This division is winnable, but the Texans are playing the long game. Composite image by Brandon Strange.
Texans head coach David Culley is coming back next season. Although he signed a five-year deal, this season could've been his first and last as Texans' coach. Going into the final game of the season at 4-12 against the AFC South division leader and number one seed in the conference, isn't an ideal landing spot for a new coach. Sure, this roster was in desperate need of an overhaul. But you can't hold a coach solely responsible for the bleep show the previous regime left.
General manager Nick Caserio is a smart enough guy to know what he's up against. He knows the first hurdle has been cleared, but there's so many more to clear before becoming relevant again. The decision to bring Culley back for next season should've been inevitable. There was no way this team was in position to bring in another coach. The roster is still in flux. This team is still a year or three away from truly competing. What coach would come in and right this ship right now?
When looking around the AFC South, are there any teams that have the sort of chokehold that makes it impossible for a team to get itself together and take over the top spot? The Colts used to be scary, but they don't have a franchise quarterback either...unless you think Carson Wentz is the answer. The Titans have Derrick Henry, aka King Henry...but he's going to wear down eventually given their reliance on him for the bulk of their offense. The Jags have a potential franchise quarterback...but they just fired their head coach and have Bill O'Brien of all people on their list of candidates.
This division is winnable, but the Texans are playing the long game. Right now, they know they don't have things in place to take over the AFC South just yet. If they get a franchise quarterback in place and build around him, they'll get right back on top. Easier said than done. Keeping Culley around gives Caserio the control he needs to reshape this roster and culture into something resembling what he can hang his hat on in his first GM job. There's a reason he got a six-year deal as a first time GM, but Culley only got a five-year deal as a first-time head coach. Caserio is seen as the guy who'll be responsible for the future of this franchise. Culley is a temporary incubator of what Caserio is trying to cultivate. This team will soon be in the hands of the guy Caserio sees as the long-term solution along the sidelines.
The Titans are holding it down now with the Colts trying to maintain relevance and knock them off. The Jags are the caboose with the Texans just ahead of them. Nobody has turned themselves into the Patriots of the last couple decades in the AFC East...yet. It's definitely possible, but it hasn't been executed. Can the Texans beat the Titans and the Colts to the punch? Will the Jags ever get themselves together long enough to be a factor? Only time will tell. Culley will be on the sidelines and in pressers next season. Some in the media will have a field day with his quirks for another season. Meanwhile, Caserio will be plotting on the long-term future of this franchise. He'll be looking at potential coaching candidates, scouting college for draft picks, and examining other NFL rosters for free agent/trade possibilities. Let the games begin. May the odds forever be in Texans' fans favor.
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.”