Monday, March 31, 2014

The 25 - 0 Down and 162 (& hopefully more) to Go

For those new to this space, The 25 is much like The 53 posts that I do for the Green Bay Packers or The 15 posts that I do for the Milwaukee Bucks.  For each iteration of the post throughout the season I rank the trade value of the entire active roster based on age, contract, health, and reasonable expected future performance.  Instead of writing a short blurb about each player, I will focus on a few with the most interesting changes since the last post.  Basically this post is meant to help Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin properly value his assets for potential trades while simultaneously shinning light the biggest needs on The 25.

If that seems too abstract let me go over a simple example.  Right fielder Ryan Braun is probably the most talented player on The 25 despite coming off a 65-game suspension for use of performance enhancing drugs (PED's).  When you factor in Braun's mega contract and age, there are actually other players on The 25 that are more desirable to the other 29 MLB general managers so that is why he is not ranked number one.  Without further adu, here are my initial rankings of The 25 of the Brewers in 2014:

Player Rankings
1. Jean Segura (SS)
2. Carlos Gomez (CF)
3. Jonathan Lucroy (C)
4. Ryan Braun (RF)
5. Kyle Lohse (RSP)
6. Yovani Gallardo (RSP)
7. Matt Garza (RSP)
8. Wily Peralta (RSP)
9. Tyler Thornburg (RSP)
10. Scooter Gennett (2B)
11. Marco Estrada (RSP)
12. Khris Davis (LF)
13. Jim Henderson (RRP)
Will Smith (LRP)
15. Brandon Kintzler (RRP)
16. Aramis Ramirez (3B)
17. Wei-Chung Wang (RRP)
18. Logan Schafer (LF)
19. Mark Reynolds (1B)
20. Francisco Rodriguez (RRP)
21. Zach Duke (LRP)
22. Martin Maldonado (C)
23. Jeff Bianchi (3B)
24. Lyle Overbay (1B)
25. Rickie Weeks (2B)
Disabled List
1. Tom Gorzelanny (LRP, 15-DL)
#1) Jean Segura (SS): Melvin is going to look back at Opening Day 2014 as the start of the official count down to Segura's exit from Milwaukee.  Melvin and Segura's agent discussed an extension but apparently were so far off that negotiations brown down right after they started.  The Atlanta Braves recently signed shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a seven-year, $58 million contract.  That is a little rich compared to what Segura should command but is at least a relevant data point for the negotiations.  I actually don't understand Melvin's thinking given that the the first long-term contract extension for young studs (e.g. Tampa Bay Rays third basemen Evan Longoria's six-year, $17 million contract with three years and $30 million in rolling guarantees with a $3 million buyout to stretch it to a ridiculously affordable nine-year, $47 million contract or Braun's initial eight-year, $45 million contract) are NOT financially crippling. The Brewers should get Segura locked up long-term on the cheap(er) now but proceed cautiously on his second long-term extension because that one can be a back breaker (e.g. Braun's five-year, $105 million extension).

#4) Ryan Braun (RF): We know that Braun tested positive for the use of some performance enhancing drug in the same season he was voted the N.L. MVP.  Braun fought the positive results and ultimately pulled the reverse Al Capone. We know Braun was ultimately suspended but the specifics of why Braun was suspended for 65-games is still not completely flushed out given that he apparently negotiated a shorter suspension.  That worked out well for Braun since last season he was scheduled to earn $8.5 million before his 65-game suspension so he lost out on $3.4 million (65/162 * $8.5 million) but returns to the field this season when his salary jumps to $10 million before going to $12 million in 2015.

I am sure fans will cheer Braun in the home opener and sanctimonious baseball writers, the same ones that blindly covered the Bonds/Sosa/McGwire PED fueled home-run era with kid gloves, will decry Brewers fans as stupid.  I am torn on this one because if Braun wasn't so indignant when he won his PED suspension appeal, I might cut him some slack but the way he savagely attacked the sample collector is unforgivable to me.

Plus Braun roped in Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers into backing his "innocence".  Since then, Rodgers severed his personal and professional (used to co-own 8-Twelve MVP Bar & Grill) ties with Braun.  The Brewers have Braun under contract through at least 2020 so let's hope the healing process can being today.  Hopefully if Braun can put up decent numbers while clean, at least that would allow the Brewers to get some assets in return for Braun but if Braun struggles sans PED's then Melvin has a potential franchise crippling contract on The 25 for almost a decade.

#10) Scooter Gennett (2B): Hopefully we are in the infancy of another home grown youth movement for the Brewers.  In the mid-to-late 2000's the Brewers graduated the likes of Braun, Prince Fielder, and Rickie Weeks from their farm system.  Since then, they failed to graduate an everyday player from the farm system that they drafted at any position besides catcher.  Gennett is gunning to replace the much maligned and overpaid Weeks, which is one of the last everyday players Melvin drafted and developed.  Besides Gennett, Melvin is placing tons of faith in left fielder Khris Davis to give the Brewers two graduates of their farm system via the draft as opening day starters for the first time since the late 2000's.

#17) Wei-Chung Wang (RRP): The most improbable member of The 25 went from pitching in single-A for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season to the majors this season.  Melvin selected Wang in the Rule 5 Draft, which means Wang has to stay on The 25 (or disable list) for the entire 2014 season or be sent back to the Pirates for half the amount the Brewers originally paid for Wang.  That condition on Wang's contract with the associated "buy-out" for sending him back to the Pirates makes it seem like he did not earn his spot on The 25 but in spring training Wang posted a 3.86 ERA to earn his spot on The 25 irrespective of the conditions of his contract.

I am not a huge fan of making broad season predictions, especially in baseball because teams evolve throughout the lengthy season, but for some reason I have a good feeling about the Brewers this season.  I am not ready to guarantee they will make the playoffs but I think it is more likely than not that they make the post-season for just the 5th time in 46 seasons and the first time since 2011.

For those lucky enough to attend Opening Day as the Brewers host the Braves, enjoy.  Make sure to check back in this space for regular coverage of the front office moves by Melvin throughout the season.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Went There - "Third" Round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament in Milwaukee

With all due respect to what is now the "First Round" of the NCAA Tournament in Dayton, OH that allows Father-In-Law-Cheese to see NCAA Tournament games every year, the NCAA really bungled the nomenclature when they made the play-in games the "First Round".  Whenever the artist formerly known as the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament are in the Midwest, my buddy Sug and I make sure to attend the games.  Normally we attend four weekday games all in one day on either Thursday or Friday with the winner of those four games meeting for two games on the weekend on either Saturday or Sunday.  This year the "Second and Third Rounds" were in Milwaukee.  Due to work commitments we were only able to attend the "Third Round" weekend session of Michigan v. Texas and Wisconsin v. Oregon.

Last time we went to the NCAA Tournament at the Bradley Center in 2010 we went with Sug's older brother David that played basketball at Wisconsin.  David brought one of his former teammates.  The guys in their late 30's that sat in front of us thought that David's friend was Ron Dayne so they started trying to take pictures on the sly.  It was high comedy when we caught those guys sending pictures messages to their friends midway through the first of four games of the day, which gave us tons of comedic fodder for the rest of the day.  Oh and that weekend is when I became convinced that Xavier's Jordan Crawford could be come an irrational confidence bench guy on an NBA playoff team.

The NCAA Tournament always has great stories lines and this year in Milwaukee was no exception.  Yesterday Marquette head basketball coach Buzz Williams resigned to take the same position at Virigina Tech so I gave Marquette my thoughts on how they should replace Buzz.  Marquette missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Buzz while Wisconsin was a two seed playing on Marquette's home court.  Mama Cheese, Sug, E-Dogg, E-Dogg's father Tom, David, David's wife, and Sug/David's Mom went to the game.  Unfortunately Papa Cheese was unable to join us because he is in the middle of tax season. We had seats right at mid court in the upper deck, 10 rows up.  The seats were great, I would venture to say they are better than 50% of the lower bowl seats.  The first game pitted Michigan against Texas.  I thought more Michigan fans would make the trip to Milwaukee for the games but other than their allotted seats, Michigan didn't seem to have any more fans that Texas or Oregon.

The only real notable thing from the Michigan/Texas game was how many times they showed former Milwaukee Buck Big
Dog on the jumbo tron.  Big Dog's son, Glenn Robinson III, is currently a sophomore at Michigan.  There is no doubt that Little Dog can be a scorer in the NBA but based on the few games I've seen him play, unlike his father, it looks he is actually capable of playing defense.  Big Dog seemed none to thrilled to keep getting plastered on the jumbo tron since he was there to watch his son player in the NCAA Tournament.  As I stared up at the rafters of the seven retired Bucks numbers, it got me thinking about whether Big Dog's #13 should be raised to the rafters.  I understand Kareem and Big O but would actually take Big Dog ahead of the rest.  I am not sure we will ever see #13 raised to the rafters but would support the decision given all the others numbers that the franchise retired.  Check that, let's put Junior Bridgeman ahead of Big Dog as well only because there are rumors that he is going to take some ownership interest in the Bucks soon.  Since I aspire to be the general manager of one of the three major Cheesehead professional sports teams, I might as well get a jump start on kissing up to my potential future boss.  All kidding aside, if you want to understand why the Bucks have been such a frustrating franchise to follow for most of my lifetime, look no further than their seven retired jerseys.  The last guy to have his jersey retired played for the Bucks in 1989.

Sorry for that tangent, ultimately Michigan defeated Texas in a mostly forgettable game to clear the court for the Wisconsin/Oregon nightcap.  Wisconsin was the second seed in the West regional while the Oregon "Fighting" Ducks were the 7th seed.  Oregon always has interesting uniforms since Nike founder Phil Knight is an Oregon grad.  The incarnation they wore against the Badgers was fairly tame but they had "Fighting" plastered across the top, which puzzled me the entire game because I am not sure exactly what a "Fighting" Ducks is but I know that is not threatening in the least, especially since the mascot looks drunk as opposed to menacing.  Wisconsin had an uneven first half performance that saw them somehow only trail 40-35 with two minutes to play till Oregon hit back-to-back threes en route a 49-37 lead at the half.

Badger fans headed to the concession stands to drown their sorrows in over-priced crappy food and soda.  I love that Marquette serves beer during home games at the Bradley Center but when the NCAA Tournament comes to town, unless you are in a luxury box, no drinks are legally served.  Since Sug and I were heading back to Chicago after the game, we decided not to sneak in booze to the game.  That was probably the first time since the first session we ever attended in Indianapolis in 2003 when we found out the hard way that the NCAA does not sell booze at games even in venues not on college campuses.  Ever since we've done our best to have drinks in hand despite the odd, arbitrary alcohol lines in the sand the NCAA draws.

As if not being able to drink was punishment enough, the only TV's that were showed the other tournament games were 1980's-style 14" square TV's.  A couple hundred of my closest friends huddled around those TV's squinting to try to make senses of what we thought we were watching.  Luckily for me I stumbled upon the Syracuse/Dayton game with a few minutes left.  Syracuse was a three seed while UD was an 11 seed.

As I mentioned earlier, I have a soft spot in my heart for UD given that Father-In-Law-Cheese loves them as much as I love the Packers.  It was hard to see the grainy picture since I was 20 feet from the TV's but just being around so many people blindly cheering for the underdog was amazing.  Despite UD's Jordan Sibert turning the ball over with 14 seconds to play and a couple UD players missing some crucial free throws down the stretch, UD still lead Syracuse by two points with less than 10 seconds to play.  Likely Top 10 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft Tyler Ennis got the ball for Syracuse and pushed it to get a fairly good look at a three point attempt with time running out that thankfully rimmed out to give UD an improbable win.  That lead to In-Law-Cheese, Cheesehead Chick, and me trading a ton of jubilant text messages the rest of the evening.

That good mojo carried over into Wisconsin's performance in the second half as they quickly trimmed their 12 point deficit to one just point in less than five minutes into the second half thanks to the trio of Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, and Frank Kaminsky.  Just a few minutes later when Wisconsin took the lead the Bradley Center was the loudest I've heard it since the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals.  At that point it looked like Wisconsin was going to cruise to an easy victory till their shooting went cold.  Wisconsin actually trailed 75-74 with just over a minute to play.  Thankfully shooting guard Ben Brust, the guy with the most made three-point shots in program history, made the biggest one of the bunch to put Wisconsin up for good at 77-75 en route to an impressive 85-77 win.

You can make an argument that even though Wisconsin only plays 7.5 guys a game, their seven regulars are the best top to bottom of head coach Bo Ryan's tenure. I know I gave an abbreviate game recap but notice I didn't mention small forward Sam Dekker or Nigel Hayes.  Neither guy had a great game but if Dekker declares for the 2014 NBA Draft I bet he goes in the first round while Hayes has a chance to be the best NBA prospect during Ryan's tenure.  Thanks to their win over the "Fighting" Ducks, the Badgers punched their ticket to the Sweet 16 where they will face the winner of 3rd seeded Creighton and 6th seeded Baylor in Anaheim, CA on Thursday night.

As Wisconsin beat Oregon, another Cheesehead college team was making headlines as well.  Wisconsin-Whitewater was down one point to Williams College with less than five second to play but still won on an impressive drive by Quardell Young to win the NCAA Division III National Championship.  Wisconsin's win over Oregon was probably the most entertaining Wisconsin game I've even seen in-person but still pales in comparison to the impressive wins by Dayton and UW-Whitewater.  I know it is cliche to say but the games just discussed all happened in one night of March, which is why so many people love March Madness.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

My Advice for How to Fill Marquette's Coaching Vacancy

Marquette Warriors head coach Buzz Williams resigned to accept the same job at Virginia Tech.  Seems like a million years ago that I broke down Buzz's last extension at Marquette that he ultimately broke to take the Virginia Tech job.  I've said many times in this space that I have a soft spot in my heart for Virginia Tech given that Sister-In-Law-Cheese will earn her PhD from Tech this spring but not sure giving Buzz a huge contract makes much senses.  Marquette missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time under Buzz.  In fact, Marquette had such an atrocious season that they even missed the NIT.  Usually coaches move onto new jobs when their program is on the up-swing not following the worst season of their tenure.

Marquette spends the most money per player of any college basketball program besides Duke, which ironically is where Sister-In-Law-Cheese is currently working on her post doctorate fellowship.  There is no argument that Buzz was very successful in his seven years in charge of Marquette.  Buzz coached in the NCAA Tournament every year besides this year, including three consecutive trips to the Sweet 16 and an Elite 8 appearance last year.  Even more impressive is how many NBA players Buzz churned our during his tenure.

Despite Buzz's success and all the money at his disposal at Marquette, there has long been tension between Buzz and the administrators.  Apparently there was a $2 million buyout clause in Buzz's contract that was reduced to $100,000 if there was no permanent athletic director in place.  Given that Bill Cords is serving as the Interim Vice President and Director of Athletics following the departure of Larry Williams, the window for Buzz to move was open.

Marquette is a basketball only school while Virginia Tech is a football school that happens to play basketball in the ACC.  Maybe Buzz will be able to make his model of supplementing big recruits with junior college transfers work at Tech but when you add it all up, I see Virginia Tech as a worse job than Marquette.  I have no inside knowledge but my only worry for Marquette is that Buzz left some potential NCAA violations behind in Milwaukee.  Whether that is true or not, I see three options for how Marquette can replace Buzz.

Early reports linked Marquette with former Pittsburgh and UCLA head coach Ben Howland and current UW-Green Bay coach Brian Wardle.  Both of those hires make senses for different reason.  Let's not forget that Kevin O'Neill, Tom Crean, and Buzz Williams were far from household names in their first year in charge of Marquette but all of those guys ultimately used the Marquette job as a stepping stone to a bigger program: O'Neill (Tennessee), Crean (Indiana), and Williams (Virginia Tech).

Unlike the guys that Marquette recently hired, Howland would give Marquette a "big name" coach right away.  Howland is 56 years old so this is most likely his last head coaching job but given that he coached at Pittsburgh and UCLA, his services will not come cheap.  The upshot of investing in Howland is that he will be able to land big-time high school recruits on day one.

With all due respect to Steve Novak and Robb Logterman, Wardle was arguably the most lethal shooter even at Marquette.  For those not familiar with the Marquette program, they have an inflated sense of where their program stands in the national landscape so they overvalue their own.  The question is whether that translates to recruiting on a national scale because Marquette's most recent success was due more to plucking useful junior college transfers than landing huge recruits.  Before Marquette hires Wardle they need to determine whether he can use his success on the court at Marquette to attract big-time high school recruits.

Door number three is a younger coach on the rise from a smaller school without a Marquette connection.  Let's leave aside guys like Shaka Smart at VCU because coaches like that could have left their current institutions for better jobs than Marquette in recent years but declined overtures to stay at their current post.  A few attainable names that come to mind are Archie Miller at the University of Dayton, Bryce Drew at Valparaiso University, Michael White at Louisiana Tech University, and Josh Pastner at the University of Memphis.  Given my love for UD because of Father-In-Law-Cheese, I hope Miller stays at UD so I will take him off the list even though he might be the most attractive option of the the four just mentioned.  If any of the other guys mentioned have a strong Roman Catholic faith, I would move them up the list since that will be enticing to Marquette alumni even though that most likely does not appeal to big-time high school recruits.

Did you see how I ended the last three paragraphs by discussing whether each coach could land big-time high school recruits? I know this sounds overly simplistic but given all the money spent on basketball by Marquette, as long as the program doesn't break any NCAA rules, they should be able to land big-time high school recruits even though some might do it sooner rather than later.

I presume Howland would be a better recruiter nationally than any of the younger coaches just discussed in the short-term but given that Marquette's program is currently in good shape, I am not sure how much that matters.  I could see Wardle coaching at Marquette for decades whereas Howland will be looking to retire in less than a decade and some of the younger names just discussed could use Marquette as stepping stone like O'Neil, Crean, and Buzz did previously.  Given that Wardle will have a cheaper price tag with the highest long-term upside, if I was in charge of hiring the next Marquette coach, I would hire Wardle.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Building The 53 - The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly 1.0

Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson rarely makes headlines in free agency but on the brink of free agency Thompson did exactly that when he signed cornerback Sam Shields to a four-year, $39 million contract with $12.5 million guaranteed.  The fact that Thompson made headlines even before the start of free agency might have been a harbinger of things to come because so far Thompson has been very active in free agency by his standards.  Less than a week into free agency, here are my initial thoughts.

The Good
A few days ago I gave Thompson a blueprint for how to re-build the defense via free agency. Although Thompson did not sign the specific players I highlighted, he did follow four of my five pieces of advice: did not sign an expensive safety, signed a cost-effective outside linebacker in Mike Neal, signed a cost-effective defensive lineman in B.J. Raji, and signed an expensive pass rusher in Julius Peppers.  The only piece of advice that Thompson has ignored whole cloth is failing to sign Charles Woodson, which is still a possibly given that he is still free agent.  There is no doubt that Woodson would be a welcomed addition even considering all the moves made by Thompson so far this off-season.
Let's start with the Neal deal.  Thompson gave Neal a two-year, $8 million contract with $2.5 million guaranteed.  I thought a three-year, $7.5 million deal with $2.5 million guaranteed seemed fair so the deal Neal signed is slightly more expensive than I would have liked but still a reasonable, cost-effective move nonetheless.  After switching from defensive line to outside linebacker last season, Neal showed the ability to rush the passer but struggled to drop into coverage.  It will be interesting to see if the Packers keep Neal at outside linebacker given the addition of Peppers and the presence of Nick Perry on The 53.

Let's move on to Raji.  In the middle of last season the Packers reportedly offered Raji a long-term deal worth $8 million a year.  In less than six months things have changed dramatically for Raji given that he settled for a one-year, $4 million "prove-it" deal with the Packers.  Although Raji was less than impressive last season, some of that had to do with the lack of big plays the players around Raji produced so he has to be excited about the Peppers signing.

According to initial reports Peppers signed a three-year, $30 million contract with $7.5 million guaranteed that pays him $8.5 million next season.  The Packers rarely sign free agents that played for other NFL teams, let along 34-year old free agents that played for a divisional rival.  The reason that the Packers signed Peppers is that he is a versatile pass rusher that can lineup at outside linebacker or defensive end in a 3-4 or as an inside pass rush in the nickel.  I've long been a fan of Peppers, which is why I advised Thompson to add Peppers back in 2009.
Three years, $30 million feels like a lot of money for a player in his mid-30's but let's compare that to the deal that DeMarcus Ware just signed.  Ware is a very similar player in terms of versatility and production that is just two years younger than Peppers.  Ware recently signed a three-year, $30 million contract with the Denver Broncos but $23 million of that deal is guaranteed.  If the Peppers experiment fails next season the Packers can cut Peppers with very little salary cap ramifications while the Broncos are married to Ware through 2016.  Although I like Ware slightly more than Peppers as a player at this point, when you factor in the structure of each of their contracts, I am a much bigger fan of the Peppers deal.

With Raji and Peppers in the fold, the Packers now have a ton of quality depth along the defensive line to go along with Josh Boyd, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, and Jerel Worthy. The Packers still have the option of resigning defensive lineman Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett but I would be surprised if the Packers signed either player unless they accept a cheap, one-year deal.

The Bad
Besides Jolly and Pickett, the Packers still have tons of free agents that were on The 53 last season that have not signed a contract with an NFL team for 2014.  I am not going to give another detailed breakdown of what Thompson should do since I already did that for the RFA's and UFA's in early January that I updated a week ago.  The one specific piece of advice that I will mention for Thompson is that I still think it is worth signing tight end Jermichael Finley or wide receiver James Jones to a long-term deal.  Besides that, Thompson should let other teams sign the remaining free agents to big money deals.  Once those deals are done, hopefully that will allow Thompson to sign the rest of the players to cheaper, short-term contracts.

The Ugly 
The Packers had 19 players on The 53 last season that were set to become restricted or unrestricted free agents this off-season.  Once Thompson resigned Shields, I thought resigning center Evan Dietrich-Smith became the highest priority.  Earlier this off-season I advised Thompson to sign EDS to a four-year, $16 million deal with $8 million.   Ultimately EDS signed a four-year, $14.25 million deal and $7.25 million guaranteed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers so the Bucs and I clearly value EDS more than Thompson.  This marks the second year in a row that the Packers needlessly lost a free agent to the Bucs.  Last year the Packers lost tight end Tom Crabtree, which I thought was a huge loss at the time.  Unfortunately I think losing EDS is even worse than losing Crabtree.

I know center is not the sexiest position in football but the Packers struggled to replace center Scott Wells after he signed a big free agent deal in 2012 with the St. Louis Rams.  The Packers replaced Wells with Jeff Saturday, which was a huge downgrade till EDS unseated Saturday. Now the Packers have to start over again at center, which tells me they learned nothing from the Wells/Saturday debacle.  The 2014 NFL Draft doesn't look to have an immediate starter at center, which means the Packers will most likely have to fill that void via free agency or in-house.  The one silver lining is that the Packers look settled at tackle (David Bakhtiari at left tackle & Bryan Bulaga at right tackle) and guard (Josh Sitton at left guard and T.J. Lang at right guard) so they can focus on center.

If the Packers look to free agency the only top-end option left is former New Orleans Saints center Brian De La Puente.  I may be in the minority but I favor EDS over De La Puente so I am not sure it is worth breaking the bank for De La Puente.  That means Thompson will most likely have to fill the void a center in-house.  At this point it looks like a two-person battle between J.C. Tretter and Don Barclay.  Tretter tore ligaments in his ankle and fractured his fibula during an off-season workout on May 20, 2013 but thankfully recovered enough to make The 53 at the end of last season.  Barclay is sort of a wild card because he played well at right tackle last season in place of Bryan Bulaga.  When EDS was injured the Packers moved Lang to center, Barclay to right guard and inserted Marshall Newhouse at right tackle.  Barclay had mixed results at right guard, which makes me question how well he could do at center but some of that could be chalked up to how much Newhouse struggled at tackle.  Until the Packers inevitably suffer another injury along the offensive line that leaves Barclay without a job unless he can move to center so Barclay oddly looks like the front runner at center at this point despite never playing the position.

With the Peppers deal out of the way, I presume Thompson will lay low for the next week.  If Thompson makes any significant moves though, make sure to check back for full coverage in this space.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Building The 53 - How Thompson can Rebuild the Defense via Free Agency

Yesterday I posted my updated thoughts on how Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson should approach players on The 53 for the Packers in 2013 that are set to become free agents.  Thompson rarely delves into free agency but today I wanted to give him a realistic blueprint for how to fix the defense via free agency.  I could just advise Thompson to sign the top five defensive free agents but we know that is virtually impossible for any team to do, let a long a team like the Packers that rarely dabbles in free agency, so here are the types of players that Thompson should target in the free agency to help rebuild the defense for next season.

Avoid Expensive Safeties: The free agent safety position is very deep this year and coincidentally that is currently the biggest need for the Packers.  Right now Jarius Byrd and T.J. Ward are the two most attractive free agents but there is also a second tier of free agent safeties that includes the likes of Malcom Jenkins, Donte Whitner, Antoine Bethea, Mike Mitchell, and Louis Delmas.  Given the positional need I was tempted to advise Thompson to spend heavily on a safety but for three reasons.  First, the Packers gave safety Morgan Burnett a five-year, $26 million deal with $8.25 million guaranteed last off-season and the Packers can only commit so much money to the position.  Second, since the Packers signed Sheilds to a four-year, $39 million contract they now have five potential starting cornerbacks on The 53 in Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Davon House, and Micah Hyde.  Instead of handing out a big free agent contract to Byrd or Ward, it makes much more senses to move Hyde to safety. Third, even if the Packers move Hyde to safety, they might be able to get Ha Ha Clinton Dix or Calvin Pryor with their first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, which would give them a couple more cost-effective options than Byrd or Ward.  Leaving all that rational thought aside players like Byrd and Ward rarely hit free agency so if there was no salary cap I would be fine with the Packers signing either of them to a contract that is slightly more expensive than Burnett's contract but realistically it just makes more sense to move Hyde to safety, draft a safety, or sign a cheaper veteran to a short-term deal.

Cost-Effective Outside Linebacker: A week ago it looked like Brian Orakpo and Jason Worilds, the two most attractive free agents at outside linebacker, were going to get to test the free agent market.  Unfortunately their employers for 2013 used different tags to essentially take them off the market: Orakpo (Franchise Tag, Redskins) and Worilds (Transition Tag, Steelers).  If the Packers tried to sign Orakpo to an expensive long-tern deal it would cost them two first round picks on top of the expensive contract they gave Orakpo, which makes no senses. The Packers might have offered Worilds a long-term deal since it would not have cost them draft picks to do so given that the Steelers only put the transition tag on him.  The upshot of the transition tag is that it gives teams the right to match whatever offer-sheet a player signs but given that the Steelers have very little salary cap space, they most likely would not have been unable to match any front-end loaded deal another team offered Worlids.  This is all water under the bridge given that Worilds signed his tender, which prevented him from shopping around for a lucrative long-term deal elsewhere, an odd choice by Worlids to say the least.  That leaves veterans over the age of 30 like Shaun Phillips and Calvin Pace or younger players like O'Brien Schofield.  I've long been an admirer of Schofield's talents dating back to his days at Wisconsin.  Unfortunately Schofield was rehabbing a serious knee injury heading into the 2010 NFL Draft, which caused him to drop from a first round prospect to a mid-round prospect.  It seems like that injury has clouded Schofield's NFL career so far.  Given that Schofield re-negotiated his deal last season to take less money as a member of the Seattle Seahawks and just finished his rookie contract, I am sure that he is looking to get paid this off-season.  A two-year, $2.5 million deal with $750,000 guaranteed makes sense to me for Schofield.  Moving onto the older options, I favor Phillips over Pace.  The Packers rarely sign free agents, let alone guys that are in their 30's but the beauty of giving Phillips a one-year, $1.5 million deal is that he gives the Packers a proven pass rusher opposite Claymaker.  Sure that might stunt Nick Perry's grow or mean that Mike Neal signs elsewhere but the Packers need actual production at outside linebacker from someone besides Claymaker.

Expensive Pass Rusher: The Packers used first round picks in the last two drafts on pass rushers: defensive end/outside linebacker Nick Perry in 2012 and defensive lineman Datone Jones in 2013.  So far Perry and Jones have been underwhelming to say the least.  Part of that is due to the fact that the Packers are not playing both guys in their proper position.  The Packers tried to get Perry to play outside linebacker even though he played defensive end in college because the Packers are desperately seeking an outside linebackers to play opposite Clay Matthews.  Jones looked like Cullen Jenkins 2.0 going into the 2013 NFL Draft but struggled last season to live up to the hype as a rookie.  I expect Jones to have a huge sophomore season in the NFL next year given that defensive line has one the highest learning curves from college to the NFL.  I've long advocated that the Packers should occasionally line-up in a 4-3 scheme mostly because it would play to the strengths of The 53, especially Jones as an inside pass rusher and Perry from his natural position of defensive end.  If the Packers don't want to mix it up on defense then throwing big money after Michael Bennett or Michael Johnson is just throwing good money away but if they are open to playing some 4-3 then spending some serious money on Bennett or Johnson, i.e. five-years, $30 million with $12.5 million guaranteed, actually seems prudent.

Charles Woodson (S): Last season was the first year that the Packers went an entire season without an interception by one of their safeties in over 60 years.  Woodson was only a member of The 53 for the Packers for seven seasons but I don't think it is a coincidence the year that Woodson leaves the safeties fail to get an interception.  I valued Woodson so much for the Packers last year that I advocated for them to keep him at his bloated $10 million salary instead of cutting him like they ultimately did.  Woodson ultimately played for the Oakland Raiders for a fraction of $10 million last season but his presence might have been the difference last season for the Packers.  I know that seems totally impractical given that Woodson is more of a gambler at this point in his career but with how many big plays the safeties gave up last season for the Packers, at least if Woodson was on the team you know some of those plays would have been turnovers.  In honor of his number, the Packer should give Woodson a one-year, $2.1 million deal to finish out his career in Green Bay.  Assuming Woodson stays healthy, worst case scenario he plays a hybrid corner/safety for the Packers and creates a handful of turnovers in 2014.  Best cases scenario, Woodson takes Hayward and Hyde under his wing to help them turn into younger, better versions of him for the Packers for the next decade.  Plus I want to be able to wear my Charles Woodson jersey some weekends again next season to give my Eddie Lacy jersey an occasional rest.

Moderately Prices Defensive Lineman: There is a ton of depth at defensive line in free agency, which is helpful for the Packers given that they could lose all three players (Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett, and B.J. Raji) that started along the defensive line for them last season to free agency.  There are too many options to name but on the more expensive side I favor the likes of Linval Joseph, Lamar Houston, and Arthur Jones while on the more cost-effective side I favor the likes Tyson Jackson, Ziggy Hood, Justin Tuck, and Willie Young.  Of all the player just discussed, Joseph looks like the perfect combo defensive lineman to play all three defensive line positions for the Packers in 2014 so I hope the Packers offer Joseph a five-year, $20 million deal with $7.5 million guaranteed.

Teams can negotiate with free agent but cannot officially sign most of those players until Tuesday.  Hopefully Thompson will take some of my advice above.  Either way, make sure to check back in this space for full coverage this week as players actually start to sign.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Building The 53 - Updated Advice for Thompson on Members of The 53 for Packers in 2013

I ran an extensive seven-part series in early January for how I thought Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson should approach the off-season (Practice Squad, Injured Reserve, RFA's, UFA's, Potential Cap Casualties, First Look @ 2014 NFL Draft, and Locks for The 53 in 2014).  So far Thompson has not followed very much of my advice besides re-signing cornerback Sam Shields.  We are still awaiting the final details of the contract but early reports are that it is a four-year, $39 million deal.  It will be interesting to see the structure of the contract because before that the Packers had roughly $35 million in salary cap space, my guess is that Shields will eat up at least $10 million of that salary space in 2014.

Anyone that follows the NFL knows that Thompson rarely signs free agents.  Even if Thompson does signs free agents, it is usually younger, low-priced players or guys that grew up as a Packer.  Besides Shields, the Packers have not resigned any of their impending unrestricted free agents that spent time on The 53 for the Packers in 2013.  At the very least, almost all of those players are worth resigning for next season to a one-year, veteran minimum deal (center Evan Dietrich-Smith, quarterback Matt Flynn, wide receiver James Jones, fullback John Kuhn, outside linebacker Mike Neal, defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, tight end Andrew Quarless, defensive lineman B.J. Raji, running back James Starks, and defensive lineman C.J. Wilson) besides (running back Kahlil Bell, linebacker Robert Francois, offensive tackle Marshall Newhouse, and quarterback Seneca Wallace).  Obviosuly some of those guys are worth more than just the veteran minimum so here are my updated thoughts on that front.

Last season Kuhn proved that the fullback position is still relevant given that Kuhn's block helped spring the two biggest plays of the season: Lacy's 60-yard run to spur their miracle comeback against the Cowboys and the Rodgers to Cobb touchdown pass to beat the Bears to win the NFC North.  Despite signing fullback Ina Liaina earlier this off-season, the Packers should resign Kuhn to a two-year, $2.5 million deal with $500,000 guaranteed.

Although I like quarterback Scott Tolzien more than Flynn as a long-term prospect behind Rodgers, in the short run Flynn gives the Packers a better chance to win if Rodgers is out for an extended period time next season.  I would expect the interest in Flynn to be tepid given that he has a reputation for being a 9-to-5 guy with a below average arm that was cut from two quarterback needy teams (Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills) last season.  Flynn already made upwards of $20 million between stints in Green Bay so his next contract has to be more about comfort than hammering paychecks.  I would offer Flynn a three-year deal worth slightly more than the veteran minimum with a $500,000 signing bonus and some performance guarantees.  Even if Flynn gets a more lucrative offer elsewhere I wonder if he would want to join his fifth NFL team in less than two years. My guess is that Flynn winds up with the Packers next season.

The Packers have to give wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson expensive long-term extensions in the next year, which cuts against offering Jones a contract but if Jones is willing to sign an identical deal to the one he just completed (three-years, $9.7 million with $2.3 million guaranteed) the Packers might be able to keep Cobb, Jones, and Nelson for the next three years while shuffling in Jarrett Boyking-eque players as 4th and 5th wide receivers.

The Packers could have a totally revamped defensive line next season if they lose all four of their free agent defensive lineman: Johnny Jolly, Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, and C.J. Wilson.  If that happens it would leave the Packers with four young guys along the defensive line in Josh Boyd, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, and Jerel Worthy.  Although Raji might have the highest upside, Jolly and Pickett have proven to be useful 3-4 defensive lineman that could be more cost-effective given that most 3-4 defensive lineman are more space eaters than playmakers.  Despite Jolly coming off a serious spinal cord injury, after Raji, I like Jollly slightly more than Pickett.  Even given the flood of quality 3-4 defensive lineman set to be on the free agent market, I would offer Jolly and Pickett identical two-year, $3 million deals with $1.5 million guaranteed.  If either of them are offered a richer contract by another NFL, I would ask them to at least check back before signing elsewhere but I would be surprised if either got a bigger contract offer on the open market.

There was some speculation a few months ago that former defensive lineman turned outside linebacker Mike Neal might get a similar deal to what outside linebacker Erik Walden signed last off-season with the Indianapolis Colts (four-years, $16 million).  That seems ridiculous to me but I would support the Packers giving Neal a three-year, $7.5 million deal with $2.5 million guaranteed that contained some sack and tackle for loss incentives.

The Packers reportedly offered Raji a long-term deal that averaged $8 million a year last season that Raji turned down.  Yikes, either Raji or his agent clearly miscalculated his value because the Packers now reportedly only have a one-year, $4 million "prove it" deal on the table.  Given that defensive lineman in a 3-4 defense do not rack up big sack or tackle for loss numbers, if Raji wants to sign a lucrative long-term deal I actually think it makes more sense for Raji to take a one-year "prove it" deal with a 4-3 team instead of returning to the Packers.  Only time will tell but $4 million for 2014 for Raji's services seems like a great deal for the Packers but a horrible deal for Raji so I expect him to test the free agent market.

Athletic hybrid tight end/wide receivers are a requirement for NFL teams as opposed to a luxury at this point and when healthy, Finley is exactly that type of player.  By all accounts it looks like Finley is rounding into playing shape.  The question is whether Pat McKenzie, the notoriously conservative Packers team doctor, will give Finley a clean bill of health.  If McKenzie signs off on Finley's health, the Packers should throw out a long-term deal (i.e. five-year, $25 million deal) with a modest signing bonus ($5 million) that contains rolling guarantees payable in each subsequent league year.  That contract structure would allow the Packers to get Finely's services long-term at a more cost-effective number.  If Finely turns out to be healthy the next few years and outplays his deals, the Packers could always re-negotiate to add money to Finley's contract.  If Finley is not healthy enough then the Packers could walk away at any point without any significant salary cap ramifications due to the structure of the rolling guarantees.

I am sure there are some Packers fans that are delusional enough to think that they can break the bank for center Alex Mack.  The Browns placed the transition tag on Mack but have so much salary cap space that even if the Packers offered Mack a severely front-end loaded deal, the Browns would most likely match it.  Even leaving aside that spending big money on centers in a zone-blocking scheme seems foolish, the Packers know that Evan Dietrich-Smith fits well in their up-tempo offensive scheme.  The four-year, $16 million deal with $8 million guaranteed that I said Thompson should offer EDS earlier this off-season still feels like a fair deal for both sides.

The Packers are usually proactive in locking up their own players long-term before they become unrestricted free agents.  Unfortunately they did not do that this year presumably in part because the salary cap was projected to be almost $10 million less than it turned out to be.  If the Packers pushed hard to get some of the guys just discussed above to sign extensions earlier this off-season, it would have allowed them to sign some of those guys to below market deals under the guise of having salary cap constraints that never actually came to fruition.  Now that $10 million more became available for each team the asking price increased for some guys, which might have priced guys like Jones and Neal out of Green Bay.  With my updated thoughts for how I think Thompson should approach members of The 53 for the Packers in 2013 out of the way, make sure to check back tomorrow for my thoughts on how Thompson can realistically re-build the defense via free agency.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Man City Report - One Down, Three to Go

Going into the 2013-14 season Manchester City previously won 15 major trophies: three English First Division/Premier League titles (1936-37, 1967-68, & 2011-12), five FA Cups (1904, 1934, 1956, 1969, & 2011), two League Cups (1970 & 1976), four FA Community Shields (1937, 1968, 1972, & 2012), and one European Cup Winners' Cup (1970).  This season City had lofty aspirations of winning four trophies: UEFA Champions League, English (aka Barclays) Premier League, FA Cup, and Capital One (aka League) Cup.  To put those aspirations in perspective, no English team has ever won the three major domestic trophies in the same season so City set a very ambitious goal.  Given that City beat Sunderland 3-1 in the 2014 Capital One Cup Final yesterday, I thought it was a good time to take stock of City's chances to hoist four trophies this season.

With the Capital One Cup trophy in had, let's move on to the FA Cup.  City are looking to win the title this season after they lost to Wigan in the final last season.  City knocked off Chelsea at home in the 5th round of the FA Cup less than two weeks after they lost to Chelsea at home in the EPL for their first home loss of the 2013-14 EPL season.  Ironically City now host Wigan in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.  The other three quarterfinal matches are: Arsenal against Everton, Hull City against Sunderland, and Sheffield United against Charlton Athletic.  If City defeat Wigan, clearly the winner of the Arsenal v. Everton match posses the biggest threat.  Given that semifinal match ups will not be drawn until the field is winnowed down to four clubs, there is a chance City could avoid Arsenal or Everton altogether, which would drastically improve their chances of winning the FA Cup.

Player Rankings
1. Yaya Toure (M, LR 1)
2. Sergio Aguero (F, LR 3)
3. Vincent Kompany (D, LR 2)
4. David Silva (M, LR 4)
5. Alvaro Negredo (F, LR 5) 
6. Samir Nasri (M, LR 11)
7. Jesus Navas (M, LR 6) 
8. Edin Dzeko (F, LR 10)
9. Fernandinho (M, LR 7)
10. Pablo Zabaleta (D, LR 8)
11. Joe Hart (GK, LR 9)
12. Stevan Jovetic (F, LR 14)
13. Aleksandar Kolarov (D, LR 13)
14. James Milner (M, LR 15)
15. Gael Clichy (D, LR 12)
16. Matija Nastasic (D, LR 16)
17. Javi Garcia (M, LR 17)
18. Joleon Lescott (D, LR 18)
19. Micah Richards (D, LR 19)
20. Jack Rodwell (M, LR 20)
21. Martin Demichelis (D, LR 21)
22. Dedryck Boyata (D, LR 22)
23. Alex Nimely (F, LR 24)
24. Costel Pantilimon (GK, LR 23)
25. Erik Johansen (GK, LR 25)
26. Marcos Lopes (M, LR 26)
27. Richard Wright (GK, LR 27)
After City lost to Chelsea in the EPL at the beginning of February, they tied Norwich 0-0 on the road (beat them 7-0 at home in the corresponding fixture earlier this season).  As if a road tie against Norwich was not bad enough, I was forced to watch a grainy/choppy version of the match at Starbucks.  The connective shutouts that Chelsea and Norwich dealt City marked the first time that City failed to score in consecutive games in the EPL since January 1, 2012.  Following two lackluster performances in the EPL, City barely beat Stoke 1-0 at home thanks to a goal by midfielder Yaya Toure.  Keep in mind City had the best home record in the EPL while Stoke had the worst road record in the league.  All told that means City earned merely four points over their last three Premier League matches.  Despite their dip in form in the EPL, City still controls their own destiny even though they are currently in 4th place in the table behind Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal because City have two games in hand.  Obviously every match will matter down the stretch but they have a huge four match stretch starting at the end of March: away against Manchester United (03/25), away against Arsenal (03/29), home against Southampton (04/05), and away against Liverpool (04/13).  Taking all 12 points (4 wins) would be a dream scenario but 10 points (3 wins and 1 draw) is probably the minimum if City want to win the EPL.

City finished second in their Champions League qualification group to qualify for the knockout round of the Champions League for the first time in club history.  The downside of City finishing second in their group was they they drew a club that won their group.  Unfortunately that meant City drew Barcelona, which marked the first time the clubs played each other in a competitive match.  City hosted Barcelona in the first leg of their home-and-home series, which City lost 2-0 thanks in large part to Martin Demichelis getting sent off when he took down Lionel Messi just outside the penalty box. The referee ruled that the offense occurred in the box and Messi converted the penalty kick.  Dani Alves scored in stoppage time to put City in a borderline insurmountable hole.  If City are able to overturn their 2-0 deficit, it will be without the services of their manager Manuel Pellegrini since UEFA handed him a two match ban for his seething comments about the referee's performance in City's 2-0 loss to Barcelona.

When clubs like City are spread across so many competitions, they almost need to have two full starting lineups.  City have that covered at goalkeeper (Hart & Pantilimon), right back (Zabaleta & Richards), left back (Clichy & Kolarov), winger (Silva, Navas, & Nasari), and aerial striker (Negrado & Dzeko).  Unfortunately City do not have that covered at the important positions of central defender, central midfield, and attacking midfielder/withdrawn striker.  News broke recently that City will purchase center midfielder Bruno Zuculini from Racing Club for merely £3 million.  Sadly City will not be able to use Zuculini's services until next season, which might be too late if City actually wants to win more than one trophy this season
.  With the Capital One Cup already in the trophy case I would give City a 85% chance of winning the FA Cup, 51% chance of winning the EPL, and 25% chance of winning the Champions League.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Man City Report - City Beat Sunderland 3-1 in 2014 Capital One Cup Final

Manchester City faced Sunderland in the 2014 Capital One (aka League) Cup Final in search of their first of a possible four trophies this season.  Going into the 54th league cup final, City hoisted the league cup twice in three tries (beat West Brom in 1970, lost to Wolves in 1974, beat Newcastle in 1976) while Sunderland have never won the league cup (runners-up in 1985).  In fact, Sunderland has not won a major trophy since 1973 when they beat Leeds in the FA Cup final.

Before we get too excited about the Capital One Cup, let's make it clear that the Capital One Cup is clearly the least prestigious of the four major trophies that an English Premier League club can win.  Despite what hard core EPL supporters tell you, winning the UEFA Champions League is more prestigious than winning the EPL.  Both of those titles are more prestigious than winning the FA Cup, which is more prestigious than winning the Capital One Cup given that the Capital One Cup involves the weakest field and is the newest of four competitions.

Until the early 1980's the Capital One Cup was just referred to as the Football League Cup but since then it has gone through a number of sponsorship changes: Milk Cup (1982-86), Littlewoods Challenge Cup (1986-90), Rumbelows Cup (1990-92), Coca-Cola Cup (1992-98), Worthington Cup (1998-03), Carling Cup (2003-12), and now the Capital One Cup through at least 2016.

With that quick historical/sponsorship background out of the way, let's get back the actual 2014 Capital One Cup.  Sunderland had a much harder road to the final than City given that Sunderland knocked off Southampton, Chelsea, and Manchester United en route to punching their ticket to the 2014 Capital One Cup Final while City scored 19 goals and only conceded one by knocking off the likes of Wigan, Newcastle, Leicester, and West Ham.

Sunderland has been very successful against City at home.  Sunderland beat City 1-0 earlier this season in the Premier League at the Stadium of Light for their second win over City in a row.  In fact, Sunderland beat City the last four times they played at the Stadium of Light but have not beaten City away from home since 1998.  Despite currently being in the relegation zone in the EPL, Sunderland has been in a good run of form lately across all competitions winning four of their last six and seven of their last 11 matches.

City were buoyed by the return of striker Sergio Aguero, the fifth fastest person to score 50 Premier League goals (behind Andy Cole, Alan Shearer, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Fernando Torres) in just 81 matches.  Aguero limped off with a hamstring injury in City's 5-1 thumping of Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the EPL at the end of January.  The starting 11 for City against Sunderland were: Pantilimon (GK), Zabaleta (RB), Kompany (C, CB), Demichelis (CB), Kolarov (LB), Nasri (RM), Toure (CM), Fernandinho (CM), Silva (LM), Aguero (F), and Dzeko (F).  The substitutes were: Hart (GK), Clichy (LB), Lescott (CB), Milner (M), Garcia (M), Navas (M), and Negredo (F).  If I was City manager Manuel Pellegrini I would have started Hart ahead of Pantilimon, Lescott ahead of Demichelis, and Negredo ahead of Dzeko.

As we know by the title of this post, City beat Sunderland 3-1 in the 2014 Capital One Cup Final but that result was far from certain until the early part of the second half.  Fabio Borini notched the opener for Sunderland in the 10th minute as he got behind Martin Demichelis and Vincent Kompany for a clinical finish past Pantilimon.  Sunderland almost struck again from an off-side position in the first half that the assistant referee missed but Kompany slid in to save the day.  City managed a few chances in the first half but nothing as menacing as Sunderland's opportunities because Sunderland was getting everyone behind the ball following their opener.  Through the opening 45 minutes City and Sunderland both had four shots with two on target.  City dominated possession 63% to 37% but Sunderland still lead 1-0 thanks to Sunderland effectively packing it in and counter-attacking.

The second half opened up with City driving forward early and finally locating little cracks in Sunderland's defense.  All of City's effort paid off when who else, the incomparable midfielder Yaya Toure notched an amazing finish from distance in the 55th minute to tie the score at 1-1.  Before Sunderland could re-group, City went up 2-1 thanks to a powerful strike from midfielder Samir Nasri in the 56th minute.  Going into the match Nasri was 0-2 at Wembley with a trophy on the line so you could see the raw emotions pour out of Nasri as he celebrated what ultimately turned out to be the winner for City.  The final scoreline in City's three previous appearances in the Capital One Cup Final was 2-1.  Until the death, it looked like 2-1 would be the final scoreline until a beautiful counter-attack by Toure was finished by substitute midfielder Jesus Navas in the 90th minute.

On a personal note, I was excited to watch the 2014 Capital One Cup on beIn Sports from the comforts of the humble apartment I share with Cheesehead Chick.  Earlier in the week Cheesehead Chick and I thought we purchased our first condo together.  Unfortunately, the sellers pulled a move that our real estate agent said she never saw in her 27 years in the business to take a higher offer despite the fact they received that offer after we had a signed contract.  By no means does City winning the 2014 Capital One Cup make up for that disappointment but at least it provided a nice reprieve from all of the housing craziness we've been going through lately.

It was nice to see City score three goals in the second half after going down 1-0 in the first half.  City also exercised some demons with their win over Sunderland at Wembley because that is the same pitch where City lost 1-0 to Wigan in the 2013 FA Cup Final.  A trophy is a trophy, even if the Capital One Cup is the PGA Championship of English soccer.  Plus, winning the 2014 Capital One Cup keeps City's goal of winning four trophies a possibility.  Check back tomorrow for my thoughts on how realistic it is for City to win the quadruple this season.