New York Giants Can’t Stop the Run, and It Cost Them a Playoff Spot

December 27, 2009

As a complete sports fan, one of things I do is listen to sports radio. It makes the hour-plus work commute a little easier, as I frequently call in and make salient points, often giving the radio host something else to think about.

Always think “out of the box” and do not always go with the popular thought.

Most hosts do not research or prepare for their shows, and it is often revealed in their lack of knowledge about certain topics.

What the hosts usually do is generalize on their thoughts, never giving specifics to how or why something happened.

During football season it is mostly, “This QB is terrible/stinks.” “The offense can’t score.” “The defense has to step up.”

I love that last one. What does step up really mean? I loved it when the hosts were on the New York Yankees’ Mark Teixeira in April during his early-season slump.

“Teixeira has to step up and start hitting. He needs to earn his money.”

First, a sports player earns his money by playing well BEFORE he signs the big contract. Sports contracts are like the disclaimer for investment companies: Past performance is not indicative or a guarantee of future results.

That prior year’s on-field play gets them the next big contract. And second, talk show hosts expect players to come through every single time, and when they don’t, they are told “they need to step up.”

If a player plays hard, the talent will eventually take over, and success will come. A player can’t magically “step up” his game like flipping on a light switch.

Well, Mark Messier can, but that’s about it.

Anyway, the biggest thing sports talk hosts do (especially in football) is base what will happen in the future by what they have seen lately. 

What a football team does the prior week will determine their thoughts on what they believe will happen the next week.

For example, based upon the Giants losing 45-31 to the Philadelphia Eagles a week earlier, most New York area hosts on 660 WFAN and ESPN 1050 thought the New York (football) Giants would have a close game versus their rival Washington Redskins.

Then, after the Giants thoroughly beat up a ragged Redskins team, everybody thought the Giants (with playoff chances within their grasp) would easily beat the Carolina Panthers.

Didn’t these same fans and media pundits also see the Panthers thoroughly dismantle the Minnesota Vikings that same prior week? Actually it was only two nights earlier.

As I mentioned earlier, I call in to radio shows to discuss sports (and sometimes politics on other stations), and have spoken with nearly every single talk host on both WAFN and ESPN.

I am both informed and thoroughly research my thoughts and ideas with facts to back up my points.

Last Monday I was on my way north to work, when I called in to WFAN to the host Adam “The Bull” Gerstenhaber.

The Giants were to play the Redskins on Monday Night Football, and most of the calls* from Giant fans were from those worried about their team winning that night’s game. That mainly was the result of the Giants defense (and special teams) giving up 45 points the prior week to the Philadelphia Eagles.

* Most sports hosts also only take phone calls. A 10-minute spiel at the beginning of the show and then calls for the next three hours. Even at the top of the next hour, they start with phone calls! Nothing imaginative or different from the last host or the next host. Tell me what you think, Mr. Host. Tell me something different I really have to think about.

When I finally got on with the Bull, first I reported to him the possibility of two games in Week 17 being replayed the following week in the first game of the playoffs.

Then I said I had no worries about the Giants winning that night, as their defense would stuff the Redskins all night since the Skins can’t run the ball.

Without a running game, I reasoned the Giants could focus exclusively on QB Jason Campbell, and would force the young gun into mistakes.

Then, I countered that the Giants would then lose at home to the Panthers, who own a more polished ground game and solid defense, a defense which shut down the vaunted Minnesota Vikings’ offense a day earlier.

The Giants have not stopped a good running attack all year, and I saw no departure in this against Carolina.

Also, Carolina lost their starting quarterback, Jake Delhomme, a week earlier, and was replaced by young QB Matt Moore**. I said that Moore, despite his youth, was a pretty good signal caller. He threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings.

The Panthers used Moore very well against the Vikes that Sunday night, mixing in a variety of short passes off of roll outs and short drops, alleviating the young QB of many on-field decisions.

Then when the Vikings moved up their safeties to help stop the run and cut off the short passing lanes, the Panthers opened up the deep pass effectively.

** Moore is a pretty good quarterback, signed as a free agent by the Dallas Cowboys after the 2007 draft. He played very well in the final game of the preseason against the Vikings, then was one of the final cuts. The Cowboys thought he would pass through waivers and they could sign him to the practice squad. Interestingly, the Cowboys only kept two QBs on the roster all season, Tony Romo and backup Brad Johnson. I still contend that Moore at the time was better than Johnson. Due to a late season injury to Delhomme, Moore started the final three games in 2007. Ironically, his first ever game action was against his former team, the Cowboys.

I said to The Bull the Panthers would do the same to the Giants that they did to the Vikings. They would run the ball with Jonathan Stewart (part of their two-headed monster, DeAngelo Williams, is out with an injury), mixing early with the short passing game, then go deep later on. The team’s strengths and weakness’ matchups heavily favored the Panthers.

The key, however, was the Panther coach, John Fox.

Although in the midst of a terrible season for the 2008 playoff team, the former Giants defensive coordinator has a Bill Parcells type mentality. Even though he never coached under the legendary Giants head coach, Fox coaches the same way.

He will continue to pound the run (especially with the young QB) if the game was tight or even if his team was behind two scores, and would force the Giants to stop the ground game.

Something the Giants defense cannot do.

Despite their record, the Panthers still were playing tough football and have not given up on their season, similar to how the Panthers responded in 2004, when they started 1-7 before finishing off 7-9. This was also after they won the NFC South the prior season.

It reinforces the No. 1 DelGrippo Rule in sports. It doesn’t matter who you play during a season, it matters when you play them.

Since an Oct. 25 loss at Buffalo, the Panthers have played good, tough football, even when they lost games.

So the Giants whipped the punchless Redskins last Monday night and everybody on New York sports radio were already talking on how the Giants would head into the final week with a good chance to make the playoffs.

After they beat Carolina in their final home game in Giants Stadium, all they had to do was beat Minnesota (another good running team) and watch Dallas or Green Bay lose their tough Week 17 game.

What happened was that the Panthers ran for 247 yards (5.2 per carry) and crushed the Giants in front of a hostile Giants Stadium crowd. The defense was powerless to stop the running game, and when the game entered the second half, the Panthers continued to run the ball, eating up valuable time.

What sports, hosts, writers, and general fans need to look at is matchups. Rely less on what your eyes tell you from the prior week and more on what teams the entire season have consistently done or have shown they can’t do. Remember to think outside the box.***

The Giants have repeatedly shown they cannot stop the run, and late in the football season, if a defense can not stop the run, they will not win many games, especially in the playoffs.

And unless a miracle happens, the playoffs are something the Giants will be watching on television. The New York area writers and sports radio talk show hosts should have realized this.

***If a Web site owner and/or radio station program director wants an opinionated, well researched, well spoken, part-time or full-time PAID writer or talk show host, I am available. I have many hours of air time under my belt and you will not be disappointed .


Here’s Hoping the Indianapolis Colts Lose in the First Round of the Playoffs

December 27, 2009

Today was New York Football TV watching day. It is rare that I actually watch both the New Jersey Giants and Jets on the same day, but both games were important to the decent to slim playoff chances each team had.

Also, my Dallas Cowboys team did not play until the NBC Sunday night game at 8:20.

The Giants blew their season because they can’t stop the run. The Jets, with help in three early 1:00 PM games, had destiny in their hands. They only had to beat the undefeated 14-0 Indianapolis Colts and win next week at home versus the Cincinnati Bengals.  And with 5:06 left in the 3rd quarter, losing 15-10, the Jets won the game.

That is because the Colts continue with their ridiculous premise of resting their starters late in the season so they don’t get risk injury. Never mind that all their stars, including Peyton Manning, have been unscathed the entire season.

In fact, Manning has started EVERY GAME in his 12 year career. He has NEVER suffered a major injury.

The best part of Manning’s game is his preparation and intelligence. He continually knows where all the defenders are on every play, and on passing plays seems to know where the pressure is coming from. From there, he moves well in the pocket to avoid direct hits. He has been sacked only 10 times this season and 215 times in his career.

I have not witnessed every game the Colts have played, but I have never seen Manning take a huge hit where you think he might be hurt and miss a game.

Back in 1972 (and in prior NFL seasons), the home teams in the playoffs were decided based on a yearly divisional rotation, excluding the wild card teams who would always play on the road. Therefore, in their undefeated season of 1972, the AFC Championship game was already predetermined and the Dolphins, despite their perfect record, did not host the AFC title game. That game was played in Pittsburgh.

That means while the Dolphins held the overall best record, they were not playing late in the season for playoff positioning. At the end of the regular season, they did what Herman Edwards stated so eloquently – “You play to win the game!”

And with no playoff positioning to attain, the 1972 Dolphins played the final six regular season games for an opportunity at a perfect season. (I said the last six games because the next best record in the AFC East was the New York Jets at 7-7).

In the last few weeks starting QB Earl Morrall played most of the games, as did running backs Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris plus star wide receiver Paul Warfield. The veteran Morrall was the starter the last nine weeks after Bob Griese broke his ankle in Week 5.

Morrall was only removed from the final few games after the game was well in hand. Reserve QB Jim Del Gaizo came in for mop up duty in Week 12 and Griese, back from his injury, came in late in Week 14. The Dolphins wanted to make history and they achieved their goal, a perfect 17-0 record and the franchises first Super Bowl victory.

The 1972 Dolphins players could have used the baby, sorry I mean safety time off like the 2009 Colts received, even more than the Colts needed. The Colts have home field advantage throughout the playoffs and get a first round bye. The 1972 Dolphins did not have a bye and played the first playoff game the following week.

In the 2007 and 2005 seasons with a first round playoff bye wrapped up, the Colts also rested their players (especially Manning) the final week, essentially giving him TWO consecutive weeks off. They proceeded to lose their first round games. In 2005 the Colts began the season 13-0 before losing versus San Diego. They mailed in the next game as Manning only played a half, and won the final game without Manning playing. The best and most important player in the league therefore had almost three weeks off from competitive football. Last season, Manning sat for most of their final game and lost against the San Diego Chargers in the first round of the playoffs.

I like Peyton Manning. He is a superstar player who always tries to perfect his craft. He watches an ungodly amount of film to learn all he can about his opponent, and based upon his overall 117-59 (now 60) record, he learns very well.

He stays out of the public eye off the field and appears to be the all around type guy you would want your son to emulate.

But I really am now rooting for the Indianapolis Colts to lose their first playoff game three weeks from now. You absolutely know now after today’s loss that Manning and his starters will sit most of the game next week, too. I want the Colts to lose to teach them about the shot at history then gave up on.

One of the best parts of sports is the history. While the Dolphins are the only undefeated NFL team since the Super Bowl era began, there have been other teams which have knocked on the door.

As recently as 2008, the New England Patriots played all their starters the last several games of the season and came one miracle play from an undefeated 19-0 season. Their final regular season game against the Giants was a classic game with both teams, knowing what was at stake, going all out.

The 1984 San Francisco 49ers team went 15-1 in the regular season and clinched home field advantage throughout the playoffs by week 13. Starting QB Joe Montana started every game at the end and was never pulled from a game until the game was out of reach. In Week 16 he started and played the entire game in a 19-16 victory over the Los Angels Rams. They went on to go 18-1 and won the Super Bowl.

A year later, the 1985 Chicago Bears had home field wrapped up by Week 14, and their starters Jim McMahon and Walter Payton both played every game down the stretch, even a 37-17 Week 16 dismantling of the Detroit Lions. They ended up similar to the 49ers at 18-1 and Super Bowl Champions.

But unlike their predecessors the Colts mailed it in today, relinquishing their chance at history to save a few plays from one of their stars getting hurt. With almost 19 minutes left in the game and the lead, Manning would likely have thrown the ball maybe 12-15 more times. That is 12-15 drop backs and possible chances at injury. Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

An injury which would never occur. As I mentioned earlier, Manning has been sacked 215 times in his career and has never missed a game. And make no mistake about it, even though other starters like Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark were pulled early, this was about Manning.

Decades after they played the great football teams are looked upon on how many championships they won. The 1960’s Packers won a few NFL titles and the first two Super Bowls. The 1970’s Cowboys finally got the monkey off their back and won two Super Bowl titles themselves.

Those Cowboys beat the Dolphins once, then the Fish won their back-to-back Super Bowls. Both those teams lost AFC Championship games and Super Bowls to the great 1970’s Steelers teams, which won four Super Bowls and are considered one of the greatest NFL dynasties.

Then the 1980’s San Francisco 49ers won their run of Super Bowls, the 1990’s Cowboys won their three and this decades New England Patriots won their three.

While the Colts have amassed an amazing amount of regular season wins during the Manning era, they are only 7-8 in playoff games. They have an amazing six one and dones where they lost their first playoff game of a post season.

The Colts have constantly sat their starter, but particularly Manning the last game of the season many times and only once, in 2004, have the Colts won their first game of the playoffs. But that was with no bye in the first round, and it was against the same team (the Denver Broncos) they lost to that final week.

Manning has only reached the AFC Championship game TWICE in his storied career, losing to the Patriots in 2003 before winning the Super Bowl in 2006.

It is no coincidence that in both those seasons, Manning was forced to play that final week of the regular season, then the next week in the playoffs.

But this first year new coach Jim Caldwell (probably under the direction of President Bill Polian) went against what history has dictated to this franchise, that when Peyton plays late in the season, they win in the playoffs.

Now that Peyton was sat to avoid a non-existent injury and the Colts cheated their fans and the NFL at a shot at history, I hope that the Colts lose again.

Three weeks from now in the first round of the playoffs.

Javier Vazquez Trade Looks Good Now, But There is a Big Variable

December 24, 2009

Everybody seems to love the New York Yankees trade with the Atlanta Braves for Javier Vazquez. The Yankees traded OF Melky Cabrera, LHP Michael Dunn and Low-Low A (although highly rated) pitcher Arodys Vizcaino to get the former Yankee right handed pitcher.

I am always a little wary when too many people love things at the same time. When too many people jump on the bandwagon, it always seems like time to get off the ride. For example, when every housewife is day trading stocks to “make easy money,” the time for the bubble to burst is right around the corner. At that point it is time to cash out and sit in the sidelines.

With baseball trades, I always get a first impression, then let the trade sink in for a day or two before I make a judgment whether a trade is good or bad for a team. For example, the trade the Yankees made during 2008 when they traded four young players to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. Everybody loved it. I did not .

On the surface, there is not a lot to dislike about the Vazquez trade if you are a Yankee fan. General Manager Brian Cashman essentially traded a starting/fourth outfielder in Cabrera, a probable LOOGY in Dunn and a possible good starting pitcher in Vizcaino for an established major league starting pitcher. A starter who was one of the best in the majors last season, going 15-10 and 2.87 ERA with 238 K’s in 219 innings.

But the more I thought about the trade, I realized the most important player affected in 2010 might not be a player even in the trade.

As Cashman stated in his remarks after the trade was announced, he said that replacing Cabrera was easier than getting a pitcher of Vazquez’ stature.  In fact, Cabrera was beaten out of the starting job last season by the speedy Brett Gardner, and unless the Yankees make a move for a more established player, Gardner would likely platoon with recent Rule 5 draft pick Jamie Hoffmann .

I highly recommend this platoon rather than the Yankees signing free agent such as Mark DeRosa, who is not even an upgrade on Cabrera’s offensive production. DeRosa’s career slash is .275/.343/.424/.767 with an OPS+ of 97, while Cabrera hit .274/.336/.416/.752 with an OPS+ of 99 this past year (and is only getting better). DeRosa is 10 years older than the others, will cost a lot more cash (about $6 million a year for 2+ years), and likely will not play defense as well as Cabrera would have or Gardner/Hoffmann will.

I was initially surprised Cashman moved Dunn after the GM almost pulled the plug on the Curtis Granderson trade because Detroit insisted on both Dunn and Phil Coke before agreeing to accept only Coke. Then it was apparent Cashman wanted Dunn available to trade for a starting pitcher.

The Yankees also lost lefty Zach Kroenke in the Rule 5 draft this year, so they are out three home grown lefties within the last two weeks. Cashman is pinning a lot of hope Damaso Marte can continue to pitch in 2010 like he did in the 2009 post season. Kroenke, who was a Rule 5 pick last season also and was returned, has a decent chance of being returned again.

The player the Braves were most interested in was Vizcaino, who according the Baseball America was the Yankees No. 3 ranked prospect. The 19-year-old Vizcaino has a good fastball and knee-buckling curve (the best combo a pitcher can have, better than sinker/slider type guys), but both pitches aren’t always in control. He is a good prospect but for the Yankees was at least FOUR years away before he reached the Bronx.

Don’t you think the Yankees will sign at least two or three similar type Dominican guys before Vizcaino reaches the majors? Plus, the Yankees also have Wilkins DeLaRosa, Hector Noesi, Ivan Nova, and Romulo Sanchez on the 40 man roster who are far more advanced than Vizcaino. Also, Zach McAllister, Jairo Heredia, David Phelps, DJ Mitchell, and Manuel Banuelos are all highly regarded pitching prospects who are also more advanced than Vizcaino.

So although I believe Cabrera is a much more important player than most Yankee fans (and obviously Yankee executives), he and Dunn and Vizcaino don’t bother me as much as the player most likely affect by this trade.

Yankee second baseman Robinson Cano. Why Cano?

He and Melky Cabrera were best friends, inseparable on and off the field. Once they began to play together in the majors late in 2005, they were constant companions. Like current teammates Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, who began playing together in the minor leagues.

Cabrera was always enthusiastic in his play, playing hard all the time (why aren’t Latin players ever called gritty?), and some, but not all, of that enthusiasm wore off on Cano. As an example, Robby saw Cabrera sent down late last in the 2008 season and worked hard last winter and had the best offensive season of his career.

Will Cano be affected by not having his compadre with him on the field, in the dugout, in the clubhouse and on the road, where it might be most important? Will Cano give it his all, or will he show the sings of immaturity that has plagued him at various times throughout his career?

I know that players who are paid millions of dollars to play baseball are professionals and need to act like pros. And in professional sports today, players are continuosly moved, and players like Cano need to understand that it is part of the profession.

But players are humans, and like all of us they have emotions and feelings. Losing a brother in Cabrera might affect Cano to some degree, the degree of which we will not know until probably mid-way through the 2010 season. I say mid-way because Cano sometimes gets off to slow starts.

With his tremendous mechanics, Vazquez is a workhorse and will give the Yankees the customary 200+ innings, about 15 wins, and even if his ERA rises by a full run this season over last year, a sub 4.00 ERA. Better than new Boston Red Sox free agent signer John Lackey’s ERA last season and similar to Josh Beckett’s.

People have speculated that Vazquez will not be as good in the American League and worry about his 2004 campaign with the Yankees, where after a strong start, he wilted in the second half. Vazquez pitched well when he was with the Chicago White Sox in 2007 and pitched well last year against the only AL team he faced, the Boston Red Sox. In that June 27th game , Vazquez allowed one run while striking out eight in 7.2 IP. He absorbed the 1-0 loss and fell to 5-7 after that game.

He bounced back to go 10-3 over the next three months and alleviated any fears of his perceived second half collapses. In fact, his career ERA (4.04) is lower after the All-Star break than it is before the break (4.32).

If Vazquez averages the almost seven innings per start like he did in 2009, he should easily win 17 games in 2010. And with the designated hitter in the American League, there is no reason why Vazquez won’t reach those innings pitched per start.   

However, the true test is if the Yankees get to and win another World Series in 2010.

Vazquez will help the Yankees get there, and the Yankees hope Cano helps them, too.

Marion Barber is NOT a NFL starting Running Back

December 15, 2009

During yesterday’s game against the San Diego Chargers, the Dallas Cowboys ran the ball all day long, including for big chunks of yardage on two different drives. The first drive was in the second quarter, when the Cowboys ran the ball 14 times on a 15 play drive, culminating in a game deciding goal line stand.

Second year tailback Felix Jones was superb on that drive (5 rushes for 37 yards), but curiously did not get the ball on any of the plays inside the four yard line when the Cowboys had a first and goal. Marion Barber got the call four straight times and was unable to penetrate the Charger defense for the score. A touchdown there and Dallas would have tied the game at 10-10 heading into halftime.

The second drive came in the 3rd quarter, when the Cowboys went 99 yards and finally reached the end zone. All season long, the Cowboys have been real good at piling up yardage, but have not turned many of those drives into scores. That long drive was helped by some nice runs by Barber and Jones.

While Barber had been effective in both of those drives, and had similar numbers to Jones. But what does not show up in the stats was Barber’s inability to consistently elude tacklers at the point of attack, and his lack of speed when he bumps runs outside. 

Most of Barber’s successful runs are up the middle, and if a running hole is there, Barber can get good yardage. But he rarely turns the corner any more, evidenced by the no gain he had in the first drive, when he turned a stalled run outside but was upended near the sidelines by the safety. A season or two ago, Barber used to be able to turn that corner and bull his way for a few more yards.That is not the case anymore.

When Barber was his most effective two and three seasons ago, Julius Jones was the starter, with Barber getting an occasional play or two, many times a screen pass which he gained chunks of yardage. Barber would then come in middle of the third to fourth quarter and with his punishing style of running (and fresh legs) would chew up the tired defenses for big gains. Whether the Cowboys were winning or losing this was the M.O., but Barber was even more effective with a Cowboy lead.Barber was the “closer” and was footballs equivalent to Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. When Barber came into the game as the lead back with the Cowboys ahead, they were almost always assured a victory.But Barber is not a lead back, especially with two seasons on those used to be fresh legs. All those instances of running over defenders getting the extra couple of yards have taken their toll.

The Cowboys have had their share of tremendous running backs. Emmitt Smith, Duane Thomas and Tony Dorsett were three of the best. Many people back in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s used to say Dorsett was “tough enough” as he usually slid out of bounds after gaining yardage, instead of taking on a hit. But because of his style of running, Dorsett was able to last 11 years and gain 12,739 yards, including eight seasons over 1,000.Barber will likely not make it another couple seasons, as those type of backs fizzle out quickly once the legs go and little injuries mount. If the Cowboys want to extend Marion’s usage and get more from him (both in terms of seasons and production), they need to start Felix Jones the next three games. Use 2009’s Jones/Barber tandem similar to how the 2006-07 Jones/Barber tandem was used. Start Jones and close with Barber.

Felix is a much more dynamic rusher and play maker and needs to be used more often. He needs to touch the ball at least 25 times from scrimmage this Saturday night against New Orleans. His speed and game breaking skills are exactly what the Cowboys need to open up a statistically successful, but stagnant scoring offense. He has three runs of 40 yards or more this season, averages 6.2 yards per carry in 2009 and 7.0 yards per carry over his first two seasons!

Mix in a little Tashard Choice also, but Jones and Choice (not Barber) should be given the majority of snaps for the first 40 minutes.

And when Jones begins to make big plays during the course of the game and the Cowboys finally have a late game lead, that is the time for Marion the Barbarian to do his thing.

New York Mets Would be Foolish to Sign Jason Bay

December 12, 2009

New York Mets GM Omar Minaya is on the hot seat this winter and for the 2010 season. He is under the microscope this winter to “make a deal” that signifies to the Mets fans base that the organization is committed to winning in 2010. Minaya will also be highly scrutinized in the spring, summer and fall of 2010, because the team he oversees has not made the playoffs since advancing to the 2006 NLCS. In that thrilling series, the Mets lost to the St. Louis Cardinals on their own home field in a thrilling Game 7.

That season marked the only time under Minaya’s reign that the Mets made the playoffs. In fact, the Mets have made the playoffs only once since their 2000 World Series appearance. The low point under the Minaya regime came last season when they finished mired in fourth place with a 70-92 record, 23 games behind their chief rival Philadelphia Phillies.

The Phillies went to their second straight World Series, where they lost to the New York Yankees – the Mets other chief rival, if only for respect within the same city.

Many people blamed last season on injuries, David Wright’s power outage and/or adjusting to their new stadium.

I say it is mostly the GM and his method of maneuvering. I have said before and will say again that Minaya is the worst GM in baseball, and goes for the big headline deals instead of building from within.

Signing Carlos Beltran, Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner, Moises Alou, Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez and Francisco Rodriguez while trading young players for Carlos Delgado, Johan Santana and Brian Schneider/Ryan Church.

All these big money free agents and trades for established stars has resulted in absolutely nothing but two September collapses and one post season appearance in nine years.

Now all the Met fans, media and bloggers are saying the Mets need to go down this road once again and sign a power bat for left field, two starting pitchers and maybe a first baseman.

They say that the definition of stupid is doing the same moronic thing over and over again, expecting to get different results. But that is exactly what the Mets, via their GM, are doing this off season.

Minaya has made a 4 year, $63 million offer to free agent LF Jason Bay (whom Minaya once traded away), and is expected to go after right handed pitchers Joel Piniero or Jason Marquis. Both veteran free agent pitchers are expected to command (at minimum) three year deals for over $30 million.

That is almost $100 million on players who WILL NOT help the Mets win in 2010 or beyond.

Minaya will continue to spend other people’s money because it is the easiest thing to do, and his job is on the line. He is not interested in the long term well-being of the franchise, but in saving his own reputation so when he does finally get fired by the Mets, he will be able to land another job within baseball.

What they Mets need to do is not sign more overpriced free agents, but to build the new team around their new expansive stadium with pitching, defense and speed. Bay is not the best fielder in the world, and has been supported by the Green Monster in Fenway the last year and a half. Not having to worry about balls being hit over your head makes the job much easier. I wonder how Bay would fare in Citi Field’s expansive outfield.

But, Minaya and the Mets hierarchy are just spinning wheels as Bay will never sign with the Mets. Bay and his agent are using the New York market to coax another year and more money from other teams. He has other suitors in Boston and Seattle, plus a few other teams desperate for a bat like the Los Angeles Angels (to replace Vladimir Guerrero) and maybe San Francisco (to protect Pedro Sandoval).

But the Mets would be foolish to sign a big name free agent. One of the reasons they floundered last season after the injury bug hit (the bug was so big, it makes the swine flu look weak and pitiful), was that the Mets system had no ready replacements for the injured players.

With all those seasons of Minaya signing other teams high priced players, the Mets have lost first round picks in 2007 (signing Wagner) and 2008 (signing Alou). To add insult to injury, the player the arch-rival Phillies signed in 2007 was Kyle Drabek, their highly sought after top starting pitcher prospect. Drabek could conceivably be pitching in the majors this season or traded for Roy Halladay.

I mentioned earlier that the biggest rivals for the Mets are the cross town Yankees and the intra-divisional Phillies. Those teams are two of the six major league teams which have made the playoffs in three of the last five seasons. The other teams are the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels, Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals. All but the Phillies have made the playoffs in five of the last eight seasons, too.

What do those six teams have in common? Most of their core group of players were from their owns systems, either drafted or signed as amateurs and developed through the minors. Or, the teams (especially the Cardinals) have made great trades to bring in good players. The Cardinals and Red Sox are especially good at getting quality, winning players via the trade route.

The Cardinals picked up Adam Wainwright, Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds, Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa via trades while the Red Sox recent run included trade acquisitions Jason Varitek, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Jason Bay and Victor Martinez.

But the cores of most teams were developed within. The Yankees run last season with three high priced free agents is highly unusual in that they helped propel the team to a title, but most of their team was built from within. Same with Philadelphia.

Who makes up the Mets homegrown core? Jose Reyes and Wright, with a sprinkle of Mike Pelfrey.

The Mets do have some young players like Daniel Murphy, Fernando Martinez, Jonathan Niese and Ike Davis who could make impacts in the next couple years, but most will never get the full opportunity to fulfill their potential.

Signing Bay is a bad move for the Mets long term success. This is not an indictment of Bay or any other big name free agent. They are all good players and will all sign somewhere. My money is on all three big names this off season (Matt Holliday, Jason Bay and John Lackey) will all sign with their existing teams.

The Mets would be better off in the long run to promote more younger talent and stop buying players on other teams. But Minaya is trying to save his own neck and will never think of the Mets future, only his present.

It is ironic how Minaya now thinks Bay is a good enough player after trading the young power hitting minor leaguer in 2002 as the Montreal Expos GM. Bay would have been a perfect fit four years ago when Minaya traded with the Pittsburgh Pirates for Oliver Perez and Roberto Hernandez. Another power bat in 2006 would have put them over the top that season.

And then Minaya and the Mets would probably already have Bay in the fold as a member of the team,  more playoff appearances and a secure job.

Johnny Damon May Have Overplayed his Hand

December 12, 2009

I thought he was better than this. I thought that this time it would be more about the team, more about the fans, more about the prestige of putting on the Yankee Pinstripes.

I was wrong.

With Johnny Damon, no matter what he said in November after helping the Yankees win the World Series, is still only about the money.

And that is just plain stupid of Damon.

I wrote a piece recently saying it would be in Damon’s best interest to stay with the Yankees as long as he can. To stay hitting behind Derek Jeter, who gets on base an average of 40% of the time, and to hit in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez would greatly enhance Damon’s career stats.

And after winning two rings and making $100 million during his career, Damon’s only section to fill on his career resume is consideration for the Hall of Fame. And playing in New York always increases your chances for the Hall consideration. (Sorry Padre and Royal fans). This is not to say that Damon is HOF material (I don’t believe he is Hall worthy), but other voters might see differently if Damon hangs on to get 3,000 hits. Check out his stats here.

And padding career stats would be easier in that Yankee lineup rather than say, the Chicago White Sox lineup or the San Francisco Giants lineup.

Damon is saying through his windbag agent, Scott Boras, there are teams who might be willing to pay for 3 or even 4 years of his services. Even now, after the Winter Meetings trade which brought Curtis Granderson to Yankees, reports indicate Boras and Damon are insisting on four years and around $45 million, while the Yankees are looking at two years at the most.

Damon and Boras thought they could outlast the Yankees.

Damon and Boras thought wrong. Although Boras has worked with Yankees GM Brian Cashman on several occasions (Teixeira, Alex plus Damon 4 years ago), they underestimated Cash, who had other ideas for the Yankees 2010 outfield.

Cashman traded for Granderson – getting younger, getting faster and getting better defensively. Manager Joe Girardi could easily slide Melky Cabrera to left field and have speedster Brett Gardner as the fourth outfielder. Also, newest Yankee, Jamie Hoffmann, (who is that guy sponsoring his page?) acquired in the Rule 5 draft is a right handed power bat who can play all three outfield positions. He is really good defensively, too, ranked the last few years as the Los Angeles Dodgers best minor league defensive outfielder.

What Damon and Boras keep spouting is that there is a market for Damon’s services. There isn’t. What teams are going to give Damon three or four years? What teams have seriously looked at Damon at all?

None. The teams often mentioned as possible destinations, the San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox, have actually been media speculations based upon team needs, not actual attempts by those teams to sign Damon.

And if the Yankees decide after their internal deadline (likely Christmas) for Damon to accept a one or two year deal, then the Yankees will turn elsewhere. And Damon might end up like Bobby Abreu last season, signing only a one year deal at $5 million. But again, what team is going to pay Damon considerable money like the Yankees?

Many big market teams like the Yankees (why they only want Damon for one year), Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels are trying to nurse through one year of a stop gap in left field. Get through one more year in order to participate in the expected Carl Crawford free agent sweepstakes next off season. Although the Red Sox offered Jason Bay a four year deal to play left field (and still could be interested in Matt Holliday), right fielder J.D. Drew could be gone after next season, either in a Mike Lowell type trade where the Red Sox pick up most of Drew’s 2011 salary, or through two escape clauses the Red Sox put into the original contract regarding Drew’s propensity for injury.

Crawford is widely expected to test the waters in his first opportunity at free agency, but with the prospects of the talented player going to one of those rivals, especially the Yankees or Red Sox, I expect the Rays will come to their senses and sign Crawford to a five year deal for around $80 million to keep him in Tampa. Even though Crawford was upset at the Rays a few months ago, a big contract with the only organization that he has known will soothe any ill will he might hold.

Although I want Damon back in New York in the #2 hole behind Jeter for 2010, what the Yankees should do just after Christmas is go Damon-lite.

With an ever crowded outfield corps with the additions of Granderson and Hoffman, the Yankees should package Gardner and a minor league pitcher (maybe Ivan Nova?) to the Kansas City Royals for LF David DeJesus, a New Jersey product. At 30, DeJesus is six years younger than Damon, a better defender and has been durable the last couple seasons. DeJesus put up a line of .281/.347/.434 with a 106 OPS+ last season and hit 13 home runs, the most he has had in one season. He also hit double digits in homers (12) in 2008.

DeJesus is similar to Damon that he was once a center fielder and was eventually moved to left field. He is a lefty hitter who hits left handed pitching well and would likely put up even better power numbers in Yankee Stadium.

As a bonus, the Yankees would save money, too. In this tough economy, even the Yankees are looking to save dollars (trading Brian Bruney to save $2 million, non tendering Chien-Ming Wang) and DeJesus is signed through next season for $4.6 million with a club option of $6 million ($500k buyout). If the Rays do not sign Crawford, the Yankees would definitely go after him with gusto, but he does re-sign, the Yankees could pick up DeJesus’ option. At that rate, both seasons would cost the Yankees less than it would take to have Damon in the lineup for only 2010 alone.

Johnny Damon is a good player, fits well in the Yankee lineup and would help the team immensely in 2010. But, his presence is not mandatory as the Yankees have other options at their disposal.

Damon has overplayed his hand to his detriment, both for his overall career numbers and possibly his bank account – which is the only thing it appears he cares anything about.

Roy Halladay trade to NL was best thing for both Red Sox and Yankees

December 7, 2009

The title to my original piece was “Roy Halladay Should NOT be in the Yankees 201o Plans.” However, as usual, the thoughts are in my head, and in my notebook (with generous amounts of information and facts to back up my thoughts) but the time to get it all down was non-existent.

Then with the big whopping four-team, 175 player trade went down last week, and I thought that I HAD to get something down.

Halladay being traded outside the American League was the best thing to happen to the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

But not only because each team does not have to face him 3 or 4 times per season, even though historically King Roy has performed well against the Yankees and more recently, the Red Sox.  And not even because the Red Sox were worried the Yankees were going to get him, or that the Yankees were worried the Red Sox were going to trade for him.

But because if either the Yankees or Red Sox traded for Halladay, then both teams would have had to empty the farm system of ready-to-star major league talent. And despite the seemingly deep pockets of both franchises, both teams NEED to keep developing younger, cost-effective talent to compete.

Roy Halladay IS one of the top 5 best pitchers in baseball, is very durable and is tough minded with a bulldog attitude on the mound. He will be good for 30+ starts for the next 5 years, as his mechanics are phenomenal. These strong mechanics put less wear on his elbow and shoulder ligaments.

Contrary to popular negative perceptions on pitch counts and innings totals, mechanics are the primary determinant to how durable a pitcher will be. The only time Halladay missed time due to arm issues was back in 2004 when he experience shoulder soreness. He stopped lifting weights in the off season and the shoulder issues were gone.

Since his AGE 25 breakout season in 2002 (Joba’s age during the full 2011 season), King Roy has amassed a record of 130-59 with a 3.13 ERA over 1710 innings, and won the AL CY Young award in 2003. That season saw “Doc” at his best, going 22-7, 3.25 ERA with an incredible 6.38 SO/BB ratio.

And that solid control has been the key to Halladay’s success. While allowing a measly 8.56 H/9 during that eight-year span, he also has only allowed 1.6 BB/9 for a WHIP of 1.19. That walk rate is Curt Schilling like; even Greg Maddux like.

Notice the trend of winning pitchers and low walk rates? There is no indication that Halladay is going to decline in this category. His season last year produced better numbers at 1.3 BB/9. He has successfully converted from a power pitcher to more a ground ball threat, and he always seems to hit his location when he needs an out.

Also contrary to popular sabermetrician negativity, pitchers can pitch effectively while not striking out hitters. Getting the baseball on the non-fat part of the bat is an art form, and Halladay has that mastered.

But the New York Yankees (specifically Brian Cashman) showed a couple of seasons ago with Johan Santana that they will not pay top prospects for top talent, and then pay an exorbitant amount of money, too. The money is not the issue as they passed on Santana, but then signed CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeira the next off season. But Cashman will not offer up top talent no matter who that player was, even Halladay.

And neither will Theo Epstein of the Red Sox.  If Theo really wanted Halladay, he would have had to definitely give up promising starter Clay Buchholz, probably High A minor league pitcher Casey Kelly (many scouts think he could enter the Sox pen in 2010), and maybe OF/DH prospect Ryan Westmoreland and/or 1B prospect Lars Anderson. Remember, this was before the Jays made the Halladay trade and did not yet have Brett Wallace, their new 1B of the future) in their system.

From the Yankees, the Blue Jays were seeking top hitting prospect Jesus Montero and either Joba Chamberlain or Phil Hughes. Also, seeing the Yankees give up three Major league talented players for Curtis Granderson, new Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos probably would also demand AAA starter Zach McAllister or a younger left handed pitching stud like Manuel Baneulos.

And for both the Red Sox and the Yankees, that is too much to give up, even for Halladay.

Epstein is adamant about not giving up Kelly or Westmoreland and knows he might need Buchholz for more offense down the road, while Cashman usually trades secondary talent for needs but rarely ponies up stud prospects (see Johan Santana).

After trading lots of players for Victor Martinez, Epstein is also learning this tactic. Instead of Halladay, Theo tried for Bay, then Holliday and settled for John Lackey, somewhat of a Halladay-lite. All three of those guys were free agents, where it is just money, no players. If Epstein will never give up Kelly, then San Diego Padre first baseman Adrian Gonzalez also will never get to Boston.

While the Yankees have a deep farm system, with influential players at each level, the Red Sox don’t have many future impact players in their system. In Triple A, the Sox have pitchers Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden, in Double A there is Lars Anderson and OF’s Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick, while in Single A there are the aforementioned Kelly and Westmoreland.

While the Sox have continuously paid over slot for amateur talent, they really don’t have much in the system ready to contribute. Most of their top guys are former high school kids, and are still in the 19-22 age range. And if they trade away the few remaining players other teams covet, they will have to pay top dollar for future players.

While the core of Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, etc is signed for several more seasons each, the Red Sox need to replace (or re-sign at insanely high prices) Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, David Ortiz, Victor Martinez and JD Drew over the next year or two. That is a lot of offense to replace. Even the Red Sox don’t have that much money to throw around. They need to keep those young prospects in their system.

Same with the Yankees. The Yankees have  a few important contracts to rework soon including Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, but it is not as severe as the Red Sox need to replenish. Even Cashman has had “budget” the last two seasons.

That is why the Red Sox and to a lesser extent the Yankees, both needed to refuse to trade for Roy Halladay. Even though each team knows they are in direct competition with each other, they also know there is a finite amount of resources available. Each team needs to be prudent with who they sign long term, and must continue to supplant their roster with more younger, home grown talent.

Trading for Halladay would not just cost resources now (via prospects and cash), but down the road when more higher priced free agents need to be signed because you traded your best impact replacements.