gerrit-cole.jpg

Wednesday, happy to have ya! Hopefully you can provide some spice into our lives because this has been a relatively slow sports week so far. Somebody stir the pot!

Slow news day or not, I made a promise to be here in your inbox first thing every morning and, of course, I'm here to honor that promise. For what it's worth, we've still got some good stuff to cover this morning. We're going to discuss which MLB teams have the most pressure on them to win the World Series this year, as well as which NBA players we're going to see compete in All-Star skills events this weekend. To cap things off, we'll touch on MLB service-time manipulation issues and what the heck the deal is with "NBA Top Shot." Stick around. 


📰 What you need to know

1. Ranking MLB teams by pressure to win World Series ⚾

For all the weird changes that baseball has dealt with over the past few years, one thing remains true: only one team gets to hoist the World Series trophy at the end of the year. Of course, the pressure to be that one team varies from case to case. Last year, the Dodgers were facing tons of pressure after coming so close in 2017-2018, then spending a ton of money to get over the hump. But some clubs also enter Spring Training with very little expectations.

So, which teams are feeling the most pressure due to championship aspirations this spring? Great question, I'm glad I asked. Our Mike Axisa has answers:

  1. Yankees: Not a major shock here. With the Dodgers finally getting to the top of the mountain, the Yankees take over as the big-market team that's desperate for something to show for their title pursuit. But New York also chopped $50 million off its payroll for the second time in four years this offseason, and they've probably got a limited window with this current group. There's a lot of urgency in the Bronx
  2. Astros: They've already started losing pieces (goodbye, George Springer) and this season might be their last chance to win a World Series with the core they tanked to build. Add in the fact that the one World Series they did already win is a bit tainted by the cheating scandal and, yeah, there's a little pressure 
  3. Cubs: The Cubs said goodbye to Yu Darvish, Jon Lester, and Kyle Schwarber over the winter, and Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo will all become free agents after the season. They don't seem super willing to spend money to field the best product, but they play in a weak division and there's still pressure to end up with more than one title during the Bryant/Rizzo era
  4. Mets: Under the direction of new owner Steve Cohen, the Mets went out and got Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, and more. This is a team that has stated its intentions clearly: "If I don't win a World Series in the next 3-5 years -- I'd like to make it sooner -- I would consider that slightly disappointing," said Cohen during his introductory press conference. Now, he's officially on the clock
  5. Dodgers: The Dodgers snapped their 32-year World Series drought last year, which earns them a grace period. But their team is VERY strong and they went out and spent a ton of money to bring in Trevor Bauer (blowing past the luxury tax threshold in the process) so just one championship in this era would be a bit of a disappointment. They've got a little added pressure of being the odds-on favorites this year as well

For the full rankings, you can head right here. As a Red Sox fan, it's a little embarrassing that Boston clocks in all the way down at No. 20 on the list (especially given the resources and riches at the team's disposal) and I think patience is going to start wearing pretty thin here quickly if those expectations aren't raised in short order. It does make me feel better that the Yankees are still in desperation mode ... for now.

2. NBA reveals All-Star skills events participants 🏀

gettyimages-1230756352.jpg
Getty Images

The NBA All-Star Game that nobody seemed to ask for is quickly approaching this weekend, and things will be a little different in 2021. The skills events, which usually take place on the Saturday before the ASG, will take place before/during the game on Sunday this year. The Skills Challenge and 3-Point Contest will take place before the All-Star Game, and the Slam Dunk Contest will be held during halftime. 

Yesterday, we found out which players will be taking part in those events, as the NBA unveiled the participation lineups.

Skills Challenge

  • Robert Covington (Trail Blazers)
  • Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
  • Chris Paul (Suns)
  • Julius Randle (Knicks)
  • Domantas Sabonis (Pacers)
  • Nikola Vucevic (Magic)

3-Point Contest

  • Devin Booker (Suns)
  • Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
  • Stephen Curry (Warriors)
  • Zach LaVine (Bulls)
  • Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)
  • Jayson Tatum (Celtics)

Dunk Contest

  • Anfernee Simons (Trail Blazers)
  • Cassius Stanley (Pacers)
  • Obi Toppin (Knicks)

I'm intrigued to see how smoothly this all runs, considering the changes being made, but, at the very least, it should make the Sunday All-Star experience a little more interesting. I'll be spending the entire dunk contest rooting for one of the contestants to shatter the backboard and wreak some havoc on the second half of the game.

3. MLB's service-time issue isn't going anywhere ⚾

kris-bryant-3.png
Getty Images

Even if you haven't been following baseball all that closely over the past few years, you've probably heard of a little thing called "service-time manipulation." It's become a major point of contention in MLB recently, mainly because teams have been accused (one team even admitted it!) of manipulating players' service time in order to gain control over their salaries via arbitration eligibility and free agency. 

  • Service time is measured in days spent in the majors, either on the active roster on the injured list
  • Players are eligible for free agency after six full years of service time, but if they land even a day short of the service time requirements, free agency is pushed back a full year
  • Service time manipulation is not expressly forbidden by the league's CBA, but it undermines the competitive integrity of the sport

Service-time manipulation has become a hot-button issue over the years as several players have accused their respective teams of contriving reasons to hold them off the major league roster in order to avoid paying them. Some of those players have filed grievances and sparked contentious battles. The discussion around the matter was reinvigorated just last week when former Mariners president Kevin Mather resigned after admitting that the club purposefully manipulates players' service time, among other unsavory business practices.

Unfortunately, our Dayn Perry doesn't see an easy (or quick) solution to the problem.

  • Perry: "Whatever the solution is, it's not easily arrived at. It's likely that when the next CBA is negotiated in earnest this coming offseason, the issue of service-time manipulation will be addressed. The players will want some framework that drums it out of the game altogether, and the owners will want some kind of give-back for agreeing to do so. Timeless refrain, that one."

Service time is a longstanding baseball practice but it seems like it should be scrapped (or at least significantly modified) as the league heads toward a new CBA. Not only is it an annoying and exhausting thing for fans/players to keep track of, it's also clearly become detrimental to players/the product. Fans don't want to see teams hold players back so that the billionaire owners can position themselves financially ... they want to see the best players on the field, especially when those players are young, promising studs. 

4. Everything you need to know about the NBA Top Shot craze 🏀

luka-doncic.jpg
Getty Images

Are you completely lost when it comes to the new "Top Shot" craze that nobody can seem to shut up about? Well, join the damn club. I haven't been this confused since Bitcoin became a thing. 

Luckily, my esteemed colleague (and fellow gamer) Gabe Fernandez gave a pretty nice breakdown of the "next level collectibles,"  how they work, and what they mean for the future of the NBA. 

  • NBA Top Shot is an online company (backed by the NBA) that allows users to obtain digital basketball highlights (called "moments") that can be collected and shown off to others
  • These moments range in designated rarity, and are artificially scarce based on where they land in the rarity scale
  • The company calls its product "next level NBA collectibles" --  it's comparable to card collecting, just in a digital format and with a cryptocurrency aspect attached to it   
  • Top Shot has totaled over 88,000 buyers and over $278 million in sales as of March 2

I'm still not totally sure what the heck everyone is so excited about ... buying highlights that we can all just find and watch online? Doesn't really make a lot of sense to me, but maybe that just means I'm officially old. 

In any case, I'll be leaving "Top Shot" and "Bitcoin" muted on Twitter for now. 


📝 Odds & Ends

tom-brady-parade.png
USATSI


📺 What to watch tonight

untitled-design-91.png
Getty Images

🏒 Capitals vs. Bruins, 7 p.m. | BOS -150 | TV: NBCSN

🏀 Nets vs. Rockets, 7:30 p.m. | HOU +6.5 | TV: ESPN

🏀 Warriors vs. Trail Blazers, 10 p.m. | POR +1 | TV: ESPN


🥇 The best thing I saw yesterday

Former NBA big man Kendrick Perkins has absolutely had it with his own children.