With Shohei Ohtani and reportedly Kevin Maitan, Angels have set up potentially prosperous future

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could have conceivably taken steps backwards this offseason. Now, the club is set up to contend for the foreseeable future.

Heading into this offseason, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s future was far from certain.

Sure, the Halos had Mike Trout and hung around in the Wild Card Race until late, ultimately finishing five games out of the Minnesota Twins.

However, with Albert Pujols just turned in a -2.0 fWAR and still has four years left on his contract—per Spotrac.

Additionally, outside of Trout, Andrelton Simmons, Kole Calhoun, Cameron Maybin and Martin Maldonado, no Angels position player registered an fWAR north of 1.0.

What’s more, much of Anaheim’s success was attributed to a patch-work bullpen that was surprisingly successful. Blake Martin and Yusimero Petit led the way for Mike Socia’s relief corps after joining in under-the-radar deals.

Still, both Martin and Petit are 32, and the latter recently signed with the division-rival Oakland Athletics. 

While Petit departed, the Angels could have also lost another key piece in outfielder Justin Upton.

However, Upton re-signed with the club, starting a trend of results that have set the Angels up for an extremely bright future.

The Halos acquired Upton from the Detroit Tigers in an August 31st trade that cost the Angels pitching prospects Grayson Long and Elvin Rodriguez.

The trade was the latest in a series of moves that have left the Angels’ farm system more than depleted.

Past trades for complimentary players like Maybin, Danny Espinosa, Yunel Escobar, Jefry Marte and Jhoulys Chacin sapped Anaheim’s farm system of even more talent,

Anaheim also arguably overpaid for Simmons, flipping Erick Aybar—who was one season removed from an 4.2 fWAR campaign—and a pair of prospects that included Sean Newcomb.

The left-handed Newcomb, 23, was widely regarded as one of the game’s best pitching prospects, and recently made his debut in the majors, striking out 9.7 batters per nine innings to go along with a 4.19 FIP in 100 innings.

Simmons brings plenty of value defensively, but 2017 was the first time he registered a wRC+ north of 100, finishing with a 103 stat.

FanGraphs lists an average wOBA to be .320. Simmons’s career wOBA sits at .300, while he’s eclipsed the .320 mark just once in a full season.

Catch 22

Anaheim’s thin farm system has been one of the reasons the club has been forced to rely so heavily on trades and high-priced free agents like Pujols, Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson.

As of late, the Angels’ most notable home-grown products include Cam Bedrosian, Kenyan Middleton and Kaleb Cowart.

While the trio are plenty useful to Anaheim, none have the ceiling to be able to step in next to Trout as a franchise cornerstone.

Now, things have changed for the Halos.

The future

Upton’s re-signing with the franchise certainly improves the short-term outlook considerably.

The lineup is obviously top-heavy with Calhoun, Trout and Pujols, but teams’ best players should be drawing the most at-bats, and hitting that quartet at the top of the order does just that.

Long-term, there’s also reason to believe that the Halos can contend.

According to Spotrac, Upton’s deal runs through 2022. The 30-year-old showed no signs of slowing down last season,

Hitting .273 with a .361 on-base percentage, a 137 wRC_ and a .378 wOBA.

Upton also tied his career best with an 11.7% walk rate while notching a 5.0 fWAR. He set new career highs in both slugging percentage (.540), ISO (.268) and home runs (35).

The Angels now have another star to pair with Trout and Upton in Shohei Ohtani. Anaheim tweeted the following from the team’s official Twitter account on Friday:

Not only will Ohtani help shore up a rotation that has been ravaged by injuries and lacks a clear ace, but he’ll provide more depth to a lineup that falls off after the top of the batting order.

Following the aforementioned Calhoun/Trout/Upton/Pujols quartet, the rest of the lineup is comprised of the likes of Simmons, Phillips (72 wRC+ in an Anaheim uniform), Martin Maldonado (73 wRC+), Luis Valbuena (.308 wOBA) and C.J. Cron (.316 wOBA).

World beaters they are not.

How often Ohtani hits and pitches obviously remains to be seen, but he provides the Angels with another key core piece to build around.

That should help the organization find success in the future, as they’ll have to worry more about finding complimentary pieces than star players.

Moving forward, another name that could join Trout and Ohtani in the lineup is Kevin Maitan.

The young infielder, and former Atlanta prospect, reportedly signed with the Halos—according to a tweet from ESPN’s Buster Olney.

Olney tweeted the following on Tuesday, December 5th:

Baseball Prospectus wrote the following about the infielder when ranking Atlanta’ top prospects in an article last November:

“He has above-average bat speed with some natural whip and could be a plus hit/plus power bat that plays on the left side of the infield, somewhere.”

Anaheim’s current farm system offers little in the way of potential impact prospects, so Maitan won’t be blocked.

At just 17 years old, the infielder could eventually replace the 28-yea-rold Simmons at shortstop, or move to third base or second base where the Halos don’t have anything in the way of long-term solutions.

In Conclusion

It’s been a significant turnaround for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

The franchise could have conceivably lost Upton in free agency while missing out on both Ohtani and Maitan in free agency.

Now, with all three in tow joining Trout and company, the Angels set up a potentially prosperous future without dipping further into the team’s razor-thin farm system.

Why Leonys Martin is the perfect signing for the Detroit Tigers

Newly-signed outfielder Leonys Martin could provide plenty of value for the Detroit Tigers.

In an offseason that has been stagnant to say the least, the Detroit Tigers have actually been active.

Well, “active” doesn’t necessarily paint the whole picture.

“Relatively active” is probably more apt.

In the early stages of a rebuild that was kick-started by a number of high profile, mid-season trades, the Tigers front office has largely stuck to signing free agents on minor league deals this winter.

There have been some potentially useful finds among the haul of players who have recently joined Detroit on minor league contracts from former first-round pick Kevin Comer to ex-Twin Niko Goodrum and longtime Yankee prospect Mark Montgomery.

Comer and Goodrum are both just 25, while Montgomery is 27.

The Tigers are unlikely to find another J.D. Martinez-type player—in terms of impact— in free agency, but they could very easily stumble upon a bench piece or two, a platoon starter, a back-end rotation arm or a relief pitcher.

Comer, Goodrum, Montgomery and Ryan Carpenter, who signed a Major League deal, all look like quality additions that will provide new Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire with improved depth.

Up until Tuesday, Carpenter was the only player the Tigers signed to a big-league deal.

That changed, as the club announced in a tweet that outfielder Leonys Martin has joined the organization on a Major League deal.

The tweet also included the signings of four other players to minor league deals, including outfielder Jim Adduci and former All-Star Derek Norris, but Martin is the most intriguing of the group by far.

In a rebuild, franchises need to throw as many low risk, high-upside players at the proverbial wall as possible to see if anything sticks.

Whether said players develop into long-term pieces, trade chips or are simply designated for assignment or cut at a later date, teams like the Tigers need to be taking fliers on players with high ceilings.

That’s certainly what Martin has.

High Ceiling

A 29-year-old outfielder, the veteran previously spent parts of five seasons with the Texas Rangers from 2011 to 2015. He was a regular starter in both 2013 and 2014, while seeing significant playing time in 2015.

Martin was also an everyday player for the Seattle Mariners in 2016, before splitting last season with the M’s and Chicago Cubs.

His 2017 stats (-0.4 fWAR, 35 wRC+ and a .224 wOBA) won’t show it, but the outfielder has plenty to offer at the Major League level.

As recently as 2016 he notched a 2.2 fWAR. It was the veteran’s third season in the last five campaigns with an fWAR north of 2.0.

Part of what has made Martin so valuable in the past has been his ability to make an impact on the base paths and in the field.

Since the beginning of the 2013 season—when he started seeing consistent at-bats—only 12 players have stole more bases than Martin.

The former Ranger is tied with a certain Mike Trout with 112 swipes over that span.

If raw stolen bases totals don’t tickle your fancy, perhaps some more advanced metrics will. Martin ranks 13th in Major League Baseball over the same span with a collective BsR of 21.9.

That 21.9 BsR includes respective outputs of 7.7, 6.6, 2.7 and 4.6 from 2013 to 2016.

In the last three seasons, Detroit’s leaders in BsR include the following:

2015: Yoenis Cespedes, 2.3.

2016: Ian Kinsler, 3.6.

2017: Mikie Mahtook, 3.2.

The three, along with Cameron Maybin in’s 2.5 BsR in 2016, are the only players to even come in above the 2.0 mark.

In that regard alone, Martin’s addition could provide instant dividends.

Another area where the 29-year-old could make an impact is in spacious Comerica Park.

Detroit’s defensive struggles have been well-documented, and the team’s outfielders struggled mightily at times in 2017.

Overall, Detroit outfield players ranked 18th in UZR/150 (-1.8), 20th in collective DRS (-10) and 29th in ARM (-14.2).

The outfield stats were largely weighed down players like J.D. Martinez (-16.4 UZR/150, a -6 DRS and a -4.9 ARM), Nicholas Castellanos (-80.5 UZR/150, -7 DRS and a -3.2 ARM) and Alex Presley (-8.0 UZR/150, -11 DRS and a -0.5 ARM).

These statistical outputs overshadowed players who were actually quite dependable in the outfield grass, including Justin Upton and his +13 DRS, Andrew Romine and his team-leading 7.9 UZR/150 and JaCoby Jones.

Despite seeing considerably less playing time, the rookie logged a 4.3 UZR/150 and a +5 DRS in Comerica Park’s spacious center field.

Still, whichever way you slice it, the Tigers needed defensive help in the outfield.

Upton was traded to Anaheim on the eve of September, while Romine also now calls the American League West his home division after being claimed on waivers by the Mariners.

Jones is still a Detroit Tigers player, but his offensive struggles—which we’ll get to in a bit—make it somewhat difficult to play him every day.

Gardenhire and the Tigers should have no problem playing Martin every day, especially considering he can make a serious impact in the outfield grass.

Among center fielders with at least 4,000 since the start of the 2013 season, Martin ranks fourth behind only Billy Hamilton, Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Gomez in Def, or defensive runs above average.

The ex-Ranger checks in with a 41.3 stat in the category.

He also ranks behind Cain, and only Cain, in DRS, with a positive output of +48.

In terms of ARM, Martin finally comes in ahead of the longtime Kansas City outfielder, along with all other outfielders, with a 34.7 metric.

Offensive Boost

Now we’ve circled back to the JaCoby Jones offensive production portion of the column. The former Pirates farmhand shows considerable potential, but struggles mightily at the plate.

In 154 plate appearances, the 25-year-old managed just a 34 wRC+ and a .229 wOBA. He also put up a .240 on-base percentage and a .270 slugging percentage.

While struggles at the plate are nothing new for players breaking into the Major Leagues, Jones continues to swing and miss far too often.

The center fielder posted a 42.2% strikeout rate in 2017, which was only a slight improvement over the 42.9% rate he logged in 28 plate appearances in 2016.

Jones’ defense and base running ability will continue to play at the Major League level, but until he can develop at the dish, he may be better suited as serving as a defensive replacement and pinch runner late in games.

With Mike Gerber and Christin Stewart far from locks to play early for the Tigers in 2018, Mikie Mahtook looks slated for the starting gig in left field.

That left Jones the sole starting option in center field.

Now, with Martin in the mix, Detroit’s offensive outlook in center field is much improved.

Offensive upside

The former Mariner is by no means an offensive force in the Majors, but he brings some power to the game as a center fielder, a trait that gives him intriguing potential.

Martin clocked 15 home runs in 2016, and has registered ISO stats over .120 in two of his three seasons as a starting player.

What’s more, he’s coming off an excellent 88 game, 388 plate appearance stint with Triple-A Tacoma, in which he swatted 11 home runs to go along with 63 runs scored, 39 RBI, 25 stolen bases, a .361 wOBA and a 114 wRC+.

Those numbers may not be sustainable in the Majors, but Martin is a prime candidate to bounce back.

His 2017 production was severely hampered by an exceedingly-low .207 BABUP that was well below his career .306 number.

Low BABIP-induced down years are nothing new for Martin.

His BABIP dropped to .270 in 2015.

Following a strong 2014 campaign, his offensive production dropped off considerably.

Leonys Martin 2014 production: .274 batting average, .325 on-base percentage, .364 slugging percentage, .306 wOBA and a 91 wRC+.

Leonys Martin 2015 production: .219 batting average, .264 on-base percentage, .313 slugging percentage, a .254 wOBA and a 52 wRC+.

After an offseason trade to Seattle, Martin bounced back in the Pacific Northwest as his BABIP returned to a more-normal looking .313 number.

In 576 plate appearances for the M’s, the outfielder hit .247 with a .306 on-base percentage, a .378 slugging percentage, a .298 wOBA and an 88 wRC+.

If the BABIP can come up again, Martin has a chance to make a significant impact for the Detroit Tigers in 2018 in multiple facets of the game.

USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale tweeted about Martin’s reported salary in 2018 in a tweet on Tuesday.

Nightengale tweeted the following:

Even if the Tigers end up paying all of Martin’s reported incentives, a reported $2.85 million could turn into a significant bargain if Leonys Martin can regain his past form.

More MLB Columns: With Shohei Ohtani and reportedly Kevin Maitan, the future is bright in Anaheim.

True to form, Chicago White Sox receive maximum value for Jose Quintana

The Chicago White Sox front office is putting on a masterclass on how to rebuild a franchise.

Saddled with a 78-84 record, a -29 run differential and a lineup that featured just regular under 25 (23-year-old Tim Anderson), Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn embarked on a long-term reboot.

They started by flipping veterans Chris Sale and Adam Eaton in the offseason.

Both players brought in significant hauls, netting the Sox a potential middle-of-the-order cornerstone in Yoan Moncada, a pitcher with frontline upside in Michael Kopech as well as two intriguing prospects in Luis Alexander Basabe, an outfielder, and Victor Diaz, a right-handed pitcher.

Those players were all acquired in the Sale in a haul that frankly wasn’t that surprising.

Sale is the definition of elite, having registered a WAR of at least 4.7 in each of his six full seasons in the rotation.

He also owns a 10.34 punch outs-per-nine rate to go along with a sparkling 2.96 lifetime FIP.

Getting a package of prospects including Moncada and Kopech for Sale wasn’t surprising.

What was surprising is how Williams and Hahn flipped outfielder Adam Eaton for a pair of potential aces in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez—not to mention Dane Dunning, the 29th-overall pick in 2016.

Eaton is undoubtedly a quality player. He notched a 6.0 WAR in 2016, and has posted a wRC+ north of 117 from 2014 to 2016. However, the veteran hasn’t ever posted an OPS north of .800 in his career, and has had some sky-high BABIP numbers dating back to his first season in Chicago.

From 2014 to 2016, Eaton checked in with BABIPs of .359, .345 and .329.

Williams and Hahn undoubtedly got full value for Sale and perhaps more than full value for Eaton. The White Sox have seemingly done so again with Jose Quintana.

With Sale logging his home games in Massachusetts, Quintana took over as the team’s resident ace.

Quintana was ace-like before Sale left, but he began the year as Chicago’s top starter. He was also the most likely of a host of veterans who were conceivable trade targets.

The list also includes Todd Frazier, David Robertson, Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera, Dan Jennings, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, James Shields and Derek Holland.

However, Quintana stood out thanks to his excellent track record.

Since entering the Majors in 2012, the 28-year-old has notched a cumulative 21.7 WAR to go with a 3.51 ERA and a 3.52 FIP. His xFIP sits at just 3.82.

The Chicago Cubs announced on Twitter in a tweet that the team acquired Quintana from the cross-town White Sox for four prospects.

The Cubs tweeted the following:

In return for Quintana, Williams and Hahn brought in outfielder Eloy Jimenez, right-hander Dylan Cease and infielders Matt Rose and Bryant Flete.

The team have added another potentially dangerous middle-of-the-order thumper to pair with Moncada.

Add Cease to a future rotation that could consist of some combination of Kopech, Giolito, Lopez, Carlos Rodan and 2015 eighth-overall pick Carson Fulmer and the Sox have the makings of a dangerous team down the road.

This is all without mentioning outfielder Luis Robert and catcher Zack Collins, who MLB.com rank as the team’s fourth and ninth best prospects respectively.

The same publication has Robert at #23 and Collins at #68 in their ranking of baseball’s top 100 prospects.

For reference, Cease is 63rd, Fulmer is 59th, Lopez is 36th, Giolito is 28th, Kopech is 11th, Jimenez is eighth and Moncada is first.

Baseball America’s recent prospect rankings also featured Moncada sitting atop the list, with the likes of Jimenez (fifth), Kopech (20th), Robert (45th) and Lopez (59th) in the top 60.

It is all without mentioning whatever prospects Williams and Hahn are able to snag for vets like Frazier, Robertson, Abreu, Melky Cabrera and Jennings.

If the team’s past deals are any indication, the White Sox will probably be getting quality value in return.

Prospects aren’t always guaranteed to pan out—just ask the Marlins about the haul of players they received for Miguel Cabrera—however, Chicago looks to be building a team with the ability to be a juggernaut in the future.

Yeah, that’s right, forget rebuilding for a bright future, these White Sox could be a force to be reckoned with if everything clicks.

NBA Seattle: Prospect of the NBA Returning to Seattle Looks Extremely Promising

It has been eight long year since the Seattle SuperSonics left the Pacific Northwest.

Now, it seems Seattle is closer to getting the Sonics and the NBA back in Seattle.

Back in mid-October, the fine people at SB Nation’s Sonics Rising reported that expansion was “on the table” for the NBA with a new CBA widely reported to be in the works. After seeing the Kings rescued and new arenas being built in other cities, this has been Seattle’s best shot to reenter the league.

Within the week, news came out about Chris Hansen (the driving force behind bringing back the Sonics) buying even more land in SoDo.

So things were obviously looking positive for Seattle’s efforts to restore professional men’s basketball to the Emerald City.

There was also this nugget from a David Aldridge article about the subject of basketball in the Pacific Northwest’s largest city. The writer quoted “a very high ranking executive of one of the league’s 29 teams.” Said executive was quoted as saying “Seattle is a far better market than at least 10 NBA cities.”

So hey, we’ve got that going for us.

While there was obvious caution seeing as we’ve swung and miss with the league before, things were looking up.

Then this wonderful (at least for those who want to see the National Basketball Association back in the Pacific Northwest) news broke. King 5’s Chris Daniels reported that Hansen and company are offering to privately fund the new SoDo arena, as well as helping to fund the Lander Street overpass.

Additionally, Daniels’ reports also states that the offer is “conditioned on the city agreeing to vacate a one-block stretch of Occidental Avenue and the addition of several tax credits.”

The website behind Hansen’s efforts to build a new arena also announced the news.

What’s more, according to a tweet from Daniels, Seattle Council president Bruce Harrell calls the offer to privately fund the arena a “game changer.” You can see the entire tweet below.

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It is extremely positive news for hoop fans in Seattle. While it by no means ensures that a team will come, it is a massive step forward in the grand scheme of things if Hansen is able to privately fund the arena and the overpass.

For more on Seattle and the NBA, click here.

Seattle Mariners: 2016 Winners and Losers

Seattle Mariners baseball ended in somewhat disappointing fashion as Seattle finished just three games out of a playoff berth.

The Mariners were in it right up until the second to last day of the season.

Despite the season ending without a long-awaited return to the playoffs, there were plenty of positives to be had.

Here are the winners and losers of the 2016 Seattle Mariners season.

Winner: Edwin Diaz

Edwin Diaz certainly made quite the impression in his rookie season. The flame throwing reliever pitched to a 2.79 ERA while racking up 18 saves in 51.2 innings pitched. He also struck out 88 batters. If you do the math, that comes out at 15.3 punch outs per nine innings. So yeah, this Diaz guy is pretty good.

Diaz will likely continue to close games in Seattle for the better part of the next decade.

Loser: Adam Lind

Acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers for a trio of minor-league prospects, Lind had an opportunity to establish himself as the team’s first baseman for at least the next few seasons.

However, the former Brewer and Blue Jay hit just .239 with a sub-par .286 on-base percentage. It didn’t help that the veteran’s RBI total dipped from 87 in 2015 to just 58 this past season.

Winner: Mike Zunino

It seems that Mike Zunino is once again in Seattle’s plans. The slugging catcher collected 31 RBI, 16 runs scored, 12 home runs and seven doubles in just 55 games. While his .207 batting average isn’t much to write home about, the backstop did produce a career-best .318 on-base percentage and a 1.8 WAR.

Loser: Chris Iannetta

Like Lind, Iannetta was brought in to start. The backstop started his fair share of games (94), but ultimately lost significant playing time to Zunino.

Winner: Ariel Miranda

Acquired for Wade Miley, Miranda turned in a string of quality performances for the M’s down the stretch. The 27-year-old could be a long-term piece in the Pacific Northwest if he continues to put up numbers similar to the 5-2 record and 3.54 ERA he posted in 2016.

Miranda’s performance looks even better when you consider that the pitcher he replaced in the rotation and was traded for, Miley, owned a 4.98 ERA and a 4.76 FIP. Miley also did all that after being traded for both Carson Smith and Roenis Elias.

Losers: Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma

Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma didn’t have the best seasons compared to their high standards. The duo, who have All-Star Game appearances and numerous Cy Young votes to their name, struggled in 2016. Hernandez’ FIP sat at 4.63, while Iwakuma’s wasn’t much better at 4.27.

Seattle will need the two back at their best next season in order to make a push for the playoffs.

Fantasy Football Trade and Waiver Wire Targets for Later in Season

Fantasy Football season is upon us. With Week 1 nearly done and dusted, the attention of fantasy players will shift to the waiver wire and to the trade market. Here’s a look at some trade targets (or waiver wire additions if they’re available in your league) that you should look into.

Some of these players may be candidates to buy low now on and reap the benefits later, but they’re all worth a look.

Michael Thomas

Thomas caught six passes against the Raiders for 58 yards in Week 1. Also, the Saints like to throw the ball—a lot. Thomas may not out-produce Willie Snead, but he could put up big numbers as a rookie in New Orleans. He’s a worthy flex play moving forward and could grow into a WR2.

Jimmy Graham

Yes, he isn’t 100% healthy yet, and yes he didn’t do too much in Week 1, but the Seahawks are going to throw the ball more, and that should generate in more looks for Graham. He won’t struggle like he did last season, and someone may be willing to sell low on the tight end.

Derrick Henry

If Henry takes over for Demarco Murray, the rookie could put up top-10 running back numbers as a starter. He’s that good.

Travis Benjamin

If you need a Keenan Allen replacement, this is your guy. The former Brown made seven catches in Week 1, and should get a healthy number of targets moving forward. He put up some big numbers for Cleveland last season, and could thrive with Phillip Rivers throwing him the ball.

Chris Hogan

Like Thomas, Hogan won’t overtake some of the other receiving options on his own team (Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski) in the pecking order for targets. However, he could easily settle into the New England offense as the number three option. As a flex play, he’s worth a look.

Tyrod Taylor

Taylor has the chance to be a top fantasy quarterback thanks to his ability to rack up points through the air and on the ground. You could get him for cheap following his struggles against the Ravens in Week 1.

Coby Fleener

Like Taylor, Fleener is a buy-low candidate after a quiet Week 1 (one catch for six yards). In a high-octane offense in New Orleans, Fleener could post elite numbers at the tight end position.

Thomas Rawls

Another buy-low candidate, Rawls could be back up to full speed in the not-too-distant future. Christine Michael and C.J. Prosise will be a part of the offense moving forward, but it will be hard to keep the talented Rawls off the field for the Seahawks. Buy low if you can.

For more Fantasy Football, visit here. 

Seattle Seahawks Lock Arms During National Anthem: Images and Video

Before the Seattle Seahawks played the franchise’s home opener against the Miami Dolphins, the entire team and coaching staff locked arms and stood together in a sign of unity.

Here are some images and video.

 

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You can also view this article on Kingdome of Seattle Sports.

Juventus announce Gonzalo Higuain signing

Juventus have announced the signing of striker Gonzalo Higuain from Napoli.

Juventus has added striker Gonzalo Higuain to their team. The club announced the move on the team’s official website, stating that “Juventus Football Club can today confirm that it has purchased the registration rights of Gonzalo Higuain for €90 million, payable in two financial years… The player has agreed to a five-year contract with the club.”

This is significant news for an already-talented Juventus team that will now add one of Europe’s most prolific strikers.

Higuain joins from rivals Napoli, where he bagged 36 goals in 35 domestic appearances for the club. He also registered a pair of assists while firing off 5.2 shots per game. The Argentine will likely partner with countryman Paulo Dybala in attack, with Mario Mandzukic providing another option.

Another big-name signing

Higuain becomes the Bianconeri’s fifth signing of the offseason, and all five have been significant. Midfield ace Miralem Pjanic was first to join. He was soon joined by a pair of potentially world-class defenders in Dani Alves and Medhi Benatia. Talented young winger Marko Pjaca was also brought in before Higuain.

Rich get richer

With the addition of the Argentine forward, Juventus have now weakened a top domestic rival for the second time this transfer window. Pjanic was arguably Roma’s best player before joining up with Paul Pogba, Sami Khedira, Claudio Marchisio and the rest of the Juventus midfielders. By the same token, Higuain was undoubtedly Napoli’s top performer last season thanks to his prolific goal scoring.

With five straight domestic titles wrapped up, the additions of Pjanic, Higuain and company set up the Old Lady as overwhelming favorites for a sixth consecutive title.

[Related: Signings Could Propel Juve to Champions League This Season]

European glory

With the move, it is clear that Max Allegri and company are aiming to claim Europe’s ultimate prize. Even if Pogba departs via transfer, Juventus will field one of the most talented rosters on the continent. What’s more, the team also had tremendous depth. Simone Zaza and Daniele Rugani, two player who could start for a number of teams in Italy and abroad, are now fourth-choice at their respective positions.

There is also the possibility that Pogba stays in Turin this summer, making Juventus all the more dangerous in Europe.

For more Juventus content, visit Know Hitter’s Juventus page. 

Gonzaga Basketball Could Contend for Final Four in 2016/2017

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have run one of the most successful college basketball programs in the past decade. Gonzaga has been to 18 straight NCAA tournaments, and the team could only be getting better.

Despite losing the team’s top three scorers and four of the top eight scorers overall, Gonzaga is poised for a potential Final Four run during the upcoming season.

Yes, impact players like Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis, Eric McClellan and Kyle Dranginis have all departed, but the Zags return plenty of talent.

Up front, Przemek Karnowski is back for a sixth season. The towering center is a force in the paint and an adept passer. It’s probably not a stretch to say that you can run an offense through him. What’s more, he can also provide a significant impact on defense with his shot-altering ability.

Additionally, the team brings back point guard Josh Perkins, who shot 38% from three last year, to go along with 10.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Defensive stopper and double-digit scoring threat Silas Melson also returns.

The real excitement comes in Gonzaga’s new arrivals. Johnathan Williams, who sat out last season after transferring from Missouri, will take one of the frontcourt spots vacated by Wiltjer and Sabonis. The ex-Missouri standout averaged 16.2 points and 9.7 rebound per 40 minutes at his previous school.

Fellow transfer Nigel Williams-Goss, who arrives via Washington, will also start. The point guard should slot in next to Perkins in a two-guard backcourt. In his sophomore campaign in Seattle, the stat-sheet stuffer averaged 17 points, 6.4 assists and 5.1 rebounds per 40 minutes.

Rounding out the list of transfers is Jordan Mathews. The shooting guard arrives after a successful career at Cal, where he averaged at least 17.6 points per 40 minutes in each of his seasons at the school. In his last year with the Pac-12 heavyweights, the sharpshooter hit 41.6% of his threes while adding 18.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists per 40 minutes.

With a starting lineup consisting of Williams-Goss, Perkins, Mathews, Williams and Karnowski, Gonzaga should make some serious noise in the early going as a team that lands in the top 10 or 15 of rankings.

However, what makes the Zags special is there depth.

Head coach Mark Few welcomes perhaps the best recruiting class in school history. Center Zach Collins and shooting guard Zach Norvell are both ESPN 100 recrutis, while Tille and Hachimura are ranked as four-star prospects by Scout.com. Well-regarded Danish center Jacob Larsen rounds out the group.

Collins looks like a future pro with a solid post game, range to step out and knock down shots from the outside, as well as the ability to block shots. Meanwhile, Norvell is a dynamic scorer that should immediately make an impact off the bench.

Hachimura will provide another dynamic presence on the perimeter. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla said that “He’s going to remind people of a bigger Elias Harris.”

With Karnoswki, Williams, Collins and junior center Ryan Edwards taking up minutes down low, Tille and Larsen may end up redshirting, however, if they play it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either make an impact considering how well Gonzaga has recruited internationally over the last few years.

Not only do Gonzaga have the talent be extremely successful next season, but they also have the depth to sustain a deep NCAA tournament run.

For more Gonzaga, head over to Know Hitter’s Gonzaga page. 

Juventus: Recent Signings Could Propel Bianconeri to Elusive Champions League Crown

 

Juventus very nearly took down Bayern Munich in last season’s Champion’s League Round of 16 tie. While the loss was a tough pill to swallow, it only reinforced the notion that the Old Lady can stand toe-to-toe with the other continental powers in Europe.

If this summer’s transfer activity has shown anything, it is that the Bianconeri have their sights set on the Champions League title that evaded them when they lost to Barcelona in the final two seasons.

So far, Juve have seen Alvaro Morata return to Real Madrid via buy-back clause, while Juan Cuadrado headed back to West London upon the expiration of his loan deal. In addition, squad players like Rubinho, Martin Caceres and Simone Padoin all moved on. Rubinho and Caceres left when their contracts ended, while Padoin was sold to Cagliari.

Morata fell behind Paulo Dybala and Mario Mandzukic in the forward pecking order, while the presence of Simone Zaza made the Spaniard that much more expendable. Additionally, Cuadrado seemed unlikely to stay seeing as the wingback is perfectly suited for incoming Chelsea manager Antonio Conte’s preferred 3-5-2 system.

In their place, Juve have brought in midfield maestro Miralem Pjanic from arch-rivals Roma, and defender Dani Alves from Barcelona. In typical Beppe Marotta fashion, Alves arrived on a free transfer.

The Bianconeri don’t seem to be done on the transfer market either. Juventus’ official website announced that former Roma center back Medhi Benatia completed a medical at the team’s health center ahead of a potential move from Bayern Munich.

Additionally, there are reports from Gazzetta World that Juventus could be weakening yet another close rival and domestic competitor. The Old Lady could potentially be bringing in striker Gonzalo Higuain. The report also states that Roberto Pereyra could be heading to Naples. Either way, it would be a fantastic bit of business for Juventus in terms of strengthening their squad.

Should deals for Benatia and Higuain go through (as well as any sale of Pereyra), Juventus will essentially have replaced five bench players (Padoin, Caceres, Morata, Rubinho and Pereyra) with a group of players capable of starting for the vast majority of teams in Europe.

Pjanic, Alves, Higuain and Benatia (when he’s on form) are easily amongst the top 10 or 15 players at their respective positions in the world.

Did I mention Juventus have managed to keep hold of Paul Pogba?

Juventus’ current roster oozes with quality. The vaunted “BBC” backline comprised of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini return, as does the exceptional Gianluigi Buffon. The defense will be joined by the likes of Benatia and the continually developing Daniele Rugani.

On the wings, manager Max Allegri will start either Alves or Stephan Lichtsteiner on the right, and one of Patrice Evra or Alex Sandro on the left.

Allegri will have even more difficult selections to make in the center of the park. Some combination of Pogba, Pjanic, Sami Khedira and (when healthy) Claudio Marchisio will start in midfield. They’re backed up by Mario Lemina, Hernanes, the versatile Kwadwo Asamoah and Stefano Sturaro.

Up front, Dybala, Mandzukic and Zaza return. The signing of Higuain would put Juve’s group of forwards up there with the best attacking units in the world thanks to the stylist diversity provided by the incumbent trio.

It’s been a wildly successful summer so far for the Bianconeri, and it looks like it will continue to be successful as Juve adds more pieces to win in Europe.

Don’t be surprised to see Buffon and the rest of the Juventus squad finally lift that elusive Champions League trophy come next year.

For more Juventus content, visit Know Hitter’s Juventus page.