The Hot Corner: That Adrian Peterson Case…

Oh my.  Well, the NFL ruling on Adrian Peterson came down yesterday, and it was about what I expected – a suspension for the rest of the season.  And you knew it was going to come down hard after he basically rebuked the NFL’s hearing on Friday, issuing a statement afterwards pointed at the NFL’s disciplinary inconsistencies.  Odd the timing there, poking the bear after it was already awake and growling at you.

What I found most awful about the ruling, though, wasn’t the decree itself, but the ridiculously paternalistic wording of Goodell in it, in which he basically chided Peterson for his behavior, and went on about his lack of remorse.  Now, maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure Roger Goodell is supposed to be judging Peterson about his remorse or lack thereof.  Who is he to make that call?  If Goodell had a degree in psychology, maybe that’d be fair play, but he doesn’t – he has a degree in economics.  Goodell scolding Peterson over his remorse would be like Peterson offering Ryan Suter tips on his slapshot.  Except that what Goodell is doing is really worse – he’s using his opinion as part of the formula in his ruling.

You see, here’s the thing.  Peterson owes the NFL nothing – his case was a criminal case, which proceeded through normal criminal channels.  He was suspended and stayed quiet for the duration.  He pleaded to a misdemeanor and avoided a felony count as a result.  And the NFL, to its serious discredit, does not have a concrete disciplinary process in existence.  This is really the crux of the matter – punishments are inconsistent and impossible to predict, and generally speaking, trying to fight a punishment only means more punishment.  Goodell is, after all, the judge, jury, executioner, and appeals judge of the NFL.  And so far, there’s no set standard for discipline, no roadmap to follow that tells a player “if I do this, I can expect that to happen to me.”  The NFLPA and Adrian Peterson are right about that – the process is almost completely arbitrary, and I have a hunch that Goodell likes it that way.

Which is why I’m not surprised by this situation.  If you ask me, the NFLPA is taking an opportunity to really push back on Goodell here; they’re using the Peterson case as a highlight.  Remember – Ray Rice only got a 2-week suspension for knocking his wife out until more incriminating evidence came out, at which point the entire process became a colossal clusterfuck for the NFL.  And everything since then has hinged on that – the NFL is willing to demolish Adrian Peterson to help salvage the brand.  And I think the NFLPA realizes that.  I sincerely doubt Adrian Peterson spurned Goodell’s wish for a hearing last Friday on his own; I have no doubt that he had a union rep in his ear, telling him that if he wanted any leverage of his own, he had to buck up against Goodell.  And, in reality, that’s bullshit – Goodell is happy to rain fire on AP and has the leverage to do so, especially since public opinion of AP is kinda low, even here in Minnesota.  It helps that there’s a nice out in his contract for the Vikings after this year, too.  But I think the NFLPA recognizes that this is a golden opportunity – a high profile case that highlights the inconsistencies of the NFL’s process – that they can use as a platform in a long-term game to push back on Goodell.  Maybe not this year, maybe not the next, but you can almost feel the NFLPA gearing up for a showdown as players become increasingly frustrated with the process.

Now, I should reiterate here – I in no way defend Adrian Peterson’s actions.  Child abuse is a heinous crime.  However, it is a crime that many people still consider to be standard behavior, an accepted and lauded way to raise a well-mannered child.  The downside is that punishing people doesn’t educate them.  Adrian Peterson has been remarkably tone-deaf during this entire process, which tells me two things – first, that this type of discipline was very firmly ingrained in his upbringing, and second, that no one seems to be teaching him otherwise.  When the news first broke, I remember thinking of what a great PR opportunity it was for the NFL after Ray Rice – they could suspend AP for awhile, during his legal proceedings, and really push the education angle; get AP some classes, teach him, and let him be a spokesperson against child abuse going forward.  But that didn’t happen.

See, here’s where the real problem lies – the NFL likes to think of its players as role models for communities and children.  Let me be the first to say that is a patently absurd idea.  Football players are not role models by default; no one is.  Some are, sure – Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, whatever.  But if the NFL wants to have guys front-and-center in the public arena, maybe they should pick and choose and vet these guys a bit.  Because frankly, many NFL players are not role models – they’re just people, many from impoverished backgrounds, trying to make a living.  A living that they make by playing an incredibly violent, incredibly macho sport.  Just because you strap on a helmet, end up on TV, and can catch a ball doesn’t make you a hero to me.  This isn’t just a football thing, either – it goes for all sports, and really, all walks of life.  Bill Gates is an admirable philanthropist, but it doesn’t make every Microsoft employee a community role model, you know?

The NFL didn’t always push its players like this – I don’t remember this nonsense growing up.  Some guys were role models, yeah – we loved Barry Sanders in Detroit, for example, and we loved him because he was exceptionally talented and exceptionally humble.  But I don’t remember hearing about crap like this all the time; occasionally, a player did something stupid, but there wasn’t an insane spectacle about it, because no one assumed anyone was looking to said random player to be a role model.  That wasn’t how Paul Tagliabue’s NFL ran.  But it is now Roger Goodell’s NFL runs – every player under the microscope, expected to be a paragon of virtue.  And, lo and behold, that’s not working so well.  Turns out, not every NFL player is a paragon of virtue.  Maybe, just maybe, the solution isn’t to punish these men – these men of adrenaline and strength and machismo who play an ultra-violent sport – perhaps it’s to just let them be who they are, and not cast any kind of special light on that at all, and let normalcy reign.

Adrian Peterson is not a role model.  He’s not a criminal, either.  He’s a football player, a running back.  His job is to run faster than other people or plow them over.  He’s a father whose upbringing taught him to give a rude child a whoopin’.  He’s a man who was never taught otherwise.  You can fault him that, sure.  But I think the failure in this situation goes well beyond Adrian Peterson.

The Hot Corner: Are the Lions for Real? And a bit on V-Mart and AP…

I promised it last week – we’re looking at the Detroit Lions today, and I’m damn happy to be doing it after their win over Miami.

Football’s a strange, fickle thing.  All sports are, really.  You go into the season, every team down on paper looking great or not great, and conclusions are drawn.  Then a funny thing happens – they actually start playing games.  Sometimes those prognostications turn out… sometimes they don’t.

The Lions have looked good on paper for awhile.  Every year for at least four years has been a year of hope for a beleaguered fanbase hungry for… anything.  Success came in 2012 with a playoff appearance, albeit a mercilessly short one.  But that was a young team, still only 4 years removed from the NFL’s only 0-16 season; the loss was expected, a growing pain before better things came along.  But those better things didn’t come along.  Instead, the team became aggressive and undisciplined, perfectly reflecting a coach who (I believe) preached those things behind closed doors.  Jim Schwartz wasn’t a bad coach; he was the absolute right coach for the 0-16 Lions.  But he was not the guy to take them to the playoff promised land.

I didn’t like the Caldwell hire.  I still don’t.  I think Caldwell is fatally bland in his style in a league that rewards a certain amount of moxie.  Caldwell, however, brought in two very worthy up-and-comers to be his coordinators, and they’ve done wonders.  Teryl Austin, the defensive coordinator, in particular, should receive praise upon adulation upon praise this offseason if the Lions continue to do so well.  Joe Lombardi, the offensive coordinator… well, the jury’s still out there.  The offense has been up-and-down, and the players (especially Stafford) still look like they’re adapting to the scheme change.  And, of course, the Lions haven’t fielded a fully healthy offense since Week 1 or 2.

That last part, in particular, gives me an insane amount of hope.  You see, I’ve thrown caution to the wind – I’m drinking the Honolulu Blue & Silver Kool-Aid.  I’m gulping it this year.  Because the Lions look exactly like a Super Bowl winner right now.  Go back through the last several winners – none of them were flawless midseason teams (sorry Denver).  They all looked good, though – but they all needed to take one more step, to find their groove.  This Lions team is 7-2 and has yet to find their groove.  Sure, they’re spot-on defensively, but they have an offense capable of putting up big points that has underperformed so far.  No one’s looking at them yet and realizing that if the offense starts to really click, this team becomes an immediate juggernaut.  Not only that, but this team looks mentally poised for it – they’re all hungry; they’re tired of being doormats, tired of the losing.  They’re excited.  They’re amped.  They don’t seem to think they deserve to win; but they do expect to win.  This is a huge mental leap, and it’s where this season’s luck is going to play huge – they know they can win in the last two minutes when they have a chance to.  Sure, they’ve gotten lucky – but guess what?  All good teams, all Super Bowl winners, snake a few lucky victories in the season – and they learn from them, get an edge from them.

The next three games are big for the Lions.  The Cardinals in Arizona, then the Patriots in Foxboro, then the Bears for Thanksgiving on a short week.  The Arizona game in particular looms large – it’s the meeting of the NFC’s surprise #1 and #2 teams; the winner of that game makes a statement and takes firm hold on the conference 1-seed.  Playing the Brady-led Patriots at Foxboro, well, that’s always a measuring stick of a game.  And Thanksgiving… well, it’s our annual Super Bowl Substitute.  It’s a big game for the fans.  If the Lions can come out of that stretch 2-1 – for a season line of 9-3 – they’ll be golden, with their final four games (not necessarily in this order) against Tampa Bay, Chicago, Minnesota, and Green Bay.  The hope is that the Week 17 matchup in Lambeau will be meaningless for playoff seeding (and that we’ll win anyway).

But make no mistake – this looks like an ascendant Lions team, their flaws aside.  And what flaws I’m seeing, besides the logic-defying kicking problems, seem limited to adjusting to a new scheme and getting everyone healthy.  These early season injuries, though?  The Lions are winning in spite of them, and better now than later – they could field an entirely healthy team in January, and if they do, and if that scheme has settled in and Prater is hitting FGs… well, this team could go all the way.  I’ve never said that about the Lions and felt completely confident about it, but I am now – this is a team that looks like a legitimate Super Bowl contender, and I’m all in.

So, Victor Martinez re-signed with the Tigers.  Who knew?  I wasn’t expecting that.  I guess he must like the team; he is one of the big clubhouse leaders, to be sure.  And the money’s big.  But still, I feel like other teams pursuing him might be better long-term World Series contenders than the Tigers are.  But if the Tigers can add a couple more guys and solidify things, they can still make a good run in 2015.  But we said that about 2014, too, and that didn’t happen.  Still, the re-addition of V-Mart is a huge boost to the lineup and Cabrera in particular, as even if Victor’s numbers return to reality, he remains a potent .300/.300 switch hitter who’ll ensure Miggy sees good pitches.

I have to think they’ll go get Torii Hunter back now.  Even at $5M for one year, it just makes sense if they’re going to make another hard push in 2015.  The outfield prospects aren’t ready yet, and the market isn’t great.  Pick up Torii for another year and give Collins and Moya both a chance to prove themselves or platoon with him.

So this Adrian Peterson seems to be coming to a finale.  What a frustrating thing.  I mean, as a Lions fan, not seeing AP in the Vikings’ backfield is great.  But from a sheer reality perspective, I’m still stunned at what a mess this became.  Part of it was the timing with the Ray Rice incident, and part of it is Minnesotan sensibilities, too, but still.  I feel bad for the guy; he switched his kid and ended up in a mess.  He didn’t know better; it seemed clear that it was how he was raised, and what was expected from a father.  I thought it was a great opportunity for education and tolerance, but things swung the other way.  I just can’t help but think “hey, how is he supposed to know better if no one ever taught him”?  It’s a lot like the Michael Vick situation, in that Vick was only doing what he thought was perfectly normal and acceptable.  Outside of his community, it wasn’t; but he had no way of knowing that, just as AP had no way of knowing.  I doubt Chris Spielman or Leslie Frazier was sitting AP down for parenting lessons.  But maybe they should have been, and I wish the NFL and the Vikings had decided to do that as their course of action.

Now we have an awkward waiting period, as the league is going to decide on AP’s fate now that he pled out to a misdemeanor charge.  That’s pretty bogus, especially since they’re pushing it back to after this weekend.  Why not now?  I’ll tell you why – because I don’t think the Vikings want to face the PR of having to choose to play him or not.  The players and fans will welcome him back, I think, but the organization seems done with him.  They have a pretty nice built-in low cap hit if they cut him this offseason; even without this child abuse scandal, it seemed a very possible course of action, especially after drafting McKinnon.  Now?  It seems all but assured.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Wylfs are whispering in Goodell’s ear right now, telling him to draw this out, to make sure they don’t have to face that choice.  They’d rather him rot on the commissioner’s exempt list rather than risk him playing and rushing his way back into the hearts of fans, then facing the PR flak of cutting him.  As it stands, if he doesn’t play again this year, I don’t think there’ll be much reaction to cutting him in the offseason.  He’ll just be looked at as another Randy Moss-ish figure in Minnesota sports history; immensely talented, fun to watch, beloved, but misunderstood and departed too soon.

The Hot Corner: End of the Tigers / Start of the Red Wings

So, clearly, I’m not great at this blogging thing.  I try, and I fail, then I try again, and fail more.  Looks like we’re back in the try phase, so expect some failure ahead.  But who knows!  Maybe something surprising will happen.

That said, I’ve had a lot of change in my life over the past six months or so, and my changing tastes should reflect in this blog, if I manage to keep it going.  I’ll probably aim to run weekly posts by topic; The Hot Corner, for example, is sports-related.  Behind The Screen might be gaming/television/entertainment-related.  The World According to PW is, well, me on a soapbox.  I’ll figure it out as I go.

Anyway, in this edition of the Hot Corner, as I start my new categorization system in an attempt to get this going and just write more in general, we’re gonna talk hometown teams – my Tigers and my Red Wings, in particular.  I could get to the Lions, but they deserve their own post later, and I think who the Lions are will become clear after they play the Dolphins this week and the Cardinals next week.

So those Tigers.  Anyone who knows me knew that I had approximately zero confidence in them as a playoff team.  It just didn’t look good.  They looked like the weakest team on the slate, and indeed they were.  But I’m far more troubled about their future, which I think is arriving now.  The Tigers have been in the playoffs for four straight years, with the first three culminating in ALCS loss, World Series loss, and ALCS loss.  Like many MLB teams, the Tigers were in full win-now mode, mortgaging the future in order to get that ring.  The ring never came, and the future can only be held off for so long.  The Tigers’ farm system is largely barren, with their best prospects still being fringe Triple-A players after mashing in Double-A (Moya, for example).  Dave Schoenfield succinctly called them the ultimate “stars and scrubs” team last season, something that was true during their entire run, but really highlighted this year; he was dead on, and that issue looks to continue to get worse going forward.

The Tigers sit at a payroll of about $160M right now, today.  That’s not factoring in that their best pitcher – Max Scherzer – and best hitter – Victor Martinez – are departing free agents.  Neither guy seems likely to return; the Tigers look to lean on their well-paid but aging stars in Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera next year, as they will for the next decade, period.  The issue is going to be depth; the issue they’ve had all along.  The Tigers will trot out a reliable rotation of 4 guys next season (Verlander, Sanchez, Price, Porcello), but who fills that fifth spot looks bleak – will it be a bargain free agent add, or will they dive into the Triple-A ranks, perhaps hoping on Robbie Ray, the centerpiece of that terrible Doug Fister deal?  The lineup looks to be equally anemic – another year of Rajai Davis in center field seems likely, as there’s still no in-house center fielder in the organization with Austin Jackson’s departure in that equally terrible David Price deal; likewise, there aren’t any center fielders on the free agent market unless you want to overpay Colby Rasmus.  Alex Avila no longer seems like a reliable catcher; Detroit loves him, but his bat is streaky and he’s injury-prone.  Torii Hunter also left a free agent, leaving right field open; Andy Dirks is also gone.  Next year’s right fielder is a huge question mark, and are we really counting on J.D. Martinez to repeat his success next year?  Ian Kinsler will remain a solid 2B, and I feel confident in the development of Nick Castellanos at 3B… but this is not a lineup that screams horror to other teams anymore.  The Tigers’ stars are so well-paid that the team is ridiculously top-heavy, leaving little room for depth, let alone a full slate of above-average starters.  The only other team I can think of that went down this path was the late-00s Phillies… and they’re still clawing their way out of that hole.  Ugh.

So yes, I am a Tigers pessimist at this point.  They’re simply not good, and are unlikely to get better.  I admit, I would not be surprised if they only win 75 games next season and finish last in an AL Central that’s getting more competitive than people realize.

Let’s move onto brighter topics, then.  The Red Wings look good so far!  This isn’t a surprise here, but I saw a lot of Wings fans whining last season when they failed to land a high-priced right-handed defenseman in free agency.  No one really paid attention to the fact that the Wings don’t operate that way in the salary cap era, but whatever.

What the Red Wings do have is one of the best young cores in hockey, though.  The group of Gus Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, and Danny DeKeyser – among still others – is absolutely unparalleled in the NHL.  All four are continuing their strong play from last season, and look ready to be the next generation of Red Wing leaders.  I’m stoked.  They’re fun to watch, too.  On top of that, the veterans are playing well – Datsyuk looks like himself, and Zetterberg’s beard is as luxurious as ever.  All in all, the Wings look like the Wings – a reliably competent team that plays at a high level every night.  Sometimes puck luck goes their way; sometimes not.  But they did well in their early schedule – a 6-2-2 start is pretty promising.  If they can manage not to get ravaged by injuries for a third straight season, there’s no reason they can’t make a 24th straight playoff appearance and potentially run deep.

The Wings look set – as dynastic as ever.  I’ve said before, the Wings right now remind me of the ’01-’03 era Wings, just without the Cup (which they almost won in 2013, anyway, when they took the Blackhawks to 7 games).  I remember those years, 12 years ago, when Yzerman and Shanahan were on their way out, as the veterans made room for a new guard to flourish.  The same thing is happening now, as Zetterberg and Datsyuk are aging into grizzled veterans – they’re making room for the new guard, the homegrown kids who are going to keep the tradition alive and strong.  That playoff streak?  We’ll keep it going, and we’ll break Boston’s 30-straight.  I’m more certain of it now than I was five years ago when we lost the Cup to Pittsburgh.  This is the youngest the Red Wings have been in a decade, perhaps even since the early ’90s, and the youth they’re bringing up looks absolutely poised for success.

So I guess we take what we can get right now in Detroit.  Business as usual with the Red Wings, however transitional the team is right now, along with the unsurprising decline of the Tigers.  The Lions look promising, which is a nice surprise, too.  It’s not all bad.  We just gotta take what we can get sometimes, and enjoy what we’ve got.

Keeper League, After Week 8…

Missed some weeks there, due to some travel and other various life circumstances.  It’s been bad, though.  Just a lineup that’s not coming together – for every good day or stand-out performance I have per week, I have another that swings the pendulum back.  As a result, my team sits at 34-53-9, good for last place in the league.  There’s been some changes since the end of April, including a trade that just concluded this morning.

My Week 9 roster is:
C – Buster Posey
1B – Chris Davis
2B – Dustin Pedrioa
3B – Pedro Alvarez
SS – Everth Cabrera
1B/3B – Garrett Jones
2B/SS – Jed Lowrie
OF x5 – Starling Marte / Austin Jackson / Nori Aoki / Khris Davis / Marlon Byrd
UTIL – Seth Smith
BENCH – Alex Guerrero / Gregory Polanco

SP x5 – Shelby Miller / Corey Kluber / Tyson Ross / Sonny Gray / Marco Estrada
RP x3 – Aroldis Chapman / Ernesto Frieri / Jonathon Broxton
P x2 (starters) – Rick Porcello / Trevor Bauer

DL x2 – Matt Harvey / Prince Fielder

Well, so much for my grand power trio of Prince, Crush Davis, and Pedro Alvarez.  Prince is gone, Crush is having some predictable regression (but remains a good 9th-round value), and Alvarez is being his streaky self.  When one of them is hot this season, the other is not.  I picked up Marlon Byrd and Seth Smith as they started to heat up, so they’ve helped round out the roster lately.  Garrett Jones was thankfully available after Prince hit the DL; he immediately had a multi-homer game for me, and hasn’t had a hit since.  Great.  At that point, I realized this is probably a lost season for me, so I dumped an extra starting pitcher and picked up Gregory Polanco.  At least I know he’ll be up in a couple weeks probably; Guerrero… well, after getting his ear bitten off, who knows.  But if I’m out of it this season, there’s no reason to give up on holding onto a middle infielder with 20HR+ power.  He’s gotta come up sometime this year.

As for pitching, Alex Wood’s shift to the bullpen made him expendable.  Maybe I’ll pick him up again later if he’s not held already, but I noticed that I’m already loaded for young keeper-potential pitching.  With Corey Kluber and Tyson Ross both looking very worthwhile, Wood was expendable anyway; I don’t want to keep too many pitchers.  Chapman came off the DL, and Frieri (sort of) reclaimed his closer job, so that helped solidify my relievers.  I dropped any holds guys until today, when I picked up Broxton, giving me a 1-2 HD/SV punch when Cincinnati wins.  It’s gonna be feast-or-famine for me there for awhile.

The big trade involved pitching.  In this keeper league, you sign your keepers to contracts; once the contract is up, they return to the draft pool.  Two of my expiring contracts were David Price and Craig Kimbrel.  Last week, I floated some bait to my fellow managers – that my expiring contracts were available for keeper depth.  I looked around at which keeper tiers I wanted to shore up, and who might be open to a trade.  I floated a question to a fellow manager I’ve made trades with before – what would he want for Sonny Gray?  He said Price and Kimbrel.  I said done.

I love Sonny Gray.  Really.  I should have kept him last season – I had him at 25th-round value, but elected to keep Shelby Miller instead at 22nd-round value; while both the A’s and Cards are excellent at working with young pitching, I trusted the Cardinals a little more.  I chose poorly; Gray looks like an absolute beast, and Miller has looked a lot like Lance Lynn in his sophomore season.  However, there’s a silver lining here – whoever I kept between Gray and Miller last season, it would have been a 1-year deal.  This season, perhaps not.  My trade partner drafted Gray in the 8th round, so that’s the value I inherit.  It’s very likely that I keep Gray long-term, freeing up all of my earlier picks for big bats.  But this is a lesson for me – I should have trusted what I saw in the postseason.  Miller was relegated to bullpen duty and barely used; Gray was a stand-out, going toe-to-toe with Verlander in the ALDS and looking mighty impressive doing so.

It’s entirely possible this team bounces back; the potential is there.  But a lot of guys will have to get hot all at the same time to do so.  It’s a lineup full of potential, but so far not much else – as I said, for every day that goes right, the next goes bad.  This past week was a perfect example – my Friday was excellent; the bats were electric with 6 HRs, somewhere around 15 Rs and RBIs, and a .450 average.  It had pulled me and my head-to-head opponent to a 6-6 lock.  Then Saturday and Sunday passed, seeing a combined average of about .120, 0 HRs, and about 5 Rs and 2 RBIs combined over both days.  My team sank to 2-7-3.  It didn’t help that another Corey Kluber gem was spoiled by Rick Porcello and David Price both getting blown apart, too.  But that’s just how it goes sometimes.

The ’13-14 Red Wings – The Streak Goes On…

There’s a lot of hand-wringing in the Detroit media and national media over the Red Wings’ 4-1 exit in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals to the Boston Bruins. Moreso locally than nationally, though. Everyone’s got suggestions – lots of suggestions – with some even suggested that the future of the Streak is in doubt.

Let’s be clear. The future is more secure than it has been in maybe a decade. Did people think this team looked brighter three years ago, when none of the current Youth Corps were up? Sure, the farm team can always look promising, but you still don’t know until they play at the NHL level; besides which, the Wings’ farm always looks promising due to their system of giving kids more time in the minors than most teams do. But really, this team was a lot older and a lot slower three years ago.

Losing stings. The Red Wings lost a tough series to an even tougher opponent. Boston is the Team To Beat this year; the team smarting from their own tough loss in the Cup Final a year ago. They’re built specifically to overcome last year’s roster deficits and to win that Cup this year. I believe they will. There’s no shame to losing to a better team, though, and that’s something it’d be good to see Detroit fans realize this year. Maybe we’re used to being the better team, I don’t know. It’s a shame to lose on bad officiating, or bad bounces, or mental mistakes – but not when the other team simply happens to be better, to be nearer to championship form. Boston is. We aren’t. So it goes.

A large part of this year’s loss was inexperience. The Wings are suddenly a young team, and not in small areas, but in a lot of areas all at once. We got used to watching the Kid Line – Gus Nyquist, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar – score every game in March. They’re speedy, shifty, and crafty kids. They have the most fun when they’re skating fast without much resistance. They get frustrated easily. Sure enough, they skated right into a wall when they met Boston. Boston knew coming in – shut down the kids, and the Wings’ engine might putter out. The kids will learn how to deal with a bigger, more physical team. It’s just a question of time.

Prior to last year, the Red Wings were a team scrambling for answers a lot of the time. Since the salary cap era started, they’ve hugged the cap most years, largely unable to make big moves. To be fair, big moves isn’t their style anyway, but even when it came to re-signing guys, it was problematic. A quick look at the Red Wings’ capgeek page is really quite stunning. There’s a lot of bad contracts coming off the books this season, and don’t forget – the cap goes up a few million this offseason, too. Let’s take a look.

Let’s list a few guys that I’m pretty sure won’t be back. The Red Wings have a serious glut of forwards, with yet a couple more remarkable youngsters still in the minors, and as a result, several veterans lost their jobs as the season went on.
David Legwand – $4.5M
Mikael Samulesson – $3M
Danny Cleary – $1.75M
These three? They’re not coming back. There’s just no room. Criticize the Wings all you want for giving up a promising prospect for Legwand, but with so many good young forwards now with the NHL club and more still in the minors, one prospect was an expendable price to acquire a veteran center to secure a playoff spot in an injury-riddled season. But he doesn’t fit the system and seemed to lose Babcock’s confidence at times. Samuelsson and Cleary, despite being injured, but lost their jobs to younger players, even if no one specifically said that.
Daniel Alfredsson – $3.5M
Todd Bertuzzi – $2.075M
I expect one of these two to be back. I’ve read that Alfie will want to play in Detroit if he plays next year; that said, I’ve also already read that the Wings might scratch him more often to give the veteran more days off to stay healthy next year. Bertuzzi, also, is worth bringing back if there’s room, in a diminished role. He looked excellent in Game 4 with the younger players, providing some size and veteran gamesmanship for them. He has a role on this team if he’s amenable to being a semi-frequent scratch.
Riley Sheahan – RFA
Tomas Tatar – RFA
Gustav Nyquist – RFA (after 2015)
Joakim Andersson – RFA (after 2015)
Tomas Jurco – RFA (after 2015)
Tatar and Sheahan are restricted free agents after this season, with Nyquist, Andersson, and Jurco the same after 2015. I’d expect all four to get rewarded with long-term contracts now. Sheahan, Tatar, Nyquist, and Jurco are building blocks for the future. In fact, I look at Nyquist and Sheahan in a similar light as I did Datsyuk and Zetterberg in the early ’00s – these guys are the future. Andersson is of lesser repute, but he’s a good grinder, and can be a solid contributor as a 3rd/4th-line wing or center. I can imagine a reliable 4th line of Miller-Glendening-Andersson for years to come; that’s a line with size, grit, and the ability to score every night.

On defense, a similar situation plays out.
Kyle Quincey – $3.775M
Danny DeKeyser – RFA
Brendan Smith – RFA (after 2015)
After these three, the defense is locked up long-term. I hate to make comparisons to legends, as I do above, but DeKeyser looks like a young Nick Lidstrom in lots of ways. The Wings have to recognize that he’s our second-best defenseman and needs to be locked up. DeKeyser’s conservative back-end play makes him the perfect companion for a pinch-happy partner like Smith or Jonathon Ericsson. Smith, similarly, looks like a good investment in the future. He’s developed very well since his call-up last year and benefits from playing with Kronwall or DeKeyser. He’s probably our third-best defenseman after those two, having displaced Ericsson in the top-3. Either way, a top four of Kronwall/DeKeyser/Smith/Ericsson isn’t bad at all. I don’t imagine Quincey will come back; if the Wings want to splurge on another defenseman, they can do better. The ideal situation is that Jakub Kindl continues to develop, as he’s locked up for several years at a $2.4M cap hit that makes him seem an unlikely trade asset. However, it’s no secret that the Wings are thin on defense – especially if Quincey is not re-signed, their only depth is in youth. If the Wings do make any free agent splashes, expect it on the back end.

As for the goalies…
Jonas Gustavsson – $1.5M
The Monster was good this year. Make no mistake. But he’s expensive for a back-up netminder, and the honest truth is that Petr Mrazek deserves to be a full-time NHL backup. I don’t see Gustavsson back unless he takes a discount, and quite frankly, it seems more fair to let Mrazek play his game at the next level rather than consign him to another year of AHL action (which he dominated this season).

So do some math. If we assume that Gustavsson, Quincey, Cleary, Samuelsson, Legwand, Alfredsson, and Bertuzzi are all gone after this season… that means the Wings shed $20.1M in cap space. Now, with all those guys gone, let’s see where the holes are in the lineup, line by line. I’ll be including the RFAs.

Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Abdelkader / D: Kronwall-Ericsson
Nyquist-Sheahan-Tatar / D: DeKeyser-Smith
Franzen-Weiss-Jurco / D: Lashoff-Kindl
Miller-Helm-Glendening / G: Howard-Mrazek
Depth: Andersson

Uh. That’s a complete lineup. Let’s get that for a second. That’s a COMPLETE line-up, and not a bad-looking one, and the Wings will have $20M to throw around before the cap even goes up. Yes, there is a need for depth. Yes, an Alfredsson re-signing looks attractive. Yes, Weiss is a huge question mark. But let’s face it. The future is not bleak. The Wings will have the highest amount of cap space they’ve had since the cap era started, and they’ll have it in a year where they don’t have gaping holes to fill. The fact is, lots of the money will go toward re-signing the restricted free agents, and locking up the young players long-term to be our fixed building blocks. But even then, the assumption has to be that there will still be a princely sum left over.

I’ve got no worries, and for the first time since watching Lidstrom and Rafalski retire… I truly look forward to the future of the Red Wings. It was a tough season this year. Injuries and the fight to continue the Streak. But honestly? This was the rebuilding year. The young players will gain experience, and will improve. But that Streak? It’s good. It’s good for years to come. The record is 29 years, held by the dynastic Bruins of old. I look at the above, and I think about what the Wings went through this year… and I honestly have no doubt we’ll break that record.

Keeper League, After Week 4…

Ugh. I had a 2-8-2 week, dropping my season to 19-26-3, good for 10th of 12. The week wasn’t that awful – I didn’t get blown out. In fact, it was very close on the batting categories – runs tied, lost HRs by 1, lost RBIs by 5, lost SB by 2, and lost AVG by .004 (.242 to .246). Meanwhile, my opponent just had a brilliant week of pitching – his pitchers gave him a ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP under 1.00 for the week. He had 10 QS. Wow. I mean, there’s not much to do about that except tip your hat and hope for luck to swing similarly your way sometime later.

I keep waiting for my roster to just put it together, but it’s not happening yet, and that power outage mentioned previously remains a large problem. However, I started to try and address what I felt were going to be long-lasting roster deficiencies this week, so changes came.

My Week 5 roster is:
C – Buster Posey
1B – Prince Fielder
2B – Dustin Pedrioa
3B – Pedro Alvarez
SS – Everth Cabrera
1B/3B – James Loney
2B/SS – Jed Lowrie
OF x5 – Starling Marte / Austin Jackson / Nori Aoki / Khris Davis / Alejandro De Aza
UTIL – Matt Joyce
BENCH – Alex Guerrero

SP x6 – David Price / Shelby Miller / Corey Kluber / Zack Wheeler / Tyson Ross / Alex Wood
RP x3 (closers) – Craig Kimbrel / Sergio Santos / Jonathon Broxton
P x2 (setup) – Ernesto Frieri / Adam Ottavino

DL x3 – Matt Harvey / Aroldis Chapman / Chris Davis

I floated some trade bait to my league early last week, offering both speed and saves to anyone who needed. One league member expressed a strong desire to obtain Francisco Rodriguez. I didn’t love his roster, but I did see a potential upgrade for me in Jed Lowrie – I was already a little concerned at my lack of a second SS-eligible player. He relented a bit, so I offered him a choice of Dustin Ackley or Emilio Bonifacio. He offered me Jed Lowrie and Joel Peralta for Bonifacio and K-Rod. I pounced on it. The trade looked good to me on multiple levels, with the league format being a large part of it. Lowrie carried a C12 value, and Peralta E19; on my end, Bonifacio carried F23 value, and K-Rod F25. In short, not only did I gain a big upgrade in Lowrie, I gained an extra C-tier and extra E-tier slot to deal with. This was important to me and the sole reason I pursued Peralta; my E-tier draft choices were Guerrero and Kluber, both guys I want to hang onto. The extra E-tier slot I got from Peralta gives me some room to play there. Meanwhile, Lowrie gives me a potentially reliable keeper option over Nori Aoki, who’s started slow, or Zack Wheeler, although he’s looking sharper lately. So it was both a win-now trade, in that I think Lowrie makes my lineup better, but it’s also looking to the future and next season.

I dropped Peralta to pick up Ottavino. I had planned to stick with Peralta, who generates holds reliably, but the Colorado reliever has been remarkably solid since he came up last season, and seemed worth a flier. In other news, Frieri finally got removed from his closer role. I’m not too worried there; I’ll carry him for the moment and see if he gains it back. I expect he will. In the meantime, I’ve got 3 guys reliably getting me saves, with Chapman coming back soon probably. If Frieri doesn’t pick it up, I’ll worry about it later.

Lineup-wise, I dropped Ackley finally to pick up James Loney, hoping that Tampa’s recent surge holds on and that his slow start was an aberration. Remember, I originally drafted Loney and dropped him for Bonifacio. At any rate, I could easily observe a need for more RBIs in my lineup, and Loney is more likely to produce than Ackley. The other major move I made was dropping Carl Crawford for Alejandro de Aza. I’ve always liked de Aza, and I expect his slow start to taper off, especially in that hot White Sox lineup. I don’t think the White Sox run production is a flash in the pan; I think that’s the best lineup in the AL Central, hands down. I had originally wanted Avisail Garcia, but with him down, de Aza looks safe. Another league member dropped him due to his slow start, but I’m a believer. Besides which, I’ve noticed that the Dodgers are sitting Crawford regularly against lefties – I need a daily player, even in my 5th OF spot. I see de Aza as an upgrade over Crawford; their SB totals will likely be similar at the end of the year, but de Aza will probably hit 10 more HRs.

Beyond that, seeing Chris Davis hit the DL is just another blow. I picked up Matt Joyce to fill the hole temporarily, although I’ll be watching for better options over the course of the week.

I have to keep believing this lineup will produce eventually, but another sub-.500 week might see me drop an active player and put my second bench spot to work holding Gregory Polanco. I have to wonder if it’s worth holding onto Guerrero, but the numbers he’s putting up in Triple-A are pretty serious. With this season going the way it has so far, I suppose it’s all the more reason to hold onto Guerrero as a second-half upgrade or a future keeper at the keystone. And if my season does end up going bust, I’ll have plenty of expiring contracts to offer to contenders for potential keeper depth.

Keeper League, After Week 3…

Week 3 saw me drop a 5-7 week, leaving me hovering around a mid-line. On the plus side, no one’s really running away with anything early – in fact, I’m in 6th place overall in the league right now and 4 GB from the top spot in my division. Not that it’s a huge deal at this juncture, but it’s like they say in real baseball – you can’t win the pennant in April, but you can lose it.

I won a couple categories by a narrow margin this week, and lost a couple by a narrow margin. All in all, it was a close week, so I’m not too discouraged by the sub-.500 performance.

My Week 4 roster is:
C – Buster Posey
1B – Prince Fielder
2B – Dustin Pedrioa
3B – Pedro Alvarez
SS – Everth Cabrera
1B/3B – Chris Davis
2B/SS – Dustin Ackley
OF x5 – Starling Marte / Austin Jackson / Nori Aoki / Khris Davis / Carl Crawford
UTIL – Emilio Bonifacio
BENCH – Alex Guerrero

SP x6 – David Price / Shelby Miller / Corey Kluber / Zack Wheeler / Tyson Ross / Alex Wood
RP x3 (closers) – Craig Kimbrel / Ernesto Frieri / Francisco Rodriguez
P x2 (closer/setup) – Sergio Santos / Jonathon Broxton
DL x2 – Matt Harvey / Aroldis Chapman

No real changes. I continue to shuffle my fifth reliever, but I’ve settled on Broxton. He was sitting on the wire when he came back from the DL, so I decided to pick him up. I might be punting holds for the moment, but when Chapman comes off from the DL, I’ll have a holds-saves combo. That’s a bit of a high risk/reward scenario, but it can work rather nicely, and I do enjoy having at least one team’s setup/closer combo working for me. I’ve investigated picking up Kimbrel’s set-up man, but haven’t succeeded in a trade yet, and I’m not as sure about David Carpenter as I am Jonathon Broxton. That said, I do need to start looking at dealing a closer with Chapman coming back in a month or so. The downside is that the two guys I’d be most open to trading – Santos and Frieri – are busy setting their teams on fire. We’ll see what happens.

The other major issue the lineup is showing is a simple power outage, still. I’m second-to-last in the league in home runs, and that’s not going to change until Chris Davis and Prince Fielder start to heat up. If my big three power guys – Davis, Fielder, Alvarez – are erratic all year, it could spell doom for me. I’m also counting on wild cards like Austin Jackson and Khris Davis to give me 20 or so HRs to help. However, I do lead the league in stolen bases. I might have to look to deal speed for power at some point, but so far I think I’m simply a victim of slow starts. My lineup is too set to really go make a desperation waiver wire add, too; the most droppable guy on my roster is Bonifacio, but damnit, he just keeps hitting and stealing bases. I could try to deal him, but I don’t think anyone in my league is going to bite on a small early season sample size from a guy with his history. The next most likely idea would be to deal Aoki for a 20HR-potential bat, but that seems unlikely until he heats up, too.

Pitching is… questionable, at this point. I end up with respectable ERAs each week, but my WHIP is high. In fact, I have the worst WHIP in the league. I just need guys to make it happen. Miller seems to be getting his act together, at least. Wheeler has done okay but not great. Alex Wood has really caught on, though, as has Tyson Ross. Corey Kluber’s not inspiring confidence yet, though. Yet again, it’s a lineup I’m not losing faith in… there’s just no one out there with the same upside if I were to let Wheeler or Kluber go. Best to just keep riding it out.