Friday, November 16, 2012

Blue Jays Starting Nine for Opening Day?

On April 2, the Toronto Blue Jays will line-up for opening day against the Cleveland Indians, but fans won't be seeing the same nine that took the field in September. General Manager Alex Anthopolous is probably not finished tweaking the line-up, but until the next blockbuster deal, here is my take on what fans would see in April (this is assuming the trade between the Jays and Marlins is approved);

SP - Josh Johnson
C - JP Arencibia
1B - Edwin Encarnacion
2B - Emilio Bonafacio
SS - Jose Reyes
3B - Brett Lawrie
RF - Jose Bautista
CF - Colby Rasmus
LF - Melky Cabrera
DH - Adam Lind

For fun, here is how I would bat them;

What do you guys think? Does Lawrie hit second? Is Bonafacio the starter over Mike McCoy and Maicer Izturis?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Blue Jays Make Big Trade. Exchange the Future for the Present

Going into the Blue Jays off season there was alot of concern from the fan base. All the optimism that was present in the Winter of 2012 had evaporated because many of the prospects that were going to be relied upon to play significant roles, were not as dominant as projected when called into action this past year. Now that five year plan was quickly turning into a 10 year plan. Along with the players not being in place, there was major concerns that Rogers would not fulfill its promise to spend more money to bring in front line players if there was an opportunity to do so. Fans cited the Yu Darvish situation as an example of the owners being tight with the payroll. Then the Jays lost their manager to Boston and still have not replaced him and the names being thrown around haven't really impressed most.

All the worries about this not being a productive off season were wiped out with one big move from General Manager Alex Anthopolous on Tuesday evening. A blockbuster of a trade with the Miami Marlins were 12 players are changing uniforms. The Jays acquired several all-star, proven big league talents, while sending back trouble makers and prospects. So who got the better of the deal? Immediately the reaction is that the Jays have robbed the Marlins blind. The Jays World Series odds dropped from 45/1 to 15/1 when the trade was announced. A whopping 89% of people on ESPN responded that the Jays won the trade. The cynics in Jaysville will say that we gave up the farm (prospects) and will pay for it later on, but will they care when they are celebrating a World Series on Yonge Street?

This is the type of move that winning franchises, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Angels have made for the past decade. Acquire players that are ready to win now. You know the talent level that you are acquiring, you are happy with it and you know that it will make an immediate impact. These franchises trade away prospects. Prospects are always fun to have because you can dream about how good the future is, but you are never sure if that five-star prospect will actually be able to hit or find the strike zone once they are in the show. You don't win World Series trophies by having the most prospects ranked in the top 100 by Keith Law.

The players that the Jays sent to Miami may or may not become major league stars or even just major league players, we don't know right now, but what we do know is that the Jays acquired two top of the rotation players and an all-star.    

Once again, Jays fans have a Winter of hope. Spring Training can't come fast enough...

For a full list of names involved in the big trade, check the ticker...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

NBA Season Preview - Eastern Conference

The NBA actually tips off tonight, but it isn't too late to get all the knowledge you need for the season. Yesterday we had a look at the Western Conference and delved into some preview and predictions. Today is the Eastern Conference. Where the West is top heavy with several of the elite teams in the league, the East has one powerhouse and a bunch of maybes and some maybe next years.

Here is your Eastern Conference preview and predictions;

1. Miami Heat - D'uh...the defending champs still have their big three in place and have added additional veteran help with Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. LeBron James is the best player in the league and will continue to show it. The only thing the Heat really have to worry about is do they want to keep up the blistering place all season. There closest competitors aren't really that close and although teams will be gunning for them every night because they are the champs, motivation towards the end of the regular season could be difficult.

2. Boston Celtics - The Celtics aren't getting any younger but somehow still manage to stay relevant. They have a big three of their own in Pierce, Garnett and Rondo, plus they have added former sixth man of the year Jason Terry. They also get the boost of Avery Bradley returning from injury to help on the defensive end. Their draft picks, especially Jared Sullinger are enigmas and could either end up being superstars or superstar busts. Barring injury, they are the only real challenge to the Heat dominance in the East.

3. Indiana Pacers - The drop off after the Heat and Celtics is pretty significant. Spots 3-6 are pretty much up for grabs. Indiana will finish third because they have an asset in Roy Hibbert that many of the other teams in the East can't match. A real centre. After Hibbert the Pacers still feature Danny Granger who can carry the scoring load most nights. The Pacers had a great year last season and they must continue on their upward trend to be a force.

4. Brooklyn Nets - New home and a new roster. The Nets have retooled most of the roster starting at the trade deadline last season. With the acquisition of Gerald Wallace and Joe Johnson to go along with Deron Williams and Kris Humphries, this team has scoring. They might put up the most points in the league this season and rival the 1990's Nuggets teams. Unfortunately, they have some real holes on the defensive end. There is no one to protect the middle and be a lock down defender when a stop is required. They better hope they have the last possession on most nights.

5. Atlanta Hawks - They lost their franchise player in Joe Johnson to the Nets in free agency, but it might be a blessing in disguise. Johnson was always the go to player because he was paid like it, but the supporting players might have been the better choice in crunch time. Now they have the chance to prove it. Josh Smith is in a contract year and has the skill set to be an all-star and a health Al Horford can be dominant. The Hawks could surprise people.

6. New York Knicks - Yes, they are old and made a bunch of weird roster decisions in the offseason, but all the experience has to count for something. Carmelo Anthony is a scorer, and the Knicks have to accept that for them to be successful. They will be tough and play good defense led by Tyson Chandler. The health of Amar'e Stoudamire is now a question mark, but his absence might give the rest of team time to come together and develop an identity.

7. Toronto Raptors - Surprised? A great pre-season offered some hope in Raptorland and although GM Bryan Colangelo has continued to manipulate the roster, it seems like his moves might be paying off. European rookie Jonas Valuncianias has earned the starting centre spot which allows Andrei Bargnani a chance to play forward where he is more comfortable and take advantage of mismatches on the offensive end. DeMar DeRozan was upset by some predictions in national publications and fans can only help this helps to motivate him and develop his game. Although rookie Terrence Ross hasn't looked spectacular, new point guard Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields have both looked good. After 4 down years with no playoffs, the Raptors will return and see some post-season action.

8. Chicago Bulls - The depth that the Bulls had for the past couple of seasons (Bench Mob) has been decimated and this really affects them more than even the Derrick Rose injury. Without the depth, and injury to anyone makes life difficult. Rose is really the swing vote in the whole Eastern Conference. If he comes back healthy, the Bulls are automatic title contenders and a first round match-up with the Heat could actually be quite interesting. 

9. Detroit Pistons -The Pistons have a developing young roster and they would be much closer to winning if not for the huge misguided contracts they gave to Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva a few seasons ago. Draft pick Andre Drummond looks like the real deal, but was often knocked while at Georgetown for losing focus, it might be a challenge for him to keep focus for 82 games, especially if losing. Greg Monroe is a good young big man which could pose match-up problems for the teams in the East.

10. Milwaukee Bucks - The Bucks are going to see if two of the best pure scorers can live in harmony and take them to the playoffs. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are each capable of putting up 40 points in a night, but if nobody else scores can they still win? Other than these two, you will know this team but not be able to pronounce any names - Illyasova, Udoh, Udrih, Mbah a Moute and Harris round out the line-up.

11.Washington Wizards - While most of the teams in the NBA have started going small and athletic, the Wizards seems to be going the other way. They acquired Nene, Emeka Okafor, and already had Jan Vessly in the fold. Can these bigs fit with run and gun point guard John Wall? Trevor Ariza will provide some quality defense, and rookie Bradley Beal needs to live up to his draft position.

12. Philadelphia 76ers - The 76ers made a bold move in the offesason trading away all-star Andre Igudala and acquiring dominant centre Andrew Bynum. Bynum gives them a force in the middle, but only when he is healthy and he is already out injured. Like many other teams in the East, Philly lacks depth and will struggle against the elite teams.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers - The Cavs have something special in point guard Kyrie Irving. He is going to be worth his share of wins this season. Tristan Thompson is starting to come into his own and Anderson Varejo hasn't slowed down at all. Unfortunately for Cleveland, LeBron isn't walking through the door and three guys aren't enough to win you a championship or even get you a playoff spot.

14. Orlando Magic - The Magic traded away Dwight Howard in the biggest move of the offseason and got NOTHING of substance back in return. The Magic are trying their hardest to finish last. It will be nice to see Hedo Turkoglu lose a lot of games.

15. Charlotte Bobcats - Can you have worst luck? After a year of sucking and hoping to secure the first pick in the draft, that didn't even work out for them. They are rebuilding slowly and painfully.

Monday, October 29, 2012

NBA Season Preview - Western Conference

The NBA season is just days away from tip off and in order to be prepared for 82 games of action you need to know who is good, who is bad and who will be ugly.

So, here are my predictions for the Western Conference (Eastern Conference tomorrow) and a quick little note on what you need to be aware of.

1. LA Lakers - They made lots of changes in the offseason so it may take the regular season for all the new parts to fit together, but when you have this many all-stars and future hall of famers players together, even if they are cohesive they can still win. Kobe, Nash, Howard, Gasol and World Peace....scary sight for any opponent.

2. San Antonio Spurs - The model franchise. Title contenders year in and out, they have run into some bad luck in the post-season the past two years, but they are still deep and a threat in the West. Tim Duncan is on his last legs so he'll start to rely even more on Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder - The Thunder feature the second best scorer in the league in Kevin Durant and that alone would be enough to carry them to the three seed, but they also have a top five point guard in Russel Westbrook. The trade of James Harden on the eve of the season might put them behind the eight ball in terms of team chemistry, but they got some good parts in return. Might not be a title contender this year, but will have the Spurs consistency in terms of being title contenders.

4. Denver Nuggets - A very sexy pick to be a top of the conference team in the West. They are doing it without one bonafide superstar. It is conceivable that the Nuggets could not have an all-star this season but end up in the Western Conference finals. They have improved their defence, but still need to find a reliable crunch time scorer.

5. LA Clippers - Lob City is back! They have so much depth it is almost laughable, unfortunately it is depth all at the same position and no one is quite certain how coach Vinny Del Negro is going to get them all playing time. Blake Griffin needs to be more of an all-around player than a human highlight film for SportsCentre.

6. Utah Jazz - The major story coming out Utah this pre-season is that Enes Kanter dropped 50 lbs and is ready to make an impact in his second season. The Jazz have support for Kanter if he ends up getting pushed around in the post with Al Jefferson. The supporting cast isn't too shabby either with Mo Williams running the point, Paul Millsap, Derick Favors and Randy Foye. Much has been made of the Nuggets depth and youth, but this Jazz team might give them a run for their money.

7. Portland Trailblazers - New uniforms! Beside the slightly new look, the Blazers actually have some talent and could cause trouble in the playoffs. Perennial all star LaMarcus Aldridge will lead and has support in Wesley Matthews and Nicolas Batum. Besides the big three, rookies Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard have both played well in the pre-season. Lillard is even getting some rookie of the year buzz.

8. Memphis Grizzlies - The Grizz might have blown their championship chances when they failed to use Zach Randolph's magic playoff run a couple of years ago. They still have two of the best big men in Randolph and Marc Gasol but the rest of the roster leaves alot to be desired.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves - The T-Wolves have alot of "try hard" players supporting one super star in Kevin Love. The issue with the super star is injury. Love broke his hand during the preseason and is out for 6 weeks. While it isn't a huge part of the season, it might be enough to put Minny behind early and unable to climb outta their hole. They also have the injury to Ricky Rubio that will delay their success this season. The interesting players to watch here are Brandon Roy and Andrei Kirilenko. Kirilenko returns after a season away from the NBA and Roy returns after retiring before last season. If these two can regain their form, an playoff spot isn't out of the question.

10. Golden State Warriors - The success and/or failure of the Warriors will be based on the health of its best players - Steph Curry and David Lee. Unfortunately for the Warriors they are already hurt and no one is sure when they will be back or if they can stay healthy.

11. Dallas Mavericks - Mark Cuban got his championship and has decided a second one is not necessary. The rag tag bunch of players will not give the Mavs much hope of making the playoffs this year. Dirk Nowitzki is still around and will have to carry much of the scoring load. Vince Carter, OJ Mayo and Darren Collison (filling in for Jason Kidd) will have to try and make the best of the situation.

12. New Orleans Hornets - First overall pick Anthony Davis will make an immediate impact but unfortunately he is only the start of the rebuilding process in New Orleans that might take a few more drafts. Eric Gordon is a quality starter and will make it his mission to guide the ship.

13. Houston Rockets - Although they acquired a couple of nice pieces in the offseason in Omar Asik, Jeremy Lin and now James Harden, GM Daryl Morey has a quick trigger finger and is trying to rebuild quickly. It will be interesting to see if he has any more moves up his sleeves.

14. Sacramento Kings - A great fantasy basketball roster, but put them on an actual basketball court and disaster. Tyreke Evans is probably the player who has the most talent, but no idea how to use it. DeMarcus Cousins is another player that needs to find a way to harness his skills and become an all star. They are still bummed to not be in Anaheim.

15. Phoenix Suns - Oh boy. Put the ping pong balls in the hopper for these guys. Unless you are following Jared Dudley on Twitter there is no real point to turn in to watch these guys.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Pay Me Sucka!

On Saturday night, if you are a sports fan, you were probably doing one of two things. Watching Notre Dame roll over Oklahoma or dressed in some weird sports costume heading to a party at a friends place. Either way you were blindsided midway through the night about the news of a big NBA trade.

Trades in the NBA aren't all that common, they mostly happen when teams need to dump salary (see Knicks, New York) or a player is unhappy in his situation and demands out (see Howard, Dwight). This trade happened because the player was due a big contract extension and his current team wasn't going to pony up the cash.

James Harden of Oklahoma City Thunder has been a very visible star for the NBA the last couple of seasons. A high draft pick, playing on a winning team and his tell tale beard all made him quite the personality. His biggest contribution is probably the consistency that the Thunder get when the bring him off the bench. He was named the 6th man of the year last year because of the scoring (avr 16.8 ppg) he provides when his teammates might not have it that night. Even though many considered him the third best player on the Thunder, he was content, or so we thought, with coming off the bench.

Harden was entering the fourth year of his rookie contract and the Thunder could offer him an extension. Many thought that Harden would accept below market value on his contract extension so he could continue to contend for championships in Oklahoma City. Everyone was apparently wrong. Harden was offered a four year $55 million dollar contract by the Thunder, about $5 million less than the maximum that they were able to offer him on a four year extension. When he declined that extension, Oklahoma City's GM Sam Presti was apparently convinced that he wasn't going to be able to keep Harden and traded him to Houston.

Was Presti wrong for not offering Harden a max contract? Probably, his team would be in a better place with a player like Harden and financially they could have found a way to make it work. Was Harden wrong for not accepting a the OKC offer? Absolutely not! A professional sports career is short and while winning a championship is definitely important to most players, you can't deny the fact that a championship ring won't pay the bills. Harden might have had a better chance at a title in OKC this year, but Houston GM Daryl Morey is creative and will build that Houston team up quickly around Harden and Jeremy Lin.

The only question that keeps coming to my mind about the trade is why did Oklahoma City pull the trigger on the trade so quickly. They could have waited until March to make this deal. If they wait, maybe they realize that Harden is worth the extra cash or they realize that they can live with out and then make the move. Either way, the beard is taking a trip to Houston and the fun loving, young trio of stars in OKC are no more, which has definitely put the Lakers and their hall of fame roster in the drivers seat to represent the West in the NBA finals.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

It's Hard Being The Superstar

When you are the best player, highest paid and team leader and something goes wrong, fingers are automatically going to be pointed in your direction. That is what happened this week with the New York Yankees.

Alex Rodriguez is a superstar player who has found himself in a bit of a slump come the playoffs, like many of the other Yanks. However, they aren't the ones that took the brunt of the criticism when the teams play starting going south in the ALCS versus Detroit. It was all on Rodriguez's shoulder. He was the one that got pulled during a crucial late inning at bat and then benched for the remainder of the series. Would the Yankees have won with A-Rod on the field? Doubtful, but it is likely he would have done better than his replacements. Will fans second guess manager Joe Girardi? Probably not, most fans love the fact that the superstar has to ride the pine, but the people that will second guess Girardi is management. Not making it to the World Series is pretty close to a fireable offense in New York.

Girardi has also sealed either his fate or A-Rod's in New York for the 2013 season. With what happened during this post season, it looks like only one of the two can remain in the big apple. There have already been rumours swirling that the Yankees are talking to the Miami Marlins about trading for Rodriguez. Other teams with deep pockets or those in need of a media splash could include the Cubs, the Dodgers or maybe down the street with the Mets. Rodriguez will not be easy to move. He is on the downside of his career, with an ever increasing cost. His play has declined from year to year, but is approaching many career milestones that could be good for turnstile numbers at least.

If it is Girardi that moves on, don't expect him to be unemployed for long. There are several franchises looking for a new bench boss, including the Red Sox and this would be an interesting move to say the least. That Red Sox job might not be open for long though. The Sox are interested in Blue Jays manager John Farrell and the sports news cycle is already saying the Sox and Jays are talking compensation. If that works out, could Girardi end up in Toronto? I don't think Jays fans would be upset with that move.

What could have Rodriguez and Girardi done differently, well for starters hit the ball out of the infield, but basically when you have a star, you can sit him for one game, but if it goes beyond that, you end up creating a situation that you can't reverse. Rodriguez isn't the first victim of this, look at the Roberto Luongo situation. The Canucks benched him and now the coach and fans don't have trust in him, so he needs to be moved. Girardi has created the same situation with Rodriguez and probably Curtis Granderson. However this ends up playing out we will probably see a new look New York next season.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Parity Reigns Supreme in the NFL

You wouldn't know it by looking at the NFL scoreboard this past weekend, but the two favourites to meet at the Super Bowl in New Orleans this February are the Houston Texans and the San Francisco 49ers.

This might not make sense to you since both of those teams were humiliated on Sunday, at home! The Texans were the victim of the Green Bay Packers. The Packers were the favourites to bring Lombardi home when the season started, but inconsistent performance from the MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a defense that was vulnerable and injured made the first 5 weeks of the season unbearable for cheeseheads. On Sunday though, the offense came to life and the defense, although still fighting through injuries, shut down the Texans running game.

The 49ers who were within a field goal of going to the Super Bowl last season were trying to avenge that playoff loss against the Giants. The New York Football Giants can't seem to get respect from the critics or bettors, despite being the defending champs. They went West and absolutely destroyed the 49ers. Jumping out to an early lead, forcing 49ers quarterback Alex Smith to play from behind and forcing him into turnovers. Then being relentless on offensive. Eli Manning keeps finding ways to hold his offense together finding a new receiver each week to star and a running game that grinds up the clock.

After reading those two paragraphs you might presume that the Packers and Giants should be 1 and 2 as Super Bowl favourites, but that's not how the league works this year. There are no teams that will challenge the unbeaten record of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, but each week there will be at least one team that looks like it belongs in the same breath. Usually you can narrow down the championship field to 4 or 5 teams, this year though, we are looking at 8 to 10. From that list we have to decide, the team with the least amount of faults.

8. Baltimore Ravens - Going through terrible injury crisis on defense but Joe Flacco has turned the corner as an elite quarterback

7. Denver Broncos - One word, Peyton. Although they seem to fall behind in each contest, they have the great equalizer in Peyton Manning.

6. Green Bay Packers - They seem to lack focus this season, Rodgers can't seem to stay focused for a full game (excluding Sunday) and the defense still needs to create turnovers.

5. New York Giants - As they have proven time and again, don't count them out. Playmakers like Victor Cruz and a defense that puts pressure on opponents. They also seem to play better on the road, bodes well for the playoffs.

4. Atlanta Falcons - Despite being the only undefeated team left, they have had some unimpressive wins and often play to the level of their competition. Matt Ryan has developed into an elite quarterback, but the running game which was reliable with Michael Turner has disappeared.

3a Houston Texans - Exposed by the Packers on Sunday, the Texans are still one of the elite AFC teams. Matt Schaub and Arian Foster lead an normally potent offense, but losing Brian Cushing for the season to an ACL tear puts some stress on the defense, JJ Watt will try to fill his big play shoes.

3b San Francisco 49ers - The major concern with the 49ers is how they would play if they fall behind. On Sunday they folded. The blame for the loss will fall squarely on the shoulders of Alex Smith since he is known as a game manager instead of a playmaker. They need him to be a playmaker to have a chance in February.

2. Chicago Bears - No team with Jay Cutler at quarterback will ever be ranked number one in one of my power polls.

1. New England Patriots - Did they lose on Sunday? Are they 3-3? Have they lost 3 games they should have won? Does Tom Brady look human again? The answer to all questions, yes. Do you still trust Brady and Coach Belichick in a meaningful January football game? YES