Some jots and dots while cleaning out the notebook and getting ready for a countdown to spring training. For the Orioles, those dates would be Feb. 16 for pitchers and catchers to report; Feb. 21 for position players, and Feb. 27 for the first preseason game.
But it would be best to hold off on those airfares and hotel commitments … and I wouldn’t count on that April 1 season opener in Boston to be anything other than an April Fools’ joke. You can get odds on who will win the World Series in 2021 (the Orioles are +8,000, for whatever that’s worth), but you can’t bet the over/under on how many games each team might win for the simple reason that nobody knows how many games will be played.
The consensus is that MLB will find a way to play more than the 60 they squeezed in last year, but they are having a hard time selling players on prorated salaries again. If I was setting the line (and those so inclined probably wish that was the case), I’d say the over/under on games played per team in 2021 is in the 130-140 range, which wouldn’t make anybody happy except maybe the fans.
* * *
Have to give the NFL some kudos for somehow managing a full 2020 regular season, but you can be sure King Roger is holding his breath hoping there’s not another big coronavirus outbreak. The postseason games have, for the most part, been wildly entertaining, though Bucs-Saints seemed like slow motion compared to Chiefs-Browns. Since I can hardly remember the last time a team won two in a row, let alone made it to the final stage three straight years, I’m liking the Bills to get past the Chiefs Jan. 24 … depending on my own brand of analytics, of course.
Speaking of the Bills, they have a wildly supportive fan base noted for generous acts of charity when their team gets into the playoffs — which, as you have probably noticed, isn’t very often. However, Ravens fans should not be duped by all that money the “Bills Mafia” raised for Lamar Jackson’s favorite charity after the Ravens’ 17-3 loss Jan. 16.
You might remember a few years ago that when the Bengals beat the Ravens on the final day of the regular season to send the Bills to the playoffs, a ton of money was raised for Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton’s charity. You see, those donations go to the charity of player who had a hand in furthering the Bills’ good fortune. While the Bills’ fans might have been sympathetic to the concussion that knocked Jackson out of the game, they weren’t disappointed he stayed in the locker room this time, unlike the Cleveland game when he emerged just in time to beat the Browns.
On the CBS postgame set after the Chiefs escaped against the Browns Jan. 17, most of the analysts were raving about Andy Reid’s fourth-and-1 gamble that sealed the verdict — a pass from backup quarterback Chad Henne. Reid is sometimes known as the riverboat gambler, but this one was off the charts. Give former Steelers coach Bill Cowher some chops for this one — he laughed it up with his colleagues but had no problem admitting, “I would’ve punted.”
If that play had failed, well, Reid has been criticized for game management before, so it’s easy to imagine the backlash. While on the subject of analysts, here’s why I know Chris Collinsworth is one of the best — just about every fan base (including the one here) thinks he favors the other team … all the time.
* * *
Still straying away from the comfort zone (hey, it’s the offseason), it was a little painful watching Drew Brees trying to “outgun” Tom Brady. You can argue who is the GOAT, and chances are Brees’ name won’t come up before the second day of the draft, but for me no quarterback in the history of the game has gotten more out of his ability … and he has the numbers to prove it.
On a similar note, there is some speculation that Ben Roethlisberger may have played his last game for the Steelers, and when was the last time somebody passed for 501 yards on his way out the door? That would be like Babe Ruth bowing out with three home runs in his last game, which never happened contrary to a not-so-well documented myth, but how did we get over there? And here’s an out-of-left-field gridiron mind blower for you — suppose the last stop of Joe Flacco’s career was as a backup, or replacement, for Big Ben with the Steelers?
By the way, how many noticed that in this forgettable year with the Jets, Flacco managed to surpass Joe Montana’s career passing yardage total. I’m not comparing the two, mind you, just saying …
* * *
And finally, working back into the more comfortable zone, it is nice to see the Orioles going all-in on the Latin American market, but I can’t get away from two facts. We’re talking about spending millions of dollars on 10th- and 11th-grade kids, many of whom are unquestioned talents. But a good bit of that money goes to the “buscones” (agents) who then do the negotiations. The system is ripe with shady dealings — the Braves are still serving a sentence for illicit activity — and it is known that MLB teams scout the “buscones” as much as they do the players … kind of a Scott Boras syndrome in reverse.
The real irony (tragedy?) is that Puerto Rico, which is a USA territory whose players are confined to our draft, used to be the hotbed for Latin talent but is almost a non-player in today’s amateur market. For perhaps the first time ever, there wasn’t a player drafted from Puerto Rico last year. Even though there were only five rounds, that was very significant.
The Orioles’ participation was welcome and highly publicized, with their top two signees both commanding bonuses worth more than $1 million. But with one of the highest allotted signing pools available, you would have thought the Orioles’ might have gotten somebody ranked higher than MLB Pipeline’s 30th-best prospect of what is called the international signing period, which is limited to Latin players who are at least 16 years old. For some unexplainable reasons Canadian players not only aren’t included but are part of the domestic draft.
The international signing period has produced more than its share of busts, bargains and mistakes. As an easy for instance, the White Sox signed Fernando Tatis Jr. for a bonus reported to be less than seven figures — but traded him to San Diego for James Shields, a one-time durable right-handed pitcher who swallowed up innings and was a clubhouse leader. But he was well beyond his prime when the White Sox got him in exchange for a player who has become one of the best in the game … gulp. Kind of makes John Smoltz for Doyle Alexander a no-brainer.
Next up we’ll take a look at what could be the Hall of Fame non-election announcement, coming up Jan. 26.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox