Tuesday, July 16, 2024

MLB is back, and there are big changes coming, plus Nets make statement in Philly

Happy Friday, folks! Baseball is coming back, and Selection Sunday awaits. That’s a great Friday indeed.

Let’s get right to it.

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Good morning to everyone but especially to…

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USATSI

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Baseball is finally back.

It took a 99-day lockout, several missed “deadlines” that actually didn’t matter and significant concessions from both sides, but on Thursday MLB and the MLBPA reached a Collective Bargaining Agreement and ensured all 162 games will be played this season. Players will report to Spring Training in the coming days, and Opening Day is April 7.

Here are the keys to the deal, which runs through 2026:

  • Minimum salaries are up from $575,500 last year to $700,000 this year. They will rise to $780,000 by the end of the deal.
  • There’s a $50 million pre-arbitration bonus pool. As our baseball expert R.J. Anderson writes: “It won’t give them their market’s value, or anything close, but it’s a considerable boost for talent who would otherwise be drastically underpaid relative to their performance.
  • The Competitive Balance Tax threshold (explained here) starts at $230 million this year and rises to $244 million by 2026. There is also a new tier of penalties for teams $60 million over the threshold.
  • There’s a six-team draft lottery, implemented to dissuade tanking.
  • There are draft pick rewards for not manipulating service time (aka bringing players up to the majors when they’re ready, not when it’s financially convenient).

Those are the major behind-the-scenes details. As for changes you’ll see on the field

  • A 12-team postseason (explained here)
  • Universal DH
  • No seven-inning doubleheaders
  • No runner on second base to start extra innings
  • Advertisements on uniforms and helmets (explained here)

The two sides tabled one sticking point — the international draft — and agreed to a July decision deadline there. While the quick turnaround is exciting news, there’s much to accomplish in the upcoming days and weeks; we’re only 27 days away from Opening Day, after all. Here’s the to-do list, according to MLB reporter Mike Axisa:

  • Secure visas:Roughly 30 percent of players on 40-man rosters were signed internationally and those players need work visas to return to the United States.”
  • Establish COVID protocols: “MLB and the MLBPA can reup last year’s COVID protocols, make any necessary tweaks, and call it a day.”
  • Rule 5 Draft: “Canceling the Rule 5 Draft potentially takes big league opportunities away from players who have already spent too long in the minors. The lockout has essentially been leveraged into a way to keep more young and cheap players in the organization by eliminating the Rule 5 Draft.”
  • Arbitration: “There are 197 unsigned arbitration-eligible players and the arbitration process usually takes place across several deadlines that are weeks apart each offseason.”
  • Free agency and trades: You can keep up with all the action here.
  • Get everyone up to speed: “New coaches can begin to develop relationships, new players can meet their new teammates, the works. That kind of stuff happens every spring, but this year it will be a bit more intense.”

Yes, there’s a lot to do. No, it’s not perfect. But based on their tweets, the players are ecstatic, and we should be, too. For the first time since early December, baseball is up and running.

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for…

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THE BAYLOR BEARS

Losing in your conference tournament doesn’t destroy your national championship hopes. Not at all. In fact, six of the last seven eventual champs did not win their conference tournament, a group that includes last year’s champion, Baylor.

But if this year’s Bears want to defend their title, they’ll have to play much better than they did yesterday. The Big 12 regular-season co-champs fell to Oklahoma, 72-67. It wasn’t pretty:

  • Oklahoma outscored Baylor 45-34 in the second half.
  • Baylor shot just 3-for-22 on 3-pointers. That’s 13.6% — its worst mark since 2018.
  • Leading scorer Adam Flagler had a game to forget: 2 points on 1-for-10 shooting, including 0-for-6 from 3.

But the real damage is the implications this loss could carry. Our Bracketologist Jerry Palm says that Baylor could fall to a 2 seed if teams such as Kentucky and Kansas win their respective conference tournaments. Our college basketball reporter Kevin Flaherty crunched the numbers:

  • Flaherty: “Gonzaga appears likely to land the No. 1 overall seed, and the Bulldogs are tied with Baylor with 10 Quad I victories. Auburn and Arizona also have strong cases to wind up with a No. 1 in a few days. But a Big 12 Tournament title would mean that Kansas would likely pass Baylor in Quad I wins and would have both a share of the Big 12 regular season title with the Bears and the conference tournament championship.”

Not so honorable mentions

Nets annihilate 76ers in Philadelphia as Durant, Irving shine 🏀

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As soon as the James Harden-for-Ben Simmons trade went down, everyone circled March 10 on their calendars. Nets-76ers. In Philly. But when last night came, only one team showed up.

Brooklyn stunned Philadelphia with a near-perfect, 40-point first quarter and never looked back, winning 129-100.

  • Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving combined for 47 points on 53% shooting.
  • Seth Curry added 24 points against his former team.
  • James Harden played by far his worst game as a 76er, going 3-for-17 from the floor (including 0-for-10 on 2-pointers). It was yet another confounding disappearance in a big game.
  • It was Philly’s first loss with Harden.

This was all about one team’s stars showing up and making a statement, writes our NBA expert Colin Ward-Henninger:

  • Ward-Henninger: “If people had forgotten about the Nets as a bona fide championship contender, they certainly reminded everyone on Thursday night. Even without Simmons, Brooklyn looked airtight on both ends of the floor, with Durant clearly the best player on a floor that featured multiple superstars. He got any shot that he wanted all night long, showcasing his versatility and ability to score from virtually any spot on the court.”

Much was made of Simmons returning to Philadelphia for the first time, and, though he didn’t play, he got plenty of boos pregame. Those jeers quickly subsided, and Durant took notice.

  • Durant: “It’s hard for you to chant at Ben Simmons when you’re losing by that much.”

And he’s exactly right. The normally raucous Philadelphia fans were quiet. The Nets’ performance did all the talking.

Bears deal Khalil Mack to Chargers 🏈

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Another day, another major NFL trade. This one involves a star on the defensive side of the ball:

  • Chargers receive: Khalil Mack
  • Bears receive: 2022 second-round pick (No. 48 overall), 2023 sixth-round pick

Mack played in just seven games last season due to a foot injury, but before that he had made six straight Pro Bowls and was the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. Since 2015, Mack’s 72.5 sacks rank fourth in the NFL.

The Chargers will take on the entire $84.9 million Mack is due over the next three seasons. But that didn’t stop our NFL expert Cody Benjamin from giving them a B+ in his trade grades:

  • Benjamin: “There’s a decent chance, even if Mack returns to full health opposite [Joey] Bosa, his days of Defensive Player of the Year-level dominance are behind him. … But let’s be honest: this is exactly the kind of move you make if you believe you’re on the brink, and the Chargers, with an ascending franchise QB in Justin Herbert, rightfully do.”

Another thing to remember is that while the Chargers are paying Mack a ton, they’re also massively underpaying Herbert, a true star still on his rookie deal. I love that the Chargers are going all-in while Herbert is absurdly affordable.

What we’re watching this weekend 📺

Disclaimer: There are too many important college basketball games to list. Instead, keep up with the latest schedules and updates from around the country here. We also have live blogs for the following conference tournaments:

AAC | ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big TenPac-12 | SEC

As for everything else…

Saturday

🏒 Flyers at Hurricanes, 3 p.m. on ABC

🏀 Bucks at Warriors, 8:30 p.m. on ABC

Sunday

🏎 NASCAR Cup Series at Phoenix, 3:30 p.m. on FOX

🏀 Mavericks at Celtics, 3:30 p.m. on ABC

🏒 Maple Leafs at Sabres, 4 p.m. on TNT

🏀 Men’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show, 6 p.m. on CBS and Paramount+

🏀 Women’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show, 8 p.m. on ESPN

🏀 Lakers at Suns, 9 p.m. on ESPN

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