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Sunday Wrap-up: AFC Turned Upside Down

Yesterday was an interesting day around the NFL. The AFC in particular had an interesting day. The four teams that were expected to win their divisions (New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Tennessee Titans, and the San Diego Chargers) all lost yesterday. The Patriots and Chargers, who barely escaped upsets last Monday night, weren't so lucky in week 2 with the short week of rest. Both teams entered this season as division favorites and contenders for the Super Bowl, but through two games they have had to play catch up against "inferior" opponents. The Steelers also fell to 1-1 after losing to the Chicago Bears on a last minute field goal, one week after winning with a field goal in overtime. The vaunted Steelers defense was ineffective against the Bears, and couldn't make the big stops when needed. The Titans fell to 0-2 after losing to their division rival Houston Texans 34-31. The Titans were up 21-7 early in the 2nd quarter, and got over 280 yards of total offense from running back Chris Johnson, bu the Texans passing attack was too much for them to handle. Now a team that started this season with their eyes on the Super Bowl, now are just looking for a win.

What's even more surprising than who lost was who actually won yesterday. After two weeks only three AFC teams will start off the season 2-0 (the Colts will be the fourth if they win tonight). This is a bit surprising considering the AFC is considered the stronger overall conference (the NFC has five teams that are 2-0). What's even more surprising is who the three teams are with a spotless record in the AFC, the New York Jets, Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens. Now the Ravens aren't too surprising, they were a playoff team last year, and while they had some losses on defense their offense looked pretty strong entering the year. The Jets and the Broncos on the other hand are a bit more shocking. Both teams experienced a lot of turnover in the offseason. Each team bringing in among others, a new head coach and starting quarterback. The Broncos early success should be taken with a bit of a grain of salt. They have faced the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns, two teams that aren't exactly expected to be in the playoff hunt this season. The Broncos also would have lost to the Bengals if not for a fluke last second 87 yard touchdown. While its easy to question the staying power of the Broncos they are the division leader, and two wins are more than most teams have right now. The Jets on the other hand seem a bit more for real, and what's scary for the rest of the AFC East is they should only get better. The Jets decisively beat the Texans in Houston in week 1, a team that figured to be a playoff contender. New York followed that up knocking off the New England Patriots in week 2, and holding the Patriots high-powered offense to just 9 points. The Jets defense which hasn't allowed a touchdown in two weeks, should get better with a fully healthy DE Shaun Ellis, and the return of LB Calvin Pace after his four week suspension. On offense the Jets dual running attack has moved the ball effectively in both weeks. Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has made major strides, and has put the Jets in a position to win both games. He hasn't dominated the competition by any means, but he has shown plenty of poise and the ability to make plays when needed. If he continues to mature throughout the season, the Jets could make a deep run into the playoffs.

While nothing can really be determined after two weeks, the AFC balance for power is not shaping up how anyone expected. Some of the conference's top contenders, are looking more and more like pretenders. While some of the teams that were overlooked going into the season, are looking like teams that need to be taken seriously for the remaining 14 weeks.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Top 25 Matchup: (16) Oregon @ (14) Boise State

With both teams ranked in the top 25 and the higher seed (according to the AP poll, they are flipped in the USA Today poll) at home it would seem like the smart pick would be the Boise State Broncos, but I think the Cinderella team is going to have their hands full tonight. As much as I love the Broncos I can't pick them over the Ducks tonight. It boils down to one major 'BIG' reason, 6'2" 240 lbs. senior running back LeGarrette Blount. Despite sharing time with Jeremiah Johnson last year, Blount still managed to rush for over 1,000 yards and lead the team with 17 touchdowns. Blount's size makes him a power back, but before you label him a "three yards and a cloud of dust" running back, remember he averaged 7.3 yards per carry last season. Joining Blount on offense is the dual threat junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Masoli proved last year that he could handle the Oregon offense and really sparked the Ducks success. The Ducks weakness on offense is their receivers, but Masoli finds a way to make big plays regardless of who he's throwing the ball to.

The Broncos aren't without hope though. They return one of the most intriguing college quarterbacks in redshirted sophomore Kellen Moore. Moore last season took the college world by storm, by throwing for almost 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns. He was extremely efficient with a completion percentage of 69.4 that led to a 157.11 QB rating (which ranked 11th in the nation). They also have a pair of quick running backs that could give the Ducks some problems on the perimeter in juniors James Avery and D.J. Harper. The Boise State defense has some weaknesses in the front 7, but their strong secondary should give Masoli fits.

Overall I think Oregon's ground game will be too much for the Broncos to handle. I don't think they have the speed to contain Masoli, or the talent up front to stop Blount. While Moore and company should keep Boise State in the game, I think Oregon's talented line backing corps will stifle the Broncos' ground game. Also I think the Ducks should be able to get solid pressure on Moore that should keep him from being the winning quarterback. I think it will be a close high scoring game overall, with the Ducks coming out ahead 38-31.

Notre Dame preview Plus Top 25

With College Football season upon us, we will be previewing the 6 BCS conferences as well as Notre Dame. We will rank each conference on how we see it finishing up, and give a little preview of why the top teams can compete for their conference title. First up we will look at Notre Dame, obviously their isn’t a conference title at stake here, but they are a top 25 team with some serious bowl aspirations. Then I’ll give my top 25 as season begins.

Notre Dame Fighing Irish

Why They Will Contend: The Irish return a very upperclassmen laden team. The Golden Domers have a top notch offensive line led by Sr tackle Sam Young. They will be blocking for 3rd year quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who looks to build upon his 3,000 yard season. Clausen will need to cut down on the interceptions, but when he does find a Notre Dame wideout he has some play makers to work with. Junior Golden Tate and sophomore Michael Floyd are two excellent receivers, and one of the best tandems in the nation. Both guys are threats to always get in the end zone any time they have the ball. On defense the Irish return six starters including three in the defensive backfield. The safety tandem of junior FS Harrison Smith and senior SS Kyle McCarthy should be the Irish’s backbone this year. Junior OLB Brian Smith is the team leader and a force from the outside.

Why They Won’t Contend: Clausen is a nice QB prospect, but he’s been a nice prospect for three years now. With the targets that he has he should be among the top 5-15 quarterbacks in the nation, but he hasn’t been anywhere close to that. His interceptions were back-breakers last season, and he will need to get them under control to take the Irish to the next level. Another issue for Notre Dame is their running game. Even though they return their top 3 rushers and have a good offensive line they averaged just over 3 yards a carry last season. On defense the Irish are solid across the board and have a lot of potential, but they will need some guys to step up. Right now they have too many athletes and not enough players, especially in the front 7.

Offensive Player to Watch: WR Michael Floyd. This could have just as easily been Golden Tate as both are incredible play makers. I think Floyd with his combination of size and speed is going to be a breakout candidate this year.

Defensive Player to Watch: OLB Brian Smith. Smith is a play maker that always is around the ball. He can play inside and outside, but looks to be a full time starter on the outside now. Smith should cause a lot of problems in the backfield for opposing teams.

Top 25:

  1. Florida
  2. Texas
  3. Oklahoma
  4. Ohio State
  5. Mississippi
  6. USC
  7. Virginia Tech
  8. LSU
  9. Alabama
  10. Boise State
  11. Penn State
  12. Oregon
  13. Oklahoma State
  14. Georgia Tech
  15. Georgia
  16. TCU
  17. Florida State
  18. Notre Dame
  19. California
  20. Utah
  21. Nebraska
  22. BYU
  23. Pittsburgh
  24. Iowa
  25. North Carolina

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rubio Stays On The Other Side of the Pond

The Minnesota Timberwolves received troubling news yesterday with the announcement that the 5th overall pick in June's draft PG Ricky Rubio will be staying in Spain another two years. The T-wolves GM David Kahn tried to negotiate a buyout from Rubio's team DKV Joventut, but those efforts ended yesterday when Rubio was traded to FC Barcelona for cash. Under NBA rules the T-wolves couldn't offer more than $500,000 and Rubio would have been forced to pay the rest of the $8 million buyout. Now Rubio won't be free to come to the NBA until the 2011 season.

Minnesota's rebuilding efforts took a dramatic hit with the loss of the 18 year old Rubio. They'll retain his rights, but waiting two years for a player that some considered to be the 2nd best in the draft is a body blow for Minnesota. When he was drafted Rubio seemed like the perfect compliment to the Timberwolves big men F/C Al Jefferson and F/C Kevin Love. Rubio, only a teenager, is considered a very refined player, with excellent ball handling skills. Rubio was considered the 'steal of the draft' when he fell to the 5th pick, now 'robs' the Timberwolves of the savior that they were going to build their team around.

Now a move that was widely panned on draft day may come through and help save the T-wolves season. After drafting Rubio 5th overall, Minnesota took another PG Jonny Flynn with the very next pick. At the time the move seemed extremely odd, there were additional options available and Flynn was considered a true point guard just like Rubio. Flynn doesn't have the shooting ability to be a combo guard, and having them on the floor at the same time was going to be redundant. It seemed like a waste of talent and a waste of a pick, but now that redundancy still gives the T-wolves a top flight prospect at PG.

Rubio made the decision to not risk his own money now for the chance to play in the NBA and reach free agency (and the mega deal that comes with it) two years sooner. It is hard to fully fault him since if his career derailed due to injury or ineffectiveness that big pay day might never have come. Which would have meant Rubio would have given up over $7 million of his own money with nothing in return. He'll still be in the NBA by the time he is 20 and could get that pay day yet. The problem is he probably did make a mistake by not accepting the buyout. He won't ever make as much money as he would have if he came to the NBA this year, given his youth and marketability. Now Rubio is the one waiting to see if he made the right decision. Not only does the money play a factor, but also the play of Jonny Flynn. If Flynn reaches his potential Minnesota can always trade Rubio's rights to another team in two years. Rubio went from knowing the situation that he was going to, a young rebuilding team with star talent, to the unknown. The T-Wolves could trade Rubio to a worse rebuilding situation down the road. We won't know the true outcome for awhile, but right now it looks like Minnesota wasted their draft pick and Rubio wasted the chance to become the NBA's next teenage phenom.

Friday, August 28, 2009

USC Tabs Freshman Barkley As Starting QB

USC Head Coach Pete Carroll made a surprise move yesterday when he announced that true freshman Matt Barkley would open the season as the starting quarterback. This is shocking for multiple reasons, the least of which might be that a true freshman has never opened the season as a starter for the Trojans. What is also interesting about this move is that a year ago everyone assumed that Barkley would be redshirted in 2009, since USC starting quarterback Mark Sanchez had one more year of eligibility. That all changed when Sanchez left early and went to the NFL. Now the 4th ranked Trojans, whose measure of success is measured in Championships, will rely on a 19 year old to lead them back to the promised land.

Barkely wasn't handed the job when Sanchez left, he had to beat out two other quarterbacks who both saw time last season. Redshirted Junior Mitch Mustain was Sanchez's primary backup in 2008 and saw time in six games. Redshirted Sophomore Aaron Corp entered the spring as the heir apparent to Sanchez, but missed time this summer with a knee injury that allowed Barkley to vault ahead to the top spot. While Barkley may be the top freshman quarterback recruit according to ESPN, he has to battle with two former top prospects. Both Corp and Mustain were 5-star recruits when they entered college, and Mustain was also considered the top prospect in nation.

I actually feel a little bad for Mustain since this is the 2nd time a team has buried him on the depth chart. In 2006 the Springdale High School Arkansas product chose his home state Razorbacks. He started 8 games that season and threw for 894 yards with 10 touchdowns, before being replaced late in the season by Sophomore Casey Dick. Mustain transferred after the season to USC, due to the benching and the fact that the Razorbacks stuck with a run-oriented offense (Mustain's H.S. coach was the offensive coordinator, but left due to disagreements with head coach Houston Nutt). Mustain had to sit out 2007 and be redshirted, but seemed likely to take over for Sanchez when he left. Now after four years of college, Mustain with two years of eligibility left, Mustain is passed over again, this time by a freshman.

Barkley won't have to wait long to prove that he is worthy of the number one status. USC goes to Columbus for a Top 10 match-up with the Buckeyes on Sept. 12th. If Barkley beats Ohio State then Pete Carroll will look like a genius and the Trojans will look unstoppable. If Barkley struggles, Carroll could be second guessed since that loss could knock USC out of the National Championship picture. If he needs to make a change Carroll has some good options, but right now the most prestigious open QB job in the nation goes to the new kid on the block.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Favre-Vikings Rift, Real or a Media Creation?

Its been one week and already the stories about Favre being a problem in the Vikings locker room have started. I find this story to be more of the circus that comes with the Brett Favre saga, than an actual issue in the locker room. The report basically states that some players think that either Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels would give Minnesota a better chance to win. If you ask every single player in camp (remember there are still 80 players in camp right now) I'm sure you'll find a player or three that have a differing opinion. I bet if you ask every player you will find some who think Chester Taylor deserves a few extra carries, or that Percy Harvin should be the number 1 wideout.

This just seems like such a ridiculous story how can anyone say with a straight face that Jackson or Rosenfels would improve the Vikings number in the win column over Favre? Rosenfels has shown himself to be a capable backup and could have been a solid starter, but he's not who I want leading an offense down by 5 with two minutes to go. Jackson has been given opportunities to start and so far its been a mixed bag. His indecision and erratic play, are the reason the Vikes traded for Rosenfels and signed Favre in the first place. Jackson couldn't beat out Gus Frerotte last season, yet now he is suddenly a better option than Favre? Come on, this might not be the Brett Favre of old, but do we really want to bet against him? I'd still have him among the top-10 quarterbacks in the league for this next season.

If this was week 8 and the Vikings were off to a 3-5 start then maybe I buy this story as an actual problem. But one week after Favre arrives in camp, this story seems to be more show than substance. I'm sure there are a few Viking players who have been put off by the hoopla surrounding Favre this off season. But as much if not more blame should be placed on the Vikings organization, than Favre for that debacle. This seems to be more of a sensationalist story, than anything really affecting the day to day activities of Vikings. I mean one person reportedly said Favre had caused a "schism" in the Vikings locker room. Really, a "schism" that's the best way to describe the effect Favre has had after one week? Not a division, disagreement or split, its a 'schism'. This has to be one of the worse cases of hyperbole I've ever seen. There might be issues, but that is way too extreme of a label to use to describe them. I think we should let Favre and the Vikings play football, and stop scrutinizing their every move.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"March" Madness

Apparently the first demonstration in Philadelphia about Michael Vick, is for Michael Vick. The local chapter of the NAACP along with other civil rights groups are planning to 'march' on Lincoln Financial Center when Vick takes the field tomorrow.
"We believe Michael Vick has served his time, paid his debt to society and deserves a second chance and the animal rights groups want to hold him hostage for the rest of his life," J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, said Wednesday. "We think that's patently unfair. It denies Michael Vick's basic civil rights, denies him his ability to make a living."
Look this would make sense if Vick's civil rights had been or were going to be infringed upon. Michael Vick may have served his jail sentence and done what was required by the court, but his record wasn't expunged. The fact that people and animal rights activists may want to protest against Michael Vick is their civil right (it should be noted that so far there hasn't been any major call to protest/boycott Vick and the Eagles). Also, even if they do exercise their Freedom of Speech, Michael Vick wasn't banished from the NFL. Had he been expelled from the league Vick had opportunities to play in other professional football leagues, such as the UFL and CFL. Furthermore, playing in professional sports leagues has always been seen as a privilege not a 'right'. And to have that privilege one must live by a standard set forth by the league. Michael Vick failed in his responsibility to live up the standard (not to mention basic nature principles of not killing dogs). He deserves whatever punishment is handed down. Also, if Vick's chosen profession was a lawyer, teacher, doctor or any number of other jobs he would have lost his license because of his conviction. Vick is actually getting preferential treatment for being a professional athlete than what he'd have to deal with in the "real world".

I think this 'preemptive march' is a bit excessive. If you are a Vick supporter defend him, and if you are a Vick hater, boycott him that is your right. But to attack each other on baseless claims is cheap and petty. The problem with this demonstration is that its being had for the wrong reasons. To suggest that Vick's accusers and detractors are 'denying Vick his basic civil rights', is scurrilous and malicious and that is one 'right' that these supporters don't have.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chargers Lock up Rivers For 6 Years

Its been a good off season to be a quarterback, as Phillip Rivers is set to become the third QB to sign an extension averaging at least $10 million (not to mention the monster rookie salaries for Stafford and Sanchez). Rivers deal will guarantee him about $38 million, and have a total value of $92 million over the next 6 years. While it doesn't exceed Eli Manning's new deal (6 years $97.5 million) in overall value, it does give Rivers the leg up in one area, guaranteed money (Manning only has about $35 million guaranteed). These two players will always be linked to one another after the draft day drama that ensued in 2004. Five years later Rivers still can't get the best of Manning. Rivers has the stats, but Manning has the all important ring (plus the money).

San Diego had to make this deal to lock up Rivers. Last year he was one of the top quarterbacks in the league and he was entering the final year of his rookie deal. Had they not signed him now his price would have only gone up. Although they could have kept him with a Franchise tag next year, it would have cost well over what they will be paying him now. The Chargers did a good job not panicking and overpaying Rivers. Given his stats there is a case to be made that he should have made more or at least just as much as Manning did in his deal. San Diego held firm and saved themselves a few million for their trouble.

Rivers will now need to take the Chargers to the next level and bring home a Super Bowl victory to show that he really is a "Franchise Quarterback". This deal also shows how 2004 may be close to replacing 1983 as the "Year of the Quarterback". With all the respect in the world to Elway, Marino, and Kelly, they could very well be out'classed' (bad pun I know). Though they are three Hall of Famers, set records and went to a combined 10 Super Bowls, the class of '83 managed to win just two rings (both by Elway). Already the class of 2004 have won 3 of the 5 Super Bowls since they were drafted (2 by Ben Roethlisberger to go along with Manning's) and they are just getting started. Roethlisberger, Manning and and Rivers are among the elite quarterbacks in the league (not to mention highest paid), and all lead perennial playoff contenders. When its all said and done, the 2004 draft class will shape the first two decades of the 21st century, more than '83 class shaped the 80's and 90's.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail"

In a "New York Minute" both of those people are former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress. Burress pled guilty today to one count of attempted possession of a weapon, and will face up to two years in prison. Burress who faced these charges after shooting himself in the leg last November, in a NYC night club (apparently, not only did Burress lack judgement in bringing the gun into the club in the first place, but he then compounded his stupidity by keeping it in the waistband of his pants). Burress initially ignored the D.A.'s first plea bargain attempt that would have reduced his jail time to potentially under one year. Burress, who caught the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl 18 months ago, will now face a minimum of 20 months in prison.

Burress, who was suspended for the remaining part of the 2008 season (which helped torpedo the Giants' chances of repeating), will now miss the next two football seasons as well. He has lost ten's of millions of dollars, on top of having to spend two years in jail. He's already 32 years old and won't be able to play football again until he's 34, which isn't exactly the prime years of an NFL wideout. His actions affected his team, the New York fans and himself, and its good to see the D.A. not being to lenient on him since it was an "accident". Hopefully more players will take heed of this case as a warning and ensure that they respect the law and stay away from situations where they feel they need a gun. Burress is lucky that his accidental shot didn't strike and injure any innocent bystanders or his two year sentence could have been 10. The only good news is it will be at least a 20 month reprieve until we have the "Who is going to sign Plaxico Burress" hype.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

He's Back!

Three weeks ago Vikings coach Brad Childress told the world that Brett Favre wasn't coming to the Minnesota, and Favre said that he was truly retired. Now, after a few weeks of training camp and one preseason game, the savior of the Packers' franchise is lining up behind center for a division rival. How did it happen, apparently one phone call from Childress and a plane ride to Miss. by owner Zigi Wilf was all the convincing that was needed. Now Favre has a 2 year $25 million in hand (and the Vikings have a 39 year old QB who just had bicep surgery, and now has a tear in his rotator cuff).

Look I'm not going to say the Vikings don't benefit with Favre leading the troops, even with the medical issues, he is a better QB than Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels. Also, Favre will add a big boost to ticket and merchandise sales (that might even pay for the $25 million price tag). That benefit will come at a cost though for the Vikings. While press stories were going to follow the Vikings-Favre courtship all year, now the controversy of another Favre comeback (and not the 4th quarter kind that made him great) will reach epic proportions. Every interception and loss will be scrutinized and criticized like we will have never seen before.

On the field Favre benefits as well. He went from a team with a new coach that finished in 3rd place in their division in 2008, to a team who won their division last year and has the league's best running back. If Favre shows some of the magic from the past than the Vikings and him can challenge for the NFC spot in the Super Bowl. However, that's a best case scenario and a lot of things need to go right for that to happen. Favre may make the players on the field better, but what does he do to this team off the field. The preferential treatment given to him by the coaching staff and front office isn't going to sit well with a number of players. The fact that there was so much misinformation, if not out right lying by Childress and the Vikings (not to mention Favre) can only burn bridges at a time when he needs to develop chemistry with a new team. That Vikings' locker room is a powder keg right now, and if Minnesota starts losing (or Favre breaks down) it will blow up in their face and sink their playoff hopes this season.

What's most interesting about this is the legacy issue. Plenty of great players from various sports have returned and maintained their respect league wide. Favre's image was already damaged due to the retirement drama that has surrounded him these last two seasons, but it wasn't irrevocable, until now. Up until this week some Packer fans might have abandoned Brett Favre, but were they really going to ignore him in 5 years when he gets enshrined in Canton? Now, if Favre leads the Vikings to the playoffs, and knocks Green Bay out of the postseason, he will be forever despised by Cheeseheads. Joe Montana and Emmit Smith extended their careers by going to another team, but they didn't go to division rivals and are still loved by San Francisco and Dallas fan bases. Favre will face the team that he led to the promised land twice this season. When the Packers come to Minnesota on Oct. 5th it will be very interesting and unforgettable. However, when the Vikings come to Green Bay on Nov. 1st, Favre will become Judas with his thirty pieces of silver ($25 million dollars).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Nationals Ink Top Pick

The Stephen Strasburg signing saga has came to an end with about a minute and a half to spare before last night's midnight deadline to sign draft picks. Strasburg agreed to a 4 year Major League contract (the vast majority of draft picks sign minor league deals with signing bonuses), that will guarantee him $15.1 million over the next 4 years. The deal includes a $7.5 million dollar signing bonus, and seven figure salaries between 2010-2012 (regardless of whether he is in the minors or major leagues). The deal means Strasburg will be immediately added to the Nationals 40-man roster, and will give the Nationals the star they've been looking for.

What should be made clear is this deal doesn't change the amount of time that Strasburg is under the Nats control. Strasburg won't be eligible for free agency until he has 6 full years of Major League service (including time on the D.L.). So if he does make his debut next opening day then he won't be a free agent until after the 2015 season. If he spends next year (or at least a few weeks of next season) in the minors than his free agency will be held off another year. Because of the need of 6 years of service time in the majors before becoming a free agent, I was shocked by a string of recent tweets from USA Today's Bob Nightengale. These tweets which allude to Scott Boras (Strasburg's agent) saying that Strasburg won't pitch in the majors this year and possibly even next year. While I can understand why they would hold off on Strasburg this year (though I'm sure the Nats would love to showcase him to their fans), I have a hard time buying that Strasburg won't be pitching in Washington sometime early on in the 2010 season. If Strasburg spends the entire 2010 season in the minors he will lose out in millions in expected salary, by putting off his arbitration and free agent clocks. I also don't think Washington paid out the largest guaranteed deal in history to boost the attendance numbers in Potomac, Harrisburg and Syracuse (their top 3 minor league affiliates). I will guess that Strasburg will be up in the big leagues by the Nationals 2nd or 3rd home stand next season, and he will likely be pitching in front of a sold out crowd.

Friday, August 14, 2009

"The Eagle Has Landed"

After months of speculation and seemingly 24 hour coverage on ESPN the wait is over, Michael Vick is now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles were a surprise team, but made the move after their backup quarterback, Kevin Kolb, injured his knee on Monday. Kolb should be back to game form in a week or two, but his injury might have shown a lack of depth at the QB spot in Philly. Now the question is, When will Vick be in game form (not to mention his first game)? Vick has a conditional reinstatement from the league, meaning he can work out with the team and even play in the preseason. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said that he will fully reinstate Vick by Oct. 18th-19th, which means Vick could miss the first 6 weeks of the season. If Commissioner Goodell does keep him suspended for the first 6 games, then Vick will make his NFL return on Monday Night Football, Oct. 26th at the Washington Redskins. Until he steps on the field the questions will continue to swirl about why the Eagles signed Vick and what he can bring to Philadelphia.

In many ways Vick does make a lot of sense for the Eagles, and they make sense for him as well. Vick needed to go to a team with a established leader and quarterback. By all accounts McNabb is in his corner, which should help give him credibility in the locker room. Vick also needed to go to a team that was a contender and a well run franchise. Vick makes sense for the Eagles, because of his previous experience with the West Coast offense (though he wasn't exactly Joe Montana in Atlanta), and his raw athletic ability. Philly puts a premium on speed and agility among its skilled players. The idea of putting Vick in the same backfield with either Brian Westbrook or LeSean McCoy was too attractive to pass up. Vick should allow Eagles to run their own version of the "Wildcat" offense, and provide headaches for defensive coordinators around the league.

So on paper Vick and the Eagles look like the perfect fit for each other, but what happens on the field could be another story entirely. Vick hasn't played since Week 17 of the 2006 season. So there could be a considerable amount of rust on his arm (not to mention his legs). Also, Vick's production never matched the hype and talent surrounding him. His career QB rating is 75.7 (McNabb's by comparison is 85.9), and he's never thrown for more than 3,000 yards or 20 TD's. The other big issue for Vick and the Eagles is the fan response to him. Initially, the Eagles could lose some fan support with his signing, and down the road Vick's presence could open Pandora's box in Philly.

It will create a negative buzz (and press) that will follow this team around for the entire season. Animal Rights groups will unite against the Eagles, creating additional complications. Also, the Eagles gave Vick a 2-year deal (2nd year is optional) for nearly $10 million with incentives ($6.8 without). That is quite a bit of money to pay for a back-up quarterback who might play 10 plays a game. Finally, if McNabb struggles to start the season and Vick has some success in his specialty role, it could create a quarterback controversy when there shouldn't be one. Remember this is the same fan base that has pretty much wanted to replace McNabb from day one. Given that precedence, I think there is a chance that this could end up dividing the Eagles' locker room. While there is a chance the Eagles could catch lightning in a bottle with this signing, there is a much greater chance they just end up getting burned.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yanks make the right move with Joba

The New York Yankees made a smart and bold decision with their stud young pitcher, Joba Chamberlain, when they announced that they were going to limit his innings. The Yankees are making the right call in ensuring that their star won't be overworked and healthy in the future. The Yankees will start Joba on 7 days rest to help limit his work load. More teams should take notice of this strategy, as plenty of young pitchers have been over used and then sent to Dr. James Andrews for some various arm surgery. Right now Chamberlain is at 121 innings, after pitching 124 last season. Traditionally adding any more than 30-40 innings could have serious long term implications for a young pitcher. Given that the Yankees could be playing deep into October, resting Chamberlain now not only saves him for this postseason, but for future ones as well. The Yankees should look to limit Joba to no more than 5 starts for the rest of the regular season, at around 6 innings per start. This would allow Chamberlain to still make a significant contribution in the postseason, without putting him at further risk.

My only issue with the Yankees' strategy here is that they don't have a great option to take the mound in the games Joba is skipped. That's 4-6 starts that will go to the likes of Sergio Mitre and Chad Gaudin. Not exactly the guys you want on the hill as you try to clinch the division and home field advantage. The Yankees should look to add a better starting option off the waiver wire. Regardless, New York is making the right decision here even if it means not putting there best player on the mound every 5 days.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Red Sox-Tigers Brawl (Game) results in Ejections and possible Suspensions

In the two games since being swept by the Yankees over the weekend the Boston Red Sox have not only shown more offense (13 runs in two games, compared to 8 during the sweep), but also a little fire and life. Now that fiery attitude may cost them one of their star players for a few games. 1B/3B Kevin Youkilis charged the mound after being hit in the back by a Rick Porcello pitch in the 2nd inning. Both he and Porcello were ejected following the "brawl" in which no other real punches were thrown.

Youkilis should have never charged the mound over what occured last night. In the first place, the pitch looked to just tail inside, and didn't seem to 'target' the batter. Secondly, the pitch hit him in the back, which is the best place on the body to get hit (though not sure if there is any place that is okay for a 90 MPH fastball to hit). If Porcello had wanted to 'hurt' Youkilis or send a message a pitch at his head or knees would have been more likely. Now I can understand why Youkilis thought the pitch was intentional. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera was hit in the hand in the top of the first inning. And tempers were still high from Monday night when a combined three batters were hit (including Youkilis). That doesn't excuse Youkilis for charging the mound and throwing his helmet, especially considering that since it was the 2nd inning it probably wasn't 'retaliation'. Even if it was a message in response to Cabrera getting hit, Youkilis needs to realize that of the three batters hit Monday night, he was the only Red Sox player. Three Detroit players had been hit and only one Boston player, if Youkilis wants to be mad at someone he should get angry at his own pitching staff for exposing him like that.

Now due to his temper I'd expect Youkilis to be suspended for 3-5 games. Which is bad news for the Red Sox, since they have two more games against the Tigers then a 3 game set at the Rangers. If Youkilis is smart he won't appeal the decision, because delaying it for a couple of days could mean the suspension would be in effect, for the next Yankees series the following weekend. Hopefully, MLB doesn't crack the whip too much and try to suspend Porcello as well. He didn't really deserve to be ejected in the first place, since the benches weren't warned (though he did throw inside earlier to Victor Martinez), and he was only defending himself in the brawl. Any further suspension would be unfair punishment for a Tiger team trying to stay ahead of the White Sox and Twins. While its nice to see some fire out of Beantown after their embarrassment in the Bronx, losing one of your best players for multiple games in the middle of a pennant race is just plain stupid (next time Youk, let Nick Green charge the mound, Boston needs you on the field).

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"Citizen (Criminal) Kane"

This has to be one of the most ridiculous stories to come out of the sports world in quite awhile. The budding young star forward of the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Kane is charged with felony robbery, theft of services and criminal mischief. These charges are stemming from an incident this weekend in which Kane and his cousin allegedly beat up their cabbie and stole the $15 fare they gave him after he didn't have their 20 cents in change. Now its been reported that even the cab driver (through his attorney) is saying the charges have been overblown, and that they should be able to come to an agreement. Legally the cabbie might be right, a felony robbery charge on $15 dollars does seem a bit excessive. Especially since the 'felony' aspect would appear to be the assault against the cab driver that is not even charged (I'm guessing that's the 'criminal mischief' charge, but that makes it sound like Kane was tp'ing someone's house or knocking over mailboxes, not hitting some guy in the face). Even so, the reality is the cabbie is probably trying to walk back the charges because he sees his 'retirement check' coming with Patrick Kane's name on it.

Whatever ends up happening here; out of court settlement, plea bargain, or being exonerated, Patrick Kane will have lost this case. He can't win in the court of public opinion on this one. He attacked a cabbie over 20 cents, are you kidding me?? It is absurd for any person to beat up a cabbie over 20 cents, and it is completely unbelievable for a highly paid (and highly recognizable) sports star to do it. What was he thinking, I don't care if the cab driver was trying to steal $20 or even $200 from him, Kane needed to walk away. He makes six figures and is one of the most marketable players in the NHL, I don't think those two dimes are going to make a big difference to him in the long run (and they definitely won't cover his legal fees, or the check he's about to write). Now we will have to wait and see how many minutes (and how much money) in the penalty box this fight will cost him.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yankees Sweep the Red Sox

When Boston's 4 game series with the New York Yankees started, the Red Sox were 2.5 games out of first place in the A.L. East and had a 3 game lead in the Wild Card standings. Now four days (and four embarrassing losses) later Boston is now 6.5 games back in the East, and tied for Wild Card with the Texas Rangers. In the 4 game series the Red Sox were out scored 25-8, which included being shutout both Friday and Saturday night.

The Red Sox came in to this series as a team that was on the rise. They have won two of the last five World Series, and were one game away from returning last season. They were a team that had a balanced offense, a solid defense, and the deepest pitching staff in baseball. And they had just added two more bats at the trade deadline, in 1B Casey Kotchman and All-star C/1B Victor Martinez. They left New York with an inept offense and a pitching staff that couldn't shut down the Yankees bats. The Red Sox's pitching performances were so bad, that Boston was forced to cut ties with future Hall of Famer John Smoltz. Now they are on a 6 game losing streak and are in danger of missing the playoffs completely.

Boston shouldn't be counted out of the playoff hunt yet, but they do have their work cut out for them. They begin a 7 game stretch against the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers. And have only 13 more games against teams with a below .500 record (not counting the Blue Jays who are a playoff caliber team stuck in the best division in baseball). Boston will need to make some roster changes down the stretch if they want to return to the postseason. They may be able to bring up a couple guys from their system, but don't be surprised to see the Red Sox make a couple waiver wire deals to add major league talent. The Red Sox will have 6 more games this season to redeem themselves against the Yankees. But the roster and attitude in Beantown will need to change to take down the surging Bronx Bombers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Eli surpasses Peyton

They are equal in Lombardi Trophies but older brother Peyton beats little brother Eli in every other major category. Peyton has the passing yards, touchdowns, QB rating and every other stat in his favor (even if you look just at what he did during his first 5 years). The older Manning also beats his baby bro in MVP awards (3-0) and Pro Bowls (9-1). Peyton even has better numbers over his 15 game post-season career, than Eli does over any single season (which is impressive considering the quality teams he posted those numbers against). But now after all these years living in his older brothers large shadow, Eli dominates Peyton in one major area; money.

Now I understand that this is the way the system works. Lesser players in their prime now will make more money than those of 5 or 10 years ago. And players 5 years from now will sign for more money than Eli is getting ($97.5 million over 6 years) now. But its just so ironic that when you talk about the best 'Manning' in the league (not to mention best quarterback) Peyton is by far the obvious answer. Yet when the question of who makes the most money comes up Eli is now the correct answer. Now don't get me wrong Eli has been a good quarterback so far, and has the potential (just with his name alone) to be great. But he is not in the same league as Peyton (except for their comedic value in commercials). Though I will say, you had to know this was going to get pricey for the Giants after Matt Cassell signed his extension. If Cassell is worth $10 million + per year, then Eli is a bargain at $15 million.

Overall this move had to get done. The Giants couldn't afford not to sign Eli after the Super Bowl win and the drama during draft day. And Eli couldn't alienate the New York fan base (and media) that he worked so hard to become a part of. The younger Manning will now have to take his game to the next level, and show that he is worth being one of the highest paid NFL'ers (basically he needs to start putting up Peyton numbers).

Friday, July 31, 2009

Trade Center: Deadline Recaps part 1

The Trade: The Cleveland Indians trade SP Cliff Lee and OF Ben Francisco to the Phillidelphia Phillies for SP Jason Knapp (Low-A), SP Carlos Carrasco (AAA), SS Jason Donald (AAA), C Lou Marson (AAA).

Analysis: The Phillies made out like bandits in this deal. They filled their two biggest needs an established starting pitcher and a right-handed bat off the bench. And they did so without giving up any of their Major League talent (J.A. Happ) or their top 3 prospects (Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, Dominic Brown). Given the cost in terms of prospects and money compared to adding Halladay, the Phillies got a steal here. They gave up 4 quality prospects, but likely no allstars. I think the Indians sold low here. Lee maybe isn't as elite as Halladay, but right now his value should have been higher than this.

The Trade: The Pittsburgh Pirates trade 2B Freddy Sanchez to the San Fransisco Giants for SP Tim Alderson (AA).

Analysis: The Pirates who have been the most active team on the the 'Hot Stove' this year, made another quality pick-up here by flipping Sanchez for Alderson. Traditionally I don't favor trading an established Major League ballplayer for a single prospect. If that prospect fails then you got nothing, but this is the rare case where its worth the risk. Alderson is a top young pitching prospect, who has already reached AA at the age of 20. He's struggled some recently, but given his age and potential there is a good chance he can get back on the fast track to the Majors. Sanchez does represent an offensive and defensive upgrade at 2nd for the Giants, but they did pay a pretty high price.

The Trade: The Baltimore Orioles traded RP George Sherrill to the Los Angeles Dodgers for 3B Josh Bell (AA) and SP Steve Johnson (AA)

Analysis: This was a pretty fair trade for both sides. The Dodgers got a quality reliever who is lights out against lefties. He is under team control for another two years, and is a major addition for the Dodgers' playoff run. The Orioles get two solid prospects in return for their closer. Bell is the key to this deal for Baltimore. He is legit 3B prospect that offers major offensive upside. While he doesn't project to have the offensive chops of Longoria or the defensive ability of Zimmerman, but he should be a quality starter for years to come. Johnson doesn't have the upside of Bell, but has succeeded thus far in the minors. If he keeps developing he could be a decent back end of the rotation starter. Overall I would have liked to see the O's grab another prospect in the deal, but overall it was an even trade.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trade Center: Snell and Wilson to the Mariners

The Deal: The Pirates trade SS Jack Wilson, SP Ian Snell and cash to the Mariners for C/1B Jeff Clement (AAA), INF Ronny Cedeno, and RHP's Nathan Adcock (High-A), Brett Lorin (Low-A), Aaron Pribanic (Low-A).

Pittsburgh: The Pirates did end up having to pay for just about all of Wilson and Snell's deals this year, but they cleared over $12 million off the books for next season. The Pirates didn't acquire any stars in this deal, but did receive a lot of promising upside. Clement has been a highly touted prospect for years, though injuries and ineffectiveness have forced him from being an everyday catcher so far. Cedeno is a solid cheap utility player that can fill in for Wilson until a quality starter can be found. All three of the starters the Pirates received have some upside. None project to be front line starters, but they could fill out a rotation or move to the bullpen. Adcock is the most intriguing in my mind, and should advance quickly behind his major league curve ball.

Seattle: The Mariners made this trade more for next season than this year, in my opinion. Seattle has an outside shot of making a stretch run this year, but could be in a solid position in 2010. Wilson gives them perhaps the best defensive SS in baseball. And while his bat has been below average it has been an upgrade to the Mariners shortstops this season. Snell is the key to this deal for Seattle. If he pitches like he has this year for the Pirates, then the Mariners got took in this deal big time. If he starts pitching like he has in the past and finally lives up to his potential, then the Mariners got a young quality starter on the cheap. If Snell does turn it around he could have both of his club options picked up, making him a Mariner through 2012.

Winner: The Pirates are the winner here regardless of the performance of the players acquired in this deal. Wilson is a great leader and a great defensive player, but $8.5 million was a lot for a last place team to pay for a guy, who can't hit. Snell was once considered part of Pittsburgh's future, but he 'talked' (and played) his way out of the Steel City. It was pretty clear that his days in Pittsburgh were numbered, so whatever talent you get for him is a win. The $12 million the Pirates save is significant. Look for them to use that money to keep signing draft picks and international players. As for the Mariners they did acquire to Major League pieces, but right now there are more questions than answers surrounding them. Will Wilson's batting numbers go even further down in a better pitchers park and tougher league? Can Snell focus on pitching and reach his upside? Will Snell struggle against the better A.L. hitters? If the answers to those questions are; NO, YES, NO, then the Mariners may come out of this deal winners as well.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Favre Retired (Again...I think)

Yesterday Brett Favre announced his third retirement from his illustrious playing career. Now most people will say this is only his 2nd retirement, because he never officially signed with the Minnesota Vikings. This saga has played out long enough that I think that the Vikings deserved to be engraved into his bust for the Hall of Fame. Now I respect a player coming out of retirement, because they still have a love for the game and want to compete. Players like Michael Jordan and Mario Lemieux came back because they felt they could still play. Regardless of the results of their return, they deserve to be revered for putting the game first. That is how I viewed Favre's return last year. No matter the drama with the Packers front office that led to his Jets cameo, Favre deserved the chance to play if he still wanted to. In my eyes Favre's legacy was still intact.

The retirement roller coaster this year though, has tarnished Favre's reputation pretty severely. This process was too drawn out and included too many false promises for us as fans to respect Favre for wanting to come back (again) or retire (again). This became too much of a joke. When else do you see a player 'retire' while in retirement, (not to be confused with unretiring which he did the first time).

The big loser in this saga are the Minnesota Vikings (maybe this was Favre's way to appease Packer fans, screw with their opponent). Now I'm sure they will tell you that are perfectly happy with the quarterbacks on their roster (Sage Rosenfels and Tavaris Jackson), but who really believes that to be true? Jackson has been awful as a starter and pretty much cost them their playoff game last year. Rosenfels is an improvement and should be the starter now in Minnesota, but he is no Brett Favre. Even Favre past his prime would have given the Vikings a better chance to compete than Rosenfels. On top of the talent downgrade at quarterback, Minnesota now has to deal with the fallout from their players, fans, media, and bloggers (like this one) who have been expecting Favre to be wearing purple this coming September. Now the Vikings will have negative media stories hounding them all season. The pressure is now on their quarterbacks two-fold to win without Favre.

Farve will always go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He was winner who helped reestablish an iconic franchise as a powerhouse. Farve was probably the toughest guy to line up behind center in recent years, if not ever. His play on the field could be related to and respected by any fan, regardless of loyalty. He was a fierce competitor and a winner, but in the end, he will be remembered for his indecisiveness not on the field, but in the press. Hopefully, years from now us fans can forgive Brett Farve for the 24 hour news coverage of his retirement. Until then lets hope this is the last time we hear Brett's name mentioned with a team as a possible player.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Trade Center: MLB

The Deal: The St. Louis Cardinals acquired OF Matt Holliday and cash from the Oakland Athletics for 3B Brett Wallace (AAA), SP Clayton Mortensen (AAA) and OF Shane Peterson (AA).

Athletics: There are three categories primarily used when determining the value of a baseball trade: quantity of prospects, quality of prospects and Major League readiness. To receive a positive return in one or two of the categories usually makes a trade successful for the rebuilding team. The A's return for Matt Holliday got them passing grades in all three categories. Three prospects for a half season rental is a pretty good return. Wallace is by far the best of the three prospects. He is listed as a third baseman, but will be a first baseman/DH in the majors. Though his defense is weak, his bat is his greatest tool. Wallace will hit for a high average, with 30+ home run power. He could very well be Oakland's starting first baseman next season. Mortensen is another quality prospect. He profiles as a middle of the rotation starter, and is a nice addition to the A's impressive pitching depth. He should push for a starting job next season. Peterson doesn't have the prospect pedigree of Wallace or Mortensen, but he has excelled at every level in the minors. At the very least he will be a 4th outfielder, but has shown enough promise and upside to think that he could be an everyday player.

Cardinals: St. Louis needed to add another offensive weapon for their playoff run this season. The Cards are in a tough fight for the N.L. Central (with just about everybody). Acquiring a big bat in the outfield should help set them apart from the Cubs and Brewers. Holliday and Albert Pujols will be a nightmare for opposing pitchers down the stretch. St. Louis did pay a heavy price to add Holliday. Granted Wallace was a blocked prospect, but you probably should have used your best trading chip on something more than a rental. Mortensen and Peterson deplete the Cards depth as well. While I think right now the Cardinals are in the driver's seat for the division, the Cubs and Brewers could make moves to vault them to the top. St. Louis may still need to make another small move for a reliever to really secure themselves the division.

The Winner: The A's won here any way you look at it. They weren't going to resign Matt Holliday in the off season and the Arbitration process is highly risky for small market teams. Getting three quality prospects, including a very talented Wallace is a great return for Oakland's rebuilding effort. The Cardinals grade in this trade can't be determined until after the season. If they go out and win the World Series, then this was a big win for them as well. But if they miss the playoffs or lose in the first round, then I'd have to call this one a loss for St. Louis. Hopefully for the Cards sake they can convince Holliday to sign an extension, otherwise they might regret giving up a talent like Wallace for years to come.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Trade Market: Buyers A.L.

Detroit Tigers: The Tigers are in a tight race for the A.L. Central with the Minnesota Twins and the Chicago White Sox. Since the wild card will likely come out of the East or West, the division title is the only playoff chance for the Tigers. Detroit's pitching has been a big surprise for them and gives them a good shot in any playoff series. The Tigers may look to add a starter to ease the workload on rookie Rick Porcello down the stretch. They are also in the market for a solid bullpen arm to add to their staff as well. Detriot's biggest need is on offense, where the Tigers are tied for 10th in the A.L. for team OPS, and they are dead last in SB's. The Tigers could use an influx of both speed and power.

Top trade targets: Danny Baez (RP), Josh Willingham (OF), Luke Scott (OF), John Grabow (RP), Freddy Sanchez (2B), Willie Harris (UTL), Matt Holliday (OF)

Analysis: Given the weakness of the Tigers' farm system I think they will have a hard time going after some of the top trade targets. I don't think they have what it takes to pull off a Halladay offer. Baez or Grabow would be good fits to strengthen their bullpen. Neither would cost a top prospect, which will allow the Tigers to get the bat they need. If I'm Detroit, I'd try to put a package together to acquire Willingham and Harris from the Nats. It would fill the Tigers biggest needs as well as give them two players under control for next season. The Tigers have so much money tied up in bad contracts that they won't be able to afford free agents next off season. Getting two players who could start next year for around $7 million dollars would be key for Detroit.

Minnesota Twins: The Twins are in the same boat as the Tigers. They need to win the Central to have any shot at the playoffs, and will need to make some moves to get there. Minnesota could use some production from their middle infield. In addition, with Joe Crede's (3B) status up in the air the Twins could use someone who can fill in there as well. Their pitching staff has been really good, with the only concern being when Kevin Slowery (10-3 record) will be back. They could use another arm or two in front of Nathan in the bullpen, but its not a pressing issue.

Top Trade Targets: Freddy Sanchez (2B), Jack Wilson (SS), Matt Capps (RP), Danny Baez (RP), Chad Qualls (RP), John Grabow (RP), Ty Wiggington (2B/3B), Willie Harris (UTL)

Analysis: Freddy Sanchez makes too much sense for it not to happen. While the Twins are likely leery of his price tag, they need a boost at 2B and at the top of their lineup. A bold move would be to try and grab both Sanchez and Wilson from the Pirates, significantly upgrading their middle infield. It would give the Twins the best middle infield defense (an major improvement considering they currently have one of the worst). Also Minnesota is one of the few places that Wilson would be an offensive upgrade. The biggest issue would be the salary obligations for next season. But the Pirates might be willing to eat some salary to increase their prospect return. Outside of that deal I see Twins looking for a reliever like Baez or Qualls (maybe Grabow or Capps with Sanchez). A guy who is solid but not spectacular, and one who wouldn't cost a major prospect.

Other teams looking to buy:

New York Yankees: The Yankees are finally in first place, but will likely need to make a few moves to stay there. I don't see a Halladay or Cliff Lee trade on the horizon for them. Likely, they will make moves for a couple relievers and possibly a back end starter. I think New York should target someone like Qualls and/or Grabow for their pen. They are relying on too many untested arms to bridge the gap to Rivera.

Boston Red Sox: The Sox already got one player they needed in Adam LaRoche. I'd look for them to try and add another reliable starter to go along with Beckett and Lester. I still don't see them making a blockbuster move for Halladay or Lee. Though it wouldn't shock me to see them pull the trigger on a Victor Martinez deal. A shortstop like Jack Wilson is a possibility as well.

Tampa Bay Rays: The Rays have been linked with some big names recently, but I'm not sure how much truth is in those rumors. The Rays could use a catching upgrade and a starter, but the big name guys don't make too much sense. I do think they will add a bullpen arm like Capps or Sherrill. Someone who is under team control and could close for Tampa.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Though the Angels could use a starter or another big bat I don't think their payroll situation will allow them to acquire one. I think they will focus on adding a couple relievers to bolster their bullpen.

Texas Rangers: The Rangers weren't supposed to be this good, but they are in the playoff hunt with August approaching. They don't have the money to go after some of the top names (Halladay, Lee etc.), but should make a few moves to improve their team. Their lineup is set so the focus will be on the rotation and bullpen. An arm like Zach Duke from the Pirates makes sense since he is under team control for another two years. As for the bullpen, any of the multi-year guys (Qualls, Sherrill, Capps) make sense for a Rangers team that's on a budget.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Trade Market: Sellers N.L.

Washington Nationals: The Nationals should be in complete rebuilding mode at this point. They are 27 games back in the N.L. East, and have 10 fewer wins than any other team in baseball. Washington needs to get younger and more talented around the diamond. Outside of Ryan Zimmerman (3B), the Nationals don't have a position player that has a long term future with the club. They have some interesting names, (Dukes, Flores, Morgan, A. Gonzalez) but none of them are sure things. Washington does have some young talent in the pitching rotation to build around.

Top trade targets: Nick Johnson (1B), Joe Biemel (RP), Christian Guzman (SS), Josh Willingham (OF), Adam Dunn (1B/OF)

Analysis: Johnson and Biemel are the most likely to be dealt, because both are impending free agents. Johnson has rebuilt his trade value and should bring back at least one quality prospect. Biemel could bring back a solid prospect as well. Neither player will bring back a stud prospect, but any influx of talent is a bonus for the Nationals. Guzman is signed for an additional year so he could bring back a couple of solid prospects (though the Nats will probably have to kick in some money). I think only one of Dunn/Willingham will be moved this trade deadline. Moving both would upset the fan base too much, as well as hurt an offense that doesn't have replacements for them. I would move Willingham since given his affordable contract more teams will likely be interested. Willingham has also increased his trade value with his production this season, making now a good time to sell high on him. Washington should be able to get a couple of good prospects or bullpen arms in return for Willingham.

Potential Willingham and Guzman deals should have the greatest impact, but all of these players should be moved by August 1st. By moving all of them the Nationals can clear some redundant players, free up payroll and increase the talent and depth of their minor league system.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates have already started their rebuilding project this year by trading away their opening day CF (Nate McLouth), LF (Nyjer Morgan), and 1B (Adam LaRoche). Also they have moved their top bat off the bench (Eric Hinske) and one of their relievers (Sean Burnett). In return Pittsburgh has gotten younger, and a number of high upside players. They have also saved millions off their payroll, that can now be used to sign draft picks and international free agents.

Top trade targets: Freddy Sanchez (2B), Jack Wilson (SS), John Grabow (RP), Matt Capps (RP), Zach Duke (SP), Paul Maholm (SP)

Analysis: Sanchez and Wilson are one of the best double play tandems in baseball, and they will likely be playing on different teams come August. Sanchez should bring back a pretty good haul for the Bucs. Wilson on the other hand has struggled at the plate reducing his trade value. Grabow is an impending FA, and won't bring back much in return. Capps could bring back a solid package of two good prospects. His contract, age and potential make him a pretty good commodity on the market, but his performance this year has been shaky. I also wouldn't be surprised to see the Pirates move one of their young starters, either Duke or Maholm. I think Duke is more likely to be moved, but the Pirates should gauge the value of each. Duke should bring a pretty good return back since he's under control through 2011. The Pirates are heading in the right direction with the moves they've made so far. They need to keep rebuilding and focusing on building a winning foundation. It might not show in this year's standings, but the future is bright in Pittsburgh.

Other teams looking to sell:

San Diego Padres: The Padres have tried to move Jake Peavey already this season, but with him on the D.L. they will have to wait to the off season to deal their ace. Right now they are saying they won't move Adrian Gonzalez and Heath Bell their two all-star players (though I think they should). I think Kevin Correia (SP) and Kevin Kouzmanoff (3B) are players that the Padres will move by the deadline. Each will bring back a solid return, but nothing near what the Friars would get if they put Gonzalez or Bell on the market.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-Backs have already made a couple of trades so far (T. Pena and Felipe Lopez) and will likely make a few more small deals. They have a young nucleus to build around so they won't make any blockbuster deals. I think Chad Qualls (RP) and Doug Davis (SP) are the most likely to be dealt.

Houston Astros: The Astros are only two games out in the N.L. Central, but should favor selling as opposed to buying. The Astros are an older team with little depth, that makes me think they won't be able to win the division or grab the wild card this season. They also have the worst minor league system in baseball, and can't afford the talent to acquire the players they need for a playoff run. The Astros should look to move impending free agents Jose Valverde, Ivan Rodriguez and even Miguel Tejada. Houston needs to add some talent in the minor league system this deadline.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Trade Market: Buyers N.L.

With the MLB trade deadline 10 days away, now is a good time to look and see who might be buying and selling at the deadline. Here are the N.L. teams that should be looking to 'buy' come July 31st.

San Francisco Giants: The Giants have an impressive 50-42 record, that would put them within 5 games in any other division (they'd even be in first place in the A.L. Central), but in the N.L. West they are 8.5 games back. Though it will be tough for San Francisco to catch the Dodgers out West, the Giants should look to 'buy' to secure the Wild Card. They already have a top end pitching rotation led by two aces (Lincecum and Cain) and a quality bullpen. What the Giants need is a playoff caliber offense. Only Pablo Sandoval (3B/1B) is a true offensive threat on this team. Guys like Benji Molina (C), Aaron Rowand (CF), Edgar Renteria (SS), and Randy Winn (OF), are no longer the productive hitters they once were. The Giants need to get better production from 2B, 1B, and at least one of their corner spots. San Francisco should be looking for at least two bats if they hope to advance far into October.

Top targets: Freddy Sanchez (2B), Aubrey Huff (1B), Nick Johnson (1B), Luke Scott (OF), Jeremy Hermida (OF), Josh Willingham (OF), Adam LaRoche (1B)

Analysis: The Giants need to make a move soon. They have eight other teams within six games of the Wild Card. They need to separate themselves from the pack and make it a 2 or 3 team race. Given their lack of offensive talent at least two additions should be made. The Giants don't have any real help on the way in the minors (for this season), so the bats will need to come via trade. With a young core, the Giants should focus on guys that are under team control for multiple years. Scott and Willingham should be their most attractive targets. Given the need at 1B as well, trading with the O's or Nats could potentially give the Giants two power bats in one deal.

Atlanta Braves: The Braves are very similar to the Giants as to their strengths and needs. Atlanta is set when it comes to their pitching staff, but their offense needs a boost. They aren't as bad off as the Giants, as they have 3 quality offensive pieces in Chipper Jones (3B), Yunel Escobar (SS), and Brian McCann (C). Atlanta needs better production from their entire outfield and 1B positions if they hope to contend with the Phillies and Dodgers. The Braves have already added two outfielders through trades (Nate McLouth and Ryan Church). McLouth has been solid for them and can handle the CF position for the rest of the season (though his defense leaves something to be desired). Church has been good so far, but his track record suggests that he's a platoon player rather than a starter.

Targets: Scott, Willingham, Hermida, Adam Dunn (OF/1B)

Analysis: The Braves seem to be one bat away from being a legitimate contender this season. Since they won't have much in the way of money to play around with next off season, they should focus on players under contract. Willingham and Scott would make the most sense. Dunn offers the most power of any player on the market. Even though Dunn will make $12 million next year he'd still come cheaper than what Matt Holliday or Jason Bay would cost on the Free agent market next winter. Without any additional moves, I think the Braves will slip behind Marlins and Mets and finish 4th in the N.L. East.

Other teams that need to buy:

Philadelphia Phillies: It seems strange that a team that's won 9 straight and is in first place needs to buy, but the Phillies should be looking to add for another title run. Their bullpen is a house of cards right now. Lidge has imploded this year, and Madson isn't as dominate as he was last season. Another reliable late inning arm could be the difference between a 1st round exit and another title. If Pedro falters, an additional starter down the stretch could work as well (Halladay anyone).

Colorado Rockies: The Rockies are a tough team to figure out. Are they a legit contender or just on an impressive hot streak. Their pitching is good and their offense has been great. While, the bullpen could use another arm or two its not their biggest weakness. The biggest area of concern for Colorado is their defense. The problem is that some of their biggest offenders (Hawpe, Helton, Folwer) are also their best hitters. You can't really try to tinker too much with the defense this late in the season, a middle relief arm is probably the best the Rockies can do at this point.

Milwaukee Brewers: The Brewers already have made one move with the addition of Felipe Lopez over the weekend. Now the 'Crew need to add some pitching to get into October. Another SP as well as a couple relievers are on the wish list.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

$uggs Cashes In

The Baltimore Ravens reached an agreement with their "Franchise player" Terrell Suggs on six-year $63 million dollar contract. This extension will make Suggs the highest paid linebacker in history and guarantee him over $30 million dollars.

If that six-year $63 million dollar deal seems familiar, that is because we saw Matt Cassell inked for the same terms yesterday. Now some of the details of the deal are different. Suggs has more guaranteed money and more money in the first 2-3 years. But overall they are both $10.5 million averages.

I think that unlike Cassel, this is a great contract for the team. Suggs is one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL, while Cassel is a middling quarterback at best going forward. Suggs has 54 sacks over his first 6 seasons. He also is constantly in the backfield disrupting plays and offensive schemes. Suggs won't turn 27 until October, making it very likely that he can be effective for the length of this deal. Unfortunately for the AFC North quarterbacks and offensive coordinators, they will have to deal with Suggs for the foreseeable future. I think the Ravens did a great job at locking up one of the bright young defensive stars in the game.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Not Bad For a Year's Work

Today the Kansas City Chiefs announced that they signed QB Matt Cassel to a six-year contract that will pay him $28 million in guaranteed money, and $63 million over the life of the deal. That $10.5 million dollar average would have ranked 7th among quarterbacks in 2008. That is pretty insane when you figure that Matt Cassel has started just 15 games in his NFL career. Before last season Matt Cassel would have been lucky to get $10.5 million over 6 years, now he will be cashing that check each season. Is he worth this much of an investment?

Now a Chiefs defender or Matt Cassel supporter will talk about the big money that Aaron Rodgers gets and that his situation is similar to Cassels. There is some truth to that argument. Both quarterbacks had limited playing opportunities given the Hall of Fame quarterback playing in front of them. Also, both are young (though Rodgers is a year and a half younger) and entering the prime of their careers. While both those points are true, the argument fails to realize that Rodgers is a better quarterback than Cassel, either in the short or long term. Rodgers has a better pedigree, he was a first round draft pick, that was always considered a starting caliber quarterback. Also, he has the stronger arm, and seems to be more comfortable making all the various throws. Cassel excelled in a system that he had been in for years, and succeeded primarily out of the shotgun. The Patriots offensive system set just about every passing record the year before, giving Cassel more weapons to utilize. I think its hard to argue that Cassel is worth the kind of money that Rodgers is making.

Now I do recognize that the Chiefs were in a bit of a corner with the Patriots designating Cassel as a "Franchise" player. This raised the price on Cassel considerably. Had Cassel been on the open market he may have gotten a $6-8 million dollar average but he wouldn't have gotten much more than that. Kansas City is now paying him like he is a top notch QB, and that seems to be a gross exaggeration of his skills. There are easily 12-15 quarterbacks I'd rather have leading my team over the next 6 years than Cassel. That doesn't even count guys like Warner or Delhomme who are better options over the next few years as well. Kansas City is paying more than most of those guys, like he is a true "Franchise quarterback". Given the limited track record of Cassel, this was a big risk for the Chiefs to take. I think in the long run, Cassel will prove to be a solid starter, but not a $10 million dollar man. The Chiefs will pay for this mistake for years to come.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Acta Out as Manager

Last night the Nationals fired their Manager Manny Acta and replaced him with bench coach Jim Riggleman. Now plenty of people will talk about how Acta wasn't given a fair chance as manager, or that Nationals shouldn't have made this move. But personally as a Nats fan I think this move was long over due.

Manny Acta has a career record of 158 wins to 252 losses. That's a .385 winning percentage and his record has gotten worse each season. When Acta was first hired the Nats were a combination of retreads (Belliard, D. Young), AAAA players (N. Logan, B. Traber ect.) and a few quality pieces (C. Cordero, R. Zimmerman). They were expected to finish last in the N.L. East, and have the worst record in baseball. They were a team with no minor league talent, and a piecemeal roster. Acta led them to a 73-89 record and a 4th place finish in the N.L. East.

In year two Acta had Christian Guzman and Nick Johnson returning from injury, the resurgence of Belliard and Young, and two new athletic young outfielders with potential (Milledge and Dukes). He also had the emergence of some bright young players (J. Flores, J. Lannan ect.), and a bench made up of major league talent. Acta's Nationals went 59-102 to finish with the worse record in baseball. Now I will be the first to say that the injury bug hit the Nationals hard, every starter outside of Guzman spent some time on the D.L. Now no one thought the Nats were a playoff team last year, or that they could over come these injuries. But that doesn't excuse the worst record in baseball. Sure the Nats had to rely on a number of replacement players, but these guys were more talented than the AAAA players that won 73 games the year before.

Finally it brings us to year three of the Acta tenure. The Nationals are finally healthy and went out and brought in some actual talent. They added Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham to their lineup and Scott Olsen and Joe Beimel to their pitching staff. In addition the Nationals farm system began producing some talent this year with two young pitchers (J. Zimmerman and S. Martis) set to join the rotation. Willingham and Dunn have been major additions to the offensive output of the Nats. Each has an OPS north of .900 and have combined for 35 home runs (nearly half of the Nationals total). Again no one thought they Nats would be fighting in October for a playoff spot, but the expectation that they could be around .500 and fight for 3rd in the division wasn't unrealistic. Instead the Nationals have a 26-61 record, which is good for a .299 winning percentage and the worst record in baseball.

I think its time that Acta should be held accountable for his team's performance. I don't think he's a bad manager, but just not right for this ball club. His record has gotten worse as his team's talent level has risen. I don't know how you can spin that any other way than to blame the manager. Acta has not seemed able to handle the big league personalities or get the most out of his players. The Nationals with back to back years of futility need a change of face. This isn't a true "rebuilding" team. Every starter right now with the exception of Zimmerman (J. Flores is on the D.L.) is 29 or older. Their starting rotation has promise and a bright future, but they aren't there yet. The bullpen is in complete shambles and will need a complete overhaul after the season. Now I don't think this move will change much in Nats Town, but I think it was the right move. The Nats need to start rebuilding and hopefully can bring in a new manager to get the most out of the talent on the team.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Trade Center: NBA

The Deal: Dallas Mavericks acquire: SF Shawn Marion (Sign and trade Tor), PF Kris Humphries (Tor), PF Nathan Jawai (Tor), SG Greg Buckner (Memphis). Toronto Raptors acquire: F Hedo Turkoglu (Sign and trade Orl), SF Devean George (Dal), SG Antoine Wright (Dal). Memphis Grizzlies acquire: SG Jerry Stackhouse (and cash Dal), and a future 2nd round pick (Tor).

Mavericks: This was a good deal for the the Mavs. They got their man in Shawn Marion, who will give them another athletic scorer. Marion might not be as good of a player as he once was, but he still averaged 13 points and 8.5 rebounds a game last season. Humphries and Buckner should round out the Mavericks bench as well. This move might not equal them with the Spurs and Lakers, but it should keep the Mavs in the thick of the playoff race.

Raptors: The main reason they were a part of this deal was to get the sign and trade exception against the salary cap. Hedo Turkoglu was going to be a Raptor one way or another. This move just allows Toronto to have more cap room to potentially make further deals. Adding Turkoglu was a good move for the Raptors. He showed in the playoffs with Orlando that he's a big game player. He should mesh well with Chris Bosh on the front line and give Toronto a good presence on the wing. Both George and Wright can be solid depth players at the end of the Raptors bench.

Grizzlies: Memphis will release Jerry Stackhouse since his contract isn't fully guaranteed. The Mavericks will send cash to cover the expense, and add a little money to their coffers. They also get a future 2nd round pick. Not a bad return for a guy they were gonna release anyways.

Magic: The Magic don't receive any players or picks in the deal, but do pick up a valuable trade exception worth approximately $8 million. This should allow them to add another player or two for another finals run. It is interesting that the only team that benefited from the Magic being part of this deal, were the Raptors. A team that very well could be facing the Magic in the postseason next spring.

Winner: This was one of the crazier trades in recent NBA history (and that is saying a lot). Every team won and lost in this deal. The biggest winner would be the Dallas Mavericks as they needed the trade to fit Marion under the cap, and didn't lose anything of value. The biggest loser in this deal might be the NBA labor agreement that forces such ridiculous trade scenario's. The fact that the Magic only "receive" a trade exception and not any tangible money, players or picks is a bit crazy. As is the fact that the Magic get anything from a player who in reality left in free agency. I think the NBA should close some of these loopholes, and eliminate these hurdles in their CBA (*Note I don't want to see the salary cap eliminated just these crazy exceptions and such). They should let these teams build their rosters based on talent and true value, instead of Monopoly money being given in return.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Trade Market: Roy Halladay??

Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal has an article today proclaiming that the Blue Jays are prepared to listen to offers for their ace Roy Halladay. Halladay has been one of the best pitchers in the game since his break out season in 2002. If he is on the market it would signify two things. One the Blue Jays are giving up on this season (despite their winning record), and are entering a rebuilding stage. Toronto has been competitive in the A.L. East this season, but are now seven games back in fourth place. Two, the 'Hot Stove' just got set to broil. With so many teams still in the play-off race, the trade market looks pretty barren. In fact the best player and pitcher that was likely to change teams, Jake Peavey, is injured, and off the market. That all changes with Roy Halladay available.

Halladay is a bonafide front of the rotation starter. He is just 32 years old and signed for a reasonable $15.75 million next season. The Jays should look to move him now when his value is still high. Toronto has some serious budget issues coming up, with Vernon Wells horrible contract on the books until 2014. For the Blue Jays to contend they will need a core of young, quality, cost controlled players. They can add a few of those type, by dealing Halladay. Every serious contender should at least ask the Blue Jays about their star pitcher. The question on every team's mind (and plenty of fans), is what will Halladay cost in terms of prospects?

Two offseason's ago we saw two top pitchers, Erik Bedard and Dan Haren, traded for top prospect packages in return. While both Bedard and Haren were under team control for longer ( 2 years for Bedard and 3 for Haren), neither was the pitcher that Halladay is. The Blue Jays return will be similar to what the Orioles and Athletics received. I think it will end up being a 5 for 1 deal. With two top prospects, two middle prospects and one high upside player. The Blue Jays will likely target CF, SS, 2B and SP's in any deal for Halladay.

Though any team would love to have Halladay only a handful make sense as possible trade partners. Though teams like the Angels, Yankees, Red Sox, White Sox and Cubs will be in the mix, I don't know if any of them make the final cut. The three teams that seem like the best fit to me are the Mets, Phillies and Rangers. Here is a look at why these teams fit and what they might have to give up for Halladay's services:

Mets: New York would love to put Halladay and Sabathia at the front of any play-off series they are in. By adding Halladay the Mets would become the favorite to overtake the Phillies for the East or to win the Wild Card. The Mets have a good bit of money coming off the books next season, and should have little problem fitting Halladay in their budget. New York's biggest problem is their farm system. Its a weak system overall, with very little talent in top levels of the minors. That being said, the Mets could offer a package along the lines of Fernando Martinez-OF, Jon Niese-SP, Jenrry Meija-SP, Ike Davis-1B, and Ruben Tejada-SS. Martinez and Niese could be in the big leagues right away, Meija is a couple years away, but could be a quality starter. Davis isn't a need for the Blue Jays, but he has a high upside. Tejada could be Toronto's SS of the future.

Phillies: Philadelphia desperately needs to add some talent to their rotation. While overall they are not looking to add salary, they will do so for a talent like Halladay. For the Phillies to stay atop the East they will need to make a move. Adding Halladay could make them the favorites to repeat as champions as well. Philadelphia has the talent to make a deal with the Blue Jays and still retain some top prospects. Either one of the Phil's top OF prospects Dominic Brown or Michael Taylor would headline the deal. Add in Carlos Carrasco-SP, SS Jason Donald and a high upside pitcher like Sampson or Worley and the Blue Jays would have a good return. Both Brown or Taylor could be the Jays RF of the future. Carrasco is a solid mid-rotation starter and Donald fills the hole at SS.

Rangers: The Rangers will have a tough time taking on money while they are under going major financial difficulties. But no team needs an ace pitcher more, and going forward the Rangers have some money coming off the books next season to fit Halladay in their payroll. The Rangers also have the best system in baseball and have plenty of depth to trade from. A trade involving Justin Smoak-1B, Martin Perez-SP, Tommy Hunter-SP, Tim Murphy-SP, Manuel Pina-C, should be enough to bring Halladay to Arlington. Smoak is one of the top prospects in all of baseball, and would give Toronto a legit 35 HR hitter. Perez is just 18 years old, but is one of the brightest pitching prospects in the minors. Hunter is nearly major league ready, and profiles as a mid rotation guy. Murphy has some upside but has struggled some recently. And Pina could be a solid big league catcher down the line.