Monday, March 30, 2009

Transactions....

To all those who said this year's NCAAs were "boring", ummm, did you see Villanova's win over Pitt?


Although almost everybody knew it was probably going to happen, it still was a little shocking when the Rays sent down David Price. After all, Price gave up just 1 run and had 10 Ks in 8.1 inning. He looked completely dominating. Still, the common wisdom is that the Rays will do what they did with Longoria and bring him up part way through the season so as to keep his rights arbitration-free for an extra season.


And more Florida baseball....the Marlins finally got the funding they need for the baseball stadium they've been complaining about for years. Hopefully now, this gets built and they get the fan support they want and they wont fire sale their team every 3-4 years.


Interesting Belichek-ian moves from Scott Pioli in Kansas City. Word is that the reason the talent-starved Chiefs haven't signed any big-name free agents in favor instead of bringing in experienced veterans is for two reasons. First off, the Chiefs want mentors for their recent draft picks—and that was one of the main reasons they recently signed 36-year-old WR Bobby Engram, who’s expected to take Dwayne Bowe under his wing in addition to providing a decent option in the slot. By opting for older, low-key guys instead of the marquee stars, Pioli is sending the message that K.C. isn’t looking for players who might think they’re bigger than the team. All well and good, but they better hope somebody lights a fire under DT Glenn Dorsey's bum—Mike Vrabel?—because the beginning and end of their problem on defense starts with that awful defensive front.


You know, I would like a better college football ranking system as much as any body, but does Congress really have the time to do this. Really guys, is this the most pressing matter we have in America now?


And from the ridiculous to the truly sublime. In an act of selflessness not seen in sports since.....well, probably ever.....University of Oklahoma women's basketball center, Courtney Paris has stated that she will bring the NCAA's national basketball championship to Oklahoma during her time there, or that she will return her scholarship.

“This program and university have given me so much support,” said Paris, who is from Piedmont, Calif. “I feel like I want to give them something back that’s really special. If I can’t do that with a national championship, I want to give back my scholarship because I don’t feel like I’ve earned it.”

While Oklahoma hasn't said if it would hold Paris to her promise, Paris does seem serious about it. She has checked with the NCAA about the legality of her actions. And so far, so good with the promise. Oklahoma has made it to the Sweet Sixteen. While I applaud her actions, I do have to wonder what her parents think about her promise, and if they've spoken about who pays the University of Oklahoma if she gives back the scholarship?


And while I've touted them before, I'm happy to do it again. Of all the sports web sites that try for humor, The Onion Sports Network is the funniest site out there.


Look, I know a lot of web sites have the Jets taking Josh Freeman with their 1st pick in the draft—even over Mark Sanchez—and almost every single one of those sites drops the words "Joe Flacco" and "cannon arm". But let's remember another "rough young QB with a strong arm". Jeff George—name mean anything? A strong arm is great, and helps spread out the defense yes. But if the kid isn't QB savvy—and the whispers are that Freeman doesn't have the "feel" a QB needs—then he can have Thor's arm. It won't matter.


And this....just ouch.


Lastly. Yes I have my tickets for the new Yankee Stadium. And yes, I'm very excited about the new stadium and can't wait. But when I saw this image of the Old Stadium...a part of me did in fact weep.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Greatest Pitchers I Ever Saw

I was born in 1971 and came of age during the Bronx Zoo era of the New York Yankees. Growing up in Brooklyn, playing in the St. Mary's Church Baseball League in Brooklyn in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I would try to emulate Goose Gossage, all arms and legs flailing hurling the ball as hard my 77-pound body could. Gossage was my hero, and every Yankee game, I waited for the 9th inning, just so he could come in and intimidate some poor Indian or Royal batter. I swore he was the best pitcher I ever saw.

Over the years, my devotion to Gossage has waned...a little...as I watched hundreds upon hundreds of ballgames, and have gotten to witness some truly brilliant pitchers. Judging the best of them—whom I personally have seen—would be a challenge. So going by that criteria—who my eyes have watched live—I have tried to judge the top 5 pitchers, and the time in which they were at the height of their power.


5. Roger Clemens—Late 80s to mid 90s
My friends and I used to mock Clemens mercilessly—"Hey Fat Boy! 1918!"—and so on, the entire game long. Why him? It was because he was that good and we knew it. In the mid to late 80s, Clemens was the real deal and we recognized it. And as Yankee fans, we were jealous.

Clemens was a hoss; a big, young Texan, country-strong—the Red Sox answer to Mickey Mantle. Big personality, big delivery...big fastball. He was Nolan Ryan in Fenway, throwing up 20 strikeouts on the scoreboard before he was able to be called "a seasoned vet."

And as scary-good as he was, he was also just plain scary. Clemens was never afraid to throw at someone. A memory: after Clemens became a Yankee, he served as a mentor to Ted Lilly and some other young Yankee pitchers. So when an opposing pitcher plunked Derek Jeter after the Yankee shortstop had hit a home run earlier in the game, Ted Lilly hit the first batter the following inning and was immediately rejected. As Lilly is walking towards the Yankee dugout, there is Clemens, on the top step slapping his back, saying "Good! Good!" so loud the camera easily pick up his voice.

But usually he didn't need to frighten hitter with pain, just his splitter. A sick pitch, it traveled over 90 miles an hour for about 57 feet, then dove as if it fell off a table. Combine that with a mid to upper 90s fastball and you have a guy that every five days, puts your team in a position to win.

But now, the word "steroid" is inseparable from Clemens' name. And it can't not effect his legacy. Which is a shame. Because even before the steroids and the late career resurgence, he was a remarkable pitcher: 3 Cy Youngs, 1 MVP, 4 ERA crowns and 3 20-game seasons, all before 1996. And a hell of a lot of fear and derision coming from opposing crowds.


4. Steve Carlton—Early 1980s
In the early 80s, Shea Stadium was considered a "safer" place to go see a game than scary Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. So Yankee fan or not, my friends and I were taken to a bunch of games in Queens rather than in the Bronx. The plus side of that, was that I got to see Steve Carlton a bunch of times, pitching against the Mets. Carlton, already in the latter part of his career, dominated the Mets almost effortlessly, whizzing strikeout after strikeout, never tiring. Taller than he appeared on TV, Carlton threw hooks and darting fastballs till the Mets seemed demoralized and defeated themselves.

Somewhat overlooked—possibly due to his contentious relationship with the media—Carlton's stats boggle. In the times I saw him—the early 80s—Carlton was striking out batters at a much higher rate than in his supposed "prime" in the early to mid 70s. All while pitching a boatload of innings. From 1970 through 1983, Carlton never pitched less than 250 innings a season (excepting the strike year of 1981), and two times he pitched over 300 innings. He is the last pitcher to pitch 300 innings.

But the thing I remember the most was the movement of his pitches. It looked like Carlton was playing with a whiffleball while everyone else was throwing kettlebells. His pitches broke down so hard and suddenly, he made the Mets look silly trying to hit them. His hard left-handed delivery, inning after inning after inning, his pitches darting and diving—it was probably the first time I ever truly saw true mastery at work.


3. Mariano Rivera—Mid 1990s to present
In 1999, ESPN was interviewing some Atlanta Braves prior to their meeting the Yankees for the World Series title. And the Braves were saying all the things typical to that kind of interview: "Play hard...Yankees a great organization...dynasty...Jeter...Bernie...blah blah blah." Until the reporter asked a question about Mariano Rivera. Suddenly the "interview mask" fell off the Braves players face and you saw honesty. "Mariano. Aw man, he's just ridiculous. He's not fair."

And that's Rivera in a nutshell. He's so good, so dominating—with that ferocious, filthy cutter—that he commands respect. And fear. No matter what the circumstance.

Rivera was a decent pitching prospect—a starter—coming up in the Yankee organization, but with not a great shot at carrying through onto the majors. That is until two things happened: the first being the Yankees decision that his delivery and stature suited Rivera better for the bullpen. The second thing was when in addition to his 2- and 4-seam fastballs, Rivera began throwing a cut fastball.

It shouldn't be Rivera's fault that he makes it look so easy. He's never won a Cy Young (including coming in 2nd to Bartolo Colon in 2005 in what must be one of the most serious oversights in recent MLB Award history) and has only gotten as high as 9th in the MVP voting in his career—this despite that every single team in baseball would trade half their farm systems for Rivera at any point in his career. His 1.0199 WHIP puts him at 3rd...in the history of baseball. His adjusted ERA of 199 ranks him 1st in the history of the game....by 45 points.

And all with one pitch. One filthy, fearsome pitch that quietly, but forcefully commands you to respect him. One final story. One time, the Red Sox fans were cheering when Rivera was called into a game, razzing him for blowing the previous game. Interviewed after the game, Rivera was asked if he got upset at that. To which, he replied "That's OK. I don't mind. Because in their hearts, I know they fear me."


2. Pedro Martinez—Mid 90s to mid 2000s
The truth is I didn't know much about Pedro Martinez when he was playing in Montreal. Oh you heard the numbers, saw the highlights—but frankly, even after he won the 1997 Cy Young, I still didn't know much about him. At that time baseball in Montreal was dying, and most of baseball didn't pay much attention to anyone playing there until they got traded out.

In 1998 that all changed. When Martinez became a Red Sox—just at the height of his pitching powers—everyone, including me, took immediate notice and said something like, "Holy geez. Where'd this guy come from?"

Pedro had movement on his pitches second to none. Every fastball, be it a 2- or 4-seamer, or a splitter or cutter, didn't just do what it was supposed to do, it shimmied the whole way to the plate, moving all over before it finally broke in. Or away. Or down.

His numbers speak for themselves. 3 Cy Youngs, 2nd on the active ERA list (to Rivera), 7th all-time on the Win-Loss percentage. Despite playing in a small park in the heart of the steroid era, Martinez threw what was is arguably the most dominating season a pitcher has ever had: 1999: 23-4, 2.07 ERA (the league average was 5.02) and a WHIP of 0.923. The following year he lowered his WHIP to 0.737.

As astounding as those numbers are, they don't say it all. It was Martinez's command, the movement he had on his pitches. None of his pitches ever came straight at the plate. Possibly taking after Martinez's own eccentric personality, his pitches never did what you expected. As one scout wrote: Pedro "...possessed a 95-97 mph fastball than moved viciously as it crossed the plate; he also had a plus curveball and a wicked change up. It was this combination of heat and deception that resulted in so many whiffed batters..." also, he "...throws from a low three-quarters position that gives more disguise to his delivery." Add it all up and you had a guy who dominated his era.

While dominating, Martinez's career hasn't been as long as Carlton's or some other pitchers— probably due to his smaller frame. But for about a decade, Martinez was as dominate as any who ever played the game.


1. Greg Maddux—Late 1980s to early 2000s
Simply masterful. Maddux in his prime, played the game as a genie would play with simpletons. Unlike Clemens or Rivera, Maddux never relied on his physical prowess (he didn't really have any; at his best, his fastball barely touched 89). Instead it was control (Orel Hershiser once said, "This guy can throw a ball in a teacup.") and his smarts were what rolled him to dominate and make batters look downright foolish.

A Story from Brad Penny: When Brad Penny and Maddux were teammates on the Dodgers, during the last two months of 2006, they had a conversation one day that led Penny to reach a stunning conclusion: "This guy knows my stuff better than I do." It was eerie, really, how easily Maddux dissected Penny's repertoire and suggested ways to maximize it. Penny, figuring he'd take advantage of the situation, asked Maddux to call a game for him against the Cubs. And so, on the night of Sept. 13, Penny glanced into the dugout before every delivery and found Maddux, who signaled the next pitch by looking toward different parts of the ballpark. Penny threw seven scoreless innings with no walks and beat the Cubs 6-0.

Another story: With the Cubs, Maddux once sat in the dugout and watched José Hernández of the Dodgers set up in the batter's box. After two pitches, Maddux turned to the guys around him and said, "We might have to call an ambulance for the first base coach." On the next pitch, Hernández whipped a shot that hit first base coach John Shelby in the chest.

Maddux was the best for this simple reason: He could throw any of his pitches to any exact place at time he wanted. He knew what to throw, when to throw it, and where to throw it. It wasn't his arm, or his height or his power. He just was able to do what he wanted at any time. Simple, really. But amazing.

And it wasn't just his smarts and and "feel" for pitching. As Tim Kurkjian wrote: Maddux could hit, he could bunt and he could run the bases (he is the oldest pitcher ever to steal a base). He never did anything on the mound to hurt himself or his team. He hit only 137 batters and walked a mere 999 in 5,008 1/3 innings pitched, and he averaged just three wild pitches per year. He was always around the plate; he and his catcher were always in sync. With him on the mound from 2003-05, Braves catchers had no passed balls, which means, for three years, he never once crossed up a catcher; not once did he miss his location by a foot and a half, like so many pitchers do, and make the catcher miss a pitch.

And oh yeah, he won 18 Gold Gloves in a row. And 4 Cy Youngs in a row. And he won at least 15 games in 17 consecutive seasons. He was a magician on the mound who despite having no advantages in size or arm strength went out and became the best pitcher of the past 30 years.

So those are the 5 greatest pitchers I've witnessed. Which are yours? Go and let us know on the comments board.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The 2009 Yankees: A Preview

With spring training about to wrap up, it's time to take a look at the 2009 Yankees—a hopefully different team than the one who left early in October of 2008.

Starting Pitchers:
With Phil Hughes sent down, the small hope he would get a rotation spot is vanquished. As previously thought, the 2009 Yankees rotation should look like this:

C.C. Sabathia — LHP
Ching Ming Wang — RHP
A.J. Burnett — RHP
Andy Pettitte — LHP
Joba Chamberlain — RHP

Girardi has strongly hinted that Sabathia would be the Opening Day starter—can you argue with that choice?—and that Wang would follow him. Burnett would be in the 3-spot to break up Wang and Pettitte, both heavy sinker pitchers. And Chamberlain would be in the 5-spot, and would be skipped whenever off days make it permissible, so as not to jump his innings count too much from last year.

Relief Pitchers:
Mariano Rivera — RHP
Brian Bruney — RHP
Damaso Marte — LHP
Brett Tomko — RHP
Phil Coke — LHP
Jonathan Albaladejo — RHP

With Jorge Posada still working out the kinks on his shoulder, the conventional wisdom is that the Yankees will carry three catchers, at least early in the season. Which leaves them with 6 relievers for the time being. Obviously Rivera, Marte and Bruney make the big club. And Phil Coke, who has had a nice spring, should be the second lefty out of the pen. Which leaves two spots left to be filled. Tomko has been a find this spring and has probably earned himself a spot on the roster. The last spot could go to either Edwar Ramirez, Alfredo Aceves or Jose Veras, both of which had decent track records when in the majors. My guess is, however that Albaladejo gets the call, as he has had a nice spring (8.1 IP, 1ER, 8Ks) and Girardi might want to see more of what he can do, while Aceves, Ramirez and Veras, veritible youngsters, get more time in AAA to hone their craft. Ramirez would probably be the first call up when the Yankees send Cash down.

(03/26/09) Just found out Jose Veras is out of options, so possibly, by default, he gets the last bullpen spot.

Infield:
Mark Teixiera 1b (S)
Robinson Cano 2b (L)
Derek Jeter SS (R)
Cody Ransom 3b (R)
Angel Berroa Util (R)

Until A-Rod comes back, Ransom mans 3rd base, with Angel Berroa, who has had a decent spring, backing up any spots except 1st base until further notice (Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez who both have had eye-opening performances this spring at 2b and SS have no realistic shots at making the big club). Nick Swisher will back up 1st base and play a variety of outfield roles. The rest of the positions are solid.

Outfield:
Johnny Damon LF (L)
Brett Gardner CF (L)
Xavier Nady RF (R)
Melky Cabrera OF (S)
Nick Swisher OF (S)

Center field, the only real spot up for grabs seems to be in Brett Gardner's hands, meaning Melky Cabrera will be the 4th outfielder and first man off the bench. Johnny Damon and his weak arm will man left field and Xavier Nady and his relatively strong arm will man right field. The Yankees have an added bonus with Swisher and Cabrera coming of the bench, as both are switch hitters and can play a variety of positions.

Catchers and DH:
Jorge Posada (S)
Jose Molina (R)
Kevin Cash (R)
Hideki Matsui (L)

Posada will be the everyday catcher, but not really. While he is still the starting catcher for the Yankees, Girardi will treat him with kid gloves—especially during the early days of the season—and not run him out there 145-150 games this season. Which means Molina, and potentially Cash will get more playing time as Girardi sees fit. Matsui and his balky knees will be the everyday DH—unless Posada gets a half-day off and bats in the DH spot.


Overall, an improvement over 2o08—and not just because Posada and Wang are back. Gardner provides speed and terrific defense in the outfield. Teixiera provides a better bat, and a non-Frankenstein approach to defending 1b. Cano seems to be more focused and Nady can't be any worse in defending RF. And of course, the 2009 Yankees wont have to rely on Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner to fill out their rotation. Burnett, Sabathia and a healthy Chien-Ming Wang are as solid a front 3 as their is in baseball. The Yankees relief corps has Rivera for one more year—always a good thing—and a healthy and svelter Bruney to handle the 8th.

As previously stated, the 2009 Yankees seem a better ball club defensively and in their pitching. Which is good, because with the Rays and Red Sox, the Yankees will need to be at the top of their game.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Transactions....

Interesting that Arizona—whom Dick Vitale freaked out about being in the NCAA Championship, saying they don't deserve it—is still alive at the Sweet 16. Just saying, Dickie V.


Great article in the New Yorker about the 2 new baseball stadiums in New York. About their differences in style, the difference in location and how they tie into New York. Definitely worth a read.


A twit-head article (as opposed to a Twitter article) from Foxsports.com Ken Rosenthal about how the Yankees are just fine without Jeter playing shortstop, as this spring proved.

Really? Pardon me, Mr. Rosenthal, but you're an idiot. Spring training is just that. Spring training—not the real thing. Playing in shorts in Florida in February against the Pirates AA pitcher is a little different Ken, than going up against Beckett, Kazmir and Halladay in October. And yes, we get it. Jeter is 35, has declining range and the Yankees have some middling prospects at the 6 position. And sure, Ramiro Pena and Eduardo Nunez "bring energy" and might turn out to be fine at SS someday for the Yankees (neither, however, were on BaseballAmerica's top 30 prospects for the Yankees) or for whoever. But to say that the Yankees "are just fine" without Jeter at short is a bit idiotic. As if all Jeter brings to the Yankes is declining skills.


Funny, I just wrote about this yesterday and here it is. And yes, the Browns should trade Braylon Edwards for whatever they can get. My advice. Someone who can sack the quarterback.


Superb article from the outgoing ombudsman at ESPN. basically, Le Anne Schreiber writes, that ESPN is too excessive. I know what you're thinking. Duh. Anyone who watches the Farve coverage or T.O or whatever, knows ESPN like sticking to sexy stories forever. But Schreiber goes on—and writes well—about the ESPN factor in covering sports.

Most fans who write me don't object to watching marquee teams or superstars play. What they object to is announcers or analysts or anchors who place grossly disproportionate emphasis on one superstar's performance, as if football or baseball or basketball were an individual sport played against a nameless opponent.

They object even more vehemently to announcers who, when assigned to games without marquee appeal, divert their attention from the teams actually present to the more ESPN-favored teams playing on the field of announcer dreams.

Fans don't object to ratings-driven decisions about what games to telecast, but they do object when that selection dominates other kinds of programming, in the form of excessive advance promotion or postgame hoopla on "SportsCenter." ESPN's postgame attitude seems to be: We have the footage and the crew there live, so why not make the most of it, whether or not the game warrants it? Fan attitude seems to be: We just saw that game or chose not to, and it's late, so please give us the other news of the day.

So what's the one last message I want to leave ESPN? I guess it would have to be: Don't be so predictable. Subtext: Stop trying to make the publicity-rich ever richer. Spread the wealth around before fans turn on ESPN the way investors have turned on bankers.

Anyway. Go read the whole thing. If you're interested at all about how sports is depicted by the Worldwide Leader in Sports, you'll enjoy it.


Some positions in football never seem to get filled, Tampa Bay quarterback, Detroit Lions wide receiver. And also San Francisco's offensive line—always seems they are signing guys or cutting guys and drafting guys, but always needing someone new. And now, we hear the 49ers just told big ticket signee Jonas Jennings (7 years, 36 million they gave him a few years back) to not bother to come back to the Bay. He's out. Well, that was money well spent. The question is now, will the 49ers go after a OT in the first round of the draft....say Michael Oher?


Tough article on A-Rod this week by Ian O'Connor. It has the pre-requisite cheap shots you'd expect in an Alex Rodriguez article. But it also talks about he can rebuild his image. The long and the short of it is this, A-Rod: Stay clean, stay out of trouble, and go win some championships.


And finally, with Curt Schilling officially retired, one has to ask: Is he a Hall of Famer and is the bloody sock going with him to Cooperstown?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Trade Proposals

This week, I proposed a three-way trade between the Jets, Browns and Broncos. And......I took some flak for it. However, I stand by it; Cleveland gets a pick and older players whom Mangini trusts. The Broncos get a new young QB and a pick. And the Jets get a talented, young QB, who performed fairly well despite an awful defense.

Mother said I was a slower learner; here are some more proposals for trades I think some teams should make.

Cleveland Browns trade Shaun Rogers to the Green Bay Packers for Jordy Nelson and 4th round pick.
Let's stick with the Browns. Shaun Rogers, malcontent, wants out of Cleveland. He played well this year, and now is making noise about feeling "unappreciated" (wants more money). If Mangini wants to make a show of who's in charge in Cleveland and take over the locker room, he can trade Rogers for someone younger, talented and who catch the ball—something the Browns could use, especially if their get rid of Braylon Edwards. Cleveland could then take B.J. Raji in the 1st round or Ron Brace in the 2nd round to play the nose position. In return the Browns get a young receiver with some speed and room to grow. They also get back a 4th round pick—they traded theirs last year—which they need because they only had 5 picks in this draft. For the Packers, Rogers is exactly what they need. The Packers are switching to a 3-4 defense and need a big man with experience at the nose. Rogers is an animal in the 3-4 and had 4.5 sacks from his nose position. He would be a perfect fit as the packers input their 3-4 defense—and this frees up their first round pick to plug in another hole on their team. Overall, the trade makes sense for both teams. The Browns get rid of a malcontent who's easily replaced, pick up a talented young receiver and a needed draft pick. The Packers get the rock and lynchpin for their new defense. A win all around.


St Louis Rams trade Leonard Little to the New Orleans Saints for a 2nd round pick in 2009 draft and a conditional pick in the 2010 draft.
A rare inter-divisional trade, but one that benefits both teams. Firstly the Rams. They are in full-blown rebuilding mode. A new coach, new philosophy...and new players. Nothing against Leonard Little—in fact he is a remarkable and underrated pass-rusher—but he will be 35 this upcoming season, and the Rams are nowhere near contending for anything. With whispers of La'Roi Glover possibly retiring, Coach Steve Spagnolo will have room to start refashioning the Rams defense to his liking. And that might mean trading Little for whatever he can get. Meanwhile the Saints are built to win now. Drew Brees is setting Fouts-ian type passing yards, but the defense is letting him down. Last year, the Saints were 24th in the league with only 28 sacks. Recent first-round picks, Will Smith and Charles Grant only mustered 6 sacks between them—or the same amount Leonard Little did....in 10 games. Little knows how to get after the QB, period. Something the Saints could use. Trading a second round pick for a known commodity, and a proven pass-rusher is not a lot to give up. And the Rams could use the pick. A fair trade all around.

Kansas City Chiefs trade Tony Gonzalez and 4th round draft pick to Philadelphia Eagles for Philadelphia's 2nd 1st Round pick (no. 28).
Poor Tony Gonzalez. Arguably the best pass-catching tight end in football history; he doesn't deserve to end his career like this. And if the Chiefs are merciful....as well as shrewd, they could give Tony a chance to play for a reason, while getting something for him in the bargain.
Last year, L.J Smith led all Eagles tight ends with 37 receptions. Not really that great, but don't worry; he signed with the Ravens. That leaves Brent Celek and Matt Schobel as the Eagle's tight ends—with a combined 29 receptions. Donovan McNabb, Andy Reid and the Eagles need to win now, if they are ever going to. And 29 receptions aren't going to cut it. back when McNabb was winning a ton of ball games, he could rely on guys like Chad Lewis at the tight end position. Neither Schobel nor Celek are Chad Lewis. If Philadelphia wants to compete seriously for a NFC title, they need to give McNabb a reliable target at the TE. Last season, with Tyler Thigpen and Brodie Croyle throwing him passes, Gonzalez caught 96 passes and had 10 TDs. Or 6 more than all the Eagle TEs combined. The number 28 pick is not cheap, but is a reasonable price for 96 catches, and a legitimate chance to get deep in the playoffs. And the Eagles have the number 21 pick in the first round anyway. Solid trade all around.

Dallas Cowboys trade Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Spencer and a 4th round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Braylon Edwards.
Bill Parcells likes linebackers. So much so that when he was head coach of Dallas he drafted a ton of them. Some worked out, some didn't. Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Spencer are two young linebackers who while athletic and talented, haven't fit in Dallas. One could argue especially in Spencer's case, because they buried behind good players. Spencer was a demon at Purdue, making tackles, forcing fumbles, batting passes and sacking the QB 10.5 times his season year. Carpenter also was a great college player, what the kids call a "throwback" player. And Edwards was considered a can't-miss prospect when he came out of Michigan. And while all are gifted 1st round picks, all 3 have to be considered a little disappointing. All 3 could use a change of scenery and new opportunities. The Browns could use linebacker depth (recent signees David Bowens and Eric Barton are solid if not outstanding, and aren't young) not to mention pressure from the 3-4 OLB position. Aside from Kamerion Wimbley (who's sack totals have dropped each year as opposing teams have learned his moves), who notched 4 sacks from his OLB, the rest of the Browns linebackers totaled 6 sacks, and 1 of those left the building when Willie McGinest wasn't resigned. Spencer and Carpenter bring youth and energy, as well as potential, to the Browns who could use it. Dallas, who just cut Terrell Owens and his 69 catches, are left with a total of 73 catches from last year's wide receiver corp. They now have Patrick Crayton penciled in as a starting wide receiver. It seems apparent that Dallas could use some help. Unfortunately, the Boys don't have a 1st round pick. They do however, have a surfeit of able linebackers. And Edwards, while not living up to a number 4 pick, isn't a bad receiver, and could help Dallas in certain packages. This could be considered a trade of disappointments, and maybe it is. But it also makes sense as fresh starts and the needs of each team could help these players reach their potentials.

That's it. Each trade makes sense. If these teams made these trade, they would help their ball clubs prepare for the new season. Probably never happen tho.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Strange Bedfellows

Funny, I was just thinking about this.

Last night, I was talking to a friend, saying, "Wouldn't it be funny if the Jets turn to Mangini and the Browns to help out for a Cutler trade?"

"Fat chance," he said.

Maybe, but you could say many things about Mangini, but stupid isn't one of them. And having two quarterbacks on his roster only hurts him. Constant speculation hurts his team. If Quinn has a bad day, the "Put in Derek Anderson" chants begin and he has nothing but headaches. In short, it behooves Mangini to get something for one of his QBs and go from there. It makes sense.

And Quinn learned under Charley Weis at Notre Dame, so he's schooled in the way Josh McDaniles runs his offense. So it makes a lot of sense for Denver to trade Cutler and get a kid that already knows McDaniles offense and can grow with their new coach in Denver.

For the Jets, the trade makes sense as well. Obviously they can use a QB. The only question is do they have enough to get him. Say, Shaun Ellis, Abram Elam and a no. 1 pick for Quinn and maybe a 5th rounder. Then trade Quinn and next year's 1 for Cutler. Would Denver and Cleveland go for this? Would the Jets?

Would you? Let's here what you have to say?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On Paper

Now that spring has sprung and baseball has begun, let's take a look at the 5 best teams in baseball. Regardless of division, regardless of races, these 5 should be the finest purveyors of baseball this year, in order of on-paper goodness.

Chicago Cubs
Just the deepest team all around. The rotation is packed with talent—potentially 3 no. 1 starters in Dempster, Zambrano and Harden—plus a bullpen led by Carlos Marmol and his 117 K in 87 IP and aided by Kevin Gregg and potentially, Jeff Samardzija make for a formidable pitching department. Their lineup is nothing to sneeze at either and can get on base—a .354 OBP last year that should get better this year with Milton Bradley and a more MLB-ready Fukodome. All this makes them, at least on paper, the team to beat this year.

New York Yankees
Like the Cubs, they are loaded. A rebuilt rotation that features Sabathia, Wang, Burnett and Joba, the best reliever ever for the 9th inning, not to mention a deep bullpen, should lower last year's disappointing team ERA. And the lineup, freed of a lot of dead weight (read: Giambi) and adding Teixeira, and mighty mite, Brett Gardner to A-Rod, Jeter, and a rededicated Cano should improve on last year's 89 wins by at least 9 or 10 games.

Tampa Rays
Last year's World Series runners-up only got better. They added Pat Burrell for a lineup that could use some punch, and should have David Price for a full season. Also Scott Kazmir says he should be healthy and could use his full repertoire—something he said he was unable to do last year. They also added bullpen depth in Joe Nelson, Brian Shouse and Lance Cormier. All this makes the Rays a more complete and dangerous team this year—and potentially higher on this list.

Boston Red Sox
There's no way a team this talented should be 4th on this list. With Josh Beckett, Kevin Youkilis Dice-K Matsuzaka and Jonathan Papelbon as the big-time players, the Red Sox can add uber-talented youngsters MVP Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson and Jacoby Ellsbury, all of who seem capable of playing at a high level for many years. The only weakness for the Sox could be health, where a number of players, including David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Brad Penny, Rocco Baldelli and Mike Lowell need to be monitored all season.

New York Mets
The 2008 New York Mets will most likely be remembered for choking to the Phillies for the second season in a row. Which is a shame. They had some nice numbers on that squad; Wright's 124 RBI and .924 OPS, Reyes' 204 hits and 19 triples, Santana's 2.53 ERA and 206 strikeouts. But they couldn't seem to put it all together. 2009 might change that. Adding K-Rod and J.J. Putz to help a soft bullpen should pay dividends right away. Also, young Daniel Murphy, who had a nice callup last year, solidifies the LF position. The Mets have the starting pitching—with Santana, Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey—to compete in a short series, and now have the bullpen as well. They also have the bats; Wright, Reyes, Beltran and Delgado can hit with anyone. Again, as in the past two years, the Mets are one of the top teams in the NL—this could be the year they put it all together.

There it is: the 5 best teams in baseball 2009. At least on ink and paper. Write back with your opinion on your five best paper teams.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Transactions....

Love Selection Sunday. Love the tension and waiting to see who made it in. That said, what the heck is the NCAA doing with the brackets?! No, I don't mean leaving St. Mary's out and keeping Arizona in. I mean the locations. How are East bracket games being played in Boise? Or South bracket games being played in Portland, Oregon? Or West games being played in Philadelphia? What the heck....just really weird


Even admitting I don't know the full story and all the ins and outs and whatnot, I find myself comfortable saying this: Ahem. Jay Cutler...Grow the heck up. Report to frickin' camp and do your job.


All 3 followers of this blog (Hi, Mom!) know that we fell soccer is not a sport; or at the least, the most boring sport ever (golf is a skill, not a sport). However, this clip admittedly is pretty cool. Just goes to show...even a stopped clock is right at least once a day. And even a boring game can be fun once a century.


Chipper, Cano, Pedroia, Braun, Marte, Lindstrom. What's the connection? All hurt during the World Baseball Classic. Nothing against the WBC—some of the games were actually exciting—but I can't see this situations continuing as is. The second a Derek Jeter type gets seriously hurt, the games will be filled in with kids from AA-ball. And no real prospects at that.


Not that I think there is any big conspiracy or that we need to probe and investigate—or do we?—but really. Matt Cassell and Mike Vrabel for a no. 2? And that's it?! Not even another low pick, or one of the Chiefs adequate young corners—which the Patriots need desperately? Not to start a big Watergate-type conspiracy, but it seems odd that the Patriots didn't get more for the talent they gave up.


A web site asks the eternal question all of humanity has pondered: Can Kei Igawa ever be traded? Obviously the Yankees would have to eat money for that to happen, and a National League team would probably have to be the trader team, but considering the Spring Training he's having (9 IP, 0 ER), and the pretty good year he had at AAA last year, and the dearth of quality starting pitching, you would think somebody would at least nibble around the Yankees.


Last week, this blog had a poll about what would Terrell Owens next move be? Would he play for the Giants, Redskins, etc, or would he be on a reality show. By the end of the week, the poll had him going into reality TV; however, Owens signed with the Bills, rending our poll incorrect. Well, hold the phones.


Love this time of year for this kind of speculations. Right now there are rumors of a Detroit Lions—Jay Cutler trade, potentially for the No 20 pick and maybe some players. Which, Cutler's pouty-ness aside, makes perfect sense. Cutler is a known commodity—maybe not Peyton Manning, but a talented, young QB—and not the expensive risk a Matthew Stafford would be. And then the Lions can spend their first pick—on an Aaron Curry or one of the top OTs—and fill one of the other of myriad of holes the Lions have on their roster.


And lastly, you may have already heard about this, but if you haven't you should. No words could do it justice, so just watch.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Why Mock?

In an episode of the TV show Sports Night, the character Dan Rydell, an anchorman in the eponymous show, poses the question while reporting the NFL Draft, "Why should we care?" For an athlete, being selected as a 1st round pick as opposed to being picked in the second round represents a difference of millions of dollars....so the athletes definitely care. But why should we care—we couch potato sports fans who will never see the field of play in an NFL game let only the money—at all?

Why do we care so passionately if some young linebacker from BYU ends up going to the Colts at the end of round 2, or to Carolina in a trade-up in the middle of round 3? Why do some of us spend useless hours writing up drafts, months and months before the actual draft takes place? Why do we then post it to a message board only to have another mock draft fanatic hurl abuses at us for our stupidity? And when the actual draft day comes, none of our picks is anywhere close to the target. The futility is limitless.

And it’s not just the layman who’s questioning the passion for the draft. Professional sportswriters (including some who work for ESPN, the host of the draft) are not just expressing confusion over the Draft’s popularity, they are outright claiming that it’s stupid, boring and pointless. Mike Lupica has repeatedly ripped the NFL Draft both in print and on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters. On February 20th of this year, George L. Jones of the Selma Times-Journal published his “top 5 reasons to hate the draft,” which has since made the rounds on the Internet. And Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post wrote: “I hate the NFL draft. I realize that saying anything against the draft amounts to blasphemy, but somebody's got to do it…. I love pro football, but I hate the draft. I hate being asked, ‘Who is so-and-so going to take’ because not only do I not know, I don't care.”


The Super Bowl? Hah.
Here’s a statistic. Last year's NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers had an estimated average viewing audience of just under 9 million people per game. By comparison, over 30 million people watched the 2008 draft. Bizarre, no? Because while the NFL Draft is fantastically long—two full days, clocking in at over sixteen hours—not one point is scored. The draft is homework rather than great hits, paper-shuffling rather than explosive breakaway runs. It's 2 full days of "sports entertainment" that doesn't have a football, a field, or a scoreboard. What it has is men putting names on a bulletin board. It has the assistant NFL Commissioner and little-known kids dressed up in suits and caps.

Yet, ESPN broadcasts each and every second of it, up to and including the final, 7th round. And, those 30 million people at home, more likely than not, are on the web commenting on each of the selections on NFL message boards while thumbing through magazines covering draft prospects and with full mock drafts sold by Street & Smiths, Lindy's, The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly and ESPN (among others) for eight dollars or more. For the truly obsessive draft fan, the Ourlads.com "complete draft package" is available for “only” $55.00.

The NFL Draft, according to CNNsi.com’s Tim Layden, “…is the biggest sporting event in America.” He adds:

“It is not a two-day event. It's a three-month event. NFL Nation (that's everybody) begins talking about the draft before the Super Bowl broadcast signs off.”

From early February into late April, fans talk endlessly about the draft, watch and listen to shows about the draft and hammer Web sites devoted to the draft. In March, I went to dinner with a group of New York Giants' fans who worship football, the Jints and the draft. Great guys, all of them. But I've got to say, their knowledge of the draft was vaguely scary.

The hype is endless from the dead of winter into the middle of spring. Give me another event that can match this. The Super Bowl? Hah. Two weeks of hype. Period.

But why? Sixteen hours of conference room tables and talking heads trying to fill the dead time between picks does not sound like the recipe for thrilling sports entertainment. Yet somehow it is.


Why Would You Want To Do That?
For years and years, the NFL Draft took place in a nondescript hotel conference room filled with cigar-chomping men who looked like overweight Mike Ditkas and the results were published in the newspapers the next week or so, if anybody cared.

Then in 1980, ESPN, a fledgling new network that needed something, anything, sports-related to broadcast, saw the perfect time-eater in the NFL Draft. ESPN figured, while the draft was definitely not scintillating TV, it filled a lot of hours, and it was better than high school curling, which took up most of ESPN's broadcasting at that time. So they went to then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and asked for permission to broadcast the NFL Draft in its entirety. Rozelle said, "Why would you want to do that?"

Funny thing happened though. This event that no one ever thought to broadcast and defies every logical tenet of sports entertainment—there's no competition, no violence, no drama—became a phenomenon. A cult audience grew. And grew. And then grew some more. Soon, people were waiting outside all night for a chance to watch the draft, live. By the end of the 80s, loud, raucous groups of fans (many of them, irate Jet fans who always hate whatever pick their team makes—usually with reason) came to cheer and jeer. Niche experts gained a niche popularity, building entire enterprises based solely on this one day. No one is more famous to draft fans, or “draftniks,” for his prognostications than Mel Kiper, the bouffant-sculpted 30-year guru of the NFL Draft.


It Started Out As A Hobby
How does one become a guru of a noncompetitive wing of a violent and popular sport? During an interview with ESPN, Mel Kiper explained how we got started:

I was a big fan of the NFL and college football. I saw the impact of the draft then. It was the only way you could improve your football team from year to year. There was no free agency, there were very few trades.

I always thought, if this is the only way to increase your talent base, there should be huge interest in this. I thought any college or NFL fan should crave the kind of information that I was interested in. The GM of the Baltimore Colts at that time, Ernie Accorsi, was a good friend of mine, and he basically encouraged me. He told me that fans would crave that type of information, that I should take it public and turn it into a business.

And Kiper was not alone. The late, great Joel Buchsbaum of Pro Football Weekly became involved with the draft even earlier than Kiper. In the early 70s, Buchsbaum was set on following in his father's footsteps and becoming an attorney. That is, until his hobby of writing scouting reports on college football players—imitating the scouting reports of Carl and Pete Marasco in Pro Football Weekly—eventually took over, and he left his career path to follow the NFL Draft full-time. As Buchsbaum later said: "It started out as a hobby and became a job."

And for thousands and thousands of people out there, the NFL draft is not just a hobby, but a job. And for some, it’s not just a job, but an obsession. Google "NFL Mock Draft" and you'll see that there are thousands of sites—featuring mock drafts, personal opinions and more—all amateurly run, all for little more than the love of the draft.

I think after the Super Bowl, it's the second biggest event, not just in the NFL, but in sports.

So says Scott Wright, owner and sole proprietor of www.draftcountdown.com, the world's most popular NFL Draft site. The site is completely free as well, which is amazing, considering that Wright maintains the site as a full-time job, year-round. That's right, all year round. The day after this year’s NFL Draft, Wright's site will begin the march to the 2010 NFL Draft (if it hasn't started already). For Wright, the NFL Draft is not just a hobby, it's his career.

I just became interested in it in high school, started messing around, making my own site. And it took off from there. Now I get to say, I get to work on the NFL Draft full-time.

Colin Lindsay of www.gbnreport.com also works full-time on his own NFL Draft web site. He started following the draft because: "...in the late 1970s there was absolutely no coverage of the actual draft up here in Canada, so I would take a day or two of annual leave from my job, but still go into the office, spread out my rating sheets and call the old sports ticker every 5-10 minutes to get the latest picks and followed the draft pick by pick that way."

Both Lindsay and Wright know that they aren't alone in their interest in the Draft and it's popularity. Lindsay says, "The interest in the draft is very real; indeed, it's become a year round thing, and for a lot of sports fans draft weekend has become the #2 'holiday' on the calendar after Christmas."


Those Who Can't
So still the question remains: Why would so many people devote such time over what is essentially a job fair? Says Lindsay:

I believe for many sports fans the NFL draft provides the best opportunity to play along at being GM for a day---and how many NFL fans don't fantasize about being general manager of their particular team.

Is that it? A fantasy football-like "Let's Pretend we're a GM." Perhaps. Instead of pretending to be Peyton Manning or Brian Urlacher, people are pretending to be Mike Tannenbaum or Scott Pioli. With fantasy football's popularity and the growing communities on the web of amateurs, "draftniks" abound on the web.

One such draftnik is Robert Bryant who not only follows the NFL Draft on a self-run web site, but on two. Bryant owns and runs NFLDraftDog.com as well as NFL-Draft-Site.com, both comprehensive sites that he frequently updates in addition to having a full-time job as a police officer for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. He writes on his site that he: "...personally scouts NFL Draft prospects by analyzing hours upon hours of game film and has multiple contacts within the industry, including current and former NFL Scouts, coaches, current and former players, experienced sports writers and other Draftniks."

There's that old much-abused saying, "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Perhaps there's something in that for the draftniks. Since Wright and Lindsay and Buchsbaum and Kiper and Bryant and the 30 million other people who watch the draft can't run a 4.3 40-yard dash or throw a laser spiral into triple coverage, to become a part of the game they love, they do what they can do. And that is, obsessively watch game after game after game, analyze, form strong opinions of what they see, and pretend that they have a say in the future of their team.

So this April, old men, young men, fat men, thin men, all sorts of “men who can’t” will sit around, either in New York City at the actual draft, or on their couches in front of their TVs, or on their computers linked to other “men who can’t,” all cheering or booing, full of opinions and tirades, and watch hour after hour to see if their teams pick the way they guessed they would, trying to be a part of the sport they love.

And what’s wrong with that?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Transactions....

I said this before, I'll say it again. I'm so against the NFL pushing the draft back into the late afternoon. It should be an all-day thing, Saturday and Sunday. It shouldn't start at 4pm on Saturday and go until 9pm.


Oh and another thing, ESPN on the A-Rod injury piece. Please run as many photos of hip operations as possible. Because that's why I watch sports, so I can get 20 minute segments speaking to a hip surgeon. Yeah.


Think Brian Cashman wants that Nick Swisher—Wilson Betemit trade back right about now?


So Manny agreed to a much smaller contract than what his 2008 numbers deserve, and T.O has been cut again and has a much smaller contract not in Dallas, but in northern New York. Are you listening Ocho Cinco? Being a "personality" is costing you guys money. Especially in this economy, maybe guys with "personalities" should just chill it for a little while.


Tra Thomas, who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars for 3 years, says he has "a lot left in the tank." Well, Jacksonville sure hopes so. Thomas, who is 34, did perform very well last season, but it should say something that the Eagles were looking to replace him—if he was that good and had so much left in the tank, why were they willing to let him go?


If you'll notice the poll I had on the side of the blog, you'll see I didn't even have the option of T.O. going to Buffalo. That's because I didn't imagine T.O. ever agreeing to go to a place like that. Which further means, that T.O.'s options were certainly limited—to go to a small market wen just a week earlier he was in football megacenter-Valhalla of Dallas; we may finishing his career not with a bang, but with a Buffalo whimper.


Honestly, how come Byron Leftwich isn't on a roster as a backup QB. What did he do? The guy isn't Joe Montana or anything yes, but he filled in nicely as a backup for the Steelers last year and kept the machine more than rolling for them when Big Ben was out. Why isn't he backing up, say Baltimore's Joe Flacco, or the Giant's Eli Manning? Any team that fancies itself a legitimate Super Bowl contender and only has Troy Smith or David Carr as the potential long-term fill-in should seriously look at this guy.


Under the radar free agent signing that will turn out huge: Igor Olshansky signed by the Cowboys to play DE. The man is mule strong and ties up blockers so other guys can make plays. A nice pickup to replace Chris Canty.


And lastly, in the ridiculous news of the day, it appears the Chinese are angry at America again. For what, you ask? Democracy? Trade restrictions? No, cheerleading. And some old-time Chinese are upset about it. In an ABC interview, one old man say "we want something with Chinese characteristics, not this garbage...while he was in the stand at the cheerleading event!! Well, if he hates young nubile women cheering—and who would?—then don't go, big guy. But I have a feeling at the next Chinese cheerleading competition, he'll be in the stand,watching and grousing about how awful it is.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

NL West Preview 2009

And finally, we have the preview for the NL West

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Negotiations began around the time of the election and finalized almost 4 months later, but finally, Manny is a Dodger. Even without Manny, the Dodgers are a decent ball club. With Manny—assuming his head is on right—they should take the West easy. Across the outfield, you have Manny and his Hall of Fame numbers, Andre Either (.305 BA, .510 Slugging) and Matt Kemp (18 HRs, 35 stolen bases). Catcher Russell Martin should be an All-Star for the next decade, and 22-year-old Blake Dewitt moves from 3B to 2B to take over for Jeff Kent. On the mound, the youth movement continues as Derek Lowe has moved on to Atlanta and Chad Billingsley takes over as the ace of the staff. Following him are not-yet-able-to-drink 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw who flashed brilliance as much as inconsistency, and Hiroki Kuroda, who had a nice 2nd half of the season (2.57 in August and September). The Dodgers really hope Jason Schmidt can come back from shoulder surgery in June 2007. Rust is expected. To help with that the Dodgers signed Randy Wolf to help round out the rotation. Jonathan Broxton has a grip on the closer role with 88 SO in 69 innings. The NL West is weak, and now with Manny on board, the Dodgers have enough pieces of the puzzle to win. Even with just 87 wins or so.

2 Arizona Diamondbacks
Just like last year, Arizona is pitching-drunk. Their rotation consists of this: Dan Haren (3.33 ERA, 1.13 WHIP), Brandon Webb (22-7, 3.30 ERA) nice, middle-of-the-rotation lefty Doug Davis who has won 54 games in five years, despite coming back thyroid cancer last season. Then you have Jon Garland, who went 14-8 for the Angles last year. The fifth spot will be a battle between 2 talented rookies, Max Scherzer and Yusmeiro Petit, both of whom the D-Backs are very high on. Yeah, sure wow, that's great, but who closes games? Arizona let Brandon Lyon leave in free agency and are prepared to let Chad Qualls close games for them, who will promising is relatively untested. Arizona has signed old-as-the-Redwoods, Tom Gordon to provide veteran help. The other thing reminiscent of Arizona's 2008 season is the expectation that all their young talent has put it all together. In 2008, there were signs of the talent; Justin Upton hit 15 HRs in his first full season, Chris Young smacked 42 doubles and 22 HRs, Mark Reynolds hit 22 doubles and 28 HRs, and Stephen Drew batted .291 with 11 triples. But there was also the plain ugly; Upton had a disgusting .334 OBP and struck out 121 times, Young batted .248 and had 165 Ks, Reynolds led the majors in errors, had a sad .320 OBP and an astounding 201 Ks, and Drew's OBP was just .333 OBP—and he's the lead-off hitter. Overall, the prognosis in the desert is not bad—if the pitchers stay healthy and the young D-Back players can sample even a little of their talent, they can contend in the West. If the kids flame out, it will be a frustrating year looking up at the Dodgers all summer.

3. San Francisco Giants
It's astonishing that the prediction here is that the Giants are good enough to be 3rd in any division. The post-Bonds era had the 2008 Giants slugging at a pathetic .382 percentage. They hit a league low 94 home runs all year (second lowest were the Twins with 111 dingers). They had a collective .321 OBP—4 points off the league worst status. Add to that the fact that closer Brian Wilson had a 4.62 ERA and a 1.444 WHIP. Oh, and he had a 6.23 ERA at AT&T park—not good when your close has that kind of ERA in your home park. Also, The Giants spent almost 10 million over two seasons for the aging Edgar Rentaria. Sure, he's not as old and decrepit as his predecessor, Omar Visquel, but his batting average dropped sixty points last season, and he had a career low 6 stolen bases. 20 million for this? Really? Oh, and their projected outfield, of Aaron Rowland, Randy Winn and Fred Lewis (who?) hit 32 home runs last year, or 16 less than Ryan Howard did. Yet for all this, the Giants are projected 3rd in the West. Their starting rotation isn't all that bad; Tim Lincecum is lights out as a no. 1 and Matt Cain is solid as a number 2, (3.76 ERA). Randy Johnson, if he can hold off the Grim Reaper another season can be a solid no 3. (2.41 ERA in 2nd half last year). Barry Zito's insane contract will take the 4th spot and Jonathan Sanchez round out the rotation—not awful. However, "not awful" is nowhere good enough to make up for a lineup that scares no one—yet, strangely enough, it's good enough for 3rd in the NL West.

4. Colorado Rockies
The Rockies are screwed. Just a couple years back, they were in the Series. Since then, seemingly, everything has gone wrong. First, they traded their best player, and to whit, didn't get the value they should have. Huston Street is ok, Greg Smith is a middle reliever and Carlos Gonzalez should pan out to be—in one person's estimation—the next incarnation of Juan Encarnacion. Great. But that's not all, No. 1 starter (and even that's pushing it), Jeff Francis is out for the season, leaving a mish-mash as the starting rotation. Aaron Cook is ok at best and Ubaldo Jimenez not bad if he can keep his walks in check. After that, it could get ugly—Franklin Morales? Jason Marquis? In the field, the Rockies have some parts: Troy Tulowitzki should return healthy and back to his 2007 numbers. Brad Hawpe is a nice player in the outfield and he should get some company from can't-miss rookie, Dexter Fowler, who hit .335 in AA last year and should be up some time this season in Denver. But Garrett Atkins is the man who must replace Matt Holliday's production. And while Atkins had nice numbers last year, he's not the same player he was in 2006, and since that career year, his numbers have dropped each season. For this season to not be a total disaster, Atkins must return to some semblance of the 2006 version of himself. Even if that happens though, the scoreboard operator is going to earn his pay, as the Rockies pitching should be giving up runs by the bushels this year. The 2008 Rockies won 74 games. They won't win that many this year.

5. San Diego Padres
The Padres tried all winter to trade their ace starter as the enter complete rebuilding mode. They couldn't even do that right. The Padres batted .250 collectively as a team and were dead last with a .317 team-wide OBP. You're telling me, Jake Peavy couldn't have brought back some nice prospects to help change that? In any event, Peavy and Chris Young will be the excellent 1-2 combination at the start of the Padres rotation, at least until the trade deadline. After them, promising rookie Josh Green, Cha Seung Baek and Josh Banks round out the rotation. Mark Prior will try once again to stay healthy. And for the first time since the Korean War, Trevor Hoffman will not be closing games for the Padres, having been allowed to go to Milwaukee in free agency. Heath Bell taking over those duties, having the benefit of being young and cheaper if not as reliable as Hoffman. As for the lineup, well, it really shouldn't scare anyone. Adrian Gonzalez is the best player no one knows anything about. Brian Giles is not bad, but is as old as dirt. Jody Gerut is decent, Kevin Kouzmanoff is nothing special. And frankly that's about it. And despite the commitment to rebuilding by youth (i.e., trading talent for cheaper players), the Padres only have one prospect in Baseball America's top 100 prospects, so help wont be coming anytime soon. If fans in southern California are upset. Well, they should be. The Padres have mangled their team and offer no hope anytime soon. The no. 1 pick in the amateur draft is all Padres fans have to look forward to.

That's it, enjoy the season!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

NL Central Preview 2009

Today, we take a look at the 2009 NL Central division.

1. Chicago Cubs
The Cubs are turning into the Yankees of the Midway. Anyone they want, they go out and get. The Cubs, who slugged at a .443 percentage in 2008, went out at got Milton Bradley, who slugged a Ruthian .563 last year and was on his way to a MVP-type season before getting hurt. The team is deep in almost all positions and has All-Star names in almost every position; Derek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto, Alfonso Soriano and the afore-mentioned Bradley. CF is the only position that might have a camp battle; however skipper, Lou Pinella feels Kosuke Fukadome should be much better his second time around the league. If not, backup Reed Johnson batted .303, so no problems there. The rotation, also, is overwhelming. Rich Harden, Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster could be solid no. 1 starters on almost any team in the league. Ted Lilly is a fine number 4 with 17 wins last year and the number 5 spot could go to either Sean Marshall or Jeff Samardzija—a nice problem for most managers to have. Overall, the Cubs should be easy winners of the NL Central. And they should be; this team was built to win much more.

2. St. Louis Cardinals
That World Series win sure seems like a long, long time ago. Since the Series win in 2006, the Cards have gone 164-160. Injuries to Mark Mulder and Chris Carpenter have devastated this team, and still do. Mulder is gone and the Cardinals honestly don't know what they are going to get from Carpenter. The good news is that the Cardinals have 3 other pitchers that can do the job in Kyle Lohse (3.78 ERA) Todd Wellemeyer (3.71 ERA) and Adam Wainwright (3.20 ERA). They also have some options in the bullpen in Jason Motte, Chris Perez and Trever Miller. The question is, can the starters get the ball to them with the lead? At the plate, obviously, the Cardinals begin and end with Best-Player-Of-His-Generation candidate, Albert Pujols. If he's healthy, he will put up MVP numbers, guaranteed. Behind him, the Cardinals have always injured Troy Glaus, contact-hitting catcher Yadier Molina, and a bevy of talented outfielders. Rick Ankiel, in his first season put up solid numbers and showed athleticism in CF. RF Ryan Ludwick made the All-Star team and is a lock for right field. In left, the Cardinals can use 2008 starter Skip Schulmacher (.302 BA), or prospect, Colby Ramus, who has a legitimate chance to take the spot if he has a nice spring. In the end, barring significant injuries the Cardinals should hit the 86-win mark, as they did last year. And that's it.

3. Cincinnati Reds
Since 2003, the Reds have been stuck between 69 and 80 wins. This could be the year, they finally break that trend, and in the positive direction. The reason being, a commitment to blending talented youngsters in with the proven veterans. The rotation exemplifies that; youngsters Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez join with vets Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo to form a solid front 4. 22-year-old Homer Bailey, youngsters Micah Owings and Ramon Ramirez are in the mix for the 5th spot. That judicious mix of youth and proven veterans continues onto the field, with Joey Votto and Jay Bruce looking to build off their solid rookie seasons. 25-year-old veteran Edwin Encarnacion continues to anchor the hot corner for the Reds. Those youngsters are mixed in with Brandon Phillips who has averaged 22 home runs and since coming to the Reds in 2005. Willy Taveras, brought in as a free agent will be competing with rookie Chris Dickerson for rights to the centerfield spot—either will bring a dose of speed to the outfield. Also vets will be in charge of the bullpen as 39-year-old Dave Weathers pairs up with 39-year old Arthur Rhodes to save games for the Reds. The Reds are trying to change from a team with big lumber (Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey) to one with youth and defense. So far, so good in 2009.

4. Milwaukee Brewers
You gotta give it to the Brewers. They truly rolled the dice in 2008. They knew they wouldn't be able to resign Sabathia and yet they traded for him anyway to pair with Sheets to go for it all last year. You have to respect that. Unfortunately, now he's gone, and the Brewers are poses to take a big step backwards. It isn't all about losing C.C. either. The Brewers batted only .253 as a team last year, and haven't done much to help in that department. They are hoping Rickie Weeks can perform like the 2006 Rickie Weeks (.279 BA) and not the 2007-2008 Rickie Weeks (.235 BA). Also if AA wunderkind Mat Gamel has an outstanding spring (which the Brewers are praying for), he might be on the Opening Day roster at 3B. The pitching has even bigger holes. Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra, if healthy form a nice 1-2. Past that are questions: Seth McClung? Chase Wright? Brandon Looper? Jeff Suppan? Not exactly CC and Sheets, is it? At least if they can get the ball to the 9th inning, aging but still potent Trevor Hoffman should provide some semblance of relief. While the Brewers have some nice parts—Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, J. J. Hardy—maybe rookies Gamel and Alcides Escobar—it's not enough to duplicate last year's exciting playoff run.

5. Houston Astros
A team with schizophrenia. On the one hand, they have Carlos Lee (.314 BA, 28 HRs), Lance Berkman (.312 BA, .567 Slugging) Roy Oswalt (1.179 WHIP) and Wandy Rodriguez (3.54 ERA). On the other hand, the Astros are going into 2009 with Michael Bourne in CF (.229 BA—the guy Brad Lidge was traded for), Geoff Blum at 3B (.240 BA) and J. R. Towles behind the plate (.137 BA in 51 games). Ooof. Clearly this is a team in need of direction. Aside from a dominating Roy Oswalt performance of another sick night by Lance Berkman, the team doesn't have the parts need to win. Who pitches after Oswalt and Rodriguez? Mike Hampton who they signed for cheap, got hurt—surprise—and can't be counted on as even a no 3 starter at this point. No one else inspires any confidence. in fact, the Astros only has 1 prospect in Baseball America's Top 100 prospects, so help isn't coming any time soon. The Astros have a few singular talents
that should keep them from being truly horrible, but they don't have nearly enough to go anywhere but 76 wins.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates
What would the NL Central be without the Pirates at (or very near) the bottom. They've been either 5th or 6th in the Central since 2004—and haven't been as high as 3rd place since 1999. And truly sad is that the 2009 Pirates sound an awful lot like the 2008 Pirates. First, the Pirates rotation is still banking on improvement in their young pitchers. However, their young pitchers last year had the highest ERA (5.36 ERA) and the fewest wins from its rotation (33). However, they have a new pitching coach, Joe Kerrigan. hey Joe, ever hear of Sisyphus? In the field its' Nate McCluth in centerfield, Adam LaRoche at first, Jack Wilson at short, Ryan Doutimit behind the plate and a lot of "Just Another Guy" players. However, they Pirates are hopeful Steven Pearce and Andrew McCutchen can make their mark as rookies some time this season. Here’s hoping that small hope can be fulfilled.

Monday, March 2, 2009

NL East Preview 2009

Today let's preview the NL East


1. New York Mets
The New York Mets had a plan, no? Look who they went after in free agency; arguably the top reliever on the market, if not MLB. Then they traded for what? Another reliever. Other than resigning Oliver Perez and picking up Freddy Garcia on a minor league contract, the Mets didn't do much else. The feeling was; they didn't have to. They feel the team they have in place is essentially the team that can go out and win. The organization feels the second-highest scoring offense should do even better this year, with youngster Daniel Murphy playing LF—Murphy batted .313 in 131 AB last year. The Mets are also hoping for another solid year from aging Carlos Delgado, who batted well, especially in the 2nd half of the year (.340, 8 HRs. in Sept/Oct). And with the bullpen firmed up, the Mets can focus on the 5th starter in spring training. Johan Santana, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez are secure as the top 4. Can Freddy Garcia nail down the 5th spot, or will Jonathon Niese show enough in March for the team to take a chance on him? If that's the biggest problem in spring training, it's a nice dilemma to have, and shows a deep and secure ball club. The Mets, barring another September choke, should take the NL East and put some of the demons they've had recently, to bed. At least some.

2. Florida Marlins
The Marlins, last year, played much better than anyone expected. They did with a club that could pound the ball—208 HRs, 3rd in the majors—and with a young surprising rotation. That plan should continue, with Josh Johnson (3.61 ERA), Ricky Nolasco (3.52 ERA) and Chris Volstad (2.88 ERA). All are 26 or under, as is Andrew Miller, who is back after a balky knee bothered him during the second half of last season (Miller had a 2.43 ERA in May; 7.18 ERA in other five months). The Marlins spent time correcting Miller's mechanics and feel he should get better with experience and a smoother delivery. Miller and the rotation aren't the only ones the Marlins are expecting big things from this season; Cameron Maybin, a five-tool blue-chipper takes over in center field. Maybin, still 21 on Opening Day, went 16-for-32 with nine runs scored and four stolen bases during a September call-up. Also, Gaby Sanchez, who hit .314 in AAA-ball last year is expected to take over at first base—the Marlins traded Mike Jacobs expecting he would. Sanchez and Maybin join a Marlins club that had a .433 slugging percent collectively last year and can be expected to pound the ball. And with Hanley Ramirez moving from lead off to the 3-spot in the order ("More RBI," Ramirez says), the Marlins should be fun to watch. Except them to stay in the race at least till mid-September.

3. Philadelphia Phillies
How can we pick the World Champs 3rd? Well, to start with, after Cole Hamels, the staff reads like this; Joe Blanton had a 4.69 ERA last year, and gave up 13 runs in 18 innings collectively to the Mets, Braves and Marlins last year. Brett Myers, the number 3 starter had a 4.55 ERA and a 1.379 WHIP with a 5.23 ERA in Sept/Oct. And Jamie Moyer, who had a nice year, will be 46 in June and can't—and shouldn't—pitch past the 5th inning (his BAA goes from .127 in the 5th to .316 in the 6th). And he's your number 2 starter. Simply put, the Phillies don't have the pitching. Who's the 5th starter? Kyle Kendrick—5.49 ERA? J.A. Happ, who had a nice cup of coffee last September. Can he do it over an entire season? And Brad Lidge can't be counted on to repeat his perfect season. In any case, the Phillies should hit, if not for average (.255 BA as a team), then for slugging, (.438 slugging). And they should run—136 stolen bases—adding to a lot of runs for the Phillies, 799 last year. All in all, the Phillies should stay in the race for the NL East, but aren't a complete enough team to match the dream season's 92 wins they had last year.

4. Atlanta Braves
Unlike most teams, the Braves problems don't lie with their pitching, but at the plate. Last year the Braves outfield hit a collective 18HRs or 19 less than Manny Ramirez. And with Mark Texiera gone for good, the power outage will be even greater. Recently signed Garrett Anderson can help, but at 37, he can't be the complete answer. The Braves are praying rookie Jordan Schafer can mature quickly and assert himself as a 5-tool starter (or at least one with power). Failing that, they hope last year's CF, Josh Anderson can develop some power. The Braves can take solace that the starting rotation should be excellent. Last year's stalwart, Jair Jurrjens will be joined by Derek Lowe, Javier Vasquez and Japanese star, Kenshin Kawakami . The Braves also should get back Tim Hudson, hopefully by August. Overall, the Braves starting pitching should keep them close in many games, but the lack of big bats won’t make them contenders.

5. Washington Nationals
A mess. That's the only way to describe the Nationals. Despite finishing at or near the bottom of the NL East for years, the Nationals' organization have few, if any, blue-chip prospects playing for the big-league team and a farm system that was ranked in the bottom 3rd in all of baseball. Take a look at the pitching. After John Lannan (9-15) and recently-traded-for Scott Olsen (18-26 with the Marlins), the rotation is a mish-mash of cast-offs and prayers for rain. Last year's outfield youth movement (Elijah Dukes .264 BA, Lasting Milledge .268 BA, Wily Mo Pena .205 BA) had mixed results at best. And while recently-signed Adam Dunn might provide a few nice towering HRs, he isn't the savior the Nationals need. And with only 1 prospect in Baseball America's top 100, there are few answers coming down the pike. With Jim Bowden and Jose Rijo shamed out of their positions recently in a scandal, it could be a blessing in disguise for the Nationals. A fresh start and a new front office and scouting department might be just what the Nationals need. It couldn't be any worse than what's going on now.