Wednesday, July 29, 2015

3 Trades Neal Huntington Should Consider Making

The MLB trade deadline is just days away and this is the year that the Pirates should be making a big move that can get them into deep October.  If the Pirates knew that they wouldn’t have to play in a win-or-go-home game to start the playoffs, I think that they would be more aggressive before the deadline.  However, the memories of Madison Bumgarner striking out 10 while throwing a complete game 4-hitter last October may be sticking in the backs of some of the executives heads.  Is it worth going “all-in” with the likelihood of your season still coming down to a 1-game playoff?

The Pirates are currently 5.5 games back of the 1st place Cardinals.  They do still play each other 9 times (6 @ StL, 3 @ PNC), but even in the unlikely chances of the Pirates winning all 9 of those games, they still may not win the division.  The Pirates have a much more difficult schedule than the Cardinals the remainder of the season, including 6 against the Dodgers (3 home, 3 away), 3 in New York against the Mets and 4 against the defending World Series Champion Giants.  It would seem that the Pirates are playing for a chance to host the Wild Card Game for the 3rd straight season.  So again, how much should the Pirates be willing to give up at the deadline, just to have the chance of running into a Clayton Kershaw, or a Madison Bumgarner or maybe Zack Greinke in a 1-game playoff?

I for one, think that this year, is the start of about a 3-4 year window that the Pirates should have a legit chance to compete for the NL Pennant and World Series every year.  With that being the case, I have put together 3 trades that I think the Pirates should consider making before the 4pm deadline Friday.

Pirates Get:
SP - David Price
OF - Yoenis Cespedes
Tigers Get:
SS – Cole Tucker (#10 prospect)
SP – Nick Kingham (#11 prospect)
OF – Willy Garcia (#13 prospect)
*Probably will cost another player, a 20-30 range pitching prospect

Both Price and Cespedes are free agents at the end of the 2015 season and there is no chance that the Pirates would sign either one during the off season, so this move would be the Pirates pushing in the chips for this season.  The Bucs were rumored to be close to acquiring Price last year at the deadline before the Tigers made a last second move and got him from Tampa, so we know that the organization likes him.  As for Cespedes, the Tigers have to be shopping him, because not only is he in the final year of his contract, but Detroit will not receive a compensatory pick if they lose him in free agency either.  If you are the Tigers you might as well get something in return for him now.  The problem right now is that somehow the Tigers still believe that they are in the AL Wild Card Race.  They are 4 games under .500 and have lost 6 of their last 8 to some of the worst teams in the league, yet for some reason they are still standing pat and have not become sellers.

As for the return for those 2 All-Star rentals, that is always tough to judge, but I am trying to go based off what the return has been for similar players so far this year.  Johnny Cueto, also a rental starting pitcher, cost the Royals 3 pitching prospects.  The Reds received the Royals 2nd overall prospect and 2 lower tier prospects for Cueto.  Price should draw a comparable return.  When you add Cespedes to the deal, those 2 other pitching prospects that the Royals gave up for Cueto, cause the upgrade to Garcia and Kingham.  Garcia is an outfielder that has played about half the 2015 season in AAA Indianapolis, so he is someone that is on schedule to make his Major League debut at some point in the 2016 season, at the age of 23.  Kingham was one of the top pitching prospects in the Pirates organization before undergoing Tommy John surgery at the beginning of this season.  Kingham already has over 100 innings at the Triple-A level, so once healthy he is a player that should be a contribute quickly.  Tucker is the top prospect in the deal, is was the Pirates top pick in the 2014 draft.

For the Pirates, adding Price would give them a major boost in the starting rotation the rest of the season, making roughly 12 starting after the trade.  More importantly, it would give them a much more formidable playoff rotation if they do get past the wild card game.  Having a 4-man playoff rotation of Gerrit Cole, David Price, AJ Burnett and Francisco Liriano would be among the best group of starters that any team could roll out for a playoff series.

With Cespedes, the Pirates get a big right handed bat in the outfield to platoon with Gregory Polanco as well as much needed bench depth.  Right now the right handed option off of the bench is Sean Rodriguez, who is a career .224 hitter.

THE DIVISION DEAL: Cincinnati Reds
Pirates Get:
RP – Aroldis Chapman
OF – Marlon Byrd
Reds Get:
OF – Austin Meadows (#2 prospect)
P – Clay Holmes (#18 prospect)
*Again, you would probably see the Pirates adding another low level prospect to make this trade happen.

The big get for the Pirates in this deal is Chapman.  It might take a while for some of the guys in the clubhouse to warm up to him, but he would certainly make the bullpen, and more importantly, the team better.  Chapman is one of, if not the hardest throwing closer in the game right now.  Another power arm in your bullpen is never a bad idea, (see KC Royals last year).  I don’t know exactly how he would fit in the back end of the bullpen setup right now.  I would imagine that he immediately becomes the Closer and it just bumps Watson and Melancon down a notch.  Watson working the 7th and Melancon the 8th.  Both Watson and Melancon seem like the type of teammates that would be willing to swallow a little pride if it helps the team in the long run.  Chapman also has another year of control in his contract, which is his last year of arbitration.  It is doubtful that the Pirates would extend him, but even if they don’t, he is more than a rental.  He probably sees action in 80 to 90 games with the Pirates through the 2016 season.  That is the reason that the Pirates would need to give up a prospect like Austin Meadows to get someone like Chapman.  The Reds are in rebuild mode and getting a former 1st Rd pick like Meadows would certainly help that process moving forward, especially since the Reds are shopping both of their corner outfielders at the deadline (Jay Bruce is the other).

As for Byrd, Pirate fans already know what they get with him.  He was acquired by the Bucs via a waiver trade in 2013.  In 30 games with the Pirates in 2013 he hit .318 with 12 extra base hits.  Byrd would likely be a rental player, like he was during the 2013 season.  He does have a vesting option for 2016 at $8M, but he would need 550 plate appearances for that to kick in, which is unlikely, since he has just 309 so far this season.  Byrd would be filling a similar role as laid out for Cespedes.  He would be the right handed bat replacement for Polanco as well as immediately becoming the best right handed bat available to Clint Hurdle off the bench.

Pirates Get:
SP – Cole Hamels
OF – Jeff Francoeur
Phillies Get:
P – Tyler Glasnow (#1 prospect)
OF – Meadows (#2 prospect)
C – Either Reese McGuire (#6 prospect) or Elias Diaz (#15)
INF – Alen Hanson (#5 prospect)

The 2 biggest question for every team interested in acquiring Cole Hamels is 1) Will he waive his no trade clause to allow a trade to your team?  And 2) How much money will the Phillies eat of the roughly $90M that he is owed over the next 4 years?

It seems like Hamels wants out of Philadelphia pretty badly, so he is likely going to waive his no trade clause for any team that is in contention.  As for the money involved from the Phillies, that is where things get interested.  The Phillies want to start over and dump the bad contracts that were signed under Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro, Jr. (since 2009).  Philadelphia still owes Ryan Howard roughly $48M over the next 2 years, but they clear the contracts of Cliff Lee, Chase Utley and Jonathan Papelbon after the completion of the 2015 season.  Lee and Utley will both not have options picked up and Papelbon was just traded to the Nationals on Tuesday.  This allows the Phillies to eat more of Hamels contract to get a higher return for their ace.  Now they just have to decide whether they want to be rid of him completely and take less in a trade, but clear his contract. Or do they want a higher return so therefore are more willing to eat some of his remaining contract.  The only way the Pirates make this move is to have Philadelphia take a large chunk of that contract.  The Pirates have done this before (Wandy Rodriguez and AJ Burnett), and with the depth they have in their farm system, they could do it again.  In this circumstance I have Philadelphia taking on $30M of the $90M remaining on Hamels contract.  That gives the Pirates the rights to Hamels for 4 years at $15M a year out of pocket.

For the Pirates, not only does it give them a top of the rotation type talent in Hamels, but it give them long-term stability in that rotation.  The top 3 in your rotation becomes Cole Hames (through 2019), Gerrit Cole (2020) and Francisco Liriano (2017).  Charlie Morton is still under team control through the 2017 season and Jeff Locke though 2018.  Those 2 will help bridge the gap for prospects like Nick Kingham and Jameson Taillon to work their way back from injuries and possibly into the Majors. 

Jeff Francoeur becomes a throw in on this deal, doing the same as Cespedes and Byrd on the previous 2 deals, although not as flashy of a name as the others.  He is a steady right handed bat that can play defense.  A career .262 hitter, who has found a bit of power this year, hitting 9 home runs this season, the most he has had since the 2012 season.

The Pirates would rather not give up players like Glasnow, Meadows, Hanson and McGuire or Diaz, but they have the depth to do so.  Glasnow is still at least 2 years away and as mentioned before the rotation would be in pretty good shape with Hamels in it for the next 4 years.  Meadows has been very good from Day 1 after being selected with the 9th overall pick by the Pirates in the 2013 draft.  He has batted over .300 in every league that he has played in so far through the minors, but he also is still probably 2-3 years away, being just 20 years old.  But Meadows plays outfield a position that the Pirates have locked in place for the foreseeable future.  Andrew McCutchen is under contract through 2018, Starling Marte through 2021 and Polanco through 2020.  That plus some other young talent in the organization in the outfield makes Meadows expendable.  Alen Hanson is a player that at the beginning of the year nobody would have expected to be expendable, but the play of Jung Ho Kang changes that.  Many Pirate fans (and some front office personnel) have penciled Hanson in as the replacement for Neil Walker at 2nd base after the 2016 season, but that role can now be filled by either Josh Harrison or Kang.  As for the catcher position, the Pirates are suddenly pretty deep their after years of nothing in the minor leagues.  In fact, they are looking at a log jam at the position unless they move 1 of them.  The Phillies currently have Carlos Ruiz behind the plate, he is 36 years old and signed for the next 2 years.  They don’t have much behind him either.  Adding a player like Diaz or McGuire to this deal would be exactly what the Phillies need.  Diaz is much closer to the big leagues, as he could probably start next year in the Majors with most clubs.  McGuire, the 14th overall pick by the Pirates in 2013, has the bigger upside, but he is still a few years from being ready to step into the role of everyday catcher.  Once again, the Pirates can afford to lose either one of the 2 catchers and still be fine moving forward.

Now, I do believe that the Pirates will be active over the next few days and that they will make some moves.  I could see them adding some depth in the bullpen and maybe a bat off the bench.  However, I don’t expect any of these trades to be made by Neal Huntington and the Pirates by Friday’s deadline.  I do think they are all fair and reasonable trades on both ends that would benefit both teams in each situation.  I think that any and all of the trades would help the Pirates win this season, and in some cases in the future as well.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Sports Fix : Major League Baseball's All-Star Monday

We are starting a new section of The Rant called The Sports Fix.  It is exactly what it sounds like.  We find things in the sports world that need changed for the better.  Some of these items may be small ideas, just tinkering with the sport or event.  Others maybe complete overhauls.  Deep down I feel like I should be the commissioner of every sport, so this in my little way of doing that, even if it is just in a blog.

With the Major League Baseball All-Star Break upon us, our first Sports Fix is the skills challenge, or lack thereof.

Sure they have the Home Run Derby, which I give tons of credit to MLB for fixing this year to make it a shorter and simpler event (although the “extra time” thing is stupid).  I enjoyed the tournament style format in this year’s derby and the timed rounds created some real excitement at the end of each round.  Heck, Albert Pujols hit the 1st ever Buzzer Beater in MLB history to win his 1st round match-up.  What I want to see, is more of that.  More great athletes displaying their amazing skills on the field.  I want find out who the fastest players are.  I want to find out who the smoothest shortstops are and who covers the most ground.  I want to watch the best arms in the game throwing from the outfield.
Instead we get a celebrity softball game that nobody watches because it is full of C-List stars.   Would you rather see Chad Lowe, Chad not Rob, play softball or Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon racing around the bases?  Andy Dalton, the Bengals QB, got booed at the softball game, but we are watching him play instead of watching Carlos Correa pick it at shortstop.  If “celebrities” like Miles Teller, Charissa Thompson, Cole Swindell and Justin Moore play softball and nobody is around to watch it, did it really matter? And I swear I didn’t make up any of those apparent celebrities, they all took part in this year’s game.  But we get that, instead of watching Yasiel Puig try to out throw Yoenis Cespedes.

Let’s break these down one at a time and figure out which ones are realistic and how we can make them happen.

This one is the easiest to do, with so many fun ways to do it.  Do the players run from 1st to 2nd like they are stealing bases?  Do we find out who is fastest going from 1st to 3rd?  Or maybe 3 bases, whether it be 1st to home or home plate to 3rd base.  No matter which way you decide to do it, it is bound to be exciting and entertaining.  Since I’m doing The Fix, I’m choosing that they run from 1st to home.  That is always an exciting play and it allows the guys who to kick it into overdrive as they are rounding 3rd on their way home.  The downfall in all of this is that the runners can’t actually race each other.  They will have to run one at a time and use electronic timers for official times.  It is not ideal, but it is how they do that for the NFL Combine and millions of people sit on their couch watching lineman run 40 yards with this method.  I think watching the fastest players in baseball run around the bases might be a little more compelling television.

They have 8 hitters in the Home Run Derby.  I think that is a good number for these other skill competitions too.  8 runners total, 4 from each league seems ideal.  You would want to give each runner at least 2 attempts, top time wins.  The order for the 1st round would be a complete random draw, the 2nd round would be reverse order of the 1st round times.  (If you had the best time in the 1st round, you get to go last and see what you need to beat before you go again.) 

I would imagine there would be a lot of guys that would want to take part in something like this.  So many players build their game on speed; this would be the ultimate bragging rights for those players.  Did anyone see Billy Hamilton steal a base this weekend on a throw back to the pitcher?  Yeah, we need to see him in a contest like this.  To pick the contestants we can either use the players with the most triples or the most stolen bases, or a mix of both.

Time for the “Tom Emanski Outfield Assist Contest”, in which in a perfect world, Fred McGriff would present the winner with their trophy.

Everyone knows that there are players in baseball that you don’t run on, but now we are giving them a chance to prove which the absolute best are.  The logistics for this one are a little tougher than the Fastest Runner Contest, due to the multiple positions in the outfield.  Nevertheless, it can certainly be figured out.  For this contest you would have to use a mix of time and accuracy for scoring, which complicates things, but not too much.  The excitement level may not be on the level of the base running or Home Run Derby, but for the die-hard fans that love and appreciate good defense and a hose from the outfield, this could be pretty fun.

Again we use 8 outfielders, 4 from each league.  Each outfielder gets 16 throws, 6 from right field, 6 from left field and 4 from center field.  From right field you get 2 fly balls, throwing 1 to 3rd and 1 to home plate.  You get 2 ground balls and make the same throws.  Your final 2 throws are to 2nd base, 1 from the corner and the other from the gap.  From left field you have 2 throws to home plate, 1 on a fly ball and 1 on a ground ball.  You also get 2 throws to both 2nd and 3rd.  Both of those throws come from the gap and the corner.  In center field you have 4 throws, 2 to 3rd and 2 to home plate.  1 throw for each comes from a fly ball, the other from a ground ball.  Each throw is judged/scored based on the time it takes to get to the ball and to the throw to get to its target as well as it actually hitting its target.  The target would just be a simple net set up, maybe 4x4 or something at each base (or we can use the garbage cans like Emanski). 

The best way to score this event is using a clock to time how long it takes the outfielder to get to the ball, and then throw it to its target.  He ball must reach its target on 2 or fewer bounces.  If it misses the target or bounces more than twice, there is a time penalty added to the fielder’s total time.  To start, each outfielder throws from left field, then they all move to center field, and finally they all finish from right field.  In this competition you don’t need a final round.  Best total time wins.

This is probably the toughest to do, simply because the shortstops in baseball are almost entirely at that level because of their gloves.  Yes, some can hit as well, but the vast majority are there because they are smooth and consistent in the field.  What makes this contest difficult is that you need players to fail for the contest to be success and with them being the absolute best in the world, it may be tough.  But if we could pull it off, it sure would be fun to watch.

In this contest we only use 4 contestants, 2 from each league.  The main reason for just 4 is that normally there are only 2, maybe 3 shortstops per team to make the all-star game.  We could use any middle infielders or maybe even 3rd basemen, but we all know the best fielders are at SS, so let’s just keep it to them.  In this challenge we set up 2 boundaries, 60 feet apart, at the SS position.  The fielders will have 1 minute to field as many balls hit to them.  All the balls will be between the boundaries and will be randomly placed hits.  The shortstops job is to field and throw as many balls as possible in that time.  The player that successfully fields and throws accurately the most balls in 1 minute wins.  Being that this challenge is being held at SS, I think it is only fair to allow the position player to throw to both 1st base and 2nd base, but we have to limit how many throws they are allowed to throw to 2nd since it is a considerably easier throw.  I say 5.  There will be a player covering both 1st and 2nd base.  For it to be a successful conversion, you would need to field the ball cleanly and make a throw to either bag, which doesn’t pull the man off the bag.

I don’t believe there would be any need to have more than 1 round in this challenge, however a tiebreaker would be a :30 round in which you could only throw to 1st base.

So there you have it.  Three new skills challenges to add to the Home Run Derby instead of the god awful C-List Celebrity Softball Game. 

If you have any ideas or comments to make this even better I’d love to hear them.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Fixing Baseball's Mid-Summer Classic

I love baseball. At any level, it is a great sport.  It’s actually my favorite professional sport.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some flaws in how things are done in the sport.  This week, one of the biggest flaws in Major League Baseball is on display.  The All-Star Game.

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is by far the best all-star game out there.  The NFL Pro Bowl is glorified flag football and now that it is played before the Super Bowl, players from the two best teams in the league don’t even play in it.  The NHL All-Star game is a joke too.  Part of what makes hockey fun and exciting is the aggressive and physical nature of the game, yet in the all-star game they don’t hit each other.  The NBA All-Star game is no better.  This year there were more 3-point shots taken in the game than 2-point attempts.  There was 321 points scored in this year’s NBA All-Star game, almost double what was scored in an average regular season game.

One of the great things about baseball and their all-star game is that the play on the field is the exact same as in a regular season game.  It is not dominated by the hitters, because you have the best pitchers in the world on the mound and their sole job is to get batters out.  It also is not dominated by those pitchers, because the hitters that are at the plate are also some of the best in the world, and those guys rake even against the best.

The problem with the MLB All-Star game is not what happens on the field, it is what happens leading up to the game and in the clubhouses and dugouts during the game.  The game itself is fantastic, but how it game is put together is the problem.

Major League Baseball has overthought the process and the ideals behind their all-star game.  And like many things wrong with baseball, we have Bud Selig to thank for the errors in the all-star game as well.

Ever since the 2002 tie game in Milwaukee, the MLB All-Star game has had added value and meaning.  Due to the uproar of not playing until there was a winner in that 2002 game, Major League Baseball decided to not only always play the game to completion, but to also reward the winning team by giving that league home field advantage in the World Series.  For over 100 years, home field advantage in the World Series alternated between the two leagues.  Suddenly, because of one bad decision from the former commissioner (calling the game a tie after 11 innings), he over reacted and made another (giving a showcase game that is meant to be an exhibition real importance).

If the all-star game is going to be an important game that has significant meaning, (which it is, that is toothpaste out of the tube at this point, there is no going back) then let’s play it like a real game.

Yes, that is Kevin Correia on an all-star roster.
From 1969 until 1997 teams had a 28 man roster for the All-Star Game.  That number has been expanded 4 times in 18 years.  In 1998 they expanded to 30.  In 2003, the year following the 7-7 tie debacle, they expanded to 32 players.  In 2009 it moved to 33 per team, and now we have a 34-man roster.  Why do we need 34 players per team to play 1 game of baseball?

During the regular season, there is 25 guys on every team.  For the All-Star Game each team has 34 players.  If this game is going to have as much importance as a regular season game in late September, shouldn’t we be playing by the same rules in both games?  If Game 7 of the World Series has 25 men per team, don’t you think the way we decide who the home team in that game should also be played with 25 men?

Last year 81 players were selected for the game, including 13 that chose not to participate.  In 2011, 84 players were selected due to injuries and/or player unavailability.  In the 3 of the last 5 All-Star Games 80+ players were declared “all-stars”.  That means we are now considering over 10% of the players in baseball to be “all-stars” on a regular basis.  Since when did Major League Baseball become some rec soccer league giving out participation medals?

Sorry fans, but you are out. 

This game now means something, we don’t need fans from random city stuffing the ballot box to get some schlup that can’t bat his weight into a game that determines who hosts Game 1 of the World Series.

Derek Jeter had a great career and was a great ball player, but last year he had career lows in hits (147), runs (47), RBI (50), doubles (19), home runs (4) and batting average (.256) as well as being a career worst 0.2 Wins Above Replacement.  Last year he was elected the starter to the American League team.  I understand that it was his swan song since he was retiring at the end of the season, but if you are playing for keeps, you can’t be sentimental.

While we are at it, let’s leave the fans out of it too!

You want to know how we cut the rosters back to 25 from 34, we get rid of the rule that every team must be represented in the All-Star Game.  Guess what, if your team sucks, you may not get a player on the team, it really is that simple.

Who knows the players in the league better than the players themselves?  Well, I guess maybe the managers, coaches and GM’s.  So let’s have those groups of people make these important decisions. 

If you want to still have starting in the game mean something you select the teams this way:

PLAYERS - Every players from every team can cast one ballot for their league.  The top vote getters amongst players are the starters in the game.  What better honor than to be selected by your peers to start in an all-star game?
COACHES/MANAGERS - Every Managers and 4 other coaches from each team can cast one ballot for 1 hitter, 1 starting pitcher and 1 relief pitcher.  Again, the top non-starters in each position, make the roster.
TEAM MANAGER - Manager of the all-star team adds 1 player from the 3 positions voted on by the other managers and coaches in the league.
GENERAL MANAGERS - Every General Manager, with the help of the team manager for the game, select the remaining bench players for the game.  This could be done via ballot or conference call type discussion.

If you build the team with 2 players at every position in the field that allows you to have 9 pitchers and still be at 25.  I’d even be willing to expand it to 26 if you are using a DH (which now they use every year anyway).

When you consider what is at stake in the game, these really are some easy fixes.  Let’s make it happen!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Phil Kessel Not The Answer For The Penguins

The Pens think THIS GUY is the answer to all their problems. He's not.
I'm going to make a prediction that Phil Kessel will get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup as a Penguin the exact same amount of times as I will. (sidenote: I can't skate!)

This has nothing to do with Kessel not being a talented player, it has everything to do with me not trusting the Penguins organization to do the right thing.  It is about the Penguins once again trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Management and Ownership of the Penguins seem to think that their team is close to winning another Cup.  They aren’t.

Here are the facts. 

The Penguins needed a win in the final weekend of the regular season to even secure a spot in this year’s playoffs.  They were the worst team in the Eastern Conference point-wise to make the playoffs, and only Calgary in the Western Conference had a lower point total of teams to make the playoffs.  By that math, they were 15th of 30 teams in points last season.  If that isn't average, I don't know what is.  And average teams aren't one guy away from winning a championship.

This team lost in the 1st round of the playoffs in just 5 games.  That is the fewest amount of playoff wins the team has had in a post season since the first year of the Sid-Geno-Fleury Era, when they lost in 5 games to the Senators.

This team had 49 points after 32 games this season, then got just 49 more in the final 50 games, finishing with a losing record in those final 50 games.

How does one player suddenly make a team with so many needs, and so many faults, a serious Cup contender?  The answer, they don't.

The Penguins need a reboot, but management doesn't see that.  Instead they will continue waste away the prime years of two superstars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as they attempt to find quick fixes instead of rebuilding the team for years to come.

The Penguins have put all their eggs in one basket with Kessel, all the while ignoring the fact that he doesn't fit the team in the biggest areas of need.

The Penguins need a gritty goal scorer.  They need someone that will camp in-front of the net and make it his job to screen the goalie every time the play is in the offensive end.  They need a big physical player that will throw their body around.

This is not what Phil Kessel does.

Kessel is a goal scorer, and a damn good one at that.  He has scored 30+ goals in 5 of the last 7 seasons.  He isn't a grinder.  He won't win pucks out of the corner.  He won't sit in front of the net on the power play or get ugly goals by crashing the net.  And he certainly doesn't play both ends of the ice.  He was a -34 this past season in Toronto, which was the 2nd worse in the NHL.

Will Kessel help the Penguins?  Of course, but not in areas they need it the most.

Yet the Penguins ownership and management think that Kessel is the solution.  So much so that they are now on the hook for $47.6M over the next 7 years.  So much so that  instead of getting multiple pieces that fill the needed roles for the team at a much lower cost, they will pay $6.8M a year to a guy that fills none of them.

Then again, this should surprise no one that has followed this organization.  This is the organization that has been putting band-aids over gunshot wounds since they won the Cup in 2009.  The same organization that has traded away more draft picks (32) than have had players drafted make it to the NHL (22) over the past 10 years.  (They traded another 1st round pick away to get Kessel, making it 3 straight years that they will not have a selection in the 1st round of the draft.).  It is the same organization that with Kessel, has now tied up 53% of their salary in 5 players.

If you want to win, you have to make tough choices.  You have to trade guys that fans like.  You have to cut ties with players that have given their all for you.  You have to be willing to part ways with guys that won with you and that the organization has been built on.  You have to be willing to trade anyone on your roster if it will help your team in the long run.  I do mean ANYONE, including Letang, Fleury, Malkin and even Crosby.

The Penguins won’t make these type of moves, and because of that, they won’t be engraving Phil Kessel’s name into the Stanley Cup any time soon.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

THE NFL DRAFT: Where Brilliant Men Become Idiots

One would think that if you are put in charge of running a billion dollar business, you are probably pretty intelligent.  25 of the 32 NFL franchises are valued at $1B or more.

Tonight however is the annual test to that theory, the NFL Draft.  The event that causes coaches and general managers all across the league to turn into amateur gambler on their first trip to Las Vegas.

Coaches, GM’s, CEO’s and Team Presidents scrap business models that they have been working on for months and some cases years, in a matter of seconds to make a bold, and in most cases a stupid impulse move.

To win in the NFL today, you need 3 things, a franchise quarterback, a strong offensive line and a dominant defense.  You can probably be successful with just two of those three, but most serious Super Bowl contenders have all three.

It seems most teams are aware of this not-so-secret recipe for success in the NFL, yet year in and year out we see teams make awful mistakes on Draft Day as they try to build a champion in one day rather than over an extended period of time.  Maybe this has to do with unrealistic expectations of a fan base or the impatience of ownership, but for whatever reason, this happens just as often as those awkward Man-Hugs that Roger Goodell will be giving out tonight.

Franchise Quarterbacks don’t grow on trees.  For most teams they are a once in a generation luxury.   For instance, this year there is no franchise QB’s in the draft.  Yet teams are fighting for the rights to get Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.  Both are nice quarterbacks who were fantastic college players, but will probably be more likely to battle for starting spots throughout their careers than battle for Super Bowl titles.

Tampa Bay, and most likely Tennessee, will select these two quarterbacks with the first two picks in the draft instead of building a winning team with the other two ingredients needed for success in the NFL.  Tennessee allowed the 6th most yards and 3rd most points in the NFL last year.  Tampa allowed the 8th most yards and points last season.  So maybe drafting a game-changer on defense is the best option for them.  It certainly couldn’t hurt and we know that this draft has plenty of defensive stars in it.  Or maybe they could address the offensive line.  No team allowed their QB to get hit more than Tampa last year (124 times).  Both Tennessee and Tampa finished in the bottom 7 in rushing yards and sacks allowed last season as well.  It is pretty safe to say that both teams would certainly benefit from drafting a stud offensive lineman.

However, that is not how this NFL works on Draft Day.  Draft Day is the day that general managers throw all common sense out the window.  They ignore the fact that drafting Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota or the next Tom Brady or Peyton Manning won’t matter if your offensive line couldn’t stop the local Pop Warner from planting him into the ground.  They ignore the fact that their defenses gave up over 40 points in a game a combined 5 times (3 by TEN, 2 by TB) last season, while holding the opponent to single digits just once (Tampa). 

Also the pressure and expectations put on these rookie quarterbacks is crazy.  Rookie quarterbacks were never expected to walk in and start from day 1 until recently.  Ben Roethlisberger had unprecedented success as a rookie and ever since it is believed that is the norm rather than the exception.  Let’s remember, that even though Roethlisberger won his first 15 games as a starter his rookie year, he also was not the starter to begin the year.  He only became the starter after an elbow injury to the original starter, Tommy Maddox.

So now, these teams are drafting quarterbacks at the top of the draft.  Hoping they can be a franchise quarterback.  Starting them from Day 1 and expecting immediate success despite playing behind an awful offensive line and the need to put up 30+ points a game because their defense can’t keep anyone out of the end zone.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to address other issues that your team has?  There are probably numerous if you are drafting at the top of the draft.

All these teams are doing now is setting their “Franchise Quarterbacks” up for failure.  My guess is that these same two teams will be drafting towards the top of the draft next year too.

While I’m on my draft soap box… Why in the world would any team use a top 10 pick on a wide receiver?  Yes Amari Cooper and Kevin White are legit playmakers, but with so many college programs using 3 and 4 and 5 wide receivers, they have become a dime a dozen in the NFL.  Of the top 8 receivers in the NFL last year, only Julio Jones was a top 10 pick.  You can make anyone into a super star at the wide receiver position with the style of offenses in the NFL today.  Why waste a top pick on that position, when you can get the same results later in the draft?

Just another head scratcher that NFL GM’s do every draft.

Friday, January 16, 2015

This Is No Time To Celebrate Joe Paterno

To be honest, I never really understood the point of taking win away from Penn State and Joe Paterno. Any time the NCAA takes wins away from a team for any reason, I think it is kind of ridiculous. Apparently because the NCAA says so, we are just suppose to forget about those games we watched and witnessed. That being said, to me the penalty was always just a way for the NCAA to target Paterno directly for what Sandusky did. Joe Paterno knew about Sandusky and this was just their way of saying they disapproved how he handled it.
Now I don't know what to think. Is the NCAA suddenly okay with what happened at Penn State? Are they now telling us to act like Joe Paterno handled the whole situation perfectly, just like they tried to tell us that those wins never happened?
Also it is really disturbing to see Penn St fans celebrate this ruling and the Paterno family release a statement saying, "a large measure of the wrong has been righted." WHAT?! Once again the Paterno family and members of the Penn State fan base are forgetting the victims and putting football first. The same thing that got them in trouble in the 1st place. The next thing to come, and it will be only a matter of time, is the return of the Paterno statue. Which again show completely no regard for the victims and their families.
Count the wins or don't count the wins, I don't care, but let's not celebrate this man like he was some saint. Was he a great football coach, sure but just remember this when you think about his legacy... HE KNEW WHAT SANDUSKY DID! THAT IS A FACT. He admitted to it in his grand jury testimony.
That is not the type of person that anyone should celebrate or admire. Instead you should question his morals and ask why he didn't do more to stop his friend Jerry Sandusky from harming so many innocent children.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Random Rant - Ray Rice, Penn State

Monday was a big news day in sports.  Unfortunately, the two biggest stories came off the field.  The first story broke while most of America was asleep when TMZ released video footage from inside the casino elevator in Atlantic City, where Ray Rice knocked out his then fiancée, now wife, Janay.  That led to media backlash and outrage and eventually, the termination of Rice’s contract with the Baltimore Ravens.  The other major story was the removal of all remaining sanctions handed down by the NCAA over Penn State University and their football program stemming from the Jerry Sandusky Scandal.

Both are very high profile stories; both reach far outside the sports world and into the social spectrum of our society.

First, let’s start with the Ray Rice incident and the fallout from it.  To summarize, Ray Rice is a coward who assaulted a woman.  He was suspended for just two games by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, which in itself was an absolute joke, as well as being completely disrespectful to every female football fan out there.  Now, we see what actually happened on the casino elevator that night, and Ray Rice is out of a job as his former team, the Baltimore Ravens, released him.

There are so many different things that are wrong stemming from this incident and so many questions that need to be asked that haven’t been to this point, so that is where we begin.

To the NFL Owners:
How is Roger Goodell still the commissioner of your league after how poorly he handled this incident?

Please don’t let this be simply about money.  Yes, Goodell has made the league a ton of money since taking over in 2006, as the league revenues have nearly doubled over the eight years under his watch, but please don’t let that be the reason.  He has also pushed away a large portion of the female audience, which the league has worked so hard to build up, with the way he has handled this situation.  The NFL is now the punchline of jokes because of all the player personal issues that are going on league wide, and you have this guy representing you and divvying out these soft punishments.  How can you still think he is the man you want representing the shield and your league?

To the state of New Jersey and Atlantic City:
How was Ray Rice not charged with anything stemming from this incident?

Yes, you read that correctly.  Ray Rice was never charged for any wrongdoing for knocking out a woman in an elevator, then dragging her unconscious body through a hotel casino.  Atlantic City prosecutor, James McClain, decided to not file charges against Rice after he entered himself in a pre-trial counseling program.  You cannot tell me that the state Attorney General’s office didn’t have access to the hotel security videos.

To the fans of football who had the sudden outrage over seeing the video today:
What did you think happened on the elevator?  Did you really need to see the video of Rice punching his fiancée in the head and seeing her head bounce off the railing in the elevator to be upset about it?

Everyone saw the video of Rice and Palmer entering the elevator and then leaving the elevator.  What did people think happened to her when she walked perfectly fine into the elevator, but need to be dragged out of it just seconds later?  I understand that people were upset with Rice all along, but I can’t figure out the uproar Monday simply because people saw the video from inside the elevator.

To the Baltimore Ravens:
What took so long?

Somehow, people are praising the Ravens organization for releasing Rice on Monday, less than 10 hours after the video was made public.  But what about the previous 206 days since the incident actually occurred?  This is the same organization that came out publicly to support Rice and placed blame on Palmer for her role in the incident.  In fact, during a May press conference with Rice and his wife, the team even tweeted out, “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.” REALLY?!  That tweet remained up until after the team released Rice Monday afternoon.  It was then deleted from the team account.

Let’s face it, the only reason that the Ravens released Rice on Monday was to save face.  If they really felt that what Rice did in that elevator was deserving of being cut, they would have done it in February.  Or, if they didn’t think that he was punished hard enough from the NFL, they would have done it after Goodell announced that joke of a suspension.  The only reason they did it now was because the public saw the same video that the organization saw 2 months ago (according to reports).  So after all that, after everyone saw what we all pretty much could have assumed happened in that elevator, they cut him?  It was nothing more than giving into public and media pressure.  They don’t deserve any praise or credit for doing something that they should have done 5 months ago.

Now on to Penn State. 

It was announced Monday afternoon that the NCAA has removed the bowl ban for the Penn State football team effective immediately.  They also will reinstate a full roster of scholarships beginning with the 2015-16 season.

I have two lines of thinking about this decision by the NCAA.  First, the NCAA has screwed up how they have handled the sanctions from the very beginning so I’m not surprised they continue to screw it up.  And secondly, why now?

When the Freeh Report came out in 2012, the president of the NCAA announced a number of punishments for the university, the school’s athletic department, and the football program.  These punishments included forfeiting wins, sacrificing scholarships, forgoing bowl games and paying a large fine.  From day 1, I never really understood the reasoning behind these penalties.  They seemed poorly thought out and they penalized the wrong people.  I think we can all agree the events that took place leading to these sanctions were horrible and disgusting crimes and certainly, the people involved should be punished.  However, it was not something that current players at Penn State should have been penalized for.

To me, taking scholarships away and banning bowl games were two of the punishments that made zero sense.  Taking away scholarships creates safety issues.  You are demanding young kids to play more than what they are capable of because they don’t have adequate back-ups.  You are also getting undersized players, who are now playing at a level that probably exceeds their athletic abilities, because of the need of more walk-ons, just to fill out the roster.  As for banning bowl games, you are taking away a reward for the current players for something that happened when these kids were in elementary school.

As for forfeiting the wins by Joe Paterno, I understand the idea behind it, but those games happened, whether you want to acknowledge them or not.  You can’t just suddenly say games didn’t occur.  They did.  I realize that from the NCAA’s point of view, they went back to the earliest date of the scandal and wanted to erase everything that happened to Penn State football from that point on.  Unfortunately, what we all wish was erased from the scandal will never be forgotten by those victims.

So how do you punish a multi-million dollar business known as college football for a program as large as Penn State’s?  You hit them in the pocket book.  Considering Penn State spent over $20M for their football program alone last year, asking them to pay $60M over 4 years isn’t much of a penalty either.

I have said all along that Penn State should have gotten the Death Penalty from the NCAA for a two-year span.  Remember, one of the big problems according to the Freeh Report and the NCAA was the “Football Culture” at Penn State.  What is the easiest way to change a bad culture? Eliminate it. 

Had Penn State had a 2-year ban from football, they would already be back to a full roster with the ability to go to a bowl this season.  It would not have affected any current players or created safety issues for them.  Players were given the ability to transfer when the sanctions came down, and would have been able to do so had they received the Death Penalty.  Players that didn’t want to transfer and play elsewhere would have been able to stay at Penn State and get a degree from a highly regarded university.

The only other option for a penalty would have been a TV ban.  It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when you take away the revenue stream that is the TV contracts in major college football, the athletic department and football team feel it.  It also makes the team basically non-existent to the fan base that created the negative “Football Culture” the NCAA talked about.  If a 2-year Death Penalty seemed too much, I would have given Penn State a 10-year TV ban.

As for the timing of this announcement, I don’t get it. 

Penn State scheduled a game in Ireland this year to get around not being eligible for a bowl game at the end of the season.  So instead of a bowl game, the team went to Ireland.  Now, after manipulating the system, the NCAA declares that the “Football Culture” is no longer a problem at the university.  It seems to me that not much has changed if, while on punishment, the school figured out a loophole in that punishment so as to still go away on a trip for their team and their fans to take part in.  Not sure that makes much sense.

As I mentioned before, I don’t like banning teams from bowl games, but when you go above and beyond to work around the rules so they fall in your favor, you lose me a bit.  If the scholarships are coming back for the 2015-16 football season and you already know that the team has been to Ireland this year, why wouldn’t the NCAA just remove the bowl ban next year when they give the scholarships back?

Then again, why am I even trying to make sense of something the NCAA does?