Get your Boss Buttons ready, day-jobbers …
It’s that thrilling time of year when we all get together and pretend to have tools to predict the results of children playing a game poorly, and do our best to forget that our $20 pool buy-in is more than the athletes have earned for their trouble.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to enjoy the NCAA tournament — the drama and excitement are unparalleled. I just like to point out that the quality of play is paralleled by mediocre pickup games at most parks in America.
If you, like me, generally prefer your sports madness in professional environments, let me recommend some of the Bay Area’s big-boy clubs …
It’s difficult to understand what the 49ers have done with the running back position — letting Carlos Hyde slide out to Cleveland for a reported $15 million over three seasons, and replacing him with the relatively diminutive Jerick McKinnon at the steeper price of $30 million over four years.
Meanwhile, fellow pass-catching back Dion Lewis got four years and $23 million to leave New England for Tennessee.
On its face, this seems like a bit of an overpay — McKinnon has the lowest career yards-per-rush of the three and has never been asked to carry the load in Minnesota. For a team with a collection of RB pieces short on both experience and size, it’s a signing that feels more like duplication than filling a need.
That being said, the market on McKinnon was reportedly hot; that’s why he got a deal that makes him the fourth highest-paid RB in football. He’s also the youngest of the aforementioned trio, with by far the most upside and big-play ability.
Pro Football Focus had McKinnon catching 51 of 54 catchable balls thrown his way last year, which adds to his appeal in a Kyle Shanahan offense that likes to throw to backs (the resemblance to Devonta Freeman is noteworthy).
Perhaps most importantly, the 49ers have money to burn — this deal, even if slightly above McKinnon’s pure market value, is a relative drop in the bucket given the team’s cap situation. If we trust the new regime, and they’ve given us every reason to do so, it’s easy to see how this offense can thrive with the diversity of talent it has despite a lack of big names outside the QB position.
The San Francisco Giants have a lot to be happy about so far this spring training: Their new, old guys Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen are happy and healthy despite Longoria’s recent bout with ankle soreness; young center fielder Steven Duggar looks good and nearly ready; and young relievers like Josh Osich and Steven Okert are in midseason form.
There are some complicating factors for the team, though, starting with the exhibition explosion from Mac Williamson. The perennially underachieving outfield prospect is hitting .378 this spring, with four homers and 13 RBIs in just 37 at-bats. To give you a comparison point, he’s a .226 hitter in his MLB career, with just nine long balls in 212 ABs.
It would be hard to leave Williamson off the Opening Day roster if he continues hitting like this, especially when presumptive left fielder Hunter Pence looks awful. With Duggar on the come and a handful of speedier, more defense-focused outfielders hanging in the wings, Williamson may force the franchise into an uncomfortable decision.
On the pitching side, the Giants have seemed to want to give prospect Tyler Beede a real shot to find a spot in the starting rotation, but he’s failing to make his case. Not only is he being outperformed by fellow youngsters Ty Blach and Chris Stratton (who both sport sub-3 ERAs in four spring outings), but he’s also been significantly worse than veteran supplements Chris Heston and Derek Holland.
In the end, though, this could be good — let Beede get some more minor-league seasoning, save a year of major league contract exposure on him, and have him ready if one of the other options stumbles in the regular season.
The Oakland A’s spring has generally been an opposite vibe, with young players ruling the day in large part because all of their players are young players. They did get a little older this week, though, and in just the right place, signing veteran catcher Jonathan Lucroy.
Lucroy isn’t known for his defense, exactly, but he does bring a wealth of major league experience to a pitching staff remarkably short on that, and he also adds strength to the already intriguing A’s lineup. If the 31-year-old backstop can hang around his career OBP of .343, he’ll help his young starters with some run support in addition to pitch selection.
In a year that’s featured a lot of worthless words wasted on a Warriors team expected to repeat as champs, it’s become consensus that there is only one thing that could change the outcome of the NBA season: injuries.
On Wednesday, the Dubs played without either Splash Brother or Draymond. Patrick McCaw and David West both remain out as well, while Jordan Bell, Andre Iguodala, Nick Young and Quinn Cook are all playing through various ailments.
The Golden State roster has quickly become an exercise in triage.
Suddenly the questions about the Warriors’ ability to “flip the switch” are changing in tone and tenor slightly — instead of, “Can we trust them to show up in full force when they need to?” we have to wonder, “Will they have the full complement of players when they need them?”
The good news is that the answer to the first question was always an emphatic YES. I never had much doubt that a championship-level version of the Warriors would arrive in time for the championship season. Provided the principals are back on the floor, I still believe this team has the talent to roll to a second consecutive title.
That’s why Steph Curry will sit another week — not because his ankle injury is dire, but because there’s no reason for him to play sooner. With just 14 games remaining, the Warriors are as good as locked into the second seed in the West. With all due respect to the Jazz’s playoff chase, the April 10 regular season finale is as meaningless to the Warriors as Friday’s tilt at Sacramento.
Expect the Warriors to go out of their way down the stretch to find extra rest for their four All-Stars, as well as old men like West and Iguodala — even if it costs wins, even if it means they are lukewarm heading into the postseason.
In the end, all that matters is having a healthy team in the Western Conference finals, when the real challengers arrive.
Steve Kerr never shies away from blurring the line between sports and politics.
He made some headlines this week for participating in a discussion about guns with US representatives and South Bay students. If you know anything about the Warriors’ head coach, his views on gun control are no more a surprise than his willingness to share them.
Kerr’s father was shot and killed in a terrorist attack in Beirut when Steve was an 18-year-old freshman at Arizona, a tragedy that has gone a long way towards shaping the coach’s worldview. For him to be able to speak as a victim of the devastation of gun violence makes his message all the more impactful.
A simple nota bene: cherish this man. Cherish this team on the floor, yes, but also off the floor, where they almost uniformly distinguish themselves as honorable and respectable men with charitable hearts and good souls. It’s rare, it’s incredibly gratifying as a fan, and it’s a perfect fit for the progressive values of the Bay Area.
Bravo, Warriors. Light years ahead indeed.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional who lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear him on 95.7 the Game, usually on weekends. You can listen to his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. Find him on Twitter @thekolsky; he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.