Friday, December 30, 2005

Outtie

Rather than force something out like I've been doing all week, I'm just going to take the weekend off. Not like anyone's reading anyway.

I know everyone says this, but there will be big changes here in 2006. First and foremost, you can anticipate a move to www.sportingbrews.com in the not so distant future, along with a slight format and content change. All of which will be gradually implemented.

See y'all Monday or Tuesday. Maybe then we can discuss the NFL playoff picture.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Peter Angelos, You Slay Me

Oh, those Baltimore Orioles and their wacky antics. From a comic viewpoint, they’re priceless, continually adding big parts but not necessarily the right ones. Of course, that irks my baseball viewpoint, but only to a certain extent because they’re an AL East rival.

Every year there are whispers – or even rumblings last year – that this is the year the Orioles contend for the AL East title. But they always suffered from the same ailment: lack of pitching. From 2002 through 2005, the O’s ranked seventh, 10th, seventh, and 10th in the AL in pitching. That’s just not going to get the job done. The AL World Series representative in those years ranked second (Anaheim), third (Yanks), third (Boston), and first (Chicago), respectively.

The solution for the Orioles had/has become overcompensating for a thin pitching market with big bats. The team spent big in the winter of 03-04 on Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez, and Rafael Palmeiro, hoping to see them lead the team past the Yanks and the Sox. Problem is, the Yanks and the Sox had/have big bats as well, and actually have/had some semblance of a pitching staff.

For some context, from 2002 through 2005 the Yankees ranked first, third, second and second in runs per game, while finishing fourth, third sixth, and ninth in ERA. The Red Sox finished second, first, first, and first in runs per game, and third, eighth, third, and eleventh in ERA. Only one mark in that group was worse than any Orioles mark, which is the 2005 Red Sox team ERA.

The only AL World Series representative to finish worse than seventh in league ERA – Baltimore’s highest mark over the past four years – is Cleveland in 1997. But remember, they didn’t exactly dominate over the regular season with their 86-75 record, they just came up big in a lot of crucial spots in the playoffs, leading to a run that finally ended with the Marlins coming up bigger. Funny, though, that Baltimore finished second in league ERA that year.

Let’s be clear for just one second (just one). A low team ERA doesn’t necessarily translate into playoff success, but playoff success does derive from a strong pitching staff. Plenty of teams with low ERAs have failed in the playoffs, but very few teams have succeeded in the postseason with mediocre pitching.

I bring up the continuing struggles of the Orioles mainly because of the Tejada trade rumors. There have been critics upon critics who think that the Orioles would be foolish to give up a player the caliber of Tejada. While he has been their second best player in the two years since he signed (Melvin Mora in 2004 and Brian Roberts in 2005 were better), he certainly isn’t indispensable, especially when they would receive pitching in return.

The prominent rumor involving Tejada is packaging him with Erik Bedard in exchange for Mark Prior. Like any sane person, Orioles owner and ostensible GM Peter Angelos has told the Cubs, "thanks for the offer, but Prior has an injury history that I’m just not comfortable with." Prior has proven that he can pitch in the bigs, and pitch well, but has also shown his tendency to spend days dormant on the DL. True, Bedard spent significant time injured this year, but that doesn’t mean you should up and trade him with one of your top hitters for another injury prone pitcher.

Personally, I wouldn’t think about this deal until the price tag came down to Tejada and Chen for Prior and an A-level prospect. And seeing as Jim Hendry would probably have on interest in such an exchange, we’re pretty much talking moot at this point.

Another interesting Tejada rumor comes courtesy of Gotham Baseball. It would involve four teams, each of which would be plugging significant holes. To get the ball rolling, the Mets would send Aaron Heilman, Kaz Matsui, and $5 mil (to help pay Matsui’s $7 mil salary) to Tampa Bay in exchange for Julio Lugo. The Mets would then take Lugo and package him with Kris Benson, Brian Bannister, and Victor Diaz in a deal with Baltimore for Tejada. And then the Mets take Tejada and flip him to Boston straight up for Manny, which is what Boston wanted to do with Baltimore.

Tampa Bay wins because while they sacrifice Lugo’s adequate bat for Matsui’s poor one, then acquire a young arm, a coveted and elusive puzzle piece. Baltimore wins because they upgrade their pitching staff with Benson, fill the shortstop void with Lugo, and gain an extra bat with Diaz. Boston wins because they’re rid of a complaining Manny and replace him with Tejada, which is as close as they’re going to get as far as a comparable hitter. And the Mets win because they finally acquire Manny, as well as solving any starting pitcher controversies heading into 2006.

I have little doubt that Tampa Bay and New York are set to go on this deal, give or take a prospect or two. Boston most likely is warm to it, since all they have to do is flip Manny for Miggy, an idea they bounced off Peter Angelos a week or so ago. Baltimore, however, is the team most affected by this move. But all they’re giving up is Miggy, so it comes right down to compensation.

If you were Peter Angelos, who would your rather have as compensation for Tejada: Mark Prior (and also lose a starting pitcher) or Julio Lugo, Kris Benson, Victor Diaz, and 25-year-old righty in Brian Bannister? I’m taking Plan B every time. Call me crazy (and it’s been done before), but the runs created by Lugo and Diaz plus the runs prevented by Benson will at least equal Tejada’s runs created.

Let’s put a bit of shaky science behind this. Bill James uses a statistic called Runs Created to measure the efficiency of a hitter. I know that using last year’s statistics as a predictor of this year is highly inefficient, but sometimes it’s all we have to go by. Let’s compare the 2005 Orioles in terms of runs created per 27 outs with the potential 2006 lineup.

2005 StarterRC/272006 StarterRC/27
Javy Lopez5.07Ramon Hernandez5.21
Rafael Palmeiro5.25B.J. Surhoff3.53
Brian Roberts7.38Brian Roberts7.38
Miguel Tejada6.46Julio Lugo5.26
Melvin Mora5.71Melvin Mora5.71
B.J. Surhoff3.53Victor Diaz5.16
Luis Matos4.23Luis Matos4.23
Sammy Sosa3.60Jeromy Burnitz4.87
Jay Gibbons5.85Javy Lopez5.07
David Newhan2.77Jay Gibbons5.85
2005 Total49.85200652.27


Of course, there are other factors, such as Burnitz’s decline, but there is also room for growth in Victor Diaz. But by making this trade, the Orioles probably won’t lose much off the offense, if any, and will be able to replace Sidney Ponson with a significant upgrade in Benson. And when you throw in Brian Bannister to sweeten the deal, this begins to make all the sense in the world for the Orioles.

Even though there is only a glimmer of consummating this trade, it realistically helps every team involved. Two teams part ways with guys who want out, and acquire parts that they need in 2006. The D-Rays unload Lugo and acquire a replacement and a pitcher, while the Mets would acquire their Lost Jewel of the Nile.

Of course, Tampa Bay has to see a situation here where they have some leverage, since the first step in the trade involves them shipping off Lugo. Without Lugo, this is a dead deal, and as such the Rays would probably do themselves well by demanding a mid-level prospect from the Mets. Then again, the Mets are giving up the most in this deal, so they may be reluctant to oblige. See, this is why blockbusters like this are a rarity.

This deal just makes too much sense, which obviously means it will be squashed, probably sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Penny Diatribe

To be quite honest, I never had any aspirations of Rutgers winning the Insight Bowl. After watching the team throughout college, I know their tendencies, and it’s well known that they’re sometimes the best team in college football for half a game. Tuesday night was no different, as they blew a 24-17 halftime lead and basically laid down for ASU in the second half.

Oh, and the Blue Jays got Troy Glaus. I’m sure I have something to say about that, but for now it’s, “damn, looks like the Red Sox are finishing third.” Gimme a day or so; I’m sure I’ll cook up something.

Today, though, I plunge into a non-sports topic. Today I talk about the most malignant of monetary units: the penny.

The penny, my friends, is the annoying kid in your group who is only around because he’s known one of you since childhood. The penny is the guy who makes asinine comments at movies. The penny is the guy who gets smashed and creeps out all the chicks at a party. The penny is the guy who doesn’t make it to the toilet before he hurls.

Some people may be thinking right now: hey Joe, why all the beef about the penny? Honestly, I’ve been working in retail in some form for five years or so, and have had to handle plenty of those grimy little buggers. And quite honestly, I feel bad about handing them out.

Seriously, what are you going to do with two cents? Nothing costs less than a nickel nowadays. I defy you to find me an item at a convenience store selling for under five cents. Nope. Nada.

Ah, but you can save pennies, and some day they will add up to a significant dollar amount. This, actually, is the only useful way to dispose of pennies. Put them all in a water cooler jug until it fills, then bring that jug down to your local Coin Star machine (because realistically, who’s going to wrap that many pennies – and don’t forget to put your account number on each roll). Sure, they’ll charge you eight cents on the dollar, but who knows, maybe one of those pennies will slip into a quarter slot. Free money, baby.

The most common use of the penny is to receive back an even amount of change at a store. And why do people do this? So they don’t get any more pennies back. Once again, no one wants pennies.

So if the only point of pennies is to save them up, then why even have them around? Why not completely cut them out of our monetary system? Would there be any harm in this? I see only upside.

Beyond saving an annoyance, cutting out the penny puts our change system in units of five, which simplifies matters. So now you’re paying $5.55 rather than $5.52, saving yourself the burden of carrying three pennies in your pocket until you empty them into your jug at home. Actually, you probably don’t have a jug; you probably just dump the change in your room and eventually suck it up with a vacuum cleaner. Or you’re like my friend Brian and immediately litters the parking lot with them.

In any case, every argument boils down to the simple fact that the penny is plain annoying. And while that may signify subjectivity, I think it’s pretty universal. I mean, you name me one person who would care enough to paste together an argument defending the penny.

Eliminating the penny also paves the way for Lincoln’s move to the quarter. And why not? Sure, George Washington was our first president, but does that mean he’s worth two monetary units? I think Mr. Washington would be perfectly satisfied with gracing the dollar bill, and would gladly move aside for Honest Abe in the event the penny should be squashed. Or at least that’s how folklore would have us believe he would act.

In accordance with my argument guidelines, I’ll make one concession, and that’s the calculation of sales tax. You see, this is a very precise science, taking six percent (depending on what state you’re in) of the total and adding it to the order. Lord knows it would take years to implement a new system for calculating sales tax absent the penny, but for the time being we could just round the penny to the nearest nickel (kinda like we round off odd numbers when calculating sales tax…).

I could go into other reasons, such as the amount of grime collected on dormant pennies, or the fact that I’ve been hit with a penny used as a projectile weapon many times, and damn well could have lost an eye, but I think it’s pretty much a slam dunk case. The penny is annoying and pointless, and I dare you to make a case otherwise. Until someone does, I’ll assume you all agree.

The only matter that remains is what to do with the remaining pennies. Surely some would be saved in museums and by hobbyists, but people like me and you just want to be rid of these forsaken things. And for us, there’s the lottery.

There always comes time in poker games when the least denominated chip becomes obsolete because the blinds are up. In the group I play with, everyone cashes in their excess ones for fives (usually the next denomination), and the remainder is thrown into a pool. We then play a mini card game to determine the winner of the lotto chips.

This would work perfect for pennies. The dump/recycling center in each town would be equipped with a large cone for depositing the pennies. You would simply go to the recycling center and dump your jug of pennies into the cone. A machine on the cone would then calculate your total, throw any odd pennies into the lotto pool, and print out a check for the even amount, and that would be that.

The government would then be free to use the copper however it pleases. I don’t know what you can make with a glut of copper, but I know it can at least be used for other coins and copper piping, so there’s two right there. Then again, that could lead to the government assembling an army of copper robots. I think I have a science fiction book to write now…

Unfortunately, issues like war are impeding such an important issue from coming to the forefront of the government’s attention. But there is something you can do. Next time you buy something, tell the clerk you don’t want the pennies. He may be a tight wad and give you a strange look, but pay no mind; he’s just the clerk. In fact, maybe you’ll find a chill clerk who understands where you’re coming from, and you two can go toss pennies into the river after work.

See, just another upside to eliminating the penny.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Season That Wasn't

Just one week left in what could be the strangest NFL season in recent memory. How is it strange? I think Bill Simmons summed it up nicely a few weeks ago in his weekly NFL column: there are just so many bad teams. Some teams started out bad, some fell victim to a glut of injuries, and some just couldn’t get the ball rolling out of the gate and suffered all season.

No one felt this more than the Jets. After a solid run in 2004 that led them to the brink of an AFC Championship appearance, the Jets heard the words “Super Bowl” muttered throughout their fan base in 2005. And why not? The biggest holes in the 2004 roster were plugged over the off-season. Chad Pennington had shoulder surgery, and they signed Jay Fiedler as a capable backup. Derrick Blaylock was brought in to replace LaMont Jordan. And Ty Law shored up the secondary.

Two holes remained, however: the offensive and defensive lines. Kareem McKenzie headed to the Giants and Jason Ferguson headed to Big D, leaving the Jets with gaping holes on both lines. The Jets O-line already had some problems in 2004, mainly because Brandon Moore just isn’t good enough to be a starter. Add to that the undersized Adrian Jones – 6-4, 296 compared to McKenzie’s 6-6, 327), and an aging Jason Fabini, and you have impending doom.

The departure of Jason Ferguson hurt the defense more than most fans anticipated. While he was never heralded as an elite nose tackle, his true value was realized in his absence. Without him eating up blockers, blitzes were compromised, and Jonathan Vilma wasn’t allowed to roam freely. Yes, he still leads the NFL in tackles, but his accomplishments were usually marked in the flats or at the second level instead of up by the line of scrimmage.

Even with those holes, the Jets stood a shot. But then Pennington went down. Then Fiedler. Then Kevin Mawae. Then Eric Barton. Suddenly, the talks have moved from playoff run to No. 1 Draft Pick sweepstakes. And with talks of the No. 1 pick come whispers of Reggie Bush.

This actually reminds me of an episode of Coach, after Hayden had taken over the Vikings. He was in the war room, debating whether to draft a halfback or an offensive lineman. The logic went, “if we draft the back, he’ll have no holes to run through. If we draft the lineman, there will be no one to run through the holes.” Exactly the conundrum the Jets are in right now.

Quite honestly, though, I don’t think the Jets should be thinking about Reggie right now, great as he may be in the NFL. I also think the talks should hush about Matt Leinart as well. Why? While they have problems at QB and RB, they have far worse problems elsewhere. Big money is tied up in Pennington at QB and Martin at RB (though they could conceivably restructure Martin’s deal or even cut him, depending on the circumstance). The Jets already have $120 million committed to 2006 salaries, and while plenty of that is sure to come off the books via restructuring and release, they can ill afford adding the monstrous contract of a Leinart or Bush.

Come draft day, the Jets should be focusing on their linemen and secondary (since Ty Law will be a cap casualty), which means swapping their top pick for a later first round pick and a second or third rounder. More draft picks = more chances to land a quality player. Later draft picks = less money taken from the rookie pool.

The draft must be the focus of the Jets off-season, since the bigger name free agents probably aren’t going to be enamored with the luster of the team. And since that’s the only selling point (and even that’s a stretch), they can pretty much forget about guys like Tom Ashworth and Nate Clements.

And that’s basically all I have. I can’t go analyzing potential free-agent pickups because there will likely be none of consequence, and I can’t go speculating about the draft because the combine changes everything.

So, in closing, I’d just like to say that even though the No. 1 pick in the draft is on the line next weekend, I still want to see the Jets actually win a game. Yes, I know that the game is inconsequential, but con sarnit, the Jets should beat Buffalo. There is just no excuse for a loss. Leave the tanking of games to the Texans.

Dammit, I just want to see a win.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Day Off

Not that I really deserve one, but I'm taking today off. Not like much happened over the weekend anyway, though I am very curious as to this Glaus to Toronto development, as it could solidify the Blue Jays as the #1 contender to the AL East Crown.

That could just be the bias talking, though.