Friday, December 21, 2007

Josh Hamilton: Texas Ranger

Spring 2001. Dan Rosendahl and I travel during spring break to Florida for a week of baseball- seven games in five days and some great stories featuring George Brett and some old Red Sox fans. A-Rod's a Ranger and autographs from Ranger greats Rusty Greer and Rafael Palmiero as well as Jonathan Johnson and Ryan Glynn.
One of the games we went to was the Minnesota Twins against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In fact, it may have been our first game. This was where Dan played the little kid to the groundskeeper's Mean Jow Green, who tossed him a ball. I got one that was hit during batting practice by the immortal BJ Garbe, the Twins first round draft pick in 1999 who still can't get out AA ball.
With that ball, I was determined to get a good autograph. When I entered the stadium during batting practice, one guy stood out from the rest: the Devil Ray's number one draft pick in the entire draft, 19 year old Josh Hamilton. There were a few old guys standing around with notebooks full baseball cards and Hamilton was signing them. I thought this is a good guy who to sign my new ball. But it was taking too long with the other guys and he had to run and hit batting practice. He looked at me and told me that he would be right back. During batting practice he was showed light pole power, crushing pitches out of the park. To his credit, when he was done hitting, he came over and signed my ball. However, about that time, I looked around and realized that was I was a 27 year old guy and I was clamoring for the autograph of a 19 year old kid. The other guys who were standing around were old balding guys who, frankly, looked like complete loser. While the rest of the week, I still got lots of autographs and have paid for a few autographs, it was the beginning of the end of my careing about baseball players autographs. Now, if it's Nolan Ryan or Troy Aikman or someone of that ilk, then I'll act a complete loser to get that.
Anyway, after that year, he fell off the face of the earth, battling injuries and drug problems. In fact, he didn't play proball from 2002-2005. Then he came back last year with an OPS of .924 and with 19 hrs and covering centerfield. Now the Rangers take a risk on a guy who can be a All-Star or end up homeless. I think it's a good call. I'll talk more later.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Steroid hypocrisy

Yesterday, I got in the car and turned on the radio and it was on ESPN radio. During the Sports Center Update, Fernando Vina was confessing his sins of using Performance Enhancing Drugs. This is by no means the only word about steroid or PEDs. Turn the dial down again and it's someone saying Roger Clemens won't make the Hall of Fame. Flip on the TV and someone is condemning the culture of drug use that has run rampant in baseball. Go to the blogs and someone else is calling the Yankee World Series victories into question.
Then wait a few minutes and there's a commercial depicting Shawne Merriman. In this commercial Merriman absolutely devastates several opposing offences in a row. This is the same Merriman who was suspended last year for PED. Of course, it's not surprising that he would be featured because despite the suspension, he was named to the Pro Bowl. As far as I know, he never has gone on TV or radio to try to justify his use of PED.
This isn't the only player who got busted for steroids, but not only got a pass, but was celebrated. Luis Castillo, a Charger defensive tackle, a confessed steroid user who used his enhanced performance to be able to wow the teams at the pre-draft combine, was drafted in the 1st round and then was the cover boy for the Madden 08 video game Spanish edition.
After baseball was called on the carpet before grandstanding congressional hearings, and was absolutely dragged through the mud, the NFL came and the congressmen just drooled all over them.
I could go on and on. For some reason, the fabric of society is threatened by the use of PEDs by baseball players. And of course, what about the children??? But football players get continue to get bigger, stronger, and faster, and more and more comes out about what is happening in football, but it's give a big, hearty "meh."
I'm not saying that PEDs are ok and that we shouldn't do anything and just let professional sports become like the Olympics and professional bike riding, but I just ask that we give a little bit of equity here.

Baby steps

Last week the highly anticipated Mitchell report was released, including the names of 86 players, past and present, who allegedly used performance enhancing drugs. Like many sports fans, I was looking forward to what the report, two years in the making, would reveal.

But when it finally hit, I found myself extremely unimpressed. Many of the players named were no surprise, and even for those, the report doesn't include any evidence that would hold up in court. I found myself asking, so what do we do with this now?

I'm not here to criticize the report as I have heard others do. One common criticism is that players not on the list now have a free pass. I don't buy that at all--as far as I know, Senator Mitchell never intended this to be an exhaustive list. I just want to know what happens from here on out. I'm not interested in striking records from the books or asterisking them. What's done is done, and it wasn't against the rules of baseball at the time anyway. And even though it is against the rules now, we don't have a test for HGH, what any ballplayer with half a brain who is willing to cheat is using. Without a test for the substance, baseball's anti-doping policy is useless.

The commissioner needs to demand the development of a test. the owners need to demand a test. Most of all, the players' union needs to demand a test. Maybe I'm being naive, but if I was a clean player, I'd be pretty ticked about dirty players, regarding both competitive balance and job security.

Senator Mitchell is on the right track with his report, but what is really needed is for all of baseball to work together to clean up the game, and for science to at least keep up with the cheaters.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Out on a limb

I'm setting myself up for heaps of ridicule, but I want to go on the record now that New England will not win the Super Bowl this year. This is something I have wanted to do all season but never got around to for one reason or another, and to be honest, some of my original reasons are losing steam. Nevertheless, I still think I am right on this and need to document it now if I want to brag about it in a couple of months.

First of all, if you give me the choice of one team or the field, I'll take the field every time. New England may have the best odds to win the Super Bowl, but they still have less of a chance than the rest of the league combined. If you were to press me on it, I'd say that Indianapolis and Dallas have the best chance to knock them off.

Next up is one of my apparently failed reasons: injuries. Earlier in the season, I really thought a major injury or two would wipe the team out. I just couldn't see them going all out the way they were and escaping the regular season healthy. Well, so far they have. That's OK, though, because I've got a few other reasons on which to hang my hat.

Another reason is karma. If there was ever a team that angered the football gods, it is New England. I'm not usually one to buy into this kind of stuff, but after Spygate and the way they have run up the score on everyone, the Patsies are going to get their due.

Which leads to my next reason: the Pats are not as dominant as their undefeated record implies. Let's not forget that Dallas has a single loss and Indy only two. Yes, both of these teams lost to the Pats, but a repeat win in the playoffs is by no means a lock for the Patriots. Forget for a moment what Brady has done this year, if ESPN and the mainstream media will let you. Everyone knows (but still manages to forget this time of year) that defense and a running game win championships. How does NE stack up? Defense is fourth (behind Indy at two, Dallas is eight), rushing is fourteenth (behind Indy at twelve and Dallas at nine). In fact, I think the Patriots and their pass-happy offense would have been better off if they had to go on the road to Indy in the AFC playoffs. New England's undefeated season is a sham anyway; remove Dallas and Indy, and the remaining Patriots opponents are 55-88.

My final reason is precedent, in the form of the 06-07 Mavericks, who went just about as close as you can get to undefeated in a 82 game NBA season. How did that work out for them again? The Mavs burned themselves out in the regular season, and Belichick is doing the same thing to the Pats in his chase for an undefeated season, or revenge for the slights his team received after Spygate, or whatever else is driving him. When the playoffs roll around and each opponent has a better record than sub-.400, the Pats will fold. I didn't think the Pats could go undefeated in the regular season, but I am now resigned to that. But I have come to embrace it; after all, it will be that much sweeter when they fall short of the championship.

Are the Pats good? Absolutely, but don't engrave the Lombardi yet.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Selling the Farm for Some Magic Beans

I'm sure you've been checking the site for what the resident Astros' expert has to say about the Tejada trade. Well, I'll just say I like it alot better when I thought it was Luke Scott, Adam Everett, and one pitching prospect a week ago. Now I find out it's OF Luke Scott, P Troy Patton (#3 on the BA prospect list), P Matt Albers, P Dennis Sarfate, and 3B Mike Coustanzo (#6 on the BA list, I like it whole lot less. And if Tejada can demand a trade after 2008, as Richard Justice of the Chron is reporting, I like it even less. And now (one day later) that I know the Miguel Tejada is on the Mitchell report (big surprise, really), I like even less.

The main weakness of the Astros over the last several years was a weak lineup. Numbers 7-9 hitters were Everett, Brad Ausmus, and the pitcher, three almost automatic outs, add to that a declining Craig Biggio, an array of spares such as Jason Lane, Chris Burke, Eric Bruntlett, Willy Tavares, and Morgan Ensberg, and with the loss to free agency, injuries, and retirement to players such as Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent, and Carlos Beltran the Astros had basically become Lance Berkman and the Punchless Wonders. Last year, they started to add some offense, by overpaying for Carlos Lee and the emergence of Hunter Pence. J.R. Towles should outhit Ausmus and Michael Bourne as speed and defence to centerfeild. And while you could make the argument that Everett could bat ninth after the pitcher, he is an excellent defensive shortstop. When we went down last year with a broken leg, the Astros had to go with Bruntlett and Mark Loretta, slightly better hitters, but had no where near the glove. So it goes without saying that Tejada will improve the Astros offense. I mean, optimally, they'll have one of the strongest lineups in the National League so I guess that's a good thing.

Unfortunately, unless the Astros plan on Roy Oswalt being the #1, #2, #3 starter and the closer, they have no realistic shot at contending and have hamstrung themselves for the foreseeable future. The Astros had a weak farm system anyway and now they have traded away most of what they had left. They basically traded most of their tradable commodities for declineing, roided up guys who will need to be move to third base probably during the season. Could they not have thrown this together for a starting pitcher? Now they'll have to throw probably $25 mil after spares like Jason Jennings or John Leiber. They still don't have a closer as Chad Qualls inspires about as much confidence as the US Congress. Here is the rotation after Oswalt: Wandy Rodriguez, Woody Williams, Chris Sampson, and Brandon Backe. Inspired, yet? Maybe the Astros will be an offensive juggernaut. But they'll eaither be winning or losing games 10-9 all year long. I just don't understand the move.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Allas Cowboys?

Disclaimer: I didn't get to watch yesterday's game with the Lions. It was the first game I have missed this year. So this post is based on what I've read and what I heard from Brad and Babe on the radio.
Here is the premium money and draft picks that the Cowboys have spent on their defense:
DE: Marcus Spears- 2005 1st round draft pick, Chris Canty- 2005 4th, and Jason Hatcher- 2006 3rd
DT: Jason Fergeson- 2005 free agent
LB: Greg Ellis- 1998 1st, DeMarcus Ware- 2005 1st, Bradie James- 2003 4th, Akin Ayodele- 2006 free agent, Kevin Burnett- 2005 2nd, Anthony Spencer- 2007 1st, Bobby Carpenter- 2006 1st
CB- Terrence Newman- 2003 1st, Anthony Henry- 2005 free agent
S- Roy Williams- 2002 1st
Not mentioned failed high picks like Dewayne Goodrich, Ebenezer Ekuban, and Tony Dixon.
They even hired a defensive guru coach in Wade Phillips. In fact, the last three head coaches have been defensive guys.
But then against one of the worst running offenses in the league and after a week of whining about something a 2nd rate quarterback said a year ago (after he had torched a playoff bound team for 300 yards and 4 TD passes), the D was gashed for 400 yards of total offense. John Kitna was the most sacked QB in the NFL, but the Cowboys hardly touched him and caused 0 turnovers. Kevin Jones averaged 4 yards a rush and Kitna completed 35-44.

The Cowboys have a strong offense. So strong that it overcame a fumble on the 1 yard line down by a touchdown and still drove down and won the game in the end. And it looks like that offense is going to have to carry this team as far as it will go. I mean, do you feel good about this defense against the Vikings again, especially when they have Adrian Peterson and Tavaris Jackson seems to have found himself? What about the Giants or the Packers again? I'm not preaching doom and gloom yet. But this defense needs to step up if the Cowboys want to do what they said they want to do. Their goal isn't the NFC East title they clinched yesterday. It's the Super Bowl.
This win falls in the same line as the Buffalo game: A game they should have lost, but won anyway.
Glass half full? This team has guts and never says die.
Glass half empty? This defense is a sieve and will inevitably keep this team from it's goals.
Which one is it?

Friday, December 7, 2007

The Definition of Insanity, Part 2

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Earlier I talked about this concerning the Dallas Mavericks. Now I'm saying this about myself and the Texas Rangers. I keep expecting that the Rangers are going to do something smart and then contend and it never happens. Stupid trades on top of stupid free agent signings on top of bad drafts on top of key injuries on top of under performing players on top of bad leadership from the top and so on and so on. I haven't looked at all the numbers, but I'm pretty confident in saying that the Rangers are probably fighting it out with the Rays and the Royals for the worst franchises in all of baseball.

This past year has been a bit of a step backwards for the franchise: trading their best player (Mark Teixeira) for Jarrod Saltalamacchia and a bunch of minor leaguers, big free agent signings of the past couple of years (Kevin Millwood and Vincente Padilla) struggling, a slow start from the FOTF (face of the franchise- Michael Young), injuries to key players (Brandon McCarthy and Hank Blalock), and another questionable trade (McCarthy for Danks). There are a couple of things you can look back on as good things: a couple of very good trades (Kenny Lofton and Eric Gagne for Max Ramirez, Kason Gabbard, Elvis Andrus and David Murphy), a good step forward by some younger players (Ian Kinsler, C.J. Wilson, Travis Metcalf, and Edinson Volquez), and what looks like and excellent draft. For the first time in LOOOONG time outside observers are calling the Ranger farm system one of the best in baseball with a whole lot of prime pitching talent, including some that may impact the big league team this year (Eric Hurley and Matt Harrison).

So the question is about this off-season, preparing for 2008. How aggressive should the Rangers be in free agency for areas of need? What about trading some of their prime minor league talent for established major leaguers like Johan Santana or Eric Bedard?

So far the Rangers have made only very minor moves: stealing an Angels' prospect on a paperwork snafu and trading a barely usable center fielder for a recently released first baseman. Hardly front page stuff. Their stated focus of the off season, Torri Hunter, signed with the Angels and as the top flight center fielders sign elsewhere the Rangers are forced to look at spares like Corey Patterson and Juan Pierre. This hasn't exactly been an off season to get excited about Rangers baseball. When the Royals are more appearing more apt to spend money than you, you know you have problems.

I suggest, however, that the Rangers are making the right moves at this time by not making any major, earth shattering moves. There are two main reasons that I think this:
1. For the first time in years, it appears the Rangers actually have a plan and are sticking to it. That plan is building the team from within, especially in the pitching department. In the top 20 prospect list I linked earlier, 6 are pitchers that were added this last year, either through trade or the draft. They have finally realized that if you want to hold down costs you can't build a rotation through free agency. Also, when pitchers get traded, it's for top notch minor league talent, like when the Marlins traded Josh Beckett for Hanley Ramirez and more. The thing about pitching prospects is the high attrition rate. TINSTAAPP (There is no such thing as a pitching prospect). Injuries happen, guys aren't effective, they go off the deep end mentally. Any number of things can happen. How do you keep that from killing your franchise? By stock pilling as many as possible.
2. They've realized you don't get better by throwing ridiculous amounts of money at mediocre players. For example, after Torri Hunter, Andruw Jones was the best center fielder on the market. According the reports, while he signed for 2/36 with the Dodgers he wanted a long term commitment to change leagues and sign with the Rangers. Now the best center fielder on the market, Aaron Rowand wants five years. If you're operating on a budget, you can't throw good money after bad players. I'm not even sure the Torii Hunter was worth the money the Rangers would have had to pay him to et him hear.

The off season is still going on. There are plenty of time for the Rangers to make moves and screw all this up. Hopefully, they will continue to follow the blue print that they have set out for themselves. They still need to improve the outfield which with Murphy, Byrd, and Catalanotto may be the worst outfield in baseball. I don't think they need a closer or a starter right now, although if you can get rid of Vicente Padilla you gotta do it. Their offense has a chance to be terrible. But 2008 is not what we are working for. We're looking at 2009, 2010, etc.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What to think of this NHL Season - Stars Edition

So, I've been watching the NHL for a while. About 14 years pretty steady (you know, except for the years where they weren't playing). I feel like I understand and can generally pick how seasons are going to go for a franchise. In summary, I consider myself an NHL guy. So, what the heck do I make of this season? It's pretty wheels-off, that's what. Every time you think you know something, you find out you don't know it.

Let's start with the Stars. Actually, I'll just focus on them. The rest of the NHL will have to wait. Before the season, I pretty much guessed them to be a middle of the pack playoff team that was probably on it's way down. Then, when the season started and Modano looked like the pressure of the record was getting to him, I thought... uh oh, the Stars may not make the playoffs this year. Apparently Tom Hicks agreed and fired Doug Armstrong. And hired Brett Hull as interim co-general manager (seriously... what kind of title is that???) Then Mike breaks the record and realizes that he can score again and the Stars go on a winning streak. Except instead of being anchored by their franchise goalie, they are led by Mike Smith, a goalie who I thought was as generic as his name. I've been trying to figure out what to write about this team, but every time I started to write, the story changed. Now, the Stars are in first place in the Pacific Division (where I thought they might be third best), and near the top of most "Power Rankings". But will they stay there?

Um.. no, I don't think so. I hope they prove me wrong because I love this team and always want them to do well, but here are the issues:
1. Unsteady play from Turco. Turco has been the rock of this team for so long that not having him there has cause them to play over their heads for a while. I think this is a trend that won't continue.
2. Scoring. Or lack there of. They are getting more balanced scoring, but no one is charging ahead. This can be good or bad, but not knowing who to rely on scoring wise is different. (who knows, it worked for Buffalo last year).
3. Lehtinen's injury. Modano is awesome, and I really enjoy Morrow's game, but if I were going to be reincarnated as any hockey player in the world, it would be Jere Lehtinen. (No, I don't believe in reincarnation, but anyway...). His injury (a sports hernia) is not an easy one to recover from, and if I remember right, it's not his first. These things can linger, and for a player who is known for his tenacious defense and timely scoring, losing him is huge.
So, where will the Stars end up? Well, I'd love to see them end where they are now, but I think this is short-lived and would be surprised if a downturn doesn't happen.

Also, Brett... Where is the scoring? I figured the first thing Hull would do as GM-ish would be to bring some scoring in here. I'm surprised it hasn't happened yet.

Btw, don't think this isn't a intended reverse jinx thing happening.. :)

The Man in the Mirror

Last night's game was really interesting. I've for years really disliked to Ravens. I don't have any real reason personally to dislike them, but I do. Perhaps it's the fact that I think Brian Billick is the most over rated coach in the NFL. He lucked into Randy Moss and Robert Smith when he was with the Vikings and became known as an offensive genius. Then he lucked into a dominant defense which carried the Genuis' pathetic offense into a Super Bowl ring. Add to that Ray Lewis getting away with murder, Jamal Lewis being busted as a drug dealer, that they were moved by a sorry owner from Cleveland and you have in my opinion a dislikeable franchise.
Last night, however, as the adversary of the Patriots on Monday Night Football, the Ravens because the carriers of all things good and righteous against the evil Hoodies. And for three and half quarters, they were what we all hoped for. And with Don Shula in the MNF broadcast booth, clearly rooting for them, I thought they had a chance. By now, you know what happened. Trailing 24-20 with 4 minutes left in the game, Tom Brady led the Patriots down the field to the winning touchdown and the Pats are now 4 games from 16-0. The Ravens would have you believe that their righteous victory was stolen from them by the evil refs in dark conspiracy perpetrated by the highest of puppet masters in the NFL offices in New York. Don't you believe it. Really, they should just look in the mirror, coaches and players. Here are a list of reasons the Ravens lost last night starting with the least egregious.

1. A still inept offense. Brian Billick has been at Baltimore for nine years and the Ravens have consistently been below average on offense. In the 4th quarter, Baltimore had three possessions while ahead and each time went three and out. Until the last desperation drive, Kyle Bolar was 2-5 for 10 yards and a pick. Willis McGahee ran 5 times for 5 yards. At the time when they needed to run the clock and pick up first downs (in that order), they completely failed.

2. Bad defensive coaching on the Patriots last drive. From what I hear the Ravens defensive coaching had as good a game plan for most of the game, bringing pressure from different places, well run disguised blitzed. Until the end that is. I wish I could go back and watch that last drive because it seemed every time Brady was able to get yardage passing was when the Ravens rushed only three. With the talented receivers that Brady has, you can't give him time to sit back there and wait for someone to come open and that's exactly what happened. Everyone wants to complain about the timeout, but the Ravens let Tom Brady run for twelve yards and a first down after the timeout. As expected the Ravens only rushed three and left the right side of the offense wide open. Brady's not Vince Young. Unless there's a wide open space, he's not gonna run. It was not a good defensive performance there.

3. Undisciplined players. The real problem with the Ravens were players who went off the deep end after the touchdown. I understand that it was an emotional game and there were a number of times when they thought they had to game won only to have that not be the case because of factors not always under their control. The fact of the matter is there has been infighting on this team for most of the year. Even as one who doesn't pay close attention living in another city, I can tell there are problems. It all culminated last night with the penalties after the touchdown and the comments after the game. When the Patriots scored the touch down there was 44 seconds left in the game. A long time? No. But there was a possibility of a long return on the kickoff or some other unforeseen circumstance. Instead, the Ravens lost 35 yards in penalties, mostly by Bart Scott's 2 unsportsmanlike conduct fouls. When the Ravens cry about loosing this game, they can only blame themselves. Not that I care about the direction of this team, but the Billick needs to go. He has presided over the deterioration of all discipline and ability to play like a team.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A real national champion: The Final Bracket

Well, this is it. The regular season is over, and my final bracket is unveiled here. Without further ado:

1) Ohio State (Big Ten)
16) Central Michigan (MAC)

8) Kansas (At large)
9) West Virginia (Big East)

4) Oklahoma (Big XII)
13) BYU (Mountain West)

5) Georgia (At large)
12) Florida (At large)

3) Virginia Tech (ACC)
14) Central Florida (Conference USA)

6) Missouri (At large)
11) Arizona State (At large)

7) USC (Pac-10)
10) Hawaii (WAC)

2) LSU (SEC)
15) Troy (Sun Belt)

Missed the cut (BCS rank):
Illinois (13)
Boston College (14)
Clemson (15)
Tennessee (16)
Wisconsin (18)

For previous weeks, see Week Seven, Week Eight, Week Nine, Week Ten, Week Twelve and Week Thirteen.

Looking back at the initial bracket, only ten teams included then (in Week Seven, mind you, not the preseason) made it to the final bracket, and that includes two teams (Oklahoma and Arizona State) who spent one week each on the outside looking in.

I have already addressed issues such as season length, game sites and the fate of the lesser bowls in the initial post. Let's focus on the overwhelming benefits of this system here.

A common knock on a playoff is that it dilutes the regular season. Look at this bracket and ask: Does the regular season matter? Ask Boston College, who were a two seed before a couple losses knocked them out of the picture. Ask Tennessee, who was an SEC Championship win away from playing their way in. Ask South Florida and Connecticut, who were both riding high in the Big East before West Virginia reasserted their dominance. I'd say the regular season still matters.

In a sixteen team playoff, undefeated Hawaii gets a shot. They may very well get blown out by USC in the first round. But there is no way to rationalize a team going undefeated and not even getting a sniff at a championship. If you want to argue that they played a weak schedule, that's fine, but you better start by getting the big boys to stop ducking Hawaii and other dangerous mid-majors like them. I'm talking to you, Michigan.

As things currently stand, two-loss LSU gets a shot at one-loss Ohio State. But what about two-loss teams such as Virginia Tech, Oklahoma, Georgia, Missouri, USC, West Virginia, Arizona State, in addition to one-loss Kansas and previously mentioned undefeated Hawaii? Could they have solved their own problems during the season? Sure, but their warts are no worse than LSU's, or Ohio State's for that matter. That makes at least nine teams who have just as legitimate a claim to play for the title as LSU and OSU.

While the BCS shuts its eyes, covers its ears and screams "I can't hear you!" over and over, my playoff gives them the shot they rightfully deserve.