankings.  Last year Oklahoma was ranked #4 in the AP Top 25 and even received a 1st place vote.  They finished unranked at 8-5 after a 40-6 bowl loss to Clemson.  Consider this, 40% of the teams in last year preseason AP Top 25 finished the season unranked, including 4 of the Top 13 teams.  In turn, 3 of the Top 11 in the final Top 25 entered the year unranked.  So really, what is the point?
Now, my Preseason Top 25 is not like most, it has nothing to do with team rankings, because as we’ve seen they turn out to be pretty silly at the end of it all.  So here is my Preseason Top 25, the Top 25 things to look forward to this college football season.

25. Ohio State has a cakewalk back into the CFB Playoff: 
They play nobody in the once again weak Big Ten.  Their toughest games are the opener on the road against Virginia Tech (the only team to beat them last year) and at home against Michigan State, the clear-cut 2nd best team in the Big Ten.
24. An FCS team will beat an FBS team at some point this season:
It happens every year, we just don’t know which team it will be, but when it happens it will certainly make headlines.
23. New coaches at some powerhouses in Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Florida:
Big turnover at some big time schools, with a few of them (Michigan) bringing in some big name coaches.
22. Coaches on the “Hot Seat”:
Randy Edsall (Maryland) has gone just 10-22 in conference play since taking the Terps over 4 years ago, and is 10 games under .500 overall in that time (20-30).  He has also lost the only 2 bowls he has gotten his teams to.
Kirk Ferentz (Iowa) has not won more than 8 games in a season since his 11-2 season that got Iowa to the Orange Bowl in 2009.  He is 19-21 in the Big Ten in that time and has lost 3 of 4 to rival Iowa State.
Paul Rhoades (Iowa St) started his tenure at Iowa St with 7 wins, since then the Cyclones have gone 5,6,6,3 and 2 in the win column under Rhoades.  He has gone 1-17 in the Big XII over the past 2 seasons.
Dana Holgerson (West Virginia) started off on fire completing his 1st season in Morgantown with a record setting Orange Bowl win vs Clemson.  Since then Holgerson is just 18-20 and 11-16 in Big XII play.  He also been pretty average at home, negating a pretty big home-field advantage the Mountaineers have held over the years.  Holgerson is just 15-11 in 4 seasons in front of the home crowd, not a great mark considering WVU had lost just 10 home games in the 9 years prior to Holgerson.
Mike London (Virginia) has not been good at UVA, going 23-38 overall and 11-29 in 5 seasons.  He has also yet to beat rival Virginia Tech in his tenure.
Al Golden (Miami) has not lived up to expectations or recruiting rankings in his 4 years at “The U”. Golden is just 28-22, and an even .500 in the ACC.  Miami has been ranked a total of 8 weeks over the past 4 years and are 0-4 against FSU.
Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) is only on the hot seat because of the school he coaches, Notre Dame.  Kelly has won just 8 games in 3 of his 5 seasons, while going 3-6 vs ranked teams.   He also ended the 2014 season on a bad note, losing 5 of 6 to close out the regular season.
21. The Iron Bowl returns to Jordan-Hare Stadium:
20. The ACC Coastal could be the most entertaining division in all of football:
It certainly won’t be the best division, but with no clear cut favorite and no great teams, but no terrible teams (minus maybe Virginia) it will be a completely wide-open race in this division.
19. Charlie Strong building a winner in Austin:
Year 2 of Charlie Strong at Texas should give us a better idea of what he will bring to Longhorn Country.  He has had 2 good recruiting classes and returns a solid defense and 8 starters on offense, including his QB and entire O-Line.
18. This year the Heisman Trophy race is anybody’s to win:
Over the past few years we have had surprises win the most coveted individual trophy in all of team sports.  Last year gave us Marcus Mariota, but prior to that Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton came out of nowhere to win the award.  This year there are plenty of good candidates, just no clear cut favorite.
17. Big XII teams will once again light up scoreboards across the Midwest:
Last season the winning team in Big XII games averaged over 40 points and 500 yards per game.
16. Big XII teams still won’t play any defense:
Last season the losing team in Big XII games averaged over 3 touchdowns and nearly 400 yards a game.
15. Jim Harbuagh is back in college:
Jim Harbaugh once again finds himself coaching against a rival team that has won a national championship and has a top-notch head coach, this could be fun.

14. Ohio State and Michigan just got interesting again:
The Buckeyes have won 10 of the last 11 against Michigan, I doubt that trend continues with rivalry becoming Harbaugh vs Meyer.
13. USC is back, and that is a good thing:
No sanctions, no roster limits means USC is back at full strength and they should be flexing those muscles this season.  Season USC struggle was like watching Tiger Woods in Majors recently.  When Tiger is good, golf is good.  The same goes for the Trojans.
12. The PAC-12 will ACTUALLY be the 2nd best conference this year:
Last season the PAC-12 had all the hype, but then faltered.  This season should be much different.  The Top 8 of the PAC-12 should be as good as any conference in the country.
11. As always, not enough teams will schedule tough non-conference road games:
It is always fun to watch Power 5 teams play against each other during the regular season, unfortunately not enough teams are willing to go on the road for such a challenge.
10. And as always, too many teams will schedule cupcakes in the non-conference:
Only 14 teams out of all the Power 5 conference teams have a schedule without a team from the FCS.  These games need to stop.
9. The ACC will be the Power 5 conference left out of the CFB Playoff this season:
An undefeated Florida State barely got into the playoff last year, and there is no runaway favorite in the conference this year.
8. The Big Ten will once again be overrated:
Yes they have the defending national champion and heavy favorite to repeat this year in Ohio State, but who else?  Somebody really needs to step up other than Michigan State.  Who will it be Penn St., Wisconsin, Michigan? The Big Ten needs to have more than 2 elite teams.
7. The TCU-Baylor game will decide a playoff bid:
Last year these 2 played in an epic game in Week 6 of the season.  This year it has been moved to the last week of November and both teams could enter the game undefeated to play in a defacto elimination game.
6. There will once again be controversy over which 4 teams get in to the CFB Playoff:
4 teams with 5 conference champions, it will happen every year.  Especially when people from the SEC think they deserve at least 2 of the spots.
5. The SEC East will finally be good again:
Tennessee and Florida are both trending in the right direction.  They will add some depth to Georgia and Missouri in the East.
4. The SEC West will still be better:
All 7 teams in the SEC West could be ranked at some point this year, maybe all at the same time.
3. Props to the teams playing true road games to start the season:
All of these Power 5 teams open the season away from home.
Duke (Tulane)
Stanford (Northwestern)
Miss St. (Southern Miss)
TCU (Minnesota)
Virginia (UCLA)
Baylor (SMU)
Texas (Notre Dame)
Oklahoma St (Central Michigan)
Washington (Boise St)
Michigan (Utah)
Michigan State (Western Michigan)
Ohio State (Virginia Tech)
2. Notre Dame once again will be overrated:
When I saw that Sports Illustrated predicted that Notre Dame would make it to the playoff, after I was done laughing, I realized what a genius move it was by the marketing department.  Who has a bigger fan base in the country than ND? Nobody.  Now to be realistic.  The Irish have a brutal schedule to open the season and are breaking in a new QB (I know he played last year, but as a backup except the bowl game).  ND could easily be 3-4 by mid-October.

1. Kickoff Showcase games for the opening weekend:
Every year there are great games to open the season, this year is no different.  Props to the coaches and teams that agree to play these games.  This year’s slate doesn’t have any great match-ups, but a few solid ones.
Alabama vs Wisconsin (Arlington)
Texas A&M vs Arizona St (Houston)
Auburn vs Louisville (Atlanta)
South Carolina vs North Carolina (Charlotte)

Football season is back, enjoy!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

3 Weeks Away

3 weeks away.

3 weeks away from the start of the greatest regular season in all of sports.

3 weeks away from Ohio State looking to defend their title as they look for revenge against the only team that beat them last year, Virginia Tech.

3 weeks away from new coaches at Florida, Texas, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

3 weeks away a storied program in Texas playing in front of Touchdown Jesus for the 1st time in 20 years.

3 weeks away from Power-5 teams opening the season with non-conference games against other Power-5 conference. Michigan @ Utah, TCU @ Minnesota, North Carolina @ South Carolina, Louisville @ Auburn, Arizona St. @ Texas A&M, and Wisconsin vs Alabama, just to name a few.

3 weeks away from the return of this guy back into college football.

3 weeks away from fight songs, tailgates and marching bands.

3 weeks away from the rare event of a Power-5 team playing on the road against a mid-major team.  Credit to teams like Oklahoma State (Central Michigan), Michigan St. (Western Michigan), Baylor (SMU, Penn State (Temple), and Mississippi St (Southern Miss), that are willing to schedule a game on the road against the little guys, giving them a chance to host a big team and even more importantly a chance to beat one of the big boys.

3 weeks away from debuts of prominent coordinators like Tom Herman, Chard Morris, Mike Bobo and Pat Narduzzi beginning their head coaching careers.

3 weeks away from a crazed 80 year old man wearing mascot heads on national television.

3 weeks away from college football.

And it can’t get here soon enough.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

3 Trades Neal Huntington Should Consider Making

The MLB trade deadline is just days away and this is the year that the Pirates should be making a big move that can get them into deep October.  If the Pirates knew that they wouldn’t have to play in a win-or-go-home game to start the playoffs, I think that they would be more aggressive before the deadline.  However, the memories of Madison Bumgarner striking out 10 while throwing a complete game 4-hitter last October may be sticking in the backs of some of the executives heads.  Is it worth going “all-in” with the likelihood of your season still coming down to a 1-game playoff?

The Pirates are currently 5.5 games back of the 1st place Cardinals.  They do still play each other 9 times (6 @ StL, 3 @ PNC), but even in the unlikely chances of the Pirates winning all 9 of those games, they still may not win the division.  The Pirates have a much more difficult schedule than the Cardinals the remainder of the season, including 6 against the Dodgers (3 home, 3 away), 3 in New York against the Mets and 4 against the defending World Series Champion Giants.  It would seem that the Pirates are playing for a chance to host the Wild Card Game for the 3rd straight season.  So again, how much should the Pirates be willing to give up at the deadline, just to have the chance of running into a Clayton Kershaw, or a Madison Bumgarner or maybe Zack Greinke in a 1-game playoff?

I for one, think that this year, is the start of about a 3-4 year window that the Pirates should have a legit chance to compete for the NL Pennant and World Series every year.  With that being the case, I have put together 3 trades that I think the Pirates should consider making before the 4pm deadline Friday.

Pirates Get:
SP - David Price
OF - Yoenis Cespedes
Tigers Get:
SS – Cole Tucker (#10 prospect)
SP – Nick Kingham (#11 prospect)
OF – Willy Garcia (#13 prospect)
*Probably will cost another player, a 20-30 range pitching prospect

Both Price and Cespedes are free agents at the end of the 2015 season and there is no chance that the Pirates would sign either one during the off season, so this move would be the Pirates pushing in the chips for this season.  The Bucs were rumored to be close to acquiring Price last year at the deadline before the Tigers made a last second move and got him from Tampa, so we know that the organization likes him.  As for Cespedes, the Tigers have to be shopping him, because not only is he in the final year of his contract, but Detroit will not receive a compensatory pick if they lose him in free agency either.  If you are the Tigers you might as well get something in return for him now.  The problem right now is that somehow the Tigers still believe that they are in the AL Wild Card Race.  They are 4 games under .500 and have lost 6 of their last 8 to some of the worst teams in the league, yet for some reason they are still standing pat and have not become sellers.

As for the return for those 2 All-Star rentals, that is always tough to judge, but I am trying to go based off what the return has been for similar players so far this year.  Johnny Cueto, also a rental starting pitcher, cost the Royals 3 pitching prospects.  The Reds received the Royals 2nd overall prospect and 2 lower tier prospects for Cueto.  Price should draw a comparable return.  When you add Cespedes to the deal, those 2 other pitching prospects that the Royals gave up for Cueto, cause the upgrade to Garcia and Kingham.  Garcia is an outfielder that has played about half the 2015 season in AAA Indianapolis, so he is someone that is on schedule to make his Major League debut at some point in the 2016 season, at the age of 23.  Kingham was one of the top pitching prospects in the Pirates organization before undergoing Tommy John surgery at the beginning of this season.  Kingham already has over 100 innings at the Triple-A level, so once healthy he is a player that should be a contribute quickly.  Tucker is the top prospect in the deal, is was the Pirates top pick in the 2014 draft.

For the Pirates, adding Price would give them a major boost in the starting rotation the rest of the season, making roughly 12 starting after the trade.  More importantly, it would give them a much more formidable playoff rotation if they do get past the wild card game.  Having a 4-man playoff rotation of Gerrit Cole, David Price, AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano would be among the best group of starters that any team could roll out for a playoff series.

With Cespedes, the Pirates get a big right handed bat in the outfield to platoon with Gregory Polanco as well as much needed bench depth.  Right now the right handed option off of the bench is Sean Rodriguez, who is a career .224 hitter.

THE DIVISION DEAL: Cincinnati Reds
Pirates Get:
RP – Aroldis Chapman
OF – Marlon Byrd
Reds Get:
OF – Austin Meadows (#2 prospect)
P – Clay Holmes (#18 prospect)
*Again, you would probably see the Pirates adding another low level prospect to make this trade happen.

The big get for the Pirates in this deal is Chapman.  It might take a while for some of the guys in the clubhouse to warm up to him, but he would certainly make the bullpen, and more importantly, the team better.  Chapman is one of, if not the hardest throwing closer in the game right now.  Another power arm in your bullpen is never a bad idea, (see KC Royals last year).  I don’t know exactly how he would fit in the back end of the bullpen setup right now.  I would imagine that he immediately becomes the Closer and it just bumps Watson and Melancon down a notch.  Watson working the 7th and Melancon the 8th.  Both Watson and Melancon seem like the type of teammates that would be willing to swallow a little pride if it helps the team in the long run.  Chapman also has another year of control in his contract, which is his last year of arbitration.  It is doubtful that the Pirates would extend him, but even if they don’t, he is more than a rental.  He probably sees action in 80 to 90 games with the Pirates through the 2016 season.  That is the reason that the Pirates would need to give up a prospect like Austin Meadows to get someone like Chapman.  The Reds are in rebuild mode and getting a former 1st Rd pick like Meadows would certainly help that process moving forward, especially since the Reds are shopping both of their corner outfielders at the deadline (Jay Bruce is the other).

As for Byrd, Pirate fans already know what they get with him.  He was acquired by the Bucs via a waiver trade in 2013.  In 30 games with the Pirates in 2013 he hit .318 with 12 extra base hits.  Byrd would likely be a rental player, like he was during the 2013 season.  He does have a vesting option for 2016 at $8M, but he would need 550 plate appearances for that to kick in, which is unlikely, since he has just 309 so far this season.  Byrd would be filling a similar role as laid out for Cespedes.  He would be the right handed bat replacement for Polanco as well as immediately becoming the best right handed bat available to Clint Hurdle off the bench.

Pirates Get:
SP – Cole Hamels
OF – Jeff Francoeur
Phillies Get:
P – Tyler Glasnow (#1 prospect)
OF – Meadows (#2 prospect)
C – Either Reese McGuire (#6 prospect) or Elias Diaz (#15)
INF – Alen Hanson (#5 prospect)

The 2 biggest question for every team interested in acquiring Cole Hamels is 1) Will he waive his no trade clause to allow a trade to your team?  And 2) How much money will the Phillies eat of the roughly $90M that he is owed over the next 4 years?

It seems like Hamels wants out of Philadelphia pretty badly, so he is likely going to waive his no trade clause for any team that is in contention.  As for the money involved from the Phillies, that is where things get interested.  The Phillies want to start over and dump the bad contracts that were signed under Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro, Jr. (since 2009).  Philadelphia still owes Ryan Howard roughly $48M over the next 2 years, but they clear the contracts of Cliff Lee, Chase Utley and Jonathan Papelbon after the completion of the 2015 season.  Lee and Utley will both not have options picked up and Papelbon was just traded to the Nationals on Tuesday.  This allows the Phillies to eat more of Hamels contract to get a higher return for their ace.  Now they just have to decide whether they want to be rid of him completely and take less in a trade, but clear his contract. Or do they want a higher return so therefore are more willing to eat some of his remaining contract.  The only way the Pirates make this move is to have Philadelphia take a large chunk of that contract.  The Pirates have done this before (Wandy Rodriguez and AJ Burnett), and with the depth they have in their farm system, they could do it again.  In this circumstance I have Philadelphia taking on $30M of the $90M remaining on Hamels contract.  That gives the Pirates the rights to Hamels for 4 years at $15M a year out of pocket.

For the Pirates, not only does it give them a top of the rotation type talent in Hamels, but it give them long-term stability in that rotation.  The top 3 in your rotation becomes Cole Hames (through 2019), Gerrit Cole (2020) and Francisco Liriano (2017).  Charlie Morton is still under team control through the 2017 season and Jeff Locke though 2018.  Those 2 will help bridge the gap for prospects like Nick Kingham and Jameson Taillon to work their way back from injuries and possibly into the Majors. 

Jeff Francoeur becomes a throw in on this deal, doing the same as Cespedes and Byrd on the previous 2 deals, although not as flashy of a name as the others.  He is a steady right handed bat that can play defense.  A career .262 hitter, who has found a bit of power this year, hitting 9 home runs this season, the most he has had since the 2012 season.

The Pirates would rather not give up players like Glasnow, Meadows, Hanson and McGuire or Diaz, but they have the depth to do so.  Glasnow is still at least 2 years away and as mentioned before the rotation would be in pretty good shape with Hamels in it for the next 4 years.  Meadows has been very good from Day 1 after being selected with the 9th overall pick by the Pirates in the 2013 draft.  He has batted over .300 in every league that he has played in so far through the minors, but he also is still probably 2-3 years away, being just 20 years old.  But Meadows plays outfield a position that the Pirates have locked in place for the foreseeable future.  Andrew McCutchen is under contract through 2018, Starling Marte through 2021 and Polanco through 2020.  That plus some other young talent in the organization in the outfield makes Meadows expendable.  Alen Hanson is a player that at the beginning of the year nobody would have expected to be expendable, but the play of Jung Ho Kang changes that.  Many Pirate fans (and some front office personnel) have penciled Hanson in as the replacement for Neil Walker at 2nd base after the 2016 season, but that role can now be filled by either Josh Harrison or Kang.  As for the catcher position, the Pirates are suddenly pretty deep their after years of nothing in the minor leagues.  In fact, they are looking at a log jam at the position unless they move 1 of them.  The Phillies currently have Carlos Ruiz behind the plate, he is 36 years old and signed for the next 2 years.  They don’t have much behind him either.  Adding a player like Diaz or McGuire to this deal would be exactly what the Phillies need.  Diaz is much closer to the big leagues, as he could probably start next year in the Majors with most clubs.  McGuire, the 14th overall pick by the Pirates in 2013, has the bigger upside, but he is still a few years from being ready to step into the role of everyday catcher.  Once again, the Pirates can afford to lose either one of the 2 catchers and still be fine moving forward.

Now, I do believe that the Pirates will be active over the next few days and that they will make some moves.  I could see them adding some depth in the bullpen and maybe a bat off the bench.  However, I don’t expect any of these trades to be made by Neal Huntington and the Pirates by Friday’s deadline.  I do think they are all fair and reasonable trades on both ends that would benefit both teams in each situation.  I think that any and all of the trades would help the Pirates win this season, and in some cases in the future as well.