Making Sense of the MLB Trade Deadline

Whoa. Ok. That was a lot of movement. Between the new players on new teams in the NFL and now MLB, my head is spinning.

Naturally, when there is any sort of mass player movement in any of the major sports leagues in the United States, we must pick ourselves some winners and losers. So, why should we be any different?

We will break this down into three categories: winners, losers and those in limbo. That’s right. You came for two, and we’re giving you a third on top of that. Take that, ESPN!

WINNERS:

Texas Rangers:

-Acquired RP Koji Uehara from BAL for SP Tommy Hunter and 1B Chris Davis

-Acquired RP Mike Adams from SD for 2 pitching prospects

The Texas Rangers are the best team in the American League not playing in the East. They had a clear weakness on their ballclub: the bullpen. They can mash with the best of them and they have solid starting pitching thanks to All-Stars C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando. However, their bullpen ranked 11th in the league and outside of Arthur Rhodes, the unit was under-performing.

One American League official went as far to say that if the Rangers were able to trade for Uehara (1.71 ERA, 62 Ks in 47.0 innings), they would play in the World Series. Ok, maybe that guy got ahead of himself. But, the Rangers did pick up the most dominate reliever available for their eighth inning, then got Mike Adams (1.13 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 49 Ks in 48.0 innings) to shorten the game even more. Starters need only to go six innings with Adams, Uehara and Neftali Feliz to round out the ‘pen.

The Rangers did part with a youthful arm in Tommy Hunter (13 wins as a 23-year old in 2010), but the team had given up on fixing Chris Davis (24 Ks in 76 at bats this season). As for the pitching prospects, they weren’t the best the team had to offer, which is always good to hear from an organizational stand point. The Texas Rangers had the best deadline, dare I say.

New York Mets:

-Acquired two players to be named later from MIL for RP Francisco Rodriguez

-Acquired SP Zack Wheeler from SF for OF Carlos Beltran

Whoa! Before you go calling me a homer, understand something. First, the Mets escaped from what was going to become a vesting option of $17.5 million to Francisco Rodriguez if he finished 55 games this season. Emphasis on finished. He could’ve lost 55 games this year and it wouldn’t have mattered, the option would’ve kicked. All he had to do was be the last pitcher to appear in the game. Literally, my grandmothers could be the players to be named later in that deal with Milwaukee, and it won’t matter. That money is going right to Jose Reyes, thankfully.

Second, you need to realize that had the Mets held onto Carlos Beltran, they would not have been able to offer him salary arbitration. In fancy talk, that means the Mets wouldn’t have gotten any draft pick compensation for Beltran had he left in free agency. He would qualify as a Type A free agent, which normally means the team that signs him surrenders their first round pick to the Mets, plus a compensation pick at the end of the first round. But, none of that would’ve gone to the Mets due to a loophole in his contract (damn you, Scott Boars!).

Third, while the Mets had offers from teams to either A) bring home a truck of B-level prospects, B) pay off Beltran’s remaining $6 million+ or C) both, Sandy Alderson and company held firm on getting the best available player they could. And, you know what? They did just that. Wheeler was the Giants’ best pitching prospect (out of a system that has produced Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner, among others) and Baseball America had recently rated Wheeler as high as 35th out of all prospects in baseball. Wheeler immediately slots into one of the top four Mets pitching prospect slots (along with Matt Harvey, Jenrry Meija and Jeurys Familia) and projects to be a power, top-rotation type pitcher.

Getting value for Beltran was key for Alderson. He accomplished that, and that makes the Mets winners at the deadline even though they probably aren’t competing for a playoff spot. Hooray!

Houston Astros:

-Acquired OF Jordan Schafer and 3 pitching prospects from ATL for OF Michael Bourn and cash

-Acquired SP Jarred Cosart, 1B Jonathan Singleton and 2 prospects from PHI for OF Hunter Pence

Alright, another team that isn’t competing for a playoff spot. You think I’m crazy. Hey, you may be right. But, you need to look long-term here.

Remember, the Astros are stuck in the king of rebuilding projects and have a new owner coming into office. They need a franchise makeover. Does it hurt to trade away the face of the franchise and the one productive player on the team? Absolutely.

But, what does that say about your franchise if Hunter Pence is your keystone guy? Is he a good player? Absolutely. Should he be the best player on your team? No way.

In Cosart and Singleton, the Astros got the Phillies two best prospects not named Dominic Brown. That’s a win right there. From the Braves, they got 3 pitchers that project into productive parts, but not necessarily stars. However, they sold Bourn when his stock was highest, so that should be commended.

San Francisco Giants:

-Acquired OF Carlos Beltran from NYM for SP Zack Wheeler

-Acquired INF Orlando Cabrera from CLE for player to be named later

We already covered the Beltran trade from the Mets angle. The Giants angle is a lot easier to understand. They needed immediate pop in the middle of their order. Well, that’s Beltran.

What I love even more is the acquisition of Orlando Cabrera. This man IS playoff baseball. I understand the Indians traded him because their second baseman of the future has been playing well, but Cabrera is a lock to make the playoffs on whatever team he is on. I don’t know why, it’s just the truth. Expect Cabrera to play the 2010 Edgar Renteria role on this team.

Oh, and by the way, remember that it was Renteria who was named World Series MVP last year.

Team that went in the right direction, but didn’t impress: Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks

LOSERS:

New York Yankees:

-No major acquisitions

Absorb that sentence for a little bit, Yankee fans. Your general manager has pretty much informed you that he feels the mix of Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes will be good enough for a long run in the October. To me, that seems a little bit optimistic. And by optimistic, I mean delusional.

This team needed a starting pitcher in the worst way. C.C. Sabathia would be the likely Cy Young Award winner for the American League if Justin Verlander didn’t exist. But, after him, A.J. Burnett? And that’s really all you can trust? Wait, we’re trusting A.J. Burnett now? Oh, brother.

Hey, in their defense, it’s not like the Yankees didn’t try. They really wanted Hiroki Kuroda, but he refused to waive his no-trade clause and chose to stay in Los Angeles. They tried to get Ubaldo Jiminez (I’m not done with him) from Colorado before the Indians package trumped the Yankees. And, its not like the Red Sox and the Rays broke the bank in their trades either. But, the Red Sox did improve their rotation (Erik Bedard) and they added infield depth (Mike Aviles).

The Yankees didn’t do anything, and that hurts.

Cleveland Indians:

Acquired SP Ubaldo Jiminez from COL for SP Drew Pomeranz, SP Alex White and 3 prospects

-Acquired OF Kosuke Fukudome from CHI for 2 prospects

-Acquired a player to be named later from SF for INF Orlando Cabrera

The Cleveland Indians feel that they are in the thick of the race for the AL Central. And, less than three games out of first certainly means they are in the race. The Twins held firm at the deadline, the White Sox appeared to be sellers, and the Detroit Tigers added a nice piece in SP Doug Fister, but he doesn’t necessarily put them over the edge.

So, kudos to the Indians for putting in the effort to try and win this division. Now, time for my problems with both of these trades. Starting with Fukudome.

Ok, I understand their offense needed a bit of an upgrade. Not a full upgrade like the Giants needed, but enough of one where the Indians offered to pay Beltran’s entire remaining salary to the Mets plus prospects. So, why did they go after a guy that is ranked behind the likes of Ryan Theriot and Brian Schneider in terms of his career production rate on BaseballReference.com? Fukudome’s beautiful triple slash (average/on-base/slugging) for 2011? .273/.374/.369

Yikes. Not sure where I should be seeing an upgrade. Luckily, I’m not overly impressed with the prospects they gave up for the aging outfielder. So there’s that.

But, believe it or not, I had a bigger problem with their trade for Rockies ace Ubaldo Jiminez. In his first 16 decisions of 2010, Jiminez went 15-1 and looked like the shoe-in for NL Cy Young. Since then, however, Jiminez has gone 10-17. This year, he sat at 6-9 with a 4.46 ERA, a far cry from his 2.88 in 2010, and that was even lower in the first half of 2010.

Furthermore, does anybody else find it strange that the Rockies were so quick to trade Ubaldo Jiminez? He’s under team control until 2014, and its not like the Rockies are cheap when it comes to locking down their home grown talent (see: Tulowitzki, Troy and Gonzalez, Carlos). So, I smell something that the Rockies are seeing that maybe the Indians are not. The shine on Jiminez seems to be fading in the sense that Francisco Liriano is not the pitcher we all thought he’d be, either.

Also, the Rockies made out like bandits here. They acquired two of the Indians last three first round picks (Pomeranz and White). In fact, those two picks were both Top-10 selections. Pomeranz was such a recent selection that you see his name in the transaction column as “player to be named later” because the Indians aren’t allowed to trade him since he hasn’t been a member of the organization for a full calender year yet.

The Rockies are exceptionally good at rebuilding on the fly. They now have two controllable power arms that may be ready by next year or 2013. And the Indians? They traded for the market’s largest questionmark. You can be aggressive to a fault at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, that’s what the Indians were.

San Diego Padres:

-Acquired a prospect from PIT for OF Ryan Ludwick

-Acquired two prospects from TEX for RP Mike Adams

Ok, the Padres got the most out of what they could for the players they traded. The problem in San Diego is more of who they didn’t trade: closer Heath Bell.

Bell is a very good closer and a huge fan favorite in San Diego (as he was at Shea Stadium when he was the conductor of the old Norfolk Shuttle). But, the Padres probably did themselves a disservice by not trading him away. This was the highest his trade value would ever be, and now the team has put themselves in a situation where they will have to pay the big bucks to keep their stopper long-term.

Now, hindsight is always 20-20. This non-move could turn out to be great for the franchise. But, I honestly do not like it when teams invest in relievers not named Rivera. So, I will let this one play out a little bit. I just don’t understand why a team in full fledged rebuild mode wouldn’t move their most valuable asset that could be replaced rather quickly from within.

Other teams that disappointed, but not as poorly: Oakland A’s, Washington Nationals

Teams in Limbo

Chicago White Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, St. Louis Cardinals:

Basically I group all three teams together because they conducted the largest, craziest trade of the deadline period. Stay with me here:

White Sox acquired RP Jason Frasor and SP Zach Stewart from the Blue Jays

Blue Jays acquired INF Mark Teahan from the White Sox, OF Colby Rasmus, SP Brian Tallet, RP Trevor Miller and RP P.J. Walters from the Cardinals

Cardinals acquired SP Edwin Jackson from White Sox, RP Octavio Dotel, RP Marc Rzepczynski, OF Corey Patterson and three players to be named later from Blue Jays

Have you digested all that? So, how do three teams conduct a huge trade and seemingly stay in the same place they were pre-trade? I’ll explain.

For the White Sox, General Manager Kenny Williams just confuses me to no end. When the team should be sellers, he buys. When the team should be buyers, he sells. He gave Adam Dunn a four-year contract when no team was willing to go more than two. He picked up Alexis Rios from the Blue Jays when the team was bound to release him anyway. I don’t get it.

Edwin Jackson was having a good year, and the White Sox did well to sell him when his value was high because Jackson has been an up-and-down talent his entire career, hence why he’s played for six teams in eight years. Mostly, the White Sox stay in limbo with this trade because while Zach Stewart is a promising pitching prospect from Toronto, he is no Daniel Hudson, who is the player the White Sox traded to get Jackson in the first place.

For the Blue Jays, I think I understand this trade. I think. The big prize they picked up is OF Colby Rasmus, who was once one of the best prospects in all of baseball while he was maturing in the St. Louis farm system. He hit .276 with 23 home runs for the Cardinals in 2010 as a 23-year old, but has been marred in a season-long slump in 2011, dipping his average to .240 with only 11 home runs. Apparently, Rasmus wore out his welcome with manager Tony LaRussa for seeking outside help for his hitting woes, which is a no-no for the Cardinals. When push came to shove, the team stuck with management and not Rasmus.

 However, he’s still young (24). He could easily figure out this funk and blossom into the well-rounded centerfielder experts had predicted he’d become. Here’s my problem with the trade: the Blue Jays didn’t need the help with their offense.

In the American League East, you will not win with a powerful line-up. Look at the Rays. Their line-up is below average for the American League, but they’re constantly competitive in the East because they have pitching depth very few other teams have. The Blue Jays dealt Stewart, one of their better pitching prospects, to get Jackson who enabled them to get Rasmus. In their system, they still have Kyle Drabek, their prize in the Roy Halladay trade. But, he struggled in his first stint of Major League action. The Jays will need a massive amount of pitching to catch up to the Rays, Yankees and Red Sox. I don’t see how this trade helps them, at all, in the long run.

Lastly, for the Cardinals, here’s why I don’t quite get it. I believe they are a team that has become in love with the notion that pitching coach Dave Duncan can fix any pitching problem. Edwin Jackson shows flashes of brilliance, and the Cardinals will try to harness those flashes into sustained excellence. And with Duncan’s track record, that very well could happen.

The team’s biggest hole was at shortstop, which they feel they answered by acquiring Rafael Furcal from the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, we will see if Furcal can stay healthy for any long period of time to actually help the team. They felt they could afford to trade Rasmus now because Lance Berkman has played so well in right field, and Jon Jay has exceeded expectations from all outfield positions.

My problem with this deal really comes back to Rasmus. I feel the team gave up on him much too early. He was their youngest player starting every day and, more importantly, was under team control on the cheap for at least another two years. With Albert Pujols soon to get a new contract, cheap, reliable talent is a major point of salary relief the team will need. Jon Jay has hit over .300 in his 600+ Major League at-bats thus far in his career. But, is he really your long-term centerfielder in St. Louis? I’m just not certain.

For me, the Cardinals will have to show me they have a viable solution in center before I move them out of limbo.

Other teams who tried to improve, and may have improved, but didn’t impress: Pittsburgh Pirates

Baseball’s Second Half

The All-Star break has come and gone, a new home run champ was crowned, and the National League extended their Midsummer Classic win streak to: 2.

Derek Jeter went yard for #3,000– he should really thank David Price for that beauty.

Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander both threw no-hitters, and each came close to a second. Buster Posey was injured in a home plate collision and Albert Pujols broke his wrist, then regenerated in half the time as a machine would. The Pirates are 47-43, yes the Pittsburgh Pirates, sitting in 3rd place, just one game out in the NL Central. The Mets are above .500 due to Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran having seasons they’re capable of, the Mets have some hope. Their manager, Terry Collins, 62, “is older than the remote control and hadn’t managed a game in 11 years, is suddenly the second-youngest manager in the NL East (or, as it might be known in the latest realignment plan, the Del Boca Vista Division)” (SI Tom Verducci, Inside Baseball) And those Cleveland Indians, name one of their starting pitchers; name two of their outfielders; their DL is the who’s who of Cleveland but they’ve been in first and are currently in 2nd, half a game out. Whoda thunk it? Plus Brian Wilson and his beard have become the new rock star of baseball.

But don’t worry, the season isn’t too upside down, the AL East is a close race (you know who), the Phillies pitching rotation is competing at a high level and the Marlins can’t sell tickets (they closed the upper deck). So what’s going to happen in the second half? Who will hold on to each division? Can Pittsburgh make the playoffs?!

Milestone Progress

Derek Jeter’s 3,000 hit? Check, he’s at 3,004

Jim Thome’s (595) 600th home run? 5 away

Alex Rodriguez (626) catching Griffey (630) on the all-time home run list? 4 more. And Willie Mays (660)? 34 bombs, not likely

Ichiro’s 11th consecutive  200 hit season, breaking his tie with Pete Rose? 101 hits at the break, on pace for about 190 hits (ASG isn’t halfway point, technically)

Mariano Rivera (581) all-time saves leader? 22 saves in 2011, on pace for around 40, putting at or above Trevor Hoffman’s record 601

Albert Pujols’ 2,000 hit? 16 to go

Matt Stairs’ record breaking 13th team played for? Check: Expos, Red Sox, A’s, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, Royals, Blue Jays, Rangers, Tigers, Phillies, Padres, Nationals. That’s 52 different jersey’s he’s worn (Can be contested that he’s still tied at 12  with Mike Morgan since the Expos became the Nationals)

Awards

AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers

AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Pineda, Mariners

AL Manager of the Year: Manny Acta, Indians

NL MVP: Matt Kemp, Dodgers

NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Phillies

NL Rookie of the Year: Freddie Freeman, Braves

NL Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pirates

October, who has survived?

AL East: New York Yankees

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

AL Wildcard: Boston Red Sox

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks

NL Wild Card: Milwaukee Brewers

Yankees win the East? One of the East teams will be struck with key injuries causing a slide, I know I’ll probably pick the wrong one, but the Yanks have shown excellent ability to plug holes and win, and they have the run support. Boston needs to stay healthy and if their 1 through 5 starters continue to pitch well, plus their bullpen, they could be on top. And the West, what was I thinking? Diamondbacks over the Giants? It’s a wild division and it’s Arizona’s time. Something special in the desert again, they’re my surprise pick.

Parting Thoughts

Will we see Bryce Harper in 2011? Don’t think so, don’t care yet. He will be good though. I also think there will be no more no-no’s, plenty of rumors around a Mets fire sale (not happening), Jose Reyes’ price tag continues to fall, Lance Berkman stays an MVP candidate until the end, the Rangers lose focus, and their lead in the West, and Ichiro blows up with a hefty hitting streak.

Baseball has been very, very good to me

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

Cleveland Update: Peyton Hillis Named to Madden Cover

There are two things you can count on football related this week. First, there will be an NFL Draft starting tomorrow night at 8pm Eastern.

Second, Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis will man the cover of the new Madden 12 video game. It was announced today that Hillis beat out former Madden cover-boy and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in a fan vote to dawn the cover of the popular NFL gaming series (ESPN News Link).

Now, being on the Madden cover has been known to jinx the player for the next year. Go no further than the last time Michael Vick was on the cover, the same year he broke his leg and missed the majority of the season for the Atlanta Falcons. Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George also suffered from a down year the same season he appeared on the cover of the Madden series video game.

On his way to the cover, Hillis beat the likes of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles and the favorite in the fan vote, Green Bay Packers Super Bowl MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Peyton Hillis will be the first Cleveland Browns player to appear on the Madden cover. So, all isn’t for not in Cleveland!!

State of the Franchise: Cleveland Indians

This Season: 8-3 (1st, AL Central)
Last Season: 69-93 (4th, AL Central)

Coming into this season, many people believed the team would be a year older and thus, a year improved from 2010. But, I don’t think anybody had the Cleveland Indians as their favorite to win the division. So, don’t bet the house on the Indians maintaining their current .727 win-percentage. They’ll come back to Earth sooner rather than later.

The Indians hot start is thanks to the strong performances they’ve gotten from their young pitching staff. Josh Tomlin, Justin Masterson and Mitch Talbot have combined to go 5-0 in their six combined starts. Tomlin has the highest ERA of the three, and that is still a low 2.63 mark. Masterson and Talbot both sport ERAs below 1.50, a rate that will be near impossible to maintain all year long in 33+ starts each. Has to feel nice for Masterson to start 2-0, though, considering his 6-13 record in 2010. Talbot, a 10 game winner last year, has been striking batters out at an abnormally high rate this season. He has 11 in 12.1 innings in comparison to just 88 in 159.1 one year ago.

Offensively, the Indians have gotten production in the unlikeliest of places. Second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera has already eclipsed his home run total from 2010 in just 11 games this year with four this season. Free agent signee Orlando Cabrera is tearing the ball to all fields, hitting .372 in the early going. Outfielder Michael Brantley, acquired as part of the package in the C.C. Sabathia trade with Milwaukee, is showing promising signs as a regular, hitting .275 in the team’s first 11 games. While Brantley is producing, the headliner prospect the Indians acquired for Sabathia continues to struggle as an everyday player. After hitting .221 with 12 home runs last season, first baseman Matt LaPorta has gotten off to an equally slow start, hitting .219 out of the gate with two home runs.

The team’s three best home-grown players have gotten off to disappointing starts, but clearly haven’t held back the Indians production. Star center fielder Grady Sizemore is still recovering from surgery on his knees and has yet to play in a game this season. A three-time All-Star, Sizemore hasn’t played a full season since 2008 when he connected on 33 home runs and 90 runs batted in while hitting .268. The Indians desperately need Sizemore’s bat to come back into form when he does play and play the Gold Glove caliber defense they became accustomed to.

Proven veteran Shin-Soo Choo has gotten off to a surprisingly slow start for the Tribe, hitting only .190 with one home run. However, it’s only a matter of time until Choo gets going, as he hit .300 with 22 home runs and 90 runs batted in and stole 22 bases just one year ago. Prized catching prospect Carlos Santana, held in such high regard that the team was willing to move former All-Star Victor Martinez to make room on the 25-man roster for him, is off to a slow start of his own. He’s hitting .225 with one home run through the first 11 games, one year after hitting .260 in 46 games at the Major League level in 2010. How Santana develops as a Major League catcher will determine how deep the Indians line-up truly is.

Realistically speaking, the Cleveland Indians are a middle of the division type squad. They aren’t better than the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox or even the Detroit Tigers as they’re currently put together. The Indians are relying heavily on their developed players, and will look to improve on their 69-win season in 2010.

While I do expect them to do just that, I don’t know if the Indians have as much upside as other teams in their own division. The Kansas City Royals are fast improving, and maintain arguably the best farm system in the entire league. The Indians, while they don’t need to win the division, do need to prove to people around the league and their own fan base that they can be competitive.

Right now, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

State of the Franchise: Cleveland Cavaliers

This Season: 18-63 (Last, Eastern Conference)
Last Season: 61-21 (1st in Eastern Conference, lost to the Boston Celtics in Eastern Conference Semi-Finals)

All you need to know about the difference from 2009-10 and 2010-11 is that one team had LeBron James and one team didn’t. You don’t need to guess as to which team had him and which team didn’t. The scary thing for Cavaliers fans is that the only real difference between the 2009-10 team and 2010-11 team is LeBron James. That’s it. The rest of the roster is constructed pretty similar.

At one point this season, the Cavs lost a NBA-record 26 consecutive games. However, they were able to defeat LeBron’s Miami Heat once this season, bringing some form of vindication to team owner Dan Gilbert. But, that’s also where the vindication stops for this team. In Byron Scott’s first year as head coach, the team ranks in the lower third in points per game, rebounds per game, team defense and assists per game. The Cavs moved former All-Star point guard Mo Williams in a salary cap related move for aging veteran Baron Davis at this year’s trade deadline, and lost last year’s big trade deadline acquisition, forward Antawn Jamison, to an injury that shelved him for the remainder of the year after the All-Star break. Starting center Anderson Varejao was limited to 31 games this season due to injury, as well. So, with what the Cavs did have, they were never completely healthy at any point in the season.

For what small positives you can take away from this season, you can look towards the continued development of power forward J.J Hickson. At last year’s deadline, the team was reluctant to include Hickson in any big trades to bring in talent to help support LeBron. This year, the team relied heavily on Hickson’s development to keep them afloat. While Hickson’s line of 13.8 points and 8.6 rebounds while starting 65 of 79 games, those numbers don’t convince many in the business that Hickson will ever be more than a solid third or fourth scoring option for a contending team.

Looking further down the Cavs roster, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone that isn’t better than a replacement starter or a bench piece. The team likes what they have seen this season from point guard Ramon Sessions, enough so that they traded Mo Williams to make room in the starting rotation for him. Sessions averaged 13.1 points and 5.2 assists as the slashing guard got 37 starts this season. Sixth man Daniel Gibson provided some offense off the bench, contributing 11.7 points, 3.0 assists and 2.7 rebounds.

The team was encouraged as the season went on from young players Samardo Samuels and Alonzo Gee. Gee, getting 28 starts after being acquired at the trade deadline, contributed 7.5 points and 3.9 rebounds. However, in April, Gee was up to 12.4 points and 5.1 rebounds, and the team hopes that he is a piece they can build on going forward. Samuels, meanwhile, averaged 7.8 points and 4.3 rebounds for the season. Like Gee, his playing time increased throughout the season and by March, Samuels was averaging 11.9 points and 5.8 rebounds while getting 10 starts.

While the Cavs had a bad year, they were able to rally and not finish with the worst record in the NBA this year. That dubious honor belongs to the Minnesota Timberwolves. However, this incoming draft class is one of the weakest in recent history, and there aren’t any true front-line game changers available to choose from. This season may have been a preamble to a long, lonely stretch of struggling basketball in Cleveland.

Again. Thanks, LeBron.

State of the Franchise: Cleveland Browns

Last Season: 5-11 (3rd AFC North, missed playoffs)

Year One under new team president Mike Holmgren saw improvement on the field, but not enough for the team to retain head coach Eric Mangini. Instead, Holmgren decided to replace the defensive-minded Mangini in favor of the offensive guru Pat Shurmur. Shurmur, the architect of the revamped St. Louis Rams offense last year, will have strong assests at his disposal in his first tour with the Browns.

When you talk about the Cleveland offense, you have to start with everybody’s favorite fantasy football waiver wire darling, running back Peyton Hillis. Acquired for former first-round draft pick turned bust quarterback Brady Quinn, Hillis began the season as a back-up. By Week Three, Hillis wrestled away the full-time running back job from Jerome Harrison with a 144 rushing yard performance and a touchdown. After that, there was no turning back from the former seventh-round draft pick out of Arkansas. By the end of the year, Hillis had gained 1,177 yards on the ground, another 477 through the air and a total of 13 touchdowns.

What held the Browns back was the lack of production from other aspects of their offense. The team ran out former Super Bowl quarterback Jake Delhomme as their Week One starter. However, as the Carolina Panthers found out before them, the wheels were completely off the Delhomme bandwagon. Delhomme through for 827 yards in his limited action, and through seven interceptions to only two touchdowns. The team then turned to rookie quarterback Colt McCoy to find any sort of offensive stability. McCoy played well, not great, but well. He threw for 1,576 yards, six touchdowns and nine interceptions. Protecting McCoy was a bit of a problem, as the rookie was sacked 23 times and suffered a few injuries towards the end of the season.

When McCoy was on his feet, he didn’t have a lot of options to complete passes to. Incumbent number one receiver entering the season, Mohamed Massaquoi, fought injuries all year long, limiting him to 483 yards and two touchdowns. The team’s leading receiver wasn’t even a receiver. Instead, it was tight end Benjamin Watson, who caught 68 passes for 763 yards and three touchdowns, all team highs.

On the other side of the ball, the defense was a work in progress. Rookie safety T.J. Ward led the team in tackles with 123 total, and had two interceptions to his credit as well. A second-round draft pick in 2010, Ward will be expected to lead this young defense along with last year’s first round pick, cornerback Joe Haden. Haden had impressive spurts in 2010, a season in which he recorded 64 tackles, six interceptions, a sack and a forced fumble. The team also got an unexpected burst from linebacker Marcus Benard, who led the team with 7.5 sacks. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin also continues to develop into a force along the front, recording 82 total tackles. However, the team continued to get disappointing performances from their high-profile tackle Shaun Rogers, who the team finally released and was signed by the New Orleans Saints.

Going into this month’s NFL Draft, the Browns own the sixth overall selection and can choose to go in a couple directions with that pick. From an outsider’s perspective, I would think the team will want to address their lack of depth at the wide receiver position. There are two premium receivers in this year’s draft, Georgia’s A.J. Green and Alabama’s Julio Jones. In all likelihood, one of those two talents will be available for the Browns to select in the sixth position. If the team wants to go in a different direction, there is ample defensive talent available for this team to continue to build around Rubin, Haden and Ward.

Last year, the Browns beat the likes of the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots in consecutive weeks. The team has what they feel is a franchise quarterback in McCoy. They have a workhorse at running back in the form of Peyton Hillis. Add a dynamic receiver to that dynamic, you have the makings of a very strong offense.

Cleveland Sports Franchises: Cleveland Cavaliers

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
NBA Championships: None
Retired Numbers: #7 Bingo Smith, #22 Larry Nance, #25 Mark Price, #34 Austin Carr, #42 Nate Thurmond, #43 Brad Daughterty

The Cavaliers first began play in the NBA in 1970, as an expansion team under the ownership of Nick Mileti. Playing their first season at Cleveland Arena under head coach Bill Fitch, they compiled a league-worst 15-67 record. However, the following seasons saw the Cavaliers gradually improve their on-court performance, thanks to season-by-season additions of talented players such as Bingo Smith, Jim Chones, and more. In the 1975-76 season, with newly acquired Nate Thurmond, Fitch led the team to a 49-33 record and a division title. Making their first ever playoff appearance, the team clinched their first Central Division title, and won their first round series against the Washington Bullets before falling to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. Cleveland won 43 games in the next two seasons, but both years resulted in early playoff exits. After a 30-52 season in 1978-79, Fitch resigned as head coach.

After a brief period of ownership shifts and threats of relocation, the Cavs hired George Karl as head coach, and finally returned to the playoffs in 1985, only to lose to eventual Eastern Conference champs, the Boston Celtics. In 1986, Karl was fired after 66 games, capping off a long period of frequent coaching turnovers in the organization. In a seven season period, the Cavs had 9 head coaches. The only playoff appearance during this time was the aforementioned ’85 seasons under Karl.

In 1986, the Cavaliers acquired Brad Daugherty, Mark Price, Ron Harper, and Larry Nance. These players formed the core of a team who, under the direction of new head coach Lenny Wilkens, went to the playoffs eight times in the next nine years, including three 50-plus win seasons. In 1989 and 1992, the resurgent Cavs faced a Michael Jordan-led Bulls team, and fell to them in exciting 5 and 6 game series, respectively.

Soon after this, the Cavaliers entered a period of decline. With the retirements and departures of Nance, Daugherty, and Price, the team lost much of its dominance and were no longer able to contest strongly during the playoffs. After the 1992-93 season, in which the Cavs racked up a 54-28 regular season record but suffered an early exit from the playoffs in the semi-finals to the Bulls, Wilkens left Cleveland to coach the Atlanta Hawks.

Following the hiring of Mike Fratello as head coach starting with the 1993-94 season, the Cavs became one of the NBA’s best defensive teams under the leadership of pointguard Terrell Brandon. But the offense, which was a half-court “slow down” tempo installed by Fratello, met with mixed success. Although the Cavaliers made regular playoff appearances, they were unable to advance beyond the first round.

The Cavs would miss the playoffs for the first time in five years in 1997 going just 40 and 42. The next season was the beginning of a blunder-filled decade for the Cavs. In the 1996 draft the Cavs selected Vitaly Potapanko with the 12th pick, passing on Kobe Bryant who was selected next, they also drafted Zydrunas Illgauskas that year with pick 20. That same off-season the Cavs would trade Brandon in part of a three-team deal which landed them Shawn Kemp.

Initially the Kemp trade looked like it might benefit the Cavs, they got back to the playoffs but lost in four to Indiana, and they won 47 games that season. Kemp would start to become a problem for the team, his production dropped as his alcoholism grew. Kemps problems eventually lead to him being traded to Portland.

The Cavs problems would end here, from 98-04 the Cavs never had a winning season, nor did they make the playoffs. But every thing changed in 2003 when the Cavs once again landed the first overall pick in the draft and took hometown hero Lebron James.

James’ first year in Cleveland saw the team improve from 17 wins to 35 wins, but the team once again failed to make the post season. The following season the Cavs won 42 games for their first winning season since 97-98, but it wasn’t enough to get them into the post season. Finally in 2006 the Cavs won 50 games and made in back to the NBA playoffs after an eight-year absence. The team would beat the Wizards in the first round but would lose to the Pistons in the second.

Going into the 2006-07 season the Cavs had high hopes, but the team once again won only 50 games which was a disappointment to many fans. The playoffs would make every Cavs fan forget about the regular season. The Cavs would get their first ever franchise sweep as they swept the Wizards in four games, than they would beat the New Jersey Nets to get to the Conference finals for just the second time in franchise history. The Cavs once again faced the Pistons, and with the Pistons having won the first two games in Detroit with the series switching back to Cleveland. It looked dismal for the Cavs. The Cavaliers however would respond, the Cavs would win the next four games, including a game five double overtime thriller which James would go for 48 points, and a game six which seen second round pick Daniel Gibson go for 31 points.

By beating the Pistons the Cavaliers reached the NBA finals for the first time, however they would go against the most successful team of its era, the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs toyed with the Cavs for much of the series, and allowed the score to indicate that game was close, which wasn’t the case the Spurs had complete control of the games. The Spurs would win their 4th title, and the Cavs were sent back dejected in the NBA playoffs once again.

In 2008-09, after taking the Boston Celtics to a seventh game, the Cavaliers entered the season with high expectations as LeBron James continued to establish himself as the best player in the NBA. Despite a 90-85 loss on the road to the Celtics, the Cavaliers started the season strong, posting a 26-5 record through the first two months of the season, that had them atop the Eastern Conference, highlighted by an 11 game winning streak. The Cavaliers would go on to finish the season with a franchise best 66-16 record, earning home court throughout the playoffs, where they posted a 39-2 record on the season. Meanwhile Mike Brown was named Coach of the Year and LeBron James won his first ever MVP award as he became the fourth player in NBA history to lead his team in all five major statistical categories (total points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks) in one season. Ousting Detroit in the first round, the Cavs succumbed to the Magic in a five game series to end their stellar season.

Though eliminated in the 2010 playoffs in an exciting six game conference finals with Boston, the future of LeBron James and the Cavaliers would take center stage hanging over the remainder of the NBA Playoffs. When the free agency period began, James set up space in an office as teams came to court him. The City of Cleveland hoped they had a home court advantage, with the slogan, “Born Here, Plays Here, and Stays Here” They even had local celebrities and politicians serenade the King with a We Are the World like song, hoping they could win his heart. However, flash mobs, money and love were not enough as LeBron James in a Televised special announced he would join friends Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade with the Miami Heat. The same fans who showered LeBron with love not felt like a scorned lover as they burnt his jersey and tore down the sign that become a symbol of downtown Cleveland. Owner Dan Gilbert expressed his frustrations with a rambling email directed at the two time MVP, questioning his heart and desire while blaming him for not being able to win a ring with the Cavaliers.

Given a terrible Lebron-less season that has come to a close, there is much heart mending and roster bolstering to be done to boost the morale of a formerly winning team. With no NBA title in franchise history, this scorned city looks to come back next season and make a statement. But can they put aside their bruised pride to do so? Look for us tomorrow, as we discuss what needs to happen to bring the magic (and no, I don’t mean Dwight Howard’s team) back to Cleveland.