by Hal Bent, BostonSportPage.com
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS SEASON ENDS, TIME TO CATCH-UP WITH THE BOSTON RED SOX:
The Boston Red Sox finally have signed first base/catcher Mike Napoli today after word initially came out on December 3, 2012--a full 50 days later. The Red Sox had withdrawn a 3 year, $39 million contract after issues with Napoli’s hip surfaced during his routine physical. The Sox effectively removed Napoli from the job market, and signed him to a team-friendly, 1 year, $5 million contract. With incentives, Napoli can earn up to $13 million according to published reports.
This finally ends the “Who’s on First?” drama in Boston. The infield is intact at last with Napoli at first base, incumbent second baseman Dustin Pedroia, “Brother of J.D.” Stephen Drew at shortstop, and the return of top prospect Will Middlebrooks at third base. The infield is loaded with “ifs”: If Napoli can stay healthy and return to his 2011 production; If Pedroia is an MVP-caliber second baseman second only to the Yankees Robby Cano and his power numbers spike back to 2011 levels; If Stephen Drew is healthy at last and back to his 2010, pre-injury production; and, finally, If Will Middlebrooks can stay healthy, avoid the sophomore jinx, and grow that .835 OPS from last year.
The Red Sox also finished off their arbitration signings by inking lefty reliever Craig Breslow to a 2 year deal. While hardly noticed in the pre-AFC Championship Game build-up, the Sox inked all 8 arbitration eligible players extending their streak of arbitration-free off-seasons (last hearing: 2002, pitcher Rolando Arrojo). The Sox signed catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, relievers/closers-by-committee Alfredo Aceves, Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, and Daniel Bard. Washed-out, recycled former prospects and potential swing starters/long relievers Andrew Miller and Franklin Morales.
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IT’S TUUKKA TIME, IT’S TUUKKA TIME:
Hey, hockey is back! At last. Somehow that all happened while everyone (me) was engrossed in all football all the time. The Bruins, returning almost the same squad from last year, have blasted out two quick wins. The team looked like the same old Bruins, with a crisp, 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers on opening day, followed by the MLK Day shootout win over the Winnipeg Jets in the shootout after being tied 1-1.
The roster changes include bringing back the “oh my gawd, we missed you last year” forward Nathan Horton, superstar rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton, and, of course, goalie Tuukka Rask taking over for departed/hold-out/locking himself in his bomb shelter in Michigan goalie Tim Thomas and rookie Anton Khudobin as back-up. Tuukka has stepped in goal and looked strong so far this season. As the big question of the extended off-season, the job by Tuukka re-taking his number one goalie position back has been much anticipated.
The Bruins are 2-0-0 coming out of the gate so far this young, abbreviated season. A good start, with much more hockey to come.
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CHANGING THE GREEN:
The Boston Celtics have, to be nice, been extremely inconsistent. They have alternated between horrible one game, to world beaters the next. After ripping off 6 impressive wins in a row, the Celtics went back into their shell of shame and lost 3 in a row including getting blown out by the Detroit Pistons Sunday night. Losing to the Pistons by 15 was no shame, in 1988. Today, it is time to panic. The Celtics dropped back to .500 at 20-20. What now? How about it being time for patented Danny Ainge blow-out sale.
Start in the backcourt with guard Courtney Lee. Halfway through the season and Lee just is not comfortable on the court. He looks lost on defense, and is overly hesitant on offense and unsure of his role. Throw in malcontent guard Leandro Barbosa and possibly big men Chris Wilcox and forward Brandon Bass and there may be a way to package this group for another guard who can defend and a big body to throw around and eat some fouls and rebound.
Who, when, how? No idea, but that’s why Danny Ainge gets the big bucks. Something needs to change on the team. Yes, they are much improved with guard Avery Bradley in the lineup, but they still have no size, limited rebounding, and inconsistent scoring off the bench.
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SPOILED BY SUCCESS:
The New England Patriots lost to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night 28-13 in the AFC Championship Game. Predictably, the airwaves filled with a Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Bill Belichick Must Go whine-a-thon. Football is simply human beings playing a game with an oblong ball and competing against 31 other teams of great players and coaches driven by the same goal. As smart and prepared as a team may be, the other team is smart and prepared as well. Winning championships are not easy, and take work, timing, strength, study, and some luck.
The talking heads are berating the Patriots for not doing well in the playoffs, against good defenses. Wow, good defenses beat good offenses. What insight. Do these idiots remember how the Patriots frustrated the heck out of Peyton Manning and the record-setting offense of the Indianapolis Colts? Tough defense is always key in playoffs. The Patriots had a defense built around linebackers Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, and Mike Vrabel, safeties Lawyer Milloy and Rodney Harrison, defensive linemen Richard Seymour and Ty Warren, and cornerbacks Ty Law and Asante Samuel. That defense had as much to do with the 3 Super Bowl victories as much as quarterback Tom Brady, if not more so.
What the Patriots need to do now is to take the next step and build their defense back to Super Bowl winning level again. There are some pieces to build around, but a lot of work still to be done.
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