I'm not Dead Yet...
December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone.  It has been a pretty huge year in sports (and elsewhere) and probably too long since I wrote anything here.  Rest assured I still do think about things from time to time and I thought maybe it was time to post some of what's been on my mind so here's what I have:

First, I have no idea what happened to LSU football this fall (double meaning intended).  They played with no focus their last 5 games and I don't know where to attribute that. I've never been a big fan of Gary Crowton's offense - it seems needlessly baroque.  Instead of playing smashmouth with that huge and talented offensive line of  theirs and rushing the ball on a third and one, Crowton is more likely to call a double-reverse, fake flea-flicker where the QB is the primary reciever. He never does things the easy way which is fine, I guess, if you are calling plays for a pro team; not so good when your guys only have a year or two to learn the offense... and patently stupid when your QB is a freshman. The defense has talent too but they seemed to always give up big plays. I don't mind if the team gives up big plays if they are trying to make big plays but LSU created very few turnovers so this was really the worst of both worlds. To me, that's just bad coaching. The talent is there, even with the graduations, to contend for the BCS title next year but if the coaches don't do a better job of preparing the players it won't matter.

Second, the BCS won't go away until they figure out a way to spread the money around for a playoff system. The bowl system generates too much money for big conferences and networks to be supplanted by mere logic. Once (or should I say if and only if) they figure out how to divy the billion dollar pie that is spread over 20+ bowl games and put that in a 7 game play-off that will make everyone happy... then the BCS will be gone.

That said, they got it wrong again this year. Last year, Ohio State had no business being in the championship game. This year, Oklahoma has no business in the big game. Texas was the better team on the field and had it not been for a dropped interception against Texas Tech in the closing moments, they would have also had the won/loss record to be there too.  Florida should be playing the Longhorns. The title match-up that is scheduled won't be close. Florida has too much speed on defense and they'll have Harvin back on offense. Florida will score at least 40 and win by at least 20.

I was actually praying for USC to somehow make it to the championship game because I'm tired of hearing Trojan/Pac 10 fans whine about getting short-changed. I welcome a SEC champ match-up against USC; it would be an epic beat down. The Trojans always post a nice record but how tough is it to beat a conference that gets slapped around by the WAC? All I have to say to them is this: stop losing to crap teams and opt out of your "traditional rivalry" with the toothless Big 10 (as the BCS rules allow you to do) and you'll get your chance to play with the big boys. The Trojans have dodged dates with LSU and Georgia the previous two years and then whined that they didn't get any respect in the polls. They already get too much respect from ESPN but if they want respect from the people who matter, then shut up and play someone good when it counts.

Oh, and the writers got it wrong again: Tebow should have been the Heisman winner. He and the Gators scored at least 30 points against 9 of the top 30 defenses in the country and after the one-point loss to Ole Miss (who happened to be a pretty good team on their on merits), he passed for 28 TDs and only threw 2 interceptions. And again, this was against the best defenses in college. The cherry on top was Tebow's performance in the SEC championship against Bama, simply willing the Gators to victory in the fourth quarter. Bradford tallied his gaudy numbers against only 2 of the best defenses. The rest of them were cupcakes.

OK, enough college pigskin. How about baseball? I know it got a lot of publicity but I don't know that signing CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett makes the Yankees a playoff team. CC has not exactly been a world beater on the big stage and much of his brilliance last season came at the expense of NL hitters who were unfamiliar with him and against one of the weaker divisions in baseball. I'm not saying he's not a good pitcher - he clearly is - but I think the expectations are enormously high for him and Yankee fans and media do not have a history of being sympathetic when a star player fails to meet their expectations. If Sabathia gets out to a slow start like he did this year - and it's a possibility considering how much he pitched down the stretch - he will get far more negative attention than he ever got in Cleveland.

I think AJ Burnett will do well in pinstripes because I think he has the temperament for it but I'm as cautious as anyone about his injury history. I have him on my XFL team so maybe I'm a little more optimistic than I should be. C'mon, AJ, just give me one great year and then you can be injured all you want.

But as much as the pitching staff gets blamed for the Yankees failures (and I love saying those two words together), losing Giambi and Abreu will have as much negative impact as gaining two very good starting pitchers.  The Yanks appear to be out of the Teixeira bidding, so I'm not sure who they are going to acquire to make up the difference on offense.  The Swisher trade mitigates some of Giambi's production, but they are still looking at a significant drop in run scoring.  Abreu's counting numbers weren't as spectacular as Yankee fans would like, but he was still on base quite a bit and he really wasn't a slouch in the power or speed departments.  Other than Abreu himself, there really isn't anyone on the market that offers the complete offensive package he does.

A lot of the media are mocking the Nationals' chances at signing Teixeira and I have my doubts they'll be the ones who nab him but it won't because they didn't put forth a good offer. And remember, these same people scoffed at the Devil Rays chances and all but inked the Tigers for the World Series last year. In short, analysis is not something they should ever do except in the privacy of their own homes.

Here's my bold prediction.  If the Nats sign Teixeira, they will be in the World Series no later than 2010. 

Look, they are headed in the right direction even though last year's results don't show it.  No question last year was a disaster for them.  But looking at their line-up coming into 2009, it's actually pretty decent.  Last year the problem wasn't so much a lack of talent on the team but a lack of talent on the field.  Almost every starter spent significant time on the DL.  If they can keep Wily Mo Pena, Elijah Dukes and Ryan Zimmerman healthy for a full season, they don't lose 100 games in 2008.  So whatever happens as far as signings go this offseason, the biggest impact transaction the Nats will make this offseason was made when they revamped their medical staff.  Huge changes to the team philosophy about how to keep athletes healthy from the top down.  Whereas the Nats have been among the league worst the last 4 or 5 years at keeping players on the field, this year they will be one of the best. 

Last season Dukes hit 13 homers and stole 13 bases in a little more than 250 at bats. When he wasn't fighting through injuries he hit .300 with a near .400 on base. If Dukes gets 550 at bats, he's a top 10 outfielder.  Zimmerman was playing through a shoulder injury, as was Wily Mo Pena.  Zimmerman was already on a Chipper Jones/George Brett type career track.  Even if Nick Johnson can't suit up, Jim Bowden swung a deal for Josh Willingham who can fill in at first. If all those guys stay healthy, that's easily more than 100 homers worth of production. Add in good maturing years from Jesus Flores and Lastings Milledge and the Nats could have six guys with 20 or more homers. All they need on offense is a couple guys to get on base at the top and play middle infield. If Guzman repeats what he did last year (which was the first in which he stayed relatively healthy since his youthful days in Minnesota) they'd only need a second baseman. Orlando Hudson maybe?  Even if they don't get Teixeira - which would tie up an awful lot of the payroll at first base with Johnson and Meathook still collecting checks - they won't be hurting on offense. Make no mistake, I'd love to see the Nats get him, but I'm not gonna weep if they don't.  But if they do land him, that just makes their bench deeper and it enables them to match-up very well offensively in interleague road games.

The second part of the equation is the pitching. First, pitching coach Randy St. Clair is a magician. He's turned Tim Redding, Odalis Perez and Esteban Loaiza from cast-offs to legitimate free agent commodities. He should get a cut of their next contracts because he rescued their careers. But unlike Dave Duncan and Leo Mazzone, he has also done a decent job of developing young pitchers. Let me rephrase that - he's gotten the most out of the guys he's had to work with. But soon he's going to have some guys with some real upside. Jordan Zimmerman and Garrett Mock both have top of the rotation upside, and Collin Balester and Ross Detwiler will be solid. With a vastly improved medical staff, St. Clair as his coach and the Nats' stadium more pitcher friendly confines than those in Milwaukee, imagine what free agent Ben Sheets could do if he passes the physical.  No, I don't have an inside scoop... just dreaming.  But with the deals Bowden is swinging this winter it would not surprise me one bit if Sheets landed in our nation's capital.  As it is, if there is anyone who can finally harness the tremendous upside of Daniel Cabrera, it's Randy St. Clair. 

I'm reserving judgment about Omar Minaya's moves this winter. They could payoff big if KRod's velocity returns and Putz is healthy AND accepts a set-up role without too much complaint. But those are big ifs. And they still need some guys to start games.

I'm with Keith Law 100% on how the Phillies handled their left field situation. They prefer Raul Ibanez to Pat Burrell? I can't think of a single reason why... I guess that's why I'm not working for the Phillies.  They also signed 46-year old Jamie Moyer for two years? How did these guys win a championship with decisions like this? Sometimes dumb luck trumps everything else.

The Cubs signing Ryan Dempster for four years was a bit silly, too. The guy had one good year in a 12-year career and he pitched 100+ more innings than he had in the previous four seasons. So not only is he a candidate for performance regression, but also a prime candidate for injury. Yuck.

I liked the Tigers signing Adam Everett. They have plenty of thumpers in that line-up and they desperately need someone who could catch the ball. A healthy Granderson will help but Everett is Vizquel-in-his-prime-good at short. I'm not buying his ability to hit, but he should help their pitching immensely with his fielding.

I also think that Kerry Wood in Cleveland will be pretty significant. The Tribe's biggest issue the last few seasons was closing out games and Wood is definitely an upgrade over what they've been using.

Felipe Lopez might not be too bad in Arizona if he can stay motivated.   I've never talked with him but just from observation over the last three or four years, Lopez strikes me as a guy who will do well in a hitters park and poorly in a pitcher's park because his confidence tends to snowball either way.  If he's doing well it gets better; if not he goes down the tubes.

Well, that's all for now.  I'm sure I've forgotten something.  If so, I'll post more sometime around the new year.  Enjoy your holiday.  Namaste.

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