Driverless Dreams

Google is back at it: driverless cars. In the age of Uber and ZipCar providing (nearly) pushbutton access to transportation for a fairly reasonable fee depending on your need, the driverless car sits atop the pyramid of transportation evolution.

One device combines the evolution of technology that began with the invention of the wheel. The driverless car is also the most impressive computer technology using sensors, maps, internet-connected computing – and that’s just to drive the car, not including creature comforts.

Like the idea of the horseless carriage that preceded the automobile, the driverless car has been much hyped and anticipated despite the early stage in the development process.

A who’s who of car companies is working on the technology as well, but the search engine giant has grabbed most of the press while boasting about the progress the technology has made over the years, the miles the cars have driven, and more.

But this is the first time we have seen a Google Car. While the press release indicates the parts are off-the-shelf and the company is working with partners, seeing a stand-alone vehicle, rather than a modified Toyota feels like an exciting step forward. Eventually Google, and the automakers, will need a car built to be driverless in order to really take the technology to the next level. Sensor placement and designs that work for a traditional vehicle, which places the main sensor package in the driver’s seat, do not need to be hard and fast rules for car design.

I’ve thought and written about driverless cars and their potential impact on society before, and as the technology gets closer the more I think about what it would be like to just summon a car – either my own or a taxi-type service – whenever I need a ride.

One issue with ZipCar, and rental services in general, is that the vehicles need to be returned to certain places to make them available once more and prevent the accumulation of cars in places they are unlikely to be checked out. Of course from time to time you can make an arrangement to pick up at the airport and drop off at another location, but normally the car is docked at a single location and you need to return it from whence it came. This problem goes away when the car can drive itself.

One crazy possibility with driverless cars could actually help bring the Amazon drones to reality: a drone carrier van. The idea that drones will be flying many miles carrying the types of products that are often ordered online, which can be large and/or heavy, has a few holes. But imagine if Amazon had a system of driverless vans roaming across cities and towns, carrying the items most of the way by truck, and then launching the drones for the “last mile” delivery. This could let larger packages be delivered by drone without needing to carry a fifty pound box thirty miles through the sky. Once the package is dropped off, the drone just returns to the van.

The number of tasks that can be managed by a driverless car, which can in turn reduce traffic, limit the need to large parking lots, can be a big step towards the sci-fi vision of the future that so many of us have in our heads.

Play It Again, Samsung

Samsung has launched an ad campaign for their smart watch, the Galaxy Gear. And from the ad, you might think this watch is about to make your dreams come true.

 [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3qeJKax2CU&w=420&h=315]

Yes, fictional character have used this technology for decades. A watch that can display information beyond time, act as a communication device, and, if you’re James Bond, a laser, is a nice idea. But one that was really fulfilled by the smartphone.

Much as we look back at television shows like Seinfeld, which existed before the cellphone became commonplace, and discover plot holes that would easily be solved with a call or text while on-the-go, the futuristic watches from TV turned into smartphones in reality.

On TV, no one has a problem talking to their devices in front of, well, whoever is around. Characters have no qualms about their conversations being audible for anyone close by.

All the interactions a user has with a smart watch are out in the open. We have a communication device that works this way: the walkie-talkie.

Having used Glass for a few months, having a wearable device replace my phone definitely feels like something that could happen in the next few years. Especially with a device like the iPad Mini or Nexus 7 as a “main” portable machine that could be around for tasks that currently fall to a 4 inch or greater phone.

How Will Jacoby Ellsbury Fare as a Free Agent?

Jacoby Ellsbury made his major league debut on June 30, 2007 to give Terry Francona and the Red Sox some flexibility in center field with a banged up Coco Crisp trying to avoid the disabled list.

The rookie would eventually overtake the veteran, even getting playing time in the Red Sox World Series run. Ellsbury is approaching free agency at the end of this season and his career so far has been a journey of highs, lows, and a few injuries.

How does he compare to the recent crop of elite outfielders?

For Ellsbury’s first three seasons in Boston he was a gifted athlete who sometimes needed more work on his routes, but was a threat on the base paths.

In 331 games from 2007-2009 Ellsbury hit .297/.350/.414 with 129 steals, leading the league in 2008 and 2009 with 50 and 70 steals, respectively.

Mike Cameron was brought in in 2010 to provide veteran insight into the center field position after Coco Crisp was traded, shifting Ellsbury to left, but a collision with Adrian Beltre would limit Ellsbury to just 18 games that year.

In 2011, Ellsbury was back and better than ever: .321/.376/.552 with 39 steals and 32 home runs. After hitting a total of 20 home runs in the major leagues to that point, Ellsbury found his power stroke. He won a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, and finished second in MVP voting.

With just two years remaining until free agency, Ellsbury looked like a player in his prime who might have just added a new aspect to his already strong game.

Unfortunately 2012 would be another injury-plagued season. In 74 games Ellsbury would hit just .271/.313/.370 with only four home runs and 14 stolen bases. In a season where everything that could go wrong for the Red Sox did, Ellsbury’s injury and step back in performance hurt a bit more.

With just two years remaining until free agency, Ellsbury looked like a player in his prime who might have just added a new aspect to his already strong game.

His 2013 reversed the tide: .299/.355/.424 with a league-leading 52 steals before fouling a ball off his foot and not appearing in a game since Sept. 5. He’s only hit 8 home runs this year, but with 31 doubles and 8 triples, has recovered the value he had outside of his MVP-caliber season in 2011.

As a fast, Gold Glove center fielder and an elite leadoff hitter, Ellsbury, even with an injured foot, is among the premier free agents this fall.

Johnny Damon, to whom Ellsbury has drawn many comparisons, hit free agency at 31 before signing a 4-year, $52 million contract with the New York Yankees.

Until that point in his career, Damon had hit .290/.353/.431 while averaging 12 home runs and 26 steals per year. Ellsbury’s career .297/.350/.438 line compares quite favorably to the sought-after leadoff hitter, and Ellsbury just turned 30 on Sept. 11, so he hits free agency a little earlier.

Of course, salaries for MLB players aren’t exactly what they were in the winter of 2005 when Johnny Damon signed with the Yankees.

B.J. Upton signed a 5-year, $75.25 deal with the Atlanta Braves last year. With the Rays, Upton averaged .255/.336/.422 with 20 homers and 39 steals per year. There were ups and downs: Upton hit over .273 just once and totalled 20 home runs over two full seasons in 2008 and 2009. He posted his best OPS (.894) in 2007 and hasn’t came within 100 points of that mark since.

To make matters worse, Upton has been dreadful this season, hitting under .200 and finding himself on the bench at times even as the Braves cruise to victory in the NL East. Ellsbury hasn’t had the consistent power of Upton, but his skills are more well-rounded and he has never had the low seasons Upton has in his career.

Another center fielder signed this past offseason as well: Michael Bourn. A late signing by the Cleveland Indians, Bourn has been a speed-first player throughout his career. Bourn lead the league in steals three times from 2009-2011 and has averaged 49 steals per season during his career.

Again, Bourn is not a perfect match for Ellsbury because while Ellsbury has maintained a slugging percentage over .400 in three seasons, and .394 in a fourth, Bourn has little power to speak of, slugging just .362 in his eight-year career.

Which brings us to the target Ellsbury and his agent, Scott Boras, will likely try and compare him to: Carl Crawford. Crawford turned 29 in August of 2010, the year he hit free agency, so he was actually a year younger than Ellsbury when he signed a 7-year, $142 million dollar deal with the Red Sox.

The difficulty for Ellsbury in comparing him to Crawford, who was a .296/.337/.444 hitter coming off a career year, comes from the latter’s power and durability.

During his nine years in Tampa Bay, Crawford hit double digit home runs six time, hitting 15 or more on four occasions. While he was known for his speed, stealing at least 46 bases seven times, Crawford also brought some power. Sometimes, as with his triples, his speed and power worked together, letting the left fielder collect double-digit triples five times.

The difficulty for Ellsbury in comparing him to Crawford, who was a .296/.337/.444 hitter coming off a career year, comes from the latter’s power and durability. Crawford played at least 151 games six times in Tampa. Ellsbury has accomplished the feat just twice.

Crawford also has the stigma of being overpaid. When the Red Sox traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers, it wasn’t because they were desperate to move their first baseman, but to move what had quickly become a massive overpayment to Crawford.

In a relatively healthy 2013, Crawford has hit .280/.330/.395 with 5 home runs and 13 stolen bases in 108 games. While this production is valuable, the cost of $20 million is not in line with the production.

Ellsbury is an interesting player to hit free agency. He has shown legitimate power, elite speed, the ability to hit for average, defense, and patience, but not all at the same time. Recent free agents like Crawford and Upton have seemed like good signings, only to quickly lose value.

The Red Sox will certainly make Ellsbury the $14 million qualifying offer this winter and may even make a sizeable contract offer to their leadoff hitter.

While Ellsbury has missed time with injuries, he’s had broken bones and collisions take him off the field, not nagging soreness in a hamstring or shoulder, so he might actually be a more durable player going forward who simply has had bad luck.

Depending on how the market reacts to Ellsbury’s career numbers, and whether he is able to make a strong return this season from a broken bone in his foot, will decide how much and for how long the outfielder is signed.

With a low end of Bourn and a high of Crawford, Ellsbury may have a lot of negotiations before he finally chooses his next team.

Cross-posted at The Sports Post

Did the Baltimore Orioles Have a Successful Season?

The Baltimore Orioles won just 69 games in 2011. Thanks in part to a strong bullpen and a breakout season by Adam Jones, the Birds upped their win total to 93 in 2012 and lost the American League Division Series to the New York Yankees in five games.

Coming off the heels of their first postseason berth in more than a decade, Orioles fans were rightly excited for baseball to resume this spring. Would the team build on its 93 wins and second place finish in the AL East? Would the club prove that they were real competitors, not just a flash-in-the-pan aided by a Red Sox team that turned out to be a punching bag?

Bullpen

The Orioles famously went 29-9 in one-run games in 2012, a tremendous feat for any team. Even with a strong bullpen that sort of record is heavily aided by luck. Small victories are difficult to pull off, which is why so many teams build around the closer as the one guy they trust to protect a lead when it counts.

Orioles’ closer, Jim Johnson, saved 51 games last year, leading the league in saves, while Brian Matusz emerged as a weapon out of the bullpen as a lefty specialist. Essentially every move Buck Showalter made with his pitchers worked as well as he could have hoped.

Fast forward a year and Jim Johnson, while still very good, blew 9 saves on his way to a second-straight 50 save season.

Orioles magic in one-run games evaporated. Going 20-31 in one-run games this season, the O’s didn’t have the same type of success as last year. Finishing with an 85-77 record, six games behind the second place Rays, the same number of additional saves blown by Johnson over the 2012 season, and the O’s would have been in the battle royale with the Rays, Rangers, and Indians for the Wild Card.

Rotation

A deep rotation wasn’t a strength of the 2012 team or the 2013 incarnation. Given the margin of their loss, one more good starter could go a long way for the Orioles.

Chris Tillman stepped up in a big way this year throwing over 200 innings of 3.78 ERA baseball. The righty struck out just under eight batters per nine innings and walked three batters per inning. That’s not ace level performance, but over the last few seasons the Orioles have seen Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, and others fail to hang on to a rotation spot, so Tillman is a step in the right direction.

Jason Hammel, last year’s rotation leader, posted an ERA just under five in an injury-shortened 2013 season.

Dylan Bundy, the O’s pitching phenom, who made a brief debut down the stretch in 2012, missed the entire season trying to rehab before sucumbing to Tommy John surgery, putting his future in doubt for the 2014 season as well.

Offense

First baseman Chris Davis did everything he possibly could, and more, by putting up a monster season. 53 home runs, 43 doubles, an OPS over 1.000, 103 runs, and 138 RBI set the pace for the former Rangers prospect. It took Davis a few years to get adjusted to the majors, but when he put things together the result was nearly unbelievable. If he can duplicate even eighty percent of this performance in 2014, the Orioles will be back in the mix for a playoff berth.

Manny Machado, who turned 21 in July, had a big first half (.310/.337/.470) followed by a second half slump (.240/.277/.370). While he ended the season with an injury scare, the hope is that the third baseman escaped with a prescription for rest and rehab rather than surgery.

Conclusion

Was this a good season for the Orioles? Probably. With the emergence of Chris Tillman, the power of Chris Davis, the continued presence of Matt Wieters, and only scratching the surface of what Manny Machado can do, Baltimore is in position to continue building.

Had this season come before the breakout of 2012 things would look better for the fans, but this year’s Orioles were better, but not luckier, than last year’s model.

General Manager Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter have breathed new life into a team that sat along the bottom of the standings for too long. The Red Sox and Yankees aren’t likely to go away anytime soon, and the Rays are too well built to ignore, but the Orioles can use the new playoff format to make their push. And with just a little bit of luck, they might be back in the postseason next year.

 Cross-posted at The Sports Post

Yankee Offseason: Is A $300 Million Payroll Possible?

The number 300 has a special meaning in baseball. 300 wins is the traditional Hall of Fame measure for a starting pitcher. Striking out 300 batters in a season hasn’t been done since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2002. The other men on that list include Pedro Martinez, Nolan Ryan, and Sandy Kofax.

A .300 batting average is the goal of nearly every hitter. $300 million is the next payroll threshold for major league teams to cross, and the Yankees could make a run at payroll history once again.

While there has been talk since early last year about the Yankees cutting payroll to under $189 million for the 2014 season to escape the luxury tax, the plan is not set in stone. In fact, the benefits to staying under the luxury tax threshold may be less than previously thought. The Bronx Bombers are unlikely to make the playoffs in 2013, will lose Mariano Rivera at the end of the season, and have to deal with Alex Rodriguez and a spectacle that could continue through the end of the third baseman’s tenure in New York.

The last time the Yankees missed the playoffs, in 2008, a spending spree ensued, bringing A.J. Burnett, C.C. Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira to New York.

With Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and three-fifths of the starting rotation eligible for free agency this winter, a quick rebuild for Derek Jeter’s potential farewell tour in 2014 may be in the cards.

According to Cot’s Contracts at Baseball Prospectus, the Yankees have just $89 million committed in 2014, not including arbitration-eligible players. This may sound reasonable when thinking about $100 million in salary room to fill out the roster until you realize that nearly $90 million only pays for seven players: Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, Ichiro Suzuki, Alfonso Soriano, Derek Jeter, and Vernon Wells.

Players like Brett Gardner, Ivan Nova, and David Robertson will likely be around in 2014 as well, but since even doubling Gardner’s $2.85 million salary in 2013 is a far cry from the large contracts, this piece will evaluate the stars to see how a rebuilding may get close to a $300 million target.

Catcher

The Yankees took heat right away in the winter of 2012 as Russell Martin left for the fair pastures of Pittsburgh and the Yankees decided to go with a catching platoon of Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. The two big free agent catchers this year: Brian McCann of the Atlanta Braves and Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the Boston Red Sox.

McCann has rebounded in a big way from a disappointing 2012 (.230/.300/.399) with a .270/.342/.498 line and 18 home runs in just 81 games after hitting 20 in 121 games last year. McCann is in the final year of a seven-year, $41.3 million deal and would probably warrant a qualifying offer, this year set at $14 million.

According to FanGraphs, the Braves’ catcher has been worth about $13.1 million so far this season, putting a multiyear deal of at least $14 million a year well within the realm of possibility. Combined with the fact that catchers are always in demand and the Phillies, among others, will be looking, it makes McCann a good buy-high opportunity for New York’s purposes.

Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia could represent a bargain for the Yankees should the Sox decide to move on from his services. Salty never became the superstar he looked like after a 2007 Double A season when he hit .309/.404/.617, but four years in Boston as a .240/.306/.451 hitter is a pretty good return when comparing him to other starters at the position.

His patience has taken great strides this season, his OBP is sitting at .341 in August 28, after back-to-back .288 marks in 2011 and 2012. Interestingly, FanGraphs values Salty at $13.1 million this season, the same as Brian McCann.

The Red Sox do have some young catchers on the farm, and Saltalamacchia is earning just $4.5 million, so he may avoid being offered a qualifying offer, and likely will be cheaper than McCann regardless of where he signs.

Contract guess: $15 million per year with McCann

Second Base

This one is a no-brainer: the Yankees must re-sign Robinson Cano. In a lost season for the Yankees, Cano has hit .305/.385/.506, right in line with his career (.308/.355/.503) and has been the rock in the offense diminished lineup.

He’s played in at least 159 games every year since 2007 and has appeared in five All-Star Games. Cano doesn’t have much speed, but he’s hit at least 24 home runs in each of the last five seasons.

Cano is the number one free agent this year according to MLBTraderumors and now being represented by Jay-Z’s agency, will look to exceed the $110 million contract extension signed by Dustin Pedroia.

Cano is definitely worth the $14 million qualifying offer and will likely be looking at a minumum of $25 million per year wherever he signs. While the Dodgers are supposedly downplaying their interest, teams on both coasts could get in on the bidding.

Contract guess: $27 million per year

Outfield

Curtis Granderson, finishing a six-year, $42.5 million contract originally signed with the Detroit Tigers, has battled injuries in 2013, but played in 136, 156, and 160 games with the Yankees from 2010-2012. The left handed slugger hit 43 home runs last year and 41 the year before.

Previously a center fielder, Granderson has split his time almost evenly this season among all three outfield spots, while also serving as designated hitter in a quarter of his games. Granderson’s stolen base numbers have fluctuated between the low double digits and mid-twenties every season since 2007 but he has swiped seven bags already, despite a short season.

However, while Granderson may be a decent bet to receive a qualifying offer, with so many outfielders under control, the Yankees may pass to sign Jacoby Ellsbury. The Red Sox center fielder hasn’t hit for the type of power he did in 2011, when he launched 32 home runs and 46 doubles, but with seven long balls and 47 steals, he’s on his way to another productive season anyway.

Missing large parts of the 2010 and 2012 seasons make it difficult to remember how good Ellsbury has been, averaging a .297/.350/.438 line in his career as a leadoff hitter for one of the best offenses of the past decade.

Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated thinks that Ellsbury is “a tremendously valuable player, and 5 years, $75-million is probably the buy-in for a guy like that … With Jackie Bradley Jr. not having a huge season at Pawtucket … I think the Red Sox will be big players here.”

This would be similar to the contract received by B.J. Upton from the Atlanta Braves last winter. Upton of course has been a flop in Atlanta, hitting well under .200 with just 8 home runs after hitting more than 20 each of the past two years and 18 the season before that.

Contract guess for Ellsbury: $18 million per year

Starting pitchers

The Yankees have three starting pitchers hitting the market this year: Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, and Phil Hughes. Maybe Kuroda and Pettitte will return for one more season, but both pitchers are likely nearing the end of the line.

But bringing back two aging stars for short money isn’t the Steinbrenner way.

Target one: Matt Garza. Garza had a good run with the Tampa Bay Rays and a nice start with the Chicago Cubs before catching the injury bug. From 2008 to 2011 Garza stayed around the 200 inning mark, had an ERA between 3.32 and 3.95 and approached a strikeout per inning.

During those seasons he never started fewer than 30 games. Garza followed up in 2012 by starting just 18 games and after spending some time on the DL in 2013, has started 18 games between his time with the Cubs and Texas Rangers.

Proving that he can still cut it in the AL, Garza should be in for a nice payday. John Lackey’s five-year, $82.5 million deal could be the starting point as Garza will be signing his deal at a slightly younger age.

Target two: Ervin Santana. Traded by the Angels to Kansas City in the offseason as part of a move to clear salary to sign Zack Greinke, who ended up with the Dodgers, Santana is the second big pitcher this offseason.

Likely too expensive for Kansas City to retain, Santana has four 200-inning seasons under his belt and will come close to that mark this year. His ERA has fluctuated in the past, but his career mark is 4.21 and his career WHIP is a respectable 1.29. His price will likely look similar to Garza’s.

Target three: Ricky Nolasco. The mercurial right hander has been all over the place in his career performance wise. He’s started at least 30 games four times, and is just two away this season, had an ERA under 4.00 only once before 2013, and a 3.51 K/BB rate.

After seeing his strikeouts fall for three seasons after 2009, Nolasco has rebounded in this aspect of his game in 2013. Being on the Dodgers could help or hurt his salary negotiations.

On the one hand, the Dodgers have shown they are willing to spend, which could start a bidding war, but he’s behind Clayton Kershaw and Greinke in the rotation and the Dodgers want to sign their young lefty before he hits the market, which could put pressure on total spending for pitching in LA.

Unlikely to sign with the Yankees: A.J. Burnett. However, the team did bring back Javier Vazquez for a second tour of duty after a disappointing first time around, so anything is possible.

Contract guess for Garza: $18 million per year

Contract guess for Santana: $17 million per year

Contract guess for Nolasco: $15 million per year

A wildcard for the Yankees would be Tim Lincecum. He could come over the American League as a starter, although his struggles the past two seasons could make him more tempting as a reliever, perhaps even as relief ace who could pick up the mantle from Mariano Rivera.

What do you pay a two-time Cy Young winner converting to the bullpen at 29? He’s coming off a 2-year $40.5 million deal so maybe a deal along the lines of Jonathan Papelbon’s four-year, $50 million deal, regardless of whether he starts of relieves.

Contract guess for Lincecum: $13 million per year

Third Base

Regardless of whether he misses the entire season or just part of the season, Alex Rodriguez is unlikely to play 162 games for the Yankees next year.

Aramis Ramirez of the Milwaukee Brewers is under contract for one more year at $16 million, with a mutual option for 2015. Given the Brewers fall from competitiveness, this could be a classic Yankee trade of absorbing a contract in a trade for a prospect of limited value.

As a right handed hitter he won’t benefit from Yankee stadium as much as a lefty, but when he’s on the field he still hits for power and average while getting on base at a .360 clip the last three seasons.

Contract for 2014: $16 million

Where We Stand

In this experiment the Yankees begin 2014 with seven players under contract for $89 million. We’ve retained Robinson Cano and added a catcher, at least one outfielder, a third baseman, three starters, and a relief ace or potential upgrade on current fifth starter Ivan Nova.

The additions are worth $139 million next year, putting the Yankees at $228 for fifteen players. That leaves ten roster spots left to fill. Will that cost $72 million dollars? Probably not, but that doesn’t take away from what could be another offseason sweep of the free agent market.

Should the club choose to retain Granderson or add Shin-Soo Choo and trade Ichiro or Gardner, that could add a few million to the total as well.

Whether the Yankees will try to save money or remind the Dodgers who the big spender in baseball really is remains up for debate.

But if you believe the team retains Cano, the rest of the signings aren’t unreasonable for a club with the sort of money the Yankees have to spend in any given offseason. After all, we saw this type of offseason rebuild from the Yankees in 2008.

Cross posted at The Sports Post

San Francisco Giants: Rotation Questions

When the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010 they did so with a rotation comprised of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner. 

Barry Zito, their free agent acquisition from a few years earlier, didn’t even make the postseason roster. 

By 2012, Sanchez had been traded and Lincecum spent most of the postseason pitching out of the bullpen. They were replaced by Zito and Ryan Vogelsong and the Giants managed to beat the powerhouse offense of the Detroit Tigers with a rotation that, while not at it’s 2010 level, was more than up to the task.

Lincecum, the Giants’ ace for their first World Series run was relegated to the bullpen, although he was lights out in that role, for their 2012 Championship, and is a free agent at the end of this season. 

Zito, absent in 2010 but present for 2012, is in the final year of his 7-year $126 million dollar deal and is unlikely to return to San Francisco next year. 

Vogelsong, who has been on the disabled list since May 20 but should return this Friday, struggled mightily before succumbing to injury. The Giants have a team option on the 36-year old at a reasonable $6.5 million, if he can pitch better in the second half.

Cain and Bumgarner are both signed to long-term deals, not reaching free agency until 2018. 

But the Giants face a question: who are their next two starters after Cain, Bumgarner, and Vogelsong in 2014?

The Giants had a prospect waiting in the wings to follow in the footsteps of their recent home-grown starting staff. In the 2011 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, pitcher Zack Wheeler was San Francisco’s number two prospect. 

Later that season, the right-hander was moved to the New York Mets in exchange for Carlos Beltran. While his major league debut has been rocky at times, he now figures to join Matt Harvey atop the Mets rotation for years to come.

In Keith Law’s mid-season top 50 prospects released in July, the Giants had just one prospect, right handed pitcher Kyle Crick. Law say that Crick has “huge stuff” with “less than perfect command.” For the immediate future, he’s still a ways away, with the Giants High Class A affiliate in San Jose.

On the free agent market, Ervin Santana, currently enjoying a career revival with the Kansas City Royals may be the the top of the class, although Hiroki Kuroda of the Yankees will be available as well. 

Another Yankees pitcher, Phil Hughes will hit free agency this fall as well and perhaps a move to the NL: and pitcher-friendly AT&T Park can get his career back on track as a low-risk option. 

Current Oakland A’s pitcher Bartolo Colon is set to reach free agency as well and would only have to cross the Bay to join the Giants. He does come with a PED question mark, serving a suspension last year and being revealed to have purchased the offending drugs at the Biogenesis clinic.

While the prices would certainly be high, the Giants could turn to a team like the Red Sox, with number of pitching prospects like Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Henry Owens, Matt Barnes, and Brandon Workman. The Sox also have a stable of veteran arms: Jake Peavy, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster and Clay Buchholz. 

At some point the Sox are likely to hit a staff crunch where someone has to be traded, whether from the young kids coming up or the established starters approaching free agency or simply taking up enough salary that moving them for a smaller return to clear room for a prospect makes sense.

The Giants under General Manager Brian Sabean have built the success around pitching and Buster Posey. 

With Posey signed through 2022, acting as both primer bat and the starting catcher handling the pitching staff, the next goal for the team to to find a new wave of arms, and let them pitch the team back to the playoffs.

Cross posted at The Sports Post

Microsoft and the Surface RT: Can’t Touch(Pad) This?

Last month Microsoft took a massive $900 billion writedown on the company’s disappointing Surface RT tablet inventory. Microsoft’s biggest hardware initiative since the original Xbox more than a decade ago, the Surface line of devices – both the RT and Pro models – were designed to bring Windows into a new age, an age of tablets, phones, and accessories as the center of the digital world rather than the PC.

However, the Surface RT was unable to penetrate either the tablet or laptop market. With a convertible form factor that encouraged users to purchase one of the two keyboards designed to click into place, which featured prominently in commercials, the Surface RT tried to be a laptop and a tablet. For the Surface Pro, which ran traditional Windows 8 and used conventional Intel processors, this worked OK. For the Surface RT, using a ARM processor, existing Windows software isn’t compatible, so only new software from Microsoft’s app store runs on it.

The Surface RT was a vehicle for the Windows 8 “Metro” style interface, but also included the classic desktop, albeit one that couldn’t run classic Windows apps. It also is unable to run Windows Phone 8 applications. So when marketed together, Windows 8, Windows RT, and Windows Phone 8 share many outward similarities but are very different under the hood. Apple makes Mac OS X and iOS, but the large portable device, the iPad, runs the same iOS as the iPhone and iPod Touch. Adding one more app store to the suite of device may have simply been one too many.

But if Microsoft is going to account for $900 billion in unsold Surface RT tablets, why not get them into customer’s hands? Just under two years ago exactly HP was faced with a similar dilemma. In 2011 HP TouchPad was the WebOS-based tablet competitor to the iPad. In the days before the Nexus 7 and Kindle Fire, non-iPad tablet that were good, inexpensive, or both were few and far between and HP decided that rather than continue to take their lumps trying to evolve the OS and hardware they would pull the plug. The 16 gigabyte model was slashed to just $99. SlickDeals had a field day. BestBuy was swamped. As someone who drove to seven stores before tracking down one of these rare beasts, it was quite the scene for a product that was completely irrelevant just 24 hours earlier.

Apps were downloaded, Android was installed, WebOS and the wireless charging capability were shown off to the mass market for the first time. Microsoft is not abandoning the Surface, including RT. Microsoft sees itself as a “devices and services” company now with devices including Xbox, Surface, and maybe their own phone someday too. While building out their retail stores one of the comments has always been “what can they sell?” because unlike Apple, Microsoft finds it’s software on third party devices more often than not.

But if a second Surface RT is in the works, why discount the existing RT to $349 and not just $99 and clear out the inventory? Microsoft could get units into the hands of both developers and the users who might give it a chance, except for the lack of apps. Even the secondary market for the TouchPad is surprisingly robust, with tablets still selling for about $99 dollars.

The Surface RT could be a thing if it’s really clearance priced to go. At least it would be in the hands of people outside of Microsoft stores.

 

John Henry: Media Mogul

In 2006 there was some drama about the Red Sox possibly leaving “powerhouse” radio station WEEI and turning to another terrestrial radio provider for all their broadcasting needs. 98.5 The Sports Hub had yet to launch. Games were available for streaming as part of Red Sox Nation and MLB.TV, but this was before the iPhone, widely-available 3G or LTE access for smartphones, tablets, etc. so the alternatives to WEEI and traditional radio were limited. Oh, and WEEI still used 850 AM as their primary vehicle to deliver Red Sox games. Instead of shaking things up by choosing a new broadcast partner, the Red Sox instead renewed their pact with Boston’s major sports radio network. To the delight of the hosts and management, signing a record-setting deal placed the network atop a stronghold that could not be breached by any potential competition.

Now, the tables have turned. WEEI has lost its spot atop the radio rankings to The Sports Hub, many of the hosts have been let go, and John Henry owns a newspaper.

John Henry, principal owner of the Red Sox now owns his own radio station of sorts with BDC Radio. He owns Boston.com and the Globe proper (plus the Worcester Telegram & Gazette). In three years, will he still need WEEI? It’s not very difficult to imagine the Globe taking over broadcast rights, the advertising power (and dollars) that comes with Major League Baseball, and cutting the WEEI cord once and for all. The Red Sox and John Henry would control a television station (NESN), a newspaper (Boston Globe), a radio arm (BDC Radio).

Once the Red Sox contract is gone, maybe WEEI will be on the block and Henry can pick up all the antennas and equipment on the cheap. Just buy up the transmitters.

If the Commissioner’s Office and Major League Baseball Advanced Media were to relax and reform the blackout rules, it’s not hard to imagine a Henry-Red Sox media machine that could stream audio and video, have a team of writers and new media types supporting the classic announcing of Joe Castiglione on radio and Remy and Orsillo on the NESN video feed. Heck, if one man (essentially) owns the text (why say print at this point for the Globe), audio stream, and video stream, it might be the start of actually offering a choice of camera angles, announcers, live commentary and community chat during the games.

For the non-sports press I’d be worried about this sort of control, and John Henry will own the Boston Globe, not just the sports section, but from a baseball only view, I hope he uses every bit of the control and influence he can have to deliver a truly awesome experience by tying everything together.

 

A Night With The Chromecast

When Google announced the Chromecast during their breakfast, the star of the show was not Android 4.3 or the new Nexus 7 but the small, seemingly trivial piece of technology no bigger than a USB thumb drive. One year after the Nexus Q was announced, put on hold, and ultimately retired before officially launching, Google is back in our living rooms with another device. Friendlier than Google TV, far cheaper than the $299 Nexus Q, the $35 Chromecast widget may be their Apple TV: easy and cheap enough for anyone to add to their living room. For under $40, including tax, seeing that units were in stock at the local BestBuy, I figured it was worth checking out in person.

 

The Chromecast takes a lot of the usability ideas behind the Nexus Q and applies them better to an improved product. Like the Q, media isn’t streamed from your phone or computer, that device acts as a remote control, and the Chromecast does the job from there. So if you open Netflix on your phone and select a show, there is a small TV icon to “cast” the content onto your big screen. While watching a show on your TV, the Netflix app is now a remote control, handling the play and pause functions and the ability to scroll through the timeline. YouTube works the same way, and you can add to your queue from the app, building a playlist that will keep running, uninterrupted. As you would expect, Google’s Play Movies & TV and Play Music apps take advantage of this control scheme as well.

On the Nexus Q, all of this sharing and selecting was entirely done though the phone interface. All you saw on the screen was the result: the music or movie you were playing (and there was no Netflix capability, only Google and YouTube media properties). Adding on-screen controls and information makes the user experience a hundred times better. This is how the Nexus Q should have worked. The idea of our phones and tablets taking over the television as a remote control is a good one, but it needs to be done in a way that makes sense in the television world, and that means on-screen messages and interactions.

With the Chromecast plugged into my TV, this is the first time I have ever considered buying media from a company other than Apple. Even though I’ve been an Android user since joining the smartphone world, I’ve had Macs for a decade. While music files have evolved from being tied to iTunes, movies and shows purchased from the iTunes store are still firmly in the Apple universe. Apple TV is $99 dollars and worst case scenario, I can watch on my Mac and make my own video output solution. In this copyright-burdened world we live in, iTunes, backed by a company very likely to stay in the content delivery business and continue to support accessing that content on a plethora of  (their own) devices has seemed like the safest choice. Maybe “owning” digital content is a fad, but if something isn’t available on Netflix and the rental fee is $3.99 or $4.99, “buying” a digital movie for $9.99, if you may ever watch it again, is still a tempting offer. And this is where Google pulls their final rabbit out of the hat: tab casting.

By installing the Google Cast extension on your computer’s Chrome browser, any tab you have open on your computer can be shared to the TV. I’m writing this on the TV right now. Amazon Prime video? Sure, just cast the tab and you’re watching that video on your television. The quirk with tab casting is that tabs are not Chromecast apps. You can share a tab playing Amazon content, but the video continues to play on your computer, albeit without sound. Going to fullscreen means that you can’t do anything else on the computer. If Amazon adds Chromecast functionality to their smartphone and tablet apps, this won’t be an issue. You may not want to have a movie night watching content on the TV inside a browser window, but it’s still on a big screen with more real estate than a laptop, so if you just want to make use of a second screen, it’ll do.

Unfortunately, one of the benefits announced at launch, three free months of Netflix, for current and new users alike, has already been discontinued. That savings effectively reduced the price of the Chromecast to $11. It’s puzzling that Google was prepared to sell so many devices but limit the Netflix perk to only the earliest of early adopters. At least without more clear messaging from the start that it was a very limited time offer.

On day one though, the Chromecast is a home run. We’re starting to see the differentiation between Android (Google TV) and Chrome, which, as Gina Trapani put it on This Week in Google boils down to “Android in an operating system” and “Chrome is a platform.” This definition doesn’t quite cover the Chromebooks, especially the higher-end Pixel, but it does work well to define the interaction between users and devices.

With all apologies to Xfinity, it’s Chromecastic.

 

Happy Birthday Nomar!

Since Nomar Garciaparra and I share a birthday, I always imagine that he hit those three home runs on this date in 2002 for all the important people born on the 23rd of July.

According to @highheatstats, this is a unique feat: