Eye on the prize

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So much and so little has changed.

It was 10 years and three weeks ago that I discovered Rotoworld.com,
clicked on the contact button and suggested to anyone who was listening
that I was the perfect candidate to write some columns for the site.
Not that this college dropout had any sort of resume. Besides my
willingness to write cheap, I went with the only other thing working in
my favor: I was leading an ESPN baseball contest played by about 50,000

It took nearly four weeks to get a reply, but when it finally did
come, I was welcomed aboard with open arms and I kicked off my
sportswriting career making $25 a week for writing the Strike Zone and
the Prospects Report.

Obviously, things got better from there, or I probably wouldn’t have
made it the 10 years. In January 2000, Rotoworld essentially became my
life, as I took over the baseball, football and basketball news, and
with plenty of hard work and some luck along the way, the site got big.
I gradually received the chance to scale back my workload as we could
hire new people, and I’ve been able to strictly focus on baseball,
always my love, for five years now. We even eventually went corporate,
as the original site owners chose to sell to NBC in 2006. This year, we
started up this blog on NBCSports.com and I’ve been allowed to focus as
much on actual baseball as fantasy baseball for the first time.

I think that’s part of the reason why, 10 years later, I’m again leading that baseball contest, ESPN’s Baseball Challenge.
If I were smarter, I would have switched focuses long ago to a pay game
or two and tried to make myself some real money. But BBC gets more
attention from me than anything else I’ve ever played. When it first
started up in 1997, I got a little obsessed with it, or at least the
chat room attached to it. Among the people I met there was Troy Beech,
who later joined me at Rotoworld and who became very important in
helping the site grow in the early part of the decade.

As for the game itself, I’ve always loved the way it saps luck from
the equation. 10 different players, every single day. No worries about
injuries or players simply falling off a cliff. It comes down to
knowledge and dedication when you have to make 900 picks to win.

And I was really good at it, of course. BBC has always been two
contests per year: one pre-All-Star break, one post. In 1997, I
finished second in the first half and first for the whole year, though
that didn’t count for anything. In 1999, I went on to win the first
half, earning myself a big-screen TV. Ever since, I’ve been on the
leaderboard more often than not, though I’ve never really been in a
position to win coming down the stretch, at least until this year. I
think it’s partially because I’m less burned out on fantasy stuff than
usual, but I’ve been sitting in first place since the third week of the season.

The lead has fluctuated. It was almost 150 points at one time, but it
got down as low as 15 points last week and could have disappeared
entirely if not for a poor outing from Chad Billingsley (unlike most, I
went with Josh Outman and the A’s staff on Friday, only to cringe when
he was forced from the game in the second inning due to a sore elbow).
While the nine hitters account for the majority of the team’s points,
it’s still the pitcher that makes or breaks most days.622

We’re down to the final three weeks now. There are no more flukes high
on the leaderboard, and several of the names below me have won or
challenged for the title before. I’m not going to mind losing if that’s
how it works out; I play the game because it’s a tradition and it’s
still fun for me, even if there are days that I don’t feel like picking
my team. Plus, there’s the added bonus now that it keeps me on my toes
and gives me a good reason to check over every box score even on those
days that my job no longer requires it.

That was convincing, right?

OK, so I want to win. I want to pummel everyone by 200 points. I
want to tease Matthew Berry about it afterwards. I want ESPN to not be
able to interview their two-time champ because, in doing so, they’d be
promoting Rotoworld and NBCSports.com

And I like that the old standby hasn’t changed. The rest of the
daily routine is different, the house is new and the job is nothing
like what I originally signed on for. But six months of the year, I
still spend 20 minutes or so every night writing down the matchups,
checking tomorrow’s weather and then picking my BBC team.

Now that I’ve gone public, I’ll provide weekly updates through the end of the first half.

Erik Johnson likely to open 2016 in the White Sox rotation

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Starting pitcher Erik Johnson #45 of the Chicago White Sox delivers against the Colorado Rockies during Interleague play at Coors Field on April 9, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the White Sox 10-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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With the White Sox losing Jeff Samardzija to free agency, Erik Johnson will likely get a shot to contribute out of the rotation to open up the 2016 season, GM Rick Hahn said in a conference call on Wednesday, per a report from MLB.com’s Scott Merkin.

“As we sit here today, I think it will be an opportunity for Erik Johnson to convert on sort of the return to form he showed back in 2015 when he was International League pitcher of the year for [Triple-A] Charlotte,” Hahn said. “Obviously, he got some starts in September and continued to show the progress in Chicago he had shown in the Minor Leagues over the course of the last season.

“So if Opening Day were today, then I think Johnson is penciled in to that spot in the rotation right now. In all probability, once we get closer to spring, there will be some competition for him to earn that spot. But if we were strictly looking at today, then I would think Johnson has the inside track on filling Samardzija’s innings.”

Johnson was called up from Triple-A Charlotte in September and made six starts, allowing 14 runs (13 earned) on 32 hits and 17 walks with 30 strikeouts in 35 innings. That followed up an impressive five months in the minors where he compiled a 2.37 ERA and a 136/41 K/BB ratio across 132 2/3 innings.

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com each included Johnson on their top-100 prospect lists, ranking him 63rd, 67th, and 70th, respectively. The right-hander was selected by the White Sox in the second round of the 2011 draft.

Major League Baseball will investigate Yasiel Puig for his role in Miami nightclub brawl

Yasiel Puig
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

It was reported on Friday afternoon that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was involved in a brawl at a Miami nightclub. Details were scant at the time, but he reportedly left with a bruise on his face.

Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports that Major League Baseball plans to investigate Puig under the league’s new domestic violence policy for his role in the brawl. Citing a report from TMZ, Hernandez notes that Puig shoved his sister, “brutally sucker-punched” the manager of the bar, and instigated the brawl.

The Dodgers and Puig’s agent have thus far refused to comment on the situation.

Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was the first player to be investigated under the league’s new domestic violence policy earlier this month, as he allegedly assaulted his wife. Reyes has pleaded not guilty after he was charged with domestic abuse in Hawaii.

As our own Craig Calcaterra pointed out, commissioner Rob Manfred does not need to wait for Puig to plead guilty or to be found guilty to levy a punishment.

Dayan Viciedo close to signing with Japan’s Chunichi Dragons

Dayan Viciedo
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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Patrick Newman is reporting that the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and outfielder Dayan Viciedo are close to an agreement on a contract. Newman notes that the Dragons are close to signing pitcher Jordan Norberto as well.

Viciedo, 26, has struggled since making his major league debut in 2010 with the White Sox, batting an aggregate .254/.298/.424 with 66 home runs and 211 RBI in 1,798 plate appearances. He spent the 2015 season with Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox) and Nashville (Athletics), hitting a composite .287/.348/.450. While Viciedo can hit the occasional home run, he hasn’t shown the ability to do much else at the big league level. Given his age, he could prove himself in Japan and parlay that into a renewed shot in the majors in the future.

The White Sox signed Viciedo out of Cuba in December 2008, agreeing to a four-year, $10 million deal. The club re-signed him to one-year deals in 2013 and ’14 for $2.8 million each and $4.4 million ahead of the 2015 season.

Blue Jays sign J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract

J.A. Happ
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Update (8:45 PM EST): Per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Happ will get $10 million in 2016 and $13 million each in 2017 and ’18.


MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the Blue Jays have signed lefty J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million.

Happ, 33, had a rebirth as a member of the Pirates last season after starting the season with 20 subpar starts with the Mariners. He made 11 starts for the Buccos, boasting a 1.85 ERA with a 69/13 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported this past August that Happ’s newfound success had to do with a delivery tweak suggested by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. The Blue Jays are certainly hoping that adjustment is the full explanation for his success.

The Jays’ signing of Happ most likely signifies they won’t be pursuing free agent lefty David Price.

This will be Happ’s second stint with the Blue Jays. The Astros dealt him to Toronto in a July 2012 trade. He posted a 4.39 ERA with a 256/113 K/BB ratio in 291 innings with the Jays, then went to the Mariners in a trade this past December that brought outfielder Michael Saunders to the Jays.