Author: Bill Tewes

Matt Kenseth hits free agency: Will JGR sign him to a new deal?

 

 

If Matt Kenseth hits free agency in 2018, where will he land?

When Matt Kenseth hits free agency in 2018, there will be options for him to continue his career in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Series. While Kenseth is indeed the oldest active driver in NASCAR’s top series at 45 years old, it would be a shock for teams pass on a driver who still turns in quality runs, even through a dismal first half of 2017.

Kenseth joked back in April that he could race another “15-20 years”. It seems as if Kenseth has no real desire to retire. But it is compelling that nearing the midway point of the 2017 season, there has been no real “progress” regarding a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. With that being said, it is unlikely that Gibbs would hold Kenseth’s struggles entirely against him, as none of the four drivers in Gibb’s stable have won a race this year.

The complex nature of NASCAR’s sponsorship woes in recent years, as well as a batch of new drivers waiting in the wings, adds more uncertainty to Kenseth’s position at JGR. When Kenseth left Roush Fenway Racing after the 2012 season, he immediately made an impact at JGR. Replacing Joey Logano was seen as a suprise move, but Kenseth initially proved it was the right decision. In 2013, he won seven races and was Jimmie Johnson’s main competition for the championship that season. Since then, Kenseth has had mixed results, but has always remained competitive, winning a total of 14 races with JGR.

One of the primary reasons Kenseth left RFR, was because their team was losing sponsorship. Something that has also happened at JGR. Since 2013, the #20 car has lost Home Depot and Dollar General as major sponsors. The team gained a familiar sponsor in DeWalt for the bulk of this season’s races. They also acquired Circle K for this season as well as next season. While Kenseth’s talent is undeniable, it will prove difficult to drive for a team without major sponsorship commitment. So here are a few possibilities of where he could land as we enter Silly Season.

Joe Gibbs Racing/Furniture Row Racing

Joe Gibbs would be incredibly farsighted to give up on Kenseth. Especially with sponsorship commitment from Circle K through next year and Kenseth still being a top 15 driver. With Kenseth’s recent struggles, he still brings a lot to their stable of drivers. The untimely retirement of Carl Edwards forced Gibbs to promote Xfinity Series Champion Daniel Suarez while having Erik Jones in the #77 car at FRR. With the added flexibility of working with FRR, Gibbs has options for what he could do with Kenseth.

Kenseth could very well remain in the #20 for another few years. It is also possible to shift over to the #77 team and work aside Martin Truex Jr. Truex Jr. has turned FRR into a respectable team in the garage area. Kenseth would go to a team that is a big threat to win the title this year. If Gibbs is interested in rolling with a youth movement and having Suarez in the #19 and Erik Jones to the #20, this would be a viable option for Kenseth to stay with a Joe Gibbs affiliated team.

Hendrick Motorsports

Rick Hendrick is no stranger to identifying talent and taking risks. Jimmie Johnson is the most obvious example of Hendrick finding an unknown talent and turning him into a superstar. Hendrick took a risk on a 50 year old Mark Martin in 2009. Martin had not run a full schedule since he partially retired in 2006. He would end up winning five races for Hendrick Motorsports that year in the 5 car. Martin would go on to race two more seasons for Hendrick and then finished two 24 race season with Michael Waltrip Racing.

If Hendrick were to take a risk on signing Kenseth, it would pale in comparison to signing Martin in 09. With Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring, there is at least one car open for Hendrick to fill. Kasey Kahne has one more year on his contract, so Hendrick will be looking to most likely fill two cars in the next year.

Kenseth would be a great fit here because Hendrick Motorsports only has William Byron and Alex Bowman as a possible prospects to bring up for now. Kenseth could sign a 2-3 year deal and provide Hendrick with a quality driver for the time being. Byron and others could then work through the Xfinity Series. Of course, Hendrick could opt to put Alex Bowman in the 88, giving him another year of cup experience. If he wants another viable option to compete for a championship, Kenseth would be his best bet.

Stewart Haas Racing

Tony Stewart knows what Kenseth has to offer as a driver. Stewart/Haas may have an opening, as Kurt Busch’s contract is up after this season as well. Stewart would add Kenseth next to Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick. Patrick has one year left on her contract, but sponsors have been concerned about her level of competition. For Kenseth to sign with SHR, he would have to have been denied seats at Hendrick and Gibbs first and most likely would accept a spot there as a last resort.

Brad Keselowski is also a name that has been discussed in the garage area regarding his contract status. Kenseth and Keselowski are no doubt the two hottest free agent names and both could very well change seats in 2018.  One of Keselowski or Kenseth will end up at Hendrick Motorsports next year if you ask me. Roger Penske has no real reason to cut ties with Keselowski, so I expect a contract decision with him real soon. But with Ryan Blaney’s recent success, could we see him in the #2 car, giving Penske a young face to build around? Let the Silly Season begin!

 

Milwaukee Brewers: Can they sustain a top five offense?

Milwaukee Brewer’s First Baseman Eric Thames, a pleasant surprise this season

The Milwaukee Brewers are off to a hot start offensively to the 2017 season. Can they sustain it?

The Milwaukee Brewers have been off to a torrid pace offensively to start the 2017 MLB season. It is the middle of May! There is no way in hell the Brewers should be second in overall offense! Putting them just one spot behind the Washington Nationals for best offense in all of Major League Baseball.

Much has been made about the sensational season that Eric Thames has been having so far. Thames has smashed a lead leading 13 home runs out of the park and scored 37 runs. According to Fox Sports Wisconsin, the runs scored total is a Milwaukee Brewers record pace. A pace that dates back to 1980 and attributed to the one and only Robin Yount. But Thames is not the only one who is stepping up and contributing big at the plate.

The Milwaukee Brewers received third baseman Travis Shaw in a trade with Boston. This trade has already paid huge dividends for the Brewers, as Shaw has been pretty exceptional as of late. Shaw is batting .283, with eight home runs and a whopping 31 RBI’s. The RBI total puts him 6th in all of Major League baseball. To have Thames and Shaw perform at this rate definitely makes up for right fielder Ryan Braun suffering from perpetual injuries as well as covering for Jonathan Villar’s woes at the plate, which are surprising to be quite honest.

Villar was exceptional last year and it was not just on the base paths. In 156 games last year, Villar finished up with a .285 average and gave Brewers GM David Stearns a lot to be happy about. After hovering around the Mendoza line to start the season, Villar has picked it up just a little bit to .222. Milwaukee will need him to step up if they want to keep bludgeoning teams in the run department.

Keon Broxton is another player who has been playing well recently. After a cold start, Broxton has made a compelling case for taking the lead off spot away from the struggling Villar. In a game against the Red Sox, Broxton led off and finished up 3/4 with four RBIs. I think Craig Counsell will wait it out and see if Villar gets hot. But do not be surprised if Broxton keeps playing well, and moves his way up to lead off permanently. He might not be as fast as Villar, but he definitely has speed. Another name that we cannot gloss over is Hernan Perez, who is batting .318 in the month of May and has been huge as Ryan Bruan’s replacement.

  Pitching will crush Milwaukee if something does not change

Watching Milwaukee’s starting pitching staff is enough to give anyone heartburn. This past Sunday’s game against the Mets saw the Brewers down six runs by the 5th inning and to most Brewers fans, this comes as no surprise. The Brewers are simply not getting enough from Wily Peralta to warrant keeping him in the rotation. Once Junior Guerra is healthy, Peralta might be on his way out with an over 6.00 ERA.

Chase Anderson has been somewhat of a bright spot in the rotation, with a team leading 2.97 ERA. He takes the mound tonight against San Diego and will hopefully build on a decent season so far. According to GasLampBall, the Padres rely heavily on the home run ball for run production and Anderson has been exception this year at not giving up home runs. The Padres are a league worst in run differential, so expect Anderson to have a great opportunity to lower his ERA tonight.

Milwaukee has converted 67% of their save opportunities. That should get better with the promotion of Corey Knebel now closing down games. Knebel takes over for a struggling Neftali Perez, who has had multiple blown save opportunities in recent series.

So will their offense stay hot?

I would be surprised if the Milwaukee Brewers offense came crashing down to earth. The team is expecting Villar to come out of his slump.  Even though he has been disappointing to start this season, there is no good reason to think he cannot be back up to around .270 by the All-Star break. I think they can finish top five in all of baseball. They have also been exceptional even with Braun’s .287 batting average in and out of the lineup. Struggling teams like the Cubs will eventually snap out of their sub par offensive performances, but I still have faith that Milwaukee will keep up a good offensive pace this year.

The encouraging news for the Milwaukee Brewers is that they still have to bring up some new faces later in the year. They have a slew of outfield prospects, some which will be available as early as next year as starters. Even if the Brewers slip down in the standings later in the year, it is certainly fun to watch them score runs and contend in games. Especially in a season where most expected them to be dead bottom of the cellar.