Bad Contracts?

Over the past 15 years or so baseball organizations have handed out some lucrative contracts. The debate is whether or not these contracts are good or bad for baseball. A majority of owners, GM’s, and agents will argue that these contracts are good for baseball, for the team, the city, and the community. Anybody spending that kind of money better have the ability to justify shelling out those large amounts of coin. Some GM’s, coaches, and some smaller market teams might come up with an opposing argument on why paying players such fruitful contracts. Let’s play both sides of the fence.

I recently heard Scott Boras, Super-Agent, speak about how big and long tenured contracts are good for the game of baseball. He of course is biased since he takes a percentage of those same contracts that make people’s eyes pop out of their head. He brings up a good point in terms of marketability and a business investment. A player like Albert Pujols before signing his 10 year $254 million contract has earned roughly $104 million in his career thus far. Boras argues that he (Pujols) has made the Cardinals easily $150 million during his tenure as a St. Louis Cardinal. Thus signing a player like Pujols to a contract that might seem absurd to anybody else is actually a great business decision. You have to spend money to make money. That $100 million dollars wasn’t like going out and spending it on a car that would depreciate in value once you handed over the money and took the keys. It was like investing it in a stock that was sure to rise. In the business sense, yes it makes perfect sense. To a team and an owner who has that kind of money to spend it’s a great investment, but to a small market team who can’t afford it, ehh not so much. It pushes them right out of the market for a player like Pujols. That’s another reason why big market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox can pull off deals like this, because they have a large fan base. They also don’t want a player of that caliber to land on a rival team so over betting may be one way to make sure that that situation doesn’t happen.

Why is a bad decision to sign someone to such a cost-effective contract? There’s plenty of reasons; a several million reasons actually. First, most players don’t get these types of contracts when they are under 25 and it would be asinine to give such a young player a 10 year $200 million plus deal when they haven’t proven anything. Most players get them around 30 years of age give or take a few years. Let’s just say you get the deal at 30, then you’ll be 40 years old when your contract comes to an end, making the player 40. I’m not sure there is any player in baseball who is worth around $20 million a year at that age. In Pujols’ case he will be 42 years old and his contract is heavily back loaded at $30 million a year in his final year. Pujols may be the greatest hitter I’ve ever witnessed, but at 42 years old and $30 million later I’m not so sure he’s worth that. Let’s say the Angels in the next few years hit a potential snag in their finances and can only spend $100 million a year on their roster. Well 30% of that number is already locked up into one player. Can’t happen? Anything is possible just ask Mets owner Fred Wilpon, who cut roughly $50 million in payroll this year due to inflexible financial issues.

Most of these contracts are given out after a player has performed well enough to deserve such a deal. At that point most of these players are in their prime and will most likely be past their prime well before their contract runs out. Only a few players are inked to a deal right as they are hitting their prime. Alex Rodriguez was one of them. The 10-year $256 million deal he signed in 2001 came at a perfect time. Don’t forget though that he never played out the full 10 years before signing another 10-year deal at even more eye-opening $275 million. The first time he signed a 10-year deal may have been justified somehow, but the second time around, hardly. He is nowhere near the player he once was. That is no fault of his own, he’s 36 now and it would be impossible to think that he could still put up the numbers he did 6 years ago after going thru such a grueling baseball season year in and out.

Troy Tulowitzki is another example of possibly justifying getting a 10-year contract being that he is still young, getting his deal at 26. His contract also entails that he never makes more than $20 million in a given year which kicks in when he turns 30, around the time a player is expected to hit their prime years. His contract isn’t heavily backloaded like most contracts as he will make $14 million in his final year of the contract with $15 million team option or a $4 million buyout. Tulowitzki’s contract was only for $157 million over 10 years which is about $100 million less than the big contracts that A-Rod and Pujols receieved, and about $60 million less than Prince Fielder’s deal. The Colorado Rockies aren’t deemed a big market team and they did what they had to do to lock up arguably the best shortstop in the game. Players like that don’t come around too often especially at the shortstop position so it is understandable to give him such a long-term deal. He’s one of the rare cases in baseball where his contract is completely justifiable as was A-Rod’s first 10-year deal.

As a pure baseball decision most of these contracts never pan out. Maybe you get several good years of production from these players, but the latter days of these contracts don’t really go as expected particularly with the amount of dollar they make. When someone is making $15 million-plus they are expected to put up a certain production level. Not all short-year big-money contracts work out either. Take Jason Bay for example. He made upward of $18 million last year and performed well under what his production was expected and that’s being nice. GM’s will strikeout when it comes to getting what they payed for, it happens. It can be avoided though by giving maximum 6-year deals. Those deals should only be given to baseball’s elite. Take Jose Reyes for instance, he just signed a 6-year $106 million deal. He only played in 126 games last year and no more than 133 games in the past 3 years. Is that the kid of money you want to spend on a guy who might not be able to take even take the field? I love Jose Reyes and I think he’s a great player, but he has been injury prone his whole career. That has to be taken into consideration. I understand he might be the most exciting player in the game to watch, but GM’s should proceed with caution when it comes to him. He gives it 100% every game and doesn’t hold back and you have to love that about any player, but the way he plays the game is reason why is oft injured. Then again he is an elite player at his position and like I said before no more than a 6-year contract should be given out. The Marlins seemed to follow that protocol.

Another reason why these deals are ludicrous is because this money is guaranteed whether they play all 162 games or if they are hurt. Unlike the NFL, and this is where I think the NFL has it right when it comes to giving out contracts, these deals are 100% guaranteed money. If the contracts given out such that one got a 10-year $250 million deal, but only $125 was guaranteed then it would make more sense and save GM’s and owners from themselves. Once they start handing out contracts with long years and big money the next player to hit free agency will compare themselves to that player to induce such contracts. It’s a vicious cycle and the owners got the ball rolling on this one.

Maybe I can’t fathom why these players get such contracts because they are making preposterous amounts of money. According to Forbes, the average American makes $51,000 a year. A-Rod and Pujols will make about triple that per game at about $170,000 and $157,000 per game respectively. So it will take the average American three years to make what these guys make in about 3 hours of playing a kids game! Where did we go wrong? Ok their talents are undeniably greater than mine or any person not playing professional baseball, but those numbers are insane. We are partly to blame. We buy the tickets, we buy the jerseys, we idolize these demi-gods. I’m not complaining. Ok maybe I am a little bit.

Of the top 20 highest paid players in the MLB last year only about 4 played up to their expected production. Those players are C.C. Sabathia, Roy Halladay, Miguel Cabrera, and Ryan Howard. Even Ryan Howard’s BA. is suspect, but he gets paid to hit home runs and drive in runs and he is one of the best at doing that. I’m no math genius but that means that only 20% of the highest paid players actually performed up to par with what they get paid. They all got paid ranging from $32 million (A-Rod) to $16.5 million (A.J. Burnett). The proof is in the pudding. Nothing is going to stop these contracts from being written up and signed by MLB players, but GM’s should seriously think about lowering the length of these contracts. Salary cap anybody?

Wonder why Pujols and Fielder fled to the American League? The DH period. Of all the 8 year plus contracts given out only 3 have been signed in the National League, all by the Colorado Rockies, to Mike Hampton (8 years), Troy Tulowitzki (10 years), and Todd Helton (11 years). The AL has the power to move these players to DH when they can no longer be of adequate service on the field. The NL does not have the pleasure of doing that. Maybe we can blame the AL. Maybe we can blame the GM’s. Maybe we can blame ourselves. Either way bad contracts will continue to be handed out like flyers on the street. I’m not saying anything that a GM hasn’t heard already, but then hey it’s not like their spending someone else’s money.

T-T-T-Timmy and the Jets

First and foremost I want to make it clear that I am a die-hard Giants fan. All in. I heard about a kid named Tim Tebow when I was in High School and he was a senior making his decision to play for the Florida Gators in college. Since that day I believed this kid was going to be a winner. His career at Florida didn’t disappoint me as he won a Heisman Trophy as a sophomore and added 2 NCAA championships to his resume. Last season in Denver didn’t disappoint Tebow fans either as he led his team to the playoffs and stole a game from the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the playoffs. Denver’s resent acquisition of Peyton Manning took the Broncos in a different direction and ultimately decided to trade Tebow to the Jets for a couple of draft picks.

Woody Johnson, Mike Tannenbaum, and Rex Ryan have said that their pursuit and acquisition of Tim Tebow was purely a “football” decision. Really? Purely? The same team that just gave their “Sanchize” quarterback a contract extension after striking out on their attempt to pursue Peyton Manning, the man who can be looked at as pushing Tebow out of Denver. That football decision? I’m not doubting that the move was partially based on a “football” decision, but one would be naive to believe that it wasn’t also for some publicity. Since Rex Ryan took over the New York Jets a few years ago they have been posted on the back of New York newspapers ever since. Rex Ryan has promised a Super Bowl trophy to Jets fans 3 years in a row and has come back with nothing more than broken promises and broken hearts. This move will further more keep the Jets in the eye of the media as Tebow was the most publicized football player in the league last year. He had the second highest selling jersey next to, “Discount Double-Check” and MVP, Aaron Rodgers. Tebow is one of the most popular player amongst fans whether you like the kid or you dislike him. By that I mean by his football talents. There is no way you can not like the kid as a person. He’s genuine, he says all the right things, he’s a great role model, and is involved in various charities etc. If you don’t like Tim Tebow the person there’s something seriously wrong with you. If you don’t like Tim Tebow the player, well numbers never lie now do they.

Wins are the only thing that matters to NFL players, just ask them. If he threw for 500 yards a game but they were 6-10 would you still be obsessed with the numbers he put up. His numbers aren’t great, but he wins games. Jets fans know that. They’ve said the same thing about Mark Sanchez when they were en route to back-to-back AFC Championship games. The thing about those teams were that their defense was arguably best in the game and that’s what got them there. It wasn’t Sanchez’s arm. Defense wins championships and the Jets had the right formula, but the wrong quarterback. He’s bottom 5 in the league when it comes to total QBR. If he was middle of the row then maybe the Jets could have made Rex Ryan’s promise come to fruition.

Let’s focus on what 2012 holds for the Jets. I’m a Tebow fan like I said. I am not a Jets fan. I don’t know if this is going to help the team. I’m going to strictly focus on the quarterback battle. The Jets held a press conference today to officially welcome Tim Tebow. Tebow said that he and Mark are friends and that they hope to have a healthy working relationship. Sorry to break it to you Tim, I’m not sure that it works like that. Joe Montana who is regarded as one of the great quarterbacks to ever play the game didn’t really like the idea of a young Steve Young waiting in the wings trying to take his job. Aaron Rodgers has said that Brett Favre didn’t really mentor him in becoming a quarterback. These are two legends of the game who were well established when a “backup” was thought of as a successor to take the starting job. Mark Sanchez is by no means an established or legend of the game. He’s a young player who knows that nothing is promised in the NFL. The Jets just brought in a guy who Rex Ryan has openly said could take up to 20 snaps a game. 20 snaps? That’s about 1/3 of the total snaps a quarterback takes per game. They plan on using Tebow on third and short situations. Sanchez can run 2 plays for 8 yards and then be put on the sideline to watch another quarterback attempt to get the first down. He can drive down the field and then have to go to the sideline again and watch another quarterback come in and possibly get the touchdown. That doesn’t bode well for any quarterback, I don’t care who you are. Maybe the Jets are trying to catch lightning in a bottle by bringing in Tebow. If Sanchez plays far better than he has in his first 3 years, than the so-called psychology behind this moves works well. Can he handle the pressure? I’m not so sure. Tebow has proven he can step up to the pressure. He took a flailing Broncos team and led them to the playoffs. Sure his talents are a bit raw and limited, but he can win games. He too, before Rex Ryan, guaranteed a championship at Florida, only unlike his new coach, he delivered.

The Jets locker room has been in disarray particularly with the fallout between Santonio Holmes and Mark Sanchez. Anonymous players have come out and bashed Mark Sanchez. Antonio Cromartie has said that the Jets don’t need Tebow. The locker room is something that Rex needs to get under control. You put yourself out there in the media, promising all these things, saying this, saying that. Rex don’t put your foot in your mouth again (no pun intended). He knows what it takes to win he was on the Ravens Super Bowl team in 2000. If players don’t perform to their ability it’s the coaches job to get them to. Maybe this is another reason they brought in Tebow. If Mark Sanchez doesn’t perform and the T-E-B-O-W chants start at Metlife Stadium, Rex will have to seriously consider giving Tebow a start or two. The Jets organization brought this upon themselves. They said Sanchez was their starting quarterback, but if he’s not playing well guess they’ll have to go back on their word. Wouldn’t be the first time. Probably won’t be the last.

The State of Officials

Officiating is a big part of every sport. Calls can change the outcome of a game or the momentum of a team. In America’s big three sports; baseball, basketball, and football, the officiating is very different. Needless to say the referees or umpires hold some weight when considering the outcome of a game. For the most part they make the right calls, but which league really has calling the game down pat.

Let’s start with baseball, more particularly the MLB, or the show as some would like to call it. Baseball is the most traditional sport we have in America. The rules have changed very little from it’s inception in 1869 with the leagues first team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. One of the most notable changes in the rules of recent years is the ability to review home runs via instant replay. Before that the biggest and most distinguishable rule adoption was the Designated Hitter (DH) by the American League, or Junior Circuit, in 1973. Replay is used in the NBA and NFL, but MLB was reluctant to add the use of replay because of baseball being so traditional. Bud Selig, however felt that it would not hinder the game but only aid in making the right call. That’s helping the officials make the right call when it may be hard to determine some 325-plus feet away.

In my opinion baseball does the best job of officiating out of the three sports. Ok so there are some blown calls here and there, but the umpires are only human and everybody, yes everybody makes mistakes. The most notable blown call of late came on June 2, 2010 where umpire Jim Joyce blew a call at first base which would have cemented Armando Galarraga’s in baseball history by pitching a perfect game. Jim Joyce later, in tears, admitted he blew the call and apologized to Galarraga. At least he was man enough to admit he blew the call and clearly he did miss out on making the right one. Like I said before were all human and humans make mistakes. It happens. Had the call come in a game where someone was not pitching a perfect game I’m not so sure people would remember Jim Joyce for that call.

Baseball has the best officiating because it’s a slower paced game and therefore less likely to continuously make bad calls. The home plate umpire may be scrutinized by fans and even managers, but for the most part I’d have to applaud the job they do. Is it hard to tell exactly where a 98 mph fastball landed? Yea I’d say so. A 12-6 curve ball that makes even a hitter flinch could be hard for an umpire to see, but they do and they do it well. The main reason why I think that MLB does the best job is because they are consistent. Each umpire may have a different version of the strike zone, but they stick to that strike zone. Sure an outside pitch just off the plate may be called a strike. Some umpires are pitcher friendly while others are hitter friendly. When there are 2 strikes on the hitter maybe the pitcher gets a little more breathing in terms of the strike zone. Ever here the phrase protect the plate with 2 strikes? You shouldn’t be looking at close pitches in that situation. At the end of the day MLB umpires do a great job of calling a consistent and mostly justified game.

The NBA and NFL are probably the harder games to officiate with the fast-paced uptempo style of play. I will give the NBA referees a slight edge in difficulty of officiating. There are two factors that make me believe this and here’s why: It’s a fast-paced game in constant movement where referees have to run up and down the floor with the players for the full 48-minutes. Also, the league has been plagued by “flopping” and in real-time it may be hard to distinguish whether it was actually a foul or a player acting to get the call. This is a part of the game that I can’t stand and I think most would agree, especially when it’s pretty blatant. A smaller guard running into the paint with a forward or center in their way, then contact, the larger player falling to the ground, the foul call. I mean come on, that same player who flopped was getting bumped in the post on offense by a big defender and now he’s falling to the ground with slight contact from the smaller opposition.

My biggest gripe with the NBA officials is the lack of consistency. I fully and completely understand that it must be hard to run up and down the court with these athletes and make the right call every time, but at the same time at least call it the same both ways. Like most fans if there are two NBA games on I’ll surf between channels and watch both games. I remember watching one game with the score being fairly close and the game clock around 30 seconds. The team losing was trying to foul a simple touch of the player that received the inbound a foul call was made. Free throws. Flip to the other game almost an identical situation. This time though the defender repeatedly grabbed the other player before a foul call was made taking a good 3 seconds off the clock. A foul is a foul is a foul, no?

Then there is the superstar call. Hey, I get that rookies don’t have the same credibility that veteran players, particularly superstar caliber players have, but sometimes its just ridiculous. Thunder vs. Lakers 2010 playoffs. A defender falls down while guarding Kobe Bryant. Kobe pulls up hits the shot. A whistle. A foul call. Free throws. Wait what? Shout out to Bill Simmons for that one. Where was I? Foul really? His defender was on the floor how could he foul him? Kobe gets all the calls. I dislike Kobe for this reason and it’s not even his fault. I’m not a Kobe hater. I respect his game and can’t deny he is one of the greatest basketball players that I’ve ever seen and that ever lived. I’m not denying that, but when someone gets calls like that and he thinks he should get calls like that since he often wants the foul when he misses, I can’t stand it. On my own New York Knicks I often hear A’mare Stoudemire screaming, “AND 1!!!”, whenever he goes up in the paint. Come on guy that’s not gonna help your case. That’s right in line with flailing your arms and throwing your head back to draw the call. Let the ref do their job and next time you get fouled make the shot and the free throw, I think that’s way more productive than screaming and then slowly getting back on defense with your palms to the sky.

I don’t really have much to say with the NFL, except that they do a pretty good job particularly with all the new rule changes for player safety. They blow calls yea of course. They do a pretty good job thought officiating especially in the playoffs. A lot of no-calls go a long way in the playoffs. More is at stake and it’s a physical game, so I’m glad they let them play. For the most part they are consistent with their officiating, calling a past interference the same way for each team. Good no-calls in some cases. They almost always get false start and neutral zone infraction calls right. Yea there are some games where I say wow they just want the other team to lose. The recently headlining Saints and their whole “Bounty-Gate” scandal was started in their 2009 Super Bowl run. I remember watching the Saints vs. the Vikings in the NFC Championship game and saying wow they are really letting them play as more often than not Brett Favre was on his rear-end. A lot of no-calls in that game, but like I said before they call less penalties in the playoffs so you can’t really get stuck on that game. The thing that bothers me most and it’s not even the fault of the officials is that the league is so invested in protecting their players that it hinders the defensive side of the ball. You can’t hit the quarterback like you used too or you’ll get a fine. Hit a defenseless receiver, yea that’s another fine. Numbers don’t lie and that’s why this season saw 3 quarterbacks throw for over 5,000 yards. Eli manning was only 77 yards away from eclipsing that mark too. Only 2 players before this year have ever done that and Drew Brees was one of them along with Dan Marino. So for 3 players to do that this year is remarkable or is it? Yea it’s a real pass happy league now and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see 3 more people do again this year. Hey that’s not the officials that the rules and the officials are supposed to uphold the rules.

D’Antoni Knix-ed as Head Coach

Mike D’Antoni resigned earlier today as head coach of the New York Knicks. It was thought that the emergence of Jeremy Lin and the “Linsanity” that followed would ultimatley save coach D’Antoni his job, possibly returning next year. Lin aided the Knicks in winning 8 of 10, but when star forward Carmelo Anthony returned the Knicks starting slumping, going a measly 2-8 in their last 10 games. The team showed little effort on the defensive end, not getting back on defense, and their body language suggested they were not fully committed to Coach D’Antoni’s system. Earlier this week it was reported that D’Antoni had lost the respect of the locker room and it is never a good thing when that happens. The Knicks will make Mike Woodson interim head coach for the remainder of the year.

Whose really to blame? It’s any coaches job to get his team to play together and fully commit to the system that the coaching staff implements. It is the players jobs to run that system and find their niche within it. When Carmelo Anthony and A’mare Stoudemire were out of the lineup with injuries and personal matters, Jeremy Lin was moved from the end of the bench to the starting point guard. Linsanity began. When Melo and A’mare came back they would be a forced to be reckoned with right? Sadly that was not the case. Both Melo and A’mare have not been playing up to their potential this season as they were last year. It was thought that Lin could spur them into a dominant force within the Eastern Conference. It is here that the trio has not met expectations. Stoudemire flourished in the pick-and-roll under D’Antoni with Steve Nash in Phoenix. Melo, however is more of an isolation player who holds the ball and then goes up for the jump-shot. Not exactly the same playing style. Melos said that he will buy into this new system of ball movement instead of isolation, but then there’s that saying you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Melo has had trouble adjusting and rightfully so, he hasn’t done that in his entire career.

D’Antoni has implemented his SSOL or seven seconds or less style of play which he made famous in Phoenix. Seven seconds or less, if you have the ball and are open, shoot it. Doesn’t matter who you are, shoot. A player like Stoudemire and Melo are the two highest paid players on the team for a reason, because they are the best scoring options on the team. When you take the ball out of their hands seven seconds into the possession and someone else shoots, both players lose their value a little bit. The pick-and-roll works much more effectively making defenses chase the ball around the court as it swings from player to player. This also puts them out of position for the possible rebound. It worked well with Stoudemire and Nash. It was working for Lin and whatever big he was paired with. That is until defenses got some tape on Lin and Melo came back.

Carmelo Anthony pushed for a trade to the Knicks last season and the Knicks and the Nuggets obliged. Melo did a great service to the Denver Nuggets by getting them 4 great pieces to add to their team, making them one of the deepest teams after last year’s trade deadline. Anybody who says that the Knicks should trade Melo is probably in no position to say so. Listen I get that you’re frustrated because quite frankly I am too, but there is no way that the Knicks front office can validate trading someone they gave up half their team to get last year. It would make them look terrible. Most Knicks fans lobbied for Melo to come to MSG alongside A’mare. You got what you wanted. Personally, I thought we gave up way too much especially since we had bargaining power. Melo wanted to come here and nowhere else. We could have gotten him for nothing via free agency. He did the Nuggets a favor in getting them some good pieces back. They have a better record then us since the trade! So the Melo trade talk needs to end. I wouldn’t trade him after what we did to get him.

Let’s get back to the isolation plays. ESPN magazine will feature an article in their next issue called “Hero Ball” written by Henry Abbott. I want to just share an excerpt from that article. Abbott writes, “Start with the basics. The goal of basketball, in its simplest form, is to turn possessions into points. And on that basis, when Synergy began breaking down NBA plays by type in 2004, what it found would have made Wooden smile: Plays involving off-the-ball cuts (1.18 points per possession) and transition plays (1.12 ppp) are the most efficient, followed by putbacks (1.04 ppp) and pick-and-rolls in which the ball reaches the hands of the rolling man (0.97 ppp). And the least efficient? Isolation plays, good for only 0.78 points per possession.” Those are alarming numbers to say the least. I really urge you to read that article which was written for the purpose of all the heat LeBron James, no pun intended, has been taking for not taking “clutch” shots when the game was on the line. We traded for a guy whose favorite play to run only scored and average of 0.78 points per possession. I understand that number is league-wide, but that’s not very efficient even if Melo might be one of if not the best in the business running an isolation play. Melo is a shooter and he should run some off-ball screens to get the ball and a wide open or less contested shot. Run a little. Standing at the elbow, his favorite and most comfortable spot, didn’t help the Knicks when they went 2-8 in their last 10 thats for sure. I’ll cut him some slack because he’s not used to it, but he’s a professional so there is really no excuse.

As for the interim coach, Mike Woodson, I loved it when we got him as an assistant. Woodson is almost the exact opposite of what the Knicks had in D’Antoni. He implores defense. His record speaks for itself. Woodson has coached his team to a better record every year then they had the previous season. He took an a team that was undersized at the 5 and 4 and made them contenders in the East. Al Horford was an All-Star center last year and he’s really a power forward. Josh Smith played the power forward when he’s really a small forward. He got these guys to buy into playing defense and it worked for them. I don’t know if only speaks to Woodson as a coach as much as it does for Horford and Smith as players, but something worked. I look forward to seeing what Woodson demands from this Knicks lineup. If he’ll remain head coach next season is uncertain as many rumors are circling around that owner James Dolan will pursue the likes of Phil Jackson or Kentucky coach John Calipari. I think how well Woodson has this team perform the rest of this season and if they can make it into the playoffs with a possible push when they get there, will determine if the Knicks bring him back. So Knicks fans, we all got something we wanted…a new head coach. Let’s see what happens.

Peyton Manning Sweepstakes

Peyton Manning was released from the Indianapolis Colts earlier last week.  For the first time in Peyton’s career he is a free agent.  He seems to be doing his due diligence as he looks for his next team.  Even before his release many teams seemed to be in on the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, which included the Redskins, Dolphins, Jets, Cardinals, Seahawks, Broncos, Browns, 49ers, and Titans.  Since his release some of these teams have made moves that would seem to take them out of the running for Peyton’s services.  The Jets have given their 4th year QB, Mark Sanchez, a contract extension.  So it’s safe to say they are out of the mix.  The Redskins have made arguably the biggest offseason move thus far trading up in the draft with the Rams for the 2nd pick.  All indications are that they will draft Robert Griffin III as he is considered the second best QB after Andrew Luck whom the Colts are planning on drafting.  That’s another team out of the running.

The remaining teams have a fighting chance.  Or do they?  Manning has met with the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals this past weekend.  Many sources consider those two teams the favorites to land Peyton Manning.  Although Manning has said he prefers to stay in the AFC he took a tour of the Cardinals facility in what was reported as being a 7-hour trip.  The reports that the Denver Broncos feel they have a 95% chance of landing Manning have appeared to be false.  There will be a lot of false rumors coming out as this is a media coverage delight and the speculation won’t end until Manning himself comes out and says what jersey he will don in the 2012 season.

The only teams really left besides the aforementioned favorites are the Dolphins and the Titans.  Manning reportedly has declined visits to with the Seahawks and the Chiefs.  That leaves four teams: Dolphins, Titans, Cardinals, and Broncos left in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes.  Let’s take a look at where Peyton could wind up waying the pros and cons of each team.

The Broncos have a good defense and can run the ball very well, something Manning did not have much during his tenure with the Colts.  Their defense came on late in the season last year even though that didn’t appear to be the case when they met the pass happy Patriots in the playoffs.  They have an average Offensive line giving up 42 sacks last year, but that must be a credit to running the option with Tim Tebow.  Any option run he had for a loss would count for a sack.  Willis McGahee also benefited from the option running the football, but the Broncos should get back a healthy Knowshon Moreno.  The receiving core for the Broncos features Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.  Keep in mind that Reggie Wayne could join Peyton wherever he lands and it is rumored that Dallas Clark could also follow.  That would make a good receiving group and Peyton has been known to make receivers better than the are a la Austin Collie.  The AFC West was not particularly good last year with the Broncos winning the division with an 8-8 record.  Manning could easily make them the division favorite and a chance to go to the playoffs.  The cons of joining the Denver Broncos is that Peyton Manning has just come off of 3 neck surgeries and the cold weather will not help.  The cold weather will give him aches and pains in his surgically repaired neck.  The turf will get harder as the season progresses and one thing Manning has to think about his continuing to stay healthy.  He is accustomed to playing 8 games during the regular season in a dome where weather is not a factor.  Look for that to play a huge role in where Peyton Manning lands.  

The Arizona Cardinals have one of the top receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and a very good tight end in Todd Heap.  Add Reggie Wayne to the mix and they have one of the best one-two punches at receiver.  They can run the ball pretty well considering that their offensive line has been nothing to brag about giving up 54 sacks last year.  Maybe   they can address that issue in the draft and in free agency.  A trade is possible but not likely to help fix that offensive line.  Of all the teams left they are the only team to play their home games in a Dome where weather will not play a factor.  Their defense was in line with the league average.  The Cardinals started the season off at 1-6, but had an amazing second half going 7-2 in their final 9 games to finish the season at 8-8.  The downside of Peyton Manning is that he has said he prefers the AFC over the NFC and that is the only con I see about him signing with the Cardinals.

The Dolphins have long said they want Peyton Manning to help the very talented but young team.  They proved last year that they can run the ball with the likes of Reggie Bush.  With Manning under center Bush could even return to his old form when he played for the Saints.  Brandon Marshall is a talented receiver but after that the receivers are average at best.  Again Manning could make them all look like Pro-Bowlers and the addition of Reggie Wayne would also be helpful.  Sorry, I’m just going to assume Reggie Wayne will follow Manning to wherever he goes since the two have played together for many years.  The Dolphins defense is one that late last year seemed to get better with every game.  Defense should be a key factor in where Manning ends up as well as the team’s offensive line.  The Dolphins gave up 52 sacks last year and like the Cardinals they could use some help in that category.  Peyton Manning also has a house in Florida where he resides in the off-season, but I’m not so sure that will be much a factor in his decision.  Manning may have to decide if the offensive line and whether or not Joe Philbin will give him full reins of the offense.  Philbin was previously the QB coach to Aaron Rodgers, so I’m sure Joe will already have an appreciation for an elite player at that position.  

The Tennessee Titans will get to meet with Peyton Manning and the owner Bud Adams has already shown his desire to bring in Manning.  The biggest pro about signing with the Titans is they only gave up 24 sacks this past season which was tied for second in the league along with the Saints.  Only the Bills had given up less sacks with 23.  Nate Washington and Kenny Britt, whose seasoned ended early due to injury, are good receivers.  They still have Chris Johnson, who will only benefit from have Peyton playing in front of him, who ran for over 1,000 yards with a little more than 400 receiving.  Those receiving numbers could rise with Peyton Manning.  The Titans have one of the better defenses only giving up 19.8 points per game.  The weather is warm for a majority of the season and Mike Munchak will undoubtedly have to give Peyton control of the offense.  The extra factor in deciding on this team would be that he gets to play the Colts twice a year.  Any player that is cut by a team wants to go back and prove to them that they made a mistake and this is no different.  I think that this might be the best decision for Manning to make.  Good offensive line, good defense, warm weather, and a chance to beat your old team twice.  The only negative I would give the Titans is that they don’t have a lot of firepower on offense, but like I mentioned before Peyton can raise the game of your offense.

That all being said I believe that Manning’s two best options are the Titans and the Cardinals.  Manning can’t afford to play in the cold weather with the Broncos or get sacked that many times with the Dolphins.  The warm weather and the dome will have to be in Manning’s best interest.  Before he was released I thought that the Cardinals would be the best fit for Peyton, but since then I’m going to give a slight edge to the Titans because they have one of the better offensive lines in the league, it’s warm, and he gets to get back at the Colts….twice.  Neither team signing him would surprise me, but I’ll give the slight edge to the Titans.  Until then everybody is going to keep speculating on where his decision to go will be.  Where do you think he will end up and why?

In God We Trust

This past year or so has been a great year for Christian athletes.  There have been many athletes that were or are Christians, but this past year we have seen a surge in their popularity.  Four athletes in particular have made huge strides in their career, two were victims of criticism to their games and the other two won world championships.  The four athletes that I’m talking about are Jon Jones, Jason Terry, Tim Tebow, and Jeremy Lin.

Jon “Bones” Jones is a 24-year-old mixed martial arts fighter from Rochester, New York.  He has the longest reach of any fighter in the UFC at 84.5 inches.  He fought for only four months professionally before being called up by the UFC.  He quickly fought his way to the top and was given a light heavyweight title bout at UFC 128, on March 19, 2011, against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.  Jones won by TKO in the third round to win the UFC light heavyweight title making him the youngest UFC title holder in history.  He has beaten other great fighters including Lyota Machido, Quinton Jackson, Brandon Vera, Matt Hamill, Stephen Bonner, and Vladimir Matyushenko.  Jones calls himself a “hardcore Christian” and grew up a Pentecostal Christian.  He has Philippians 4:13 tattooed on his chest.  The Bible verse says “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”  It was his sister’s favorite Bible verse, who battled cancer and life was taken before the age of 18.

Jason Terry, is a 13 year veteran in the NBA, plays for the Dallas Mavericks.  He won NCAA championship at the University of Arizona in 1999 with Mike Bibby.  Before the 2010-2011 season Terry got a tattoo of the Larry O’Brien trophy, the NBA Finals trophy.  Lucky for him, the Mavericks defeated the Heat in the NBA Finals and the tattoo was dignified.  In the post-game interview following their series clinching game in the finals said “My faith, first of all, is in God. And with that comes the confidence, knowing that you can be successful when you play with guys like we have on this team.”  Later tweeting “We played hard and prayed harder its all Jesus..”.  He had to have faith in God to tattoo his biceps with a trophy that he has never won.  Nevertheless he won an NBA championship and has vindication in getting the tattoo albeit prematurely.

Tim Tebow, took the world by storm this past season in the NFL.  “Tebowmania” ran wild across the sports world.  Tebow is famously known for his faith in God.  There’s not much to say about this kid that most don’t already know.  He is a devote Christian.  He was home-schooled as a kid.  He is a Heisman trophy winner.  He is a 2-time NCAA BCS champion.  The NCAA made a rule dubbed “The Tebow Rule”, which banned messages on eye paint.  He often wore bible verses on his eye paint.  In the 2009 BCS championship game he wore John 3:16 on his eye paint and that verse was the highest-ranked Google search within the next 24 hours.  Tebow took over as the starting QB for the Denver Broncos in week 6 and compiled a 7-4 record from then on.  The Broncos finished with an 8-8 record which was good enough to earn a playoff berth.  He led and improbable win in overtime over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the Playoffs.  He threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime.  The Broncos were later ousted by the New England Patriots.  Tebow had the 2nd highest selling jersey to Aaron Rodgers in the NFL this year.  That’s how rampant Tebowmania was in 2011.  He was highly criticized for his skill set coming into the NFL Draft and especially as a starter of the Denver Broncos, but he continued to win games.  His faith in God speaks in volumes to his belief in his game and in his teammates.  He might be the most prevalent Christian athlete today.

Jeremy Lin started the “Linsanity” that engulfed the sports world and media outlets across the country.  An undrafted point guard out of Harvard was days away from getting cut by the third team in his 2 year career.  He was given the shot to start and the rest is history.  Lin also equates his success and opportunity to his faith in God.  He was sleeping on his brother’s couch while getting his first few starts in the NBA.  The Knicks were just as blessed to acquire Lin as Lin was to get the starting job.  He’s the first Asian-American NBA player and put up numbers that no player had obtained through their first 10 starts.  Lin is an evangelical Christian and  after his NBA career Lin hopes to become a pastor and head a non-profit organization.  He is one of the biggest stories in sports this year and although the “Linsanity” has died down a bit, he still is a great story and devout Christian.

Mets 2012 Season in Preview

The 2012 MLB season is upon us with spring training underway and opening  day less than a month away.  Every team has reason to be excited because they all are equals as of right now.  Each team has a clean slate and expectations that they could be the team this year to take the title of World Series champions.  Unfortunately, 29 teams will go home empty-handed.

I’m a huge Mets fan, that’s no secret.  I grew up watching the Mets in the early 90’s when they were terrible, make a run in the early 2000’s, then watch them collapse in the late 2000’s.  This season I’m sure I will be disappointed once again and will find myself shying away from watching games in September because quite frankly I hate watching my team lose, but after years of witnessing this you build some thick skin.  Last year with the arrival of Terry Collins and his message to Mets fans and the organization that he will make sure that the team does not become complacent and they will hustle on every play whether they are up 10 or down 10, I was excited we had a coach to light a fire under our players and get them to play to their full abilities.  Jerry Manuel never really had the pulse of the team and rarely pushed the right buttons to get them to perform.  Terry Collins was a man of his word and in my opinion was one of the most underrated managers in the game last year.  How can I say that about a team that finished 77-85?  A team that had the 19th best record in all of baseball?  Terry Collins finished 8th for the Manager of the Year.  He managed a team that did not feature its best pitcher in Johan Santana.  He started the season off at 5-13 and managed his team to .500 record as late as August 8th.  I know mediocrity should not be something to celebrate, but the team dealt with so many injuries and was written off before the season started that you have to be somewhat shocked at their performance.  Key injuries to star players like David Wright and Jose Reyes as well as DL stints by other players like Daniel Murphy hindered the club.  A season without first baseman Ike Davis and Johan Santana and the eventual trade of Carlos Beltran did not help either.  Health was one big issue the Mets had last year.  Quite frankly they had a few more issues than that but we’ll get into that later.

The 2012 season for the Mets has already had headlining issues.  Many Mets fans such as myself are still in disbelief that we let one of our franchise players, Jose Reyes, leave without even trying to retain him.  The state of the Wilpon’s financial situation has been closely watched.  After Judge Jed S. Rakoff ruled that Fred Wilpon pay up to $83.3  million to the victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.  Both sides are set to go to trial on March 19 for a possible ruling of an additional $303 million that trustee Irving Picard is requesting.  The verdict will be an interesting one and one that Mets fans will want to know the details of.  Mark Cuban anyone?

There are so many questions that Mets fans have to wonder heading into this season.  How will the new field dimension play to the Mets offense?  Will David Wright and Jason Bay bounce back after a woeful 2011?  How will the Mets handle the loss of Jose Reyes?  Will Ike Davis be healthy? If he is will he stay at the pace he was early last year?  Will Lucas Duda have a break out year?  Will the bullpen meet the expectations of Sandy Alderson?  Will Johan Santana be Johan Santana?  How good will the pitching staff be?  These are all valid questions.  A LOT of questions.  Possibly too many to answer and any team with that many questions can’t be favored to have a great season.  There are some reasons to believe that the Mets can excel this year even after all the question marks surrounding them.

I just want to say that they deserve more credit than the expected 60-70 wins that I am hearing many experts make.  Last year the Mets Pythagorean W-L record was 79-83, which is the estimate of games won and lost based on runs scored and runs given up.  This record relates to how lucky or unlucky a team was and the Mets fared relatively well in the luck department being they only finished 2 games under that number.  Did I just say Mets had some luck last year?  Couldn’t be.  They had zero luck when it came to health.

The new dimensions at Citi Field will get rid of the Mo’s Zone which I never understood why they implemented in the first place.  The high outfield walls in left field will be lowered to 8 feet and moved in slightly.  Sandy Alderson is taking a page out of the field changes made to Comerica park where they moved their left field fence in from 395 feet to 370 feet, a huge difference that goes from warning track power to going…going…gone.  How the new dimensions will play to the Mets offense particularly Wright and Bay to left field and Davis and Duda to right field will be looked at early and often.  Lucas Duda has been talked about at the Digital Domain Park, the Mets Spring Training Facility, as he has been said to be showing some power to right field.  I look forward to seeing him hit a few home runs at Citi Field and project him to hit somewhere near 2o long balls this season.

The loss of Jose Reyes hurts, but I think it only hurts in a morale stand point.  Reyes is an explosive player, no doubt about it. He’s electric.  He’s one the most exciting players to watch in the game just ask Alex Rodriguez.  I’m just as offended as Reyes is that the Mets did not give him a formal offer.  I have reason to believe that Reyes wanted to stay in New York even if it was for a few million less than other ball clubs offered him.  The 6 years $106 million that Reyes accepted from the Marlins was not going to be matched by the cash strapped Mets organization.  Would he have taken a 4 year $80 million deal with and an option for a 5th year?  I don’t know.  Could the Mets even offer that to him? I don’t know the answer to that either, but they owe it to him and Mets fans to have at least extended some kind of offer.  If he says no you live with it and move on.  If you knew you weren’t going to give him an offer why did they not try to trade him for a prospect much like they did with Carlos Beltran.  I think that’s what disturbs me the most about all of this.  You knew you couldn’t afford to keep him yet you didn’t try to get anything in return.  I’m sure you could have found a suitor for Reyes for a draft pick or two or three.  He’s that electric. All that being said, how much will the Mets miss him?  Reyes only has a 6.2 WAR.  WAR stands for win above replacement meaning how many more games one would win over a replacement player.  If you took that number and subtracted it from the Mets win total last year we should win 72 games.  Ruben Tejada has a WAR of 1.7 so lets put 2 wins back on the board that’s 74 wins.  Tejada also had a slightly better fielding percentage than Jose Reyes.  Remember were at 74 wins.

know the Mets didn’t get any big name free agents or even attempt to this offseason.  We are however getting back  a two-time Cy Young award winner.  The last year he pitched in 2010 he had a WAR of 4.4, in 2009 a 3.6, and in 2008 he posted a 6.4.  That’s an average of 4.8 wins above replacement.  Add 5 more wins and that’s 79 games.  I’m not sure how well Santana will perform and if he will pitch the whole year, but if he’s anything close to his previous numbers it’s a far improvement over what they were throwing out on the mound as their #1 starter.

Guess whose who.  Player A .302 AVG .383 OBP .925 OPS; Player B .299 AVG .366 OBP .906 OPS.  Player A is Ike Davis and player B is Albert Pujols.  Ike Davis only played in 36 games last year and only had 129 at-bats.  It’s a small sample, but the kid shows some promise and I believe he’s an all-star caliber player.  If you give him 550 at-bats his power numbers jump to about 30 bombs and 100 RBI’s.  That’s like getting an all-star caliber player in free agency. He’s also above average with the leather.  Remember those over the dugout catches he had his rookie season?  He’s not Pujols with the glove but he’ll only be 25 by the time the season starts.  He has a high ceiling for growth and as a Mets fan you have to love it.

The Mets bullpen last year was inconsistent to say the least.  They blew 24 saves last year and completed only 64% of save opportunities.  That’s why Sandy Alderson made sure he got some bullpen help.  Jon Rauch is 6’11 and gives many hitters trouble as the ball seems to drop out of the sky and rarely walks hitters.  Frank Francisco is one of the better control relievers without sacrificing speed and walks very few batters, walking only 18 batters in 50.2 innings, while striking out 53.  Ramon Ramirez, one of the trade pieces in the Angel Pagan deal, is a good bullpen arm with a nasty slider, who was a formidable piece of the Giants bullpen.  Terry Collins often had to leave starters in a little longer than he may have wanted to last year because of the lack of depth in the bullpen.  Theses three arms will help in those situations and then you put guys like Bobby Parnell in situations that better suit them instead of asking them to come into situations that they are not ready for.

If the Mets win have the games in which they blew saves that would give them 12 more wins, bringing it their win total to 91.  Do I expect the Mets to win 91 games.  Absolutely not, but it is possible.  That’s their ceiling 91 wins.  In the NL East, the best division in the NL, 91 games won’t win you the division.  The Phillies will probably win around 100 games again, but the loss of Ryan Howard for the start of the season could hurt them.  The Atlanta Braves have a lot of young talent, but it isn’t known if they will stay consistent throughout the year.  The new look Marlins made some key acquisitions that should help them climb out of the cellar of the division.  They added a few starting rotation arms in Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano.  Josh Johnson is slated to come back this year and I would equate some of their success to his health.  The Nationals have some good young prospects and shored up their starting rotation with the signing of Edwin Jackson and the trade for Gio Gonzalez along with the reemergence of Stephen Strasburg.

The Mets should look to add some arms to their staff in case of injury or under performance.  Rumors have been going around that the Mets are looking to possible bring back Chris Young, who pitched well for the Mets last years before being shut down for the year.  There was also word that they were watched Scott Kazmir throw a few bullpen sessions.  Sign him to a minor-league deal, invite him to camp, and see how he performs.  It couldn’t hurt and having too many starting pitchers has never been a problem in the Majors.  If the Mets  don’t make any of these moves I’ll still be content with the surplus of young arms that we have in our farm system and Jenrry Mejia slowly coming back from Tommy John surgery the future for our starting pitching looks very bright.   It’s possible that we will see some of these prospects come September, but I much rather watch them next year so they can learn to be consistent in the minors.

In ESPN magazine’s latest issue, One for the Money, Jon Niese is given a 28% chance to reduce his ERA by .5 from 4.30 in 2012.  He is also given a 25% chance to reduce his WHIP by .1 from 1.44 a year ago.  There is a another positive thing to look forward to this year.  As for the Mets cutting the most payroll in history in one year, $19 million on the books last year was for Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez.  Another $9 million was for Beltran and K-Rod whom they traded late last season.  That’s $28 million, so really they are only cutting $24 million.  It doesn’t make it any better I know, I’m still mad too.  Let’s stay positive though and let’s look for some power numbers from some players, consistent play, aggressive base running as we’ve seen early this spring training, and Terry Collins getting players to hustle on every play.  All that being said I say the Mets finish 82-80 this year and we will at least be able to watch games through September without being out of it in early August.