Anthony Varriano

Anthony Varriano

Everyone knows who won the Major League Baseball Non-waiver Trade Deadline. The Dodgers, Yankees and Cubs are obviously better. But what about the teams dealing those big pieces to the playoff puzzle. Who are the winners amongst the sellers at the MLB Trade Deadline?


 

This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community for foul-mouthed, sports bloggers. 


 

Super Mega Jackpot Winners

Chicago White Sox

It seems like forever ago that the Chicago Cubs acquired Jose Quintana from their crosstown rivals. The White Sox got two dynamite prospects back in high-A outfielder Eloy Jimenez (.903 OPS this season, Baseball Prospectus’s 9th overall prospect) and A-ball, right-handed starter Dylan Cease (12.5 K/9 this season, top-100 prospect). Both have the potential to be regular contributors to a MLB club, if not headliners.

The Cubs also parted with two more prospects from their high-A roster: first baseman Matt Rose and utility man Bryant Flete. That’s a nice haul for the White Sox. Even though Quintana is potentially controllable through 2020, getting one everyday player and a potential replacement in the starting rotation of the future is well worth sacrificing an ace when you’re years from contending.

After Quintana was shipped to the Cubs, Chicago GM Rick Hahn moved expiring contracts Todd Frazier and David Robertson (2) along with arbitration-eligible Tommy Kahnle to the Yankees for Tyler Clippard and three prospects. Clippard’s contract expires at the end of the season, but he’s earning roughly $5.5 million less than Robertson, so the White Sox saved a few million dollars. They also got a nice return for the rentals they shed.

A-ball outfielder Blake Rutherford, 20, might be the headliner of this deal given he’s the highest rated prospect (36th overall two weeks prior to the trade according to Baseball America), but fellow outfielder Tito Polo is closer to the bigs (AA) and could debut before he’s 24 (he’s 22 now). Then there’s middle-of-the-rotation talent Ian Clarkin, 22, who should see AA next year if he can lower his walk rate (3 BB/9 this season). All three could be in the bigs before turning 25.

The White Sox were hardly done there. They turned a surprising season from Anthony Swarzak on an expiring contract (3) into Ryan Cordell, a 25-year-old utility bat who seems to have AAA pitching figured out (.855 OPS). If Cordell is nothing more than a career utility man in the bigs, that’s a big win for the White Sox.

That’s not all. The White Sox flipped arbitration eligible, lefty reliever Dan Jennings to Tampa Bay for 24-year-old first base prospect Casey Gillaspie, who’s having a tough time finding his way to the show after breezing through just about everything but Fall League (.653 OPS this season, .554 in Fall League).

Finally, the Royals worked with the White Sox to make a trade within the division for Melky Cabrera -- another expiring contract (4). In return, the White Sox scored 22-year-old, high-A righty A.J. Puckett (8.1 K/9 and 49 percent groundball rate) and A-ball lefty Andre Davis (9.1 K/9 and 44 percent groundball rate).

The White Sox lost Quintana, but also shed four expiring contracts and gained a top-10, top-50 and top-100 prospect, along with five others, making them the biggest winners amongst the sellers at the 2017 MLB Trade Deadline.

Mega Jackpot Winners

Oakland Athletics

While the A’s couldn’t pry away any of the Yankees’ top three prospects despite Sonny Gray being under control until 2020, Oakland made out pretty well.The long-awaited Gray trade culminated in a return of MLB-ready right fielder Dustin Fowler, utility man Jorge Mateo (43rd overall prospect according to Baseball Prospectus) and righty James Kaprielian (58th overall prospect according to MLB and Baseball Prospectus).

Fowler forced his way onto the big league club at the age of 22. He had an .871 OPS at AAA Scranton-Wilkes Barre in 313 plate appearances before blowing out his knee in his MLB debut with the Yankees. He’s a five-tool player if he comes back healthy and is a legitimate MLB hitter regardless of his knee. Again, an everyday player who’s a year away for a controllable starter is a good return. And Oakland got two everyday players.

Mateo was the key to the deal for Oakland, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. He’s 22 and would have speed maxed out on MLB 2K17. He was also tearing up AA pitching with a .906 OPS in 140 plate appearances. He’s playing mostly shortstop but is seeing time in center field, too, giving Oakland some options. He has the potential to be the difference-maker Gray already is, but again, would have an impact every day rather than once every five days.

Kaprielian, 23, is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but before the injury he was touted by Baseball America as having “front-of-the-rotation makeup and stuff,” so the A’s might have their new Sonny Gray if all goes well for Kaprielian. He starts a throwing program soon.

The A’s also traded the expiring contract of Adam Rosales to Arizona for righty Jeferson Mejia, who can miss bats (9 K/9 over five minor league seasons) but also loses the strike zone (5.9 BB/9).

In all, it wasn’t a bad Trade Deadline for the A’s. While Beane didn’t move Yonder Alonso’s expiring contract in his All-Star season, the A’s hit a modest jackpot with the Gray trade to break even.

Five Card Stud Winners

Minnesota Twins

The Twins’ poker hand entering the All-Star Break looked a lot worse after a bad start to a West Coast road trip, but the Twins discarded and drew new cards until their hand was a winner. Rookie president Derek Falvey and new general manager Thad Levine turned 20-year-old rookie ball pitching prospect Huascar Ynoa into Jaime Garcia, and flipped Jaime Garcia for two prospects two years closer to the big leagues than Ynoa, both of whom could end up better than Ynoa. Lefty Dietrich Enns will likely get a cup of coffee this season, and righty Zack Littell has a big-league curveball that’s making AA hitters look silly.

How did Falvey and Levine manage to do this? They were willing to pay Garcia’s roughly $4 million in remaining contract, making for a better return from both the Braves and the Yankees.

The Twins also moved their second best trade chip in All-star closer Brandon Kintzler -- an expiring contract -- for Washington Nationals’ 20-year-old, A-ball pitching prospect Tyler Watson. While Watson doesn’t throw very hard (around 90 mph), he locates very well and has potential to add velocity. The lefty has 98 strikeouts in 93 innings and has only walked 24 this season.

The Twins also received $500,000 for international bonus spending from the Nationals, which could be used to sign an international pitcher like, say, Shohei Ohtani, who is also Japan’s best hitter. It would certainly make Paul Molitor’s days against the National League easier. Instead of worrying about double switches, he can just use Ohtani as a pinch hitter for his pitcher. Molitor might not be back to make those decisions, though.

Regardless of how things turn out, the Twins hit the jackpot at the MLB Trade Deadline in 2017 because not only did they win, but they hardly risked anything. They still have their ace and innings eater Ervin Santana and second baseman Brian Dozier through next season, and they retained all their shortstops throughout the minors (Nick Gordon, Royce Lewis and Engelb Vielma). They can resign Kintzler in the offseason, and they won’t have to worry about Ynoa starting an MLB career for three years or so. The Twins improved their hand for next season.

Nickel Slots Winners

Detroit Tigers

Another deal that seems forever ago was the Tigers’ trade of free-agent-to-be J.D. Martinez to the Diamondbacks for Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King. Lugo was Arizona’s fourth-best prospect and is putting together a nice year at AA playing mostly third base (.741 OPS). The 22-year-old can play shortstop, too, and will likely get a taste within the next two years.

Alcantara is a 20-year-old shortstop in high-A who will stick at short regardless of his bat, which has been good enough (.696 OPS). King is another shortstop in rookie ball who is just 18 years old and impressed in his first professional season (.815 OPS in 2016).

The Tigers also traded their coveted closer Justin Wilson, and they packaged him with the expiring contract (albeit less than $1 million remaining) of catcher Alex Avila to the Cubs. While Wilson could be controlled through next season, the Tigers netted corner infielder Jeimer Candelario, who has already seen time in the bigs, 18-year-old shortstop prospect Isaac Paredes, cash and a player to be named later.

While Candelario is big-league ready with the bat and serviceable at third base, Paredes has the range to stick at shortstop and displays great plate discipline (54 Ks in 395 A-ball PAs). The trades give the Tigers a pretty good chance of fielding a competent shortstop for years to come if they trade Jose Iglesias before he becomes a free agent after next season. Lugo could also make Nicholas Castellanos expendable in either of the next two seasons. He’s a free agent in 2020. If the Tigers are going to rebuild, Iglesias, 27, and Castellanos, 25, would demand outstanding returns, and by the looks of it, the Tigers are preparing for that potential payday.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies turned 36-year-old reliever Pat Neshek into 20-year-old, A-ball righty Alejandro Requena (K:BB ratio of 4.0), 22-year-old, high-A righty J.D. Hammer (13.5 K/9) and 20-year-old, A-ball shortstop Jose Gomez (.811 OPS). They also flipped a 33-year-old Howie Kendrick for 21-year-old, A-ball lefty McKenzie Mills (5.36 K:BB ratio). Oh, and there was that Jeremy Hellickson trade that netted 23-year-old strikeout machine Garrett Cleavinger (10 K/9 at AA this season) and MLB outfielder Hyun Soo Kim, who has experienced a sophomore slump in his second season at 29 (OPS+ down to 64 from 117). Those are some pretty nice pieces given the chips Philly had.

Penny Slots Winners

Toronto Blue Jays

The Jays were able to shed two expiring contracts. The struggling Francisco Liriano netted everyday outfielder Nori Aoki, who’s arbitration eligible this offseason despite being 35, and budding outfield prospect Teoscar Hernandez from Houston. Hernandez, 24, already has 112 MLB plate appearances from 2016 and boasts a .724 MLB OPS. He’ll likely roam the Rogers Centre outfield when roster expand.

The Blue Jays also moved veteran reliever Joe Smith to Cleveland for AA lefty Thomas Pannone and 18-year-old second baseman Samad Taylor. Pannone, 23, earned a promotion this season after striking out 12.7 high-A batters per nine innings. That strikeout rate has hung around one per inning in AA, so Pannone could see the bigs as early as next season.

Taylor has good range at second base and has proven he can hit low-A pitching (.300 BA, .795 OPS) despite being three years younger than most of his competition. A promotion to high-A this season is unlikely given how little of the year is left, but Taylor has looked like a quick study thus far.

San Diego Padres

The Padres decided against putting their best chip on the table in Brad Hand. Instead, they dumped an expiring contract in Trevor Cahill and two arbitration eligible relievers in Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter on the Royals. The Royals sent struggling, lefty relievers Matt Strahm and Travis Wood, and rookie-ball second baseman Esteury Ruiz, who has an OPS of 1.063 in 122 plate appearances despite being almost two years younger than his competition. So San Diego replaced the MLB relievers sent to Kansas City and gained an 18-year-old middle infielder who can apparently hit. Not too shabby.

Room Comp Winners

Texas Rangers

The Rangers got their room comped because they were willing to lose a lot. The Rangers did what they should have and moved their biggest expiring contract in a season they weren’t contenders.Yu Darvish had to go, and the Rangers got a pretty nice return despite Darvish being a rental.

Willie Calhoun (MLB’s 82nd ranked prospect) will likely see time in the Rangers’ outfield this year and projects to be a regular contributor thanks to his bat (.922 OPS in AAA this season). A.J. Alexy is a 19-year-old, A-ball righty missing bats like crazy (10.5 K/9), and Brendon Davis, also 19, projects as a potential utility infielder or regular second baseman in the bigs.

While two of the pieces are probably further from the show than the Rangers would like, turning an expiring contract in a non-contending year into a potential everyday player who’s cheap and controllable is a deal you do every time.

Texas also moved expiring contract and catcher Jonathan Lucroy to Colorado for a player to be named later. Again, a return is better than nothing at all, especially given the season Lucroy’s had. His OPS+ (67) is almost half of what it was last season (129), and he’s been uncharacteristically bad behind the plate, too (-4 runs fielding).

Finally, arbitration eligible, righty reliever Jeremy Jeffress was moved to Milwaukee for 25-year-old righty Tayler Scott, who went from AA to AAA as a result of the swap. Scott was averaging a strikeout per inning in AA Biloxi, but his 5.1 walks per nine innings will have to decrease if he’s going to earn a call.

So the Rangers scored one potential everyday player who will play this year, a reliever who’s proven he can miss bats in the minors but also misses the strike zone a lot, a couple of guys with high ceilings at least three years away, and a player to be named. All they had to give up was their season, their best pitcher, their catcher and a reliever, for whom they paid dearly. Milwaukee’s Lewis Brinson is the 12th-ranked prospect according to Baseball Prospectus, and Luis Ortiz is 68th, so it looks like the Brewers won that trade. But Texas got something instead of nothing. That’s like getting your room comped, right? It’s still disappointing, but at least you’re disappointed in a comfortable place.

Bad Luck Losers

Cincinnati Reds

Almost all the Reds’ expiring contracts and potential trade chips were hurt with the exception of Drew Storen, and the Reds didn’t move him despite his team-friendly, $3 million contract. Zack Cozart -- 10-day disabled list. Scott Feldman -- 10-day disabled list. Bronson Arroyo -- 60-day disabled list. Just bad luck.

The only trade the Reds could muster was Tony Cingrani for the 31-year-old Scott Van Slyke and catching prospect Hendrik Clementina, who seems to have figured out how to hit (.994 OPS this season, never higher than .694 in three prior years).

Just Plain Losers

San Francisco Giants

The Giants have trade assets, but Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija haven’t been any good, Denard Span didn’t draw any interest, and the Giants wouldn’t trade their biggest asset, Buster Posey. They did move Eduardo Nunez’s expiring contract, but it will be a long time before the Giants know if the return is worth the Adalberto Mejia they gave up to get Nunez in the first place. Mejia has become one of Minnesota’s most consistent starters.

A-ball righty Shaun Anderson and rookie-ball righty Gregory Santos were all the Giants could pry from the Red Sox. Anderson was well on his way to a promotion and got it via the trade. But his first start with San Jose didn’t go well (3.1 IP, 5 RA, 3 ER). While he was the same age (22)  as his competition with Greenville’s A-ball squad, he’s a year younger than most his California League competition with high-A San Jose.

Santos is just 17 years old, but has a 1.06 ERA over 34 innings in the Dominican Summer League thanks to an 82-percent groundball rate. That’s 22 percent higher than his groundball rate in his first season.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves might not have had much leverage in the Jaime Garcia deal, but had they waited a few more days, the Yankees might have offered more than what they got from the Twins. Regardless, the Braves are losers for failing to move other expiring contracts.

Catcher Kurt Suzuki has arguably been the best he’s ever been with a bat and behind the plate, but the Braves couldn’t find a taker despite his cheap $1.5 million salary. Brandon Phillips is also a free agent at the end of the year and wasn’t moved. That might be the market’s fault rather than Atlanta’s, but Suzuki taking at-bats from Tyler Flowers while the Braves sit 11 games back of the Wild Card is just idiotic. I wouldn’t be surprised if Suzuki is moved in August, though.  

Biggest Loser Amongst the Sellers

Baltimore Orioles

For some reason the Orioles think they’re contenders. Baltimore might be just 2.5 games back of a Wild Card spot, but the Orioles don’t have a pitcher who can win that Wild Card game let alone a regular playoff game. Dylan Bundy’s ERA+ of 102 is highest on the team, which is lower than four of the Yankees’ starters and three of the Rays’ starters. To truly put that in perspective, the Twins have three starters better Bundy. Baltimore has the second-worst, starting pitching ERA in baseball. But they’re contenders because they have Jeremy Hellickson now.

Orioles executive Dan Duquette said the team traded for Hellickson and his expiring contract because they sought reliable starting pitching. His definition of reliable must simply be someone who shows up for work on time, because there’s nothing reliable about Hellickson’s performance on the job.

After experiencing a bit of a revival last season (113 ERA+), Hellickson has regressed back to his old self (96 ERA+). He’s averaging two fewer strikeouts per nine innings than last season. So Baltimore still doesn’t have a pitcher who can win a playoff game.

Baltimore also acquired infielder Tim Beckham from the Rays, but at least he has a positive OPS+, barely (101), and is controllable until 2021. He’ll replace the injured J.J. Hardy at shortstop, and it only cost the O’s 19-year-old righty Tobias Myers, who was holding his own at low-A despite being three and a half years younger than his competition. I don’t think the O’s knew what game they were playing. As of this writing they have a run differential of -66, are two games under .500 and have a 6.4-percent chance to make the playoffs, which is a little better than your chances of winning at keno. 

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Tuesday, 01 August 2017 17:01

The 5 best places to keep your money

Loyalty to your bank doesn’t pay. In this era of online banking, there is no reason to keep all your money in one bank. Even if you live in a small town and use a credit union, online bank accounts at the very least give you leverage over your bank to negotiate higher interest rates, but I would suggest taking some of your money out of that credit union or bank and stash it accordingly:

1. Discover Checking

Discover Checking is the best checking account on the planet. Most checking accounts don’t allow you to accrue interest on your money, or if they do, it’s a very small amount of interest. Discover doesn’t offer interest, either. It offers cashback rewards.

 

Every time you spend the money in your Discover Checking account you get free money. Every check you write is worth 10 cents in rewards, and you’ll get enough free checks to last you a decade. Every time you use your Discover debit card, you get 10 cents.

 

Consider you pay every monthly bill with your Discover Checking account: rent, water, energy, credit card and a student loan or car payment. That’s 50 cents. Now consider all of your debit purchases each month. You probably buy groceries and fuel at least once every two weeks. There’s another 20 cents, and if you go out for dinner or entertainment a couple times per month, you’re making at least $1 per month in cashback rewards in lieu of interest. I’ll take that over a miniscule interest rate on my tiny checking account balance.

 

Oh, and if you ever need cash, you can withdrawal on your Discover Checking account at over 415,000 ATMs and do so for no fee at 60,000 of those ATMs. There’s an even better checking account if you live a mobile lifestyle, though.

2. Aspiration Summit Checking

The Aspiration Summit Checking account offers an interest rate up to 100 times bigger than the big banks. I get .25 percent APY on my Summit Checking account balance currently, and one percent APY when my balance reaches $2,500. The best part is I never pay an ATM fee no matter where I am in the world. Instead of getting traveler’s checks before going on vacation, you can just open an Aspiration Summit Checking account and use your debit card anywhere.

 

So those are my recommendations for checking accounts, but where should you keep your savings?

3. Synchrony High Yield Savings

Synchrony is one of three banks that offer 1.2-percent APY on savings accounts (Barclays, Goldman Sachs), but Synchrony comes with easy access to your money, which could be a good thing or bad thing. Regardless, Synchrony offers discounts on hotels and car rentals that Barclays and Goldman Sachs don’t offer.

4. Discover Savings

Since I already have a Discover Checking account, I opened a Discover Savings account as well. It stacks up well against the competition when it comes to its interest rate (1.1 APY), but it makes this list because of its $100 bonus offer. If you make an initial deposit of $15,000 into your new Discover Savings account, you get $100.

5. Wealthfront

For an even better return on your savings, you can open a Wealthfront personal investment or retirement account by answering a few simple questions. Before opening your account, Wealthfront asks you questions about your preferred savings goals. If you want to take more risks for the chance at a better return, you can do that. If you want to preserve as much of your investment as possible, you can do that, too. Wealthfront will invest your money based on your answers to those questions, and they’ll even sell investments that have dipped in value so you can deduct the amount from your taxable income if you enable tax-loss harvesting. That’s why Wealthfront makes the list of 5 best places to keep your money: ease of use. You can open the account and never check it again until it’s time to collect.

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In pursuit of six-pack abs for the first time at 31, I’m learning that what you eat, when you eat, and how much you eat and when are all more important than how much cardio or ab exercises you do. I’ve finally gotten into a groove of feeding myself so my body turns into a fat-burning machine, which is harder but more important than exercising.

What not to Eat

Cut out the right carbohydrates and you’ll be doing your body a huge favor. I never really wanted to believe this because I love carbs -- breads, bagels, pastas, cereals, microbrews and Animal Crackers are my favorite. But six-pack abs don’t show through a carbohydrate gut, and the problem with carbs isn’t that they’re bad for you necessarily, but they make you want more carbs. One serving of Animal Crackers is never enough for me.

 

I’m not giving up Animal Crackers, though, and you shouldn’t necessarily give up your favorite carbs either. You should just try to limit your serving sizes and try to eat healthier carbs. Whole grains, legumes (beans and lentils) and fruit are rich with carbohydrates but are nutrient-rich, too. Substitute more of those carbs for your Animal Crackers and you’ll eat fewer Animal Crackers.

 

You can eat more fat than you think, too. I’ve read of diets consisting of 58 percent fat resulting in six-pack abs, and while I wouldn’t recommend it, I also wouldn’t recommend cutting fats to zero. The trick is to trick your body into burning the fat already stored in your body, which requires cutting down on carbohydrates -- not fats. The more carbs you cut, the more body fat you’ll burn, even while you sleep.

 

Livestrong’s MyPlate app recommends my diet consist of 40 percent carbs, 30 percent fat and 30 percent protein. I’m lucky if my calories from carbohydrates are below 50 percent of my daily consumption, so it’s a process, but I’m making progress. Carbohydrates have been 47 percent of my calories consumed the past three days, with fats averaging 28 percent and protein averaging 25 percent.

What to Eat

My focus has been increasing my protein intake, which is a lot easier than cutting carbs and better allows my body to burn fat at rest. Protein, protein and more protein is the recipe for six-pack success. Just like any other muscle, your abs require protein to grow. Ideally, you’d consume a gram of protein for each pound you weigh, but that can be really difficult and expensive to do. I can’t afford fresh fish, so I eat canned tuna (mixed with cottage cheese instead of mayonnaise or Miracle Whip for sandwiches). I can’t afford red meat, either, so I resort to eating a lot of eggs. My budget is likely why my diet consists of so many carbohydrates, too. But I have three types of artillery to boost protein intake.

How Much to Eat and When

I keep three different powdered proteins on hand at all times. Two tubs of whey protein -- one chocolate and one vanilla flavored -- are used everyday. Both of the Body Fortress Super Advanced Whey Protein powders taste pretty good but are at least 200 calories per serving despite offering 30 grams of protein per scoop, so you can’t use them to replace protein in your diet. That’s just silly. They’re called supplements because they supplement your diet, which is exactly what I do.

 

I’ll have one milk-based, whey protein shake with breakfast. It’s the most important time besides post-workout to shock your system with protein (and water...you should drink two glasses within an hour of waking). Breakfast should be your largest meal of the day by far, with lunch next largest and dinner the smallest in terms of calories. My breakfast of a fried egg and two slices of banana oatmeal toast was roughly 677 calories this morning thanks to my milk-based, whey protein shake. My lunch was less than half the calories of my breakfast.

 

I also consume a milk-based, whey protein shake post-workout or before bed if I don’t workout. Recovery days are important, too, but pre-workout is also an important time to consume protein. So I’ll also make a fruit smoothie using hemp protein powder to cut back on calories. I recommend Nutiva Organic Hemp Protein, which provides 11 grams of protein per 80-calorie serving. I mix it with whatever fruit I have around and add a little Tampico punch (which is really cheap and low in calories) just to thin out the smoothie because the hemp protein is more grainy than the whey.

 

Altogether, my protein powders run me $1.68 per day, or $47.04 per month, which is $564.48 per year. I know that sounds crazy, but considering what I’d otherwise spend on less healthy snacks, it’s an investment I’m willing to make until I can afford to eat more protein-rich meals. Whey protein is actually third on Strong Lift’s top-10 list of cheap proteins behind tuna and eggs, so it’s not all that expensive.    

 

So thanks to my protein powders, I’ve managed to consume at least 142 grams of protein the last three days (going on four). While that’s 30 grams light of my target of consuming a gram of protein per pound of body weight, 142 grams of protein per day is the recommended goal set by Livestrong’s MyPlate app for someone my size, age and gender looking to lose one pound per week. This will be the first time I’ve done it for an entire week, and I’ve got to say I can feel my body appreciating and responding to my efforts. You too can turn your body into a fat-burning machine.

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Former Minnesota Twins general manager Terry Ryan always had money to work with but rarely used that money as effectively as new president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine did prior to Major League Baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline.

While it has been said by me that Falvey and Levine waited too long to make a move to improve their team, they appear to have fleeced the Atlanta Braves when trading for Jaime Garcia. The Twins flipped rookie-ball pitching prospect Huascar Ynoa to Atlanta in exchange for Garcia and the entirety of his remaining contract -- a little more than $4 million.

 

Garcia made one start as a Twin and was traded to the Yankees on Sunday. Falvey and Levine were again willing to take on most of Garcia’s remaining contract with the hopes of landing better prospects. That willingness to spend paid off, as the Twins landed AA right-hander Zack Littell and AAA lefty Dietrich Enns.

 

Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press pointed out that Littell’s xFIP is first amongst Eastern League pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched. Parker Hageman says Littell’s curveball is a plus pitch, and the move toward devastating curveballs rather than overwhelming velocity has become commonplace for analytical baseball minds. Littell would have been a huge score for the Twins without Enns. He’s is averaging 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings, and 6.5 strikeouts per walk with AA Trenton. ESPN analyst Dan Szymborski thought the Braves should be annoyed with the Twins for scoring such a nice prospect with their former player.

 

Enns is just a big bonus for a team that’s closer to competing than expected. Enns boasts a four-pitch mix and has been fantastic at every minor league level. His WHIP has never been higher than 1.214, and his K/9 has never been lower than 6.9. He was striking out almost one batter per inning with AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and could get a cup of coffee with the Twins when rosters expand. Hell, he could take Kyle Gibson’s spot this year.

 

The 2018 Twins rotation returns just Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios -- so far. Santana could very well be traded by the time I finish writing this. It’s safe to say Hector Santiago and Kyle Gibson are done, and we don’t know if Phil Hughes will ever pitch again. This pair of moves by the Twins pair of rookies in the front office gives the Twins some pieces to create competition for rotation spots in Spring Training next year.

 

So a team in desperate need of young, controllable starting pitching traded for a rental, and then traded that rental for exactly what it needs. Both Littell and Enns could be big parts of the Twins rotation in a couple years, along with Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia, and perhaps, AA Chattanooga's Fernando Romero and Stephen Gonsalves.

 

With the addition of Littell, the Southern League’s best Lookouts have a pitching staff worth seeing. That includes recent relief addition Gabriel Moya via the trade of AAA catcher John Ryan Murphy, who was once Aaron Hicks until Terry Ryan…

 

I digress. If Falvey and Levine keep this up, they will have turned around the Twins in short order. If Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton improve upon their already impressive performances this season, Minnesota will be in the playoff conversation for a long time given the pitching Falvey and Levine have and will continue to acquire.

 

Closer Brandon Kintzler is going to be traded before the deadline, probably for another pitching prospect. But the Twins could sign Kintzler and a whole lot more in free agency this offseason. Minnesota is a pitcher’s paradise as long as Buxton roams center field (18 runs above average fielding), Max Kepler gallops through right (5 RAA fielding), and, now, wherever Zack Granite is (20 BIS runs saved above average per year in center). Granite has forced his way into the lineup by playing a premiere position really well in the absence of the best player at that position. He’ll keep getting plenty of at-bats.

 

Who can the Twins target in 2018 free agency, and who would actually consider it? Jake Arrieta might consider putting his increased flyball percentage in front of a go-get-it outfield. It’s up five percent from last season, and his groundball rate is down seven percent. Hell, Jaime Garcia could return in free agency if he enjoyed his first and last day at work with the Twins. I don’t see any reason why Yu Darvish wouldn’t want to pitch in Minnesota, either. Given Levine’s Rangers roots and the aggressive approach Falvey and Levine have taken in their first year with the Twins, I expect it to continue. These aren’t your father’s Twins.

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Friday, 28 July 2017 21:06

Get six-pack abs and never do crunches

Crunches and sit-ups used to be the go-to exercise for those pursuing six-pack abs, but we know a lot more about the effects of those movements on the body. Crunches are one of the worst exercises for the lower back and can contribute to herniated disc injuries. And if you’ve already had surgery for a herniated disc like me, crunches can bring back that pain in the lower back. That’s why in my pursuit of six-pack abs I’ve ditched the crunch, but still manage to find exercises that blast the abdominal region without causing lower back pain. Here are six exercises that will make your six-pack pop without hurting your lower back.

1. The ab wheel

Instead of doing weighted crunches, which put even more pressure on your lower back than your upper-body weight already does, I substitute a 1 minute ab workout on the ab wheel.

 

Weighted crunches are just like any other weightlifting exercise: they build muscle, but sometimes sacrifice flexibility and even cause injury. While it’s important to build the abdominal muscles in order for them to be seen, it’s far more important to lose body fat, and you can’t just target abdominal fat. That’s not how fat-burning works. In order to show off your six-pack abs, your body fat needs to be between six and 13 percent, so you can do all the crunches you want and never see your abs.

 

That’s why you can get away with doing a more controlled exercise that you will feel in your abs and not your back. By “controlled” I mean it requires entire body control and tends to work your core muscles. Add controlled exercises like the ab wheel into a workout regiment that’s already designed for burning a lot of fat, and you won’t miss the crunches at all.

2. Boat pose

Another exercise that requires total body control and works the abs is the boat pose. This is where you lean back from a seated position with your feet suspended in the air and your hands at your sides. Do this for a minute and you’ll feel your abs going to work to keep your feet suspended, but your lower back won’t bark at you because there’s no movement involved with the lower back. Your back should be straight the entire time.

3. Crunchy frog

Another controlled exercise that’s a play on crunches, the crunchy frog starts from the boat pose, but with your arms outstretched at your sides. Then you bring your legs into your chest and wrap your arms around them before returning to boat pose and repeating the action. This variation on the crunch doesn’t force you to lift your upper-body weight using your lower back as the fulcrum. Instead, you lift your lower-body weight using your butt as the fulcrum. It’s a fantastic exercise that you will feel working all six muscles in your six-pack abs, as well as the lower abdominal muscles.

4. Bicycle crunches

Unlike traditional crunches, bicycle crunches don’t require your lower back to act as a fulcrum to lift your upper-body weight. Instead, alternately bringing your legs back towards your chin, and with your hands behind your head, turning into your leg and touching your opposite elbow to your knee takes pressure off the lower back. They can also end up being quite the cardio workout that will burn a ton of fat if you do them quickly, but a controlled motion is always best to avoid injury.

5. Leg Lifts    

Again, avoiding the lifting of your upper-body weight while using your lower back as a fulcrum is the key to avoiding lower back pain. While leg lefts use your lower back as a fulcrum, you’re lifting your lower-body weight rather than your upper-body weight, which is easier on the lower back than traditional crunches.

 

Just lay flat on the floor and slowly lift your feet to a 90-degree angle. Then slowly lower them back to the ground. You’ll feel this working your entire abdominal region and the upper part of your thighs and your back won’t be barking because of leg lifts.

6. Forearm plank (with variations)

More and more people are using static exercises like the forearm plank in the place of crunches. Why? Because there’s no movement, which means no risk to joints or the back. It’s also really difficult.

 

Push-ups have been a staple exercise for such a long time because they safely build muscle in multiple muscle groups. You can feel push-ups working your chest, biceps, triceps, abs and even upper back -- and all you’re lifting is your own body weight. Well, forearm planks are similar, except instead of lifting your body weight, you’re suspending it.

 

Get in a push-up position but lift yourself up by your forearms and stay there for a minute. It will be one of the hardest exercises you do -- until you try the variations of the forearm plank.

You can work the sides of your abdominal region by supporting your body weight on just one forearm. Put your left forearm on the ground and turn sideways, looking to your right and keeping the side of your left foot planted on the ground. Keep your back straight while suspending yourself. Stay in this position for a minute, if you can. Then do the other side.

 

Again, building up your ab muscles is only half the battle (or a third of the battle, really). Your six-pack abs will never be seen if you don’t burn the fat around those muscles, so work in 20-minute sprint sessions or jump rope interval training to shed that fat.

 

Of course, none of this does any good if you’re not focusing on nutrition as well. You can do all the ab exercises you want, but you won’t get any closer to showing off your six-pack abs if you keep eating fatty foods or too many calories.

 

The pursuit of six-pack abs is like the game of golf with calories being the strokes. You can limit your strokes on the golf course in two ways: through your short game and your long game. You can focus on chipping and putting or driving off the tee, but one without the other is still going to inflate your score. Focus on both and you’ll start shaving strokes. Focus on both exercise and nutrition and you’ll start shaving calories, allowing your six-pack abs to show.

 

Consuming tons of protein will also help. Whey protein is especially best after workouts because it not only feeds your abdominal muscles but helps you burn fat when you’re not working out. Getting enough sleep is also important, as is eating within an hour of waking up. Also, breakfast should be your biggest meal of the day, with lunch next largest and dinner the smallest. Snacking is most important, as smaller meals and more snacking increases your metabolism to burn fat all day.

 

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The Minnesota Twins contending this season despite sporting the American League’s fourth-worst run differential is astonishing. While the Twins are scoring 68 fewer runs than their opponents after a 6-4 loss to the Dodgers, Monday night, the Twins sit just two games out of the playoff picture and 3.5 games back in the AL Central. And the run differential is just the tip of the iceberg.


This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com, a community of foul-mouthed, sports broadcasters and analysts providing coverage of select games.


 

  

The combined WAA (wins above average) between Twins batters and pitchers is -4.3 wins, meaning the team (excluding coaching factors) should be at least four games worse than average.

 

Given the games played as of this writing, the MLB average for wins would be 49.4, but the median is 48. The Twins have 49 wins, which means they have outperformed their WAA by almost four games using the average and five games using the median. All this while allowing 68 more runs than they’ve scored. It all screams regression, doesn’t it? In fact, I’d venture to bet there’s never been an MLB team that has overachieved more than the 2017 Twins thus far, and if there is one, it’s also a team from Twins history.

The 1987 and 2002 Minnesota Twins

It’s fitting the Twins just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the 1987 World Series Championship team at Target Field this weekend, because the 2017 Twins are a lot like that team. The Twins organization established a reputation as underdog overachievers immediately upon finding the ultimate success in 1987 and have continued that tradition to a fault at times.

 

Most of the ‘90s were tough on the Twins and their fans. The pitch-to-contact approach started resulting in harder contact, and payrolls plummeted along with Metrodome attendance, as a slew of youngsters like 21-year-old shortstop Christian Guzman and 23-year-old center fielder Torii Hunter played almost everyday. I remember people joking about how the Twins wouldn’t beat most AAA teams, but everything came together just in time to quiet discussions of contracting the team.

 

A surprising second-place finish in the AL Central in 2001 that saw Matt Lawton grace the cover of Sports Illustrated blew new life into the Metrodome. And in 2002, the pesky piranhas were AL Central champions, fielding the youngest and fourth-cheapest roster in baseball. While the 2002 Twins entered the playoffs with the lowest run differential that year, they still scored 56 more runs than they allowed. But that squad had a combined WAA of +6.3 and finished 94-67, outperforming that WAA by a ridiculous seven wins over the average and 8 wins over the median MLB record in 2002.

 

Despite it all ending in the ALCS, that’s still my favorite Twins team. I feel like they did the most with the least, and the numbers seem to substantiate that feeling. It just feels better to win as an underdog overachiever, even if you don’t win it all.

 

The 1987 Twins did win it all, though, and did so despite entering the playoffs having posted a run differential of -20 during the regular season and outperforming their -.8 WAA. Those Twins went 85-77 in 1987, which would be outperforming their WAA by almost five wins based on the MLB average and median for wins that season.

 

The 1984 Royals are the only other team besides the ‘87 Twins to win the World Series despite a negative regular season run differential since 1960 (and likely ever). They had a -13 run differential and finished the regular season 84-78, outperforming their .1 WAA by almost three games on average and four games taking the median MLB record.

 

The team with the lowest run differential entering the playoffs was the 2005 San Diego Padres at -42, in a year when every team in the NL West had a negative run differential, and only the Padres had a winning record (82-80). They outperformed their -3.2 WAA by four games on average but just three games on the median MLB record.

 

Again, the 2017 Twins are outperforming their WAA by four games on average and five games given the median record -- with a run differential 62 percent lower than that of the 2005 Padres, 70 percent lower than the 1987 Twins and 182 percent less than the 2002 Twins!

 

The Twins making the playoffs isn’t just improbable. It would challenge everything we think we know about what makes a playoff baseball team, just as the Twins did in 1987. The 1987 Twins might have hit a lot of home runs, but they won games with defense. The only regulars with negative total zone defensive runs saved averages over the course of 135 games were Kirby Puckett and Tim Laudner (each at -8). And while three players had RARs (runs above a replacement player) above 40 (Puckett, Kent Hrbeck and Greg Gagne), most of the pitching staff had lower strikeout rates than the current Twins’ staff. Frank Viola averaged just seven strikeouts per nine innings and was the only starter with an ERA below three, so the ball was being put in play, and the Twins were picking it.

What a Difference a Year Makes

The Twins have improved their run differential from last season by 98 runs thus far, and it’s still the fourth-worst differential in baseball. That’s how bad the Twins were last season, and the roster has hardly changed, so there are some things working in the Twins favor.

 

If you think a weak AL Central is the reason for the Twins’ contention, then you also have to blame most of the American League given the Wild Card standings. While a drop in relative competitiveness allows more teams to hang in the race longer, it does little to explain the 98-run improvement.

 

Actually, the Twins’ schedule thus far has probably contributed more to their seemingly unsustainable success than a lack of competitive teams in their league. The Twins remain the second best road team in the AL behind Houston, but they’ve played nine fewer road games than home games going into Tuesday. And as of Monday, they had played 10 fewer road games than the Red Sox, Yankees and Rangers, who are all still in the hunt. Translation: the Twins’ schedule is about to get tougher, as they saw first-hand on Monday when the L.A. Goliath finally knocked out the pesky David of the Midwest in the eighth. But instead of simply marveling at the Twins’ improbable season, let me attempt to explain the extent of its improbability.

The Good

There are some easy answers with regards to runs contributed this year that weren’t there last year, like Miguel Sano improving his RAA (runs above average) 19 points after a 2016 season spent lost in right field so Paul Molitor could accommodate Trevor Plouffe. Sano has arguably become the Twins’ best player at 24 years old -- three years younger than Kent Hrbek was when he was second on the 1987 squad with 21 RAA. Sano is also second on his team in RAA, which is why I say he’s arguably the Twins’ best player..

 

Enter Byron Buxton, the player for whom statistics like range factor and runs added from baserunning were invented. If Buxton was playing anytime before these statistics came around, I feel he’d have a much harder time sticking in the bigs. Buxton’s .604 OPS is last among center fielders with 250 plate appearances, and he’s 14 runs worse than the average hitter so far this season. He’s no ‘87 Puckett at the plate, but his ability to play center field and run the bases make that all matter a whole lot less -- a ton less, in fact.

 

Buxton is four runs better than average on the bases, and 18 runs better than average in center field, which is eerily similar to Greg Gagne’s defensive contribution for the ‘87 Twins (19). Gagne finished the year leading his team with 23 RAA despite negative contributions at-bat and on the bases. Buxton is on pace to lead his team in RAA this season, too

 

So despite his 62 OPS+, Buxton is worth 11 runs more than a replacement player because he can catch balls no one else can and score from first base on a single. Puckett couldn’t do that, and if Buxton comes back from his groin injury on Tuesday and hits, he could chase down Puckett’s incredible 44 RAR in 1987. Buxton’s RAR sits at 22, tied with Sano for the team lead amongst batters despite playing seven fewer games.

 

One of the Twins best pitchers has been Jose Berrios, who was living a nightmare on the mound in 2016 and has improved his RAA from -25 to 6. While his win-loss percentage with an average team (.551) is more comparable to the Bert Blyleven’s (.558) from 1987 than 27-year-old Frank Viola’s (.664), he’s four years younger than Viola, and hasn’t had to perform like him thanks to Ervin Santana.

 

Despite his inconsistencies, Santana has been the Viola for the 2017 Twins. While his .612 win-loss percentage with an average team is not vintage Viola, it has been 21 runs better than average, which leads the team.

 

It all up and that’s 54 runs of improvement between three players all under 25, and another two from Santana so far. So the kids are growing up just fine, and Papi Santana has set a great example for Berrios, in his good starts and bad.

The Bad and the Ugly

Speaking of bad, there are plenty of Twins who have been worse than last year, too. Kyle Gibson’s RAA is 10 runs worse than last season (-17), Jorge Polanco’s RAA is down seven runs, and Ryan Pressly has been nine runs worse than average after posting a +3 last season. Our 56 runs of improvement is now 17.

 

The 1987 Twins were not without their Gibsons, Polancos and Presslys, either. The Gibson was probably Mike Smithson (-15 RAA in 20 starts). The Polanco of the 1987 Twins was likely Gene Larkin, who was in his rookie season, so he has an excuse for his -11 RAA in 262 plate appearances. As for the Ryan Pressly of ‘87, George Frazier was seven runs worse than average in 81.1 innings.

 

But who’s the Bartolo Colon of the ‘87 Twins? Easy: 42-year-old Joe Niekro was 20 runs below average in 96.1 innings pitched.

The Twins Way, Est. 1987: Defense

One of the biggest reasons for the Twins turnaround is the first move new president of baseball operations Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine made -- signing free agent catcher Jason Castro. I loved the move then, and still love it, despite having to watch Castro swing and miss so much.

 

Castro doesn’t hit well -- even for a catcher. His OPS is 17th out of 18 catchers who have at least 250 plate appearances when they wear the gear. If you lower the required plate appearances to 150, he’s well behind the Twins’ former catcher Kurt Suzuki, who is ninth amongst catchers with an .816 OPS.

 

Suzuki’s defensive contribution this season is also his best since 2012. The uptick could very well be that he has his legs under him (he’s caught just 345.1 innings), but even if Suzuki finishes the season having contributed 14 runs on defense, he still falls short of Castro’s contribution.

 

Like Buxton, Castro makes up for his woes at the plate on defense. Castro is worth 22 defensive runs above average over the course of 135 games. Suzuki checks in at 14 defensive runs above average this season, but is 12 runs below average per season for his career as a catcher. Again, even assuming Suzuki’s improved defense is not inflated due to sample size (it is), Castro, with the second-worst OPS at his position, is worth 14 RAR, and Suzuki, with the ninth-best OPS at his position, is worth just 11 RAR.

 

Furthermore, if we consider the performance of Twins’ catchers last year compared to this year, the net gain for the Twins is 28 fielding runs above average. That would account for almost a third of the Twins’ improvement, bringing our rough total to 45 runs of improvement.

 

There’s really no comparison for Castro from the 1987 Twins’ catching corps. The ‘87 backstops were a combined 39 runs worse than average. When it comes to win-loss percentage with an average team over 162 games, Tom Brunansky was fourth (.503) on the ‘87 Twins just as Castro is with the 2017 Twins (.502).

The Key is Charisma

Eduardo Escobar is the ultimate utility man, not because he can play just about anywhere, including catcher apparently, but because he provides the energy and attitude the Twins need to make a push for the playoffs. His smile and charisma are infectious, and he’s an essential leader in the clubhouse. I thought Falvey and Levine might consider trading him given his value to a contender, but I’m glad the Twins have forced the front office to chase history so Escobar can stick around.

 

While Escobar’s runs above average numbers are mostly negative (except running the bases), all have improved substantially from last season. His RAR has improved by 12 compared to last year, which brings our total runs of improvement to 57.

 

Escobar is the Dan Gladden of this Twins team. Gladden managed to be 12 runs better than a replacement despite costing the 1987 Twins 15 runs swinging the bat.

Kintzler Closes the Door

Brandon Kintzler has been nine runs above average in the closer role this season. That’s four runs better than last season already, which makes 61 runs of improvement.

 

Reliver Juan Berenguer was nine runs above average over 112 innings for the 1987 Twins, but he wasn’t the closer, and I don’t think Kintzler should be, either. The bullpen is the area where the Twins could stand to improve the most (read: acquire Brad Hand).

 

While the 1987 Twins relievers posted a RAA of -49, current Twins relievers (excluding the catcher Gimenez, who has been just one run below average in five innings) are sporting an RAA of -87 already. Adding Hand’s 12 RAA would allow the 2017 Twins to act a lot more like the 1987 Twins.

Trouble in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood?

Taylor Rogers has been fantastic until recently. His RAA was eight entering Monday’s game, and after allowing the go-ahead, three-run home run in the eighth inning on Monday, it is now six. That’s still second amongst Twins relievers, and he’s a big reason the Twins have managed to hang in games despite a drop in his strikeout rate from last year (9.4 to 6.5 K/9).

 

I kept waiting for the regression given his 4.05 FIP, 2.15 ERA and 71 percent balls-in-play percentage, and I think we’re starting to see that regression with his blown hold in Los Angeles, Monday night. Ideally, he would be pitching the seventh inning if the Twins could acquire bullpen help before the Trade Deadline. He’s contributed five more runs than last year so far, though, bringing us to 66 runs of improvement.

Mejia will Lull You to Sleep

When it comes to pace of play, Adalberto Mejia is the sloth of Major League Baseball. In his start Sunday the Twins set the record for the longest regulation game in franchise history: 4 hours and 23 minutes, I believe. As you fall in and out of sleep while watching Mejia, you’ll dream of comparisons like Les Straker. But Mejia’s 4 RAA better this year than last (70) and is just 24.

The Moneyball Man

Robbie Grossman got my MLB All-Star vote at designated hitter because he had the highest on-base percentage amongst his peers, and walks are as good as hits. While he’s a liability in the outfield, his approach at the plate is straight out of the moneyball era. And in an era of home run or nothing at all, having a guy who can work counts and get on base before the free swingers is a nice piece to have available.

 

Grossman has 50 walks in 317 plate appearances and leads the Twins in that category. His .373 OBP is also best on the team, and while Grossman’s OPS+ is just 103, it’s better than Joe Mauer’s 101. His RAR of three doesn’t quite touch Mauer’s, though, and is the same as 2016’s, so no runs of improvement available here. But without Grossman, Twins fans would be forced to watch the struggles of Kennys Vargas, whose RAR is down three from last year.

 

Grossman also cost the Twins 21 runs playing defense last year. Molitor has managed to limit that damage to just four runs this season by keeping Grossman in the dugout more often. It adds up to a six-run increase in RAA for Grossman since last season (76 runs of improvement).

Mauer Coming of Age

Joe Mauer is going to win the AL Gold Glove for his performance at first base this season, and it will have little to do with the fact he hasn’t committed an error as of this writing. His defensive runs saved (8) and total zone runs saved per year (6) is better than the defending Gold Glove winner, Mitch Moreland (7 and 1, respectively). Mauer’s range factor and his OPS+, which does matter despite it being a fielding award, are also higher than Moreland’s, and his 1.3 WAR just trails All-Star first baseman Yonder Alonso’s 1.5. Mauer’s basically been Roy Smalley, which isn’t bad.

Will Twins Repeat Recent or Distant History?

Twins hitters are a collective one run above average in 2017 but 58 runs better than last season. Twins pitchers are 62 runs below average this season but also 58 runs better than last season. That’s 116 runs of improvement, and given the 98 runs of improvement at which they currently stand as a team, the Twins’ run differential is likely to get worse barring any trades that might occur.

 

Jaime Garcia should help delay the inevitable. His RAA of three is 20 runs better than Gibson’s, who was demoted despite having his best start of the season on Saturday against Detroit. Falvey and Levine are going to stick with Colon for at least another start, which is fine. Gibson has been far from consistent, and you have to give the veteran a chance to see a lineup that’s not the Dodgers or Yankees before you ask him to gracefully retire. He kept the Twins in that game in Los Angeles, Monday, even contributing a sacrifice bunt to the delight of his teammates. His butt also puts butts in the seats.

 

While adding Garcia is like adding another Les Straker, the Twins don’t even have enough Les Straker’s let alone Frank Viola’s to make a playoff push right now. If they add an arm to the bullpen, though, the Twins could make history, and I think they should go ahead and chase history. Sure, if they make the playoffs they’d go down as the absolute worst team ever to do so based on run differential. But that would likely make them one of the biggest underdogs of all time, and if they continue to outperform their WAA at the same rate, they’d be right up there with the 1987 and 2002 Twins as the biggest overachievers in baseball history.

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Despite recommendations to resign his post, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions is preparing potentially the largest bust in the history of the online, drug trafficking market and has vowed to go after the “criminals and transnational criminal organizations” involved in the billion-dollar drug trade on the darknet.

What’s the Darknet?

The darknet is a version of the internet reserved for people who take special measures to protect their identity online. In fact, admittance requires users to be completely anonymous. Users most commonly gain access to the darknet by shielding their IP addresses with The Onion Router (TOR) and running virtual private networks (VPNs). Even the money is untraceable, as Bitcoin has allowed for anonymous, online transactions. You don’t have to be as tech-savvy as you think to access the darknet, either.

 

But how do TOR and VPNs conceal the online identity of darknet users? Usually when you type a link into your web browser, your computer accesses the server of that website directly. TOR creates an onion network that bounces your signal around a bunch before communicating with the website’s server. Think of how Shrek describes himself: ogres have layers, which makes them hard to read. The same is true of an anonymous online identity. This onion network conceals the users’ IP addresses so no one knows who or where they are. Naturally, businesses selling illegal goods and services flourished on the darknet -- until now.

The AlphaBay Shutdown

The combined efforts of U.S., Canadian and Thai law enforcement resulted in the shutdown of AlphaBay, the largest darknet website known to be a marketplace for illegal drugs. But the shutdown didn’t stop its users from trafficking illegal drugs. The darknet isn’t so unlike the internet. There are plenty of other websites, so sellers and buyers jumped to another known darknet site called Hansa. Unfortunately for all of them, Hansa was now the bait in a Dutch sting operation.

 

Three weeks before the shutdown of AlphaBay, Hansa’s secure servers were acquired by the Dutch law enforcement -- in secret. So if you used Hansa after AlphaBay went down, Sessions is coming for you. “You cannot hide. We will find you, dismantle your organization and network. And we will prosecute you,” he said.  

 

But all those people were using TOR and VPNs, so how can law enforcement find them? The cops don’t know their identities or their locations, right? Short answer: not necessarily. It takes a lot more than fancy router firmware and a VPN to remain anonymous online. AlphaBay’s alleged founder, who apparently hanged himself in a Thai prison, was in that Thai prison because of an unprotected email sent in 2014, according to Security Gladiators editor-in-chief Ali Qamar.

 

I’ve seen Snowden, so I assume just about anyone who bought or sold illegal drugs using Hansa after the AlphaBay shutdown can be found, prosecuted and convicted. If every AlphaBay user committed a transaction using Hansa while being monitored by the Dutch, that’s potentially 240,000 criminals in the short-sighted eyes of Sessions. That’s more potential prisoners than every country in the world except six, and would be more than a 10-percent increase to the U.S. prison population. So is there room in American prisons to house these drug offenders and how much would it cost?

The Darknet Drug Bust by the Numbers  

According to the Justice Bureau of Prisons, the average cost of incarceration of federal inmates was $31,977.65 in 2015. That’s $7.675 billion, divided by roughly 138.3 million American taxpayers in 2015, equals $55.50 per taxpayer per year.

 

But Donald Trump’s budget has to boost funding for federal prisons, right? Wrong. The U.S. Department of Justice requested $8.5 billion in total funding for fiscal year 2015, and Donald Trump’s budget proposal would cut funding for federal prison construction by a billion dollars in 2018. The cuts would result in a 17.9-percent decrease in funding for the federal prison system and detention trustee program over the next decade, which means fewer and fewer prisons built and fewer and fewer beds to go around.

 

The number of available prison beds in America changes daily with people bonding out or being released on parole or probation. We can, however, use 2015 Bureau of Prisons data to draw a conclusion. There were 196,455 American prisoners under federal jurisdiction in 2015, so it’s safe to say that more than doubling the federal prison population is impossible given the number of prisons operating at or over capacity.

 

In 2015, 18 states and the Bureau of Prisons met or exceeded the maximum capacity of their prisons. Eight more states met or exceeded the minimum number of beds allowed in their prisons. While the U.S. prison population has decreased 14 percent since 2013, the 1,500 to 2,000 more additional beds for which the Bureau of Prisons is requesting $80 million next year won’t be enough room for the nearly quarter-million criminals Sessions is pursuing on his drug-sniffing steed.

Will Sessions Resign as Attorney General?

Sessions might not lead the posse very long. It seems just about everyone agrees Sessions should resign if it’s indeed true he withheld information from Congress regarding his involvement in Russia’s attempt to alter the 2016 Presidential Election. The prior two U.S. Attorneys General forced to resign were in similarly hot water, but neither were linked to an attempt to alter a Presidential Election. And Sessions isn’t on Trump’s good side, either.

 

So the biggest bust of drug offenders in history might not be enough to save Sessions’s job, but that doesn’t mean his potential replacement won’t continue his work. While law enforcement’s initial focus should be on sellers who can lead them to the drug lords, that won’t be where it stops, regardless of who serves as Trump’s attorney general.

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Now that Republicans’ plans to repeal and replace Obamacare are all but dead, GOP Congress-men and -women will be working to preserve their jobs by accomplishing something -- anything. Now it seems the Republican budget proposals will get in the way of their next big project -- tax reform. But there is a lifeboat out there for Republicans, if they’re willing to accept a hand from a Democrat.

Progressive Consumption Tax

Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) reintroduced S. 3529, otherwise known as the Progressive Consumption Tax Act (PCTA), back in December. And while the bill wouldn’t do what many Republicans would like and get rid of the Internal Revenue Service, it would re-purpose and shrink the IRS and make tax collection a lot easier. It would also make it so most people would no longer owe individual income taxes, and it would reduce the corporate income tax rate to one of the lowest among industrialized nations.

“How?” you ask. Well, revenue once created by income taxes would be replaced by revenue created through a consumption tax, which is a tax on goods and services consumed rather than a tax on income. It’s a lot like a sales tax, except Cardin has proposed what’s called a value added tax.

Value Added Tax (VAP)

A value added tax is collected from each producer involved in the production chain of a product rather than the end consumer. So if a manufacturer buys $40-worth of product from other manufacturers earlier in the production chain, puts its own labor and materials into it and sells it for $100, the value added by that manufacturer is $60.

Why a value added tax? It’s more likely to be paid. Compliance is believed to be better when the tax is collected at all stages of production rather than the final stage, when the product is purchased by a consumer from a retailer. Both a retail tax and value added tax would produce identical revenue if compliance is perfect, and collecting at all stages of production would help ensure that is the case.

Flat Tax

Cardin’s proposed a 10-percent, flat tax because it simplifies taxation, facilitates compliance and enforcement, and doesn’t allow for distortions based on product type. The few exemptions to the consumption tax are financial services, “which are difficult to handle within a VAT and are often exempted, residential rents, and sales of existing residential housing.” So you won’t pay taxes for your accountant or broker, rent or mortgage, or the sale of your home.

According to the independent and nonprofit Tax Foundation’s Taxes and Growth Model (TAG), the plan would raise the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) 4.4 percent, increase the stock of capital used in production by 15.2 percent, and create 1.1 million jobs. It would also increase after-tax income for rich and poor, so every American would have more money with which to stimulate the economy. In fact, real after-tax hourly wages would increase 6.5 percent.

That all sounds great, right? But will it pay the bills? In short, yes. Cardin’s plan is designed to raise at least as much revenue as the current income tax system does, and the rate can be altered, but the revenue created can never be more than 10 percent of GDP. That doesn’t mean the percentage can’t increase, but the U.S. tax revenue as a percent of GDP was 26.4 percent in 2015. Cardin’s plan would refund taxpayers any revenue over 10 percent of GDP.  

Do you see how Cardin’s plan creates more revenue despite a lower percentage of GDP? Tax revenue, whether a consumption tax or income tax, is linked to economic growth. The more economic growth, the more tax revenue. Increasing the U.S. GDP 4.4 percent is no small feat. As of 2015 numbers that’s almost $800 billion, which would cover the entirety of the Republicans’ proposed military budget and then some ($621.5 billion).

Why should Congress enact a consumption tax? Well, much like healthcare, the United States is behind a lot of developed countries when it comes to taxation. About 150 countries have a consumption tax, most of which were established decades ago.

The consumption tax would also allow the U.S. to tax imports and subsidize exports without violating current World Trade Organization rules (WTO), which Donald Trump would love, even though economic theory indicates a border adjustment tax would end up trade neutral. But that’s what House Republicans want, even though, “Economists can show that the House Republican plan has the same effect as abolishing the corporate tax altogether, introducing a VAT, and then cutting payroll taxes.”

That makes the Republicans’ border adjustment tax nothing more than a political ploy that plays to its base, but that’s what Republicans need -- a political ploy that plays to its base. That and an accomplishment like tax reform. It ain’t gonna be healthcare or a budget anytime soon. So work together, Congress, and we can all get what we want.

Enacting a consumption tax is about as bipartisan as it gets. Republicans get to help corporations. Democrats get to help the poor, and Republican Congress-men and -women might get to keep their jobs. But apparently it’s a nonstarter for most Republicans -- unless you tell them otherwise. You can use Countable to keep your Congress-men and -women accountable to you. I urge you to contact them and tell them you want a progressive consumption tax. It will save every American money, and allows Americans to save and invest.

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If you like this, you might like these Genesis Communications Network talk shows: The Costa Report, Drop Your Energy Bill, Free Talk Live, Flow of Wisdom, America’s First News, America Tonight, Bill Martinez Live, Korelin Economics Report, The KrisAnne Hall Show, Radio Night Live, The Real Side, World Crisis Radio, The Tech Night Owl, The Dr. Katherine Albrecht Show, Free Talk Live

Now that we know Donald Trump's budget would increase the deficit and do little to improve the economy according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, you can expect fixed costs like energy and transportation to cut into the average American’s income even more so than in the past. In fact, the Trump administration made a $3.7 trillion mistake in its budget, which is far larger than the $776 billion and and $303 billion mistakes the Obama administration made with its budgets.

Energy cuts focus on energy-efficiency research

While the bulk of Trump’s proposed cuts in energy are research programs at the Energy Department ($3.1 billion, an 18 percent cut in budget) seeking ways to decrease carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants and more efficient batteries for electric cars, programs that actually help Americans save money on energy will also be eliminated.

 

The Energy Star program, with which you’re likely familiar, costs about $50 million annually, but will be cut from the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget despite the EPA estimating that the program helped American consumers and businesses save $34 billion in energy costs and prevent more than 300 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That little blue label won’t be there to tell you whether the appliance you’re looking to buy meets the EPA’s standards because those standards no longer exist.

 

The same goes for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which funds energy audits of homes inhabited by low-income Americans and the installation of energy efficient additions like attic insulation and plastic over windows. Those workers are doing a lot more than installing plastic over windows, though. They also address health and safety issues by fixing broken windows, replacing faulty water heaters, repairing holes in roofs as well as installing other protective measures.

 

WAP cost $193 million in 2015, and the it estimates that for every dollar invested in the program, it returns $1.65 in energy-related benefits. In the past 31 years, 6.2 million low-income families have taken advantage of the program, which also produces “non-energy” benefits of an additional $1.07 per dollar invested. By lowering energy bills on average of $413 per year, low-income Americans have more income with which to stimulate the economy. But not anymore, which is likely why the CBO doesn’t see any improvement to the economy in Trump’s budget.

 

The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) received $280 million in 2015, and its budget will also be cut entirely. ARPA-E advances high-potential, high-impact energy technologies that are too early for private-sector investment, so cutting it would put more strain on technology businesses, resulting in higher costs for consumers.

 

The loan program that has made fuel-efficient vehicles more affordable, the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, would also be cut. Luckily, according to its website, the program has $16 billion in loan authority remaining, despite loaning Ford Motor Company $5.9 billion in 2009. The scrapping of the program will also make it harder for the average American to afford fuel-efficient vehicles.

 

Finally, Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 authorizes the U.S. Department of Energy to support innovative clean energy technologies that are typically unable to obtain conventional private financing due to high technology risks through the issue of loans. Those loans will no longer be made available.

 

So that’s what’s happening to the U.S. energy budget. No more investing in American energy unless it comes in the form of decayed dinosaurs. But with fossil fuel exploration and drilling increasing, the price of fuel should go down, right? Well, the real price of gasoline and diesel fuel is already below nominal prices, which means they’re likely to increase to at least the nominal price.

Transportation budget cuts make Americans more dependent on cars, fossil fuels

Then there’s the U.S. transportation budget, or lack thereof. While shifting air traffic control to a nonprofit organization would transfer thousands of workers off the government payroll, it could impact smaller airports providing cheaper flights, which means more expensive rates for you. The elimination of $175 million in subsidies for commercial flights to rural airports will hurt rural Americans especially.

 

Also being eliminated is funding for many new transit projects and support for long-distance Amtrak trains, which, of course, would make Americans more car-dependent, and by design, more fossil-fuel dependent. Worst yet, the roads Americans will be forced to drive won’t be getting any better. The Republicans’ budget would cut $499 million from the TIGER grant program despite skyrocketing demand. The Department of Transportation received 585 eligible applications from all 50 States, and several U.S. territories, tribal communities, cities, and towns throughout the United States, collectively requesting over $9.3 billion in funding in 2016.

 

So how do we as Americans manage to get to and from the places we need or want to go with energy costs, both in the form of electricity and fuel, and transportation costs, both in the form of planes and trains, increasing? Well, here are 5 ways to save money despite budget cuts to energy and transportation.

1) Bicycle

If your roundtrip is under 10 miles, you need not drive. Get out the bicycle, put on the padded underwear and a helmet and take your share of the roads. I recommend wearing padded underwear if you intend to cycle for an hour or more. It generally only takes an hour to go 10 miles on a bike, and with a caddie and saddlebags, you can carry a towel and fresh clothes to change into once you arrive at your destination. Do not wear a backpack! You’ll regret it the moment you get a mile from home.

2) Carpooling

Not all of us live close enough to the places we frequent to do so on bicycle. But there are other people taking a similar trip. Mobile devices with unlimited data have made social circles a whole lot bigger than the water cooler at the office. Just because no one in your office goes by your house on their way to work doesn’t mean you can’t carpool.

 

Carpooling apps are becoming more popular in metro areas, with New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C. already being served by Via. But growth of carpool communities is dependent on us as Americans to make them viable options. Apps like Duet and Waze need demand to be useful, and if we’re all set on wasting money and killing the Earth by driving our cars to work everyday, they might never be available in your area. So sign up to either drive or ride with all the carpool apps and share them with your friends on social media so we can grow the carpooling communities and all save on transportation.

 

In the future, your self-driving car will simply go out and drive people to work while you’re at work or asleep. Until then, we’ll have to take the wheel, both figuratively and literally.

3) Work from home

More and more Americans are working from home these days, as employers look to cut costs like rent and energy, and employees look to cut transportation costs. If you do most of your work on a computer or over the phone like me, you can probably negotiate a work-from-home agreement with your boss. You might not be able to work from home everyday, but a few days per week will still save you money on transportation costs. And there’s nothing really like working in bed to the sounds of Rick James on vinyl.

4) Buy an electric vehicle

This isn’t going to be feasible for the average American, but for the first time ever, a car doesn’t have to be a liability anymore. Buying an electric vehicle is an investment that will pay for itself. The payback period depends on the car, of course, but it could be as little as eight years for a Kia Soul EV and as many as 30 or more years for the mysterious Tesla Model 3. And if the average American drives 13,474 miles annually, a Model 3 owner will have paid for her car in 30 years. That’s seven years before Model 3 owners will have to worry about investing in replacement batteries given the 484,669-mile projection for the batteries’ ability to retain at least 80 percent of their capacity.

5) Invest in solar or wind energy

Regardless of where you live, there’s likely an opportunity for you to harness solar or wind to create energy and lower your energy bill. And until Republicans pass a budget, there are still tax incentives and rebates available to you for installing solar arrays and wind turbines. You might as well take advantage of them while you still can, as both technologies have become more affordable to install. Solar installations have dropped nine percent in a year, and wind turbines have dropped more than 60 percent in price since 2009.  

 

The energy companies are doing their best to deter customers from installing renewable energy sources, though. Many are charging flat fees just for hooking up a solar array or wind turbine, and then they’re taking the extra energy you don’t need, but that you provide, and selling it to others. That’s why you should consult an electrician and find things you can run directly from your renewable energy sources if your energy provider is looking to take advantage of you.

 

Maybe your solar panels charge a battery or generator that runs the lights and electricity in your newly built shop or garage. You can always rewire your solar array or wind turbine into the grid, so don’t give in to paying those flat fees to use your own energy. If we discovered farting in a can could run lights for an hour, the energy companies would find a way to suck the fart out of that can and make you pay rent on the can. Don’t let them get your farts.

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Meeting your weight loss goals doesn’t have to be expensive or snack-free. Snacking can actually be good for you as long as it’s done in moderation. Snacking will actually make you eat less during meals, and spreading your calories throughout the day rather than eating three traditional meals will increase your metabolism and allow you to burn more calories and fat while at rest. I eat over 1,000 calories in snacks per day and have lost 12 pounds in two months and fit into my high school jeans.

You can keep snacking, too, as long as you know which snacks are best for you and which to avoid. Obviously, eating Hostess Twinkies every day isn’t going to be good for you. The 260 calories in two Twinkie cakes is more than even M&Ms, as is the 43 grams of carbohydrates packed into those golden cakes.

The high-calorie snacks not named Twinkies are Oreos, Chips Ahoy!, Lay’s Potato Chips (pick your flavored poison), Cheetos, Fritos Corn Chips (Chili Cheese and Original), and my personal favorite, Fritos Honey BBQ Flavor Twists. All come in packing 160 calories per serving, and all come with between nine and 10 grams of fat. I understand you probably love a snack on this list, and I feel for you, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy that snack. Just do so in moderation.

You don’t have to sacrifice taste for nutrition, and you don’t have to pay more for healthier snacks, either. While Smartfood Delight Sea Salt Popcorn is supposed to be healthy, it still has 140 calories and 7 grams of fat per serving. And at 50 cents an ounce, it’s the most expensive snack I found at Wal-mart. Another surprise was Sun Chips, which come in with 140 calories and 6 grams of fat per serving, all for 42.6 cents per ounce. They do have a lower salt content than most chips, with just 120 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Now that you know which snacks to avoid, here are the 5 healthiest and affordable snacks on the market.

5. Stauffer’s Animal Crackers

To my personal delight, Stauffer’s Animal Crackers came in with the second-lowest fat content (2 g) and fourth-lowest calorie content (120) per serving. Animal Crackers also have just 7 grams of sugars per serving, but don’t eat too many. They had the third-highest carbohydrate count (24 g), but at just 8.25 cents per ounce, they are an absolute steal.

4. Snack Pack Pudding

Snack Pack Puddings impressed. The chocolate flavor packs just 100 calories, which was second-best, and each serving comes with just two grams of fat. While the protein content leaves a lot to be desired (less than a gram per serving), the 7.12 cent-per-ounce price was the best of all the snacks studied.

3. Greek Yogurt

It took me awhile to get on the Greek yogurt bandwagon, but I’m on it for good. Brands matter when it comes to Greek yogurt, though. The Dannon Light Banana Cream Greek Yogurt packs just 80 calories, nine grams of carbs, and no fat per serving, while Chobani has 130 calories, 18 grams of carbs and 2.5 grams of fat. Yoplait impressed with 15 grams of protein per serving. At 18.9 cents per ounce, it’s a bit more expensive than the cheapest snacks here, but the protein content makes Greek yogurt very valuable. It was cheaper per ounce than Pepperidge Farm’s Cheddar Goldfish and Chex Mix.

2. Triscuits

In the head-to-head matchup between Triscuits and Wheat Thins, Triscuits took it in a knockout. With just 80 calories per serving, Triscuits took the title for lowest-calorie snack. They were second only to Greek yogurt with 13 grams of carbs, and their 2.5 grams of fat per serving is half as much as Wheat Thins. The only category Wheat Thins won was in cost. Triscuits were 27.5 cents per ounce, while Wheat Thins were 24.3 cents per ounce.

1. Fruits and Vegetables

I know you’re thinking, “Well, duh!” But to give you a sense of how fruits and vegetables stack up against some of the packaged snack foods, there’s just 46 calories in a cup of strawberries and just 11 grams of carbs and not even half a gram of fat. And they’re 8.9 cents per ounce when in season. A serving of carrots is just 15 calories and eight grams of carbs. They run 7.6 cents per ounce, so when you’re considering what you want to snack on during the week, don’t forget about fruits and vegetables.

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