Quick hits with Kolsky
The San Francisco Giants were tied for the worst mark in baseball with 64 wins last season, so fans will be excused if bringing back the starting pitching staff doesn’t get them excited.
The good news is that Johnny Cueto, whose decision not to opt out of his contract means he is signed for the next four seasons at $21 million per, is worth that money. His 2017 season was terrible, but he was the most consistent starter in baseball over the previous six-year period, going 82-43 with a 2.73 ERA.
The money is big, but fans should be reminded not their money and it’s less than guys like Rick Porcello and James Shields will be making.
Madison Bumgarner’s option was a no-brainer, too — his $12-million salary is a bargain if he is any good at all.
In the bad news column, Matt Moore and Pablo Sandoval are also back. Even the most stalwart Giants fan must be sick of watching the same players fail, and these two have made failure into a science: Moore was one of the worst starters in baseball last season, and Panda’s last good season was in his previous Giants life.
Both managed to finish last season with a negative WAR.
The money committed to Moore and Sandoval isn’t problematic, but the messaging here is unpleasant at best. If the Giants’ franchise-building has had a consistent flaw, it is their tendency to stick with their own struggling players rather than spend on replacements. Running it back with Moore, much less Sandoval, seems to lean into this flaw rather than away from it.
The real test for San Francisco’s offseason will come with free agency, when we see whether they actually open up the checkbook to fill some of the massive holes on their roster. If they invest in another starter and a legitimate power bat for the outfield, nobody will bother worrying about what Pablo Sandoval and Matt Moore will do.
(Executive vice president Brian Sabean said in a conference call on Monday that the team’s top three priorities are a center fielder — with Denard Span moving to left — as well as help in the bullpen and at third base. The call was intended to announce the hirings of pitching coach Curt Young and hitting coach Alonzo Powell.)
If they try to convince us that running it back is viable, it’ll be interested to see how long fans will tolerate it.
Return of the Air Raid(ers)
Oakland’s NFL team remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma somehow still competing for playoff position.
It was encouraging to see the downfield-passing offense we expected in Miami, as Derek Carr had by far his best game throwing the deep ball — going 11-of-16 on passes thrown over 10 yards, including a 44-yard touchdown bomb to speedster Johnny Holton — and found a rhythm with tight end Jared Cook. On the other hand, Amari Cooper’s case of the dropsies was as bad as ever, and even Michael Crabtree put a big third down catch on the ground.
The Raiders got the win they needed, but a three-point victory over Jay Cutler’s Dolphins is not the return-to-form that fans would have hoped for. In other words, this seems like a great time for a bye week.
If there’s any hope of a real playoff run, the Raiders have to be better everywhere. Whether that happens seems to depend on little more than guys just playing better — whether it’s receivers simply catching well-thrown balls, or Khalil Mack finding his way to the quarterback as often as he did the last two seasons.
Oakland returns to play the New England Patriots on Nov. 19 in Mexico City in a game that will likely determine the course of their season. If they can best the Patriots in what promises to be a barnburner, they’ll have a real chance to make their move with home games against the QB-challenged Broncos and Giants to follow. If they can’t keep up with New England, they’re likely out of the race at 4-6 with tough road games at Kansas City and Philly still to come.
Take a deep breath, Raider fans — it’s about to get real.
Lue, LeBron and losses
If you thought LeBron James was going to be slowing down at age 32 and in his 15th NBA season, you were very, very wrong. His 57-point explosion in Washington was a master class in basketball greatness — besides shooting 23-for-34, he chipped in 11 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and two blocks, all of which were team highs. In fact, outside of John Wall’s 15 assists, those were all game highs.
Despite James proving his dominance, the Cavaliers are a bad basketball team. This should not be a surprise. Few, if any, current players on the roster are underperforming — the reality is that this team got much worse in the offseason.
LeBron has been excellent. Kevin Love has been pretty good. Kyle Korver has been doing his job. Derrick Rose has probably over performed, at least with his 48-percent shooting. Virtually every other active player is as much a hindrance as a help, and a shortage of talent has led to a losing record that puts the Cavs’ many problems in focus.
Isaiah Thomas, crown jewel of the Kyrie Irving trade, is out for the foreseeable future and may never be what he was pre-hip injury. JR Smith is following a mediocre 2016-17 season with an abjectly awful start to this year, assisted by the bizarre coaching decision to bench him for the geriatric (and nearly as inefficient) Dwyane Wade.
(And speaking of bizarre and coaching, can someone check on Tyronn Lue?)
It’s still early, but for the first time since LeBron’s return to Cleveland, there seems to be uncertainty as to who the Warriors will face in the NBA Finals. It’s a good indication of just how hard it is to reach those heights year after year. Then again, I’m probably overthinking it — does anyone believe that LeBron couldn’t drop 57 every night through the playoffs to push the Cavs back through?
Pop, politics and people
The Spurs’ commander-in-chief Gregg Popovich has consistently distinguished himself with pointed but professional critiques of everything from presidential campaigns to potential legal reform. He may have outdone himself with his 25 seconds of postgame commentary after a win over Phoenix on Sunday, a day when a mass shooting at a church near San Antonio left at least 26 people dead.
“We won a basketball game,” Pop told the gathered reporters. “But considering what’s going on today, it’s pretty meaningless. When you think about the tragedy those families are suffering, it’s just inconceivable. It’s impossible to put your head around. So I think talking about basketball tonight is probably pretty inappropriate.”
Whether he’s attempting to put words to unspeakable tragedy, commenting on the childish ineptitude of the current administration or designing a defensive scheme, Popovich is masterful. Steve Kerr and Steph Curry were neither joking nor wrong when they said he would make a great president.
In 2017, when news and sports and politics and everything are just a giant mishmash of 140-character hot-takes and the world seems to make less and less sense, we are always in need of people with platforms to speak out about what’s right, and having Popovich in front of a microphone regularly is a boon for America.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. Find him on Twitter @thekolsky to share your personal feelings about this article or any other topic, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.