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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Giants Experiment with New Pieces in Victory over Bills

GIANTS 17 / BILLS 13

Ok, it was only the first preseason game, but the Giants did get a good look at some brand new pieces in blue on Sunday, in a 17-13 victory over the Bills in the Hall of Fame Game.

After some early struggles, the Giants starting offense pounded the Buffalo defense with the ground attack combo of Rashad Jennings and rookie Andre Williams.

The duo combined for 35 yards on the drive, with Williams having the biggest impact. The rookie showed great speed and power, something Big Blue didn't have at all in 2013. Williams busted through the line for a 21 yard sprint down the sideline to set up the Giants inside the five yard line. Two plays later, Williams plowed through for six to give the Giants a 7-3 lead.

As for Eli Manning, he had an underwhelming night. He spent much of his day checking down to dump off passes, and was strip sacked for a fumble. Get used to the check downs, because that will be a big part of new offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo's plan. McAdoo comes from the Packers, where Aaron Rodgers excelled on quick slants and screen passes. If Manning can manage that kind of offense, he should be in line for a better season.

Meanwhile it looked like Ryan Nassib put an early stranglehold on the back-up quarterback spot. He was very good on Sunday, completing 7-of-12 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. The Giants want Nassib to get the job over incumbent journeyman, Curtis Painter.

Nassib's biggest pass of the night came in the fourth quarter, when he connected with Corey Washington for a 73-yard touchdown to put Big Blue in front for good, 17-13.

The Giants (1-0) will host the Steelers in their next preseason test on Saturday.

Michael Strahan Brings Down the House in HOF Speech

Michael Strahan is officially a Hall of Famer. The former Giants defensive end, who was one of the more feared pass rushers of the past decade, was enshrined in Canton, Ohio, as one of seven members in the class of 2014.

A class with many deserving honorees, including Ray Guy, Andre Reed, Aeneas Williams, Claude Humphrey, and Derrick Brooks; Strahan's speech was both funny, poignant and well worth the wait. At 11:00 p.m. he was the last person to speak on Hall of Fame night.

He nicely recaped his football journey that took from an army base in Germany when he was a child, to Houston, where he joined his uncle to learn football, and finally the NFL. The entire Giants team was on hand for the honor, since they were in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday. Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning were among distinguished current Giants who worked with Strahan in 2007, when Big Blue won it all.

Other guests included former Giants coach Jim Fassell; former defensive coordinator John Fox; and former Giants such as  Lawrence Taylor, Jessie Armstead, and Antonio Pierce. Even Strahan's morning co-host Kelly Ripa was in attendance. He gave shout outs to everyone over the course of the 43 minute speech, including a hilarious impression of Eli Manning during the hours before Super Bowl XLII.

Watch the speech again HERE!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Yankees Acquire Drew and Prado at Deadline

Those expecting the New York Yankees to go out and make a big time trade this year can now forget it. With the non-waiver trade deadline now come and gone, the Yankees probably did the smartest thing, keeping their small crop of top minor league talent in tact, which making a couple of small moves that can be seen as band aids for the rest of this season.

The Yankees made a rare swap with the Boston Red Sox for back-up infielders, with the Bombers getting Stephen Drew and the Sox getting Kelly Johnson in return. New York then dealt minor league catcher Pete O'Brien to Arizona for infielder Martin Prado. In response to these moves the Yankees also released Brian Roberts, designating him for assignment.

Both Drew and Prado are not going to set the world on fire, but they can stabilize the Yankees to get through the rest of this season with a couple of hard working grinders.

Drew is a guy that the Yankees tried to sign in the off-season but were unsuccessful. In fact a lot of people wanted to sign Drew this year, but were unsuccessful as he didn't sign with Boston until late May, because he didn't accept his qualifying offer from Boston last winter.

 Drew is not a great player, but because he was on last year's World Series champion Red Sox team, he garnered a lot of interest. While he isn't hitting this year, .176 with four homers and 11 RBI, perhaps he can be more productive on a team that's still alive for the playoffs.

Drew will play mostly second base for New York, and could be a candidate to replace Derek Jeter next year, that is if the Yankees don't go after Troy Tulowitzki in the off-season.

As for Prado, he used to be a pretty good average hitter for the Atlanta Braves, before he left for Arizona last season. He is still putting up decent numbers, hitting .270 with five homers, four triples and 42 RBI. Prado will be slotted into right field, with the Yankees uncertain about Ichiro Suzuki's health on a day in, day out basis.

Prado has two years and $22 million left on his contract; so if he is successful down the stretch here for the Yankees, Prado could be here for a while.

But the big thing here is the Yankees save their system. They do not go out to acquire a Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee, instead playing their chips close to the vest. Perhaps the front office is understanding that this team is not good enough to compete for the World Series this year. At the very least they will fight for the division title.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Tulowitzki to Mets Trade Will Wait til Offseason

There is a flawed sense of destiny flowing from somewhere in New York right about now. That flawed feeling is emanating from tiny Citi Field in Queens, New York. Yes, the pit of hopeless dreams, invisible fans, and bad baseball, the New York Mets think they are players again.

Specifically, the New York Mets "think" they are now ready to make a big time splash and land either or both Colorado Rockies superstars Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez.

Years ago such a notion would be a move that former GM Omar Minaya would get done in his sleep, no matter how deep it would plunge the Mets into salary cap hell. Yet here were are at a crossroads in the Sandy Alderson era. Are the Mets really ready to spend big bucks? Are the Wilpons ready to open the safes and checkbooks again after watching them get burned by Bernie Madoff and a bad product on the field?

Well, if the rumors that have run rampant this week are true, then the answer is, YES! The Mets want to make a move, but according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, such a move probably won't happen until the off-season, after talks "never got off the ground."

Any thought of bringing in one or two great players should bring about a lot of cheer, and hope, but this feels more like a desperate attempt by a bad franchise to gain attention when there's nothing to talk about.

For starters, both Tulowitzki and Gonzalez are under contract; meaning that if the Mets were to acquire them, they would be on the hook for the remainder of their long term deals, something the Wilpon's have been hesitant about committing to in the recent past.

How about this tidbit. Tulowitzki is owed a minimum of $118 millon through 2020, and Gonzalez is owed $53 million over the next three seasons, starting in 2015. That's $171 million in contracts on two players, who are not always sure bets to stay healthy throughout a season. Both Gonzalez and Tulowitzki have spent significant time on the DL this season. The Mets who have been pinching pennies since 2009 are not going to suddenly change course and spend like bandits again.

Those days are over. The Wilpon's have run this franchise like a defacto small market club. They are running it they way they have always envisioned since they got full control in the early 00's. It took Minaya to convince them to spend in 2005, and Alderson is not as persuasive as Minaya was.

In addition, the Rockies want a kings ransom for one or both players. The Mets who have a plethora of young starting pitchers probably would have to part with Noah Syndergaard, along with Rafael Montero, Jacob DeGrom, among others.

There was speculation that the Mets would be willing to trade a prospect like Syndergaard, but that would mean they are sold on the likes of Jon Niese and Dillon Gee at the major league level. Which, if they were smart, they should not be.

While the Mets say they are willing to part ways with their prospects, I will believe it when I see it. Eventually the Mets will trade a few of their top guys, but I highly doubt Syndergaard will be involved, unless a team like the Rockies is desperate.

That's the key word there, the Rockies are in no rush to trade Tulowitzki. He is the face of their franchise, and people come out to Rockies game to see him. Trading him would be viewed as a PR disaster in Colorado. 

Finally here is the 3,000 pound gorrilla in the room: are the Mets ready to contend? Acquiring Tulowitzki and Gonzalez would be a great move for a team like the Yankees, or the Pirates, or the Orioles, Tigers, A's, Giants -- you get the picture -- teams that are really ready to contend for a championship.

The Mets are not a player or two away from being NL East championship contenders. They are not even a player away from being a .500 team. This club has struggled to stay within five or six games under .500 all season. They have had their ups and downs all year, but really are not making much progress.

The Mets will head into 2015 having to answer this question about whether they believe that the DeGrom's, Gee's Niese's, Wheeler's, Duda's and D'Arnout's of the world are indeed the pieces to the puzzle. In other words the same questions they had coming into this year. David Wright will be 32 years old, his prime is over, and he's now on the downside of his career. Curtis Granderson is not in his prime either.

The only shinning light for the Mets is the pending return of Matt Harvey, and possibly the call up of Syndergaard. But that is not enough to make me believe that this team will make a leap from playing .470 ball to playing .570 or better in 2015. In the NFL, teams can go from being sub .500 to Super Bowl contenders with the flick of a wrist. That world doesn't exist in Major League Baseball.

Tulowitzki, 29, and Gonzalez, 28, are no spring chickens. They want to be on a winner. Tulowitzki has gone as far as to say he wants out of Colorado so he can play for a team that has a shot at a World Series ring. The Mets are still light-years away from even being a wild card team.

In another time, there would be no question that the Mets should pursue these two guys, but until they actually show a true commitment to winning, don't bet on it.


Saturday, July 19, 2014

CC Sabathia is Officially Out for the Season

CC Sabathia's season is over. His career, thankfully, is not.

That is the news the Yankees received on Friday regarding their former All Star pitcher, who will avoid microfracture surgery on his right knee, that not only would have ended his season, but his career as well.

Instead, Sabathia will have arthroscopic debridement surgery next week, which, if all goes well, will allow him to return to the Yankees in 2015. Sabathia, who was having his worst season since joining the Yankees, injured the knee during the season, but felt it become truly unmanageable after his final start on May 10.

He finished the season with only three wins and an ERA of 5.28.

In a lot of ways Sabathia's tenure with the Yankees has been nothing but tumultuous. After winning a World Series with the team back in 2009, he has seen his career go on a sharp decline, especially the past two seasons. Since 2013, he is 17-17 with a 4.87 ERA. To combat his struggles on the mound, Sabathia put himself on a strict diet the past two seasons, and was in the best physical shape of his career this season.

However, the good eating habits was not enough to stop the constant knee issues for CC this year.

The Yankees hope that he will be ready for Spring Training in 2015, but even that would be a big gamble. They can't expect him to be a number 1, when he returns next year. The Yankees rotation has been a mess all year. They lost Ivan Nova and Sabathia for the year. Lost Michael Pineda for most of the season, although he's expected back soon. And Masahiro Tanaka, has been on the DL for two weeks after slightly tearing the UCL in his elbow.

Tanaka, thinks he could come back this season, but is not sure when. Tanaka is scheduled to rest his elbow for six weeks before beginning another throwing program again. That is if the pain stops. If necessary, Tanaka could still face season ending Tommy John Surgery, which might even cost him most of 2015. If he comes back at all this year, Tanaka could see the Yankee Stadium mound in September. Either way, the Yankees pitching woes are going to be a problem moving forward.

At least they got a good performance from Brandon McCarthy on Saturday against the Reds, but McCarthey and former Rockies pitcher Jeff Francis are not enough to get this team where it wants to go. Whether the Yankees make another move before July 31 is still up for debate.

Even if this season is a lost cause, at least Yankees' fans know their former big gun is coming back next year.

Why The Derek Jeter Retirement Party is Out of Control

Breaking News: Derek Jeter is retiring. If you have been hiding under a rock, or, if you've just landed from another planet, you would be in a strong minority, because for the past five months we have been saying good-bye to the Yankees shortstop with no end in sight.

In fact the Jeter retirement party has gotten so stretched out that it no longer carries any real resonance anymore.

Don't get me wrong, I am not here to bash Derek Jeter. I am not here to call the Yankees the Evil Empire. I am here to call a balk on the mainstream media for taking the career of one player (a very good player), and making into the Greatest Retirement of All Time!

Jeter has been one of the greatest players of his generation. With the smokescreen of steroids overshadowing the game, it was players like Jeter; his teammate Mariano Rivera, and even Ken Griffey Jr., who cut through the fog to give fans some indelible moments that will never be forgotten.

Jeter had plenty of monumental moments in his career: from the flip play; to big time home runs in the playoffs and world series; diving into the stands against the Red Sox; his 3,000 hit and much more in between. Yet it does not give the baseball, and, baseball media world a pass to stop what its doing, and fall over themselves in celebrating his career.

I've never liked this new "tradition" of MLB teams to celebrate the careers of opposing players. It started with Chipper Jones in 2012, continued to the point of silliness by September of 2013 with Mariano Rivera, and, now, it follows Jeter with every step. And I mean every step.

The reason I never liked this tradition, has more to do with my old school belief that no team should celebrate the career of an opposing player while he is still actively playing. I fell it throws the players in the host dugout under the bus. Most of all, these forms of celebration feel forced, insincere and plain ridiculous.

I have found it more appalling and ridiculous to see teams that have been victimized by the honoree, shower him with gifts many years later. The Mets, for example, who had watched players like Jones, Jeter and Rivera destroy them in the playoffs in the late 90s/early 00s, honored those same players to the point of overdoing it. Imagine if the Mets actually cared about honoring people who actually wore their uniform?

The Oakland A's, who are the biggest Jeter moment victims in history, honored Jeter, but were not thrilled about doing it because of what happened in the 2000 ALDS with the "Flip." 

If teams like the A's are this upset about honoring opposing players, why do it? If I owned the team, I would tell the commissioner's office well before hand that my organization will not participate in any ceremony to honor a player in the other dugout.

Maybe that is the problem. Maybe the commissioner's office threatens teams to do it or else? Maybe draft picks get put on the line? Only the people in the baseball boiler room really know.

The only place Major League Baseball should honor it's retiring heroes is the All Star Game. In 2000, MLB got it right with Cal Ripkin Jr. and Tony Gwynn. 14 years later on Tuesday in Minnesota the excess of the Jeter-parade made the All Star Game impossible to stomach. 

There wasn't a moment without hearing that the 85th Mid-Summer Classic would be Jeter's last. Pregame interviews, pregame analysis, talk that he should win the All Star MVP because, well, he's retiring, and then a truly ridiculous 100 sec commercial spot where everyone, including invisible Mets, reluctant Red Sox fans, and, yes, Phil Jackson tipping their cap to the Yankee Captain.

Diehard Yankees' fans probably loved it. For the rest of us, I will refrain and roll my eyes. And what was with the tragic music in that commercial? He's just retiring people.

Then there is this golden gem that will become the topic of debate for a while. Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright told reporters after he left the game that he grooved pitches to Jeter so he could get a base hit. Wainwright tried to back out of it with Fox Sports reporter Erin Andrews, but the damage was done.

Let's take Wainwright's words for face value. What if he really did groove pitches to Jeter? In a game that is supposed to determine home field advantage, Wainwright may have cost his team a chance at hosting Games 1, 2, 6 & 7 of the world series, if, his team gets there. The Jeter hit was the start of a three-run rally for the AL, a rally that the NL never could come back from on Tuesday.  Wainwright basically said, whether he meant to or not, that he didn't care about doing the number one thing a pitcher should do, and that's establish the inside part of the pate no matter who is batting.

In years past, no pitcher would have wanted to become the answer to a trivia question, and would have tried to establish the inside part of the plate, even in the All Star game. Yes, folks there was a day where players actually took pride in beating the other league, and meant it. If Jeter played his final All Star Game 20 years ago, he would have seen a 95 mph fastball come right for him, high and inside.

But that was the game then, this is the game now. Baseball has gotten soft. Instead of privately walking up to retiring players after the game has been played, and saying, "Mr. Jeter it was a pleasure," we now have players falling over themselves through the media to show their appreciation before and during the contest. 

This may sound like sour grapes, but it really isn't. By the time the Yankees play their final home series of the year against the Orioles in late September, the Jeter-ceremony will be so prolonged and played out, that any true power and emotion that will come from the real "final day" will feel watered down.

Call it the wild bachelor party that took place before the real bachelor party ever happens.

The Yankees and the only the Yankees should have been the team to honor Jeter in their way. He played his entire career for them; is as valuable to them as Joe DiMaggio, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantel. Some would say he's the DiMaggio of this generation of Yankee fans. When the Yankees honor him, it will STILL be special, but because of the overflow of congratulations that has taken place in every ball park it will never carry the same emotion for everyone else watching.

In a lot of ways when he tips his cap to the crowd for the ceremony at Yankee Stadium in September, it will feel more like "thank goodness this party is over," rather than, "wow, this is truly the end."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Melo Agrees to 5-year Deal with Knicks

For better or for worse the Knicks have their man.

Carmelo Anthony is coming back to the Garden in 2014-15, after inking a five year deal worth $124 million, some five million dollars less than the maximum he could have made if he put the Knicks feet to the fire.

Anthony's motive is clear, he wants the Knicks to go out and get him some help. It has not been easy, nor fun for the All Star to play basically by himself, surrounded by a hobbled Amare' Stoudemire, or fellow ball-hog extraordinaire, J.R. Smith.

Anthony put all the pressure on himself the past few years, and if Phil Jackson's assumptions are correct, that is part of the reason why Anthony has played so poorly in crunch time.

"“It depends how quickly our team evolves,’’ Jackson said of how soon the club will be in title contention. “If we evolve as a team, we can do it rather quickly. If we’re still going to sit and rely on Carmelo to do everything, it’s not going to happen," (NY Post 7/13/14).

So Anthony "buying in" to this new strategy will make the max annual salary this season at $22 million, but will see his annual salary decrease 7.5 percent in 2015-16, the year that a new salary cap is instituted, and potentially the year Phil Jackson gets more pieces for the puzzle.

There is a chance that come 2015-16 the likes of Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert, Kevin Love, and even LeBron James (more on that in the next post), could all be potential free agents. Granted the Knicks have a lot of cap maneuvering to do between now and then. Technically they are still in salary cap Hell from some bad contracts. 

However here is the good part of this deal. 1) Anthony has committed to the Knicks. Instead of taking less and running to a much better situation in Chicago, Anthony bought into the rhetoric of the Zen Master, and will do as he sees fit. Anthony has nothing to lose. 2) He's been a playoff loser his entire career. Now he has a man running the ship that won NBA titles with Jordan, Kobe and Shaq. Anthony would love to join those names one day.

The bad part: If Anthony continues to choke in big situations, and the Knicks do not improve in a few years, then he could opt out after his fourth year; but that is a big IF. I highly doubt, unless James Dolan gets in the way, that Phil Jackson will let the Knicks remain a virtual irrelevancy in this city.

However do not expect the Knicks to make any more big moves this summer. This is a transition year, inspite of what coach Derek Fisher says. Jackson is going to play his cards close to vest, give him credit. And if Anthony changes as a player and becomes a better teammate than all the better for the Knicks moving forward.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Carmelo Anthony: Will He or Won't He Re-sign With Knicks

Well Knicks fans, here's the good news, Phil Jackson is close to making a move this off-season. Here's the bad news: Carmleo Anthony might be coming back.

Love him or hate him. Adore his offense, abhor his defense. Carmelo Anthony is not going anywhere, according to Frank Isola of the NY Daily News. The News reports that Anthony will sign the max deal to stay in New York City where his family is most comfortable; yet there are also conflicting reports from Ken Berger of CBS, and even Anthony's agent that paint a different picture.

According to a Tweet by Berger, Anthony has yet to tell the Knicks of a decision to stay in New York or sign elsewhere. Anthony's agent Leon Rose told ESPN that his client still is deciding between the Knicks and Lakers.

So there is definitely still a lot of grey area on this story. Until Anthony officially puts ink to paper on a contract, there should be no certainty that he will return to the Knicks.

Anthony was courted by the Rockets, Mavs, Lakers and Bulls, and reports were he was intrigued by LA not too long ago. So who really knows.

While he is a prolific scorer, the Knicks might be better off financially letting Anthony walk elsewhere. The Knicks have enough bad contracts on their hands, i.e. Amare Stoudemire, and need to get out of salary cap hell (again). Anthony is in a "now or never" stage of his career, and the Knicks are nowhere near close to winning right away.

Stay tuned for the latest on this drama to play out. While the News reports a decision could come Thursday, don't bet on it.