Each week here at Foul Play-by-Play we cover the week's law-related, sports stories. So here are the cheats, cheap shots, and alleged criminals in sports for the week of May 28.
The Philadelphia 76ers launched an independent investigation into the Twitter usage of president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo on Wednesday after a report by The Ringer cited circumstantial evidence indicating Colangelo allegedly using anonymous Twitter accounts to defend his work and criticize his current and former players.
Tweets from those accounts alleged by a source cited by The Ringer to belong to Colangelo questioned Joel Embiid's ego, blamed Markelle Fultz's shooting woes on a former mentor of the No. 1 overall draft pick, pushed a theory that a possible Jahlil Okafor trade fell apart because he failed a physical, and called Nerlens Noel a "selfish punk."
Colangelo has denied the Tweets are his, going so far as to call Embiid to express his innocence. Colangelo’s wife has since been implicated as possible owner and operator of the Twitter accounts.
The mother of Zeke Upshaw, former swingman for Detroit Pistons’ G League affiliate Grand Rapids Drive who collapsed on the court and died two days later, has filed a lawsuit accusing the NBA and the Detroit Pistons of negligence.
Upshaw, 26, collapsed during a game in Grand Rapids on March 24 and died two days later of what a Grand Rapids medical examiner called a sudden cardiac death with cardiac abnormalities. Upshaw had a “slightly enlarged” heart, which is not entirely unusual in athletes and could be unrelated to his death, but the Grand Rapids team doctor was not at the arena when Upshaw collapsed on March 24, so life-saving measures were not attempted, no CPR initiated and no defibrillator used, but Upshaw died two days later.
Five former NFL cheerleaders sued the Houston Texans on Friday, accusing the franchise of paying the women less than the $7.25 per hour they were due, not compensating them for making public appearances and creating a workplace where the women were threatened with termination for voicing complaints.
This isn’t the first time NFL cheerleaders have sued their employers. I wrote a column about the Oakland Raiders’ cheerleaders who sued citing similar allegations back in 2014, I think, and spoke to their attorney who recommended NFL cheerleaders unionize. I think these NFL owners continually take advantage of these women because there will always be a cheaper body to objectify, even if there was a cheerleaders’ union.
Tampa Bay Rays’ outfielder Carlos Gomez alleges that Major League Baseball targets older players and Latino players for drug testing in an interview for a Yahoo! Sports podcast the day after Mariners’ All-star Robinson Cano was suspended 80 games. Gomez said, “One month into the season I got like seven drug tests. Something like that. Between five or seven. That’s not right. We have a guy on the team who for sure hasn’t had one drug test.” Three days after coming off the disabled list, Gomez was again drug tested.
MLB defended its drug testing policies in a statement made to the Tampa Bay Times: "Our Joint Drug Program, which is negotiated with the Players Association, is independently administered and has random testing procedures in place with no regard for a player's birthplace, age, or any other factor," the league said. "Every aspect of the test selection process is randomized and de-identified, and every player is included each time random selection is conducted. This results in some players being tested more often than others, but, as a whole, MLB players are tested more frequently than any athletes in professional sports.”
Like Gomez, the three Major League players suspended for failing performance-enhancing drug tests are from the Dominican Republic. Gomez wants MLB to prove to him the process is randomized, and won’t believe it is until they do so. MLB isn’t required to reveal anything, though, and probably insulates itself from any wrongdoing by outsourcing the testing to an independent firm.
Dishonorable mention: San Francisco 49ers receiver Victor Bolden Jr. has been suspended for the first four games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Bolden is trying to make the team as a kick returner and has considerable competition.
Bronze medalist: Anthony Rizzo, last week’s Statistically Significant Foul Player for his uncanny ability to be hit by pitches, slid into the feet of catcher Elias Diaz of Pittsburgh to break up a double play. He was successful, as Diaz threw the ball into right field allowing two Cubs’ runners to score. While umpires on the field called it a clean play, reviewed it and upheld the call, Major League Baseball said the slide wasn’t legal. Rizzo clearly altered his path to contact the catcher, sliding late and well inside the baseline.
Silver medalist: Washington Capitals’ forward Tom Wilson blindsided Jon Marchessault of the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The hit came well after Marchessault had handled the puck, but Wilson, who has a history of questionable, physical play, avoided a suspension for the hit. Marchessault was unable to stay on the ice for the 4-on-4 that resulted from Wilson’s two-minute minor that should have probably been a five-minute major penalty.
Gold medalist: Wilson’s hit might have been the cheapest shot taken in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, but it wasn’t the most effective form of cheating used in the game. Vegas Golden Knight Ryan Reaves scored a game-tying goal in the third period as the result of a cross-check on Washington’s John Carlson. The goal was a quick response to the Capitals’ go-ahead goal scored just 91 seconds earlier, and swung the momentum back to the Knights.
Mel Bridgeman of the Flyers served 53 minutes in penalties in 1980 against the Islanders, the most by any player in one Stanley Cup Final. Chris Nilan of the Canadiens is next with 49 minutes in 1986. They play 60 minutes in a game if you’re unaware.
Vegas’s Erik Haula has spent 19 minutes in the penalty box during this Stanley Cup Final against the Washington Capitals, which is almost half as many minutes as he’s skated in the series.
ESPN’s David Schoenfield predicted the Minnesota Twins would sign 29-year-old, free agent starter Alex Cobb during the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings at Walt Disney World -- a fitting place for an MLB Hot Stove that was slow to heat up.
The stove is finally preheated, with the Babe Ruth of Japanese baseball, Shohei Ohtani, choosing to play for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the New York Yankees working with former Yankee Derek Jeter to acquire Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins.
The moves certainly don’t improve the Twins’ chances of returning to the postseason in 2018. The Angels were just five games back of the Twins for the second Wild Card spot in 2017, and the Yankees finished six games ahead of the Twins for the first Wild Card spot. And while the Twins’ best division opponent, Cleveland, hasn’t done much, they finished 2017 with a 17-game lead over Minnesota.
The Twins stand to pick up plenty of games playing in the AL Central next year. With the Tigers, White Sox and Royals all rebuilding, the 2018 Twins should be better than their 41-35 record within their division in 2017. But with the Angels, Mariners and Yankees improving their rosters considerably, Twins fans can expect a worse record against AL East and AL West clubs if the Twins make no moves.
But the Twins have money to spend, which is the only reason Schoenfield offers in defense of his prediction that the Twins sign Cobb. Given the Twins’ rotation, though, a starting pitcher worth just two wins above replacement in 2017 isn’t going to be enough to hold off the rest of the American League.
There aren’t as many open spots in the Twins’ starting pitching rotation as in past years. Jose Berrios is finally entering a Spring Training with a firm hold on a rotation spot. Ervin Santana returns, and the Twins are hoping the Kyle Gibson that showed up in the final month of the season is the Kyle Gibson they get all season in a contract year.
Adalberto Mejia was worth .8 WAR in 2017 over 98 innings and should get a chance at one of the Twins’ rotation spots. Mejia improved considerably from 2016, dropping his hard-hit percentage from 42 to 32 percent. That’s better than both Cobb’s (37) and Gibson’s (36) hard-hit percentages in 2017.
So without Cobb, the Twins have four capable starters. Then there’s Phil Hughes, who is a huge question mark. Minnesota president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine have to be entering the season expecting nothing from Hughes. If the Twins end up with a replacement-level reliever in Hughes, they’d likely take that. Hughes certainly has earned the right to compete for a starting role in Spring Training, though.
Trevor May could come off of Tommy John surgery and compete for a starting job, too. While the Twins need reliable relievers, which May was prior to surgery, Twins Daily’s Seth Stohs thinks bringing back May as a starter would be easier on his arm and body.
Then there’s the rotation depth in Rochester, where there are six starters fighting for five spots. If the Twins add no starters, Aaron Slegers, Felix Jorge, Dietrich Enns, Stephen Gonsalves, Zack Littell and Fernando Romero would be fighting for one big-league rotation spot with up to two other big-leaguers (Hughes and May). They’d also be fighting to all stay in AAA, with Romero the most likely candidate to return to AA Chattanooga. But at some point during 2018, one or more of these young hurlers will have earned a call-up. So what should the Twins ask Santa to bring them at the Winter Meetings?
Obtaining Chris Archer’s team-friendly contract through 2019 should be the Twins’ first priority. He’s owed less than $7 million next season, and his deal even comes with team options for 2020 and 2021 at $9 million and $11 million, respectively. He’s one of five pitchers to throw over 200 innings in three consecutive seasons, and he’s a solid number two starter despite his 1.2 WAR posted in 2017.
Archer was a victim of his hard-hit percentage increasing from 33 percent in 2016 to 39 percent in 2017, but a lot of those hard hits occurred late in games when some would argue his manager, Kevin Cash, left him in too long. Jim Turvey writes: “If Archer had exited every game in the sixth or earlier last season, his ERA would have dropped from 4.02 to 3.68.”
So Archer isn’t going to match Santana when it comes to pitching complete games, but having Santana in front of him in the rotation should make Paul Molitor comfortable pulling Archer for a reliever in or prior to the sixth inning.
Acquiring Archer would be worth parting with Nick Gordon, as the Rays’ worst hitters were at second base and shortstop last season. It would also give the Rays a reason to trade shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who rebounded from posting a 64 OPS+ in 2016 to put up an 88 in 2017 and is a free agent in 2019.
Mostly, Archer is more desirable than Darvish because of his team-friendly contract and Darvish’s struggles in the postseason and down the stretch of the regular season last year.
If the Twins can’t score Archer, Cole is a logical second option. His 2.8 WAR in 2017 was just one win less than Darvish’s, and Cole will make a fraction of what Darvish demands in arbitration the next two seasons. And if the Twins wish to retain Nick Gordon, the Pirates could be a better trade partner than Tampa given their need for young, starting pitching.
Yu Darvish was worth 3.8 WAR last season. That’s not close to competitive with aces in the league, but would make him a solid number two starter on any team, including the Twins. Santana finished 2017 with 4.8 WAR and finished seventh in the Cy Young voting.
The Twins should resist overpaying Darvish, though, considering their starting pitching depth and the aforementioned availability of number-two starters with team-friendly contracts.
So instead of spending all that money Schoenfield cites, the Twins would be better off trading for a short-term solution to add to their pitching staff that will allow them to be even more active in free agency next year, when Clayton Kershaw is likely to be available. The Twins could even move Miguel Sano to first base and acquire either Josh Donaldson or Manny Machado with Joe Mauer’s contract expiring. Whether the new front office is willing to let the long-time face of the franchise go is a question that won’t likely be answered until next year.
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