Make or Break

In what could be a make or break season for himself, Pedro Alvarez has a lot to prove.

The 28 year old first baseman is starting his sixth season in the majors and has all but been a disappointment. Originally drafted second overall in the 2008 First Player Draft, Alvarez has slugged 104 home runs, yet he is unable to keep his average up and is an incompetent cleanup hitter. He doesn’t get on base, doesn’t put the ball in play enough, and doesn’t draw walks. Alvarez is really only paid to hit home runs and he doesn’t even do that consistently. In addition, his struggles at third base lead to him being moved to first base.

In 2012 and 2013, Alvarez hit a combined 66 HR and 185 RBI. His average was .244 in 2012 and .233 in 2013. In the latter year, he was rewarded with an All Star berth. This is Alvarez’s peak. He is not the most impressive or complete player in the league, but for those two seasons he did his job.

This season, Alvarez doesn’t have to carry the weight of the team or even live up to his maximum potential. The Pirates have perhaps their strongest lineup in the Andrew McCutchen era. Despite the loss of Russell Martin, Pittsburgh is expecting McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Josh Harrison to continue their 2014 success. In addition, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are looking to put together consistent numbers for an entire season. Adding Alvarez to the mix would give the Pirates at least six batters that would be challenging for opposing pitchers to get out.

In 2015, the Pirates lineup is all but a lock. Harrison and Polanco will be the first two batters and then come McCutchen, Walker, and Marte, likely in that order. Putting Alvarez in the sixth spot puts him in a pressure-free position. He won’t be expected to carry the offense, but he will be able to drive in a few runs.

Alvarez is the first baseman that the Pirates spent all of 2014 looking for. It seems to be forgotten that in the 2013 postseason, when Pittsburgh struggled at times to put up runs against the St. Louis Cardinals, Alvarez shined. He smacked three homers and hit .353 and drove in 40% of the Pirates runs. While he can’t possibly do the same in a full season, Alvarez is the difference between the Pirates being contenders to win the NL Central and missing the playoffs entirely. Alvarez hitting 30 home runs and driving in 85 like in 2012 would be a very acceptable result in 2015.

2016 is Alvarez’s final season of arbitration-eligibility. If he fails to put up the numbers to start this season, he could be on the trade block. Alvarez’s future in Pittsburgh is in question beyond this season because if he finds his stroke again, he will soon be out of the price range. If he fails to hit, the Pirates have Andrew Lambo and waiting to replace him at a much cheaper price. Alvarez will strike out a lot in 2015, but he will be forgiven if he is able to hit 30 or more home runs. 

Analyzing the Eagles' Offseason

By: Jacob Rayyan

Chip Kelly has made many eye-popping, head-scratching moves in the first week of free agency. Known for his high-octane, quick-hitting spread offense, the Philadelphia Eagles' head coach has been integral in orchestrating trades this offseason for noticeably less mobile guys. Let’s analyze each of the major offseason moves made so far by the Eagles, and what this means for the Eagles going forward.

Nick Foles, 4th-Round 2015, 2nd-Round 2016 for Sam Bradford

There are many things to consider that support this trade, and just as many that go against this trade. For one thing, the Eagles traded away a proven and effective game manager in the NFL that can win you many regular season games, not to mention the 2nd-round pick next years draft. There was a certainty about Nick Foles that said you were going to get a pretty consistent game out of him week in and week out, occasionally showing flashes of stardom and mediocrity. With Bradford comes high risk high reward. ACL injuries obviously play a significant role in the story of a #1 overall pick. With all the tools and skills necessary to become a star, it seemed trading for Bradford was a risk worth taking. Bradford has potential to turn into a star for the Eagles and could push them over the hump to make a deep run in the playoffs next year.

Not resigning Jeremy Maclin

Maclin has been a top receiver out in Philly for many years now, which is why it became a surprise when the Eagles decided not to resign him to a long term deal this offseason. This decision definitely makes sense to me because of the flexibility it gives to the team when they have solid depth at the wide receiver position this year even without Maclin. With solid receivers like Jordan Matthews and Riley Cooper, any speed they lost in Maclin the team would be able to address in the draft if they feel compelled to do so. With the money demanded by Maclin, the Eagles would have been put in a tough situation financially and would be unable to acquire other top level talent.

Major Signings of DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Byron Maxwell

With LeSean McCoy leaving, there was a serious void at running back that the team needed to fill. When the Frank Gore deal did not pan out in favor of the Eagles, they had to act quickly. They responded in a big way, signing the reigning NFL rushing leader in DeMarco Murray. Many feel Murray will fit well in Chip Kelly’s scheme, even if he is not as mobile as McCoy was. Philadelphia even added depth at running back with Ryan Mathews, who will be a solid complement to Murray out of the backfield and will be a nice one-two punch.

The Eagles also gave a monster deal to cornerback Byron Maxwell, worth $63 million with $22 million guaranteed. Maxwell was the second best cornerback on the market, behind Darrelle Revis, which could explain why Philadlphia had to dish out so much money to the cornerback. While many in Philadelphia would argue that he is overrated, Maxwell ranked top three in many important categories for cornerbacks, including touchdowns allowed, targets, penalties, and yards allowed. That data suggests that Maxwell is worth every dollar the Eagles will pay him as long as he does not regress.

LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso

The first blockbuster move that the Eagles made this offseason was the trading of star running back LeSean McCoy for linebacker Kiko Alonso, the sensational second year player from the Buffalo Bills. This trade benefits both teams and fills in a void with exceptional players at their respective positions. Alonso had an incredible year as a rookie with a combined 159 tackles playing in all 16 games for the Bills. McCoy also had a stellar season with over 1300 yards rushing and averaging a good 4.2 yards a carry. All in all, this trade addresses needs for both teams and from the Eagles perspective brings in a phenomenal, young defensive player that will work under Chip Kelly.

The Eagles are a revamped team heading into the new NFL season. Addressing some needs on the defensive end and bringing in top talent offensively, Philadelphia may have some analysts won over as their preseason Super Bowl picks. It will be very interesting to see whether Chip Kelly can mold and gel these players into one cohesive unit by the time the regular season begins. Until then, we will wait to find out if Chip Kelly has lost any sense he had of being a head coach, or if he is a genius in disguise. 

2015 NBA MVP Race

By: Sam Kluender

Only a couple weeks ago the NBA MVP race seemed to be no different than any other year with two main candidates fighting for the award. Last year it was Kevin Durant and LeBron James, this year it was thought to be Stephen Curry and James Harden. Now with only a month until the playoffs, the NBA MVP race has gone from two players to maybe up to five with a legitimate chance.

LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis have all put themselves into the race now. Unless he is hurt, LeBron is going to be in the MVP discussion every year regardless whether or not he deserves it. When the Cavaliers early season struggles continued longer than some expected, LeBron’s stock in the MVP race dropped. Now just as fast as it dropped, it has risen again as the Cavs have finally put it together and are playing like the best team in the NBA in the past month or so.

The front runners in the race for now seem to still be Harden and Curry still. Although the player who is rising on the list the fastest has to be Russell Westbrook. His seemingly daily triple-doubles and clutch game endings have certainly given people something to talk about. With Kevin Durant being hurt so much this season, it has given Westbrook the ability to take over the team’s offense and it has proven to be working. The Thunder have gone 13-3 in their past 16 games, mostly games Durant has not played in and Westbrook’s numbers have done nothing but get better. In his past 6 games he is averaging over 40 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds a game.

Something to think about is how the Thunder’s record and playoff situation will affect Westbrook’s chances at the MVP. If you by the traditional numbers alone, Westbrook should win the award. But will the voters punish him because he doesn’t play for an elite team like the others? Then at the same time there are those voters who will pick the best player on the best team. In that case the winner is Curry, although the Cavs are playing the best basketball now since they haven’t gotten everything worked out.

If you look at it on a team to team basis, one player who should be getting a lot more recognition than he is has been is Anthony Davis. The issue is that the Pelicans aren’t a great team who may or may not make the playoffs. However, Davis is the sole reason that team isn’t one of the worst in the NBA. The Pelicans have nice pieces aside from Davis but in terms of value, Davis is probably more valuable to his team than anyone else in MVP consideration. He averages around 25 points a game and 10.5 rebounds and 3 blocks. His defensive skills are great and on any given night he can put up 40 points.

Unless something drastic happens to the Cavs, Pelicans, Rockets, Warriors, or Thunder, the race will most likely still come down to Harden and Curry. Although at times justified, great players on non-elite teams are usually unfairly removed from serious MVP consideration. That leaves on Curry, Harden, and LeBron left, and LeBron will have a hard time winning unless he kicks up his game to another level to finish the season. It’s a toss up to who will win between Curry and Harden. Arguments can be made for either player. Curry could have a 50-40-90 shooting season and leading the Warriors to the best record in the NBA. Harden’s offensive statistics are a slight notch below Curry, but he makes up for that in defense. While Curry leads the league in steals per game, Harden’s defensive metrics are much better than Curry’s.

In the end I think it will come down to whomever has the best record at the end of the season. Barring any major injuries, it is Curry’s MVP to lose with a 7 and a half game cushion over the Rockets. If Houston can finish the season strong and pass Golden State, or come dangerously close, that is the way I see Harden winning. Although the way the rest of the season is looking like, my bet is Stephen Curry to be the 2014-2015 NBA MVP.

Tankees

Despite being the most successful team in North American sports history of the 20th century, the New York Yankees are in a position that they have not been in since 1994.

After missing the postseason for the second straight year, the Yankees are once again confident that they are playoff team. The problem is, they aren’t.

Any team that is paying a 39 year old $21 million in his 21st season (Alex Rodriguez) is not a contender. The current team could contend in 2010, but the fact remains that 2015 season begins in a month.

The youngest starting position player is shortstop Didi Gregorious, who is 25. Everyone else is 31 or older. With so many old players, the Yankees will once again struggle with injuries this season. In addition to injuries, the players that they have signed in recent years have not been good enough. Carlos Beltran cannot stay healthy, Mark Teixeira is far past his prime, and Stephen Drew is not an effective batter.

What the Yankees should do is abandon ship and make an effort not to win games. In simpler terms, tank.

This is not an acceptable option for majority owner Hal Steinbrenner. The son of “The Boss” has made a point of appeasing fans whether by lavish spendings or apologies. Steinbrenner proved in 2009 that he could produce a winner when his acquisitions of Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Nick Swisher bolstered an underachieving squad. Since then, his spendings have not done enough. The Yankees haven’t won a championship in five years, which is eternal to fans in the Bronx.

Tanking has unofficially been performed since the inception of professional sports. Teams often realize that the importance of a single season is irrelevant if pieces to the puzzle are missing. Teams like this often end up with high draft picks due to poor play. The thinking is that the better the draft pick, the better the player. With this in mind, the interest in trading away older players for younger stars or draft picks becomes appealing in order to lose more in the short term.

Teams like the New York Yankees should never have to tank because of their payroll, but the farm system is weak and depleted. Without it, they have no future despite how much money the team has to use. Steinbrenner continues to sign aging players to deals that they are not worthy of and by trading prospects for rental players. The Yankees only have two top-100 prospects and did not have a first round selection in 2014. No first round picks since Joba Chamberlain (2007 draft) have spent at least three years in the majors with the Yankees.

Baseball may be the hardest sport to predict talent in. College players aren’t ready to join the big league club immediately after selection, so they require maturation in the minor leagues. The team with the first pick in the draft rarely is faced with a slam dunk primary choice. It takes time to rebuild, but it took time for the Yankees to burn the farm system. In recent years, teams that spent the late 2000’s rebuilding are being rewarded with playoff spots. The Washington Nationals went seven years without a winning season, but they have won the NL East twice in the last three years thanks partly to first round selections Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, Bryce Harper, and Anthony Rendon from 2009-2011. It may have taken 20 years to return to the playoffs, but along the way the Pittsburgh Pirates picked up current stars Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Gerrit Cole through the draft.

The time is now to tank. It’s not something that any teams wants to say they are doing, but it has to be understood in order to benefit the future. The Yankees cannot simply buy their way out of this playoff drought, they need to restock their minor league talent and develop it better. Along the way, they have to find ways to get rid of ineffective player’s contracts as soon as possible. This is not a sentimental season, it should be a rebuilding one.