New York Giants Staff Intact As Bielema Doesn’t Get Colorado Job

New York Giants, Bret Bielema

New York Giants head coach Joe Judge has only just finished compiling his staff for the 2020 season, but the team already received a scare in that area as outside linebackers coach and senior defensive assistant Bret Bielema was connected to different jobs a couple of times already. Bielema was first said to be a candidate to replace Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, and then the rumors switched to the open Colorado job once the Spartans named their choice.

If Bielema did end up with either of those jobs, it would put the Giants in a mildly difficult spot as they would have to find another outside linebackers coach and potentially someone to fill his defensive assistant role after it was already believed that the staff was in its final form. Such a situation may not have been the easiest, with many of the names on the open market having already been hired this far into the offseason.

That’s not something the Giants will actually have to worry about, however, because it looks like Colorado has found their ideal candidate for their head coaching job – and it’s not Bielema.

Colorado is going for Karl Dorrell instead and that means the Giants staff is safe for now after other candidates have been chosen over Bielema two times so far for college head coaching jobs.

Of course, its not exactly unreasonable for Bielema to consider college jobs – while he did just join the Giants recently, most of Bielema’s fame comes from being a head coach at the college level, and it seems like it’s inevitable that the coach returns there at some point.

Despite being a consultant and then a line coach with the Patriots for his last job before taking this one, the NFL has only ever seemed like a small chapter of his career compared to being the head coach at Wisconsin and then Arkansas and leading those teams against some of the best programs in the country.

Bielema’s stint with the Giants, however, will last at least one year before returning to the college level is a consideration, it seems, which works out nicely for head coach Joe Judge who won’t have to scramble to find a late replacement.

New York Giants: Dante Fowler Jr. A Young Pass-Rushing Option In Free Agency

New York Giants, Dante Fowler Jr.

The New York Giants will be in the market for a pass-rusher this offseason. Luckily, the 2020 free agency class is filled with talented edge rushers for the Giants to pursue. New York is expected to make a run at all of the big names, such as Yannick Ngakoue and Jadeveon Clowney. But there are more affordable options out there.

Dante Fowler Jr. will be one of those more affordable options in the 2020 free agency class. The 25-year-old edge rusher out of the University of Florida has been with the Los Angeles Rams for the past season and a half but is set to hit the open market once again this offseason.

Dante Fowler Jr. Stats And Highlights

Dante Fowler Jr. was selected third overall in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He spent his first two and a half seasons in Jacksonville before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams. Fowler signed a one-year contract extension with the Rams in the 2019 offseason.

This offseason, however, a contract extension might not come to fruition. The Rams are pressed against the salary cap and might have to let Dante Fowler Jr. walk away.

Fowler Jr. was looked at as a bust during his time with the Jaguars. He never hit that elite level that they expected him to when they drafted him third overall. However, a change of scenery worked well for Dante. He had a career-year in 2019 that should see him rewarded handsomely in free agency.

In 2019, Dante Fowler recorded a career-high 11.5 sacks, 35 pressures, and 58 combined tackles. This was far and away the best season of his career and a big step forward from his 4-sack campaign in 2018. Fowler’s inconsistency throughout his career is a major red flag. But if 2019 is any indication, it appears Fowler is starting to get the hang of the professional game. Maybe in the right defensive system, Dante Fowler Jr. will be able to reach his full potential.

Dante Fowler Jr.’s Contract

Dante’s impressive performance in 2019 should see him earn a pretty expensive contract, however, he will be a cheaper option in comparison to Clowney and Ngakoue.

According to Over the Cap, Dante Fowler Jr. is projected to get a four-year deal worth about $15 million on average annually. This is $6 million less than what Jadeveon Clowney is projected to sign for and $4.5 less than Ngakoue’s projected contract.

Yankees’ J.A. Happ Performs Adequately, the Offense Not so Much

New York Yankees, J.A. Happ

Before the inevitable armada of negative comments floods the cities and streets of social media, let’s take deep breathes and look at the positives…or the single positive result that was present from the New York Yankees’ loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Although the Yankees only managed to score 1 run in 9 innings against the Toronto Blue Jays, this was only the first day of Spring Training. While some players started training as early as November to prepare for the 2020 season, many players are still readjusting to the lengthy and grueling period of time know as baseball season.

It’s worth noting that important key pieces, such as DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres, only had two plate appearances and require ample time to prepare themselves for opening day.

There is also common knowledge that Aaron Judge, along with other weapons such as Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit, didn’t start today and will not play every single game. Not to mention, a majority of the players taking on the main roles were minor leaguers with little to no experience in the majors.

Most of this is basic information, so that leads us to the prime question: what were the positives?

There is exactly one and only one positive, and that honor belongs to J.A. Happ.

Happ pitched with excellence and precision on the mound. Through 2 innings pitched, Happ gave up no runs, no hits and struck out 3 batters. While it’s only one game and doesn’t mount up to much, this was refreshing for both Happ and Yankee fans across the globe.

In 2019, Happ struggled immensely with his location, giving up 1.90 home runs per 9 innings and posting a 4.91 ERA, 5.22 FIP, 1.30 WHIP and a 4.72 SIERA through 161.1 innings pitched.

Both his fastball velocity and fastball spin have dropped in the last 2 years, which could explain the drastic spike in home runs he gave up in 2019. It’s also worth mentioning that his strikeout percentage, hard hit percentage, exit velocity, expected slugging, expected batting average and expected weighted on-base average have all decreased significantly.

Regardless, Happ has put the past behind him and is focusing on improving his abilities as a starting pitcher before opening day arrives.

In general, the Yankees were nonexistent at the plate, only cashing in 3 hits with 1 solo bomb driven in by Chris Gittens in the bottom of the 9th. Not much to explain other than it’s Spring Training and that this team will be fully equipped and prepared for when opening day strikes their doorstep.

 

Yankees lose to the Toronto Blue Jays despite 9th inning rally, 2-1

New York Yankees, J.A. Happ

The first game of the spring training season was held between the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays.  It was a beautiful sunny day at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida; a full house stadium was ready for a good game.  The game-time temperature was 68 degrees with a light breeze.  And to start the game, J.A. Happ breezed through the first inning striking out the first three Toronto Blue Jays.  Happ was 12-8 last season, and the Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Trent Thornton was 6-8.  The Yankees were scoreless in the bottom of the first frame.   At the top of the second Happ went one, two, three, with just nine pitches.

Yankee prospect Michael King took over for Happ in the third.  King allowed two runners on base but got out of it with a fantastic out by Gio Urshela.  Both teams ended up using eight pitchers in the game.  In the sixth, Nick Tropeano gave up a hit that allowed the  Jays Alejandro Kirk to score, making it 1-0 Jays.  At the top of the seventh, Luis Avilan gave up another run allowing Anthony Alford to increase the score to 2-0 Toronto.

In the top of the ninth  Yankee pitcher, Brooks Kriske pitched a perfect three up three down inning.  At the bottom of the ninth, Chris Gittens got a homer off Toronto Blue Jay pitcher Jake Petricka giving the Yankees some hope of a comeback.  But Kyle Holder grounded out, followed by Armando Alvarez striking out ending the Yankee rally and giving the Toronto Blue Jays the win (2-1).

The Yankees left 5 on base while going 0-6 with men in scoring position. There was one error committed by catcher Kyle Higashioka on an off-center throw to second.  Nick Tropeano took the loss for the Yankees and A.J. Cole took the win with Jake Petricka getting credit for the save.

Both teams showed early spring training rust, but overall the Jays were more aggressive on the base paths, stealing two bases.  The Yankee players, most of which were 3rd string players after the third inning, only managed three hits off Jays pitching.  If there was any saving grace for the Yankees, it was that starter J.A. Happ had two clean innings and not just clean, but he was impressive.  It’s important for the Yankees that Happ pitches well as he is now moved up the number four starter.  With the possible injury to ace Luis Severino, he may find himself as the number three starter behind Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees know the kind of pitcher Happ can be and he showed his stuff in this first spring training game.

New York Giants could reunite with talented cornerback

New York Giants, Prince Amukamara

General manager of the New York Giants, Dave Gettleman, has never been proactive in solving defensive secondaries, yet, he invested multiple draft picks in 2019 towards bolstering the cornerback unit.

Selecting DeAndre Baker in the first round, Julian Love in the fourth, and Corey Ballentine in the sixth was supposed to give the Giants plenty of options moving forward in the secondary. However, the lack of production from the draft picks was evident throughout the season. Hopefully, they can take a significant leap forward in 2020 after acquiring a year of experience under their belt.

The New York Giants need to sign a veteran:

Gettleman is apparently interested in former Dallas Cowboys corner, Byron Jones, who’s just 27 years old and presents the best option in free agency at the position. He will cost upwards of $17 million per season, but worth every penny in the process.

Another veteran option has become available this offseason, though, as the Chicago Bears cut former Giants, Prince Amukamara.

Amukamara was a first-round pick with Big Blue in 2011, and after spending five years in blue, he was allowed to walk in free agency. He spent one season with the Jacksonville Jaguars and then took his talents to Chicago.

With the Giants currently looking for an established veteran in the secondary, Amukamara could fit the bill, especially alongside second-year player, DeAndre Baker.

Prince earned a 68.2 grade via PFF, about 20 points better than Baker, who should slot in as the No. 2 option in 2020. After not recording an interception in 2019, he posted three in 2018, showing he can be a ball hawk at times. His 66.2% catch-rate was exponentially higher than his 2018 value of 57.3%. Seeing a significant increase in catch-rate is not a good sign for the veteran corner, but it could have been a product of his inept team that featured Mitchell Trubisky on offense.

If the Giants are looking for a cheaper corner with experience, Amukamara could fit the bill nicely.

Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka developing new pitch, almost gets hit by two screamers

New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka

The Yankees cannot afford to pick up any further injuries with Luis Severino, Aaron Judge, and James Paxton all picking up specific ailments in the past few weeks.

With the Bombers beginning Grapefruit League play on Saturday against the Blue Jays, they will already be without Paxton and potentially Severino for an extended period of time.

However, on Friday, they nearly lost a third starting pitcher as two balls came close to striking Masahiro Tanaka on the mound. The first was a ground ball that zipped past Tanaka’s right leg and the second was a line drive that could have decapitated the starter, courtesy of DJ LeMahieu.

Despite the close calls, Tanaka was happy with his performance ahead of the exhibition game on Saturday. He will start next Wednesday against the Washington Nationals.

“Just the gradual building,’’ Tanaka stated after his outing. “I like how I feel right now with the fastball and off-speed pitches.’’

The Yankees will need the trustworthy pitcher to hold his own during 2020, especially with Paxton expected to miss at least three months after having a cyst removed from his lower back. In 2019, Tanaka posted a 4.45 ERA with 149 strikeouts over 182.0 innings.

“It always hurts, not just a starting pitcher, when somebody goes out with an injury,’’ said Tanaka, who had offseason elbow surgery to remove a bone spur in his right elbow. “That can’t impact what I have to do.’’

Tanaka is working on sharpening a new pitch:

The Japanese pitcher is working on refining a cut fastball and was excited about its movement on Friday. Tanaka only featured his cut fastball on 1.7% of pitches in 2019 but will be looking to increase that number in the coming weeks. Hopefully, it can help redefine his approach and increase his efficiency moving forward as his numbers last season were some of his worst as a major league player.

 

New York Mets: Seth Lugo returns to the mound five days after fracturing his pinkie toe

Just five days after fracturing his left pinkie to in a hotel room incident, New York Mets reliever Seth Lugo is back to throwing off a mound. That means he can return to his normal routine and can prepare for the season with no restrictions.

The week didn’t start on the right foot, if you will, for the star reliever. He banged his pinkie with an ottoman and tests revealed a small fracture. The Mets’ righty only missed a couple of days, though: he was throwing long toss on Friday and today, he returned to the mound.

Lugo threw a successful bullpen session at the New York Mets’ camp this morning. The Monday incident is now officially in the rearview mirror.

As far as running goes, the injury may limit Lugo somewhat for a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. However, he should be more than ready for Opening Day.

The Mets have a formidable bullpen

The Mets are expected to let Edwin Diaz regain his closer role after his nightmarish 2019 season. However, Lugo will be, once again, the most important reliever in the roster.

He will return to setup duties and form a very good group of relievers. The Mets currently have Diaz, Lugo, Robert Gsellman, Brad Brach, free agent signing Dellin Betances, Justin Wilson, and whoever loses the battle for a rotation spot between Steven Matz, Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello.

Lugo is a career 3.27 ERA pitcher in 346.2 innings, with a 8.75 K/9 and a 2.34 BB/9. Last season was among the finest of his major league tenure with the Mets: his ERA was 2.70 (he had the same FIP) he struck out 11.70 batters per each nine innings and handed out 1.80 BB/9.

A healthy Seth Lugo will make sure that the New York Mets have a competitive and deep bullpen to navigate through the tough NL East.

New York Yankees 2020 Season Preview: Miguel Andujar

New York Yankees, Miguel Andujar

Miguel Andujar is ready to bounce back with the New York Yankees in 2020. After missing most of the 2019 season due to injury, Andujar is prepared for a new role in 2020.

Due to a torn labrum, Andujar appeared in just 12 games in 2019. He hit just .128, battling the injury since the opening series of the season. He went to the IL for a while and continued to have issues after his return before electing the season-ending surgery.

Andujar had a good offensive year in his 2018 rookie campaign. He was snubbed of the Rookie of the Year award to Shohei Ohtani, but it was likely due to his defense. He had less than a .950 fielding percentage and -25 defensive runs saved. He hit .297 in 2018 with 92 RBIs, 47 doubles, and 27 home runs. He’s often compared to Manny Machado on offense with his power.

2020 Expectations:

The Yankees could use a similar offensive season out of Andujar in 2020 as 2018. His defense clearly needs to be better, and he will be playing some new positions.

With Gio Urshela’s success at the hot corner in 2019, Andujar will likely only be the back-up there. He will begin to play first base and left field as well and has been practicing those two positions all winter.

I don’t think that Andujar will find a permanent home at one of the three positions, but will instead float between the three with occasional days as the DH. However, he should continue to crack the lineup most nights as the Yankees need his offense.

If he can stay healthy, Yankee fans should see another big season out of Miguel Andujar.

 

Mets’ Conforto Hoping to Follow in Rendon’s Footsteps

Michael Conforto has been just about everything the New York Mets hoped he would be when they selected him with the 10th overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. In 2019, Conforto finished the season with 33 home runs, 92 RBI and 90 runs scored.

Still just 26, Conforto sees himself as an ascending player. With two years of team control left, he is aiming for free agency and his numbers are trending up, meaning by the time he reaches free agency in 2022, he’ll be in for huge payday.

Conforto is using the model set by Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon, who peaked in his final two seasons in Washington, earning him a seven-year, $245 million megadeal from the Los Angeles Angels.

“I look at guys like Rendon — he’s just the first one that comes to mind to me, being a guy that really doesn’t have crazy plus power, doesn’t really have crazy plus speed,” Conforto told Mets.com. “He’s just a really, really, really tough guy to get out, a really tough guy to get off-balance, and that’s what I’ve always felt like I could be. And I have been in the past. I’m not going to compare myself to — I don’t want to compare myself to him. He’s put up six-plus incredible seasons. But that’s who I’m striving to be.”

In order for Conforto to be anywhere near Rendon territory, he’s going to have to raise his batting average and OPS significantly. He has hit just .257, .243 and .279 respectively over the past three seasons. By contrast, Rendon batted .319, .308 and .301.

The OPS numbers for Conforto over that period aren’t bad (.856, .797, .939) but pale in comparison to Rendon’s (1.010, .909, .937).

Conforto has said he’d like to be a Met for his entire career. Economics and his performance will dictate that. So will his agent, Scott Boras, who usually advises his clients to test the free agent waters over taking hometown discounts.

“Everyone always says that Scott is a big free agency guy and he’s a big fan of that, but Scott … is obviously going to give me the best advice that he feels he has for me as a player, and for my career,” Conforto said. “Ultimately, it’s my decision. I think it’s somewhat of a misconception about Scott and his clients. He wants what’s best for us. He’s going to give us his best advice. But at the end of the day, he’ll tell you, ‘It’s my client’s decision.’”

We’ll see. First things first, though. Conforto has to keep improving or the Met’s hometown discount just might be his best offer.

Live From Carolina: Did We See Chris Kreider’s Last Road Game With the New York Rangers?

New York Rangers, Chris Kreider

The New York Rangers survived a minor winter “storm surge” in North Carolina and as well as the Carolina Hurricanes themselves en route to a 5-2 victory Friday night. There were many of us in Ranger Blue present at PNC Arena in Raleigh, who was wondering if we were witnessing Chris Kreider‘s last road game as a New York Ranger. A large number of Blueshirt fans in attendance also witnessed Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanajed each scoring goals as Igor Shesterkin made 27 saves to lead the Rangers to their seventh straight road win.

Can the New York Rangers sign Chris Kreider to a deal?

On Monday, Pierre LeBrun of TSN reported that the Rangers and Kreider’s representatives were in serious talks to reach an agreement. At this point, it appears that the Rangers are making a strong effort to sign the 28-year-old forward to a deal. If they cannot sign him, he will probably be moved before the 3 PM deadline.

LeBrun also stated that the price for acquiring Kreider would be a first-round pick, a prospect, and some other piece. Some other piece could be a player, it could be a lower-level prospect, it might be a lower-level draft pick, and there might be a conditional pick in there, too, if the team could re-sign Kreider.

One of the projected teams that may have been very interested was the Boston Bruins. However, the need for Kreider became a little less critical for the Bruins when they acquired speedy winger Ondrej Kase from the Anaheim Ducks on Friday. What this could mean is that if Kreider stays, the Bruins might be interested in acquiring a lower cost forward like Pavel Buchnevich.

He may not command the same return as Kreider, but Buchenevich will still undoubtedly come at a steep cost for the Bruins if the Rangers deem him to be available, as he is currently ranked 28th on the TSN Trade Bait List. That price may be easier to stomach for the Bruins, however, given that Buchnevich carries a $3.25 million cap hit this season and next season.

This makes him more than just a rental for a Bruins team very much looking to capitalize on their aging core’s remaining competitive seasons. Kreider is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The left-wing has spent his entire career with the Rangers after he became the 2009 NHL Entry Draft’s No. 19 overall pick in the first round.