Thursday, March 30, 2006

MO

Thought I should pass on this link to an interesting article projecting the coming season for Wily Mo Pena: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=4913 Now I may not be the biggest stat-head, but I do know that with Bill James in the fold, the Red Sox are not going to throw away Bronson Arroyo for next to nothing. Would I have preferred Austin Kearns or Adam Dunn instead of Wily Mo? Two years ago? Yes. Today? Well, is Adam Dunn worth $9 million a year? Will Austin Kearns ever get close his potential that he flashed during his rookie year? I say no and no. So Wily Mo (unless you could wrest away the Ken Griffey Jr. of 2001) is really the only logical choice out of the Cincinnati outfield depth.

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Speaking of websites that everyone should be reading, I would be remiss to mention the post last week by Chad Finn at his Touching All the Bases regarding all things Adam Vinatieri at http://touchingallthebases.blogspot.com/ Chad brings up two great points: 1. The Colts lost the best running back in the AFC yet all anyone can blab about is how horrible the off-season of the Patriots has been; and 2. Paul Edinger. I still think Edinger would be a good fit in New England, but I love the point Chad made about how he kicked last year in Minnesota (and no I will not give it away, you have to click to his site and read it, but I was laughing so hard I fell off the couch. It completely boggles my mind that the Boston Globe has Chad Finn working there and do not have the common sense to throw enough money at him to put his site up at boston.com.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

IF ALL YOUR FRIENDS JUMPED OFF A BRIDGE

So sorry to be in the minority, but am I the only one left who still thinks Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli are smarter than everyone else? I like where the team is at: The Patriots have a solid, young offensive line and defensive line; a franchise quarterback and wide receiver, and role players who do not act like they are superstars. The party line has always been the same: win here, or get gobs of money and lose elsewhere. David Givens waned to be a number one receiver without Deion Branch being in his way; Adam Vinatieri already had made up his mind to pursue Hall of Fame (i.e. Personal) goals over championships (and hey, he has three rings, that is his right); Damien Woody, Ty Law, Ted Washington, Tom Ashworth, Lawyer Milloy, and more have seen the green and still the machine soldiers on.

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LINING THINGS UP:

Speaking of the offensive line, I meant to comment on it, but kept typing Rick Krusher instead of Nick Kazcur and was so embarrassed that I just junked the column. Thank God for the internet and Mike Reiss at the Boston Globe. Here is a quick breakdown of the Patriots biggest strength (and reason why Corey Dillon will rush for 1250 yards and 10 touchdowns next season):

STARTERS:
Left tackle Matt Light: Matt Light, next door neighbor of a former co-worker of mine (who is, unfortunately a Cowboys fan), was out of action most of last season. With Light, who is on the cusp of being a Pro Bowl performer, back to keep Tom Brady upright next season, the whole offensive line gets better by default.
Left guard Logan Mankins: The Whotheheckwasthat pick of the first round last season turned in a solid season at guard. To think, he should improve and give the Pats a solid left side to run through ala Seattle.
Center Dan Koppen: The biggest loss last season, I was amazed that the team withstood the loss of Koppen and plugged in Russ Hochstein and kept motoring until Tom Brady finally broke down in the Denver playoff game.
Right guard Stephen Neal: Without doubt, the most important signing by the Patriots. Neal still has upside and is a mauler in the run blocking game.
Right tackle Nick Kaczur: The rookie from Toledo looked lost a few times last season plugged in at left tackle, but showed improvement over the course of the season. Again, 2005 set the stage for 2006 with so many young kids getting a shot they normally would not have in a playoff situation. Although the pundits drooling to write the Patriots obituary would never admit it, that is a huge part of the development of the younger players.

BENCH:
Right tackle Brandon Gorin, Center/guard Russ Hochstein: Two solid, young veterans who have started in the Super Bowl. How many teams have that sitting on their bench? Also, the Patriots will bring in their annual veteran guard and have a couple of undrafted free agents around for Dante Scarnecchia to work his magin on over the course of training camp and the season.

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NO MORE, NO MORE:

The Boston press has got to stop with the constant Johnny Damon updates. WE DO NOT CARE! Johnny & the Pole-Dancing Honey (I mean, his lovely wife) are installing a swing in their bedroom? TOO MUCH INFORMATION! (Now if it were Nomar and Mia, that would be news. But the real question would be who was sitting in the swing? Can we officially refer to Nomar as Mrs. Hamm and Mia as Mr. Garciaparra? As the Captain says: Make it so!)

* * *

SWEET MADNESS

Alas, poor bracket, I knew ye well. The less said about my Final Four picks, the better. Villanova and Texas were solid picks, as both made the Elite Eight. Anyone who picked George Mason should be out buying lottery tickets. UCLA was just better than I thought (maybe I was thinking about their football team). Anyway, I was watching more golf and pre-season Sox games than college basketball this weekend, as there were some great games on the hardwood, but some real clunkers as well. Anyway, this is Boston: we just cannot be bothered with college basketball.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

STOP THE HYPERBOLE

OK, I like Adam Vinatieri. He is a hall-of-fame kicker, but the media (print, TV, radio) need to face facts: Vinatieri had no intention of returning to New England. He had made it clear that he wanted to kick in a dome or warm weather (and when you went to South Dakota State you have that right!) and wanted guaranteed money as well as being the highest paid kicker in football. Vinatieri reminds me of Johnny Damon: he is worth a lot of money, but not THAT much.

To hear the media tell it, the Patriots should abandon the plan they have used over the past six years that has resulted in three Super Bowl victories. Right, Dan Snyder is still spending like a drunken sailor, so we should copy him. The Colts have no problem spending crazy money on a kicker and their #2 and #3 wide receivers while their most important player on offense walks away to Arizona. Tennessee threw insane money at David Givens and the Patriots are ridiculed for not matching the deal. Remember, Detroit blew the Patriots offer out of the water for Damien Woody and look how that has worked out for the respective teams.

I am not going to say anything as stupid as saying that Bill Belichick (and Scott Pioli for that matter, although it is amazing how much heat Belichick deflects away from him) has a prefect record in signing and not signing players; however, history tells us he has been right more often than not. Yes, Chad Brown was not as smart as Belichick believed; Monty Beisel is not yet the player he will be after another year learning the defense; Donald Hayes, Andre Davis, and Bethel Johnson could not catch a cold in New England, and Duane Starks, Chad Scott, and Ty Poole were injured too much to ever be effective in New England. Yet, Brady over Bledsoe; Mike Vrabel from the scrapheap; drafting Ellis Hobbs; building a young, strong, quick, disruptive defensive line through the draft (Richard Seymour, Big Daddy Vince Wilfork, and the quiet man: Ty Warren) has paid and will continue to pay huge dividends over time; rebuilding the offensive line around whozthats and whatsits every year and allowing the team to build depth at other positions and fill gaps in the roster; and letting Lawyer Milloy go and having Rodney Harrison on-board at a bargain basement price are all moves that have cemented his genius.

I do not like losing these players, but just because everyone else in the NFL has gone mad does not mean the model franchise should join in the Bacchanal frenzy. The name of the game is value, and there will plenty to find in the six months before the first game of the season. Like with the Johnny Damon situation, the Red Sox had time to find his replacement, just as the Patriots have plenty of time and options available to fill out their roster and compete for the Super Bowl.

My opinion? I believe the Patriots will take a two-level approach to replacing Vinatieri. They will have a CFL/NFL Europe/Arena kicker in camp along with a drafted or undrafted free agent. In addition, I believe they will scoop up either Paul Edinger (anyone remember that 56 yard game winner with less than ten seconds left last year? I bet the Patriots staff does) or, more likely, Olindo Mare if he becomes available which is looking likely. A veteran kicker coming in at under $2 million a year and a practice squad kicker to eventually replace him. Sounds like a solid, Belichickian plan to me.

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STUPID IS AS STUPID DOES:

OK, is Bronson Arroyo really that stupid, or did he want out of Boston? I thought he was dumb when he was hanging out at Northeastern University keg parties and the pictures worked their way onto the internet, but what does he expect when he signs a deal giving up arbitration at below market cost that only makes him more tradable? He must have realized that his deal did nothing but line-up his ticket out of town. Arroyo, who could not crack the Pittsburgh rotation at its weakest while they were losing 100+ games four years ago, has a world series ring, and is now in line to go from being bumped to the bullpen to being the number one starter in Cincinnati (unless you believe Eric Milton, who killed my fantasy baseball team in April and May last year before I gave up on him, is the number one starter). Oh yeah, anyone that doubts how good the Red Sox starting rotation is right now can just remember this when the team flirts with 100 victories.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

IN APPRECIATION OF ALL SOX COLORED RED

That wailing, crying, rending of garments and gnashing of the teeth that emanated from the Northeastern dorms as the news was announced that starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for the future in right field at Fenway Park, Willy Mo Pena, is just the latest scene in the Greek tragedy known as the Boston Red Sox. Bronson the rock star joins fellow idiots Kevin Millar, Johnny Damon, Mark Bellhorn, and Pedro Martinez who have already been exiled from Paradise. Taking a page from the Gridiron Gods, Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli, the theatrically inclined Theo Epstein has closed the curtain on the goofballs, mascots, and divas that once filled the Boston clubhouse. In their stead have rolled the young, the proud, the impressionable who can molded into the sleek new model to sell to the impressionable consumers bursting with confidence and the quiet, can-do ability formerly only found in Foxborough: Coco Crisp, Alex Gonzalez, Willy Mo Pena, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen, David Murphy, and Kevin Youkilis.

This is the end of the line for the Dan Duquette/John Harrington/Yawkey Trust/Yawkey Family days of the Boston Red Sox. Like the Kraft family exiling the last vestiges of the Sullivan Family and their handprints on the franchise, the Red Sox are a new and exciting creature. The 25 players and 25 cabs philosophy is dead and buried. Idiot holdovers David Wells, Trot Nixon and Manny Ramirez are counting the days until they too are escorted out of Eden. This team bears the markings of Theo and the Triumvirate only. This is a new age of the Red Sox, an ending of the Yawkey Dynasty and the beginning of new empire, ripe with progressive thought, new ideas, and bold young leaders not afraid to venture headlong into the unknown.

The Red Sox of tomorrow will be the boldest version yet. Young veterans mixed in with hungry, talented prospects and tossed about and dashed with zest like a gourmet salad. The team adapted the New England Patriots blueprint for baseball and stand ready on the horizon, waiting, waiting, waiting to strike. Bronson Arroyo being traded to Cincinnati for Willy Mo Pena is yet the latest strike from the Fenway front office forming the team into a collection of young, moderately-priced athletic baseball players who can work together as a true group of teammates rather than a collection of over-priced superstars intent on promoting themselves over the team.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Big Len Leaves it Unsaid

One of my favorite football writers is Len Pasquarelli of ESPN.com. Anyway, he had a great article posted on ESPN.com (http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/columns/story?columnist=pasquarelli_len&id=2372386) which went over the horrid first round of the 2002 NFL draft that included QB Joey Harrington and OT Mike Williams in the first five picks. Other clunkers of the 2002 draft included CB Quentin Jammer, CB Phillip Buchanon, LB Robert Thomas, LB Napoleon Harris, OT Marc Colombo (formerly of Brockton High School), WR Ashley Lelie, WR Donte Stallworth, RB William Green (of Boston College), CB Mike Rumph, and Super Bowl goat TE Jerramy Stevens. All in all, an incredibly uninspiring group.

Of course, in the entire article, there was not a single mention of the Patriots and their pick that season. Jumping online, I decided to see if I could find out who the Patriots had drafted in 2002.

New England Patriots 2002 Draft Picks:

First round, number 21 overall: Dan Graham, TE.
Second round, number 65 overall: Deion Branch, WR.
Fourth round, number 117 overall: Rohan Davey, QB.
Fourth round, number 126 overall: Jarvis Green, DE.
Seventh round, number 237 overall: Antwoine Womack, HB.
Seventh round, number 244 overall: David Givens, WR.

In looking over the ultimate mixed bag that represented the draft by Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli that season, I can see why Len stayed far, far away from mentioning the Patriots first round draft pick that year: Four years later and no one knows what to make of Dan Graham. A tenacious blocker, Graham is like having an extra tackle on the line of scrimmage; however, no one trades up in the first round for a blocking tight end. Graham, of course, is big, fast, strong, and athletic. He has all the skills to be a fantastic tight end, yet has never seen to be able to put it all together. In fact, he has been so inconsistent as a receiver that Ben Watson (the next tight end the Patriots took in the first round) has become the number one tight end target for Tom Brady.

Of course, how many teams find a Super Bowl MVP in the second round? Or draft a wide receiver who scores a $24 million dollar contract four years later with the number 244 pick? Nick Saban also sent over Jarvis Green, a valuable addition to the defensive line, and Rohan Daveym, who could have been a decent backup, but never seemed to put it together. Antwoine Womack was a seventh round shot-in-the-dark coming off a knee injury. Unfortunately, it was a failed venture, but if you hit 50% in the seventh round, you are doing all right.

All-in-all, there can be no complaints about the 2002 draft for the Patriots. They got four years out of David Givens, three out of Rohan Davey, four fairly solid years and counting from Jarvis Green and Dan Graham, and an impact wide receiver in the second round. Drafts like that ae what make the team a perennial contender for the Super Bowl. It is a good lesson fo these wild, wacky, and panic-filled days of fee agency for Patriots fans: championships are built through the draft and supplemented through free agency. Teams throwing around ridiculous money in free agency pay the price in the end. Teams that build a strong nucleus through good drafting have a huge advantage.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

BURNING QUESTIONS

The main reason I cough up the dollars to ESPN.com for the Insider is Peter Gammons. Easily the greatest baseball columnist in recent history, Gammons knows more about what is going on in the major leagues than most general managers. Recently, he wrote about the Five Burning Questions surrounding the Red Sox. Of course, despite bowing to his unlimited baseball knowledge, I do have a few bones to pick with him (Gammons is in italics from his Insider blog on ESPN.com 3/15/06: http://insider.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?name=gammons_peter#20060315):

1. Can Curt Schilling come back, and how good is the rotation? Schilling says his "arm feels great, best in a long while." But as he threw Wednesday in a minor-league game, questions were raised. He did not get swings and misses with his fastball from minor-leaguers. Because of the ankle, he is still not down to his 2001 weight, and while he makes some good pitches, can he maintain his delivery over 100 pitches? That remains to be seen. Ditto David Wells, who has yet to pitch, period. Josh Beckett is in the best shape of his career and has been very impressive. But while everyone likes to talk about their depth -- Wakefield, Matt Clement, Bronson Arroyo, Jonathan Papelbon -- there are questions about several of those starters, which will keep the organization monitoring how long it will take left-hander Jon Lester to be ready.

OK, Peter, first off every team whose name does not end in SOX is scrambling to find a #4 and a #5 starter. That the Red Sox have seven (and the White Sox six) legitimate starting pitchers who would be a #1, 2, or 3 on any other staff does not make their starting pitching a question mark. Schilling is less a question mark than Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, AJ Burnett, anyone on the Baltimore or Tampa staff, Pedro Martinez, Ben Sheets, etc. There are plenty of other starting pitchers who are question marks. Beckett, Wakefield, Arroyo, Clement and Papelbon is a rotation that would lead to 95 wins. Most teams would kill to have the problem of too many quality starting pitchers.

2. Is Keith Foulke still a major-league closer? He is in much better shape after having knee surgery and is in a good frame of mind. Problem is, he's still taking medication for those knees and has yet to go to a mound and pitch in a game, so they have no idea whatsoever what he will be. Mike Timlin has closed, and Terry Francona believes that if Papelbon closed he'd be in the All-Star Game, which counts, but this is a mess. They need to figure out Papelbon's role, and even if he does close, jumping to that spot in Boston is a very difficult task. Craig Hansen hasn't thrown to his capabilities this spring, Manny Delcarmen hasn't thrown enough first-pitch strikes and Edgar Martinez needs innings, so their best arms are a ways away.

What did I tell you about Peter Gammons and Edgar Martinez? He cannot go one article without mentioning the El Guapo clone. In short, the answer is yes. Lest anyone forget 2004, but until twin knee surgery shut him down, Foulke was, outside of some guy named Mariano Rivera in New York, the most consistent closer in baseball. The man had a physical ailment; this is no John Rocker/Mark Wohlers/Rick Ankiel situation. Oh yeah, even if the injury lingers into May or June, the Sox still have that Timlin guy available.

3. Can Mike Lowell still play? He has looked as if he cannot catch up to major-league fastballs, and the Sox front office is afraid it gave up four players and $18 million for two years of Beckett. Francona has insisted Lowell is simply pressing and trying to elevate the ball too early, but with Kevin Youkilis capable at first and third base, the Sox are already scanning lists of first and third basemen. Clement looks very good, but if they can get an Adam Dunn or Austin Kearns, they may have to pay the price. This is a big, big deal right now.

Mike Lowell cannot be any worse than Kevin Millar was last season, and worst-case he does not hurt the team on defense.

4. Backup catcher. Josh Bard has done a nice job catching Wakefield, and that is important. But Bard has not thrown well, and without a third catcher, they are in the market.

Back-up catcher? Whoo, because that is a huge concern! Puh-leeze. At the end of spring training they will have 10-12 catchers to choose from if Huckabee or Bard is not capable. If back-up catcher is the main concern, then this team is sitting pretty.

5. In a left-handed hitters' park, they have no lefty-on-lefty BP candidates. There have been a lot of positive aspects to this spring. Francona's contract extension is good for everyone. Beckett seems on the verge of stardom, if he can make 30 starts for the first time. Youkilis appears ready to emerge. Manny has been terrific. But here we are at the Ides of March, and the Red Sox don't have a lot of answers. Theo Epstein saw it coming.

No lefty specialist in the bullpen? That is the big issue? Wow, the team is in dire need. Look, the Red Sox are stacked: line-up, bullpen, and rotation. No one knows what will happen, who will fall off, who will rise, who will get hurt, etc; however, the Sox are in a better place than 90% of the teams out there, so enough of the lack of answers. EVERYTEAM has significant questions in March. EVERY SINGLE ONE! As Stan the Man said (Lee, not Musiel): Nuff Said!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

BOSTON SPORTS BLAST

Willie McGinest, David Givens, Matt Chatham, Christian Fauria, and possibly Troy Brown, Tom Ashworth, Steven Neal, and Adam Vinatieri. Other than missing those horrible Papa Ginos and Bernie & Phyls commercials with Vinatieri, what is the net loss? The Patriots have a core group of irreplaceable players: Tom Brady, Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Deion Branch, and Rodney Harrison (and maybe Mike Vrabel). Outside of these guys, EVERYONE is replaceable. Quick, what is the difference, other than age, between David Givens and David Patton? How many quality kickers are annually on the market? The Patriots have made a living recycling offensive linemen; anyway, with Matt Light and Dan Koppen back on the offensive line, the depth will still be there after they pick up a few cheap veterans. Sure, Big Willie is a damned good player, but all that money for a 34 year old outside linebacker is ludicrous.

The point is that there are a lot of good players out in free agency, and very few difference makers. The Patriots are hopefully working to tie up Branch and Seymour to long-term deals right now. If Vinatieri walks, I am sure there are other kickers out there (and for the record, Vinatieri missed more field goals than he should have last season). These guys are out on the free agent market because they are replaceable. The Patriots are wise to take their time, find the long-term bargains, and not get emotional and overpay to keep their guys around simply because they won with them in the past. Past performance is no guarantee for future results. As Bill Belichick likes to say, the team will get value from the people they bring in to play in September. Much like the Red Sox in January, there is no need to panic because opening day is a long way off and the holes can be filled in the interim.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

BOSTON SPORTS BLAST

OK, free agency for the NFL will begin at 12:01 am on Saturday. Why is everyone so upset about Adam Vinatieri testing the free agency waters? Like Johnny Damon, he knows it is his last chance to score the big contract. I do not hold it against him. Let him go out, determine his value, and the Patriots will decide what he is worth paying. Plain & simple. As great as he is, he is still only a kicker.

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Following up on my blurb about the Truth and his resurgence, Bill Simmons (aka the Boston Sports Guy) churns out a nice article, in almost a Simmons flashback (i.e. very few references to crappy television shows that no one watched in the seventies or movies that no one cared about in the eighties and no one cares about now. One or two is fine, every other sentence is a bit much) writing about the Celtics, Paul Pierce, Danny Ainge, and his Dad. Nice to see he still has the touch (and has come around to supporting Danny Ainge FINALLY): http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/060310

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Just in case anyone cares, the Helmet-Headed One, Mel Kiper Jr., has the Patriots picking Ashton Youboty at 21, an underclassman cornerback from Ohio State. A potential big time cornerback, Youboty would be a development. I do not think Belichick is a big fan of development projects, often preferring to draft players who can step right in and play. When I think of Bill Belichick and his development projects, I think of undrafted free agents or picking up young veterans from the scrap heap, not drafting them. Of course, if my last developmental draft pick was Bethel Johnson, I would be a bit gun-shy myself.

More on Youboty: He began the season as the nickel corner before moving to the starting line-up after an injury to the starter. Once entrenched, there was no replacing Youboty who immediately showed his top-level skills. He has good size (almost six feet tall) and great hands. As a sophomore, he shut down top receiver Braylon Edwards of Michigan. In doing some research on him, I can see why Kiper had him slotted to New England: he reminds me of another Ellis Hobbs, except bigger. Youboty is a ball-hawk corner and is physical against the run.

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PEACE, THE TRUTH, & THE BLACK AND GOLD

First, the NFL Labor Agreement.

Anyone who is not in favor of the NFL agreement is either a masochist or a doddering fool, which explains why the Bengals (the Brown family) and Ralph Wilson (Bills owner) voted against it. While it was surprising to see the Patriots aligned with the Jets (after all the bad blood between the franchises with the Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick situations in the past), I am ecstatic that the agreement was brokered and both the owners and players can prosper in the future. Most importantly, it is great news for the fans as teams can afford to keep their own free agents and the quality of the game will not decline in a no-cap era.

The immediate ramifications for the Patriots are they have the resources to not only retain the free agents they want to keep around, but they can get a deal done with Richard Seymour and Deion Branch before they hit the open market. David Givens is going to find a team to overpay him, just as David Patten did two years ago in free agency. I say he has earned it. For his role on the team, he is not going to be justified receiving $10 million upfront and a huge contract. Givens worked his ass off to get in this position, and I think he will cash out and get his money. The Patriots will find someone else at a better price. No hard feelings.

Willie McGinest and Troy Brown are going to be interesting cases. There are enough Belichick protegees out there that they could be lured away with the promise of one last big cash grab. For their sakes, I hope they stay in New England simply because there are too few players who spend their entire career in one place. It may not seem important at the time, but think about Dwight Evans in an Orioles uniform and Bobby Orr skating for the Chicago Blackhawks. It means so much more to the region, the fan base, and their legacy when a player can retire with much pomp and circumstance for their one tam.

* * *

Second, the Celtics really do exist.

Amazing to believe, but people are going to have to give Danny Ainge credit whether they want to or not. The Celtics are young, exciting, and about one player away from being a major force in the coming seasons. A four-man rotation of Ryan Gomes, Big Perk, Big Al, and Raef LaFrentz at the 4 and 5 spots looks really promising right now. A fifth big guy to bang around down low (and NOT the Kandi-Man) would have this group ready to take on the big boys. With Wally and Paul at the 2 and 3 spots, there is not much need for too much behind them other than Tony Allen to play some defense and Gerald Green to develop into an instant offensive force off the bench. Point guard is the issue as Delonte West and Orien Greene are basically rookies and the position needs time. The right veteran (NOT Dan Dickau) could help stabilize this position enough for the team to start stealing some of these close losses to good teams.

Also, it is amazing to watch Paul Pierce as he matures into the offensive weapon, all-around player, and team leader he always had the potential to become. With the shadow of Antoine gone, and the manic Ricky Davis game, Pierce looks comfortable for the first time on the court.

* * *

Finally, the too-little, too late Bruins swing a deal.


The message has been received. As we long suspected, the season is over. All I can say is that at least they got something in return for Sergei Samsonov, as I for one tired of waiting for him to contribute ANYTHING to the team. Horrible defense, uninspired play on the ice, repeated injuries: what a waste. Like with Jumbo Joe: It is the end of an error.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A NUMBER OF TOPICS

If the damned NFL owners would just make a decision to keep from destroying the game by letting their squabbling lead to undoing their agreement with the players and leading to uncapped years I could conceivably start on the Patriots needs, anticipated free agency losses and gains, and draft preview. So I will wait, along with the players, their agents, and the teams for a settlement or complete breakdown before the chaos of the off-season moves begins.

* * *

Pedro off the Dominican team? A-Rod on the US team? Whoo-hoo. Go Dominican! Papi! Papi! Papi! (Well, that answers the debate at least for me about whether Americans will root for the players from their favorite team or blindly support the US team.)

* * *

Kirby Puckett, rest in peace. For all of his off-field faults, there is no doubt that Kirby brought joy to the masses between the white lines. I wish I had a great story about Kirby, but I really do not have one. In fact, I wish I had made it to a Sox-Twins game and saw him (although I may have seen him playing for Toledo against the PawSox). What sticks in my mind when I think of Kirby Puckett is the absolute joy he projected on the field while playing. Yes, he was a great player on the field and not a saint off the field, but he LOVED playing baseball, and that was what made him so universally admired. For Twins fans this has to be beyond devastating. I figure he is comparable in Minnesota to someone like Teddy Ballgame or Yaz here in the Boston area. Imagine Yaz being struck down early in his career and then dying at the age of 45. Or another way, think Tony C., only times 100.

* * *

Fascinating story about the life and times of the lying, racist, cheating, steroid, HGH, and any performance-enhancing drug using mockery that is Barry Bonds. It amazes me that Bonds and his fellow cheaters (see: Jason Giambi) are still allowed to play baseball. Positive test or not, the commissioner has the power to act in the best interest of the game. The best interest of the game would have been served by the commissioner making an example of these two BALCO Bozos and banning them from the game two years ago. I would go into my usual rant about Jason Giambi and steroid-enhanced home runs in the 2003 ALCS game seven against Pedro, but Peter Gammons is so sick of hearing about it. Sorry Gammons, you may be the best Boston baseball writer ever, but MLB knew Giambi was cheating and allowed him to play that season. Forget Aaron Boone. The Yankees win in the 2003 ALCS will forever be tainted due to the actions of steroid-boy Giambi and we whiney Red Sox fans will not shut up or get over it any time soon.

Getting back to Bonds, it is sickening to hear the media members jumping out to support the jerk. He is a cheater. Only a delusional and naive fool does not realize that Bonds, Giambi, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmiero, Mark McGwire, I-Rod, and Juan Gone were on the juice and that their accomplishments are all tainted. This Gang of Seven (along with Canseco & the others) should permanently be held up as an example of what was wrong with baseball and how it can improve by returning to the natural stats of the players of today. I may not be a fan of A-Rod, but his stats have improved along with Manny, Papi, Albert Pujols, and Miguel Cabrera as the steroids have been worked out of the game. For that, I certainly respect his talent.

* * *

Sad news that Sox catcher John Flaherty has decided to retire. As I have written on numerous occasions, Flaherty made an indelible impression on me as a youngster when he was playing in Pawtucket and stood out as the player who was the first to sign autographs and the last one signing when everyone went backing the dugout. Not only signing, but interacting with the fans. I doubt there will be much written about this aspect of John Flaherty, moreso a small mention in each paper about his career in the majors and how he came back for one more shot with the Red Sox, but I think it is important to remember him for his contribution to the game by just acting like enjoyed being there and appreciated the opportunity to be paid for playing a game. Enjoy your retirement, John Flaherty.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

REACHING CRITICAL MASS

No, not the Manny-obsessed media, the fourth-quarter flunkings of the Celtics, or the third-period meltdown by the Bruins, but rather the NFL collective bargaining negotiations are reaching critical mass. Of course, the Patriots are one of the teams sitting back and waiting for the situation to play itself out before making any moves. There are serious implications if the owners and players association cannot get together on this and work something out ASAP. The information out there is so confusing that the dunderheads at WEEI dare not even mention the collective bargaining negotiations because it is far too confusing to them. In the interest of education, here is as simple a breakdown as I can muster in seven steps:

1. The CBA does not expire until after 2007. There are still two more season under the current agreement.

2. 2008 would be the first season with no salary cap, no salary minimum spending, and no draft. Therefore, the players may think there is more money out there for them, but more money will be tossed at unproven rookies, and they also have to deal with the teams (Cincinnati?) that will spend much, much less than the Cowboys, Redskins, Patriots, Giants, and other big market teams. All you doubters need only look at Major League Baseball for evidence to this point.

3. Obviously, there will be a players strike or an owners lockout in 2008 because this sucks for both sides. Just thinking of the television money lost would give any rational person an upset stomach.

4. Right now, in free agency with uncapped years after 2008, the mega-deals of the past become untenable until 2008 as the bonus money (like Tom Brady getting $20 million upfront or Peyton Manning getting $30 million upfront) cannot be spread out over the cap beyond 2008; therefore, the owners are not shelling out the big bucks with no salary cap savings in return.

5. The problem is not with the players. They do not want to take a percentage cut, and nor should they be forced into doing so. What the main problem has become is that the owners cannot work out what money should be spent. Large market owners do not want to give up local monies. On this point, I agree with them. If the Patriots suck money out of Gillette to get naming rights, why should they share it with Cincinnati which has no naming rights. Last I checked, the Krafts put a boatload of their own money into Gillette Stadium. Why the hell should that money go to the lazy-ass Brown family in Cincinnati who only spend to the cap because they are required to by the NFL?

6. Many teams anticipated that with an agreement worked out, the salary cap would jump $10 to $15 million dollars over the anticipated cap. With no agreement, they are totally screwed. In fact, I heard one capologist talking about how it would be mathematically impossible for the Redskins to get under a cap at around $95 million.

7. The players also give up free agent years, salary minimums, have percentage increase limits, and lose benefits (401k, medical, etc) with no collective bargaining agreement. They should be ultra-motivated to make a deal.

The owners have the goose that lays the golden eggs in the NFL. No other sport has prospered, grown, and made more money than the NFL. Both sides should be motivated to find a middle ground where all sides can prosper. I remember the last NFL strikes and lock-outs. They were not pretty (replacement players, ugh!). Both sides need to look for the good in the long and short-term and find a solution: The owners need to keep the local money with the owners who have earned it and increase the percentage of dollars spent on player salaries. This would satisfy the players, it would keep the owners who do the most good for the league happy, and it may force out those losers who do not want spend to win. The last thing the NFL needs is to go back to a model like major league baseball and have a situation where teams know going into the season they have no shot to win. With the cap, all teams can believe they have a shot at winning any year.

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As far as the cut-downs, it is amazing to see how some teams have to shed salary. Arizona, Cleveland, and Minnesota, all $20 million or more under the cap to begin with, have to be drooling as they look at all the veterans being cut loose as teams scramble to get under the salary cap. Have no fear, Patriot fans, the men with the plans have us sitting pretty. If the cap stays around $94 million, there are no cuts to be made. If it goes up, it just makes it that much easier to keep Willie McGinest, Adam Vinatieri, David Givens, and to lock-up Richard Seymour long-term. Heck, they should have enough money to bring back their Super Bowl secondary (who are all out on the open market): Tebuckey Jones (released by the Dolphins), Ty Law (cut loose by the Jets), and Lawyer Milloy (unceremoniously dumped by the Bills to get under the salary cap). Remember how many writers wrote about how the Patriots had Law, Jones, and Milloy to contend with within the division? Oh yeah, that was real tough for them, eh? (Anyone checking my archives to try to rub something I wrote about it in my face will find it was 8/9/05 when I wrote about it. My only comment is that it would be interesting for Brady seeing so many familiar faces.)

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KEEPING UP

One of the worst things about my work is that I am so busy all of the time. Of course, that is one of the good things as well as time flies and I feel sense of accomplishment and importance. But for this blog, it can be bad because I do not have time to work on it during the day and keeping up on what is going on in the world of sports can be difficult.

One thing I do is subscribe to updates via my email (breaking local sports news) and via my ESPN.com mobile updates. This way, I can take a few seconds during the day to catch up real quick with anything important going on in the Boston sports scene. This leads to the two points I have to make today.

1. First up is the Fantistics Blog I receive in my email occasionally courtesy of InsiderBaseball.com. Really an information site for fantasy baseball, the writer, Anthony A. Perri (gotta give him credit, God knows I am not the best number-cruncher out there), breaks down Stranding Runners on Base Percentage. Why is this important? Well three starters who figure to be in the Red Sox rotation were on the list as having a percentage that was much worse than their previous three year average: Curt Schilling, Bronson Arroyo, and Matt Clement. As such, he predicted that they, along with others such Russ Ortiz and Odalis Perez, were the most likely to have a bounce-back season just from getting back to their norm. Now I thought to myself, it is very likely that Bill James or another of the intelligentsia in the front office in Boston already has this information or something even more complex in scope. How did the team deal with this info?

Well, number one they have all three back and likely to be in the rotation this season. Despite all the rumors floating around over the winter, the Sox held onto Clement and Arroyo. The Red Sox also made a considerable effort to improve their defense. Sure, Curt Schilling, just by being healthy, is likely to be a much better pitcher this season. But one key to stranding runners on base is to have the fielders behind you making plays to get the pitcher out of an inning. Now the team features a gold glover in Mike Lowell at third base (Dammit, Bill Mueller is not a gold glove caliber third baseman. Sure he was better than Butch Hobson, but he is far from someone you want to start throwing out accolades at like he was Brooks Robinson. Mike Lowell at least has the hardware on his trophy case.), a huge improvement over Edgar Renteria at shortstop (looks like it was a back injury last season after all as Renteria has already been held out of portions of spring training with the balky back for Atlanta) in Alex Gonzalez, a steady second baseman in Mark Loretta (no real upgrade over the Smellhorn/Cora/Graffanino split at second base), and a HUGE improvement over old number 15 at first base, be it Kevin Youkilis, Big Papi, or J.T. Snow.

A good defense behind Matt Clement could be the difference between 13 and 18 wins. Seriously, his major problem last year was the big inning. One clean scoop by Millar, a defensive gem once-in-a-while from shortstop, etc and the inning is over and the Sox are out of trouble. Ditto for Bronson. So, yes, I think it was astute of the Sox to put some emphasis on defense this season: and they have the stats to back it up.

2. The other news I got via e-mail was the newsflash that caused many a WEEI staffer to swear under their breath and get to work: Manny reported to camp at 9:01 am. Yes, no matter babbling endlessly about the whole will he show up or not malarkey that has dominated the sports landscape. Now they have to find some sports to talk about because if Dennis and Callahan keep babbling on endlessly about crappy television shows I never watch I, and likely others, are going to be tuning them out pronto.

Technology, what a great thing. Of course, e-mail has been down all afternoon and the workplace is in absolute panic, so maybe I should cool hyping technology too much. Augh!

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