MLB 2020 Projected Win Totals

2020 MLB Predictions

Spring training is underway and there’s plenty to be excited about actual baseball being played for the first time in over three months.

With the regular season beginning in only six weeks, it is time to take a look at the latest Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm (PECOTA) rankings and see how each time will do in 2020.

AL East
AL East Projected MLB 2020 StandingsWhat does $324 million buy these days? Not a single extra win for the Yankees, who brought Gerrit Cole to the Bronx for October, not regular season window dressing. Chalk up a third consecutive 87+-win season for the Rays, who have made believers of us all. Too much talent in Boston to dismiss the Red Sox, but trade winds, pitcher health and attrition elsewhere will all have to work in their favor if they’re to contend. Hyun-Jin Ryu buys the Blue Jays some stability, but it will take one more year for their core of legacy players to make them a contender for the division.  A handful of keepers are trickling toward Baltimore, where the Orioles may be worse than last year, but a year closer to 2022, when the ugliness may finally subside.

AL Central
AL Central Projected MLB 2020 StandingsThe Twins will drop from a quiet 101 wins to a noisier total in the low-90s, with Josh Donaldson giving the Bomba Squad an MVP-caliber presence. So long as the Indians hold Francisco Lindor, they will contend, but shipping out he or Mike Clevinger will send them tumbling toward the second division. “Winning the winter” usually doesn’t matter, but beware the White Sox, who made impactful moves just as the Eloy Jimenez-Luis Robert core is ready to form. Can the Royals scare up a couple more viable players in the manner Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler stepped forward in ’19? That would make another inevitable losing campaign a little more palatable. It’s going to be another miserable year in Motown, but at least once every five days, the Tigers can hand the ball to Ivan Nova and see league-average performance, in all its glory.

AL West
AL West Projected MLB 2020 StandingsLike a 34-ounce hunk of ash repeatedly slamming into a plastic receptacle, we’re seeing just a few cracks in the Astros.  Bold of the Angels to keep firing even after missing out on Cole; $245 million for Anthony Rendon will make them a much better team, but stopgap starters Julio Teheran and Dylan Bundy won’t push them much higher than .500. The Rangers finished second on Rendon but their goal this season will be to complicate the wild-card dreams of the division’s top three teams. Are Evan White and Kyle Lewis and Shed Long and J.P. Crawford building blocks in Seattle? Or churning pieces in the Mariners’ eternal five-year plan?

National League East
NL East Projected MLB 2020 StandingsThat’s right. The defending World Series champion Nationals aren’t even slated to win their own division, nor are the two-time defending division champion Braves, who have had one of the NL’s more productive offseasons. PECOTA suggests that the Mets will reach the postseason for the first time since 2016, and that they will do so as the division champion. The Nationals wouldn’t hate a second consecutive wild-card slot, if only because it meant they survived the post-championship body blows accrued by the six trusted members of their pitching staff – along with the gaping lineup hole Rendon leaves.  In any other division, the Marlins’ modest moves would move the wins needle a bit. In this one, they’ll be not quite good enough on a lot of nights.

National League Central
NL Central Projected MLB 2020 StandingsThe NL Central will have a new champion for the fourth straight year as the Reds are projected to win its first division title since 2012. Cincinnati’s resurgence also comes at the expense of St. Louis and Milwaukee, which are expected to take significant steps backward, with win projections of just 80 and 79, respectively, on the heels of very quiet winters. The Cubs are slated to sneak into the postseason with the second NL Wild Card spot, with a 51.5% projection of reaching October.

National League West
NL West Projected MLB 2020 StandingsThe Dodgers were already the class of the National League, even before acquiring Mookie Betts. But after trading for the former AL MVP Award winner, Los Angeles has climbed to a 103-win projection and postseason adjusted odds of 99.9% (well ahead of the second-highest Yankees, at 94%). PECOTA projects the Dodgers to win the NL West by 24 games over the would-be second-place Padres, which would be the largest margin from first to second in any division since the strike-shortened 1995 season. And it’s not just that the Dodgers should dominate their division: No other NL club is projected to win more than 88 games, and nine of the 15 NL clubs are projected to finish within five games of .500.

Do you agree or disagree with the predictions?

Chris Sale Believes Pitchers Will Retaliate Against Astros For Cheating

Chris Sale Boston Red Sox Pitcher

It’s the scandal that Major League baseball tried to sweep under the rugs, but with players returning to spring training, the impact of the Houston Astros sign stealing scandal continues to reverberate throughout baseball.

While no Astro players were disciplined by Major League Baseball for their role in the team’s sign-stealing scheme, there is a growing sense that opposing pitchers may try to punish them this upcoming season.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale said on Sunday that believes Astros hitters could face an increased risk of being plunked in 2020.

Chris Sale Comments

Sale is not the first pitcher to broach this subject. LA Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling thought he was being traded to the Angels and started wrestling with whether he would intentionally throw at an Astros hitter to retaliate Stripling said he thought about how he would face the Astros in the NL West and thought about whether he would intentionally hit some hitter(s) with a pitch:

“I would lean toward yes.” Right time, right place.

Another Dodgers pitcher, Alex Wood, was asked on Friday about the possibility of pitchers plunking Astros hitters this season. Wood said he wouldn’t be surprised if it happened.

“You would be hard pressed to say no. I mean, they messed with a lot of guys lives. I don’t condone that type of behavior. We certainly don’t play them. .

“But it wouldn’t surprise me if something like that happened, just to be honest. It’s funny because I’m pretty sure it probably will happen. Somebody will take it into their own hands.

“and they’ll get suspended more games than any of those guys got for the biggest cheating scandal in 100 years. It’ll be pretty ironic when that happens because I’m sure that’s how it will end up playing out.”

MLB’s version of Nero, commissioner Rob Manfred said in his interview with ESPN’s Karl Ravich on Sunday that he will send a memo to the league discouraging retaliation against the Astros. He cited that throwing at Astros hitters is inappropriate, and increased punishments will be in play.

NFL Free Agency Predictions

NFL Free Agency

On March 18th, free agency opens in the NFL, which should kick off the wildest off-season we’ve seen in recent memory. Some of the players who have shaped the past decade and a half of pro football, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, and A.J. Green among many, many others, are set to hit the open market, some for the first time in their careers. We don’t profess to be fortune tellers as to where they’ll eventually end up, but we’ll try our best.

NFL Free Agency Predictions
Drew Brees Will Return for 2020, as a Saint

Since the new year dawned, the Saints’ future Hall of Fame quarterback has waffled on whether or not he will return for the 2020 season, with his stance shifting from “definitely returning” to “maybe returning”. The only thing he’s made crystal-clear is that he won’t be playing for any team other than the Saints. Even at age 41, Brees has more reasons to play than not to play. For one, even though he’s won a Super Bowl ring already and will likely go into the Hall with numerous records, his legacy isn’t entirely secure. Three straight grueling playoff exits have seen to this. Despite that, the Saints will still be a championship contender, and Brees would still have Michael Thomas to throw to. There’s no reason that #9 couldn’t go out on top next year.

Derrick Henry Will Get His Massive Payday
Even after leading the NFL in rushing and almost single-handedly carrying the Tennessee Titans to the AFC Championship game, there are some who question whether free agent running back Derrick Henry is worth the $70 million he feels he is. If the Titans wish to remain contenders in the AFC playoff picture, however, they don’t have much of a choice. Ryan Tannehill played well in the latter half of the season, but only with Henry’s running as a cushion. He isn’t the kind of quarterback to which a coach can entrust an entire offense.

Dak Prescott Will Get the Tag
A recurring storyline throughout the 2019 NFL season was “Will Dak Prescott get his new contract?” As this storyline drags out into the following off-season, it has become clear that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is in no hurry to lock down his franchise quarterback for the amount of money that he is asking for, which is rumored to be $40 million per year – which would make him the league’s highest-paid quarterback.

The most likely scenario, given the Cowboys’ lackluster finish to the 2019 season, is that the Cowboys will apply the franchise tag to Prescott, extending the negotiating window while still increasing his pay from $2.02 million to $33 million. That way, Prescott will still get his much-overdue pay increase, while still being on the clock to prove he’s truly worthy of a long-term extension.

Philip Rivers Will Sign With the Colts
Philip Rivers’ time with the Chargers is officially over, and the 38-year-old quarterback will don another uniform next season. The news of his family’s move to “Florida” (though no specific town was named) caused speculation that Rivers would end up with the Buccaneers, as they may be ready to move on from the error-prone Jameis Winston.

However, the Bucs are not the only team linked to Rivers. As we explained last month, Rivers would make a better fit with the Indianapolis Colts, a team coached by his former offensive coordinator in San Diego, Frank Reich. Dan Patrick also floated this possibility during Super Bowl week.

Tom Brady Will Resign With the Patriots
Speaking of Rivers, his impending departure from the Chargers will leave them with a big hole to fill. While it would be more sensible to draft the quarterback of the future, it’s not every year that a quarterback as accomplished as Tom Brady comes up in free agency.

Brady wants to win another SuperBowl and he is not going to do that in Los Angeles where he has to go through Kansas City and their superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

While contract re-negotiations between Brady and the Patriots have reportedly hit a standstill, I still expect Brady to resign in New England. It is a system that he is comfortable in, and is a division that the Patriots will be expected to win next year, which means either a first-round bye, or at least one home page in the playoffs. two things he will not get if he goes to the Chargers.

What do you think of the predictions? Where do you think Brady, Zak, Brees, and Henry will playing next season?

Arizona Cardinals To Franchise Running back Kenyan Drake

Arizona Cardinals Stadium

The Arizona Cardinals are set to make running back Kenyan Drake the tenth player in club history to be slapped with the franchise tag

This past October, the Arizona Cardinals managed to pull off one of the trades of decade when they convinced the Miami Dolphins to trade Drake for a conditional sixth-round draft pick that become a fifth-rounder.

Drake was an instant hit with the Cardinals, picking up 643 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in just eight starts for his new squad. The 26-year old is obviously an excellent fit for the Cards “Air Raid” offense, but now general manager Steve Keim must find a way to re-sign the free agent ball-carrier.

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said Friday that he has already engaged in contract talks with free-agent-to-be Kenyan Drake, and ”

I made it clear we would like to have him back,” Keim said.

Signing Drake may prove to be a challenging task, but the Cardinals could apply the franchise tag if the two sides fail to come to an agreement. The tag gives the club the right to match any offer that the former Miami Dolphin may receive on the open market. If Arizona elects not to do so, the organization that Drake joins would have to send two first-round draft picks to Arizona as compensation, a steep price where running backs are undervalued at the moment.

If Arizona does resign Drake, what does that mean for the future of David Johnson, who lost his job to Drake and who carries a guaranteed salary of more than $10 million for 2020 (and a salary cap hit of more than $14M)?

“Cutting him is not an option,” Keim said. “Not only the cap hit, but you’re still paying him the cash as well, and it wouldn’t be responsible for me or the organization for me to do that.”

Keim declined to get into speculation about any potential Johnson trade (although that also would carry financial hurdles given that his new team would have to agree to absorb Johnson’s salary as is).

“If David Johnson isn’t the starter, he still has a significant role,” Keim said. “He still creates big-time mismatches in the passing game, he still brings kick return ability. There are a number of things, and you can’t just have one back. You have to have a platoon of backs. We’ve seen that. So there are enough carries to go around.”

Keim emphasized “I still have a lot of faith in David,” Keim said.

“He’s got tremendous skills, he’s a great person, he works extremely hard. I think it was one of those things, if you look at the big picture, Chase (Edmonds) got hurt, David got hurt, we made the trade (for Drake), and Kenyan Drake came in and he got the hot hand.”

What do you think Cardinals fans. Do you use the franchise tag on running back Kenyan Drake?

Philadelphia 76ers Jonah Bolden Joins Phoenix Suns

76ers and Suns Trade

During his rookie year last season, Jonah Bolden showed promise as a stretch big on the Philadelphia 76ers. However, he went from being a part of the rotation last season to being waived after the trade deadline this year. Luckily for him, another NBA franchise has given him a chance to prove he’s an NBA player.

The Phoenix Suns signed Bolden to a 10-day contract. Phoenix is an ideal franchise for Bolden to join. I even wrote about a potential trade that would send him there before the NBA Trade Deadline.

Outside of Deandre Ayton, Aron Baynes and former 76ers power forward Dario Saric, the depth chart at either big man spot is pretty uncertain for the Suns. He should be able to show if he’s really a player ready to play in the NBA.

He’s already played one game with the Suns and finished with six points, seven rebounds, one steal, two blocks, and four fouls, while converting 2-6 field goals. It wasn’t a bad showing, but it did reveal his one major flaw.

The biggest knock against Bolden isn’t his offense or his shot-blocking ability, but rather his defensive I.Q. For his career, he’s averaged 2.2 fouls in 13.9 minutes per game, which translates to 5.7 fouls per 36 minutes. To be honest, it shows a major lack of maturity and discipline on the defensive end.

It was his poor defensive decisions that prevented him from being a part of Sixers rotation in the playoffs last year despite the need for a defensive-minded big man to come off the bench. The additions of Al Horford and Kyle O’Quinn this offseason made it virtually impossible for Bolden to get minutes this year.

Then came Norvel Pelle who began the season on a two-way contract and has proven to be a more capable defender than Bolden. As a result of all these new players who are better than him, Bolden was stuck getting playing time in the G-League with the Delaware Blue Coats, Philly’s G-League affiliate. The Sixers waived Bolden to make room to make room to sign Pelle to a regular contract because Pelle was a more capable backup at this point.

Bolden has gotten a second chance with the Suns. Hopefully, for his sake, he can make more of his time in Phoenix than he did when he was on the Philadelphia 76ers. If he doesn’t, then the Suns might be the last NBA team he plays for.

Anger in Jacksonville As Jaguars Edge Towards London Move

jacJacksonville Jaguars London

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ recent announcement they are to play two “home” games at Wembley next season was met with the usual fanfare. But in north Florida, the reaction has been angry. In a season in which clubs are guaranteed only 8 home games, the team will play a quarter of their home games more than 4,000 miles away.

The Jaguars have been in the hands of Fulham owner Shahid Khan since 2012 and have played a “home” game in London every year since 2013, but the move to bring an additional match to Wembley has caused fan group Bold City Brigade to form a protest group, the Duval Coalition, which claims to have the backing of 23,440 fans and 825 local business.

That the Jaguars have reached the NFL play-offs only once in Khan’s tenure has only deepened the resentment. All the while, questions persist.

“I honestly don’t know what the future holds for Khan, the Jaguars and London,” says Nate Monroe, a city hall columnist of Jacksonville newspaper The Florida Times-Union. “I think that’s a big part of the problem, frankly. Khan is not being transparent with the Jacksonville fan base.

“Since Khan purchased the team, the city government and the Jaguars have completed several large upgrades of TIAA Bank Field [the Jags’ stadium] – with the city often an equal or more-than-equal financing partner,” Monroe says.

“In 2013, for example, the City Council approved a $63 million [about £48.4m] series of upgrades. That paid for installing a gigantic video board as well as various other upgrades, including a pool. The city paid $43m; Khan paid $20m.

“More recently, the city provided $45m in financing for an amphitheatre, flex field and smaller stadium improvements [which Khan is believed to have matched]. Now, he is asking the city to pony up about $233m for an entertainment centre, as well as a larger hotel, retail and restaurant district. There is no specific legislation spelling out what Khan or his business partner will commit to this, so the specifics are not yet clear.”

In a league that earns the lion’s share of its cash from TV deals, though, Jacksonville is small-time. Only three NFL teams play in smaller TV markets in the United States.

“Jacksonville without a doubt is a small-market NFL city,” Monroe says. “But Khan knew that when he purchased the team for $770m. Today, the Jaguars are worth $2.3 billion, according to the latest Forbes estimate, and there is really no evidence Jacksonville’s size has prevented Khan from making loads of money. In fact, Jacksonville outperforms its market size. The team has increased its local revenue year after year.”

So what’s next? The Jags told i last summer that Khan hadn’t ruled out buying Wembley in the future, despite pulling out of a £600m bid to buy the national stadium in October 2018.

“We know, for example, that he is making this huge $233m ask from [Jacksonville],” says Monroe. “We also know that he’ll be coming back right after that seeking either a new stadium or massive renovations to the existing one. Why can’t he lay all this out now? He’s been piecemealing these huge asks and acts, for each one, as if it’s a make-or-break decision.”

One of the charges against keeping the team in Jacksonville, though, is attendances dropped by 9.7 per cent in 2019, according to the Sports Business Daily website, while Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer wrote last week:

“The city simply hasn’t grown the way it hoped it would when it was granted a franchise in 1995.”

Monroe says: “The crowds were down because the team is putrid. As for growth, this is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. This is a growing area in one of the fastest-growing states.”

Manchester City Given Two Year Champions League Ban

manchester City banned From Europe

Manchester City were on Friday night banned from the Champions League for the next two seasons for ‘serious breaches’ of UEFA’s financial fair play regulations.

The Champions League ban has been rumored to be happing for months, but the announcement still sent shockwaves through football and may now see questions raised over their domestic success.

The reigning English champions were found to have circumvented FFP rules between 2012 and 2016 and have been fined €30 million.

City’s problems are not just with the UEFA. Serious questions will asked by the Premier League, with a points deduction plus removal of City’s titles in 2012 and 2014 all possible outcomes.

City say they will appeal against the decision at the earliest opportunity via the Court of Arbitration for Sport. They accused UEFA of ‘initiating, prosecuting and judging’ the case and say they are not surprised at the outcome.

UEFA launched a probe after documents published in German media suggested the club had falsely inflated sponsorship deals with firms linked to their Abu Dhabi ownership.

A UEFA statement said:

‘The Adjudicatory Chamber has imposed disciplinary measures on Manchester City Football Club directing that it shall be excluded from participation in UEFA club competitions in the next two seasons (ie. the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons) and pay a fine of €30million.’

City reacted furiously to the development and say they will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

A searing statement released by the club said:

‘Manchester City is disappointed but not surprised by today’s announcement by the UEFA Adjudicatory Chamber.

‘The club has always anticipated the ultimate need to seek out an independent body and process to impartially consider the comprehensive body of irrefutable evidence in support of its position.

‘In December 2018, the UEFA Chief Investigator publicly previewed the outcome and sanction he intended to be delivered to Manchester City, before any investigation had even begun.

‘The subsequent flawed and consistently leaked UEFA process he oversaw has meant that there was little doubt in the result that he would deliver.

‘The club has formally complained to the UEFA Disciplinary body, a complaint which was validated by a CAS ruling.

‘Simply put, this is a case initiated by UEFA, prosecuted by UEFA and judged by UEFA.

‘With this prejudicial process now over, the club will pursue an impartial judgment as quickly as possible and will therefore, in the first instance, commence proceedings with the Court of Arbitration for Sport at the earliest opportunity.’

LaLiga president Javier Tebas was quick to air his thoughts on social media insisting UEFA’s decision is ‘better late than never’.

He wrote: ‘UEFA is finally taking decisive action. Enforcing financial fair play rules and punishing financial doping is essential for the future of football.

‘We’ve been asking for severe action against Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain for years. Better late than never.’

Kraft Wants Brady To Stay A Patriot

Tom Brady SuperBowl Rings

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft only needed five words to answer the question posed to him Sunday night in Los Angeles. Kraft was asked if he wants future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady back in New England for the 2020 season.

“You know what I want,” Kraft said, via Juliet Pennington of The Boston Globe.

Last month, during an interview with NBC Sports’ Peter King, Kraft expressed his desire to see Brady remain with the Patriots. At the same time, Kraft said that Brady has “earned the right” to explore his options as a free agent after helping lead the Patriots to six Super Bowl titles, nine AFC championships and 18 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins.

“Before the season started, it was very important to Tom that he be free to do whatever he wanted at the end of the year,” Kraft said.

“You know what I said to myself? That any person who plays 20 years for this team and helps us get to nine Super Bowls, and been really selfless, has earned that right. I love the young man like he’s part of my family. Blood family. Anyone who’s done that has earned the right to control his future after 20 years. And you know, my hope and prayer is number one, he play for the Patriots. Or number two, he retires. He has the freedom to decide what he wants to do and what’s in his own best personal interest.”

While Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has not publicly discussed Brady’s upcoming free agency, reports out of Boston suggest that Belichick’s preference would be to have Brady back under center for the 2020 season.

“I think from all I have gathered, Bill would prefer to have Tom Brady playing quarterback in 2020 because it is a known quantity and it removes the doubt,” Tim Curran said on WEEI’s “Dale & Keefe”.

“They aren’t ready to have him leave. But, if he’s going to leave and it is going to hamstring other portions, if it comes to a crossroads, I think Bill can easily get his mind around saying good bye as well as he has with so many other players over the course of time.

“But, I believe his first preference would be to have it work out for another season with Tom.”

While Brady may elect to stay in New England, he will have several options in free agency. Brady will be joined on the free agency market by fellow quarterback Philip Rivers, who decided to mutually part with the Chargers on Monday.

Potential destinations for the six-time SuperBowl winner are the Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders.

Where do you think Brady ends up next season?

Red Sox Agree To Trade Mookie Betts and David Price To Dodgers

mookie betts

The Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers have agreed to a blockbuster deal that will send former MVP Mookie Betts and left-hander David Price to Los Angeles for a package that includes outfielder Alex Verdugo, sources tell ESPN.

The trade includes a third team, the Minnesota Twins, with the Dodgers sending starter Kenta Maeda to Minnesota, which in turn will ship hard-throwing pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol to Boston, sources said, confirming a report by The Athletic.

The deal is pending medical reviews.

With the bidding for Betts heating up between the Dodgers and the National League West rival San Diego Padres in recent days, Boston chose to deal with Los Angeles and improve the team that lost in the division series to the Washington Nationals, the eventual World Series champions.

The 27-year-old Betts is coming off a season in which he hit .295/.391/.524 and finished eighth in American League MVP voting. He won the 2018 MVP, hitting .346/.438/.640 during the Red Sox’s championship-winning season.

Throughout the winter, Boston entertained offers for Betts, whose free-agent haul following the 2020 season could exceed $400 million. Betts will make $27 million this year. And as Boston tries to dip beneath the $208 million luxury-tax threshold, clearing its books of Betts and Price will go a long way toward reaching that goal. Price has three years and $96 million remaining on his contract.

Still, dealing Betts was far from a certainty for Boston, particularly after watching him develop from a fifth-round pick in 2011 and become one of the best players in baseball. In fewer than 5½ seasons with the Red Sox, Betts piled up 42.0 wins above replacement, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

The Dodgers coveted him, even knowing he could leave via free agency after one season. The Dodgers’ depth allowed them to stomach the potential value given away and take comfort in the knowledge that they’ll add Betts to a lineup that already includes reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Max Muncy and top prospect Gavin Lux.

The Red Sox get Verdugo, 23, hit .294/.342/.475 with a 2.2 WAR in 377 plate appearances for the Dodgers last season. He took over in center field when A.J. Pollock was out.

Verdugo didn’t play after Aug. 4 because of a back injury he re-aggravated while on a rehab assignment in September.

He is excellent against left-handed pitching and is under team control through the 2024 season. He will make the MLB minimum of $563,500 in 2020. He’s also a member of the Mexican national team.

Graterol, a hard-throwing, 21-year-old right-hander, pitched 9⅔ innings last season in the majors, going 1-1 with a 4.66 ERA. In the minors last season, the Venezuelan was 7-0 with a 1.92 ERA across three levels. He was rated the No. 83 overall prospect for 2020 by MLB pipeline.

With news of the trade, the Dodgers’ World Series odds went from 7-1 to 4-1 at Caesars Sportsbook, while their odds of winning the NL pennant went from +300 to +150 and their projected win total went from 99 to 100. The Red Sox’s projected win total went from 87.5 to 86.5, while their World Series odds went from 20-1 to 25-1.

Civil War At FC Barcelona

Messi and Abidal FC Barcelona

One unsettled club legend who is free to leave in the summer. One struggling sporting director now likely to be sacked. One under-pressure president being forced into early elections this summer and one £100 million winger who has only ever played 10 complete games since signing and is now out injured until the end of the season.

Barcelona is a club in crisis with Lionel Messi, Eric Abidal and Josep Maria Bartomeu at war. Here are the three key players in the latest saga that is threatening to rip Barcelona apart.

Lionel Messi

Despite having a contract until 2021 Messi can walk away from Barcelona in the summer for free.

Very few people around the team believe he will but he is unhappy with the way the club is being run and it now looks as though it may take the arrival of a new president in the summer and serious attempts to re-sign Neymar to keep him.

According to reports, the build-up of frustrations over the failure to sign Neymar last summer and the failure to sign a single forward in January to replace long-term injury casualty Luis Suarez, plus the bungled attempts to bring back Xavi, came to a head on Tuesday when he read an interview with sporting director Eric Abidal in which he felt the players were being blamed for the chaos.

This is not the first time Messi has spoken out publicly against those that run the club. In December 2013 director Javier Faus made comments about the frequency of Messi’s contract renewals. Messi responded: ‘Mr Faus is someone who knows nothing about football and who tries to run Barcelona as if it were a business. It is not.’

Faus was gone by 2015. President Josep Bartomeu has called a meeting with Abidal on Wednesday and he could go the same way.

The problems off the pitch are affecting Messi who has been a subdued figure during games at times this season. And leaks from around the Joan Gamper training ground suggest an uncomfortable distance has opened up between him and at least one of his team-mates.

Diario AS reported an altercation last Tuesday between two high-profile players and the famous Barcelona pre-game huddle has since disappeared prior to kick-off. The No 1 job for the directors at Barcelona is to keep Messi happy – they are not doing it.

Eric Abidal

Abidal is Barcelona’s fourth sporting director in five years. His role is complicated by his own lack of experience and by the lack of clarity over exactly what is his responsibility. In simple terms he is there to sign the players and hire the coaches.

Barcelona have not made a successful signing since 2014 when Andoni Zubizarreta brought Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic and Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Zubizarreta was sacked by the president in January 2015.

Abidal’s interviews with Sport and Mundo Deportivo this week, perhaps unintentionally, appeared to pin Ernesto Valverde’s sacking on the dressing room. If Messi’s response means either he or Abidal has to leave the club, then it’s no contest as to who it will be.

Abidal also claimed in this week’s interview that Xavi was never offered the coach’s job after Valverde was sacked. This felt like an attempt to cover up the fact that Barcelona were turned down by both Xavi and Ronald Koeman before they offered the job to Quique Setien but it has convinced no one.

It will be a shame if there is no mending of the Abidal-Messi relationship. He was a team-mate of Messi’s between 2007 and 2013, in a dressing room that won so much under Pep Guardiola.

Josep Maria Bartomeu

Bartomeu has always been a proponent of Barcelona playing games overseas. He was fully behind them playing the Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia in January but since that trip nothing has been the same at the club.

The knee-jerk reaction to fire Valverde might have worked had he been successful in bringing in Xavi to replace him but after a very public effort to do so he failed. As much as he tried to suggest that the man he eventually hired, Setien, was always an option, the did not look the case when in his presentation Setien said that he was strolling with the cows in his village the day before and was now stunned to be in charge of Messi and company.

Bartomeu’s prints are on the failures to re-sign Neymar and hire Xavi. If the season ends trophyless he will have little choice to bring his tenure as president to an end one year ahead of time.

The short-term future

If Abidal is sacked on Wednesday his replacement’s first job will be to sign a forward. They are already without Luis Suarez for four months and Dembele’s injury leaves them with just Messi, Antoine Griezmann and 17-year-old Ansu Fati.

The problem is if they were unable to sign a player in January what chance now when the field is shrunk further? Special rules allow them to sign a player if they can prove that Demebele’s injury rules him out for the rest of the season.

But they can only sign a player who is either playing in Spain, or who is currently out of contract. And whoever they sign he will not be able to play in the Champions League.

The longer term

Elections in the summer now look inevitable. Current director Emili Rousaud is Bartomeu’s continuity candidate because he himself cannot stand again. But it looks impossible for someone backed by the current board to win.

Telecommunications businessman Victor Font is likely to run against Rousaud and with Xavi Hernandez on his side and likely to offer himself in some capacity – possibly as head coach – he will almost certainly win any battle between the two.

The first job on the list of the new president will be to secure Messi’s services beyond next summer. The return of Xavi might help but the signing of Neymar would really seal Messi staying. The current board are also trying to bring back Messi’s pal but it seems increasingly unlikely that it is a deal they will still be around to make.