Monday, February 28, 2005

I’M NOT SOLD YET:

‘toine? Yeah, he’s looked pretty good these first two games. He’s been a low-post presence, not too many wild three-point attempts, great job on the boards. But I’m still not sold on him having changed. I need to see more of this new, improved, humble, number 88 before I believe Al Jefferson has buried the old number 8 and his horrible shot selection, passive defense, and the horrible wiggle.

Also on the plus side, Delonte West and Marcus Banks have looked super as the two-headed point guard. Rumor has it that the Celtics are still considering bringing back a veteran point guard, be it Gary Payton or Kenny Anderson. If they think it’s needed for a playoff run, well, at least it wouldn’t cost them much. But my opinion is that the more minutes they can give Delonte West, the better off they will be.

One last positive sign, Walter McCarty was still with the Phoenix Suns, not the Celtics. Phew!

* * *

IN THE FIFTH ROUND, THE NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS SELECT, FROM OHIO STATE, RUNNING BACK MAURICE CLARETT:

Yeah, you only think I’m joking. Clarett would be the ultimate thumb-your-nose at the rest of the NFL by Bill Belichick. The running back that went from sure-fire number one pick to comparisons to Lawrence Phillips. I say “why not?” Look at Corey Dillon. Who better to mentor Clarett than the much maligned, misunderstood, and misfiring running back that was run out of Cincinnati?

Why Clarett? He’ll likely available in the middle rounds of the draft after his horrible 40 yard dash during the NFL Combine. Belichick loves a challenge and loves to be unpredictable. There’s no immediate need at running back with Dillon entrenched in the position, so it makes some sense to take a chance in the middle rounds. Most importantly, he’s represented by Steve Feldman, who represents Corey Dillon and Rodney Harrison. I imagine Feldman, who worked out two very cap-friendly, below market value deals with the Patriots for Harrison and Dillon, could get a chance to sell his client to Belichick and Pioli.

Of course, Clarett is still a huge gamble. Heck, maybe Buffalo will take him in the first round. Seriously, he had a great freshman season at Ohio State, tried to get into the draft, failed, and hasn’t played football since 2002. The Patriots can certainly allow him to sit a year or two to get back into football shape physically and mentally. But that one year he played, he rushed for over 1200 yards and 16 touchdowns in 11 games. He’s got great size, decent speed, and if he’s got some desire and smarts, could be a great pick that further cements Belichick’s “genius” and extends the dynasty a couple more years.

* * *

WHY BILL BELICHICK IS SMARTER THAN I AM:

Well, at least this one reason, probably of plenty more that I have no desire to hear. Anyway, way back in 2001 I couldn’t believe that the idiot coach/GM of the Patriots chose a defensive lineman from Georgia with the number six overall pick, rather than the flashy wide receiver from Michigan, David Terrell. Obviously, the lineman from Georgia is perennial pro bowler and heart of the defensive line, Richard Seymour. Terrell, after four lackluster seasons with the Bears (never caught 50 passes in a season, never had more than 700 yards receiving in a season), was released. Terrell seemed to have it all at the time: size, speed, and a good head on his shoulders. Alas, Belichick made the right decision. After that first super bowl with the defense anchored by young star Richard Seymour, I have always given Belichick the benefit of doubt. (OK, maybe not after Donald Hayes proved to be his worst free agent signing ever. What a chump he turned out to be. Of course, he was from Wisconsin. Just like another chump receiver of the Patriots from the late 90’s: Tony Simmons. Thanks for that second round pick, Bobby Grier.)

* * *

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Weekend Wrap-up

I’m still trying to get my blood pressure down after Thursday’s Celtics news. Nothing beats the looks from everyone in the office after they hear quiet old me, who never says much of anything, shouting out “What the...!” when Greg IM-ed me the news of Antoine coming back to the Celtics.

Don’t get me started on this “prodigal son”, “humble Antoine” bologna. He’s humble like the “Humble Bumble” at the end of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”. Yeah, right. When the TV show ends with Rudolph pulling Santa’s sleigh into the night, the Abominable Snowman is down at the North Pole devouring Yukon Cornelius, Herbie the Dentist Elf, and anyone else dumb enough to get near him.

As I write this, the poor denizens of Utah as basketballs are flying at them from all angles pelting them on the head. Yes, Antoine Walker, number four in the league in turnovers (nope not a defensive statistic) and through sheer force of will and self-restraint only 15th in the league in three-pointers attempted. I haven’t heard anything further about Gary Payton coming back to the Celtics (is he a masochist? I’m sure he’s in Sacramento begging for a roster spot), so that means we’ll get to see the Marcus Banks/Delonte West show at point guard. The future is now! (Um, except for you, Antoine.)

* * *

For the Celtics, apparently the only way they get in the news is to trade or trade for Antoine. Maybe they can sign him and trade him again, if only just for the local publicity. They should get some good ratings tonight though.

* * *

The Patriots finally released Ty Law. Good, that’s one less distraction on the road to number four in Super Bowl XXXX. Apparently, his trade value was zilch to nil. It will be interesting to see where he lands. Dallas is a possible location with the Tuna holding spots for old Jets, Patriots, and Giants. Oakland seems very likely only in that they are actively looking for a cornerback (if they can dump wash-out cornerback Phillip Buchanan). Besides, Rob “Son of Buddy” Ryan, former Patriots linebackers coach and current defensive coordinator in Oakland is no doubt on the lookout for ex-Pats.

* * *

The Jets are talking with the Redskins to trade underachiever Santana Moss for former Jet underachiever Lavernius Coles. My favorite kind of trade: the ones that help nobody. God knows I know more about Lavernius Coles’ career than anyone in their right mind should, since I drafted him way too early in my fantasy league draft two years ago and then watched him rack up the 3-37-0-4 (receptions, yards, touchdowns, and fantasy points) lines week after agonizing week. At least the trade makes sense for the ‘skins…Joe Gibbs loved short, undersized receivers in the 80s and Moss certainly fits the bill. For the Jets, I don’t know. Coles was a third round pick who didn’t do much for the Jets and then had one huge breakout season which he then turned into a megabucks free agent contract. Do the Jets think that one big season was because he played on the hallowed grounds of the Jets (the only team in professional sports to play in a stadium or arena named for another team: Giants Stadium.)

* * *

Speaking of the Jets, can we make it perfectly clear the Jets-Patriots rivalry is not a real rivalry? Like those insidious Yankees fans spouted for so long (until last October at least!): to have a rivalry one team can’t win every time. Fine. Call me when the Jets have won something in the last thirty-five years.

* * *

Nova, nova, nova! Nothing like Boston College’s “most anticipated free fall in college basketball” getting a kick-off even earlier than expected. Heck I figured they’d be o.k. until the Big East tournament; get wiped out in the first round by some team under .500; still get a two seed at March Madness; and then get bounced by some fifteen seed out of South Dakota.

* * *

How is it that no Yankee player or management staffer (heck or owner!) has stepped up and defended A-Rod? My god, a Yankee can’t say something derogatory about Bronson Arroyo (our fifth or sixth starter) without half the team leaping to his defense. I wonder if the Yankees can trade A-Rod even if they wanted to. Who could afford that salary? The Dodgers, maybe. The Phillies? It’d be a hard sell to find someone to take that locker-room cancer off their squad.

* * *

Friday, February 25, 2005

SAY IT ISN’T SO

He’s back!

Antoine Walker. ‘Toine. Old number 8. Back in Boston.

Paul Pierce is doing cartwheels somewhere. Antoine’s back to come out and play with the Celtics.

Talk about things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.

Michael "I’m attractive to teams because my contract ends" Stewart, Tom "Sorry we didn’t get the chance to chant ‘GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOGS’" Gugliotta, and Gary "the Nightmare won’t end for me" Payton for Antoine.

Also, Jiri Welsch to the Cavaliers for a 2007 first round pick. More on that trade later.

Antoine. Boston. Ye Gods.

Welsch and LaFrentz for Walker. Welsch for a future first rounder. Antoine for Gary Payton and contracts to make the salary cap work. Looks like Danny Ainge came out way ahead on that one.
OK, I need to rationalize this deal. Gary Payton must have made it clear he was never coming back to Boston. Ainge must be confident in Delonte West and Marcus Banks, or he has a side deal where Atlanta releases Payton (because there’s no way I see him playing in Atlanta for a last-place team) and we bring him back short-term. OK, fine.

Antoine’s contract is up at the end of the season, clearing about $10 million from the salary cap. I hope that this is all there is to the deal. Bring him back for a few months. Keep Pierce happy. Concede the East and the number three playoff spot to Philadelphia. Make a run at a free agent big man in the offseason. Trade Mark Blount. Get into the lottery with this year’s pick.

Is it a positive step for the Celtics? It makes some sense now. Will playing time open up for Delonte West? When is Al Jefferson going to get his minutes? Is it all about the 05-06 season now.

I don't like the smell of this deal.

(Antoine. Back in Boston. Jeez.)

* * *

As I had stated in my Celtics report card, Jiri Welsch is just too talented to be playing as bad as he’s played this year for the Celtics. I don’t know if it’s the coach, the system, the other players, or what, but he’s an excellent player who has just plain stunk. Going to Cleveland is going be super for him. LeBron James will love his outside shot and passing ability. A great situation for Jiri. A first-round pick for the Celtics. Not a great pick considering Cleveland’s on the way up, but as Danny Ainge showed these past two years, there’s some value at the end of the first round of the draft if you look for it.

* * *

SOME QUICK RANDOM THOUGHTS:

Amid all the A-Rod bashing that’s been going on, all I can imagine is how 2004 would have gone for the Red Sox with A-Rod at shortstop, Manny gone, and in his place Magglio Ordonez sitting on the disabled list for the entire second half of the season. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don’t make after all.

Earthwind Moreland was released by the Patriots and is currently the favorite in Vegas for "Most likely to find his Super Bowl 39 ring on Ebay.

Can I get excited about Matt Mantei in the Red Sox bullpen yet? As if the bullpen wasn’t strong enough!

Speaking of the Sox bullpen, imagine if Byung-Hyun Kim is healthy and half the relief pitcher he was in Arizona. The starters go six innings, hand it over to Kim to Embree to Timlin to Mantei to Foulke. Game over.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Which Free Agents fit for the Patriots?

Since Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli seem to draft and sign free-agents in a manner inconsistent with the rest of the NFL, it makes it that much more difficult for us armchair quarterbacks to ascertain their intentions in the offseason. Even so, that doesn’t mean I won’t take a crack at it. Let’s see who’s out there on the post-March 1st free-agent market that could be a fit for the 2005 New England Patriots:

Tebucky Jones is rumored to be on the bubble to possibly be released the Saints. Hey, there’s that veteran safety the Patriots were looking for! Umm, no, maybe not. I still think Arturo Freeman is a better fit if the Patriots go the free-agent way for another safety. But as I had stated in an earlier blog entry, Guss Scott or Dex Reid could be next year’s breakout star safety.

Correll Buckhalter, the oft-injured Eagles back-up running back, could be a good fit behind Corey Dillon as a back-up and injury contingency. Of course, Belichick may see something in Cedric Cobbs that I sure as heck didn’t see in his limited playing time that would make him a viable back up.

Sam Cowart, formerly of the Jets, may be a stopgap solution at ILB with Tedy Bruschi’s future up in the air. Ditto for Junior Seau if the Dolphins release him for cap reasons. Edgarton Hartwell would be a great fit at ILB for the Patriots, but I doubt they’ll pay him what he wants after being in Ray Lewis’s media hog shadow. But he, like Cowart, has 3-4 experience. Antonio Pierce, like Seau a 4-3 MLB, is a heck of a player who was overshadowed by media hog/underachiever MLB Levar Arrington in Washington.

Are the Patriots ever going to sign a free-agent guard that we’ve heard of or who doesn’t quit in training camp? Is it even necessary? Tampa Bay’s Casey Coleman is one I’d love to see in the red, white, & blue, or maybe Marco Rivera of Green Bay. But Belichick will likely bring in Joe Schmoe, an undrafted free-agent from Yokel State, who will get coached by Dante Scarnecchia and go from being a final cut to practice squad player to back-up guard to Super Bowl starter by the end of season. Oh yeah, is Belichick’s first New England draft pick, Adrien Klemm, the king of the injured reserve, going to resign? Is he ever going to play again? Is Klemm a synonym for Eugene Chung?

Pat Williams from Buffalo is a 4-3 DT who has the size, strength, and quickness to be a dominant NT in the 3-4 defense. Of course, the Patriots spent a first-round pick on NT when Vince Wilfork, a top ten-pick talent, inexplicably lasted until their pick. Of course, Williams probably wants about $3 million a year and likely could get it in this free-agent market.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

IT SMELLS LIKE THE TUNA WENT BAD…

Did you hear that grimace of pain? Do you know what that sound was? That was Bill "Don’t call me Duane" Parcells, a.k.a. "The Tuna" getting kicked in the groin by Jeffri Chadiha over at SI.com Tuesday morning.

Chadiha ripped into the Tuna mystique with a scathing look at his work for the Cowboys the past two years. For instance: "the longer he sticks around Dallas, the more people are going to wonder if Bill Belichick had more to do with his success than anybody realized. I'm already thinking that, by the way. Secondly, Parcells already has significantly improved his financial situation. He lost quite a bit in his '02 divorce from his ex-wife Judy (including an undisclosed monetary settlement and two homes), but the four-year, $17.1 million deal he signed with Dallas has surely eased that pain."

For the rest of the article, click here: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/writers/jeffri_chadiha/02/22/chadiha.parcells/index.html

After Parcells kicked himself upstairs for the Jets and Belichick bailed-out on him as "HC of the NYJ" I thought his days as a coach were over. He had built his legacy, and he almost went out on top. Of course, as Chadiha suggested, Belichick achieving success without him and his divorce are factors that could have led him back into coaching. Plus, it was the COWBOYS, America’s team, the Landry legend, as American as apple pie, that offered a unique challenge.

Parcells success with the Giants is irrefutable. He took a bad team in a strong division and made them a consistent contender and two-time Super Bowl champion. He left the Giants on top as a champion, and then let poor Ray Handley flounder as coach afterward while Belichick moved on to take a beating in Cleveland.

How the Patriots ever convinced the Tuna to come aboard remains a mystery to this day. Maybe it was the proximity to New Jersey, a chance to turnaround a moribund franchise, the money, the chance to add to his legend, but I’ll never know; however, I will always be thankful he did come to New England. What the Patriots are today is thanks to the Tuna & Drew. Without them, this team wouldn’t exist. They’d be the St. Louis Patriots and we’d be the Houston Texans. Yuck.

He turned around the Patriots, and he should have beaten the Packers. Did he hurt the team by courting the Jets from his hotel room during Super Bowl week? Of course he did. That’s a major distraction to him, his coaches, and the players.

The next question became, why the Jets? Again, like the Patriots job, location, money, the challenge, and the ego no doubt were major factors. His very public feuding with Bob Kraft certainly was a factor as well. And, once more, the Tuna turned around a laughingstock franchise. He had the Jets in the AFC Championship Game tied at the half before they fell apart against John Elway and the Broncos. OK, mission accomplished. Turn the team over to the trusted lieutenant. But things went awry as Belichick bailed out and joined up with, gasp, Bob Kraft and the Patriots!

The Jets, of course, fell back to the pack while the traitorous Belichick started getting mentioned as a genius. So Parcells leapt back into the spotlight. Was he out to prove he could win without Belichick? With Quincy Carter at quarterback he took over a fairly talented, but overachieving, team and led them to an almost astounding 10-6 record and into the playoffs. The "Parcells is a genius" talk was back at full force. They lost to the Panthers, but that was all right: the legend of the Tuna was back.

I was convinced he was done. I kept waiting for him to walk out on the Cowboys. I’m sure there were numerous ego clashes with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. He must have known the Cowboys weren’t going anywhere with Vinnie Testaverde and Keyshawn Johnson as his playmaker. What was the deal with him letting that punk Antonio Bryant mouth-off to him and whip his jersey in his face during training camp?

As the season snowballed Parcells seemed almost distant and uninterested. His passion appeared to be gone. He had a bizarre press conference after a game where he seemed defeated and beaten down, basically blaming the players for the losses. Is he just collecting a paycheck? Is he challenging Jerry Jones to fire him? Does he secretly have an ace up his sleeve and Tony Romo is going to lead the Cowboys to the Super Bowl ala Tom Brady? I don’t know.

All I know is the longer he hangs around with a team that has no chance of competing (see also, Joe Gibbs in Washington), the longer and harder it is going to be to rehabilitate his image as "the genius". The expected overhaul of the franchise never took place. There are too many questions left unanswered right now. Maybe he’ll prove us all wrong and the Cowboys will return to respectability. But like a heavyweight hanging in for that one fight too many, I think it’s going to be a sad ending to the story.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

RED SOX PITCHING STAFF, PART THREE – WELCOME TO THE PARTY:

Finally we get into who is going to replace Pedro Martinez and Derek Lowe in the starting rotation. Following the Bill Belichick 2-for-1 plan of building depth, the Sox imported four starting pitchers this off-season to offset the turnover in the rotation.

First, let’s be frank: Pedro Martinez was the #2 man in the rotation—not #1, not #1A or 1B, he was number two behind Curt Schilling; furthermore, at the end of last season, Derek Lowe was the #5 man in the rotation. Schilling, Martinez, Arroyo, Wakefield, and Lowe—that was the post-All-Star break rotation in order of effectiveness.

So how do you replace one of the best #2 men in the league? Not to segue, but I don’t want to bash Pedro’s performance on his way out—his me-first attitude, surliness, and general "diva of the clubhouse" routine, yes, I will bash—but not his performance on the mound. He wore down in September, no doubt, but that was in part due to pitching so many innings. When he got his rest in the playoffs, he did fine.

Back to my question of replacing Pedro: You make the rotation #1, #2A, #2B, #2C, & 3. After Schilling, the Sox can trot out crafty lefty David Wells; fire-balling Matt Clement; ERA under 4.00 while pitching injured Wade Miller; and journeyman lefty John Halama. Also, they still have holdovers Tim Wakefield and Bronson Arroyo.

Now the Sox have to figure out how to make seven go into five. They have the luxury of not having to rush Schilling, Wells, and Miller out of the gate (despite the silliness of playing the Yankees so many times in April). Wells should be ready to go without any injury problems, but the exhibition season is still young. His history of back problems is a legitimate concern. If the Sox don’t have all three ready to go for some catastrophic turn of events, they’re still in good shape. There’s very little need for a #5 starter in April. Clement, Arroyo, Wakefield, and Halama isn’t a great rotation, but they’re still better than Toronto, Baltimore, Tampa bay and a host of others for the month of April.

With Wells, in addition to his back, has the question of being 42 years old and not having a history of keeping himself in great shape. That said, he has the motivation of being turned down by the Yankees. Miller, if healthy, is a solid 15 game winner. It is way too early to see what we have him. The Sox will likely be realistic and ultra-conservative with Miller and leave him back at extended spring training until April rather than risk injury by rushing him out the gate in early April.

Clement is the conundrum. He has great strikeout statistics, a low ERA, a history of wildness and a baffling lack of run support. Run support shouldn’t be a problem with the Sox. If he keeps throwing the heavy sinker and nasty split, he should rack-up the groundouts and strikeouts with ease and put himself in position to win 15-18 games this season. If the Sox get Clement some runs early and often in his first few starts, they can build his confidence and get him on a roll.

John Halama is going to be interesting to watch this spring. He can start, he can long relieve from the pen, and he can come in to face a tough lefty. He’s bounced around a bit and got lost in the shuffle in Tampa Bay, but he’s a crafty lefty who needs a break. He reminds me a bit of Bronson Arroyo when the Sox grabbed him in 2003. Not that I’m saying Halama is even going to make the rotation let alone win ten games, but he’s a veteran with good stuff who just needs a break. Worst case scenario, he fills the role of #5 starter/long reliever that Byung-Hyun Kim and Ramiro Mendoza were supposed to fill.

In summary, the new additions may or may not be as effective as Pedro and D-Lowe, but they definitely have the potential to put the Sox in a position to win all year long and give the team a realistic chance to win on any night of the long, 162 game season.

And that is what it is all about.

Monday, February 21, 2005

You’ve come a long way, baby:

It’s been a long time, 1996 to be exact, that spring training in Fort Myers didn’t include the two one-name superstars: Nomar & Pedro. Sure, we could mix in Mo, Manny, and Papi and Curt last year, but Pedro and Nomar were THE face of the franchise for so long.

Yes, we all loved Nomar. Sure, he wore out his welcome the past few years, but prior to his wrist injury I remember watching him and thinking, "So this must be what it was like watching Ted Williams." He played the game right. We’d argue all night about who you wanted at shortstop: Jeter, A-Rod, or Nomar (or, if you were a demented Indians fan, Omar Vizquel). He was everything that was right with baseball. He was California kid making it big in Boston, just like Teddy Ballgame. Heck, Teddy loved Nomar. With the nose of Yaz, the cannon-arm at shortstop, the ability to go deep in the hole like no one else in the game, that sweet, smooth swing from the right-side of the plate like DiMaggio, he was the Boston Red Sox (sorry, Mo Vaughn, but once Nomar arrived you were second fiddle, as evidenced by your not so subtle push out the door to Anaheim.)

Of course, what no one in Boston is going to be able to comprehend until it’s over (like the Celtics dynasty), but for the past twenty years Boston has been home to arguably the most dominant right-handed pitcher in the game: Roger Clemens to Pedro Martinez to Curt Schilling. A masterpiece performed live or on television once a week during the season for the past twenty years. The feeling that every time he was on the mound you could see a twenty strikeout game, a no-hitter, a shutout, or a totally dominant performance with the crowd up on their feet every time there was two out and two strikes on the batter. It was electric every time. That’s truly amazing.

* * *

I think I’ve graded out the Celtics enough in the past few weeks that I don’t need to do a Report Card like Mark Murphy in the Herald on Friday (I’ll give the Herald credit, at least they acknowledge that the Celtics exist. The Globe has Shira Springer, a good writer on the C’s beat, but you can never find anything on the Celts in the paper.). I’ll give out his grades and where I agree or disagree:

Tony Allen – B. I’d say an A. A starting swingman out of a late 1st round pick? That’s an A-plus right there. Allen has been a little inconsistent, disappearing for long periods of time, but he’s much better than advertised or even hoped for by anyone.

Marcus Banks – D. I guess a D is fair. I’d say F except for that one good game he had where he put up twenty points. D it is.

Mark Blount – D. Well, this is an F. If only for the sick amount of cash heading into his pocket. Blount has looked a little better lately, but he’s still not the player he was last year. Trade him to O’Brien in Philadelphia, he always loved Blount. A first-round pick and an expiring contract—I think Philly would do it.

Ricky Davis – A. Let’s say a B+. I think the A comes from the expectation of the media that Ricky Davis would be running around the court with cocaine frothing out of his eyeballs with an axe. Potential sixth-man of the year, sure that’s a solid B+ season.

Al Jefferson – B. If he hadn’t been injured, it’d be an A. Still; he was supposed a reach in the first round, a project, someone that may contribute three years down the line. Instead, he’s the C’s first big man superstar in diapers since Kevin McHale in 1980. I’ll say B+.

Raef LaFrentz – B+. I’ll have to admit that my son, all the age of 2 when LaFrentz arrived last year, was the first person on his bandwagon. Since the beginning of this season, it’s getting pretty crowded. LaFrentz has been superb on the glass (at least, defensive rebounds) and his long-range shot is still deadly accurate. Healthy, he has performed as advertised. I say A-.

Gary Payton – A. Another solid "performed as advertised". Certainly there were questions about Payton after last year’s disastrous season with the Lakers, but Payton consistently pushes the ball downcourt and knows when pass and when to shoot. I say A-.

Kendrick Perkins – B. I think any production out of Perkins is a huge plus for the team. Of course, he probably gets unfairly compared to rookie sensation Al Jefferson, but Jefferson’s game is so far ahead of Perkins right now that it seems unfair to compare the two. The question becomes are Perkins and Jefferson going to be Parish and McHale or like Chicago’s unimpressive big young duo of Curry and Chandler? The Celtics will give Perkins time to get ready to play. Ainge knew he was taking on a project in Perkins, and knew that any results would be a positive. He’s a B-.

Paul Pierce – C. Paul Pierce, bringing his A game on offense and defense every night would have the Celtics ten games over .500 at this point. He’s often disappeared on defense, and continued to remind everyone of his buddy Antoine Walker on offense. That said, in the past two weeks he’s really turned his game around and has actually started looking like the pierce of old. If this continues, it’s a huge positive for the Celtics. Maybe he just needed time to get used to Doc Rivers after playing primarily in the same system with Pitino/O’Brien/Carroll. Time will tell. He’s a C+ this season so far.

Jiri Welsch – C-. Jiri, another of my son’s favorites seems lost on this team. I’m not sure why they’re not taking advantage of his abilities to be another point guard on the floor at the swingman position, but I have to believe a lot of it has to do with Jiri. He’s still young and not worth giving up on yet, especially if there’s a chance to trade Payton at the deadline and move Pierce for a point guard. Whatever the reason, he’s been a disappointment on the court. D+.

Tom Gugliotta, Justin Reed, Delonte West – Incomplete. I’d agree here. Googs looked ok early on, but spent most of the season on injured reserve. Reed I couldn’t pick out of a lineup. Delonte West, when he’s been on the court, has looked great. Of course, it’s the whole problem of him being on the court, which makes for the incomplete grade. West, in limited time, has vaulted ahead of Banks already in the "future point guard" contest. It will be interesting to see how much time West gets on the floor with the regulars down the stretch.

Doc Rivers – B. Doc’s done well. He hasn’t got Pierce to the top of his game yet, but that appears to be a work in progress. He’s been playing the youngsters a lot, which is a plus. He doesn’t seem to be afraid to draw up a play at the end of the game for the hot shooter, instead of automatically letting Pierce fire a wild shot against double coverage. He has turned Ricky Davis from malcontent to sixth-player of the year nominee. He has the team hustling and running down the court—a huge plus considering how boring the team was in the O’Brien era. Good job, Doc. Keep up the good work. I say B+.

Danny Ainge – B+. Let’s just get it out of the way early, he traded away Walter McCarty. That’s an A in my book if he got a bag of balls for him, let alone a 2nd round pick. Picking up Jefferson, West, and Tony Allen in the draft is huge. West, of course, makes up for the wasted 1st round pick on Marcus Banks in 2003: really, the only big black mark on Ainge’s tenure so far. (As I said at the time, trading Antoine was, is, and will always be a huge step towards moving the team forward and away from the disastrous Pitino era.) I’d like to see Ainge trade away Pierce and Payton now that they still have value, but I don’t think he’d tank the season this year where there’s a chance they can end up a number three seed this year. Solid B+.

* * *

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bledsoe says: "Now, gods, stand up for bastards!"

OK, it was really Edmund in King Lear, but do you remember when Drew was the franchise for both New England and then Buffalo? When did he go from the solution to the problem for two different teams? The three-year Bledsoe experience comes to an end in Western New York. Where does Drew go? Obviously, quarterback needy teams such as Arizona, Dallas, Oakland, Cleveland and Chicago are at the top of the list of likely landing spots. I’ve long maintained that Drew needs to take a year off. Get some good self-analysis, let the body and mind recover, and get back to the basics. A year as the number two quarterback on a team which could put his strong arm to use once he’s recovered would be the perfect place for Bledsoe. Oakland worked for another former #1 overall pick by the Patriots at quarterback, Jim Plunkett. I believe Drew should be thinking of joining up with Al Davis and leading the Silver & Black in 2006.

* * *

In these heady times of three super bowls in four years, the genius coach, our own Joe Montana at quarterback, and Rodney, Tedy, Richard, Ty, Mike, Willie, and the rest of the amazing defense, it is important to remember what this team was in the days before Bledsoe and the Tuna. Incompetence beginning at the top, extending through the front office, into the coaching staff, onto the field, and mounting fiscal problems marred the Sullivan years. Victor Kiam was a joke at owner. James Orthwein wanted to move the team to St. Louis. Parcells, Bledsoe, and Kraft were the saviors of this franchise in the early 90’s. Without all three of them, there would be no dynasty.

* * *

You’ve got to love Trot Nixon. Great job bashing on A-Rod without putting down any other Yankees. Though I detest the sworn enemies from the Bronx, there is no doubt that I, like Nixon, respect the Yankees. Derek Jeter, despite being the most over-hyped, over-paid, and over-rated baseball player since Joe DiMaggio, at least plays the game right. He hustles, he has a good attitude, and he leaves it all out on the field. I’d love Bernie Williams if he had been a Red Sox. Ditto for Rivera and Posada. Giambi, Sheffield, and A-Rod are truly chumps to the core, but Jeter, Rivera, Posada, and Williams are ballplayers.

* * *

The Miami Herald reported that Dolphins safety Arturo Freeman could be a possible cut by March 1st due to his $3.3 million cap number. Hmmm. A solid veteran to add to the Patriots defensive backfield? A starting safety to pair with Rodney Harrison and allow Eugene Wilson to move to cornerback? Possibly. It bears watching.

* * *

After tonight, the sports malaise truly sets in. No Celtics for a week. No Bruins until next fall at the earliest. No Red Sox games for another couple of weeks. Boston College’s #6 ranked basketball team is never on television.

* * *

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

D-LOWE IS BLUE WEARING DODGER BLUE:

I guess it’s a good thing that players still want to play for the Red Sox. Derek Lowe has been mouthing off to every Boston beat writer this past week as they descend upon Fort Myers, incessantly whining about how the Red Sox didn’t want him back despite his impressive post-season performance.

D-Lowe, shut up!

Lowe had a 5.42 earned run average last year. The Sox brass went out of their way at the trading deadline to acquire defensive upgrades in the infield specifically to help Lowe. Yet he still couldn’t pitch himself into the top four of the rotation. Only blind luck (versus the Angels in the divisional series), injuries and overworked starters as relievers (versus the Yankees in the league championship series flowing into the World Series versus the Cardinals) contributed to Lowe winning all three post-season clinching victories. He had a chance to go out on top. Now, are we going to remember the whining instead of the winning?

Lowe was ineffective in 2003. He was ineffective in 2004. Every sportswriter in town seems to be of the opinion that shuffling the starting rotation and upgrading the shortstop position were bad moves by the Red Sox. They write about how they should keep the team together. They argue that the players who won the title should be allowed to defend the title.

Rubbish!

Have they forgotten about the New England Patriots model that they just finished praising all last week? If you stop trying to upgrade your team, you’re doomed to failure. The best General Manager’s run the team like a business. If they fall in love with these players already on the roster, they begin to overlook their deficiencies and not make the move to upgrade their team. Bill Belichick learned about that in the 2002 season following the Patriots first Super Bowl victory. The team got old in a hurry and missed the playoffs. I’m ecstatic that Theo Epstein appears to have realized that team isn’t perfect and needed to improve in key areas.

Shortstop:
As much as I loved the defensive wizardry of the O.C., he seemed extremely out of place in the Red Sox line-up. He just did not fit with the team's overall on base plus slugging heavy batting order. Edgar Renteria is a perfect fit at shortstop. He can hit for average, power, gets on base, steal bases, and is an excellent defensive player. I laughed out loud when I read that he was "a poor man’s Derek Jeter". Derek Jeter does not compare to Renteria in any category, unless some idiot is going to pull out the old "he’s an excellent base-runner and provides intangibles" argument they always resort to when the Jeter-lovers have to face the cold, hard facts.
Renteria is a significant upgrade over Nomahhh or the O.C.

Bench:
Jay Payton is a starting caliber outfielder. Gabe Kapler, though he gave a good effort, was not. Kevin Youkilis has another year of experience and is a viable starter at third base should Bill Mueller continue to have injury problems or should Mueller have to replace Mark Bellhorn if Bellhorn fall backs into his bizarre "one year on, one year off" routine of the past four seasons. Doug Mirabelli, the best back-up catcher in baseball, returns. Dave McCarty should fill the Doug Mientkiewicz late innings defensive replacement at first base role this season.

Rotation:
I won’t bore you all again about how the rotation is improved in my eyes. Besides, I still have more parts of the rotation analysis to finish.

Now if we could just hurry up and get the season started!!!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

February 15, 2005

LINING THEM UP:

Let’s see, some of the phrases eliminated from the Yankee’s fans dictionary this past season now include:
“1918”,
“It’s not a rivalry if one team wins all the time”,
“86 years and counting”,
“The curse of the Bambino”,
and
“I’d rather have Javier Vazquez and Kevin Brown than Curt Schilling any day”.

World Champion Boston Red Sox. Ah, it still looks so beautiful.

Jacob Luft at Si.com took a pre-emptative strike and ranked the American League rotations (http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/writers/jacob_luft/02/10/al.rotations/index.html) before I could finish my Red Sox rotation analysis. It was nice to see that the statistics back the Sox, as he ranked them as the top rotation of the league, ahead of the Yankees rebuilt rotation.

While I understand that the Yankees have moved to a more power pitcher rotation (emphasizing strikeouts) with the additions of Jaret Wright, Carl Pavano, and Randy Johnson. Johnson is still a top power pitcher, but, with health risks--a short-term solution. Pavano is a good pitcher. I can’t write anything bad about him other than he picked pitching for the Yankees over the Sox. Jaret Wright I just don’t understand. There are so many injury issues with this guy that I can’t think he’s anything other than a “one career year and get rich quick” pitcher.

Of course, the holdovers, Mike Mussina and Kevin Brown, are scary in their own right. Mussina appeared to have lost his dominant stuff last year, and he looked very ordinary at times. Kevin Brown, when he wasn’t beating up on the Devil Rays, was downright abysmal. Somehow, the Yankees got frugal at the wrong time in regard to their best post-season pitchers, Jon Lieber and Esteban Loaiza. Lieber, though not a power pitcher, was easily their best pitcher in the post-season. Loaiza looked good as well, dominating for stretches.

They dumped Javier Vazquez off in the Big Unit deal as well. Amazing how he went from prize jewel to castaway in the course of a season. I always like Vazquez when he pitched for Montreal. Apparently, he is just one of those pitchers who wilted under the bright New York spotlight. Of course, the Big Unit showed how he responds to media pressure in his manhandling of a camera. I was hoping he’d deck the guy ala Sean Penn in the Madonna days. I wonder what the odds are of Wright and Pavano sitting in their NYC apartments this summer thinking, “what the hell have I got myself into?”

Of course, on offense, the Bronx Bombers are still planning on trotting out Horsehead Posada, Jason Giambi, Tony Womack (another “one career year and get rich quick” guy), and the most expensive left side of the infield ever: Jeter & A-Rod. The outfield boasts Bobblehead Matsui, Bernie “No Knees” Williams, and Gary Sheffield, who’s due for another one of those eighty games active, eighty games on the disabled list seasons. Other than Mariano Rivera, the bullpen consists of over-worked Tom Gordon and Paul Quantrill, and crossed-fingers for middle relief. This is what $200 million dollars buys a team?

Of course, as Joe Torre proved last season when he wore out his bullpen down the stretch, it is most important for the Yankees to win the division. I don’t know why that was so important to him, but I wasn’t complaining when Tom Gordon was pitching like he had a Steven King curse on him in the ALCS.


All Content by Hal Bent Copyright 2005

Saturday, February 12, 2005

February 12, 2005

WEEKEND WINDBAG:

Freddie Mitchell, obviously afraid that he’s about to hit the free-agent market, keeps shooting his mouth off and keeping in the press, after his humiliating performance in the Super Bowl. Now, on the planet according to the poster child of wasted first-round draft picks, the Patriots are too sensitive because they got upset by his not knowing any members of the secondary and his vague threat towards Rodney Harrison. Then, further endearing himself to his teammates and coaches, complains that the game plan was geared towards the Eagles most physically talented receiver (Terrell Owens) and not to good ol’ “22-Reception” (that’s for the season, not total over three playoff games) Freddie. Yeah, whatever.

I’m going to say it: The current version of the Patriots (2001-present) would beat the early 1990’s Cowboys, the 80’s 49ers teams, the 70’s Steelers, the 60’s Packers, etc as I could keep going on and on.

The Yankees need to take a good long look at how the Red Sox build their team. The Yankees non-glamour spots (middle relief & bench) remain abysmal. How can the Yankees not remember how they had no one to pinch-hit for Tony Clark in the ALCS (I repeat, Tony Freaking Clark!)? The Red Sox at least are like the Patriots in that they are filling the team with high character players and a deep bench and rotation. The Sox, last year and going into this season, have quality depth at every position.

Watching the Celtics again Friday night (I know, it’s sick. What can I say?), but they’re blowing out the Knicks by 22 after three-quarters at home. Some quick observations:
Marcus Banks is a shooting guard in a point guard’s body;
Kendrick Perkins is a year or two away from being what Mark Blount should be;
Ricky Davis is in the perfect role for both him and the team as Vinnie the Microwave Johnson Jr. of the bench with instant offense;
And I STILL believe it’s time to trade Paul Pierce while he still has some value.

* * *

The season is less than a week over and already Don Banks at SI.com has his first mock draft. He has the Patriots, at #32, picking a cornerback: either Clemson’s Justin Miller or LSU’s Corey Webster.

The Patriots are in an interesting time to restock and reload via the draft. I hope they hit on a young corner and possibly a safety as well. Because of injuries, though, the Patriots are hopefully going to be able to reap the rewards in the coming season of the previous drafts:

2004 – Guss Scott – S: Although Dex Reid got the playing time as a rookie, it was Scott who was expected to provide immediate help. He got hurt early in training camp, so call it a red-shirt season and maybe we have some return on investment this season.
2004: Ben Watson – TE: The athletic tight end was supposed to step right in and play with Daniel Graham in the two tight-end set. Another early trip to the disabled list gives us another pick who could step right in and contribute.
2003: Dan Klecko - DT/FB/ILB: Klecko, a jack-of-all trades his rookie year, was being transitioned into filling the backup inside linebacker position, ostensibly to replace Ted Johnson in a few years. Unfortunately, an injury while lining up on offense cut the learning period short this year for the versatile sparkplug.
2004: Marquise Hill – DE: Hill, supposedly an athletic end who will chase QBs for years to come, never seemed to find the field (except for some special teams duty at the end of the season) as he red-shirted this season and was one of the healthy inactives for most of the season.
2003: Tully Banta-Cain – DE: Banta-Cain, a regular on special teams, saw some spot duty at outside linebacker. Banta-Cain is an exciting prospect as he is one of the pass-rushing undersized ends in college making the transition to the professional game as an outside linebacker (ala Mike Vrabel).
2004: P.K. Sam – WR & Cedric Cobbs – RB: These two are a couple of middle-round developmental picks who may not make major contributions until the 2006 season, if at all. These two represent the “talented, but need to be coached” middle-round picks that are a bit of a gamble, but could pay great dividends. These are the picks teams like the Patriots can make because they have the depth to be alright if they don’t work out.


Content by Hal Bent Copyright 2005

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

February 8, 2005

PLANES, TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES:

For the record, I usually work on the blog when I’m riding the marvelous Middleboro 5:14 commuter rail train home. Unfortunately, on days like yesterday when the train is short a car and they’re all single-deckers instead of double-deckers, yours truly was unable to whip out the laptop and get down to business. The most important part of writing is routine and persistence, so I apologize for no update yesterday. But, by the time I was done celebrating the Year of the Rooster & David’s birthday, I was content to collapse in bed to watch some basketball and dream about Donovan McNabb physically and emotionally exhausted and spent at the end of Super Bowl (what a chump!).

DARE TO BLEED GREEN:

Ended up watching the Celtics-Clippers game last night. No, I wasn’t in purgatory, but thanks for asking.

Delonte West got some real minutes at point guard during crunch time and looked fantastic. (Hello, Marcus “Money” Banks? Yeah, your plane ticket to wherever washout first round picks like Jerome Moiso go to play is waiting for you.) West’s problem has been being healthy. But as long as he’s healthy, he should fill-in as back-up point guard behind Gary Payton until the trading deadlines. I expect the Boston braintrust wishes to take a good hard look at West before deciding to trade Payton at the deadline.

Personally, I think it’s a no-brainer regarding trading Payton. He’s gone at the end of the season. He’s made no bones about it in the press, and he’s not playing for a legitimate championship contender. There’s got to be a team in the Western Conference with underachiever at point guard whose team is built to make a run this year. (Hello, Mr. Ainge? Your former teammate and current Minnesota Timberwolves General Manager Kevin McHale is holding on line two with a first round pick.)

Doc Rivers made the point in his post-game press conference (I was too tired to change the channel. Yeah that’s what it was.) that if you looked at the box score of the game, you wouldn’t think much of what West did on the floor. But he was a sparkplug out there. When he was on the court with Tony Allen there was aggressive defense and the players were running. Yes, I know, it sounds incredulous, but there were players running down the court at a NBA game.

West and Tony Allen: The Backcourt of the Future. Al Jefferson, Kendrick Perkins, and, since the Green have no inclination to trade him, Paul Pierce: The Frontcourt of the Future.

I’d just like to say for the record that I am officially on the 2006-2007 World Champion Boston Celtics bandwagon.

THE EAGLE HAS LANDED:

You know who I really feel bad for in this whole McNabb fiasco? Chunky Soup. Progresso should be running around like mad in the background trying to get Tom Brady or Rodney Harrison to endorse their soup. I can see the commercial now:

Rodney Harrison: “Progresso Soups aren’t like the other soups on the market. It gives you the strength you need throughout the whole game. So even at the end of the game, I have the energy to finish like a champion.”

* * *

RED SOX PITCHING PART TWO – IT ONLY IT SEEMS LIKE YESTERDAY:

Part two of my Red Sox pitching preview focuses on who’s left from last season in the starting rotation. Basically, we’re looking at the venerable Tim Wakefield, guitar-wielding Bronson Arroyo, and the Bloody Red Sock himself, Curt Schilling.

With BostonLegendForAll-Time Curt Schilling (he and Tom Brady may as well make that their first name), after last season anything else is gravy. At least his appearance on the Celebrity Poker show a couple of weeks back shows us two things: 1) He still doesn’t tolerate idiots, be it Ray Romano or A-Rod; and 2) He is a fierce competitor. He didn’t win whatever it is the celebrities win (I think it’s a donation to their charity of choice), but he didn’t play stupid and he played smart. Sometimes it’s in the cards; sometimes it’s not.

I can’t see the Red Sox braintrust doing anything foolish to rush Schilling out to pitch against the before he’s ready in order to have him face the Yankees in April. Once he’s fully recovered, he’ll be fine. Pencil him in for 15 wins, 180 innings, and 175 strikeouts.

Can a knuckleball pitcher step it up in a contract year? I assume Wakefield will be in great shape for the season, but as far as how he’ll pitch, I can’t even begin to fathom how the knuckleball will flutter. He’ll either win 15 games or win 5. He may pitch 200 innings or pitch 80 as the primary middle reliever. He may lose his starting job to Wade Miller/Bronson Arroyo. I don’t think anyone can say with any degree of certainty just what to expect from him.

Finally, the last holdover from last season’s rotation is Bronson Arroyo. Arroyo got his first major bump in salary this off-season to more along the lines of his value. Arroyo was arguably the best #5 starter in baseball last year. In fact, by the playoffs I’d say he was the #3 starter behind Schilling and Pedro as far as productiveness, consistency, and quality.

Arroyo seems to have barely scratched the surface of his potential. He could develop into a consistent #3 starter capable of winning 15 games or so a season and eating 200 innings. Of course, he could hurt his arm, lose his confidence, stink up the yard for a few years, and then have a great post-season swan song and watch the Dodgers throw $9 million a year at him (Sorry, couldn’t resist a little jab at D-Lowe.).

All Content By Hal Bent Copyright 2005

Monday, February 07, 2005

February 7, 2005

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS, MY FRIENDS:

Ah, victory is sweet.

Yes, the Patriots were shaky on offense in the first half. Yes, the Eagles defense was able to stop the running game early and pressure Brady with blitzes galore. Yes, the Patriots were uncharacteristically flagged for penalties repeatedly and had a red zone turnover in the first half.

But then the Patriots adapted on offense and eventually began dictating the role of the Eagles defense, making them react, rather than acting aggressively. Charlie Weis adapted his offense to the 2003 version of the Patriots dink and dunk show. He countered the aggressive Eagles defense with screen passes, rushes up the gut rather than stretching it outside, and spreading the offense wide with four wide receivers and forcing the Eagles defense out of their base package where they are so dangerous and into their nickel and dime defenses. This opened the middle of the field for Deion Branch to run free underneath with the Eagles linebackers standing on the sidelines.

The defense, even with my nightmare scenario of Eugene Wilson breaking his arm and forcing special-team player Dexter Reid to fill in, was consistently stopping any attempt at a running game, including containing McNabb in the pocket and keeping him from breaking off any long rushes. The “bend but don’t break” defense was in effect, taking away the long pass, mixing in blitzes (although a few too many for my taste), and doing what the Patriots do best, creating pressure which led to turnovers.

It’s interesting how every team that loses to the Patriots complains about how their offense was out-of-sync and they uncharacteristically had numerous turnovers. What an amazing string of coincidences: it is shocking how every team has one of their worst games against the Patriots. My goodness, it wouldn’t have anything to do with their top-notch defense now would it?

My biggest surprise was that the Patriots left their cornerbacks matched up one-on-one with the Eagles wide receivers. Yes, I understand they needed to put pressure on McNabb with the blitz, but I also think they could have given McNabb all day in the pocket and he’d still have thrown three picks (and he should have had six by my count).


WHERE I WAS RIGHT & WHERE I WAS WRONG:

Let’s recap my previous blog entry since I am all about accountability:

“Brian Westbrook is not Marshall Faulk… (he) is Kevin Faulk…The Patriots have no fear of the Eagles running game...”

Did Westbrook even play? No, just kidding. The pride of Vanillanova (that’s somewhere in Western Mass., right Brigs?) was a decided non-factor in the game. Most of his rushing yards came on a draw against a three-man front ultra-max prevent defense on the last play of the first half. He did a good job catching passes out of the backfield, but the Patriots did a good job, save for one or two exceptions, of keeping him from making big plays.

Another myth making its way around the papers is that the Patriots aren't going to be able to run on the Eagles...the Eagles are not built to stop the run... If Dillon gets 4.3 yards per rush and into the end zone, it is going to be a long day for the Eagles...

I must say the Eagles did a great job against the run in the first half and most of the second quarter. Their blitzes not only pressured the quarterback, but they also got into the backfield and hit Dillon before he could get to the line of scrimmage and get a head of steam going. Linebackers were flying into the gaps and pressuring Dillon as much as they pressured Brady.

As the Patriots spread out the Eagles defense, it allowed them to use Philadelphia’s aggressive blitz packages against themselves by dropping screens into the areas vacated by hard-rushing defensive ends and space left empty by the blitzing linebackers. Once New England had the Eagles defense in nickel packages, Corey Dillon and, surprisingly, Kevin Faulk were able to rip though the middle of the line following blocks by Dan Koppen and Joe Andruzzi.

Tom Brady has to isolate mismatches on defense when the Eagles blitz.

See: Deion Branch, Most Valuable Player.

I'd be very surprised if the Patriots didn't come out prepared, confident, and composed and play an efficient, smart, and well-managed game on offense, defense, and special teams.

Let’s see, a huge penalty on a punt return nullifying a huge return by Troy Brown. Add a red zone fumble by Brady. There also was a defensive set that left back-up safety Dexter Reid matched-up one-on-one with speedster Greg Lewis. Oh yeah, those numerous false start, defensive holding, etc penalties giving the Eagles too many second chances. All in all, not the most efficient or smart game played by the Patriots this season. But this game resembled their regular season defeat of the Cincinnati Bengals. They gave up huge chunks of yards, way too many points, but still had enough to make the stops and create turnovers on defense.

Final score Patriots 31 Eagles 16.

Final score was Patriots 24 Eagles 21. Hmmm, if we say that rather than fumbling the exchange with Faulk and turning the ball over the Patriots would have scored a touchdown on that drive (a nice eight yard strike to David Patten is what I imagined), and that the Patriots didn’t give up that thirty yard touchdown pass to Lewis and instead held the Eagles to a field goal we’d be at Patriots 31 Eagles 17.

OK, I feel much better about my prediction now. :)

* * *

QUICK HITS:

God healed Terrell Owens, but apparently forgot to mention that Randall Gay was praying to Him to help keep T.O. out of the end zone.

I tried to stay awake for the Simpsons after the Super Bowl. I really tried. But the Fox25 postgame show just kept pushing it back.

Was it just me, or were the Boston newscasters upset that there were no riots, no cars burning, no drunk chuckleheads breaking out in brawls? They seemed so disappointed that there was no “news” involving the rioting in the streets.

Are we fans jaded already? Poor turnout for the parade (at least in Back Bay). Even the people that turned out, most of them were kids skipping school. Heck, even though I could only see half the players riding on the boats from one side of the street, there appeared to be a large contingent that didn’t show up for a ride on the duck-boats.

I had to go to the parade. I just kept thinking, “There may never be another world championship parade in Boston in my lifetime.” Think of all those Celtics fans with bottles of champagne left over from 1987.

I can’t say enough bad things about the Fox pre-game show. What a yawner. Thank god for the NFL Network is all I have to say. They replayed the Pats-Steelers game from 4:30 to 5:30 and the Eagles-Falcons from 5:30 to 6:30. THAT is how you get pumped up for the big game.

Great six-minute drill you ran there, Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb. Granted, the Patriots were trying like hell to take away the deep pass, but huddling-up and walking to the line just doesn’t cut it. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe how the Eagles were moving in slow motion before the snap. That’s another example of something going wrong in a game where you think “if that was the Patriots coached by Bill Belichick that would NEVER EVER happen.”

It must be tough to be an Eagles fan. Can you imagine watching the end of the Super Bowl and having this thought run through your head: “I wish I’d they’d bring in Koy Detmer already!”?

I’m sure I’ll delve deeper into the Patriot’s off-season moves in the near future, but I can tell you, especially after reading Michael Holley’s fantastic insiders view of the Patriots “Patriot Reign” (think of it as the “Moneyball” of football), that I have no doubt that the Patriots will be able to reload and make another run next year and into the foreseeable future.

There was no better recruiting job done by any college coach than by Charlie Weis during the playoffs. What kid wouldn’t want to play for Notre Dame? It’s like the University of Miami Florida where one of the key reasons for the players attending the school is the pipeline to the professional game. Charlie Weis instantly gives Notre Dame that kind of respect.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

February 3, 2005

SUPER BOWL NUGGETS:

Remember last year when punter Ken Walter was the big story? Seems so strange that Patriots Nation was in such an uproar over the punter. Josh Miller, though, has been a noticeable upgrade from the shaky Walter. Which is not to say that he’s been perfect, he sure had his share of shanks. He may not be Ray Guy, and he may be forever in my mind as the Steelers punter who blasted his punt straight down the middle of the field to be returned by Troy Brown for a touchdown after the first punt which actually pinned Brown on the sidelines was called back due to a penalty. (Whew, that was a long sentence!)

Now that I’ve written this, I’m reading a profile on Miller by Dan Shaughnessy in the Globe. Maybe I can cut and paste that article here, change three words, and pass it off as my own like that boob from Worcester did to the Peter King article. Of course, the boob from Worcester could have maintained that like the 10,000 monkeys with typewriters eventually randomly producing the works of Shakespeare, with 10,000 writers at the Super Bowl writing about the exact same things at the same time with the same quotes could possibly produce something eerily similar.

The boob from Worcester sounds like a trashy stripper, no?

CARL: (seated at bar) “Earl, who’s dancing tonight?”
EARL: “It’s Lurlene, and then the boob from Worcester follows her on stage.”

* * *

All eyes have been on the Patriots secondary these playoffs, and for obvious reasons. As I laid-out in an earlier blog, I believe the cornerbacks are not only up to the task, but also better off in the long run of preparing for life without Ty Law. However, the depth at safety is a legitimate concern. Listening to the talk of “irreplaceable” Patriots on Dennis & Callahan, I could not counter choices such as Brady, Bruschi, Dillon, and Vinatierri (before the playoffs Seymour would have been on the list), but in my mind both safeties, Eugene Wilson and Rodney Harrison, are easily the most irreplaceable. Just think back to last year’s Super Bowl against the Panthers when both Wilson & Harrison went down with injuries in the fourth quarter. I don’t think it was coincidence that the Panther s stormed back in the 4th quarter with both of the Pats safety positions manned by who’s dat and whatshisname.

Belichick obviously noted that the secondary lacked depth and attempted to rectify it through the draft with Gus Scott and Dex Reid being drafted. Unfortunately, Scott was placed on injured reserve for the season during preseason, and Reid has mainly been on the field on special teams when healthy. The Pats also moved linebacker Don Davis to safety where he received numerous repetitions during the season. Still, the safety position needs to be addressed again this off-season. Drafting another safety and signing a veteran would be a smart move. Also, filling the free safety position would allow Eugene Wilson to cornerback (unlike the Tebucky Jones Experience) which is his natural position.

* * *

I love that Terrell Owens believes the almighty (should almighty be capitalized, or maybe in ALL CAPS?) has nothing better to do than personally heal him in time for the Super Bowl. Screw the pestilence, loss of life, wanton destruction and suffering in tsunami ravaged Southeast Asia, T.O. is on the mend! Does it make me a bad person to want to see Rodney Harrison bop him one right on the tibia at full speed?

* * *

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

February 2, 2005

THE GAME OF THE CENTURY:

OK, that is a bit of hyperbole, especially in the week of the Super Bowl. But what a great match Tuesday night. Final score Manchester United 4 – Arsenal 2. In Arsenal, where they hadn’t lost a Premiership match in almost two years, tensions were running high. It was a riveting match. Even Kat was drawn into it, which had to be a first!

Arsenal jumped out to an early one-nil lead and then after ManU tied it at one-all, they scored again right before the break. But the second half was all ManU. Two goals by Ronaldo gave them the lead. After a red card put ManU a man short for the final 20 minutes and extra time, they not only held on, but added an insurance goal in the last minute of extra time.

* * *

PATS, PATS, PATS:

I love the week before the Super Bowl. So much news & hype to read that I can’t even get through the Globe & the Herald. I’m saving my super analysis and predictions until Friday or Saturday.

* * *

RED SOX NEWS YOU MAY HAVE MISSED:

The Red Sox invited 16 non-roster players to spring training. I’ll go out on a limb and say two make the roster. Dave McCarty will again fill the 9th inning defensive replacement at first base (and hopefully pitch a few innings during blowouts). Among the other semi-notable signees (many of whom will end up at Pawtucket) include Josias Manzanillo who was signed by the Sox in 1983; Jeremi Gonzalez who pitched for the Devil Rays; George Lombard, a former prospect in Atlanta; Billy McMillon, a backup outfielder for Oakland; and Dave Berg, formerly a utility infielder for Toronto.

The other not-so-big news involved the Sox signing a 37 year-old Japanese relief pitcher, Denny Tomori. I don’t know what to make of this move. It doesn’t cost much to give him a shot at Pawtucket.

* * *

STROS N’ FROS:

There is a Houston Astros fan web-site named OrangeWhoopAss.com (Check it out at: http://www.orangewhoopass.com) Who knew, there are Houston Astros fans out there! Whoo-hoo, Enos Cabell’s afro still rules.

* * *

RED SOX PITCHING:

Your World Champion Boston Red Sox have overhauled their starting pitching staff this offseason for a myriad of reasons: economic, balance, talent, and necessity to name a few. Many have argued that this is cause for alarm, although I believe the staff is better this coming year than in 2004. Granted, there is no Randy Johnson or another Curt Schilling joining the staff this season to replace Pedro & D-Lowe, but the Sox should have the arms to make a run at another World Championship.

RED SOX PITCHING PART ONE - I ONLY MISS YOU WHEN YOU’RE GONE:

What is being replaced is, of course, the major concern. Pedro Martinez & Derek Lowe have won a lot of games for the Red Sox since the late nineties. Lowe, in my opinion, is addition by subtraction. Lowe has maddened Sox fans over the years with his inconsistency. He goes from unhittable to helpless on the mound in the blink of an eye. Yes, he turned in an amazing off-season in 2004. But keeping him around for nostalgia’s sake does not improve the team. I’m glad Lowe got his money. I’m glad he’s off in la-la land without the pressure of rabid New England sports fanatics hollering at him incessantly from the bleachers, but he is not a 16-21 win pitcher anymore in the American League and to pay him that kind of money is senseless.

Talent-wise, Pedro Martinez is irreplaceable. But there is no doubt that the ego that drives Pedro would not allow him to stick around and carry Curt Schilling’ s golf bags. Yes, Pedro’s shoulder is a major concern. Yes, the fact he could hit 95 MPH in the World Series but not any other time over the past 2+ years is rather disconcerting. Yes, he was a prima donna who does not fit ownership’s “team first” mantra, but damn he can pitch when he’ on his game.

The problem is the when he’s on his game aspect. The 1997 through 1999 version of Pedro is gone forever. What an honor it was to watch him pitch during those years. You literally were on the edge of your seat until he gave up that first hit because you knew that any game could be a no-hitter. He was just so dominant. I remember sitting in the bleachers with Kat and watching him pitch during that time you could hear every person in attendance audibly groan with disappointment when he gave up that first hit.

But Pedro wanted the guaranteed money. It’s his right. I don’t think it’s the right decision, but Pedro is the only one who has to live with it. The Sox will move on and the Sox will not miss a beat. We still have Schilling.

Part Two will follow tomorrow.

* * *

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

February 1, 2005

RED SOX RELOAD:

I'm looking into the Red Sox off-season moves and am really excited about how Theo Epstein's master plan has unfolded. Those who have known me for many years may well remember I was a long time supporter and defender of Theo’s predecessor at General Manager, the Ice King of Boston, Dan Duquette.

The lasting negative images of Duquette in Boston is of him driving off Roger Clemens and Mo Vaughn*, overpaying Manny Ramierez**, and the entire Jimy Williams firing fiasco***. (I’m trying out the footnotes to replace my wandering thoughts in parentheses all over the blog. Drop me a line at hal@bostonsportpage.com to let me know what you think.) Of course, “I brought in Pedro”, “Heathcliffe Slocumb for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe”, and “I drafted Nomar”**** are likely to be etched onto his tombstone.

One thing Dan Duquette preached when he initially took over for the final years of the Yawkey Trust was the mantra of building up the farm system. At first, I think there was definitely a real effort to build a team the right way, from the bottom-up. Supplement the team with some diamonds in the rough (Troy O’Leary, Brian Daubach, Matt Stairs, et al). Of course, this was the time of the Yankee resurgence. Flush with the cash flowing in from NESN and the constant crowds at Fenway, Yawkey Trust caretaker John Harrington opened the bank vaults and let Duquette spend willy-nilly for Manny and his horrible trade deadline dealings of sending legitimate minor-league talent for stiffs who were basically rent-a-players.

Of course, Duquette’s caustic relationship with the Boston media did as much to drive him out as his failures as a General Manager.

Theo, however, seems to have a firm grasp on the delicate balancing act of large-market GM. He has done very well with his free agent signings, drafting, and, for the most part, his trades. Let’s examine them:

The Red Sox over the past few years have been able to stock the lower-levels of the minor leagues with some legitimate talent. How much of it and how soon it arrives in Fenway is still up for debate. They have adopted Billy Beane’s philosophy of backing away from high-risk high school players and drafting more ready-to-contribute college players with a history of performance to back up their potential. With Jon Lester, Manny Delcarmen, Abe Alvarez, Dustin Pedroia, Brandon Moss, Hanley Ramierez, Ian Bladergroen, and Kelley Shoppach, it is nice to think the Sox have some options for low-cost, young talent. Or, if they go nuts, they can trade them all and at least get something back in return.

The amateur draft situation only improves this season. The Sox have six of the first sixty picks in the first & supplemental rounds. We received a first and supplemental pick for the Mets signing Pedro Martinez, another first and supplemental pick for the Dodgers bringing aboard Derek Lowe, we lost our first for signing Edgar Renteria, but received a pick back for losing Orlando Cabrera. Mientkiewicz netted a prospect, Dave Roberts brought in a utility infielder and a back-up outfield, and we still may yet get a prospect for Buyng-Hyun Kim.

Last year, of course, the trade for Curt Schilling and the free agent signing of Keith Foulke paid immediate dividends. Of course, the deadline deals of Nomar for Cabrera & Mientkiewicz and picking up Dave Roberts for next to nothing also proved very shrewd. Of course, Theo’s 2003 trading deadline trades much left to be desired.

So in summary, the Sox are seriously reloading for the future via the amateur draft, and they’ve made some shrewd decisions to improve the team and not be stuck with large contracts for prima donnas like Pedro & Lowe. Not a bad position to be in for the defending World Champions.

Now the only question that remains is “Can we wait for opening day?” I know I can hardly wait.

*Note 1: Looks like a 50-50 split with Vaughn & Clemens. Of course, people forget that before Big Papi, Mo was the undisputed, no-holds barred, King of the Boston Red Sox.
**Note 2: Poor Manny. You know he’s going to be up on the trading every year with that ridiculous contract. He could hit 80 HRs and the Sox would deal him to any team willing to take on the entire remaining contract for a bag of peanuts.
***Note 3: I wasn’t the biggest Jimy fan. But Joe Kerrigan at manager was a disaster from day one. But the new ownership group certainly showed that they weren’t too keen on the Kerrigan for Williams move by moving to quickly bring in Jimy-clone Grady Little after they took over.
****Note 4: It’s kind of ridiculous to think of the debate before the 1997 season about moving John Valentin to 2B or 3B to make way for Nomar at SS. That two-day hold-out/walk-out/protest by Valentin probably did more to hurt his chances of hooking on with another team than his declining statistics. Malcontent is a hard label to shake.

FullPressCoverage.com: New England Patriots’ Top 2019 NFL Draft Picks Show Evolution on Both Sides of the Ball

The New England Patriots may have tipped their hand with their first two 2019 NFL Draft picks. Choosing a bigger, more aggressive outside-...