Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The End of the Melo-Drama

As I sit hear. Contemplative. Eating a bowl of Cap'N Crunch. I process the trade that's bringing Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. I knew it was coming (95- percent sure a deal was struck before Thursday's deadline), which curbed my excitement for the official news; but also, I mourned the loss of three players who brought me a lot of joy this first half of the season. So RIP (as of now) the NYK careers of Ray-Ray, Gallo and Will the Thrill. And to Timofey Mozgov; we hardly knew ye. Thanks for the dunks and early signs of promise.

Granted, getting a talent like Anthony for a group of players who, collectively, in all likelihood, will not equal his number of All-star appearances, should make even the most cynical Knicks fan giddy. Nonetheless, I feel uneasy. I worry that we are now built around two guys that demand the ball, and aren't known for their passing. I worry that GM Donnie Walsh, who has done a wonderful job of rebuilding this current Knicks team, from the bad contract abyss he inherited; was not on board for this trade. Finally, I'm downright puzzled that the Knicks, a team with all the power and leverage as the deadline approached (with the Nuggets in risk of having nothing to show for its inevitably bolting superstar), giving into Denver's demands like the world's worst hostage negotiator.

Still I digress, because the last thing I want to do is eat my words by bad-mouthing this deal, and because all it will take is a string of wins to make me forget the names Felton, Gallinari and Chandler for good. Still it's important to break down the players and scenarios in a basketball sense, since that is what it all comes down to - the play on the court. First a rundown of what's gone from the Garden...

Danillo Gallinari - Some people may lean towards Felton, but this was clearly the toughest loss in my opinion. Aside from being one of the best long-range shooters in the league; Gallo is also a deceptively good athlete, who's made amazing strides at getting to the basket in his first three seasons (avg. six ft attempts this season, at a stellar 89 percent clip). He's also averaging close to a steal per game, highlighting his aggressiveness on D, and never turns the ball over. Plain and simple, Gallo is not a one-trick-pony (ie: a 3-point specialist), and has a bright future in this league at age 22.

Raymond Felton - I will spend limited time on Felt for two reasons; 1) we are replacing him with Chauncey Billups, a proven veteran and better shooter (albeit slower than Ray-Ray) and 2) if the master plan is to get Chris Paul or Deron Williams running the point next season, then Felton had to go. Still, he was playing his heart out in D'Antoni's system, and the team will have to adjust without him pushing the ball up the court with such tenacity.

Wilson Chandler - When you consider that Carmelo is literally his replacement on the wing, this loss is very easy to take, even for Knicks fans that grew quite fond of Chandler; myself included. Will is a versatile player who can shoot, contest shots (still averaging an impressive 1.4 blocks per game), and does it all in an efficient manner (46.7/35.1/80.7 in FG/3PT/FT, and only 1.3 TO, in a fast-paced offense.)

Timofey Mozgov/Anthony Randolph/Eddie Curry's expiring contract - Mozgov was a late add to the deal, and the part that could burn us. He can go down as a soft big man with an offensive touch, or the next coming of Vlade Divac, a finesse center with just enough mean-streak to endure a starting gig for years to come. Randolph's alleged potential took a big hit in New York, so he was clearly expendable. As for Curry, it feels liberating to finally rid his contract, even though another team will get the gratification of shedding his $11 million from the books after this season.

As for what we are getting...

Carmelo Anthony - Probably the most versatile scorer in the league right now, other than Kevin Durant. The "Durantula" is a better shooter, but no player matches Melo's ability to shoot over man-to-man coverage, drive to the basket, and post-up forwards. Still, Melo needs to play his best ball ever in New York. He needs to play inspired defense (like James and co. are doing in Miami right now), and make the scoring pass if greater opportunities present themselves.

Chauncey Billups - Likely a rental, but possibly more, Billups will have to be our guy from the outside now with Ray, Gallo, and Will gone. (Gulp. We really lost a lot of treys.) While he may lack Felton's lightning speed, it's probably a good thing we slow things down a tad, considering how strong Melo and Amare are in the half court (hopefully together).

Corey Brewer/Shelden Williams/Renaldo Balkman/Anthony Carter - Considering all the talk on how the Knicks were giving up "role players" in this trade, their roles clearly included scoring points; something these four don't do a whole lot of. Still, they are able-bodies, who will provide defense and energy off the bench; with the exception of Anthony Carter, who has no luck in cracking D'Antoni's short rotation behind Billups and Tony Douglas.

What it means for this season - The Knicks are expected to improve from this trade (I would have to imagine so), but how quickly is the question. A team that had fantastic offensive chemistry has been made over, and while Billups, Melo, and Amare is enough to keep the box scores full, an adjustment period is expected. I can see this team making a push for 50 wins, but it would take a miracle run from our top two to hide this team's weaknesses (ie: the center position, second unit scoring), and make noise in the playoffs. Still, my convictions are flawed, since I have no idea how the Melo-Amare tandem will really work. Stay tuned.

What it means for the future - It's huge. That's the overriding factor here - this trade makes New York the most desirable place for a guard to play basketball, with small and power forward locked up for years. Considering that the endgame to this saga is signing either Paul or Williams in the off-season, barring complications from the new CBA, the Knicks are in position to rival Miami's Big 3, and become a serious title contender. And that's all that matters in the end.

Monday, March 3, 2008


The Florida Marlins:

Are the Marlins on the rebuilding road to a third World Series ring?

The Florida Marlins are quite the anomaly of Major League Baseball. While like the Athletics, they employ the policy of parting with their top producing players, the team has still managed to win two World Series titles in its 15 years of existence. That’s something Moneyball has yet to accomplish. The team gutted its roster after both titles, most recently following the 2003 championship, and is now coming off a three year record decline. This winter the trend of saying goodbye to All-Stars continued, when the fish traded 3B Miguel Cabrera and SP Dontrelle Willis to the Tigers, for a prospect package headlined by OF Cameron Maybin and SP Andrew Miller. To their credit, Marlins management always seems to get the best return value when trading away their top players. Don’t forget, this is the team that netted Hanley Ramirez in the Beckett/Lowell deal. Maybin and Miller will not immediately compensate for the loss of Willis and Cabrera, and potentially, never will. But it’s not like Willis’s 5+ ERA was helping the team last year anyway. While perception would suggest that the team lost its best player again in Cabrera, it’s safe to say that Ramirez has been just as dominant offensively in his first two seasons, and just as detrimental defensively. The team is now left with the question of where their best player will go in the lineup, since he is clearly their best run scorer and, potentially, run producer. Other than that, the rotation was lacking with Willis, and didn’t really address that this off-season other than adding Miller. Unless you consider Mark Hendrickson, a starter/reliever hybrid, a hot pickup. The team is not well-rounded enough to compete in a division with two teams filled with diverse talent in the Mets and Phillies. Still, the Marlins have proven twice that they know how to rebuild, and by picking up a top offensive and defensive prospect, there are a lot of other teams to point fingers at before you bash the 2008 Florida Marlins.

The Bats: Young. With the exception of guys like Lowell and Delgado, the Marlins usually employ a very young lineup, including the departed Cabrera, who is still just 24. The team’s oldest starting player is projected to be Josh Willingham, who is 29. A young lineup won’t hurt you necessarily – the Diamondbacks somehow made it work – but in the case of the Marlins, it leaves a lot of questions for a team that simply can’t fall back on its starting pitching. Ramirez is a rare player who can hit for average, power and speed, and while I don’t foresee a huge production drop-off, I do worry about his ability to lead a team into success considering his shaky persona on defense. He definitely isn’t hurting the team, which his 244 runs over the past two years can attribute to. After him, Dan Uggla provides more power, but took a nosedive in average last year, batting .245. I suppose this year will tell if Uggla is that type of hitter, or the guy who batted .282 in his rookie year. I hear a lot of hype surrounding Jeremy Hermedia in fantasy circles, but he has yet to breakthrough, and there is uncertainty on where he will hit. Josh Willingham is a nice player, who improved in RBI and runs last year, and will be asked to do the same this season. Outside of those guys, the Marlins lineup is weak and unproven. Mike Jacobs can hit for power, but wasn’t seen much on the base pads last year with his .317 OBP. Maybin is an elite prospect, but it is uncertain how ready he is, considering a lot of scouts still think he needs more seasoning in the minors.

The Rotation: Unstable. When you consider number one starters for every team in the league, Scott Olsen is as volatile as they come. He is coming off a horrendous year in which he lost 15 games, had an ERA of 5.81 with a WHIP of 1.76, and even got arrested for DUI, resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. This will make Miller’s job in emerging as the team’s ace all the more easy. The Tigers top pitching prospect has not impressed in his two years in the majors, especially last year when he struggled in 13 major league starts – his 5.63 ERA and 1.75 WHIP was just as bad as Olsen. He does have a dominant fastball, and clean slate in Florida, where he will be inserted into the rotation albeit a truly horrible spring. After them, Sergio Mitre is a groundball pitcher who was stable during the first half of last season, but went on to get injured and produce inflated, uninspiring numbers (4.65 ERA, 1.48 WHIP and just 80 Ks). Hendrickson was a serviceable guy in the pen last year for the Dodgers, but struggled in the rotation, with an ERA over six. The problem is the Marlins are fairly set at bullpen this year, but very needy for starters. Rich VanderHurk will probably lock the fifth spot due his impressive K rate, but had an ERA bordering on seven last season. This team is literally jammed with swelling ERAs and it would literally take a pitching miracle to expect all or enough of them to get those averages down this season. When it comes to rotations, the Marlins probably have the worst staff in all of baseball.

Fantasy Favorite: Hanley Ramirez. I can’t really get too creative with this team, so I might as well state why I still think Hanram is the number two choice in drafts this season. I will start by saying that the young shortstop’s emergence last year shouldn’t have come as such a big surprise. This is a guy who hit .292, with a .353 OBP and .480 slugging percentage in his 2006 rookie of the year campaign. He also belted 17 homers, scored 119 runs and drove in 59, without a set spot in the lineup. His speed is nothing less than elite, swiping 51 bases in each of his first two years. Last year, of course, Ramirez raised every single stat possible except triples, and a lot of people are weary of his chance to repeat that. The truth is Ramirez will not have to repeat that line this year to validate a number two selection. The number with the most potential drop-off is average, but Hanley will still be able to solidify the category by batting around .310, when you consider that Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins are borderline .300 hitters. There is really no reason to expect Hanley to dip lower than 20 homers, only that he may over attempt to top last year’s 29. The main concern is where he will hit in the lineup, and what it can potentially do to his steals total. For this reason, fantasy owners high on Ramirez should pray he stays in the lead-off spot where he is an utter lock for 50 bags. It will also salvage his run total, which will go down with the loss of Cabrera, but not drastically. Ramirez is simply too versatile to pass on this stage in his career, and should continue to put up monster numbers even in a weaker lineup.

Outlook: One man show. Ramirez is a reason to be a Marlins fan, because he is simply one of the league’s most talented hitters. His defensive inability is probably more damaging to the team than most people think, so an improvement in that area is crucial. The problem is even if Ramirez was the complete player fans hope he can be, baseball is not an individual sport and the Marlins are clearly lacking other capable individuals. The pitching outlook is very gloomy, considering that Olsen is so unstable on and off the field. Miller will have the luxury of playing with less pressure than in Detroit, but his poor exposure to the big leagues is not inspiring. The Marlins are at a crossroads as a franchise, finally getting the greenlight for a new stadium to be built last month, and an extension to stay in Miami until 2046. The team will also change its name to the Miami Marlins, which certainly sounds more marketable. Still, the team needs to look no further than Pittsburgh to see that a new stadium does not equal success. For now, they are a very lopsided team that will have problems competing in the National League’s best division.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


The Oakland Athletics:

Is Moneyball officially dead?

For ten years in Oakland, General Manager Billy Bean defied the rules of running a baseball team. Instead of going after big-time free agents, with sexy power numbers or five-tool athleticism, Beane sought out cheap players who rank highly in one key stat — OPS. His strategy, dubbed Moneyball, was to accumulate a roster of players who got on base at a high clip, in the general theory that the more guys who got on base, the more guys who could come home and score. He even attributed his philosophy to pitching, going after lesser-known arms with solid strikeout-to-walk ratios. The question is — did Moneyball work? If anything, the A's have been a regular season standard this decade, making the playoffs five times. The team, however, never made it to the World Series, and only once advanced to the ALCS in 2006. Also, the team has parted with all of its marquee players along the way, a key component of Moneyball's frugal foundation. Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Johny Damon, Jermaine Dye, and the pitching trio of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito were never even considered during their departing off-seasons. Last year, the Moneyball bubble finally burst, as the A's struggled all year long and finished with a losing record for the first time since 1998. Did the scare do anything to make Beane rethink his modest approach to success? Not quite. He dealt away his best hitter, Nick Swisher, and best pitcher, Dan Haren, to completely gut what is now a very weak team on paper. The 2008 Athletics aren't only a team of faceless players; they're a team of injury-prone, young, un-proven, and in some cases, declining faceless players. An off-season fire sale has led to the acquisition of several new prospects to replenish the A's farm system, but very few returns that can have an impact this season. While he has shocked his nonbelievers before, it will be surprising to see if Beane's winning strategy will continue to thrive in a growingly competitive American League West.

The Bats: In disarray. Swisher was growing into a prime Moneyballer (100 BB last season), which makes his trade to the White Sox puzzling in my view. With him out of the picture, there's a big question mark facing the A's, more than any other team this spring, of who's going to produce in a lineup filled with position battles, platoon situations, and yes, injury woes. Last season, two guys, Jack Cust and Dan Johnson, emerged out of nowhere to go on power surges, becoming add-drop fantasy fodder in the process. Neither of them is relatively young (29 and 28), has any speed or defensive capability. Cust, however, had a .912 OPS last year, the highest on the team, making him the ideal Moneyballer of the 2008 A's. He'll probably split DH duties with Johnson, while also seeing some time in the outfield. RF Travis Buck is an up-and-comer who didn't impress me last season, but hey, an .850 OPS aint too shabby in Oaktown...I guess. 3B Eric Chavez is the perfect example of a guy who would have been playing for another team already, if he didn't decline before maxing out his Moneyball potential. If he can somehow return to the form that won him a Silver Slugger award in 2002, then the A's potentially have a face to their franchise restored. On the other side of the diamond, the A's do have a promising young 1B in Daric Barton, who hit .347 in 18 games last year. Past those guys — and 2B Mark Ellis, who belted 19 homers last season — the rest of this squad leaves you head scratching. They have OF prospects that aren't quite ready, an underachieving SS in Bobby Crosby, and a C receiving way too much credit — I don't care how cool his name sounds — in Kurt Suzuki. In an interesting note, Beane did sign former Royals slugger Mike Sweeney this off-season, who hasn't seen 500 at bats since 2001, and probably won’t this season either. So, why was he signed exactly? I wonder if his career .861 OPS had anything to do with it...

The Rotation: Crippled. Once renowned for its starting pitching, the A’s survived the departure of “The Big Three,” namely due to the emergence of Dan Haren as a legitimate ace. Well, they parted ways with him this winter, and are now without a legitimate number one for 2008. Their best starter, talent wise, is clearly Rich Harden, who has shown spurts of dominance over the past years – spurts being the key word there. Harden is probably one of the biggest injury liabilities in the whole league, having never pitched 200 innings in any of his five years. He has really broken down in the past two seasons, pitching 46 innings in 06, followed by just 25 last year. If he could just get healthy, Harden has the stuff to become as good as Harden or better. This is a huge if, however, considering how fragile he’s been. After that, Joe Blanton was treated like trade bait all winter, problem was, nobody bit. He is a very serviceable starter, who unlike Harden, logged a grueling 230 innings last season. He just doesn’t have the power or pitch placement of a top rotation guy, which is where the A’s have him pegged right now, due in large part to his durability. Chad Gaudin, a reliever-turned-starter last season, started hot, but swelled up to an uninspiring 4.42 ERA and 1.53 WHIP on the year. He is also coming off hip surgery and is shaky at best for his season debut. Like Blanton, though, he was also in the AL top ten for innings pitched, hurling 199.1 innings. The A’s will try converting another reliever this season with Justin Duchscherer, who likes to strike people out with a fairly dominating curveball. Duchscherer, however, is also coming off - you guessed it – hip surgery. So basically, three of the top four starters in Oakland are injury risks, and the other one is Joe Blanton. Either Lenny DiNardo or youngster Dana Eveland should fill out the fifth spot, if that does anything for you.

Fantasy Favorite: Huston Street. Moneyball and fantasy go together like oil and water, or lamb and tuna fish, if you must. Beane constantly deals away his best players, and is not impressed with the stats that will help you win your league, especially homers and steals. Never, will Beane’s adherence to fantasy stats be proven greater than this year. The 2008 Oakland Athletics team is a barren wasteland of fantasy studs. On ESPN’s average draft position (ADP) rankings, the highest A’s player is taken in the 12th round. The 12th! He is, of course, closer Huston Street. Now while he is not without flaw – shockingly, this A also had an injury last season – Street is still a top ten closer while healthy. He is reported to be fully ready for this season, and is not coming off surgery like the team’s other hobbled pitchers. His 2.58 ERA over three years doesn’t blow you away, but it is coupled with a very low WHIP - .94 last season. He also averages a K per inning, and if given the right opportunity, would be as close to a lock for 40 saves. That right opportunity could still come if the A’s decide to trade Street to a better team in need of a top closer. If he stays in Oakland, he will still have a strong year, but we’ll have saves ceiling of no higher than 35. The only way Street’s value can really get hurt is if A’s deal him to a team looking to use him as a setup man, which is always a possibility.

Final straw. In closing, Moneyball is a lot like a guy with great pickup lines, who can never close. It will only get you as far as you could possibly go – in this case the first round of the playoffs – but never to the promise land – the World Series. If Beane’s goal as a GM is to consistently have his team succeed in the regular season, only to fall ultimately short of the grand prize, then he is seriously cheapening his fans. While making the playoffs is encouraging, you play to win it all, and the A’s of the 2000’s have proven to be a team incapable of doing so. With that said, it’s going to be an interesting development to see how much further the A’s organization goes with Beane and his sabermetrics style of general managing. He is crafty enough to get this team competitive in a few years, especially with all the prospects he’s racked up. It has to start getting frustrating for ownership, though, seeing all your best players being the automatic ones to go every off-season, and another losing season in 2008 may finally put an end to that. The problem is, the A’s may have finally run dry of best players to lose, in the sacred art which is – Moneyball.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


By guest Jew: Meir Peer

The San Francisco Giants:

Are the Bonds-less bats the worst lineup in baseball?

For the first time in 15 years, the San Francisco Giants will be opening the season without Barry Bonds. While most people outside of San Fran should view this as a good thing, for me, it was well overdue. His controversial image, and the negative media attention, turned San Francisco into a one-man-show, and made you forget that the Giants are in fact – a baseball team. Even though they’ve had a winning record in eight of the last ten seasons, GM Brian Sabean has been tying up team funds as of late, by overpaying for players like Bonds ($15.8M one-year contract), Barry Zito ($127M over seven) and, last winter, Aaron Rowand to a five-year deal worth $60M. Losing Bonds also means losing his drawing power, leaving the team with less money to spend. Sabean will have a harder time now building a well-balanced squad for the long haul. In addition to that, the Giants haven’t had a home grown player reach 400 at bats since Bill Mueller and Marvin Bernard both reached the plateau in 2000. With Bonds gone, no superstar to showcase and seven starters over age 30, the only reason to visit AT&T Park this season will be for the beautiful woman under the hot California sun.

The bats: Ghost town. A question mark after “bats” would have been the more appropriate route, but instead, lets see if I can find some bright spots. Considering Bonds only averaged 353 AB, 27 HR, and 59 RBI the last two seasons, replacing his production shouldn’t have been a difficult task for Sabean. His first option was swapping one of his young arms, most likely Tim Lincecum, to the Blue Jays for OF Alex Rios. That never transpired, and Seaban went and pulled the trigger on Rowand via free agency. Known more as a gutsy defensive specialist for the majority of his career, Rowand took advantage of the sandbox that is Citizens Park, a fierce Philadelphia lineup and a contract year, and translated his .309 BA, 27 HR, 89 RBI and 105 R last season into an annual salary of $12M for the next five seasons. Not bad for the 300th overall pick in the 1998 draft. The problem is Rowand has only topped 13 HR twice in his seven-year career. When you factor in his transition to a pitcher-friendly ball park, in a lineup no where nearly as stacked as the Phillies, this should surely make Sabean look foolish with his free agency pickups, two years and counting (see Zito). The only other guy worth mentioning isn’t even a lock to start, though he should be, and that’s Rajai Davis. His .282 BA and 17 SB in only 51 games, after a mid-season trade with the Pirates, is a strong enough case to plug him atop the order. Manager Bruce Bochy isn’t ready to make him his lead-off guy just yet, however, but did mention that for now, it’s Dave Roberts’ job to lose. Excuse me for not mentioning Randy Winn, Omar Vizquel, Rich Aurilia, and “clean-up” hitter Bengie Molina, but I hope you can forgive me.

The rotation: Promising. Thought I forgot about them, didn’t you? Not a chance. San Francisco will have a very weak offensive team, but make no mistake about their young rotation. Tim Lincecum, whose rookie campaign (7-5, 4.00 ERA, 150 K in 146 IP, .226 BA against) showed more in potential than results, is one of the most promising pitchers in baseball. While he only turns 24 this year, yet his maturity, nasty stuff and crazy delivery should easily make him one of the best pitchers in baseball before you know it. This does, however, prove how horrible the Zito deal was, since he isn’t even the best pitcher on this team. Zito’s first season in a Giants jersey produced sad numbers, to the tune of a losing 11-13 record, and a career worse 4.53 ERA. Now I never looked at Zito as an ace, but he is much better than his numbers last year showed. I expect him to get about 15 wins this year, with an ERA down to about 3.75, The strikeout total should remain low while the walks should remain high. Another promising young arm in the Giants rotation is Matt Cain. His ugly 7-16 record from last season was a fallacy, and sure didn’t match his modest ERA of 3.65. He did K 165 batters too, and some experts claim that Cain has the potential to be among the top strikeout artists this season. He is also an innings-eater, averaging 195 over his first two seasons. At the bottom of the rotation are Noah Lowery and former reliever Kevin Correria. I had a thing for Lowry after a strong rookie campaign in 05, but after an 87 to 87 K/BB in 07, I think I’m over him.

Fantasy Favorite: Tim Lincecum. This team is just terrible, which made it even easier for me to pick. Lincecum will prove that all the hype is for real this coming season. He pitches in probably the weakest offensive division, which should definitely make his sophomore year easier on him. He’ll also have Zito carrying the whole rotation’s pressure on his shoulders, as he tries to justify his contract after a terrible first of seven seasons. I predict 15 wins, an ERA in the low threes and over 180 strike outs this year for Lincecum. He will be this team’s ace of the future.

Outlook: Terrible. No offense at all. None! I know they say pitching wins games, but you still need to put one run up on the board, which this team will struggle to do several times. Lead by Rowand, who has played his whole career in hitter friendly parks, and a lineup stacked with aging mediocre players, I expect the Giants to be last in scoring runs this season. Their pitching might keep them in games, but I fear that this will eventually frustrate the young arms, something they will cope with better with experience. Last season the Giants were tied for the second worst record in the National League, and when you look at the lineup, this year should be worse. Their 71-91 record last year should be very similar this season, but I won’t be shocked if they reach the 100 loss plateau.

Friday, February 22, 2008


By guest Jew: Jonathan Israeli

Washington Nationals:

Will the new look Nats make the power switch in their new park?

The Nationals enter this season with a team that, once again, has no standout hitter or pitcher. While the team is mediocre at best, there is a descent amount of young talent with the potential to have breakout years. Another thing to look forward to, as far as offense is considered, will be a new park that isn’t RFK Memorial Stadium. Since the Expos became the Nationals and moved to RFK three years ago, only San Francisco’s AT&T Park has yielded fewer homers than RFK - which averaged just 1.63 per game. This year the Nats move to the friendlier confines of brand new Nationals Park. Along with a new stadium comes two new players, via division mates, the New York Mets. I don’t care what anyone says; Washington totally stole Lastings Milledge. The guy has been one of the most talked about prospects in the past few years and will now finally get a chance to start at centerfield, something the Nationals and their fans are eagerly anticipating I'm sure. The other Met, catcher Paul LaDuca, might have something to prove to his former club, who acquired the guy he’s now replacing in Brian Schneider. Adding to the Mets angle, the Nat’s played spoiler last year beating New York in five of their last six games vs. each other, which contributed mightily to the Mets epic collapse. All of this should add some fuel to the Mets-Nats rivalry. Will all this new excitement translate into a successful season? Well…

Bats: On the rise. Regardless of how the Nats performed last season, it’s safe to say that everyone should see a little power boost now that they are playing in a smaller park. I mean, RFK was just big, old and disheveled; it could have easily been called Ted Kennedy Stadium. I believe that the team’s best hitters will benefit most from their new digs. 3B Ryan Zimmerman is the team’s brightest and youngest star. Over his first two full seasons he’s averaged over 20 homers, 100 RBI, while batting around .275. He’s been a doubles machine over the past two years, hitting over 40 in both, and in a smaller park a few of those doubles should clear the fence, giving Zimmerman 30 homer potential. The team has a big position battle at first, now having Nick Johnson back at full strength. It appears that Dmitri Young will get to start the season, due to his solid performance last year and new contract. The rest of the infield is pretty sub-par, yet versatile. As for the outfield, Austin Kearns is slightly above average at best. Willy Mo Pena exploded for the Nats towards the end of last year with 8 homers and 22 RBI in 37 games. If he could keep that up, he’ll be a solid bat at LF. A lot of focus will be centered on Milledge’s potential breakout. The chance of him becoming an automatic five-tool player is very slim, but at least now he’ll be given the chance to show what he’s capable of on a day-to-day basis. I see him finishing off the year with a 25, 80, .280 campaign.

Rotation: Ace-less. The Nat’s have a great anchor in Chad Cordero, but as far as their starters go, well, um…not so great. They have nothing close to an ace, in my opinion, and aren’t very solid thereafter. Shawn Hill, projected to start opening day, heads a very young and inexperienced rotation that does not yield one single season 10 game winner. Hill, a righty who just came off surgery on his non throwing shoulder, is a ground ball pitcher who sported a respectable 3.42 ERA during his brief stint last year, something the Nats would love to see him duplicate. John Patterson, the most experienced of the bunch, had one good year in 05 when he had 185 Ks and posted an impressive 3.13 ERA, but injuries have hampered his performance since. It looks like Jason Bergmann, John Lannan, and Matt Chico will round out the bottom. All are young and seem to have some potential, but it's too early too gage anything at this point.

Fantasy Favorite: Ryan Zimmerman. A resurgence at 3B in recent years, i.e. A-Rod, Wright, Cabrera, Ramirez and Braun, has caused the position to become a hot commodity in early draft rounds. Zimmerman shouldn’t go as early as these guys, but shouldn’t go too much later considering the huge drop off at the position after him. As I mentioned earlier, he’s bound to improve his already impressive numbers playing in a hitters park. He doesn’t have much speed – 11 bags in 06 dropped to 4 in 07 – he does however get on base and score runs, one shy of 100 last season. He is still very young, and while many will argue that he already has, everything is in place for Zim to really breakout this season.

Not this year. The team definitely got better, at least as far as hitting is concerned. Unfortunately for the Nats, they play in the most competitive division in the NL. With the Mets and Phillies going at each others throats for a division crown, the Braves still hanging around and being competitive, and the Marlins due for their third World Series any day now – it’s going to be impossible for such a young, inexperienced team to compete, at least this year.


By guest Jew: Meir Peer

Baltimore Orioles:

Can Markakis lead a rebuilding O’s squad?

The Baltimore Orioles enter 2008 following one of the busiest off-season's they've had in a while. This time, however, the O's were sellers instead of buyers. After coming to grips with the fact that they couldn't compete in the AL East, ownership decided to shed some salary and enter a rebuilding phase. Along with some major changes to field personnel, this will also be general manager Andy MacPhail and head manager Dave Trembley's first full season leading the team. The off-season started with the O's trading their highest paid player. SS Miguel Tejada, whose name has been attached to several trade rumors, was redeemed with a trade to Houston's homer friendly park, which could possibly resurrect his career. Meanwhile, SP Eric Bedard was working towards a contract extension, to lead Baltimore's young staff into the future. Unfortunately, a deal never came to fruition and Bedard was dealt to Seattle, where he will team up with King Felix Hernandez. On the bright side, Baltimore has to be delighted with what they received in return — a much more promising package than the one that landed Johan Santana in New York. The centerpiece of the deal, OF Adam Jones, has a five-tool arsenal and tremendous potential; even though he only hit .246 with two jacks in limited at bats last season. The O's should also benefit from George Sherrill's bullpen relief, which helped Seattle to the sound of a 2.37 ERA, .98 WHIP and 56 Ks in 47 innings last season. Similar numbers should help them cope better with the loss of closer Chris Ray, who had Tommy John surgery.

The Bats: Lacking. When I think of Baltimore's offense, I get this uncertain feeling in my stomach. Luke Scott (.255 avg., 18 HR, 64 RBI in 369 at bats last season) came over in the Tejada trade, and will look to raise his modest numbers with more playing time. 3B Melvin Mora has been on a steady decline since signing a $25 million, three-year contract after the 05 season, and I have the feeling the downward trend will continue this year. The obvious bright spots in this line up are OF Nick Markakis, who swiped a surprising 18 bases in 07 after recording only two the previous season, and 2B Brian Roberts. Markakis should continue his ascent, after batting .300 with 23 homers and 112 RBI last season. The problem here, just like in Kansas City and Pittsburgh, is the star player's supporting cast. If the Orioles want to hold on to Markakis come free agency time, they better show their franchise guy that they are working towards building a winner. Roberts, meanwhile, could find himself batting lead-off for one of the best lineups in baseball, as trade talks with the Cubbies just don't seem to go away. Regardless of his team, Roberts plays 2B and leads off, and does both very well. The role players in this lineup are mediocre at best, with the potential to do more. If this team loses Roberts, however, it will be hard to replace him in the batting order, leaving the O's with a very weak offense for this season.

The Rotation: Ace replacement. With Bedard gone, the Orioles will look towards Jeremy Guthrie to emerge as their new ace. Guthrie, who entered the O's rotation last May, had a stretch in which he allowed a run or none in six of nine games from May to June. If not for a rib injury late last season, I think Guthrie's numbers — 7-5 3.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP — could have looked a lot better. His low win total is a direct result of Baltimore's frustrating bullpen, which also prevented Bedard from having a 20 win, Cy Young caliber, season. If Guthrie can top 200 innings, get solid relief work, and a few lucky bounces on offense, 13-15 wins is a possibility. Looking at the next spot in the rotation, we find 23-year-old south paw Adam Loewen, who will be returning from season ending elbow surgery. Loewen, who stands 6"6, only pitched in six games late last year, but the O's seem to like his raw talent. This is in spite of his high walk total, 26, in just 30 innings last year. Despite that, look for him to break out this season, because for some reason, I got a feeling about this kid. Next in line is Daniel Cabrera, a perfect example of a reckless flamethrower. While he can rack up the Ks, his league-leading 18 losses last year, and proneness to leaving balls over the plate will continue to be his undoing. I have faith that the loss total will go down while the strikeouts will go up, but an ERA in the high fours seems inevitable. The tail-end of this rotation isn’t set, but Steve Trachsel was invited to camp, which always gets me real pumped. Look for Hayden Penn and Troy Patton to battle for who gets the call to fill out the rotation, and who gets a ticket back to Norfolk for more polishing.

Fantasy Favorite:
Nick Markakis. "NIKO! NIKO! NIKO!" I was actually at Markakis's home coming at Shea (Strong Island son!) two years ago, and man does he have some fans here. The Glen Cove native is my clear favorite for fantasy, and that is with all due respect to Roberts, his 2B eligibility, and his 50 steals. It's just hard to argue with a guy who goes from .291,16, 62, 2, to .300, 23, 112,18 in one season. Batting over .290 in his first two seasons illustrates Markakis's patience at the plate at the young age of 24. Add the unforeseen increase in steals, along with the jolt in RBI, and Markakis is looking a lot like Bernie Williams in his prime, minus the all-star supporting cast. Go ahead and add "the sky is the limit" to his baseball card.

Outlook: It depends. Realistically, this team can’t contend in the AL East, and management should know that after its off-season fire sale. The O’s may have even locked down last place, with Tampa looking to finally give up that claim. The truth is, Baltimore is a team looking at its future. The team is more interested in seeing its young birds blossom into a young core of hitters and pitchers. This season will be about Jones proving he was worth dealing Bedard, Guthrie maturing into the staff's ace, and of course, Markakis taking his game to a higher level, and eventually becoming the face of the franchise. Still, when you take away Bedard and Tejada and replace them with an upcoming prospect and defacto ace, improving from a 69-93 season looks unlikely. I expect a similar record for the O's this year, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Good riddance Matrix; Bring on the Diesel

(In honor of Shaq’s debut tonight with the Suns against his former team, the Lakers, here is a guest-jew column from Jose “Grampa” Soto on the deal that brought the Big Aristotle to Phoenix.)

I, a loyal Suns fan since the beginning of the 92-93 season, love this trade. I’ll start of by discussing what Phoenix gave up, Shawn Marion. A couple points if I may. First, after years of being labeled underrated, I think everyone, Phoenix management included, started to realize how overrated the Matrix was. He was making "max money", the most on the team, yet he still complained about not getting enough respect from the organization. WTF is that? The Suns have always given Marion what he wanted — the minutes, the money and a hall of fame point guard in Steve Nash to get you the ball. It’s not anyone in the Suns organization’s fault that your shot looked terrible coming out of our hands. It’s not the Suns fault that you could never shoot more than 39 percent from three-point land.

Marion complained about not having plays run for him. Well Shawn, what exactly can you do to create your own opportunities? You have no post-up game, no moves getting to the hole and a decent handle at best. Another aspect of Marion’s game that I felt was overrated was his defense. I’m going to throw some names out there, so we can think back to see if Marion locked any of them down in a crucial playoff game. For Tim duncan, Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Josh Howard and Dirk Nowitzki — the answer is no. I ask you, what’s the point of being able to guard multiple positions if you can’t even get one right?

Now, for Shaq. The Suns are third worst in the league when it comes to giving up offensive rebounds. Say what you want about Shaq, but he’s still 7”1, 325 lb. Seriously though, he’s still putting up great rebounding and blocks numbers when you consider his minutes per game. And when you look past all the hoopla of whether he’s hurt, too old or whatever else people say, anyone who watches basketball knows guys play a lot better when they are motivated. And anyone who thinks that going from a last place team to a first place team won’t motivate Shaq is in for a big surprise.

Did I also mention that the Heat had to take on that waste of skin Marcus Banks and his disgusting, four-years remaining, contract? I give the edge to the Suns big time in this deal.

Heat- C+
Suns- A