The Houston Astros want to put the sign-stealing scandal behind them – as impossible a task as that will be. They took a positive step earlier this week by hiring Dusty Baker to be their manager in 2020. I have always thought that Baker was a good but overrated manager; however, I never thought that he was underhanded in any way – as I do about some other highly successful managers. But that is a rant for another day…
Baker is baseball to his core. He played the game for 19 years at the major league level appearing in over 2000 games; he managed 4 different teams for a total of 22 years being involved in more than 3500 games. His most severe critics point to his less-than-enthusiastic embrace for sabermetrics ignoring his winning record as a manager.
The only way for the Astros to escape completely from the memory of the sign-stealing nonsense is for the “Men in Black” to show up with their “memory erasers” and work their magic. Dusty Baker can’t do that – – but I cannot imagine that he will embarrass the franchise during his time in the dugout.
Next up are the Red Sox… What might the Commish do there? Who will manage the Red Sox in 2020 with or without any “findings” by the Commish? Pitchers and catchers report in a couple of weeks; presumably we will at least know who the manager for 2020 might be very soon…
In another part of Houston, the Texans made a front office alteration this week. Bill O’Brien had been the head coach and part of a multi-headed monster that acted as the team’s GM for the last season. This week, the Texans decided that a hydra-like GM was not to their liking and they named O’Brien as the GM in addition to continuing as the head coach. This has been done before in the NFL and it has been done successfully; however, I cannot recall a coach acquiring that sort of power with a franchise without either owning the team or having plenty of success on his résumé prior to accreting that power. It will be interesting to see how it works for the Texans.
Other than the PR drumbeat for the Super Bowl game this weekend, the dominant storyline of the NFL has to be the impending free agency of Tom Brady. The prevailing narrative is to compare Brady’s situation to that of either Joe Montana or Peyton Manning in the late stages of their careers. [Yes, some have pointed to Namath and Unitas too, but more focus has been on the more recent situations.] I think there are too many dissimilarities in the Manning and Montana cases to be very instructive here:
- Joe Montana was traded to the Chiefs who signed him to a $10M deal that was lucrative for its time. He was not a free agent; he did not get to try to optimize his playing situation.
- Peyton Manning was released by the Colts and the Colts had drafted Andrew Luck to be their franchise QB. Manning did not have the ability – luxury? – of negotiating with his old team for a job there; Manning had to go and find himself a comfortable playing situation – – or he could retire.
Neither of these is the “Brady situation”. Here is what is certain about the “Brady Free Agency”:
- Unless he signs an extension with the Pats, Tom Brady will be a free agent in early March 2020 – about 5 weeks from now.
- Between now and then, every time there is a need to fill space in a newspaper, magazine, online entity or on sports radio, someone can do a piece on what Tom Brady ought to do or has done or is rumored to be about to do with regard to the next stage of his career. For the next 5 weeks, Tom Brady is a wildcard for filling space and time in the sports section.
The intense focus on the “Brady Free Agency” seems to have let a few other player conundrums go by the wayside. Four players come to my mind who may be turned out onto the free agent marketplace and who should generate interest around the league on a speculative basis. In alphabetical order:
- LeVeon Bell: There were more than a few reports last season indicating that Jets’ coach, Adam Gase, was not pleased to find Bell on the roster at his salary level when Gase arrived. For whatever reason(s), Bell had the worst year of his career last season by any statistical measure. If the Jets are serious that they are going to roll with Adam Gase for the near future – meaning more than just for 2020 – I would not be surprised to see Bell playing elsewhere in 2020.
- Trey Burton: Yes, he was injured last season only appearing in 8 games. Yes, when he was on the field, he was on the receiving end of throws from a QB that was having significant difficulties last season. Nonetheless, he has not been the dynamic tight end that the Bears thought they were getting when they signed him in 2018. Burton is only 28 years old; if the reports of the Bears’ disenchantment with him are correct, he should be a free agent of interest…
- Joe Flacco: It would seem that the Broncos have moved on from Joe Flacco as their starting QB and I believe his cap number for 2020 will be around $23M. That is a lot of cap room to devote to a backup QB so I think Joe Flacco will be wearing a different uniform in 2020. He is 35 years old and perhaps the balance of his career will be as a veteran mentor for a young QB. Plenty of NFL teams seem to be headed down the path of “young stud QB” …
- Cam Newton: Injuries have eroded some of his running effectiveness and whatever shoulder problem(s) he had certainly hurt his already spotty performances as a pinpoint passer. There is a new regime in Carolina from the owner on down and a 31-year old Cam Newton may be swept out by the changes. The big question here is his physical health.
Finally, having just mentioned a player who is recovering from injuries, here is a comment from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle about an injury suffered by Warriors’ center, Kevon Looney:
“Does anyone know what it means that Kevon Looney has a ‘neuropathic condition’? Sounds ominous. Can’t they dumb it down for us, like, ‘nerve thingie'”?
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………