Friday, November 18, 2005

Drama! Intrigue! LOOGY!

Roy Keane has left Manchester United. To properly gauge the impact, read the following analogy.

Imagine if Derek Jeter injured himself at the beginning of the season. Then imagine the Yankees going on a month-long stretch of bad play, allowing the Red Sox to go far in front of them in the standings. The legendary manager, Joe Torre, is under intense scrutiny. Has the game passed him by? Then Jeter goes on the YES network for his regularly scheduled appearance on a call-in show. But instead of his usual vague non-answers, Jeter goes on a tirade, criticizing Alex Rodriguez and his record contract, accusing him and other new players for not playing like "true Yankees", suggesting that the team will never return to its glory years of the late 90s with these players on the team. The outburst shocks Joe Torre, who has trusted Jeter as his consigliere for a decade. George Steinbrenner burns the tapes, but word gets out in all the tabloids anyway, and the Yankees have a scandal on their hands. Somehow, amidst all this distraction, the Yankees manage to sweep the Red Sox the following weekend, keeping hope alive in their season. Hideki Matsui, whom Jeter criticized for not being passionate enough, lets out a primal scream as he rounds the bases after his game-winning homer in the series finale. Jeter, watching from a luxury box, puts on a happy face and states after the game that he making progress in his recovery. The players on the field credit Jeter with inspiring them to play harder, and say they will welcome him back with open arms as their captain. Behind the scenes however, there is a resentment and distrust that not even Torre can fix. A few weeks after the famous victory, Jeter and Torre engage in a fierce clubhouse argument over Jeter's return. Jeter wants to play; Torre says he isn't ready. In the meantime, Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada has announced his intentions to leave the club and strongly hints at his interest in joining the Yankees. The next day, Jeter announces that he has quit the team, and is looking to sign elsewhere, preferably a National League club so he won't have to play against his old team. Hell freezes over.

Whew, got all that? Okay, now substitute Manchester United for the Yankees, Roy Keane for Derek Jeter, Alex Ferguson for Joe Torre, Chelsea for the Red Sox, MUTV for YES Network, Rio Ferdinand for Alex Rodriguez, Alan Fletcher for Hideki Matsui, Michael Ballack for Miguel Tejada, and the Scottish Premier League for the National League. Oh, and soccer for baseball. That should give you a pretty accurate idea of what this means to Manchester United and to England.

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In real baseball news, the Cubs signed 33-year old lefty Scott Eyre to a 3 year, $11m deal. I'm not sure how to feel about this deal. Eyre has pitched well for the past couple seasons, but he's also been benefiting from Pac Bell Park. Plus, he's old, and a LOOGY (Lefthanded One Out GuY). The contract isn't ridiculous, but 2 years and $9m with an option for the 3rd would have been wiser. It's being reported that almost every team in baseball was inquiring about Eyre, so I can understand why the Cubs would offer this kind of contract. If anything, this guarantees that Glendon Rusch will be a full-time starter next season, which maximizes the value of the deal he signed earlier this fall. The Cubs now have two dependable lefties in their bullpen in Eyre and Will Ohman, a valuable commodity in a division with Edmonds, Berkman, and Dunn. My verdict? A good deal from a baseball standpoint, questionable from a financial standpoint. This will seem like a better deal if they continue to spend money and sign Furcal and/or Giles.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Great day for Bay

Today, the Pirates announced that they have signed Jason Bay to a 4-year $18.25m contract. This is a terrific deal for Pittsburgh, and could be the signal that their management is finally figuring out how to win. Bay was neck in neck with Miguel Cabrera for being the best left fielder in the NL last year, and entering his age 27 season, will only get better. The Pirates should get maximum value out of the contract, and more. Bay probably should be getting paid upwards of $10m per year, but won't be able to see that kind of cash until he hits free agency. The contract will also eliminate the need for arbitration, which is good for all parties. The Reds should have given Adam Dunn a similar contract two years ago, but now they will be stuck paying him $9m a year after arbitration. Yeah, that's about what Dunn is worth, but the Reds could have had him for so much less. Kudos to the Pirates for getting something right for a change.

Random notes

Apologies agian, as law school applications pretty much engulfed my free time for the past three weeks. Thankfully, that process is winding down. Random observations.

-I'm watching the Knicks/Lakers game right now, and the Knicks are decidedly better with their rookies and other young'uns on the floor. Isiah Thomas needs to do what he can to trade away some of these veteran contracts and build the team around Channing Frye, Eddy Curry, and Trevor Ariza. I think in two years, they should have two more defensive/rebounding type players that will make them a legitimate contender under Larry Brown. Until then, they'll be a 8 seed tease. I'd be even more optimistic if it weren't Zeke as the GM.

-Baseball issues: I'm a big fan of the increased steroid punishments. I've gone on record saying that I personally don't care that much whether or not guys use steroids, but the publicity is so bad for the sport that they need to be eradicated. Maybe someday there will be a legal method of healing injuries and building endurance, but until then, players are just gonna have to pump themselves up with amphetamines...oh wait, those are banned now too. Look for Red Bull to become a locker room staple next year.

-The Dodgers missed a golden opportunity to make baseball history. They passed over their own employee, Kim Ng, for San Francisco assistant GM Ned Coletti. Coletti's main role with the Giants was negotiating contracts, most famously the contract Bonds signed after his 2001 season. Having a contracts guy is great--if he's the assistant. Ng has been involved in player development, scouting, and arbitration, and knows the Dodger organization top to bottom. There's no doubt that she was the most qualified candidate for that particular job. The move doesn't make much sense from the PR standpoint either. Owner Frank McCourt could have cooled the media firestorm by hiring a well-qualified candidate who would just happen to become a pioneer--the first Asian American and the first woman GM. But I guess that would have made too much sense. I hope that Ng will get her chance somewhere else, because she has really paid her dues.

-The first major trade is being reported as Mike Cameron to the Padres for Xavier Nady. This is addition by subtraction for the Mets. With Cameron gone, the promising Victor Diaz will now get a place in right field, where Cameron's glove was wasted. Cameron's salary also goes, giving them room to make runs at Billy Wagner, B.J. Ryan, and Paul Konerko. Nady is an nice complementary player who has time on his side at age 27. He's a decent power hitter (13 HR in 327 AB), and is valuable as a 4th outfielder. Good enough to be an everyday first baseman, though? Not so sure about that. He'd have to raise his production substantially. Cameron is a good fit for Petco, although I wonder how much longer his plus defense will last. Red Sox fans will rejoice, because this means Dave Roberts is expendable.

-The field for the 2006 World Cup finals are set, after yesterday's playoffs saw Trinidad and Tobago, Australia, and Switzerland scrape by, Australia on penalties (traditional powers Spain and the Czech Rep. breezed). It's their first finals appearance in 3 decades, and marks the first ever appearance for T+T. The Switzerland/Turkey match was riveting, and I was following on the internet. Can't imagine how good it will be live (and hopefully in person). Most nations stopped playing meaningful games a while ago, so it's pretty much impossible to make an educated guess about any team other than Brazil. The other 3 semi-finalists will be tougher to come by. England is up, France is down, Argentina is up, Germany is down, though they'll have homefield advantage. The Netherlands, Portugal, Mexico, USA, and Spain are legitimate challengers. Can't make any real predicitons until the groups are drawn and we see which of these teams will be grouped together in a "group of death".

-Philadelphia's reign atop the NFC came to spectacular end on Monday, as they blew a 13-point 4th quarter lead to fall to 4-5 and 0-3 in the division. Philly might be best served by shelving McNabb and fixing up his groin and getting a good draft pick in the process. Last year just about everything broke Philly's way, and this year it couldn't have been worse, with McNabb's impression of McNair and Owens's egotism to go along with a slew of other injuries. Philly's real problem is their offensive line, which they must address in the draft. McNabb took too many beatings this year for him to hold up for an entire season.

-This coming Sunday's Bengals/Colts game would be bigger if Cincy had one more win. As it is, the Colts will probably get a bye even if they lose. Cincy has to win to have a shot at the bye, though I believe Pittsburgh still holds the advantage in the division. This game could surprise some people, because I think Indy will try to play a grinding clock game with Edgerrin James to keep Palmer and Johnson squared off the field, then find a time to strike with deep passes. I don't see Cincy's defensive front stopping James, and frankly, with Manning's quick release, I don't see them getting too many sacks either. It will be a close game, because it's at Cincy, but I see the Colts winning by 10 in the end. If this prediction is wrong, your pizza is free.

-Still haven't been able to catch a full NHL game, because by the time I get home, the games are already halfway over on OLN. What I loved about ESPN2 is that they showed West Coast late games two nights a week. Not so on the Lance Armstrong network. I really wish the Blackhawks were good, not because I like them, but because I would then want to watch them. As it is their owner blacks out the home games and the B'Hawks are the league's worst road team. Not exactly an exciting recipe. I'll make it down to the United Center at some point when an entertaining team is in town, and I'll weigh in with my two cents on the new NHL. From what I've observed, the biggest difference is the expansion of the offensive zones, which really opens up the ice when a team is in possession and also allows for long breakout passes. Of course, so many penalties are being called, it's tough to assess the true effects. The expanded zones certainly help out the power play, and that's why scoring has gone up so much. I suspect that there are some pretty frivolous penalty calls going on, and I hope that stops. You have to be able to clear out in front of the goal; it's the obstruction penalties in the neutral zone that need to be called. I think the new style has the potential to become the perfect blend of skill and hitting, but it'll take a compromise from both the officials and the players to work.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

NFL Ramblings

Figured I should write about the NFL and its coalescing playoff picture now that we're halfway through the season...

We're in that weird time when the games don't quite "matter" yet like they seem to at the end of the season, but we have a pretty clear idea of which teams are true contenders. Of all the NFL teams I've seen, Denver looks like the best. They've beaten down some good teams this season, and they have no weakness. Denver is in good position to get homefield/altitude advantage, which would make them my Super Bowl favorites. Indy has played one team with a winning record so far. I'll have to see how they fare against the Patriots tomorrow night before making any judgments about them. It's telling that Indy opened with a bunch of bad teams and couldn't really get going on offense. Manning got his record last season by beating up on bad teams. It hasn't happened this year, so why should we think it will start happening against good teams like New England, Pittsburgh, Cincy and San Diego? Indy still has a pretty weak schedule for the rest of the way, so it wouldn't surpise me if they edge out Denver for homefield advantage. The four teams I mentioned in the previous sentence are my picks for the other AFC playoff spots. The Steelers have a bit of an easier go of it than the Bengals do down the stretch, so I like them to win the division.

Carolina's drubbing of Tampa Bay today makes them the class of the NFC--another team that is complete on both sides of the ball. Their two remaining games against Atlanta will decide the division. Whichever team falls short will grab a wild card spot--both seem to have equal-strength schedules. Tampa, quite simply, won't be able to win with their current quarterback situation, as the game today proved. The NFC North and West divisions are pretty awful; Seattle and Chicago should win their divisions, despite their being very one-dimensional teams. The NFC is an absolute crapshoot now that the Eagles have fallen back to earth, thanks to their aging and declining offensive line and McNabb's limited mobility. The Giants seem like the team to beat, but I don't know if I trust Eli Manning just yet. Fact is, all of these teams seem equally capable of having either a flawless game or a horrible game, and the division could come down to a lucky bounce or an overturned replay or something similarly random in the last game of the regular season.

Going out on a limb:

AFC picks:
North winner: Steelers
South winner: Colts
East winner: Patriots
West winner: Broncos
Wild card: Bengals
Wild card: Chargers

NFC picks:
North winner: Bears
South winner: Panthers
East winner: Giants
West winner: Seahawks
Wild card: Falcons
Wild card: Redskins