Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Transactions....

So...Roger Clemens gave "Mister Splitty" down in the zone to Mindy McCready. When she was fifteen? Huh. Think people might remember that down the road during Clemens potential defamation of character lawsuit?

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Anyways the YES network sorta beat me to this point on Monday night, but anyways...I think I've figured out how to fix Mike Mussina. Just don't let him pitch to Boston. It's that simple. Don't believe me? Look. In 4 games against non-Boston-related teams, ole Mike has pitched 23.2 innings and has a sparkling 3.04 ERA. In games against the Sox that are not white, Moose has served up an ERA of 9.35. So next time the Bosox come to town, Mike makes himself scarce. Ummm, yeah. "He got lost on the way to the stadium. Yeah, that's it."

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Gotta say, I hate the new draft format. Starting at 3 and only two rounds. First off, we knew like the first 4 picks before the draft even started. And we had to listen to commentators talking about the draft for hours before it even started, as they killed time till it began. Just go back till it starting it at 11am and let us draft nerds have our day.

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Way to go Pat Riley. No seriously, I understand. Coaching is very, well gosh darnit!, hard, when you're not winning. So yeah, it's better to go away and come back when your team is much more talented. That way you can win.

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And lastly, I'd like to take issue with sportsline.com writer Scott Miller who wrote this gem..


Going with top prospects Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy in a rotation that needed to get younger is a terrific idea if, you know, the two can pitch.


You idiot. For years sportswriters assassinated the Yankees for not being patient, for giving up prospects who flourished with other teams and for trying to buy championships. So, the Yankees finally keep their kids and try to win with homegrown talent. And here we are not even out of April and this complete dullard blows up the Yankees, and attacks two kids who have about 120 innings pitched between the two of them.

Let's take a look at some other young pitchers. John Smoltz at age 21 (like Phil Hughes) had a 5.48 ERA. The guy they almost traded Kennedy and Hughes for, Johan Santana, had a 6.49 ERA at 21. His second year he had a 4.74 ERA. "Mr. Splitty" himself, Roger Clemens, had a nothing-special 4.32 his first year in the league.

So, Scott, the point is, relax and keep your yap shut. It's frickin' April. Here endeth the lesson.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Post-Draft Observations

Now that the draft, for better or worse is done, I'd like to hear what some of your observations are. Here are some of mine:


What kind of message is Green Bay sending Aaron Rodgers? First they take, who many considered the most-ready to start QB in the draft, Brian Brohm, in the second round. Then they take ANOTHER QB , the national championship QB. Gotta love the faith the show their former no. 1 draft pick.

Brandon Albert....is fat. If you saw him chilling on his couch waiting to be picked. I hear he's very athletic, so maybe it's a "John Belushi, can't believe he's that athletic for a fat man" kinda thing.

By the way, kudos to DeSean Jackson for best suit of the day. Not only a three-piece, not only wearing it IN HIS HOUSE, while his family members are wearing t-shirts, but for wearing SUNGLASSES IN HIS HOUSE. Just well done, DeSean, well done.

Surprised that the Giants took Kenny Phillips with their pick in the first round. The general consensus among scouts was that there wasn't any safeties worth taking in the first round, but I guess they felt a real need.

The buzz was that the Jets moved up to pick 30 to take Dustin Keller because the Giants were targeting the quick TE. Were the Giants serious about Shockey at that point? Are they still looking to deal him?

If Me-Shawn Johnson said the phrase "copycat league" one more time I was gonna head down to Radio City and assassinate him.

Parcells had a nice first draft. No-nonsense, setting up the team he wants. Long is a Parcells type player. Merling is a run-stopping DE in his mold. Langford and Dotson were other guys that were targeted for the D-line and can contribute.

Told you Jerry Jones was taking Felix Jones no matter what.

Man, was that Under Armor ad with guy screaming about "the future" in some post-apocolyptic setting the stupidest thing ever? Lighten up guys, it's frickin t-shirts.

Duane Brown? Reach of the day.

And last, you gotta love Weird Al of Oakland. He drafted Michael Bush in the second last year. He gave Dominic Rhodes a wheelbarrow of cash. He has Justin Fargas and former signing Lamont Jordan. But screw them all. He wants his speedy guy, McFadden. He gets his speedy guy. End of story.


Let me go guys what you think. Did your team do well? Who overestimated and who got bargins? Sound off on the boards.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Last Draft Update

OK, here's the last mock draft before the actual draft. As always, it's an exercise in folly. By the time I finish typing it, it'll probably be outdated as trades will most likely make it pointless. Anyway, as always, tell me if/why I'm wrong.


1. Miami - Jake Long OT - Michigan
Had this last time I did a mock draft. Hells yes.

2. St Louis - Glenn Dorsey DT - LSU
I'd take Chris Long, but everything smells like the Rams take the big kid from LSU.

3. Atlanta - Matt Ryan QB - Boston College
Look for Atlanta to try to trade down as the two guys they really want are gone.

4. Oakland - Chris Long DE - Virginia
Could still be Gholston or McFadden. Bat guano-crazy Al could still go do whatever he wants. I still think he avoids McFadden and gets Howie's kid.

5. Kansas City - Brandon Albert OT/OG - Virginia
Second Virginia guy in a row. The Chiefs are blowing up the store. They pray this kid can step in and play LT right now. They might try to get Jeff Otah later at 17.

6. New York Jets - Darren McFadden RB - Arkansas
I still want Gholston here (actually I want Chris Long), but I think the Jets pick the burner. A trade may happen here as well.

7. New England - Vernon Gholston OLB - Ohio State
The Pats don't feel any CBs are worth it and signed a few guys in free agency. Feel the Pats will try to trade down to 10, but if they stay here, look for some LB help for the Pats.

8. Baltimore - Leodis McKelvin CB - Troy
Again, I feel it's a trade here—either for Matt Ryan, or down for one of the big 4 corners. But if they stay here, the have to decide between Clady and McKelvin, and I think they take the CB.

9. Cincinnati - Sedrick Ellis DT - USC
This has been my pick here since February. Stays the same again.

10. New Orleans - Keith Rivers OLB - USC
The Saints need help everywhere on defense, and have their eye on the big 2 DTs, so a trade up is possible.

11. Buffalo - Devin Thomas WR - Michigan State
Probably not the best value. But they absolutely need a WR. Especially one over 5'9".

12 Denver - Ryan Clady OT - Boise State
Everyone in the universe has Clady here.

13. Carolina - Chris Willaims OT - Vanderbilt
There's a run on OTs. And god knows the Panthers need one.

14. Chicago - Gosder Cherilus OT - Boston College
The Bears have been scouting him hard. Also, lately scouts have been questioning Otah's maturity and foot speed.

15. Detroit - Rashad Mendenhall RB - Illinois
The Mike Martz era is over. Mendy will bring a ground game to Detroit who needs one. Check out for the linebacker Mayo as well.

16. Arizona - Mike Jenkins CB - South Florida
Seems like the Cards need a corner since forever.

17. Kansas City - Derrick Harvey DE - Florida
The Chiefs are having a pretty good draft day.

18. Houston - Jonathan Stewart RB - Oregon
Ahmad Green? What the heck were the Texans thinking?

19 Philadelphia - DeSean Jackson WR - California
With the whispers that this is Reid's and McNabb's last go round, the Eagles are going for immediate explosion in the draft.

20. Tampa Bay - Aqib Talib CB - Kansas
Both of the need positions have no one left of real value...look for a trade down. But if they stay here, look for corner help or maybe a reach for a WR.

21. Washington - Philip Merling DE - Clemson
Absolutely need help on the D-line in Washington.

22. Dallas - Felix Jones RB - Arkansas
I got a lot of flak for writing this pick last time. But I stick with it. Jerry's guy is Jerry's pick.

23. Pittsburgh - Jeff Otah OT - Pittsburgh
If it's not the local kid, look for Quentin Groves.

24. Tennessee - James Hardy WR - Indiana
Surprise pick...a little. All the other receivers left have question marks. The 6'7" Hardy would certainly make a nice target for the erratic Vince Young.

25. Seattle - Sam Baker OT - USC
Same as my last mock. A reach, but a calculated one.

26. Jacksonville - Jarod Mayo ILB -Tennessee
They flirt with Calais Campbell, but he is not a value here. Mayo is too much of a talent, and there are rumors this is Peterson's last year.

27. San Diego - Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie CB -Tennessee State
Same pick as last time. Same reasons.

28 Dallas - Limas Sweed WR- Texas
The Boys stay in state and fill a need.

29 San Francisco - Malcolm Kelly WR - Oklahoma
I know the Niners got Bruce and a bunch of receivers in free agency, but Martz wants more. Look for maybe Donny Avery or Andre Caldwell to sneak in here as Martz likes burners who can stretch the field.

30. Green Bay - Brandon Flowers CB - Virgina Tech
Had him last time. He's the kind of corner the Packs like.

31. New York Giants - Dan Connor LB - Penn State
Scouts say there isn't a safety worth the pick—Giants still might take one, but Connor fills a need and is a quality player. Tyrell Johnson is getting some buzz lately.


Lotsa luck with your mock. If I get more than 10 picks right, my wife says I can get that 2500$ flatscreen I've been looking at. Way to have faith in me, honey.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Transactions...


So...Isiah Thomas can have a job with the Knicks...as long as he promises never to contact any of the players, ever again. How awesome is that? So awesome I need to write an epic poem about it entitled Total Dillweed Gets What He Deserves. Or something like that.
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Speaking of dillweeds, let's hear it for Mini-Boss, Hank Steinbrenner, for not only totally undercutting his GM publicly when he said "...you don't have a guy with a 100-mile-per-hour fastball and keep him as a set-up guy. You just don't do that. You have to be an idiot to do that," but for also cheap-shotting Mike Mussina, who's been a class act and who's done whatever the club has asked him to do (I'm thinking of those 3 scoreless innings he came in relief against the Red Sox in game 7 of the 2003 AL championship series). Mini-Boss conspicuously left out Mussina when he mentioned the starters he thought would be "fine." Then he went on to bury Mussina saying Mike had to learn how to pitch "more like Jamie Moyer." What is thought by that comment is that Mussina needs to learn not pitch rely on his fastball, which, by the way, is EXACTLY the opposite of what Dave Eiland, pitching coach for the Yankees has been telling Mussina. Here's a quote from Eiland; "...thinks Mussina...must use his fastball more aggressively on the inside of the plate." So actually, Steinbrenner not only undercut his GM, a class veteran pitcher, but also his pitching coach. A trifecta! Way to emulate your old man and keep up the family name, Mini-Boss!
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Said this before, but wow. That kid, Jair Jurrjens looks like the real deal. I think Atlanta hoodwinked the Tigers on that deal. Just 22, and he's shoring up the Brave rotation with a 3.2 ERA and making some hitters look positively foolish.
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So the Vikings are trying to pick up Jared Allen. But didn't the owner of the Vikings make a big stink saying how he wasn't going to tolerate bad behavior. "The most important thing is not just the ability to impose fines and penalties, but to make the players understand their role in the community so that this will not happen again," he said. "They need that guidance, they need that leadership, they need those boundaries established. Boundaries, to be quite honest with you, have not been established for a long time."

Well, fine. But let's take a look at Jared Allen. This is a guy who twice has been busted for DUI and has already been suspended 4 games. He swears he's off the sauce...and sure, even though he's investing his money in the promotion of alcohol doesn't necessarily mean he's partaking. Maybe he's fully remorseful. Maybe he's turning over a new leaf. Well, let's take a look at his new restaurant he just opened. It's called Jared Allen's 69 Club (after his number, of course...no other implication meant there) and serves Jared Juice -- fruit punch and Everclear. Judging by the "healthy-sized" girls serving the juice out of humongous bottles the motto Allen had emblazoned on all the glasses, “Wine ’Em, Dine ’Em, 69 ’Em," I'd have to say—Yeah, seems like Jared's completely over the DUIs and bad behavior—he's fine. Lotsa luck, Vikings.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What Might Have Been

When I was a kid, I had a baseball card that I absolutely loved. On it was Ron Guidry and J.R. Richard—E.R.A. leaders. I didn't really care about Richard, I was only interested in Louisiana Lightning. He was a Yankee, went 25-3, so that was all I needed to know. Years later, I found out that Richard had a dominating fastball which got him about a strikeout an inning, and that he averaged a sick 281 innings a season between 1976 and 1979. But at 10 years old, that meant nothing to me. J.R. Richard wasn't a Yankee, so I didn't care.

Two years later, Richard suffered a stroke playing catch before a game and never pitched in the majors again.

A few years after that, I was riding a bus home from high school. Finals were over, it was turning summer out, and I was reading a paper about how the hated Celtics, who had just won the championship, had taken a super-talented forward to pair with McHale and Bird. Mike Krzyzewski said of this forward that he and Michael Jordan were the two most talented players to ever play in the ACC. His name was Len Bias. Two days after the Celtics selected him first in the draft, he was dead from a cocaine overdose. The Celtics haven't won another championship since then.

Potential Lost
It is always upsetting when we see budding talent lost or squandered—when possibilities seem endless and the promise of amazing deeds await us—but it might even be worse when it is a young athlete. When someone is capable of true grace on a field of play, and then that talent is lost, it seems like a crime.

Go watch Grant Hill before ankle injuries robbed him of his talent. Go watch him and tell me he wasn't put on this earth to play the game of basketball, and that injuries robbed us of one of the best all-around players to ever play the game.

Go check out Doc Gooden, circa 1985, when he was just 21. Check out his absolutely sick high fastball and his leg-buckling sweeping curve. Check him out that year when he won the National League triple crown for pitchers, with 24 wins, 268 K's, and a 1.53 E.R.A. Then try to figure out how he won only 194 games. How he never won 20 games again. Try not to feel sad about it.

In sports, unfortunately, this happens all too often. Because of injuries, drugs, or any other numbers of reasons, guys who seem like the next Michael Jordan, Dick Butkus, or Mickey Mantle lose the battle with fate. It happens all too often, yet I am still just as saddened each and every time it happens.

Take Rocco Baldelli of the Tampa Bay Rays. Debuting in 2003, when he was just 21, Rocco seemed like the centerfielder of the future for the Rays. Athletic, someone "who mans centerfield like a young Joe DiMaggio" with a sweet stroke and with the potential to grow into a decent home-run hitter, Rays fans saw him teaming with Carl Crawford as a young duo to build around. Unfortunately, Baldelli must have walked under a ladder behind a black cat, while breaking a mirror. After the 2004 season, Baldelli tore an ACL and missed the beginning of the 2005 season. Then he injured his elbow and required Tommy John surgery, and he missed the entire 2005 season and missed a big chunk of the 2006 season, though he looked great in the action he did see, hitting 16 HRs in just 92 games. The 2007 season was a wash as well, as hamstring injuries lingered all season and kept him from making any real contribution. It has since turned out that Baldelli has been suffering from a mitochondrial disorder that has kept him in a constant state of fatigue. His baseball career is in serious jeopardy and it's unknown if he can ever play again.

There's also Mark Prior who won 18 games in 2003 when he was 23, and has won just 20 games since due to injuries. Or how about Monica Seles, who won the French Open when she was 16, for two years absolutely dominated women's tennis—with a 55-1 win-loss record in Grand Slam tournaments—until some psycho stabbed her in the back and forced her into semi-retirement and has never been the same since. Of course, there is Michael Vick, who, while overrated as a quarterback, was nonetheless a brilliant athlete and a mega talent. That is, until he decided to hang some dogs and flush his talent down the toilet.


When It Had Been Effortless
Speaking as someone who can never glide to the basket like Grant Hill, or throw a 75-yard bomb like Vick, or glide through centerfield to catch a deep drive like Baldelli—and who has always blunted his sadness that he can't do these things by idolizing those who can do them with ease and grace—it saddens me when people who can do these things lose the ability to do them.

Ernest Hemingway, in his memoir, A Moveable Feast, wrote about F. Scott Fitzgerald in a passage I'll never forget, both for its beauty and for its horror.

"His talent was as natural as the pattern that was made by the dust on a butterfly’s wings. At one time he understood it no more than the butterfly did and he did not know when it was brushed or marred. Later he became conscious of his damaged wings and of their construction and he learned to think and could not fly any more because the love of flight was gone and he could only remember when it had been effortless."

In 1991, picking first in the amateur baseball draft, the Yankees took Brien Taylor, a nineteen-year-old lefty who threw lightning bolts and who swaggered on the mound because he knew he was the real deal. Scott Boras, agent to hundreds of athletes, says of him, "Brien Taylor, still to this day, is the best high school pitcher I've seen in my life." In his senior season at high school, Taylor struck out 213 guys in 88 innings with a fastball that touched 99 mph. At Class A Fort Lauderdale, he struck out 187 in 161 innings and posted a 2.57 ERA. The next year, as a 21-year-old at Double-A Albany-Colonie, Taylor went 13-7 with a 3.48 ERA and struck out almost a hitter an inning. Baseball America had named him the game's best prospect. After his second year in the minors, Taylor went home for the winter. Getting into a fistfight with his cousin, a known felon and loser, Taylor throws a punch with his thunderbolt-throwing left arm and misses. Taylor suffered a torn capsule and torn labrum and had his arm examined by famed surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe. Jobe later calls it one of the worst injuries he has ever seen. After the surgery, Taylor's fastball topped out at 91. He never had an ERA below 6.00 again. He currently does odd jobs and lives with his parents in his hometown.


"Out There Was What I Was Born To Do..."
The reason I've been thinking of J.R. Richard, Brien Taylor and Len Bias was because of Josh Hamilton. Hamilton was the Rays' first (and number-one) draft pick for the franchise in the 1999 draft. He was picked right ahead of Josh Beckett. An absolute can't-miss phenom, Hamilton didn't drink, didn't smoke, and was called by scouts, "the best pure athlete they've ever seen."

Three years later, Hamilton was out of baseball due to cocaine and crack. He says that he spent most of his time out of baseball walking the streets of Raleigh looking for dealers who could give him some crack. He says he would sometimes wake up surrounded by other junkies whom he didn't know. "The best pure athlete" was a crack junkie who didn't change his clothes, lost 60 pounds off his athlete's physique, and was nowhere near the game he was born to play.

But then the impossible happened. Hamilton stopped doing drugs. He got himself a job at a baseball facility scrubbing toilets and raking the field, so that he could use the facilities at night. At night he slept on an air mattress in an office overlooking the field. "It was hard to look out at that field," he says. "Out there was what I was born to do, but because of decisions I made, I couldn't do it."

But he did do it. In 2007, after three years of suspensions, and four years since he stepped onto a field, Hamilton was reinstated to play baseball. Picked up by the Reds, Hamilton batted .292 with 19 HRs in under 300 ABs. This year, he's batting .300 and has a slugging percentage of .562. It was as if Hamilton had never left the game.

The story of Hamilton is amazing. Nobody comes back from crack addiction. Eddie Guardado, a former teammate of Hamilton, said this: "I don't think people understand the sort of odds Josh overcame to make it. My brother was a heroine addict who died from drugs...So for Josh to return from all those years of not playing baseball—having barely picked up a bat—and perform at that level, well, it tells you what kind of player he is."

There's a poem I like by John Greenleaf Whittier. Whittier was a Quaker and a fierce abolitionist, but he was also a poet. The poem is entitled Maud Miller, and is quite long, but the lines I like are these:

And for him who sat by the chimney lug,
Dozing and grumbling o'er pipe and mug,

A manly form at her side she saw,
And joy was duty and love was law.

Then she took up her burden of life again,
Saying only, "It might have been."

Alas for maiden, alas for judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!

God pity them both ! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

What might have been for Taylor, Richard and Bias. Sad isn't a big enough word when you think what they could have accomplished, what joy they could have had and given. Because frankly, for me, not an athlete, but a fan, there is nothing like watching the grace and beauty of someone doing what they were put on this earth to do.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Transactions



So...that Barry Zito guy is really working out for San Francisco, huh??

I wrote last week, saying I feel Marvin Harrison should retire...he's got nothing left to prove to anybody. Now, we find out the Colts are inviting Mario Manningham of Michigan and Early Doucet of LSU in for a privates workout. Which doesn't bode well considering these guys should be gone by pick 40, so the Colts seem to be targeting a WR with their first pick. Marvin, you were great. Go home and enjoy

Why is everyone complaining about muddy football fields. The first thing I heard when the NFL schedule came out and saw that another game was in London, was "I hope the field is better this time and not so muddy. Hey...everybody...this is football. Not golf. Mud is part of the damn game. When did we get so prissy?

Curt Schilling says the Yankees are not an option for his upcoming free agency. Awww, shucks.

Over the off-season, Prince Fielder decided to become a vegetarian. And since he's batting a mere .222 with no HRs, Brewer fans are starting a "Hey Prince. Have a cheeseburger!" chant during Brewer games. It's a little early to start worrying, bu he does have more strikeouts (8) than RBIs(6). OK, maybe a turkeyburger?

And lastly the picture to your right was held to protest the Bejing Olympics. Now, the protester is right to protest human rights violations in China—they are numerous and awful—but dude....read a frickin' book please. Jessie Owens? Ring a bell?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The 2009 Yankees

Before the season, I wanted to write a look-ahead article to next year; sort of a quick preview of the long view, but I couldn't get to it before the season started. However, I'd still like to look ahead to next year anyway, and see what the future could bring for the Yankees as they head into the new stadium.

2009 is a correction year in a lot of ways for the Yankees, as a lot of mistakes will be deleted this off-season. Three names on the top of the list: Kyle Farnsworth-less, Carl Pavano, and Jason Zombie are all due to come off the payroll as thank god, their contracts are up. That alone will be 45 million dollars freed up—or more than the entire Tampa Bay Ray team. Add on Bobby Abreu (16 million), Andy Petitte (16 million), Latroy Hawkins ($3.750 million), Morgan Ensburg (1.75 million) and Mike Mussina (11 million) and that adds up to roughly 93 million dollars off the Yankees drowned hippo-bloated payroll. Or a few dollars short of the entire Toronto Blue Jays roster.

Now, I feel the last Yankee dynasty died the second Jason Zombie put pen to Yankee paper and the Bombers gave better glove-man and professional batsman, Nick Johnson the heave-ho. That was when the Yanks decided to abandon the build from within credo that supplied Bernie, Derek, Jorge, Mariano, Andy and co. Since then, the Yanks have relied on the Randy Johnsons, Jared Wrights, Kevin Browns and the Robbie Venturas. In short, that was when the Yankees tried to sign their way to more championships and completely abandoned the method that actually got them the championships: namely, create a core of players from your farm, and sign free agents strategically, to modest contracts (Paul O'Neill, Scott Brosius, David Wells, Graeme Lloyd).

Going forward, this is a pivotal year for the Yankees, as a large portion of what they decide to do in the future could hang on how they perform on the field. If the Yankees crash and burn this year, the youngsters in the rotation suffer a lot of growing pains, and they are in no real contention for the playoffs, you can expect the Yankees to drop a cash bomb in free agency and take no prisoners—C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and so forth. If the Yanks keep it close, get into the playoffs, and at least keep it respectable and the youngsters perform fairly well, look for the Yankees to go into free agency with more modest goals. Probably still Sabathia or maybe Ben Sheets, but maybe just replace Hawkins and Farnsworth. But maybe they let Teixeira go.

Also, a lot of what the Yankees may do depends on what goes on down on the farm. If Austin Jackson and/or Jose Tabata have years where perform well, and get called up around September, then the Yankees will feel comfortable letting Abreu go and reaping the draft pick. But if Jackson and Tabata regress and Brett Gardner is nothing but a pinch runner/fifth outfielder type, than the Yanks may have to resign Bobby or maybe go after Pat Burrell or Jay Payton. And the outfield, outside of Melky, stays old. Same thing with first base. Do we trust Shelly Duncan enough to at least platoon? Eric Duncan? Juan Miranda? A lot depends on how they perform and if it's enough to trust them.

Another problem, and one that we as Yankee fans, have wanted to avoid, is Jeter. He's 34, Yankee fans. And let's face it, he's not going to be getting any better—yoga and stretching exercises or not—his range is not going to get better, only worse, from here on. And unlike Cal Ripken and a lot of other shortstops who get older and who's range decreases, Jeter can't move to third base—as A-Rod is there for the next 7 to 10 years. So, while this is not a problem for 2009 necessarily, what is the long-range plan for Jeter? Again, he's 34. What if he starts to get injured a lot more and his play at shortstop decreases precipiticily? Do we try to move him to first? Do we make him a platoon SS/DH type? Just a question going forward.

Of course, there's still the Jorge question, but the Yankees seem comfortable right now with the Posada/Molina combo until some of the youngsters, like Jesus Montero or Francisco Cervelli, develop. Same thing with the pen. Who knows how much Mariano has left, but the Yankees seem, for now, to be content until some of the youngsters develop, and seem willing to let Joba move to the rotation.

Here is a early guess at what the roster could look like next year

Rotation:
Wang
Sabathia
Hughes
Kennedy
Chamberlain

Bullpen:
Rivera
Bruney
Ohlendorf
Traber
Karstens/Rasner
Albaladejo

I just can't see Igawa making the jump...consider him a bust and anything he gives to be gravy. Maybe we sign a Randy Wolf or an Aaron Fultz or some other lefty out there. Also, I'd love to give Edwar Ramirez a shot here, but I have to ask...is he a AAAA pitcher? If he can develop a nice fastball that sets up his awesome change, maybe he can contribute. Humberto Sanchez is also a possibility depending on how he recovers from his injury and how he performs starting June.

1B
As much as I would like the Yankees to give the youngsters a chance and let Shelley, Juan Miranda or Eric Duncan fight for the spot, my guess is the Yankees sign Mark
Teixeira.

2b
Robby Cano has this locked up for the next decade.

SS
For the next couple of years, barring injuries or rapid decline, this stays with the captain, Derek Jeter.

3b
Duh.

OF
Like I said, a lot depends on how Tabata, Jackson and Gardner play. Jackson and Tabata are on everyone's superstar-in-the-making- listing, but the wild card is Gardner. Only 5'10" and damned with the "consistently overlooked" mark, Gardner is a God-made leadoff hitter. Baseball America says he has the best strike-zone discipline in the Yankee farm system. GM Brian Cashman called him
"Juan Pierre...who can take a walk." Which sounds exactly what the Yankees need. Let's face it, Damon, who I never wanted, has been a disappointment. He hasn't been setting the tables, distracting pitchers or doing anything to spark the team. And his arm was even worse than advertised, worse than Bernie's.

That said, it's hard to imagine not having a Damon/Hideki LF/DH platoon at least through 2009 (when both their contracts end), unless the Yanks manage to pull some sort of salary dump trade for either of them. Melky Cabrera is firmly in center for now and the foreseeable future (unless Austin Jackson, who's all of 21, proceeds quicker than thought and is ready to assume superstar status in CF). And the Yanks would love if Jose Tabata is ready to take over in right field. However, my guess is, the Yanks sign a vet to ease Tabata (who won't turn 20 until august) into right field. Like I said, maybe they sign Pat Burrell, though maybe an older vet, like a Cliff Floyd or Jay Payton might be better, if Jackson or Tabata is ready to be weaned into a semi-permanent rotation. Resigning Abreu also might be an option, which ultimately, is what I think the Yankees do...until the kids are ready.

To sum up, let me just say, this is not what I want the Yankees to do, rather what I think they will do. Like I said, I'm more willing to give Shelley, Gardner and some other kids a shot. The Yankees, however, trying to justify filling expensive seats in a brand new stadium have more on the line. Which is why I think they do what I said above.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What I Hate About Sports

Since I started this blog around 7 months ago, I've gushed about how much I love sports. "I love sports because this," "integrity of sports that," blah blah blah. Today I'm gonna talk about what I frickin' hate about sports. And please, write in with what you hate. It'll be comforting—a big group, hatefest. OK, let's get to the hatin'.


THINGS I CAN'T STAND ABOUT SPORTS:

Golf. Not a sport.

Pretty much any college team from Florida.

Teams that have a million different uniforms. Like the 2004 Mets who had SIX different jerseys to go with six different caps. It got so bad, that in one game the players got confused and went on the field with different guys wearing different versions. True story.

Those stupid politician bets over the Super Bowl.

"Boo-Yah!"

Guys who unretire, like 9 times. Just leave already.

Teams with names you can't define. "I'm proud to be a Jazz." or "I'm a Heat." Just no.

Steve Phillips

When like 75% percent of the teams make the playoffs. (I'm looking at you, NBA and NHL.)

Fantasy...baseball, football, fantasy anything. It's Dungeons and Dragons for sports geeks.

Groin injuries

Gary Sheffield

Shea Stadium. Tear that nasty plastic 60's piece of crap down.

The fact that their aren't any scheduled doubleheaders anymore.

The Super Bowl being on a Sunday night. Move it to frickin' Saturday, so I can have a beer (or four) and not be hungover at work the next day.

That every cool promotion item you get at the ballpark has, like a gigantic Citibank or Chiquita banana logo on it, so you can't wear your cap or play with your baseball without feeling like a dillweed.

The pointy gum that comes in the baseball card packs. Man, those sucked worse than Bazooka Joe.

Commercial timeouts in football games.

NASCAR. Not a sport.

People who wear caps of teams but in the wrong colors; like red Yankee hats or paisley Red Sox caps. Seriously, guys. What are you doing? (One exception: Girls wearing teensey cute cutoff , or pink versions of their teams stuff is perfectly acceptable.

That the NFL draft has 3 commercials. The same three. Which they run. All. Day. Long. ("Click. Clack.")

Ballpark bathrooms. I mean, wow.
When the 55 year old secretary with American Idol CDs and "Hang in there!" kitten posters over her desk (framed, I might add) wins the NCAA bracket, even though she's never heard of Kevin Love or Mario Chalmers and you stayed up till 3AM to make your perfect sheet.

ESPN The Magazine. Pretty much everything wrong with sports can be found there.

"Come on, clap and dance!" songs they play in between innings. "Cotton-eyed Joe!" for instance. (Go here, if you never heard of it, but be forewarned, you may want to stab out your ears afterwards. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddgyg_5FF_0)


$11 dollar beers. And it's a Bud Light.

Tim McCarver

Every college team being named Wildcats. What is there, like 50 of them? Think up another name, dammit. You're in college for criss-sakes.

Soccer. Yes, it's a sport. Just a boring one.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Transactions....


First off, who gives a crap what Jose Canseco says? This dude would sell his firstborn for a wheat penny and we're supposed to listen to him and trust him? Yeah, right.

As much as I hate to say this, I think it might be time for Marvin Harrison to follow Farve into retirement. A class athlete all the way, Marvelous Marvin was drafted 19th in the 1996 NFL Draft, behind lesser receivers Eddie Kennison, Me-shawn Johnson and Terry Glenn, Harrison is averaging 86 receptions per season, a record. He's the only player in NFL history to have four consecutive 100 or more reception seasons in NFL history...ever. Chad Johnson has never sniffed 100 once. He's only the fourth NFL player to have a thousand receptions, and he's the fastest to get there. And my favorite Marvin record—he holds the single season reception record with 143 receptions. Second place? 123 receptions by Herman Moore. He beat it by twenty. All that said (and more to say), I think it might be time. Harrison underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in January, and the Colts aren't sure he'll be ready for training camp. GM Bill Polian says Harrison will be ready for the opener, but it's actually Harrison's left knee that kept him out all year, and Polian said it's still "healing" and that Harrison won't do much in camp. All of this makes me sad, but it also makes me want Marvin to go and retire, rather than try to fight through and be a shell of his former self. Go home, Marvin, you've got your ring, your money and your permanent place in the NFL books. Enjoy.

Chien-Ming Wang is underrated. There I've said it—a New York Yankee is actually underrated.That said, since the day he's come up, every scout, every newspaper guy has said, "He's good but...." Enough. The guy has won 38 games the last two years, best in majors. Last year, Wang had the lowest HR/9 innings pitched ratio in the AL (0.41). And so far, in his first two outings this year, he look like a total hoss for the Yanks. I know Santana, Halladay and Sabathia are great. But give this guy his due.

Speaking of the Yanks, let's talk about their schedule. I hate it. Because the Yankees are the Yankees, every time and every network wants to maximize their profits. What that means in short for the players, is that they play night games on getaway days. Almost all teams, on days they have to travel, will play day games, so they can get their flight out that night and get some sleep. but since the Yanks are such a draw when they come to town, teams want to play night games so they can et the biggest possible draw for their stadium. It happens five times this month, including days the Yanks have to play Kansas City, then catch a red-eye to Boston. Next month the Yanks have to play a night game in Oakland, then catch a red-eye to Houston to play th next night. Look, fair is fair. And that's just not right.

And lastly, we have Kenny Page. As you can see in the above picture, Kenny has money. Kenny also has no smarts. In fact, Kenny is sort of a tard. You see, this picture was taken from Kenny's own Myspace account (don't check, it was removed pretty fast). And as you can see, Kenny, who agreed to a scholarship to go play football for Clemson, is wearing an orange Clemson polo shirt, holding a stack of neatly wrapped 20s.

Now, of course, we can say, "No! Maybe he got the money from his Mom. A great job carrying bank payrolls. A rich uncle who is obsessively neat about wrapping his cash-based generosity in closely denominated bank-rolls. This doesn't prove anything." Well, sure, there aren't any Clemson orange tiger paws on the money wraps—which would have been only slightly more incriminating. But one thing is for sure, Clemson didn't give this scholarship for his brains.

Friday, April 4, 2008

2008 MLB Winners

Today to finish off the week-long Andaplayertobenamedlater.com MLB prediction-fest, I'm going to predict who wins what, who surprises and who disappoints.

AL East — Red Sox
AL Central — Indians
AL West — Angels
ALWild Card —Yankees
AL Pennant — Angels
Could Surprise — Mariners
Could Disappoint — Tigers
AL MVP — Vladimir Guerrero
AL Cy Young — Fausto Carmona
AL Rookie of the Year — Evan Longoria

NL East — Mets
NL Central — Cubs
NL West — Diamondbacks
NLWild Card —Braves
NL Pennant — Cubs
Could Surprise — Rockies
Could Disappoint — Phillies
NL MVP — Chase Utley
NL Cy Young — Johan Santana
NL Rookie of the Year — Steve Pearce

Enjoy the season.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

2008 NL West Predictions

And for the final installment, we preview the NL West.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Sick. That’s the only word to describe the potential the Arizona Diamondbacks rotation.

It starts with Brandon Webb, 2006 Cy Young Award winner and 2007 NL Wins leader. Then Dan Haren checks in with the 3.07 ERA he earned in the American League. Third in the rotation is Randy Johnson, who seemed happy to be back in Arizona, as evidenced by his 72 punchouts in 56 innings. The fourth starter is lefty Doug Davis who’s average 12 wins in 4 straight season. Finishing up is Micah Owings, who has an impressive 1.28 WHIP.

The D’Backs are counting on their young lineup to provide enough runs to help out their corp. They need CF Chris Young (25), Justin Upton (20), Conor Jackson (25), Stephen Drew (25) and the other very young D’Backs to mature and gain more plate discipline. While they are very talented—and are capable of both smallball and longball—Arizona had an OBP of .321, worst in the National League.

But all that stuff almost doesn’t matter—the D’Backs are too talented on the mound not to win the West. And to their hitting woes, manger Bob Melvin spent spring training drilling plate discipline to his young team. If even a little of his teaching rubs off on his talented squad, it should be more than enough for the truly, truly sick rotation.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Arizona posted a 90-72 record despite being outscored 732-712


Colorado Rockies
Get this. The Rockies were 4 games under .500 on July 1st last season, before heading to the World Series. How’d they do it? By winning 14 of their last 15 games and going 21-1 heading into the Series.

Yeah, but how’d they do it?

It gets even more puzzling when you go over the Rockies roster. Only three players on the 40-man roster for their World Series run were older than 32. The closer (Manny Corpas, 25), two MVP-quality players (Matt Holliday, 28, and Troy Tulowitzki, 24), two top starters, and seven of the eight everyday players and the entire projected bench are still in their 20s.

But when you look at their stats, it seems that the Rockies did it the opposite way of the D’backs. They can tear the cover off the ball, and have decent pitching to back it up. Colorado ranked a respectable eighth in the league with a 4.32 ERA and the bullpen was sixth at 3.85. Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimez all keep the ball low and change speeds, so hitters don’t get too many chances to take advantage of the lighter mountain air. But hitting—lead by MVP runner-up Matt Holliday and Rookie of the Year runner-up, Troy Tulowitski—that’s where the Rockies bread is buttered.

Tulowitski, Holliday, Helton, Atkins and Hawpe make for a scary 2-3-4-5-6, as all of they bat .290 or above and average over 26 homers per batter. Sprinkle in Willy Taveras (.320, 33 steals) and they should have no problem leading in batting once again.

It’s easy to discount the youthful Rockies; almost everyone outside Denver does. But don’t be surprised if they can sneak up on everyone again like they did last summer.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Matt Holliday is only the fifth player in 59 years to lead the NL in BA (.339) and RBIs (137).


Los Angeles Dodgers
One scout put the 2007 L.A. Dodgers this way: “The Dodgers accomplish less with more than any other team in the game.” They’ve lead the NL West in payroll five of the past seven years, and have only one division title to their name.

Enter Joe Torre.

Make no mistake, Torre has a mandate. Win. And win soon. Because along with Torre, the Dodgers have signed Andrew Jones and placed him in center field, only one season after they signed Juan Pierre, who was supposed to play center field for year, but who now has been moved to left.

And that’s not Torre’s only problem. The Dodger’s clubhouse was divides last season between the veterans, (Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, etc) and the youngsters (Matt Kemp, James Loney), prompting Jeff Kent to vocally complain about the lack of respect the kids were giving the veterans.

Torre has already made his statement— benching Juan Pierre for youngster Andre Ethier—and his statement is, ‘I don’t care about feelings, I don’t care about contracts, I only care about wins.” And if it’s one thing Torre learned in New York, is that winning is the best medicine.

That talent is here—the rotation is solid, the lineup was good even before Andrew Jones showed up, the bullpen is solid, and the farm system is plentiful—all they need to do is to put it together.

The Dodgers aren't paying Torre $13 million over the next three years to lose. The best guess is that he won’t be able to put it together until next year.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: The Dodgers batted for a .406 team slugging percentage in 2007, the lowest among the 16 clubs with a winning record.


San Diego Padres
When you think about the San Diego Padres, you have to start with their stadium, cavernous and huge PETCO Park. Everything about them starts there.

Here’s a few stats. Last season the Padres had the best ERA in the majors and the third-worst batting average and on-base percentage. San Diego's staff posted a 47-34 record with a 3.02 ERA at PETCO Park, compared to 42-40, 4.42 on the road.

One more stat about PETCO Park. Brian Giles averaged 38 HRs a season when he was in Pittsburgh from 1999-2003. The last 3 years at PETCO, Giles has a TOTAL of 42.

But oddly, this off-season, the Padres aided their rotation rather than their lineup. They picked up Randy Wolf to be their number 4 starter, and they got Mark Prior from the Cubs in hopes to resuscitate his career. In the lineup, however, they took a backwards step. They let Mike Cameron go and replaced him with a declining Jim Edmonds.

When your team slugging percentage is .411 and your team OBP a pathetic .322, you should try and go get a few bats. The Padres did. The problem is, sluggers around the league know what happens to your averages when you play at PETCO. So most go somewhere else.

To put it plainly, San Diego isn’t talented enough. Khalil Green isn’t a bad power hitter and fielder at SS. 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff picked it up the second half of last year. But their outfielders simply don’t do enough heavy lifting to ensure their pitching staff the run support they need.

Some recent bad drafts have left San Diego short in the way of minor league help—so Peavy, Young Maddux and co. won’t be able to count on that for help in run support. In 2008, it looks like it may get worse for the Padres before it gets better.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Jim Edmonds hit just .193 in 119 ABs during day games in 2007.


San Francisco Giants
There’s no nice way to say this; the San Francisco Giants are a mess. A complete mess.

For years, the franchise revolved around the obnoxious expression of Barry Bonds; as Bonds went, so did the Giants. Now that the carnival tent has been taken down over AT&T Park, the Giants find themselves barren of young prospects and filled with a team of overpaid, underachieving spare parts that don’t mesh.

Consider these names; Randy Winn, Omar Visquel, Bengie Molina, Dave Roberts, Ray Durham, Rich Aurelia. All are role players, 33 to 41 years of age, are in decline and are best suited to a veteran team, not one trying to rebuild. And the Giants don’t have much in the way of talented rookies to replace them.

The San Francisco organization hasn't produced an everyday position player through the draft since third baseman Bill Mueller arrived in the big leagues in 1996. They have ignored their farm system, choosing to use their money on veterans, many whom have flamed out once they hit the S.F. Bay—see Barry Zito’s 7-year, $126 million dollar contract and his 4.53 ERA in 2007, almost a point higher than his ERA in Oakland the year before. Only 25 year-olds Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, can save this season from being a disaster of biblical proportions.

There’s not much else to say for the Giants. As a fan, I’d keep a close eye on the lower minor league. Hope that some of those kids can speed their way through the system. Well….a fan can hope.


Sound Smart To Your Friends: Matt Cain suffered 16 losses in 2007, the second-most in the NL despite his 3.65 ERA was the league's 10th best, and the .235 opponents' batting average against him was the fourth lowest among NL pitchers with 30 or more starts.

Tomorrow: We pick the champions, the wild-cards, the award winners and all sorts of fun stuff.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

2008 NL Central Predictions

Our MLB predictions continue with the biggest division, the NL Central.

Chicago Cubs
Money doesn’t solve all problems. But it sure helps.

That and a manger who’s not afraid to mix things up to find the right formula. After spending in the neighborhood of $350 million dollars—not including hiring Lou Pinella as their new skipper—in contracts last winter, the Cubs got off to a horrendous start, posting a 22-31 record by June 2nd. All that money spent, and that dismal record prompted Sweet Lou to make some changes. And changes he did make—like a mad scientist until he found the right mix. And ultimately, he shifted Soriano from center field to left, moved Jacque Jones from right to center, replaced Cesar Izturis with Ryan Theriot at shortstop and sending catcher Michael Barrett to San Diego following a mid-game fight with Zambrano. Following those changes, they Cubs got to .550 on July 2nd, and flew past the self-destructing Brewers to a 1st place finish in the NL Central.

So, after those growing pains, the Cubs seemed poised to take the Central this year. They easily have the best pitching in the division, earning a 4.04 ERA last year and led the NL with a .246 Opp. BA. Carlos Zambrano is their ace and is a stud (provided his head is screwed on straight). After him come two solid-plus lefties, Ted Lilly and Rich Hill. Ryan Dempster and Jason Marquis are adequate 4th and 5th guys.

As if their spending spree last year, wasn’t enough, the Cubs went out this winter, and picked up 30-year-old Japanese outfielder, Kosuke Fukudome to solve one of their biggest problems, a lefty power bat. Named the 2006 Japanese Central League MVP, Fukudome (aside from having one of the all-time great names of baseball) hit .351 with 31 homers and 104 RBIs

Kerry Wood has taken over the closer duties and pitched well in spring training, earning a 2.84 ERA. Combing Wood with Carlos Marmol and Bob Howry give the Cubs a solid relief corp.

All of this talent isn’t cheap, and I didn’t even mention Derrek Lee or Arasmis Ramirez, who last I checked, don’t play for free. The Cubs want results. And this may be the year they get it.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Carlos Zambrano's ERA has risen in each of the past three seasons.


Milwaukee Brewers
Let me just say this so it roll around in your brain for a moment. Last season was the first time the Milwaukee Brewers had a plus .500 season since 1992.

Really.

So no matter how disappointing it was to fall behind the Cubs after leading the division for so long, it still has to be a positive season.

And there are other sunny spots too in last year’s failure. When staff ace went down (again) with injuries, Yovani Gallardo stepped up and showed he can be—if not the ace—a plus starter in the rotation. That is, when he comes back from the DL with a knee injury. Along with Carlos Villanueva, who showed good stuff, the staff rounds out with Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush, who had down years. AAA uber-prospect, Manny Parra, might be ready for a mid-summer callup. Also, Eric Gagne has been signed to a one-year deal to help finish off games. The Brewers are hoping that working with good game-caller, Jason Kendall will help the staff.

That said, runs will not be a problem for the Brewers. In 2007 they had the second highest slugging percentage in the NL, led by Prince Fielder, who almost twice as many Hrs as he did the year before, and had 30 more walks, and Ryan Braun, who had the all-time-best slugging percentage for a rookie, .634. Corey Hart, Bill Hall and Mike Cameron (once he comes back from a 25 game suspension) can also thump the ball.

The problem might be defense. Ryan Braun is a natural DH, compiling a dreadful .895 fielding percentage at third base. He shifts to left field where, hopefully he will do less damage. Taking over for him is former CF, Bill Hall, making room for Mike Cameron once he is back on the field. The Brewers were tied for 12th in the National League last year in fielding. The switches, Brew fans hope, would help improve on that.

If things fall right for the Brewers—Sheets stays healthy, Bush and Suppan bounce back, Fielder’s new vegetarian diet doesn’t detract from his power, Braun doesn’t drop fly balls—Milwaukee fans can celebrate the Brewers first playoff run in…forever. And that might be a reason to crack open a brew.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Eric Gagne had a 2.16 ERA in 34 appearances for Texas, and then a 6.75 ERA in 20 games as a Boston Red Sox.


Cincinnati Reds
You have to wonder if everyone is on the same page in the Queen City.

For the first time in a long time, the Cincinnati Reds have a core of young stuff pitchers. Former no. 1 Baseball America prospect (the unfortunately named) Homer Bailey (21), Johnny Cueto (22) and Edinson Volquez (24) are all in the rotation or are not far away.

Then why hire rookie-hater Dusty Baker?

Never known as a patient, teaching manager, Baker is the master of the quick turnaround, getting the best out of veterans. But what the Reds need more than anything is some help for the rotation. Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo make for a solid one-two punch, but past that and you’re in no-mans-land. The Reds' 4.94 ERA last season tied Florida for the worst mark in the NL. Clearly, ole Dusty has gotta get on his teacher’s cap and make nice with the youngsters if the Reds plan to go anywhere this season.

Hitting-wise the Reds are solid. LF Adam Dunn has a chance to go for his 5th straight 40-HR season. 2B Brandon Phillips is the only 2B not named Soriano in MLB history with 30 HRs and 30 SBs in the same season. Edwin Encarcion batted .289 and should improve. C Davis Ross is a hole in the lineup with a .203 BA, but threw out 41 percent of base runners and saves a lot of wild pitches.

Pitching is the scary part, especially the bullpen, where the Reds tied for 14 in the NL with only 34 saves with a “Hey, you wanna pitch?” approach to saving games. To remedy that, the Reds signed Francisco Cordero to be The Man out of the pen. Along with solid set-up man, David Weathers, Cincinnati’s pen should improve this year. It can’t get any worse.

Like the Yankees, the Reds are a team with a mix of a talented, but a little too old vets (Ken Griffey) and a little too young kids (Bailey). If Baker can commit to the kids, and not protest when the next ones come along (Jay Bruce, Joey Votto), in a couple of years, the Reds might have something.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Ken Griffey Jr. played in 144 games, his highest total since 2000.


Houston Astros
The Astros are anyone’s guess. They could be the surprise team. They could stink on ice.

The talent is there. Roy Oswalt is a stud. Miquel Tejada, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee are a scary 3, 4 and 5 for any opposing pitcher. And Jose Valverde led the leagues in saves last year for the Diamondbacks.

But the losses have been daunting as well. The rotation seemingly never recovered from petite and Clemens’ defection back to New York. And Biggio and Bagwell have taken the identity of the team to their retirements.

Though the Astros have traded a bunch of their future faces of the team for Tejada and Valverde, they do have some pieces to look forward to. LHP Wandy Rodriquez is close to putting it altogether as a solid no .2 starter. Although he has a 9-13 record with a 4.58 ERA, he also has 158 SO in 182.2 IP. Also Brandon Backe, who pitched for the first time in over a year last September showed the Astros he could be a piece of the puzzle, earning a 3-1 record and a 3.77 ERA.

In the field the Astros are trying to change their image. They traded for Michael Bourne from the Phillies. Bourne, a threat to steal every base he comes across is penciled in at centerfield and leadoff. Hunter Pence, who played very well in his rookie season last year, can also run and has been given the green light this season. Rookie catcher J. R. Towles batted .375 during a callup last September and stole 14 bases in three minor leagues last summer.

As I said, the Astros can be anywhere from the surprise of the NL. Or they could be a complete bust. We’d place them squarely in the middle of those two. A .500 record sounds about right.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Rookie J.R. Towles struck out just once in 44 plate appearances during his September call-up.


St. Louis Cardinals
One season after inexplicable winning the World Series, the St. Louis Cardinal fell back to earth. The shocking part was how they did it.

It wasn’t just that they fell apart on the field, which they did, ending up 78-84. It was that the players fought with the manger. The manger had some bad feelings towards the front office. The front office argued amongst themselves. And all this ended up in GM Walt Jocketty getting fired, and longtime Cardinals Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen getting traded and World Series hero David Eckstein allowed to leave.

And somehow all this change occurred, but somehow didn’t make the Cardinals much better. They didn’t find anyone to replace Mark Mulder and Chris Carpenter, both out with injuries until further notice. They didn’t find anyone to protect Albert Pujols, himself injured. And Troy Glaus is already dinged up. Even with the departures of Edmonds and Rolen, the Cardinals remain among the oldest teams in the majors.

And the rotation leaves much to be desired. Last season, the Cards had a 4.65 ERA, good for 11th in the NL. Pitching coach needs to give the rotation some of his Kool-Aid until Carpenter and Mulder can come back. Two of the guys who might need extra doses of said Kool-Aid are Brandon Looper (4.94 ERA) and Anthony Reyes (6.04 ERA), who the Cardinals are counting on to hold on until their aces return.

St. Louis fans are excited by the good spring some of the Cardinals had. They shouldn’t. Once games that count start, the Cards lack of both pitching and hitting will sink them to the bottom of the NL Central.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Reliever Russ Springer allowed only six of 27 inherited runners to score.


Pittsburgh Pirates
As bad as the Cardinals are, they still get to look down on the Pirates.

The Pirates haven’t had a winning record since 1992, the days of Jim Leyland, Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla. They won’t clear that mark this season, either.

But there is hope. The Pirates have cleaned out the whole system, their front office, their farm, and their manager. And with the new staff comes a new philosophy—one of consistency and teaching youngsters how to play. Their promotion of minor league pitching coach to the same role in the bigs, as well as the hiring of former catcher to the role of manager seems to confirm that philosophy.

The only problem with this is that immediate help on the 2008 field just isn’t there. The hope is that the Pirates young pitching can find its way and fulfill some of its promise. Lefty Tom Gorzelanny was 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA last season, while right-hander Ian Snell was 9-12 with a 3.76 ERA. Closer Matt Capps converted 18 of 21 save opportunities with a 2.28 ERA in 2007 and is just 24. However, Zach Duke, after going 1.81 in 2005 has declined….and quickly to a 3-8, 5.53 ERA last year.

At the plate, the story is much the same. Adam Laroche, brought in to add some power, didn’t hit his 6th home run till June. Face of the franchise, Jason Bay seemed desperate and batted only .247. The Pirates were third in the NL in batters LOB with 1119.

General manager Neal Huntington has asked for patience from the Pirates dwindling fan base. "It could have been easy to blow up [the roster]," he says, "but as we look at it, studied it, we felt like patience was the best approach."

The Pirates fans have been waiting since 1992. They won’t wait much longer.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: The Pirates had an average of 1.17 double plays turned per nine innings, the highest rate in the majors.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

2008 NL East Predictions

Yesterday we did the AL. Now comes the senior circuit.

New York Mets
How could you not pick these guys to win the division. I know, some analysts talk about the Braves or the Phillies. but really...Johan Santana. Pedro Martinez. Heck, even Oliver Perez and John Maine won 15 games apiece last year.

And the hitting ain't so bad either. They batted .275 last season, good for 2nd in the NL, and had a 342. OBP, good for 3rd. David Wright is a future MVP, Carlos Beltran scares every pitcher in the NL, and Jose Reyes can set both of them up for more RBIs.

The problem is health. While the Mets are good, they are thin. A couple of injuries could send this team circling the drain. Already, Carlos Delgado has had hip problems, Moises Alou has a hernia, El Duque has a bad wheel and Luis Castillo and Beltran both have had knee problems. With only three of the regulars in their lineup are in their 20s, this team needs to make sure they stay relatively healthy. Otherwise another September swoon is possible.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Billy Wagner's ERA spiked from 1.64 before the All-Star break to 3.90 after.


Atlanta Braves
For the longest time, the Atlanta Braves were the symbol of consistency. Win the NL East, make the playoffs. Solid pitching, good defense. Almost always the same people year in, year out.

Then this winter came. And out went GM John Schuerholz, Edgar Rentaria and the face of the Braves for the past decade, CF Andrew Jones. It seems the Braves didn't like missing the playoffs two years in a row. They realized changes had to be made.

One face they brought back, was Tom Glavine, who, hopefully has one more year in him—scouts aren't sure. He did look pretty terrible last September when the Mets needed him. The Braves would like just one year out of him as their no. 3 starter behind horses Smoltz and Hudson.

In the field, the Braves are trying to add a few new faces to the old regulars. Yunel Escobar had a nice rookie season manning SS next to Chipper. 2nd year player Kelly Johnson mans second base next to Mark Texiera, who signed a one-year, 12.5 million dollar contract. And some vets, like CF Mark Kotsay, and oft-injured P Mike Hampton are merely placeholders until young, talented and cheaper rookies are ready, Jordan Shafer and Jair Jurrens, respectively.

Expect the Braves to surprise the Mets and even take the NL East lead for a while. But too many questions in their starting pitching—Can Glavine hold up for one more year? Is Hampton able to pitch healthy and well?—prevents them from winning the NL East.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Mark Texiera batted .509 with runners in scoring position after coming over from the Rangers.


Philadelphia Phillies
It's very possible that the Phillies could have three different MVPs three years in a row: 2006 - Ryan Howard, 2007 - Jimmie Rollins and potential 2008 winner Chase Utley. It's also possible that the Phillies might not win anything all three of these years.

As with most teams, the culprit is pitching. Hitting...the Phillies can do that. They ranked first in NL with 892 runs scored and were second to the Brewers with 213 HRs. And they don't just club it; they can manufacture runs too. Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino and Chase Utley -- combined for 87 steals in 98 tries in 2007, to lead the Phillies to an all-time record in successful steal percentage at 87.9.

But the guys who take the hill...that's where the problem lies. The Phils were 12th in the NL last season with a 4.91 ERA. If his elbow isn't barking, lefty Cole Hamels is a rock, but the other lefty, Jamie Moyer is as old as a rock, and showed he may be done the second half last year when he posted a 5.78 ERA. The acquistion of the pshiychphrenic Brad Lidge allows Brett Myers to head back into the rotation, where is capable. Kyle Kendrick showed some nice stuff last year, but 5th starter, oft-injured Adam Eaton—he of the 6.29 ERA—is feeling shoulder soreness this spring, leaving the Phillies with question marks at the 5-spot in their rotation.

The Phillies will be in the race. Howard, Utley, Rollins and Hamels will see to that. But they don't have enough to get over the hump.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Carlos Ruiz was tied for second among MLB catchers with just two errors during his rookie campaign last year.


Washington Nationals
This is where the NL East starts to get ugly. And it could be worse than we all think.

After succeeding with reclamation projects Wily Mo Pena and Dmitry Young, the Nationals went back to the well of disasters and got Lastings Milledge from the Mets and Elijah Dukes from Tampa Bay. While no one contends that both these guys are talented, a quick look at their hall of shame antics so far include: 6 arrests for assault, marijuana possession and resisting an officer, allegations of sex with a 15-year old girl and additional sexual misconduct charges, excessive celebrating of a home run which led to a brawl, appearing in a rap song where derogatory profanites about woman were said, having your wife file a restraining order, impregnanting a 17-year-old foster child who was living in the care of a relative, throwing a bottle of Gaterade at said girl when confronted with the pregnancy and numerous run-ins with coaches, managers, teammates and umpires.

Life should be interesting in D.C. But it probably won't result in a lot wins. While talent is there with Milledge, Dukes, Pena, Nick Johnson at first and Chad Codero, there's not enough of it in the starting rotation. The whole bunch of potential starters has nary a 200-inning season among them. The starters also only pitched 856 innings, an NL low. Odalis Perez, who was given a flyer and signed to a minor league has been announced as the Opening Day starter. However, the good news is that Paul Lo Duca, a pitcher's catcher was brought in to help call games and control the staff.

In short, don't expect much from the Nationals as they move into their new stadium. Maybe a few years down the line, but not now.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: The Nationals' 11 outfielders combined for only 17 assists in '07, a major league low.

Florida Marlins
As bad as the National should be, that's how much worse the Marlins should be.

Since firing Joe Girardi after a surprising playoff run in '06, the Marlins have only taken huge steps backwards. Anchored by an "Ace" who had the highest ERA among NL starters, Scott Olsen evidently missed Manger's Girardi's help. They led the majors with 137 errors. And they traded away their all-time wins leader (Dontrelle Willis) and All-Star third baseman, Miguel Cabrera, leaving them with a miniscule payroll (reliever Kevin Gregg, who earned $575,000 has the highest salary on the team) and a non-existant fan base.

Help, though, could be on the way, though most of it seems to be a year away at least. Blue-chipper pitchers Andrew Miller, Chris Volstead, Rick Vandenhurk, Gabe Hernandez and OF Cameron Maybin may join legit star-in-making Hanley Ramirez, power 2B Dan Uggla and RF Jeremy Hermida, but will probably accrue as many "D'oh!" rookie moments as they do great ones.

All in all, opposing NL teams will enjoy trips to south Florida, for the weather, the beaches and the potential sweeps they'd get in facing the Marlins.

Sound Smart To Your Friends: Dan Uggla became the second 2B in history—aside from Joe Gordon of the '38-39 Yankees—with at least 25 HRs in his first two seasons

Tomorrow: The NL Central