5-at-10: Weather breaks, Brave moves, hoops and 3 big things for NASCAR

5-at-10: Weather breaks, Brave moves, hoops and 3 big things for NASCAR

February 17th, 2014 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

OK, it snows Friday night and it's 60 degrees and sunny on Sunday. Yep, welcome to Chattanooga, home of the Choo-Choo, the Moon Pie and weather swings so complex that the Brothers Karamazov seems like light reading by comparison.

From the "Talks too much" studios, if someone gets a steal in the NBA All-Star game is that a foul since playing defense was obviously against the rules?

Braves big offseason

Atlanta Braves pitcher Craig Kimbrel reacts during a spring training baseball workout, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. The Braves agreed to terms with Kimbrel on a four-year contract. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

As the weather turned this weekend, it was impossible not to think of warmer days.

For Atlanta Braves general manager Frank Wren, the harshness of the winter has been balanced by a series of shrewd moves that leave his team locked into the present and with a possibility of a monster future on the horizon.

Follow along.

Wren and the Braves attacked the looming free agency concerns amid their youthful roster and locked down answers - and opened at least one question - for the foreseeable future. It was almost like Wren's post-Christmas Honey-Do list was as clear as the instructions on his shampoo.

• Pick up the dry cleaning;

• Get the AC checked;

• Sign young stars to long-term deal.

Check, check and big-fat checks that totaled roughly $200 million.

But Wren spent his $200 million as frugally as a man can spend that much money, getting a lead-off guy, a No. 3 hitter, a potential No. 1 starter and a closer - all in their 20s mind you - for his dough. The Yankees spent a total of $175 million for an imported No. 3 starter, but we all know how pricey New York can be.

Wren got slugging first baseman and clubhouse linchpin Freddie Freeman to agree to an eight-year deal that will pay him a very affordable $125 million. That's about $12 million per year, which is outlandish on its face - someone making $12 million a year needs to be curing diseases or making sure Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are doing Bill Gates- and Warren Buffet-type things - but amazingly affordable considering Dan Uggla makes more than that and Uggla just struck out again. And again.

Wren also massaged the process, getting outfielder Jason Heyward to agree to a two-year extension, which buys the Braves enough time to see if Heyward is going to deliver on his extreme gifts and be the guy that hit .333 in the final 38 games of 2013 or if he's simply Jeff Francuoer 2.014.

Add in signing Julio Tehran and his potential top of the rotation stuff to a six-year deal and closer Craig Kimbrel to a five-year extension, and Wren's work has been impressive and almost complete. Signing immensely gifted shortstop Andrelton Simmons to a long-term deal would be the cherry on this offseason sundae that will the gift that gives for years to come.

Wren's model - signing young and talented players to long-term deals before they hit the choppy waters and bidding waves of the open market - is sound and similar to some of the small-market clubs. But this tsunami of spending rings a subtle but discernibly different chord.

Wren is filling the Braves roster with young and talented pieces in preparation for the proposed move to the Braves new stadium. New ballparks draw people. New ballparks with teams that win draw lots and lots of people.

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College hoops rewind

Wow, that was fun. Here's what we gleaned from the weekend that was in college hoops:

- UT has spent its house money. The Vols are 15-10 with six games left. Yes, a slew of RPI guys likely still have the Vols on the inside of the Dance bubble, but UT's final six dance partners offer little upward swing. In truth, after Saturday's 75-70 loss at Missouri, only the Tigers trip to Knoxville offers any type of resume-helping benefits. Now a loss to any of the RPI barnacles that are the Auburns, Georgias and Texas A&Ms in the days to come would be crippling. UT must finish no worse than 5-1, and that would require some work in the SEC tournament. And let's be clear, a 5-1 finish seems like a tall order for a team that has won consecutive SEC games exactly once this season.

- Mocs back in the win column with a strong showing Saturday night. And as TFP UTC hoops ace David Uchiyama tells us here, the Mocs are assured of a first-round bye at the Southern Conference tournament and could win 20 games this season. Read that last sentence again, and is there any way not to deem this Mocs basketball season a success?

- Florida is legit good. Going into Rupp and winning is the mark of a mentally tough team that will respond to challenges with effort and grit. The Gators are on the short-list of teams that could win the whole thing and it's because of their toughness as much as their talent. Side question: At what point does Coach Cal's freshmen start to show signs of experience and age? Side question, II: At what point does Coach Cal stopping making references/excuses about how young his team is? We're past Valentine's Day and there's a month left in the regular season, so the answers need to be now and now.

- Syracuse finds ways to win, even when the Orange are not playing well. That's a valuable commodity if you view that as a combined trait of dependability and desire, especially in a March march that requires its champion to win at least six consecutive games and you have to figure a team will be forced to win at least once without its 'A' game. That said, winning in last-second situations can be a dangerous commodity if a team believes it can just flip a switch with seven minutes left and pull out any comeback.

- Doug McDermott can slap play. Dude had 39 as Creighton beat Villanova. This sounds crazy, but the Creighton Jays could make a run. Think Danny Manning and the Miracles from '88.

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Austin Dillon

Austin Dillon

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

There's a 3 on the pole, and if one was to believe in conspiracy theories and NASCAR, this would at least raise an eyebrow or Anthony Davis.

With all the backlash from the Richard Petty-Danica mess - Danica actually handled it supremely and left The King spinning his wheels with the "I'm not a sexist routine" (Side note: If you have to preface a public statement with "I'm not a....." you likely did something very stupid and gave a lot of people reason to believe you are what you are trying to say you are not) - and the growing apathy among fans and worse sponsors, NASCAR needed a jolt.

It tried to move the needle with rule changes, but that's months down the line.

It received a high-octane boost with Austin Dillon getting the No. 3 on the pole for Sunday's Daytona 500. Yes, that No. 3, the one that has not been in a NASCAR Sprint Cup race in 13 years.

Dillon could be the lightning rod that re-energizes the sport that has been slowing down since that fateful Sunday in 2001.

We'll see. But in some ways this is already a win for NASCAR because we'll be watching.

As we speed toward the start of NASCAR, here are three things we will be watching:

  • If not Austin, then whom? NASCAR needs a star, a opinion generator who can bring fans to cheers or jeers. Maybe Dillon can be that guy - there are alot of folks who will love him for the 3 and hate him for the 3. But you do not generate opinion from the back of the pack. Well, unless it's Richard Petty calling together the version of the NASCAR NOW chapter (AKA The He-Man Woman Haters Club.)

  • Can Dale Jr. contend? There is a great chance for an old-school NASCAR type of rivalry here. Dale Jr. driving hard and taking on Austin Dillon and taking offense to Dillon driving his Daddy's ride. It could actually move the needle, which is something NASCAR craves.

  • Can anyone consistently beat Jimmie Johnson? Want to know the biggest dynasty in sports - it's Johnson and the No. 48 Chevy. Dude is killing it. In fact, he is dominating so much that it's becoming boring.

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This and that

- The NBA All-Star weekend came and went and while Kyrie Irving was the MVP in the actual game, the biggest loser was the Salm Dunk contest. What in the world was that? GUH-ross.

USA forward T.J. Oshie scores the winning goal against Russia goaltender Sergei Bobrovski in a shootout during overtime of a men's ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Saturday in Sochi, Russia.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

- We've tried to get into the Winter Olympics, and we had fun watching the US Hockey team over the weekend. Sure there are some great storylines as our ace TFP columnist Mark Wiedmer points out here, but still having a hard time staying interested in the winter activities.

- Bubba won the tournament, but Bubba Watson's son won Sunday. Golf fans everywhere lost some on Sunday too, as Augusta National had to remove the Eisenhower tree from the left side of the 17th fairway.

- Speaking of basketball struggles in Knoxville, uh the Lady Vols are looking positively pedestrian and lost to Kentucky for the first time ever in Thompson Boling Arena. E-gad.

- Congrats to the Jim Foster's XX Mocs for winning the SoCon. Well-played indeed.

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Today's question(s)

Knock yourself silly on any of the above, and we feel pretty certain 9er has some UK-Florida thoughts.

But if you need another talking point, here's a big one.

Today is Michael Jordan's 51st birthday. The 5-at-10 was born in 1970. (We're a man, we're 43.)

So in honor of his Airness on his birthday, what is the sports icon Rushmore since 1970?

That's right the modern-day Sports Rushmore. Go, and buckle up butter cup.