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A’s Sign Yoenis Cespedes (4 years, $36 million)

The move comes less than a week after Billy Beane’s contractwas extended through 2019.
As the New York Times reports, the next highest total contract value on the team is Kurt Suzuki’s $~16million(4-year) deal. Coco Crisp makes $7 million per year. According to the Miami Herald (the hometown paper of the team assumed by many to the logical destination forYoenis), the contract values per year are $6.5, 8.5, 10.5 and 10.5 million.Supposedly, the Marlins offered 6 yrs / $36 million.
Cespedes is earning in 2012 what the Giants paid Miguel Tejadalast season. While Yoenis, who has 5 tools (depending on which scout is ratinghim), is unproven, he’s obviously not an expensive aging veteran. That’s notwhat the A’s (to their credit) do. But why acquire Seth Smith and Josh Reddick  while also re-signing Coco Crisp? Maybe Beanethought that Cespedes was probably going to Miami. Or maybe Crisp or Smith willbe trade bait in late summer. DH could also be in play, but luckily the A’swill have a long time to work out the details, and extra outfield depth is nota bad thing.
Speaking of work outs, Cespedes may have needed an agent tohelp with contract negotiation, but he’s certainly had the workout video(lyrics warning on the soundtrack) down for a while(here’s Baseball Insider’s take on the video).
All-in-all, a great signing, which brings buzz back to theA’s after the Angels’ Pujols signing and the Rangers’ Yu Darvish deal. Even theMariners (albeit at a steep price in pitching talent) acquired a marquee hittingprospect. Cespedes cost the A’s relatively little, and even if the team isunable to retain him after his contract is up, it will be because he will haveplayed well for 4 years. With most of the A’s young talent still cheap for a while, Beanecould afford to help the rebuilding effort with a $36 million gamble, which is not that much, considering the overall inflation of free-agent contracts.

How the last 30 Super Bowl Champions were built: XVI (1/24/1982) – 49ers 26, Bengals 21 (Offensive and Special Teams Starters)

Congratulations to the New York Giants on winning their 4thSuper Bowl overall, and 2nd since 2008. This year also marks the 30th (!)anniversary of the 49ers’ first Super Bowl win. In those 30 years, SanFrancisco has averaged a championship every 6 seasons, and is the only teamleft to have more than one win and no losses in the Super Bowl (Pittsburgh wonits first four, Green Bay its first three, and the Giants their first two, butall have since lost. The Jets, Ravens, Bucs and Saints are all 1-0.) Despitethe dynasties, over a dozen different teams have won it all since Super BowlXVI, but who better to start with than the 1981 49ers?
1981 49ers (13-3, best record in NFL)
One of the most (if not the most)  legendary teams in 49er history. This was theyear of The Catch, and the emergence of Joe Montana as an elite QB.
The 1979 draft, which provided several key players for eventualSuper Bowl champions, looked like a disaster for the 49ers before it had evenbegun. In March of 1978, the Niners had traded for O.J. Simpson, costing them a1978 2nd-rounder and 3rd-rounder. Buffalo was also owed a 1979 4th-rounder, butthe centerpiece of the trade had been the 49ers’ first-round pick. Simpsonrushed for just 1,000 yards in two seasons combined, and San Francisco hadmanaged only 2 wins in 1978.
The QB’s that season were Steve DeBerg (1-10 record, 8 TD’s- 22 INT) and Scott Bull (1-4, 1 TD – 11 INT). Two coaches won a game apiece.When new coach Bill Walsh took over, he needed a franchise player.
During almost every draft, someone brings up the fact thatJoe Montana was a 3rd-round pick (and of course Tom Brady went in the 7th). Butthe 49ers had the last pick in the 3rd round, not the first, thanks to a 1978trade for safety Bob Jury which included a swap of picks with Seattle. Ofcourse, the Niners took Montana, and the rest was history.
Montana and one of the most famous 10th-round picks in NFLhistory, Dwight Clark, saved the 1979 49ers draft. James Owens, the first pickof the second round, carried the ball 7 times for 33 yards in 2 seasons for SanFrancisco. None of the other players ever played a significant snap for theNiners.
The 49ers’ leading receiver, Freddie Solomon, had come overin a 1978 trade with the Dolphins for Pro Bowl RB Delvin Williams. Originallyhoping to be a quarterback, Solomon settled in at WR for the 49ers, and had 969receiving yards in 1981. He led the 49ers with 4 catches for 52 yards.
Montana, of course, won the Super Bowl MVP award aftercompleting 14 of 22 passes for 157 yards and 1 TD (long 22). He also ran in ascore. Clark  caught four balls for 45yards.
In 1980, the San Francisco traded the 2nd overall pick (theyhad lost 14 games again in 1979) to the Jets for the 13th (RB Earl Cooper) and20th (DE Jim Stuckey) overall picks. Cooper, who scored a critical TD in theSuper Bowl, was solid both as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield,a pre-Roger Craig west-coast back. Cooper was featured on two SI covers duringthe 1981 season: “Here Come the 49ers!” (pre-playoff) and the Super Bowlcover (“49ers hit pay dirt: Earl Cooper’s TD jolts the Bengals”).Earl officially started at fullback and  rushed for 34 yards on 9 carries, and caught acritical TD.
Ricky Patton, the starting running back for the Niners, hadbeen a 10th-round selection by Atlanta in 1978. In 1980, his first year in SanFrancisco, he rushed 1 time for 1 yard. In 1982, he had no rush attempts. Butin 1981, he had a respectable 543 yards rushing and almost 200 receiving. Inthe Super Bowl, he led all players with 55 yards on 17 carries. He caught 1pass for 6 yards.
Tight end Charle Young was acquired in 1980 from the Ramsfor a 4th-round pick. Young had been a 3-time Pro-Bowler for Philadelphia in1973, 74, and 75, but was widely seen as being on the decline. During theseason, he had accumulated 400 receiving yards and 5 TD’s. Charle caught 1 passfor 14 yards in the Super Bowl.
The Niners didn’t have a 2nd-round pick in 1980 (thanksagain to the O.J. trade), but they turned DE Cleveland Elam into a second and athird-rounder by trading him to the Lions for the 2nd pick in the 3rd round,then flipping the pick to Minnesota. The net result was LB Keena Turner (2ndround) and punter Jim Miller (3rd round). Miller, a college all-American whopunted barefoot, wasn’t a superstar, but averaged 46.3 yards on 4 punts in theSuper Bowl. Kicker Ray Wersching, the leading scorer in the game with 4 fieldgoals (22, 23, 26, 40) and two extra points, came to San Francisco in 1977,having previously played for San Diego. Born in Austria, he went to an Americanhigh school, then to Cal.
Primary kick return duties were handled by starting FSDwight Hicks, a 6th-rounder in 1978 by the Lions who played that season withthe Toronto Argonauts in the CFL before joining the 49ers in 1979. His maincontribution to the game was an interception, but he also returned one punt(for 6 yards) and one kickoff (for 27 yards).
Last but not least, the offensive line provided key protectionto Montana, and allowed only one sack the whole game.  Left tackle Dan Audick was acquired in 1981for a 3rd-rounder. Audick had been a journeyman, amassing only 13 combinedstarts in his first four years in the league with St. Louis and San Diego. Hehad a very brief stay with the 49ers, as the team found monster tackle BubbaParis in the 2nd round of the 1982 draft. Left guard John Ayers had joined theteam in the 1976 draft, an 8th round pick. He played all but one year of hiscareer in San Francisco, and started nearly every game he played in through1986. Center Fred Quillan also played almost a decade with the 49ers. He wasdrafted in the 7th round in 1978. Randy Cross, 3-time Pro-Bowler and 3-timechampion, anchored the right guard spot for years, until replaced by Harris Barton.He justified his high draft position (2nd round, 1976), and also spent all hisplaying days with the Niners. Right tackle Keith Fahnhorst, another former 2ndround pick (1974), started 161 games, all for San Francisco.
The 49ers dynasty started with only one offensive starterdrafted in the first round by the team. Several players, chosen in rounds 8-10,would not even have been drafted under the current rules. By the team’s nextSuper Bowl appearance, Roger Craig and Bubba Paris had been added to the mix. Butmany of the heroes of the 1982 game were still starting, a testament to theskill of the 49ers staff and front office.
The 2012 49ers could benefit from the same philosophy: draftplayers that fill a need and fit the system, but don’t gamble huge trades forsuperstar players. Jim Harbaugh, who was able to have many conversations with BillWalsh, will certainly apply the lessons he learned as he tries to bring achampionship back to San Francisco. A little luck in the draft wouldn’t hurt,either.

Cal’s 2012 4-Star Recruits: WR

Some rodent in Pennsylvania is predicting six more weeks ofwinter. For some Cal fans, spring can’t come soon enough after a potentialtop-10 (or even top-5) class lost nearly a dozen potential players and was rankedas low as 50th by Scout yesterday. But a late rebound kept Cal in the top 25 ofboth ESPN and Rivals. And Cal’s class is still filling up, with LOI’s coming ineven today, and more possibly on the way in the next week. 
It is likely, though, that the Bears are done taking WR’sand QB’s. Stefon Diggs, a 5-star wideout/ athlete, is still in play, but he last visited Berkeley in early December,and it is unknown whether he still has interest post-Lupoi/Kiesau. Within thenext week, he will probably visit his home-state school, Maryland, and willdecide next Friday (2/10).
Nevertheless, the wide receivers and quarterback defineCal’s 2012 class. They comprise four of the six four-star signees (the othersare massive 6’8″ OL Freddie Tagaloa and LB Michael Barton, who some call anatural successor to Mychal Kendricks), and are probably the key to re-creatinga top offense in Berkeley. And while QB Zach Kline has (deservedly) constantly beenpraised, the receivers from this class (along with Maurice Harris from 2011) willplay a key role in his success.
What stands out about the 2012 Cal receivers is the heightof Kenny Lawler (6-3) and Darius Powe (6-2). Marvin Jones, unfortunately, isgone (hopefully to the NFL, since he excelled during Senior Bowl week andcaught a TD in the game itself). Having the 6-3 Jones paired with the equallytall Keenan Allen made Zach Maynard’s life easier. Powe and Lawler together,although not as athletic as Allen, would make a great tandem even when Keenaninevitably leaves for the NFL. An especially encouraging sign is that Lawlerlikes blocking, as shown in the 2nd half of this highlight reel.
Not everyone can be Keenan Allen and be 6-foot-2-plus and runa low 4.4, and both look like they have the ability to consistently generateyards after the catch. Powe also had several highlights where he blew pasteveryone on the opposing team.
Cedric Dozier and Bryce Treggs are clearly thespeed-oriented receivers in this class. About the same height (5-11) as DeSeanJackson and Lavelle Hawkins, they constantly shredded opposing high-schooldefenses.
Dozier mighthave been the centerpiece of Mike Leach’s new passing attack at WashingtonState, but chose to leave his home state and come to Cal. He possesses great down-fieldvision (he played some QB , which is why he is listed as an athlete).
What sets Bryce Treggs apart from the rest of the 2012 Calreceivers (and earned him a 5-star rating from Scout) is that he excelled as afeatured player on one of the best teams in California (St. John Bosco). Treggs’ highlights came against topcompetition, but he still looks like one of the best players on the field inmany of them, with his speed and agility. Look for him to be used the way Allencurrently is: even short screens or reverses could go the distance.
Treggs is a Cal legacy (his father, Brian, played in the early 90’s),and was one of the biggest unofficial Cal recruiters this cycle (along withcurrent DB Avery Sebastian).   He and theother “True Blues” of this and previous classes are what the programneeds as the 2013 cycle gears up and the roller-coaster ride starts again.

Cal Football, Championship Windows, And The NFC Championship

Winning a championship in sports isoften about opportunity. Getting hot at the right time, favorable playoff match-ups, avoiding key injuries: all of these are at best mostly luck.
Sometimes, teams make their ownluck. The 49ers, by winning 13 games, secured a first-round bye and home fieldadvantage against the Saints, had done exactly this. The Giants’ victory overthe Packers ensured that home-field would extend another week.
Just a week later, however, theseason came to an abrupt end, in one of the the worst ways possible.Ironically, both Harbaughs fell victim to poor special teams plays that shouldhave been easily converted (or in the 49ers case, a play that should have goneoff without incident). The Giants have a good QB and a defense that hasimproved dramatically over the second half of the season. If New York beats NewEngland in two weeks, the 49ers can probably say that they were the 2nd-bestteam in the playoffs. This, of course, is small comfort to Niners fans, and inmany ways makes the loss worse.
But although the game Sunday was thehigh-water mark of the last decade of 49ers football, there’s little reason tothink that the team will not be successful in the future. Patrick Willis willbe dominant for years to come. NaVorro Bowman will be 24 at the start of nextseason, and of course Aldon Smith, although already a dominant pass-rusher, isonly a rookie. Chris Culliver will no doubt improve, and of course the 49ersplayed without Josh Morgan, and (fatefully) Ted Ginn.
In other words, the Niners will beback (if not in the NFC Championship, at least the playoffs as divisionwinners), and will probably be better than this year’s team. This doesn’t meanthat the loss doesn’t sting (it does, a lot), and Alex Smith might regress nextseason, but there seems to be hope at last.
For this football fan, at least, a49ers loss, even one as crushing as this, is not nearly as bad as some of theother losses Bay Area teams have suffered over the past few decades.
Football, is, and will probablyalways be, my favorite sport. Yet the Giants World Series win is my favoritemoment, even over Steve Young’s triumph over the Chargers or Montana and Rice’scrushing defeat of the Broncos. It’s not just because the win was historic, oreven that it was the first in my (and many people’s fathers’) lifetime. It wasbecause I felt (probably without merit) that this would be the last time inyears that the Giants would get that chance. If they couldn’t capitalize ontheir best chance since the nightmare of 2002, when would they?  In retrospect, this is why the Raiders’ lossin the Super Bowl was arguably worse than the Tuck Rule game, and the A’s lossin Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS was so painful. The A’s losses, at least, aremitigated by the fact that the team was so good in the late 80’s (although ofcourse the 1989 win was marred by the earthquake).
On the loss pain scale, nothing cancompare to the pain inflicted on Cal fans in various forms since the 2004season, precisely because they haven’t, for various reasons, reached theirultimate goal for longer than any other Bay Area team.
Winning 7 to 10 games every year wasunthinkable during the dark days of Holmoe, but current Cal fans see stagnationwhen Tedford’s teams have failed to win even decent bowl games in the past fewseasons. There is no doubt that the 2004 USC and 2006 Arizona games (as well asthe 2007 Oregon State game) have created lasting impressions on Cal fans whowatched them.
But Cal’s next window is opening.With two new assistant coaches, a refurbished stadium and the SAHPC, it wouldprobably take quite a poor season to blunt the momentum that the program isbuilding.
In some ways, it is good that theGiants won the championship without the polarizing Bonds, and were able tocelebrate with a quirky cast of mostly likeable characters. Tosh Lupoi’sdeparture has guaranteed that the incoming class of players are committed toTedford, the new coaches, and most importantly, the school itself. It iscertain that, even if the class largely falls apart, that Cal will net one oftheir biggest quarterback recruits in recent history, and will probably securetheir highest-rated WR since DeSean Jackson to pair with a growing stable ofexcellent defensive players.
Is Cal, like the 2009 and 2010 49ers,unexpectedly close to a very successful season? It’s impossible to say. Butlike as the 49ers and Giants have demonstrated, a strong defense can easily bethe foundation of a successful team. As long as Cal can keep winning (perhapsupping their win total to 8 or 9 games a season), the window will remain open.Great college players only stay 4 years at the most, but replacing doesn’trequire high draft picks, either. Cal the school will continue to sell itself,and the footballprogram can too if it can achieve consistently good results onthe field. If a 7-win season can net a good (potentially great) class, whatcould a good season with a marquee win or two bring?
Even the best players can fail inbig moments, and college players are even more susceptible than those in theNFL. The nature of the polls and BCS makes near-perfection mandatory andincreases fans’ expectations of the players, sometimes to unfair levels..   
 It is certain that when Cal does eventuallymake the Rose Bowl (whether it is 2015 or 2035), thousands of Bay Area fanswill be able to check off what will probably be one of the last items on theirsports bucket list. As Giants fans know, the longer the wait, the sweeter thevictory and the stronger the memories. And if, in fact, some of that Rose Bowlteam does indeed come from this class, it would be even sweeter.
When a future Cal player dropped acritical catch or threw an interception, fans would no longer have to worryabout whether or not it was the play that kept the Rose Bowl drought alive.Still, as the Holmoe years proved, Strawberry Canyon is still StrawberryCanyon, whether the team inside is Rose Bowl-bound or trying to avoid a winlessseason.