Bears

Reds finalize mega-deal with former NL MVP

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Reds finalize mega-deal with former NL MVP

From Comcast SportsNet
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Joey Votto got a big payday by staying in a small market, agreeing to a 251.5 million, 12-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday that is the longest guaranteed contract in major league history. The agreement adds 225 million over 10 years to his previous contract. The deal includes a club option for 2024, when the 2010 National League MVP turns 41. After watching NL Central rivals St. Louis and Milwaukee lose their first basemen to bigger markets, the Reds secured Votto with a package that easily eclipsed Ken Griffey Jr.'s 116.5 million, nine-year deal from 2000 as the largest in franchise history. In the majors, it trails only Alex Rodriguez's 275 million and 252 million deals, both over 10 years. "Is it risky?" said owner Bob Castellini, who sought a lot of outside advice before signing off on the deal. "No doubt. That's the environment we live in, especially as a small market. We feel Joe will be a cornerstone." It wasn't an easy decision for the 28-year-old Votto to make such a long-term commitment. He decided he had found contentment in Cincinnati, which took him in the second round of the 2002 amateur draft. "Maybe I could have found that elsewhere," Votto said. "Maybe not. But I like what I've got here." Under Castellini, the Reds have been trying to rebuild the franchise into a regular winner by developing players and holding onto them. Six of their nine starters on opening day have come through the farm system. Keeping Votto rather than letting him leave for a bigger market was considered a key. "It's hard to compete with the bigger markets," manager Dusty Baker said before a workout at Great American Ball Park. "You see those guys who have left - they couldn't come up with a deal - and they go to bigger markets like New York, L.A., Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Anaheim. "It means a lot not only for the franchise but also for the city. It means kids can grow up emulating him and pretending to be Joey Votto." Albert Pujols helped St. Louis win the World Series, then got a 240 million, 10-year deal from the Angels in December. Prince Fielder led Milwaukee to the division title, but left for a 214 million, nine-year contract with the Tigers. The Reds have been trying to lock up the young core of their team for the past few years. Outfielder Jay Bruce received a six-year, 51 million deal after the 2010 season, when Cincinnati won the division but got swept in the playoffs by Philadelphia. Votto was offered a long-term deal then as well, but chose a 38 million, three-year contract instead. He said he's more willing to make a long-term commitment now, and joked his girlfriend probably was happy about that, too. Votto gets base salaries of 9.5 million this year and 17 million in 2013 under his previous agreement. The new deal includes salaries of 12 million in 2014, 14 million in 2015, 20 million in 2016, 22 million in 2017 and 25 million in each of the following six seasons. The Reds have a 20 million option for 2024 with a 7 million buyout. Votto's contract tops the 11 seasons Colorado gave Todd Helton in 2001, a deal that guaranteed him 151.45 million. It's an aggressive move for a small market franchise. Castellini said Votto's deal won't handcuff the franchise in keeping other players or Baker, who is entering the final year on his deal. "What we're doing will not be to the financial detriment to the makeup of our team in the future," he said. The Reds essentially kept their roster intact after their 2010 championship season and slipped back to third place last year. They changed strategies in the past offseason, trading for starter Mat Latos and reliever Sean Marshall while remaking their bench. Votto is the fulcrum of an offense that is one of the most productive in the NL, playing in one of its most homer-friendly ballparks. Votto batted .324 with 37 homers and 113 RBIs in 2010, and followed that by batting .309 with 29 homers, 103 RBIs and a career-high 40 doubles last year. His contract eclipses the deal that Griffey got to return to his hometown team in a trade with Seattle in 2000 as the richest in club history. Griffey was the face of the franchise then, even though much of his time in Cincinnati was spent recovering from injuries. Now, it's Votto's turn. "It means a lot to the city to have Joey as the face of the franchise," Baker said. "He's a very good role model for the task." Votto's shy personality came across during a news conference broadcast live to announce the deal. He practiced reading a statement beforehand, but acknowledged that he was nervous. When he stumbled over a word, he joked, "There was a typo right there." Finally, he put the paper aside and talked about how he'd react to the deal. "I always try to do my best," he said. "I can't promise you anything going forward. I can't promise you health or promise you production. I can promise you I'll do my best."

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive Line

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Medium

Decisions to be made on: Mitch Unrein (free agent), John Jenkins (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: Jared Crick, Frostee Rucker, Dominique Easley

This unit was consistently the Bears’ best in 2017, with Akiem Hicks playing at a Pro Bowl level (don’t let his exclusion from the game fool you on that) and Eddie Goldman putting together a rock-solid, healthy year. 

Hicks signed a four-year contract extension just before the season began and rewarded the Bears with a dominant year, racking up 8 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for a loss. Goldman played in and started 15 games and was a key reason why the Bears limited opposing rushers to four yards per carry, tied for the 10th-best average in the league. 

But while the Bears’ defensive line was certainly good, it wasn’t as good as it could’ve been. These words from Vic Fangio ring true for Hicks and Goldman:

“I think they all have a lot more to give to us than we’ve seen,” Fangio said. “And it’s our job to get them to improve and become even better players. That will be more important to us than anybody we can acquire between now and whenever our first game is. So, and I know it’s always sexy to talk between now and the first game, you know, who are you going to draft, who’s in free agency, etc., but we’ve got to get our so-called good players playing even better. And that will be critical.”

Hicks will enter Year 3 in Fangio’s scheme, while 2018 will be Goldman’s fourth. It’ll also be a critical year for Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris, who’ve flashed potential at times but haven’t been able to turn that into consistent success on the field. 

And that’s where we begin to look ahead to free agency and the draft. Is the Bears’ evaluation of Bullard -- their 2016 third-round pick -- positive enough to hand him a bigger role in 2018? That’s question No. 1 to answer, with No. 2 then being if the team should try to re-sign Mitch Unrein. 

It may be a bit risky to move forward with Bullard, given how popular Unrein was among the Bears’ defensive coaching staff. 

“He’s one of the glue guys on the defense and the team,” Fangio said last November. “Every team needs a few of those guys who are going to do everything right, full speed, hard and tough all the time, and that’s Mitch.”

Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers offered this up about Unrein back in October: “He allows those guys to play fast,” with “those guys” being Hicks and Goldman. 

Statistically, the 30-year-old Unrein doesn’t  jump off the page, but he did record a career high 2 ½ sacks in 2017. Perhaps there would be some benefits to continuity in the Bears’ base 3-4 defensive line.

Worth noting too is this position isn’t a huge need, given Unrein usually played between 40 and 55 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps on a per-game basis last year. Keeping Unrein for a relatively low cap hit would make some sense, as opposed to testing free agency to replace him.

Jared Crick is coming off back surgery and an ineffective 2016; Dominique Easley is coming off his third torn ACL this decade; Frostee Rucker is in his mid-30’s. The Bears could look to pick a 3-4 defensive end in April, but that would be a pretty quick re-draft of the position and would be an indication they don’t think much of Bullard. This seems like a position where keeping the status quo is likely, save maybe for replacing John Jenkins with a different backup behind Goldman. 
 

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”