Monday, March 26, 2007

Duaner Sanchez needs surgery

Duaner Sanchez has a hairline fracture in his shoulder and will miss up to four months. He will probably be out until August. The Mets did not expect him to start the season with the club, however, they did hope to have him back by mid-May. The opening day bullpen will be led by Billy Wagner, followed by Aaron Heilman in the set-up role. Aaron Sele will be the long man while Scott Schoenneweis, Pedro Feliciano, Joe Smith and Chan Ho Park will round out the pen. Make no mistake. This is a big blow to the team.

AP All-America Team announced

First Team
Alando Tucker
Kevin Durant
Acie Law
Aaron Afflalo
Greg Oden

Second Team
Nick Fazekas
Tyler Hansbrough
Chris Loften
Jared Dudley
Joakim Noah

Third Team
Jeff Green
Al Horford
Aaron Brooks
Al Thornton
Aaron Gray

The list looks good. Derrick Byars seems to be the only glaring omission from the list. He was SEC player of the year and it is hard to think that the coaches’ pick for player of the year in that conference could be left off the All-American teams. It’s somewhat shocking that no one from Kansas made the list either. That team had tons of talented players and maybe it was just too hard to single anyone out. However, they won the Big 12 and got a number one seed in the tournament. Seems like someone from the team should have made it. However, it is hard to argue with anyone who is on the three teams. Al Thornton’s team failed to make the tournament, but his play was spectacular this season.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Mets Offseason Priorities

With the 2006 season in the rearview, the Mets look forward to 2007 with one goal in mind. It will be World Series or bust for the Mets next season.

After the lineup struggled against the Cardinals, it will be tempting for Omar Minaya to go after a big bat like Alfonso Soriano or Carlos Lee. However, the Mets would be well served to show some restraint.

From one to five, (Reyes, Lo Duca, Beltran, Delgado and Wright) the Mets are as stacked as anyone in baseball. Soriano and Lee would only improve them in an area that does not need improvement.

When Willie Randolph took over as manager last year, he brought an aggressive, speed-driven, run-manufacturing brand of baseball. But, somewhere in between Los Angeles and St. Louis, the Mets tightened up and relied on the long ball. They need to return to basics and bring in players who get on base and then use their speed to make things happen.

The team’s holes are at the corner outfield positions and second base. Cliff Floyd is a long shot to be back in Flushing next year. Jose Valentin will have a spot if he wants it, but he will likely be asked to go back to the bench. Valentin has indicated that he will look for a starting job elsewhere if it’s not going to be with the Mets.

Offensive priority number one should be re-signing Endy Chavez. The whole country saw in game seven what Met fans knew all year; Endy Chavez is one hell of a baseball player. He is perfect for Willie’s aggressive style of play. He has the ability to lay down a bunt and get on base with infield singles. Chavez also has great range in left field and a rocket for an arm.

Shawn Green struggled a little during the playoffs. The Mets only have to pay him 5.5 million next season. Minaya may explore trading Green, but he has a no-trade clause, making him difficult to deal.

Lastings Milledge struggled last year, but no one is giving up on him. He needs to grow up a little but and platooning with Green or Chavez could allow him to grow into an everyday player. He is still an attractive trading piece and could be dealt for starting pitching.

Chavez, Shawn Green and Lastings Milledge should share the corner outfield duties. Many would say that the Mets would not be getting enough offense from their corner outfield positions, but The Mets are a long way from lacking in offensive production. What they need is players who will get on base and keep the back of the order moving so that Reyes can get up as many times as possible.

Second base is another hole for the Amazins. Dodger Infielder, Julio Lugo would be a good fit for the team. He is a good fielder, who gets on base a lot and can make things happen when he gets there. Mark Loretta is another option, but lacks the speed of Lugo.

Minaya will also have to upgrade the bench. For much of 2006, the bench was tremendous for the Mets. Due to injuries, much of the super-subs were forced into everyday action. If Valentin will agree to return to the bench, it would be great to bring him back. He struggled towards the end of the year and was a liability during the playoffs.

Chris Woodward should be let go. His versatility is good for the team, but he doesn’t do enough with his bat to justify being on the team. Ramon Castro and Julio Franco will be back. Minaya has proved to be adept at scrapping the bargain bin. He will have to bring in some guys to round out the bench.

David Dellucci has shown some power and could be a good extra outfielder. Scott Spiezio killed the Mets in the championship series. He has proved to a clutch performer. He can play the infield or outfield and could be a good option to replace Woodward. Geoff Blum is another option.

Lo Duca
Green/ Milledge


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

NFL: TO in Big D

With all the noise and chatter going on over past incidents involving TO, Cowboy fans are sitting quietly, while wondering what to expect from their enigmatic new reciever, Terrell Owens.

The media continues to focus on Owens’ feud with Eagles’ QB Donovan McNabb. That story has been beaten to death. The more interesting question is what will happen to Owens in Big D?

In the past we have seen two different sides of TO.

The first side features the characteristics that got him shipped out of San Francisco and Philadelphia. Owens is a head case. He is all about himself. He has caused tremendous problems on his past teams. After leaving both Philly and San Fran, those two powerful teams began to crumble.

But prior to those contentious breakups, those teams knew the side of Owens that is focused, hard-working and an extremely productive player.

San Francisco fans remember a 25 year- old Terrell Owens who made arguably the second greatest catch in 49er history, when he caught a 25-yard pass while being covered by four defenders with less than three seconds left to knock off the Packers 30-27 in the 1998 playoffs.

The San Fran faithful also remember the 2002 playoffs, when Owens berated his team at halftime when they were getting destroyed by the Giants. In the second half of that game, the ‘Niners turned a 38-14 deficit into a 39-38 victory. Owens was all over the field and finished the game with nine catches for 177 yards, two touchdowns and two successful two-point conversions.

When Philadelphia Eagles fans get past talking about their anger for TO, they remember Terrell Owens as the guy who played for them in the 2004 Super Bowl, despite doctors orders that he was not ready to come back from injury. He risked his career and despite a pronounced limp, Owens led the Eagles with nine catches and 122 yards.

Owens made the pro bowl team from 2000-2004. He has recorded six seasons with more than 1000 yards receiving. He is the only player not named Jerry Rice to catch 13 touchdown passes in five seasons. He holds the NFL record for catching 20 passes in one game.

So how will this contentious superstar fit in Dallas?

The first thing that worries me is that Bill Parcells uses a ball control offense. He has said in the past that a receiver will be unable to catch 100 balls in his offense. Last year, Philly employed one of the most pass-dominated offenses in league history and Owens constantly complained about his touches. Yikes!

Perhaps Owens was unhappy with the percentage of balls he was getting. He was far and away the best receiver on the team. His complaints were mostly directed towards Donovan McNabb and not the team’s offensive coordinator. It’s possible that Owens was upset about the number of times McNabb chose not to throw him the ball.

It is also hard to see Parcells continuing to favor the run with all the weapons he has in the passing game.

Owens will command a double team. He is that good. Lining up on the opposite side of the field is Terry Glenn. Glenn is a speedy receiver who specializes in beating corners and catching the deep ball. Glenn caught 62 passes for 1136 yards and seven touchdowns last year. He also averaged a career-high 18.3 yards per catch. However, Glenn slowed down in the second half when teams began double-teaming him.

There will be no double teams coming Glenn’s way this year.

Aside from Owens, the Cowboys will use a two- tight end formation most of the time. Jason Witten is a pro-bowl tight end who has caught 153 passes over the past two seasons. He will team up with 2nd-round draft pick, Anthony Fasano. Add underrated wide receiver Patrick Crayton into the mix and you get the picture of a team with a ton of aerial weapons.

With all those weapons, how could Parcells not choose to put the ball in the air more often? The problem last season for the Cowboys was getting the ball into the air before getting sacked.

Quarterback Drew Bledsoe has a great arm, but he lacks the mobility to evade pass rushers. With a depleted line, Bledsoe was a sitting duck for opposing rushers last year.

Owner Jerry Jones went out and addressed the line with the signings of Kyle Kosier and Jason Fabini. Kosier was considered one of the best run-blocking guards in the league, despite playing for the Lions last year. He will be much better than Larry Allen was at pulling and getting to the second level of an opposing defense. Fabini is a serviceable blocker who will battle second-year player Rob Petitti for the right tackle job.

However, the best thing for the line will be the return of Flozell Adams from injury. He has been the best lineman for the Cowboys for the past few years. When he went down with a knee injury last year, the line struggled mightily.

If the line can protect Bledsoe, Parcells should have no problem throwing the ball more.

Another factor that I’ve barely touched on is the coach. Bill Parcells is a tough coach to play for. He is known for getting on guys, but his players generally enjoy playing for him.

The consensus around the football world is that Parcells and Owens will struggle to coexist. But, that is also what the football world said about the acquisitions of both Keyshawn Johnson and Terry Glenn.

Keyshawn Johnson was let go from Tampa Bay in a similar fashion to the way Owens parted company with the Eagles. He was called a problem child. The Patriots and Packers both deemed Glenn too troublesome for their teams.

Both those players have been model citizens, despite having to subjugate their own statistics for the good of the team.

Cowboy fans are hoping that Owens will do the same. With all the weapons on offense, a repaired offensive line and a young, but extremely talented defense, the Cowboys are hopeful that TO will put them over the top in 2006.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Baseball: Trade Deadline Update

All the action around the trading deadline begins with Washington Nationals GM Jim Bowden. The Nats are 40-56, 17.5 games behind the Mets in the National League East. Bowden is looking to rebuild and has put for sale signs up around all his players.

The big catch from the Nationals is outfielder/ second basemen Alfonso Soriano. He provides power, speed, energy and surprisingly solid defense in his first year in the outfield.

Soriano is hitting .280 with 30 home runs, 60 RBIs and 23 stolen bases. He is on pace to hit 51 homers and steal 39 bases. In the past, he has been criticized for his lack of plate discipline, but Soriano has a .354 on-base percentage this season and a 2-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. The fact that he can play both the infield and outfield increases his value as well. Soriano is a free agent at the end of the year. Any team that trades for him will have to be cautious about giving up a lot because they may lose him during the offseason.

The Nationals began the dealing last week and set the market price extremely high. They sent relief help (Gary Majewski, Bill Bray) and others to the Reds for Felipe Lopez, Austin Kearns and another top prospect.

That is an extremely high price for relief help. Lopez and Kearns are both young and talented everyday players. If Bowden got that much for a couple of middle relievers, he will be looking to get even more for Soriano. Someone is about to get fleeced.

The Nationals could also trade Jose Vidro, Jose Guillen, Livan Hernandez, Tony Armas Jr., Ramon Ortiz and Daryle Ward.

Another GM who will be looking to make a deal is Phillies GM, Pat Gillick. The Phillies expected to contend this season, but find themselves at 42-51 and 14 games out of first place.

Gillick has said that all of his team’s veterans are available. The top of the list is rightfielder, Bobby Abreu.

Abreu’s power numbers are down this season (8 homeruns, .453 slugging percentage), but he is second in the league in on-base percentage and has 61 RBIs. He won a gold glove last year, but many feel his fielding is just average. People also question his competitive fire.

The problem with trading for Abreu is that he is owed $15 million next year and has a no-trade clause. There is a $15 million option on his contract for 2008 and any team looking to trade for him will probably have to guarantee the option in order for Abreu to waive the no-trade clause. $30 million is a huge financial obligation for a 32 year- old player, who may be on the downside of his career.

The Phillies have also made Pat Burrell, David Dellucci, Brett Myers, Cory Lidle, Jon Lieber, Tom Gordon, Aaron Fultz and Arthur Rhodes available.

The big pitcher available is the Cubs’ Greg Maddux. The surefire hall-of-famer started the year 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA in May, but is just 2-10 with a 6.43 ERA since. He is 40 and many feel that the crafty righty may be running out of gas.

The Mets, Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cardinals, White Sox and just about everyone else is looking for pitching. Maddux has struggled, but he still may be the best available arm.

This is definitely a seller’s market. About ten teams feel as if they are out of the running for a playoff spot, which means that there are still 20 teams that still feel they have a chance. In years past, teams would be looking to dump salary if they weren’t a frontrunner for a playoff birth. With baseball’s financial renaissance, teams are less likely to try and cut payroll.

A team like the Mariners, which does not have a great shot at the postseason are rumored to be dangling their top prospect, Adam Jones in exchange for Soriano. In year’s past, the Mariners would be in dump mode, looking to trade one of their high priced players to a legitimate contender in order to slash payroll and build for the future.

A remarkable number of prospects have found their way into team’s rotations. With such a poor market for acquiring talent, teams are choosing to test out their own minor leaguers before making a play for an established pitcher.

One pitcher whose name has constantly surfaced is Barry Zito. Zito is a free agent at the end of the year and the small market Oakland A’s have little chance of re-signing the lefthander.

In the past, GM Billy Beane has opted to trade his top players before they leave via free agency instead of letting the player walk without getting anything in return. Zito just hired agent Scott Boras to represent him. Boras is known for getting top dollar for his client and you can be sure that Zito will now sign with the team that offers the most money.

If it wasn’t a certainty before, you can be sure that Zito will not be in an A’s uniform next season. Teams looking to trade for him know that he will go to the highest bidder this winter and are weary of giving up anything substantial in order to acquire him. The A’s currently sit atop the West, but are in a tight race. They will probably hold onto Zito and hope he will lead them to the playoffs this year before he signs with another team in the offseason.

Jason Schmidt is another player who becomes a free agent this winter. He will probably sign with another team in the offseason. The Giants are in a similar position to the A’s with Zito. They are just 2.5 games out of first place. It is probably Barry Bonds’ last year in San Francisco and if they have any chance at all, they will probably try and give it a shot.

However, that is really not in their best interests. The Giants are not a good team. They are only still in the race because they are in the terrible national league west division. The market currently significantly favors sellers. Schmidt would be the best pitcher on the market and he would command some good young players in a trade.

I could see the White Sox sending Freddy Garcia to the Mets in exchange for a package including Aaron Heilman and the White Sox turning around and dealing Heilman, Brandon McCarthy and Brian Anderson to the Giants for Schmidt.

The Mets and White Sox would both upgrade their rotation and the Giants would bring in three young players to build around in the future.

Another big question mark revolves around the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They struggled earlier this year, but they have won 13 of their last 14 games and are right in the thick of things in the AL west.

The Angels have struggled to put good hitters around Vladimir Guerrero. They would love to acquire Soriano to bolster their lineup, but the price is going to be high.

However, if there is any team with the prospects to get it done, it is the Angels. They have a lot of young players who are either close to contributing on the major league level or doing so already. The list includes Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders, Howie Kendrick, Casey Kotchman, Dallas McPherson and Kendry Morales.

The Angels have to make a decision. Do they want to trade away some of these young players to win now while Guerrero is still putting up big numbers or do they want to be patient and see if these guys will develop into something special? Stay tuned.

It is definitely going to be a tough market, but with so many teams within striking distance, we are sure to see some action before the trading deadline.

Monday, July 17, 2006

NBA: Free Agency Recap

1. The Class of 2003 re-ups
The big four (Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh) all re-signed with their respective teams. ‘Melo and Wade both said all along that they would re-sign with their teams. Bosh wavered a little bit, but ee is apparently happy enough with the Raptors after they drafted Andrea Bargnani and traded for TJ Ford.

However, tons of speculation swirled around Lebron. The entire city of Cleveland nearly went insane in anticipation of his decision. The name Art Modell hovered in the air. Would Cleveland ever recover as a sports city if Lebron left?

We’ll have a few years to find out.

Instead of signing for the maximum contract (six years and approximately $80 million), James signed a shorter, 3-year extension for approximately $60 million with an option for a fourth.

The rationale in signing a shorter deal is that the Collective Bargaining Agreement will be up at that time. The last CBA put a restrictive limit on the maximum size of contracts and in all likelihood, there will be a higher salary ceiling for the top players at that time.

Lebron will also have seven years of service with the Cavs. If he decides to re-sign with the team, he will be eligible to make up to 30% of the team’s salary cap, instead of 25%, which he is will be making under this deal.

James will be 24 when his new deal expires, meaning that he will probably be able to sign two more big contracts during his career. If he follows up this deal, he will be 30 under this scenario and 33 if he signed the longer deal. At 30, he would be more likely to get another max contract than if he were 33.

He also puts pressure on Cavs management to continue improving the team. If he feels that he will be unable to win in Cleveland, he will be able to sign with another team while he is still in his prime.

Wade and Bosh both decided to follow in James’ footsteps and signed the shorter deal.

As a Knick fan, there is a silver lining in all this. The Knicks are currently buried under financial obligations, but their longest contracts, the ones with Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford will be off the books by then. If the Knicks can refrain from signing any huge deals in the next four years, they will be able to make a run at James, Wade or Bosh. There are clauses in shoe contracts, which gives an automatic increase in endorsement money, if the player under contract plays in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. Stay tuned.

2. Big Ben bolts Motown for the Windy City
Just a few months ago, Detroit looked like a dynasty in the making. They were challenging the ’96 Chicago Bulls for the most wins in a season and looked like they would get to the finals easily.

They got knocked out in the conference finals and lost their team’s heart and soul, Ben Wallace to free agency. With the defection of Big Ben, it looks uncertain if they will be able to win their division next year.

The shut down defensive Piston team of 2004 is gone. Wallace anchored the team’s defense, allowing their guards to be overly aggressive with pressuring the ball.

Detroit will try and replace Wallace with Nazr Mohammed. After watching him for a year in New York, Knick fans know that he is no defensive stopper. He will give them a little more offense than Wallace would have, but Detroit is getting 50 cents on the dollar on the defensive end if they’re lucky.

Flip Saunders wanted to play a more offensive-minded, up-tempo game last year. With Wallace gone, they Pistons will need to score more in order to be successful. They added Flip Murray to their team, who will give them some scoring punch off of the bench.

The Bulls led the league in field goal defense last year and they will be much better with Wallace in the middle. They are young, but they have a solid nucleus to contend with for the next few years.

The Cavaliers will only be getting better as Lebron gets more comfortable playing in the NBA. He might have been the best player in the league last year and he was only 21. He is only getting better.

The Pistons have an uphill battle ahead of them if they are to win the division again. In all likelihood, their days as the beast of the east are over. Chicago and Cleveland are the favorites to win the Central Division next season.

3. Hornets Make a big splash
The 2005-06 Hornets were expected to struggle. However, rookie point guard Chris Paul and power forward David West led the team to exceed expectations. Paul averaged 16.1 points, 7.8 assists, 5.1 rebounds and 2.2 steals en route to winning the rookie of the year award. West emerged as one of the league’s most improved players, averaging 17.1 points and 7.4 rebounds.

The Hornets electrified crowds in Oklahoma City and New Orleans and were in the playoff race until the last week of the season.

After years of fiscal conservation, Hornets owner George Shinn opened up his wallet this summer.

The Hornets came out as the most aggressive team during free agency, immediately signing Peja Stojakovic and Bobby Jackson.

Stojoakovic is a fantastic shooter, with career numbers of 18 points and 5 rebounds a game on 46% shooting from the field and 40% from beyond the three-point line. His sweet stroke will help spread the floor, giving Paul room to drive to the basket.

Jackson is an up-tempo player, who will make the Hornets fun to watch. He is a veteran point guard who will help mentor Paul. Despite both being point guards, he worked really well with Mike Bibby in Sacramento.

The problem with both of these players is that they are both injury prone. Jackson has played 70 games in just three of his nine NBA seasons. Stojakovic missed most of Indiana’s playoff series with the Nets due to an injured knee.

Both signings are high risk, high reward for the Hornets.

The Hornets then went out and traded for Tyson Chandler. They gave up their veteran leader, PJ Brown and a young prospect, JR Smith to get him. Brown’s leadership will be missed, but the Hornets hope that Peja and Jackson will be able to provide some of that for their young players.

The Hornets were the boldest team so far in the offseason. They took on nearly $150 million in financial obligations. The team appears better on paper, but if the moves don’t turn out well, they will be saddled with huge contracts for years to come. A starting lineup of Paul, Desmond Mason, Stojakovic, West and Chandler should be good enough to challenge for a playoff spot next season.

4. Clippers spend some money
Much of the talk about LA’s other team focused on the need to keep things as they were. After years of having promising players and little results, the Clippers put together a fine season last year, reaching the second round of the playoffs.

Donald Sterling is another owner who is known for having his hand tightly clenched around his wallet.

Sam Cassell was a great veteran presence on the team last season. He averaged 17.2 points and 6.3 assists with a fantastic 2.81 assist-to-turnover ratio. Under his leadership at point guard, the team improved from 37 wins to 47. Despite, having Shaun Livingston at the same position, the Clippers felt that Cassell was an essential part of their team and keeping him there was their number one priority this offseason.

General Manager Elgin Baylor was able to resign Sam “I am” for just $13 million over the next two seasons. That is extremely reasonable for a top-flight point guard who takes care of the ball, gets his teammate involved and has made a living at taking big shots. Cassell is the type of guy who plays with the pedal to the metal at all times and he should be a great influence on the development of Livingston.

The Clippers lost Vlad Radmanovic, who signed with the Lakers, but they replaced “Radman” with Tim Thomas for four years and $24 million. Thomas was fantastic in the playoffs for the Phoenix Suns. This would be a bargain except for the fact that Thomas has always played well in contract years and dogged it during his other seasons.

The good thing for LA is that they don’t need him to do too much. He has all the talent in the world. He can shoot, drive to the hole, play down low and even play some defense when he wants to. Thomas, Livingson and Corey Maggette will make up the league’s strongest bench next season. The Clippers will be formidable again next season. With improvement from some of their young players, they could contend for the title.

5. Dallas keepts it together
After coming within two games of winning the NBA title, the Mavs knew they didn’t have much to do. Priority number one was to re-sign Jason Terry. After averaging 17 points per game during the regular season and 19 during the playoffs, the Mavs rewarded Terry with a six-year $50 million deal.

With Terry, Devin Harris and Jerry Stackhouse locked up in the backcourt, the Mavs traded shooting guard Marquis Daniels to Indiana for Austin Croshere.

Daniels is a good player, but he is still owed nearly $30 million. That is too much money for the team’s fourth guard to be making. The acquisition of Croshere, allows Dallas to let Keith Van Horn sign with another team. Croshere is in the last year of his contract.

With this trade, the Mavs will be able to compete for the title again next year with their core of Nowitzki, Howard, Terry, Harris, Stackhouse, Dampier and Diop. If it doesn’t work out, the Mavs have put themselves into position to get under the salary cap and sign an impact free agent. They saved about $20 million dollars with this trade and will have money to pursue Vince Carter in free agency next summer if they decide they need another scoring guard.

For years the talk was that owner Mark Cuban spent money too lavishly on players. The Mavs are now in one of the best financial situations for a contending team.

6. Where have all the centers gone?
This has gotten pathetic. Ben Wallace is not a center. Nene is not a center.

Ten years ago, the Centers in the league were Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning.

Ben Wallace is Charles Oakley with ups. Nene is a power forward who has career averages of 10.2 points and 6.2 rebounds.

Both players got paid like superstar centers. Each player signed for $60 million (Wallace for four years and Nene for six).

The other centers on the market this summer were Joel Przybilla, Nazr Mohammed, Rafael Araujo, Rasho Nesterovic, Francisco Elson and Jackie Butler.

The NBA games has increased in pace over the last decade. Big men are often just too slow. Most offenses revolve around their guards. Big guys are only necessary to protect the rim on the defensive end.

The league has officially been Garnett-ified. He is a seven-footer who plays like a guard. Big men are now so versatile that they are more comfortable playing away from the hoop and weary of going inside and guarding other big men. (see Tim Duncan, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki).

The days of the dominant center are long gone.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Baseball: Mets midseason Report Card

Tom Glavine
Tom has been the Team’s MVP thus far. In the final year of his contact, he has been worth his entire $15 million salary and more. With the Mets struggling to field an MLB-level rotation, Tom has been just fantastic at the front of it. He has turned back into the ace he was for Atlanta. Every fifth day, the Mets have been confident that they will get a good outing from Glavine. His last loss came on April 24th. That is almost three months ago. He is now 11-2 with a 3.34 ERA and he earned himself a spot on the All-star team. It is his tenth time being named to the team and the only other pitchers to do that are Warren Spahn, Tom Seaver, Roger Clemens, Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson.

David Wright
I am just expecting to wake up from this dream at any minute. Do I really get to root for a player this good? Is he really on the Mets? Is Isiah Thomas going to take control of the Mets and trade him for Adrian Beltre, Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson? He is just too good to be true. Clutch, consistent and humble are the easiest adjectives to describe him. He’s on pace to hit .316 with 37 home runs and 137 RBIs. Wright is a bona fide MVP candidate.

Carlos Beltran
He started the season struggling and fans at Shea began to boo the slugger. After knocking his first hit of the season out of the park, he reluctantly accepted a curtain call from the fans. Everything has been uphill since for the centerfielder. A few weeks later, he knocked in a sixteenth inning walk-off homerun to beat the Phillies. For me, that was the welcome to the Mets moment for Carlos. He is now officially one of us. The Phillies were just 3.5 games back before that game. Since then, they have won just 17 of their last 43 games and now sit 12 games behind the Mets. Carlos is on pace to hit 46 home runs and drive in 128 RBIs. He also seems to have mastered the expansive centerfield at Shea stadium after struggling a little bit last year.

Jose Reyes
In the past few weeks, we have seen Jose begin to put it all together. Over the last month, he has raised his average from .249 to .300. People have criticized his pitch selection, but he has already walked as many times this year as he did in the past two years combined. He is leading the major leagues in runs, stolen bases triples, which is the equivalent of the Triple Crown for leadoff hitters. The Mets go as he goes and they have the best record in the national league.

Jose Valentin
After starting the season 2 for 21, there were catcalls from all over Metsnation for General Manager Omar Minaya to cut Valentin and find a new lefty bat off the bench. He has pulled a complete 180, winning the job as the everyday second basemen. Jose is hitting .275 with nine homeruns and 36 RBIs in limited action. He has arguably become the best number eight hitter in the national league and his play made Kaz Matsui expendable, despite the huge contract.

Darren Oliver
Oliver is another one of Minaya’s great bargain bin pickups. He has been tremendous. He thought about retiring before the season and has proven beyond a doubt that he can still play in the league. In 50.1 innings pitched, Oliver is 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA with 36 strikeouts to just 15 walks. Anytime the Mets have needed someone in long relief, he has answered the call.

Duaner Sanchez
Mets fans were upset when Minaya traded away Jae Seo for Sanchez. However, this has turned into another great move for Minaya to put on his resume. Seo peaked last year and struggled so much this season that the Dodgers have already traded him away. Sanchez is a 26-year old with tremendous ability. He started the season without giving up a hit in his first 16 appearances. He has cooled of a little bit of late, but has still been the MVP of a relief corps that is one of the strengths of this team. In 47.2 innings pitched, Duaner is 5-0 with a 2.45 ERA.

Endy Chavez
Chavez has been another great inexpensive free agent signee. He is hitting .283, but that barely begins to explain how valuable he has been to the team. Endy has come up with some huge hits to help the Mets win ball games. His defense at all three outfield positions has been terrific. You couldn’t ask for much more than he’s given as a fourth outfielder.

Paul Lo Duca
Lo Duca is hitting .302 with 30 RBIs, but his most telling statistic is that he has struck out just 18 times. He always makes pitchers work to get him out. Paul is the ideal number two hitter: He will take pitches, allowing Reyes to work his magic on the basepaths. After watching a breaking down Mike Piazza loaf around the field, it is great to have someone with his fire and enthusiasm behind the plate. He has not been great defensively, but is still a major upgrade over Piazza. (Please forgive me for making two negative comments about Piazza. He was a great Met and I love the guy, but he really brought the team down over the past few years)

Pedro Martinez
It is hard to grade Martinez’s season thus far. He was fantastic and carried the team in April and May, but struggled tremendously in June. He is now on the disabled list. When he returns, which Pedro will we get? His overall numbers were still good enough for the all-star team. He has a 3.45 ERA and has struck out 111 batters compared to just 28 walks.

Chad Bradford
The submariner has been a fantastic reliever with runners on base. He has stranded a ridiculous percentage of the runners he has inherited. After getting buried behind some of the other guys in the bullpen early on, he has emerged as one of the team’s best options in a jam. Bradford is especially effective against righties. In 27 innings pitched, he has a 3.00 ERA, while striking out 19 batters and walking just four.

Pedro Feliciano
Feliciano is the yin to Bradford’s yang. He is the team’s lefty specialist. People were unsure if he would be able to make the team in spring training, but he has been great. In 34.2 innings pitched, Feliciano has a 2.34 ERA with 29 K’s and just eight walks.

Willie Randolph
He is fantastic with the young guys and he seems to have created terrific chemistry within the team. Willie is all about his players and always sticks up for them. He will never pull a Larry Brown and call out one of his own players in the media. However, one would be right to question some of his in-game moves. In last Sunday’s game against the Yankees, Randolph left Alay Soler in the game, despite his inability to throw anywhere near the strike zone, allowing the Yankees to light him up. He then followed up that move by brining in Heath Bell who only exacerbated the problem instead of going to Oliver or Aaron Heilman.

Xavier Nady
When the Mets traded Mike Cameron for Nady, the team was just trying to save money after their big free agent signings, but Nady has been a pleasant surprise to the team. He is hitting .265 with 12 homeruns and 34 RBIs. The team envisioned platooning Nady with Victor Diaz, but Xavier has been so good that we have barely seen Diaz at all this year. Compare his statistics with Mike Cameron’s who is hitting .259 with 10 homeruns and 34 RBIs for about $6 million more. That’s why I love Omar.

Billy Wagner
Despite the highly publicized blown saves, Wagner has been pretty good this year. He will give up the occasional homerun, but the Mets have not had a pitcher who can hit 99 consistently on the radar gun since Armando Benitez. The best part about it is that he is not Armando Benitez. He has a great slider, which comes in at 86-90 MPH. He isn’t perfect, but I haven’t felt as confident in a Mets closer since Randy Myers. Wagner has 18 saves in 22 opportunities with a 2.43 ERA with 52 K’s to just 17 walks.

Ramon Castro
Along with having the biggest head in baseball and being one of the slowest players in the league, Castro is one of the best backup catchers. He is a great defensively and he provides the team with some power off the bench. Lo Duca is known for slowing down and Castro will play a bigger role in the second half of the season as the Mets gear up for October. One of the major positives of the Matsui- Eli Marrero deal is that the acquisition of Marrero (who can play catcher) will allow Randolph to use Castro as a pinch hitter.

Carlos Delgado
Traditionally, the Mets’ big acquisitions struggle out of the gates. Delgado had one of the best April’s for a Met ever, hitting 9 home runs and driving in 20 RBIs while hitting nearly .300. It may be unfair to rank him so low, considering he is on pace for 40 home runs and over 100 RBIs, but I can’t get over the .253 average. Delgado has always been a terrific hitter and has hit for a .292 average over the past three seasons. He has also made out in some big spots this year. He is one of the most protected players in baseball, hitting between Carlos Beltran and David Wright. He should improve his average in the second half.

Steve Trachsel
His numbers aren’t terrific, but any Met fan has to love what Trachsel has done of late. He is 6-0 over his last six starts. With Pedro hurting and the back of rotation struggling, he has provided a huge lift for the Amazins. He is 8-4 with a 4.67 ERA. He has just 46 strikeouts and 44 walks, but “the human rain delay” has battled all season long.

Julio Franco
At 47, Franco has been one of the best pinch hitters in baseball this year. He is hitting .281 in 89 at bats. However, he has made his presence felt the most as a leader in the clubhouse for the Mets young players.

Orlando Hernandez
“El Duque” has been decent so far for the Mets. In eight starts, he is 3-4 with a 4.14 ERA while striking out 37 and walking 14. Hernandez has been the beneficiary of some good run support in his best outings. He was acquired because he has shown a penchant for pitching well in big games. He is 9-3 with a 2.55 career ERA in the postseason. Regardless, it has been a good trade for both parties. “El Duque” had a 6.16 ERA in the same amount of innings this year for Arizona and he is now with a first place team. The Mets gave up Jorge Julio, a struggling member of their bullpen. The pen has continued to excel while bolstering a rotation that was decimated by injuries to Victor Zambrano, Brian Bannister and John Maine and poor pitching by Jose Lima and Jeremi Gonzalez. The question is; where would the Mets starting pitching be without him?

Aaron Heilman
I am sick and tired of hearing how Heilman is upset about not starting. Suck it up. He never proved he was a great starter, but he was great last year in the bullpen. He needs to pitch better if the Mets are to be successful in the playoffs. Even the Mets best pitchers rarely go deep into games, making the bullpen vital to the team’s success. He is 0-3 with a 4.35 ERA and has zero saves in five opportunities. He does have 40 strikeouts, compared to 17 walks, but he has struggled mightily of late.

Chris Woodward
Woodward has been solid off the bench and he can play a lot of different positions, but he just hasn’t been as good as he was last year. His average dropped from .283 a year ago, to .231 this year. Perhaps it is because he has been called on to play a bigger role with the banishment of Matsui, but he has struggled defensively as well this year.

Cliff Floyd
I love Cliff, I do. He has been injured a lot this year, but has also failed to produce. He was the best player on the team during the first half last year and he wouldn’t break the top five this year. He has picked it up lately, but Floyd is hitting just .249 with seven homeruns and 26 RBIs in 60 games. He is a free agent at the end of the year and will probably not be back in Queens. With that in mind and Chavez and Lastings Milledge waiting in the wings, Floyd may be expendable. However, There is a tremendous amount of upside with Floyd. He has the ability to carry the team. If he starts hitting, the offense will be just unstoppable.

Alay Soler
A grade of D may be a little generous for Soler. He had some good starts, but he couldn’t get past his nerves. I have never seen an athlete who struggled so much with anxiety. He pitched beautifully when his team got ahead, but couldn’t throw a strike in a big spot. He should get another chance to pitch in the majors, but if he’s pitching in the postseason, then the Mets won’t be there very long.

Jose Lima, Victor Zambrano, Jeremi Gonzalez, Kaz Matsui
I hope none of these guys wear a Mets jersey ever again.

Anderson Hernandez, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey, Eli Marrero, Lastings Milledge, Brian Bannister, Henry Owens, Bartolome Fortunato, Heath Bell

Monday, July 10, 2006

OJ Mayo should be in the NBA right now

OJ Mayo should be playing in the NBA right now. Despite the fact that he is just entering his senior year of his school, he would start on any team in the L today.

At last year’s ABCD camp, he was spectacular. He took control of the game and electrified the game en route to winning the MVP award for the underclassmen game. The senior all-star game featured, Greg Oden, but everyone left the camp talking about Mayo’s performance.

OJ went on to have a fine season. He averaged nearly 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds while leading his team to a State title and winning Mr. Basketball in Ohio for the second straight year. The last person to win the award three times in row is known as the King and just signed a monster contract extension with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

He has been called the next LeBron James and the hype machine is already running at full strength for this kid. Since 2003, Reebok has paid 100,000 dollars a year for sneakers, airfare, hotels, uniforms and entrance fees for his AAU team. If the rules permitted, Mayo would have had a shoe deal three years ago.

Instead of making the big bucks, OJ will have to wait to cash in. Because of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, he will have to wait two years to enter the NBA draft.

This is a shame because he is just too good to be playing against high school players. Mr. Sneaker Company, Sonny Vaccaro said that Mayo is “bored” right now. He looked uninterested at this year’s ABCD camp. Its not that he wasn’t playing hard. It’s just that he has nothing left to prove on this level and totally deferred to his teammates who are still playing for scholarships.

He needs to be challenged and he should be getting paid for his wonderful talents.

Rumors have been swirling that Mayo may go overseas to play or join a barnstorming team created by Reebok in order to get paid for their efforts, He may even mount a legal challenge to the NBA’s rule.

Winning this type of case would be difficult. Just a few years ago, Maurice Clarett tried to bring a similar challenge to the NFL’s age restriction. His claim failed, but there are differences between the two cases.

Clarett v. NFL turned on two basic principles. One was that the NFL was able to avoid antitrust laws, which would have been favorable to Clarett because the restriction was collectively bargained. The other point was that the NFL brought in health experts that said it would be unsafe for players to come to the NFL at such a age young because they would get hurt. Clarett didn’t think that was an issue, but there was no empirical data to back his contention that he would be mature enough to make the jump.

It is just the opposite in the NBA.

In the past ten years, many players have jumped directly from high school to the L. The group of players that has made this jump is the most successful group of players in the league. The list includes Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O’Neal and Dwight Howard. It is hard to argue that it is not in THEIR best interest for a talented high school player to go right to the NBA from high school.

It is however in the union’s best interest. Veterans who have been in the league for a few years wanted the age restriction because one less spot on a roster for a developing high school player means one more spot for one of them. Potential players who are not yet in the league are not represented by the collective bargaining agreement. They had no seat at the negotiating table and should not be bound by its rule.

I am not sure if this would be enough for a judge to strike down the rule based on antitrust law, but OJ Mayo is good enough to play in the NBA. He is going to be a star regardless, but he should be getting paid for his extraordinary talent right now.