#DigSportsDesk - The Lede

Giants Lovin' D'at Bum 

KANSAS CITY, October 30, 2014 -- One Giant performance won the World Series. Madison Bumgarner came out of the bullpen in Game 7 and threw five scoreless innings to pick up a save, and the San Francisco Giants held on for a 3-2, title-clinching victory over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night. San Francisco's ace left-hander went 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA in two World Series starts, and he finished with a 0.43 ERA in three appearances. Bumgarner, who pitched Wednesday on two days' rest after throwing a shutout in Game 5, was selected the Most Valuable Player. There was no other choice.

"I knew if something happened early, it was probably a lot better chance of me getting in there, and it did," Bumgarner said. "I wasn't thinking about finishing the game or how many pitches I was going to go or pitch count. I was just wanting to get outs, and we were able to do that for the most part."

The Giants became the first road team to win a World Series Game 7 since the Pittsburgh Pirates won in 1979 at Baltimore. The last nine home teams prevailed in Game 7. San Francisco captured its third World Series title in five years, the first National League team to accomplish that since the St. Louis Cardinals in 1942, 1944 and 1946. The Giants also became the first team to win 12 games in a single postseason. After Kansas City second baseman Omar Infante led off the fifth with a single, Bumgarner retired 14 straight until left fielder Alex Gordon singled with two outs in the ninth. Gordon raced to third as the ball scooted past center fielder Gregor Blanco for an error and rolled to the wall.

"I wasn't sure what happened," Bumgarner said, "but I was starting to get a little nervous. He can run a little bit and that's a big outfield, so I was just wanting someone to get it and get it in, which they did in plenty of time. But it was a little nerve-wracking, though."

Bumgarner picked up Blanco by retiring catcher Salvador Perez on a foul pop to third baseman Pablo Sandoval, setting off the Giants' celebration.

"I knew Perez was going to want do something big," Bumgarner said. "I had a really good chance, too. We tried to use that aggressiveness and throw pitches up in the zone. It's a little bit higher than high, I guess, and fortunately I was able to get some past him."

Sandoval, right fielder Hunter Pence and first baseman Brandon Belt -- the Giants' Nos. 4, 5 and 6 hitters -- combined to go 7-for-11 and scored all three runs. Sandoval's three hits hiked his total to 26, a major league record for a single postseason. Neither starter lasted long. Giants starter Tim Hudson was gone before the second inning ended. Royals starter and losing pitcher Jeremy Guthrie failed to make it out of the fourth.

The Royals' three-headed bullpen monster of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland combined to throw 5 2/3 scoreless innings, allowing four hits and striking out nine, after Guthrie departed. However, the Bumgarner Beast bested them.
"He had a tremendous playoff," Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said. "He put his team on his back and carried them in this World Series. He was definitely the difference-maker for them. He came back on short rest. He dominated every time he was on the mound. That's what true aces do. That's what sets him apart from everybody else."

Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain said of Bumgarner, "He dominated us the first game and then got it done Sunday and again tonight. We probably would have won if they didn't have him. But they do have him." The Giants struck first with two runs in the second, both scoring on outs.
Guthrie began the inning by hitting Sandoval with a pitch and yielding singles to Pence and Belt to load the bases with nobody out.

Designated hitter Michael Morse and shortstop Brandon Crawford got Sandoval and Pence home with sacrifice flies. The Royals promptly answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning, but they would not score again. Butler led off with a single and rumbled home from first on Gordon's double to center that rolled to the wall. Gordon was hitting a paltry .094 in the previous nine games. Next, Perez was hit by a Hudson pitch near the left knee and was down in pain for several minutes while trainer Nick Kenney and manager Ned Yost attended him. Perez remained in the game. Gordon advanced to third on third baseman Mike Moustakas' flyout to left field and scored on Infante's sacrifice fly to center.

After Hudson yielded a single to shortstop Alcides Escobar, Giants manager Bruce Bochy replaced him with left-hander Jeremy Affeldt. 

Hudson, who at 39 years, 107 days was the oldest Game 7 starting pitcher in history, retired only five of the 10 batters he faced and threw just 28 pitches. That was the shortest Game 7 start since 1960, when the New York Yankees pulled Bob Turley after one inning. For the second night in a row, San Francisco's starter failed to make it through two innings. Jake Peavy retired only four batters in a 10-0 Giants loss on Tuesday. It was the first time since 1984 that World Series starters failed to make it through two innings in back-to-back starts. Ed Whitson and Tim Lollar of the San Diego Padres each failed in Game 2 and 3 to get six outs in the World Series against Detroit.

Guthrie, 35, did not last much longer than Hudson. He was yanked after 15 batters and 3 1/3 innings. Sandoval and Pence opened the fourth with singles. Sandoval moved up 90 feet on Belt's flyout.

Yost replaced Guthrie with Herrera. Morse fell behind in the count 0-2 before singling to right to score Sandoval, putting the Giants up 3-2.

Affeldt, who broke in with the Royals in 2002, worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings to pick up the victory. He was a major bullpen component on the Giants' three championship clubs.

"This is probably the one that means the most to me, with being back in Kansas City," Affeldt said. "I've been telling my wife for 10 years now, 'I hope the end is better than the beginning.' To see the end right now, knowing I began here, I couldn't have been more prophetic. It couldn't have come to a better close for me."

He extended his consecutive scoreless outing streak to 22 in the postseason. Only Mariano Rivera, 23, has a longer streak in major league history.

"I don't know if they'll say the word dynasty or not. But to be a part of this and do it the way we do it, I'm very honored to be part of it," Affeldt said. "To me, it's one of the best bullpens I've ever seen. We're not normal; we don't all throw it 100. We can mix and match. This bullpen, for the most part, has been part of three rings."

Affeldt turned over a one-run lead to Bumgarner in the fifth. Bumgarner took it from there.

"I never felt like it was over, especially with that team over there," Belt said. "But I have a lot of confidence when he comes in. He's the big guy. He's the MVP. That's what we expect out of him every time, and he delivers every single time.

"I knew they would have to drag him off the field if they were going to get him out of there. He wasn't going to go voluntarily. Once he settled in, he was great."

Herrera was removed after 2 2/3 scoreless innings in which he threw 28 strikes in 33 pitches, but he allowed one of Guthrie's runners to score, and that was the difference. Davis replaced Herrera to start the seventh.

NOTES: Royals 1B Eric Hosmer went 0-for-4 in Game 7. He finished with 20 postseason hits, tying CF Willie Wilson's franchise record for most hits in a postseason, set in 1985. ... San Francisco 1B Brandon Belt drew 11 walks in postseason play, second in single-season franchise history, but far off the club record. Barry Bonds walked 27 times in the 2002 postseason. ... RHP Kyle Zimmer, the Royals' top pick in the 2012 draft who underwent shoulder surgery Tuesday, was at Kauffman Stadium for Game 7 with his arm in a sling. ... Bret Saberhagen, who shut out the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Royals Hall of Famer Mark Gubicza, who was also in the 1985 rotation, delivered the official game ball to the mound. ... Joyce DiDonato, a 2012 Grammy Award winner for best classical vocal solo who went to high school in Kansas City, performed the national anthem.

Giants Ride Bumgarner to Series Title

(Wire service report)

KANSAS CITY, October 30, 2014 --The San Francisco Giants were not the dominant team in the regular season, winning only 88 games, failing to win their division and sneaking into the postseason with the National League's second wild card. However, they had the dominant pitcher in the league heading into the playoffs and World Series, in SP Madison Bumgarner. The 25-year-old left-hander worked five scoreless innings and allowed just two hits Wednesday night to log a save in the Giants' 3-2, championship-clinching victory over the Kansas City Royals in Game 7 of the World Series.

Bumgarner, who went 2-0 with a save and a 0.43 ERA, was an easy choice as World Series MVP. He pitched 21 of the Giants' 61 innings in the seven games, and San Francisco's other starting pitchers posted a combined 9.92 ERA. Wednesday's effort was stunning considering Bumgarner was working on two days' rest. He threw 117 pitches Sunday while shutting out the Royals in Game 5.

"I can't lie to you anymore, I'm a little tired now," Bumgarner said with a laugh after Game 7.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy kept his distance from Bumgarner in the dugout during the game, as the lefty retired 14 consecutive batters at one point.

"I was staying away from him every inning because I was hoping he wouldn't go, 'I'm starting to get tired,'" Bochy said. "Because there's no way I would have taken him out unless he would have told me that. We just got on his horse and rode it.

"Truly amazing, incredible what he did through all this postseason ... historic."

Bumgarner was making his first relief appearance since the 2010 NL Championship Series.

"It doesn't matter which way you come from (starting or relieving), when you get out there, it's the same thing," Bumgarner said. "I was just thinking about getting on the mound and trying to get some innings for our team and get some outs, and fortunately we were able to do that."

The Giants have three championships in a five-year span, and Bumgarner is a large reason why. His 0.25 career World Series ERA is the best ever among pitchers who threw at least 20 innings in the Fall Classic. Over six starts and one relief appearance in this year's postseason, Bumgarner went 4-1 with a save and a 1.65 ERA.

NBA '14-15: Looking Ahead

(Staff and wire service report)

As the 2014-15 season begins, the landscape in the NBA changed dramatically since the San Antonio Spurs hoisted the championship trophy by dominating the Miami Heat.


    The Spurs remain every bit the favorite they were in June, but the Heat could fall back to the pack, looking up at … LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    Here are 10 things to watch as the 2014-15 NBA season begins:

    10. Will Steve Balmer -- supplanting Portland's Paul Allen as the richest owner in the NBA -- make a difference with the Los Angeles Clippers? It will most likely be addition by subtraction with the exit of the disgraced Donald Sterling. Coach Doc Rivers and his complement of strong talent can forget about controversy and concentrate fully on getting to the Promised Land.

    9. How will Russell Westbrook handle being the big cheese (for a month, at least) in Oklahoma City? The NBA's best two-way point guard is also given to letting his emotions get the best of him at times. Coach Scotty Brooks wants Westbrook to continue to let the game come to him and not worry about making up the points the Thunder will miss in Kevin Durant's absence. Durant, more subdued by just as lethal, went on a record scoring binge with Westbrook sidelined with knee issues last season and said he talked to the All-Star sidekick about not changing during this solo act.

    8. Take a careful look at the San Antonio Spurs this season. It could wind up being the last hurrah for one of the great dynasties in NBA history. If they make it back-to-back titles by bagging another in June, coach Gregg Popovich and superstars Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili could ride off into the sunset.

    7. Portland has had the worst bench in the league over the past two seasons. With the addition of veterans Chris Kaman and Steve Blake, the Trail Blazers might be ready to make a jump into the conference finals for the first time since 2000. Then again, that's what most thought last season. With LaMarcus Aldridge now a star with name value and Damian Lillard at or near the elite class of NBA guards, it could be this team's time to shine.

    6. Kobe, Kobe, Kobe. Injuries and age might drag him down, at least that's what Bryant's greatest critics are signaling. The irrepressible Mr. Bryant has disdain for those who don't think the Los Angeles Lakers will rebound and make the playoffs this season. If Kobe and the Lakers pull it off, it will be up there with those 1914 Boston Braves as the biggest pro sports miracle in a century.

    5. Heat is off. The Heat's empire has ended after only four seasons, but four consecutive Finals appearances and two championships are still awfully impressive. Luol Deng replaces LeBron James, but Deng battled an Achilles injury last season and never looked like the same player in Cleveland he had been during an All-Star tenure with the Chicago Bulls. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade continues to fight the same knee problems that plagued him all of last season. It took so many trade assets to build their Big Three that the Heat didn't have the means to continually supplement them with young talent. As a result, they looked old and tired by the end of the Finals. They still don't look any younger. Still a playoff team in the anemic East, but the Heat no longer are a feared predator. 

    4. Uncertainty in Atlanta. The sale of the Hawks is expected to close either late this year or early 2015, but the fallout from their volatile offseason is ongoing. Several prominent figures have already shown interest in purchasing controlling share of the Hawks from owner Bruce Levenson, who agreed to sell controlling interest of the team after disclosing his racially insensitive e-mail from 2012. General manager Danny Ferry, meanwhile, still has not returned from his self-imposed indefinite leave of absence, leaving coach Mike Budenholzer to run the personnel side. The Hawks only have four years left on their lease with Philips Arena, but city leaders have made it clear they want to keep the team in town long term. Lost in all this is the fact the Hawks were one of the best teams in the East last season before injuries decimated the roster.

    3. New faces in new places. There are five new coaches in the Eastern Conference, but none is more fascinating than David Blatt, who coached more than 20 years overseas before heading to the NBA. He chose the Cavs head job over an assistant's role at Golden State, then stood back in amazement when LeBron James chose to return. Now he's in one of the league's most high-profile positions running a high-powered offense with elite scoring talent -- Cavs reserve Mike Miller called Blatt's offensive schemes "near genius" early in training camp. Other new coaching faces include Stan Van Gundy, who has complete control of the Pistons operations, and Derek Fisher, who is following Jason Kidd's path from a player's uniform directly to a head coach position. Fisher will run Phil Jackson's triangle in New York, but aside from Carmelo Anthony, he doesn't have much with which to work.

    2. First aid. Injuries are part of every NBA season, but they seem to be striking earlier than usual. Indiana's Paul George will miss the season with that gruesome leg injury he suffered during a World Cup scrimmage, Washington's Bradley Beal fractured his wrist and could be out until early December and Rookie of the Year runner-up Victor Oladipo is expected to miss the first month of the season with a facial fracture for the Magic. Then of course is Kevin Durant's fractured foot, which will keep the reigning MVP out for another month. 

    1. Driving the tank. Now that lottery reform has been voted down (for now), the bottom dwellers can continue stockpiling draft picks and losses. The Sixers and Celtics have been eagerly absorbing unwanted contracts for months in exchange for future draft picks. It has left the league's other owners aggravated two of the largest markets have no interest in winning (undrafted and unknown Henry Sims is the Sixers' most viable, healthy center) as both teams take their time building through the draft. The net result: Boston has five first-round picks in the next two drafts, while the Sixers have a pair of first-round picks and five second-round picks in next summer's draft.


Patriots' '14 Demise Overstated

FOXBOROUGH, October 27, 2014 -- A month ago, coming off an embarrassing blowout loss in Kansas City on Monday Night Football, the 2-2 New England Patriots were a team at an early-season crossroads. Questions were flying about New England's talent on both sides of the ball, even going as far as doubt regarding the possible declining skills of 37-year-old quarterback Tom Brady.


    What a different a month makes.

    In the last four games, a four-game winning streak, the Patriots are now 6-2 at the midpoint of the season following Sunday afternoon's 51-23 blowout of the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium. A Brady-led passing attack has returned to its high-scoring, high-octane aerial ways.

    In the last four games, Brady has thrown for 14 touchdowns and no interceptions. He topped 100 for a passer rating in all four games. New England is averaged 39.5 points a game in that span, including three over 37 points. And this is coming after averaging only 20 points a game over the first four weeks, and reaching 30 points just once.

    In Sunday's big win Brady, was ridiculously efficient. His top three receiving targets combined to catch all 27 passes thrown their way. In completing 30 of 35 passes, Brady fell victim to three clear drops that would have made his 354-yard, five-touchdown performance even that more eye-opening.

    Not surprisingly, the New England offensive outburst coincided with tight end Rob Gronkowski rounding into form returning from the torn ACL he suffered last December. Gronk, as his super hero-like on-field persona is known, had nine catches for 149 yards and three touchdowns against Chicago, including a tackle-breaking 46-yard rumble on his final play of the day in the third quarter.

    Gronkowski left the game due to dehydration, the only thing that's slowed him of late. Big No. 87 has notched a reception of at least 24 yards or longer in four straight games, and topped 94 yards receiving or better in three of those four contests.

    "That's the way he's been since he got to our team, fortunately for us," Brady said of his playmaking tight end. "He's a tough matchup. He's big, fast, strong and when he plays like beast mode, he's tough to stop."

    While Brady and Gronkowski are rounding into their tradition roles pacing the Patriots offense, they're not the only weapons getting it done in the passing game.

    Offseason free agent addition Brandon LaFell has seen is role growing dramatically. Sunday afternoon that included a game-high 11 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. He was Brady's first target on each of the game's first three drives for New England. LaFell topped 97 yards or better in three of the last five games, rounding into the complementary role that the Patriots probably envisioned when they signed the former Panther this spring.

    "He made a bunch of plays. He has great catch-and-run ability. He's such a strong runner and when you get the ball in his hands good things happen, so we've got to keep finding ways to get him the ball," Brady said of LaFell before going on to praise the depth of the passing game. "Gronk did a great job. The backs did a great job. Danny (Amendola) made some plays, Jules (Julian Edelman) did, Tim Wright did. It was great to kind of get everybody in the flow and to score a lot of points like that. We need that. That's what it's going to take."

    That last part is true not just because the Patriots defense, particularly the front seven, is still a work in progress as it deals with injury. It's also true because New England begins a formidable five-game stretch this week that will see the team face some of the best quarterbacks and offenses that the NFL has to offer.

    In dealing with a murder's row of passers -- named Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Mathew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers -- Brady and Co. are must continue to put up points with regularity for the Patriots to emerge from this stretch successfully heading toward the postseason.

    While Brady admitted he is looking forward to this week's challenge in Foxborough against the high-powered Broncos and his 16th career battle with Manning, the one thing he's not doing is looking back on his team's early season struggles.

    His mentality, much like his offense right now, is full speed ahead.

    "I'm not sure. I haven't tried to evaluate that," Brady responded when asked for the difference now from the team's 2-2 start. "I just think we're playing better. I think we have a lot of confidence in what we're doing and we have to keep doing it." 


    --PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus - The Patriots passing attack continues to build momentum and was nearly perfect against a banged up and overmatched Bears defense. Tom Brady had as many touchdown pass, five, as he did incompletions on the day. He was a perfect 27 of 27 to his top three targets, leading New England to scores on its first six possessions of the day, including five touchdowns. Brady finished with 354 yards through the air, was not sacked, did not throw an interception and notched a 148.4 passer rating. 

    --RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus - The Patriots are without a true lead back since Stevan Ridley landed on IR, but practice-squad call-up Jonas Gray was productive in his second game. The inexperienced young back rambled for 19 yards on his first carry of the day on the second play from scrimmage and then took advantage of the opportunities offered by the passing production to churn out a career-high 86 yards on 17 attempts for a 5.1-yard average. 

    --PASS DEFENSE: B - Jay Cutler's final numbers in the blowout loss don't look too bad, but the Bears quarterback completed just one of his first five passes on the day on a pair of drives that ended in punts while the Patriots were marching down the field and scoring. New England played more zone coverage than it had of late and it worked. Chicago netted just 22 yards on its first three drives to punts. In the first half, with the Patriots building a 38-7 advantage, Cutler completed just seven of 13 throws for 66 yards, throwing one interception and losing a strip-sack fumble that was returned for a touchdown. 

    --RUSH DEFENSE: C - The Patriots run defense allowed 218 yards to the New York Jets the previous week, but Chicago came in looking to establish Matt Forte and the running game. Forte finished with 114 yards on 19 attempts. 

    --SPECIAL TEAMS: B - Stephen Gostkowski was again perfect on field goals, hitting from 23, 27 and 39 yards in an at times gusting wind. Were it not for a bad snap two weeks ago against the Bills, Gostkowski would be a perfect 22 of 22 on his field goals through eight games. Ryan Allen punted just once. Julian Edelman had a nice 42-yard return on a punt late in the second quarter to set up a touchdown (with help from a holding penalty on the Bears coverage unit).

    --COACHING: A-minus - Marc Trestman and the Bears were overmatched from the opening kickoff. Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels smartly attacked Bears banged up rookie corner Kyle Fuller. They also took it to an overall Chicago defense that was seemingly defenseless. Defensively Matt Patricia called for a lot of sub looks against the Bears three-receiver sets and utilized a variety of zone packages to frustrate Cutler and his targets.

MLB: 2015 Free Agent Pool

(Wire Service Report)

Baseball free agency isn't what it used to be, if the just-concluded World Series is any indication. The runner-up Kansas City Royals thrived with a roster that included just two players who arrived as free agents: second baseman Omar Infante and left-hander Jason Vargas while the world champion San Francisco Giants featured more free agent acquisitions, but the heart of the team -- ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner, catcher Buster Posey and the entire regular infield -- consisted of homegrown players.

While right-hander Tim Hudson and outfielder/first baseman Michael Morse arrived as free agents this year and contributed to San Francisco's success, the Giants know better than most teams the perils of the free agent market. See: Zito, Barry (seven years, $126 million); and Rowand, Aaron (five years, $60 million).

The meat of this year's free agent class is pitchers -- both starters and relievers.

The biggest paydays figure to go to a pair of 30-year-olds: Detroit Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer and Oakland A's left-hander Jon Lester. Scherzer won the American League Cy Young Award in 2013, and he followed up with another quality season in 2014. Lester was part of two World Series-winning teams with the Boston Red Sox, and he helped pitch the A's to the postseason this year after a July 31 trade. Other starting pitchers available include Royals right-hander James Shields, Baltimore Orioles left-hander Wei-Yin Chen and Giants right-hander Jake Peavy. Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda also could make a splash if he is posted by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.

Teams looking for a closer will have a number of free agent options. Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Francisco Rodriguez, New York Yankees right-hander David Robertson, Red Sox right-hander Koji Uehara and Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Casey Janssen all will be available.

The free agent position-player pool isn't as deep as the pitching pool. The Brewers' Aramis Ramirez could join the Giants' Pablo Sandoval as one of the top available third basemen if Ramirez decides to pass on a $14 million mutual option. Sandoval is 28 years old, while Ramirez is 36, which figures to distinguish them in terms of the length of their new deals. Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez, 35, is another productive player whose payday might be limited by his age. For OFs, the Orioles' Nelson Cruz and the Blue Jays' Melky Cabrera top the outfield list, but both come with the baggage of previous suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs. Cuban outfielder Yasmani Tomas also will field sizable offers.

The Pittsburgh Pirates' Russell Martin is the lone elite free agent catcher. Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez heads the group of middle infielders, while the Nationals' Adam LaRoche leads the available first basemen.

Free agency officially starts Thursday at 9 a.m. ET, though teams retain exclusive rights to their potentially departing players until Monday at 11:59 p.m. ET. During that period, clubs must decide whether to tender a one-year, $15.3 million qualifying offer to retain draft-pick compensation should a player sign with another club.

Here is a team-by-team look at the players headed to free agency:


FREE AGENT: OF Nolan Reimold
Reimold refused the Diamondbacks' outright assignment to the minors and became a free agent.

FREE AGENTS: RF Michael Cuddyer, RHP Matt Belisle, RHP LaTroy Hawkins (club option), LHP Brett Anderson (club option), LHP Franklin Morales, RHP Nick Masset
Cuddyer is 35, missed 99 games this season with three stints on the disabled list due to shoulder and hamstring injuries and made $10.5 million each of the past three seasons. He is still a very good hitter and provides veteran leadership. However, other outfielders emerged for the Rockies, who are likely to cut ties with Cuddyer. Colorado holds an inexpensive $2.25 million option with a $250,000 buyout on Hawkins, who contributed significantly on and off the field this season and turns 42 in December. Belisle and Morales are unlikely to return as the Rockies rebuild their bullpen. Masset provides solid velocity, but he will be gone unless the Rockies decide missing nearly all of 2012 and 2013 contributed to his command issues this season.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Josh Beckett, SS Hanley Ramirez, RHP Roberto Hernandez, RHP Kevin Correia, LHP Paul Maholm, RHP Chris Perez, RHP Jamey Wright, RHP Chad Billingsley (club option), RHP Dan Haren (player option), RHP Brian Wilson (player option)
Aside from the players who control their options, don't look for anyone on this list to be in a Dodgers uniform next season. Beckett will retire. The rest of the pitchers will be discarded. The Dodgers also likely will part ways with Ramirez, letting some other team pay for his tantalizing offensive talent -- then deal with his constant injury issues and declining defensive ability.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Tim Stauffer, RHP Josh Johnson (club option)
Stauffer is the longest tenured Padre and was a first-round pick (fourth overall) in the 2003 draft. He is very popular with the Padres. Stauffer, 32, who has been the long man in the Padres bullpen the past two seasons, still sees himself as a starting pitcher and will likely sign with a team willing to give him that opportunity. Johnson underwent a second Tommy John surgery in April. The Padres likely will decline his $4 million option.

FREE AGENTS: 3B Pablo Sandoval, RHP Jake Peavy, LF/1B Michael Morse, RHP Sergio Romo, RHP Ryan Vogelsong
The Giants will make a big play to bring back Sandoval. Peavy figures to leave after a half-season rental, but Vogelsong could find staying at AT&T Park to be attractive. Romo lost his closer role this year, so he might head elsewhere for a chance to return to ninth-inning duty.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Carlos Villanueva (mutual option), RHP Kyuji Fujikawa (club option), LHP Tsuyoshi Wada (club option)
Villanueva proved valuable as both a starter and in relief after signing a two-year extension worth $5 million annually in 2013. Villanueva was 5-7 with a 4.64 ERA and two saves over 77 2/3 innings pitched. The Cubs probably won't pick up the options on Fujikawa and Wada.

FREE AGENTS: INF Ramon Santiago, LF Ryan Ludwick, INF Jack Hannahan
Santiago was among the Reds' least-used players until injuries got him more playing time. He played well to put himself in consideration to resign, but the Reds' bench can be strengthened with prospects. Ludwick's career in Cincinnati is likely over with the Reds looking to pursue a more permanent and productive option in left field. The Reds declined contract options on Ludwick and Hannahan.

FREE AGENTS: 2B Rickie Weeks, RHP Francisco Rodriguez, RHP Yovani Gallardo (club option), 1B Mark Reynolds, 1B Lyle Overbay, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, LHP Zach Duke, 3B Aramis Ramirez (mutual option)
It's safe to assume that Weeks' tenure has come to an end after 10 frustrating seasons. Gallardo, another home-grown talent and one of the Brewers' few organization-developed pitchers, has a $13 million option for next year that the Brewers are planning to exercise. Duke was a multi-role reliever early in the year but settled in as a specialist and could be invited back in 2015 while Reynolds and Overbay will likely give way to a free agent or trade to upgrade the position. The Brewers want Ramirez back, but he might decline the mutual option. Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras, pulled off bigger shockers in the past, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the closer lands a multiyear deal somewhere ... or ends up back in Milwaukee again at the last minute.

FREE AGENTS: INF Clint Barmes, LHP Francisco Liriano, C Russell Martin, RHP Edinson Volquez
Martin is the top priority and even frugal owner Bob Nutting says he is such a fan of the veteran catcher that he will likely allow Huntington to overpay him. Liriano and Volquez got their careers back on track with the Pirates while working with pitching coach Ray Searage, but the bad news is that they may have become too rich for Pittsburgh's blood. Barmes, who was leaning toward retirement for most of the season, has changed course and the Pirates would likely re-sign if he agrees to a low salary.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Justin Masterson, RHP Jason Motte, RHP Pat Neshek, C A.J. Pierzynski, 2B Mark Ellis, RHP John Lackey (club option)
The team won't extend $15.3 qualifying offers to any of the first five, but it would like to bring Motte and Neshek back. Neshek's spectacular season might earn him a multiyear contract and it's unlikely the Cardinals would be willing to fork out that kind of deal to an eighth-inning reliever. Masterson, Pierzynski and Ellis don't figure to return. The Cardinals will pick up Lackey's $500,000 option, a huge pay cut for the veteran due to a clause in his contract related to time missed because to injury.


FREE AGENTS: OF Emilio Bonifacio, OF Ryan Doumit (mutual option), RHP Gavin Floyd (club option), RHP Aaron Harang, C Gerald Laird, RHP Ervin Santana
Santana has said he would like to come back to Atlanta, but he earned $14.1 million on his one-year deal and the Braves may not want to pay that -- or more -- again. Laird was a strong presence in the clubhouse and could return in the backup role he's played for two years. Bonifacio can play all three outfield spots, second base and shortstop and could be a nice piece for the bench.

FREE AGENTS: OF Reed Johnson, 2B Rafael Furcal, RHP Kevin Gregg, RHP Brad Penny, C Jeff Mathis (club option)
The only player the Marlins want to retain off this list is Johnson, a valuable pinch hitter and spare outfielder. But the Marlins will want him at a veterans-minimum-type salary.

FREE AGENTS: OF Bobby Abreu, RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka
This is pretty simple. Abreu is retiring and the versatile Matsuzaka -- who started, pitched in long relief, served as a set-up man and even recorded a save this season -- wants to start, which is an opportunity he won't get with the Mets.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Mike Adams (club option), RHP A.J. Burnett (player option), RHP Kyle Kendrick, C Wil Nieves, OF Tony Gwynn Jr., RHP Sean O'Sullivan
Burnett is the most interesting case as he can exercise a $15 million option to return next season but is also considering retirement after going 8-18 while pitching with a hernia that needs to be repaired surgically. Kendrick should draw significant interest as a 30-year-old coming off a 199-inning season. Nieves likely won't be back. The Phillies won't exercise Adams' $6 million club option for next season.

FREE AGENTS: 1B Adam LaRoche (mutual option), 2B Asdrubal Cabrera, RHP Rafael Soriano (club option), OF Nate Schierholtz, OF Scott Hairston, CF Denard Span (club option)
While LaRoche hit a team-high 26 homers, the Nationals now need a position for former Gold Glove third baseman Ryan Zimmermann. His $15 million option probably won't be picked up. Cabrera could seek a move to a team that will allow him to return to his previous position, shortstop. Soriano, who lost his closer role in early September, most likely won't be back.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Jesse Crain, RHP Matt Albers, RHP Jose Veras
Crain missed the entire season following offseason surgery, a risk the Astros were willing to take to shore up their historically inept bullpen. It seems unlikely that they will sink additional money into Crain.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Jason Grilli, LHP Joe Thatcher, INF John McDonald, C John Buck, LHP Sean Burnett (club option), RHP Huston Street (club option)
Grilli and Thatcher both were acquired during midseason trades. Grilli enjoyed his time with the Angels but is an East Coast guy and may look to return there next season. Thatcher was a disappointment with the club, in part of because of an injured ankle, but he could be the lefty the club needs out of the bullpen. McDonald was a serviceable player off the bench for the Angels but is 40 and might retire. Buck isn't likely to return. The Angels hold a $4.5 million option on Burnett, but they are likely to give him a $500,000 buyout after he underwent a second Tommy John surgery in June. The team might exercise its $7 million option on Street.

FREE AGENTS: INF Alberto Callaspo, 1B Adam Dunn (retired), OF Jonny Gomes, RHP Luke Gregerson, RHP Jason Hammel, LHP Jon Lester, SS Jed Lowrie, C Geovany Soto, INF Hiroyuki Nakajima (club option)
Lester will be well out of the Athletics' price range. After a strong final month of the season, Hammel could command more money than the A's are willing to spend for a No. 5 starter. Gregerson posted a 2.12 ERA and made 72 appearances, tying Dan Otero for the most outings among A's relievers. Gregerson was a solid setup man, and the A's would likely want him back, but he's hitting the free agent market for the first time in his career and will have options. Lowrie batted .249 -- 41 points lower than in 2013 and battled multiple injuries. The A's might decide to find another shortstop with greater defensive skills. Callaspo hit just .223 and showed little range at second base.

FREE AGENTS: OF Endy Chavez, OF Chris Denorfia, 1B/OF Corey Hart, DH Kendrys Morales, LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Hisashi Iwakuma (club option), RHP Chris Young, C Humberto Quintero
Beimel gave Seattle a solid lefty specialist in the bullpen this season, and the Mariners are likely to make an effort to bring him back for another year. Chavez signed a minor league deal in each of the past two seasons and worked his way into a significant role on the team. The team figures to pick up the $7 million option on Iwakuma, but the others all could be gone.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Colby Lewis, LHP Neal Cotts, RHP Scott Baker, OF Alex Rios, C/1B J.P. Arencibia
Lewis' agent, Alan Nero, and GM Jon Daniels had very preliminary talks about a new contract. The Rangers share Lewis' preference to return to be the fifth starter, though Daniels said it would come down to money. Cotts has been a key piece as a left-handed setup reliever. He is expected to have appeal on the market and probably won't return, but it depends on what the team thinks of LHP Robbie Ross. Baker, a long reliever and spot starter, probably will get another opportunity as he demonstrated durability after dealing with injuries the previous two seasons. Arencibia elected free agency after he was outrighted to the minors in October.


FREE AGENTS: RHP Matt Lindstrom, 1B Paul Konerko (retired), RHP Felipe Paulino (club option)
Lindstrom is likely to hit the market as a free agent, after going through a tumultuous season marred by ankle surgery and ineffectiveness. GM Rick Hahn said he's looking for "upgrades" in the bullpen and Lindstrom's spot might be one of those targeted. Paulino's $4 million option likely will be declined.

FREE AGENTS: DH Jason Giambi, INF Mike Aviles (club option)
The 43-year-old veteran said he hadn't decided if he will retire or return to play one more year. If he chooses to continue playing, it is questionable whether the Indians would bring him back, because they have several other DH candidates. Cleveland holds a $3.5 million option on Aviles.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Max Scherzer, DH Victor Martinez, RF Torii Hunter, LHP Phil Coke, RHP Joba Chamberlain, RHP Jim Johnson, RHP Joel Hanrahan, RHP Joakim Soria (club option)
If club owner Mike Ilitch wants Scherzer and Martinez back, it won't be money that causes them to leave. Hunter could retire or could be back on a one-year deal as outfield/bench insurance, but Coke and Chamberlain probably won't be offered contracts. Johnson might get a minor league offer. The Tigers might pick up Soria's $7 million option.

FREE AGENTS: RHP James Shields, RF Nori Aoki, DH Josh Willingham, RHP Jason Frasor, RHP Luke Hochevar, LHP Scott Downs, DH Raul Ibanez, DH Billy Butler (club option)
Shields' postseason struggles likely lowered his asking price. Hochevar could seek a make-good contract, as he is rehabbing after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March. Willingham was a bit player after his midseason arrival from Minnesota, so he could be easily replaced. Ibanez, 42, might retire. Butler's $12.5 million option might be too rich for the Royals.

FREE AGENT: RHP Jared Burton
The Twins declined Burton's $3.6 million option for 2015, so the reliever likely will be pitching somewhere else next season.


FREE AGENTS: C Nick Hundley (club option), 2B/3B Kelly Johnson, OF Nelson Cruz, LF Delmon Young, RF Nick Markakis (mutual option), LHP Wei-Yin Chen, LHP Joe Saunders, RHP Darren O'Day (club option), LHP Andrew Miller (mutual option), LHP Johan Santana
The Orioles would love to have Cruz back, but if he still wants a multiyear deal, he may be too rich for their blood. There is a mutual option on Markakis' contract, but the club likely will decline and hope to get him to a longer-term deal. The pitchers, aside from Santana, who missed the entire year, all will draw interest from Baltimore.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Koji Uehara, RHP Blake Badenhop, LHP Craig Breslow (club option), C David Ross
Uehara lost his closer job late in the season, and the Red Sox say they want him back. Do they make the $15 million qualifying offer to him? If they do, he likely would take it. Badenhop pitched well and could be brought back, Breslow is ... well, left-handed. Ross would like to return to continue to mentor Vazquez.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Hiroki Kuroda, RHP David Robertson, INF Stephen Drew, 3B Chase Headley, RHP Brandon McCarthy, OF Ichiro Suzuki, LHP Chris Capuano, LHP Rich Hill, OF Chris Young, SS Derek Jeter (retired)
Robertson has worked his way through the bullpen pecking order to become the closer. Re-signing him should be the Yankees' biggest priority. Kuroda has been on three one-year deals and is 38-33 as a Yankee. He did not experience fatigue down the stretch this year but will turn 40. The Yankees are old enough and if Kuroda wants to play again, it's possible they bring him back. The rest all could be headed elsewhere.

FREE AGENTS: RHP Joel Peralta (club option), INF/OF Ben Zobrist (club option)
The Rays likely will pick up the $7.5 million option on Zobrist. Peralta could become a free agent, as the team might decline his $2.5 million option. The veteran reliever hopes to remain in Tampa Bay. "I want to be here, but I don't know what's going to happen," Peralta said.

FREE AGENTS: LF Melky Cabrera, CF Colby Rasmus, RHP Casey Janssen, RHP Brandon Morrow (club option), DH Adam Lind (club option), LHP J.A. Happ (club option), RHP Dustin McGowan (club option), C Josh Thole (club option), RHP Sergio Santos (club option)
Cabrera has expressed a desire to return to Toronto, but will the Blue Jays be able to match competing offers? Janssen, a career Blue Jay, likely will leave. Rasmus hardly played in September; he is on his way out. The oft-injured Morrow, who would get $10 million if his option is picked up, and Santos likely will be bought out and be allowed to become free agents. An attempt could be made to bring back McGowan at a lower rate than the $4 million he would get if his option were picked up. The options of Lind, Happ and Thole likely will be picked up.


The NBA's Bank Shot

NEW YORK, October 7, 2014 -- New media rights deals with Turner and ESPN could bring the NBA as much as a 186 percent revenue increase over its existing broadcasting rights deal, which runs through 2015-16.


  • "I'm sure both sides will be studying this new deal and seeking to assure that it remains a fair deal to both sides," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Monday.

    The Sports Business Journal first reported the eight-year deal, which was later confirmed by the league Monday, to be worth $2.66 billion per year, increasing the number of games televised exponentially and adding elements of digital streaming and exclusive content to partners under the ESPN and Turner Sports umbrella.

    "The Walt Disney Company and Turner Broadcasting share responsibility for the growing popularity and interest the NBA enjoys, and we are thrilled to extend our partnerships," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. "With these new agreements, our fans will continue to benefit from the outstanding NBA coverage and programming provided by ABC, ESPN, TNT, NBA TV and their digital platforms."

    The rights deal begins with the 2016-2017 season and is widely expected to impact the next round of collective bargaining talks with players. LeBron James, for example, is on record as saying he preferred short-term deals until the next CBA is ratified. It is likely maximum contract levels will be greatly adjusted or eliminated.

    Silver said he is already engaged in conversation with the players' association and was scheduled to meet Monday night with new players' exec director Michele Roberts.

    "Our job will be to ensure that the players receive their fair share, and maintain the growth and popularity of the game," Roberts said in a statement Monday.

    The current eight-year deals ends in June 2016. ESPN pays $485 million per year and Turner pays $445 million per year on average in the current agreement.

    According to the league, a new digital platform will be created in partnership by the NBA and ESPN to address streaming to the ever-growing number of fans cutting their cable tv tie but accessing content online.

    From the league: "The parties have also established a framework for ESPN and the NBA to negotiate the launch of a new over-the-top offering in which the league would receive an equity interest. Details for the new offering will be announced at a future date."

    Projections based on current figures indicate the 2015-16 salary cap could increase from $58.7 million last season to $91 million in 2016-17. James and Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant are scheduled to be free agents in 2016.

    TNT will televise 64 regular-season games and 45 playoff games on an exclusive basis, an increase from 52 regular-season games televised during the current agreement. TNT will also offer exclusive presentation of Opening Night, the All-Star Game and All-Star Saturday Night. The 12 additional games will be televised during the second half of the regular season on a night other than Thursday.

    In addition to the NBA Draft, ESPN's family of networks will expand game coverage significantly, with the Finals remaining on over-the-air network television.

    ABC will televise up to 15 regular-season games on an exclusive basis, beginning on Christmas Day and continuing on Sunday afternoons in January, with the ability to move select Sunday games to ESPN.

    The postseason will feature the entire best-of-seven NBA Finals in primetime on ABC.

    ESPN and ESPN2 will televise up to 85 regular-season games primarily on Wednesday and Friday nights, an increase from 70 regular-season games under the current agreement. ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 will also televise up to 30 playoff games in the first two rounds, while ESPN will feature exclusive coverage of the conference semifinals games it televises and one of the conference finals each year.