Category Archives: Sports

Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays reach agreement on 1-year, $18M deal

Infielder Marcus Semien is in agreement with the Toronto Blue Jays on a one-year, $18 million contract, a source familiar with the deal told ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Semien will become the second star and fourth free agent added by the Blue Jays during a slow offseason amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Toronto gave outfielder George Springer a $150 million, six-year deal. Toronto also agreed to one-year contracts with right-handers Kirby Yates ($5.5 million) and Tyler Chatwood ($3 million) and re-signed left-hander Robbie Ray to an $8 million, one-year contract.

Coming off a career year in 2019, Semien struggled in 2020 while dealing with a rib injury, as the shortstop hit just .223 with 7 home runs, 28 runs, 23 RBIs and 4 stolen bases for the Oakland Athletics. His production was down largely due to his strikeouts being up, as he fanned on 21.2% of his plate appearances.

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It was a different story for Semien in 2019, when he concluded third in AL MVP voting after posting personal bests with 33 home runs, 92 RBIs and a .285 batting average while playing in all 162 matches. His WAR (8.9) was third in the majors that season, and he parlayed that into a one-year, $13 million deal — more than double his contract after earning $5.9 million in 2018. He earned $4,814,815 in prorated pay for 2020.

Semien was tied for 190th among batters in WAR in 2020, with 0.5. Even with the decline in 2020, he is one of just six hitters to account for at least 9.0 WAR in the past two seasons combined.

Semien’s 151 runs scored since the start of the 2019 season rank second among all American League players, and his 100 extra-base hits rank fifth.

In eight MLB campaigns, Semien, who is above average when it comes to base running, has a .254 batting average with 115 home runs, 380 RBIs, 467 runs scored and 66 stolen bases — but with 731 strikeouts in 3,266 at-bats — for the Chicago White Sox and A’s.

Toronto went 32-28 during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, concluding third in the AL East behind the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees and qualifying for the expanded postseason despite behind forced to play home matches in Buffalo, New York, due to Canadian government restrictions on travel. The Blue Jays were swept in two games by the AL champion Rays in a first-round series.

Toronto has an emerging young core and is adding major contracts, while younger players such as Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. have relatively low salaries because they remain shy of eligibility for arbitration.

It is not clear where the Blue Jays will play home games when the 2021 season starts.

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Jameson Taillon excited to join Yankees, reunite with Gerrit Cole

As Jameson Taillon’s trade from Pittsburgh to the New York Yankees started to sink in, he thought about reuniting with former roommate Gerrit Cole.

“Every night you get a five-star cooked meal,” Taillon stated. “Even if he’s cooking for himself, he’s going to marinate whatever he’s cooking properly. He’s going to do everything with the perfect execution. He’s going to have a perfect wine pairing for it.”

Taillon, recuperating from his second Tommy John surgery, was acquired Sunday for four prospects. He joins a revamped rotation headed by Cole and projected to include Deivi García, Jordan Montgomery and Corey Kluber, who’s pending $11 million, one-year deal is expected to be finalized this week.

A 29-year-old right-hander, Taillon has not pitched since May 1, 2019. In addition to the elbow operations with New York Mets medical director Dr. David Altchek on April 9, 2014, and on Aug. 13, 2019, he also had procedures for a sports hernia on July 8, 2015, and for testicular cancer on May 8, 2017.

He was hit on the head by a 105 mph line drive off the bat of Milwaukee’s Hernán Pérez on July 19, 2016, and stayed in the game.

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“When you’re going through it, it doesn’t seem like as much as it sounds. That sounds crazy. But each injury is separate. Each experience is separate,” he said.

Taillon felt he didn’t fulfill the confidence Pittsburgh showed when he was selected with the second overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft.

He was disappointed the Pirates blew up a group that came through the minors together and admitted “seeing all my good friends get traded in Pittsburgh and to see the direction we were headed … didn’t necessarily light a fire” and he thought a trade “was necessary.”

“I’m jumping into a legendary franchise, a legendary organization,” he said. “I overnight went from a rebuilding organization to a team like the Yankees where I’m stepping in and the only thing they care about is to win. So that’s kind of lit a fire under me.”

When he awoke from his last operation, he decided he needed to relieve pressure on his elbow, putting more work on his legs and shortening his arm motion. He reworked his mechanics with Ben Fairchild, a sports performance manager in Houston who has assisted Andy Pettitte, Mark Melancon, and Anthony Rendon; Pirates director of sports performance A.J. Patrick; Pirates pitching coach Oscar Marin; Pirates bullpen coach Justin Meccage and the Florida Baseball Ranch in Lakeland.

He started throwing bullpen sessions last July and got up to about three innings of batting practice. Taillon thinks his fastball velocity is about 95 mph, where it was before the latest injury, and he gained deception. Taillon plans to leave heavily on his four-seam fastball, alternating curveballs and sliders along with occasional changeups.

Taillon was inspired watching former Pirates teammate Daniel Hudson overcome two Tommy John operations and strike out Houston’s Michael Brantley for the final out of the 2019 World Series for Washington. Taillon looks forward to getting the big league playoffs for the first time with the Yankees.

“New York’s one of those organizations where it’s all about winning. From what I’ve heard, nothing else matters in that clubhouse,” he said.

“It’s a group of guys trying to make each other better, trying to push for October. And I mean, seriously, ever since I got the news that the Yankees are where I was headed, I can’t stop thinking about that. I’ve heard Yankee Stadium in October is just absolutely incredible.”

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Kansas City Chiefs LT Eric Fisher out for Super Bowl LV with torn Achilles

Left tackle Eric Fisher will not play for the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after he tore his Achilles tendon in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.

The Chiefs shifted right tackle Mike Remmers to Fisher’s spot after he left Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills, and Remmers is the likely starter at left tackle against the Bucs, who concluded the regular season tied for fourth in sacks with 48.

The Bucs have seven sacks in their three playoff games, including five Sunday in their NFC Championship Game victory over the Green Bay Packers.

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The Chiefs have had to dig deep into their offensive line depth this season.

They will play versus the Bucs with three starting offensive linemen out with injuries, including both starting tackles (right tackle Mitchell Schwartz has been sidelined since Week 6 with a back injury).

The Chiefs also had one starter, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, and one backup, Lucas Niang, opt out before the start of training camp.

Duvernay-Tardif missed all of 2020 as he, a medical school graduate, returned to Canada to assist with COVID-19 relief and treatment in the medical field.

“They’re talented guys,” Reid said when asked how the offensive line has been able to hold up well through so much depletion. “In some cases we’ve had some young guys step in and … we’ve had some older guys step in. That combination has been able to get us through some games here. Most of all, I think the quarterback trusts them, as do the running backs.”

Fisher started 15 regular-season games for the Chiefs, then both playoff games. He was named to the Pro Bowl for the second time in his career.

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Kyrie Irving relishes ‘winning time’ after coming up big late for Nets in bounce-back win

With a once double-digit lead whittled down to just one point in the final quarter of the Brooklyn Nets’ Saturday night game versus the Miami Heat, Kyrie Irving took over. He splashed in clutch 3-pointers, had driving layups and made key free throws to help lift the Nets to a 128-124 triumph.

Down the stretch, Irving said his mentality was: “It’s winning time.”

“I’ve always said that throughout my career,” Irving said. “When it gets down to that point, obviously you just want to buckle down on the defensive end, get stops, and I felt like we did that.”

The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for the Nets, who dropped a pair of games at the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this week. Irving’s 18 fourth-quarter points were the most he has scored in a final quarter since joining Brooklyn.

“We had two losses where we had to learn a lot very quickly,” Irving said. “And we just moved on to the next night. And I feel like we gave the effort in spurts, and obviously we want to have more consistency in that — and that’ll take time. I’m happy with the effort tonight.”

Irving finished with 28 points. Kevin Durant had a team-high 31-points for the Nets, while Joe Harris added 23 points, including seven 3s. James Harden added 12 points and 11 assists.

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Bam Adebayo finished with a career-high 41 points, five rebounds and nine assists for the Heat.

“It was about time Bam had 40 in terms of getting a lot of those moves that he’s been working on in the offseason,” Irving said. “Just watching him grow since high school, be able to take over at this point for kind of an undermanned Miami team, it’s good to see.”

The Nets came into Saturday’s game with the goal of improving defensively. While they couldn’t fully contain Adebayo, there were glimmers of improvement.

After being outrebounded 50-29 on Friday in Cleveland, the Nets buckled down in defensive rebounding versus the Heat. Brooklyn had an 81.3% defensive rebound rate on Saturday — its third highest in a game this season — as compared to just 58.1% the night before.

Nets coach Steve Nash continued to experiment with lineups involving the team’s three All-Stars. Harden played 11 minutes with both Durant and Irving on the bench. And while Harden’s 12 points were his fewest since January 2020, his five consecutive games with double-digit assists have already tied for the fourth longest such streak in Nets history.

“It feels good not to have to score so much to give ourselves a chance to win a game,” Harden said. “I can go out there and just be a playmaker and shoot my shot when it’s available and still get guys involved — and still have a chance to win the game.”

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New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas likely to have multiple surgeries on ankle

New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas is likely to have surgeries on the torn deltoid and other injured ligaments in his ankle that plagued him all campaign, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday.

The expectation is that Thomas would be recovered in time for summer OTAs under a normal offseason calendar, the source said.

Thomas first suffered the high ankle injury in the final minutes of Week 1 and missed a total of nine games in the regular season. But the source said he knew it was likely Drew Brees’ last season and didn’t want to miss out on trying to win a Super Bowl with him.

Thomas often wouldn’t practice all week, yet would still play in games, at much less than 100% and with pain medication, the source said. The coaches told him that, even as injured as he was, they were much better off with him than without him.

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Thomas went on injured reserve from Weeks 15-17 to try to get as healthy as he could for the playoffs. He returned with five catches for 73 yards and his first touchdown of the season in the wild-card playoff victory over the Chicago Bears.

However, he had zero catches on four targets in the divisional round playoff loss to Tampa Bay — including a near-touchdown in which his knee was ruled out of bounds.

Thomas also missed Weeks 2-8 after first suffering the injury, then being disciplined for one game for a practice altercation that included him punching teammate C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and then suffering a hamstring injury during his recovery.

He concluded the regular season with 40 catches for 438 yards and zero touchdowns in seven games — just one season after setting the NFL record with 149 catches in 2019. He did, however, have two games with nine catches and more than 100 yards receiving during Taysom Hill’s four-game stint at QB while Brees was sidelined by injuries of his own.

Thomas’ 510 career receptions are the most by a player in the first five seasons of his NFL career.

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Los Angeles Chargers hire Rams’ Brandon Staley as coach

The Los Angeles Chargers have agreed to terms with Brandon Staley to become their next head coach, the team revealed Sunday night.

He will be formally introduced at a news conference on Thursday.

Staley served the past season as the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator, developing the top-ranked defense in the NFL behind star defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Staley’s unit propelled the Rams to a 10-6 season and a wild-card playoff victory over the Seattle Seahawks before the team exited the postseason with a loss to the Green Bay Packers on Saturday. I

n his first year as an NFL coordinator, Staley’s defense ranked No. 1 in efficiency, yards permitted per game and points allowed per game. With the Chargers, Staley replaces coach Anthony Lynn, who was fired after four seasons and a 33-31 record.

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The Chargers are coming off a 7-9 season that resulted in a third-place finish in the AFC West.

However, Staley inherits a roster that includes several cornerstone players, including rookie quarterback Justin Herbert, who became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 touchdown passes in a single season. Staley also takes over a defensive unit that includes Pro Bowl defensive end Joey Bosa and All-Pro safety Derwin James.

“It’s hard to put into words just how excited I am for the opportunity to be the Los Angeles Chargers’ Head Coach,” Staley said in a statement.

“While this is certainly a dream come true, it’s also a dream that’s just beginning. There’s a reason this was probably the most sought after job out there — from ownership, to the fans, to the city, to the men in that locker room — it’s the total package.”

The 38-year-old Staley has quickly risen through the NFL ranks since he first was hired as a position coach in 2017 with the Chicago Bears. He spent two seasons in Chicago under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio before he followed Fangio to the Denver Broncos, where he spent one season as outside linebackers coach before joining the Rams’ staff.

Staley is the third assistant under Rams coach Sean McVay to get an NFL head coaching job, joining Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur and Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor.

“I think any time that you have those situations arise, that’s one of the most gratifying things,” McVay said Sunday during his season-ending news conference.

“That’s also really a unique thing to see him come in and do such a great job, then immediately be a prime candidate for a lot of these openings and you realize how precious these opportunities are.”

Prior to coaching in the NFL, Staley coached for three seasons at John Carroll University, a Division III college in University Heights, Ohio, and also spent a season as defensive coordinator at James Madison University.

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Conor McGregor’s chance to lure Khabib Nurmagomedov back; Max Holloway’s lock on title shot

The UFC’s 2021 debut on ABC was big news for everything that happened inside the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Saturday, and everything that didn’t.

Max Holloway put on one of the most punishing, one-sided displays of boxing in UFC history, landing a record 445 significant strikes in his unanimous decision triumph over Calvin Kattar. Despite absorbing all of that damage, Kattar stood up to the barrage and made it to the final bell.

But just as big as Holloway’s declarative statement for a return shot at the featherweight championship was, the biggest question going into the night centered around the recently retired Khabib Nurmagomedov.

While Nurmagomedov announced his retirement after defeating Justin Gaethje in October, Dana White has been actively trying to draw him back into the fold for one more megafight, with Conor McGregor the likeliest opponent.

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White promised an update on Nurmagomedov’s position on a return fight, and while there wasn’t a definitive answer either way, White’s assertion that Nurmagomedov could be persuaded back into action with a particularly dominant performance in either of two key fights at UFC 257 — set to be headlined by McGregor and Dustin Poirier — left the door open a crack.

With an eye toward the fallout of Saturday’s events, Brett Okamoto answer some of the UFC’s most pressing questions as they project what’s to come.

A rematch versus Khabib Nurmagomedov is Conor McGregor’s to lose

Okamoto: One million percent. Nurmagomedov has spent the past two years basically saying he has no interest in McGregor, but the narrative around McGregor has changed in the past two years. After Nurmagomedov defeated him in 2018, McGregor’s career was really up in the air. It was not a question of whether he was about to retire but rather what he wanted out of the sport at that point.

A money fight once a year? Or did he want to try and get back to where he was in 2016, at the top of the lightweight division?

Would that loss to Nurmagomedov reignite his desire to be the best in the world, the same way he was obsessed with evening the score with Nate Diaz in 2016? It appears to have done the latter. McGregor looks motivated, just as he appeared motivated in 2020, before circumstances out of his control interrupted his plans for the year.

If he looks great versus Poirier and someone hands him a mic, McGregor is going to be the obvious choice to fight Nurmagomedov; and based on White’s comments on the matter, I now expect Nurmagomedov to take that fight, if offered.

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Bills advance to AFC championship with 17-3 win over Ravens

In what was supposed to be a showdown between Buffalo’s Josh Allen and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, Taron Johnson literally stole the show.

If not for the wall separating the field from the stands in the back of the east end zone, the Bills cornerback might still be running after returning an interception 101 yards for a touchdown that propelled Buffalo to its first AFC championship game appearance in 27 years.

Johnson’s pick-6 of Jackson’s pass with 41 seconds left in the third quarter helped secure a 17-3 triumph over the Ravens in a divisional-round playoff game Saturday night.

“We’re excited. It’s not done yet, we’re not done yet,” Johnson exclaimed. “It’s just a blessing. Our defense stepped up to the challenge.” Johnson’s return matched the longest in NFL history and punctuated a stellar defensive outing in which Buffalo (15-3) limited the NFL’s top running offense to 150 yards on 32 carries.

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Jackson, last season’s NFL MVP, was sacked three times and did not return after sustaining a concussion following the final play of the third quarter, and two plays after Johnson scored. He finished 14 of 24 for 162 yards passing, while being limited to 42 yards rushing on nine carries.

Allen, an MVP candidate this year, finished 23 of 37 for 206 yards and a touchdown.

In a season in which the Bills relied mostly on their dynamic Allen-led offense to outscore opponents, the third-year quarterback was gratified to see Buffalo’s defense make a difference in a game the pass-happy attack was kept mostly in check.

The Bills advanced to the AFC championship game for the first time since 1994 on their way to making — and losing — their four consecutive Super Bowl appearance. Buffalo also extended a season in which it has broken numerous droughts by claiming its first AFC East division title in 25 years and, with last week’s victory over Indianapolis, winning its first postseason match since the same year.

The Bills, have won eight consecutives to match their best streak since 1990 and will play the winner of the AFC’s other divisional playoff between Cleveland and Kansas City on Sunday.

The fifth-seeded Ravens (12-6) had their season come to an end after leading the NFL in yards rushing for a second consecutive year. Baltimore clinched its third playoff berth in three years by winning its final five regular-season games. The winning streak came after a 1-4 skid capped by a 19-14 loss at Pittsburgh on Dec. 2 in a game rearranged three times due to COVID-19 issues.

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Packers host Rams with NFC championship game berth at stake

No NFL team scored more points during the regular season than the Green Bay Packers. Nobody has played better defense than the Los Angeles Rams.

That sets up an intriguing showdown of strength vs. strength when MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (13-3) host All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the Rams (11-6) in an NFC divisional playoff match Saturday.

“This is what you love,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “These are the type of matchups and opportunities that as a competitor, you can’t wait for.”

Both of these units are at the top of their game.

The Packers have won six consecutive games and have been held below 22 points just once all campaign. Los Angeles got to this point by sacking Russell Wilson five times in a 30-20 triumph at Seattle last week.

“They went to Seattle, played a familiar opponent and played really, really well, and they’re coming in with the confidence that they should have,” Rodgers said. “And we’re coming in with confidence as well, the season that we’ve had and what we believe we’re capable of.”

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Rodgers has set franchise single-season records for touchdown passes (48) and completion percentage (.707) this year while throwing just five interceptions for an offense scoring 31.8 points per game. Donald calls Rodgers a “great quarterback that’s playing lights out this year.”

Donald leads a defense that permitted the fewest points and yards of any team during the regular season.

“At any time, at any quarter of the game, a different guy could make a big-time play for us,” Donald said. “It’s not just one or two guys. When you’ve got a group of guys – all 11 out there – who are pretty much playmakers who can make that game-changing play at any time, you’ve got a great group.”

This will be the first time the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense and scoring defense have faced off in the postseason since the New England-Atlanta Super Bowl on Feb. 5, 2017. The Patriots had the top-ranked defense and the Falcons had the No. 1 offense that year.

This also will be the Rams’ first playoff game at Lambeau Field. These two franchises have met in the postseason just twice before, with the Packers winning 28-7 in Milwaukee on Dec. 23, 1967, and the Rams winning 45-17 in St. Louis on Jan. 20, 2002.

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Denver Broncos reach deal with Minnesota Vikings’ George Paton to be general manager

John Elway and the Denver Broncos wanted George Paton to be the team’s new general manager so much, Paton was given a longer deal than Elway ever had in the same job.

Paton, who has spent the past 13 years with the Minnesota Vikings, has agreed to a six-year deal to be the Broncos’ general manager, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The Broncos informed Paton’s hiring on Wednesday but did not disclose terms.

Paton had spent most of Tuesday in Denver for what was a second interview for him with team officials, and had returned to Minnesota Tuesday night.

Elway had promised to find the “best candidate, the best person” for the job. The Broncos also interviewed New Orleans Saints assistant general manager Terry Fontenot, Chicago Bears assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly, the New England Patriots’ Dave Ziegler and the Broncos’ director of college scouting Brian Stark.

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“Early in this process, it became clear why George has been such a coveted GM candidate for so many years. He is a proven evaluator who knows every detail of leading football operations,” Elway said in a statement.

“With his experience in all aspects of the job — the college and pro sides, salary cap, trades, working with the head coach and bringing the staff together — George is more than ready to succeed in this role. George has waited and worked for the right opportunity, which shows that he is smart and serious about winning. We’re thrilled to name George Paton as general manager of the Denver Broncos.”

Paton and Fontenot, who did his interview virtually because the Saints are still in the playoffs, were each interviewed a second time Tuesday.

Elway, who has been the Broncos’ top football decision-maker since 2011, announced Jan. 4 he was stepping away from the day-to-day personal operations but would stay as president of football operations at least through the final year of his current contract.

Elway also said he didn’t think the team’s current ownership battle between Pat Bowlen’s children would affect the Broncos’ ability to secure what he believed would be a top candidate. Paton’s six-year deal would likely bridge any potential change in the team’s ownership in the coming years.

Paton has control over the team’s roster, free agency and the draft. The Broncos have missed the playoffs in five consecutive campaigns since the Super Bowl 50 victory and finished this past season 5-11.

The team faces contract option decisions on linebacker Von Miller and Kareem Jackson, and Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons is scheduled to be among the team’s unrestricted free agents. A decision about the plan at quarterback also is among the front-burner issues for the Broncos.

The team has one of the youngest rosters in the league and enough salary-cap room to participate in the open market. Paton is widely considered among the top talent evaluators on the Vikings’ personnel staff, and his exit leaves Minnesota with a big void in the front office. Ryan Monnens, the current director of pro scouting, could be in line to replace Paton this offseason.

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