Friday, February 24, 2006

Sans Stats

It’s Friday, which means it’s Sans Stats time. If you’ve been keeping up with your reading this week, you’ll know that I’m trying new things like crazy, and Sans Stats will be no different. In an attempt to add structure to this weekly feature (which can be likened to Aaron Gleeman’s Link-O-Rama with some added inane commentary), I’m going to tear down the wall and start anew. So brace yourselves, all 50 of you, because you’re in for a ride on the random train. Here’s the week in sports, goofiness, and goofiness in sports.

We’re going to start off local with a team that is very dear to me, the New York Jets. So dear, in fact, that I still haven’t taken down the “Where we thank Terry Bradway for stepping down” tag line. The team made a big splash this week, as the Two Utes (as coined by Pro Football Talk editor Mike Florio) made their first round of cuts. And I have to say, I’m impressed with the cajones demonstrated by the two right off the bat. Ty Law, Jason Fabini, Jay Fiedler, Jerald Sowell, Lance Legree, Barry Gardner, and Harry “Hank” Williams, Jr. were the names dropped, but that’s not the whole story.

I expected Curtis Martin’s contract restructuring to be quite a process, meaning I obviously underestimated both the new Jets regime and Martin. There haven’t been any publicly released numbers relating to Martin’s new deal (not that I’ve found yet at least), so I can’t speak to the quality of the deal. But it seems that this was a mutually expedited process, making me much more optimistic as to the actual cap savings.

A second round of cuts is rumored in the near future, with Chad Pennington and Kevin Mawae heading the new pack. Pete Kendall may be along for the ride as well. I like Kendall a lot, but as an aging lineman with a hefty cap number, the team will be better off with the savings than the player. Especially because there is little to no shot of finishing out of the cellar in 2006.

There’s plenty more to say about the 2006 Jets, but we can save that for another time. After all, there is more to cover today, like my favorite story of the week. Former Yankee Roberto Kelly has resigned as manager of the Team Panama in the WBC, citing a lack of support from Panamanian baseball officials. I never did see him as the manager type. But then again, I guess no one saw Terry Francona as the manager type during his playing days.

Making for a New York-related trifecta, the Bulls were not able to find a trading partner for former Knick Tim Thomas. Gee, what a surprise. You think the Bulls might want the $13 million in cap savings? Yeah, that would be smart. So many great Zeke jokes to drop in here; I just can’t choose the one that fits best.

Keeping with basketball, Sebastian Telfair was suspended for two games as a result of being armed for a team flight. He’s got a good story, though. “Telfair told authorities the gun was his girlfriend's, and he grabbed her bag accidentally when leaving Portland.”

What kills me is that there was no follow-up to that. Obviously, the authorities could determine if it was in fact his girlfriend’s bag. So why not report that? Isn’t that significant? Regardless, I don’t think the “girlfriend’s bag” story would have worked had Telfair been bound for a flight on Continental.

This time of year is both the most agonizing and most interesting in the NFL season. Agonizing because everything is moving at a Giambi pace, interesting because everyone is speculating, speculating, speculating. There’s not a topic up for grabs, whether it be the draft, the combine, Daunte Culpepper’s future, or whether or not the Jets will cut Chad Pennington (please do, by the way).

The most entertaining speculative topic: Shaun Alexander. Wasn’t before? Well, he is now after opening negotiations for a long-term deal at eight years, $80 million with $22 mil in guaranteed coin. Remember, folks, LaDanian Tomlinson signed an eight year, $60 mil contract with $20 guaranteed last year, and he got that at age 26 (league years). Alexander will be 29 when the season starts. Suffice it to say he’ll surely be shaving a few digits off his initial proposal in the near future.

Other tidbits I picked up at Pro Football Talk (I know, I plug it a lot. But not without good reason. Great news site, and as one mainstream source recently said, they have a “good field goal percentage” with their rumors.)

The Ravens rejected an offer from the Redskins for LB Ray Lewis, who is reportedly disgruntled. The Cowboys have also been linked to R-Murder, though no formal offer has been made. There is always talk like this at the beginning of the off-season, peeved superstars trying to force their way out. Sometimes it works (Vince Carter), sometimes it flops (Manny Ramirez). I honestly think that Lewis will find the door before camp opens. With the team declining to slap Jamal Lewis with the franchise tag, it seems the team is headed in a new direction. Unfortunately, that direction still involves Kyle Boller.

The Jets are supposedly looking into swapping picks with the Saints in order to take Vanderbilt QB Jay Cutler with the second overall pick. I just complimented Man Tan a few paragraphs ago, and already I’m slapping my forehead at their thoughts – or supposed thoughts. Yes, it’s a wonderful idea to throw a rookie QB head first into an offense with no blocking. The Jets are poised to cut 3/5 of their offensive line. This does not bode well for any incoming signal caller, never mind a rook.

We’re going to close this week’s Sans Stats with the New York Knickerbockers, who this week have traded for point guard Steve Francis. This gives the team the highest paid backcourt in the league with Francis and Stephon Marbury. Of course, this tandem needs a fitting moniker, and I think my buddy Jon hit it dead on. Frankenbury. That is all.

That’ll just about wrap it up for this week. This was a very local edition of Sans Stats, and who knows, maybe it will stay that way. Or maybe not.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Catching Up: Alfonso Soriano

One story getting some coverage in the mainstream media of late is the Alfonso Soriano tale. Most of my Yankee brethren have neglected this story, but I feel it is important to catch up with old friends (though the term “friend” is used loosely in cases like Tom Gordon). So before I launch into my “what is he thinking?” tirade, I’ll begin with a brief back-story.

Soriano’s ploy for $12 million in arbitration was apparent to the Rangers back in December, which prompted them to swap him for Nationals outfielder Brad Wilkerson, a move that seemingly made no sense for either side. Wilkerson, a center/left fielder, entered an outfield that is overpacked with likes of Kevin Mench, Gary Matthews, Laynce Nix, and David Dellucci, not to mention Phil Nevin at DH. And the move to acquire Soriano made less sense for the Nats, since they have Jose Vidro entrenched at second base.

Apparently, the Nats brass figured that they could simply get Soriano to switch to the outfield, despite his past admonition of such a move. The proverbial monkey wrench was thrown in their plans when Soriano adamantly stated that he would not move to the outfield under any circumstances. Too bad this statement came after he was property of the Nationals.

The Rangers, meanwhile, are laughing all the way to the bank. Even though they have some positional issues to address with Wilkerson on board, they were able to avoid Sori’s $10 million arbitration settlement, which very well could have been $12 mil had he still been with the Rangers. That money was then appropriated for a legitimate need: pitching. And while I don’t think Milwood is a veritable ace, he’ll be the top guy on the Rangers staff next year, taking the place of Kenny Rogers. He and Adam Eaton should provide Texas with a hint of the pitching they’ve been craving for years.

I feel, however, that the Rangers should have kept busy after dealing Soriano and signing Milwood. Sori’s move opens the door for Michael Young, described by many a defensive metric as the worst at his position, back to his natural position of second base. This leaves a hole at shortstop, but they could have easily jumped on Alex Gonzalez. Even as they stand right now, the team should look into trading for Tony Graffanino for second base (unless they have some prospect I’m not privy to, but I’ve glanced the lists and haven’t seen any).

While the Rangers still have some problems to address, the Nats are in much sorrier shape. With nary a man beyond Marlon Byrd to man left field, the Nats are surely banking on a Soriano change of heart, which he has made clear won’t happen.

Moving Jose Vidro to third base may be the Nats best option, but that presents two problems right away. First, who knows how Vidro will adjust to the hot corner. Even Alex Rodriguez, one of the most athletic and talented players in the league, had quite some time with the adjustment. Second, the move would hinder the up and coming Ryan Zimmerman. Sure, he’s only 21 and spending another year in the minors wouldn’t really hurt, but if he’s ready for Major League ball (and the Nats probably think so after his September stint) the team should have him in there.

The most prevalent solution: dish Sori. Problem is, not many teams are willing to part ways with talent and $10 million for a free-swinger like Soriano. He’s a great player, don’t get me wrong. But that seems like quite a steep price, one I certainly wouldn’t be willing to pay. But who knows. Maybe a team will befall an injury at second base during spring training. Then, and only then, would any kind of deal for Soriano make sense.

No games have been played since the trade, but time has already told us that this isn’t going to work. The Nationals didn’t take any proactive steps (at least not publicly) to remedy the situation, and now they may reap the consequences. The team is absent a quality every day left fielder, and has two All-Star second basemen. And no DH to boot. But the Nats problems don’t even end there.

The No. 1 off-season concern for the Nats was acquiring another top of the rotation starter, which they failed at unless you consider Brian Lawrence adequate to pitch behind Livan Hernandez. And it’s not like they’re going to get a quality arm for Soriano or even Vidro since pitchers are much more valuable in today’s market than a low OBP slugger.

Sori never won a championship with the Yanks, and he’s now over two years removed from wearing pinstripes, thus reducing my attachment to him. But he still contributed to the 2001 and 2003 World Series campaigns, and for that I will always be grateful. So for the sake of his future in the game, I deeply implore him to move to the outfield. He’s caught in a web, and the only realistic solution involves concession.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Franchise A Knick

My first reaction was “oh no!” when I saw that red “Breaking News” banner on the front page of ESPN.com this afternoon. It’s NBA trade season, so before even seeing anything below the banner, I knew there was a good chance it involved the Knicks. Then I saw the actual headline: “Stevie Wonder: Knicks Make Move.” Wonderful, I thought to myself, we just overpaid for a high-talent, low-output player.

Bill Simmons had an interesting tidbit on Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury in his last NBA column.

Just like Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis seems like one of those guys who changes teams, gets his act together for a few months and eventually wears out his welcome. So what would happen if the Knicks and Magic traded Marbury for Francis ... and then, three months later, they swapped them again? And this just kept happening every three months? In other words, you would be getting only the "getting his act together" part of the Marbury/Francis package without dealing with the "wearing out his welcome" side effects. I really think this could work.


As when Marbury returned to New York, I expect Francis will come on strong in the beginning. And hell, maybe that will inspire Marbury to start actually, you know, playing. That would give the Knicks one of the most formidable backcourts in the NBA, which is fitting since they’re the most highly paid tandem.

In the area of compensation, I’m not very disappointed. I was vehemently against the trade when it involved Jamal Crawford and Kelvin Cato, since I’m beginning to warm up to Crawford and think that Cato is vastly overrated (if that’s possible). But sans Crawford, it seems to make enough sense. Trading Penny’s expiring contract was inevitable, since the Knicks will in no way benefit by his cap relief. Francis is a free agent in 2008, which kind of works well with the team’s current cap situation.

The key to this deal is ensuring that the three big contracts due to come off the books in 2007 – Jalen Rose, Malik Rose, and Maurice Taylor – aren’t traded for long term contracts during the 2006-2007 season. Then when Francis comes off the books in 2008, the Knicks might actually have some flexibility. Then again, why would I expect Isiah to possess such foresight? Hopefully he won’t be around, however, and will be replaced by someone who realized the potential in the current situation.

Unfortunately, this trade doesn’t seem the present look any less bleak. The area of major concern for the Knicks, the frontcourt, is still in shambles. I am still of the belief that they are not going to succeed with Channing Frye and Eddie Curry manning the low post. They’re both fine offensive players, but neither of them can pull down a rebound or block a shot. Add the fact that the backup big men are Malik Rose, Mo Taylor, and Jerome James, and it’s apparent that teams with semi-dominant big men can still have a field day with the Knicks.

In the backcourt, the situation is a bit crowded. In essence, the team now has two useless swingmen in Jalen Rose and Quentin Richardson. David Lee is a decent fit in the three spot, but his youth and inexperience are still visible. Since the Knicks are all but eliminated from the playoffs, playing Lee more at the three would seem to make a bit of sense. Watch out, though; two bad games and you’ll see him back on Larry Brown’s shit list.

Marbury finally gets his wish of switching to the two guard with the arrival of Francis, which will hopefully translate into increased scoring. He still has the skills to dish it off to the open man, but that won’t be as necessary now, since the offense will be running through Francis. Poor Jamal Crawford now has a huge question mark next to him, since he’ll likely be demoted to a bench player. Nice reward for a guy who is finally adding some consistency to his game. That leaves Nate Dogg with even less playing time, even though he should be getting at least 12 minutes a game. The kid has shown excellent potential, and dunk contest conspiracy or not, looks like he could blossom into an adequate two guard (though LB should be training him in the art of the point).

My original inclination was to suggest a three guard starting lineup for the time being, just to see how it works. But then I remembered that Francis, Marbury, and Crawford aren’t considered the most charitable guards in the league, and that could lead to problems on and off court. But imagine if they were able to make that starting lineup gel. Francis, Marbury, Crawford, Frye, Curry. Talk about a scoring powerhouse. Every game would be a shootout, however, as none of those five guys are exactly renown for their defense.

I won’t go so far as to offer kudos to Isiah for this move, but I will say that it was less illogical than his previous dealings. I just hope the team doesn’t try to make a bigger deal about this than it is, since there is still no way the team makes the playoffs.

We've Got the News. We've Got the Spec-U-La-Tion

Okay, time to try something new. The one thing I want to avoid this season is writing about the Yankees five days a week. True, this is technically a Yankees blog, hence I should focus on them. And I will, trust me. But I’d rather write thought out, in depth articles (which I’ll have time to comb over before I post) about them two or three times a week than force something out every day and become stale and repetitive. I also don’t want to limit my postings to those, so I need something on the non-Yankees days.

Solution No. 1: my buddy Charlie Hustle has signed on as an author and will be providing commentary and analysis on the NFL off-season, among other sports topics. My only warning is that he’s a Minnesotan, and that you might be hearing a bit more about the Twins and Vikes than you’re used to at the Sporting Brews.

Solution No. 2: Rounding up three or four of the top news and speculation stories from the day and adding my brand of commentary. So let’s get a movin’ on this one today while the gettins are good.

News

Rangers Sign Durazo to Minor League Deal
I’m very surprised that no one picked up Durazo prior to yesterday. There may be concerns about his surgically repaired elbow, but it shouldn’t have taken this long for him to catch on. He may be a liability in the field, but surely he will thrive in a part time role. Even though his batting average prior to 2004 was never impressive, Durazo has always possessed a penchant for getting on base and hammering the ball a little bit.

The only doubt in my mind is that Billy Beane knows something that the rest of us don’t. He let Durazo walk this winter following his surgery, only to take an enormous risk with the Frank Thomas signing. I’m not equating the skill of Durazo to that of Thomas, but I believe that giving Durazo 400 AB is a slightly lesser risk than giving them to The Big Hurt. There’s just too much injury history for my liking.

There were some Yankees fans singing Durazo’s praises this winter, hoping the team would take a flier on him. Problem is, as it was with many off-season targets, he provides zero roster flexibility. Beyond DHing, Durazo can play first, but he actually may be worse than Giambi. And to award him a roster spot would be to use him as the backup first baseman, which would be detrimental to the late innings defensive switch. Plus, we already have a DH who can’t play the field.

Honestly, I don’t see Durazo breaking camp with the Rangers. They’re still overstacked in the outfield with Kevin Mench, Laynce Nix, Gary Matthews, Brad Wilkerson, and David Dellucci, and also have Phil Nevin as their DH. Barring injury or a trade (or two), Durazo may be begging for work come April. Though a solid WBC performance for Mexico could up his stock a bit.

Speculation

Flash Not Fond of New York Media
Boy do I dislike Bill Madden, so reading this column was kind of a pain. But the punchline came early, so all I had to do was skim the rest of it.

"I don't want to hear about you guys missing me," Gordon said. "That's a lot of --- after all the abuse I took from you. You guys wanted Farnsworth? You got him!"


Who said we’re missing Flash? I for one am very excited to see how Farnsworth works out. And quite frankly, I was glad to see Flash go. He may have pitched well during his tenure in New York, but 1) his arm is about to fall off and 2) he sucked when there was actual pressure on him.

What gets me most about this outburst is the middle of the quote, “after all the abuse I took from you.” Aw, Fwashy, are you gonna go cry to momma about it? Everyone in New York gets abused, but you don’t see them crying about it. You think Flash got it hard, look at what the media did to A-Rod and Giambi. Hell, even Randy was more prominently lambasted than Gordon was. This all goes to proving a point: Gordon could never be a huge success in New York, and he’ll find no such success in Philly as a closer. I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if he retired following this year.

Prior Disagrees With Media
We can expect stories like this for years to come. Amidst reports that he has an ailing shoulder, Mark Prior has issued a denial of the allegations, saying that he’ll begin his throwing regimen in a few days.

Of course, if he isn’t cleared to throw off a mound now, the media has a right to speculate. He isn’t exactly known for staying healthy, so a complication like this – especially involving the shoulder – is a gateway for speculation. And since he hasn’t thrown off a mound yet, Prior’s only recourse is to deny, deny, deny.

I want to believe that he’s healthy and will maintain that throughout the season. The linked article makes him seem likeable, as his comments came with a side of candor. He rebuffed talks about looking weak and sick by saying, “I don’t tan well,” and also riffed on Donovan McNabb’s 2005 season as somewhat of a parallel to his situation. Unfortunately, the past isn’t much of a help to Prior’s case, and I think that I may ultimately be disappointed as Prior hits the DL at some point this season.

And in lesser speculation…

Manny to the Mets? SHUT UP ALREADY!
I debated whether I should link to this article, since it’s the same old mumbo jumbo. Yes, Manny would be a great fit with the Mets. He’d be a great fit with plenty of teams. But you know what? You know what team he fits best with? Yes, the Boston Red Sox.

I’ll say it now: Manny is not leaving before July, maybe June if the times become dire. He’s too integral to the Red Sox offense this year to be discarded for Lastings Milledge and Philip Humber. And by dealing those two prospects – possibly among other chips – the Mets are effectively mortgaging their future. If they’ve learned anything from their cross-town rivals, it’s that selling off prospects to an extent, but if you trade everyone, the system takes years to rebuild.

So not only would the Mets have to trade their two remaining prospects, but they also don’t have a prime rebuilding chip this year, as their first-round pick was sent to Philly for the Billy Wagner signing. Oh, this is looking more like the Yankees by the day.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Is "Manny Being Manny" A Cliche Yet?

Remember back in November and December, when Manny said he wouldn’t show up to camp if the Red Sox failed to trade him? And remember how the Boston media bit on the story? Well, I was reading some literature for my elusive Soriano piece for the day (which may be delayed until tomorrow) when I came across this intriguing piece over on ESPN’s MLB page.

So instead of completely foregoing camp, Manny had requested a later reporting date, which was granted by the Sox. This speaks of some lingering turmoil between the two parties. Manny has realized that skipping camp is not in his best interests, trade or not. But by requesting a later reporting date (possibly because of a trip to Italy, as conjectured by David Ortiz), Manny is in essence saying, “look, I know that not reporting would be a terrible move, but I’m not just going to show up on time like some chump.”

Manny’s personal reporting date is now March 1st, which is a day after the mandatory reporting date, per MLB guidelines. Specifically, it is this detail that makes me think Manny is looking for the extension as a form of insubordination. Since the front office doesn’t want to further ruffle Manny’s feathers, they’re liable to cave on any of his demands, no matter how ridiculous.

I hope I’m right on this, since it would mean a media feeding frenzy. Plus, Boston Dirt Dogs would be updated hourly, which is always nice. Nothing better than reading about the woes of the enemy.

What further increases the intrigue of this story is Manny’s increasingly integral role in the Sox offense this year. He and Ortiz will still be the focal points, but there is the potential for a diminished supporting cast, given the departures of Johnny Damon, Bill Mueller, and Edgar Renteria. Mike Lowell and Coco Crisp are still question marks at this point, Alex Gonzalez is no offensive threat, Trot Nixon is always an injury liability, the jury is still out on Kevin Youkilis, the team doesn’t know what version of Mark Loretta they’re getting, and ‘Tek is a catcher on the wrong side of 30 and could pull a Jorge at any point.

In fact, it is because of the above list that the Sox have been doing their best to keep Manny happy. But if he’s truly not happy in Boston, or shows signs of that for a portion of the season, the team could be in for quite a losing run. Maybe that’s my obvious bias, but I do feel that if Manny doesn’t show up in 2004 form, the team is in for weightier issues than the Red Sox Nation may be prepared to handle.

In A Blogging Mood

For as long as I've been writing about baseball on the Internet, I've been averse to the words "blog," "blogger," "blogging," and just about any form of that word. Even as blogs began to pop up in the mainstream media, I still vehemently denied any association with "blogging." I rationalized that I am just a writer who uses this "blog" as a forum, even though it's not in the style of a traditional blog.

I'm began to cope with it, too, mainly because of the expanded definition of the term "blog." I didn't want to fall into the category of posting a ton of links with sometimes snappy one-line comments. Why would anyone want to read me? People can get their news (and savvy commentary) on more mainstream sites like ESPN.com, FOXSports.com, and even Deadspin.com. I'm here for opinions, commentary, and analysis, not news.

But then I did my week of Winter Meetings posts, which were nothing more than a link orgy with some quips here and there about idiots and dunderheads. That was fun, but I couldn’t see doing that full-time. I mean, what is interesting about it? Even though thousands of others do it daily and have actual readership, I just couldn’t see myself heading in that direction.

But then I read an article by Jon Weisman over at Dodger Thoughts that had me rethinking my position on the word. Apparenly Weisman has/had the same aversion, but he's now coping with it in his way.

Basically, if a blog is now defined as a creative and candid outlet for talented writers to express their thoughts, I’m all for it. That’s exactly what I sought out to do. Mainstream writers bore me because their editors and the corporations they work for limit them. And while many bloggers – yours truly included – would vastly benefit from an editor, I appreciate the no holds barred commentary on some of these sites.

So yes, when the Sporting Brews is referred to as part of the blogosphere, I am no longer offended. In fact, I may begin embracing it. Hey, if guys like Weisman and Alex Belth can do the blogging thing and turn it into a few mainstream gigs, I’d be a fool not to jump on the bandwagon.

That said, I’m linking to my personal favorite article from today (though it was posted yesterday). Rich Lederer over at Baseball Analysts has posted a marvelous piece on strikeout proficiency. It may be one of the most provocative articles I’ve read all winter. And to top it off, he followed up today with some mathematical evidence of his theory. For a guy who loathes complicated mathematics, I found this captivating.

Jeff over at Lookout Landing has another provocative piece today on the three-way battle for the Mariners second-baseman. While this doesn't exactly pertain to the Yankees, it serves two purposes. First, it's a great read from a great author. Second, it should help put Torre's recent comments about the pitching staff (Tanyon sharing set-up duties with Farnsworth, his apparent affinity for J-Wright) in a better perspective.

Oh, and I’m still working on something on our old buddy Alfonso Soriano. See, I’m even following the blogger mantra of posting multiple times in a day.

Smart Boss. Dumb Ozzie

Before I take some time to visit an old friend, I just wanted to chime in about a topic making its rounds in the mainstream media. As much as I dislike the rounds of “he said, she said,” I was slightly intrigued by Ozzie Guillen’s recent comments about Alex Rodriguez and the WBC. Not really because of what was said – though I do think it is rather harsh to impulsively refer to someone as a hypocrite – but because of the nature of the insult.

It seems the “cool” thing to do nowadays is to take a potshot at A-Rod. And honestly, he did set himself up for that kind of ridicule. He bolted the Mariners for a boatload of cash, but regretted his decision after two consecutive last place finishes. So he tried to get himself moved to a winner, Boston, but that fell through, so he ceded his shortstop position to play for the ultimate winners, the Yankees. But when you add a $25 million per year contract to the team with the highest payroll in the game, you’re going to have to expect some criticism.

So Guillen shot off his hypocrite comment in Sports Illustrated, one of the most highly read sports entities in the country. His words are there, in black and white. There is a hard copy, a published copy of this outburst. Of course, Guillen issued an apology statement a few days later, but that doesn’t erase the words in the near-million copies circulated. Guillen knew this, of course, and was probably rather half-assed in issuing his apology.

One person not fooled by Guillen is George Steinbrenner, who lashed out at Guillen in the wake of his A-Rod bashing. Say what you will about the Boss, but he’s always there to defend his players no matter how harshly he criticizes them at other points. Sure, A-Rod had a terrible playoffs and was likely the target of George’s ire for some time back in November, but when he is taunted, the Boss is there to back him up.

A-Rod didn’t issue much of a reaction, which, despite its connotations of cowardice, is the smart move. Guillen was immature to release his statement, especially to a media outlet the magnitude of SI, and A-Rod was careful not to stoop to his level. He let the Boss do the reacting, which comes across more as backing up his players than an immature retaliation. Smart PR on the Yankees side. Dumb PR from the White Sox.

Now if we can just translate PR tactics into wins…