Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Darren McFadden, the next 60 million dollar baby? Don't count on it.

Darren McFadden is a premier player. He's far and away the most dynamic, capable, sure-thing running back in a draft year overflowing with them. He may be the best player in this entire draft class.
However fortunate he was to receive such physical gifts, the luck did not extend to this year's NFL standings. Let's take a look at the worst teams in the league this year.
Miami is absolutely freaking dreadful. I vomit several days' worth of spinach and saliva just imagining their squad.... and there goes a new keyboard.
There's one position they're quite strong at, though. Ronnie Brown was averaging a staggering 5.2 runs per carry and shouldering a great deal of carries before becoming sidelined prior to the season's midway point.
The Rams are fairly bad. Not quite as awful as most people may think upon glancing at their record (I can't recall another team that was hit by injuries this badly all at once). In adhering to St. Louis tradition, however, they have some terrific skill-position players, foremost amongst them feature back Steven Jackson.
The Raiders' offense looks like a collegiate one at times. Take a look, however, at their box scores during the last five games. Justin Fargas has been producing at an outstanding level. This is not to say that he's the long-term asnwer at the position, but It's something to consider. And if he keeps this sort of production up, the woebegone Raiders should look elsewhere with that top five pick.
Now we come to the Falcons. Oh good god. People enjoyed harping on Michael Vick, and I don't count myself amongst the minority who defended the man. But his lack of presence is being clearly felt in Atlanta. I've long held this theory about running quarterbacks: They cause the running backs to instantly look a ton more productive. The defense devotes people to staying back and watching the QB, and it not only keeps rushers on the edge rather than in his face-but allows the tailbacks room to move. The once-ageless Warrick Dunn has suddenly hit an insurmountable wall, and Jorius Norwood isn't getting enough carries to justify a starting spot to. And with the Petrino resignation, that situation will not become any less turbulent.
However, I think the Falcons go after a QB in this draft. Brian Brohm, Andre' Woodson, and Matt Ryan are all very, very justifiable names at the top of a draft board, and this team is in dire need of a QB after letting 2 good ones go this offseason.
The Jets may be the best fit. A third round pick begat Thomas Jones, but aside from a random 100 yard game against-of all teams- Pittsburgh, he's been merely mediocre in New York. McFadden would seem like a perfect fit, but for whatever reason most mocks I've seen have them going with a defensive player (Chris Long/Sedrick Ellis/James Laurinitis).
San Fransisco? Oh, how I feel for them. And for the rest of the league. Because this selection now belongs to the New England freaking Patriots. Perhaps one of the greatest teams in this league's history will wind up with a draft pick forseeably as high as #2. I fankly have no idea where NE will go with this pick, and it is possible that they draft McFadden to alleviate the sophomorely slumping Laurence Maroney, but I doubt they will spend two first rounders in three years on running backs.
The Ravens? Until this season, it would have been a perfect match. But Baltimore has found Wilis McGahee, and that relationship has gone satisfactorily. Mcgahee's playing like many foresaw before his big collegiate injury.
To be frank, I think the worst team that would certainly take McFadden if he fell into their laps is Cincinatti. And while they're certainly not a great squad, their pick shouldn't be higher than 7 or 8.
If McFadden's available for the Panthers' pick, he will be gone faster than a 12 oz steak in front of Tony Siragusa. But they aren't one of the truly woeful teams in this league. Not that they're anywhere near mediocre. The Chiefs? It'd make sense if they hadn't given Larry Johnson a record contract a few mere months ago. Da Bears? Same dilemma as the Falcons, accentuated by the fact that they made the mistake of taking Cedric Benson #4 not too long ago.
My point is this. I personally am not one of those who condones trading for the rights to Darren McFadden. But if Jerry makes up his mind and refuses to budge, the cost could be a lot more reasonable than what I'm hearing from most people.
And if he slides past the top 5, expect Jerry to frantically hit the phones directly prior to either the Panthers or Bengals.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kobe Bryant is Still a Malcontent. And Leaves Change Color in Autumn.


Yaaaaaaaaaawn.
There's very little that annoys me more than the continuing saga of Kobe Bryant. Billion Dollar talent, ten-cent head. The guy's never ponied up to any blame, not once taken responsibility, and I can't remember the last time he made a decision to assist another at his own detriment.
This situation is just another example of the exasperating nature of Kobe. The man is a blessing and a curse in the greatest sense of the word.
Supposedly, he's going to either Chicago, Dallas, or Phoenix. I'm here to tell you that he's not going anywhere.
It's another bit of acting by Bryant, another performance by Lakers' management-an attempt to prelude the inevitable trade. But don't confuse inevitable with impending.
Kobe's got two seasons to go before he can opt out and leave LA with nothing to show for their superstar. While they have him, there's no reason for Jerry Buss and co. to sell low on one of the 3 best players in the NBA. They'll milk his talent for all It's worth, and next offseason the highest approved bidder will claim Bryant.
What would Dallas give up to get Bryant? Howard and Terry seem to be the common factors in every suggested deal. They'd need to throw in either DJ Mbenga and Mo Ager, or alternatively DeSagana Diop; probably draft picks as well. That's one borderline all-star and a one-dimensional shooting guard, as well as two extremely raw youngsters and a late first rounder. Does that make LA better?
Chicago: Tyrus Thomas, Ben Gordon, and Tyson Chandler. Deal or no deal? If LA does this, it would be for potential. I really can't find fault with that way of thinking. But look at it this way; there is nothing remotely approaching a sure thing involved in this deal. Gordon is best used as a backup, and in LA he'd be the second best player on the team. Chandler is a good young center, but the Lakers are trying to develop their own. And Thomas could become Chris Bosh or Tyrus Thomas.
Phoenix: Marion+Diaw? I'm not convinced that Phoenix would do that, although it would give them the scariest threesome in history. Stoudemire straight up? I'm not sure that either club would pull the trigger; Phoenix because of his ability to dominate and his youth, LA because of his injury history.
To conclude: I simply don't see it. It may be me being overly skeptical, but this looks like showboating, overdramatization, making a mountain out of a molehill. Kobe Bryant will not be a Maverick on opening day, and he probably won't be a Bull or a Sun either.
But next offseason, I'll be watching.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What goes around comes around



















What have we said about the Cowboys throughout this year? They're terrific in the second half, capitalizing on enormous bruisers that wear people down. And any one of their receivers has the ability to take over a game in conjunction with the rest of the offensive unit.
Ouch. That can be an effective strategy when used against you too, can't it?
The Cowboys looked dead out of the gate. That was to be expected, they've been that way all season long. The 14-0 lead seemed insurmountable, however, when you consider that Dallas went three and out on consecutive game-starting drives. In fact, the fearsome Cowboy attack amassed negative yardage through their first 8 plays.
Yet somehow, they managed to make the game genuinely interesting for a while. They'd score 24 of the next 31 points, actually taking a 24-21 lead. At this point the fans were giddy, the players looked hopeful, and Bill Belichick stopped sullenly grimacing, and instead looked sullenly contemplative. For a very short while, anyway. Because the Patriots would score 27 of the next 30.
What happened? It's really quite simple. Dallas put up a great fight yesterday, but a couple of things buried them. First and foremost was allowing the Patriots those lengthy early possessions. I believe the Patriots reached 20 plays before the Cowboys had 10, and the Cowboys received to begin the match. The Patriot linemen wore our rushers down to their last breaths, and their receivers turned our secondary players' legs to grape jelly.
Additionally, these penalties have got to stop. The Cowboys' red zone woes were largely brought about by Flozell and Company, as our team regressed by 98 yards spread over 12 plays. One play represents the struggle with the zebra-men best of all: 31-24 New England, 4th and one. Marion Barber powers his way to a first down, and the Metroplex rises in glee. But a few seconds later, we vent our fury to the huddled masses following the game through media mediums, as the play is undone with five additional necessary yards, via a holding call. Dallas was forced to punt, Brady led the Patriots down the field for another score, and the Cowboys never got closer than 11 points.
Speaking of 11 points... what the profanity was up with going for a field goal down 14 in the 4th? Under that logic, you'd have to completely and utterly stifle the Patriots twice, which you have shown no indication of being able to do- then come back and score two more touchdowns. What the hell are the chances of that happening? On 4th and goal at the 4 against this opposition, you've got to go for that every single time. I consider myself as die-hard and faithful as any Cowboys supporter, but at that point I turned away from the CBS coverage in disgust and took out my frustration on the Madden-rendered Patriots.
What was good last night? Our running game and our run defense. Barber and Jones rushed only 14 times, mostly due to being behind for almost the full extent of the game. But those 14 rushes resulted in 98 yards, for an average of 7 yards an attempt. On the other end of the ball, Patriot backs rushed 26 times for only 70 yards- less than 3 an attempt. That same sort of play will be very important against the Vikings next week, as they're a team that heavily relies on the running game.

Random observations
This team badly needs Anthony Henry back.
So much for the fabled matchup of 81s. Barely 130 yards between them.
Demarcus Ware is a truly premier defender. I love this man.
Why was the Romo-Witten connection so intermittent? Our QB went to our TE twice at the end of the second, both very successful completions. But the ball barely got near him through the other 59 minutes.
The secondary got burned time after time, but for once it wasn't really Roy's fault.
The Patriots seem to force deeper kickoff than us.
Terrence Newman probably should have waited for that plantar fasciitis to fully heal. He looks slow, and what is he without speed?
Better luck next week.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Conflict of Collossi

5-0. The Cowboys hadn't done it for two decades. The winningest single-decade quarterback in NFL history couldn't take us there, neither could the league's all-time leading rusher or a historically effective offensive line. But questions emerge; questions that those lauded squads didn't have to put up with.
Is the secondary stable enough? Is Tony Romo sufficiently reliable? Are two runners really no runners?
And most prominent, has this team played anyone competent enough for us to anoint them into the class of elite clubs in the 2007-08 NFL based on numbers alone?
One thing is for certain. If the Dallas Cowboys are still undefeated by Sunday evening, the last of these questions will have been answered, for The Patriots are clearly a juggernaut in every way. The league's best passing game is accentuated by a fearsome running attack, for which the way is paved by a justifiably feared offensive line. The defensive secondary includes two superstars (Asante Samuel and Rodney Harrison), and the defensive line is up there with the very best, with cornerstones like Brushchi, Thomas, and Wilfork. Let this sink in: They have yet to score less than 34 points, and yet to give up 17. And they've played two or three teams probably better than anything the Cowboys have faced.
Can the Cowboys win? The Bills looked like they were going to last week, so sunshine does indeed use a canine's behind as a landing pad occasionally. But going in line with that euphemism, it doesn't happen often.
What will the Patriots do? Allow me to preface this assessment by saying that Bill Bellichick's greatness lies in his ability to adjust on the fly. If something's not working, he'll change it up.
I believe that Bellichick's perceptive enough to take a leaf out of the Bills'' incompetence last week. Buffalo was incapable of putting pressure on Tony Romo, and look what happened? Romo got comfortable and got careless. Bellichick has the personnel to force Romo into scrambling around in the pocket, but I regret to say that he won't-because he will have realized that this is where Romo is at his best. Bellichick will rush four or five for the entirety of the game, concentrating more on coverage and leaving a linebacker or two back to contain our relevant halfback. If Romo's performance last week was a harmless aberration, praise the gods and realize that you may have a shot at not only victory in this game, but in a playoff matchup for the first time in over ten years. But if my fears are proven to be well founded, woe and calamity.
Offensively, the Patriots will do what they always do. Brady is a completion machine, as automatic as it gets .They have a crop of receivers rivaling our own and a stalwart group of blockers to allow the league's best quarterback time to be his usual opportunistic self. Oh, they've also got a two-eheaded monster better than ours, with Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris.
If the Cowboys want to win this thing, they'll have to do everything right. Don't give an inch on either side of the ball; knock their feet out from under them and shove their faces into the turf, grabbing the ball in the process. Don't make mistakes, another 6-turnover performance will get this team absolutely routed. Force your own, and you've got a shot.
Asante Samuel's not exploitable, as he's one of the top cornerbacks in this entire league. But if TO is on anyone else, use him. I expect Jason Witten to be covered like a sleeping baby in a blizzard for the full extent of the game, so get creative. He can catch the ball through a regiment of thermal blankets and five shadows if It's well-placed. Trick plays are there for a reason; Jason Garrett, It's time to pull out ALL the stops. Leave not a stone unturned, any potential at an opportunity must be seized, turned over, and exploited to its full extent.
In short, It will take a lot for the Cowboys to win this one. This is not in any way a derogatory statement on America's True Team, because New England is very possibly the mightiest squad to have graced the green plains of the NFL since their upcoming opposition circa fifteen years ago.
Prediction
New England: 31
Dallas: 24

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Unnoticed


The local football team's taken the league by storm. Baseball's playoffs have taken a decidedly upwards turn, greatly spurred by the Yankee loss last night (How's that for an evening of delight?). College football is in full force.
But people seem to have forgotten that last year's top regular season NBA team exists.
I won't say I'm complaining. We all got a bit overexcited last year, some crowning them as the champs before the season was over, others-myself included- scoffing at the matchup against Clown Coach Don Nelson and his brand of basketball. It was not to be.
But yeah, the Mavericks are nearing another season. They come back with the squad almost entirely intact, as the only departee with any name recognition is the spare 3rd string shooting guard Greg Buckner. Notable additions include Trenton Hassell, Nick Fazekas, and Eddie Jones.
Low key additions, to be certain. Two one-dimensional players and a has-been who may not play as many minutes as Buckner did last year.
I like it.
The best core in the league is fully composed. All there is to do is add the supporting cast. Do we have that guy who can step in during a critical time and truly contribute? Do we have an Alonzo Mourning, a Fabricio Oberto, or, as we make use of the way-back machine, a Rick Fox?
I don't know, but this team has been adding candidates for the position. And this pleases me.
Dirk will be Dirk. He's vowed to come back with a better interior game, and I'm sure he'll post up more. But he'll still play his game, because that's what makes him great.
Josh Howard's a genuine all-star. We've tagged him as the MVP's sidekick for several years now, but last year we saw him take his game to another level. He's now part of the second tier; Those 10-15 players who aren't quite legitimate superstars, but are necessary to any championship team.
I believe that Devin Harris has a chance to join that tier as well. He's back motivated, rich, and still humbled by last season. He'll be the starting point guard this season, there should be no further experimentation with Jason Terry in that role. If he can refine his abilities to finish at the rim, the Tony Parker projections will materialize.
The shooting guard position is deep to an unprecedented level. There's the proven scorer in Jet, the hard-nosed sparkplug in Stack, the proven veteran is Eddie Jones, Trenton Hassell the defensive ace, and the inconsistent but usable Devean George. Minutes will be hard to come by, and I could see Devin and Josh's minutes getting cut simply because the depth here is so irresistible.
The Center position will be iffy until the return of Big Damp, but I believe that with 5 minutes a game from Fazekas, Nowitzki, and Mbenga we can hold down the fort.
Do us all a favor and don't predict a championship. Don't even predict 60 wins. Just know that there is reason for optimism.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Speechless


4 interceptions in one half. 2 of them before the second completion. Six overall.
A kickoff return returned for a TD.
Dropped passes galore, four from the lead wideout.
A running game that looked completely impotent for large portions of the game.
Blockers who chose to look their worst against one of the league's worst defensive units.
A defense that allowed an unheralded rookie quarterback to complete 24 of his 31 passes.
It was ugly. It was disgusting. It was an eyesore, and awful, and downright obscene. And the Dallas Cowboys came out of it 5-0.
Sometimes you look back at games and you simply can't comprehend the outcomes. The Green Bay-Chicago decision yesterday was one of these. But tonight's was a far more radical example.
How the hell did the Dallas Cowboys overcome all of the insurmountable barriers mentioned above, how did they rebound from adversity, how did they show up in rare form when all hope was lost?
Damned if I know.
Jason Witten was big tonight. Tony Romo's security blanket executed his role perfectly on a night when he was sorely needed.
Patrick Crayton has established a rapport with Tony Romo. There's plenty of reason to rip on our QB, but he creates these mental bonds between he and his receivers that I've never seen paralleled.
Demarcus Ware is an animal, Jay Ratliff is making some of us scratch our heads about the Tank's necessity, Ken Hamlin looks like a better signing every day.
Key stat: The Cowboys have gone consecutive weeks without allowing an offensive touchdown. Allow that to sink in.
All that being said, I still can't figure out how this rabbit was unhinged from its headgear. Party on, Dallas. Next week will be a blast.

Ropers vs. Big Game Preview

Analysts have a knack for declaring every game with a line greater than 10 points a 'trap game'. My question: Why the hell is there a double digit line if you genuinely believe that there's a good chance of an upset?

Call me cocky, call me overconfident. I deserve the distinctions, but you can't blame me for claiming them. The Cowboys have been dominant to this point of the season, the Bills awful in almost every respect. They have a promising young running back and a rookie QB who's exceeded expectations-through four games. The Bills' pass defense is unspeakably bad, their run defense not much better. The Cowboys are getting healthier by the week, despite Anthony Henry and Keith Davis sitting out this one.

It's hard to foretell Jason Garrett's intentions, as his greatest single strength is unpredictability. He's daring and fearless, and his players execute in a similar fashion. I expect to see the Cowboys exploit the pitiful secondary laid before them, forcing the Bills to commit a great deal of additional help to stemming the bleeding from the gaping wound caused by Tony Romo's reckless shenanigans. This will free up our dynamic duo of runners to soften up the defense in conjunction with our massive group of blockers, and the Buffalo defense will completely crumble... if I had to estimate, I'd say sometime in the middle of the third quarter.

The Bills will lead with a balanced attack, but most of all try to exploit Jacques Reeves. The man's played beyond expectations, but is still a liability at the second corner spot. Expect Ken Hamlin to lend a hand on that side of the field with fair regularity. Mershawn Lynch will make his way through a good group of offensive linemen and probably pick up his fair share of yards, albeit not enough to make a serious dent. He may be the best Running back the Boys have faced to this point, but that's more a detraction from previous opposition than an acknowledgment of Lynch's competence.

Both teams have strong special teams units. The Bills have the one punter who might be superior to our own Mat Mcbriar, that competition should be enjoyable to view. They have a good tandem of returners, and with Keith Davis out of the picture that could be especially problematic. I may give Buffalo a slight edge in this facet of the game.

To conclude, my fellow Cowboy supporters, I don't believe we have much to fear. This team will be playing for their coach's retribution, for recognition on Monday Night Football, for the preservation of their unbeaten record, and for momentum going into next week's delicious matchup with the Bostoners.
Prediction:
Dallas: 41
Buffalo: 14

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Rangers: Season in Perspective

Ebbs and flows.
Is there a more appropriate way to describe the 2007 Rangers? This had to have been one of the streakiest squads I've ever seen assembled. In fact, I honestly can't recall the last several times the Rangers had a winning or losing streak of less than three games throughout this year. The problem was as such: The season started with such a precipitous slide that the rest of the campaign became unsalvageable. The first months were absolutely awful, as Ron Washington's team compiled a record of 20-35. They proceeded to not have another losing month, but as stated above-the slide left this team beyond repair.
Despite all that, there are bright spots on the horizon. The one most oft quoted is the sudden surge of young talent. This is a valid point, as Eric Hurley is really the only player considered as one of the organization's top seven or eight players both prior to the season and in the current state of matters. The system depth behind the plate is fantastic. There is a shortstop prospect the likes of which we haven't seen in this city for quite some time. There are multiple promising outfielders at the low levels of the minors. And most importantly, there are pitchers accumulated to the point of overflow at all levels of the minor leagues.
Fortunately, though, hope stems not solely from the prospects. Players like Brandon McCarthy and Edinson Volquez exhibited flashes of talent to demonstrate the reason for the organization's commitment to them.
Michael Young somehow recovered from a forgettable slump, hitting .335 in the last five months to put up another 200-hit season. Jason Botts posted an on base percentage of .380 in September, holding true to his trend of acclimating to a league after a month or two of adjustment.
While good sense advises me to temper my enthusiasm for a 25 year old with few enough at bats to still be considered a rookie next season, David Murphy has me very excited.
Ian Kinsler posted the highest OPS on the team, stole successfully in 23 of his 25 attempts, and emerged from an injury a new defensive man- he who obviously had butter spread all over his glove during the first half of the year had replaced the condiment with gorilla glue.
Joaquin Benoit had the breakout year we'd all been waiting for, pitching seventy times, striking out eighty seven hitters, and posting a stellar 2.85 ERA. In a pressure role.
C.J Wilson came veritably out of nowhere to emerge as the closer in waiting, finishing 12 of his 13 real save attempts. His numbers were equally impressive to Benoit's until a late-season burnout inflated them substantially, but he's a young player whose workload potential will gradually rise.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has already attracted his share of detractors,most of them pointing at his high strikeout rates and defensive incompetence. But keep this in mind: At the age of 22, the player Salts is most often compared to was still in the minor leagues, undergoing a position switch that left him frustrated. Mark Teixeira turned out alright.

Don't get me wrong, this team has needs. It didn't have a 25 home run hitter, nor a 100 RBi man, nor a starter with an ERA under five. Only two full-time players hit above .270.
Keep this in mind, though. This team suffered through a horrible series of injuries evidenced by only Michael Young playing more than 140 games, only Kevin Milwood logging 150 innings, and still posted a Pythagorean W-L record of 79-83. It's not difficult to imagine this team contending with only a couple of additions.
Believe in Jon Daniels, folks. I have confidence in his ability to assemble this team the right way, whether by signings, drafts, or trades.
Believe in Ron Washington, folks. His lineups are unconventional, some of his decisions spotty.
But he's the natural leader this team has lacked since Johnny Oates.
I won't ask you to believe in Tom Hicks, but I will allude to Daniels. I bet he can be pretty persuasive, even when it entails convincing grouchy old men to give dozens of millions to young club swingers.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Analysis of Another Relaxing Thrashing



Wow.
Their opponents may be 2-13, but the level of pure dominance that has been exhibited by America's Team is simply stunning.
Romo is magic. I'm sorry, do you have a better explanation?
It's great to have Greg Ellis the player back. But Greg Ellis the person is a manipulative, whining douchebag. I'm not sure if I would have caved in Jerry Jones' shoes.
Demarcus Ware is Demarcus Ware. He's one of the top pass rushers in this league, and isn't exactly lacking in the other aspects of his game. Anyone rushing beside him is made immediately better.
This secondary is stout again. You can easily convince me that the opposing O-Line was the absolute worst in football yesterday, but that core of pass catchers remains terrific despite age. We shut them out.
MBIII and JJ both looked solid. They didn't break huge runs, but they very rarely flailed their legs in a vacuum. There was progress. I'm perfectly content with keeping the running game this way until both of those guys grow past their prime.
Put the Cowboys recievers in a hat. Next week, the one you pick may go for 150 yards. The way this team is playing, it could be Sam Hurd.
It could be Anthony Fasano.

BRING ON THE PATRIOTS, BABY!

Greg Buckner traded


I'm a bit behind the times on this under-the-radar story, but the infamous Buck has been traded to Minnesota for the bigger, more athletic, younger, and generally more capable Trenton Hassell.
This looks to me like first and foremost a change of scenery situation, and secondly an attempt by Minnesota to reduce payroll.
I like this trade for the obvious reasons stated above. Buckner was a waste of a roster spot last year, Hassell is a truly good defender who can score from more than one spot on the floor. I don't expect him to win the job, but he'll contend with Jet for the starting SG spot.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Boys-Rams Outlook



Merry weekend, readers.
I know you're all avidly anticipating another great match this sunday. I'm here to predict the outcome before the TV coverage, to rant and rave before Madden gets a chance to.
We kept hearing about how remarkably healthy the Cowboys were last year, and for good reason. The first month of this season has definitely provided us with a glance at the other end of the spectrum. But for all our woes, the grazers in San Louie have suffered a shakeup even more drastic.
Their offensive line, once a source of pride, now consists of one mainstay and four dregs from the lowliest crevices of the depth chart. Their quarterback is playing with two cracked ribs, putting on hold a fate that would sideline him for the remainder of the season. For reference, see Hank Blalock, who sat out around two months of this season to get one rib removed. Their running back, #2 on last year's rushing yards leaderboard to the prodigious LT, (who will inexorably begin playing like LT before long) is also on sick leave.
The Rams are faced with a decision. They can play to the strength of their talented, successful wide recievers and play the sort of game they usually do against a sketchy defense. Or they can do their best to keep their quarterback alive, going with eight yard outs for the entirety of the game.
If the former is true, it will be up to the front seven to exercise the sort of dominance they've been paid and recognized to maintain. Get pressure on what will be a justifiably nervous Bulger, and everything else will fall into place.
If the Rams choose the latter poison, it will be a collective effort headed by he who has seen the burden placed on his shoulders most over the years. Roy Williams is at his best near the line of scrimmage, where he can exert his monster-back mentality, physical tools, and decision-making ability to wreak havoc through blitzes, clothlines, and well-timed sidesteps in front of Torry Holt. Of course, that depends on Roy Williams.
All that said, I'm not too worried. The Cowboys defense has played progressively better as the season has progressed, although one may chalk that up to facing progressively inferior offenses. The Rams don't look too daunting to me with all the weapons they are missing.
Offensively, the Cowboys who have shown up during the last three games would score forty on this squad without blinking. I expect much of the same: Keep their unit on the field until they are drawing on fumes for sustenance, run it down their throat and up their gut with an occasional dagger through their collective hearts. Let Tony Romo be Tony Romo. Let our terrific conglomerate of receivers do their jobs, giving Tony enough open targets for him to do his thing with the usual adeptness.

My prediction:
Cowboys: 41
Rams: 14

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Baton Changes Hands





There's a new power in the NFC, folks. Last night's fireworks show affirmed it for me.

Tony Romo is the greatest field general I've ever seen. The man makes the most incredible split-second decisions, and never EVER gets flustered. It's simply unbelievable.

Marion Barber may not be a #1 back. But good lord is he a terrific #2.

D-Ware finally shows up. It was good to see Ware and Anthony Spencer instilling fear into Rex on a regular basis, this should be a dangerous duo for quite some time.

The offensive line proves their mettle once again. Flozell drives me crazy with his inability to keep track of the game's pace, but the unit kept the CHICAGO BEARS contained. That's enormously impressive.

Anthony Henry is capitalizing on every opportunity that comes his way, and he could not have picked a better time. Terrence Newman's absence hasn't been nearly as noticeable as we all anticipated.

Roy Williams, you're enormously talented. And on the great majority of plays you're a force to be reckoned with. But for god's sake, Don't Hockey-check a tight end going over the middle! He outweighs you, he's got the momentum on you, and he's got the advantage of knowing what he's going to do. Dive at his ankles, bring the man down, and run back to the huddle. Your highlight reel does not need additional bulge.

Despite their woes on drafting contributors in day one of the draft, the Cowboys have done a splendid job of bringing in unheralded players who contribute. Marion Barber. Pat McQuistan. Keith Davis. Sam Hurd. Patrick Crayton. Jay Ratliff. Nick Folk and Mat McBriar. All put in very solid games yesterday.

Let's continue with the tangent of special teams players. Simply... wow. Besides for that blocked fieldgoal, I didn't see a single ST play I wasn't happy with. Most importantly, Devin Hester was completely stifled.

All in all, five gold A+ thumbs up. There can no longer be doubt about this offense, and the defense seems to be improving as they acclamate to Coach Wade's scheme.

I feel giddy!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Boys vs. Bears



Merry sunday, folks.
This game's a big one. You didn't need me to tell you that, we've known it since the day the schedule was put up there. But recent events have augmented its significance even more so.
First off, this is the first game where the evidently formidable Cowboys offensive attack will face a truly worthy adversary. The Dolphins were supposed to be a test, but that unit shows very little resemblance to the one I'd known. Chicago, however, remains a stalwart unit. Despite voluntarily losing Tank the nose tackle, the Bears have what is probably the stoutest run stuffing squad in football. I maintain what I've said for the last several years: Brian Urlacher is from another world. As far as running back banes go, he's second to none, unparalleled, unchallenged. The ursines from the windy city trot out a mean pass rush as well, and their secondary is not an exploitable region.
Offensively? A different tale altogether. We all saw Trent Green make a complete fool of himself last week; Believe me, Rex Grossman is capable of being just as pathetic. The Bears' running game is slightly more potent than the Dolphins', but I attribute that more to teams being all too eager to take advantage of Rex's inability to be mediocre.

In fact, the majority of their points come from special teams. Devin Hester is their greatest offensive weapon, and that's no exaggeration. I mentioned Urlacher as a singular player; Hester is the same way. They've also been stellar on kickoffs, punt coverage, and field goals.

Why am I telling you things you're already very aware of? Because It's telling of the way this game will go. Firstly: The Bears' run D is terrific, yes. But the Cowboys rely on the run not as a primary option, but an alternative solution. Tony Romo has torn up two bad secondaries to this point, I won't deny it. And the Bears present an entirely different animal-but if there is anywhere on the defensive end where they are vulnerable, It's the secondary. That's not to say It's a weak secondary, as I think our hometown boys would be very glad to have one of that quality. But it is not near as stout as the frontline they trot out there. I expect the Bears to gameplan for a couple of things: Eliminating the Cowboys' rushing attack, and shutting down TO and Jason Witten. The first is doable, for as I stated they have immense capabilities in that area. The second will be far more difficult to pull off effectively.
See, this is the thing. TO and Witten are two enormous weapons, and they're Tony Romo's two favorite targets. But if there's anything we've learned about Romo throughout his time here, It's that he's not discriminant. If the Bears choose to assign four people to the task of clinging to two of ours, they're going to pay the price. Patrick Crayton's no star, but he can capitalize if the ball comes his way without a defender in his longitude. My point is this: The Cowboys have depth in their receiver corps, and they're going to use it.
Another thing that intrigues me about today's matchup: Bears' D-line vs. Cowboys' O-Line. Delicious!
What happens when the Bears have the ball? They run, run, run, and throw the ball in low-risk situations. Cedric Benson has made his way in this world by running around the line, not through it. Unfortunately for the famed alum of my favored university, this is where the 3-4 defense excels. If Roy Williams played like he did last week, (or in three full years at Oklahoma and two in Dallas with Woody by his side) Jay Ratliff continues to comfortably fill the Jason Ferguson void, and the Bears coaching staff proves too inflexible to alter their plan of attack they will likely be contained without too much irritation. Rex? He's the least of our problems. I don't know if anyone takes the time and stress to worry about Mr. Grossman, because quite frankly, he hasn't warranted that kind of respect.
If there's any team out there that can contend with the Bears in situations where the center doesn't hand the ball off to his QB, you'd have to think It's our own. The Cowboys have the best punter in football, a field goal kicker who has given no one any reason to doubt him, and a return game that has been consistently solid through two games. What I think will happen on punts: Mat McBriar either gives the ball an extraordinary amount of loft or kicks it completely away from Hester-perhaps even out of bounds. Kickoffs could be problematic, but we can feel comfortable maintaining faith in our boys.

Dallas is coming into a tough environment, playing a tough team, and may again be without four of their seasoned regulars. But they match up favorably with Chicago in enough ways for me to predict:
Dallas-20
Chicago-16

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tank Johnson to Join Cowboys

Rumors of this potential transaction have been circulating for some time, but things are ramping up-Johnson has confirmed that he expects to become a Cowboy, and reports of the agreement have come from sources as credible as Fox Sports and the Cowboys' own site.
Analysis to come later, but at this moment: God, I hope Johnson is a changed man. Because this team doesn't look like it needs a new Nose Tackle badly enough to sign a criminal of this caliber.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Cowboys Train Dolphins to Turn Over



That Dad Joke has been brought to you courtesy of the Norm Hitzges show. We're off to a roaring start, aren't we?

The last time a Cowboys team scored 35 points consecutively? The Landry years.

Tony Romo didn't really stand out statistically, But he did the important stuff.Let's give credit where credit is due, Jason Garret called a good game. But I believe Romo improvised for a large portion of the match.
I wasn't very impressed with either halfback, to be entirely honest. Neither came close to breaking a long run until the Miami defense unit was dead on its feet, and I saw a lot of 'Put on the Blindfold and charge recklessly in one direction'.
Big, big props to the offensive line. If Miami is stout in any area, It's their front seven. But last year's Defensive Player of the Year was equalized, and the rest of his squad followed in line. Colombo, Adams, and Davis especially deserve kudos.
Where oh where has D-Ware gone; where oh where can he be? 3 defensive starters are missing due to injuries, yet the most notable of the invisibles to this point has been perfectly healthy. It's too early to panic, but DeMarcus needs to step up.
Trent Green is simply awful. I used to think of him as the ultimate bus driver, but that injury he suffered last year may have changed him. Four picks? It's a credit to the Cowboys' banged-up secondary, but one need only take a very abstract look at the highlights to note the piss-poor quality of those passes.
I avoided tangentiality on the last point, but here we go. Congrats, Anthony Henry. A pat on the back for Roy Williams. Ken Hamlin, I was just kidding. You weren't a mistake! It was like stealing candy from a baby, but this Cowboys defense had some doubting its ability to perform a task as simplistic as that. You stepped up, secondary.
On the subject of Roy... props to Wade Phillips for using Roy like he should be used. The run defense was stellar yesterday, largely in part to Roy showing us why he was so highly-regarded at Oklahoma.
And also due to Jay Ratliff. I don't know whether he's big enough to grind with the Centers on a weekly basis, but I like what I've seen to this point.
Marcus Spears...
I'm pretty sure Bobby Carpenter's now on a different solar system from the rest of us, too. He's not even being talked about... what makes a top 20 pick who was considered 'safe' into a bench-warmer after a full year in the NFL? Damn, this list of transparent Cowboys first rounders is swelling to a truly unhealthy size.
On the subject of once-touted busts, what the hell is up with Ronnie Brown? The #2 pick in a draft should be better than borderline mediocre.
Anthony Spencer and Bradie James impressed me. The Phillips 3-4 isn't yet putting up gaudy numbers, but the explosiveness and volatility is there.
Joey Porter looks old. He's human, it happens. It goes to show you-stay away from old players, especially in free agency. If a team's willing to let their long-time veteran regulars leave without a fuss, something's up.

Passing to T.O. on 4th and 4? Ballsy. Capitalizing on a dazed and confused Dolphins D? Beautiful. T.O.'s TD celebration? Priceless.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Injuries Aplenty, and the Bovines bask in the Dome of the Dolphins

As if the operating rooms in Texas Stadium weren't already booked to capacity...

Terry Glenn? He went for the option most conducive to a super bowl run this season , opting for surgery that will keep him sidelined for 4-6 weeks with possible long-term detriments rather than a microfracture operation that would have kept him out of action for the season's entirety.

Greg Ellis? He's finally practicing, which elicits optimism-but temper your thoughts of sunshine and rainbows, for It'll take a while to polish off a buildup of rust as considerable as that one.

T-New? Game-time decision, but if I had to guess now I'd wager on his continued absence. Miami isn't exactly trotting out a receiving corp comparable to the Colts', and Wade Phillips should elect to keep his star on the road to recovery, rather than hinder his return.

Ferg? Out for the season. It's a bit hit, as the Mantain (You figure it out... if Manster's a viable term, so is Mantain) clogged up the run in a way nobody else on this line could do.

This one hurts the most, because there's no obvious candidate to fill in. Newman's absence bites, because Jacque Reeves is more raw than a frozen steak. Glenn's blows, because he's Terry Glenn. Ellis not being there is a pain in the ass, because this team is lacking in experienced pass rushers. But Ferguson's the most notable absence-not only because his injury writes off his season, but because he fills a rather unique role. I hate to quote myself, but... Mantain.

The question is this. Do we buy into Jay Ratliff's glorious team-exclusive last week, and proclaim him a mean, lean, wrongly positioned QB-terrorizing machine- or was that play the full extent of his 15 seconds of fame? Can Akin's brother Remi Ayodele provide quality play when necessary, or will he show us all why he was cut in the preseason?

Here's what to expect today.
The Dolphins will try a balanced attack offensively. The Cowboys are hurting both in pass and run defense, and Miami isn't especially strong in either. Expect ugly, ugly, ugly. Lots of dropped passes and dropped coverages, fumbles and missed tackles aplenty. What's a route, and what is this term 'Being in position to make a play'?
Conversely, the Cowboys' offense has been nothing if not stellar throughout their one game this year, and the Amphibious Mammals look to be a very stout defensive unit. We'll see some excitement when the Cowboys have possession of the ball, as Jason Garret will likely call a similar game to last week's: Mix it up. Get Witten involved down the middle, Throw a few deep ones to T O, Crayton, and Hurd, and hand the ball off to JJ and MB3 on second down. Don't ask me why, but it seemed to work. The differences begin here: Miami has the tools in place to stop this attack. Their pass rush is fearsome, their run stuffers even moreso. This will be a great litmus test for the offensive line in particular, as they get the chance to square off against a very good unit.

Prediction:
Good Guys: 20
Bad Guys: 17

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Under the Radar

How does one make enormous military aircraft undetectable? Producing it in accordance with a design through which radar can't catch it. Apparently, Jerry Jones has succeeded in his quest to perform such an operation on the Texas Rangers Baseball Club.


The best team in baseball over the past two weeks? Not the Yankees, not the Mets, not the D-Backs or Angels or Indians. Your lovable, hapless, red-shoed Rangers.
The same Rangers who were projected for the #1 draft selection earlier this year. The same Rangers who didn't have a starting pitcher with an ERA under five and a half. The same Rangers who didn't have a 20-HR hitter until a few days ago, when the greatly underrated Brad Wilkerson smashed one (Yeah,that's a tease. More on Whiffy to come later).

Many things have gone into the resurgence that momentarily lifted them out of 4th place. The returns of Hammering Hank and Ace Edinson. Salty, Ian my religious brother, Frankie the Cat, and Wilk hitting like they're supposed to. Wes Litleton, Joaquin Benoit, and CJ Wilson proving their collective mettle.

All of these have contributed to the one thing that matters: Wins.
Some will say that they saw it coming early in the year; the inevitable Rangers rally late in the year, the same one that elicited so much promise and optimism for next year despite the overall record and divisional standing. But I can honestly say that not since the glorious 89-win spectacular in 2004 have I been this pleased with the Rangers as an organization.

The farm system is loaded. I truly mean this. There are few throughout all of baseball who can match it in depth, and while the top-end talent isn't quite Clayton Kershaw or Jay Bruce; it does include enough to keep me happy. the team is young at most positions; If one would project a lineup for two, three, or even four years down the road every replacement could theoretically be transplanted from somewhere in the organization. That's both a testament to the aforementioned minor league talent depth and to the appearance of franchise cornerstones on the major league level.

I don't know if the Rangers are a playoff team next year. I could be buying into late-season BS again. But I don't think so. And I'm freaking elated to see my team playing their hearts out in the only position they can hope to fill at this point of the year, with a goal in mind that I would have deemed inconcievable for the majority of the year.
Finishing with a record better than last year's.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Heavenly Bovine

I know I didn't anticipate an outburst like that. From either side. Quick Notes:

Terrence Newman needs to get healthy. Fast.

I love the way Jason Garret's offense cut through the pathetic Giants retaliatory force.

MB3 is beastly. But let's not get ahead of ourselves and declare him superstar material yet... the Brandon Jacobs showing was a perfect example of what can happen when a situational back takes over a lead role.

Anthony Spencer's shown in one game more than Bobby Carpenter and and Marcus Spears did all of last year.

Roy Williams is still a liability. A changed man? Say it all you want, but I'll retain my empiricist stance on the theory.

The synergy between Tony Romo and Jason Witten is flawless. A thing of beauty.

I don't know if T.O. makes a single one of those catches last season. Now, there's a changed animal. Did he get superglue artificially grafted to his hands with that surgery?

The Offensive line, Leonard Davis in particular, looked really solid. It may have been feasting on a depleted Giants D core, but for the time being I'll compliment them on a job well done.

Jacque Reeves has some potential. That interception, for one, was the result of a great decision to hang in the dead zone. However, he looked utterly helpless on most plays. With some polish, the man could become a contributor.

Sam Hurd also has some potential-but we knew that. We just didn't realize how much of the rust had been removed.

Anthony Henry looks like a #2 corner. Ken Hamlin looks like the first competent FS since Woody.

NFL Predictions

Merry sunday, readers. I hope you're enjoying your opening NFL weekend as much as I am mine.
On that same note, this seemed like a good time to set myself up for ridicule by announcing the results of my forays into the hazy realm of divination.
Disclaimer: These aren't your typical safe, predictable predictions . What I've done here is go against the grain and pick a possible darkhorse that few are looking at right now, but may draw attention down the line.

NFC MVP: Donovan McNabb. McNabb's ability has never been questioned. He's a top five quarterback if he stays healthy. If the Eagles' quarterback stays on the field long enough, I believe he can put out another season as good as 2004-and if that is the case, he'd be a definite nomination.
Honorable Mentions: Frank Gore, Matt Leinart, Steve Smith.

NFC Defensive Player of the Year: Demarcus Ware. The Phillips 3-4 will benefit many players, Ware most of all. The phenomenal pass rusher was held back too often in the leather-helmet Parcells scheme, and if Ware plays like another Phillips product*- minus the roids, of course- things could get ugly for opposing quarterbacks.
Honorable Mentions: Jevon Kearse, AJ Hawk, Julius Peppers.

AFC MVP: Jay Cutler. It's an enormous longshot, I know. But the one thing I can't get out of my head is the collective voice of draft scouts, who never once stopped lauding the abilities of the Vanderbilt junior. The possibility for a breakout year is definitely there.
Honorable Mentions: Phillip Rivers.

AFC Defensive Player of the Year: Asante Samuel. The franchise tag may not last forever. Samuel's playing for his payday- such motivation, when paired with his undeniable skill, could propell him into the Champ Bailey tier.
Honorable Mentions: Bob Sanders.
NFL Rookie of the Year: LaRon Landry. If the Ed Reed comparisons are accurate, the Redskins will have the most fearsome pair of safeties I've ever seen.
Honorable Mentions: Anthony Spencer, Greg Olsen.

Another order of business: You'll note the NFL power rankings on the sidebar to your right. I'll be updating these on a weekly basis.

*I'm not of the school of thought who believes that Ware is guranteed to be a Merriman, now that he's got Phillips' scheme. In my opinion, people make too much out of their similar draft positions. They're different players-both terrific, but very likely different. I'm simply stating that there's a possibility that Ware breaks out, given the opportunity to do so.

And on a final note... I don't think we'll see a very pretty game tonight. The Cowboys are banged up, the Giants are just bad. But ultimately I think the Cowboys will triumph... 24-20.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The return of Volqueso


The standard’s not high for pitching in Arlington. It never has been.
The franchise has sought to change it in every way possible; drafting high schoolers and calling them up during the very same year, paying veterans without an established track record of success the big bucks; There was even an incident in which the organization tried out much-maligned outfielder and steroid lightning rod Jose Canseco on the mound.
History has come to show, though, that a decision maker must disregard all that he has seen in the past and hold true to this truism. Pitching is manufactured, not bought.
The tales and travels of Edinson Volquez are many for a young hurler. Once seen as the great bastion of hope for a franchise starved for arms, Volquez got a major league callup during a time when he was undoubtedly unprepared. Talented as he unquestionably is, Edison, as he was known at the time, lacked in development both on and off the field. He relied too much on his terrific heater and change of pace, neglecting the breaking pitch and not having control in any of the three. He was a thrower, not a pitcher. Rare back and watch them gape. Unfortunately, that stratagem doesn’t work quite as well in the bigs. Neither did his mentality. Volquez, ever confident in his golden right arm, was not one to bother with pitching coaches or lineup cards. The catcher’s pitch calling was a formality, to be ignored, and game film held the same level of appeal as Raymond reruns.
Needless to say, the major league whackers feasted on his deliveries with great eagerness, and Volquez threw progressively worse. Things were looking dim for the young fireballer, and a drastic measure was agreed upon by those in a position of authority.
Rangers pitching coach Mark Connor, formerly an employee of the Blue Jays in Toronto, had a plan in mind. Once upon a time, a talented pitcher by the name of Roy Halladay came under Connors’ tutelage. After Halladay struggled on the major league level, with the problems cited being a lack of control and maturity, Connor decided to hit the reset button. Halladay was sent to throw with the dregs and the toddlers: That mysterious bunch of performers who labor in A-Ball.
In retrospect, the move panned out. Halladay has 2 Cy Young awards to his name and consistently gets lauded for his preparation regimen.
Seeing little recourse, Connor decided that he had a new test subject for the Time Machine Plan, and Edinson Volquez was shipped from Spring training in Surprise to A-Ball in Bakersfield.

SEPTEMBER FIRST, LOS ANGELES OF ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA.
The rangers have called up yet another hurler. He’s one of the countless many who have made their way to the mound in the first inning of a game, the latest arrival in a varied and motley assortment. But somehow, fans get the feeling that this one is different.
He’s come a long way to be here. His forays began with some very low-profile struggles in a low-profile league. He was called up to pitch in the city of Frisco after seven starts, establishing a standard of success there. The pitcher then went on to embarrass AAA hitters for the Oklahoma City Redhawks.
The prodigal son had finally returned.
There was no fanfare heralding this game. The right-hander’s big-league debut had been covered extensively in newspapers, scrutinized ad nauseum on the air. This time around, it didn’t merit coverage anywhere near that level. The Rangers faithful had grown weary of the circus that this player had become. Untrusting of any who threw from the mound for their club, they treated the callup with disdain-a desperate measure from a club lacking major league throwers. And if the skeptics are amongst my loyal fan base, allow me this disclaimer- I don’t blame you.

Nevertheless, Volquez had evoked in me a certain degree of confidence for his abilities. Ask me, then, skeptics, why?
Because the man has evolved. He’s no longer the foolishly cocky youngster who drew back and fired with disdain to location or batter mentality and preference. No longer the na├»ve fool who believed that such an approach would work.
One may look at Volquez’s start today and deem it unsatisfactory. But I ask you this: Did you expect this?
Edinson Volquez wasn’t spectacular. He wasn’t dominant. And he wasn’t the Edinson Volquez that we’ll see in the future. Of that I am certain.
He threw well on a day when he didn’t have his best stuff. His fastball didn’t have its usual scorch, his changeup was mostly straight. But he overcame those limitations and Pitched-a concept most would have deemed beyond his vocabulary. He threw with intelligence and with knowledge, threw with purpose, and mustered up enough of his nastiness to escape the big inning. All against one of the better hitting teams in baseball, a team that has owned the Rangers since the arrival of Vlad the Destroyer.
I believe that Edinson Volquez benefited greatly from Mark Connors’ decision earlier this year. The team has retained a pivotal puzzle piece, one that most thought lose forever.
Embrace Edinson. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my belief that he is here to stay.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Reminder

I don't bite. I'm an open guy, feel free to contact me. Feel like discussing an opinion in more detail? Have a suggestion for my next write-up? Want to rip on ESPN and all of its ventures with a kindred spirit? Email me! And tell your friends to do so as well!

Wednesday Quick-Hits

Hello, gracious visitors. I haven't given you much material lately, and I'm going to serve up excuses like their stock is flying.
Damn, my bad. I forgot, nobody wants to hear about those. They're petty and irrelevant anyway, you readers are fortunate that I abstained from them.
To the point. There's not much out there I'd want to write about. For instance, the Cowboys have looked good lately. But It's the preseason.
And the Rangers have been noteworthy as of late, displaying an incredible aptitude for impatience at the plate. But because their new talent is unsavory, I'll give it no more than a cursory mention and hope it disappears just as quickly and mysteriously as my sunday paper.

Instead of an extended, boring post on Marcus Spears' dominance of third string Broncos, I'll briefly mention that Marcus Spears is a large, powerful human being and move on to other quick notes.

I like Kevin Milwood. I liked the man in Atlanta, I felt a contemptous fear toward him in Philly, and admired his work in Cleveland. After a solid first season, Milwood looked like a shadow of his former self throughout a large portion of the '07 tour of duty. However, he's starting to round into form as the #2 starter we all know he can be and remain unsatisfied with. He's put forth consecutive VERY solid outings, and I expect much of the same from him for most of his time in Texas.

I have a great feeling about the Bovine Brethrens' running game this year. Two players playing for their big contract, both of whom have showed significant promise in the past. An offensive line said to be on the rise. A receiving game that will surely draw defenders from heavily defending Messrs. Jones and Barber. I fully expect these two to unite and form what will become a very feared tandem of runners.

I don't know if Chris Webber is coming to Dallas or not. A few weeks ago, it seemed like a sure thing. But evidently, he's taking some time to evaluate his options. I do know this, though: He'd be a better complement to Dirk than any other big man the Mavericks have played beside or in place of everyone's favorite German. He sets picks, he passes well, and he has an inside shot. The only trait shared between the two is a mean midrange jumper and a lack of defensive presence. As long as he's not a full-time player, I'd be happy with the addition. 20 minutes a game, most at power forward but some scattered across the 5 for added offense sounds very good to me. Give me that over the squishy, scared, talent-deprived play of Austin Croshere.

I think Marlon Byrd is semi-legitimate. He's not the .350 hitter who was inciting gaping maws, but he's maintained an average in the .315-.320 range for long enough now that I can consider him a keeper for next year. I'd be supportive of abstaining from the plentiful FA Centerfield market and sticking with the inexpensive, productive Marlon Byrd who could outplay them all. I know, I sound like a fool here. It's Marlon Byrd I'm speaking of, not KGJ in his prime or the incredible Ichiro. But I really like him, both offensively and defensively. Call me a sucker, easily convinced by a mirage, delusional. You've got a perfect right to, but I like Marlon Byrd.

Michael Vick is an asshole. In addition, he's either had god awful advice or is borderline retarded. You've been granted physical tools to make us mere mortals wallow at your feet, granted an opportunity to make something huge of yourself. And you ruin it all by making decisions stupid enough to have an award show commemorating idiocy coined in your name. I don't know how to feel about Mike Vick; There's plenty of disgust, surrounded by mounds of wonder, all dwarfed by pity.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Random Ranger Notes



Merry Wednesday. I apologize for my leave of absence, but the lull in activity presented a perfect opportunity for me to get certain affairs in order.
What I'll be doing today is running off numerous bullet points that pertain to recent Ranger events, and then offering analysis on them individually.
Botts and Cruz promoted from Oklahoma, Sosa and Wilk delegated to the bench. This flurry of announcements came directly subsequent to the Teixeira deal. The trade was more than an exchange of players; It was a move signifying a complete change of philosophy within the organization. It was the official declaration for what everyone knew 20 games in: The allotment of players currently running out there are not the allotment of a winning ballclub. It heralded an era of rebuilding, an era which every franchise hopes will be short and productive. But production in this case does not refer to the win column; Rather, It's more contingent on the clubs' gaining frequent mentions from guys like Jim Callis or John Sickels. Young, cheap, controllable talent.
Let's begin the assessment with players that will immediately impact the club. Cruz comes to mind immediately in this category. He's 27, immensely talented in every aspect of the game, and struggling as always. The man can hit a ball harder than anyone on the team, has a Howitzer, can run, and has even started taking some walks. But he's still striking out at a positively alarming rate, and beyond his short hot streak directly after being called up, he's been the same AAAA Nelson Cruz who's elicited drool from scouts and consternation for team officials.
Botts is more of a mystery. Jason hasn't been playing in the league for as long as Cruz, but is roughly the same age. He records his share of whiffs and hits for power, just like Nelly. Where do they differ? One of Botts' truly redeeming characteristics is his patience. The anomalous right fielder mentioned before him had long been known as a free swinger to match Vlad Guerrerro in quantity, while lamentably lacking his quality. Jason Botts, however, has long frustrated pitchers with lengthy plate appearances and a consistently stellar on-base percentage to accentuate his pop.
Neither has been terribly impressive in the big leagues. But if I had to select one over the other right now, I'd pass on the immensely talented dude and take big, dependable, Jason Botts. Frankly, he hasn't had the same opportunities in this league as his colleague. It's very possible that the man lacks for nothing but polish to become a Travis Hafner of Mini-Dunn.

CJ Wilson takes a stab at the closer role.
After Eric Gagne was traded, the question was posed to both Jon Daniels and Ron Washington. With the logical inheritant on the DL, which terrific young reliever would be assuming the role of closer?
Joquin Benoit and CJ Wilson have both put up breakout years this season. Benoit was another of the countless pitchers who bounce around in their respective organizations for years and years, always showing flashes of dominance but rarely manufacturing their stuff into production. He took his game to another level this year, however, and has been excellent in 63 innings of relief work. Wilson was a 5th round pick in 2001, a young lefty who had recorded a 3-12 season at Loyola Marimount. After suffering through numerous setbacks, the greatest of them being Tommy John surgery, Wilson has burst into the limelight. The straightedge Taoist intellectual has a 2.17 ERA, has pitched out of the pen in every role imaginable, and-get this-is schooling left handed hitters to the tune of .088.
The manager and his young counterpart in the front office both stated that they had yet to arrive at a decision; that the job was up for grabs. CJ Wilson got his chance on the first Save Opportunity following the departure of Excellent Eric, and he has maintained a grasp on that chance comparabl to that of an provoked Grizzly.
Any guesses as to how CJ Wilson has pitched in his last 10 appearances?
12 and a third innings.
0 Earned Runs given up, 0 total runs given up.
3 walks, 16 strikeouts.
1 win, 5 saves.
How many hits given up? It's between -1 and 1.
I've been called various bad names due to doting over CJ like I do. But that line is more than filthy. It's beyond ridiculous. It embodies dominance of a degree very, very rarely seen.
Needless to say, CJ Wilson can't keep pitching like Sandy Koufax on a good day. But if he can anywhere near this good...
'The position has been Filled!'

Beavan and Ramirez sign, Borbon, Gast, and Nash remain uninked.
I like Blake Beavan. I've liked him ever since Evan Grant started talking about him- around a year ago. It's hard not to... he's a big, projectable local kid with an incredibly confident demeanor who put up CJ Wilson numbers in high school. I did, however, agree completely with the Rangers in their contractual philosophy-don't overpay unless you're going to have to. In the end, things came down to this: The Rangers wanted Beavan. Beavan wanted the Rangers. Regardless of whatever crap he spewed about his stock potentially rising at Navarro junior college, everyone knew that it was almost preordained. Beavan stood very little to gain by neglecting to agree to terms, and the Rangers would suffer through a major embarrassment. So it made perfect sense for the two sides to come to terms on a deal for $1.5 million, a reasonable sum for a player of Beavan's talent. Don't expect to see much of the Irving righty this year, he'll likely do nothing more than get his scheduling in line with the Rangers' requests before the offseason rolls around. He should start at rookie ball next season, and expect him to progress through the system at a pace comparable to Eric Hurley's.
Ramirez is a different animal. He has similar fastball velocity to the local kid, but lacks refinement on his secondary pitches. He doesn't have the marketability or reputation of Beavan, and signed a deal worth around a half million less. He should progress through the minors at a greater pace than Beavan, though, as he shrugs off his lesser upside with refinement uncanny in a high schooler.
Julio Borbon, unfortunately, seems unlikely to sign with the Rangers before tonight's deadline. The Rangers took him 35th overall, and he was widely believed to be the top centerfielder available of this year's crop. The Tennessee product, however, hurt his product in the eyes of most teams by suffering an injury late in this past collegiate season. His advisor, the nefarious Borass, believes that Borbon can be a top 15-20 pick in next year's draft if he remains in school for his senior season. Obviously, then, getting him to agree to slot money is a pipe dream. If the Rangers offer comparable money to Beavan, which I sincerely hope is not the case (Borbon is a leadoff hitter who can't or doesn't walk, can't hit the longball, and has a puny arm in center field).

According to reports, Borbon has inked a major league deal with an $800,000 bonus, while fourth and fifth roudners John Gast and Garret Nash both went unsigned.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Uh, Barry? You missed something.


Let's allow bygones to be bygones. There's a reason that I hadn't addressed the home run debacle until it was absolutely necessary- other than fervently praying that Barry Bonds would blow out his knee playing a game of pickup street hockey. The situation's just too complicated. The extenuating circumstances involved in this whole scenario are too numerous to list, and I'm sure you've heard them all reiterated ad naueseum.
What's done is done. Henry Aaron can no longer be officially associated with the home run crown, and It's a damn shame.
But all of the flaxseed oil in the world, all the brilliant chemists in San Fransisco, and every strength trainer lodging in Federal Correctional Facilities is insufficient to bring Barry Bonds a title just as respectable, just as admirable, and even more impactful than the one he now holds.
2297.Get used to seeing this number at the top of the list, folks. Henry Aaron played 23 major league seasons, and was the very embodiment of integrity, of passion, of perseverance.
And a tremendous hitter in every sense of the word. And that collection of numerals is his career RBI total, a number which Bonds cannot hope to approach.
A home run is a wonderful thing. With one swing of the bat a player can completely change the current of a game. The inherent greatness, of course, of the mightiest of blasts is the fact that not only the hitter but everyone who may have occupied the basepaths at the time of the shot comes around on the play.
But how is one to gauge the player's run production as a whole?
OK, that was a rhetorical. We all know the answer. But I'll repeat it anyway, just in case Alfonso Soriano is wondering what it is that's missing from his stat sheet. We call them 'Runs Batted In'.
See, this is the thing. Certain players, like the aforementioned once-reluctant Left Fielder, put up very gaudy longball numbers but manage to steer their teams mysteriously clear of the win column. Why? They launch what we like to call meaningless home runs. Solo shots, Drives when the game's outcome is preordained. And they fail to bring runners in any other way. Michael Young, for instance, has had two guys named Clarence from the guitar store hitting in front of him all season long. In addition, he's hit only five home runs throughout the entirety of this year. How many RBI is he on pace for? 90. Because the man knows when he needs to hit, when is team truly needs him to punch out another liner to left field. And he comes through in those desperate situations.
Barry Bonds, in contrast has 22 home runs and a league-leading on-base+slugging percentage (OPS, for baseball geeks like me) of 1.064. And how many runs is the famed slugger on pace to drive in?
Try 75.
There's a reason that people like to perpetually launch insults at Barry, while simply oozing with respect and adulation for Hank Aaron. And it has nothing to do with hat size or media receptivity.Aaron was simply a better player.
If you're not convinced by the plain RBI numbers, compare playoff statistics. Henry Aaron has a world series ring. He has a .363 postseason average, with 6 home runs, 16 RBI, and a .705 slugging percentage in 17 games.
One need only look at one stat to gauge our chemically augmented friend's struggles in prime time. Batting average in 48 postseason matches: .245.
The man of cream is hitting .250 in that most crucial of situations. So for all my kin, all ye like minded, all who look beyond the abstract and waste hours a day on baseballreference.com, Pay heed. For we no longer need to resort to the overused steroid arguement.
2296, people. A record that will stand a little while longer.
And the elusive world series ring? True champions only, Barry. End of the line.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The inevitable occurs



I am sorry, Henry Aaron. I truly am.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Mavericks sign Eddie Jones

Does that photo haunt you? That mysterious veteran bench contributor clad in black and red? Get used to seeing his face, albeit in friendlier garb.
Per the DMN, the 13-year veteran has agreed to a 2-year term of service. He will be paid 1.83 million during the first go-around.
This signing was one anticipated by many. It simply made sense for both sides; The Mavericks, once known as a team of jump shooters, were in dire need of one to come off the bench while providing decent play on the other end of the court. Jones has made his money, and is now searching for jewelry at the tender age of 35.
One may look at the Maverick stockpile of rotating 'swingmen' and regard this move with confusion. There is quite a quantity of prepared contributors at the two relevant positions, so why bring in an aging shooting guard way past his prime? Because they all fill the same role. Inconsistent scorers if at all, 'gritty', fairly good defensively. Jones is by no means a spring chicken, and he's not the all-NBA defensive player he once was. He's not a 20ppg scorer as was true in the late 90's. But Eddie Jones still brings a substantial amount to the table. The man's a capable scorer and a good passer, as demonstrated by his play after the injury of everyone's Least Favorite Flopper Dwayne Wade. And his defensive play is adequate, he's no embarrassment.
I don't expect the newest Maverick acquisition to play significant minutes, he'll get 15 at the most. But he'll be the ranking sparkplug behind Stack, providing instant offense from behind the arc when necessary. Because beyond Dirk and the Jet, there really is nobody on this team truly trustworthy when it comes to lobbing up 3s.
Now you can add a 35-year old swingman to this select group. For 1.8 million dollars, such an acquisition is a steal.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Rangers and Red Sox reach agreement



With merely an hour to spare before the passing of the trade deadline, Jon Daniels made a move that few welcomed but fewer anticipated. He dealt Eric Gagne to the relief-heavy Boston Red Sox for starting pitcher Kason Gabbard, AAA outfielder David Murphy, and 17-year old rookie ball outfielder Engel Beltre.

Why Boston? To be entirely honest, I have no idea. The Red Sox have the fearsome 8th and ninth inning combo of Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon, arguably the most effective tandem in Major League Baseball. Gagne makes sense for any team in contention, being a dominant reliever. But the Red Sox don't need Gagne.
To me, this may have been as much a case of keeping the opponent from acquiring a player as it was actually adding him to one's own lineup. The Yankees are rapidly closing ground, and need bullpen help more than anything else. Unfortunately for their odds, Brian Cashman has decided to make every prospect with a name and two working arms untouchable-which obviously resulted in the Rangers turning elsewhere with their star closer, pulling the trigger on this deal.

Gabbard has put up some very respectable numbers with the Sox to this point. He's not a very projectable player, but should be a solid 4 or 5. He could, unfortunately, be a replica of the pitcher who took the hill tonight for the Rangers, John Rheinecker- a finesse pitcher who enjoys success in limited quantities, but ultimately gets shocked back to the reality.
I have heard favorable reports on the guy, with some going as far as to compare him to Kenny Rogers. The similarities are striking in some respects: Gritty left hander, good breaking and offspeed stuff, an ability to keep the ball down,very solid numbers... but at 25, Kenny Rogers still had a 95 mph fastball. Gabbard may throw a similar curve and change-up, but he has neither the heat of Rogers nor the craftiness Kenny came to acquire. I like him, but he's a #3 at best.

David Murphy, like Gabbard, was a low-ceiling, low-downside Boston first round pick out of college. He's fairly polished at this point, and has very little to prove in preceding locales of testing and development. Murphy plays all three outfield positions capably, although he is more of a natural at the corners. He hits for average and exhibits good discipline in the box, but is lacking in power. He will probably become a very usable fourth outfielder in the major leagues, but with a bit more development may become a Frank Cattalanatto type. And if you look at Frankie the Cat's full line of work, he's had what is altogether not a bad career.

Engel Beltre is the Jon Daniels' prize in this deal. The ridiculously young and skilled Dominican outfielder signed a $575,000 bonus in the previous year, emerging as one of the most highly touted foreign prospects in the world. It is exceptionally foolhardy to make projections for any player this young, but having more tools than a fully stocked Home Depot excites scouts to no end. Comparisons have varied from Ken Griffey the Younger to Barry Bonds... whatever. Don't get me wrong, It's great to stockpile guys like this. I thoroughly suggest you read this article by ardent Ranger fan 'Zywica' on Lonestarball.com. It is important to accumulate players of this caliber whenever possible, because quite simply they're not a dime a dozen. The Rangers have a firmly cemented and productive series of international baseball academies, and they have failed to bring in anyone this good since Ruben Mateo.

It hurts not to have Gagne. But in the long run I must echo my sentiments on the Atlanta deal: A win-win. I don't necessarily think that the Sox overpaid to get what will be for them a seventh inning pitcher, but I think that the Rangers got more than they would have from letting Eric walk in free agency.
And if Gagne genuinely did enjoy his time in Texas, if the heartfelt happiness he continually expressed actually was heartfelt, bring the man back this offseason. Let him close games for Kason Gabbard and David Murphy, and let him lead the welcoming committee for Engel Beltre's arrival in the big leagues.
I didn't mean to turn this into a tribute, but I truly salute Eric Gagne for being a consummate team player through his time here, for refusing to allow early frustrations to sabotage his season, for being a terrific example to every player on this ballclub. Eric, best of luck in Boston. Go get em.

Monday, July 30, 2007

TEIXEIRA TRADED

Tex is a truly primo hitter. But there was no denying that his time with the Texas Rangers was limited, as the tick-tock of the 2008 offseason came inexorably closer. Dealing him was the only possible move, there was nothing to gain by hanging on to Teixeira if we are led to believe that the team is rebuilding.

Let me preface all this by saying that I have nothing against Teixeira as a person. Aside from a little hissy fit he threw over a harmless Dan McDowell comment, I haven't known him to be anything other than warm, open, and... nondescript. He hasn't been an off-the-field headline maker in the mold of local athletes like Terrell Owens. And he's been highly productive on the diamond, putting up numbers that lend to comparisons with the game's historical giants (Check his baseball reference if you don't believe me). Now he can do all that for a contender.

Let's address the pieces coming back for Teixeira. Jarrod 'soon-to-be-nicknamed' Saltalamacchia is a 23 year old switch-hitting catcher/first baseman who is said to have one of the smoothest swings out there. He's a high-upside guy who does everything offensively; hits for power, hits for average, does not strike out with too much frequency, and takes a decent amount of walks. He was initially thought of as mediocre defensively, but has reportedly worked hard to alleviate those worries. Most projections have him producing at about 85% of Tex's level.

Elvis Andrus is an 18-year old Carribean phenom that signed on with Atlanta at the tender age of sixteen. He's a slick fielder hitting in the .250 area in High A. Amongst other things, he's a fleet-footed six-footer who is said to possess 5 tools. His ceiling is sky-high, comparisons to Jose Reyes and Edgar Renteria are a dime a dozen. But he could just as easily become Joaquin Arias.

Matt Harrison is a 20 year old who has put up good ERA and WHIP numbers everywhere he's been. He's not a heavy strikeout guy, but will not walk inordinately many hitters either. A key stat: He allows only one home run throughout an average of 18 and a third innings. Another contributing factor: Harrison's a lefty. He recently injured his shoulder, but the MRI came back negative. Harrison has been compared to Tom Glavine, although I remain highly skeptical that he'll be anywhere near that echelon. He should be a decent 2 or 3 if he pans out. He's not as good as, say, Eric Hurley-but will probably hold the same value as a Kasey Kiker.

Feliz is kargely an unknown commodity. I wasn't able to find much info on the 19 year old righthander, but Braves fans did inform me that he has a fastball that can touch three numerals. That alone could allow him to pull a Bobby Jenks and close if he ever makes it up to the big leagues, but if he develops some secondary pitches and makes sure his head is securely fastened, he could become something special.

As of this afternoon, the Rangers acquired a FIFTH player in this deal. Beau Jones was selected in the first round of 2005 out of high school and is a lefthander who specializes in heat. He had a high level of success in A ball, but has struggled in High A.

Conclusion: This was a win-win. Atlanta has to win NOW, and they've put themselves in great position to overtake the ailing Mets by adding a primo bat and glove at first base as well as a very reliable lefty bullpen arm. The Rangers' priority is rebuilding, and by adding a promising 22 year old ready to step up to a starting job as well as some very promising players still unable to legally drink, they've facilitated that need. Many will tell me that Kotchman/Saunders was the better deal seeing as both are ready to step in and contribute right away, but I don't buy it. And don't bother quoting me Loney-Kershaw-Meloan, that was a pipe dream.
Jon Daniels, I approve.

The woes of Kevin Garnett

There are some subjects that I've spoken of ad nauseum. The large man whose eyes appear prepared to consume your soul is one of them. I'm a big fan of KG- It's not hard to be. He's a singular offensive talent who would be the top defender in a majority of the NBA's franchises. He's been nothing if not a class act with the otherwise pathetic Timberwolves franchise, and has done nothing that leads to suspicion of wrongdoing of any kind (Although the fact that this is worth mentioning may be more a denouncement on the everyday athlete than an endorsement for Garnett).
On the list of great athletes cast in a perpetual state of mediocrity and defeat, Garnett is first and foremost. He's shown a peerless devotion to the franchise that initially chose him, and this has been largely to his own detriment. While he could have sought a trade on many occasions, KG has remained steadfast and loyal throughout.
Until the situation became altogether desperate.
Minnesota is just... bad. Going to a Timberwolves game is like watching a Tom Cruise film. Whether justifiably or not, the main attraction commands so much of the attention that it becomes a 1-man show. In reality, though, the only other similarity between the two is the irreparable damage they can cause to one's ability to ever enjoy a similar performance. Because while Cruise is an over-hyped pretty boy who caught a few lucky breaks with superior talent surrounding him, Garnett is a legitimate superstar in his field surrounded by an abundance of poopoo and a lamentable lack of diamonds.
According to reports, the Celtics are close to a deal that would grant them the 10-time allstar. The likely deal would have them giving up Al Jefferson, Rajon Rondo, salary hog Theo Ratliff, and likely Gerald Green and some first rounders.
The logical question is then: "Why, Or, are you declaring despair and angst for the superstar power forward? He'll be joining two legit stars in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in what should be a dynamic offensive threesome. Adding to the good tidings: Boston is in that region of the continent we like to refer to as the 'East'. Competition is tough to come by, as evidenced by their branch of the playoffs during this past year.
I'm unhappy for KG because he's joining Paul Pierce, who never learned to share. I'm unhappy for KG because he will be the only worthwhile defensive player on the squad. I'm unhappy for KG because tensions will likely run high with clashing personalities, and because I can't see any depth whatsoever left on that team.
I think that the Celtics are now prime contenders for a home court slot in the first round of the playoffs. This is a big step up not only for the franchise that finished with the second-worst record in the league, but for the superstar possibly joining it whose team had a decently placed lottery pick. But the Celtics could easily implode before getting anywhere worth mentioning in the playoffs. And when that happens, what happens to Kevin Garnett?
I feel sorry for you, Kevin. I truly do. Because you don't deserve a situation this laden with calamity. Bring on the scoffing- although I do realize that he gets compensated quite well for his suffering. But all basketball players do. And a player whose career has followed an eerily similar path with a different franchise is attending teammates' weddings in France with four championship rings and a reputation for excellence that has eluded KG due t extenuating to circumstances.

Friday, July 27, 2007

News Flash: Lofton to Cleveland.


Well, the floodgates are down. Rushing water incoming.
As I've stated in the past, I'm generally happy with what Kenny Lofton has provided for this year. It's good to see I'm not the only one, as today Cleveland pulled the trigger on a deal with Texas, making the swap for 23 year old High-A catcher Maximiliano (wow, I love that name) Ramirez. Frankly I'm puzzled that the Tribe went after Lofton, their outfield situation is quite good and they probably aren't considering Lofton for a role greater than pinch runner and occasional corner outfielder. But I'm not one to complain.

There's not much out there on Ramirez. We do know that he's a very good hitter (.303/.408/.505), was drafted as a third baseman and is an abysmal catcher. He was sent over in the Bob Wickman deal of last season, one in a plethora of promising Braves prospects behind the plate. Ramirez is probably two years away, and will likely have transitioned to a corner infield position by then.

The return doesn't blow me away, but anyone convinced by reports that the Rangers were insistent on Andrew Miller is incredibly thick. Lofton wasn't going to contribute to a playoff run here, and I'm glad that he goes somewhere where he has a chance to obtain that long-awaited ring. I don't believe Cleveland can win it all this year with only two starters of any repute, but if they surprise me, great.

Look at the above poll for the latest Teixeira rumors.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Jon Daniels Report Card: Free Agent Signings

Jon Daniels has done his utmost to deviate from the mistakes of his predecessor. He's been accessible almost to a fault, personable, friendly. His hire heralded change, and as stated in past posts, change as a concept was the important value at that time, not necessarily the specifics of the change itself. JD's held true to expectations in that regard- although all required to be different from Hart was an occasional interview with a local sports show and being seen outside of one's basement or the local golf course without a security detail.

Alas, Daniels has encountered the difficulties that most young GMs do. His most significant moves have backfired horribly, and he's failed in his attempts make any full-blown successes when it comes to player swaps. The biggest victory is probably the swap that brought in Vicente Padilla for Ricardo Rodriguez, and seeing as Padilla is now collecting a monstrous paycheck to pitch in AAA, it may have been subtraction by addition.

But when Daniels is critiqued, most fail to mention one facet of the three-cornered job. The 3 major parts of a GM's job are, obviously, Trades, Contracts, and Drafts. It is far too early to gauge JD's evaluation of amateur talent, but what of his decisions as they pertained to players on the free agent market?

Let's begin with the current staff 'ace'. Kevin Milwood was the best in a limited crop of pitchers willing to come to Texas, coming off a year during which he led the American League in ERA with the Indians. Milwood was in his prime, wanted to come here, and carried a general reputation of consistency. In his first year with the Rangers, Milwood posted a mediocre ERA of 4.52, but won 16 games and ate up 215 innings. The first stat is obviously unimpressive, but one must consider that Milwood was pitching half of his games in the hitter's altar that is TBIA.What he did was give the team a chance to win nearly every time he stepped on the hill, as well as represent that necessary Rock of Gibraltar that could pitch 7 innings and give the bullpen necessary time off. During this season Milwood's been somewhat rocky, although a lot of that can be attributed to early injury problems. All in all, quite reasonable these days for 12 million dollars a year.


While not free agents per se, Gary Matthews and Mark Derosa could have been let go by the Rangers with very few batting an eye. While JD can't fully take credit for bringing them back, then, he certainly contributed to the decision. And seeing as these two signed for barely above the minimum and posted years worthy of compensatory picks in this past draft, I'd have to assign a solid A for both contracts.

Now let us move on to this past offseason. JD let a significant portion of the team, but brought on some worthy replacements. The grading will represent not only the players brought in, but those let go. Let's therefore begin with:

Carlos Lee to Houston. We all knew when the trade was made that the chances of bringing Lee back were very slim. He got a ridiculous deal worth 10 digits from Houston, and while he's been good the Rangers certainly can't be faulted for taking their two picks and parting ways. I'd give him more points here, but it wasn't really a difficult decision to make.

Derosa to the Infant Animals: Personally, I was all for bringing the super-utilityman back. But if he wasn't going to contend for a starting job here, letting him go was the right decision. He got 3 years and 13 million from the Cubbies, and I don't fault them for the decision. I can't fault JD for his, though.

Gary Matthews Jr. to the Halos: One of the most trigger-happy moves I've seen in some time, from an unlikely source. Bill Stoneman has a hard-earned reputation as a methodical, obstinate, traditional Gm unwilling to make controversial decisions. But he gave 50 million dollars to the former ranger centerfielder; the career journeyman coming off of one all-star caliber year. Matching Anaheim's offer would have been asinine. GMJ is a good player, but not worth anywhere near 10 mil a year.

Adam Eaton to the Phillies: I never understood any of the hype around Eaton. He's got good-not-great stuff when healthy, and we've seen a firsthand glimpse of how often that comes along. He's also hot-tempered and displayed control problems during his time here. The Phillies drastically overpaid for intermittent decency in Eaton, It's only a shame that Texas didn't get a draftpick out of the centerpiece of the Young/Gonzalez debacle.

All in all, I'd give JD a B+ overall for his decisions to let people walk. The only guy I would have considered bringing back at such rates would be Mark Derosa-and even that would be iffy to pull off, seeing as he seemed quite content with Chicago as his destination.

Signees

Frankie the Cat
. Catallanatto embodied the underrated, tool-less outfielder who usually put up good stats nonetheless. The move made sense for the Rangers, especially seeing as he played with the team in the past. His utter failure throughout this season is worrisome, but the real irritant is the fact that the Rangers had to give up their first rounder (#16 in the draft) to get him. I don't blame JD for the signing, it certainly seemed to make loads of sense. But there's no way around the fact that in retrospect, it was a mistake.
Grade: D-

Jamey Wright.
He's always had the alleged and elusive 'stuff'. But he's also never delivered for anyone on a consistent basis. Wright has been decent throughout his intermittent 35 innings, but intermittent is the key word. He can't stay off the DL, and that certainly hurts his value. Wright blocked Kameron Loe throughout the first month of the season, but that only barred Kam from one or two starts, so not a significant deterrent to the extent of Sammy blocking Jason Botts.
Grade: C

Kenny Lofton
. Coming off of a solid year in LA that many labeled an aberration, Lofton's signing prompted a lot of criticism-a 40 year old career mercenary who had always relied on speed. But Lofton's been nothing if not the consummate professional. He's hitting around .310, displaying a bit more power than he showed at previous stops, and stolen more than his fair share of bases. Big props to JD on this one, and It's a shame that the season didn't pan out as planned. I'd be very content with Kenny Lofton as my leadoff hitter and centerfielder in a stretch run.
Grade: B+

Sammy Sosa. Nobody expected anything. The prose is clunky, but it sums up people's sentiments to a tee. Samuel Peralta Sosa had last been productive 3 years prior, and was shipped from his team (Chicago, all ye absentminded) on bad terms. Sosa Isn't on pace for 40 home runs, and he likely won't post an on-base percentage over .300. But what he's managed to do is fill a spot in the middle of the order better than almost anyone. I hate to point at a singular stat in order to identify a player's worth, but the man has 69 RBi-and that's no laughing matter. I reiterate, he hasn't been great. He may not even be good. But he's done far, far better than anyone expected him to. And at the MLB minimum, he's been a bargain.
Grade: A-

Marlon Byrd. Another whose signing was given barely a cursory glance. Byrd was a well thought of prospect a while ago. This odd duck wasn't drafted until the age of 22, but vaulted through the Phillies system and into prominence in the early portion of this decade. He had played well for one year: 2003. All other indications had him pegged as a talented but mechanically flawed fourth outfielder. Jon Daniels brought him in to spring training, sent him down to Oklahoma. He was called up to compensate for injuries to Frank Catalanatto, and has wowed players, coaches, and spectators ever since. The Byrdman (to borrow the nickname granted to Marlon by Adam J. Morris) is hitting .352, has become a veritable triples machine, and has shown the versatility necessary to play all three outfield slots. I know It's Marlon Byrd, and It's very likely that he's going to regress into his standard level of play sometime soon. But I'd like to remain in Neverland a little while longer.
Grade: A

Eric Gagne
. Injuries. Uncertainty. A history of dominance. All three trail Eric Gagne like badges worn on one's chest-irremovable, displayed prominently where one cannot bother noticing. JD knew the risks of bringing in the dynamic Canadian. Gagne has done nothing but save 16 games in seventeen opportunities, gradually eliminate any lingering doubts about his short-term health, and bring himself back to respectability. There's no doubt in my mind that he is the top reliever available to other teams during this stretch run-but I don't think he'll be dealt. Here's something nobody saw coming- Gagne seems content here. Not only content, but genuinely pleased. If the man is truthful and really does want to pitch here for the long haul, I sincerely hope that our dear GM is working on a deal to secure his services for many years to come. And if he goes? We're in great shape there, too... Gagne's numbers make him likely to be a type-A this offseason.
Grade: B+.

I realize that Daniels has erred-and erred significantly-on several occasions when presented with a trade. But one must realize that there is more to the job that straight up swaps, and JD has done that job with success that is absolutely shocking when put in contrast with the past mistakes of guys like Hart or-call me a heretic if you must- the Great Melvin.