Browsing Posts published in December, 2012

It’s been a tumultous season for Rex Ryan’s Jets. After flirting with Peyton Manning, the Jets signed Mark Sanchez to a three-year, $40.5 million contract extension. Sanchez had two years remaining of his rookie contract, so the move was surprising. However, the Jets made the most puzzling move in franchise history a few months later. The Jets sent a fourth round pick to Denver for Tim Tebow. The looming presence of Tebowmania was evident as Sanchez’s clearly looked uncomfortable in the pocket. The offense’s production went from ‘bad’ to ‘worse’ as Wildcat guru, Tony Sparano was signed as offensive coordinator. Ryan was hellbent on getting back to a ‘Ground & Pound’ offense that he overlooked the offense’s biggest problem–Sanchez’s inconsistencies as a passer. Sparano’s offense is predicated by a hard-nosed ground game and accurate throws down field–two facets the Jets simply don’t have. Sanchez was booed to the bench and Tim Tebow Greg McElroy took over. McElroy isn’t the long-term answer, but the thought of McElroy starting seems like blasphemy.

While the offense’s on-field play was a downright disgrace, injuries clearly affected production. Santonio Holmes suffered a season ending foot injury and Stephen Hill and Dustin Keller couldn’t seem to stay healthy. Practice squad fodder (e.g. Chaz Schillens, Mardy Gilyard) became Sanchez’s go-to receivers. One could argue that Sanchez played so poorly that it didn’t matter who was on the field. Still, every team must overcome injuries and the Jets didn’t do it.

The defense has always been the Jets’ strength, so this year’s statistics were downright pitiful. The Jets have the NFL’s sixth worst run defense, yielding 135.3 yards per game. Of note, the 49ers gashed the Jets for over 250 yards, which Ryan coined as his worst performance ever. Bart Scott looked old and simply couldn’t defend tight ends. The Jets lost Darrelle Revis early in the season, but the pass defense did not miss a beat. Newcomers, Yeremiah Bell and LaRon Landry secured the safety positions and Antonio Cromartie played at a Pro Bowl level. The Jets were the NFL’s second best pass defense, yielding just 187 yards per game. Kyle Wilson started in place of Revis and was always picked on by opposing quarterbacks.

Special team’s coordinator, Mike Westhoff, will retire at season’s end. Known as the ‘Creator of Special Teams’, Westhoff experienced many highs (and lows). The Jets scored (and gave up) two special teams touchdowns, but suffered numerous gaffes. Tebow was placed on the punt team and made his share of mistakes.

Overall, it was a terrible season for the Jets. Ryan’s pre-season assertions about his team’s talent level were downright comical. Still, Cromartie made the Pro Bowl and Muhammad Wilkerson is beginning to play like an All-Pro. If Revis fully recovers from his ACL injury and Bell and Landry re-sign, the Jets will have the league’s best secondary. The Jets are encouraged by the play of Wilkerson and Quinton Coples, so the defense can return to its dominant ways if adds a few pieces.

On offense, the Jets need a new offensive coordinator. The Jets are stuck with Mark Sanchez, so they need a coordinator that can help develop him as a passer. Norv Turner and Charlie Weis have track records of fixing quarterbacks, so they may be options. Ryan does not know anything about offense, so he needs a strong coordinator that can fully take over. Dustin Keller will be a free agent, so the Jets need to make a decision. Still, the Jets will hope the injury gods shine more favorably upon them next season.

The Jets should give Rex Ryan one more season. The Jets will likely have a Top 12 draft pick and the return of some key pieces will help. In addition, the Jets will play a 3rd-or-4th place schedule next season, which should pad their win total. Ryan’s defense can regain its dominance, but the offense desperately needs a strong coordinator. Tebow, Sparano, and Mike Tannenbaum should not be brought back, but Ryan should be given one more chance.

Going into 2012, the Yankees had the fourth and fifth place finishers in AL Rookie of the Year voting. Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda entered Spring Training as promising, cost-effective solutions for the suddenly frugal Bombers. However, Pineda suffered a shoulder injury and missed the entire season. Nova, who posted an impressive 16 win, 3.70 ERA rookie campaign, was terrible in 2012, turning in an ugly 5.02 ERA in 28 starts. Nova did not make the post-season roster and many began writing him off.

Still, the 25-year-old Nova has the makings of dependable starter. Nova’s fastball consistently sits around 93-94 MPH and his slider makes for an effective out pitch. From 2011 to 2012, Nova’s strikeout total jumped from 98 to 153. Typically, most young power pitchers need a few seasons before putting up large strikeout totals. However, Nova began overcompensating for his newfound strikeout ability by leaving pitches up in the zone. Nova’s home run output doubled, 13 to 28, but his walk rate largely remained the same. Injuries may have played a factor in Nova’s disappointing 2012 campaign. Nova missed nearly a month with shoulder soreness, but we don’t know how long he pitched with the pain.

In short, Nova has shown he can be a #2 starter. During 2011, the Yankees rewarded Nova with post-season starts.  Nova has a plus fastball and showed the ability to miss bats at an above average rate. If Nova can keep the ball down and sacrifice some strikeouts, his ERA and win output will rebound. Nova will likely enter Spring Training as the Yankees’ #5 starter, so he’ll have time to assimilate into the rotation. Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda are probably in their last seasons, so Nova needs to correct his mistakes and become a major part of the Yankees rotation. I believe he’ll make the necessary adjustments and bounce back in 2013.

Yesterday, the Nets fired head coach, Avery Johnson. Johnson, who was November’s Coach of the Month, watched his team post a 3-10 record in December. Many believe Johnson no longer inspired his team. Others are pointing the finger at Deron Williams who has a history of pushing out head coaches. In either scenario, the Nets will turn to assistant coach, PJ Carlisemo. Carliesemo’s career coaching record, 204-296, may not inspire the struggling Nets. Could Phil Jackson solve Brooklyn’s woes?

Reports suggest the Nets and their lavish owner will reach out Jackson. Despite ‘retiring’ after the 2010 season, Jackson seems to have the itch to coach again. Earlier this season, Jackson was shunned by the Lakers. Details were not disclosed, but many believe Jackson wanted a sweet heart coaching package (i.e. not travelling for some road trips). Despite some petty demands, Jackson brings along his championship rings and success with the Triangle Offense. Jackson’s Triangle Offenses captured 11 of the last 20 NBA Titles.

Phil Jackson brings a lot of success and flare, but he’s not a great fit for Brooklyn. Brooklyn’s roster is comprised of younger players that lack an identify. Jackson is used to having one or two dominant, go-to players at his disposal and Brooklyn lacks a true leader. In addition, Brooklyn does not have the personnel to run the Triangle Offense. The Triangle Offense is predicated by ball movement, player moment, and crisp outside shooting. Williams and Joe Johnson are above average shooters and facilitators, but Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries are not ideal fits. In fact, the Triangle Offense needs a hybrid power forward that can pass well and shoot from the outside. Andray Blatche fits that billing, but Humphries isn’t making $10 million to sit on the bench. The Triangle Offense takes time to install and perfect, so the impantient Nets may not want to wait.

Phil Jackson is 67-years-old and should stay retired if he can’t fully committ himself. If he did come back, Jackson needs a ready-made contender and Brooklyn needs a lot of work. Brooklyn has some talented players, but the pieces simply don’t fit together. Williams and Johnson need a lot of touches and the Triangle Offense takes the ball out of the point guard’s hands. Despite his past success and history of coaching in New York, this is one situation Phil Jackson should avoid.

Even without hockey, with hoops up and football crashing, NY talk radio has had more than enough topics to keep busy. Good thing for the Mets (and Yanks) who have little positive to report.

Of course we don’t know what the club will be until they get to spring training. But the Mets have a lot of work to do to get beyond where the whole organization has been trending in recent years.

On the plus side of the ledger, the installment of Sandy Alderson, his braintrust and Terry Collins has solidified what had been rocky baseball leadership. They seem to have a plan, although what that is they haven’t declared. We suspect it’s stripping down and rebuilding although they’re afraid to say it. I do believe that Mets fans would be relieved to know there’s actually a plan (instead of just putting David Wright, cheap retreads and AAAA players out there).

On the other side you’ve got the House of Wilpon, teaming up with Bernie Madoff, legal and financial problems, turning into a small market franchise at big market prices, badmouthing their star players like Wright and Dickey (who do they think they are the Red Sox?).

Fans have not taken well to the recent fortunes as the attached chart from businessinsider.com shows. There is an aggregate 44.5% attendance slide over the past 4 years despite the shiny new Citi Field:

While reliable historical TV ratings are difficult to come by, according to sportsbusinessdaily.com the Mets have a 2.3 share in their local market, which is the 7th worst in MLB as of 2011.

It would seem that the Mets (and the Yanks) had terrible timing with the new ballparks but also badly overreached in terms of prices and amenities. It’s a given that their big revenues now come from local cable. And they may actually optimize their gate by higher prices and lower attendance. But it can never be a good thing for the ‘brand’ when you’re losing your fan base.

Personally I think the Wilpon’s will have a hard time ever getting Mets fans to warm up to them but giving their fans an actual reason to come out to the park would be a start.

Dave Graziano also blogs at BigDogSportsBlog.com about current sports news and opinion topics

It’s been a difficult offseason for Yankee fans. Derek Jeter broke his ankle, but should return for Spring Training. Alex Rodriguez, who is undergoing hip surgery, will miss at least half of 2013. Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, and Andruw Jones, who combined to hit 94 home runs, signed elsewhere. Rafael Soriano, who saved 42 games, is also expected to sign elsewhere. For better or worse, the Yankees were not linked to any top free agents. The Yankee brass is committed to spending less than baseball’s $189 million luxury tax threshold by 2014, so free agent spending sprees are off the table.

Brian Cashman always emphasizes the importance of keeping his ‘core’ together, so four key pieces were re-signed to team friendly deals. Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Hiroki Kuroda signed one-year deals while Ichrio Suzuki signed a two-year deal. These deals should help the Yankees win in 2013, but each player is over 40-years-old and adds little value to the future of the team.

The Yankees are one of the oldest teams in baseball, but still boast some of the game’s best players. Jeter and Ichiro will set the table for Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson. CC Sabathia will be supported by Kuroda, Pettitte, and Phil Hughes in the starting rotation. Mariano Rivera and David Robertson will lock down the backend of the bullpen. This core won 95 games last season, so anything less will be a failure.

While the Yankees boast a strong core, many are questioning their complementary parts. As of today, the Yankees have not named a starting catcher or designated hitter. Cashman will not sign a free agent catcher, so expect a combination of Francisco Cervelli-Chris Stewart-Austin Romine to start. Kevin Youkilis will start at third base, but he was signed as A-Rod’s caddy. The Yankees will need Youkilis to play third base and DH, but he can’t seem to stay healthy. If Youkilis suffers another injury, will the team trust Eduardo Nunez to play third base? Nunez is currently the de-facto designated hitter, but Cashman always extends multiple Spring Training invites. The Yankees have a glutton of left handed hitters in its outfield, so expect a right handed bat to join this threesome. Remember, Marcus Thames and Raul Ibanez were signed late and played significant roles. Expect similar moves.

Going into 2013, the Yankees have a very small margin for error. The roster is primarily comprised of older players that may break down. Each AL East foe improved its roster and many are expecting the Toronto Blue Jays to win the division. However, the Yankees boasted baseball’s best run differential and have a roster full of players that have endured October battles. The Yankees continue to pour resources into scouting and player development, but don’t count them out. In terms of player development and a more cost conscious approach, the 2013 season may prove to be a transition year. That doesn’t mean the Yankees are incapable of raising another AL East flag.

Over the last two months, the Mets and R.A. Dickey danced around a contract extension. Dickey, who is under contract for 2013, was seeking a two-year, $25 million contract extension, but the Mets were reluctant to offer it. While fans may never know why Dickey wasn’t offered an extension, a few scenarios come to mind. The Mets may not trust their 38-year-old knuckle baller to repeat his past success. The Mets may not be ready to win. Maybe it’s a combination of both. The Blue Jays, however, didn’t have any reservations about Dickey. The Blue Jays essentially moved ‘All-In’ by trading for Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buerhle. The Blue Jays believe they’re ready to win, so the ‘risk’ associated with Dickey is a moot point.

To acquire Dickey, the Blue Jays surrendered their top prospect, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and Single A pitcher, Noah Syndergaard. Last season, Baseball America ranked d’Arnaud as the 17th best prospect in baseball. d’Arnaud missed the majority of the 2011 season with a knee injury. When healthy, d’Arnaud played for AAA Las Vegas and hit 16 home runs in 279 at-bats. d’Arnaud’s strike out-to-walk ratio was 3:1, but his power is legitimate. Syndergaard is extremely young, so it’s unfair to make any assessments. 

Dickey was under contract for 2013, so the Blue Jays and Dickey agreed to a two-year extension. The Blue Jays essentially traded their top prospect and a raw pitching prospect for three years of Dickey. When evaluating trades, it’s impossible to compare ‘apples to apples’. However, several top pitchers were traded over the last five years. Trades for Johan Santana, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee come to mind. While all three pitchers were much younger and have completely different make ups, the Jays acquired the oldest player and issued the shortest contract. Let’s look back on the three trades and draw some conclusions:

Trade #1 (February 2008):
Mets Receive: Johan Santana
Twins Receive: Deolis Guerra, Carlos Gomez, Kevin Mulvey, and Phillip Humber

At the time, Baseball America ranked these players as the Mets’ #2, #3, #4, and #7 prospects. Guerra was the prized pitching prospect, but has yet to appear in the Major Leagues. The other three prospects are no longer with the Twins. The Twins acquired a bushel of top prospects, but this trade simply didn’t work out. One could also argue Santana’s 6-year, $137 million contract hasn’t worked out for the Mets. Santana has won just 46 games in five seasons and missed the entire 2011 season.

Trade #2 (July 2010):
Rangers Receive: Cliff Lee
Mariners Receive: Justin Smoak and Mark Lowe

This trade may not be the best comparison. The Rangers traded their top prospect, Smoak, for a half season of Lee. Lee helped Texas win its first American League pennant, but declined Texas’ contract extension and re-joined the Phillies. Since joining the Mariners, the 25-year-old Smoak has failed to meet expectations. Known for his power, Smoak has hit just 39 home runs in 1,200 at-bats. Safeco Park is a pitcher’s park, but Smoak’s numbers have not increased on the road. Smoak’s name continues to pop up in trade rumors, so it’s obvious Seattle is growing impatient. Meanwhile, Texas replaced Smoak’s production with a combination of Mike Napoli, Mitch Moreland, and Michael Young, so it’s safe to say Texas won this trade.

Trade #3 (December 2009):
Phillies Receive: Roy Halladay
Blue Jays Receive: Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, and Travis d’Arnaud (!!!)

Talk about irony. At the time, Baseball America ranked these three players as the Phillies’ #2,#3, and #4 prospects. Drabek was the prized pitching prospect, checking in at #25 overall. Taylor was ranked #29 overall while d’Arnaud was ranked #81 overall. Prior to the trade, Halladay posted four consecutive seasons 16+ wins, 220+ innings, and annual Top 5 Cy Young finishes. The Phillies and Halladay agreed to a three-year, $60 million contract extension. Halladay won the NL Cy Young Award in 2010 and finished second in 2011. The Blue Jays were not in a position to win or extend Halladay, so they acquired Philadelphia’s best prospects. However, those prospects have failed to make an impact. d’Arnaud was flipped for Dickey and Drabek is 8-15 with a 5.34 ERA in 30 career starts. Drabek is only 24-years-old, but given Toronto’s busy off-season, Drabek is no longer a consideration for the starting rotation. Taylor flamed out in Toronto, but was acquired by Oakland.

Conclusions

It’s really, really difficult to compare trades. Each prospect is unqiue and each pitcher has a different skill set. Santana, Lee, and Halladay were all at least five years younger than Dickey, but Dickey has the least amount of wear and tear. Teams are willing to give up their best prospects for a shot at winning in the short-term. Overall, those decisions seemed to pay off. While prospects provide hope and short-term cost saving solutions, most don’t pan out. Last season, Dickey figured out how to strike out hitters with his knuckleball. Pitchers don’t strike out 200+ batters by mistake, so Dickey’s 2012 Cy Young campaign was no fluke.

Can Dickey build upon this success in 2013? I think so. Dickey is a unique case because we don’t have a true comparable. If anything, Dickey could provide Ace-type production at a fraction of the cost. If his success doesn’t translate, Toronto’s financial committment isn’t huge and they did not surrender a ‘Can’t Miss’ prospect for him. In addition, it’s never a good sign when a ‘top prospect’ is traded twice in a three year span. d’Arnaud was hand picked by Toronto, so it’s a little surprising that they gave up on him already. d’Arnaud’s power seems legit, but I’m skeptical. It’ll take years to determine which team won this trade, but if I had to bet on it, I’d take the Blue Jays.

When the New York Giants beat the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9, they were a 7-2 team that looked like they were going to coast into the playoffs as the winners of the NFC East. However, they have gone just 2-4 since that point, and they are now on the wrong side of the postseason picture without control of their own destiny. They have to beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium if they want to still have a realistic chance to make it to the postseason.

What we have seen from the Giants though, is that they are at their best when all of the chips are in the center of the table and the most is on the line.

QB Eli Manning has been up and down all year long, but of late, he has been terrible. Arguably his worst game of the season came last week when he threw no touchdowns and two picks with just 161 yards against the Atlanta Falcons. It was the lowest of the lows for New York, which was shut out for the first time since 1996.

It also didn’t help last week that the team couldn’t figure out how to ever consistently get anything going on the ground. Take out a 20+ yard run by both RB Kregg Lumpkin and RB David Wilson, and as a team, New York averaged just 2.63 yards per carry. The good news is that RB Ahmad Bradshaw is expected to be back in the fold for this one after sitting out last week.

New York hasn’t had a fantastic history against the Ravens in the past, going just 3-4 SU and 2-5 ATS in the seven games against this franchise since 1985.

If you want to make your NFL picks on the Giants, you have to lay 2 ½-points on the road against Baltimore.

If there was any doubt that the Buffalo Bills gave up on the 2012 season, that level of doubt was totally removed when they were blown to bits by a 50-17 margin by the Seattle Seahawks in Week 15. Now, the team has to go on the road for a Week 16 meeting with the Miami Dolphins this Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.

These last two games of the season are probably an audition for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. He has only thrown for 2,935 yards and 22 TDs against 15 INTs this year, and that ratio just isn’t good enough at this level to win football games. The good news in this one is that he is going to be playing against a team that has allowed 247.9 yards per game on the campaign, ranking 26th in the league.

Fitzpatrick though, didn’t play well the first time around when these two met. The offense only mustered 281 total yards of offense, and he went 17-of-27 for 168 yards. RB CJ Spiller rushed for 91 yards on 22 carries in another underwhelming performance.

The good news for the Bills is that their defense and special teams dominated against the Fins. Not only did K Rian Lindell knock in all four of his field goal tries, but DB Leodis McKelvin returned the first punt of the game 79 yards for a touchdown.

The defense allowed just 184 total yards to the Dolphins in that first meeting, and the unit is going to need to do just as well this time around to get the job done.

Buffalo is a dog for NFL picks in Week 16, as it is lined at +4. The Dolphins at least have something to play for, as there is an outside chance to still get into the playoffs at 8-8. The ‘total’ for this game is set at 41 ½.

The Brooklyn Nets finally have Brook Lopez back on the court, though they’re still being careful with their talented big man as to not risk any additional injury to his foot.

Lopez missed seven games because of the injury, but recently returned this past Friday at home against the Detroit Pistons. He had nine points, four rebounds and three blocks in 24 minutes, while shooting 4-of-10 from the floor.

The next day, he played 25 minutes in a 83-82 loss to the Chicago Bulls, finishing with 18 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. Lopez was extremely efficient in his limited playing time, and it’s only a matter of time before he starts logging the normal amount of his minutes he was accustomed to playing before he went down.

So far this season, Lopez has been much more active on the glass, after disappointing on that front over the past two seasons. He came into the league and was a force on the boards, averaging 8.1 boards as a rookie and 8.7 as a sophomore. However, he then averaged just 5.9 rebounds the following year and 3.6 the season after that.

Through the early stages of this season, Lopez is averaging 6.9 rebounds to go along with 17.9 points per contest. He’s shooting 52.3 percent from the floor and has been much improved defensively also, swatting away an average of 2.5 blocks a game.

With Lopez back and Andray Blatche proving he can contribute with extended minutes inside, the Nets are now in a good position. There’s a great chance Blatche will continue to get more minutes at the expense of Kris Humphries, as Lopez has proven that he deserves to be on the court as much as possible. His efficiency offensively is too good to ignore.

That’s a good problem to have for Brooklyn coach Avery Johnson though, and the Nets should continue to be a profitable selection with one’s NBA picks going forward.

When is Carmelo Anthony slated to return to the court? The New York Knicks continue to win seemingly every night regardless, so his return to the lineup is going to make things even better.

Anthony hurt his ankle in the 116-107 win over the Los Angeles Lakers last Thursday, but not before he torched them for 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting in just 23 minutes.

Though he was doing everything in his power to get back on the floor for Saturday’s matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers, the training staff decided it’d be the safer bet to hold him out and get him fully healthy. There’s no point in risking Anthony’s long-term health, especially since the Knicks have shown they can do just fine without their superstar.

New York could use Anthony during this busy week though, as Mike Woodson’s team will play four games, all of which will be inside Madison Square Garden.

First the Knicks will play host to James Harden and the Houston Rockets and they are favored by a considerable margin, especially considering the Rockets have been quite poor on the road this season.

Two nights later New York finally gets to play the Brooklyn Nets at home. The Knicks have split two games in the Barclays Center and will be aiming to preserve their home-court advantage in what should be a fantastic game.

There’s not much time for rest for Anthony and company though, as the Knicks will then host the Chicago Bulls on Friday night. The Bulls, despite not having Derrick Rose or Richard Hamilton healthy, continue to play great defense and are a tough out for anyone.

To close out the week, New York will play the Minnesota Timberwolves, who just got Ricky Rubio back. That should be quite an entertaining game, with Anthony, Rubio, Kevin Love and the rest putting on a show for fans in MSG.