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Man United transfers special: Solskjaer ‘frustrated’; Dortmund ‘baffled’



Manchester United’s chaotic conclusion to the transfer window dominates this week’s ESPN’s Insider Notebook. PLUS: Mikel Arteta’s growing influence at Arsenal.

Jump to: Dortmund baffled by United | Diallo’s journey to Old Trafford | Cavani snubbed Real Madrid and Juventus | Barca fuming with Dembele, Umtiti | Forlan helped United sign Pellestri | Arteta’s growing influence shown in Saliba loan | Aouar’s agent scuppered Arsenal move

Disappointed Solskjaer holds out hope for signing Haaland, Sancho

Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho remain top of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s list of targets at Manchester United, sources told ESPN, despite the failure of executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to strike a deal for either player in the past two transfer windows.

– Transfer grades: Top clubs’ big moves rated
– United look vulnerable: What’s wrong with Europe’s giants?
– Deadline day: As it happened
Stream a replay of FC Daily’s Deadline Day Special

United manager Solskjaer has been forced to accept the signing of players who were not on his initial list — sources said that even £40 million Ajax midfielder Donny van de Beek was not a primary target — with the club completing four last minute deals on deadline day, including Edinson Cavani, a free agent since his release by Paris Saint-Germain in July.

While Solskjaer has been diplomatic when speaking publicly about United’s repeated failure to land his top targets, sources said he is frustrated at the missed opportunity to sign Haaland and Sancho over the past 12 months. Solskjaer met Haaland last December and believed he had struck an agreement with the then-FC Salzburg striker over a January move to United, only for Woodward to pull the plug on a €20m deal because of agent fees and the insistence of the Haaland camp that a release clause be inserted into his Old Trafford contract.

Borussia Dortmund paid €20m and agreed to a €75m clause, which cannot be exercised until 2022, but despite the strings attached to the deal, sources said Solskjaer believes signing Haaland would have made financial and sporting sense. After a hat trick on his Dortmund debut, Haaland has continued to impress at the club, scoring 21 goals in 23 appearances overall.

The failure to sign England winger Sancho, valued by Dortmund at £108m, is another source of frustration on the football side at United as they had no rivals to sign him this summer, but that is likely to change next year.

But although United have failed in their attempts to sign Haaland and Sancho, Solskjaer believes both are perfect for the team’s long-term development due to their age and potential.

Whether he remains in charge long enough to push for a move for Sancho next summer and Haaland in 2022 remains to be seen, but the disappointment of missing out on both in recent windows has not dampened his enthusiasm to sign them. — Mark Ogden

Dortmund ‘baffled’ by United’s transfer tactics

While Dortmund were left surprised by United’s negotiating tactics in the pursuit of Sancho, another move for his teammate on deadline day left the club “baffled,” sources told ESPN.

United made a bid for Dortmund wing-back Nico Schulz on deadline day, sources said, and they proposed a €1m loan fee and to pay the player’s salary for the rest of the season.

– Ogden: United losers in transfer window
ESPN+ viewers guide: Bundesliga, Serie A, MLS, FA Cup and more

Sources said the move for Schulz led Dortmund to question the credentials of United’s recruitment and scouting team. The 27-year-old moved to Dortmund in a €25m deal from Hoffenheim last summer but he has endured a difficult time at the club.

Schulz’s last Bundesliga start for BVB came in a 2-1 defeat at Hoffenheim in late December 2019, while his last start overall came in 3-2 German Cup defeat at Werder Bremen on Feb. 4. That United were keen on a player who has barely featured for Dortmund surprised the club, and the enquiry was knocked back. While Schulz has hardly been a star, the club wanted to keep him in reserve ahead of what promises to be a gruelling season.

Schulz started in Germany’s 3-3 draw with Turkey on Wednesday, which led former World Cup winning captain Lothar Matthaus to criticise Joachim Low’s selection, telling Sky Germany: “The fans want to see the first team, not just substitute players, many of whom aren’t even starting for their respective clubs. I can’t understand how you can represent Germany when you’re the second or third choice at your club.”

While the Sancho saga and rumour mill went into overdrive in the final days of the window, sources said United’s final bid for Sancho came in the final week of September. Their €90m initial fee plus a proposed €15m in variables was rejected, because it arrived after Dortmund had set an Aug. 10 deadline for any move to be arranged.

Sources added that even if United had offered over the £108m demanded from Dortmund on deadline day, the move would have been rejected as the club hierarchy had made their position clear and accepting a bid would have seen their reputation plummet among the club’s supporters. — Stephan Uersfeld



Gab Marcotti and Julien Laurens dive into the most talked about deals that didn’t pan out this transfer window.

United’s new signing Diallo’s eventful journey to Old Trafford

With a fee that could rise as high as €41m (€21m plus a further €20m in bonuses if certain targets are reached), 18-year-old Amad Diallo could end up being Manchester United’s most expensive teenage signing ever, eclipsing the £25m they paid for Wayne Rooney, 18 at the time, in 2004 as well as the £30m laid out for Luke Shaw (also 18) in 2014. But Diallo’s journey to Old Trafford, where he is expected to arrive in January, has been far from straightforward.

The teenager, who scored on his debut for Atalanta last season, has featured in an investigation into immigration and child trafficking by Italian authorities after the arrest of an agent named Giovanni Drago back in 2017. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on Diallo’s part, but Drago is accused of helping him and another player, Hamed Junior Traore of Sassuolo, emigrate to Italy from Ivory Coast in 2014 with the help of a married couple of Ivorians legally residing in Italy: Marina Teher and Hamed Mamadou Traore. The pair filed paperwork attesting to the fact that both Amad and Hamed Junior, who were 12 and 14 at the time, were their children and, as such, they were able to legally emigrate to Italy.

According to people familiar with the case, fraudulent paperwork was submitted on behalf of Amad, which is why he came to be known as Amad Traore, after his fake “father”. Hamed, who is unrelated to both, had no such problem since he happened to have the last name of Traore, which is common in Ivory Coast. When the “fake” parents obtained Italian citizenship a few years later, both Amad and Hamed became eligible for citizenship.

DNA testing and evidence collected by investigators unmasked the “fake” parents, but it left the two in legal limbo. Technically, their Italian citizenship was fraudulently obtained and they entered the country illegally. Sources close to the case suggest that Amad, who has collaborated with investigators and has not been charged, is almost certain to obtain his citizenship, this time under his actual name, Amad Diallo.

In the meantime, he has applied for an Ivorian passport and is likely to obtain one shortly. It is unclear under which nationality Manchester United will register him — Italian or Ivorian — but they are prepared for both eventualities. — Gabriele Marcotti



Frank Leboeuf says Manchester United must react immediately after their 6-1 loss to Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham.

Cavani snubbed Real Madrid, Juventus for United move

Cavani held talks with Juventus and Real Madrid before finally joining Manchester United on a free transfer, sources told ESPN.

– United’s new No. 7: The striker with a passion for ballet
– Cavani: I can handle the pressure of the shirt

Cavani, 33, was one of the most sought-after strikers on the market this summer after leaving Paris Saint-Germain when his contract expired in June. Juve offered a two-year deal with a salary of €8m a season but Cavani wanted a three-year deal worth €9m annually. Spanish champions Madrid also sounded out a move for the Uruguay international, but sources say Atletico Madrid, despite reports to the contrary, were never a real option. Cavani was also approached by Benfica, whom he initially turned down, but negotiations resumed last week around the time United made their move.

Cavani was immediately attracted to the Premier League side because of their global reach and popularity around the world, and an agreement over a move to Old Trafford was closed last Saturday following various meetings. The delay in getting the deal over the line was down to a small issue over image rights.

Cavani has been training alone in Paris over the summer and, since Tuesday, has been able to train in isolation at United’s Carrington base in line with the coronavirus protocols for arrivals from outside the United Kingdom.

The search for a house in the Cheshire countryside began immediately after he penned a one-year deal in Manchester, with the option of a further year. — Moises Llorens



Frank Leboeuf and Steve Nicol both agree Edinson Cavani will be a positive signing for Man United.

Barca fuming with Dembele, Umtiti

Barcelona were left angered by Ousmane Dembele and Samuel Umtiti‘s reluctance to leave Camp Nou during the transfer window, sources told ESPN.

Barca began a major restructuring of the club’s playing staff over the summer, with Luis Suarez, Arturo Vidal, Ivan Rakitic and Nelson Semedo among those to leave in the wake of the 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Dembele, 23, was also made available for transfer but following talks with Manchester United, he ended up staying at Barca. The Catalan club had made it clear they couldn’t guarantee him minutes this season and coach Ronald Koeman was keen for him to leave to free up funds to sign Lyon‘s Memphis Depay.

Koeman wasn’t even going to include Dembele in the 23-man squad for last Thursday’s win at Celta Vigo until a last-minute injury to Junior Firpo. Dembele, whose contract expires in 2022, has been an unused substitute in each of Barca’s last two games. However, despite the obstacles to playing time, he made the call to stay put beyond the closure of the transfer window on Monday, a decision which sources say didn’t sit well with some people among the club’s hierarchy.

Umtiti, meanwhile, never came close to leaving despite being told he was free to find a new club. Sources feel the defender, who has struggled with persistent knee injuries, didn’t do enough to encourage interest from elsewhere and that he was happy to stay at Barca and pick up his salary. His contract runs until 2023. — Sam Marsden and Moises Llorens



Sid Lowe breaks down Ronald Koeman’s comments regarding his transfer targets for Barcelona.

Cult hero Forlan convinced Pellistri to snub Lyon

Facundo Pellistri was one of four deadline day arrivals at Manchester United, but only after they took him from under Lyon‘s noses — with a little help from an Old Trafford cult hero, sources told ESPN.

Diego Forlan, who won the Premier League with United during his two-year spell at the club from 2002-04, had a brief spell in charge of Penarol in Uruguay before leaving his position in September this year. Sources told ESPN that Forlan convinced Pellistri to abandon the move to Lyon and sign for United instead.

Everything was sorted from Lyon’s perspective. After a €5m bid was rejected, a €7m improved offer including a 40% payment to Penarol for any future move, was accepted and a five-year contract was ready to be signed. But that’s when talks with Pellistri and Lyon went quiet.

Forlan held talks with United boss Solskjaer as well as Woodward and the club’s scouting department, who knew all about the 18-year-old. A €10m move was agreed quickly and United rejected Penarol’s proposal to keep the player on loan until January. Sources told ESPN Solskjaer sees Pellistri, one of the rising stars of South American football, as part of his first team plans at United. — Julien Laurens.



Ale Moreno explains why Thomas Partey is an important piece of Mikel Arteta’s jigsaw at Arsenal.

Arteta’s growing stature at Arsenal

Further signs that Mikel Arteta’s job title change from head coach to first-team manager was much more than mere symbolism can be found in William Saliba‘s imminent departure on loan.

The prospect of Arsenal shipping out a £27m defender 12 months after signing him and just a couple months into his assimilation into the first-team would have been unheard of at a club where every penny counts. Yet Saliba is set to join a Championship club before the Oct. 16 deadline — Watford and Brentford are among the possible destinations — as a result of Arteta’s assertion the centre-back is not ready for regular Premier League football.

The deal to sign Saliba was struck during Unai Emery’s tenure but Arteta and his backroom staff believe the 19-year-old needs more time to develop despite impressing in Ligue 1. Sources told ESPN that they would like to see the Frenchman improve in defending set-pieces and mature in style, notably avoiding diving into tackles.

He is still rated as a bright prospect, but Saliba is expected to be continue his development at another club as Arteta focuses on delivering immediate improvement. Arteta played an influential role in convincing owner Stan Kroenke to stump up the £45m to sign Thomas Partey on deadline day to aid him in that mission.

Arteta may only be embarking on his first full season as a manager, but his importance to Arsenal cannot be underestimated. — James Olley



Stewart Robson jokes that Mesut Ozil would be better served playing Gunnersaurus than sitting on Arsenal’s bench.

Why Aouar to Arsenal collapsed

Houssem Aouar‘s proposed move from Lyon to Arsenal collapsed this summer, with the player’s agent largely to blame, sources told ESPN.

Sources said Brahim Aouar asked for a large commission for his brother to sign for Arsenal, or any other club. A figure of £10m has circulated among reports in France, but that has not been confirmed. Brahim Aouar did not respond when asked for comment by ESPN.

Nevertheless, it seems negotiations with the Aouar camp were difficult and it may explain why Arsenal were the only club to make an official approach for the Lyon playmaker, despite rumours of interest from Juventus and PSG.

In the end, Aouar, 22, decided to stay in Lyon despite the fact they are not in Europe this season. Sources told ESPN he wanted to leave Lyon last summer but was persuaded to stay. This time around, he had his heart set on a move to Arsenal but the club could not agree terms. — Julien Laurens


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Way-too-early 2021 MLB Power Rankings: What’s next for Dodgers, Rays and all 30 teams



We can only hope 2021 will be a more normal season, with 162 games and fans in the stands and hot dogs to eat and overpriced beer to drink. We don’t know what the state of things will be come April 1, when the 2021 season is scheduled to begin, but we can speculate on the state of the 30 franchises.

Yes, we’re back with our annual Way-Too-Early Power Rankings. There are a few obvious teams at the top, a handful at the bottom and a whole bunch in the middle. Throw in the difficulty of analyzing a 60-game season and the uncertainty of how the offseason will play out due to the financial losses of this season, and these are the most difficult rankings we have had to do. But we fearlessly move forward.

(Title odds for 2021 from Caesars Sportsbook by William Hill)

2020 record: 43-17
Won World Series
2021 title odds: 4-1

They’re reigning champs. They’ve won eight straight division titles. They have Mookie Betts signed for the long term. They have young starters such as Walker Buehler, Dustin May, Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin to keep the rotation strong for years to come. They have players capable of better seasons (Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Gavin Lux). They have a good farm system. They have financial flexibility, with only Betts signed past 2022 and all those young players to help them keep the payroll in check. Justin Turner is a free agent, but he would be a nice DH option if the NL makes that permanent. We know they will be good. But we know it’s really all about October.

2020 record: 35-25
Lost NLCS to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 12-1

The offense gives them a high floor:Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, even Travis d’Arnaud and Adam Duvall raked in 2020. Marcell Ozuna is a free agent and it would be nice to bring him back, but rookie center fielder Cristian Pache is ready and he looks like he’ll be valuable on both sides of the ball. The rotation will see the return of Mike Soroka from his Achilles injury and a full season of Ian Anderson to back up Max Fried. Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson have potential, and Atlanta will probably bring in a veteran starter on a one-year deal the way they did with Dallas Keuchel in 2019 and tried to do with Cole Hamels in 2020. The Braves will be favored to win a fourth straight division title even if they don’t do anything this offseason.

2020 record: 37-23
Lost Division Series to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 17-2

Sure, an argument can be made to put the Padres ahead of the Braves, but I think we have to first make sure Dinelson Lamet and Mike Clevinger are completely healthy in spring training. San Diego brings back essentially every significant player after running out the youngest lineup in the NL, with Jake Cronenworth and Trent Grisham looking like foundation additions alongside Fernando Tatis Jr. (All were acquired in trades; good job, A.J. Preller!) We’ll see if Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers can match their 2020 rate of production, but if Luis Patino and MacKenzie Gore become impact starters, the Padres are poised to make a multiyear run in challenging the Dodgers for NL West supremacy.

2020 record: 40-20
Lost World Series to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 10-1

The Rays won their first division title since 2010 and did it in quite remarkable fashion, with 12 different relievers recording a save and the pitching staff overcoming a slew of injuries along the way. They were able to pull that off because of the depth of their staff, but having expanded rosters over the 60-game season made it possible to rely so heavily on the bullpen. Of course, you can argue that pitching depth will be even more valuable over 162 games. The offense isn’t elite, although we can’t wait to see what Randy Arozarena will do over a full season or if super rookie Wander Franco is ready to make an impact at some point in 2021.

2020 record: 35-25
Lost Wild Card Series to A’s
2021 title odds: 12-1

Much like the Braves, the offensive firepower of the White Sox should give them a high floor. Even if you see some regression coming from Jose Abreu or Tim Anderson, Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada should improve and a full season of Nick Madrigal will help. Michael Kopech, who opted out of 2020, will hopefully be back, but he hasn’t pitched in two years, so finding another veteran arm to go with ace Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel will be key. Closer Alex Colome is a free agent, but the White Sox have several power arms in their organization, including 2020 first-round pick Garrett Crochet, who could be a dominant reliever right away. Manager Rick Renteria and longtime pitching coach Don Cooper got the boot, with A.J. Hinch a possible replacement for Renteria. That would be an upgrade.

2020 record: 33-27
Lost Division Series to Rays
2021 title odds: 6-1

You can make an argument to put them a couple of spots higher, but not winning the AL East in 2020 points to some flaws. They simply can’t count on Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton being healthy for an entire season, plus DJ LeMahieu and Masahiro Tanaka are free agents, two important players to re-sign or replace. Of course, we know the Yankees will do something big, perhaps signing J.T. Realmuto and moving on from Gary Sanchez or trading for Francisco Lindor and shifting Gleyber Torres to second. Getting Luis Severino back from Tommy John surgery will be a big boost as well.

2020 record: 36-24
Lost Wild Card Series to Astros
2021 title odds: 14-1

The Twins didn’t do it quite like they did in 2019, when they bashed a record 307 home runs (although their 162-game pace for 2020 was still 259), as their team batting average dropped nearly 30 points, and they fell from second in the AL in runs to 10th. Still, they’ve established a foundation of success with three playoff appearances in four seasons. The big issue is they have a lot of free agents to replace or re-sign, starting with 40-year-old Nelson Cruz, but also Jake Odorizzi, Marwin Gonzalez, Rich Hill, Tyler Clippard, Trevor May and Homer Bailey. Those players were minor contributors, but with Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Taylor Rogers getting more expensive in arbitration, the Twins may not be able to fill out the roster with minor free agents the way they’ve done of late. They need a healthy Josh Donaldson, especially if Cruz leaves, and they will have to discard the emotional baggage of 18 consecutive playoff losses to get revved up for 162 games just to get back to October again.

2020 record: 36-24
Lost Division Series to Houston
2021 title odds: 14-1

The A’s weren’t as impressive as they were in 2019 — Matt Olson morphed into an extreme “three true outcomes” slugger, Matt Chapman‘s OBP dipped to .276 and Marcus Semien declined from his third-place MVP performance. They still coasted to the AL West title though, and the division projects as being pretty soft, at least right now. Semien and closer Liam Hendriks are free agents as are several other key role players, so this ranking is not presented with a high degree of confidence. The A’s always seem to maximize their talent, and I do think the rotation will be much better, making up for some of the likely bullpen regression.

2020 record: 26-34
Tied for fourth in NL East
2021 title odds: 30-1

I feel like we need another National League team here, but let’s be honest: There is a wide gap between the NL’s top three teams and the block of mediocre teams in the middle. Let’s roll the dice on the Mets with new owner Steve Cohen to the rescue (once he gets formally approved). Let’s just say Mets fans are pumped about Cohen’s WAW (wins above Wilpon). There have already been reports about all the money he’ll sink into the franchise, not just on players but things like building out a more robust analytics staff. Aside from any splashy moves Cohen may make — trading for Nolan Arenado or Francisco Lindor? Signing J.T. Realmuto or Trevor Bauer? — there is a strong base of talent here. They ranked third in the majors in wOBA (behind the Braves and Dodgers) and fifth in the majors in pitcher strikeout rate. They should be better — a familiar refrain for Mets fans, unfortunately.

2020 record: 34-26
Lost Wild Card Series to Marlins
2021 title odds: 25-1

Everyone was down on the Cubs, especially after that sad two-and-out to the Marlins, but we do need to point out Chicago still won the NL Central despite Javier Baez (59 OPS+), Kris Bryant (73) and Kyle Schwarber (88) all producing well below an average major league hitter and Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras performing below their career norms. That continues a downward trend for this once-great offensive core, from second in the NL in runs in 2016 and 2017 to fourth in 2018, fifth in 2019 and 10th in 2020. Baez, Bryant, Schwarber and Rizzo are all free agents after 2021, but frankly, the trade value for Bryant and Schwarber — and even Baez, to a lesser extent — has cratered. Theo Epstein also hinted that 2021 will be his last season with the Cubs. Does this group get one last chance? In a weak division, with some bounce-back potential, the Cubs could be better than everyone believes. Or maybe the front office will just tear it all down.

2020 record: 29-31
Lost ALCS to Rays
2021 title odds: 20-1

It promises to be a busy winter for the Astros. George Springer, Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick are all free agents, while Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. and Zack Greinke are set to be free agents after 2021, as are Justin Verlander and Roberto Osuna, both of whom will likely miss the season following Tommy John surgery. They’ll need more from Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman (and don’t forget about Yordan Alvarez) but they could have a strong rotation if they keep McCullers and Greinke to go with Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy. The outfield free-agent market is thin, so if Springer and Brantley sign elsewhere, the Astros may have to scramble to find help for Kyle Tucker.

2020 record: 35-25
Lost Wild Card Series to Yankees
2021 title odds: 20-1

We start with one of the biggest questions of the entire offseason: Will Cleveland trade Francisco Lindor? It seems weird to say this, but there isn’t an obvious fit, as most of the top teams are set at shortstop. It will be interesting to see if a team tries to pull the Mookie Betts maneuver: trade for Lindor, then sign him to a big extension before he hits free agency after the 2021 season. Aside from the Lindor issue, it’s going to be a similar Cleveland team as we’ve seen the past two years: enough starting pitching to be a playoff team, but an offense that may prevent them from getting there. Please, find some competent outfielders. Cleveland’s outfielders hit .196/.270/.304.

2020 record: 30-28
Lost Wild Card Series to Padres
2021 title odds: 30-1

In one sense, it’s harder to evaluate what the Cardinals did in 2020 than any other team, with them having to play 11 doubleheaders after the team’s COVID-19 outbreak early in the season. On the other hand, they were exactly what we thought they would be: below-average offense with no power, good defense, good bullpen, decent starting pitching. I just don’t how they’re going to get better, especially given that some of their pitching peripheral numbers don’t quite match the ERA figures. Look, as always, you can never discount the Cardinals. They haven’t had a losing season since 2007. The division is wide open. Jack Flaherty will be better. Dylan Carlson could give them an impact outfielder. The bullpen projects as a big strength.

2020 record: 26-34
Tied for fourth in NL East
2021 title odds: 30-1

No team had less incentive in 2020 than the Nationals, and once Stephen Strasburg went down, it kind of felt like the entire team went down with him. Juan Soto played at an MVP level for 47 games, leading the NL in batting average and the majors in OBP and slugging. It wasn’t a full season so I’m not saying it compares, but his 212 OPS+ was the best since Barry Bonds in 2004.

There are concerns in the starting rotation, however, beyond Strasburg’s nerve issue. Anibal Sanchez fell apart, Patrick Corbin got knocked around (85 hits in 65⅔ innings) and even Max Scherzer had his highest ERA since 2012.The real problem may have been the defense: The Nationals ranked last in the majors with minus-43 defensive runs saved. As always, depth is an issue and they need youngsters Carter Kieboom (no home runs in 99 at-bats) and Victor Robles (.608 OPS) to contribute at the plate. If Strasburg is healthy, don’t ignore the 2019 champs.

2020 record: 32-28
Lost Wild Card Series to Rays
2021 title odds: 50-1

The Blue Jays face a very interesting offseason after making the playoffs as a wild card and ranking third in the AL in runs. The offense potentially looks even better if you’re buying the breakouts of Teoscar Hernandez and Rowdy Tellez. Worth noting: The Jays hit much better at their temporary home in Buffalo, so we have to be careful about overrating the offense. Hyun-Jin Ryu was terrific (at least until his playoff start), but the rest of the rotation was so problematic that the Jays acquired Taijuan Walker, Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling for the stretch run. Walker and Ray are free agents, but Nate Pearson will help, and the Jays should have some money to spend in free agency.

2020 record: 28-32
Third in NL East
2021 title odds: 40-1

It’s hard to see the Phillies much better than the .500 team they’ve been the past three seasons, which led to general manager Matt Klentak being reassigned within the organization. They had two great starters in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler and finished fourth in the NL in runs, but the bullpen (6.92 ERA, worst of all time) undermined all the positives. The Phillies allowed a .345 average on balls in play, and maybe that would drop over a full season, but it stands as the highest ever. This has been a multiyear problem. They were middle of the pack in BABIP allowed in 2019, but fifth-worst in 2018 and sixth-worst in 2017. They’ve been unable to fix the defense. Anyway, J.T. Realmuto and Didi Gregorius are free agents. The payroll would have been more than $200 million given a full season in 2020, so you wonder if there is room to re-sign Realmuto and fix the bullpen and replace/re-sign Gregorius and maybe add another starter.

2020 record: 26-34
Fourth in AL West
2021 title odds: 40-1

Billy Eppler is out as general manager after a five-year run that included no winning seasons. Yes, he inherited the bad Albert Pujols contract, but he also inherited Mike Trout and was never able to build a successful team around him, despite additions like Andrelton Simmons, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon. Simmons is a free agent, Pujols is finally down to his final season and Jared Walsh (.971 OPS, nine home runs in 99 at-bats, a low 13.9% strikeout rate) has to play. The immediate concerns are trying to turn Jo Adell into a major league hitter (.161, 55 strikeouts, seven walks in 132 PAs), figure out what happened to Ohtani (.190) and Justin Upton (.204) and — as always — address the pitching. Sounds like the same story as the past five years.

2020 record: 29-31
Lost Wild Card Series to Dodgers
2021 title odds: 50-1

This is a difficult team to read. The Brewers didn’t hit at all in 2020 (I think the NL must have stored its balls in Lake Michigan, because nobody could hit). Two-time batting champ and 2018 MVP Christian Yelich hit just .205, and I know it was just 58 games, but his strikeout rate went from 20.3% to 30.8%. Something doesn’t add up there.

They do have two great one-two combos in Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes in the rotation and Devin Williams and Josh Hader in the bullpen. Does Williams’ stunning breakout (53 K’s in 27 innings) make Hader trade bait? Burnes certainly looked like the real deal with his new cutter, but he’ll have to prove he can do it over 30 starts instead of 10. David Stearns is one of the more creative GMs around, although he’d probably like a do-over on the Trent Grisham/Zach Davies for Luis Urias/Eric Lauer deal.

2020 record: 24-36
Fifth in AL East
2021 title odds: 60-1

This was the hardest team to project. The pitching was so awful — 5.85 runs per game, the most for the franchise since 1932 — that it’s easy to assume it will be bad again in 2021. It was also bad in 2019 (5.11 runs per game), so we have a two-year track record. Maybe they get Chris Sale back at midseason and Eduardo Rodriguez returns from his COVID-related heart issue. There is a nice offensive core with Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo and Christian Vazquez (and J.D. Martinez if he bounces back). I’m not sure what Bobby Dalbec will be. I guess his upside is Joey Gallo, if that’s a good thing. More importantly, is Chaim Bloom playing the long game or will there be pressure to get the Red Sox immediately back into contender status?

2020 record: 31-29
Lost Wild Card Series to Braves
2021 title odds: 25-1

The Reds sneaked into the playoffs as a wild card with a late surge, but the team embarrassingly exited with two shutouts to the Braves, including a 13-inning defeat. The Reds have morphed into the most extreme example of a “three true outcomes” offense we’ve seen in this launch-angle era. They ranked fourth in the NL in home runs and first in walks, but hit a pathetic .212. The entire package added up to ranking just 13th in the NL in runs, then you dig deeper and realize they hit 55 home runs at home and 35 on the road, so much of their power was simply a result of their home park. It’s a bad offense, and I’m not sure it improves much in 2021. Trevor Bauer is a sure bet to sign elsewhere as a free agent, and we still don’t know if Nick Senzel is the solution in center field or an injury-prone role player.

2020 record: 31-29
Lost Division Series to Braves
2021 title odds: 60-1

It was a fun ride to their first postseason trip since 2003, but once you get past the starting trio of Sixto Sanchez, Sandy Alcantara and Pablo Lopez, holes remain. The pitching staff was next to last in the majors in strikeout rate, and the team’s top five relievers were all 30-something guys you can’t necessarily count on for 2021. There are no offensive stars as the lineup relied on stopgap veterans, while the young hitters still have trouble controlling the strike zone (and the young hitters aren’t really all that young). The minus-41 run differential is a little misleading as the Marlins had to use more players than any other team due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but I’m not sure I see another .500 season unless some of the young hitters suddenly develop into solid regulars.

2020 record: 29-31
Third in NL West
2021 title odds: 80-1

Call me skeptical. They went from the second-worst offense in the NL to a top-five offense — without making any significant additions. Brandon Belt with a 1.000 OPS? Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson over .900? Donovan Solano chasing a batting title? I smell a lot of regression coming on, and the Giants don’t have the rotation to back that up. They also had the oldest lineup in the league: Mauricio Dubon is the only returning regular who won’t be 30 or older in 2021. Maybe catcher Joey Bart makes an impact, but a 41 to 3 strikeout-to-walk rate suggests he’s not ready for prime time. Several of their big contracts come off the books after 2021 if you factor in buyouts, so look for the Giants to wait until that big 2021-22 free-agent class to start flipping over the roster.

2020 record: 27-33
Third in AL West
2021 title odds: 100-1

There were some nice positives in 2020: Kyle Lewis may win Rookie of the Year, Justus Sheffield was much improved, Marco Gonzales solidified himself as one of the most underrated starters in the majors, Dylan Moore turned into one of the best utility players as a power/speed combo. But there is still zero star power here, at least until Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriguez arrive as potential All-Star outfielders, Kelenic in 2021 and Rodriguez probably in 2022. Jerry Dipoto will have to reconstruct a bullpen that was one of the worst in the league (5.92 ERA). The Mariners are on the rise and have other potential impact prospects, including pitchers Logan Gilbert and Emerson Hancock, but look for them to hold the course in 2021 and push forward in 2022.

2020 record: 26-34
Fourth in AL Central
2021 title odds: 150-1

The Royals have some interesting young pitchers in Brad Keller, Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, with Josh Staumont as a potential closer, but there are still huge gaps across the roster, especially on the offensive side of things. They need to figure out center field, second base and left field, and even Adalberto Mondesi Jr. now looks like just a placeholder at short until Bobby Witt Jr. arrives in a couple of years. This ranking could be selling the Royals a bit short, as young pitching can carry a team if it comes fast (and 2020 top pick Asa Lacy may not need much time in the minors), but they need to find some hitters.

2020 record: 25-35
Fifth in NL West
2021 title odds: 60-1

That was ugly, and the fans are turning on the team after a couple of years of trades (Paul Goldschmidt, Zack Greinke and the deadline deals this season) that don’t appear to have returned any front-line talent. Ketel Marte and Eduardo Escobar, so good in 2019, fell off, with Marte inexplicably deciding he no longer wanted to walk. Robbie Ray couldn’t throw strikes and was finally traded. Merrill Kelly hurt his shoulder. Madison Bumgarner didn’t win a game. The problem for 2021? The Diamondbacks had the second-oldest lineup in the NL (six of their top eight regulars were 29 or older). Bumgarner now looks like a bad $80 million gamble. They’re only a season removed from going 85-77, so there is rebound potential, but the Snakes are a mess at the moment.

2020 record: 25-35
Fourth in AL East
2021 title odds: 150-1

Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of positives in 2020, especially after losing 108 games in 2019 and 115 in 2018. Anthony Santander had a small-sample breakout with the metrics to back it up. Ryan Mountcastle looks ready to join the lineup in 2021 and Trey Mancini will hopefully be back at full strength after finishing his chemo treatment in September. Keegan Akin and Dean Kremer could be arms to watch for the rotation.

They do have financial flexibility, especially as they get closer to the end of Chris Davis‘ deal, and with Adley Rutschman close to the majors and starters D.L. Hall and Grayson Rodriguez perhaps ready in 2022, the farm is better than it’s been in at least 10 years. But the base level of talent here remains pretty low.

2020 record: 26-34
Fourth in NL West
2021 title odds: 100-1

Right now, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story are still on the roster. Will they be there come spring training? The relationship between Arenado and the Rockies is strained, making him a trade candidate this winter. He won’t be easy to trade, though: He didn’t have a good 2020 at the plate, ended the season on the IL, has a full no-trade clause and can opt out of his deal after 2021. If Arenado is traded, you could see the Rockies dealing Story as well since he’s a free agent after 2021. Mostly, this team just needs a makeover. They ranked eighth in the NL in runs, and for a Rockies team, that’s horrible. (They had finished below fifth just one other time in franchise history.)

2020 record: 23-35
Fifth in AL Central
2021 title odds: 200-1

Sometimes you just have to point out the obvious: Jeimer Candelario was the team’s best player in 2020 — a 26-year-old first baseman who hit .203 the year before. Look, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal project as good starters at some point, but their struggles in limited action in 2020 suggest that may not be in 2021. Along with Spencer Turnbull and prospect Matt Manning, there is a rotation to dream on, but there is no offense, and Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, their top position player prospects, are more on a 2022 timetable.

2020 record: 22-38
Fifth in AL West
2021 title odds: 100-1

The Rangers continue to go backward. They were bad in 2020 in a year they thought they could contend, they weren’t particularly young and the farm system has struggled to develop pitchers and turn toolsy position players into quality hitters. The offense had a brutal year — and not just because of the new park. They didn’t hit on the road either. It’s time to admit that Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor are never going to be the core of a championship lineup, and if Lance Lynn is traded — he’ll be a free agent after 2021 — the rotation will have a huge hole to fill.

2020 record: 19-41
Fifth in NL Central
2021 title odds: 300-1

Let’s see, a small-market team coming off the worst record in the sport, won’t spend any money in free agency, and whose three best players in 2019 were all terrible in 2020. The first step is to hope Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman rebound, but with most of the organization’s top prospects still a ways off, the short-term outlook looks bleak. Heck, the long-term outlook isn’t exactly full of roses and puppies.


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Bryant, out 2 years, joins Ravens practice squad



OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Dez Bryant is back in the NFL.

The Baltimore Ravens signed the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver to their practice squad, the team announced Tuesday. Bryant has been out of the league for two years.

Bryant appeared to acknowledge the deal in a tweet Tuesday: “My emotions running high right now… I’m thankful…I can’t stop crying”

The biggest question is when Bryant will suit up for the Ravens. Baltimore’s wide receivers rank last in the NFL in receptions (58) and receiving yards (737).

Bryant, 31, could become a physical possession-type receiver for reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and can complement the speed of Marquise Brown.

The addition of Bryant might lead to a high-profile reunion on Dec. 3, when the Ravens play host to the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday Night Football. Bryant starred for the Cowboys for eight seasons, totaling 531 receptions for 7,459 yards and a franchise-record 73 touchdown catches.

“Obviously, that’s kind of like an ‘OG’-type guy,” Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said when asked about Bryant on Monday. “He’s been around the league for a long, long time. He actually followed me on Twitter a year or two ago, so I’m excited to meet him, and I’m excited to [be] around him hopefully, and just learn.”

This marked Bryant’s second workout with Baltimore in two months. When Bryant left in August without a contract, he was told to improve his conditioning, a source said.

The Ravens are off to a fast start at 5-1, but their passing game ranks 31st in the NFL. It looks as if Jackson would benefit from another target on the outside because Brown is the only Baltimore wide receiver with more than 11 catches this season.

Bryant is attempting to become the second Pro Bowl wide receiver to miss two full seasons and then return to the NFL since the 1970 merger, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. Josh Gordon was the first.

Bryant hasn’t played in a game since December 2017.

In November 2018, Bryant signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal with the New Orleans Saints. But he tore an Achilles tendon during his first practice with the Saints and has been out of the NFL since.

Bryant’s 531 career receptions would be the most by any wide receiver before missing two full seasons and then returning to the NFL, according to Elias’ data.

To make room for Bryant, the Ravens waived safety Marcus Gilchrist from the practice squad.


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Augusta National to host College GameDay during Masters



ESPN’s College GameDay Built By the Home Depot show has originated from dozens of college campuses across the country since 1993.

On Saturday, Nov. 14, the show will combine two of sport’s greatest traditions — college football and the Masters.

ESPN announced on Tuesday that College GameDay will originate from Augusta National Golf Club, which is hosting the postponed Masters Tournament next month, Nov. 12-15.

Top matchups that day are No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 13 Michigan and No. 2 Alabama at LSU.

“Any time College GameDay travels to a new destination, it’s special, and the opportunity to be on the grounds of Augusta National Golf Club during the Masters is extraordinary,” said Jimmy Pitaro, chairman, ESPN and Sports Content. “As this iconic event coincides with the college football season for the first time, we look forward to getting fans ready for a football Saturday while also showcasing the Masters and the greatest golfers in the world.”

Longtime ESPN hosts Rece Davis, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and others will broadcast from the par-3 course from 9 a.m. to noon ET.

In its 13th year at the Masters, ESPN will once again televise the first and second rounds, Nov. 12-13, from 1 to 5:30 p.m. There will also be expanded coverage on ESPN+, including exclusive practice-round coverage Nov. 10-11.

Golf fans will also be able to watch featured holes coverage on ESPN+ on Nos. 4, 5 and 6 in each of the four rounds of the Masters.


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