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Given their overall stature as organizations within their sports, it seems appropriate that the Astros' biggest contract news this week was striking a five year extension with Alex Bregman, while the Texans' biggest move was signing backup quarterback A.J. McCarron. Hey, McCarron is a notable upgrade over Brandon Weeden! Though if DeShaun Watson goes down with a major injury they are still Texans Toast.
The Astros get cost certainty, and a relative bargain if Bregman is to be one of the great stars of the game well into the next decade. If Bregman is indeed to be a long-term stud he'd have made more money going year to year over the next four seasons until free agency beckoned. Hedging his bet is without question a smart play when the hedge makes Bregman a centillionaire. Pre-Uncle Sam's cut anyway.
Bregman at six years $100 million seems downright cheap relative to Jose Altuve's five year 151.5 mil extension kicking in next season. Carlos Correa must have some interesting unspoken thoughts.
UH in the tourney
21 times in 34 years of the 64 team NCAA Tournament bracket a 14 seed has shocked a three seed in the first round. Hence, the Houston Cougars are not an automatic over Georgia State. In 2015 the Panthers (Ga. St.) were a 14 when they took down Baylor. This season's GSU squad ranks in the top 15 in the nation in three point shooting percentage. But their numbers were primarily accrued vs. Sun Belt Conference competition. The UH defense is strongest on the perimeter and should choke off Georgia State's strength. The Iowa State-Ohio State winner should be next on Sunday. The Cyclones would pose a serious challenge Sunday, with the Buckeyes no joke if good enough to take out ISU.
While at Oklahoma, Kelvin Sampson twice had fourth seeded Sooner teams seeded lose to 13 seeds. And took a two seeded team to the Final Four.
Loss hurts Rockets goals
Down to 10 regular season games left for the Rockets heading into their game with the Spurs Friday night. Coming back from 19 points down in the 4th quarter at Memphis only to lose in overtime was a waste of time, having Chris Paul play over 41 minutes was not good, and the L basically snuffed out the slim in the slim and none chance of catching Golden State for the top seed in the Western Conference. Denver is the probable number two seed, though the Nuggets have a much harder finishing schedule than do the Rockets. If the Nuggets go 6-6 to close, the Rockets have to go 9-1. Portland is tied with Houston in the loss column, has a favorable schedule, and owns the tiebreaker over the Rockets. Meaning: the Rockets dropping to fourth is a distinct possibility.
HOF next for Ichiro, but he is no Biggio
After playing in the Seattle Mariners' two regular season opening games in Tokyo, Ichiro Suzuki officially retired Thursday. He can safely start working on a Hall of Fame induction speech for 2025 in Cooperstown. A tremendous player who didn't come to North America until he was 27 years old, Ichiro racked up at least 206 hits in each of his first 10 Major League seasons and finished with 3089 good for 23rd all-time, until Albert Pujols passes him this season. He was a spectacular right fielder with a throwing arm that rates with the greatest the game has seen from Roberto Clemente on down the line.
On the radio show Thursday I addressed Ichiro as overrated by those who rate him one of the great offensive players ever. Context matters. I noted that Craig Biggio's peak offensive years were better than Ichiro's best. Boy did that draw some blowback in emails, tweets, and on-air from bi-weekly guest/CultureMap.com featured columnist/baseball dilettante Ken Hoffman.
Ichiro was a magnificent singles-slapping machine. In 2004 he racked up 262 hits to break a Major League record that had stood for more than 80 years. However, on-base percentage is a more valuable statistical measurement than batting average. In 2004 Ichiro hit .372, with an OBP of .414. In 1997 Biggio's OBP was .415 (while batting .309). Despite Ichiro having a career batting average edge of .311 to .281, Biggio's career on-base percentage of .363 tops Ichiro's .355.
Biggio also hit with notably more power. Ichiro one time reached 15 homers in a season. Biggio hit 20+ eight times, four of those when the Astrodome was his home ballpark. Ichiro topped 30 doubles twice with a season high of 34. Biggio topped 40 six times including two seasons over 50.
Over their best 10 year stretch, best five year stretch, or single best season, Craig Biggio was a greater offensive player than Ichiro. Not a better pure hitter, but a better offensive player.
1. As Charles Barkley's book was titled: "I May Be Wrong, but I Doubt It." 2. Murray State's Ja Morant is the most compelling college guard since Stephen Curry. 3. Best ever in-game dunkers: Bronze-Michael Jordan Silver-Dominique Wilkins Gold-Vince Carter
Ronald Acuña Jr. and Corbin Carroll just got a little more dangerous. Same for Bobby Witt Jr., Elly De La Cruz and the rest of baseball's fastest players.
Major League Baseball wants umpires to crack down on obstruction, and the commissioner's office outlined plans during a call with managers this week. MLB staff also will meet managers in person during spring training to go over enforcement.
The increased emphasis is only on the bases and not at home plate. The focus is on infielders who drop a knee or leg down in front of a bag while receiving a throw, acting as a deterrence for aggressive baserunning and creating an increased risk of injuries.
“I think with everything, they’re trying to make the game a little safer to avoid some unnecessary injuries," Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said Friday at the team's facility in Florida. “The intentions are always good. It comes down to how it affects the players and the games. I’m sure there will be plays where one team doesn’t like it or one team does.”
With more position players arriving at spring training every day, the topic likely will come up more and more as teams ramp up for the season.
“We'll touch on that. We'll show them some video of what’s good and what’s not,” Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy said. “You know, it’s going to be a little adjustment.”
Making obstruction a point of emphasis fits in with an ongoing effort by MLB to create more action. Obstruction calls are not reviewable, which could lead to some disgruntled players and managers as enforcement is stepped up, but it also means it won't create long replay deliberations.
A package of rule changes last season — including pitch clocks, bigger bases and limits on defensive shifts and pickoff attempts — had a dramatic effect. There were 3,503 stolen bases in the regular season, up from 2,486 in 2022 and the most since 1987.
MLB changed a different baserunning rule this offseason, widening the runner’s lane approaching first base to include a portion of fair territory. MLB also shortened the pitch clock with runners on base by two seconds to 18 and further reducing mound visits in an effort to speed games.
“Last year, you know, a lot of our preparation was around like, especially just the unknown of the clock and making sure like we’re really buttoned up on that," New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "These guys are so used to it in so many ways that sometimes I even forget.”
Increased enforcement could lead to more action on the basepaths. But a significant element of MLB's motivation is injury prevention.
Top players have hurt hands or wrists on headfirst slides into bases blocked by a fielder. White Sox slugger Luis Robert Jr. sprained his left wrist when he slid into Jonathan Schoop's lower left leg on a steal attempt during an August 2022 game against Detroit.
“It’s been happening for a while. It’s been getting out of control," Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “I know some of the players complained about it the last two years.”
While acknowledging his reputation as a significant offender, Phillies second baseman Bryson Stott didn't sound too worried about his play.
“We like to fight for outs at second base,” he said. "It’s never on purpose, blocking the base. For me, or someone covering second to the shortstop side, it’s a natural move for your knee to go down to reach the ball. It’s never intentional. I guess we’ll figure out how to maneuver around that.”