Brees wants to bury bounty probe, help New Orleans

Brees wants to bury bounty probe, help New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Drew Brees wore gray sneakers to his first full day of Super Bowl-related appearances - a wise move for an ambassador of a city who had to walk briskly from end to end of a sprawling convention center to make all of his scheduled stops.

Not only was the Saints' star quarterback a man on the move, but also ready to move on from the bitterness of the bounty scandal, which may have undermined his team's chances of playing for a title on its home field.

``We're professionals and we've moved past that in the sense that there's nothing that can be done other than, `Let's move on and let's find a way to be better next year in spite of it,''' Brees said. ``It would be easy to sit here and be angry, but it is what it is.''

Coming off a 13-3 campaign in 2011 and a narrow loss to San Francisco in that season's playoffs, the Saints went into the offseason figuring they would be contenders again this season.

Then came the NFL's probe of the Saints' cash-for-hits program and numerous sanctions, the most severe of which was the full-season suspension of coach Sean Payton. New Orleans went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and now the team practicing at the Saints' suburban training center is the NFC champion 49ers.

Throughout the community, displeasure with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's handling of the matter has been on display for months, from T-shirts reading ``Free Payton'' (he is now reinstated) to signs in bars and eateries showing Goodell's photo and reading: ``Do not serve this man.''

During the season, Brees offered his own criticism of what he thought was a faulty investigation and overly heavy-handed disciplinary process. But when the topic came up Wednesday, Brees said it was time to ``put this thing to bed.''

``We've said what needed to be said,'' Brees said. ``Sean's back, all the pieces are in place, and now it's time for us to put ourselves in a position to make a run.''

Brees has been one of New Orleans' most prominent public faces and leading promoters since he arrived in the Big Easy in 2006, when much of the area was still in a state of devastation from Hurricane Katrina's August 2005 landfall. Now his team is the official host of the Super Bowl, and Brees is once again stepping up to highlight his adopted hometown's resurgence as it hosts the Super Bowl for the first time since 2002 - also the first time since Katrina.

He also sought to stamp out the notion that there is some kind of undercurrent of tension between his club, its fans and all of the high-ranking NFL executives in town for the league's biggest single event.

``I know the city is going to be a great host regardless,'' Brees said. ``The city wants to put their best foot forward, they want everybody to have a great experience. I don't like the fact that we've got the NFC team practicing in our facility, but we're going to be gracious hosts and hope that it pays us back in the future.''

Brees' stops Wednesday included a talk with area high school kids about the importance of managing one's money. He even revealed that he graduated Purdue with an unpaid $2,000 mobile phone bill, and later regretted it when it damaged his credit score and pushed up the interest rate he had to pay on the first house he bought in San Diego, shortly after being drafted by the Chargers in 2001.

Later, he hosted a news conference in which his foundation donated $1 million to businesses teaming up with charities in the metro area. He also made several radio appearances and lent his support to an event hosted by former Saints special teams standout Steve Gleason, who has the debilitating and incurable neuro-muscular disease ALS.

As an organization, the Saints' approach has mirrored that of their quarterback. Owner Tom Benson spoke at an NFL event promoting the importance of children doing more physical activity on Wednesday. He has invited Goodell to the team party in New Orleans' City Park on Thursday night, and he will attend Goodell's main media event Friday and has even invited the commissioner to watch the game from his suite in the Superdome.

``We're making this the best Super Bowl ever and what that means is we're going to get another Super Bowl to come back in a few years,'' said Benson with a nod to the city's intent to bid on the 2018 Super Bowl. ``We've rolled out the red carpet for everybody.''

Frank Supovitz, the NFL's vice president for events, called the Saints ``outstanding hosts.''

``We've been working on the Super Bowl together with the Saints the last three years. ... The level of partnership has never wavered for a moment,'' he said. ``The NFL and Super Bowl have had a long and deep relationship with the city and with the team and one of the pleasures of my career has been working with the team on the reopening of the dome (after Katrina). We've been very, very close partners with the city and the team and I don't expect that to change.''

Dennis Lauscha, who serves as the president of both the Saints and NBA's Hornets - which Benson bought last spring - scoffed at the idea that any animosity lingered between the Saints and the league.

``What we're absolutely concerned about is making sure we put on the best possible show and make a great bid on the next one. We want to put our best foot forward,'' Lauscha said. ``No question we wanted to be the first team to host and play on our own field in the same year. We had an unbelievable experience down in Miami when we won the Super Bowl and we kept on saying how great it would be if we could do that back in New Orleans for our fans, so there is a bit of disappointment in that, but look, we're looking forward to next year and winning the Super Bowl in New York.''

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Sterling Sharp headlines Nationals prospects who could be picked in Rule 5 Draft

Sterling Sharp headlines Nationals prospects who could be picked in Rule 5 Draft

When the Rule 5 Draft begins at noon ET on Thursday in San Diego, every MLB club will have the opportunity to steal a prospect from another club—with a catch.

Any player selected in the Rule 5 Draft must remain on his new team’s 25-man roster all season, or else be placed on waivers before being offered back to his original club for $50,000.

The Nationals aren’t expected to select anyone during this process, especially after the team signed career minor-league Kyler Finnegan onto their 40-man roster. He carries the same professional experience as a Rule 5 pick but still has three options remaining.

Washington could, however, lose a prospect to another club, with the most likely candidate being right-handed pitcher Sterling Sharp. The Nationals added fellow prospect Ben Braymer to their 40-man ahead of the November deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft. But Sharp was left off, making him an intriguing option for other clubs should they select him.

Sharp, 24, was limited to just nine starts at AA-Harrisburg this season due to an oblique injury. When he was on the field, he posted a 3.99 ERA with an 8.2 K/9. That helped earn him an invitation to the Arizona Fall League, where he put up a 1.50 ERA and sub-1.000 WHIP in six starts. He’s a groundball pitcher who still racks up solid strikeout numbers with a three-pitch arsenal that includes two plus-graded pitches in his fastball and changeup. Sharp is also athletic for a pitcher, once going viral for slamming a between-the-legs dunk.

Braymer is left-handed and earned a promotion to AAA-Fresno this season, so it’s understandable why the club chose to protect him over Sharp. But MLB Pipeline actually rates Sharp (13) higher than Braymer (15) on its Nationals Top 30 list, a pedigree that’s more likely to put Sharp on other teams’ radar ahead of the draft.

The other prospects in the Nationals’ top 30 who are eligible to be selected are Steven Fuentes (21), Malvin Pena (22), Gilbert Lara (25), Telmito Agustin (27) and Jhonatan German (28). No other team has six players from their top 30 eligible for this year’s draft.

Up I-95 over in Baltimore, the Orioles are a team that might be more likely to make a selection. In his first Rule 5 Draft with the club, General Manager Mike Elias selected shortstop Richie Martin from the Oakland A’s with the No. 1 pick. Martin played 120 games and was the team’s everyday shortstop by the end of the year, although he hit just .208 with six home runs.

The team’s 40-man roster is already at 38 players, so they could decide to forego a pick in order to use that roster slot another way. But with the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, they’ll have plenty of options to choose from should they decide to make a pick.

Baltimore could also lose a player as well, namely Cody Sedlock, who ranks 17th on their MLB Pipeline Top 30. Sedlock, 24, was promoted to AA-Bowie last season and posted a 3.71 ERA and 9.0 K/9 in nine games (six starts). A former first-round pick out of Illinois, he’d be a risk for another team given his little experience above High-A.

Right-handed pitcher Gray Fenter (30) is the only other Orioles’ top-30 prospect who will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft.


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Stephen Strasburg held contract record for 33 hours before Gerrit Cole broke it

Stephen Strasburg held contract record for 33 hours before Gerrit Cole broke it

When the offseason began, it was widely expected that a starting pitcher would be signing a record contract before the end of the winter.

David Price held the record for the highest total value with his seven-year, $217 million deal with the Boston Red Sox that he signed in December 2014. The highest average annual salary, however, belonged to Zack Greinke for the six-year, $206.5 million contract he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks ($34.42M AAV) before being traded to the Houston Astros.

Both those records were smashed this winter, but the first one to do it wasn’t who most were expecting.

Stephen Strasburg agreed to a seven-year, $245 million deal ($35M AAV) with the Nationals on Monday that broke both Price’s and Greinke’s records. Despite having $80 million of that total deferred to after the seven years, Strasburg was the sole owner of the richest contract for a pitcher in MLB history.

That is, until the news broke just before midnight on Tuesday night that Gerrit Cole reached an agreement with the New York Yankees on a nine-year, $324 million contract that left Strasburg’s deal in the dust. Not only is his $36 million AAV be the highest of any pitcher ever, it’s also the highest of any player ever—just edging past Mike Trout’s figure of $35.54 million.

Strasburg is no longer the highest-paid pitcher in baseball, but after opting out of the remaining four seasons and $100 million left on his previous deal only to receive an additional three years and $145 million—which makes his opt-out the most successful ever—he’s probably not too disappointed.