Bears

Frankie O's Blog: Not like it's my money!

Frankie O's Blog: Not like it's my money!

Monday, Feb. 28, 2011
9:03 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Unexpectedly, the favorite topic at the bar this week had nothing to do with something that is going to affect this year. I know, I know, Chicago, and more specifically, Chicago baseball, is at the origin of Wait till next year! Considering that THIS season doesnt start for a month, even for here, its a little ridiculous to be talking about next season. But thats what happens when the best hitter in baseball, someone in my top two of hitters that I have watched in the last forty years, says that he is going to be a free-agent after this season. Players of that caliber, still in their prime, dont become available often, nor do they come cheaply. And that is where the fun starts.

In the economic age in which we live, financial discussions elicit a lot of passion. But as I readily point out, player salaries, in any sport, are way past absurdity. (I then ask: Has anyone seen the bonuses paid out to the big-wigs at Goldman-Sachs? Now that is worth getting worked up about, but I digress.) The point is though, someone actually pays athletes those salaries and once in a while gladly so.

The saying goes: Stats are for losers. Well, I think that could be said about team payrolls. The only time salaries become a topic is when a player or team, greatly under-perform for what they are being paid. More money being paid means that the expectation for better results rises accordingly. Putting your payroll to levels where its never been, means youre all-in, right Kenny? If the White Sox perform this year like they are being paid, the talk will be of making the right financial investments to put together a winner. If this team does not perform, and I wonder how much time they will be given, things could get very interesting here this summer.

But thats this year. What Im talking about right now is next year. By all accounts, Albert Pujols is playing his last season in St. Louis. I do not believe that they will pay him what he wants. I believe that he thinks he has been under-paid in his current seven-year 100 million contract and I agree with that. The conventional thinking is that St. Louis wants players to sign for less than market value with them, just for the privilege of playing in such a great baseball town. If you look at their payroll they only pay big-money to four guys (10 mil per season) and peanuts (remember, this is a relative term) to the rest. That they are in contention every year is a testament of how shrewd they are. Or are they? Chris Carpenter is paid like an ace, but his health is always a concern. They pay Kyle Loshe 10 mil a year. What? Whos Kyle Loshe? But the eye-opener is the 7-year 120 million (plus an option year)contract that they gave Matt Holliday before the 2010 season. Didnt this contract, to this player, look like protection against losing Pujols if he did not take their low-ball offer? I think it was. This year, Pujols is playing on a 16 million team option that was part of his seven-year deal. He is still UNDER-PAID! If you were serious about keeping him, wouldnt you have made him an offer before now? Isnt having to option your best player a bad sign? My guess is that the Cardinals brass is going to spin this as Albert being greedy. That he thinks hes too good. He is that good! I dont know a lot, (I heard that!) but when you do something in Major League Baseball that hasnt been done before, thats usually pretty good. Ten years straight of 30-homers, 100-RBI and having a .300 avg., has never been done before, never that is until The Machine. His stat line is absolutely incredible. More so though, its incredibly consistent, thus the nick-name. The only other players of our time who are close to matching his productivity are two players with the stain of steroid abuse: Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds. Say what you want about those two, but their numbers are scary. Pujols is right with them. And he has done it without a ton of suspicion about him. Averaging 155 games played over ten years tends to erase doubt, since until this point, most abusers tend to break down and need periodic tune-ups.

So what Im trying to say here is that someone is going to have a unique opportunity to shape their franchise with arguably the best player of his time. The price will be steep, but paying for top-of-the-line always is. If you want the best, ante up! The St. Louis argument against doing so is two-fold: His production is bound to go down, why pay for past results? And, who in their right mind, has the ability, and gumption (I really wanted to use another word!) to sign him for what he wants? The number he wants, by the way, is reportedly 10years-300 mill. BOO-YA!

I agree that number sounds insane, but is it? Arent we being told that baseball attendance is the best of all-time? Doesnt it make sense that revenue would be at all-time levels? I have not seen the price of a ticket, or a beer, coming down. A line has to be drawn at some point, but didnt we also say that when we saw the first million dollar player? The first ten million dollar one? The three other major sports have salary caps, will baseball finally join suit? Not without shutting down for a while and that will not benefit anyone, so damn the torpedoes!

So who could it be? Who could be so bold? The usual suspects, the Red Sox and Yankees, are out I think, both having big-contract 1st basemen. The Phillies have Ryan Howard: Trade? The Mets are going to be in Madoff-limbo for a while. The Dodgers have to sort through the messy divorce of their owners. Texas just signed the awful Adrian Beltre deal. Baltimore used to spend money. Detroit? Get serious. The Nats? Now thats a good question. If theyre wacky enough to give Jayson Werth 120 mil, who knows? But it would be shocking. And there are a number of franchises that could make the leap into relevancy, but would they have any money left?

So who are the teams that Cardinals fans should fear could take their Phat Albert away? For my money (easy for me to spend!) it comes down to two teams. One is the Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim. I dont know if its realistic or not but with owner Arte Moreno is involved, anything is possible. And like I said, with the Dodgers ownership a mess, this could be the perfect opportunity for him to be what hes always wanted: Be the most relevant team in Southern California.

The other is the reason for the animated conversations at the bar: The Chicago Cubs. When you stop laughing, read on! I have written in this blog many times that I believed that something seismic would occur for the Cubbies to end their century-plus of futility. I often pondered this while I was watching games last August and September and was admiring all of the fans dressed as empty seats. Then there was the very public rebuff of Cubs ownership of a loan to the team to be paid by taxpayer money. This is a franchise in need of a jolt and Albert would provide that, and then some. Talk about seismic, this is off the charts!

First off: can they afford him? Yes, and, yes! This team brings in money no matter what I think we can all agree. Coincidentally, after this season, they take four big contracts off the books in Aramis Ramirez, Carlos Silva, Kosuke Fukudome and Carlos Pena. Pena has a one year deal at first base, imagine that. Those contracts are worth about 48 million. Ramirez has an option for 16 million next year and I wish him well with that. Silva and Fukudome are gone, or at least are going to take humongous pay cuts. Pena is on a one year deal that works out perfect for using him as a plan B.

Dont know about you, but I think the team could use a face to help itself in the attendance and loan issues. Say what you want about him, but no matter what, Sammy Sosa put people in the seats and before his fall from grace, he was the face of a franchise that made a ton of cash from it. His face was their case! Sometimes you have to invest money to make even more of it. Having a player of Pujols Hall of Fame stature could only help.

And did I mention, this would only tick Cardinals fans off? How cool is that? Working at a Cubs bar has made this Phillies fan as annoyed with Red Bird fans as anyone wearing blue. Nothing would be better than to help shut their yaps about how many titles they have won and that a rivalry is between teams that win championships more than every hundred years. This reason alone would be enough for me to get a deal done.

So to FINALLY put an end to what Im sure will be many pages spent on this subject for the next 12 months, I think that the Cubs need to follow the wisdom of one of the heroes of my youth, and Dare to be great! The philosopher who uttered that phrase that I will never forget, nor its message, was none other than Julius Erving. The Doc. 6. Its about not being afraid to take advantage of an opportunity, if it means you have a chance to win. Is paying anyone 300 million crazy? Sure it is. But its not like paying the 208 million of the contracts to Fukudome and Alfonso Soriano, now that is CRAZY! Someone is going to be nuts enough to sign him, so why not here? Hes the best hitter in baseball and he could be yours. Theres eight months to get everything in order, and Ill be with you every step of the way. Like LeBron James last year in Cleveland, this will be a story that wont die. Oh, and if what you read here doesnt make any sense, come on I and join me at the bar and Ill serve you till it does, it should only take a couple!

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner. 

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

1019_matt_davidson.jpg
USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.