Thursday, July 14, 2016

Playing the Heel

The Golden State Warriors' fall from grace was rapid: from the NBA's feel-good story as a team of destiny to chokers in the NBA Finals. Yet it seemed that before we could even wrap our collective heads around their dramatic tumble, the Warriors signed Kevin Durant. The rich get obscenely richer?

Mark Cuban, Shark Tank denizen, Mavericks' owner and never one to shy away from controversy, is at it again. Cuban had an interesting take on Durant going to the Warriors:
"Just like when LeBron James went to Miami, I loved that there was a villain. They become the villain. I'm fine with that. Everybody's going to root for them to lose."
But could it be that the Warriors could go from everyone's favorite team outside of Cleveland to the NBA's version of Steinbrenner's Yankees?

It's doubtful that league fans can muster the same level of hatred they felt the day that LeBron made his "decision". From that point forward, we all had two favorites: your NBA team and whoever was playing the Heat. That the Heat appeared in the NBA Finals all four years that James was in Miami was made somewhat palatable by the fact that they lost twice in those finals.

Have the Warriors squandered their good will?  Absolutely. It was very easy to root for the Warriors' Wild West Show and their band of merry men. But when fans put all their eggs (and energy) into one basket and then get left holding said basket in epic fashion, that's gonna leave a mark. Besides, once you've won 73 games and have nothing to show for it, people will be wary to jump back on that bandwagon.

As for Durant, it surprised many that he'd adopt an "I'm taking my ball and going home" attitude by signing with the ready-made champions. A title won with Golden State now proves nothing. Unfortunately for Durant, he might have made it more difficult to win.

The Warriors had remarkable team chemistry. Like any science major can tell you, though, when you start switching out chemicals, the results may not only be different, but volatile. Starting center Andrew Bogut, whose Finals' absence was often cited as one of the reasons that the Warriors lost, was traded to Cuban's Mavericks to make cap room. Harrison Barnes, a member of the Dubs' so-called "Death Lineup" and a key ingredient to their success, was also left out and coincidentally signed with the Mavs.

Regardless of whether the Warriors turn out to be NBA villains or simply last season's news, it won't be the same in Golden State. Steph Curry will still excite. Klay Thompson will still launch from everywhere and Draymond Green will still drive people nuts. But winning games won't be news any longer.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Modest Proposal

Well, that was fast.  Mark Teixeira is hurt, again, and was placed on the DL this morning with torn cartilage in his knee.  It comes as little surprise, considering Teixeira hasn't played over 125 games since 2011.  Once thought to be Teixeira's replacement when this inevitably occurred, Greg Bird was lost for the season over the winter.  Last night, Rob Refsnyder took over at first base when Tex left the game.  But with Teixeira out for an extended period of time, the Yankees are scrambling to find a replacement.

A modest proposal: put Carlos Beltran at first.  I know, Beltran has only played first base once in his career.  But he was a gold-glove caliber fielder before age and his knees changed that.  Maybe you don't put him there tonight, but in a week's time, Beltran should be able to handle the position.

Why Beltran, you ask?  Here's why.  For starters, it gets Beltran the hell out of the outfield where he no longer belongs.  While first base is not quite DH, it certainly cuts down on the wear and tear of the outfield.  That should allow Beltran to keep swinging a hot bat.

It also gives A-Rod the full-time DH role.  While he has struggled, A-Rod remains one of the few sources of power in this anemic Yankee lineup.  They'll need him to produce from that DH spot, especially with Teixeira now gone.

Lastly, it keeps Refsnyder in the lineup.  Since his return, Refsnyder has played all over the diamond, but has looked good at the plate in a limited role.

I hear the names of Nick Swisher and Chris Parmalee being thrown around.  Whoopee.  Though Parmalee has been playing well of late and was called up to replace Teixeira on the roster, I don't see him as a long-term fix.  Perhaps he'll hold down the fort until Beltran is comfortable enough to play first base.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Questions, Anyone?

The New York Mets, in a heart-breaking 4-1 defeat in the World Series, had two of their major off-season questions answered.  Unfortunately, those answers just lead to more questions ahead.

Throughout the month of August and into September, as Yoenis Cespedes tore through the National League and the NL East standings, sports-talk radio was consumed with talk of 2016.  Callers seemed evenly divided between "There's no way the cheapskate Mets are going to bring back Cespedes" and "Let's pay whatever it takes to bring back Cespedes".  Fair points, both, and hotly debated all around.

Cespedes' titanic run carried the Mets to the playoffs.  But his almost equally astounding playoff slump left a big hole in the Mets' offense.  Cespedes may very well be in line for a big payday as long as teams consider his huge production during the pennant race.  But for the Mets, the question of whether to make a long-term, big-dollar investment was all but answered during Cespedes' postseason swoon.

On the flip side, no player looked better during the first two rounds of the playoffs than Daniel Murphy.  A long-time Mets' second-baseman, perhaps no one improved his off-season stock more than the suddenly powerful Murphy.  But he, too, went mostly quietly during the World Series, reverting to the Daniel Murphy -- nice hit, no glove -- that had performed steadily throughout his career.  And much like with Cespedes, the chatter on talk radio went from "How can we live without Murphy?" to "How much will it cost to bring him back?"

The Mets took the first obvious step, handing Murphy a qualifying offer.  Murphy, in turn, did the next obvious thing: he turned it down.  As a player traded in mid-season, no such offer could be made to the unrestricted free agent Cespedes.  And with that, a Mets organization that had experienced a remarkable late-season and post-season run, begins what could be their most important off-season.

With a staff of aces that any team would envy, the Mets are poised to contend for years to come.  However, it's important to note that in spite of their spectacular pitching, for much of the season the Mets were victims of their anemic offense.  It was only when fortified by bench players Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, and ultimately, Cespedes, that the Mets went from squeaking out the 1-0 win to bludgeoning teams from both the mound and at the plate.

Should the Mets opt not to bring back either Murphy or Cespedes, and there are solid arguments to make those cases, they need to be sure that the holes in the offense are addressed.  Whether that comes from a full season of the improving Michael Conforto or the promotion of Dilson Herrera, or an additional free-agent bat or two, it's paramount that someone does.  Sandy Alderson pulled all the right levers in late July.  He'll need an equally good December and January if the Mets expect to capitalize on their 2015 success.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Fill 'Er Up

It's mid-September, and the Yankees trail Toronto by three games in the AL East.  They still have 17 games left to play -- plenty of baseball, considering they still have 3 games left with the Blue Jays.  But while the Yankees won't admit to chasing the Wild Card, most fans are looking.

That said, I'm still decidedly undecided when it comes to this team and this season.  For me, there are two ways of looking at the "glass" that might well be the 2015 Yankees:

Half-full: the Yankees, a team not widely expected to even contend this season, make the post-season as the first Wild Card
Half-empty: the Yankees blow a 7-game lead to the Blue Jays and lose the division

Half-full: the Yankees could beat the Rangers in the Wild Card playoffs
Half-empty: the Yanks could get swept by the Royals in the ALDS

Half-full: the Yankees held onto their elite prospects at the trade deadline and didn't mortgage the future for short-term gains
Half-empty: the Yanks stood idly by at the trade deadline while their rivals improved and the Yanks subsequently fell into free-fall

Half-full: the Yankees have gotten an injection of youth and their future stars -- Bird, Severino, Betances -- have made an impact today
Half-empty: the Yanks were led most of the season by a 37-year old first-baseman and a 40-year old DH, neither of whom can be counted on in 2016

So how do you see the Yankees?  I don't think we'll really know until October.  And even then, how full will that glass be?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Are we winning yet?

"Um, I dunno..."
First and foremost, let me state that I hate Brian Cashman, the most overrated front office man in sports.  As most Cashman detractors will say, "If I had an unlimited budget and could simply eat my mistakes, I'd have a pretty good team, too."  Yet he is somehow inoculated from the bad moves while he's simultaneously lauded for the good ones.

But this is a different column.  Sort of.  I don't have a solid opinion, at least, not yet.  So I'll pose these questions:

  • If the Yankees lose the AL East -- a likely scenario as of today -- but qualify for the Wild Card, was it a good season?  
  • If the Yankees stumble and only manage to win the second Wild Card, was it a good season?
  • If the Yankees go on the road and lose the Wild Card game and spend one day in the post-season in the last 3 years, does Brian Cashman get credit for getting the Yankees back to October?
  • Or did he fail to upgrade a mediocre team at the deadline and watch his team fade down the stretch?
As for that opinion of mine, I'm decidedly torn.

On the one hand, the Yankees, on paper, weren't expected to contend this year.  The fact that they have played themselves into contention is remarkable.  As a bonus, young players that represent the future of the organization -- Betances, Bird, Severino -- have been able to contribute and excel.  Even if the Yanks make a quick exit from the playoffs, they will have laid a solid foundation for 2016.  

Or have they?  The 2015 Yankees' offense has been led primarily by Alex Rodriguez, a 40-year old DH, and Mark Teixeira, a 35-year old who hasn't played a full season in 5 years.  A-Rod is currently in a slump and Teixeira won't be back on the field for another two weeks. It's unlikely that either A-Rod or Teixeira can turn back time on another season.  Who, in 2016, is going to provide that power?  Will Greg Bird or Aaron Judge?  How much does Brian McCann or Carlos Beltran have left?

Only time will tell...

Thursday, August 20, 2015


What's the difference between the NFL and the WWE?

One is entertainment thinly disguised as sport, populated with steroid-addled goons with cartoon-like personae, acting out preposterous story-lines that create heroes to be adored and villains to be hissed, all marching towards inevitable conclusions while being lorded over by a power-drunk commissioner seemingly incapable of consistent leadership.

The other is professional wrestling.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Instant Gratification

Although the MLB trade deadline was less than two weeks ago, the Toronto Blue Jays are getting all A's for their flurry of deadline deals. Since shortly after the trades were made, the Jays have won 9 games in a row and cut the deficit in the AL East from 6-1/2 games to a half a game. 

A General Manager wants to give his team the chance to win.  Alex Anthopoulos has done just that. Regardless of where the Blue Jays finish, these trades -- obtaining David Price, Troy Tulowitzki, LaTroy Hawkins, Ben Revere and Mark Lowe -- have pumped life into this franchise right now.  A franchise that is set to play their most important games in recent memory -- a sold-out weekend series against the Yankees with no less than first place on the line.

On the flip-side, the Yankees are in free-fall.  After standing pat at the deadline -- Brian Cashman's only acquisition, utility man Dustin Ackley, promptly landed on the DL -- the Yanks were swept by Toronto and saw their lead nearly vanish.  

But while you can already call the moves the Jays made a success, it's still too early to say whether Cashman's gambit was a failure.  If the Yankees hold on and win their division, it would be hard to argue with Cashman's strategy.  They were a first place team with a solid lead and didn't need to make a deal.  Or at least they didn't appear to need one at the time.

Fast forward a couple of weeks: Michael Pineda, one of the Yanks' few dependable starters, went on the Disabled List the day before the Jays landed Price.  The Yankees once-formidable offense all but disappeared, going 31 straight innings without scoring a run.  Even when that string was broken last night, and clutch Yankee hitters gave the team the lead in the 10th inning, previously unhittable closer Andrew Miller blew his first save.  Yet the Yankees finished the night still in first place.  

But questions remain: Can Mark Teixeria, who hasn't played a full season since 2011, continue his resurgence?  Can Alex Rodriguez, already 40 years old and having played twice as many games as he's played in the last two years, keep hitting, too?  How will 21-year old Luis Severino respond in the heat of a pennant race?  

So kudos to Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays for taking a shot and seeing it pay off in the short term.  By October, we'll know who was right.