Archive for November, 2011

The New CBA: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Meh

Friday, November 25th, 2011

For many people, baseball falls off the map once the World Series ends.  Many sports fans turn their attention to the end of the professional and college football seasons,  and (usually) the beginning of basketball and hockey.  Considering most of you have actively decided to continue checking this site out into late November, odds are you know that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement this week.  But, considering how close the NFL came to having a work stoppage just this past summer and how the NBA likely is not going to have a season because they cannot come to a collective bargaining agreement, you cannot be blamed if the relative peace of baseball’s collective bargaining talks came and went without notice.

Despite that,the new CBA will have major impacts on nearly every phase of baseball.  I’ll review the good, the bad, the ugly and what I’m calling the “meh.”

The Good

There are some very good items in the new CBA aside from just preventing a work stoppage.  To start, the draft signing deadline is going to move up a month fromContract signing August15 to July 12-18 (the date within that range will vary every year dependent on the All Star Game.)  This allows teams to get their young draftees into their systems a month earlier, giving these players significant professional playing time the year they were drafted.  For example, Cubs’ 2011 top pick Javier Baez only had 18 plate appearances last season.  Under the new system, he would have likely had at least 100 more professional plate appearances last season.

Baseball also made significant strides on draft pick compensation for departing free agents, completely abandoning Type A and B status after this off-season.  Instead, the former club will receive a compensatory pick if they offered the player a contract that matches or exceeds the average salary of the top 125 players from the prior season.  My understanding is that amount is around $12.4 million right now.  This means that, unlike the prior system, teams will almost never receive free agent compensation for letting middle relievers leave.  It should focus the compensation on true star or near star quality players, which was the intent of the free agency compensation system in the first place.

Additionally, baseball is expanding instant replay to include fair/foul and trap calls.  To me, the further baseball goes to ensuring they might the right call, the better.  I care much more about getting things right than the “human element.”

The Bad

When I initially heard about what baseball is going to do with the amateur draft, I initially thought I might skip a “bad” category and go straight to “ugly.”  While the new CBA does not institute “hard slotting” (mandating the amount each player gets based upon draft slot), the tax system imposed by the draft is so draconian that it essentially amounts to hard slotting.

It works like this: the commissioner’s office will grant a team a certain amount of recommended slot money for all of its picks based upon on its draft position and the number of picks it has.  Any amount a team goes over that recommendation results in a 75% tax on that amount.  If a team goes over 5% of the total recommendation, and they start losing draft picks.  From 5-10% they lose their first round draft pick the next season, from 10-15% they lose a first and second round pick, and from 15-20% they lost their next two first round picks.

This makes the strategy of small market teams like Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Kansas City illegal.  Those teams, who cannot afford to pay big name free agents, have instead decided to put money into the draft by picking players who are more difficult to sign in the lower rounds and paying them well over slot to skip or leave college.

Bonuses for players drafted after the 10th round are exempt from the total allocated by the commissioner’s office if they are under $100,000.  In last year’s draft, the Cubs picked outfielder Shawon Dunston, Jr., in the 11th round and right handed pitcher Dillon Maples in the 14th round, signing them for $1.275 million and $2.5 million respectively.  Under the current agreement, signing players like Dunston and Maples will be near impossible.

This likely will not do much to impact, say, top 10 talent.  Even with what is effectively a hard bonus slot in place, it is still fairly likely Bubba Starling would sign with the Royals for a few million dollars after being picked fifth in the draft due to increased slot values which I’ll describe more in the next paragraph.  But guys who are lower first and second round caliber picks who have the option of playing football or basketball in college will end up going to college over taking significantly lower bonuses than they currently can obtain.  Some of those individuals will never see a professional baseball field because they will choose to play football or basketball professionally instead.

But the only reason this ends up in the bad category instead of the ugly category is because the higher round slot recommendations are supposed to be significantly higher than they have been in recent seasons.  Without this, even many of the top high school talents may have gone to college and played other sports.  The increased slots should at least keep the top of the first round talents in the draft.  But it is likely a step back for baseball that will keep some very good athletes from professional baseball.

Also, while I generally like the changes to draft pick compensation for departing free agents as described above, one thing I do not like is that compensation is now limited to players who spent the entire previous season with one team.  I do not see how this particularly helps anyone.  Typically, players who are traded in the last year of their contract or last year of team control are moving from bad teams to teams with playoff aspirations.  I see the new CBA making trades for star quality players more difficult.  On the one hand, the new team probably will not want to offer as much in terms of prospects if they cannot receive draft pick compensation for the player they are trading for.  On the other hand, the original team will still demand a package of more value than the draft picks they can get for the player in free agent compensation.  I am curious to see if it is going to be more difficult for star players to move across teams mid-season in the future.

The Ugly

While baseball just messed up the amateur draft, they figuratively dropped their international amateur system off a skyscraper.  Previously, there were no limits on the amounts teams could spend on international amateurs.  In 2012, teams will be limited to $2.9 million in international spending.  In 2013 and 2014, teams will be limited to between $1.8 million and $5 million in international spending depending on their record the previous year.  The better you were, the worse you get.

Recall the problem I discussed with the draft just above, where some young American ballplayers will end up playing other sports instead of baseball?  This could be even more severe with great young international athletes who will find it very difficult to get multi-million dollar bonuses, and instead could turn to soccer.

It also is extremely disappointing that this is a handout to the teams who were too lazy to make an investment in international amateur systems.  Moreover, the way MLB is apportioning the amount teams can spend on international players does not make much sense to me.  For the most part, these international players are sixteen year old kids when they are signed and are not going to play in the big leagues for five or more years.  So, for example, if the Rays stay good for the next few seasons, they will have stringent international spending limits that will effect them in 2017 and beyond, when they will still likely be a lower budget team.  At that point they will have been punished for their success by having less access to the international amateur market, and still will not be able to afford big time Major League free agents.

The “Meh”

“Meh” is my word for things I really just don’t care about.  Things I could give or take.  Asparagus, for example.  I can eat it, but never think, “you know what I’d really like right now?  Asparagus!”  Baseball testing for HGH and their limited ban on tobacco products on the field are both “meh” for me.  Regarding HGH, there is limited information regarding the effectiveness of HGH as it compares to on the field performance, and the accuracy of HGH tests have been questioned.  Regarding tobacco, players can no longer carry tobacco cans on the field with them, but can still chew tobacco of the field.  They’re both PR moves that should have very little effect on the game itself, so I’m just left saying “meh” to them.

Overall, in my opinion this CBA is not as good as the one it is replacing.  But a less perfect system for baseball is, at the least, better than no baseball.  Just ask any basketball fan about that.

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Morning News: Football, Arbitration, and Prospects

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Boy, it doesn’t feel like Friday. I hope everyone’s day yesterday went well. At our house we spent the day with my father in law and my brother in law and his not really girlfriend and their newborn. It was a fairly low key day. I spent the morning helping the in law outside assembling a massive wooden play set and then proceeded to watch 10.5 quarters of football. I tried to watch all the games, but just couldn’t stay up past mid-3rd quarter of the Ravens game.

The Headline

I don’t know that you can talk about sports on the day after Thanksgiving and not discuss the games. Seeing as this is a baseball themed blog, we’ll keep it short.

Green Bay 27, Detroit 15 – This one was, for the most part, a laugher and not only because of the score. I made a trade right before the trade deadline in fantasy football to deal Eli Manning and, newly acquired via waivers, Kevin Smith to a team for Tom Brady and Earl Bennet. Kevin Smith, as he always does, proceeded to injure himself and I’m laughing all the way to the bank. Only other note I saw from this game is that Ndamukong Suh is a bad man. It’s almost like he budgets for the fines he knows are coming because he continues to act like a bonehead and play completely balls to the wall and out of control. That whole team could use some discipline.

Dallas 20, Miami 19 – This was a really good game that I felt like the Dolphins might win. I picked the Cowboys to cover, but didn’t feel good about it because of how the fish have been playing. Fantasy implications for me in this one as well as Laurent Robinson grabbed a nice pair of TD’s (get your mind out of the gutter).

Ravens 16, 49ers 9 – You had to think the Niner’s luck would run out at some point when it came to going from west coast to east coast. They had pulled it off four times this year, but couldn’t make it five despite the Ravens playing without Ray Lewis for the second straight week. Fantasy implications for me involved Ray Rice’s below average production and a good effort from Billy Cundiff.

The Back Page

  • I never got a chance to mention this when it came out, but John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com came out with his Tampa Bay Rays prospect list. You care, why? Well because it involves a few names we dealt in the Matt Garza deal last off-season. Here were his thoughts: 2) Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Grade B+: Excellent defense and took a step forward with the hitting this year, should provide batting average, speed, solid OBP. I’m not worried about his bad month in Double-A., 7) Brandon Guyer, OF, Grade B-: Borderline B. Also has across-the-board skills. Doesn’t draw many walks, but has some power, will swipe bases, hits for average, and strong defense. Older prospect at age 26., 11) Chris Archer, RHP, Grade B-: Not fond of the command slippage and he may end up in the bullpen, but his ceiling remains impressive. Needs a good dose of Triple-A. (Source)
  • The Cubs have offered arbitration the free agents, Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena, which caused one Twitter follower of mine to worry. The move is simply a formality to allow the Cubs to receive a compensatory pick at the end of the 1st round of the draft when they leave. This is pretty important in the rebuilding process. While it does come with the risk that either or both would accept the offer and return next season, it’s not likely. Ramirez has this last chance to maximize his money on the free agent market and he’s not going to simply accept a one year deal via arbitration to a team he’s already burned a bridge with. Pena should have enough offers to at least get a two year deal.
  • An interesting nugget I found in the Bruce Levine blog reporting on Ramirez and Pena was “Defensively Pena was ranked the best defensive first baseman in baseball using a system devised by ESPN Stats & Info. The system showed that he converted 50 errant throws into put-outs.” (Source)

Song to Help You Kick the Friday Turkey Coma in the Crotch

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Giving Thanks

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Before a small army descends upon our happy home for food and football, I wanted to share a few random thoughts of Cub-fan appreciation. I’m sure my list will warm your heart like a Hallmark Channel made-for-TV movie starring some actress you’ve never heard of. Enjoy!

  • I’m thankful that the Cubs turned to intelligent, creative leaders in the front office. Of course Theo and the Theo-ettes won’t be perfect with their personnel decisions, but I look for them to seriously upgrade the Cubs dismal roster in the very near future. I’m not Jimmy the Greek, but I will predict that there will be many more hits than misses with this group calling the shots.
  • I’m thankful for the Cubs managerial change. I never like watching somebody lose his job, but Mike Quade was not cut out to manage a big-league ballclub. The Quade hire was yet another case of square peg, round hole. I’m not sure what to make of Dale Sveum at this point, but I trust the new Cubs brain trust to push the right buttons.
  • I’m thankful for Starlin Castro. Say what you want about his defense and lack of plate discipline, but this kid is going to be a star (barring injury of course). Middle infielders with his collection of skills don’t come along every day.
  • I’m thankful for Matt Garza. Some fans are still yearning for Hak-Ju Lee and Chris Archer, but I’d much rather have a young, durable, talented, productive starting pitcher than prospects.
  • I’m thankful for Sean Marshall. Where would the Cubs bullpen have been without this over-achieving lefty? Now the big question is, “should he start?”
  • I’m thankful for last year’s draft. The Cubs racked up a nice haul of talent in 2011. Nice work, for a change!
  • I’m thankful for MLB Network. I never miss an episode of “Hot Stove” or “Clubhouse Confidential.”  If they would just cut down on the Harold Reynolds segments.
  • I’m thankful for Tony LaRussa’s retirement. The Cardinals have to take a step back without him, right?
  • I’m thankful for Wrigley Field. Yes it has problems, but it’s still the best place on Earth to watch a ballgame.
  • I’m thankful that Buck Martinez doesn’t announce Cubs games. As you know, I’m not a fan of Len Kasper and Bob Brenly, but they’re Harry and Steve compared to Mr. Martinez. He makes my ears bleed!
  • I’m thankful for VFTB. Good, and good for you! Maybe Jedi and Norm will sign a truce to celebrate the season? OK, maybe not.

Now if that doesn’t make your soul sing, nothing will. In all seriousness, I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving, even Mike Quade, Bob Brenly, Koyie Hill, Marlon Byrd, and Lil’ Darwin Barney! Who says miracles don’t happen during the holidays?

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Morning News: Talkin’ Turkey Day

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Thanksgiving – the most American of holidays. We eat, watch football, nap, eat, watch football, eat, pass out. Freedom! Then we wake up from our food coma and spend the rest of the weekend prepping for the next holiday. U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!

Mascot For The Day – read about this lady if you dare, but it might be helpful in steering you away from seconds.

Tradition – typically on Thanksgiving Day, my Dad makes deep dish pizza. Nothing says eat until you’re sick like fantastic Chicago-style pizza on Thanksgiving Day. Anyone else care to fill us in on their familial traditions?

Thankful – enough tomfoolery. Tell me one thing you’re thankful for; only let’s have no repeating answers, so if someone says what you intended to say, dig deeper, pick something else – we all have so much to be thankful this shouldn’t be hard. I’ll get us started – I’m very thankful for my wonderful wife.

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Chet’s Corner: A Daily Double

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Before I head off to gorge myself on turkey and trimmings, I thought it would be best to cover a few things that have stumbled by the corner as of late……

The Interesting Trials and Tribulations of Ryne Sandberg 

I am going to anger a few of you, but I am not surprised to see Ryno without a Major League managing job.

Somewhere along the line, the Cubs former brass made Ryne (and the Cubs fan base), feel as if managing the big league club was but a mere jump from the minors away.

“Hey Ryne, do the minor league circuit successfully and all will fall into place.”

This actually reminds me of the simplistic idiocy of the former regime.  It’s never that easy.

Ryne has had some trouble finding that MLB manager spot.  He has interviewed for a handful of gigs over the past two seasons and been shut down in every attempt.   I would speculate that he needs some experience coaching at the big league level before any serious consideration is given to him managing.  It seems to be the way of the walk for most first time managers.

I have to believe he has been offered a job coaching at some level, be it a base coach or bench coach.  The path may open a bit if he can get a job doing either.  However, for the time being it looks as though he will man the helm with the Iron Pigs for yet another season.

What are your thoughts as to why Ryno has yet to find that elusive managerial job?

Thanks god we aren’t the NBA!

Believe it or not, the most recent labor struggles of the NFL and NBA,  pale in comparison to the MLB strike and subsequent lockout of 1994.    Yes, the one that cancelled the Post – Season and  World Series for the first time since 1904 (The ’04 World Series was cancelled because the Pirates refused to play.)

The 1994 strike and lockout should have been a learning tool for all other professional sports leagues.  Instead, at least in the NBA’s case, they are repeating past failures.  Would anyone like to make a wager regarding how much the NBA fan base will thin out when the dust settles?

This past week baseball showed how much it has learned by silently and rather effortlessly negotiating a new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement).  A good breakdown of the agreement is here.

In general it may hurt small market teams down the road, with the new fines for exceeding a certain amount on draft bonuses.  small market teams are known for doling out higher draft bonuses to get the best young, but relatively cheap talent.  Not totally sure it will be the stink some are making of it.

I am for the increase in playoff teams.  While I don’t want to see 20 teams duking it out for the World Series, baseball is one sport that can afford to add a few more.  A 162 game regular season is a long marathon and a few more teams (not too mention fans) should be rewarded for a long season of work.

Mostly, I like seeing the increased testing for HGH and reduction in tobacco use.  The ladder is nice, but the former shows that the players in general want a more level playing field for all.

What stands out in the new CBA to you as a fan?

 

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Morning News: The CBA, Garza, Braun, and Homeless Houseguests

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

Strike One:  The MLB released the terms of the new CBA Tuesday.  Jonah Keri wrote an article at Grantland breaking down some of the repercussions the new deal will have for new players entering the league, and how teams that put most of heir money into the draft may need a new plan.  In light of the issues Keri raises, how important to you is parity in baseball?  Check back here Friday for Noah’s analysis of the new CBA.

Strike Two:  Tuesday morning the Tribune’s Phil Rogers put some thought into the rumors that the Cubs are listening to offers for Matt Garza.  To project what kind of haul the Cubs might receive in return for Garza, he looks at the players the Brewers gave up for Zach Grienke, and the handful of players the Cubs surrendered this time last year to bring Garza to Chicago.  Do you want to dangle Garza as trade bait?  Or do you want to add more pitchers without giving up the best one we currently have?

Foul Tip:  White Sox GM Ken Williams’ home was broken into and lived-in, Goldilocks-style, by a homeless man.  The suspect made a substantial mess throughout the house, and borrowed Williams’ clothes, keys, and even his World Series ring to go out on the town.  No one wants to come home to find their home invaded and trashed, but considering Williams’ consistently antagonistic attitude toward the Cubs, I think the story is far more funny than tragic.

Strike Three:  Ryan Braun won the National League MVP over Matt Kemp.  One of the deciding factors appears to have been the success of the Brewers versus the futility of the Dodgers.  How heavily should the team’s success weigh in individual awards like MVP?

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Rule 5 Exposures

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

As part of every MLB Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 draft. Wikipedia has the following describing how it works:

As in the amateur draft, the selection order of the teams is based on each team’s win-loss record from the prior regular season, each round starting with the team with the worst record and proceeding in order to the team with the best record. Any player selected under Rule 5 is immediately added to his new team’s 40-man roster; thus, teams who do not have an available roster spot may not participate in the Rule 5 draft. Players who are not currently on their team’s 40-man roster are eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft, but only after a standard exemption period has elapsed. See Selection eligibility below.

If chosen in the Rule 5 draft, a player must be kept on the selecting team’s 25-man major league roster for the entire season after the draft—he may not be optioned or designated to the minors. The selecting team may, at any time, waive the Rule 5 draftee. If a Rule 5 draftee clears waivers by not signing with a new MLB team, he must be offered back to the original team, effectively canceling the Rule 5 draft choice. Once a Rule 5 draftee spends an entire season on his new team’s 25-man roster, his status reverts to normal and he may be optioned or designated for assignment.

To prevent the abuse of the Rule 5 draft, the rule also states that the draftee must be active for at least 90 days. This keeps teams from drafting players, then placing them on the disabled list for the majority of the season. For example, if a Rule 5 draftee was only active for 67 days in his first season with his new club, he must be active for an additional 23 days in his second season to satisfy the Rule 5 requirements.

Any player chosen in the Rule 5 draft may be traded to any team while under the Rule 5 restrictions, but the restrictions transfer to the new team. If the new team does not want to keep the player on its 25-man roster for the season, he must be offered back to the team of which he was a member when chosen in the draft.

Recently the Cubs made a few moves to add some players to the 40 man roster in an effort to protect them from the draft. Jeff Beliveau, Junior Lake, Josh Vitters, and Matt Szczur were the names protected, which left some guys still open to be drafted.

Abner Abreu, OF
Jim Adduci, OF
Jeffry Antigua, LHP
Adrian Aviles, LHP (ex-OF)
Dan Berlind, RHP
Smaily Borges, OF
Michael Brenly, C
Justin Bristow, RHP
Michael Burgess, OF
Kyler Burke, LHP (ex-OF)
David Cales, RHP
Matt Camp, IF-OF (RESTRICTED LIST)
Esmailin Caridad, RHP
Hung-Wen Chen, RHP
Manolin DeLeon, RHP
Carlos Figueroa, INF
Eduardo Figueroa, RHP
Ryan Flaherty, IF-OF
Luis Flores, C (RESTRICTED LIST)
Marwin Gonzalez, IF-OF
Miguel Gonzalez, C
Yohan Gonzalez, RHP
Gian Guzman, IF-RHP (player coach)
Marcus Hatley, RHP
Jay Jackson, RHP
Blake Lalli, 1B-C
Jordan Latham, RHP
David Macias, IF-OF
Oswaldo Martinez, RHP
Jonathon Mota, INF
Craig Muschko, RHP
Jon Nagel, RHP
Jake Opitz, INF
Blake Parker, RHP
Nelson Perez, OF
Ramon Reyes, RHP
Dae-Eun Rhee, RHP
Rebel Ridling, 1B
Carlos Romero, C
Nate Samson, INF
Brian Schlitter, RHP
Ryan Searle, RHP
Kyle Smit, RHP
Marquez Smith, 3B
Matt Spencer, LHP (ex-OF)
Larry Suarez, RHP
Jose Tineo, RHP
Ty Wright, OF

Looking at the list, I’m worried about losing Ryan Flaherty, Jay Jackson, Marquez Smith and Ty Wright.

Jackson has declined in value since a really nice 2009 season that spanned a few levels of minor league ball. I felt like he was close to ML ready at that point and so I’m not willing to give up yet. You can’t tell me he’s worse than someone like Casey Coleman from last year. I would think someone would take a chance and stash him in the pen for the year.

How we’re not protecting Flaherty is beyond me. He’s a 1st round pick from 2008 that can hit for power and drive in runs. He’s by nature a second baseman, but can play short and third and even dabbled in the outfield this year. I’ll be pissed if he stays unprotected and gets selected.

Marquez Smith is a name I’m curious why we’re not at least taking a chance on. With Aramis Ramirez moving on, he’s just one year removed from a decent breakout year in 2010. Why not give the kid a shot to beat out the guys that will be competing for that spot. The only reason I can think of is that Theo and Jed don’t feel he’ll get selected and will be safe. That and the fact that someone like Jeff Baker or DJ LeMahieu can produce more at this point.

Ty Wright is just a guilty pleasure. He’ll be 27 this year, but I like his skills at the plate.

What about you? Are there guys on this list you think have a legit shot at being selected considering the fact that they eat a 25 man roster spot?

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Morning News: AL MVP, Death, and Rex Ryan

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

And the AL MVP goes to: None other than Detroit’s own Justin Verlander. He had 13 first-place votes which was 9 more than Jacoby Ellsbury, who came in 2nd. It seemed kind of obvious that Verlander would win it even though many people think that pitchers should not be eligible for the award because they do not have to experience the daily grind like position players do. Jim Ingraham compared starting pitchers in the MLB to starting quarterbacks in the NFL. Ingraham left Verlander off his ballot completely. Verlander got 24 of the Tigers 95 wins (that’s 25% for you math people out there). Without his wins, they would have been in the same boat as Kansas City.

Verlander was also the 2006 Rookie of the Year and he won the AL Cy Young this year. He’s the first starting pitcher to win MVP since Roger Clemens did it in 1986.

Would you have picked Verlander for MVP? If not, who would you have picked instead?

Death in Major League Baseball: Seattle Mariners’ Outfielder Greg Halman was found bleeding of a stab wound in a home in the Netherlands on Monday. The Dutch police arrested his brother as a prime suspect in the case.

Halman started in all 3 outfield positions for Seattle and was later optioned to Triple A Tacoma.

Rex Ryan Fined: New York Jets’ coach Rex Ryan was fined $75,000 for cussing at a fan last week (8 days ago).  He says that he is not going to appeal the fine because he should be held accountable for his actions. He is also a repeat offender, which may be why the fine was so steep. Way to keep it classy, Rex.

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Morning News: Injuries, Bending it Like Beckham, and the BCS

Monday, November 21st, 2011


Strike One:  Yesterday Adrian Peterson left the Vikings game in the first quarter with a wonky ankle.  The Lions are perpetually a Matthew Stafford injury from another lost season.  And the lowly Eagles had to make due with Vince Young after Michael Vick broke a couple ribs.  Some injuries can mean the end of a season for the player–other can effectively end the season for the whole team.  Jay Cutler broke his right thumb on Sunday, and he may not play again in the regular season.  Losing him casts a shadow over the Bears’ resurgent season (they’ve won five straight games), and may bring an end to their playoff hopes.  Which injuries or lost players have derailed seasons for your beloved teams?

Strike Two:  Five years ago, the LA Galaxy signed David Beckham, hoping to bring international credibility to the MLS and heighten the profile of futbol soccer in America.  Last night, in what is probably Beckham’s last American soccer match, the Galaxy won the MLS Cup.  Did Beckham’s occasional presence in American soccer heighten your interest in the MLS?  Has the increased profile of international soccer won you over as a fan?  What international sports/teams do you follow?

Strike Three:  The BCS had another shake-up this weekend, when Oregon, Clemson, Oklahoma (thanks a ton, Baylor), and my Oklahoma State Cowboys all endured upset losses.  Now the top three teams in the country all come from the SEC West, and look to be on a collision course as the season nears an end.  At least half a dozen other teams have some kind of path to the BCS Championship, requiring various kinds of help from the teams above them.  Where’s your rooting interest lie?  Who do you want to see playing for the crystal ball?

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