published Monday, February 17th, 2014

5-at-10: Weather breaks, Brave moves, hoops and 3 big things for NASCAR

OK, it snows Friday night and it's 60 degrees and sunny on Sunday. Yep, welcome to Chattanooga, home of the Choo-Choo, the Moon Pie and weather swings so complex that the Brothers Karamazov seems like light reading by comparison.

From the "Talks too much" studios, if someone gets a steal in the NBA All-Star game is that a foul since playing defense was obviously against the rules?

Braves big offseason

  • photo
    Atlanta Braves pitcher Craig Kimbrel reacts during a spring training baseball workout, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. The Braves agreed to terms with Kimbrel on a four-year contract. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

As the weather turned this weekend, it was impossible not to think of warmer days.

For Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren, the harshness of the winter has been balanced by a series of shrewd moves that leave his team locked into the present and with a possibility of a monster future on the horizon.

Follow along.

Wren and the Braves attacked the looming free agency concerns amid their youthful roster and locked down answers — and opened at least one question — for the foreseeable future. It was almost like Wren's post-Christmas Honey-Do list was as clear as the instructions on his shampoo.

• Pick up the dry cleaning;

• Get the AC checked;

• Sign young stars to long-term deal.

Check, check and big-fat checks that totaled roughly $200 million.

But Wren spent his $200 million as frugally as a man can spend that much money, getting a lead-off guy, a No. 3 hitter, a potential No. 1 starter and a closer — all in their 20s mind you — for his dough. The Yankees spent a total of $175 million for an imported No. 3 starter, but we all know how pricey New York can be.

Wren got slugging first baseman and clubhouse linchpin Freddie Freeman to agree to an eight-year deal that will pay him a very affordable $125 million. That's about $12 million per year, which is outlandish on its face — someone making $12 million a year needs to be curing diseases or making sure Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are doing Bill Gates- and Warren Buffet-type things — but amazingly affordable considering Dan Uggla makes more than that and Uggla just struck out again. And again.

Wren also massaged the process, getting outfielder Jason Heyward to agree to a two-year extension, which buys the Braves enough time to see if Heyward is going to deliver on his extreme gifts and be the guy that hit .333 in the final 38 games of 2013 or if he's simply Jeff Francuoer 2.014.

Add in signing Julio Tehran and his potential top of the rotation stuff to a six-year deal and closer Craig Kimbrel to a five-year extension, and Wren's work has been impressive and almost complete. Signing immensely gifted shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a long-term deal would be the cherry on this offseason sundae that will the gift that gives for years to come.

Wren's model — signing young and talented players to long-term deals before they hit the choppy waters and bidding waves of the open market — is sound and similar to some of the small-market clubs. But this tsunami of spending rings a subtle but discernibly different chord.

Wren is filling the Braves roster with young and talented pieces in preparation for the proposed move to the Braves new stadium. New ballparks draw people. New ballparks with teams that win draw lots and lots of people.

————

College hoops rewind

Wow, that was fun. Here's what we gleaned from the weekend that was in college hoops:

— UT has spent its house money. The Vols are 15-10 with six games left. Yes, a slew of RPI guys likely still have the Vols on the inside of the Dance bubble, but UT's final six dance partners offer little upward swing. In truth, after Saturday's 75-70 loss at Missouri, only the Tigers trip to Knoxville offers any type of resume-helping benefits. Now a loss to any of the RPI barnacles that are the Auburns, Georgias and Texas A&Ms in the days to come would be crippling. UT must finish no worse than 5-1, and that would require some work in the SEC tournament. And let's be clear, a 5-1 finish seems like a tall order for a team that has won consecutive SEC games exactly once this season.

— Mocs back in the win column with a strong showing Saturday night. And as TFP UTC hoops ace David Uchiyama tells us here, the Mocs are assured of a first-round bye at the Southern Conference tournament and could win 20 games this season. Read that last sentence again, and is there any way not to deem this Mocs basketball season a success?

— Florida is legit good. Going into Rupp and winning is the mark of a mentally tough team that will respond to challenges with effort and grit. The Gators are on the short-list of teams that could win the whole thing and it's because of their toughness as much as their talent. Side question: At what point does Coach Cal's freshmen start to show signs of experience and age? Side question, II: At what point does Coach Cal stopping making references/excuses about how young his team is? We're past Valentine's Day and there's a month left in the regular season, so the answers need to be now and now.

— Syracuse finds ways to win, even when the Orange are not playing well. That's a valuable commodity if you view that as a combined trait of dependability and desire, especially in a March march that requires its champion to win at least six consecutive games and you have to figure a team will be forced to win at least once without its 'A' game. That said, winning in last-second situations can be a dangerous commodity if a team believes it can just flip a switch with seven minutes left and pull out any comeback.

— Doug McDermott can slap play. Dude had 39 as Creighton beat Villanova. This sounds crazy, but the Creighton Jays could make a run. Think Danny Manning and the Miracles from '88.

————

Austin Dillon

There's a 3 on the pole, and if one was to believe in conspiracy theories and NASCAR, this would at least raise an eyebrow or Anthony Davis.

With all the backlash from the Richard Petty-Danica mess — Danica actually handled it supremely and left The King spinning his wheels with the "I'm not a sexist routine" (Side note: If you have to preface a public statement with "I'm not a....." you likely did something very stupid and gave a lot of people reason to believe you are what you are trying to say you are not) — and the growing apathy among fans and worse sponsors, NASCAR needed a jolt.

It tried to move the needle with rule changes, but that's months down the line.

It received a high-octane boost with Austin Dillon getting the No. 3 on the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500. Yes, that No. 3, the one that has not been in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race in 13 years.

Dillon could be the lightning rod that re-energizes the sport that has been slowing down since that fateful Sunday in 2001.

We'll see. But in some ways this is already a win for NASCAR because we'll be watching.

As we speed toward the start of NASCAR, here are three things we will be watching:

  • If not Austin, then whom? NASCAR needs a star, a opinion generator who can bring fans to cheers or jeers. Maybe Dillon can be that guy — there are alot of folks who will love him for the 3 and hate him for the 3. But you do not generate opinion from the back of the pack. Well, unless it's Richard Petty calling together the version of the NASCAR NOW chapter (AKA The He-Man Woman Haters Club.)

  • Can Dale Jr. contend? There is a great chance for an old-school NASCAR type of rivalry here. Dale Jr. driving hard and taking on Austin Dillon and taking offense to Dillon driving his Daddy's ride. It could actually move the needle, which is something NASCAR craves.

  • Can anyone consistently beat Jimmie Johnson? Want to know the biggest dynasty in sports — it's Johnson and the No. 48 Chevy. Dude is killing it. In fact, he is dominating so much that it's becoming boring.

————

This and that

— The NBA All-Star weekend came and went and while Kyrie Irving was the MVP in the actual game, the biggest loser was the Salm Dunk contest. What in the world was that? GUH-ross.

  • photo
    USA forward T.J. Oshie scores the winning goal against Russia goaltender Sergei Bobrovski in a shootout during overtime of a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Saturday in Sochi, Russia.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

— We've tried to get into the Winter Olympics, and we had fun watching the US Hockey team over the weekend. Sure there are some great storylines as our ace TFP columnist Mark Wiedmer points out here, but still having a hard time staying interested in the winter activities.

— Bubba won the tournament, but Bubba Watson's son won Sunday. Golf fans everywhere lost some on Sunday too, as Augusta National had to remove the Eisenhower tree from the left side of the 17th fairway.

— Speaking of basketball struggles in Knoxville, uh the Lady Vols are looking positively pedestrian and lost to Kentucky for the first time ever in Thompson Boling Arena. E-gad.

— Congrats to the Jim Foster's XX Mocs for winning the SoCon. Well-played indeed.

————

Today's question(s)

Knock yourself silly on any of the above, and we feel pretty certain 9er has some UK-Florida thoughts.

But if you need another talking point, here's a big one.

Today is Michael Jordan's 51st birthday. The 5-at-10 was born in 1970. (We're a man, we're 43.)

So in honor of his Airness on his birthday, what is the sports icon Rushmore since 1970?

That's right the modern-day Sports Rushmore. Go, and buckle up butter cup.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
jomo11 said...

Jay- do you think Conz Martin survives at UTK ? and if he does not, UTK is consistently in the top 10 national in attendence, loyal fan base, all the game and practice facilities necessary, etc. . .if they were smart the would take the "dump truck of cash" philosphy and go to Gregg Marshall or Shaka Smart and keep adding cash til one of them says yes. . .no need for UTK to go the mid-major unproven route of Martin, Dooley, Jones, etc. they should hire a proven big-time guy and not settle for a coach unless he has been to the Final Four. . . .As Fletch says " Its all ball-bearings these days "

February 17, 2014 at 10:17 a.m.
chas9 said...

Who gets the most audacious ever new and improved product-launch-crash-and-burn award, New Coke or Underarmor's Olympic speed skating suits?

Did you see that #18 Creighton crushed #6 'Nova? McDermott's team will be a popular dark horse pick in the brackets this year. And he passed Bird. Maybe Dunkmeister John Wall can teach him to do the Dougie.

Florida is one of the three best college basketball teams in the country. Last week, playing at home, UT and UK played The Gators even most of the game, proving that both are NCAA tournament worthy. But The Vols' loss @ Mizzou means that to get in they may have to get to the SEC tournament finals.

Last week I predicted that The Cats would lose to UF because they wouldn't scrap as hard as UT had. Sadly, I was right. (Vegas missed this one.) The Gators won the turnover, steals, and free throw battles. And they scored on their last 13 possessions.

But Kentucky scrapped well enough to encourage BBN, and in the end it was Florida's considerable experience edge that prevailed. I love the TEAM aspect of the game, and five freshmen can't be very good at that. It's silly for pundits to start saying around this point in the season that freshmen are no longer freshmen. The amazing senior Wilbekin was only a two-star recruit.

If it's true as Coach Cal says that the important thing is for his team to keep growing toward the March season, then UK is winning. (Apologies to Charlie Sheen.)

Yesterday, The XX Cats won for the first time ever in Thompson-Boling. It was the #18 deep pink team 75, #8 light pinks 71. If you haven't been keeping up, the SEC XX teams dominate their sport the way XY SEC teams dominate football.

And the XX game drew 15,664, almost as many as the XY UT-UK game. What does it say that only 18K of Thompson-Boling's 20K seats were full for the Kentucky game? Are Johnnyvolsfans just not that into Cuonzo's cagers?

If sports fans are preferring to watch their events on TV rather than showing up live at the venues, should the ATL be nervous about investing in a new stadium? Does the proposed new one seat more or fewer than The Ted?

And is serpent handling a sport?

February 17, 2014 at 10:21 a.m.
JonathanMCook said...

Well since MT has yet to post this morning I figured I'll go ahead and get the ball rolling on this: How 'bout that Mocs strength of schedule? O_O I recommend a steady diet of red meat, lifting no less then 500 lbs, and pushing pecan trees down (deep roots).

However, this quote is the one I am the most interested in:

"The excitement that I've already heard throughout the city about our game at UT is just unreal," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "There is a much greater interest and excitement in that game than any of our previous games against FBS teams like Alabama."

True that. However, here are some things I would like to address. In fact, we might want to save this for the mailbag on Friday. ;)

What would be the over-under for how much of the entire population of Chattanooga (approx. 500,000) will be wanting tickets and if so how many will actually be wearing blue and gold and rooting for the Mocs? The other question being how much of an effect will this schedule will have on the opportunity to move into the post season?

While I can't listen at work, I hope you have Russ on the show sometime this week regarding this. We got the players, that's no longer the issue. My issue is trying to keep them both healthy (I'm looking at you Keon and Jacob) AND hungry.

February 17, 2014 at 10:52 a.m.
mcpell3 said...

5 - Nascar died with Dale, Sr. They need a "new and improved" bad guy. JMC - I too love the Mocs FB schedule - possibly 2 away games I may get to see. Chas - the only good snake is a dead snake.

February 17, 2014 at 10:59 a.m.
chas9 said...

During the slash of the Titans Saturday evening, Dickie V. observed that the SEC may only get two bids. Who's the deserving third, he asked. He has a point. After FloRida and Kentucky, nobody in the middling middle has stepped up to separate from the blah bunch.

After Mizzou beat Tennessee, Jerry Palm moved the Columbia Tigers up to a 10 seed, and the Vols down to last four in.

If we only get three teams in, I'd like to see the third be The Vols. They'll likely finish two games ahead of Mizzou in the SEC race.

Here's how I expect the top half of the conference to finish: Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, Mizzou, LSU.

MP3--That rattlesnake said the only good preacher is a dead preacher.

February 17, 2014 at 11:25 a.m.
fechancellor said...

10 Ring, oh my, you disappoint. Where's your lustful USA, USA, USA? Hell, the team not only beat the Russian steamroller, they iced Putin, forcing the CZAR of All Rus' keep his shirt on. House arrest now for those in the Russian Hockey hierarchy deemed liable followed by a show trial and 20 years in the real deep freeze after the games.

Rushmores, get your Rushmores, here! Pele, Lance Johnson (before we knew), Tiger Woods (before we knew), A-Rod? (before we knew).

Ten Ring, Team #1 takes to the 75 North super slab this weekend all the way to the "Big House," where relations are warming quite nicely despite the season.

February 17, 2014 at 12:02 p.m.
chas9 said...

fec--I had thought the lovechild born of the union between Navin R. Johnson and Lance Armstrong was a secret.

And you are right that the hockey fight deserves a mention. I wonder if the Rooskies think they were robbed on the no-goal call the way we feel our basketball team was robbed in 1972.

February 17, 2014 at 12:15 p.m.
jgreeson said...

FE to the C —

We'll be there in the end for the US boys against Mother Russia. This was pool play.

Big House, huh? Wow. Is that Michigan or Knox County? That sounds cool.

Pele? Well-played fine squire.

9er —

You called Saturday night for sure.

We think four is the max for the SEC and three seems quite possible.

McPell —

Agree and agree and agree. Stupid snakes.

Although the snake-handling preacher spent his whole life backing God and his death kind of proves Darwinism. So it goes.

JMC —

You're in the mailbag, and we'll see about getting Russ on the radio in the coming days.

Jomo —

Concur about not going mid-major. Interesting week ahead for The Conz.

February 17, 2014 at 1:10 p.m.
fechancellor said...

9er, the Order of the Red Banner was awarded to all the officials including the time keeper in secret ceremony in 1973. This revealed after the fall of the Soviets.

Of course, Russians remember. Olympic Gold was a triumph of Communism over the decadent West. The victory was the talk of the of Soviet Citizens as they stood in endless lines to buy a turnip and a hunk of coarse black bread enough to feed four for a week.

You made me work for this, a nut goes for a nut?

February 17, 2014 at 1:24 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

You want complex reading,5? At Emory, they had a Page of the Month club for James Joyce's "Ulysses." Where was I? Oh, darn that stream of consciousness.

Finally, a weekend where what happened in games overshadows off the field stuff. The Cuse in a thriller. Duke and Maryland's last go-round at Cameron. And it might have been pool play, but the US and Russkies (who do nothing, ahem, without a plan) on Mother Russia soil going to OT was sublime.

And 5, to you and Weeds I submit that Syracuse is the toughest team to beat, if for no other reason than their 2-3 zone. It takes a little more experience and knowledge for a team and a point guard to break down that zone and get good shots. With the proliferation of early departures for the NBA, few college teams have the requisite combination of talent and experience to successfully attack Syracuse's zone.

I believe Jimmy Buy'em knows that, too.

February 17, 2014 at 1:24 p.m.
Stewwie said...

The dunk contest format was the worst since "the wheel" a few years back. John Wall had a very impressive dunk at the end though. And Paul George had a pretty good one too with a reverse through-the-legs. But Upward must have been the sponsor this year since the East team was the "winner" and Wall merely got "dunk of the night".

The dunk contest has usually gotten a bad rap but I think it has less to do with the dunks than who is doing the dunks. If LeBron would agree to enter the contest, the ratings would be huge. If 10 million folks watched The Decision, how many more would watch him do a dunk contest? Next year...LeBron, Griffin, George, Wall. Make it happen, boys!

Lame reason for Russ Huesman to not want to do Thursday night home games anymore. I'm not buying that the players aren't ready enough for Thursday home games simply because they have to go to classes that day. It sounds like he's trying to subtly make another excuse for not beating UT-Martin.

February 17, 2014 at 1:44 p.m.
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