Union have plenty of chips to play on SuperDraft day in Philly

Union have plenty of chips to play on SuperDraft day in Philly

Georgetown's Steve Neumann -- here at last week's MLS Combine -- is an interesting draft target for the Union, since he's a Council Rock North graduate and his family holds Union season tickets. He's already expressed a desire to play at PPL Park.

So, any news out there on the Union front?

It's been a weird 24 hours for the Union, what with trading their best center back for another center back and trying to sign a high-priced star only to have the league say they can't.

The Maurice Edu saga is not complete as of this writing, and may not be over by Thursday at noon when the 2014 Major League Soccer SuperDraft kicks off at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. That, in and of itself, is a shame. A shame because of course it would be nice to unveil Edu in front of what should be a throng of Union fans, but mostly because the Edu situation will impact what the Union do with their eight (EIGHT!) draft picks.

However, while WE may not know the conclusion of the Edu situation, I have to think Nick Sakiewicz and John Hackworth will at least have an idea how it will shake out before the draft. So from that standpoint, we'll just have to wait and see.

With that in mind, a few quick-hitters on Thursday's draft as well as one or two other rumors making the rounds:

  • The draft begins at noon at the Pa. Convention Center. If you're a Union fan who wants an excuse to day drink and have a great time, join the Sons of Ben at the Field House (inside the Convention Center and Market East Station) at 8:30 a.m. Admission to the draft is free. You can also meet the Union draft picks after the draft at the team's post-party at BRU, a few blocks from the Convention Center.
  • If you can't make it, the draft will air live at noon on ESPNNews or on the WatchESPN app.
  • As of right now, the Union will pick second and sixth in the first round, followed by picks at No. 25, 27, 44, 46, 52 and 63. I don't expect the Union to end the day with eight new players, however. Trades will happen.
  • Our friend Dave Zeitlin broke down a few names to look for in the first round. Since college soccer players are not household names, we'll save your time and really break it down tomorrow after we know for sure who's coming to town.
  • That being said, if you want to sound like you know your stuff and impress your friends: After trading Jeff Parke Tuesday, I'd expect the Union to take one of the two California center backs -- Steve Birnbaum or Christian Dean -- with the No. 2 pick. However, if they feel like one of them -- or another defender they like -- might fall to No. 6, maybe they take a chance on Maryland forward Patrick Mullins at No. 2. Mullins is a two-time reigning Hermann Trophy winner (soccer's Heisman) and, as Jay Bilas would say, likely has the greatest "upside" in the draft. He'd also be the 643rd Maryland grad on the roster.
  • Steve Neumann

    An interesting name on the board is midfielder Steve Neumann from Georgetown. Neumann is a Council Rock North graduate whose family has Union season tickets. He has said he would love to play for the Union, and that is not a factor I would take lightly if I were John Hackworth. A desire to play here and a comfort level here are not unimportant. Also: His mustache game is absolutely on point (see right).

  • A phrase you might hear a lot is "Generation adidas." This year, there are seven Generation adidas players in the draft. These are promising young players who have already agreed to contracts with the league. Why does this matter? If you draft one of these guys, his salary DOES NOT COUNT toward your salary cap for at least a year or two, until a player "graduates" from the program by playing enough minutes, etc. Christian Dean and Patrick Mullins ARE Generation adidas players. Birnbaum and Neumann are not. Just keep that in mind.
  • Don Garber

    If the league's apparent "blocking" of the Edu deal turns out to be true, MLS Commissioner Don Garber shouldn't count on an especially warm welcome from the Sons of Ben on Thursday. We've included a handy picture of Mr. Garber, in case you wish to boo him on the Broad Street Line.

In non-draft and non-Edu news:

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

Phillies sign OF Daniel Nava, LHP Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts

The Phillies made a couple quiet additions as the winter meetings ended, signing veteran outfielder Daniel Nava and lefty reliever Sean Burnett to minor-league contracts.

Nava, 34 in February, is a left-handed hitter who can play the outfield corners and first base. He came up with the Red Sox and became a fan favorite in Boston in 2010 as a 27-year-old rookie. Some Phillies fans will remember him for hitting a grand slam off Joe Blanton in his first major-league plate appearance.

Nava had a few decent years in Boston, the best of which was 2013, when he had 536 plate appearances and hit .303/.385/.445 with 29 doubles, 12 homers and 66 RBIs. 

Nava's numbers and opportunities have dropped every year since. He was designated for assignment by Boston in 2015, latched on with the Rays, signed the next year with the Angels and was traded late in the season to the Royals.

Over the last two seasons, Nava has hit just .208, albeit with an on-base percentage 99 points higher because of his 30 walks and 10 hit by pitches.

Burnett, 34, has spent five of the last seven seasons in the Nationals' bullpen. He had a 2.85 ERA in 283 appearances from 2009-12 and parlayed that success into a two-year, $7.25 million contract with the Angels. However, he barely pitched in 2013 and 2014 for the Halos because of an elbow tear. He returned to the Nats last season and allowed two runs in 5⅔ innings.

Burnett, perhaps more so than Nava, has a chance to fill a role with the Phillies if he can stay healthy. He's shown he can get outs at the highest level, posting a 2.38 ERA in 2012 with 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and a 2.14 ERA with 8.9 K/9 in 2010. That was a long time ago now, and Burnett's fastball has dipped from averaging 90-91 mph to 88.

According to Sportsnet's Ben Nicholson-Smith, Burnett will receive a $1.25 million salary if he makes the team and can earn another $1.75 million in incentives based on his number of appearances.

Burnett has an opt-out date of March 26, meaning he can become a free agent a week before the regular season begins if it looks to him like he isn't in the Phils' plans.

Nava's chances at cracking the opening-day roster seem longer because the Phillies are expected to make more depth signings between now and the start of camp. They've prioritized finding some offense in the corner outfield and that could come in the form of more minor-league deals, a guaranteed contract or trade. One potential fit I examined last week was Mariners outfielder Seth Smith, a hitter more proven than Nava (see story).

These minor-league deals were commonplace for Phillies general manager Matt Klentak last offseason, when the only free agent he signed to a major-league deal was reliever David Hernandez. 

Last season, three players who were signed to minor-league deals with invites to spring training made the team on opening day: outfielder Cedric Hunter, utilityman Emmanuel Burriss and reliever James Russell.

Others, such as former closers Edward Mujica, Ernesto Frieri and Andrew Bailey, failed to make the team out of camp. Bailey eventually earned a call-up; the other two didn't.

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixer Lou Williams lighting it up with Lakers off the bench

Former Sixers point guard and Meek Mill collaborator Lou Williams is enjoying quite the run off the bench for the Lakers recently.

Over Los Angeles' last four games, Williams has posted totals of 40, 38, 24, and 35 points. 

The six-man is averaging 34.5 points per game over the stretch, and his 137 points are the most off the bench in a four-game span by any player since 1970-71, when stats were first recorded, per Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN. Williams is now averaging 19.3 points this season, which is 4.4 more than his highest average with the Sixers.

Williams isn’t the only player who used to play for the Sixers that is playing well for the Lakers this year. Nick “Swaggy P” Young, who also comes off the bench, is averaging 13.3 points per game. Just a few weeks ago, Swaggy P stole a pass intended for Lou Williams, and then proceeded to hit a game winner against the Thunder. Swaggy P, however, is currently sidelined with a right calf strain, but is getting closer to a return.

"Lou Will" was also talked about last April during Kobe Bryant’s final NBA game, when he was beefing on Twitter with another former Philadelphia athlete, LeSean McCoy.