April 24, 2014

Tribe players geeked about Opening Day

The Indians begin the season in Oakland tonight, and the players seem ready to go…

Tomorrow it counts.

Video: Dion’s buzzer beater NBA’s play of the week

On Wednesday, Dion Waiters comepleted the Cavaliers’ improbable comeback with a last second shot to beat the Pistons in Detroit. The play was Dion’s first game winner and earned him the top spot in the NBA’s top ten plays for the week.

 

Facebook map of MLB fandom

As they did for the start of the football season, Facebook revealed a map of the country according to their MLB allegiance. The social media giant gives each county in the country to a team based on the number of ‘likes’ of the official team page it has. It isn’t an exact science of course, but considering Facebook’s reach it is probably as accurate as any other measure.

The Indians dominated northeast Ohio as would be expected. They do not own the majority of Ohio however, as the Reds’ reach spread throughout the middle of the state and into Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia.

FB Baseball map.

The Indians dominate a smaller total area than many of their small market counterparts.

The more interesting thing to me was to compare the map of baseball fan loyalty above, to the map of NFL fan loyalty from last fall below.

312293-facebook-nfl-fan-loyalty-map (Custom)

According to Facebook, the Indians own more counties than the Browns. The Pittsburgh influence in baseball isn’t as strong in the eastern part of the state, nor do the Pirates get a boost from the Findlay area as the Steelers do because of the Ben Roethlisberger connection.

Happy opening day.

[Related: 2014 WFNY Tribe predictions]

Indians sign Kottaras and Lowe to minor league deals

The Cleveland Indians added veteran depth in the organization just before Opening Day by signing relief pitcher Mark Lowe and catcher George Kottaras.

Kottaras has also played a couple of games at third and first base, but is primarily a catcher. It remains to be seen how much Terry Francona will use Carlos Santana to spell the recently extended Yan Gomes at catcher. Kottaras had a relatively uneventful spring with the Chicago Cubs and did not make the roster.

He does however, have an awesome dog.

Lowe threw 10+ innings for the Tampa Rays this spring and gave up a single run. He had a brutal 2013 for the Angels. Chalk this up to the Indians throwing as many arms on the pile as possible, hoping that they catch lightning in a bottle with a couple.

[Related: Setting the lines on the 2014 Indians]

It’s good to be the king… While We’re Waiting

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I don’t really like math. So I don’t really ever sit and just do some for fun. Maybe that’s why this piece on Gene Smith threw me for a loop. The Ohio State Athletic Director will get a bonus of $18,447.94 for junior wrestler Logan Stieber’s national championship from the weekend. Smith gets bonuses for teams or individuals from the Buckeye programs winning on the national level. I understand the idea behind these bonuses. They are incentive for the AD to build winning programs.

What really threw me was the revelation that this bonus was equal to one week’s pay for Smith. One week? Are you serious? Like I said, I’ve never really bothered to break down a million dollar salary by the week as it wasn’t really necessary for my family budget. That just seems unbelievable to me. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Smith probably shouldn’t have survived this long at OSU. What a lucky man.

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Grantland’s Bill Barnwell takes aim at QB pro days in his latest piece, and specifically seems to go to bat for Teddy Bridgewater. I agree to an extent that the pro days don’t tell us the whole story. Perhaps the pro day is kind of a waste of time when you compare it to a private work-out. Maybe that’s why Ray Farmer has already told us he won’t be attending Manziel’s pro day. Hey, it sure would be nice to have a front office ahead of the curve in something.

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Some really good nuggets in this piece about tanking. “Since 1985, when the NBA’s draft lottery began, 19 of the NBA’s 30 teams (63 percent) have played in the Finals, but only eight franchises (27 percent) have won a championship. By comparison, over that same time span, the NFL has seen 25 different teams (78 percent) reach the Super Bowl, with 14 teams (44 percent) winning the Lombardi Trophy. The NHL has had 22 teams (73 percent) face off for a title, with 15 different franchises (50 percent) hoisting the Cup. And MLB — the least payroll-balanced of the four major leagues — has had 25 teams play in the World Series (83 percent) with 18 different victors (60 percent).”

Of course the Cavaliers figure prominently in any discussion of the topic. They tanked once and hit the jackpot in the lottery by getting LBJ. Then there is the recent history. Think of what the Cavs could have done with a couple high draft picks right after drafting LeBron. Imagine getting LaMarcus Aldridge or Brandon Roy to pair with James. The 2005 draft could have brought the point guard the Cavs needed in Chris Paul or Derron Williams.

Sigh.

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No thanks, I’m not hungry now. Not that I was ever a big Skyline Chili fan before (sorry, that isn’t chili, it’s coney sauce on spaghetti) but this is just gross. Skylines in Louisville, Kentucky are dyeing their spag red and blue for the UK-UL sweet 16 match-up. Click at your own risk. It isn’t pretty.

What’s next for the Browns?

Taylor3According to the NFL Players’ union, as of Tuesday morning the Cleveland Browns are still sitting on $31,828,788.00 worth of cap space for the 2014 season.

The Browns entered free agency with around $45 million. They have signed free agents Donte Whitner (S), Karlos Dansby (ILB), Ben Tate (RB), Jim Dray (TE), Andrew Hawkins (WR), Isaiah Trufant (CB) and Paul McQuiston (OL). They re-signed kicker Billy Cundiff, and let go of QBs Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, as well as LB D’Qwell Jackson. Shawn Lauvao (G), Oniel Cousins (G) and T.J. Ward (S) left through free agency.

The big question mark remains Alex Mack, though it would seem that the team most interested in obtaining Mack is now out of that market. Baltimore traded for center Jeremy Zuttah from Tampa Bay.

The Browns of course have the right to match any offer that Mack gets, but teams have been hesitant to try and pry the transition tagged player away from the Browns.

On Tuesday, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam met with reporters from the NFL owners’ meetings in Orlando. He told the gathered throng that he believes Mack wants to be a Brown. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen. What seems very likely is that the Browns will be willing to match nearly any offer handed to to the Pro Bowl center. Haslam himself said that Mack is the kind of player that they want around long term.

The Mack situation aside, what is the next move for this organization? [Read more...]

Video: Nick Swisher and Mike Polk Jr. are Bro-tastic roommates

Mike Polk hits another home run with this video from spring training. Love the posters of horses next to Swisher.

 

Extending Terry Francona and wearing too much green … While We’re Waiting

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Beane Counters. I am obviously not one of the big advanced metrics guys on the site. I did enjoy this piece by Grantland’s Jonah Keri. In it Oakland GM Billy Beane talks about the kind of people he wants to hire in his organization and says that sometimes these lower tier front office types could be more valuable in the long run than free agents.

I’ve thought for a while that the two most important skills in an organization are identifying (or evaluating) and developing talent. In baseball terms, how good would an organization be, regardless of market size, if they had a pipeline of talent coming through the minor leagues every year? The answer is obvious. In the NFL the draft is such a HUGE deal, but what if you could increase your chance of hitting on each pick by 15-25%? How much better would your team be year in and year out?

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Terry Francona is the closer. At least according to his new closer John Axford. Francona, WFNY’s sportsman of the year for 2013, is more than just a manager. He is a recruiter as well. We’ve heard it before about players like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, but even guys like Ryan Raburn and John Axford are saying this guy is the reason players want to come to Cleveland.

Perhaps this season, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to think about a contract extension for Francona, who signed a four year deal last year. It couldn’t hurt to let the players know that the manager they love so much is going to be around for the long term. That’s kind of a funny sentence to type in this town.

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 Cavs Rank continues at Stepien Rules  with #6 Austin Carr.

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The St. Patrick’s Day special uniforms are getting a tad ridiculous. I totally get the Celtics having a special uniform for the day. I could even understand an NBA or NHL franchise playing a home game that has a significant Irish population getting in the act.

But why in the world are MLB teams playing spring training games in the middle of the desert undergoing such drastic changes for a game? Makes no sense. I know, I know. $$$$

Bengals make it official: decline to match Browns’ offer for Hawkins

The Browns found out on Tuesday what they had suspected all along. The Bengals won’t be matching their offer to restricted free agent wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.

The Bengals’ head coach Marvin Lewis had this to say about the former Cincinnati and University of Toledo pass catcher-

“I don’t want to let Andrew go without making note that he has been a very hard working and contributing player,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “He has set a great example of being a great teammate. But we’re fortunate to have a lot of depth at wide receiver, and we’re excited to move forward. Our leading receivers from last year will all return, and we have another group who know our system and have earned our confidence that they are ready to see more action.”

“It’s a given that we will invest in players to the limit of the salary cap, but the system means teams have to make choices, and we don’t believe this match, at this time, would serve our goal of allocating resources roster-wide for the best possible team come September.”

The Browns reportedly offered Hawkins a four year deal worth $13.6 million ($4 million guaranteed). $5.8 million of that is thought to be the first year cap number.

The Bengals are not without cap space. The most recent figures released by the NFLPA have the Bengals $26.6 million under the cap. They do have money tied up at the wide receiver position however, which is why they likely passed on Hawkins.

The Browns are now $31.828 million under the cap.

[Related: Will Alex Mack's future come down to who blinks first?]

Will Alex Mack’s future come down to who blinks first?

MackThe transition tag is seldom used in the NFL. The Cleveland Browns and Alex Mack may be realizing why that is.

When the decision was made, I wrote that the Browns were gambling a bit. Signs pointed to the Browns wanting to get a long term deal done with Mack, but needing more time to get the deal done.

Since the transition tag was placed on Mack, and the one year offer was tendered, Mack (or perhaps better stated his agent) has taken the foot off of the accelerator on getting a new deal done. The Mack camp has stated that they wanted to test the free agent market, and were in no hurry to sign the Browns’ tender.

Meanwhile, the Browns have lost guards Shawn Lauvao and Oniel Cousins in free agency and have seen the top guards and centers in free agency signed by other teams. If they played a game today, John Greco and Jason Pinkston would likely start at guard, with Garrett Gilkey as the back-up.

The point there is that the Browns are running out of options in free agency to improve the offensive line, especially if they end up losing Alex Mack because they don’t want to match an offer that he receives. [Read more...]

Ben Tate contract details revealed

The NFL Players Association revealed details about Ben Tate’s contract with the Browns on Tuesday.

The deal was originally reported to be a heavy incentive based contract. In the end, $1 million ($500 thousand each year) is tied to performance bonuses.

Regardless, the deal is still less than the four year deal that the Redskins gave to former Browns guard Shawn Lauvao. In fact, Tate’s base salary will not be among the top 20 running backs in the league.

[Related: Three questions about the Browns offseason thus far]

Browns still have $33.74 million in cap space

According to figures released by the NFL Players association Monday morning, the Cleveland Browns still have $33,740,038 in salary cap space remaining for the 2014 season.

That figure includes recently signed Ben Tate and the hold for Alex Mack’s transition tag.

The team will reportedly get another $75,000 in cap relief from Brandon Weeden’s signing with the Cowboys.

Only the Oakland Raiders ($59.273 million) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($46.173 million) have more cap space than the Browns.

[Related: Ben Tate is a good signing but not without risk]

Michael Bourn out at least a week with hamstring soreness

Cleveland Indian Michael Bourn was pulled from Sunday’s game in Arizona with “mild tightness” in his left hamstring.

He was re-evaluated on Monday by the Tribe’s medical staff and is optimistic that he will still be ready to go when the Indians open the season on March 31st.

Bourn felt the tightness running from first to third on a single by Nick Swisher in the first inning. He would score and remain in the game through his at-bat in the second, but was replaced by Tyler Naquin for the home half of the inning.

According to Bourn, the injury is not related to the one he suffered in last year’s playoff game that required off-season surgery.

[Related: Animated- Santana homers and Masterson strikes out 8]

NFL Free Agency: Browns meeting with Ben Tate; Alex Mack in no hurry

Free agent running back Ben Tate came to Cleveland on Thursday the team confirmed, and remained in town on Friday.

Tate is 25 years old. He has rushed for 1992 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averages 4.7 yards per carry for his career. Tate has been primarily a back-up to Houston’s Arian Forster for the past three seasons. He is listed as 5’11″ and weighs 215 pounds.

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One free agent who is not in a hurry to take a visit or sign a deal is center Alex Mack. The Browns applied the transition tag to Mack meaning they have the right to match any deal that the 5 year veteran works out with another club. Mack could also chose to sign the Browns’ one year tender, play out the season and be a free agent all over again.

Reportedly, Mack has four teams interested in making a deal with him. That could be an agent smokescreen as well.

 [Related: Joe Haden takes exception to NFL Network tweet]

Joe Haden takes exception to NFL Network twitter poll

Who is the best Corner in the NFL? That’s the question posed on twitter by the NFL Network on Friday. The network gave three choices with hashtags. You could tweet to vote for Richard Sherman, Aqib Talib or Derrelle Revis.

Haden asked if there was an “other” choice.

We’re with you Joe. Haden should have been in that discussion.

[Related: Talib's contract raises the bar for Haden extension]

Picture: Jason Kipnis drilled by Jeremy Guthrie, shows off wound

Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis was hit by a pitch by Jeremy Guthrie in Cleveland’s 12-6 win over the Royals in Arizona today.

Perhaps hit isn’t a strong enough word.

Kipnis took the fastball in the back, and following the game showed off the mark via his twitter account.

Um, ouch.

Kipnis doubled and drove in a run pushing his spring training average up to .375.

The Browns sign TE Jim Dray, are you him?

Dray

The Cleveland Browns announced today that they have signed tight end Jim Dray to a free agent contract. According to the Arizona Republic, the deal is three years for $5.625 million.

Chances are you are not familiar with Jim Dray.

Those very familiar with Stanford football may recall that Dray had a horrific knee injury in 2007 that resulted in “two surgeries (Oct. 18 and Dec. 6) to repair his ACL, PCLA, LCL, hamstring, lateral band, posterior capsule and popitillas.” Dray spent a year rehabbing the leg and came back in the middle of his senior season.

Dray was a seventh round pick of the Cardinals in 2010. He started 15 games for Arizona last season, catching 26 passes for 215 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

He is 6’5″ and 250 pounds, and should be a blocking tight end and big target over the middle.

[Related: Bengals now unlikely to match offer for Hawkins]

 

Indians send out 12 from big league camp, including Lindor

Lindor HRThe Indians today reduced the roster in Major League camp by a dozen players.

The team reassigned shortstop Francisco Lindor, catchers Jake Lowery, Roberto Perez and infielders Tony Wolters, Joey Wendle along with outfielder Tyler Naquin to Minor League camp.

The Tribe also optioned pitchers Austin Adams and TJ House along with infielders Jesus Aguiar, Jose Ramirez and outfielder CARLOS Moncrief to Triple-A Columbus. Infielder ERIK Gonzalez was sent to Single-A Carolina.

Lindor had four hits in fifteen at-bats in Cactus League action, including a home run and a double. He drove in four runs and struck out three times.

[Related: Raburn rocking, Bauer rocked]

NFL Free Agency Notebook: First Impressions

Whitner Haden DansbyHappy New Year.

On Tuesday at 4:00, the NFL calendar officially flipped to 2014. It also signaled the beginning of free agency, and with loads of cap space the Browns were poised to be players in the market. The Browns moved quickly on a pair of defensive players to replace T.J. Ward and D’Qwell Jackson.

Karlos Dansby is the new linebacker in the middle for Mike Pettine. As durable and dependable as D’Qwell Jackson has been for the Browns, Dansby is something that Jackson never has been- dynamic. Dansby is a much more aggressive linebacker, and quite honestly a bigger playmaker.

As I was thinking through the switch from Jackson to Dansby, I tried to remember a big time play from Jackson last season. Truth be told, I couldn’t come up with one. Jackson has long been a guy that makes a bunch of tackles four yards past the line of scrimmage, not in the backfield. Dansby has much more big play potential, including an ability to get to the quarterback from the inside backer position. It’s also hard not to notice the difference between Jackson’s tackles (78 solo, 65 assists) and Dansby’s (113 solo, 8 assists).

In this case the change is an upgrade. Which is a little hard to say, because I really like Jackson the person. [Read more...]

Uniform trends, adding pitches and new games: While We’re Waiting

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Uni-Watch creator Paul Lukas talks about the pendulum of uniform changes. Is change really inevitable? If so does that mean design will always push against tradition?

The Browns will reveal new uniforms sometime around the 2015 draft. While I usually hate change for the sake of just changing, I don’t think this is the apocalypse of Cleveland sports.  Lukas says that fans usually fall into two camps, the newer is always better and the get off my lawn groups. I don’t think that has to be the case. Take us through the process. Explain things to us. Give me a reason to jump on board. When the Seahawks incorporated the 12th man (the fans) in their design? I was jealous. It doesn’t have to be a gimmick. [Lukas/Uniwatch]

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Former Tribe pitcher and now broadcaster Jensen Lewis talked with FanGraphs about pitchers coming to spring training and trying new pitches. We already reported that Zach McAllister is working on a slider. In the interview Lewis discusses why pitchers resort to these new pitches. Some, like former Indian CC Sabathia have to do something to make up for diminishing velocity. Most simply don’t have overpowering stuff and have to constantly tweak being deceptive. It’s a good read. [Collette/FanGraphs]

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The Akron RubberDucks are holding a name the mascot contest. You can’t see the new mascot yet, as they aren’t unveiling him until opening day. Winner gets season tickets. Make your jokes about winning season tickets to a AA baseball team, but Akron does a good job.

I had the chance to sit and talk with owner Ken Babby last fall. I came away from the interview impressed. He doesn’t strike me as a guy out to prove he’s the smartest guy in the room. He’s a dad first, and knows how to surround himself with good people.

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Since we’re showing personal flavor in WWW now, I thought I’d chime in with the occasional board game banter. A while back I wrote about the other hobby of mine and had a decent response to the piece. So this week I’m presenting a newer game that my family really loves.

steamparkThe game is called SteamPark. The object is to have the most profitable theme park. It has a steam punk setting, and the artwork is just fantastic. All of the components are quality, and there are plenty of them. The game involves several mechanics, but the primary one is a dice race. Each player has a set of dice with action symbols on them. Players simultaneously roll their dice in a race to see who can get the actions they want and claim the earliest turn cards. These cards determine order of play and have special bonuses or penalties. It is a really cool twist on typical dice rolling.

Players can build rides, attract visitors (which may or may not stay in your park), install stands such as concessions or bathrooms, clean your park, expand your grounds or apply bonus cards. There are multiple ways to make your park profitable, but be careful not to ignore your growing dirt problem. At the end of the six rounds that dirt can have a serious penalty.

The game plays 2-4, and with the six turn limit really shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes after you learn it. It says 10+ on the box, but my nine year old loves it and does just fine without any concessions given. You will likely have to get this one online or at a local comics/games shop. No Target, WalMart or Toys R Us deals yet.