The End-of-August MLB Award Winners

While we still have a month to go in the Major League Baseball season, it’s never too early to dissect the individual award races in the sport. Many standouts have made their mark on the season in positive ways, and this post is dedicated to those who have distinguished themselves this season. We’ll take a look at each individual award race (with the exception of Most Valuable Player) and pick a winner in each league.   We’ll start with rookie of the year.

AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers

I know, I know, you probably wanted me to pick Yankees phenom Gary Sanchez here. The young catcher is hitting nearly .400 with 11 home runs in 23 games to start his career and is even drawing comparisons to Babe Ruth, for some reason.

But I’ll go with the far more conventional choice of Michael Fulmer.

Fulmer has not only been one of the best rookie pitchers in the game this season but also one of the best hurlers in all of baseball. His 2.69 ERA ranks sixth in the game and it’s very fair to wonder where the Tigers would be without him. While Sanchez is definitely the sexy pick here, Fulmer has contributed to the Tigers’ success unlike any other rookie has for his team in the American League. That’s why I have him as my AL Rookie of the Year, but this award is at least debatable. The NL Rookie of the Year award, on the other hand, is absolutely not up for discussion.

NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

This one is obvious. Seager leads all rookies in WAR (6.9); the next closest hitter in this category is Rockies’ shortstop Trevor Story at 2.6. Story, however, could miss the rest of the season with a torn ligament in his thumb. Quite frankly, even if Story was healthy, Seager would probably beat him out for Rookie of the Year. The Dodgers’ shortstop has hit 23 home runs and driven in 62 runs this season. He’s also fifth in baseball with a .321 batting average. While the AL race is still to be determined, the NL race has already been decided. The winner is Corey Seager, and it’s not even close.

AL Cy Young Award: Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers

The races for the Cy Young Award in both leagues are very tightly contested. In the American League, there are a bevy of contenders to take home the crown. However, I’ll take Cole Hamels of the Texas Rangers as my AL Cy Young winner. Hamels has pitched to a 2.67 ERA this season, tops in the American League, and he is also going deep into starts, averaging around 6.2 innings per outing. That will be very important to a Ranger bullpen that has been decimated in recent days by the actions of closer Jeremy Jeffress, who was arrested last week on a DWI charge.

In the meantime, though, Hamels is my pick for the AL Cy Young.

NL Cy Young Award: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

This race, like that of the American League, is wide open. In the National League, though, there are far more bona fide contenders who have a legitimate chance at winning the award. Among them are Madison Bumgarner, Jake Arrieta, Johnny Cueto, and even Jon Lester. My pick, though, is Bumgarner, the pitcher as well-known for his hitting as he is for his pitching. Unbelievably, Bumgarner is two long starts away from reaching 200 innings, and while the Giants have gone in the tank since the All-Star Break, Bumgarner has been the most important player on the team this season. As the team’s ace, he’s carried the pitching staff to a 3.73 ERA, which is good for fourth in baseball.

It’s close, but I’ll give the NL Cy Young Award to Madison Bumgarner.

AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians have been one of the biggest surprises of this MLB season. While much of that has to do with the emergence of young stars such as Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, and others, we should give credit where it’s due. And credit should be given to manager Terry Francona, who has been one of the best managers in baseball since taking over the Red Sox managerial gig in 2004. Francona has welded this team into one of the best in baseball and even into a serious World Series contender this season. He deserves major credit for doing that, and by that measure, he also deserves AL Manager of the Year.

NL Manager of the Year: Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals

While the obvious choice here would be the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, I’m giving NL Manager of the Year to the Nationals’ Dusty Baker. Baker arrived in Washington after last season to what appeared to be a fractured locker room after the team’s disappointing 2015 campaign. We can all agree that Matt Williams wasn’t exactly the best manager for a team that has had championship talent for the past three seasons.

And that’s where Baker comes in. All he has done this season is lead the Nationals to first place in the NL East; the team is on pace for 93 wins, which would mark a 10-win improvement over last season. Granted, there are other factors at play (Daniel Murphy’s emergence as one of the best hitters in baseball, a mostly healthy Stephen Strasburg), but you can’t say that Baker hasn’t managed the team to its full potential.

And that’s good enough for me.

I would make calls on the MVP race here but both leagues are extremely crowded and the last month of the season will go a long way to deciding these award winners in both leagues. Until then, let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

Predicting the College Football Playoff

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine/USA Today Sports

As we saw last season, attempting to predict the College Football Playoff is normally a futile task. I tried last year, picking Baylor, Ohio State, TCU, and Stanford; none of those teams made college football’s final four. The College Football Playoff is very difficult to predict and I usually don’t get it right. So let’s go ahead and try anyway, shall we?

Here are my projections for the top four teams in college football this season.

1. Florida State

I’m not going to say that picking Florida State as my top team is a no-brainer; in fact, it’s very far from it. The team still has uncertainty at the quarterback position; while Sean McGuire should begin the year as the team’s starter, his performance last season begs some questions about whether or not he can lead the ‘Noles to the promised land. Additionally, McGuire could miss the first few weeks of the season with a stress fracture in his foot. There’s literally no certainty at the quarterback position for Florida State right now. The rest of the roster, though, is not wrought with such insecurity.

For starters, running back Dalvin Cook returns after a season in which he rushed for nearly 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns. Also, Cook was able to do all of this in just 229 attempts, so just imagine what he could do if he stays 100% healthy for an entire season. After all, this is the complete list of running backs to rush for over 1,600 yards and rack up 19 touchdowns last season. It’s impressive:

  1. Derrick Henry (Alabama)
  2. Leonard Fournette (LSU)
  3. Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State)
  4. Dalvin Cook (Florida State)

So it’s not difficult to see why we should be excited about Dalvin Cook this season. He should be a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender and will lead a Seminoles’ offense that returns literally every starter from a season ago. A potentially game-of-the-year matchup with Clemson on November 7 might seal Florida State’s fate (for better or worse), but this team is loaded with talent.

And f they can figure out the quarterback position (and I’ll bet that they will), the Seminoles are my national title favorite.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

Let me ask you a question: who will be the starting quarterback for Alabama this season? If you can’t answer it, don’t worry. You’re not alone. And if you can’t name Alabama’s new starting quarterback(s), it probably won’t matter anyway.

Because before the 2011 season, you likely had never heard of A.J. McCarron; he became a two-time national champion. Before 2014, you didn’t know much about Blake Sims; he led Alabama to the first-ever College Football Playoff. And before last season, you had definitely heard of but were still remarkably unimpressed by Florida State transfer Jake Coker; he won a national title a season ago. It’s clear that Alabama’s quarterback position has never really mattered that much, but this year might be a different story.

This season, the prohibitive favorite to start at QB for the Tide is Junior Cooper Bateman. Bateman is the only quarterback on the roster who had game action last season; he started in the team’s loss to Ole Miss and played the first half before giving way to Coker. The Bateman-related moment we all remember from that game, though, was this:

That game was widely regarded as a turning point in Alabama’s championship season. This year, it looks like Bateman will have the reins to the offense, provided he can beat out Freshmen Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts for the job.

Things are different at Alabama this year, however. The team has no established running back (although it figures to be Bo Scarbrough and he could be something special). But the Tide are stacked at wide receiver with ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley both returning after combining for 152 catches a season ago. The defense should be strong again this season and the offensive line only has Cam Robinson to replace.

And if you still don’t know who Cooper Bateman is, that’s just fine. It’s probably not going to matter who starts at quarterback for the Tide, anyway. It hasn’t before, and it shouldn’t now.

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

Okay, the Buckeyes lost their two best players (Ezekiel Elliott and Joey Bosa) from a season ago and have losses up and down the roster. Theoretically, they shouldn’t be a championship contender. But just hear me out on this one.

Unlike last season, the team will have complete certainty at the quarterback position. J.T. Barrett will take over the starting job (this time, for good) and he has the potential to have a ludicrous season. I’ll even go as far as to pick him to win the Heisman Trophy because the offense is literally all his now. Remember when Barrett started basically a full season in 2014 and threw for 34 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards in just 11 full games? That type of performance (and possibly even better) could be awaiting him in 2016.

Granted, this Ohio State team lost a lot from last season. Their top three receivers, three offensive linemen, Joey Bosa, Adolphus Washington, Darron Lee, Joshua Perry, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell; you name it, Ohio State lost it. This really is kind of a shot-in-the-dark prediction, but I have a lot of faith in Barrett to lead the Buckeyes into the final four this season. If he has that type of season, the Buckeyes will be going to the Playoff, and potentially, even beyond.

And now for my next trick and something completely different….

4. UCLA Bruins

I know what you’re probably saying, and I think it has something to do with me being insane. Tell me something I don’t know.

UCLA was expected to break out last season with new starting quarterback Josh Rosen. He had a tremendous season, posting 3,669 yards and 23 touchdowns. However, the team succumbed to several significant injuries en route to a disappointing 8-5 finish. Like Ohio State, the Bruins lost key players such as Paul Perkins, Thomas Duarte, Jordan Payton, and Myles Jack from last season. But the secondary returns every player from a season ago and has a chance to be something special.

If Rosen and several other key players can stay healthy, UCLA has a chance to have a huge season. A look at their schedule shows that they have USC, Utah, and Stanford all at home. Their slate does contain several land mines (at Texas A&M, at BYU, at Washington State), but UCLA could legitimately be favored in every game this season.

Rosen is also a Heisman candidate if he can stay healthy. While he’s losing his two best receivers from a season ago (Payton and Duarte), he has a chance to become a breakout start in college football this season. Oh, and he also has this going for him:

Last fall, inspired by a friend at Arizona State, he went online and paid $400 for an inflatable Lay‑Z‑Spa hot tub. (“It came down to my roommate and I saying, ‘What are we going to be able to tell our kids we did in college?'”) He installed it in his dorm room, using a 20-foot beer funnel for a hose. His mom even came over to see it. But a picture posted on Instagram by one of Rosen’s friends ended up going viral, drawing coverage from TMZ. The school forced Rosen to remove the tub. He had to write an apology paper to the school, which he struggled to take seriously.

“I’m not a social media guy, I’m not,” Rosen says. “It’s just once every three weeks it’s like, Hey, let’s shake some s‑‑‑ up,” Rosen says. “I like to be a real person and show personality. People appreciate that.”

Nice. Very nice. You may not agree with him, but you have to respect someone who’s willing to erect a hot tub in his dorm room. He’s basically become that guy from the State Farm commercial, which is awesome to see from a Division I quarterback (and a really good one, at that).

They have to stay healthy if they want to run the table, but the UCLA Bruins have a legitimate chance at the College Football Playoff. And that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say after picking them to go to the Playoff in 2014.

What do you think? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

The Angels Are Wasting the Prime of Mike Trout’s Career

Photo Credit: Rick Scuteri/USA Today Sports

At just 25 years old, Mike Trout is arguably the best player in baseball, a once-in-a-generation talent, and a five-tool superstar. The Los Angeles Angels are lucky enough to have him on their team, and you would think that the organization would find a way to use his absurd skill set to their advantage.

It hasn’t happened that way. In fact, the Angels have done quite the opposite; they’ve somehow, some way wasted his other-worldly talent.

In Mike Trout’s five years in Major League’s baseball, he’s averaged 34 home runs, 99 RBI and 28 steals per 162 games. Additionally, he’s hit over .300 and made some amazing outfield catches over his first five seasons. Trout’s versatility and multitude of talents make him one of the best, if not the best player in all of baseball. He’s also stayed extraordinarily healthy throughout his career; in four full seasons in the majors, Trout has missed a grand total of 14 games, almost all of which can be chalked up to routine off days. Trout made his debut on July 8, 2011 but didn’t reach the show for good until April 28, 2012. If you don’t follow baseball, try to take a guess what the Angels’ record has been since that date. I’ll give you some time.

Okay, you have your guesses ready? Awesome. Prepare to be amazed. The Angels’ record since April 28, 2012 is:


Yes, since the best player on the planet has joined their team, the Los Angeles Angels have won 52.5% of their games. Many teams would kill to have a generational talent such as Trout, and most of those teams would find some way to have sustained success with Trout on the roster and playing every day. But no, these Angels are not one of those teams.

Instead, the Angels’ organization has completely botched the composition of almost the entirety of the rest of the roster. Through trades, flawed free agent acquisitions, and front office shakeups, the Los Angeles Angels have somehow become the most inefficiently-run organization in all of baseball, which isn’t exactly something to be proud of. To understand why they’re blowing it with Trout, we need to understand the scope of some of those moves and how they have hamstrung the organization for years to come.

The team’s first ill-fated free agency maneuver was signing Albert Pujols, then the best hitter in baseball, in the winter of 2011. The Angels inked Pujols to a ten-year, $300 million deal; at the time, Pujols was going into his age-32 season, which is around the time hitters’ skills begin to decline. Sure enough, that’s what has happened with the first baseman. While he has still averaged nearly 30 home runs per season in Los Angeles, his batting average in five years with the Angels his dipped to .263 (as opposed to a .328 figure with the Cardinals in the first 11 years of his career). That’s hardly worth a $300 million price tag. What’s worse is that Pujols no longer plays first base, which means that the Angels are paying someone $30 million per year to be a designated hitter. That’s not a worthwhile investment, to say the least.

But Pujols is hardly the only bad decision the Angels’ front office has made over the past five years. In that same offseason, newly-minted General Manager Jerry Dipoto signed pitcher C.J. Wilson to a five-year, $77.5 million deal. The problem is that Wilson was never that great a pitcher to begin with, as he only really had two great seasons before heading to L.A. That didn’t warrant the team giving him that much money at that point in time, but that’s the decision Dipoto and the front office made. Worst of all, the deal was heavily backloaded; Wilson is making a cool $20 million this year. Want to know how many starts he’s made this season? Zero. He underwent season-ending, reconstructive shoulder surgery in July. The Angels are paying him $20 million this season to rehab from injury, try to make a comeback in baseball, but most significantly of all, not pitch.

And then we come to Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton was one of the best players in all of baseball when the Angles plucked him from the Texas Rangers before the 2013 season. However, he had been known for a history of drug problems and alcohol abuse that caused several teams to stay away from him. Those problems were somewhat taken care of with the Rangers, where his support system of advisors and mentors helped him stay (mostly) clean. Unfortunately, that support system didn’t quite follow Hamilton to the West Coast. And the Angels organization didn’t exactly support him, either.

As you probably remember, Hamilton self-reported a third relapse, consisting of cocaine and alcohol abuse, to Major League Baseball in February of last year. While it’s terrible that Hamilton suffered yet another relapse, it was honorable that Hamilton was honest about his infraction. But that apparently wasn’t good enough for the Angels and owner Arte Moreno. After an arbitrator ruled that Hamilton would not be suspended by MLB for his conduct, Moreno took to the press to publicly denounce his star player and say that the team was looking to take action against him because of his lack of “accountability”. Okay, Arte, here’s some advice: if you don’t want to deal with his potential issues, which are a sensitive subject, don’t sign Josh Hamilton in the first place. Avoidance would have been a very easy way to deal with Hamilton’s problems, and instead of avoiding him, Moreno and Dipoto thought it would be a good idea to sign him. They know this could become a problem and pretended to be shocked when it did. That’s their fault. Hopefully, Hamilton can keep his problems in check and live happily, sober, and clean for the rest of his life. But the Angels messed up badly with Josh Hamilton, and there’s no escaping that fact.

And finally, there was the ultimate front office shakeup last season. A clash of wills between Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia led to Dipoto’s resignation as the team’s GM in early July. While we’ve established that Dipoto was (and still is) a pretty terrible General Manager, Scioscia is not blameless in this situation, either. Under his tutelage, the Halos haven’t won a postseason series, much less a playoff game, since 2009. Since that year, the team has made the playoffs just once and has had four seasons between 80 and 89 wins. With the exception of this season, one that has Los Angeles on pace for just 67 wins, the Angels have been one of the most perennially mediocre teams in the game.

And it shows in the team’s farm system, too. Actually, calling the Angels’ conglomerate of minor league affiliates and players a farm system is disrespectful to the other 29 legitimate farm systems in baseball. I kid you not, these are real words from Keith Law, ESPN’s resident prospect expert, on the Angels’ minor league system. From January:

I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen. They traded their top two prospects in the Andrelton Simmons deal and had no one remotely close to top-100 status. They need a big draft this year to start to restock the system or we’re going to start talking about whether it’s time to trade Mike Trout.

And Law isn’t just saying that: the Angels legitimately have no good prospects in their system. One would’ve thought that the team would have tried to seriously restock their farm system at the deadline, a la the New York Yankees, but, as Law smartly points out, that would have entailed trading Trout. So the Angels have no good prospects and no trade chips they could use to go out and get solid prospects. The team and new GM Billy Eppler stayed quiet at the deadline, making no trades. I would criticize Eppler for this, but there was legitimately nothing he could’ve done besides dealing Trout, who is a once-in-a-generation talent. There’s really no use in getting rid of him. I actually feel bad for Eppler; it’s like he took over for someone in the middle of a Monopoly game and was given no properties and no money to work with. He’s bankrupt.

This is what Mike Trout has to look forward to. The team he plays for has no future and no present. He’s the best player in the game, and no one is caring to watch him or his team play. That’s sad, especially when you consider that the Angels have him under contract until 2020.

And if Trout isn’t traded before then, he’ll be languishing in the wallows of Anaheim, as the team that employs him wastes the best years of his career.

Shocker: The NFL Once Again Abuses Its Powers with the Al-Jazeera Four

Photo Credit: Scripps Media

I’m sure this will come as an absolutely shocking development, but Roger Goodell is abusing his powers again. I know; surprise, surprise.

Last December, Al-Jazeera news released the results of a months-long investigation into doping in sports (the American wing of the organization folded three months later). The reason why you heard about it was because then-Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (and others; more on them later) was implicated in the exposé as being affiliated with Dale Guyer, the head of Indianapolis’ Guyer Institute. It is known that Manning visited Guyer’s anti-aging clinic multiple times in 2011, which also coincided with the season he missed because of four neck surgeries. Why he went to the Guyer Institute is not known; what is known is that Manning never failed a drug test and there is no credible evidence that he was doping. Frankly, it’s none of our business why Manning went to the institute. Guyer did send drugs to the Manning household under the name of Ashley Manning, Peyton’s wife. And it’s none of our business if she was the one taking drugs, either, which is very plausible.

Of course, Manning retired into the sunset after last season’s Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers. Where this story (which is nearly 8 months old) pertains to today’s events is that four current players were implicated in the report. They are Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews, both of the Packers, James Harrison of the Steelers, and Mike Neal, who is currently a free agent. An unpaid intern at the Guyer Institute, Charlie Sly, attested to giving Delta 2 (or D-2 for short), a banned substance, to every player but Matthews in various instances. Sly said that Matthews was not on D-2 but requested Toradol from Sly in a text message shown in the documentary. (Toradol is so dangerous that it is banned in several countries; it is legal to obtain it in the United States.) Another doctor, Chad Robertson, also claimed to give Matthews Percocet before the 2015 NFC Championship Game. Sly says that Matthews used to take HGH and was on Ipamorelin at the time of the documentary. Robertson also claimed to have given Neal, then a linebacker for the Packers, medication that helped increase his salary from $400,000 to $2 million in the span of a season.

If you’re reading all that and your head is about to explode, I don’t blame you. The documentary features many damning claims about quite a few of the league’s best players; it also implicates Ryan Howard, Ryan Zimmerman, and Taylor Teagarden, all of whom played (or are still playing) professional baseball at the highest level. There is a lot of juicy information packed into 49 minutes and 13 seconds of video. There’s just one problem that I found with the investigation:

There is absolutely zero hard, credible, concrete evidence that the players implicated actually used performance-enhancing drugs.

Teagarden is the one exception to this rule. In the report, aptly titled The Dark Side, Teagarden is seen talking to a British runner named Liam Collins; Collins was visiting with Sly to pick up medication he will never take to help his chances at making the Olympics. Collins was hired by Al-Jazeera to carry out his fake story and is most famous off the track for swindling would-be customers out of nearly a million dollars in a property scheme. Anyway, Teagarden speaks about his years of testosterone use and how he evaded multiple drug MLB drug tests. My gut feeling is that he wouldn’t be talking so openly about this if it was all a lie. Then again, four United States Olympic swimmers are in the news for straight-up lying about being robbed at gunpoint, so I don’t know who to believe anymore.

And that’s where the NFL and Goodell come in.

Last week, the league threatened to suspend the current players involved in the Al-Jazeera report. To be clear, the threat of suspension would only come true if the players didn’t cooperate with the league’s investigation. Ironically, this same NFL investigation exonerated Manning of any wrongdoing three weeks ago. However, the league used the suspension threat as a way of getting the players to cooperate with the investigation. Apparently, it worked; it was announced today that Harrison, Matthews, and Peppers have agreed to meet with investigators associated with the NFL.

But that’s not the problem here. This is the real issue: the NFL clearly overstepped its bounds in threatening suspension for players who refused to speak with the league. To be completely honest, abuse of power has been Roger Goodell’s legacy in his ten-year (!) tenure as NFL commissioner. We saw this abuse in Deflategate, Bountygate, the Ray Rice saga, and almost any other incident involving NFL players and coaches. He is slowly turning the league into his own totalitarian regime and has made himself judge, jury, and executioner in disciplinary matters.

The NFL overstepped its bounds because it needs credible evidence or a failed drug test as a basis to interview the players. It has neither of those things. And while the league has told the Players’ Union that it has evidence “beyond what’s been reported publicly”, it hasn’t been willing to come forward with that new information. So it may be an honest, independent investigation. Or it could be a nontransparent witch-hunt. I’d say the lack of an in-between option might be an issue here.

And yet, the players are partially to blame for this. I feel like a broken record in saying this, but the players did negotiate away key rights in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement. Among those rights was Roger Goodell’s policy power; the players had the opportunity to hold out and have Goodell’s all-encompassing disciplinary faculties either severely reduced or eradicated completely. They didn’t do that, and that’s a very large part of the reason we’re sitting here talking about this today. And while the players have the right to complain about Goodell’s power, those who were around in 2011 contributed to the growth of Goodell’s empire.

And I’ll also say this: I’m somewhat surprised the players decided to agree to the interview. While they believe answering questions will improve their chances of avoiding suspension (and rightfully so), I honestly thought they would take a stand against the league. Albert Breer of The MMQB made the case for the players doing this today:

Don’t show up. Don’t go to New York. Block Adolpho Birch’s number if you have to. Sit on your hands, dare the NFL to suspend you, and see what comes next.

After union losses in the cases of Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson, if these four players answer Goodell, there’s no way to conclude that the commissioner powers are going to change before 2021. It also wouldn’t bode well for what’s to come in the next round of labor talks, given that it would score another union-busting win for the NFL’s barons and another blow against player solidarity.

Adolpho Birch is one of the league employees who helps Goodell oversee the league’s disciplinary policies and drug enforcement. He was also the poor gentleman rolled out by the league to defend the commissioner in the wake of the Ray Rice incident; it didn’t go too well.

The NFL players are not without blame in this situation; just today, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said that there was no relationship between the Players’ Union and Goodell. But while the players aren’t without reproach here, it’s clear that Goodell overreached in his powers by forcing the players into an interview.

But is that even a surprise anymore? It shouldn’t be.

Jared Goff Should Start the Season As the Rams’ Staring Quarterback

Jared Goff
Photo Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times

The sun may rise in the East, at least it settles in the final location…..

Never, ever, ever did I think I’d be using a line from a Red Hot Chili Peppers song as the lede to an article about an NFL team’s quarterback situation. If you want a reason as to why I’m suddenly grabbing wisdom pearls from “Californication”, here’s an explanation:

As you already know, the Los Angeles Rams are on HBO’s Hard Knocks this season. During the first episode of the show, #1 overall pick and quarterback Jared Goff was asked by his position coach, Chris Weinke, where the sun rises and sets in the sky. His answer? He had no clue. Obviously, it rises in the East and sets in the West, which would seem like common knowledge, except for the fact that it apparently isn’t. And it seems like Goff is far from alone on the team in terms of his ignorance of the Sun’s activity.

So hey, let’s make a case for him as an NFL team’s starting quarterback, shall we?

To begin, Goff, as previously stated, was the first overall pick in this year’s draft. Out of the last five quarterbacks selected first overall (Matt Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston), exactly zero of them did not start for their team in week one of the season. Granted, the Rams are in a theoretically better position than all of those teams were, but the precedent set by these quarterbacks is clear. However, we need to look far beyond precedent to see why Goff should be the team’s starting quarterback at the beginning of the season.

One of the things we need to examine here is the Los Angeles Rams’ current state of affairs. While there is a lot of excitement for the team’s move to the West Coast, the reality of the situation is that the Rams just aren’t that great of a team right now. That means that expectations should not be set very high this season; while that doesn’t mean the team should try to lose, it does mean that the organization should take more of a forward-thinking approach when it comes to personnel.

But why are we having this discussion in the first place? Well….

When Goff was selected at the top of the draft, many observers concluded that he would begin the season as the Rams’ starting quarterback. It seemed like the franchise had finally settled on its guy and would take the lumps that came with Goff’s development. And then it decided to seriously consider another option, even if it was an option that wasn’t a whole lot more experienced than Goff.

That option is Case Keenum. Keenum, the fifth-year quarterback who made a name for himself by throwing for almost 20,000 yards in his five-year collegiate career at Houston, has never started the season as an NFL starting quarterback. That may be about to change, as Keenum took reps with the first team in the Rams’ first preseason game on Saturday.  Of course, Goff could still win the job; he’s slated to take more snaps with the starting unit this week. However, it’s clear that the Rams, at least for now, are planning to start the season with Keenum under center.

And, truth be told, Keenum isn’t really that bad. In parts of six games last season, Keenum threw for 828 yards, four touchdowns, and just one interception. That really isn’t terrible; the problem is that those numbers are hopelessly pedestrian and mediocre. Kind of like Jeff Fisher, the Los Angeles Rams’ head coach.

Jeff Fisher is one of the most respected authority figures in the NFL. He has burnished a reputation as a smart, tough leader who gets the most out of his teams no matter how much talent is on the roster. He is regarded as one of the best coaches in the league over the past twenty years, and there is very little argument about this supposed fact.

The only thing is that Jeff Fisher’s reputation is completely unearned.

Over the course of his career, Fisher has won just 52% of his games with the Oilers/Titans and Rams. With the exception of a Super Bowl run in 1999 (fueled in part by an illegal forward pass) and brief spurts of success in the 2000s, Fisher’s teams have largely been in the middle of the league’s pack. That’s not good, especially for a franchise that could use some long-term success after a much-anticipated move back to Los Angeles, the second-largest media market in the United States.

That probably informs Fisher’s thinking in the matter. Keenum is the safe option here, the “experienced” choice, the guy who won’t lose you games. Goff is the far more aggressive option, the franchise quarterback, the player whose game-to-game performance may be rather unpredictable.

And yet, I’d start Goff over Keenum. Here’s why: the Rams don’t really have a lot to lose this season. With the team’s return to L.A., the fan base will be excited to watch its beloved Rams no matter how good they are this season. I’m not saying that the Rams shouldn’t try to win, but I am saying that this season is not as important as the future to the team’s long-term and much-needed success.

And if Goff performs well, then he would be a better option than Keenum based on performance alone. We all know that the Ryan Gosling lookalike is going to be the Rams’ starter at some point, so what point is there in delaying his maturation process? While we’ve seen recent examples of teams trotting out quarterbacks who weren’t nearly ready to play (cough, cough, Geno Smith), we’ve also seen plenty of examples of quarterbacks who improved after struggling to start their careers (Newton, Andy Dalton, Aaron Rodgers). It can be done. This could be what the Rams have to look forward to with Jared Goff.

Let me also say this: it isn’t some great injustice if Goff doesn’t start week one. The coaching staff knows the players better than we do and their quarterback decision will be informed by their intimate knowledge of the players and system. They’re at practice every day and they deserve the benefit of the doubt if Keenum is chosen, even if that doesn’t seem like the right decision.

However, it’s easy to see that Goff has far more upside than his veteran counterpart. And, especially with the team’s future being so bright, what do you have to lose by giving Goff the keys to the offense in week one? If you know you’re going to start him at some point anyway, why not start him in the season opener?

Rams fans can dream this season. They can dream of their team’s potential, of selling out the L.A. Coliseum, and even of Californication (hey, we’re right back where we started).

And maybe they can even dream of Jared Goff as their team’s starting quarterback.

It’s Okay for Carmelo Anthony to Be Honest About Winning

Photo Credit: Associated Press

Many players who have played in the Olympics often talk about how there is nothing quite like it in sports. They’ll tell you that the Games are different from regular athletic events because players are competing for the love of sport and country instead of just for a team. Inevitably, players who win medals are compared to those who win championships in their sport. The debate turns to whether or not winning a championship in a sport is the same as winning a gold medal in the Olympics.

And that’s where we turn our attention to Carmelo Anthony.

You know Carmelo Anthony as one of the unquestioned leaders of the United States basketball team and one of the most well-known players in the NBA. Participating in his fourth Olympics, he has basically seen it all in his decade-plus of international basketball. The other thing you know about ‘Melo is that he’s never won an NBA championship or even gone to an NBA Finals. He’s almost more famous for his failure than he is for his success, even though he’s never had a great team around him in the NBA career. While he’s earned two Olympic gold medals and a bronze medal in 2004, he’s never earned what many refer to as the most cherished prize in sports: a championship.

So when he talks about the comparison between a gold medal and a ring, it’s probably something worth noting. Sure enough, he expounded on the subject in an interview with ESPN; this is what he said:

Most athletes don’t have an opportunity to say that they won a gold medal, better yet three gold medals. I would be very happy walking away from the game knowing that I’ve given the game everything I have, knowing I played on a high level at every level: high school, college, won [a championship at Syracuse] in college and possibly three gold medals.

I can look back on it when my career is over — if I don’t have an NBA championship ring — and say I had a great career.

First of all, notice how he seamlessly worked in the phrase “if I don’t have an championship ring”. Not only did that line add context to his remarks but it also likely saved him from further scrutiny among fans and the media. That critical insertion made it sound like an NBA championship ring would be the holy grail of his career and anything else would be viewed as a disappointment.

But there is a multi-pronged debate to be had over whether or not an Olympic gold is more significant than a championship ring, regardless of what Anthony actually believes.

For starters, not every competitor in these Olympics has the chance to say that they play in a league that has a championship. For athletes like swimmers and gymnasts, the Olympics are absolutely the be-all, end-all of their athletic careers. They’re also unlike some professional athletes in that they don’t make the same crazy, lucrative salaries that players in other sports make. After all, a guy that played 24 minutes per game last season just received a new contract for four years and $50 million because there was just that much money in the NBA this year.

Yes, I’m sure there are some Olympic athletes who would kill for that much money. But then again, some athletes train their entire lives just to be part of the Olympics. Take America’s two new favorite sports (gymnastics and swimming), for example. Athletes such as Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, Aly Raisman, and Katie Ledecky don’t necessarily compete in prestigious leagues or even any league at all. There are world championships that many athletes compete in either to qualify or prepare for the Games, but these championships pale in comparison to winning big in the Olympics. Those athletes can’t sympathize with what Carmelo is talking about because they aren’t in situations where you can choose between one or the other.

Going back to ‘Melo, though, it’s understandable that he would value (or play up the value) of winning a gold medal over winning an NBA title. Anthony’s career has taken him many different places but he’s never gone to the supposed promised land of winning a title. Therefore, he has to think of his promised land as the Olympics and the ability to compete for the United States. It’s clear that ‘Melo has gained a lot of perspective over the course of his career and has definitely matured from his younger years. That should be applauded, even as he’s failed to win in his NBA career.

At the same time, he did kinda sorta admit that he’s probably not going to win a championship anytime soon, if ever. That might not sit well with the Knicks organization or the team’s fanbase, but the sentiment is absolutely based in reality. Despite Derrick Rose’s claim that the Knicks are a super team (yes, he really did say that), the team is closer to being an 8-seed than an NBA champion. Anthony realizes that and knows that he’s not going to have a chance to win a title in the coming years.

With all of this being said, I have no problem with ‘Melo taking a stand and speaking his mind on exactly what is important to him in his basketball career. And this is the reality of the situation: not every star can win a championship in the NBA. Winning a title is really, really hard; we saw this with the Golden State Warriors, the greatest team of all time, this past season. They couldn’t finish the deal against the Cavaliers in the Finals, showing us that going the distance in the NBA is very difficult, even as a 73-game winner.

Some people will undoubtedly be ruffled by Anthony’s comments. They’ll say that he doesn’t care about winning and he’s making the Olympics about himself and so on and so forth. Some people will also reject Anthony’s notion on the grounds that winning a ring is the single most important thing in an athlete’s career. Personally, I understand both sides of the argument. It’s up for interpretation.

But let’s respect Carmelo for being honest with us about what really matters in his career and his life. After all, it’s all we say we ever want out of our athletes.

Is Yulia Efimova Really the Villain We Think She Is?

Photo Credit: Lee Jin-Man/Associated Press

If you’ve been following the Olympics over the past couple of nights, you’re probably aware of the evolving spat between swimmers Lily King of the United States and Yulia Efimova of Russia. But if you’re not up on things, here’s a recap of recent events:

Efimova and King were swimming in two semifinal races on Sunday to qualify for the 100-meter breaststroke final on Monday. Efimova swam in the first race and won her heat with a time of 1:05:72. After the race, Efimova, while still in the pool, faced in the direction of a television camera and gave a Dikembe Mutombo-esque finger wag. King, Efimova’s top competitor, was watching the race on a television monitor in preparation for her heat and had this priceless reaction to Efimova’s celebration:

King would have another response to the Russian in her race, winning her heat to qualify for Monday night’s final. Her time? 1:05:70, or two one-hundredths of a second faster than Efimova’s interval. She responded exactly as you would expect: with a finger wag. After winning her semifinal, King had this to say about Efimova and the finger wagging:

Basically, what happened this morning was that I finished and then I waved my finger a little bit, because that’s kind of how I am. Then tonight just now Yulia got done with her swim and I am watching in the ready room — and there she is there shaking her finger. So then I got done and I beat her time so I waved my finger again. People probably think I am serving it up a little bit but that is just how I am.

That’s just my personality. I’m not this sweet little girl, that’s not who I am. If I do need to stir it up to put a little fire under my butt or anybody else then that’s what I’m going to do.

Some background: Efimova tested positive for Meldonium in March but was cleared right before the games to compete (more on that later). But wow, that’s some pretty strong stuff. An Olympic athlete openly saying that she’s basically a mean girl is not something you see every day. King’s comments set up an epic final for Monday night, one that would seemingly pit good versus evil, dirty versus clean, and honest versus dishonest.

Before the race, as the swimmers were standing behind the blocks waiting for the commencement of the proceedings, King had this comical “exchange” with the Russian:

Many were in King’s corner, too: Efimova was booed as she was introduced before the start of the event. After this absurd, WWE-like buildup, though, the race began. It went fairly predictably, with King and Efimova swimming one-two for most of the 100-meter duration. Despite a late charge from Efimova, the 19-year-old American held off the competition to win gold in the event. After winning the race, King commented that it was incredible to win a gold medal, especially “knowing I did it clean”. The implication was very, very obvious; Efimova had cheated her way into the race and King was calling her out on it.

Since her crusade against Efimova and basically the entire country of Russia began, King has been hailed a hero by many in the American media. Finally, here was an Olympic athlete who won against drug cheats and criticized the system that allowed them to compete in the Olympics in the first place. And King didn’t just denounce the Russians for their doping: she later said that Americans such as Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin, who had both previously tested positive for banned substances, should also be banned from the Summer Games. To her credit, she’s an equal-opportunity offender; she calls out all athletes who cheat instead of only those from one country or those she’s competing against.

But the problem is that Yulia Efimova is being painted as a villainous cheater today. Her story, in actuality, is really not that cut-and-dry.

In 2013, Efimova was given a 16-month ban from competition after testing positive for DHEA, a prescription steroid. Efimova served her ban and returned to the water; however, she would fail another drug test this past March, this time for Meldonium, a drug added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances at the start of the new year. Since January 1, it has been reported that “hundreds” of Russian athletes have tested positive for the substance, including tennis star Maria Sharapova, Efimova, and many others. The catch? WADA freely admitted in April that it had no clue how quickly or slowly the drug can enter and leave the human body after consumption; because of this finding, the agency was forced to admit that it could not determine for sure if the athletes who had tested positive for the drug had taken it before January 1. Because WADA could not determine how long it took the drug to leave the body, Efimova and other Russian athletes were controversially cleared to compete in the Olympics.

That being said, it is impossible to defend Russia against its state-sponsored doping ring, one that got the nation’s entire Paralympic team banned from the games as well as many athletes in Summer Olympics. It was very surprising and yet totally unsurprising that the Russians were not banned from competition altogether (this is the IOC we’re dealing with here). Efimova is far from alone in her participation with Russian doping; however, it is fair to wonder whether or not she fully knew of the drug’s presence on the banned substance list and if she took it before January 1. Granted, as an Olympic athlete, she should probably be keenly aware to WADA’s banned substance list. But I’d be willing to bet that the Russians don’t exactly inform their athletes of what substances they can and cannot take under WADA’s rules. In fact, it’s evident that the Russians have been breaking those rules for some time now.

And this is meant in no way to take away from Lilly King. She was very courageous, not only in winning the race but calling out her main competitor for supposedly cheating her way into the event. It is 100% true that the IOC should treat drug offenders with the same toughness that King exemplified in her words to the media over the past couple of days. King won fair and square, without the aid of performance-enhancing drugs or any other substance that would have given her an artificial edge over her competition. She should be applauded for her stand.

However, we should also ask ourselves to reconsider our strong stance against Efimova. While I am in no way defending the use of performance-enhancing drugs, there is no concrete proof that Efimova has been using during the calendar year. Therefore, it’s highly unlikely that there were any banned substances in her system during the race. No matter what happened in previous years, it is more likely than not that Efimova was clean during her race against King. That means that they were on the same plane when they competed against each other and the other swimmers. King won, Efimova did not. While it’s possible that Efimova could have been doping, there is no proof.

So please, go ahead and hail Lilly King a hero today. I have no problem with that; she’s a warrior who pointed out the inadequacies of Olympic drug testing for all to see. It’s true that she’s cast correctly in this motion picture.

That’s not necessarily the case for Yulia Efimova.

This Time, It’s for Real: The Last Days of A-Rod

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The headline above is a reference to a Sports Illustrated column of the same name that was published almost exactly three years ago. The article, written by S.L. Price, detailed how Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez went from heralded prospect to superstar to steroid abuser to pathological liar. The line that stuck with me and many others in the first paragraph of that column: “But the end? The end is pain, and pain is ugly.”

Three years after “The Last Days of A-Rod” ran in SI, Alex Rodriguez has finally reached his painful end. It hasn’t been pretty.

In reality, the entire 2016 season has felt like one singular, massive dead end for Rodriguez; this dead end of his career has no cul-de-sac to turn around from, either. A career .295 hitter, A-Rod is hitting just .204 this year, tied for the lowest figure of his career. That career dates back to 1994, when he came up with the Mariners as an 18-year old wunderkind. The date of his debut, July 8, 1994, came just over a month before the MLB Players Association went on strike and effectively ended the ’94 season. That’s right, A-Rod’s emergence onto the baseball scene predated the most consequential sports work stoppage in recent memory. Now, he’s the only player left from that bygone era.

That changes this Friday. The team and Rodriguez called a sudden news conference at 11:00 AM on Sunday to make an announcement. No one knew what the announcement would be about, but many guessed it had to do with the next chapter of A-Rod’s career. Sure enough, that’s exactly what it was about: the team announced an agreement that would allow Rodriguez to play his final game on August 12 and remain with the team in an advisory role for the rest of this season and next year, as well. The somewhat shocking, abrupt end for A-Rod seems like an unjust conclusion to a career that saw him hit 696 home runs, rack up 3,114 hits, and drive in 2,084 runs.

But it isn’t an unjust end when you think about who we’re dealing with: an avowed and well-known steroid user who lied about his PED use on multiple occasions over the course of many years.

In 2007, Rodriguez was interviewed on 60 Minutes by then-CBS News anchor Katie Couric; she pressed him on his use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez flatly denied using PEDs and even went as far as saying that he “never felt overmatched on the baseball field”. In 2009, Sports Illustrated reported that Rodriguez had tested positive for several banned substances; however, there was, at that time, no punishment for a positive drug test. Because 5% of all players tested positive at some point in 2003, though, Major League Baseball undertook a new disciplinary system that enforced mandatory suspensions for positive drug tests. This system took effect in time for the 2004 season. Rodriguez was in the clear. Or so it seemed.

After the Sports Illustrated report, Rodriguez finally came clean about his steroid use. Calling himself “young, stupid, and naive,” Rodriguez admitted to ESPN that he had indeed been using steroids from 2001-2003, when he played for the Texas Rangers. He also cited pressure to perform under a 10-year, $252 million contract, one that was then the largest contract in the history of professional sports. As repulsive as Rodriguez’s cheating was, it was at least somewhat understandable as to why he would do such a thing. Think about it: player signs massive contract, feels pressure to live up to it, crumbles under that pressure, caves to using steroids. Okay, fair enough. Even with the denials and the lying and the naiveté, fair enough. It would surely be a mistake that Rodriguez would learn from and not make again in the future.

Except that wasn’t the case at all. Rodriguez failed us, the Yankees, and himself four years later. Again.

In early 2013, documents obtained by the Miami New Times linked Rodriguez and several other players (Nelson Cruz, Ryan Braun, Bartolo Colon, others) to a clinic in South Florida known as Biogenesis. MLB’s investigation into the matter spawned several 50-game suspensions, a 65-game suspension for Braun, and worst of all, a 211-game suspension for Rodriguez. In this situation, Rodriguez could have admitted guilt, cut his already enormous losses, and moved on with his prolonged exile with whatever reputation he had left. Instead, he did what he’s been doing for the past ten years: denied any wrongdoing even against a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

It went that way until shortly into 2014. On February 7 of that year, Rodriguez announced that he would be (mercifully) dropping all of his lawsuits against Major League Baseball in the Biogenesis matter. The concession of defeat in the case seemed to signify that A-Rod had finally run of legal options and could no longer pursue any more rulings in the court of law. He would serve his suspension for the 2014 season because he had finally reached checkmate.

In reality, February 7, 2014 marked a line of demarcation in Rodriguez’s career and, more importantly, his life. From then on, he changed, or at least he seemed to.

From that date forward, he seemed more humble, more contrite, and more giving of his time. He said in an interview with Tom Verducci that he was “happy and relaxed”, seemingly a far cry from feeling “enormous pressure to perform” in Texas. A-Rod was A-Rod as we’ve never seen him before, or at least not recently. He was happy again, having fun playing the game, and even making us forget about the years of steroid use, denial, and lies that predated his renaissance.

He was just different. He even went on TV for FOX during the MLB playoffs last season and he was…. good. Really good. His opinions on hitting and the game in general opened many viewers’ eyes to his baseball IQ, an aspect of his game that was overshadowed by his talent and, later, his fall from grace. He was even likable, consistently cracking self-deprecating jokes about his career and life in baseball. He even gave fellow disgraced legend Pete Rose this sage advice in the middle of a rain delay during Game 6 of the NLCS:

And, like I said earlier, he was really smart. He said before Game 1 of the World Series that if the Mets “catch the ball”, they would win the series. Sure enough, in the bottom of the first inning, this happened. Prescient analysis, indeed.

And that’s why his new role with the Yankees, as an adviser and special assistant, is just perfect for him. Very few people know the game quite like A-Rod does, and his ability to impart that knowledge to the Yankees’ young players could be critical in their development. It has been said multiple times that the Yankee players, and particularly the Latin players, adore Rodriguez, and there’s a reason why: the 40-year-old has become something of a father figure to them, giving them tips and advice that he’s learned over the course of 23 years in professional baseball.

This role for A-Rod is starkly different than the role he played in baseball for so many years. That role evolved over time. He started as a prodigy and then became a superstar, multi-millionaire, pariah, liar, pariah again, liar again, mentor, father figure, and, finally, legend. When it comes to the Hall of Fame, he has no chance of getting in; unlike Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and others, Rodriguez actually failed multiple drug tests. The aforementioned names aren’t getting in the Hall anytime soon, and Rodriguez probably won’t ever get in. He has himself to blame for that omission, especially considering that he was headed for Hall of Fame numbers in the first seven years of his career with the Mariners. It is uncertain whether or not he would have kept up his production without PED assistance, but we’ll never know if he would have. That’s the shame of this.

Alex Rodriguez is many things to many people. He is one of the most polarizing athletes in sports, but he seems to have changed quite a bit since the early days of his career. Some changes have been for the better and others have been for the worse. He’s far from perfect and his reputation will never be saved with those who are unforgiving to steroid users.

But it’s hard not to acknowledge this: statistically, he’s one of the best hitters in the history of baseball. Consider this: for each 162-game season, Rodriguez has averaged 41 home runs, 121 RBI, 19 stolen bases, 78 walks, and 181 hits. Not bad at all.

That hitter, disgraced as he is, will soon leave us. We’ll never get the chance to watch him again after this Friday and his impact on the game, positive and negative, will live on for years to come.

Let’s cherish him, as his last days really are upon us and his departure from the game is imminent.

The Blue Jays Made the Wrong Decision with Aaron Sanchez

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez is one of the best young pitchers in baseball. In his first full season in the league, Sanchez sits at 11-1 and atop the American League in ERA (2.71). At just 24 years old, Sanchez could be one of the best pitchers in the game for many years to come. But, like many other things in baseball, there’s one catch:

Aaron Sanchez has never pitched this many innings in a season in his professional career.

His previous career high in innings pitched was 2014, a season that saw Sanchez toss 133.1 innings between AA New Hampshire, AAA Buffalo, and Toronto. This season, he’s already up to 139.1 innings, all of which came in starts. Sanchez had previously been shuffled back and forth between the starting rotation and this helped him limit his innings in the past couple of seasons. 2016, however, is his first full season as a starting pitcher, and even though he has performed extraordinarily well, many observers assumed that Sanchez would, at some point, either: 1) move to the bullpen or 2) be shut down by the organization completely. While Sanchez does not have a set “innings limit”, the Blue Jays and manager John Gibbons frequently discussed moving him to the bullpen at some point later in the season.

But that’s not the decision the Blue Jays decided to make. Instead of shutting down Sanchez completely or moving him to the bullpen to conserve his innings, the team announced Thursday that Sanchez would remain in the starting rotation through the rest of the season. While the Jays will go with a six-man rotation and closely monitor Sanchez for signs of fatigue, the decision marks a clear change of course for a franchise that seemed to want to protect Sanchez’s young arm even if the team had a chance to go to the playoffs. So, here comes the big question: is this the right decision for Sanchez and the Blue Jays?

First, to explain Toronto’s logic in making this decision, we need to examine the infamous “Strasburg Shutdown” of 2012. In that situation, Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who was fresh off Tommy John Surgery that forced him to miss the 2011 season, was approaching his team-imposed limit of 160 innings. Sure enough, Strasburg reached 159.1 innings with his start on September 5th of that season. After that start, the team informed Strasburg that he would not pitch again for the rest of the year, even as the team closed in on the franchise’s first playoff berth since 1981; the team was known as the Montreal Expos back then.

The Nationals took the NL East crown, and after winning 98 games, the team was widely considered a World Series favorite even without Strasburg’s services. However, Washington would get all it could handle against the St. Louis Cardinals in a series that went the distance. In Game 5, St. Louis rallied from a 6-0 deficit to win 9-7 and advance to the NLCS. Because Strasburg was not available for that series, the Nats were forced to start Edwin Jackson in a pivotal Game 3. Jackson struggled, allowing four runs in five innings; the Cardinals would win that game and take a 2-1 series lead. While nothing would have been assured if Strasburg had started the game, it is natural and fair to wonder if the Nationals would have won the series if Strasburg was available. He wasn’t, and the Nationals possibly blew their chance at a World Series because of their high-wire act centered around protecting their young star.

That’s the mistake the Blue Jays are trying to avoid. The problem is that overworking Sanchez is probably a mistake, as well. Just ask the New York Mets.

The Mets had the incredible, almost too-good-to-be-true luck of having four superstar pitchers (Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey) in the same rotation at the same time a year ago. The team was in a very similar position as the Nationals were in 2012, closing in on a playoff berth while trying to protect its star pitcher(s). Near the end of last season, the Mets were primarily concerned with protecting Harvey, who, just like Strasburg, was coming off Tommy John Surgery the year before.

Instead of going the way of the Nationals, the Mets decided to keep Harvey and the other young guns in a six-man rotation for the month of September. Harvey agreed to continue pitching, even after a protracted fight with the front office waged through the media. Unlike the Nationals, the Mets reached the World Series, eventually losing to the Kansas City Royals in five games. The wear and tear of the postseason took its toll on the Mets’ pitchers, though; Harvey, Syndergaard, and deGrom all threw well over 200 innings for the season (Syndergaard started the year in AAA). Matz avoided this distinction because of a lat injury he suffered in early July that cost him two months of the season.

The effects of being stretched out unexpectedly last season have made their presence felt on the Mets’ starters this season. Matz and Syndergaard have both pitched the second half of the season with bone spurs in their elbows while Harvey is out for the year after undergoing surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, an injury that has claimed the likes of Chris Carpenter, Chris Young, and Jaime Garcia. The Mets probably knew that the right decision would have been to limit the innings of their star pitchers, but with the team performing so well and the opportunity to win a championship firmly in their grasp, it was hard for the Mets to pull that trigger. But the team has a history of knowing what the right decision is and yet still making the wrong one; anyone remember Game 5 of the World Series?

This is the same position the Blue Jays find themselves in, but they only have one young pitcher to manage instead of four. The organization obviously thinks that going to a six-man rotation will help Sanchez and the rest of the rotation stay fresh for a potential playoff run. But as we saw with the Mets last season and now into this one, a six-man rotation is not a be-all, end-all cure for a young pitcher.

That’s why this decision is a mistake; while the Jays sit in a tie for first place in the AL East, the future of the franchise is much more important than just this season. It would be much better for the Jays to have a healthy and effective Aaron Sanchez for the next ten years instead of burning him out this year and having him never be the same again. It’s a difficult decision to make because the minds of many in the organization are clouded by the opportunity to win a championship this year. The decision becomes even more muddled when you consider that Sanchez is not coming off Tommy John Surgery or any other major operation (he’s never had Tommy John). But would the Blue Jays be willing to go down that road if wear and tear catch up to Sanchez at the end of this season?

There are a multitude of reasons why this could be considered both the right and the wrong decision. The one I keep coming back to is the fact that it’s just more important to have Sanchez healthy for the rest of his career rather than to burn him out going for a championship this year. Remember Stephen Strasburg? He’s one of the best pitchers in the league this year, sporting a 15-1 record and a 2.63 ERA. The Nationals are right back where they were four years ago, but this time there will be no limitations on Strasburg’s usage. The Nationals can go for a championship this season without the cloud of innings limits or the threat of major injury hanging over their heads.

That’s what could have awaited the Blue Jays if they made the smart decision with Sanchez. Unfortunately, it looks like they went in a very different direction, for better or worse.

Winners and Losers, MLB Trade Deadline Edition

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The MLB trade deadline has come and gone, and there was plenty of intrigue and even more dealing to go along with it. Of course, with every trade deadline, there are winners, losers and teams that stayed quiet. These are the stories of the winners and losers of baseball’s trade deadline. There will be three of each type of team, and there will be explanations as to why they are in their respective categories.

So let’s get this started: here are the MLB trade deadline’s winners and losers.

Loser: Houston Astros

If you’re trying to find positives for the Astros at the trade deadline, consider this: they didn’t do anything. On the other hand, if you want to try to find a negative for the Astros this year, it would be that….. they didn’t do anything.

While that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering the results of last year’s trades, the Astros’ inaction runs counter to what the Texas Rangers, the team Houston is trying to catch to win the AL West, did on Monday. Texas acquired outfielder/designated hitter (but really designated hitter) Carlos Beltran from the Yankees and catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Milwaukee Brewers; more on them later. The Astros did absolutely nothing, unless you consider trading away Scott Feldman and Josh Fields to be earth-shattering, landscape-changing moves in the AL West.

Those moves are most certainly not that, and the Astros did not acquire any pieces that will help them reach the playoffs this year. If you consider GM Jeff Luhnow’s nonintervention a positive thing, you probably don’t agree with Houston’s placement on this list. But I, like many others, see it as a negative, so the Astros are definitely a loser here.

Winner: New York Mets

Okay, Jay Bruce is certainly not Yoenis Céspedes. Céspedes, the Mets’ prime deadline acquisition last season, hit 17 home runs for the team in just 57 games. He’s back this year, but has been hobbled with various injuries for most of the season. Hence, the result of Céspedes’ health mixed with the collective failure of the rest of the Mets’ lineup is a team that is currently batting .205 with runners in scoring position on the season. Yes, .205. That’s historically godawful.

The acquisition of Bruce, though, may alleviate some of those struggles. Bruce is hitting .360 with runners in scoring position on the season; the problem is that he has been inconsistent in past years with runners on base. It’s hard to predict how Bruce will do in the Mets’ lineup, but this much is true: he leads the league in RBI and is having the best season of his career.

The trade for Bruce is far from a perfect acquisition for the Mets. The team now has four corner outfielders, no healthy center fielders, and is still dealing with injuries up and down the roster. However, Bruce will provide an immediate lift for the offense, even if he isn’t going to come close to Céspedes’ production from the second half of last season.

The Mets will gladly take Bruce’s offense and worry about positional fit later.

Loser: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates easily had the most confusing trade deadline of any team in baseball. First, GM Neal Huntington decided to ship Mark Melancon to the Nationals in exchange for left-hander Felipe Rivero and prospect Taylor Hearn. Then, Huntington flipped struggling starter Francisco Liriano and two prospects for Toronto’s best AAA pitcher, Drew Hutchison. So basically, the Pirates traded a known commodity in Liriano and two promising commodities (prospects Reese McGuire and Harold Ramirez) for an unknown commodity in Hutchison. This would come as a surprise to you if you didn’t know that Huntington was the same person who traded starting second baseman Neil Walker to the Mets before last season for fifth-starter and perennially mediocre lefty Jon Niese.

But wait, there’s more! The Pirates then traded a player to be named later to the Yankees for Ivan Nova. Okay, that’s cool, but why would the Pirates need another starting pitcher when they already had enough to begin with? That’s because the team traded Niese back to the Mets in exchange for Antonio Bastardo in the ultimate junk-in-exchangefor-total-garbage deadline trade.

So yeah, things went really strangely for the Pirates at the deadline. They’re throwing in the towel on this season (we think) but it’s kind of hard to tell what they’re doing when almost all of their moves contradicted each other within the course of just 48 hours. But other than that, everything’s just fine.

Winner: Texas Rangers

This one is almost a no-brainer. Texas made its team appreciably better on Monday by way of two separate trades for Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy. These moves plug obvious holes in the lineup that were previously filled by Robinson Chirinos and Prince Fielder; Fielder is out for the season after finding out last week that he would need a second neck surgery. So the Rangers were able to fill those holes in the lineup, but that’s not all they did on Monday.

In one of the sneakier, more underrated moves of deadline day, the Rangers were also able to acquire relief pitcher Jeremy Jeffress from the Brewers in the Lucroy deal. Jeffress has saved 27 games for Milwaukee this year and has quietly been one of the best closers in the game as of late. The Rangers had an obvious need for a closer after Shawn Tolleson’s season-long implosion and subsequent demotion to AAA. Jeffress fills that void, and his acquisition is huge for a team that has been looking for a closer since practically the beginning of the season.

The Rangers were one of the big winners at the trade deadline, making moves to improve their weaknesses while keeping the rest of the big-league roster intact. While Texas gave up several good prospects (Dillon Tate, Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz) to accrue these assets, they’re going for it all right now.

And if you had the best record in the American League, why wouldn’t you push all of your chips to the center of the table?

Loser: Miami Marlins

For as bad as the trade deadlines of Pittsburgh and Houston were, the Marlins’ one has to take the cake. And it’s not even close.

Last week, GM Michael Hill, the replacement for the since-departed Dan Jennings (who happens to be the same person as former manager Dan Jennings), traded pitcher Jarred Cosart, minor-league pitchers Tayron Guerrero, Luis Castillo (not that Luis Castillo), and injured reliever Carter Capps to the Padres. In return for this hefty price tag, the Padres sent pitchers Andrew Cashner and Colin Rea to Miami. While neither pitcher is having a great season, both would theoretically help a Marlins staff that has struggled somewhat behind ace José Fernandez.

The problem is that only one of those pitchers was fully healthy.

Rea made his first start for the Marlins on Saturday, going 3 1/3 scoreless innings before leaving the game with arm soreness. Rea’s first Miami start would also be his last; after the team placed him on the 15-day DL, it traded him back to San Diego in exchange for Luis Castillo, the prospect who has originally traded for Rea and Cashner. The Marlins have reasoning for doing this, according to Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan and FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal:

While it’s fair for Miami to be upset with the Padres for giving them damaged goods, couldn’t they have done a little more research before acquiring Rea? Also, the Fish made a trade with San Diego earlier in the summer to acquire Fernando Rodney. In that trade, Miami sent pitcher Chris Paddack, a 20-year-old prospect, to San Diego. Paddack recently found out that he needs Tommy John Surgery; the Padres aren’t crying foul about this. They were aware of the risk in trading players and understood that acquiring a player from another organization wouldn’t be a guaranteed success.

This is a lesson that the Marlins can learn from. But knowing their organizational history, it’s highly unlikely that they will.

Winner: New York Yankees

The Yankees finally did the right thing this year and distanced themselves from mediocrity to build a bright future for years to come. I suggested they do this about 2 1/2 weeks ago, and to the approval of fans and baseball observers, the great rebuild has finally come to fruition. In conceding failure for this season, the Yankees are building a potential future dynasty for years to come, as ESPN’s Andrew Marchand writes:

In acquiring not one, not two, not three … but 12 prospects by trading Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran and Ivan Nova, Cashman has transformed a Yankees farm system that was once an eyesore into one envied in the game.

Cashman’s plan is somewhat akin to Riley’s plan with the Heat six years ago, when he shaved off salary-cap space to add James and Chris Bosh to form his super team, which reached the NBA Finals four straight years and won two titles. The Yankees have now created a prospect pool which allows them to not only offer gobs of money to free agents, but also gives them the possibility of more glory.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Yankees could go in several different directions here. They could use their prospects to clear cap space and sign free agents (as Marchand suggests), they could use the prospects as trade chips for present or future stars, or they could keep their prospects and hope most if not all of them pan out. They really could go anywhere from here, and GM Brian Cashman and owner Hal Steinbrenner should be applauded for building a bright future for the Yankees’ organization.

Watching the Yankees sell is something many of us never thought we would see. But now that they have, it’s easy to see that they made the right decision for the future and betterment of their franchise.