Programming Note: CTB to become HardballTalk

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Remember how Philip Morris changed its name to Altria so people wouldn’t always be reminded of the fact that they sell things that give you cancer? And how ValueJet changed its name to AirTran so people wouldn’t always be reminded of all of those people who died in that crash?  And how Datsun changed its name to Nissan because, well, I’m not sure about why they did that one, but remember when it happened?

Well, we’re doing the opposite: we’re changing the name of this concern to foster some positive associations: some time this week we’ll be switching from Circling the Bases to HardballTalk.

I know there are a lot of people out there who hate change — I’m usually one of them — but we’re doing this for a couple of reasons. Most obviously — and I’m not going to b.s. you about it — is the branding thing. Our brother blog ProFootballTalk is one of the most popular and successful things going in sports media and we’d be nuts not to try and leach off of some of Florio’s redonkulous traffic.

Another reason: starting today the estimable Kurt Helin, late of Forum Blue and Gold joins the NBC Family to launch ProBasketballTalk (which I highly recommend that you start reading on a daily basis). By changing our name to HardballTalk we’re rocking the thematic consistency across the major sports.

Those of you who have read me for a long time have known me to snark about branding. And I’ll still snark at it because branding is kind of a silly concept on some level.  I mean, just because you give something a new name doesn’t change what it is.  This, however, is different.

Why? Because here the names flow from the concept, not vice-versa.  In launching CTB last April and bringing PFT over a month or two later, NBC really set out to change the way sports are done online.  On every other major media site the blogging and commentary takes backseat to the wire reports and the overpriced columnists and is buried in the mix.  Here the conversation — the “talk” if you will — is what leads.  Florio, Helin and all of the rest of us around here know that you’re big boys and girls and rather than have someone declare the news to you from on high, you can handle it being put out there and hashed through immediately. Which allows you to start hashing thorough it too, in as close to real time as possible.

Put differently, when Jon Heyman tells you something, he expects you to take his word for it. When I tell you something, I hope, and have come to expect, that you’ll tell me if I’m full of baloney within five minutes. If I am, I’ll rethink and then you will and then we’ll fight about it and then we’ll laugh about it and maybe we’ll all have learned a little bit or, at the very least wasted some time. It’s a conversation. We’re just talking here. About baseball. The name, in other words, fits.

If none of that convinces you just ask yourself: What’s “Circling the Bases?” It is nor hand nor foot nor arm nor face nor any other part belonging to a blog. That which we call CTB by any other name would smell as sweet.  The content isn’t changing. Just the name. And I think we can all deal with it.

The Padres non-tendered RHP Tyson Ross

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 04:  Tyson Ross #38 of the San Diego Padres walks off the field as he's taken out of the game in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on opening day at PETCO Park on April 4, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Per a report by MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell, the Padres non-tendered right-handed starter Tyson Ross on Friday, cutting loose their top ace after three seasons with the club.

Ross, 29, was sidelined for the bulk of the season with inflammation in his right shoulder and underwent thoracic outlet surgery in October. His injuries limited him to only 5 1/3 innings in 2016, during which he gave up seven runs and struck out five in a 15-0 blowout against the Dodgers.

Prior to his lengthy stint on the disabled list, the right-hander earned 9.5 fWAR and pitched to a 3.07 ERA and 9.2 K/9 rate in three full seasons with the Padres. He avoided arbitration with a one-year, $9.625 million deal prior to the 2016 season after leading the league with 33 starts and delivering a 3.26 ERA and career-best 4.4 WARP over 196 innings in 2015.

The Padres appear open to bringing Ross back to San Diego, reported Cassavell, albeit not at such a steep cost. Cassavell quoted Padres’ GM A.J. Preller, who was reportedly in trade talks involving Ross but unable to strike a deal, likely due to the right-hander’s recent health issues. Preller denied that those same health issues factored into the club’s decision to non-tender their ace.

With the move, Ross became one of 35 major leaguers to enter free agency on Friday.

Angels’ Pujols has foot surgery, could be sidelined 4 months

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols had surgery on his right foot Friday, possibly sidelining him past opening day.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Pujols had the procedure Friday in North Carolina to release his plantar fascia, the ligament connecting the heel to the toes. The three-time NL MVP was bothered by plantar fasciitis repeatedly during the season, but played through the pain in arguably the strongest year of his half-decade with the Angels.

Eppler said the surgery typically prevents players from participating in baseball activities for three months, along with another month before they’re ready to resume playing in games. Opening day for Los Angeles is April 3, and the Angels hope Pujols can be ready.

“He’s at that point in his career where he’s keenly aware of what’s happening with his body,” Eppler said in a phone interview. “I don’t put the timetable on Albert like you would with your younger players. We’ll just see in Albert’s case, as he progresses, what his timetable is.”

Pujols, who turns 37 next month, batted .268 last year with 31 homers and 119 RBIs, the fourth-most in the majors – although his .780 OPS was among the worst of his career. He largely served as a designated hitter instead of playing first base due to problems with his hamstrings and feet.

Pujols heads into 2017 with 591 career homers, ranking him ninth in major league history. He is 18 homers behind Sammy Sosa for eighth place.

After playing in pain until the final week of the Angels’ disappointing season, Pujols began shock wave therapy on his foot early in the offseason, believing he wouldn’t need surgery.

But Pujols’ foot became more painful in recent weeks despite the therapy, and he huddled with the Angels’ top brass to decide on surgery after his most recent trip to see Dr. Robert Anderson in North Carolina. Continuing with conservative care would have required 10 more weeks, forcing Pujols to miss the first half of the 2017 season if he still required surgery.

“He just felt that the pain had gotten to a point where he was comfortable” having surgery, Eppler said. “If we did delay it, you’re just looking at 2 1/2 more months into the season.”

Pujols had a different type of surgery on his right foot last winter, but recovered in time for opening day. He also had plantar fasciitis in his left foot during the 2013 season, eventually forcing him out for the year when his fascia snapped.

Pujols has five years and $140 million remaining on the 10-year, $240 million free-agent contract that pried him out of St. Louis, where he won two World Series and became a nine-time NL All-Star.

The Angels haven’t won a playoff game since Pujols’ arrival and Mike Trout‘s concurrent emergence as one of baseball’s best players. They went 74-88 last season, the injury-plagued club’s worst record since 1999.