Santa Wish List From A Southern Sports Fan

kippBy: Kipp Branch news services

Christmas is upon us once again. My girls have given me their annual list of items they want from Santa. I have dropped a few hints about things I want Santa to bring me as well.

I want to shake things up and come up with a sports list of things I would like Santa to grant in 2016 and 2017.

Santa please bring Brunswick High a new football coach with a championship resume. 30 plus juniors return from a talented squad that underachieved in 2016.

Santa please not a fourth straight loss to Glynn Academy in football. Life as a Pirate has been tough around here Santa.

Santa please deliver a City Championship and a deep playoff run to Altama Avenue next fall for the Pirates.

Region Championships for Pirate girls and boys basketball

A winning season for the Pirate baseball team to set the table for a title run two years from now.

A State Football championship for the MCA Bucs this weekend.

A 9-1 regular season and a deep playoff run for the Glynn Academy Red Terror football team in 2017.

State Titles in golf, tennis, and soccer for the Spring Sports Monster known as Glynn Academy Athletics.

A State Title for Glynn Academy baseball in 2017

Santa please a total house cleaning in Jacksonville and a new coach with a championship resume for the Jaguars.

Please Santa deliver at least one home game sellout for the Jags in 2017.

Santa please deliver a SEC Football Title to Athens, Georgia next fall.

Please Santa not a fourth straight loss to Florida for my Bulldogs, and please Santa while we are at it how about a 0-12 record for the Gators in football in 2017.

Please deliver a top 3 recruiting class for UGA in February.

Santa please bring some power to the Atlanta Braves roster, and please not another last place finish.

Please solve the traffic issues in and around the Braves new stadium in Cobb County

A March Madness Berth for the UGA men’s basketball team

A College World Series Berth for the UGA Baseball team.

A NL Cy Young Award for Adam Wainwright

A Pro Bowl Berth for Darius Slay, and Super Bowl for my Detroit Lions

One more PGA tour win for Davis Love III, and then he goes on the Senior Tour and beats the brakes off of everyone.

A LPGA tour win for Katie Burnett.

Southern Sports Edition to take the Southeast by storm

A NFC South title for the Falcons.

An Eastern Conference Finals berth for the Atlanta Hawks.

Please make Coastal Georgia a place where college recruiters set up shop to recruit local athletes.

An ACC Title for the GT Yellow Jackets in football in 2017

Losing seasons for Auburn, and Tennessee in football in 2017.

Santa please let Nick Saban retire.

State Titles across the board for Frederica Academy in 2017.

State Titles for all local recreation teams in Glynn County.

Championships for all College of Coastal Georgia in all sports.

A US Open title in 2017 for Zach Johnson and a Green Jacket for Matt Kuchar.

A fat free agent contract for Justin Coleman of the New England Patriots

A call up to AAA for former Red Terror Bo Way, and a ticket to the show in the near future.

Well there you have it Santa. I hope I haven’t asked for too much or left anyone out. Thank you for 2016 and I hope you make all of the requests in 2017 come true.

Santa I know I already asked but please not another loss to the Red Terrors in football.

Merry Christmas to all.

The Bucs’ Journey

draytonBy: Drayton Hogarth news services

This has been a season of redemption for both the McIntosh County Academy Buccaneers and their coach Robby Robinson.

McIntosh has returned to playing a style of winning football that was only attained in Robinson’s previous stint when he was in Darien from 2004-2010, and compiling a 54-24-1 record.

After the Bucs hit bottom following a winless 2014 season, McIntosh looked to their past to improve their future by bringing their former coach back home.

In 2015, Robinson returned and gave the team the belief that they could actually win again by going 4-7.

Coach Robinson and his team would take the next step this season by going 7-2 and capturing second place in Region 3-A.

With the arrival of the state playoffs, McIntosh is playing their best football of the season and have an opportunity to bring home a state championship in Atlanta against the Macon County Bulldogs at the Georgia Dome. Recently, I had the chance to catch up with the McIntosh County Academy coach and talk to him about the season and what it has been like coming back to MCA.

SSE: Before the season officially got underway, I saw your team play Glynn Academy in a scrimmage and recalled thinking that your Bucs could be in for a very good season. When did you feel like your team could have a special season?

Robinson: “This summer when we competed at a high level at padded camps vs Glynn Academy, Brookwood, Warner Robins, Valdosta and Ware County.”

SSE: A big turning point in the season was when Coach Robinson’s son, Major Robinson, took over the reigns of your offense. Has it been difficult to balance the father/son & coach/player dynamic?

Robinson: “He’s my third son to be my quarterback, so I’ve had to learn the hard way to be a daddy at home and coach on the field. I’m still learning though,” Robinson laughed.

SSE: A team doesn’t turn around from winless two seasons ago to playing for a state title without respected leaders on the team. Who are the players you depended on for leadership this season?

Robinson: “Jonathan Jason, Akhira Roberts, and Dustin Anderson….they were elected as our Senior Leaders by their teammates.”

SSE: Your team will be riding up to Atlanta, playing in the Georgia Dome, do you talk to your team about not making this game any different than another game? Maybe borrow from Hoosiers, “a football field is the same 100 yards in Atlanta as it is in Darien…”

Robinson: “YES! Did that Monday at a team meeting…..It’s the same field in a big building.”

SSE: Your team has displayed winning football all season, what are the keys for your Bucs to bring home the win against Macon County?

Robinson: “We have to eliminate the big play, control the clock, and win with special teams.”

SSE: What would a victory mean, not only for you as a coach, but what would it mean for the whole county of McIntosh to finally have a championship to call their own?

Robinson: “Win or Lose…………All of McIntosh County should be proud! All of McIntosh County can learn a lesson from our team. If we unite with a common goal, then great things can happen.”

This has indeed been a year of redemption for both Coach Robinson and his Buccaneers football team.

Robinson has proven previous detractors wrong by returning to Darien and righting the Buccaneers ship yet again. The McIntosh team found redemption of their own over the course of the season, after a week two loss at home to defending state champion Clinch County 32-7.

The Buccaneers sailed onward and headed to Homerville in the state semifinals against those same Panthers defeating Clinch 24-8 to complete their 180-degree turnaround and earn the right to play for a state championship.

Coach Robinson and his Buccaneers have a tough task at hand with Macon County, but they have faced tough situations before and have come out on top. Win or lose, this has been a special season that all of McIntosh can be proud.

Future of College Football Playoff

kenBy: Kenneth Harrison Jr. news services

We’re in year three of the College Football Playoffs and the four teams were announced to play for the National Title. I don’t have a problem with the teams that were picked but it made me stop and think about the selection process.

Some analysts point to Washington (12-1) and say a team with two loses like Penn State or Michigan is more deserving because they played a tougher non-conference schedule. I disagree but I think things should be more uniformed across college football to leave everyone with an equal playing field.

The first major change should require all Power 5 conferences to play an equal amount of conference games. For instance, the Pac 12, Big Ten and Big 12 all play nine conference games. Two leagues with fourteen members, the ACC and SEC play eight conference games. It was proposed two years ago that the SEC might add an additional conference game and it was overwhelmingly shot down.

“This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said. “Critical to maintaining this format is the non-conference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents.”

That’s a very interesting comment because what actually happens is a lot of teams backload their schedule with a cupcake opponent. Half of the league did that in the second to last week of the season. Several played FCS opponents: Alabama played Chattanooga, Auburn played Alabama A&M, South Carolina played Western Carolina and Kentucky played Austin Peay. Some played weak FBS opponents, for instance Georgia played Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas A&M played Texas-San Antonio. These are all basically glorified scrimmages before the season finale.

I also think since there are only four playoff spots we should rethink having five major conferences since they don’t all play by the same rules. I think the Big 12 should not be considered a Power conference anymore. They are the only conference that does not play a conference championship game since the league has had less than the required twelve teams after the 2010 season.

I think they enjoy not having to play the conference championship game for a couple of reasons. The first thing is since they only have ten teams they divide revenue amongst those universities. If they add members that will decrease the amount of money each school receives.

It’s also easier for a team to play one less game and stay in the hunt for a national championship. They have had a few teams in contention for the national title until they lost the Big 12 championship. In 1996 No. 3 Nebraska (10-1) lost to Texas. In 1998 No. 2 Kansas State (11-0) lost to Texas A&M and in 2003 No. 1 Oklahoma (12-0) got blown out by Kansas State.

I think they have been taking the easy way out by not expanding and they should be punished for that. Maybe the American Athletic Conference should become a Power 5 conference to replace them.

Is Alabama Good For SEC?

jjBy: JJ Lanier news services

When my wife and I moved to Brunswick a little over 13 years ago, I assume that like most people new to town, we drove right by Willie’s Weenie Wagon, snickered at the name, and didn’t think anything more about it.

Needless to say, we quickly learned from the error of our ways, and weekly visits to Willie’s became the norm. We moved away from Glynn Co. 10 years ago, yet anytime we vacation in Florida we always tend to plan our driving schedule around eating at Willie’s.

The only drawback I’ve encountered with this strategy is that because I’m such a big fan of the pork chop sandwich, it almost renders the rest of the menu obsolete, since it’s the only thing I order. Unless I’m in the mood for a pork chop sandwich, I don’t go to Willie’s.

I know this is an odd segue into my story, but I mention this because over the past few weeks I’ve started to wonder if Alabama’s success since Nick Saban has actually been a problem for the SEC as a whole?

I know that sounds like a weird thing to say: having the most dominant team in college football may actually be a hindrance to your conference overall, but just hear me out.

The lifeblood of any collegiate football program is obviously recruiting. It’s much easier to win as an average coach if you are surrounded by talent than it is to be a great coach with little talent around you. Between 2000-2010 there were eight different teams that held the number one recruiting class during that span. In the six recruiting classes since then there has been only one; Alabama.

Nick Saban is on such a roll that at this point he can basically hand pick certainly any defensive player he wants, and probably just about any offense player too, short of the quarterback.

The talent that used to be spread throughout the conference, or to at least three or four different teams each year, is now landing primarily in one area. It’s not a coincidence that the level of talent, and frankly the play, across the conference has been on the decline while the Tide are on track to win their fourth national championship in six years.

Plus, and let’s just be honest with each other here, as long as that list is of things I don’t like about Saban, there isn’t a better coach in the country

It goes without saying that the SEC still has a lot of incoming talent that doesn’t wind up in Tuscaloosa, so please don’t think I’m comparing them to MAC or anything. Every year there are always a few other SEC teams bringing in huge classes, it’s just that the names of those teams change from year to year, and that’s the problem I’m talking about.

When you have one team dominate the talent pool like Alabama has been doing this entire decade, you’re going to see the rest of the conference suffer.

This type of separation usually doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s really only taken shape in the SEC over the past few years, but you can see where it’s trending. If Alabama continues their reign don’t be surprised if the SEC starts to resemble the old ACC (one strong team surrounded by mediocrity).

Oh, by the way, did you know the ACC has a winning record against SEC competition over past three years. I’m just saying…..

Now, who is up for a pork chop sandwich? I’m hungry.

Garcia Trade Favors Braves?

By: TJ Hartnett news services

Left-handed pitcher Jaime Garcia has spent his entire MLB career with the St. Louis Cardinals, but the Atlanta Braves announced they acquired the southpaw in exchange for prospects John Gant, Chris Ellis and Luke Dykstra. Gant and Ellis are each right-handed pitchers, while Dykstra is an infielder. ranked Ellis, Gant and Dykstra as Atlanta’s 17th-, 21st- and 29th-best prospects, respectively, in 2016.

Garcia is the headliner in the trade, though he had mixed results in 2016. On one hand, he appeared in 32 games, which tied for his career high and represented significant strides after an injury-marred stretch. He made 20 starts in 2012, nine in 2013, seven in 2014 and 20 in 2015.

He underwent season-ending surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome and suffered partial labrum and rotator cuff tears during that span. He also dealt with groin issues in 2015.

While Garcia proved he can handle the rigors of an entire season in 2016, he was nowhere near as effective as he was in 2010 and 2011, when he posted 2.70 and 3.56 ERAs, respectively.

He finished the 2016 campaign with a 4.67 ERA and 1.37 WHIP, which were his highest marks since he made 10 appearances as a rookie in 2008. Home runs were one of the biggest problems for the southpaw, who allowed 26 on a Cardinals team that finished 86-76 and missed out on the playoffs.

Garcia represents the latest veteran addition for the Braves pitching staff, which has also added 43-year-old Bartolo Colon and 42-year-old R.A. Dickey in the offseason.

At 30 years old, Garcia is younger than those two righties, but injuries have to be a concern as he racks up additional mileage on his arm.

Still, Atlanta needed to make changes to its starting rotation after finishing 28th in the big leagues with a 4.87 ERA. Atlanta has plenty of ground to make up in the National League East after finishing in last place at 68-93, but addressing the woeful starting rotation was an ideal place to start.

Garcia comes with risks, but he also has a track record that includes a handful of notable seasons.

For the Braves’ part, they’re starting to flip their recent trend: this time they trading prospects for a Major League player. After building up their farm system following the 2014 season, the Braves are starting to make these kinds of moves.

It remains to be seen whether or not they’ll offer up enough for Chris Sale, but if it took these three prospects to acquire an oft-injured lefty coming off his worst season, it will surely take a king’s ransom to bring Sale to Atlanta.

However, Braves fans shouldn’t cry out too much over what they had to give up for Garcia. Gant contributed to the 2016 squad and would likely have done the same in 2017 if he were on the roster, but weighing the best case scenarios against each other: Gant might have been a decent fifth starter at best, whereas if Garcia shows up he could be a great number two.

Ellis was unlikely to make much of a Dent in Atlanta, and after Sean Rodriguez joined the team this week Dykstra had too many people in his way.

Teams hate to trade prospects away, and fans certainly hate to see it, but given Garcia’s potential versus Gant’s, Ellis’ and Dykstra’s, it’s no great loss. More specifically, if the Braves miss these prospects, even if Garcia can’t stay on the field, something has gone very wrong with the many other even more highly-rated pitching prospects.

Time To Reset For Jags…Again

kippBy: Kipp Branch news services

I almost hate to remind myself that I picked the Jacksonville Jaguars to win the AFC South and make the playoffs earlier this year. I would have been better off picking Jacksonville to be selecting in their customary spot in the 2017 draft which is in the top five.

I bought into the hype surrounding these Jags as they spent over $100 million in the free agent market in the offseason to upgrade a defensive unit that had been offensive in previous years.

While the defense has improved drastically into a playoff caliber unit the offense seems to have taken a few steps back. Blake Bortles is not playing like the QB we saw in 2015, the offensive line is horrible, and no running back has stepped up into the go to guy.

Sitting at 2-9 for the season with 6 straight losses with absolutely no shot at a playoff berth Jacksonville needs to fire everyone down associated with this train wreck of a franchise.

Many locals call it the curse of Tim Tebow. The Jags passed on Tebow and have been awful pretty much ever since. Former head coaches like Tom Coughlin leave and win Super Bowls and Jack del Rio is sitting at 9-2 right now in Oakland after being fired by the Jags.

The Gus Bradley experiment has failed with a 14-45 overall record. I’m not sure you pull the plug on Blake Bortles yet after 3 years in the league. The offense has scored over 30 points once this entire season. How is this offense so woeful? Talented receivers, QB, and RB’s make you wonder why this team can’t score points.

Before the loss to the Bills last week head coach Rex Ryan wondered how Jacksonville could be 2-8 at the time. I just cannot figure this team out. They seem to be in just about every game but just cannot figure out ways to close the door. All signs point to coaching as the issue in the River City.

Who could the Jags land as a new Head Coach in 2017? This team needs major help along the OL, and maybe draft a top-quality RB in the draft like a Leonard Fournette in the upcoming draft. The defense is solid. Fan support is horrible.

What if Jack Del Rio was to go on and win a Super Bowl in Oakland? That would mean the first two coaches in Jags history would have rings, but the Jags pulled the plug on both. It is time to start over once again in Jacksonville which has been a recurring theme as of late.

What would someone like a Bruce Arians do with the talent on the Jag roster? Could the Jags go out and bring back Coughlin at age 70 who is the only man who had the Jags sniffing a Super Bowl back in 1999? Would he come out of retirement? Would someone like John Gruden, or Tony Dungy be motivated to step back on the sidelines in Jacksonville with the talent assembled on that roster?

I just know it is back to drawing board again for the Jags, and they need a total house cleaning this time. If something does not change soon we could be looking at the London Jaguars in the near future. Time is now for big changes in Jacksonville.

Terrors Are Going No Where

draytonBy: Drayton Hogarth news services

Unfortunately, the Glynn Academy Red Terrors 2016 season came to a sudden stop against the Northside Warner Robins Eagles.

With the loss of a tremendous senior class, including Miami Hurricanes commits, Dee Jay Dallas and Zalontae Hillery, many expect the Red Terrors to take a major step back in the 2017 season. However, it would be a big time mistake to underestimate the Red Terrors going forward.

Coach Hidalgo has taken the Glynn Academy program to a new level since his arrival three seasons ago. Each season since his initial year of coaching for the Terrors, Hidalgo has heard the doubts that the success of his team will continue after losing players to graduation or assistant coaches moving on to expand their own coaching resumes.

On the Bishop Media Glynn Academy Coach’s Show, Hidalgo was excited about the prospects of the 2017 season and explained why, “I told those kids that anyone who thinks we are just going to go the way of the Dodo is wrong. My first year we lost a great offensive coordinator in Coach Jackson, and they said ‘well, they are done’. Then the next year they said ‘oh they lost Garrison Hurd and Dexter Roberson and they are done’. Now they are saying they are losing a great group of seniors and people around the state will say, ‘oh they are losing Dee Jay Dallas and some great kids, and they are done.’ Well, that’s not the case, we will be back in this position next season. I believe that we have a chance to be a great football team next year because we have kids committed to winning, and have a great group of seniors and some really good young players. We are going to have to develop some kids, but we will be right back in the mix next year.”

One of those great players mentioned above who is moving on to the next stage of his education and playing days, Dee Jay Dallas, also feels that his Glynn Academy teammates will be able to maintain the winning ways established in Dallas’ high school tenure.

The Terrors will struggle some at first but I have faith in my men! They aren’t afraid of any challenge. I think the pride that they carry when they put on the red and white will carry them through the regular season with an undefeated record and into to compete and possibly win a state title.” Dallas told me when asked about the Red Terrors prospects ahead of them in 2017.

Some of those “men” that Dallas is talking about were mentioned by Coach Hidalgo as well. “I think we will be outstanding on defense, both our safeties will return. We return Hunter Hall and David Murray at linebacker, and Tyler Cleghorn, Marlin Taylor, and Isaiah McDonald on the defensive line. We moved Marvin Dallas to cornerback. We’ve got a chance to be really good defensively.”

On offense, Hidalgo feels that the offense will pack a punch with players like Randon Jernigan moving to quarterback, “Randon’s career numbers are likely better than Dee Jay’s given his years at Brunswick.”

Running back looks to be boosted with “getting Tyler Grant back from injury Tyshaun Wallace kid sat out this year with a knee injury who’s a really good running back. Quan Bostic will replace Randon in the slot. We need to develop some offensive linemen. Our 9th grade class has a lot of really good linemen in it. Drez Wilcox will play for us next year, along with 4-5 kids who have chance to be division one football players. Our future is very bright, go back to work, put together a new weight training program, and utilize the new fieldhouse and facilities. The offseason starts tomorrow.”

That is the prevailing reason why the Red Terrors very likely will be back challenging for city, region, and state championships because of the workman like attitude. While the season just ended, the thought is not look at what we did, it is look at what we are going to do.

Who Will Win ACC Title?

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr. news services

By this time next week we’ll know the conference champions for each Power 5 conference and the four-playoff teams. I’m going to preview the ACC championship game.

The Dr. Pepper ACC Football Championship Game is this Saturday night in Orlando, FL. It’s a matchup between No. 3 Clemson and No. 19 Virginia Tech. Clemson (11-1, 7-1 ACC) is trying to win its second consecutive conference championship and College Football Playoff appearance.

The Tigers have been very inconsistent this year. Some of that is because they are replacing several talented players that are now in the NFL. Coach Dabo Swinney has to get them to play more disciplined and consistent.

“This is the best team I’ve had since I’ve been (at Clemson),” said Swinney. “It’s a little frustrating at times, because I think sometimes these guys are held to a little bit different standard than some of these other teams out there. I don’t know what some people are looking at, but these guys have played well all year.”

That starts with the play of super star quarterback Deshaun Watson. He had a breakout season last year passing for over 4,000 yards and rushing for over 1,100. He only had 13 interceptions in 2015 and he already has 14 this season. His rushing total has also drastically dropped to under 500 yards.

In the loss to Pittsburgh Watson threw for 580 yards completing 74% of his passes but he also tossed 3 picks. The Tigers have played better the last two games so it looks like they might have finally found their niche.

The running game is what helped get them back on track. Junior Wayne Gallman has battled injuries but he’s finally getting healthy. Gallman averages over 5 yards per carry and he helps to take pressure off of Watson.

The Tigers are a balanced team that can also play defense. They rank 9th in the nation in total defense allowing 308 yards per game and 17 points per game.

Va Tech (9-3, 6-2) is doing well under first year head coach Justin Fuente. Fuente is tied for the most wins by a first-year Tech coach with C.P. Miles (went 9-1 in 1905). This is Virginia Tech’s first ACC Championship game appearance since 2011.

“Life has been pretty good, to be honest with you,” said Fuente. “We all have things that we’re trying to overcome, program wise. Change has been incredibly smooth (at Tech), but there hasn’t been anything to me that’s stuck out that’s been a huge thorn in our side.”

Junior QB Jerod Evans leads the Hokies with over 3,000 yards, 26 touchdowns and 5 picks. He also completes 64% of his passes. His top three targets have over 600 yards and four touchdowns each.

Tech is coming off of a two game winning streak so they have momentum going for them. They play well on defense as well coming in at 20th in the country in total defense.

If Clemson wins their guaranteed to make the College Football Playoffs again. The Tigers have a lot at stake so I expect them to feel the pressure. The game will be very competitive in the first half. I expect the superior talent of Clemson to take over in the second half and they’ll put the game out of reach.

Which Band Does Your SEC Coach Compare To?

jjBy: JJ Lanier news services

It’s been a disaster of a year for the SEC. Instead of piling on and writing about how most of the teams have underachieved, or how Joe Alleva screwed up the Orgeron hire, I want to do something a little more light hearted.

Hopefully bring some overdue joy to what has been an otherwise unwelcoming football season for SEC fans.

ESPN recently released a list of all the college coaches along with their favorite bands. Sure, it’s not hard hitting journalism by any stretch, but if you’ve read anything I’ve written over the past two years (and my affinity for anything pop culture) you had to know I was going to be piggybacking off that article.

So, here’s how it’s going to go. Obviously, I’m just going to focus on the SEC coaches, and instead of talking about what band they chose, I’ll assign a group/artist that I think they are most like. In order not to stray too far, I’ll attempt to stay within the same genre.

In alphabetical order, according to school:

Nick Saban. ESPN: Eagles. JJ: Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin is not only considered one of the greatest bands of all time, but their music was in your face and unapologetic, especially whenever they played live. Sound familiar?

Bret Bielema. ESPN: The Temptations. JJ: The Dramatics. Neither are bad, but both are easily forgotten compared to their peers.

Gus Malzahn. ESPN: The Cars. JJ: Maroon 5. I didn’t think either would still be relevant going into 2017.

Jim McElwain. ESPN: Earth, Wind, and Fire. JJ: Earth, Wind, and Fire. McElwain could master all three and Florida fans still wouldn’t care unless he mastered an SEC Championship too.

Kirby Smart. ESPN: The Rolling Stones. JJ: Slash’s Snakepit. Slash left one of the biggest bands in the world and formed the Snakepit. I don’t need to explain the similarities, right?

Mark Stoops. ESPN: Toby Keith. JJ: Sam Hunt. I don’t listen to Sam Hunt and I don’t watch Kentucky football.

Ed Orgeron. ESPN: Creedence Clearwater Revival. JJ: CCR. There’s nothing wrong with Creedence, but much like Orgeron, I have to believe that people in the bayou think much more highly of them than anywhere else in the country.

Dan Mullen. ESPN: U2. JJ: Dan Wilson. If you listened to music at all in the 90’s you had to have heard Semisonic’s “Closing Time”. Wilson was the lead singer of Semisonic. He’s had some minor hits as a solo artist, and has written songs for other groups (Dixie Chicks), but nothing has been as big as that late 90’s song. 2014 is Dan Mullen’s “Closing Time.”

Barry Odom. ESPN: Blake Shelton. JJ: Jason Aldean. Basically, they look like they could be brothers.

Hugh Freeze. ESPN: Chris Tomlin. JJ: Chris Tomlin. Considering the NCAA sanctions Ole Miss may face, Freeze needs to get as close with God as possible.

Will Muschamp. ESPN: George Strait. JJ: Taylor Swift. I’m juvenile and I think it’s funny.

Rodriguez Bargain For Braves

tj1By: TJ Hartnett news services

After striking quickly on both R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon, the Braves continued their offseason feast on Thanksgiving morning by agreeing to a 2-year, $11. 5 million-dollar deal with super utility man Sean Rodriguez.

At first glance, this deal doesn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary. Rodriguez is a part-time player, and part-time players usually don’t break the bank in free agency. What’s interesting is that Rodriguez isn’t your ordinary part time player, and that might quickly make this deal a real bargain for the Braves.

To understand what Rodriguez is, we must understand what he was. Prior to 2016, he posted no higher than a .716 OPS in parts of eight seasons for the Angels, Rays, and Pirates. In those eight seasons, Rodriguez only broke 400 plate appearances one time, and only reached double-digit home runs once with 12.

For players like Rodriguez to survive in the majors, they must adapt. If they become too one-dimensional, their days on big league rosters are numbered. Through his athleticism, Rodriguez was able to survive by producing value with his glove. As a result, the 2016 version of Sean Rodriguez was a multi-positional asset that could plug just about any hole in the Pirates lineup.

In 2016, he exploded offensively, putting up an .859 OPS in 342 plate appearances over 140 games. Because of the low number of plate appearances for that level of production, you would think that Rodriguez is a perfect example of a lefty-mashing platoon hitter, but that’s not entirely true.

Of his 342 plate appearances, only 94 came against left handed pitching. When given his opportunities against southpaws, he did his damage with a .286/.415/.519 to go along with four home runs, four doubles, and a triple. Still, only 94 plate appearances shows that the Pirates didn’t think was only deployable against lefties.

In his other 248 plate appearances, Rodriguez still put up nice numbers. With a .265/.324/.507 slash to go along with a healthy 14 home runs and 12 doubles.

Obviously, we don’t know how he would have performed with another 250 plate appearances in 2016. But, we can confidently believe that his lack of an everyday spot in the lineup was not his fault.

In a crowded Pittsburg infield that included Jung-Ho Kang, Josh Harrison, David Freese, Jordy Mercer, John Jaso, and then-top prospect Josh Bell all competing for playing time at just four positions, Rodriguez wasn’t given the plate appearances his performance warranted.

Looking forward for the Pirates, Rodriguez was a luxury that they ended up deeming not worth the $5-7 million per year offers he was looking at receiving on the open market.

For the Braves, however, veteran position players are hard to spot on their roster that’s been stripped down to the bone over the last two years. His value increases on that team with an opportunity to amass over 500 plate appearances while providing good defense at multiple positions.

With his high level of performance and positional flexibility, it’s hard to imagine that the $5.5 million in annual average value he received isn’t a bargain for the type of production he’s capable of at multiple positions.

Like pitch framing, there isn’t a perfect way to account for positional flexibility, how it affects a player’s total value to his team, and how it translates into dollars – just look at World Series MVP Ben Zobrist.

Moving forward to 2017, the Braves secured someone they could plug in at second base and immediately see top-level production. Through the adjustments he made in his swing, Rodriguez could be considered a 20 home run threat for at least 2017.

If he continues to provide the above-average defense he’s known for, Rodriguez could provide the type of value that will make him the free agent bargain of the offseason.