THE COUCH SLOUCH

Here's why sports journalism has changed so much

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Editor's Note: Today's Couch Slouch column is not suitable for readers of all ages; children will be bored to death, and certain adults might prefer to think about death. It involves journalism, which no one cares about.

In the hypercompetitive world of NFL inside information, the big boys – ESPN's Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, NBC's Peter King and Mike Florio, Fox's Jay Glazer – are watched by millions on TV and followed by millions on Twitter.

The goal? To beat the other guy to bring us the latest scoop.

It's a rough-and-tumble business.

Actually, it's somewhere between dirty business and the price of doing business.

Journalism 101 has been replaced by Journalism 101k – the former teaches professional standards, the latter teaches how to earn six figures a year.

In the old days of manual typewriters, pens perched on top of your right ear and fedoras with press passes attached, you would report without fear or favor. Nowadays, you report with fear of losing your sources and with a favor here and there.

Sometimes NFL TV guys become big business all on their own. Naturally, they have agents or representation, and often their agents also rep NFL coaches and players. And this is not good.

Sometimes NFL TV guys exchange information with sources – the source, say, will help a reporter on a story if the reporter tells him what he's heard about another team's interest in a team or a draft pick – to curry favor with the source. And this is not good.

Sometimes NFL TV guys will "carry the water," so to speak, for someone else, perhaps further some anonymous source's agenda to maintain a good relationship with that individual. And this is not good.

Sometimes NFL TV guys will throw out the old adage, "It's better to be right than to be first," for the new adage, "It's better to be first than to be right."

In the black market for NFL information, there are shades of gray everywhere. It's all about access – it can be bought with trust, or less-than-holy alliances.

Best I can tell, these fellas live by the dictum, "It's not a conflict of interest unless it conflicts my interest."

Let's start with Schefter. Before hitting the national stage, we got a whiff of his modus operandi. While covering the Denver Broncos, Schefter wrote books with Broncos Coach Mike Shanahan and Broncos running back Terrell Davis, then kept covering them. They were essentially his business partners, so one might wonder about Schefter's objectivity; also, I like his chances to be first on Shanahan and Davis news.

Mortensen has been an unofficial presence at the Manning Passing Academy for several years, run by the Archie Manning family quarterback dynasty. Uh, how could Mort not get Peyton Manning scoops first?

Glazer trains NFL players in mixed martial arts in the offseason. Let me see if I have this right: They pay him for training expertise, then he reports on them as an "insider." Got it.

Then there's King, the former Monday Morning Quarterback guru at Sports Illustrated. He's a human pretzel of twisted allegiances and mysteriously sourced misinformation. Air-traffic controllers and NFL insiders should bat close to 1.000; if King – a career .262 hitter – were a controller, the friendly skies would be chaotic.

During the Ray Rice flap several years ago – in which King bungled the reporting – he began an SI.com piece with the quote, "Roger [Goodell] has determined that he will be a leader in the domestic-violence space." And to whom did King attribute this comment? "A source with knowledge of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's mindset."

1. Who uses language like that?

2. A source with knowledge of Goodell's mindset? Really? Heck, that could be Goodell himself!

My goodness, who watches these selectively watchful watchmen?

OK, I'm done now. You can bring the kids back in.

Ask The Slouch

Q. With the NCAA deciding to permit athletes to cash in on their name, image or likeness, do you think that Eric Dickerson and Craig James will now be allowed to access their retirement funds set up at SMU? (Jeff Dent; South Charleston, W.Va.)

A. What are you, nuts? Those payments have already been maxed out.

Q. I'm assuming MLB will have at least 30 jobs next year in the New York office monitoring electronic strike zones. Can I use you as a reference when I apply? (Kirk Cornwell; Delmar, N.Y.)

A. As a rule, listing me as a reference is high risk/low reward.

Q. If you were invited to the White House after winning the Pulitzer Prize, would you go? (Michael Turner; Evanston, Ill.)

A. Frankly, it all hinges on lane availability at the White House bowling alley.

Q. Once the climate change issue is resolved, do you expect the science community to shift its attention to inventing a sweatshirt with sleeves at a length Bill Belichick might find suitable? (Scott Shuster; Newton, Mass.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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Cristian Javier has proven he's a quality starting pitcher. Composite image by Jack Brame.

The 2022 regular season is nearing its end and while for the Houston Astros the true test will begin in the postseason, now is a good time to look ahead at what the team’s starting rotation could look like in 2023.

The big question will be whether long-time ace Justin Verlander returns to the team. Heading into 2022, there was doubt whether he would even be with the Astros coming off Tommy John surgery. Verlander re-signed with Houston on a two-year deal with a player option for 2023.

His production in 2022 has been nothing short of sensational. Verlander has the most wins for the Astros with a week left in the season. He has a 1.82 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 5.2 wins above replacement. More importantly for both Verlander and the Astros, is that he has played in 26 games and counting this season.

Whether Verlander remains with the Astros will likely depend on whether Houston is willing to spend. It is highly likely Verlander opts out of his player option following the strong 2022 campaign he has put together and looks for a bigger payday. Houston has shown it is not afraid to let key players walk in the offseason, so let’s take a look at a potential rotation with and without Verlander.

If the 39-year-old, who will be 40 by the time the 2023 regular season starts, stays with the Astros, he will undoubtedly be either the No. 1 or No. 2 pitcher in the rotation along with Framber Valdez, who is right behind Verlander in wins this season at 16. If Verlander leaves, Valdez should be the new Astros ace at No. 1.

Behind those two should be pitcher Lance McCullers Jr., who in seven games in 2022 has a 2.38 ERA and has cooled the concerns about his right flexor tendon strain being a long-term concern. He suffered the injury last postseason.

After those three, things begin to get interesting. Let’s say Houston opts to stay with a six-man rotation. The fourth starter could be Luis Garcia, who has a 3.90 ERA in 2022. The 25-year-old has shown he is more than a capable starter for the Astros.

The big question is if Hunter Brown can lock himself a spot in the rotation. Numbers wise, he makes a solid case to be more than Houston’s fifth starter as he has garnered 1.13 ERA through four appearances and two starts.

Brown’s starts have been against the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, so there is a bit of a caveat there, but the upside undoubtedly should put him in the conversation for a starting role in 2023.

If Verlander leaves Houston, it should be more of a guarantee that a spot in the rotation as a starter for Brown is locked. Another factor in whether Brown is a starter could be if the Astros keep Dusty Baker as manager. Baker has shown at times he is willing to side with veterans over younger talent.

Other factors in Brown’s role will also be Jose Urquidy and Cristian Javier. Urquidy has a 3.88 ERA in 28 games, all of which have been starts. Javier has a 2.65 ERA in 29 appearances, 24 of which have been starts.

Javier’s role for the Astros the last couple of years has involved starting and coming out of the bullpen, but this season he has shown that he is a capable starter. Based on this season’s play, Javier should have the edge for a starting spot, which leaves the question, what should the Astros do with Urquidy?

If Verlander walks, and Houston opts to keep a six-man rotation, then he just slides in and becomes starter No. 6. If Verlander stays, then is he willing to accept a role out of the bullpen, or do the Astros continue to use Brown out of the bullpen? Over the course of the season, both Brown and Urquidy will undoubtedly have chances to start throughout 2023.

Because of the long grind of an MLB schedule, the Astros should not trade whoever doesn’t get a starting role if Verlander stays, but how likely is it that it is even a problem for Houston? Regardless of who leaves or stays, the Astros should also continue with a six-man rotation because over the course of 162 games, it is what is best for your starters.

If the Astros bring back general manager James Click, based on how the Astros have seen players like George Springer and Carlos Correa walk in the past under his leadership, it is likely Verlander leaves Houston, but at the same time, many didn’t believe he was going to be back at all for 2022.

One thing is for sure, the Astros have a great problem to have. So many starting pitcher candidates, many of whom can be under team control for several years. So even if Verlander walks, an unforeseen injury happens, or a player ends up being disgruntled, Houston has more than enough flexibility to remain among the American Leagues’s best.

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