Friday, July 24, 2015

FirstStopFantasy: CLEVELAND BROWNS: TOP TRAINING CAMP POSITION BATTLES

Coming off a frustrating 2014 season that saw a promising 7-4 start end in with five straight losses and another year on the outside of the playoffs looking in. The Browns made a number of moves in the offseason replacing their quarterback, wide receivers, and working on beefing up the defense. With a strong draft and active on free agency, the Browns are counting on 2015 to play out like the promising first half of the season and not the disappointing finish. Here are some of the most intriguing position battles on both sides of the ball for the Browns as training camp kicks off:

Read much more here: http://firststopfantasy.com/articles/cleveland-browns-top-training-camp-position-battles/

Delusional Red Sox Ownership/Front Office has Doomed the 2015 Season

The Boston Red Sox front office and ownership group are clearly delusional.

The same problems that forced out dynasty building/curse breaking general manager Theo Epstein (twice) remain. The front office brings in free agents/makes moves to boost NESN ratings (where the real money is) and then the general manager is stuck trying to cram these unwanted players onto the manager.

Showing they learned nothing by trading for Adrian Gonzalez and signing Carl Crawford, they continued to meddle rather than let their baseball people re-sign their contributors and unload the unnecessary. The Red Sox kept World Series heroes Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino when their trade value was high and sold low last year on top starters Jon Lester and John Lackey.

The Red Sox could have signed Jon Lester last spring rather than let him get to free agency and have an ace lefty pitcher with experience in the American League East. However, the ownership group wanted to squeeze Lester and not pay him what he was worth. When he left, they had plenty of money to make a splash at third base and convert a lazy, injury-prone shortstop they traded away a decade ago to left field.

Lester and Lackey were not “sexy” television-friendly players. The Red Sox needed splashy signings and of former prospects and exciting World Series heroes (already in Boston or from other teams) to promote their product across New England on television sets. The focus for the front office is less on the field and more on the screen.

What was once an imposing offense now consists of veteran David Ortiz, young stars Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, and then a lot of question marks.

Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval have been worse than expected in their initial season in Fenway Park. Dustin Pedroia has been injury prone, average at the plate, and could have been replaced at second base by Mookie Betts. Outfielder Shane Victorino has been injury prone and first baseman Mike Napoli continued decline at the plate as well and a potent offense has struggled. The champions of 2013 seem a long way away for these two declining veterans.

Of course, Ramirez and Sandoval never fit the Red Sox hitting philosophy of working counts deep, wearing down starting pitchers to get to the weak underbelly of the middle relievers in the bullpen. Sandoval and Ramirez are free swingers who will chase that off-the-plate slider and ground into a double play on the first pitch of the at-bat. Add in Rusney Castillo as the highest paid AAA outfielder and the Red Sox are in a strange financial conundrum.

Garin Cecchini and Will Middlebrooks could have held down third base for about $1 million per year and put out the same defensive limitations and lack of production that Pablo Sandoval brings to the Sox. Yes, Middlebrooks was sent down to the minor leagues recently by the San Diego Padres and Cecchini is still struggling at Triple-A Pawtucket, but having that 5-years and $95 million to spend on a pitcher seems like a good investment today.

Allen Craig was part of the deal with St. Louis last year to unload veteran pitcher John Lackey right before he was forced to play for the veteran minimum contract for 2015. Rather than cash-in on the best deal in the league, the Sox flipped him for a left fielder/first baseman who could not hit in Craig (and pitcher Joe Kelly).

Rusney Castillo has been a washout--like one-year wonders Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli--and with scrap heap pickups such as All-Star Brock Holt and outfielder Alejandro De Aza outperforming their counterparts it is baffling how the front office swung and missed so completely on their scouting.

Of course, this sad offense may have been enough had the Red Sox had a pitching staff. With Jon Lester forced out the door and John Lackey inexplicably traded away, the Red Sox went into 2015 with an untested group. Clay Buchholz was the veteran of the group and continued his frustrating career with a strong performance marred once more by injury.

Behind Buchholz imports Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, and Justin Masterson have been below-average. Miley and Porcello were inexplicably extended by the front office before they even proved they were capable of pitching in the high pressure and high-tension American League East. The Red Sox passed on a rotation anchored by the durable and tested Lester and Lackey and able to handle Buchholz, Miley, Porcello and Rodriguez at the back-end of the rotation.

Masterson has been the expected flame-out (can anyone explain why he was not immediately put into the bullpen as a set-up/middle reliever in spring training?) and the Sox are now forced to lean on 22-year old Eduardo Rodriguez and promote prospect Brian Johnson and middling knuckleballer Steven Wright to the rotation.  

The bullpen has been overused and with Alexi Ogando, Junichi Tazawa and inconsistent lefties Craig Breslow, Tommy Layne, and Robbie Ross forced to pitch more than they should, the Sox are struggling to keep their season afloat. Now with the starting pitching, offense, and bullpen all on the verge of implosion, the Red Sox are watching their season disappear on the wings of a seven-game losing streak.

The starting rotation is exactly what the detractors called it this spring: five number four starters. The offense struggles to work starting pitchers, extend innings, or have enough talent to overcome their free swinging ways. By letting ownership sabotage the team-building philosophy makes the front office overly dependent upon drafting quality players to stock the farm system.

For the Red Sox, this team is another disaster in team-building and likely do not have the Los Angeles Dodgers waiting in the wings to bail them out as they did in 2012. Get used to the mediocre product on the field, Red Sox Nation--the front office paid dearly for it.

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