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Yankees will look into three big free agents with many holes to fill: Sherman

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Yankees will look into three big free agents with many holes to fill: Sherman

If I were to defend the Yankees’ inactivity before the lockout, it would be:

1. They did nothing to add to their major league roster beyond retaining Joely Rodriguez, yet they still project to a 2022 payroll of about $225 million for luxury tax purposes (assuming there is a luxury tax in the next collective bargaining agreement). So maybe “cheap” isn’t the correct criticism.

2. The teams that mainly did the spending so far have not made the playoffs in quite a while and were playing catch-up on financial behemoths such as the Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox, all of whom were mostly quiet. The Rangers, for example, signed the two biggest contracts and took two of the five big shortstops off the board, investing $500 million on Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. Yet, consider that a beginner kit because they are still three good starting pitchers away from high-end contention (more if you don’t like their Jon Gray signing, which I don’t).

3. A couple of hundred free agents remain. The Yankees begin the process with Gerrit Cole, Jonathan Loaisiga, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and, in theory, a healthy DJ LeMahieu, which means a pretty strong start.

But I cannot fully defend the Yankees. That they have $225 million invested and still don’t have a shortstop or first baseman, or a trustworthy catcher, center fielder or No. 2 starter speaks to a combination of not spending wisely, not having enough difference-makers come through their system and not determining why players such as Miguel Andujar, Greg Bird, Clint Frazier, Deivi Garcia, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres and Luke Voit have regressed under their care to the point that, for example, Bird and Frazier were released without returning any value to the Yankees.

An optimist will believe that LeMahieu will be healthy and return to 2019-20 LeMahieu. That liberated from shortstop, Torres will return to the 2018-2019 version of Torres. That the brilliant late-season relief cameo last year by Luis Severino after three mainly lost seasons pronounces a level of health to suggest he will recapture the 2017-18 version of Severino and be Cole’s co-pilot.

This is optimism. Or is it living-in-the-past delusion?

Should we keep going?

That after playing 145 games combined the last three years, Aaron Hicks is going to revive to the production he provided in 2018 — his lone full Yankee season when he was both healthy and successful. That Joey Gallo will be less overwhelmed after his jittery New York debut. That Andujar or Garcia or Sanchez or Voit will rediscover their better pasts. That Nestor Cortes Jr. and Lucas Luetge were not one-season mirages.

The Yankees have enough current talent to be high-end contenders, but too many question marks to stand pat. And I don’t think they will. I think whenever the lockout ends and the free-agency and trade business reopens, there will be a frenzy. And the Yankees will be aggressive.

They were willing to offer one year at $25 million for Justin Verlander before he agreed to return to the Astros (that deal was not final at the time of the lockout). So Hal Steinbrenner was committing to a $250 million-ish payroll, at minimum.

Yankees
Brian Cashman, Hal Steinbrenner and the Yankees will likely be aggressive once the lockout ends.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Steinbrenner probably will not set a firm budget until a new CBA defines, among other things, luxury tax rules. Still, I would bet Steinbrenner is going to approve a substantial uptick in payroll to, say, the $260 million or more realm. In part, that’s because this version of the Yankees needs his wallet to make themselves more bulletproof. Plus, in Gallo, Judge, Rodriguez, Sanchez, Zack Britton (who probably won’t play in 2022), Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green and Jameson Taillon, the Yankees will have about $75 million in free agents coming off the books after next season.

A chunk of that, of course, will be forfeited in arbitration raises, retentions (notably the Yankees want to keep Judge long term) and replacements. But the Yankees believe they will have received low-cost answers by then from their system, in pitching and shortstops Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe.

What will the Yankees’ priorities be coming out of a lockout? I think they will investigate three big free-agent items:

Will Freddie Freeman really leave the Braves?

The belief is he wants to stay. But if Atlanta doesn’t go to at least six years at $180 million, would he be receptive to exit? The Yankees and Dodgers, in particular, would be ready to pounce. It would be easier for the Yankees to emphasize defense at short with someone like Andrelton Simmons if they could land Freeman’s lefty bat. My gut: I am less sure than in November, but still believe Freeman and the Braves will figure out a way back to each other.

Astros
Carlos Correa
AP

Will the Yankees blink and do a mega-deal with Carlos Correa?

My guess is it would have to be north of Francisco Lindor’s 10 years at $341 million. The Yankees have shown no desire to make an offer that kind of length or total, especially with Judge-ment day approaching. But they have done offseason U-turns before (think Johnny Damon and Mark Teixeira). They have done February surprises (think Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez). My gut: The Yankees won’t blink unless Correa has trouble getting that length and agrees to a shorter deal at a higher annual value, like five years at $200 million.

Will Trevor Story find a strong multi-year offer?

Between a down year and concerns about the health of his throwing arm, Story appeared to be having the most difficulty among the big shortstops in finding a high-end market. He grew up a Derek Jeter fan. LeMahieu is among his best friends. Is it possible that he would take a shorter deal with the Yankees to reestablish his value, say one year at $35 million with a player option for a second season at $35 million? The shorter tenure would work better with the Yankees horizons on working in Peraza or Volpe. I don’t think the Yankees should worry about having too many athletic middle infielders. If they are good enough, they will be able to play elsewhere. My gut: Story will be able to find at least three years or more from the Mariners, Red Sox or some other team that values his glove, athleticism and power.

If my gut is correct on all three, it means none will end up with the Yankees. So what then? I think the Yankees would further investigate a Matt Olson trade. Would they be willing to make The Martian, Jasson Dominguez, the centerpiece to a swap? Or Peraza? Or Austin Wells? The fallback is probably a two-year deal for Anthony Rizzo and then trying to spread money around to provide depth and insurance.

For example, if the Yankees wanted to emphasize defense, it would probably not take a ton of prospect capital if they were willing to absorb most or all of the $6.25 million the Athletics owe shortstop Elvis Andrus in 2022 and the $18 million the Brewers owe Lorenzo Cain. The Yankees would have Gio Urshela and Torres to move to shortstop late if they needed to hit for Andrus (who in theory could be part of a bigger Olson trade). Cain would serve as a rotating part of the outfield, plus insurance for Hicks (Milwaukee has had interest in Voit previously).

Will concerns about health drop Carlos Rodon’s market to one expensive year?

If so, should the Yankees gamble on his upside? I would ask the same about Clayton Kershaw, but I think his choices will be to stay with the Dodgers, play at home with the Rangers or retire. Will the Yankees win the bidding at four or five seasons on Japanese import Seiya Suzuki? The key question is can he handle center field regularly? Would they overlook the defense in left or at first base to have Kyle Schwarber’s lefty might?

The Yankees should try to land Swiss Army Knife reliever Collin McHugh, especially if they have to use pitching depth (Green? Michael King?) as part of a deal for a Giants lefty-hitting outfielder such as Steven Duggar or Mike Yastrzemski, Cleveland shortstop Amed Rosario (entering his walk year) or center fielder Myles Straw, or defensive whiz Isiah Kiner-Falefa if the Rangers thought him expendable after the additions of Seager and Semien.

There will be a buffet of options, whenever a lockout concludes. How financially far will Steinbrenner let the Yankees go?

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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