#DigSportsDesk - The Lede
Patriots: 199 Shades of Gray
(Staff and Wire Service Report)
INDIANAPOLIS, November 17, 2014 -- The unlikeliest of heroes emerged for the New England Patriots on Sunday night, giving the team a firm grasp on the top spot in the AFC. First-year running back Jonas Gray set a franchise record with four rushing touchdowns and more than doubled his career totals with 38 carries for 199 yards, and the Patriots continued their dominance of the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts, winning 42-20 in Lucas Oil Stadium.
"They hammered into us all week the keys to winning the game, and one of them was getting the running game going," Gray said. "We were able to do that early and often, and the guys did a good job of blocking up front."
Gray, an undrafted free agent from Notre Dame who entered the game with 131 yards on 32 attempts in three career games, scored twice in each half. His 2-yard plunge in the third quarter gave the Patriots a 28-13 lead, and his 1-yard surge in the fourth made it 35-20. After the Colts failed on a fourth-and-10 try on their next possession, New England quarterback Tom Brady hit tight end Rob Gronkowski for a 26-yard touchdown with 6:46 remaining that sealed it.
"A lot of the things the Colts were able to do here this year, fortunately they weren't able to do tonight," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
With their sixth win in a row, the Patriots (8-2) moved two games ahead of the Miami Dolphins in the AFC East and took a one-game lead over Denver atop the conference after the Broncos lost to the St. Louis Rams. The Colts fell to 6-4, one game ahead of the Houston Texans in the AFC South. In Luck's three games against the Patriots, the Colts have been outscored 144-66.
"What matters is we lost a game, we've got to fix what we did wrong and go out and try and win our next one because that's the biggest one now," Luck said. "Thankfully this is not the last game of the season. We'd truly be sick to our stomachs, very sick to our stomachs. We've got a lot to improve."
Brady shook off a poor first half that included two interceptions, finishing 19 of 30 for 257 yards and two touchdowns. Luck extended his streak of 300-yard games to eight by completing 23 of 39 for 303 yards and two scores, including one to tackle Anthony Castonzo early in the fourth quarter that cut the deficit to 28-20. Tight end Coby Fleener had seven receptions for a career-high 144 yards. However, the Colts managed just 19 rushing yards on 17 attempts, compared to the Patriots' 244 yards on 45 carries.
"Yeah, they forced us to be one-dimensional," Luck said. "It's tough sledding. We know that going into the game. We just couldn't keep it close enough to have a fighting chance at the end."
While the star quarterbacks both struggled in the first half, Gray was dominant, racking up 100 yards on 14 carries and scoring the first two touchdowns of his career -- and the first rushing scores for the Patriots since Week 5. Gray carried four times for 34 yards on the Patriots' opening scoring drive, including a 4-yard touchdown. He added a 2-yard score that put the visitors ahead 14-3 with 3:50 remaining in the first half. While Gray had his way, Brady struggled mightily, throwing two interceptions to Colts safety Mike Adams and completing just 10 of 19 attempts for 84 yards before the break.
The Colts couldn't capitalize on the first pick, but the second -- a terribly underthrown, back-foot lob toward Gronkowski -- gave the home team field position at the New England 23 late in the half. Three plays later, Luck found wide receiver Hakeem Nicks in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown that cut the margin to 14-10 at the half. Luck also was picked off on a tipped ball intended for wide receiver Reggie Wayne, with safety Devin McCourty snagging the ball after a deflection by cornerback Darrelle Revis. The Patriots then drove 68 yards for their second touchdown.
NOTES: The Colts lost TE Dwayne Allen to a sprained ankle in the first half. ... Indianapolis RB Ahmad Bradshaw (lower leg) left the stadium in a boot and on crutches after gaining 4 yards on seven carries. ... Colts starting DT Arthur Jones (ankle) was inactive and missed his seventh game. ... Other Indianapolis inactives were LBs Henoc Muamba and Victor Butler, OL Lance Louis, Khaled Holmes and Xavier Nixon and DT Kelcy Quarles. ... The Patriots' inactives included the team's sack leader, DE Chandler Jones (hip). Zach Moore started in his place. ... Other New England inactives were WR Aaron Dobson, RB James White, S Don Dones, CB Alfonzo Dennard, T Jordon Devey, DE Chandler Jones and DL Casey Walker. ... Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, participated in the pregame ceremony.
NEvsIND: What We Learned
What we learned about the Patriots:
1. A month after Stevan Ridley landed on injured reserve, the Patriots found an impressive new lead back. Jonas Gray piled up 199 yards and four touchdowns on 38 carries as New England dominated the game on the ground. Two weeks earlier, in his second career NFL game, Gray gained 86 yards on 17 carries against the Chicago Bears. He figures to get plenty of action the rest of the season.
"He's just a smart, hard-working kid," coach Bill Belichick said. "He's got good power. He runs hard. His game is what we saw tonight."
2. The Patriots can win even when Tom Brady isn't at his best. The veteran quarterback threw two first-half interceptions, and he finished a modest 19-for-30 for 257 yards. However, New England converted nine of 12 third downs, and Brady fired two second-half touchdown passes to help put the game away.
--DE Chandler Jones, the Patriots' sack leader with 4.5, was inactive due to a hip injury. Zach Moore started in his place. Jones hasn't played since Oct. 16.
--RB Jonas Gray set a franchise record with four rushing touchdowns and more than doubled his career totals with 38 carries for 199 yards. Gray, a first-year player who was an undrafted free agent from Notre Dame, entered the game with 131 yards on 32 attempts in three career games. He scored twice in each half.
--TE Rob Gronkowski scored a touchdown for a third consecutive game, grabbing a game-sealing, 26-yard pass from QB Tom Brady in the fourth quarter. Gronkowski finished the night with four receptions for 71 yards.
What we learned about the Colts:
1. Indianapolis' middle-of-the-pack rushing offense needs improvement. The Colts managed just 19 yards on 17 carries, putting the entire burden on quarterback Andrew Luck's arm. "When you get behind and they make you one-dimensional, it's extremely difficult," Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said. "We just couldn't come up with any answers."
2. The Colts' defense is inconsistent. For the second time in three games, Indianapolis allowed its opponent to score at least 42 points. The Steelers rolled to a 51-34 win over the Colts on Oct. 26. On the flip side, four times this season, Indianapolis limited the opposition to 17 points or fewer.
"It was a horrible performance from the defense," inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said of the effort against New England. "This one definitely stings, but I'm more than confident we're going to come in tomorrow, watch it, grade it and do whatever we got to do to fix this problem because for us to get to where we want to go, we got to correct those things."
--TE Dwayne Allen left the game due to a sprained ankle in the first half, and he will undergo an MRI exam. He did not have a pass thrown his way.
--RB Ahmad Bradshaw (lower leg) left the stadium in a boot and on crutches after gaining 4 yards on seven carries. He also caught four passes for 7 yards, giving him an average of 1 yard per touch. Bradshaw is due to undergo an MRI exam.
--TE Coby Fleener was the Colts' biggest offensive threat Sunday. He finished with seven catches for 144 yards. He entered the game with 22 catches for 295 yards on the season.
25,000: Duncan Reaches Milestone
Reserve guard Corey Joseph scored a team-high 14 points for the Spurs (5-3), who won their third straight. Point guard Tony Parker had 11 points and nine assists.
"It's really early in the season, and we've got some injuries to deal with, but we're starting to play a little better than we did in the first couple of games and preseason," said Duncan, who hit six of his eight shots from the field. "Hopefully, we can hit a stride."
Forward Carlos Boozer scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds to lead the Lakers (1-8), who dropped their third in a row. Bryant, who was slowed by an unknown illness, managed just nine points on 1-of-14 shooting. Bryant, who misfired on his first 10 shots and all five of his 3-pointers, didn't connect on his first field goal until there was 10:59 remaining in the game, hitting a turnaround jumper over Joseph.
"I didn't feel too good," said Bryant, who didn't reveal what was bothering him physically. "But, you know, I'm used to playing through that. It's just tough. Tonight was just one of those nights where it makes me really remember the challenge of being 36, and being 19 years in (the league). Body just won't respond, and you're sick, and trying to get used to being able to fighting through those things."
Bryant also was the reason Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard exited the game, though the outcome wasn't in doubt by then. Leonard went to the locker room early in the fourth quarter and didn't return, suffering a cut in his left eyebrow that required five stitches. Leonard said he was on the receiving end of an errant elbow by Bryant.
"Kobe got fouled and ended up swinging his arms, just in the moment of play and not trying to hurt me," Leonard said. "Accidents happen, and he ended up hitting me in the eyebrow and then it split open."
The Spurs led by as many as 13 points before taking a 47-35 lead at the half behind Leonard, who scored all 12 of his points in the first half. Los Angeles closed the gap to seven twice in the third, but both times the Spurs pushed the lead back to double digits. Parker's layup with 5.1 seconds left in the quarter gave San Antonio a 68-57 cushion heading into the fourth period.
"I think we defended well," said Leonard, who converted on five of his six attempts from the floor and both 3-pointers he launched. "We made shots from the 3-point line that we were struggling (with) as a team. We did a good job tonight."
A 20-5 spurt to open the final period allowed the Spurs to bury the Lakers.
Lakers point guard Jeremy Lin scored 15 points, while center Jordan Hill had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Lakers could get a boost with the return of forward Nick Young sometime next week. Young, who hasn't played this season, has been out with torn ligaments in his right thumb.
"He's due to return next week," Scott said. "Again, it gives us another offensive weapon off the bench, a veteran guy with some experience."
NOTES: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he sympathizes with the state of the Lakers. "It's a difficult situation," Popovich said. "We all know how tough the business is for everybody. It's not like they're getting killed every night; they've been in ball games. It just hasn't worked out in the end for them, so you're not talking about a team that's not competitive." ... Lakers coach Byron Scott said Spurs G Tony Parker is "probably the most underrated point guard that I've seen in this league that has four or five championships." ... Lakers G Ronnie Price served his one-game suspension for his flagrant-2 foul Wednesday on New Orleans G Austin Rivers. ... San Antonio caps its four-game West Coast swing Saturday with a game against the Sacramento Kings. ... Los Angeles hosts the Golden State Warriors on Sunday.
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:
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
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.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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.
SAN DIEGO PADRES
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.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
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.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
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.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
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.
NEW YORK METS
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.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
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.
LOS ANGELES ANGELS
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.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
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.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
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.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
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.
BOSTON RED SOX
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.
NEW YORK YANKEES
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.
TAMPA BAY RAYS
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.
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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
"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.