RandBall

Michael Rand started RandBall with hopes that he could convince the world to love jumpsuits as much as he does. So far, he's only succeeded in using the word "redacted" a lot. He welcomes suggestions, news tips, links of pure genius, and pictures of pets in Halloween costumes here, though he already knows he will regret that last part.

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Wednesday (Vikings' biggest position of need) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 17th at 10:39am 286103911

barrThe Star Tribune’s Mark Craig had a good piece today about just how far ahead the Vikings’ defense is from the offense — something that figured to be the opposite at the start of the season with a lot of question marks on defense and a lot of presumed playmakers on offense.

The Vikings have improved enough on defense this year to be considered at least middle-of-the-pack, if not better. It might not be a championship defense, but it is on the way to being a good-to-very-good defense. The offense has cost the Vikings multiple games, plain and simple.

As such, here is how we see the Vikings’ biggest positions of need going into 2015:

*Offensive line: We wouldn’t be upset at all if the Vikings spent two or more draft picks on the offensive line, including the first-round pick. If you had to point to one unit as the reason things have tended to fall apart for Minnesota this year, the line is it.

*Wide receiver: An infusion of talent here is needed. Even if Cordarrelle Patterson has a resurgence in 2015, the Vikings need to get better here in order to give Teddy Bridgewater a better chance to succeed.

*Defensive back: The biggest reason the Vikings took a defensive leap this year is the relative health and strong overall play of the secondary, led by Xavier Rhodes. But bringing in some more depth at both corner and safety would be wise.

*Linebacker: Anthony Barr was terrific before his knee injury, and the rest of the players at this position have held up at least adequately in most situations. Still, it’s another area that could use more depth for the defense to take another step.

If the Vikings spent most of their draft picks and overall attention on those spots, they would be wise. If Adrian Peterson is gone, they will surely need to address running back depth as well, but the role of feature backs in the NFL has been diminished to the point that we wouldn’t consider it a higher priority than any of the aforementioned positions.

Mid-day talker: Thinking back on 2009 Vikings-Cutler trade rumors

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 17th at 9:05am 285989271

cutlerMonths before the Vikings lured Brett Favre to Minnesota … and weeks before Jay Cutler was ultimately traded from the Broncos to the Bears … there was a steady stream of reports and rumors that the Vikings — coming off a 10-6 playoff season but still with questions at quarterback — were interested in making a deal for the QB.

Did you forget about this? Never forget it. Because with each passing Cutler game, we still wonder about it.

How different would 2009 have been? How different would the five seasons and many QBs after that have been? Would it have been worth it, possibly, in some ways? Cutler in purple? Here’s what was being written in the Star Tribune back in March of 2009:

The Denver Post reported the Vikings are among the teams that
have expressed interest in Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler, and
talks between the sides were believed to be ongoing Monday. It
remains unclear what the Vikings might be offering.

The news broke three days after the Vikings completed a trade
that sent a fourth-round draft pick to Houston for Sage Rosenfels.
He and Tarvaris Jackson are expected to compete for the starting
quarterback job, but neither is at the level of Cutler, a 2006
first-round pick who made his first Pro Bowl this past season. The
Vikings made inquiries about Cutler‘s availability at the NFL
scouting combine last month.

Vikings coach Brad Childress was elusive when asked at Rosenfels’
introductory news conference whether the team would add a top-tier
quarterback.

“Don’t know, I’m not clairvoyant,” Childress said.

Cutler is 44-37 with an 84.4 passer rating in his Bears career. He’s the NFL leader in bad body language. How would his tenure have played out here? We’ll never know, but it’s a question we still, for some reason, think about.

Tuesday (Flip's third rebuilding project) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 16th at 2:08pm 285967551

flipfansFlip Saunders took over as head coach of the Washington Wizards in 2009. Armed with a lineup featuring Gilbert Arenas and a cast of others, Washington had slumped in 2008-09 but had made the playoffs each of the previous four seasons. Thinking the Wizards were in prime contention for a rebound year, they swapped the No. 5 pick in the 2009 draft with the Wolves for Randy Foye and Mike Miller.

The move backfired for Washington.  A whole host of problems with Arenas and others led to an eventual youth movement — one that didn’t involve that No. 5 pick, who the Wolves turned into Ricky Rubio. Flip started the process of that youth movement, coaching John Wall and co. to 23 wins in 2010-11 before getting fired 17 games (2-15 record) into the 2011-12 season. Now, the Wizards are one of the best teams in the East with a 17-6 record heading into a game in Washington tonight against the Wolves.

It’s a reminder — the second reminder — that Saunders can head into a rebuild and his teams can come out on the other side looking pretty good. The first, of course, was his work with a young Kevin Garnett in the mid-1990s, helping take the Wolves from perennial lottery team to perennial playoff team. His third such effort, of course, is pretty much the same as his first: getting the Wolves from the lottery to the playoffs again. Time will tell how that plays out — and it does take time — but the track record is at least encouraging for Wolves fans.

We had a chance to chat with Flip Saunders about the rebuilding mentality last week:

“When I was in Washington, they made a decision where we traded Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas had the situation with the gun so he was gone, traded Caron Butler, Brendan Hayward, (DeShawn) Stevenson, we (lost) our whole starting five. We had like nine guys with two or fewer years of experience. So what was going to happen is that we were going to lose. It’s frustrating, it’s hard to go through, but if you’re committed to that and to development, by letting those guys play and play a lot of minutes, you facilitate their development,” Saunders said.

“I look at them and where they were four years ago, and now they’re one of the best teams in the East. John Wall developed. And if you look at the league, and you look at all these players … when we traded (Kevin) Love, we became in essence what I would call a lottery team. We traded our best player for the No. 1 pick in the draft. If Love wasn’t on our team a year ago, we probably would have struggled. if you look at teams that have been lottery teams and gotten the first pick, whether it’s Cleveland with (Kyrie) Irving and Anthony Bennett, New Orleans with (Anthony) Davis, Wall with Washington, they don’t even win 27 games. LeBron James, he won (35 games) his rookie year. So there’s a process you have to go through. But what you have to understand is that there’s a history and that it will pay off. (Kevin) Durant and Russell Westbrook were (2-24) at one point (in 2008-09). It would be easy for people to put their head in the sand and say, ‘That’s not going to happen,’ but it’s kind of the reality. People that are basketball people understand what we’re going through.”

TFD: Colts' Andrew Luck confuses opponents by congratulating them for sacking him

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 16th at 9:37am 285880991

luckHere’s an odd little story from the Wall Street Journal about Colts QB Andrew Luck. We’re not 100 percent sure why, but this makes us like him even more:

Luck has become famous for congratulating—sincerely and enthusiastically—any player to hit him hard. Any sack is met with a hearty congratulations, such as ”great job” or “what a hit!” He yells it after hard hits that don’t result in sacks, too. It is, players say, just about the weirdest thing any quarterback does in the NFL.

When New England pass rusher Rob Ninkovich pulverized Luck last month in a Patriots’ 42-20 win, he got the customary congratulations. As Ninkovich tells it, he found himself paralyzed with confusion by the well-wishes, so he blurted out “Thanks for…uh…accepting that hit?” before running back to the huddle.

We probably like this equally from the sportsmanship angle and the angle of confusing people by yelling odd things in public. Because the latter is a game we’ve DEFINITELY played.

Mid-day talker: Are the Twins still a last-place team in the AL Central?

Posted by: Michael Rand Updated December 15th at 3:14pm 285867151

hunterThe Twins have made two significant offseason moves in free agency, so far, adding Torii Hunter on a one-year deal and, of course, pulling in Ervin Santana on a four-year, $55 million deal.

It will almost certainly push the team’s payroll above $100 million for the first time since 2011 — a season, of course, that proved via a 63-99 record that spending money does not always translate to victories.

The consensus, though, is that Hunter and Santana should — at the very least — make the Twins better. The question within that consensus is to what degree the Twins (70-92 last season) will be better, and that’s where things get a little more complicated.

If we look at Fan Graphs, we see that the Twins are still predicted to be the last-place team in the AL Central — Tigers first, Cleveland second, Kansas City third and the White Sox fourth.

Now, Fan Graphs win projections for 2015, as always, are a little more bunched together than the way things actually will shake out. The highest win total is 88; the lowest is 70. That’s a gap of 18 wins; last year, the gap between the best and worst teams was 34 wins.

The Twins are near the bottom, though, projected to win 76 games. Fan Graphs sees them much as they saw last year’s team: a good offense (projected to score the ninth-most runs in MLB in 2015 after scoring the seventh-most in 2014) with a poor pitching staff (slated to give up the third-most runs, even with the addition of Santana).

If you want to look at a national outside source, Jim Bowden from ESPN gives the Twins a B-minus grade for their offseason moves and says, “They’ve improved the team, though this is still a last-place club.”

Those are about as disparate of sources as you’re going to find — crunched numbers vs. a gut reaction, and both are saying the Twins are still the bottom-feeders in the Central.

Much of the problem, of course, is that even though the Twins are better, the rest of the division is pretty good. Detroit, even after trading Rick Porcello and likely losing Max Scherzer, has some dominant starting pitchers and a fearsome lineup. The Royals might have overachieved last year, but they overachieved all the way to the AL pennant. Cleveland quietly won 85 games last year after winning 92 the year before. And the White Sox have made the biggest splash of anyone in the division this offseason.

So what hope is there? Well, as we wrote today, there is at least hope that a rotation that hasn’t finished better than 26th in starters’ ERA any of the past four years could at least approach adequate in 2015 if Santana, Phil Hughes and Ricky Nolasco have average seasons.

There is the notion that the team was better last year than in the previous three, which was supported by the eye test, a few more wins and a simple stat: in games decided by 5 runs or more, the Twins were 21-26. That means they won their fair share of blowouts. From 2011-13, in games decided by five runs or more, they were 43-89.

And there is the notion that young players will continue to improve and perhaps get a boost of energy from a new managerial/coaching regime.

It’s reasonable to think the Twins will approach .500 next season. Where that puts them in a better AL Central? Well, we’ll just have to see how it plays out.

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