This Week in US Sports: NFL free agency gets cooking, but trades keep coming

By Sports Desk March 14, 2019

The NFL stole all the headlines in the US this week.

The first official day of free agency was Wednesday and there were plenty of moves made official, but there were several more that popped up and surprised some people.

In the meantime, the MLB season is crawling to the open and the NHL is roaring to its finish.


1. Free-agent frenzy

While a lot of what would happen in NFL free agency was known, the first official days of the signing period were full of surprises.

Le'Veon Bell finally found a home, but it was with the New York Jets which was somewhat unexpected. Earl Thomas signed with the Baltimore Ravens after the team released Eric Weddle. Tyrann Mathieu went to the Kansas City Chiefs and Anthony Barr and Teddy Bridgewater could not make up their minds.

Things still are not done as big names like Ronald Darby, Justin Houston and Eric Berry remain available.

This is just getting started.


2. Trade bait

As crazy as the opening hours of free agency may have been, the trade market was even more bizarre.

No move was weirder than the one the New York Giants made as they traded Odell Beckham Jr. to the Cleveland Browns just one year after signing him to a five-year, $90million deal. The move caught everyone off-guard and had Giants fans fuming.

Beyond that though, the Antonio Brown saga came to an end not once, but twice. First, last Friday, it looked like Brown had been traded to the Buffalo Bills. Then the wide receiver reportedly nixed the deal and it fell through.

Then on Saturday he was officially dealt to the Oakland Raiders. He got his career off to an interesting start as well as he showed up to his introductory news conference some 25 minutes late. He is going to have a lot of fun with Jon Gruden.


3. MLB injuries already piling up

This is why you do not draft your fantasy team further than a week out from the season.

Several prominent names have gone down, especially on the pitching side, before the season has even begun. St Louis Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez is likely to start the season on the injured list while Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw still is not throwing at full strength. Also in Los Angeles, potential Angels opening-day starter Andrew Heaney has been shut down.

All of this happens soon after Yankees ace Luis Severino was scratched before a start last week and likely will not start the season in New York's rotation.

The list of walking wounded keeps growing in MLB and the season does not start officially until next week.


4. Fan interference

Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook is not the best player in the world with fans, but by all accounts, what happened this week in Utah was not on him.

While Westbrook was fined for yelling at a fan, "I'll f*** you up," upon review of the incident the spectator was clearly out of line and subsequently banned for life from Vivint Smart Arena by the Jazz.

"Racism and hate speech hurts us all, and this is not the first time something like this has happened in our arena," Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell said in a statement. "The Utah that I have come to love is welcoming and inclusive and last night's incident is not indicative of our fanbase. We don't want to create a negative reputation for athletes who potentially may want to come to Utah."


5. NHL milestones

The NHL season is coming to an end and this is shaping up to be a good close to the campaign, but as that is going on, several players are checking off career milestones as they go.

In fact, two players hit serious marks this week in the same game as Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin tallied his 1,000th career point and Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin got his 1,200th in Pittsburgh's 5-3 win over Washington on Tuesday.

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  • MLB 2019 preview: Predicting the AL's division champs, pennant winner, award getters MLB 2019 preview: Predicting the AL's division champs, pennant winner, award getters

    The American League, in contrast to the National, is incredibly top heavy again in 2019.

    The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians are all capable of winning 100 games and the bottom teams in all three divisions are capable of losing 100 or more.

    But the playoffs should be absolutely fantastic, so you will have to take the good with the bad.

    Here are our predictions for how the AL will shake out in 2019.


    Central - Cleveland Indians

    Yes, Cleveland underachieved last year and, yes, Francisco Lindor is starting the season hurt, Jose Ramirez was bad down the stretch and you cannot name a single one of their outfielders, but the Indians are still really, really good.

    Their rotation had four starters who struck out 200 or more batters last year and they have every chance to do it again, while Lindor and Ramirez are still really good too. The bullpen is also likely to improve from last year's disaster.

    Cleveland should walk this division.


    East - New York Yankees

    The Yankees are already dealing with a lot of injuries as Luis Severino, CC Sabathia and Greg Bird are hurt, but the rotation is still good, the lineup is very good and the bullpen is transcendent.

    The Indians won 10 games less than they should have a year ago because of their bullpen while the Red Sox are in a similar spot this year.

    It got them through the postseason in 2018, but that was with massive help from Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale. Those men will not be in the pen during the regular season and it will cost them wins and the division.


    West - Houston Astros

    The Astros lost three starters from a year ago, but can you name the Astros' top two starters from 2017? Probably not. Can you name their bottom three? Without a doubt, no. But this year they still have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole at the top and an accumulation of guys at the bottom.

    Verlander and Cole will win more than enough to carry the team to the deadline and Collin McHugh, Wade Miley and Brad Peacock will be more than passable to solidify the rotation.

    Reinforcements will also come in the form of Josh James, Forrest Whitley, Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas. The pitching will be more than fine, the bullpen is very good and the lineup got better with the addition of Michael Brantley. If Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve and George Springer are simply slightly more healthy than they were a year ago, this team will definitely win 100 games and maybe even 105.


    Wildcards - Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners

    The Red Sox are an obvious pick here; the Seattle Mariners not so much.

    Here is the thinking: the Oakland Athletics are going to regress this year. They have one starting pitcher and, while everyone thinks they will succeed with bullpenning like they did last year, remember Sean Manaea was a staple in the rotation until August and Trevor Cahill and Edwin Jackson ate up some innings while combining to win 15 games.

    None of those guys are in the rotation this season and that will really hurt Oakland. The only other team that we think could slip in would be the Tampa Bay Rays, but they went through a lot of turnover.

    Seattle have solid pitching again and a lineup that works. While it may feel like recency bias as the Mariners just beat the A's twice in Japan, it is not. We really like this team and think they will dominate the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers, using that to get back to the playoffs for the first time in what seems like an eternity.


    ALCS pick - Astros vs. Yankees

    A rematch of the 2017 ALCS, this series will all come down to who has home-field advantage. If the Yankees get it, they win. If the Astros get it, they do. We will take the Yankees to win the series for this reason and almost this reason alone: James Paxton is the Astros' kryptonite.

    Paxton is 7-3 with a 2.89 ERA in his career versus Houston and he will likely get two starts in an ALCS matchup between the two teams. Houston also cannot hit Luis Severino and, if the youngster comes back healthy after a spring training arm injury, that could be four wins between just those two pitchers.

    Four games wins an ALCS, so that is the pick.


    MVP - Mike Trout, Angels

    It feels like there was a lot of hand-wringing last season when Mike Trout did not win the award despite the Angels not making the playoffs. Assuming good health, Trout will have the best numbers of anyone in the AL - both with the eye test and by WAR - and he will earn his third career MVP.


    Cy Young Winner - Trevor Bauer, Indians

    If Bauer had been healthy throughout 2018, he would have won the AL Cy Young. He bested team-mate Corey Kluber in just about every single category and Kluber was a Cy Young finalist.

    There is no pitcher in MLB with better stuff than Bauer at the moment. His collection of fastball, curveball, slider and change is as good as gold and, when you see him pitch up close, you have no idea how anyone can touch him.

    If he stays healthy, he will win the award this year.


    Rookie of the Year - Yusei Kikuchi, Mariners

    This feels a little dodgy because Kikuchi is 27 years old, but it will be his first season in MLB and he will be in the rotation for Seattle from day one.

    He will post good numbers in a pitcher-friendly ballpark and earn a lot of wins in a division with bad teams like Texas and Los Angeles and terrible hitter's parks in Oakland and LA. But do not discount Houston for how bad their park can be to hit in as well. No one likes that batter's eye in center field and it hurts runs scored. 

    Kikuchi has very good stuff and is a mature pitcher, which should be enough to win him the award.


    Manager of the Year - Scott Servais, Mariners

    If the Mariners get back to the postseason for the first time since 2001, Servais will win the award. This one is pretty self-explanatory.

  • MLB 2019 preview: Predicting the NL's division champs, pennant winner, award getters MLB 2019 preview: Predicting the NL's division champs, pennant winner, award getters

    The National League is about as balanced as it has been in the last decade.

    The Central is stacked, the East got better and the West is far from decided.

    But even with the parity in the league we are going to give our predictions for all of this year's winners by division, pennant and awards.

    Here are those predictions.


    Central – Chicago Cubs

    Last year, the Cubs were the first team to be a disappointment that won 95 games.

    But this year everyone is coming back, Kris Bryant and Yu Darvish will likely be healthier and a lot of players (Ian Happ, Willson Contreras) got bad second years out of their systems.

    We are picking them to ride an underrated starting rotation to a division title this year as Milwaukee will likely take a slight step back and the St Louis Cardinals will take some wins away from the Brewers as well. The Cincinnati Reds will do the same thing as they got better too.


    East – Washington Nationals

    No team is better with the subtraction of Bryce Harper. That is ludicrous. However, the Nationals added Patrick Corbin, still have a fantastic rotation with Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg and their lineup is solid from top to bottom.

    A bad season last year was an anomaly. This team is good. They will prove it this year.


    West – Colorado Rockies

    The Rockies will ride their pitching rotation to this year's division title.

    Between Kyle Freeland, German Marquez and Antonio Senzatela the Rockies have a powerful, young rotation that could guide them for years to come.

    And, they have the best third baseman in all of baseball in Nolan Arenado, added a steadying bat in the middle of the lineup in Daniel Murphy and David Dahl, Trevor Story, Charlie Blackmon and Ian Desmond fill out a talented lineup. That is more than enough to win a division they lost in a one-game playoff to the ageing Los Angeles Dodgers last season.


    Wildcards – Los Angeles Dodgers, St Louis Cardinals

    This is as tough of a couple of picks as there could ever be because the argument can legitimately made that the Brewers, Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Arizona Diamondbacks and Dodgers could all earn one of the two wildcard spots.

    But our thinking here is simple: the Dodgers play in the weakest of the three divisions, and the Cardinals added Paul Goldschmidt. The Cards barely missed the playoffs last year, and if they add a pitcher at the deadline that could be the piece to push them over the top.


    NLCS pick – Cardinals vs. Rockies

    The Rockies learned a lot in their playoff run last season and will hit better in the playoffs this time around. St Louis will get a good second year from Jack Flaherty. Those two things will help them get to the NLCS and in that series Colorado will come away with the win to make it back to their first World Series since 2007.


    MVP – Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals

    Despite finishing amongst the top MVP candidates in the National League five of the last six years, Goldschmidt has somehow never won the MVP. A big reason for that is no one pays attention to the Diamondbacks – unfortunately – and many believe Chase Field inflates numbers for hitters.

    Goldschmidt will not have to worry about that this year as the Cardinals are always in the national spotlight and people will not hold his ballpark against him in St. Louis. He will produce there and people will realise he is not a product of a ballpark and then go check his numbers and see he had a higher batting average and more homers away from Arizona.

    All of that and a playoff berth for the Cardinals will give him his first MVP award.


    Cy Young Winner – Max Scherzer

    He had a legitimate argument to win the award last year even when Jacob deGrom had an all-time season. He will anchor the best rotation in the NL and win the award for the third time in the last four years and fourth time in his career.


    Rookie of the Year – Nick Senzel, Reds

    Nick Senzel has several things going for him: one, he is an incredibly talented player, two, the Reds added several good hitters to an already good lineup with Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp so he will have more protection when he is called up, and three, Great American Ballpark is a hitter's haven.

    The only question is how long it will take for Senzel to get to MLB. If he is on the team from the start of the year, .290 with 20 homers and 80 RBIs is not out of the question. That got Miguel Andujar serious consideration for a win in the AL last year. Senzel will get it if he gets there as well.


    Manager of the Year – Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks

    The perception of the Diamondbacks is they will be bad this year after losing Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock. Losing a team's two best players is a recipe for regression. So any good success for Arizona will mean they will exceed expectations and that is how a manager wins Manager of the Year.

    The Diamondbacks are not bad despite the perception. Zack Greinke is good, as is Robbie Ray and Zack Godley. And the lineup is still pretty solid. If Arizona win 86 or 87 games and competes for a wildcard spot, Lovullo will be in the conversation for Manager of the Year.

  • Euroleague condemns death threat aimed at CSKA's Clyburn Euroleague condemns death threat aimed at CSKA's Clyburn

    An apparent death threat directed at CSKA Moscow forward Will Clyburn has been condemned by Euroleague Basketball, which says it will support any action against the perpetrator.

    Clyburn was part of the CSKA team that defeated Fenerbahce in a top-of-the-table clash on Thursday.

    The American then addressed a Twitter post to the Euroleague and Fenerbahce, calling for a response as he provided an image of messages sent to his wife saying that he would "be murdered within three days".

    The messages included the Turkish flag and claimed that those responsible were in Russia, while promising that the rest of Clyburn's family were safe.

    Responding in a statement, the Euroleague said: "Euroleague Basketball and all participating clubs condemn all disrespectful or threatening comments towards any member of the basketball family or individual.

    "The aforementioned messages do not represent Euroleague Basketball, clubs or fans."

    It added: "Euroleague Basketball applies a zero-tolerance policy towards this kind of behaviour and has already reported this case to the different social media platforms.

    "The person or persons responsible for the comments cited will be prohibited access to any Euroleague and EuroCup games.

    "Euroleague Basketball will support Will Clyburn and his family in any further action he may consider taking."

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