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Drew Brees, Saints still have 'a ways to go'

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Drew Brees, Saints still have 'a ways to go'

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW YORK (AP) -- New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is confident that he and the Saints will agree on a long-term contract. With the start of training camp about a month off, the two sides still have "a ways to go" to close the gap, the 2010 Super Bowl MVP said Tuesday. Nonetheless, he said, "I'm confident, and always have been, that we'll get a long-term deal accomplished." Brees acknowledged that the NFL's bounty investigation into the Saints has slowed down negotiations. "This has been a stressful offseason in a lot of ways. There's been a lot of distractions for everybody," he said. "I'm not using that as an excuse other than just stating it as fact. That has delayed things quite a bit at times." And when it comes to that bounty probe, Brees is adamant that the league has not proved money ever changed hands in a pay-to-injure scheme. "How can everybody think that when there's been no proof that's been put forth thus far?" he said. "There's been an investigation; there's been a lot of stuff put in the media as to what was going on. But is there any proof to back that up? No, there's not. Not yet." Brees was in New York on Tuesday to discuss a program that provides free concussion testing for more than 3,300 middle and high schools and youth sports organizations. He was joined on a panel by retired New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter, former New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks and ex-U.S. women's soccer team goalkeeper Briana Scurry. Scurry's career was ended by a concussion more than two years ago, and she still suffers symptoms such as short-term memory loss, she said. Against that backdrop are the allegations that Saints defensive players intended to injure their opponents. But Brees described the NFL's evidence so far as "hearsay" and "hypotheticals," not the definitive proof needed. "If there is, then it needs to come forward," he said. "If it is what they say it is, then punishments will be levied and deservedly so. But if there's not, then we need to vindicate the guys that were obviously wrongly accused." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello responded in an email to The Associated Press that "the evidence is overwhelming." "The investigation was thorough and includes statements from multiple sources with firsthand knowledge about the details of the program, corroborating documentation and other evidence," Aiello said. "The enforcement of the bounty rule is important to protect players that are put at risk by this kind of scheme. Certainly, Drew Brees would not want to be the target in a bounty scheme and that is why we must eliminate bounties from football." Even if Brees signs a contract in time and doesn't miss any of training camp, the Saints will be short-handed after the penalties handed out by the NFL in the bounty case. Coach Sean Payton and linebacker Jonathan Vilma have been suspended the entire season. Assistant coach Joe Vitt, the interim replacement for Payton, is banned for six games, while defensive end Will Smith is docked four. General manager Mickey Loomis will miss eight games. Former Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, was suspended eight games and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, got three games. "They had a conclusion that they wanted to reach that this was going on," Brees said of the NFL. "So a predetermined conclusion: We're going to gear the investigation and everything toward that conclusion as opposed to let's just gather the facts." The league accused the Saints of running a bounty system from 2009-11 under former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has been suspended indefinitely by Commissioner Roger Goodell and issued an apology for his role in the scandal. Brees questioned the testimony coaches gave to the NFL. "A lot those coaches were living in fear of their careers if they did not cooperate," he said. The Saints placed their one-year franchise tag on Brees, barring him from negotiating with other teams. Brees has skipped voluntary practices and minicamp while holding out for a long-term deal. "I feel like there's been progress made over the last few weeks," he said. "But there's still a ways to go. I'm hopeful that it will happen sooner than later."

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It’s time to fix baseball’s postseason award shows

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USA TODAY Sports Images

It’s time to fix baseball’s postseason award shows

The awards have been distributed, which means it’s time for a fix.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America can do better. Major League Baseball can do better.

This week was rough for the awards. Not the part where fake calls for transparency are actually just social media mob vehicles to bag on voters. The part where Juan Soto and Ronald Acuna Jr. were not available to to talk about being two of the sport’s bright, young stars. Where the two Yankees youngsters up for the AL Rookie of the Year Award were unsure if they were being spoken to. When a Cy Young candidate couldn’t get his Wi-Fi to cooperate while on vacation. The date, the format, the pizazz needs to change. It’s a on a long list of things baseball needs to get up to speed on.

Look at the NHL Awards. Held annually in Las Vegas with a prominent sponsor, as much shine as can be is drummed up. A flood of premier stars attend. It reads well in person. It displays well on the television. It feels and looks modern. It also helps the media by assuring access that can be planned for. 

It’s the right way.

Baseball can start by moving up when the awards take place. We are members of a short-term memory society. Push the awards into the first week of November. That gives it plenty of space before the news cycle can be caught again at the general manager meetings and winter meetings that are to come. Use the close of the World Series as a catapult. Snag the time when most players are resting before offseason workouts begin in earnest.

Elongating the news cycle, the way the NFL magically has with its draft, only works if each segment is in demand. Giving the Manager of the Year Award its own night is unnecessary. Instead, fold it into the evening of awards. 

The NHL announced a three-year extension on its Las Vegas awards party in April. That after 10 years of developing the ceremony into a slick presentation. Obviously, it’s working. 

The Cup makes an appearance. Celebrities join in. The Las Vegas environment is embraced. Fashion is allowed. The muting of personality so long afflicting baseball can be countered for a day in an equivalent setup.

Major League Baseball took an incremental step, as it tends to do, Thursday when it joined with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association to announce “Revised rules on player footwear.” The press release delivered an all-caps headline followed by “Agreement Affords Additional Flexibility for Colors and Design”.

Here’s what changed: Instead of Bryce Harper’s shoes having to be a solid variation of a team color, limited variations are now allowed.

“Players may wear shoes displaying any of the following colors, in any proportion: (i) black, white, and gray; (ii) any colors displayed on the Player’s uniform (and certain variations thereof); and (iii) any additional colors designated by the Player’s Club.”

Of course, teams still have to clear the designs coming from shoe companies. 

In a statement, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said, “Major League Baseball and its Clubs recognize the desire of Players to have more flexibility in this area and are pleased to announce the loosening of regulations that will permit more personalized and stylized footwear.  We believe that this agreement strikes the appropriate balance between the shared goal of permitting Players to express their individuality while maintaining reasonable restrictions on shoe colors and designs.”

It’s as exciting as it sounds. At least it’s something.

Christian Yelich and Mookie Betts were named the MVPs of their respective leagues Thursday. Betts just turned 26 (he’s a mere nine days older than Harper). Yelich is also 26 (about to turn 27). Did you see that photo of them on stage in their suits? No. There was no stage. There’s limited recognition for either. Betts is a World Series champion, three-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove winner and playing in one of the league’s prominent markets. He is the first American League player to win an MVP award, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and a World Series title in the same season. Mike Schmidt is the only other player to do so. Betts should be a sports superstar. He’s not.

A revamped awards show won’t cure Betts’ comparative lack of stature. It won’t make Yelich known the way good, but not star, NBA players are known. 

But any improvement will help. And it’s time to get started.
 

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The Nationals need a left-handed rotation piece; Why Patrick Corbin is their best option

The Nationals need a left-handed rotation piece; Why Patrick Corbin is their best option

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in baseball. Friday is dedicated to Patrick Corbin.

Chasing the Los Angeles Dodgers has become an annual event in the National League. 

Back-to-back World Series appearances were preceded by a league championship series appearance. In all, the Dodgers have made six consecutive playoff appearances, though the magic of 1988 still looms as their last title. And if a path to challenging them directly exists, it’s through left-handed pitching.

Annually, left-handed pitching is one of the few antidotes against L.A. Its lineup has become more balanced the last two seasons — recall how left-handed heavy it was, often on purpose, during the 2016 NLDS vs. the Nationals  — though still has a tough time versus southpaws. At least comparatively. The Dodgers finished with the NL’s best offense last season. They had the No. 1 OPS (.796) against right-handed pitching. They were eighth (.733) versus left-handed pitching.

Los Angeles was almost 100 points worse in OPS against left-handed pitching during the postseason. Rejuvenated Red Sox lefty David Price powered through them during the World Series: 13 ⅔ innings, 1.98 ERA. 

Free agent left-handed starter Patrick Corbin dominated L.A. in the regular season before Price took his turn. Four starts, 23 ⅓ innings, 10 hits, 31 strikeouts, a .125 batting average against and an 0.77 ERA. That was the best Corbin pitched against any team he saw more than once during the 2018 season.

Notable is Corbin did this work within the division against an opponent who knows him intimately, amplifying the difficulty. Think Max Scherzer vs. the Braves. Always a challenge, even when Atlanta was wobbling through recent seasons before hopping to the top of the National League East last season. No one is going to be more prepared than Scherzer. Yet, he often started postgame chats after starts against Atlanta with some variation of, “They know me so well, it really was a grind…”

The Nationals have a hole at their No. 3 spot in the rotation. It was formerly occupied by a left-handed curiosity named Gio Gonzalez. He became unlikely pals with Jonathan Papelbon and once ordered a 1980s-style boombox he believed could be carried next to his ear until it arrived in a cardboard box large enough to hold a credenza. Too large for shoulder occupancy, the boombox had to reside on the floor.

Without Gonzalez’s peccadilloes or southpaw deliveries or sigh-inducing outings, the Nationals are in search of a left-handed rotation piece. Corbin is the best available.

Right behind him, when ordered by WAR, is a diminishing Dallas Keuchel. J.A. Happ (who is 36) comes next in line. Gonzalez is behind him. He won’t be back. Of the 27 free agent starting pitchers who registered 0.1 WAR or more last season, just eight are left-handed. But three of them (Corbin, Keuchel and Happ) are 1-2-3 in WAR among available starters. 

That means the pool is limited and prime for overpays. Corbin, 29, is the lone lefty still ascending. He’s cut two earned runs from his ERA in the last two years after a return from Tommy John surgery. His strikeouts per nine took a significant jump this season as his slider usage continued to rise and a “curveball” (it’s really just a slower slider) entered his repertoire. He’s also made 65 starts the last two years combined. Durability, high strikeout rate, and much-improved peripherals — particularly in hits allowed — should make him the offseason’s most expensive pitcher. If a team is trying to beat the Dodgers now, he just might be worth it. 
 

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