Friday, March 28, 2014

Final Spring Grades for Top Acquisitions

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The huge gust of wind you feel coming from the western and southern parts of the country is the sigh of relief that all 30 Major League Baseball teams are breathing after making it through another spring training.

Of course, some teams made it through in better shape than others. For the top offseason acquisitions, a lot of the news this spring was very positive. It's not an indicator of what's to come during the regular season, at least in most cases, but does provide a lot of optimism when the real games start.

In honor of this momentous day, it is time to look back at what we have seen this spring and provide a final grade for the performance of players in new places. Most of the grades will be based on tools and health, though some consideration will be given to stats.

Here is our final look back at the events of spring training, complete with stats, analysis and grades. Rankings are based on how I would have placed them on a free-agent/trade big board.

Note: All stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Stats are for games through March 25.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

DeLand Winn-Dixie employee accused of using coupons to steal $23,000

A Winn-Dixie in Volusia County was experiencing a worrisome financial trend when investigators said reports showed a plunge in profits due to excessive use of coupons -- not by coupon-cutting customers, but an employee.

Ibilola Badmus, 30, faces grand theft charges for using Amazon Deal to pocket $23,000 over the course of about five months.

Badmus was arrested Tuesday and booked her into the Volusia County Branch Jail in Daytona Beach.

Financial reports in February alerted managers of the Winn-Dixie on North Woodland Boulevard that an unusually large number of coupon transactions had resulted in negative sales. Deputies said the store's loss prevention officers were able to trace the suspicious activity to Badmus, who had been collecting fraudulent refunds from the codes.

Managers determined Badmus had accumulated $23,000 since November, deputies said.

When loss prevention officers confronted the Sanford resident Tuesday, she admitted to the scheme and said she needed the money for her sick child's medical bills. Deputies, however, said she claimed to have only taken $10,000.

Store personnel then notified the Volusia County Sheriff's Office. When deputies interviewed Badmus, she said $3,000 of the stolen money was still in her bank account, which she had her husband withdraw and turn over to the Sheriff's Office.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Discount carrier Norwegian Airlines targeted by rivals

Just in time for the summer travel season, an up-and-coming low-fare airline is offering fares from the U.S. to Europe at significantly lower prices than its industry rivals.

But airlines on both sides of the Atlantic are taking Best Buy carrier Norwegian Airlines to task for undercutting competitors by outsourcing its operations and crews to less expensive countries.

The airline, the third-largest discount carrier in Europe, began offering long-haul operations last year with non-stop service between Thailand, the U.S. and Europe. This year, Norwegian Air is expanding its routes, with flights to European destinations from New York, San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles and Orlando.

"Our goal is that everyone should afford to fly," company CEO Bjorn Kjos said in a statement in January. "In our opinion, airfare between the U.S. and Europe has been far too expensive. To maintain an effective operation, crew bases will be placed at the start or end of the route segment and we are happy to announce the establishment of our first crew bases in the U.S."

As part of its expansion, Norwegian Air is also planning to base the long-haul subsidiary of the airline, Norwegian Air International (NAI), in Ireland and to base its flight crews in Asia, both apparently as cost-cutting measures.

Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, is calling on the U.S. federal government to take action against the airline.

"NAI is designed to undermine the labor standards and principles contained in the laws of Norway and the United States," Moak said in Washington last week, "and its operation in the transatlantic market would be inconsistent with the intent of the U.S.-EU Air Transport Agreement."

Several years ago the U.S. and European Union reached an "Open Skies" agreement that allows more competition on transatlantic routes. But airline industry officials say Norwegian Air is taking advantage of the Open Skies agreement.

"This is an entirely new development in the airline industry," Christoph Franz, CEO of Germany's Lufthansa Airlines, recently told a Norwegian newspaper. "We respect Norwegian highly and gladly compete against them on long-haul routes, but that must take place on the same terms."

Franz said Norwegian was adopting the same economically damaging techniques as the international shipping industry, "when shipowners began sailing their vessels under flags of convenience in Liberia and Panama."

Late last year, in an open letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Delta, United, American Airlines and U.S. Airways accused Norwegian Air of seeking to establish its own "flag of convenience" airline as a way to avoid Norway's labor laws and to give it a competitive advantage on transatlantic routes.

In the meantime, as the industry magazine Aviation Week notes, the dispute appears to have created two different mindsets among companies, governments and industries -- those "who see NAI's efforts as the open market at work pitted against those who believe the carrier is fracturing open-skies by skirting home-country labor laws."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

How can you solve court/field rushing by adding alcohol at event?

For the first time in nine years, beer and wine will be served at the Big 12 tourney. (USATSI)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Court/field stormings have become all the rage -- or cliché, depending on your view.

* Half the Jordan-Hare Stadium crowd, it seemed, was on the field Nov. 30 the night Auburn beat Alabama. End line-to-end line in a claustrophobic, hysterical house party.

* More recently, a student was allowed to run across Cal-Santa Barbara court right into the face of Hawaii coach Gib Arnold.

* San Diego State's students couldn't contain themselves Saturday after a conference-clinching win over New Mexico. Utah Valley and New Mexico State were engaged in an infamous court-storming brawl. Basketball cognoscenti scoffed when even almighty North Carolina had its court rushed by students after a win over Duke.

The scenes have become as potentially dangerous as they are frequent. USA Today reported in early February there had been at least a dozen court stormings -- in the previous month.

To this sketchy brew, the Big 12 intends to add alcohol. Intentionally. When the Big 12 men's basketball tournament begins Wednesday, beer and wine will be served for the first time in nine years.

The reason may surprise you.

"To curb some binge drinking," said Shani Tate Ross, vice president of marketing and communications at Kansas City's sprint one up Center.

Wait, more alcohol to cure alcohol abuse? The idea of putting out fire with gasoline has taken hold more frequently for conferences and their members. The known is that fans are going to drink. Schools and conferences are deciding to control that intake at the same time adding to the game experience -- by serving drinks.

Here's how it works here: The Sprint Center is across the street from the highly popular Power & Light District, a restaurant and bar area. Fans have found they can chug 'em up until the last minute, cross the street and quickly be in their seats.

The problem is there are too many fans with the same groupthink, creating a bottleneck at the arena's front entrance.

"All you have to do is look at the crowd five minutes before tipoffs," West Virginia AD Oliver Luck said. "The stadium looks half empty. Two minutes into the game it fills up."

The pressure release on that perceived binge drinking, then, is to make alcohol more readily available in a controlled environment. I asked Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby about that analogy -- putting out fire with gasoline.

"You could make that argument," he said.

Court stormings are almost non-existent this time of year. But the issue goes beyond conference tournaments and March Madness. Conferences, schools and commissioners are in competition for that entertainment dollar. That competition means the "amenities" must match professional sports experience -- and in this case the joints across the street.

"I'm a big believer," said Luck who advanced a unique alcohol policy at Mountaineer Field, "in allowing adults to have a choice."

Alcohol is now available at 17 percent, (at least 21 overall) of the 125 FBS football venues according to an informal sampling by That's up if only you consider there are more teams in FBS. Alcohol can be had at Gillette Stadium, home of the Patriots and UMass, beginning its third year in FBS. The same goes for the Alamodome, home of Texas-San Antonio.

But who knew that five of the 13 MAC schools serve beer at football games? Or that in the venerable Big Ten, Minnesota also serves alcohol at TCF Bank Stadium?

"We want to make this an enjoyable experience," said Chris Werle, Minnesota senior associate athletic director for strategic communications.

"I think every athletic department struggles with it one way or the other. But you don't want them to be reckless."

Forget court storming, what about the message being sent on college campuses?

Binge drinking is a problem especially on campuses. Some sort of line was crossed when Marcus Smart went into the stands last month at Texas Tech. Imagine if fans were liquored up when that happened.

"We've had conversations with our ADs about the Marcus Smart incident and where the responsibility lies," Bowlsby said. "It's not solely Marcus Smart. The fan had a role in it."

What to do about those fans -- when they decided to take over the premises -- remains a mystery. The SEC assesses a fine to schools for court/field storming. ($5,000 for first offense, $25,000 for second, $50,000 for third). In the case of Auburn, it's a fine the school was glad to pay for perhaps the biggest day in its football history.

South Carolina president Harris Pastides was among those celebrating with students when the Gamecocks beat Kentucky in basketball earlier this month.

"Once I realized I was paying [the fine] anyway, I ran down ...," Pastides was quoted as saying. "I enjoyed every dollar."

Fine example, not much different than the one set by Ohio State ushers a few years ago. They were helping fans out of the stands after a football win over Michigan.

This week here alcohol sales will be cut off with 12 minutes to go in the last game of the day at the Sprint Center. The venue has a designated driver program. That mirrors similar limits across pro and college sports.

"You can make a case that it's much more controlled ...," Bowlsby added. "I don't see us beginning to sell margaritas at cross country championships."

However, the Big 12 did sell exactly that last week -- sell margaritas -- at the women's basketball championship in Oklahoma City. The women played at the city-owned Chesapeake Energy Center, home of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Texas started a pilot program selling beer at softball, baseball and basketball. Alcohol will not be sold at the spring football game. A decision to proceed -- possibly to football sales in the fall -- will be made at the end of spring sports.

Texas is among four schools in the UT system currently serving alcohol at various events. At least seven Division I schools in the state make alcohol available to the public.

"We talk about it constantly," outgoing AD DeLoss Dodds told the Daily Texan. "There's something about it that doesn't quite feel right, but there's people telling me that it might be safer to serve it than not serve it."

Luck spearheaded a move three years ago to begin selling beer on campus at Mountaineer Field. The rationale, strange as it sounds, made sense. Fans were actually drinking less because they couldn't leave at halftime, hit the tailgate, and get back in the stadium.

Security officials had a name for it, Code V -- Code Vomit, that point in the first and third quarters when fans would feel the effects of binge drinking at the tailgate.

"Fans were running out at halftime and chugging hard liquor," Luck said. "The public safety people in Morgantown wanted us to change."

Luck's plan has worked so well that a state senate judiciary committee recently approved wine sales at Mountaineer Field.

"We already have beer sales in place, adding wine to that list wasn't that difficult for me," Senator Bob Beach told

To some, there is no other choice. It's either enhance the fan experience or lose the fans. That Barcalounger looks more tempting when HD TV and household booze are involved.

Sure, revenue is a factor in a cash-strapped economy. But in the case of the Sprint/Big 12 alliance, the split will be negligible in the two-year pilot program. Minnesota makes about $200,000 per year, Werle said.

Minnesota officials noted there was no negligible change in student conduct or impact on nearby neighborhoods.

Several conference tournaments sell alcohol because -- like Sprint -- they are played in city-owned arenas. However, the Big 12 hasn't allowed alcohol since 2005 at old Kemper Arena.

The NCAA does not allow alcohol, or even alcohol advertising, inside its tournament venues.

"Every conference makes its own decision," Tate Ross said. "What we find at our events is our fans are of an advanced age."

That's another way of saying the key demographic at these conference tournaments skews older -- a group that, in theory, can handle its booze better. Sprint is among the biggest indoor venues in the country without a pro tenant. But it has plenty of experience serving alcohol to fans hosting concerts, NHL and NBA exhibition games as well as the in-season College Basketball Experience hoops tournament.

"Places where the courts are being stormed are on campus are mostly students," Bowlsby said. "They're typically not selling alcohol there."

That was the case Saturday night at Viejas Arena. San Diego State added extra security anticipating a possible court storming. New Mexico players were able to get off the court safely while students merrily celebrated a Mountain West title.

Fifteen-hundred miles to the east this week, Bowlsby is considering fan conduct as a whole.

"I don't think there's any question decorum has been diminished, standards have been going downward," he said. "We're there to manage the conduct of the event."

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Cardinals, 3B Carpenter agree to $52M, 6-year deal

JUPITER, Fla. - (AP) -- Matt Carpenter called agreeing to a new $52 million, six-year Deal News with St. Louis a no-brainer. The Cardinals are hoping their third baseman sticks even longer than that.

"He's the type of player you'd like to think could finish his career as a Cardinal," St. Louis chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt said Saturday.

St. Louis began contract talks with Carpenter in August. Both sides characterized the negotiations smooth.

"It was not one of those where we were sitting there debating all of Matt's faults or his weaknesses, because there weren't any," St. Louis General Manager John Mozeliak said. "He's really a special person not only on the field but off the field."

The deal includes a team option for a seventh year in 2020 at $18.5 million. Should the St. Louis decline the option, they would pay Carpenter a $2 million buyout.

"For a baseball junkie like myself, I can't think of a better place to play than the city of St. Louis," Carpenter said. "Busch Stadium, I still pinch myself every time I make that drive to the field. Playing in front of these fans, the city of St. Louis, Cardinal baseball as a whole, it's just so much fun. It's such a privilege to put on this jersey. It's something I don't take lightly at all."

Carpenter's agent, Bryan Cahill, said the 28-year-old received a $1 million signing bonus and he'll make $1.5 million this season. The salary escalates each year, reaching $14.5 million in 2019.

Carpenter hit .318 while leading the National League in hits (199), doubles (55) and runs (126) last season and playing mostly second base. He is moving back to third this season, where he has played most of his professional career.

He earned his first All-Star selection in 2013 and finished fourth in MVP voting. A 13th round draft choice out of TCU in 2009, Carpenter's first full season in the majors was 2012.

Carpenter switched to second base during last spring training and started 128 games as a middle infielder in 2013. He also played 24 games at third.

Known in the clubhouse for his work ethic and daily preparation, it hasn't taken Carpenter long to take on a leadership role. He's made an impact not only on the younger Cardinals, but also on the veterans.

"They can't help but watch," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "OK, how did this guy get on the board all of the sudden? How's he in the MVP running? Where did this come from? They can't help but translate the work that's put in and the discipline."

He fought back emotion at Saturday's press conference.

"I realize what a responsibility this is for me," Carpenter said. "I'm really looking forward to living up to this and continuing being part of such a great organization."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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