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Don’t Get Mad at Players Who Skip Bowl Games

Jake DeWitt

Earlier this week Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and Baylor running back Shock Linwood announced they would skip their respective bowl games to focus on preparing for the 2017 NFL Draft. By doing so they join LSU running back Leonard Fournette as high-profile draft prospects prepared to forgo one last chance to suit up with their collegiate teammates in exchange for significantly reduced risk of injury leading up to the event, which occurs from April 27-29 in Philadelphia, PA.

Their decisions have sparked mixed reactions in the sports industry. Former Ohio State University standout – and current Dallas Cowboys electric rookie running back – Ezekiel Elliot tweeted he “…would do anything” to suit up one more time with his teammates. Others, including noted NCAA critic and ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, said they support the athletes’ decision to skip the bowl games to concentrate on the future.

Every person is certainly entitled to his or her own opinion, but who are we to criticize the personal health and financial decisions made by those who sacrifice themselves for our entertainment, and the benefit of the NCAA? Not to mention, all of these players have their names atop respective school and conference record books. Their resumes are already set!

All of these players missed at least one game earlier in the season. Anyone who’s played sports understands the increased susceptibility to injury while competing with a preexisting injury. Fournette and McCaffrey are projected as first-round picks by NFL draft experts, while Linwood is a day two or three candidate. If any of them were to suffer an injury or a setback in the bowl game, they would potentially lose tens of millions of dollars. Not convinced? Look at former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith. He was projected to be a top-ten pick in the 2016 NFL Draft before suffering a gruesome knee injury in a meaningful bowl game. Smith was eventually selected by the Dallas Cowboys early in the second round, but lost nearly $18 million over four years.

NCAA athletes are not paid for their hard work. Most do not have money to fall back on, especially if they forgo their senior seasons for a shot as a professional football player. Yet, the NCAA makes hundreds of millions of dollars off their blood and sweat each year. What’s the difference between a student that drops out and starts a major tech company, and an athlete that wants to protect his or her future? Nothing. Don’t forget: we also tend to neglect the lack of commitment from college coaches who accept new jobs before finishing out the season (see: Tom Herman). Coaches receive far less criticism than athletes.

The only valid argument I’ve heard against skipping bowl games is such that the decision might give the indication that a player is willing to “quit” on his team. For example, after a couple of years in the NFL these players will be playing in the so-called “contract year,” after which the player can hit free agency in search of the best offer. Does that mean if the team is out of playoff contention in Week 13 the running back will avoid contact on the field, maybe scuttle out of bounds rather than finish the run with authority, or forgo the final quarter of the season altogether? It’s possible, sure. But, I suspect the leadership in an NFL locker room capable of convincing players otherwise. It seems that the decision to skip the bowl games won’t hurt these backs’ on-field resumes, but their answers to specific questions in the NFL Draft interviews could play a significant role in what round they’re selected.

Don’t be mad at players for skipping meaningless, non-New Year’s Day bowl games while you revel in the glory of your high school contests. You can’t blame anyone for taking the money in that situation. I understand it decreases the attractiveness and hinders the viewership of a game, but that’s not for us to decide. Our only decision is to watch, or not. The decisions of these backs should only highlight the fact that there are too many bowl games, period. But that’s another conversation.

If you feel like tuning in, Baylor will take on Boise State in the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl on December 27th, Stanford plays University of North Carolina on December 29th in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, and LSU draws Louisville in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Eve. But while you’re watching lackluster action, ask yourself “what benefit could any of these running backs reap by playing in a meaningless bowl game?”

 

Finally, the MLB All Star Game Doesn’t Count

TJ Lovenduski

A few weeks ago Major League Baseball and the players’ union were able to successfully come to terms of a new CBA. This new agreement fixed one thing I really hated about baseball. The All-Star Game.

Since 2003 the All-Star Game determined home field advantage in the World Series. The theory was that by making the game count it would change the way that it’s played, and hopefully, make it more exciting.

That didn’t happen. Players still weren’t playing their hardest. They didn’t want to risk injury. What good is home field if you’re not even healthy enough to play?

But the bigger problem was that the teams on the field were rarely the best that the respective leagues had to offer. Instead they were often filled with the most popular players. And that was really the problem with the fan vote and making the game count. The two just didn’t mix.

Now, player’s have a bit of a different incentive. They’ll be playing for money. Whichever, team wins the game will be able to split a pool of money between the team. So, we’re still getting some incentive, but it’s a more personal one. And one that doesn’t even attempt to have any significant impact on the season’s outcome. That’s a change that I’m happy about.

In the larger picture it makes the regular season more exciting, as well. Now having the best record means something. The league’s best teams will be hesitant to coast, hoping to secure that fourth home game in the World Series, should they make it. It gives more teams more to play for. September could become even more exciting.

 

Offseason Grades: AL West

Jake DeWitt

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (B+)
Key Additions: Danny Espinosa (SS/2B), Jesse Chavez (P)
Key Losses: None

The Angels do not have much cap space to work with, but they still managed to add a power threat at second base, and some depth in the rotation. Don’t expect the Angels to trade Mike Trout this year – or ever. It would be impossible for them to recoup equitable value in any trade.

Oakland Athletics (C+)
Key Additions: Matt Joyce (OF)
Key Losses: None

This is the time of year where we expect the Athletics to make few, if any, moves. Yet again, the franchise did not disappoint. Sonny Gray was tossed around in trade discussions, but that’s more or less of Billy Beane and the front office gauging his value. Gray is more likely to be traded in July, if ever.

Texas Rangers (C-)
Key Additions: Andrew Cashner (SP)
Key Losses: Mitch Moreland (1B/DH), Carlos Beltran (OF/DH), Ian Desmond (IF/OF)

After losing Mitch Moreland, Carlos Beltran, and Ian Desmond in free agency, this lineup has taken a significant hit. Sure, they still boast the ageless Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor, and Jonathan Lucroy. But, GM Jon Daniels is banking on Shin-Soo Choo to return to form after an injury-plagued season, and breakout campaigns from young players like Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Jurickson Profar, and Delino DeShields. Finally, outside of Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, the entire pitching staff is unproven. They can still have a respectable offseason if they pull the trigger to sign Edwin Encarnacion, but don’t expect the front office to sign Jose Bautista. Odor won’t like that.

Houston Astros (A-)
Key Additions: Josh Reddick (OF), Brian McCann (1B/OF/DH), Carlos Beltran (OF/DH), Charlie Morton (SP)
Key Losses: Jason Castro (C)

The only thing keeping the Astros from having the best offseason of any team is the fact that they did not take any steps to improve the starting rotation. The Astros are betting hard on the prospect of Dallas Keuchel replicating his 2015 Cy Young numbers. Meanwhile, the offense could be stupid good. Sprinkling in veterans like Beltran, Reddick, and McCann into a lineup loaded with young all-stars like Carlos Correa, George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman transforms the Astros into an immediate World Series contender. The loss of Jason Castro won’t hurt much since the team can platoon Evan Gattis and McCann.

Seattle Mariners (A-)
Key Additions: Jean Segura (SS), Chris Heston (SP), Marc Rzepczynski (RP)
Key Losses: Tijuan Walker (SP), Ketel Marte (SS)

Before the Winter Meetings started the Mariners dealt inconsistent starter Tijuan Walker and young shortstop Ketel Marte to the Diamondbacks for shortstop Jean Segura, a player who set several career highs in 2016. Their lineup is good, but not great and boasts minimal positional depth. They are still contenders to sign Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista, but appear to be on the outside looking in on a potential deal with Mark Trumbo.

Offseason Grades: NL West

Jake DeWitt

San Francisco Giants (B+)
Key Additions: Mark Melancon (Closer)
Key Losses: Chris Heston (SP)

The Giants failed to sign 3B Justin Turner away from the Dodgers, which arguably would have been a bigger splash than signing closer Mark Melcancon. Yet, GM Brian Sabean seems comfortable with rolling out Eduardo Nunez and Conor Gillaspie at the hot corner, and Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker in left field. The offense could struggle mightily next season, but they should certainly improve their win total by blowing less games. The Giants led the league in blown saves during the regular season – and it wasn’t even close.

Los Angeles Dodgers (A)
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: Josh Reddick (OF), Jesse Chavez (P)

The loss of Josh Reddick does not hurt at all. It might even help the Dodgers by providing clarity day-to-day on who will start in a crowded outfield. The big moves for the Dodgers were simply keeping the players they had on their 2016 roster. Signing closer Kenley Jansen, starter Rich Hill, and 3B Justin Turner are moves that keep Los Angeles in World Series conversation.

Colorado Rockies (A)
Key Additions: Ian Desmond (IF/OF)
Key Losses: None

The signing of Ian Desmond, who will likely play first base, opens the door for a trade of Charlie Blackmon. David Dahl would slot in as the everyday centerfielder. But imagine this lineup playing 81 games at Coors Field: DJ LeMahieu, Trevor Story, Nolan Arenado, Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon (or David Dahl), and Ian Desmond. Whew, talk about taking the over in every single game. The Rockies should be the most improved team in the NL West in 2017.

Arizona Diamondbacks (C+)
Key Additions: Tijuan Walker (SP), Ketel Marte (SS), Fernando Rodney (Closer)
Key Losses: Jean Segura (SS)

Arizona continues to make moves that puzzle the baseball industry. Jean Segura enjoyed a career year, but was shipped to the Mariners for an inconsistent starter and shortstop with average tools. The starting lineup is still pretty good, but the window of opportunity is closing fast with Paul Goldschmidt and AJ Pollock wasting the best years of their careers in the desert.

San Diego Padres (D)
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: Jon Jay (OF)

I don’t even want to talk about the Padres. AJ Prellar ran this team into the ground after depleting a loaded farm system to acquire players like Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton, and Matt Kemp – none of whom are on the roster today. San Diego will be bad next year, and probably the next 15 years.

Offseason Grades: AL Central

Jake DeWitt

Kansas City Royals (C)
Key Additions: Jorge Soler (OF)
Key Losses: Wade Davis (Closer), Kendrys Morales (1B/DH), Edinson Volquez (SP)

It’s tough to look at the Royals’ offseason and give any praise after trading Wade Davis and losing Kendrys Morales. Even after winning the World Series in 2015, Kansas City is still playing Money Ball in a small market.

Chicago White Sox (A-)
Key Additions: Yoan Moncada (IF), Mike Kopech (P), Reynaldo Lopez (SP), Lucas Giolito (SP)
Key Losses: Chris Sale (SP), Adam Eaton (OF)

The White Sox may not be done dealing yet, as Jose Quintana, David Robertson, and Jose Abreu all are swirling in trade rumors. Losing Chris Sale and Adam Eaton hurts, but recouping excellent value in prospects will right the ship in the future.

Cleveland Indians (B)
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: None

After reaching the World Series with an injury-plagued roster, sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make. The team has had conversations with 1B/DH Mike Napoli about a possible return in 2017.

Minnesota Twins (B-)
Key Additions: Jason Castro (C)
Key Losses: None

The Twins are still years away from competing with arguably the worst rotation in the majors. Offensively, the lineup is loaded with young talent starting with Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. Minnesota might make a move to deal Brian Dozier, but he’s expressed his desire to remain with the club. The Twins would be wise to flip their All-Star second baseman while his value is at an all-time high.

Detroit Tigers (C)
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: None

Something has to give at some point, right? GM Al Avila said no player is off limits this offseason, but Detroit still didn’t move Ian Kinsler, JD Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, or Justin Verlander. There’s still plenty of time for a trade to materialize, but this roster is moving in neither direction and could be stuck in limbo once more.

Offseason Grades: NL Central

Jake DeWitt

Chicago Cubs (A-)
Key Additions: Brian Duensing (RP), Jon Jay (OF), Wade Davis (Closer), Koji Uehara (RP)
Key Losses: Jorge Soler (OF), Aroldis Chapman (Closer), Dexter Fowler (CF)

The 2016 World Series Champions knew they were probably going to lose Aroldis Chapman and Dexter Fowler in free agency, but GM Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon built a roster with incredible positional depth and versatility. Ultimately, Chapman and Fowler were replaceable with cheaper talent. The loss of Chapman created a gaping vacancy at the back end of the pen, but the front office made a risky trade to acquire Wade Davis in exchange for Jorge Soler, an outfielder without a clear path to consistent playing time.

St. Louis Cardinals (B+)
Key Additions: Brett Cecil (RP), Dexter Fowler (CF)
Key Losses: Matt Holliday (OF)

The Cardinals didn’t need or want Matt Holliday and his poor defense, shaky bat, or expensive contract any longer. His loss is only relevant because he was a mainstay for years. They locked up a quality lefty bullpen arm in Brett Cecil, and paid a heavy price to snag Fowler from the Cardinals. Fowler should slot in as St. Louis’ leadoff hitter, but his defensive prowess is significantly dependent on how deep Mike Matheny positions him.

Pittsburgh Pirates (B)
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: Matt Joyce (OF), Sean Rodriguez (IF/OF), Jeff Locke (P)

Pittsburgh has/had several trade offers for centerfielder Andrew McCutchen, but ultimately decided they couldn’t recoup equitable value for a guy with a team-friendly contract poised for a bounce back season.

Cincinnati Reds (C)
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: None

This franchise is not very good, and is not very wise. The Reds should have traded Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, and Billy Hamilton by now.

Milwaukee Brewers (B+)
Key Additions: Travis Shaw (3B)
Key Losses: Tyler Thornburg (RP)

The loss of Tyler Thornburg will go overlooked by the casual fan, but the addition of Travis Shaw is one that will (and should) receive a decent round of applause. I think Shaw is due for a breakout season playing in for a franchise with significantly less stress and expectations than those in Boston. Side note: it’s time to trade Ryan Braun for the best offer.

Offseason Grades: NL East

Jake DeWitt

Philadelphia Phillies (B+)
Key Additions: Joaquin Benoit (RP)
Key Losses: Charlie Morton (SP), AJ Ellis (C)

The Phillies won’t compete in 2017, but are in prime position to be major players in the loaded 2018 free agent market. The franchise finally shed all of its cumbersome contracts dating back to the 2008 World Series roster, but surrounded its 2017 talent with cheaper veteran options to provide some leadership in its youthful clubhouse. With a plethora of high-value prospects, Philadelphia could be a surprise buyer in July to get a jump start on building its 2018 roster.

Atlanta Braves (B)
Key Additions: Bartolo Colon (SP), RA Dickey (SP), Sean Rodriguez (IF/OF), John Danks (P)
Key Losses: None

Like Philadelphia, Atlanta added several veterans to provide leadership to its roster loaded with elite prospects. Look for Colon and Dickey to eat up innings and keep the Braves from achieving the league’s worst record in 2017.

Washington Nationals (B)
Key Additions: Derek Norris, Adam Eaton (OF)
Key Losses: Mark Melancon (Closer), Wilson Ramos (C), Reynaldo Lopez (SP), Lucas Giolito (SP), Marc Rzepczynski (RP), Danny Espinosa (SS/2B)

It wasn’t a shock that Washington lost closer Mark Melancon in free agency, but it was a shock they missed out on completing a trade for Chris Sale. They successfully added a top-tier centerfielder in Adam Eaton, but had to pay a significant price. The trade also moves Trea Turner from the outfield back to his natural position at shortstop, and that should not be overlooked. Derek Norris will need to have a career year to fill the shoes of Wilson Ramos, who jetted for Tampa Bay in free agency. The Nats will be counting on Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, and Anthony Rendon to have bounce back seasons, and Daniel Murphy to replicate his outstanding 2016 campaign.

New York Mets (B-)
Key Additions: None
Key Losses: Bartolo Colon (SP)

The Mets retained star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, but have failed to move Curtis Granderson or Jay Bruce in exchange for a quality relief pitcher. That move may still happen, but ultimately a successful 2017 season will rely on outstanding starting pitching and timely hitting.

Miami Marlins (C+)
Key Additions: Edinson Volquez (SP), Jeff Locke (P), AJ Ellis (C)
Key Losses: Andrew Cashner (SP), Fernando Rodney (Closer)

After the death of ace Jose Fernandez, Miami was searching for a way to replace him. Quite frankly, that’s impossible. His presence in the clubhouse and community cannot be matched, and his performance on the field was one-of-a-kind. With few elite starting pitchers available, Miami tried to lockup free agent deals with Kenley Jansen or Aroldis Chapman, but ultimately missed out on both. The offense is loaded with young talent, and the bullpen, led by AJ Ramos, is very capable.