Fire

Meet baseball's newest 100 million man

683738.jpg

Meet baseball's newest 100 million man

From Comcast SportsNet
Ever since he became the Washington Nationals' very first draft pick, Ryan Zimmerman wanted to stay with the club for the long haul. Now he'll get that wish. The Nationals took what they hope is another step toward consistent contention by locking up their third baseman -- and the guy many still call the face of the franchise -- through 2019, adding six years to Zimmerman's existing contract in a deal announced Sunday. The deal includes a full no-trade clause. The extra six seasons are worth 100 million, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no financial terms were revealed publicly. "It's nice that it's done," Zimmerman said at a news conference at the club's spring training stadium in Viera, Fla. "It's where I want to be. It's where I've always wanted to be." He already was signed for 2012 and 2013, with 26 million remaining on the five-year, 45 million contract he got at the start of the 2009 season. He's now guaranteed 126 million over the next eight seasons, and there is a club option for 2020. "I love pressure. I don't think people get these kinds of contracts that don't want to be in pressure situations. Ever since I've been here, I've wanted to be the guy that's up last in the ninth inning," Zimmerman said. "I've wanted to be the guy that everyone looks to. I've wanted to be the so-called leader. I relish being that guy. I love it. I wouldn't have it any other way." He grew up not from the nation's capital in Virginia Beach, Va., and his parents still live there. The two sides talked late into the night Saturday, making enough progress for the 27-year-old Zimmerman to extend a self-imposed deadline that coincided with that day's start of official full-squad workouts. He wanted to get a deal completed now or postpone talks until after the season so his contract situation wouldn't be a distraction in the clubhouse for the Nationals, who are hoping to finally be competitive in the NL East. Washington finished third in the division in 2011, the franchise's best showing since moving from Montreal. Zimmerman was the team's first draft pick after the Expos became the Nationals before the 2005 season -- he was taken No. 4 overall that year after playing college baseball at Virginia -- and he quickly emerged as Washington's best player. He's been an NL All-Star, and also collected Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. Last season, Zimmerman was limited by injuries to 395 at-bats over 101 games. He hit .289 with 12 homers, 21 doubles and 49 RBIs. For his career, Zimmerman has a .288 batting average, 128 homers, 214 doubles, 498 RBIs, a .355 on-base percentage and .479 slugging percentage, and he's considered one of the top defensive third basemen in the majors. He's also emerged as one of the leaders of the team in the clubhouse. "In my opinion, it's just another indication the organization is moving in the right direction," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "To lock up a guy and show loyalty to your franchise player ... and to see Zim' be happy at home, and not to have to worry about that any more, it's going to be nice. I'm happy for him. We definitely need him." More than a dozen Nationals teammates showed up for Sunday's news conference. "It's great for them to come, obviously, to show their support. That's one of the reasons why I want to stay here," Zimmerman said. "I want to be with these guys for a long time." The average annual value of Zimmerman's extension is 16.7 million; the average for the eight years works out to 15.75 million. Zimmerman is one of six major leaguers signed through at least 2019, joining Albert Pujols of the Angels, Cecil Fielder of the Tigers, Troy Tulowitzki of the Rockies, Ryan Braun of the Brewers and Matt Kemp of the Dodgers. When Stan Kasten was team president, the Nationals had a policy against giving players no-trade clauses. But they added such a clause when they signed outfielder Jayson Werth to a 126 million, seven-year contract as a free agent last offseason. And now they've done it for Zimmerman. "I'd rather not give a no-trade than give a no-trade because it gives me more flexibility. But for players like this, if it's give a no-trade or not have the player, that's a pretty easy decision," general manager Mike Rizzo said. Rizzo said the no-trade clause does not cover the 2012 and 2013 seasons, only the additional six years. Still, he said he won't trade Zimmerman. "It comes into play when you have trust and honesty between both parties. We didn't go through this exercise and sign Zim' to a six-year (deal), plus an option year, to trade him in the next two years," Rizzo said. "With Mike Rizzo as the GM of the Nationals, he will not be traded in the next two years." Notes: The Nationals had their first live batting practice session Sunday with Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez throwing. But the anticipated matchup of Strasburg vs. Bryce Harper never took place. Harper hit against Nationals closer Drew Storen and later said he was disappointed he didn't get to bat against Strasburg. "Absolutely. I wanted to face him so bad," Harper said. "I wanted to see what he was about. If he made me look stupid, I don't even care."

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

joao-1118.jpg
USA TODAY

Joao Meira spills the first news of the Fire's offseason

The wait to find out which players have their options picked up or declined by the Fire might still be a couple weeks, but the first news of a player move in the Fire's offseason came via Twitter.

Defender Joao Meira announced he won't be returning to the club in 2018.

Meira signed with the Fire just before the start of the 2016 preseason after being out of contract in Europe. The Portuguese center back signed a one-year deal with a club option for the second year.

After he played 28 matches with 26 starts in 2016, the Fire picked up his option. He became even more of a fixture at center back in 2017, beating out Jonathan Campbell for the other starting spot alongside Johan Kappelhof. Meira played in 30 regular season matches and made 27 starts, finishing fourth on the team in minutes played (2,412).

That Meira won't be back isn't a major surprise for a few reasons. First, he was out of contract. He was one of two players, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, on the Fire's roster that the team had no control over for 2018. On top of that, the 30-year-old had made it clear that he wanted to be closer to his home and family in Portugal.

Meira's departure leaves a gap at the center back position for the Fire. Kappelhof, who enters the third year of a three-year guaranteed deal in 2018, and Campbell, who will likely have his club option picked up, enter as the only healthy center backs in 2018. Christian Dean was added in August via trade, but is coming off a broken foot, an injury that has plagued him before. His status for the start of the 2018 season is unclear.

Grant Lillard, a potential homegrown signing and a senior at Indiana, could compete for time at center back next season. He is one of the top rated players in the country for the Hoosiers, which are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. While Lillard could step in from a numbers perspective and would add size to the Fire's back line (Lillard is 6-foot-4), he wouldn't be able to replace Meira's ability on the ball. Meira wasn't as effective of a defender as Kappelhof, but was arguably the best passer among the Fire's center backs and helped alleviate pressure at times.

This also opens up an international spot on the Fire's roster. The Fire went over the alloted total last season, but were able to put John Goossens and Jorge Bava on the disabled list to clear room. Meira's exit gives a bit more flexibility in that department.

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Bears-Lions prediction: Will special teams continue John Fox's NFC North woes?

Only three of John Fox’s 12 wins as Bears coach have been against NFC North opponents, while 12 of his 29 losses have come against divisional opponents. 

That’s a recipe for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the NFC North. And if the Bears can’t beat an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, why could it beat a Detroit Lions team that has a healthy franchise quarterback?

The positive end of that answer is the Bears do have wins over two playoff teams (Pittsburgh and Carolina) while six of their four losses have been by eight points or fewer. Sunday’s game will probably be close, again (if it’s not, and the Bears are on the losing end of it, it would raise some significant concerns about the state of Fox within the locker room). 

So if the game is decided by one possession or less, this could be the difference: Detroit has one of the best special teams units in the NFL, ranking second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, while the Bears are 28th by the same measure. 

Getting Sherrick McManis back this week should help solidify Jeff Rodgers’ special teams units, but Jamal Agnew has two punt return scores and is averaging 18.3 yards per return. 

“Tough guy — he’ll return inside and outside,” Rodgers said. “He’s got multiple longer returns against people this year. it’s not just, ‘I had a long return in Week 2 or Week 1,’ and kinda held onto that. he’s been productive in a lot of games. certainly a guy that we’ve gotta do a good job against.”

If the Bears don’t do a good job bottling up Agnew, though, he could be the reason why the game flips to Detroit — or, at least, why the Lions keep the Bears at arm’s length. 

Prediction: Lions 24, Bears 16