NEW YORK, N.Y.- The sun shone bright on a gorgeous Thursday afternoon, the perfect setting for what was supposed to be a celebration of the start of the Major League Baseball season. Instead, the perfect day for baseball was more of a tease. A “what could have been” if the world wasn’t ravaged by the Coronavirus pandemic. There is hope, though, that a baseball season will be played in 2020, either as normal or as close to normal as possible given the circumstances. The big question from a baseball perspective is how will the season play out if and when play resumes?
There have already been some intriguing suggestions,
including holding the World Series during Christmas and seven-inning
doubleheaders. Those suggestions can’t be implemented before the most basic
question is answered: how many games will be played? 162? 125? 81? All of these
suggestions and questions circle around the sport, as a solution can only be
thought about once the world can return to some sort of normality. With that
said though, let’s have some fun and discuss the best way MLB and commissioner
Rob Manfred can go about scheduling their season that would be beneficial for
Major League Baseball is still hoping for the season to kick off in early June, as Manfred spoke with Scott Van Pelt earlier this week and hoped that spring training can resume again in early May, setting the stage for a June start. So, the start date I am going to use here is June 1st. The season would start as scheduled for that day, as every team’s current opponent for the first day of June would be their Opening Day opposition. By picking up the schedule from that point, many exciting matchups are still preserved, including: Red Sox-Cubs, Astros-Nationals, Yankees-White Sox at the Field of Dreams and Red Sox-Orioles in Williamsport.
I would institute doubleheaders every other Sunday, so extra
games are fit in while not draining the players. Many teams and players have
expressed the want to play as many games as possible, as Rockies manager Bud
Black supported the idea of doubleheaders every week and Blue Jays general
manager Ross Atkins is in favor of seven-inning doubleheaders to ease the toll
on the players while still squeezing in as many games as possible. Let’s not
forget, the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. Despite the shortened
season days wise, trying to fit a grueling schedule into a shorter time period
will only wear down players and cause more injuries and sloppy play. The extra
game every other week helps to give players, and more importantly pitchers, a
chance to recover while still making up for lost time.
I would also extend the end of the season two extra weeks,
moving the end of the regular season from September 27th to October
11th. This will allow for the addition of roughly 13 games, so teams
can get as close to the 162-game schedule as possible. All-Star week would also
be pushed back from July to August, so Los Angeles will still get to host the event
and players will have enough time to prove their worthiness of an All-Star nod.
All of these conditions add up to the playing of 126 games from June 1st through early October. That equates to about 77% of the season being played, which is just behind the NBA’s rough estimate of 80% of their schedule being completed for some teams. With both the NBA and NHL considering going right to the playoffs if play resumes, my schedule proposal would put MLB in the same spot in terms of the percent of their regular season completed.
The playoffs are where it gets a little interesting. Pushing
the season back an extra two weeks should still allow teams in bad weather
cities to host playoff games in their home ballparks. There have been proposals
and discussions of neutral site playoff games, with agent Scott Boras wanting
the entire playoffs and World Series to be played at neutral sites. With so
much baseball already taken away from fans, my scheduling goal is to allow
teams that play in cold weather cities to still be able to host playoff games to
reward their fans. After all, playoff baseball’s allure is due in part to the
raucous environments that the fans provide, as anticipation is palpable on
every single pitch.
I would still keep the World Series format the same, as the
team with the better record will get home field advantage. I would try my
hardest to keep the World Series in the cities that are playing in them because
air travel might not return to normal by November and with so many companies laying
off employees, fans might not be able to afford to fly to a neutral site to
watch their team. A contingency plan would be put in place to have a few
different stadiums on call to host the World Series if the weather doesn’t
allow for playing in a certain city, but that would be the last resort. Currently,
there are options being floated around like expanding the postseason and moving
the World Series to a neutral site, options that make sense from a financial
perspective to make up for lost revenue but ideas that I would stay away from
because they take even more baseball away from the fans and dampen the playoff
This is obviously an unprecedented situation not just in
sports, but in the world. MLB has done a good job so far in recognizing this
and have entertained many different ways for how baseball could get their season
on track. Trying to play 162 games is unrealistic at this point, which is why 126
games is Major League Baseball’s best way to get the most out of a shortened
season while also keeping the schedule as normal as possible. That last phrase
is critical, because in these times of uncertainty, a sense of normality is the
biggest thing that fans need right now.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- After months of speculation, Tom Brady made it official on Tuesday morning that his time in New England was done and he would play elsewhere in 2020. The Buccaneers seemed to come out of the shadows and land Brady’s services. The six-time Super Bowl champion taking his talents to Tampa should provide for some high-octane offensive play. While the highlights should be abundant, Brady didn’t sign with the Bucs to only throw touchdown passes and have a good time. His goal of winning hasn’t changed, and he wouldn’t have signed up if he didn’t believe the team that went 7-9 last year were just a few pieces away from being legitimate contenders in a deep NFC. Will Brady be right?
Before we look ahead at what could be in 2020, we must first
look back at 2019 to try and figure out what led to the Patriots offense
becoming pedestrian, especially in the second half. The final eight games of
the regular season, New England averaged just over 21 points per game, compared
to 31 points per game they average in the first half of the season. While it’s
easy to point to the trigger man as the main reason for the two score drop off,
it goes deeper than that. The Patriots offensive system, guided by offensive
coordinator Josh McDaniels, is predicated on reading the defense and adjusting
routes based on what they see. Reading the defense doesn’t just start and stop
at the quarterback position though. It extends to the running backs, tight ends
and wide receivers. Everyone has to be on the same page and the timing must be
exact, or else the entire play is thrown off.
The rotating cast at the skill positions, which saw first
round pick N’Keal Harry miss the first nine games of the season, Mohamed Sanu traded
for halfway through the year and an extra reliance on rookie Jakobi Meyers, not
to mention both Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon coming in and then going out,
Brady wasn’t able to trust his targets. The lack of trust stemmed from not
being on the same page, which led to bad throws and a stagnant offense. Last year
wasn’t a hint that Father Time is finally catching up to the ageless wonder,
but instead a reassurance that Brady can no longer make chicken salad out of,
well, you know.
Looking ahead now to the upcoming season, the new toys Brady has at his disposal jump right off the page. Tampa boasts arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the league, as Chris Godwin and Mike Evans both surpassed 1,100 receiving yards last season. Brady hasn’t had two players both go over 1,100 yards in the same season since 2011, when Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski combined for 2,896 yards. On top of those two on the outside, the future Hall of Famer also has two solid tight end options in Cameron Brate and OJ Howard. While there’s still work that has to be done at the running back position, this is already shaping up to be one of the best supporting casts ever assembled around the soon to be 43-year-old.
Brady also gets the pleasure of working with pass-happy head coach Bruce Arians, whose aggressive mindset allowed former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston to create the infamous 30-touchdown, interception club. Arians worked his magic with the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and Carson Palmer, so it will be intriguing to see what he can do with an all-time great chasing his seventh Super Bowl victory. The biggest question mark with this new marriage is how Brady, who is known more as an underneath to intermediate passer, will integrate into the vertical passing system that Arians runs.
The Buccaneers upcoming 2020 schedule also adds to the fun,
as there are a few very sexy matchups that are sure to put Tampa Bay in
primetime more than they’ve ever been. The former Patriot (still so weird to write)
will go against his former defensive coordinator in Matt Patricia, battle Drew
Brees twice and gets a shot against the only other team that made an offer for
his services in the Los Angeles Chargers. There are also some awesome
quarterback matchups slated for the 101st NFL season, as the Michigan
alum will take on Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Patrick Mahomes. These games
will bring the most eyes and attention that have been on this franchise since
their 2002 Super Bowl season.
While the weapons, head coach and schedule present some great opportunities for fireworks this upcoming season, the main question surrounding this team is whether they will be legitimate contenders not just in the conference, but in their own division. The Falcons are gearing up offensively to match the firepower of Tampa Bay, signing Todd Gurley to add to the collection of talent they possess that includes Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Hayden Hurst and Matt Ryan. The Saints return Drew Brees and most of the weapons that helped power New Orleans to a 13-3 record. Both of those teams already pose bigger threats than most of the competition the Patriots have rolled over in the AFC East for the last 20 years. The Panthers don’t appear to be a pushover either, as the signing of Teddy Bridgewater will keep them competitive in 2020.
Outside of just a more challenging division, the NFC poses a deeper road to the Super Bowl than the AFC. Before the breakthrough of the Chiefs this past year, the Patriots controlled the conference for two decades, going to 13 AFC Conference Championship games in that span. While Brady navigated the AFC littered with young, up-and-coming gunslingers, the NFC is filled with established, championship-winning signal callers. Standing in the way of a seventh Lombardi Trophy are the likes of Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.
In addition to those star quarterbacks, the NFC also boasts
the defending conference champion in a young and physical 49ers team, the
Vikings, who pulled off an impressive playoff upset over the Saints, a talent
loaded Cowboys team that is armed with a head coach who doesn’t specialize in clapping
and the Eagles, who barring catastrophic injuries, will be a tough out.
While the road may be tough, there is promise that the
Buccaneers can turn it around from a losing season to right in the thick of it this
year. Ironically enough, it’s on the defensive end where the Brady signing could
show the biggest dividends. Last year, Tampa Bay’s defense, especially their
secondary, struggle mightily. But was is truly all their fault? The answer lies
on the other side of the ball. In 2019, the defense was credited with allowing
449 points, which was the fourth most in the league. Part of that was due in
part to Winston’s record setting seven pick-sixes thrown that directly added 49
points to their total points allowed tally. You take away those 49 points and while
it’s still not pretty, it’s improvement as they move from fourth to 10th
worst in total points allowed.
That’s not where the optimism for a defensive turnaround in
2020 ends. Of the 23 interceptions thrown by the former number one overall pick
that weren’t returned for touchdowns, 16 occurred in the Buccaneers’ own end of
the field, putting the defense in a tough spot to succeed. The overall efficiency
numbers reflect the notion that the defense, led by defensive coordinator Todd
Bowles, was a lot better than the scoreboard indicated. According to Football
Outsiders, Tampa Bay was fifth in defensive DVOA, which is a collection of
data that measures the overall efficiency of the unit. So, despite the Buccaneers
struggling statistically, the simple addition of Brady and subtraction of
Winston should automatically give them a boost.
The path to a 10th Super Bowl appearance seems as tough as it’s ever been for Brady. The positive is that despite is age, he’s insulated with a supporting cast that can pick up him in a way the 2019 Patriots couldn’t. Barring injuries, it’s tough to bet against the man who’s only known winning his entire career. The playoffs are very attainable, and frankly expected, especially with the addition of an extra wild card team. 2020 will be simultaneously both the same and different. It will take some getting used to seeing the Boston icon wearing the pewter and red. The quest though, remains the same and the final destination is a familiar one, as Raymond James Stadium will host the upcoming Super Bowl. The end goal of raising that Lombardi Trophy doesn’t change, but for once, the journey will be a fun one.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- In most cases, the cover-up is worse than
the crime. In the case of Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred’s
discussion about the Houston Astros cheating scandal, the explanation was worse
than the punishment. Manfred amazingly has upset basically everyone involved in
the sport of baseball despite issuing a punishment almost as severe as he
possibly could have issued given the circumstances he was working with. The
punishments, including a season-long suspension of both general manager Jeff
Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch on top of a five million dollar fine and the
forfeiture of first and second round picks in the 2020 and 2021 drafts, weren’t
a slap on the wrist. But his reasoning for these punishments in the numerous
times he’s spoken since have only infuriated players and fans while minimizing
the actual punishments.
The commissioner spoke two separate times last Sunday, and it had the feel that he was working crisis management exclusively for the scorned Astros franchise instead of siding with the other 29 organizations who are distraught, frustrated and angered by the cheating the 2017 World Series champions committed. When the punishments were first released in January, it felt that Major League Baseball had levied a punishment about as harsh as possible considering the circumstances. Yet the more Manfred speaks, the less significant the punishments seem.
Both gaffes occurred when Manfred was talking with ESPN’s Karl
Ravech, as the first foot-in-mouth moment came when he was asked why the Astros
players weren’t suspended for cheating. He could have justified his decision to
not punish the players involved by citing the immunity he granted in favor of
getting to the bottom of the entire scheme. Instead, Manfred’s explanation was
that the public’s outrage was enough of a punishment.
“I think if you watch the players, watch their faces when
they have to deal with this issue publicly, they have paid a price,” Manfred
said. “To think they’re skipping down the road into spring training, happy,
that’s just a mischaracterization of where we are.”
This is where the disconnect comes in. Thinking that public displeasure
towards the Astros is enough of a punishment is just not being in tune with
reality. People want accountability. People want the players involved to be
held responsible. Hearing a few extra boos or questions about the cheating
won’t satisfy a majority of those passionate about the sport, but Manfred is
forgetting he didn’t have many options to begin with.
The tough part for the commissioner’s office in conducting
this investigation was that they were left with two options, neither of which
would have satisfied everyone. Their first option was to do what they did,
which was grant players immunity from punishment in return for honest and
truthful testimony about when the cheating occurred, how it was executed and
who participated. Giving the players a get out of jail free card was the only
way to truly get to the bottom of how the entire scheme operated, which in the
long run will help in preventing this type of cheating from happening again.
The other option was to interview Mike Fiers, take what he
said as the gospel and hand down punishments based on his testimony. No Houston
player was knowingly going to admit to cheating or provide details that would
implicate their teammates. So Manfred would have had to go off of the only
player who was willing to go on the record and dole out suspensions that he
seemed to fit the crime.
Manfred chose the option that fits society’s mentality and served to improve the game’s long-term health. We as a society pride ourselves on being a “woke culture,” that is always being aware of what is happening around us and never just accepting a reasoning without digging into it more. The immunity granted by Manfred allowed the details to emerge, helping to truly inform the public about how the sign-stealing was devised and executed. This information also allows the league to put parameters in place to prevent further cheating from ruining the game. The issue here isn’t that Manfred valued information over justice, but it’s that his definition of justice doesn’t jive with the public’s definition.
In that same interview with ESPN, Manfred made another
comment that really made many players hot. The question was simple. Ravech
asked about the potential of stripping the Astros of the 2017 World Series.
Manfred’s response was as short as it was damaging.
“The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back
seems like a futile act,” said Manfred in response to the question.
It’s like the commissioner took the same PR advice as Astros owner Jim Crane, as every answer seemed to undermine his punishment. These answers aren’t hard. Stripping titles has little to no effect. Just ask the NCAA as they desperately try to punish schools by stripping titles and vacating wins that do little in terms of real consequence. Everyone still remembers Louisville winning the 2013 basketball national championship, USC’s 2004 football national title and Reggie Bush’s Heisman Trophy. Stripping titles and taking banners down do little to wipe away the memory of watching those teams and players accomplish greatness. So Manfred is right when he says stripping the Astros of their World Series would be futile. Except he bungled the delivery and completely lost control of the message.
It’s frustrating to see Major League Baseball continually
shoot themselves in the foot and only dig a deeper hole to get out of. With weeks
to map out an explanation and defense of the punishments, first the Astros and
then the commissioner looked totally off guard and ill-prepared for the
questions they received. Unfortunately for the game, this entire cheating
scandal has blown up in their face and taken the attention away from the Astros
and placed it squarely on the sport’s leader. Rarely do words speak louder than
actions. The commissioner accomplished that feat to the dismay of baseball fans
NEW YORK, N.Y.- Major League Baseball is at least trying. You have to give them that. In the ongoing battle of gaining and retaining an audience, the MLB has largely fallen on their face. Charades like Players Weekend and quicker pace of play haven’t drummed up much excitement around the game, but a revision to the schedule could change that. The league is contemplating an expansion to their postseason format, which was first broken by Joel Sherman, who reveals that the postseason would be extended from five to seven teams in each league, a first-round bye awarded to the team with the best record in each league and division winners choose their first-round opponent.
On the surface, America’s Pastime is finally embracing what works and came up with an idea that, for the most part, can seriously add some excitement not just to October baseball, but to August and September baseball as well. This idea is mostly positive in my mind because it expands the inventory that fans and television networks are craving: more playoff baseball, while also suddenly increasing the importance of the regular season.
Let’s start with the positives first. MLB would be finally embracing what works best. For all of the negatives that are associated with the game, this is the first idea that accentuates the best qualities of the playoffs, which is the importance of each game, inning, and pitch. Playoff expansion brings this exciting brand of baseball to more markets, thus keeping those fans invested longer. Last season, the National League wild-card race was hotly contested, with the Mets, Cubs, and Diamondbacks all finishing within five games of the Brewers for the final playoff berth. Imagine having the New York and Chicago markets engaged until the seasons end with the hope of a postseason berth still attainable? It would only bring extra attention and buzz to more fans around the country.
This potential new format also fixes the one-game wild-card playoff. While exciting that the playoffs begin with two elimination games right off the bat, it leaves teams feeling cheated because the entire season, constructed upon series, only receive one chance to stay alive. The new format would allow for a three-game series to be played at the team with a better record’s ballpark, so the worry of the season coming down to one game would be erased.
There’s also no need to worry that the playoffs would be watered down by bad competition if the playoff field were to expand. The better team doesn’t always win the World Series and more times than not, it’s about who’s the hottest team compared to the best team. The Nationals are the perfect example of this last season, as they were crowned champions despite having just the eighth-best record of the 10 playoff teams. Baseball is truly a “anyone can win it” game.
The regular season will also gain some importance because now teams with sizable division leads would still be motivated to play hard. The proposed format gives the team with the best record in each league a first-round bye, keeping teams like the Dodgers, Braves, Yankees, and Astros motivated to win games in September. Fans and teams that largely count down the final month or six weeks of the season suddenly have an added incentive to stay locked in.
The final area that is affected in a positive way is the
mindset of teams. Currently, there are too many teams that are not trying to
win. We just witnessed the Red Sox trade a top-5 player in baseball in Mookie
Betts to the Dodgers so they can reset their tax rate. One of the best baseball
players on the planet currently was a salary dump casualty. That is horrific
for the sport’s health. While it’s tough to say whether Boston would have been
more motivated to keep their superstar if this new playoff format had been in
place for the 2020 season, it would at least give more organizations pause before
making salary decisions like this. You would have to think with more teams able
to qualify for postseason play, less would be motivated to sell either in the
offseason or the trade deadline, so more parity could enter the game.
The one true negative of this entire proposal is Major
League Baseball’s bright idea of having division winners pick their postseason
opponents on live television. Trying to turn the sport into a reality television
show is a pathetic cash grab that tries to muster up some extra hype and create
artificial storylines. It’s a cheap way to try to add some extra juice to a
playoff series that will already be filled with tension and excitement.
This potential playoff expansion proposal still needs to be fine-tuned, but it’s encouraging that the sport is finally taking action that truly affects consumer decisions. In terms of the sports viewing landscape, the NFL is only increasing its gap between them and the other three major sports. Baseball, who for the longest time was secure at the top, is now sinking down closer to hockey in terms of national relevance. The sport needs a jumpstart to propel its way back up the relevancy ladder. While this proposal isn’t perfect, it’s a step in the right direction of reviving America’s Pastime.
NEW YORK, N.Y.- Gas was added onto the fire that is the future of Tom Brady and his whereabouts in 2020. For the first time in 20 years, the future Hall-of-Famer can choose his destination and it seems he will have some options. Last weekend, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported over the weekend that the Patriots are willing to pay Brady $30 million a year for possibly two seasons. After two decades of paying significantly less than market value, New England is finally ready to pay Brady his due worth. The problem is that in doing so, it might have sealed the deal that Brady will sign elsewhere.
The Michigan alum has never cared about the money. He’s
willingly taken reduced salaries in order to help free up money to spend on other
weapons to improve the team. There’s no way that Brady, who will be 43 years old
by the time the 2020 season starts, will strictly sign with the team that
offers him the most money.
The Patriots’ willingness to pay Brady that much money
should seal the deal that their franchise quarterback will suit up for another
team next season. The Patriots don’t just need help at the quarterback
position. Their wide receivers outside of Julian Edelman were extremely
inconsistent and rarely on the same page as their quarterback. Rob Gronkowski
was sorely missed as Brady rarely utilized the tight ends, a position he’s
relied upon the last few seasons for major production. The offensive line struggled
mightily at protecting the 42-year-old last season, which doesn’t bode well for
2020. With almost every offensive position needing some sort of upgrade, paying
Brady $30 million per season won’t allow for other positions to be addressed,
thus a repeat of 2019 could very well be in store. At this point, the Patriots
need Tom Brady more than Tom Brady needs the Patriots.
So, if not the Patriots then who? Two teams are emerging as perfect fits for Brady. Adam Schefter reported last weekend that the Las Vegas Raiders would be interested in pursuing Brady if he doesn’t re-sign with New England. The Raiders have the pieces on offense in place to make a run at the playoffs. Josh Jacobs was outstanding in his first year, Darren Waller is the perfect body type at tight end that Brady loves, and Tyrell Williams is a big bodied receiver that can make plays down the field. The Raiders offensive line last season was the best in the NFL in terms of allowing the least amount of quarterback hits, surrendering just 52.
The other team is the Los Angeles Chargers. The Bolts have
already parted ways with franchise quarterback Philip Rivers, opening the door for
Brady to slide right in. Similar to the Raiders, the Chargers have a ton of
weapons already in place, including: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Melvin Ingram,
Joey Bosa and Derwin James. The big question will be whether the Chargers can
retain both Austin Ekeler and Hunter Henry, both of whom would be perfect
compliments to Brady’s skillset.
What makes both the Chargers and Raiders situations even more tempting for Brady is that both organizations are trying to make a big splash in their new territory. The Chargers are desperate to build a fan base in Los Angeles, something that’s been a lot harder than most NFL owners thought it would be when they approved a second team to inhabit Los Angeles. Opening up their new shared stadium with the Rams, the Chargers need a prominent superstar to point to and have their fans latch onto.
In the case of the Raiders, they are moving their franchise
from Oakland to Las Vegas and while they haven’t had much trouble establishing
some excitement around the city’s newest franchise, the Raiders need to keep their
fans coming back. The best way to do that is by putting a winning team on the
field. No better example of the city embracing a winner better than the city’s
NHL team, who’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals hooked the entire region and has
made a city built in the desert obsessed about a sport played on ice. Jon Gruden’s
affinity for Brady can’t be ignored as well, as the Raiders, after losing star
receiver Antonio Brown last summer, could look to bring in another superstar to
kick off their new era in Sin City.
An important factor to note is that with the Raiders and
Chargers opening up new stadiums, it could give Brady leverage in implementing
his TB12 workout centers in whichever city he decides to play. The TB12 centers
have been the main source of treatment for many Patriots players and that could
continue in either Los Angeles or Las Vegas, as I’m sure both organizations
would be more than willing to accommodate Brady.
There’s no telling where the six-time Super Bowl champion
could land in 2020. Brady has stated that he is “open-minded” about free agency
and it is unknown what his main priorities are. If his biggest goal is still to
win another Lombardi Trophy, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Patriots
are the least desirable option Brady currently has.