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Saturday Sports: World Cup quarterfinals; player movements in the MLB

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And now it's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Argentina and Croatia move up, big-money moves in baseball, but first, a human loss at the World Cup. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us.

Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Grant Wahl, a great soccer journalist, died on the job in Doha. He was just 48. He'd covered many World Cups, just last month was briefly detained and refused entry at the stadium in Doha because he made a point of wearing a rainbow T-shirt.

BRYANT: Yeah, it's just devastating. Grant was part of our group at Meadowlark. He was on a soccer podcast. He was on our podcast, the "Meadowlarkers" podcast, just less than two weeks ago talking about the World Cup. Nobody was more enthusiastic about the game. Nobody was more plugged-in in terms of knowledge of the sport, interest in the sport. It's just really, really devastating. Just incredibly sad story.

SIMON: Yeah. Let me do ask about the games at hand - Brazil versus Croatia, Argentina versus the Netherlands, both decided by penalty kicks. Croatia and Argentina move on - but this afternoon, France versus England. What are you watching for, Howard?

BRYANT: Yeah. Well, I'm watching to see if I can find some enjoyment in these games with this news...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...And also the fact that these games have been shrouded by the difficulties and by the corruption that came with Qatar getting the games in the first place. But on the field, we're watching France and Kylian Mbappe, just an amazing, amazing striker for the French. He's a phenomenal talent, if you're not a soccer fan.

SIMON: Allez les Bleus.

BRYANT: (Laughter) I was waiting for this.

SIMON: Sorry. I don't know who's shouting that. Yeah.

BRYANT: That rivals your fear the dear. So he's an unbelievable talent. And there's that. I feel very badly for the Dutch against Argentina. They were going for their first-World-Cup-ever...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Championship - didn't get there. You know, you've got the stars out there. You've got Messi and Ronaldo and the rest. But for my money, Mbappe's the guy. And the French are the defending champions. And so they've got a very good chance to repeat.

SIMON: Let me ask you about some winter moves in baseball. The Yankees essentially gave Aaron Judge the keys to Manhattan, the Bronx (singing) and Staten Island, too.

But the Red Sox couldn't hold on to Xander Bogaerts, could they?

BRYANT: No. No. And Red Sox nation is an unhappy nation right now - Xander Bogaerts, two-time World Series champion with the Red Sox, one of the heart and soul of this team. And we know the money's huge. We know the money's ridiculous now. Xander got 11 years and 280 million from the Padres. And Aaron Judge got almost 400 million. And Trea Turner got 300 million from the Phillies. But there is still - as the old Yankee manager Joe Torre would always say, there's still a beating heart to this game.

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And the fans do want to see their favorite players. And the fact that the Red Sox are one of those teams where everybody says, well, they can afford it, maybe they decided that he wasn't worth it or decided that the money was too big for them. But, boy, you lose a guy like Bogaerts, you lose a lot of the reason why you're watching this particular team. It's not just laundry, Scott Simon.

SIMON: I want to note a magnificent humanitarian gesture by the Chicago Cubs. They signed Cody Bellinger, a former MVP who hasn't hit much above .200 in recent years to a one-year, $17 million contract. I think that's wonderfully thoughtful.

BRYANT: (Laughter) Yes, because it is the giving season.

SIMON: (Laughter) That's right. Thank you for reminding me. Quickly, Celtics play Warriors - call it.

BRYANT: Boston Celtics, best team in basketball, Golden State Warriors, defending champions - I'm going to sit and watch, and hopefully a rematch in June.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media. Thanks so much for being with us.

BRYANT: My pleasure, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.