Monday, June 16, 2014

Is Jeff Samardzija pitching his way out of Chicago?

Earlier this season, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Matt Garza told Chicago Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija to pitch his way out of Chicago. Garza, who played for the Cubs the last three seasons, has also trashed the organization in a few different interviews. As a Cubs fan, I do believe Garza has a point. Looking back, I certainly wish that we had used Edwin Jackson's money to sign Garza instead (assuming that money was going to be spent, as opposed to saving it or investing further in development). His Brewers are in first place, 11.5 games ahead of the Cubs. And, yes, I also love watching Samardzija pitch and all that he brings to the team.

That being said, I would still like to see Samardzija "pitch his way out" of Chicago at some point over the next five or six weeks, because it will undoubtedly mean another great return for Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and the Cubs organization.

The haul that the Cubs got in return for trading Garza last season is rapidly making the deal work out in Chicago's favor, even with C.J. Edwards, potentially the trade's best player, sitting on the injured list for AA Tennessee. Consider the following:

  • Third baseman Mike Olt is struggling to keep his average above .150, but he does continue to lead all National League rookies in home runs and RBI, showing the potential to be a middle-of-the-order contributor. (He could be used to bolster another trade this year or in the offseason, as the Cubs have Kris Bryant completely dominating AA and seemingly nowhere to send him without hindering Christian Villanueva's progress at AAA Iowa. Having "too many third basemen" could be a great "problem" and may leave Olt as the odd man out while further adding to the return for Garza.)
  • Reliever Justin Grimm has posted a 2.77 ERA in 42 appearances for the Cubs, helping to make the club's bullpen a strength this year.
  • Neil Ramirez looks even better as he has managed to temporarily slide into the closer's role with a 1.06 ERA in 19 outings. Also, the team could decide to insert Ramirez into the rotation after dealing Jason Hammel and possibly Samardzija. (Of course, Ramirez's immediate fate may be directly tied to Hector Rondon's current injury/soreness.)
  • Finally, Edwards is likely at least a year away from reaching Chicago, but he has star potential. His minor league stats (1.81 ERA, .737 winning percentage, and 260 Ks with only 74 walks in 204 innings) are certainly impressive. He should return from injury soon and can hopefully progress to Iowa later this summer.

Seriously. This is what the Cubs managed to get for giving up two months of Matt Garza, who made just 60 starts during his time in Chicago, compared to 94 in the previous three seasons for Tampa Bay. (Adding the 13 starts with Texas at the end of last season still puts him more than 20 below what he was able to do with the Rays over the same amount of time.) Yes, when Garza was healthy enough to pitch for the Cubs, he was pretty good. But we fans do not miss his horrid fielding abilities, his terrible attitude, or his trips to the DL. (As for being just generally weird, I was totally OK with that. I liked Garza a lot when he was healthy and keeping his mouth closed.)

Honestly, right now Samardzija is better than Garza. And with an extra year of team control on his contract, Cubs fans remember the Garza deal and are hoping for a similar (if not better) return when Samardzija is traded.

Samardzija is not interested in any kind of extension, and he really wants to hit the free agent market. So why waste a great trade chip on this Cubs roster? And even if he would consider an extension right now to avoid a trade, think about the money it would take. At least, what, $18-20 million per season? So with a four- or five-year extension, how many seasons will be wasted waiting for the prospects to reach the majors and help the team compete? Even if the answer is only two (which I doubt), that's $40 million that could be saved and spent later on top talent anyway. If the team is ready to compete in 2016, spend the money then.

The current front office has been solid in almost all of its moves. The Edwin Jackson contract kills me, but that's really the only thing I can question. No one could've predicted the Kyuji Fujikawa injury, while many other free agent deals have worked out tremendously. Paul Maholm brought back prospect Arodys Vizcaino, who is now healthy and rising through the minors. Scott Feldman was flipped for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. And now Hammel is sure to demand at least a prospect or two.

Still, a Samardzija deal could be the biggest one yet. And since this team is not ready to compete yet, as a Cubs fan, I'm hoping he does "pitch his way out."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Beers and Baseball Cards

Both were available at today's Porter Flea in Nashville. The card was courtesy of Mitchell Bat Company. The beer is from our local Jackalope Brewery. Both are awesome.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Beers and Baseball Cards 03

Mike and Brett play a game of baseball card battle with a couple of packs of 1991 Score. It was a close game, decided on the last battle. Highlights include top prospect Tom Nevers and his tiny bat in addition to a heated standoff between John Olerud and Rondell White. You'll also get a math lesson as we calculate the WHIP of two pitchers to decide on a winner.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Why the New Orleans Grand Prix is a great idea

A lot of people are questioning this decision by IndyCar thinking maybe N.O. isn't ready for this, the infrastructure
isn't there, or parking is missing etc. But this is THE one place that Mike and I can serve as experts as we are both from New Orleans and visit often, we're experts here.

So what can we tell you?

- The track is literally next door to the TPC of N.O. golf course that holds a PGA event every year; If needed I could see them sharing parking with shuttles to transport people back and forth if needed (likely won't be needed, but its an easy plan b).

- The track is also 100% flat, as is all of N.O. but it is a very nice track, all it needs is grandstands... the flatness however may actually be the reason they are asking for June. March tendas to be quite rainy/cold (don't think temperature, think 40mph winds) but if they got a week of rain the track could get completely flooded.

That being said I wish they'd get March/April race and just try that date out, I don't think conflicting with Mardi Gras seaosn is really an issue so long as they stay off the big weekend preceeding Mardi Gras.

- They definitely don't want to do anything July-October, #1 July-Aug insane heat, Aug-October is tempting the hurricane gods.

- For folks not from N.O. the city is a half century long veteran of temporary grandstands, concession stands and porta potties for Mardi Gras, thats no issue

many think Mardi Gras = Bourbon street, but actually parades take place over the course of a month almost every night in about 20 different parts of the metro area.

- The Kart track next to North course is awesome; imagine what they could do for kids using that during race weekend, its what many tarcks are missing, let the kids try their hands at racing and get them hooke

- Honestly more than anything, the #1 reason you'll want to go to this race is for the tailgating; I trust in Louisianaians to show off why they are easily the best in the world at this

- As far as people saying there's no market/they can't support it... between N.O. and Baton Rouge there are multiple drag strips that hold regular events, 2 club race tracks (plenty race culture), one of the biggest car shows in the country held at SuperDome, multiple kart tracks: the city supports many large events (Mardi Gras, month long party with 50+ parades/bals), NFL team, NBA team, Triple A baseball team, power boat racing, PGA tour event, Final Fours, Super Bowls, sugar Bowl, the city is essentially built to hold annual big events.

- Speaking to that point again, N.O. is a lot like Baltimore/Barber in terms of how this race will be received. N.O. has a "we want nice things" attitude; they will embrace the event because they want to be seen on TV, they want to be a destination, the city is known for thowing big events, some of the biggest conferences ever, there won't be issues getting it embraced as an event. Especially one they can tailgate at.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Beers and Baseball Cards 02

Mike and Brett sort through packs of 1990 Upper Deck Collector's Choice and 1992 Fleer. Bonus packs include Desert Storm and Sports Stackers. Thanks for listening!

Accompanying visuals:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why I Am OK With Darren Sproles Leaving the New Orleans Saints

I was recently accused of "hating" Darren Sproles in the aftermath of the news that he would be released by the New Orleans Saints. Because I, a Saints fan, defended the move on social media, it somehow was translated into a situation where I did not like Sproles and did not appreciate his contributions.

Now, before I explain myself, I think it's important to note that none of this has anything to do with whether or not I "like" Sproles. In fact, I like him a lot! Am I going to miss him? Of course. Do I wish salaries were not a concern and that he could stay with the Saints in some capacity? Absolutely. Look, Sproles is a great player and he will contribute to the next team that is fortunate to have him, which I am hoping is far, far away in the AFC. (Denver Broncos… give this man a call!) So, guys, I love Darren Sproles, and I would marry him if I could. OK?

So why am I fine with his departure? Well, there are few reasons.

1. Trust

I trust this front office and all they have done. It's a hard thing to earn, but they've done it. Even in the rare 7-9 or 8-8 seasons (which are still light years better than the 3-13 teams I grew up suffering through), we can see a clear focus on the immediate future and a plan to stockpile affordable weapons around Drew Brees.

Reggie Bush was a great player. I've posted on this site in the past about how ridiculous it is to call him a "draft bust" when he contributed to a Super Bowl victory for our city. I wasn't thrilled to see him leave, but his immediate replacement, Sproles, was a great move by the execs.

Sproles replaced Bush, and someone else will replace Sproles. Maybe it's Khiry Robinson, a rookie (drafted or undrafted), or a free agent. Anything is possible, and you can't really doubt a front office that has hit home runs over and over again.

There are salary implications here, and that's what this really comes down to. No one is saying that Sproles is terrible and he needs to go. That's absurd. But with millions of dollars committed to him, we need to decide if there is a wiser way to spend.

2. Production

Now this is where I have my critics. "Sproles is amazing!" "Sproles turns one-yard catches into long touchdowns!" "Sproles is the best pass-catching running back in the league!" This is all true to some extent and at certain times, I agree.

But now, try to forget all the highlights you've seen. Those memories we have of Sproles are outstanding, obviously. We've all seen it. And you haven't seen Sproles do something in a Saints uniform that I haven't seen.

But look at last year. First of all, his rushing and receiving numbers were all down. After scoring 17 offensive touchdowns in his first two seasons (nine in 2011 and eight in 2012), he managed just four scores last season. As a running back who turned 30 years old in 2013, that isn't very surprising.

Furthermore, Sproles had been a key factor on our special teams during his first two seasons, but he struggled there as well in 2013. His 21.3 yards per kick return was the lowest of his career, and more than five yards lower than his previous average in New Orleans. Similarly, his punt return average of 6.7 yards was the lowest since his rookie season. Not helping matters is the fact that he became the fair catch master at some point along the way.

So maybe season totals don't tell the whole story. But individual games surely do, and Sproles didn't have many impressive performances last year. Playing on a playoff team that won 10 games, I count three times that Sproles matched his expectations. In game one he totaled 110 yards to help the Saints get a big win over Atlanta. His best game of the year came in game four against the Miami Dolphins, when he had 114 receiving yards and two touchdowns and the team moved to 4-0. Five games later he scored twice again on seven catches for 76 yards, this time against the Dallas Cowboys. All four touchdowns came in two games, and did not score again after November 10th, including the postseason.

And how about the postseason? Sproles totaled 60 yards in a win over Philadelphia and gained only 34 in a loss against Seattle. He ended the season failing to reach 70 total yards in eight consecutive games.

3. Replacement Possibilities

As production declined for Darren Sproles, the team started to utilize other players. Defenses began to key on tight end Jimmy Graham and also managed to mostly take away the short passing game. Consequently, running backs Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson stepped up to produce.

Robinson gained 152 yards on 33 carries in the last three games. Ingram was even more impressive, rushing for 146 yards in the two playoff games alone. The Saints were a different team down the stretch, playing Seattle much better than when Sproles caught seven passes in a 34-7 blowout a month earlier. Outlet passes to a running back obviously were not the answer to winning the NFC.

So running back production could be replaced by players currently on the roster, only running the ball instead of using screen passes. Add in a (hopefully healthy) Pierre Thomas who pulled in 77 receptions last year, and the team will still have the option to throw to a back when needed. Meanwhile, Travaris Cadet, who had only one fewer receiving score than Sproles last year, could be a huge surprise in 2014.

Those are four names currently on the roster and do not even take into account the draft, free agency, or trades.

As for his return production, I assume the team will look for a receiver to step in and fill that void, ideally replacing Lance Moore at receiver and Sproles on special teams. Again, this could come in the draft, free agency, or elsewhere.

Darren Sproles is a great player, and he will be missed. It has nothing to do with how much he will produce next year. But in the end, I am OK with this move, and I trust that the front office will replace him adequately and have this team ready to compete again.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Beers and Baseball Cards 01

In our debut episode of Beers and Baseball Cards, Mike and Brett open packs of 1988 Fleer and 1991 Score, discovering Hall of Famers and controversial home run hitters. Also discussed: error cards and Baseball's Greatest Grossouts. Feedback and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for listening!

Some visuals to accompany this episode:

Ray Searage... OR... Ron Swanson??

Why is he holding a surfboard??

Thursday, February 27, 2014

2014 Sochi Winter Olympics: Recap Podcast

Three episodes in one year! Like a real podcast! It's February Madness, guys...

Share it and hit up Wedge on Twitter @AllenWedge.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Americans love the Olympic medal counts

So things got busy for me over the last week of the Olympics, and even though I watched many hours of coverage, I still was pretty lost. But that's not surprising. It's a lot to keep up with. Tonight we are recording a podcast episode to discuss some of our thoughts, and we'll have that posted ASAP.

But one thing I thought was funny was the constant medal count. I know this is nothing new, for Americans to keep a running tally of the medals our athletes have won and to compare ourselves to the other countries. Of course we want to "win" the medal count and the mythological Olympic title that comes with it.

But do you think other countries do this? Like, do you think the media in Kazakhstan or Croatia were constantly reminding citizens of their medal totals compared to USA and Russia? (Each of those countries won one medal, by the way.) I seriously doubt it! That has to be an American thing. It's not enough for us to win a bunch of medals. We want to win the MOST medals! If we had our way, we'd actually like to win ALL of the medals, I suppose.

I was talking to a friend last week, and she is from Poland. I was joking around and trying to talk a little trash about the Olympics, honestly not knowing how many medals Poland had claimed. Well, she immediately started telling me about a couple of golds they had won already and was very proud to be discussing it. It wasn't about the total (I think it was two or three at the time, and Poland ended with six). But she was very happy that some of her country's athletes performed well enough to medal in the games, and she was ready to discuss each individual performance.

The idea of winning the medal count is clearly a matter of cultural perspective, much like the Dutch speedskating coach who called Americans "foolish" for playing football, a subject we'll definitely be discussing in tonight's podcast. But I feel like, if we're going to make up some contest, we should at least do it correctly. Shouldn't we be rewarding gold medals over silvers and bronzes?

The final total kind of came down to the wire, with Russia eventually edging us out at 33-28 in total medals. But what if we used a point system, where golds got three points, silvers got two, and bronzes only one? Using that system, which seems like a more accurate scoring method to me, Russia would've blown us away with a score of 70-53. Furthermore, Canada would've outscored us with 55 points, while Norway would've matched our 53. It's hard for us to accept, I know, but I think if I were really trying to win a medal total, I'd be happier with the double-digit golds captured by Canada and Norway.

Either way, it was definitely a fun two weeks, and we have a lot to discuss tonight. But I'd love to see more Americans get to a point where they can just appreciate all of the athletes and focus on the individual medal winners instead of the total medals won by each country.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Nashville's Adventure Science Center: Science of the Winter Olympic Games

Nashville's Adventure Science Center is a great place for kids to learn about the science behind every day activities. My kids love this place, and our family membership allows us to stop in and check out all of the special programs they host. Every month or so, there is something new. In October, for example, they sometimes showcase the science of Halloween, where you can hold creepy insects or attend a special effects workshop. The recent Maker Fair was fun as well, with all kinds of makers and builders displaying their inventions and products.

Well, yesterday's event focused on the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. This time the Science Center simply set up various stations, allowing the kids to play and experience fun versions of Olympic sports. There was also a celebration of Russia itself, with local native Russians teaching us about their culture. It was a great experience, with some of the highlights illustrated below.

The temperature outside was in the low-20s and was perfect for curling! There was an actual curling stone to hold, and then blocks of ice to slide toward the targets. Unfortunately, we had left our coats in the car and didn't complete even the first end.

Inside, we were met by the sound of Russian music. Tables displayed information about Russia, with everything from children's toys and games to clothing and even Russian food.

The kids then tried some hockey and downhill skiing (in the form of a large, inflatable slide). Or maybe that was the luge?

But the highlight for my kids was the ski jumping. Here they were allowed to use the Science Center's new Tinker Garage, which is filled with a wide array of donated tools and supplies. They had to build a "skier" out of any parts and pieces they could find. There were balloons and sand available, as well as cutout ski figures to attach.

After a good 90 minutes of cutting, gluing, taping, filling, and measuring, the skiers were ready for their big jumps. The creations were dropped down a slope of approximately 20 feet, ultimately crashing to the floor (and often shattering to pieces). Thanks to the sand balloons, though, most landed on their skis.

Overall, it was a great day, and my kids had a lot of fun celebrating the Olympics outside of our house.