Pump the brakes, don't anoint the Giants winners in the McCutchen trade just yet

Pump the brakes, don't anoint the Giants winners in the McCutchen trade just yet

It’s almost like the San Francisco Giants wanted to keep their second biggest player acquisition of the off-season a secret.

But evidently it wasn’t a holiday for them, or for the housecleaning Pittsburgh Pirates, who having just rid themselves of pitcher Gerrit Cole for some odds and ends in the Houston system have agreed to a deal that sends center fielder Andrew McCutchen to the Giants, presumably in exchange for a package that includes pitcher Kyle Crick and may also involve minor league outfielder Brian Reynolds.

McCutchen, a significant force in the game until 2015, comes to a huge outfield that sits on power hitters, but he is also coming from a bit of a bounceback season in which all his various WARs, OPS+ and traditional offensive metrics all rose as his defensive range diminished (well, he is 31).

He is also a qualified rental, as his digestible $14.5 million salary in 2018 ends with him as an unrestricted free agent, so the Giants will only have him for one season unless he (a) falls in love with the team, (b) the town, or (c) plays well enough to stay but not well enough to get a better offer.

He will likely play right field while Hunter Pence moves to left and a gaggle of potential, led by Austin Slater, tries to tackle the vast gerrymandered spaces of center field.

Salary-wise, he takes the Giants to $191M (including the Matt Cain buyout), allowing them no more real headroom on the luxury threshold. In other words, the shop is closed until the team can match dollar for dollar.

But he adds another big name from the recent past to go with new third baseman Evan Longoria, and makes the Giants incrementally younger (he is two years and 222 days younger than new Tampa Bay Ray Denard Span). Thus, the Giants have improved themselves in talent and birthdays at the cost of a bit more than $5 million in salary. We shall learn in six months who got the better end of this exchange – the Giants, or Not The Giants.

If stomping the Cavs matters, the Warriors will defend fiercely Monday night

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AP

If stomping the Cavs matters, the Warriors will defend fiercely Monday night

The Golden State Warriors have taken their nostalgia tour to Cleveland for a regular season game given way too much import by those of us who don’t have the fortitude to wait for April. That’s what happens when you win – you become repetitive, and in our attention-spans-are-for-Grandpa culture, there are few things worse.

But one of them is allowing way too many points, and the Warriors – ONLY the Warriors – have found a way to give up points without giving up games. This seems unsustainable, and it certainly isn’t if you watch that vein in Steve Kerr’s forehead, but so far . . . well, you know.

The Warriors have allowed 120 points or more four times in the last 16 days, an unusually high number for a good team and a ridiculous one for a team that trumpets its overarching defensive value.

And it’s true. Golden State is a good defensive team with top-level shot contesters, shot-changers and shot-blockers. They could, if their put their minds to it, hold anyone below 90, and do it routinely.

But they aren’t, and while we could offers theories about injuries, tired legs, age or intermittent disinterest, we think this is just a diabolically clever homage to the 1990 Warriors under Don Nelson, an otherwise mediocre team that tied, if not out-and-out set an NBA record for breeze-bys by allowing five opponents 120-plus scores in seven days.

Now that was a bad team, and an epochally terrible defensive team, in part because Don Nelson believed that points for beats every other metric; hell, he didn’t know from metrics back then, because nobody did.

But in allowing 127 to the expansion Orlando Magic, then hitting the road to allow 144 to Indiana, 134 to Milwaukee, 132 to Chicago and 125 to Detroit, the Warriors established a record for screw-it that can not be bettered, given the fact that the rules didn’t permit more than five games in any seven-game period. The Warriors should have a patch commemorating this anniversary with a swinging gate next to the capital "R" on their scapulas.

And since no defense was mandated by this plucky unit (the 1988 team was even worse), that team was doing what it was told to do. This one is sixth in defensive rating and points allowed per 100 possessions, and yet is showing that defense can go through slumps, or at least can be turned on and off at will, to the consternation of every non-AAU coach who ever drew breath.

We’ll see tonight how much it matters, though. If stomping the Cavaliers matters as an ego exercise, the Warriors will defend fiercely – unless/until they get up by 20, in which case never mind. Because they really can turn it on and off, as maddening as that might seem.

Bortles the worst QB in the NFL? Yeah, he doesn't care

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AP

Bortles the worst QB in the NFL? Yeah, he doesn't care

Blake Bortles of America’s Jaguars represents something new and dangerous in American sports, and no, it isn’t because he is the national punch line who punches back.

Rather, the Jacksonville quarterback who is preparing for the AFC Championship Game against the New England Monolith, is dangerous because he seems genuinely not to care at all that he is routinely savaged as the worst quarterback in the National Football League. Not just passive-aggressively so, but actually and completely.

Have you any idea what this does to the smack-talking industry? If this catches on, our generation of semi-malevolent athletic parrots are stuck without a reason to talk that trash.

Of course, Bortles is unusual in this regard, in that he has been mean-mouthed not just by players but by regular citizens. He has been used as a prop for the Why-Isn’t-Colin-Kaepernick-Working movement, he has been compared unkindly to Ty Detmer, the previous low water mark in championship-level quarterbacks, and essentially disparaged almost universally.

Put another way, a case can be made that he has been savaged in his idiom as aggressively as the President.

And what does he do? Well, win, sure, but he has help, as all quarterbacks do. We always seem to forget that in our only-one-position-matters depth of understanding about the sport.

No, what he does is say with all sincerity that he doesn’t care one way or another, and that he never claps back at anyone for their more pointed views re: his skill set. If this is so, he is not only the owner of a rhinoceros hide, but he may be the living embodiment of a movement toward, “Oh, I suck? Yeah, okay, whatever. You’re probably right. You have yourself a good day.”

Andrew Luck does that after receiving a big hit. Bortles seems to do it on command, and if this is the future of sports in America, we are heading for a fascinating new world of relative silence.

But we know better. Bortles is an outlier, again, and this will not catch on. There’s no putting the mess-talk back in the tube. But if it helps, Bortles has another round of grief awaiting him this week as he is compared to Tom Brady . . . as a compost heap is compared to the Taj Mahal.

Only with more F-bombs.