Nelson Cruz Signs One Year, $8m Contract With Baltimore

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In an off season that has been full of big name free agents, the final piece of the unsigned puzzle fit together. Nelson Cruz, who has been with the Texas Rangers since 2006, now will have a new uniform on his back after signing a deal with the Baltimore Orioles.

Cruz, who is still just 25 was the center of controversy last season after being outed for use of performance enhancing drugs, which landed him a 50 game suspension. Even with the suspension, Cruz managed to power 27 home runs and 76 RBIs in just 108 games.

In Cruz’s first full season in 2009, he hit 33 home runs and 76 RBIs. Cruz has proven himself to be one of the more consistent power hitters in the game. Whether or not this was due to his performance enhancing drug use is uncertain, but it is for sure that he has put up impressive numbers.

Cruz was the last of a large pool of free agents, which included Robinson Cano, Brian McCann, and a whole list of talent that ended 2013 without a contract. Though some of the deals this off season did reach nine figures, Cruz should be able to live comfortably by making $8m in one season.

Cruz reported to Florida on Sunday where he will undergo a mandatory physical. He will have to compete with current right fielder Nick Markakis, who batted .271 in 160 games last season.

 

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Braves Sign Five Young Stars to Multi-Year Deals

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The Braves have a very young team this upcoming season, particularly with the loss of Tim Hudson and Brian McCann. Though the clubhouse is young, no one can argue that the talent is there.

The young talent surrounded three main players. Freddie Freeman, Jason Heywrad, Craig Kimbrel, Julio Teheran, and Andrelton Simmons. Most Braves fans and baseball enthusiasts expected to sign just a couple of these players, since the Braves’ payroll isn’t the highest out there. But boy did they surprise us.

It started with a two year, $13.5m deal to Jason Heyward. Though the contract is short, Heyward has been quite streaky throughout his career. Part of that is due to injury, but going from batting under .100 at the start of the season to becoming one of the better lead off hitters, Heyward is worth the risk. No one can argue that he has potential to be one of the better corner outfielders in the league, it’s just a matter if he can reach his full potential.

The next extension came in the form of Freddie Freeman, who by far reached the largest deal of the off season, and even the highest in Braves’ history. Freeman inked an eight year, $135m contract to avoid arbitration and make him a long term Brave. Freeman proved himself to be one of the best first basemen in the league, and has potential to be an MVP candidate in the future.

Then all eyes were on Craig Kimbrel, who is widely believed to be the best closer in the game. Most expected Kimbrel to say goodbye to the Braves soon and take what easily could be a blockbuster contract. But with the agreement of a four year, $42m deal, Kimbrel is guaranteed to continue his pitching dominance in Atlanta.

Julio Teheran was the Braves’ top prospect, and the top right handed pitching prospect in baseball. After a slightly shaky start, Teheran managed to pull it together and show his potential to be a future ace on the staff, though that job will be in competition with left handed star Mike Minor.

Then it came down to Andrelton Simmons. Simmons is widely considered to be the best defensive short stop in the game. The reigning Gold Glove and Platinum Glove winner has been watched by baseball enthusiasts across the world. If you don’t believe he’s the best, this 25 minute highlight reel can change your mind. Yes, you heard right. 25 minutes of highlights… from one season. Simmons agreed today to a seven year, $52m deal.

These five contracts ensure that some of the team’s top talent will stick around for years to come. The Braves, who won the National League East in 2013 have another in their sights. Should these players continue to play how they did last season, and if Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen come back to true form, it is very likely that they can win their second consecutive title.

 

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Pitchers and Catchers Report; Spring Training is Underway

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It’s that magical time of year where the baseball season finally begins. Though opening day is still over a month away, as of February 13th, pitchers and catchers have officially reported.

 

This off season proved to be one of the most dramatic of recent history. In this off season, we saw deals such as Clayton Kershaw signing a record breaking contract, Robinson Cano going from the Yankees, the center stage of baseball to a struggling Mariners team, Freddie Freeman signing the biggest contract in Braves history, as well as many other interesting, and sometimes surprising acquisitions and trades.

 

There are many questions that won’t be answered until the start of the season. Will the Braves start Dan Uggla, who is a step beyond struggling? Will they bring in young prospect Tommy LaStella to fill in for Uggla? Will the Mariners go over .500 now that they have solid 1-2-3 pitchers in Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and Taijuan Walker, who are nice compliments to proven player Robinson Cano and a Justin Smoak who towards the end of the season started to show his full potential?

 

None of these questions can be answered yet. Most position players still have yet to report to spring training, and it’s too early to set up a rotation, and the question of which players will finally reach their dream and get the phone call to bring them to the big leagues.

 

All we can say for now, is “play ball!”

 

 

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NFL Divisional Round 1 Playoff Preview with Picks

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New Orleans Saints (11-5, 3-5 away) at Seattle Seahawks (13-3, 7-1 home) (Line: Seattle -8)

Percy Harvin has allegedly been practicing full speed this week and “should probably” be good to go for Saturday’s game, much like I “should probably” go perfect with my picks the rest of the way. The Tale of 2013 Percy Harvin has been a dramatic one, a never-ending saga that has kept Seattle fans and broken fantasy owners suspended in dead space all season. Continue reading

Texans Open to Trading First Overall Draft Pick

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It is being reported that the 2-14 Houston Texans are open to trading the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

The Houston Texans had a beyond disappointing season after winning their first two games. The coming weeks would have them lose nail-biters to playoff bound Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs, while being manhandled by the St. Louis Rams and Baltimore Ravens.

Seen as a dark horse Super Bowl contender before the season began, the Texans lost every game beyond week 2 to secure the last place spot in the NFL and first overall pick in the draft, edging out the Washington Redskins (whose pick will go to St. Louis.)

Many are snickering at the idea, in the belief that Houston should use their position to pick up Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a draft commodity in a league in desperate need of quarterbacks. Injury plagued Houston quarterback Matt Schaub posted an abysmal season quarterback rating of 73.0, ranking him 33rd in the league. Schaub completed 10 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions in the 2013 season, with a long of 46 yards.

It should be noted that that in this draft class, many also have high hopes for Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, UCF’s Blake Bortles, and Fresno State’s Derek Carr at the quarterback position.

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NFL Considering Restructure of Playoff Seeding Based on Record

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The NFL is considering an overall restructure of the way the playoffs are seeded.
The current system sees the four division leaders from each conference and an additional two wildcard teams (teams with the best record in the conference who did not win their division) making a playoff appearance. The two division winners with the best record in each conference are given a bye week (week off) while the remaining two division winners square off with the two wildcard teams. Each division winner wins home-field advantage in the first game of the playoffs, with the 1 and 2 seeded teams having a home field advantage coming off their bye weeks.

Current playoff structure courtesy: Wikipedia

The new system would see the team with the best record gain home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, be it a wildcard team or division winner. Some see this as a more fair way to decide home-field advantage, as teams with weaker division often come in to the playoffs with worse records than the wildcard teams.

This wouldn’t be the first time in recent memory that the NFL restructured their playoff system, with five of the current NFL teams coming more recently than the last two decades.

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Weidman favored 2:1 in Fight vs. Belfort

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Chris Weidman, coming off a second victory over former UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva, is a 2:1 favorite in his upcoming title defense against number one contender, Vitor Belfort.

Belfort earned a title shot after three impressive victories (including victories over Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping) after losing contendership status while Silva was champion. The two will meet in Las Vegas in either May or July.

Chris Weidman enters this fight with a head of steam after two consecutive victories over Silva, who many consider to be the greatest champion of all time. Weidman will enter the bout undefeated in the UFC (7-0-0) and MMA in general (11-0-0).

 

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NFL Wild Card Weekend, Part 1

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Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, 6-2 away) at Indianapolis Colts (11-5, 6-2 home) Line: Colts -3

Trying to quantify the impact of the loss of a major player can be difficult sometimes – read the great Bill Simmons’ “Ewing Theory” columns and it gets even worse – but in the case of Reggie Wayne, minimal effort is required. Just read this sentence out loud: “T.Y. Hilton is Andrew Luck’s reliable, go-to, move the chains guy”. I mean seriously, I’ve actually heard several announcers say this. Wow. Continue reading

Rodgers Back in Contention to Face Bears

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Aaron Rodgers was a full participant in practice Thursday for the first time since he broke his left collarbone on the opening series of the 27-20 loss to the Bears last month. Despite going 2-4-1 in the seven games that the former league MVP was sidelined, the Packers (7-7-1) can win the NFC North by beating the Bears (8-7) on Sunday.

Coach Mike McCarthy said he had hoped to have a decision made Tuesday, but the final medical evaluations had not yet been completed. The team was off Wednesday for Christmas, and this was the first bit of news it received when it returned to work.

“To be honest with you, I feel good for Aaron,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think people realize the stress he’s been under. He’s been on board with playing for quite some time now. We were holding him out of the game, and that’s tough. That’s a tough thing to go through.

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