Browns Go Baseball with Paul DePodesta Hiring

Since the Cleveland Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, the dedicated fans of the Dawg Pound haven’t had much to celebrate. Years of management and roster overhauls created a tumultuous situation that resulted in mostly sub-.500 records and inconsistency across the board.

This season saw another failed year in the always competitive AFC North where the struggling club must contend with the often-powerhouse Bengals, Ravens and Steelers six times a season. The year resulted in another below .500 record, and the ouster of head coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer almost immediately after the team’s loss to the Steelers on the final week. And just like that, the Browns and the Cleveland faithful were back to square one to start off 2016.

This time around, the Browns went outside the box, some would say extremely outside of it, with the hiring of baseball veteran and Moneyball originator Paul DePodesta as the team’s new chief strategy officer. DePodesta is known for helping usher baseball into the analytics era. Earning a name for himself in Cleveland, Paul joined the Oakland A’s front office in 1999, where he took his analytical focus to great success. After Oakland, Paul spent almost two years as the general manager of the L.A. Dodgers before moving to San Diego and then to the New York Mets.

The move to bring DePodesta to an entirely different sport certainly brought on some laughs, but the hiring could prove to be an excellent signing for owner Jimmy Haslam and the sluggish Browns. If you haven’t read Monday Morning Quarterbacks profile on Paul’s hiring, I recommend you do so now. The first thing that should be mentioned is that not only does Paul carry a storied football career that took him to Harvard as a wide receiver, he also thrives on challenges. He is a thinker that wants to challenge himself to improve, and in doing so, improve those around him. If Cleveland was searching for a brain trust to oversee strategy, they scored a touchdown with this hiring.

Beyond his familiarity with the sport, football is moving towards a data-focused game. Between player safety and more teams placing an emphasis on a Moneyball style of its own, the Browns could be the first club to really place a cultural emphasis on stats across the organization. If Paul can bring the same success he helped usher in with the Cleveland Indians, he may end up being the second coming of LeBron James to the beleaguered city, as exaggerated as that may sound.

And sure, it could go down as another failed move from the club, but it’s worth a shot. Now with coach Hue Jackson in place–a hiring that some think could cause a clash between DePodesta’s new ideas and Jackson’s traditional approach to the game–Cleveland can begin to focus on the future. There’s still a lot of work the franchise needs to improve, but this could be the about face it needs. If Paul and Hue can deliver, and the club practices some patience, the AFC North may just become even more competitive in the coming seasons.

Free Agent Signing Trends May Not Be as Consistent as You Think

Courtesy: SLAM Online

Courtesy: SLAM Online


For most major American sports, free agency season almost always brings about the most discussion and tension amongst fans, insiders and analysts alike. Almost every season, at least one big name player’s contract runs out and speculation about their next destination runs rampant–sometimes even months before the window actually opens up.

Some seasons are ones for the record books.

In 2010, literal years of speculation over where some of the NBA’s biggest names–including LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and several other game changing players–finally came to a head. That summer saw the formation of Miami’s Big 3 and several other marquee players change jerseys and zip codes.

Depending on the people you’re discussing the issue with, you probably will hear two different approaches to free agency. One belief believes that free agency doesn’t start until the first major contract is signed, dictating the salary demands and contracts of similar players. The other sees free agency as an open market with little to no order.

In truth, they’re both right at times.

When looking at free agency across the major sports in America, several factors help shape the market and much of the league’s demand.

At the end of the day, all markets are want vs need. In the NBA, the game saw a massive change when the largely small ball Warriors upended the league and its big men with a largely perimeter shooting approach to win last season’s trophy. That resulted in some teams changing their free agency philosophy. With several talented bigs on the market, some teams opted for different skilled position players. Certainly bigs like Greg Monroe and Robin Lopez found new homes, but did the market change after the Warriors brought their approach to the forefront? It’s hard to argue against that. Similarly so in Major League Baseball, some offseasons may see power hitters or ace pitchers fly off the market with massive deals. In other years, some of the biggest names will be some of the last signed. As Mike Axisa of CBS Sports explains, the MLB saw several different patterns form over the last few free agent periods, debunking much of the belief that the market waits on its biggest names.

Another big man from last season’s NBA free agent class, Marc Gasol, represents why the market doesn’t always wait for the big contract ink to dry. This past offseason saw huge names like Gasol, LeBron and Manu Ginobili mostly stay put with their old teams. When looking at how the order of deals went down this past summer, it appears that most teams knew this would be the case and opted to make complementary players more the priority. While some large signings came early on–including DeMarre Carroll joining Toronto and Brandan Wright joining us in Memphis–the biggest chip of the season, LaMarcus Aldridge, took a few days to sign. Certainly some teams waited for his decision, mostly hoping Aldridge would choose their club, while others swooped in for other options.

This can also be said in the NFL and NHL. The last NFL offseason certainly saw lots of names moving around at all different times during the window. 2014’s rushing leader, DeMarco Murray, weighed his options for a while before signing with Philadelphia in the middle of March–after a flurry of rumored signings for both sides. This happens at times. In other instances a player may overestimate their market and remain on the sidelines for a while before getting an opportunity from a team in need due to injury or lagging performance from the current roster. Other times, a player may be coming off a bad reputation and will have to deal with a declined market interest.

In short, while the marquee players and contracts certainly do dictate the temperature of the market, they don’t hold the rest of the market in a freeze until they sign. Depending on the circumstance, teams and free agents may take the plunge early, or hold off to see how the market shapes up over the window.

Cut Them Some Slack? Looking at the Moves of Your Favorite Sports Teams

via Keith Allison

via Keith Allison

In almost all of our daily lives, whether it be for work or personal, involves some degree of risk assessment. From our want to sleep an extra half hour before getting ready to work to buying a new home to deciding if it’s time to look for new work or keep pushing through at your current job, risk assessment is crucial to all of us.

But we tend to forget that when it involves our favorite team. I’m not here to scold or chastise anyone because I’ve certainly done the same as a sports fan myself.

It’s tough, I get it. When your team drafts a player you didn’t want, a free agent goes bust or your team stands still at the trade deadline when you feel they needed that boost at a key position you want to voice your frustration.

“How does [so and so] have their job?!”

“I could do better than them!”

“What a bum!”

These are all things you may have said or heard–especially if your team fails to meet expectations for the season. So, allow me to play devil’s advocate for a second. As a fan, you are entitled to your opinion just like everyone else. However, do you really know what a GM’s (or the applicable person in the organization) job entails? It may surprise you to find out what goes into their job when it comes to assessing and managing risk. For the sake of this article, we’ll say it’s the GM making the calls but it could be others making these decisions.

Remember, as the late Flip Saunders told Vice Sports last year, “The overriding aspect of my job is putting a product on the floor that can be perennial playoff contenders,” he says. “We’re all in this to win a championship.”

When it comes to drafting the right player, a litany of needs, wants and demands make up a team’s decision. Not everyone will be happy–possibly even within the organization. From elite drafting franchises to those with spotty track records, selecting the right rookie to build up your club is one of the riskiest times in a GMs year. Take the 2014 NBA rookie draft class. It was packed with talent and potential. So far, the youngsters have taken a little more time to flourish in the league. Thus, some critics and fans have already written the entire bunch off as busts. Could they be right? Maybe. But it could also be age, a factor a GM has to explore. Rookies coming to the NBA, for example, have to adapt to a much more grueling schedule that tires them and potentially allows more room for injuries to occur than during their college seasons. Maturity can also be a factor, as well as the player’s immediate availability in the case of foreign players. These all go into consideration just as much as the player’s skills do.

Then there’s trades. Depending on the league, you may see more movement during the offseason or midseason. Additionally, even if your team had an agenda going into the season, an injury or contract impasse could result in needing to shift the roster to anticipate for short and long-term goal restructuring. In baseball, for example, Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman is likely on the phone as early as right after the June draft. Brian will likely end up fielding and sending a multitude of emails, calls, texts and meetings during exploratory talks with other teams over our’s and their needs. From there, the GM community likely will be in constant communication to discover who is available now, who is after the nonwaiver deadline, the Winter Meetings and other pertinent information. Sometimes this will result in deals being done while others fall through.

Regardless, the GM has to analyze every element from timing to chemistry to financial flexibility. It may seem easy when inputting your fantasy trades into a trade simulator like you’ll find on, but the intangibles make it much harder.

Shifting focus to free agency, a GM has to analyze and compete with other GMs in a slightly different way than they do during trade seasons. Now, the open market can augment your approach in several ways. In the NBA, the rise of the “poison pill contract” causes increased anxiety for countless GMs as they determine if matching a team’s offer sheet is in the best interest of the team. If they fail to sign the player, fans could be upset and the team may have lost a huge amount of financial flexibility in the years to come. But if they do sign the offer sheet, or sign other players that fail to meet expectations, scrutiny will fall on the GM in the immediate and long-term if the player is signed to a lucrative, long-term contract.

What if your GM has a relatively quiet free agency window? What if they don’t make many moves, or add low key acquisitions? They may receive scrutiny early and often until the team actually reaps the benefits in a few seasons.

In short, fans certainly have the right to their opinion when it comes to their team’s roster moves. But just like we do in our own lives, sometimes our assessments are off. It’s tough to have patience when our teams make mistakes, but if they only happen once in a while, maybe cut them some slack just this once.

MLS: Far From a “Retirement League”

via MLS Media Guide

via MLS Media Guide

When David Beckham came to the L.A. Galaxy in 2007, it ushered in a new era for the league. Big players soon found their way to the league, bringing an increase in name and game value.

Unfortunately, it also ushered in a new moniker for the league: a retirement league.

While it’s true Beckham and the current crop of designated players are mostly stars in the twilight of their careers. But before you write off the league as a retirement home, there’s a few points you should consider.

The first point comes in the form of one 5’5” Atomic Ant: Sebastian Giovinco. In January of this year, Giovinco left eventual Champions League runners-up Juventus in a bid for consistent playing time. In one season in MLS, the Ant scored 22 goals while racking up 13 assists in 33 matches. A heavy favorite to capture the Landon Donovan MVP award, Giovinco earned himself a call-up to the Italian national team as well.

At 28, Giovinco represents a potential new trend that the English Premier League saw some 20 years ago. With Italian Serie A rosters overflowing with talent, players like Zola and Gullit transferred to England where they found playing time and prominence–bring the Premier League to its top flight league status it owns today. Certainly, Giovinco could head back overseas, but if he doesn’t he and others like Giovani dos Santos (L.A. Galaxy) could very well represent a new batch of players coming to the States to find consistent minutes in hopes of joining their national teams or clubs in Europe.

However, with rapid expansion (Atlanta United joins the league in 2016 and Los Angeles FC starts in the next few years) the league could soon be the destination for players much like England was two or so decades ago.

As the L.A. Times found out when they spoke with Mexico and Chivas USA striker Cubo Torres, he wanted to stay in the league despite Chivas USA folding in 2014. Instead, Torres signed a five-year deal with the Houston Dynamos. “Major League Soccer is going to become one of the most important leagues in the world in no time,” said Torres. “This league is growing and a lot of top-level players are going to want to come and play in the United States.”

Other designated players have echoed Torres’ views. They include Red Bulls’ striker Bradley Wright-Phillips who revealed he gets calls on a weekly basis from English players wanting to hop across the pond. But one that carries significant weight is Orlando City’s Kaka, he takes pride in being part of a growing league, even if he may not be around for its peak. “For me, it’s the opportunity to be part of this growing phase of MLS,” Kaká said. “Probably, I won’t see the best phase of MLS, but I will be part of this exciting time. In the future, we’re going to be one of the best leagues in the world.”

But it’s not just the designated player depth making the league grow. Rivalries are heating up just in time for increased TV viewership to allow for fan bases to swell.

In the Northwest, the Cascadia Cup often fell into the hands of the Seattle Sounders, but this year not only saw Portland excel past their nearby rivals. In addition to jumping Seattle on the Western table, the Timbers also beat the Vancouver Whitecaps in the playoffs. Keeping the momentum going, the Timbers are now in the finals as they face off with the Columbus Crew this weekend for the championship.

The Eastern Conference brings the same intensity with the years-long battles between the Red Bulls and D.C. United. After four straight years of defeats, the Red Bulls now have a two-year playoff one-up that includes a recent victory over their rivals that set-up an Eastern Conference clash with the Columbus Crew for a spot in the finals. Unfortunately for Red Bulls fans, the dream season came to an end at the hands of the Crew and their own incredible story.

It’s not just the players upping the quality of the league. My own NYC FC recently made waves by bringing in Arsenal legend and head of Man City’s U-21 squad Patrick Vieira to head up our squad after the sacking of Jason Kreis. We can’t wait to see what a legend of the international game brings to the sidelines. If successful, this could serve as a catalyst for other clubs. While pure conjecture, we could even see some of these aging designated players stick around after their playing days to develop the youth–much like Montreal Impact and Chelsea legend Didier Drogba appears to be doing in a fun way.

MLS certainly has an uphill battle in luring big players from ultra rich European leagues, but the steps of separating itself from other “retirement leagues” like the Chinese, Qatari and Indian Super League are apparent. Landon Donovan recently summarized the league’s steps towards a growing product.

“If the resources, if the money and the level of play and the standard of everything around the league continues to improve, players want to be here…you can’t argue with the results over the last five to ten years and you just got to stay on that path.”

Why Ratings for the MLB Playoffs are Improving

Postseason bag

So far, this year’s Major League Baseball postseason has been nothing short of incredible. Despite my beloved Yankees taking an early exit, a fan of the game has tons to look forward to every game. From the Blue Jays back after over two decades to the Cubs blasting the ball out of the stadium at an incredible rate, eyes have been justifiably glued to screens for hours on end.

This isn’t just coming from an uptick in fans talking about the games either. Viewership across the four channels airing the games (ESPN, TBS, MLB Network and Fox Sports 1) is up nine percent from last season. As the LA Times notes, TBS is especially reaping in the viewers with its best ratings since the 2007 playoffs.

The LA Times elaborates that a two major factors are keeping fans glued to the screen: DVR and major market presence. With on demand services becoming a norm for most cable subscribers, they are able to focus in on every pitch while knowing that their favorite show will be ready for viewing whenever the game ends. Additionally, the article goes on to note that of the eight teams in this year’s postseason (excluding the one-game playoff), five are in the top 10 markets in America. With those loyal fans in place, as well as the Cardinals long-reaching Midwestern fan base, this year’s series garners more eyes than the game has seen in some years.

Coupling these key points with the stellar games that have occurred, it should come as little surprise that ratings are on the uptick this year. We’ll have to wait to see how the ratings fare at the conclusion of the playoffs, but if the games continue to pan out the way they have, nobody will be hoping to see the action end.