Sunday, January 07, 2007

And Now, On To San Diego!

"Hey, I didn't go to school, and check me out...I'm kick ass."

Alright guys, I got a ton of stuff on my mind. The real trouble is I never organize my thoughts into any kind of pattern of relevance, and it always just comes out, and trust me, this will be no exception. I was so dialed in on doing my "oldies list" (definitely check that out if you're into that stuff) that I let the last two days just slip by. But now that I'm caught up, I'm going to be able to get at it, so sit back and enjoy my friends.

Ok, so obviously the first thing I have to discuss is the Pats' beatdown of the Jets. I mean I'll be the first to admit that I didn't think it would get that ugly. The Jets hung tough for about the first 2 1/2 quarters, but something happened late in the third that put them into "rewind mode," and the Pats never looked back. Look, the passing attack was effective today, but after the first couple of sideline out-patterns to Jabar Gaffney, do you think the Jets would start playing a little closer in on the wideouts? I mean seriously, in one drive (I believe it was in the first quarter), Gaffney caught four balls on the exact same route! How could Mangini let this happen? Obviously, the defense was afraid that it could be beat deep (Gaffney also dropped what would have been a 50-yard touchdown), so they decided to play off the receivers, giving up the five-to-seven yard routes, which Brady gladly took advantage of. I mean, this is the playoffs. This is wild-card weekend at Foxboro. No one gets out alive. For the second year in a row, we decimated an "up and coming" team. Last year was an absolute joke against the Jags, and this year, although the Jets did hang tough in the beginning, when in comes down to it, the Pats are simply better than the Jets. Better personnel, better coaching, and more experience in these situations. I said all along that the Jets had no chance. They had no chance at all. Anytime you play against Belichick once in the regular season and again in the playoffs, you will not win. Period. Up next come the Chargers, which I correctly predicted would happen way back when (the "Yes, We're Talking Playoffs" column). Look, I am as frightened as anyone about this game. I envision the Charger defense being way too much to stop up front. I think that their speed is going to kill us off the ball. The only real weakness I see in San Diego is exactly what I just talked about; their aggressiveness can sometimes lead to them giving up big plays. I know I'm not Belichick, but I wear a sweatshirt, which makes me close, and therefore, I will attempt to be him right now. Ok, here's how I approach this game on a whole:

Offense: Thankfully, we are blessed with one of the best quarterbacks of all time. And yes, you better get used to hearing that, especially if he pulls this one off (by the way, I haven't checked, but I would list the Pats as 6.5-7 point underdogs). Therefore, he will be able to recognize most of the pressure that will be applied on him, and there will be plenty. San Diego is going to attempt to take over this game as they have tried to do in every other game they've played. First of all, the first play from scrimmage should not be a run. I'm telling you right now, if they try and run Corey Dillon at these guys, he is going to get killed. No play action either; you want Tom to be able to come back and get a good look at the coverage without having to play fake. Watch for Dillon and Faulk to be called upon to chip linebackers and D-ends trying to apply pressure, then, they will release, which is taking advantage of their overaggressiveness, Look, Brady is going to have very few and precious seconds to get rid of the ball before the defense swarms in. So, I would definitely look to establish the screen pass, especially with Faulk, as he has shown that he can be a very nice weapon coming out of the backfield. The reason Faulk got as many carries as he did in the game today was to set up a possible dump pass to him. See, every time Faulk was in the game before today, it was automatic that it would be a passing play. By mixing it up today, the defense could not immediately tell what kind of play the Pats were running. So, screen passes will be huge. Also, look for Dave Thomas to play an intrical role in next week's game. Seriously. Look, I watched the game today, and I was completely unimpressed by the play of the tight ends. Watson has been stuck in the purgatory of "big upside" land since his rookie year. This guy has the potential to be special, but so far, has not lived up to any such billing. As for Daniel Graham, I see him playing a bigger role as far as blocking goes. This guy actually is pretty decent as far as blocking, so he will be called upon to try and at least slow down the OLBs on the Chargers (Merriman and Shaun Phillips). Thomas impressed me in the game against Jacksonville, another team that is aggressive on defense. Another way to take advantage of their aggressiveness is to run a lot of delayed handoffs, especially dive plays. These are plays where the quarterback looks like he will pass, but instead, he freezes the defense and hands the ball off, preferably in this game to Laurence Maroney. Maroney should get the majority of carries in this game. I think Bill will start Dillon, but will quickly realize that he will need a faster option to get the job done against this front seven. I mean other than running screen plays, getting Thomas involved, and running delayed handoff plays, the rest falls squarely on Tom Brady. What is he going to do against such a quick defense? You can almost see that he is going to be getting hit real hard in this one. It will no doubt be the toughest challenge of the year for him and his offensive line. Big plays will most likely be kept to a minimum due to the amount of time Brady will have to get rid of the ball, so the offense, much like today, will have to be patient and try and chip away to get yardage. Really, they should try and keep everything as simple as possible, because once you begin to complicate things (i.e. trick plays, re-directions, etc.), that's when you get into trouble and mistakes and missed assignments creep up. I'm not saying that every series should be run-run-pass, but I think they should not try anything too elaborate. They should definitely attempt to mix up what they're doing, like running on 2nd and 3rd, passing on 1st, stuff like that. If you're the Patriots, realisitically, you're trying to just stay in the game and hope for either San Diego's offense or defense to provide opportunities, which they have to take advantage of. Otherwise, this game will be a lost cause for the Pats.

Defense: Ok, so obviously, when you talk about the Chargers, you talk about LT and Antonio Gates. Those are the two obvious things that you have to stop. I'm gonna pull another Lee Corso and say "not so fast my friend." (I know I have to be's ok, there's a point coming somewhere) The absolute key is jarring Phillip Rivers. I realize that, because we're on the "better coast" and I haven't been able to see him much in action, I'm not really sure how well this guy has progressed. Don't get me wrong, I hear good things. However, there's only one guy who seemingly no one can get to besides the Patriots, and that's Peyton Manning. Therefore, this guy can be gotten to in my estimations. One big factor will be the availability of Rodney Harrison (anyone found out where Bobby Wade lives? I have a stop-over in Detroit on Thursday, so if it's in that area, you give me a shout ya dig?). I mean this guy literally changes how you scheme for the Chargers. So, I have to break it down on two more fronts:

If He Plays:
Ok, this is obviously the best thing that could happen. You get your all-pro safety back, which moves Artrell Hawkins out of the starting lineup, leaving Harrison and the Colonel in the backfield (so sue me, I call James Sanders "Colonel Sanders," come on, that is literally hours of wholesome fun for the entire family). With Harrison in the lineup, you can bet your bottom dollar that Belichick will be sending him in after Rivers often. Also, you can have more zone coverage and focus more attention on Tomlinson and Gates. Tomlinson, don't forget, caught over 100 balls only two years ago. This guy can get it done out of the backfield. There's a reason he's the best running back in the game (by the way, if he throws for a TD, we will lose this game...write it down, if Tomlinson throws for a TD, I will lose my GD mind). Tedy Bruschi is going to have to stay active in trying to cut down LT, while Mike Vrabel will get the distinct pleasure of locking up on Gates, but not to worry, because with Harrison in the game, he will get help over the top, and Gates will not be as effective as he would be without Harrison in the lineup.

If He Doesn't Play: Oh boy. Yeah, I mean that's really all there is to say. I mean I'm sure Artrell Hawkins is a hell of a guy, but he's no Rodney Harrison on the field, that's for sure. Hawkins will be immediately tested by Rivers, who is likely to receive about half as much pressure as he would if Harrison was playing center field. The run defense will not be able to stop Tomlinson. He will be able to penetrate the outside with ease, and the Pats will have little to stop him. The only chance they would have on that front is if LT all of a sudden decided that he was Earl Campbell and try to run North-South, in which we actually hold an advanatge with the personnel we have on our line and our inside linebackers. This likely won't happen, so it's almost expected LT will top 100 rushing yards in this scenario. What the Pats have to hope for, again, is for Rivers to make some inexperienced mistakes. I noticed that in his last game, he got pretty flustered and made a few mistakes. Any ball that is within reach has to be caught by this defense. I'm telling you, if you give this Charger team extra opportunities, they will make you pay.

The nice thing going into this game is that the Chargers are already too cocky for their own good. They believe that this game will be inconsequential and they are already looking forward to the AFC Championship game, which would be played at Qualcomm should they win. And another thing, that guy coaching them is still named Marty Schottenheimer, a name that has been associated with playoff failure for years, so they got that going for know, which is nice. He hasn't won a playoff game since 1993 with Kansas City. That is a real long time. Now this could be bad, considering that sometimes, people are due, and they step up to the plate (how 'bout them Red Sox?!). Anyway, it will be a very interesting game on Sunday. I know I'm going to be paying some serious attention to the injury report when it comes out Wednesday and reading about subsequent practices, because the Rodney Harrison issue is, in my opinion, the key to winning or losing that game.

As far as the other games go, well, I realize that some people are successful at picking with spreads, some are not. I'm not. I'm a "money-line" guy. I know what team is going to win, but I don't know by how much. Anyway, 0-4 ATS, but 3-1 straight up, so I'm happy. First of all, the KC-Indy must have taken place in the "Bizarro World" or something. Let's think about this for a second:

1. Indy's 32nd ranked run offense holds the NFL's second leading rusher to 32 yards rushing.

2. The face of the NFL, Peyton Manning, barely survives the KC defense. I'll tell you once, and I'll tell you again, there is something about Ty Law that freaks Peyton Manning out. Look at "Marvelous" Marvin's stats: 2 receptions, 48 yards, and he got 42 yards of that on a slant play that did not even involve Ty Law being in coverage. Why can't we get guys like that?

3. The Chiefs are held without a first down in the first half, something that hasn't happened in the playoffs since 1960. I mean they're not the '85 Bears fro crying out loud. Am I suppose to believe that Eddie Kennison was completely draped in coverage the entire game? No catches? Are you serious? Look, Indy's corners are questionable at best. If Herm and Trent Green are telling me that they couldn't have tried any kind of deep ball all game, they are bold-faced liars. Come on now. This is the NFL, a league of adjustments. You adjust to what the other team is giving you. Herm, dude, what happened?

4. The key to the game was Joseph Addai and the Indy TEs. Hey, I said Addai was good, and that they didn't hand it off enough to him. Indy was absolutely right to go after the KC linebackers and not try to force anything into their secondary. Addai had a great game by just running up the middle. It seemed like he got seven yards every time, which had to make LJ a little uneasy on the sidelines, knowing that the rookie was totally upstaging him. Dallas Clark had a big game, with over a 100 yards receiving. Basically, it was the same eight yard out-pattern over the middle the entire game, again picking on the linebackers. Indy was able to exploit the Chiefs all game long, and waited until the second half to take full advantage of it. They will have their hands full against Baltimore next week. Remember, they have won the last three meetings against the Ravens, and earlier, I predicted that this matchup would happen, only I thought that it would take place in Indy, so obviously that's going to be a big difference.

Tony Romo finally looked like the little guy from Eastern Illinois that I thought he was this whole time. Look, anybody looks amazing when they're replacing Drew, and I don't mean to hate on Drew, but he's lost a step or ten. The guy just doesn't have it anymore. I mean, he was our Super Bowl QB, you know, ten years ago! That's a long time ago, in a galaxy far...well, you get the picture. Anyway, it was good to see my Seahawk prediction come in effect for me, because I like being right, and I would have been a jackass if they didn't come through for me. As I was telling my Dad, "I don't think losing who you thought would play in the Super Bowl in the first round is a good start." In five years, maybe even less, we will see a wave of teams keeping a quarterback or some player on the team purely as a holder. I'm telling you it's going to happen. I mean think about it, two teams' seasons (Cincy and Dallas) were lost because of botched kicks, and now one team is in the Divisional playoffs (Philly) because they re-signed the guy that originally held for the kicker until he got released earlier this season (Koy Detmer). Hey, this is how people learn. That's why people study history: to learn from their mistakes. Anyway, even before that, I still am not sure how the Cowboys were still in that game to begin with? They needed a ton of things to go right for them (kickoff return for a TD, Tatupu stepping on the line when he tried to tip the ball back into play, etc.). Anyway, I have an easy equation to sum up Romo's performance:

17/29, 189 Yards + 1 INT + 2 Sacks + 2 Fumbles = You're Not Gonna Have A Good Time

Brian Westbrook had a breakout game today for the Eagles, which was not surprising to this guy. The only thing that was surprising is that he only had one score. I thought he would absolutely carve up the Giants' front seven, which he proceeded to do (141 yards on 20 carries, for 7.1 a carry...that's no joke people). Now, the Eagles will play the Saints in the second round in the Superdome, which is a matchup that has already been played this year, with the Saints coming from behind in Week 6 to win 27-24. I know a lot of people though the Saints were special right after they played their game against Atlanta, but I point to the Philly game as the game that really gave the Saints an identity, announcing to the league and the world that they were, in fact, for real. That is going to be an interesting game, and I will be previewing that and the other three games at some point this week.

If you watch football for too long, you really start to get pissed at two parties specifically. Mellencamp is the obvious one. He should be deported, or lose some kind of citizenship of sorts if they allow that commercial on anymore. I mean this is a great country. I'm aware, you're aware, we're all aware. We don't have to be reminded every five seconds by the Cougar, who figured "well, the career is over, let me get back to relevance by releasing a patriotic song." And so it was. The second party has to be whoever had the bright idea for the show "Armed and Famous." I think CBS realized how bad it was, and rather than kind of sweep it under the carpet, they are advertising the s--- out of it, perhaps in an attempt to reach out to every last living soul in America until they get to the population that eats up the reality show stuff. Both just make me very upset, and I don't like to be upset during the holidays damn it!

Ok, well the "Hot Stove" season is about over in baseball, with only the Roger Clemens situation being the only thing of importance out there. I love how Henry comes out and talks about how Roger would want to come "full-circle" and end his career in Boston. Look, the cap on the Sox is around $140 million for next year (hey we're still paying off Renteria here!), and their rotation is already filled, so I just don't see that move happening. With a wild offseason nearing its completion, and with teams spending like it was 2000 all over again, I thought I would run down the 15 best and worst signings of the offseason, along with a few that I am kind of indifferent to, meaning that they have some potential, and they have a degree of risk to them, so it remains to be seen if they were good moves. Ok, on with the show:

Best Moves (in no order)
1. David Dellucci, OF (CLE, 3/$11.5M)- I've always seen Dellucci has having a great skill set. The guy definitely can hit, and the Indians need power from whatever source they can get. The question now remains if Dellucci can have the same success in Jacobs Field, a notorious pitcher's park, as he did in Arlington, which has been labelled a hitter's park.

2. Joe Borowski, RP (CLE, 1/$4.25M)- Borowski had a career year with the Marlins last year and will be looking to ride that wave of that success into Cleveland, where he will be competing for the closer role with, gulp, Keith Foulke? Look, I'm thinking Borowski has a pretty good beat on this one, and will greatly help a woeful Indian bullpen (anyone know if Francisco Carmona is still in this country?)

3. Jay Payton, OF (BAL, 2/$9.25M)- Payton still has plenty left in the tank, and with the O's looking for some stability in the outfield (I'm thinking that Luis Matos is not going to cut it anymore), this was definitely a good pickup, especially at that price. Payton's value, to me, is somewhere around $6.5-7M/yr with what he brings to the table.

4. Hideki Okajima, RP (BOS, 2/$2.5M)- From what I've seen and heard, this guy's got pretty good stuff. It never hurts to have another pitcher in that bullpen, especially one who has the potential to get chummy with the Dice man, so I like this one a lot.

5. Justin Speier, RP (ANA, 4/$18M)- This guy makes an already deep bullpen even stronger. I will say that's a pretty hefty bounty on a middle reliever, but when you see the stuff this guy has, and realize the potential that he could reach, this deal is not so far-fetched

6. Mike Mussina, SP (NYY, 2/$23M)- With the Moose resigning, the Yankees at least have one guy they know they can count on. I know Wang went off last year, but can you really make a guy an ace after one year, especially if you're the Yankees? So, this was a smart move, because with the Big Unit skipping town, the starting pitching is starting to look like a weakness for the Bombers.

7. Mike Piazza, C (OAK, 1/$8.5M)- Piazza finally gets a chance to play in the AL, where he will be spending a majority of the season as a DH. Also, he provides flexibility because he has proven that he is still durable behind the plate. I think, if you're trying to find a replacement for "The Big Hurt," this guy was their best option.

8. Jose Guillen, OF (SEA, 1/$5.5M)- I may be crazy, but for some reason, I've always liked this guy. I love his stance. It's almost like a right-handed Griffey stance. Anyway, the guy has proven he has pop, which will translate well in Seattle, where, outside of Sexson, they do not have a longball threat.

9. Eric Gagne, RP (TEX, 1/$6M)- Hey, it's only a one-year deal, so what do you have to lose here? If the guy works out and comes back to his 2003 form, when he won the NL Cy Young, the Rangers will look like geniuses and be contenders for the wide-open AL West. If he flops, they kept Akinori Otzuka, who had a brilliant year last year, and can switch him out fro Gagne, who you have only committed to for one year. This is a win-win in my opinion for Texas.

10. Mark DeRosa, UTIL (CHC, 3/$13M)- With DeRosa, you have a guy that can hit and play five different positions. I'm not kidding, five. So, when you're talking a guy with that kind of flexibility, and when you consider all the money the Cubbies spent this offseason, this move looks like gold to me.

11. Alex Gonzalez, SS (CIN, 3/$14)- Had he been given more time in Boston, I believe he could have shown some of the pop that he had shown in the past, but again, this front office wants to see results right now, and with them being enamored with Julio Lugo (who not surprisingly does not make this particular list), Gonzo's days were numbered. He will bring the Reds gold-glove quality defense at short, and will probably get around .260/14/70 stats. Why does Cincy keep getting our quality guys (Bronson)?

12. Randy Wolf, SP, (LAD, 1/$8M)- I'm convinced...wait, I know for a fact, that the reason Wolf's price was "only" eight a year was due to the fact that he has suffered injuries to cut short his last two seasons. Still, the guy has impressive stuff when he's on, and also, when you have Brad Penny as your ace, you're already playing with fire. So taking a chance on Wolf I feel is not a bad move at all, and again, you're only on the hook for one year, so the risk is cut by that much more.

13. Kip Wells, SP (STL, 1/$4M)- So the Cardinals were definitely looking for starting pitching considering that two of their guys, Suppan and Marquis, were expected to get major raises, meaning they would probably price themselves out of St. Louis. Even the Red Sox have made a run at Kip Wells in the past. He's nothing flashy, but he will probably get you about 10-12 wins, and by today's standards, $4 million is getting him on the cheap when you consider what other pitchers of his caliber got (by the way, most of them are in the bad move section).

14. Marcus Giles, 2B (SD, 1/$3.75M)- Many people, including obviously the Braves, question whether or not Giles can maintain for an entire year. The Padres saw this as a great opportunity when he was released by Atlanta, and picked him up at a bargain rate. The Sox were thought to have a lot of interest, but they still believe Pedroia can handle a full season's workload in the bigs. The guy will only be 28 years old heading into the season, so the Padres made a well-calculated move here.

15. Pedro Feliz, 3B (SF, 1/$5.1M)- Here's another guy who I have always been huge on. Feliz has shown in the past that he is a guy who has 30/100 written all over him. With the Padres having little power anyway (I think Bonds and Durham were the only other guys to hit over 15 homers last year), Feliz brings an upside, which I don't think he has reached yet, and proven power back to the Giants.

Bad Moves (again in no order):
1. Danys Baez, RP (BAL, 3/$19M)- Baez was targetted by the Sox to potentially serve as the closer, which he had done in Tampa Bay in years past. Here's the thing: Baltimore already has an outstanding closer in Chris Ray, so what are they thinking here? Ray is still listed as the closer, meaning you're basically paying around $6.5 million/year to this guy to be a set-up man? That's some crazy money right there (note: honorable mention, because I don't want to beat up too bad on the O's, is Chad Bradford, the submariner, who got 3/$10.5M...guess that revenue sharing is starting to kick in in Baltimore).

2. Aubrey Huff, 1B (BAL, 3/$20M)- I didn't want to do another Oriole move, but they give me no choice! Here's a guy who has shown that he is on the down-slope of his career. True, he did provide a spark for the 'Stros last year when he was acquired from Tampa, but the spark he's going to need to provide at almost $7 mil a year is going to have to dwarf what he did last year.

3. Julio Lugo, SS (BOS, 4/$36M)- Well, so much for that whole philosophy about handing out long-term deals. Look, the Sox have wanted this guy for two years, he finally became available, and they got him by basically bidding against themselves. I'm thinking he lasts maybe this year. He might somehow reappear in two years, but I got heavy odds that say he won't live out the length of this deal (as a side note, J.D. Drew is not on this list because that signing is not official yet; when it is completed, just be aware that his signing would have almost trumped anyone on this list).

4. Gil Meche, SP (KC, 5/$55M)- Let me get this straight, because I may be a little confused on this. Kansas City, after not making a decent move in nearly a decade, when they traded Michael Tucker for Jermaine Dye, have been saving all the money and splash factor on Gil Meche? You want to talk about a horrendously run franchise, this may take the cake of bad moves in my lifetime. Am I crazy? This guy is like a #3 starter at best, yet the Royals, who supposedly were not big spenders, go out and drop all this money so Gil Meche would be their ace? Let me tell you something, if their idea would be to field a better team and get more people to show at Kaufman, Meche will not help your team and he certainly won't get any more asses in the seats (also, they paid Octavio Dotel $5 million; here's a guy whose made 29 appearances in two years! What in the world is going on in KC?).

5. Gary Matthews, Jr., OF (ANA, 5/$50M)- So the Angel front office must have TIVO'd that catch Matthews made, just loop it on the stadium scoreboard, and attempt to convince themselves that this was a good move. I'm here to tell you it's not. I will say Matthews has an above average glove. I concede that, but I'm not about to say that his glove, or any other combination of the other things he does, warrants him getting $10 million a year. Basically, the Angels are banking on Matthews to do exponentially better every year. If you look at the last two years he has played, the only real difference is his batting average, but other than that, I don't see very much improvement. The guy is 32 years old. When I looked up his stats in (a groovy site I must say), they compare him, hitting-wise, with the following players at age 31: Mark Whiten, Michael Tucker, and Mike Deveraux to name a few. Plus, when comparing hitters currently playing of any age to him, you get guys like Gabe Kapler, Terrence Long, and Corey Patterson. So, again, is this guy really a $10 million/year player? I vote a resounding "no."

6. Andy Pettitte, SP (NYY, 1/$16M)- Ah yes, I love to see the Yankees revert back to their free-spending days. Just when it looks like they are about to turn the corner, you know, parring off salary, trading vets for prospects, they drop $16 million on a guy who went 14-13 in the National League! It would be, perhaps, a more interesting arguement if he were facing a DH in his starts, but no, this was for Houston. Basically, the Yankees are using this in two ways:

1.) To bring back any kind of karma they were riding in the late '90s when they were winning all those championships, and
2.) A pawn in attempts to bring Roger Clemens back to New York, in which they would probably be dropping another $20-25 million.

Look, I think Pettitte is a good pitcher, and it's definitely a plus when you have a reliable lefty in your rotation, but to give a guy coming off injury $16 million and a player option for 2008 is lunacy. When you got a GM named "Cashman," you're bound to be tossing some money around. As they say: "Old habits are hard to break." (by the way, Cashman being the GM of the Yankees is almost as comparable to a fullback named "Mack Strong" as far as being eerily coincidental).

7. Vincente Padilla, SP (TEX, 3/$33.75M)- Obviously, the Rangers had stacked all their chips on Barry Zito signing with them, and when that didn't happen, they had missed out on the rest of the market (not that it was ever great to begin with). So, they still needed a pitcher, and Padilla was the only name really left, so there you go. Hey, good for Vincente being patient enough to wait out the entire market, then jack up his price, and cash in with a three year deal. That's a solid business move, and his agent should be commended.

8. Gregg Zaun, C (TOR, 2/$7.25M)- Clearly, this is a case of the whole "Rod Barajas" fiasco blowing up in the Blue Jays' face. They had the guy they wanted all along, but then Barajas fails his physical, and the contract is voided out. Now, they're stuck with having to pay a preverbial backup almost $4 million a year to start for them. Note to other teams: make sure you don't cast off a guy already on your team in hopes to sign another free agent, because it may fall thorugh, and you may have to end up giving your guy a hell of a lot more money than he deserves (ahem: J.D. Drew and Trot Nixon perhaps?).

9. Ted Lilly, SP (CHC, 4/$40M)- Actually when you look at the other contracts floating out there, this one doesn't seem all that bad, yet I see failure written all over this. This was almost like Toronto putting Lilly "out to stud" in a way. I think Wrigley is a place where careers die for older players. They have good young talent, but the veterans they sign who are over 30 are usually just plain bad. Lilly I feel will be no exception. Fortunately for him, he is a lefty, and was easily able to make $10 million/year in this year's market.

10. Jason Marquis, SP (CHC, 3/$20M)- Ok, now we're really reaching here. This guy was left off the Cardinals postseason roster! And they are still giving him almost $7 million/year? This guy will do no better than .500 this year, and yet he gets a huge pay day seemingly due to the season he had in 2004, when he went 15-7 with a 3.71 ERA. I'm telling you, paying off guys because of what they did two or three years ago almost never works. In baseball, 99% of the time, when a guy has a career year, then falls off in the next couple of seasons, he will never be able to return to "career year" form again. I think this will be another major casuality for the Cubbies, who are going to have to rely on Zambrano and the oft-injured Kerry Wood to carry this rotation all season long.

11. Juan Pierre, OF (LAD, 5, $44M)- Alright, so what does a get when their biggest need is power? Of course, Juan Pierre! A guy who has 12 homers in his entire career! What are the Dodgers planning on doing this year, suicide squeezing teams to death? You want to talk about a pitching staff that is going to be relied upon, the Dodgers are relegated to their staff being a crutch for their offense, and if anyone goes down, it's all over for them. They lost J.D. Drew and, basically, have done nothing to make up for the power they are losing. Also, don't they already have a leadoff man in Furcal, who, oh by the way, they are paying $13 million a year for? What are you going to do with two leadoff guys? That whole Pierre/Luis Castillo 1-2 combo the Marlins pulled off (the only "two leadoff guys in the same lineup" I can think of right now) only worked because they actually had power (Miguel Cabrera, Derrek Lee, Juan Encarnacion, Pudge Rodriguez, Mike Lowell) to offset the lack of power at the top. I think it's going to be a rough year for the "Blue Crew."

12. Jeff Suppan, SP (MIL, 4/$42M)- Ok, maybe it's because I'm a Sox fan, but I don't get how this guy is still in the league. I mean obviously the NL is the league for him (51-61 in the AL, 55-41 in the NL). When he pitched for the Sox a few years back, he was beyond awful, so maybe I just can't get over that fact. He actually does have some protection in the rotation in Milwaukee with Ben Sheets and Chris Capuano, so it may end up working out ok for them. My whole thing is that there is no way this guy should be getting $10.5 mil/year, so that's why this is not in the "indifferent" list.

13. Adam Eaton, SP (PHI, 3/$24.5M)- This is almost comparable to the Rangers and Padilla. Here was a team looking to land a huge free agent. They pursued Soriano and Carlos Lee, explored a possible Manny Ramirez trade, then tried to get Ted Lilly. They failed on all three, and Adam Eaton became their "splash" for the year. Let me tell you something, the Phils are lucky they have a core of Howard, Utley, and Rollins, because outside of those guys, this team would be the preeminent cellar dwellers every year. Adam Eaton? He couldn't even cut it in Texas! He only pitched 65 innings last year, and not once in his career has he ever broken the 200-inning mark.

14. Moises Alou, OF (NYM, 1/$8.5M)- Some people say that the Mets were attempting to upgrade their outfield here. No, actually, what they were trying to do his find a security blanket so that they could deal Lastings Milledge before his value dropped anymore. Milledge was supposedly the next big thing for the Mets, but instead, he has fluttered in mediocrity in his stints in the majors, making many trips back down to the minors. So, the Mets went out and found a guy who could hold the fort in the event that no one wanted Milledge, which was exactly the case. Unfortunately, they got completely ripped off here. If you look at Alou's stats, I will admit, they aren't all that bad. He still has around a .280-.290 average with decent power...but the guy's pushig 40! Did Omar Minaya find Ponce de Leon's "fountain of youth" in Flushing? They already have Julio Franco and Tom Glavine on this team, are they trying to get group senior rates? Also, they're paying this guy, basically, to platoon with Shawn Green, meaning that he's only going to get his ups against lefties most likely. So, it's basically like paying $8.5 million for a guy to play around 40-50 games a year.

15. Barry Zito, SP (SF, 7/ $126M)- Last but not least, the epitome of all the over-inflated contracts this year. Ta-dah! Barry Zito used whatever leverage he could possibly find to wind up with the largest contract for a pitcher in major league history. Considering Johan Santana and Carlos Zambrano will be free agents next year, they may want to consider sitting out this year to make sure no injuries will sideline them, as their contracts will make this look like the Giants got Zito off the "Dollar Menu." This bears repeating: This was the dumbest signing by anyone in the last six years. Literally, since Colorado signed Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton in 2000, there has not been a bigger waste of money than the Giants throwing $18 million a year at Barry Zito. Ok, I'll give them the fact that he is young, and yes, in wake of losing Jason Schmidt, they did need pitching help, but I mean come on now. Zito has not shown any sign that he is worth this kind of change. In fact, there have only been a handful of pitchers in the last decade (Clemens, Pedro, early 90's Randy Johnson,...maybe Schilling) that have been worth that kind of money. Zito has put up a good ERA throughout his career, and it should not really teeder that much over the next couple of years, but what about when he's in his 30s? Will he be the same pitcher he's been the last few years? And even if he is, he's worth, maximum, $14 million a year, which means that the Giants, if Zito pitches the same way throughout the life of his contract, which is doubtful, would be losing about $28 million dollars in the best of circumstances. I think everyone keeps looking at this guy's past potential and fail to realize that he has been stuck in neutral the last four years ever since he won his Cy Young award. He has been in the top five in four of the last five years in innings pitched, and was number one in amount of starts last year. I really think Zito may be heading for a break down in the next two or three years. I know I'm really venting, but this was the one that really set me off as far as the whole "overrated players getting crazy amounts of money" idea.

What I Am Indifferent About:
1. Carlos Lee, OF (HOU, 6/$100M)- On the surface, this seems nuts. Here's a team that really could use pitching depth. They lost Pettitte and Clemens, which were two of their big guns. But, the 'Stros went out, signed Woody Williams, and then traded for Jason Jennings (I agree this trade, overall, sucked for them, but still, Jennings is a quality arm). Williams was signed to a 2-year, $12.5 million deal, and Jennings is owed $5.5 million this season. In additon to that, they have a good, young bullpen. So, upon second glance, this Carlos Lee deal doesn't seem all that bad. Sure, it was an expensive deal at that, but you're looking at one of the premiere power hitters in the game right now. Plus, getting him to play at the launching pad known as Minute Maid Park for 81 games a year sounds mighty good to Houston, and it will show as I think Lee will either duplicate, or even surpass his numbers from last year.

2. Nomar Garciaparra, 1B (LAD, 2/$18.5M)- This would have been a slam-dunk "good signing" if the price wasn't so steep. Still, the Dodgers were in desperate need to get power from any source, so re-signing Nomar was the only move they could have possibly done. Really though, they should have investigated the free agent market a little more in order to find some power. That Manny Ramirez deal will look a lot more appealing once the season goes on and they find themselves in all of these one-run games.

3. Frank Thomas, DH (TOR, 2/$18.12M)- Look, it's obvious the Big Hurt's still got it. The guy literally carried the A's into the postseason, and once he got there, he went 5-10 with two homers as the A's went on to sweep the Twins...ok he went 0-13 in the ALCS, but the point is, he got them there. Thomas is like the David Ortiz of right-handed hitters. This guy just screams "power." True, it was a big price to get him, but if you look at the Jays' lineup right now, with Glaus, Wells, and Thomas batting 3-4-5, that's pretty formidable.

4. Ray Durham, 2B (SF, 2/$14M)- The Giants have very little as far as power bats, and when Durham showed he had a boost of power (even at the age of 35), they figured they had to get this guy back. Again, if you have a middle infielder who can crank about 20-25 homers a year, there is going to be a premium as far as the amount you will be paying them. Yes, he's old, but it doesn't appear to be slowing him down, as he had a career year last year with a .293 average, 26 HR and 93 RBI.

Ok, so I know that this has been a long column, but bear with me for just a few more lines here. I recently was reading the Herald and came across an AP story coming out of Tempe, the site of the National Championship game. The story had to deal with the age-old debate of "whether athletes should be or should not be paid to play." Reading the article made me realize how ignorant these kids really are. They looked at it as, well, the school is making all this money of of us, so we should get paid. You see, that I don't like. They obviously do not realize the situation they are in. As student-athletes, they are playing a sport while attending college for free. They get housing, meals, books, the whole shabang for nothing. Oh, poor them, they have to live in dorms. Hey look, I've seen where the USC athletes stay (The Roost for those of you who don't know), and it's a lot nice than the dorms I've lived in. Oh, and how do you think the university can pay for the facilities you play and train in? How are they able to rennovate and refurbish the stadiums to attract not only fans, but recruits that may one day play for the school? See, players sometimes view themselves as "employees" of the school, thinking that they are performing a service, and the school is making money off of them, so why should they not be getting paid? Look, it's a very simple fact: You don't have to play sports if you don't want to. However, sometimes, kids do not have the kind of funds to be able to get themselves a college education. So, they go the scholarship route, and there's nothing wrong with that. But to think that the university somehow owes you money is ridiculous. Look, the scholarship not only offers you the a chance to play whatever sport you are in, but it gives you the chance to get your degree and get a job! Everyone continues to speculate about why they aren't getting paid. Well, if you stay in school, get yourself in a degree, then you will be hired by a company that will pay you. You know, it's not the universities' fault that big business is trying to get a taste of collegiate athletics. It's the NCAA's fault, if anyone. They are the one's who negotiate the TV deals, the national sponsors for each bow game, not the universities, who are basically at the NCAA's will because the NCAA is "the only game in town" as far as having sports be a revenue stream for them. And you know, while we're on the subject of people bringing in money, why not pay me? Hey, I'm from out-of-state, I helped boost USC's overall GPA and SAT scores (if you can believe that), and they use those scores in order to recruit more people to come to USC and pay their tuition bills to the college. So I should be getting paid too, right? No, I shouldn't, because USC is giving me the opportunity to receive my degree from a fine institution, which in turn I can use to get jobs that a lot of people will not be able to get. It will be at that point where I will start to see my degree, literally and figuratively, "paying off." It's not as though when the college receives its money, it puts it in their pockets and doesn't share it with anyone. This money that they receive is being put to a greater cause than any one athlete could possibly know about. It is used to fund new builidngs and housing, making a college degree more accessible to more people. That money will be used to give out scholarships to needy kids who do not have the resources or funds to pay for an education. I understand that players may think that what they are doing is "working for nothing," but in reality, they have very little idea that they are helping future generations out. Because they see their favorite professional athletes being paid tens of millions of dollars, they feel they should be entitled to some of that. I understand that, but going to college is a chance to learn and get a degree, it is not a place for someone to make a living.

Alright, well that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Thanks again for reading. Again, I should have a divisional playoff preview up shortly. Take care. Peace.


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