Peacocks Dancing into History

In one of the greatest Cinderella stories of all time, the 15-seeded Saint Peter’s Peacocks have shocked the college basketball world, not once, not twice, but three times. After pulling a stunning upset in the first round over blue-blood 2-seeded Kentucky, the Peacocks raced past 7-seeded Murray State en route to the Sweet 16. If the run ended there, it would still have been incredible, improbable, and historic. It was already one of the most unlikely stories in the history of the NCAA Tournament and then they did something no 15-seed has ever done: won in the Sweet 16 over 3-seed Purdue and moved on to the Elite Eight. The first ever 15-seed to advance to the Elite Eight is the Saint Peter’s Peacocks.

Let’s take a look at just how unlikely the Saint Peter’s story really is in NCAA Tournament history. The odds of a 15-seed beating a 2-seed in the first round are miniscule. They became just the 10th team to accomplish the feat in the 37 years of a 64-team field, compared to 138 losses. The odds of the 15-seed advancing to the 2nd game is just 6.3%. Then taking it one step further, in the round of 32, the odds of a 15-seed making the Sweet 16 before the tournament starts are 1.4%. The Peacocks became just the 3rd 15-seed to make the Sweet 16. That alone puts them in an elite category and cements their place in history. Taking it one step further, pre-tournament there was a 0.0% chance of Saint Peter’s making the Elite Eight because it had never been done. Now, after upsetting 3-seed Purdue, Saint Peter’s is in a tier unlike any team in history and they aren’t satisfied.

The drive and determination of the David vs Goliath story is inspiring. In their post game press conference following the win over Purdue, guard Doug Ebert said “We’re happy… We aren’t satisfied.” The team doesn’t play like they’re just happy to advance this far, the Peacocks are playing to win it all. The little program from Jersey City, NJ is on the biggest stage and performing with the bright lights shining. Why shouldn’t they be confident? They’ve taken down 3 very strong teams thus far and haven’t shown signs of slowing down. Their defensive effort has been strong and their head coach Shaheen Holloway believes they have another level they can reach. If that’s true, we could be talking about this team setting even more “firsts” over the next few days.

When looking at finances, Saint Peter’s is at an incredible disadvantage compared to every other team. Their 2019 men’s basketball operating expenses were just over $250,000, which is miniscule in college basketball. That number is 60% of Murray State’s expenses which are already small and a tiny fraction of every major program in the country. That essentially means the recruiting budget is tiny, the coach’s salary is tiny, and the facilities budget is severely lacking. They are the perfect example of money doesn’t always dictate success.

Roll on Peacocks!!

Shocking Return of a Super Bowl Hero

The New England Patriots reunited with a old friend on Wednesday. The Super Bowl XLIX hero who was benched a few years later in Super Bowl LII has returned to wear the flying Elvis logo. CB Malcolm Butler signed a 2-year deal to come back to the Patriots after being released from the retired list by Arizona last month. Just when you thought you’ve seen it all with Bill Belichick, he pulls an extremely surprising heal-turn. The relationship had clearly soured leading up to Super Bowl LII, which was ultimately his last game in a Patriots uniform (the first stint) despite his pivotal role on the defense. All the personal aside, the Patriots are in desperate need for defensive back depth after losing top CB J.C. Jackson and Butler is certainly a guy who can step right in and contribute.

When the news came out that they brought Butler in for a visit a few days ago, I was shocked and figured it was just them kicking the tires on as many players as possible. To have the visit result in a 2-year up to $9 million contract is jaw-dropping. What must the conversations have been like when they were negotiating or asking him to sign in New England? Was Bill involved in the conversation and if so, did they talk about the benching in Super Bowl LII? I have so many questions about how this all went down and what the future will bring for this rekindled relationship.

Butler was responsible for one of the greatest plays in Patriots postseason history and will forever be remembered for that moment. Down 4 pts with 26 seconds remaining and the ball on the 1-yard line, rather than handing it off to their powerful RB Marshawn Lynch, QB Russell Wilson dropped back and threw a slant pass in the direction of WR Tyler Lockett. Butler read the play and stepped in front to intercept the pass and seal the Super Bowl victory. The Patriots win probability before the play was 12%, but it felt even lower watching it in real time. That one beautiful play forever cemented his name in Patriots lore.

In his 4 seasons with the Patriots, Butler amassed 8 INTs, 47 passes deflected, 4 forced fumbles and 172 solo tackles. He made one Pro Bowl and won 2 Super Bowl rings. The Patriots may have had a third ring if he wasn’t benched in Super Bowl LII and the defense allowed 41 points to Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles. CB Eric Rowe took his place in the game and allowed 137 yards on 6/7 against him. It’s to this day one of the more puzzling decisions I’ve seen Bill Belichick make. A player who can contribute and help you win a championship is essentially a healthy scratch for the Super Bowl. Obviously whatever the real reason for the benching is ancient history.

This could be a sneaky good move for the Patriots. Butler is not J.C. Jackson and the defensive back group is definitely not as good as last year, but Butler is a low-risk, high reward signing. After three seasons with the Tennessee Titans, Butler signed with the Arizona Cardinals. He ended up leaving the team for personal reasons at the end of camp and decided to sit out 2021. Butler could be fresher and more motivated to prove himself at 32 years old. The Patriots clearly like what they saw when he visited this week, which makes me think he’s still got the skills. He’s a veteran who knows what it’s like to win in New England and knows what it takes to make a deep playoff run. He knows the play book and despite being gone for 5 seasons, should be able to fall right back into the routine. It’s certainly possible this doesn’t work, but I have a sneaky feeling it will be a great reunion.

Now that the big free agents are gone, it may be time for some more bargain signings and perhaps a trade or two to get this Patriots roster back to playoff ready. Did somebody say wide receiver?

Hard Fought Battle Leads to the Sweet 16

The UConn Women’s basketball team faced one of their toughest battles on Monday night as they faced off against 7-seed UCF at Gampel Pavilion. The record 4,000 students were loud and raucous while they watched the best defensive team in the country, UCF Knights, muck up the game in an extreme way. The low-scoring, foul-filled contest was a true test for the Huskies, and in the end, the UConn Women’s basketball team set a new NCAA record as they punched their ticket to the 28th consecutive Sweet 16. It was ugly, but the Huskies did just enough to survive and advance.

UCF is the best defensive team in the country and they showed that tremendous strength on Monday night. They jumped into passing lanes, used the double-team liberally, and made physical plays in the paint on every single trip down the floor for the Huskies. The forced turnovers and bad shots for UConn and really put them on their heals on the offensive end. On their own offensive end, it was a completely different story. UCF committed 20 turnovers and at times looked completely lost in the half court. That’s partially thanks to the tough UConn defense and their ability to force UCF into mistakes. The Huskies exploited UCF’s offensive weakness and that ultimately was their demise. There aren’t many situations where a team is +7 in turnovers and gets the W.

This game was a tremendous test for the Huskies early in the tournament. They had to scrap and hustle during every possession and had to fight back after being down early. They got in foul trouble, some legitimate and some awful refereeing, and had both Aaliyah Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa foul out in the final few minutes and were able to overcome those losses. They got contributions from up and down the lineup when they needed them the most and were able to pull ahead for the 5-point victory. My hope is that being able to win in a game of this style will give this team confidence that they can continue their deep run into the tourney, especially against a team where the familiarity factor was significant.

Azzi Fudd showed her growth during her freshman season by leading the team with 16 points and 2 rebounds. When they needed her the most, she hit 4 threes and helped UConn reach the 50-point threshold, which was the mark for this type of game. She also was perfect from the free throw line (4-4), showing poise and maturity beyond her years. The only other Husky in double-digits was Christyn Williams, who finished the game with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 1 block and 1 steal. Her senior leadership was key at moments when the team was getting frustrated.

It’s not likely that UConn will face a defensive team quite like UCF in the remainder of the tournament. Their Sweet 16 matchup, 3-seed Indiana, is a middle-of-the-pack defensive team. UConn should be able to hopefully score more than 52 points and play more of their style of basketball. After crushing 14-seed Charlotte in the first round, Indiana struggled to get past #11 Princeton. Indiana has very balanced scoring, with 5 players averaging 10+ points per game. They are led by a senior G Grace Berger who had 18 and 15 points respectively in their first two tournament games.

Fortunately for the Huskies they have a week to rest up and get ready for their matchup with Indiana.

Red Sox Make Big Splash in Free Agency

After sitting back and watching everyone else in the division get better, the Red Sox jumped into the big-name free agent pool and made a big splash. The Red Sox signed SS Trevor Story to play 2B and instantly the defense and lineup improved. The righty was not the top free agent in a loaded infield class, but he’s a guy who will have an impact on day one and is locked in long term (6 or 7 years). This is by far the biggest contract Chaim Bloom has signed as Red Sox GM (by about $125 million) and it’s clear he felt this team needed a big bat and improved defense to be competitive this season. Here we go!

Story spent his whole career in Colorado, which can produce some odd home/road splits which will raise some eyebrows. The thin air allows the ball to travel further than other places, but there has been some research lately that the impact of the splits in Colorado is not as significant as it once was thought. Regardless of the impact of a thin air bump, Story has a ton of power and some speed. He is a career .272 hitter with 158 HRs and 100 stolen bases in 6 seasons. Last year was a bit of an off-year for him, with a lower average (.251), but he was still able to blast 24 HRs in 142 games. His swing should fit Fenway Park very well, with most of his power to left field. He definitely has opposite field power as well, but looking at his spray chart from last year tells the story. A shorter distance to the wall at Fenway should lead to a bump in extra base hits putting dents in the monster and homeruns onto Lansdowne St. Additionally, he now has a strong group of hitters around him in the lineup, so should get some better pitches to hit.

Chart from Baseball Savant

The one unknown is that Story has not played 2B in the majors in his career (and just a little in the minors), but as a talented defensive SS, he should be able to pick it up over time and settle in there. Fans should be prepared for some shaky moments early on considering it’s a fairly significant shift to change sides of the diamond and get comfortable with double play throws, especially with a super-compressed Spring Training and now an even shorter runway to get in defensive reps. That being said, once he settles in, the infield defense, especially range, will be significantly improved over a year ago.

The contract locks Story in for 6 years, with a 4th year opt-out, and a potential 7th year add-on. The 29 year old provides some insurance for if/when Xander Bogaerts decides to test free agency and potentially move on, but until then, the Red Sox may have the best infield in baseball. The defense up the middle is A+ (especially when you think of Jackie Bradley Jr. in center) and all 4 infielders (assuming Bobby Dalbec at 1B) can hit for power. This certainly makes the Red Sox lineup a lot more feared top to bottom and hopefully covers the pitching staff a bit if they aren’t quite as strong without a healthy Sale (or just in general).

Now that they have made the big lineup/defensive splash, it’s time for Bloom to bring in an outfielder to round out the offense and a starter to solidify the rotation. If he does that, this team might be in the playoff hunt, even with the new power throughout the AL East.

March Sadness for UConn

To say Thursday night’s matchup with New Mexico State was frustrating would be the understatement of the year. The dreaded 12/5 upset in the NCAA Tournament reared its ugly head once again and UConn made an early exit for the second straight year. It was a disappointing way to end what could be the final season for several Huskies who have had a significant imprint on the rebuild of this program. There will be lots of time for reflection as the Huskies lick their wounds and regroup for next season, but here are some rash and not well-thought out initial reactions on the season.

Despite a really strong year and some monster performances from the senior guards, R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin, it felt like this team couldn’t quite get over the hump on so many occasions. Several close losses and tough finishes in games that they could, and should, have won. On top of that, this year was filled to the brim with more missed layups than I think I’ve ever seen. There were games where the unofficial count was in double-digits and often the missed gimmie shots really hurt their ability to grab momentum or win. Those missed shots and missed opportunities for wins came back to bite them in the end, as they sat on the brutal 5/12 line. A few more made shots and game closeouts and they are a 4 or even a 3 seed.

All that aside, they were also handed an awful matchup in a team that mirrors them in so many ways, but has what UConn did not: a star guard. New Mexico State has the x-factor guard that UConn has had in the past, and I wanted Cole to be, but he just isn’t quite at that level. He’s an amazing player and I’m grateful for all of his contributions, but he was never the guy that would consistently put the team on his back and be able to win games one-on-one. Some of that in stretches, absolutely, but not consistently with a minute on the clock in a close game. That was the piece that was missing from what could have been a nice NCAA Tournament run.

The other factor is Adama Sanogo. He would have stretches of being the most dominant player on the floor and even in the conference, but would struggle when opponents had size and were super physical. You could see his frustration on Thursday night that seeped into his mental state when he had opportunities to finish. He would rush the layup when he had time and missed a few 1 ft lay-ins that really seemed to mentally impact him. He will continue to get better and he has a legitimate shot at being the best big man in the country next season, but only if he learns how to take a breath and be a little more patient with the finish in close.

This team has given me such joy and heartache this year. They are a group you wanted to believe in and at times rewarded the fan loyalty with huge moments, like the win over then #8 Villanova that led to the first court storm in years for the Huskies. This team and these players have continued the rebuild under Dan Hurley and again took another step towards reinstalling the winning culture in Storrs, despite not moving past the first round for the second straight year. The fact the team is in the tournament for the 2nd straight year feels like miles ahead of where this program was 5 years ago. Much of that progress is thanks to the seniors and veteran leaders Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley who came back for another year of eligibility to continue the growth with Cole and Martin. The loss in no way diminishes the critical role they have had in making UConn relevant again.

Looking at next year, I have to wonder if we haven’t see the end of Cole and/or Martin in a UConn uniform. Neither seem to be near the top of draft boards and while there will likely be professional basketball opportunities, they might end up being overseas or not as lucrative. If they come back next year, UConn would have to be considered among the favorites to win the Big East and make another NCAA Tournament run (with hopefully better results). Another year in college could help them continue to move the program forward and mentor the strong freshman and sophomore class, guiding the next wave of Huskies. The rotation would be deeper and stronger than they’ve had in years, while allowing the younger players to grow into their roles as the next leaders on the team.

If this is the end, despite their flaws and my frustrations at times, this senior class has made me care and believe in the Huskies like I haven’t in a long time. Despite the tough matchup with New Mexico State on paper, my gut and heart told me this group of players had the potential to make a deep tournament run. They returned the feeling that UConn had every single year with Jim Calhoun at the helm and reinvigorated the fan base in a huge way. The future is bright at least in part thanks to these four players.

For now, I’m going to enjoy the rest of the NCAA Tournament and try to forget about their performance on Thursday night. Bleed blue.

Sale’s Injury Puts the Red Sox in a World of Hurt

As Spring Training is back in full swing and players are working to get ready after a delayed start, news is flowing like fine wine. This player is looking good, this player won’t switch positions, this player is ready for a breakout. The one piece of news that no one wants to hear: this player has an injury. The news quickly spread on Wednesday morning that Chris Sale has a stress-fracture in his rib. The ace starter who is coming off of Tommy John surgery is now on the shelf again and will not be ready for opening day. That is not the news Red Sox fans wanted to hear.

The initial report is that the fracture has been healing and isn’t expected to be a long-term issue, but when Chaim Bloom says “We’re still trying to get a read on it. He’s doing much better than he was a week ago, but we have to get him rotating and throwing and then build him up. Again, we’re talking weeks, not days before he’s throwing again,” there is cause for concern. In an already shortened and compressed Spring Training, the loss of any time for a pitcher is significant, especially one who is going to need to build up his strength and stamina already coming off of major surgery. This isn’t an injury that will allow Sale to begin pitching, just with limited capacity, it’s going to prevent him from twisting and throwing, which is pretty important for a, oh I don’t know, pitcher.

The other component is the uncertainty of bone healing and timing. For some, a bone could heal fairly quickly and be back to 100% and for others it could take quite a bit of time to fully heal. As much as Bloom indicated it’s healing and moving in the right direction, I have serious concerns and hesitations when it comes to Sale’s ultimate return timeline. My gut is that we won’t see a full strength, up-to-speed Sale now until mid-season at the earliest, which is a massive concern as the Yankees and Blue Jays (especially) are stacking their lineups and improving significantly. The Red Sox have brought in some pitching depth this offseason so far, but with more games compressed in fewer days, losing a major piece of the rotation puts them at a large disadvantage.

Coming into the season I expected Sale to need time to build up and expected pitch and innings limits in April and perhaps the beginning of May, but now that timeline is pushed at least a month or (hopefully not) two. There is no doubt this is an early blow to the Red Sox rotation.

NCAA Men’s Tournament: West Region Preview

The UConn Men’s basketball team is going dancing for the 2nd straight year after a 5-year gap. UConn has earned it’s highest seed since 2011 and was considered by the committee to be the 17th overall ranked team and #1 ranked 5-seed. While all of that is positive and to be in the NCAA Tournament is a goal every year, the committee certainly didn’t do UConn any favors putting them in the West Region. For me it’s the toughest region of them all in 2022 and the top seeds are an absolute gauntlet to run through if a team wants to play the Cinderella role, and there are some interesting Cinderella options. Let’s take a look at what makes this region so challenging.

The top 4 seeds in the region are #1 Gonzaga (#1 overall), #2 Duke, #3 Texas Tech, and #4 Arkansas. The Zags are the #1 overall team, not surprisingly, and they are paired with the lowest #2, #3, and #4, but they are far from easy matchups. There is certainly debate about Duke being a #2 seed and while I can understand the argument, that’s far from a favorable #2 paired with the Zags. The Blue Devils in March are always a tough matchup and know how to win in big tournament games. Whether they were playing their best basketball down the stretch or not seems not to matter, especially when they are playing for Coach K in his final season.

The #3 Texas Tech Red Raiders have had a really strong year in the Big 12, finishing 3rd in the regular season and 2nd in the conference tournament, losing to #1 seed Kansas in the title game. All 9 losses on the season for the Red Raiders were to quad 1 teams (8 wins) and they are ranked 9th in NET out of 358 teams. The Red Raiders are one of the toughest defensive teams in the country, ranking 1st out of all 358 teams in adjusted defense according to KenPom. Texas Tech is a veteran-led team that is a tough matchup for most anyone and certainly not an easy #3.

Not to be outdone, the lowest #4 seed Arkansas, is anything but an easy draw (and would be UConn’s 2nd game opponent if the bracket goes chalk). Arkansas turned themselves into one of the best defensive teams in the country later in the season and went 5-2 down the stretch of the regular season with both losses by a combined 5 points. Led by coach Eric Musselman, an outspoken coach who is known for being strong in the area player development, they will be ready. He already made his feelings known that playing Vermont and having UConn as a team in Buffalo was “interesting” based on geographic location. Arkansas is not an easy matchup for anyone and they are the #4 seed.

Looking at the rest of the region and specific matchups, it doesn’t get any easier. Tom Izzo and Michigan State are the #7 seed and face a really tough #10 Davidson team in their first game. Both teams have had past tournament success, obviously Izzo more than almost anyone, so it should be a fun matchup. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an upset there. Another upset alert game is the 4 vs 13. As much as I really like Arkansas as the #4, they have a really tough matchup against #13 Vermont, closer to Vermont’s home turf. Vermont will slow you down and drain the life out of you, which gives them a chance to be this region’s Cinderella.

The 8 vs 9 matchup is another great game. They usually are tight contests, but this one is especially interesting for me. The #8 Boise State Broncos are underseeded in my opinion, finishing the year with the regular season and conference tournament championship in the Mountain West Conference. Their 27-7 record included 7 quad 1 wins (3 losses) and 6 quad 2 wins (3 losses), which is an impressive feat. Their 1 quad 4 loss certainly hit their resume hard, but overall they were able to beat tournament-level teams. The #9 is Penny Hardaway’s Memphis team who had a rocky season, but made a run to the American Athletic Conference tournament final, losing to 5th seeded Houston. They finished with a 21-10 record (13-5 in the conference) and were just 8-8 against quads 1 and 2, and had 2 bad losses to quad 3 teams. Overall, this will be a fascinating game in terms of tempo, Memphis wanting to move the ball quickly and Boise State wanting to grind you down.

A play-in winner often makes a bit of a run in the tournament each year and the #11 in the West Region will be either Rutgers or Notre Dame. Notre Dame is a team that barely got into the tournament and most believe should have been out, which is just the type of story that leads to a surprising run. Rutgers had some bad losses, but overall faired much better against quad 1 teams compared to ND (Rutgers 6-6, ND 2-8) and frankly neither team was particularly impressive this season. I doubt either gets past the fast-paced #6 Alabama team.

As the #5 in the region, if UConn wants to make a run, it’s going to be a tough path. If, and it’s a big if, they beat #12 New Mexico State in round one and avoid the dreaded 12 over 5 upset, than they likely face the tough Arkansas Razorbacks. If for some reason they are able to make the 2nd weekend, then the #1 overall seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs are likely their opponent. If for some reason they can upset the Zags, then they could play Duke or Texas Tech. While that’s a crazy hypothetical, that’s an absolute gauntlet and makes a deep run damn near impossible for the Huskies this year. That being said, stranger things have happened in the NCAA Tournament…

Game Preview: #5 UConn vs #12 New Mexico State

Quick Details

Gametime: 6:50pm Thursday, March 17th on TNT

Arena: KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY

Previous matchups: N/A

Odds (as of 3/14): UConn -6.5, o/u 131.5 (according to Yahoo)

New Mexico State Overview

New Mexico State was the automatic qualifier out of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) this season after winning the tournament championship in fairly convincing fashion. They finished the year at 26-6 (13-4 in conference) and averaged 74.2 points per game this season. The team’s leader is G Teddy Allen who finished the season as the leading scorer in the WAC (19.3 points/game) and the 5th leading rebounder in the WAC (6.8 per game). The former West Virginia Cavalier and Nebraska Cornhusker, Allen transferred to the Aggies after last season and has seen improvement in almost every statistical category. Now as a Junior, the 6’6″ guard has experience playing Big 10 and Big 12, so he won’t be intimidated by a bigger and more powerful matchup in the tournament. On the defensive side, the Aggies were one of the best at limiting opponents scoring in the WAC. They finished 2nd in the conference holding opponents to a 39.1% field goal percentage and 1st in points per game against (61.2). In all games, they allowed 65.0 points per game.

Matchup

Overall, these two teams are fairly close in a number of statistical categories, which is interesting. Both have committed a similar number of turnovers on the season (375 – NM St, 380 – UConn), both allow a similar number of points per game (65.0 – NM St., 65.2 – UConn), both are in the mid-to-bottom of the NCAA in total fouls committed (508 – NM St, 538 – UConn), and both teams run a slower-paced tempo overall (223rd – NM St, 291 – UConn). The huge difference for me is in their strength of schedule, naturally. UConn has played the 27th hardest schedule in all of the NCAA, while the Aggies schedule is 131st. Additionally, UConn has a KenPom of 18th, while New Mexico State is 81st and KenPom ranks New Mexico State as the 17th luckiest team in the country whereas UConn is 248th luckiest (out of 358)*.

New Mexico State has some size up front in Will McNair Jr. and Yuak Alok who are 6’10” and 6’11” respectively. (Sidenote: I desperately hope we see Akok vs Alok) It will be interesting to see if they can limit Adama Sanogo inside or if Sanogo’s brute strength gets the New Mexico State frontcourt in early foul trouble. If they are able to limit Sanogo inside, then there will be more pressure on Tyrese Martin and R.J. Cole to provide some offense and Tyler Polley and Isaiah Whaley to draw the taller players further from the rim on defense. Defensively, if UConn can slow down Teddy Allen like they have in the past with their opponent’s best guard (i.e. Collin Gillespie in the Big East Tournament), then New Mexico State will have a hard time putting up points, playing right into the Huskies hands.

Prediction – UConn 69-62

Given the style of play and focus, I’m guessing this could be more of a grind-out game than a high-scoring affair, something UConn is all too familiar with. I think UConn does a nice job slowing down Allen and gets Sanogo involved in the play, but the big man doesn’t dominate inside against the size and length of the Aggie’s. I do think Sanogo’s ability to score down low will draw a number of fouls early against the New Mexico State frontcourt and allow UConn to build a small first half lead. The Aggies inability to hit FTs (under 70% as a team) will hurt them in late-game situations and the easy ride for UConn fans to head to Buffalo should give them the edge in crowd noise. I’m taking UConn in a hard-fought, close 69-62 victory.

*The luck measurement is the deviation between a team’s actual winning percentage and what one would expect from it’s game-by-game efficiencies. A team involved in a lot of close games should lose all of them. Those that win those games are considered luckier.

Guess Who’s Back, Back Again

“Guess who’s back, back again. Brady’s back, tell a friend. Guess who’s back, guess who’s back? Guess who’s back, guess who’s back? Guess who’s back, guess who’s back? Guess who’s back?”

After speculation every single day of Tom Brady‘s “retirement”, he’s officially sick of being home with his family and heading back to the NFL. Brady announced he will be returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for his 23rd season in the league and is just not ready to watch football “in the stands.” While this news isn’t exactly shocking, for me, it’s disappointing. I absolutely hate when players retire and unretire, especially when the retirement is shorter than Seattle’s 4th and 1 in Super Bowl 49 (cheap shot, I know). And I don’t want to hear it from those who say Brady “never officially retired or said the word retire.” He retired in every sense of the word and is now reversing his decision a mere 41 days later and I hate it.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of “retire” is “to withdraw from one’s position or occupation: conclude one’s working or professional career.” When someone chooses to retire in sports, the definition has been modified to be “to temporarily conclude one’s professional career until boredom sets in or one gets sick of being at home with their family.” Tom Brady is just the most recent example of sports stars retiring and unretiring, devaluing what it means to actually walk away from a sport as a player. In the NFL there are a bunch of modern-day examples, including QB Brett Favre (on multiple occasions), RB Marshawn Lynch and WR Randy Moss. The NFL is not the only sport with an unretirement issue, the NBA saw one of it’s greatest players (I’m not getting into that GOAT debate), Michael Jordan, follow that path on a few occasions.

For me Brady’s decision caused me to lose just a little respect for him. I’m 100% sure he doesn’t know who I am or give a crap about me or my opinion of him, but it’s just getting harder to watch him and the decisions he’s making. What seems clear now is that when the rumors of his retirement were sent into the social media world, he reacted rashly and decided to make an announcement before he was ready. Instead of just ignoring the noise and doing things on his terms, like he has seemingly done his whole career, he became reactive and jumped to retirement.

A big part of me will always respect Brady and absolutely appreciate him for all the success he brought to New England, but like I would say to my 7 year old, “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.”

Red Sox Add Top Bullpen Arm

With free agency hitting it’s stride, the Red Sox have jumped into action by adding some much needed arms to the bullpen. After making a depth signing of L Matt Strahm to a 1-year deal on Sunday morning (according to Robert Murray of FanSided), Chaim Bloom made a bigger splash by signing one of the top arms on the market, L Jake Diekman, to a multi-year deal (reported by Chris Cotillo of MassLive.com). The 35-year old had a solid 2021 season, appearing in 67 games and finishing with a 3.86 ERA and 83 Ks. He was absolutely electric in 2020, finishing the shortened season with a 0.42 ERA and 31 Ks in 21.1 innings. He is consistently a big strikeout reliever, which should be music to Red Sox fans’ ears. It feels like it’s been a while since the Red Sox had a K-heavy lefty reliever who can hopefully pitch in late-game, high-leverage situations.

While nothing is guaranteed, it’s nice to see Bloom jump into the top of the reliever market and not just shop in the bargain bin. You can never have too many bullpen arms and to bring in a player who could potentially be a consistent late-game guy with high strikeout numbers is significant. If the Red Sox decide to keep Garrett Whitlock in the reliever role, the compliment of lefty Diekman and rightly Whitlock will really help in late-game matchup situations. While Diekman does not have a ton of experience as a closer per se, he ended last year with 7 saves and could be additional insurance in that role if Matt Barnes were to falter or land on the IL.

Diekman isn’t a slam dunk reliever (which are extremely rare), but he’s definitely one of the best available in free agency. If I were Bloom, I’d keep shopping for more arms, because, I’ll say it again, you can never have too many relievers.