Sunday, July 21, 2013

Chasing 73: Chris Davis and the MLB single season home run record


Slugger Chris Davis caused quite a stir when he said that “61 is the record…and I think most fans agree with me on that.” In the midst of an incredible season where his 37 home runs tied an American league record at the All-Star break, he dove head-first into the steroid debate.

Very early on in my writing for Bases and Baskets, I discussed how the steroid era affects the legacy of its players (and future ones)—specifically with regards to the era's biggest name and home run king*, Barry Bonds. In my discussion of why Bonds should not be in the Hall of Fame, one of the very first points that I brought up was the fact that his name is strongly associated with two numbers: 73 and 762, the single-season and career home run records of which he holds.

But can we ignore his record?

I have to agree with Jose Bautista and the majority of All-Stars surveyed by Yahoo! Sports who said that 73 is the record. The truth of the matter is that you cannot simply overlook a number that has not been invalidated. As Bautista said in the Yahoo! article: “I see that 73 is in the record book, so that’s the record.”

In order to reclaim the fact that Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961 is the record, MLB commissioner Bud Selig needs to ax a good portion of baseball's statistical records—or at least put the infamous asterisk next to them. Players like Mark McGwire (who cranked out 70 home runs in 1998) have publicly admitted their guilt in using performance-enhancing drugs; if we are going to leave those records as is because “it was part of the game,” then the roided-up records still hold. Whether Chris Davis likes it or not, the record books have the No.1 slot filled by Bonds and 73.

Other games have taken honors away from disgraced players, so it's not an impossible task. Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis lost Tour de France titles, and Marion Jones lost Olympic medals in track for their involvement with PEDs. Surely baseball has the ability to do the same.

The home run ball is a thing of beauty...and also baseball's primary source of controversy.
The thing that makes this more complicated than just revoking records is to decide where the steroid era starts and where it ends. And do you take away all players records during that time period including the sober records like Jeter’s 3000 hits and Griffey’s 600 home runs (an incredible feat muffled by Bonds' ascent through all home run records)? It’s a matter that is much more complicated than just taking one record off the books.

As an avid American sports fan, baseball has translated my suspicion to other leagues when players like Ray Lewis, Metta World Peace, & Co. return from debilitating injuries in record time. Are the NBA and the NFL completely clean? Who knows, and their day may come where something surfaces but baseball needs to put the lingering steroid questions to bay. The culture that Bud Selig let Major League Baseball establish for itself in the late 90s and early 00s will always come back to haunt him and the game until it is officially settled and acknowledged. It's no small feat—that would take a truly thorough investigation of its former players unless the league decides to blanket all players in the era with asterisks. Truth is, we need someone with a comprehensive knowledge regarding the facts about drug abuse problems to investigate and assimilate the facts. Even more than the Mitchell Report.

In a game where numbers are sacred, an official decision is a pivotal mark. Even if MLB decides that the records should remain, there needs to be a formal something that clears up the question of whether 61 or 73 is the record.

Until then, Chris Davis is chasing 73…and the whispers of “is he taking steroids?” will follow him all the way there.

Monday, July 15, 2013

LeBron James and The Decision, Part II


If he learned anything from the summer of 2010, LeBron James will steer clear of another ESPN special announcing his decision to stay or leave Miami in 2014. Even though it earned $2.5 million for the Boys and Girls Club, that hour-long spiel is criticized by anyone and everyone who has a remote hatred for the four-time MVP. The grand finale (or punch-line) of that Decision was the oft-quoted six word announcement that the best player in the game was “taking his talents to South Beach.”

Looking forward to next summer (presumably one without the Decision's melodrama), there are a few suitors that LeBron will seriously consider with Miami and Cleveland leading the way. But if he’s interested in winning championships and improving his legacy, I say there’s only one team that fits the bill most perfectly.

That one team is the Golden State Warriors.

Assuming nothing drastic changes between now and then, the Warriors have an already deep core of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, and David Lee locked up for the 2014-15 NBA season. LeBron would fit perfectly with just three of those five…you would have the NBA’s first Fab Four. More so than any other team, the Warriors are in great position to add another high-priced All-Star (a la LeBron James) come next summer.

Name
2014-15 salary
Stephen Curry
$10.6 million
Klay Thompson
$3.1 million
Andre Iguodala
$11.7 million
David Lee
$15 million
Marreese Speights
$3.7 million
Draymond Green
$900K
Nemanja Nedovic
$1.1 million
Harrison Barnes
$3.1 million
Current players on the Warriors payroll for 2014-15.

That’s only a $49.2 million payroll in a year that will likely have a salary cap upwards of $60 million. The Warriors will have a huge amount of flexibility. The most important thing that is hidden from view is that Golden State also has a huge trade exception to play with. Warriors general manager, Bob Myers (a soon-to-be household name revered at least as much as OKC GM Sam Presti), executed a brilliant salary dump that sent Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson to Utah and earned them a $11 million trade exception. Long story short: the Warriors have $73 million to work with and only $49.2 million already committed to personnel in 2014.

And yet we’re not done there. For one, there’s no way that Miami would do a sign-and-trade with Golden State and be willing to get nothing in return. Bob Myers no longer has the luxury of trading away picks because they have used just about every one that they have in order to get rid of Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson so they could acquire Iguodala. So if they are not able to sign him outright, what the Warriors do have to offer Miami is a nice package of David Lee and Harrison Barnes—both players who would help account for the loss of LeBron. Barnes looks to be a future All-Star caliber player and Lee is already an All-Star. That’s a whole lot better than LeBron just walking to return to Cleveland or go elsewhere.

From the Warriors front office perspective, by trading away Lee and Barnes they’ve also freed up $18 million in cap space. They can easily afford to budget for a $20+ million player like LeBron.

Name
2014-15 salary
Stephen Curry
$10.6 million
Klay Thompson
$3.1 million
Andre Iguodala
$11.7 million
LeBron James
$25 (?) million
Marreese Speights
$3.7 million
Draymond Green
$900K
Nemanja Nedovic
$1.1 million
Add LeBron, subtract Lee and Barnes and the Warriors have only $56 million committed to the above players in 2014.

By now, I think Warriors fans are drooling: the best shooting backcourt in the game, the best player in the game, and the best defender in the game for only $56 million.

Golden State still has plenty of options to fill out their roster, with team options in 2014 for promising youngsters Festus Ezeli, Kent Bazemore & Co. And then there’s the “LeBron effect.” Players gravitate toward somebody who brings a team a great chance to win championships—and as such are willing to take less pay than the market would normally give them. With the Warriors possessing roughly $15 million to work with after a LeBron acquisition, it’s fair to say that you could either get a pair of solid players or another star with a dollar figure that is far from a cheap deal. (This $15 million comes from $4 million to get to the salary cap plus the $11 million trade exception.) Staying below what will be a $75 million hard cap that the Warriors have fallen into should be no problem.

With that salary flexibility, I see that the Warriors could go one of two ways in bolstering a team that would already be stacked: 1) get a point guard that allows Steph Curry to play the 2 and Klay Thompson to come
off the bench or 2) grab a solid center. The latter option is probably more appropriate because Klay Thompson might eventually leave if he has to settle for a backup role. Regardless, free agents to-be like Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard are options more than worth mulling over.

Marcin Gortat and DeMarcus Cousins are also free agents in 2014. Steering clear of the nutcase that is Cousins makes sense but if he matures in the next year, he is worth considering, as well. His talent is undeniable. Gortat is making less than $10 million a year and has already proven to be one of the best centers in a league void of many quality big men. And, of course, there’s always the Warriors current center, Andrew Bogut. The main issue with Bogut is that he will probably demand more money than the Warriors are able to fork over. Hopefully I’m wrong here because he proved in the 2013 playoffs to be exactly what the Warriors hoped that he would be: a rebounding and defensive force. Worst case scenario, a pick-up of Marcus Camby or another cheap veteran may end up being just as effective. There will be no need to get a premiere center to fit with four All Stars.

-------------------------

The hard part here would be convincing LeBron James to move from South Beach to North Beach. If the Heat manage to rattle off another championship in 2014, you can bet that there’s no way he’s leaving Miami. A chance at a four-peat is not something that anyone in their right mind would pass up.

If Miami fails to three-peat in 2014, I still see one other major hindrance in a LeBron to the Warriors move. Clearly, LeBron has become more aware of his image and has hinted at a potential return to his hometown of Ohio. Finishing the latter half of his career making a run at a championship(s) with the Cavs would be special for him and that city. If Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum show the Cavs of 2013-14 are promising, it will be tough to convince LeBron to move out West—even though his prospects of winning a championship are clearly best in the Bay Area.

On the other hand, there are a few things that give Bob Myers and the Warriors bargaining leverage (aside from the already appealing player personnel). The new stadium that should open in 2017 in San Francisco looks nothing short of stunning. Combine that with the best fans in the NBA… and it would be a lot of fun to play 41 regular season games plus playoffs in the city by the bay. (And let’s be real here, you could mix up a Heat home game with a golf match.)

Bob Myers would certainly dangle this in front of LeBron if he got the opportunity.
Then the basketball reasons: the Western conference is clearly more competitive than the East—and Miami and Cleveland both sit in the easier conference. That 27-game win streak that Miami had last season? Wouldn’t happen in the West because you’re not playing the Bobcats and Pistons.

By joining a Western conference team, LeBron James could help validate his legacy among the greatest NBA players of all time. Winning a championship going through the West is more difficult with the Thunder, Spurs, Lakers, and Nuggets. Not only that, he will get to match up against Kobe Bryant on a more frequent basis. If there’s anything that attracts fans and earns the NBA some serious revenue, it’s a Kobe vs. LeBron matchup.

Bob Myers proved this summer that he is serious about acquiring a superstar when he nearly won the Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Just imagine a starting lineup with LeBron James, Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and a Marcin Gortat or Marcus Camby.

I don’t see how they would lose.