Sunday, February 20, 2011

Why I love the NBA All-Star Game

Dwight Howard just referred to himself as "Chocolate Shoulders."

10 minutes ago
/Kevin Durant hits a three
Steve Kerr: Kevin Durant is the most athletic guy in the league

6 minutes ago
/Dwight Howard dunks
Steve Kerr: Dwight Howard is the most athletic guy you'll see in this league, along with LeBron James.

3 minutes ago
/Russell Westbrook dunks
Steve Kerr: Russell Westbrook is probably the most athletic you in the league right now, guys.

Craig Sager and Justin Bieber have an in-game, court-side condescension-off:
Sager: So, are you in school or something?
Bieber: It's the weekend, Craig.

Craig Sager: Kobe, I saw you whisper something to D-Wade before tip-off. What'd you say to him?
Kobe: Oh, it was nothing. Nothing to do with the game. It was something else that was humorous.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sometimes it's hard to fit Albert Pujols into your theoretical future lineups

So says Ben Nicholson-Smith in this ditty.

• Chicago Cubs – The thought of Albert Pujols in a Cubs uniform is a horrifying one for Cardinals fans, but it makes sense. First baseman Carlos Pena signed a one-year deal and the Cubs aren’t afraid of spending on free agents.

If Carlos Pena had a player option, then no way would the Cubs be interested in Pujols.

• Texas Rangers – Texas’ new ownership pursued Cliff Lee and Adrian Beltre aggressively this offseason and the Rangers don’t have an established first baseman. Imagine Pujols, Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Ian Kinsler in the same lineup and it’s easy to understand why the Rangers might be tempted.

It's easy to understand why the Rangers might be tempted because it's Albert motherfucking Pujols. Adrian Beltre has had two monster seasons in an otherwise dreadful offensive career; he adds nothing to Pujols' value. Really neither do Hamilton, Cruz or Kinsler. Albert Pujols is instant offense. The Rangers already have a ton of offense. It's not like something magical will happen if you double up on what you're already good at.

• San Francisco Giants – Sure, the Giants just locked Aubrey Huff up for two years and have top prospect Brandon Belt nearing the majors, but Giants GM Brian Sabean would likely be tempted by Pujols as a successor to Barry Bonds as a franchise icon. Like every National League team, the Giants would likely wonder about Pujols’ ability to play defense at the end of an eight or 10-year deal.

Let's take this one piece at a time.

the Giants just locked Aubrey Huff up for two years

Was he going somewhere?

Seriously, Aubrey Huff is lucky to have a multi-year contract at the age of 34. He is a second-tier first basemen in a league of phenomenally gifted fatties. Over his 11 year career, he's posted a total WAR of 15.3. Albert Pujols is one of the greatest baseball players ever, in history. In his 10 year career, he has a total WAR of 83.8.

We're talking about eating like $6 million of a hohum contract, as a byproduct of signing an elite player to a $300 million deal. Aubrey Huff is not what complicates things here.

and have top prospect Brandon Belt nearing the majors

Brandon Belt has played one year of professional ball, and granted it was tremendous. He shot through the Giants system, and finished last season in AAA. One thing to remember is that he's in a hitter's league in the PCL. Another thing to remember is we're talking about the greatest player in the sport and $300,000,000 versus a 22-year old kid who has one season under his belt. If I'm crazy enough to pay for Pujols, I live with myself if I have to move the kid into a corner outfield role.

Like every National League team, the Giants would likely wonder about Pujols’ ability to play defense at the end of an eight or 10-year deal.

This is the silliest part thus far. Not only is Albert Pujols the single best fielder in the game right now, he's also playing the least demanding position on the field. Not only do you NOT move him to DH if you're an AL team, but you feel fine hiding him at first when he's 40 and still mashing the ball, if you're an NL team.

• Los Angeles Angels – Arguably the loser of the 2010-11 offseason, the Angels could have interest in Pujols next winter. They’ve never signed a player to a $100 million contract, partly because of an apparent reluctance to engage in bidding wars, so owner Arte Moreno could balk at Pujols’ asking price.

He's never signed a $100 million player, so there's a chance he'll balk at a $300 million player. Fascinating.

If the Angels signed Pujols, Kendry Morales could become the DH, shift to the outfield or become trade bait.

If the Angels signed Pujols, Kendry Morales could become a male escort, specializing in Nick Adenhart impersonations. Let's just do this:

Carlos Pena - .241/.351/.490
Aubrey Huff - .283/.345/.476
Kendry Morales - .284/.336/.502
Albert Pujols - .331/.426/.624

• Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers signed Kevin Brown to the first nine-figure deal in baseball history 12 years ago. Could current GM Ned Colletti make history again?

No. The McCourt's divorce filings have capped all major roster upgrades. That is the answer.

James Loney is not necessarily the team’s long-term answer at first base – he could be non-tendered next winter –

Ohmygod, we have another one:

Carlos Pena - .241/.351/.490
Aubrey Huff - .283/.345/.476
Kendry Morales - .284/.336/.502
JAMES LONEY - .288/.348/.436
Albert Pujols - .331/.426/.624

James Loney is not relevant to the discussion of why Albert Pujols will not be a Dodger.

but it isn’t easy to imagine Pujols signing with the Dodgers as long as their ownership situation remains uncertain.

All you had to say.

• New York Yankees – When premium players hit free agency, the Yankees inquire. As long as Teixeira is around, the Yankees won’t be a natural fit for Pujols, and the Bronx Bombers know better than anyone that 10-year deals are risky, even for Hall of Fame-caliber players.

Teixeira is the first guy mentioned who does actually have a claim to his position. He's very great at his job. But two things remain: 1) Pujols is better, 2) it's the AL and you can DH one of them.

Really, if you want to list players who are blocking a team from acquiring Pujols, only one name comes to mind, and that's Ryan Howard. Pujols is way better, but Howard has a contract that simply can't be eaten, nor should it be. Beyond that situation, there isn't a first baseman in the NL who is irreplaceable, nor is there a DH/1B combo in the AL which is beyond adding Prince Albert.

• Boston Red Sox – It’s easy to assume that the Red Sox’ rumored extension with Adrian Gonzalez is a fait accompli, but the deal isn’t official, so Boston doesn’t have a first baseman under contract for 2012. Even if the Red Sox do sign Gonzalez, they could inquire on Pujols – they can certainly afford premium players.

DH Gonzalez. Put Albert at first. You would see your team win about five or six more games a year doing that, as opposed to keeping a Gonzalez/Ortiz tandem.

• Kansas City Royals – Pujols went to high school and college in Kansas City and the Royals have payroll to work with. But there’s a difference between having some money to spend and having enough of it to satisfy Pujols, as owner David Glass explained to the Kansas City Star this week. With Billy Butler established at first base and top prospect Eric Hosmer about to join him, the Royals have more pressing needs elsewhere.

ALBERT PUJOLS: Okay coach, I'm ready to go.
NED YOST: Oh... oh crap. Well, I wasn't really planning on you being here, Albert.
ALBERT PUJOLS: But I gave up money and the chance to play for a contending team because I wanted to relocate to the city in which I attended community college.
NED YOST: Yeah, but see, we have Billy Butler and a prospect holding down first.
ALBERT PUJOLS: Maybe you could DH me?
NED YOST: No... nothing like that, I'm afraid.

Carlos Pena - .241/.351/.490
Aubrey Huff - .283/.345/.476
Kendry Morales - .284/.336/.502
James Loney - .288/.348/.436
BILLY BUTLER - .299/.359/.457
Albert Pujols - .331/.426/.624

• Baltimore Orioles – The Orioles offered Mark Teixeira a nine-figure deal two offseasons ago and Derrek Lee is a free agent after the season, so the Orioles make some sense as a possible destination.

Carlos Pena - .241/.351/.490
Aubrey Huff - .283/.345/.476
Kendry Morales - .284/.336/.502
James Loney - .288/.348/.436
Billy Butler - .299/.359/.457
DERREK LEE - .282/.367/.498
Albert Pujols - .331/.426/.624

Lee probably has the best slash line of the guys I've listed, but if you look at the holes in his game (defense, inferior strike zone judgment, the onset of rapid aging), he's worth about a third of Pujols' value.

He is, like so many others we've discussed, irrelevant to Albert Pujols' not signing with a team.

The team can’t realistically afford a $30 million player in Andy MacPhail’s estimation, though Baltimore’s president of baseball operations didn’t completely rule out signing an exceptional player if “the perfect storm” were to occur.

You are writing an article about nothing, sir.

• Atlanta Braves – The Braves committed all of $2.65 million to major league free agents this offseason, so it’s just about impossible to imagine them spending $250 million or more on one player, especially with prospect Freddie Freeman taking over first base.

Freddie Freeman has been in the minors for four years now. This is Freddie Freeman:


We've seen him before. He is not what's standing in Albert Pujols' way. A baseball team not having $250-$300 million is what is standing in Albert Pujols' way.

• New York Mets – First baseman Ike Davis put together a respectable rookie season in 2010, but he’s no Albert Pujols.

Ike Davis - .264/.351/.440
Albert Pujols - .331/.426/.624

He is almost Albert Pujols, if you add about .060/.060/.200 to his lines.

Mets ownership faces a $1 billion lawsuit, which would likely be a major obstacle for the club, no matter how much money is coming off the books next winter.

$1 billion lawsuit?.... or .... Ike Davis? Equally compelling reasons why the Mets aren't in this market.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Scott Burnside is Wrong Again

Check out Scott Burnside's latest terrible column, which falls nicely in line with all previous terrible Scott Burnside columns.

Goodness, Hall of Fame owner Mario Lemieux is a delicate flower, isn't he?

Wow, we're off to a good start. First of all, I would never call someone who played in the NHL a delicate flower. I like to picture Burnside typing this while clutching a teddy bear, sipping a cup of hot coca, and wearing a Harry Potter onesie.

After hiding behind what must be a weighty cloak of self-righteousness and refusing to speak publicly for long months at a time about the game he professes to love so much -- bam! -- Lemieux emerged and dropped a bomb on the NHL's lap Sunday afternoon.

For the record, the cloak weighs 2.2 pounds. I almost bid on it during the last auction for the Mario Lemieux Foundation. Also, Mario just does not like to be in the spotlight, and avoids it when he can. Refusing to speak for long months at a time? He wasn't refusing to speak, he just doesn't talk publicly very much.

"Hockey is a tough, physical game, and it always should be. But what happened Friday night on Long Island wasn't hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that," Lemieux said in a statement released Sunday afternoon, the day after the NHL assessed a series of suspensions and fines for Friday's fight-filled debacle between the Penguins and Islanders.

"The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed."

We must say, it helps to read all these bits aloud in a very deep, Zeus-like voice to get the full import of this great chiding from on high. It would all be great theater if it weren't so nauseatingly contrived.

I'm starting to think that Burnside is taking this tone because it's the only way anyone would read his column.

Lemieux apparently didn't mind the state of the game so much when Matt Cooke, a player his Penguins signed to a new contract this past summer, put Marc Savard's career in jeopardy last season with a blindside check a thousand times worse than the one that recently felled Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby.

And Lemieux must have been too busy working on his short game last week to defend the game he loves when Cooke was suspended again, this time for four games, for drilling Columbus defenseman Fedor Tyutin headfirst into the boards.

Nope, Lemieux was pretty much silent on that one, too. Funny.

This is where Burnside and many others completely miss the mark. If people want to bring up Matt Cooke, fine. I don't like him either. But this isn't about reckless hits during a game, it's about having a premeditated strategy to hurt players. Matt Cooke (or the Pens) didn't decide before the game that they were going to go out there and deliberately try to injure Fedor Tyutin. Dirty hits and questionable hits happen, but they happen within the context of the game. They should be dealt with accordingly. But the Islanders decided (before the game and when they built up a lead) that they were going to go after Max Talbot and Brent Johnson.

Was it a coincidence that this game was Michael Haley's (one of the AHL's most notorious goons) first of the season? After the Isles had a 6-0 lead, Matt Martin attacked Max Talbot from behind. It had nothing to do with hockey. It reminded me of the Todd Bertuzzi/Steve Moore debacle. Talbot's lucky he saw Martin at the last second to avoid serious injury. Trever Gillies skated halfway across the ice, left his feet, and elbowed Eric Tangradi in the head. Tangradi was hurt, but that didn't stop Gillies from pounding away at him, then taunting him from the runway as the trainer came to his aid. That's not hockey. Tangradi has a concussion and is out indefinitely. Then of course there's Haley skating all the way down the ice to go after Brent Johnson. Eric Godard left the bench, earning an automatic suspension, but what was he supposed to do? Let the goalie get his face pounded in by a man whose only job is to fight? None of this is hockey.

Note that Mario spoke up after this travesty of a hockey game. He didn't make this statement after Crosby took shots to the head. Those hits happened during the context of a game. The Islanders were just out to hurt people and make a mockery of the game. That's why he spoke up this time.

We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players," Lemieux wrote in his first public statements since the Winter Classic. "We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action."

What actions is he talking about? Fighting? His team leads the NHL in major penalties by a wide margin. The Penguins also lead the league in penalty minutes per game. Still, sure enough, folks rushed to laud Lemieux for being brave, for telling it like it is, for standing up and laying a wallop on the NHL.

You go, Mario.

Again, fighting and what happened in this game are not the same thing. I'm not a huge fan of fighting, but sure, there's a place for it in the game. Yes, the Pens lead the league in major penalties, but those fights occurred when both players decided to drop the gloves, face each other, and fight. You can't compare a real hockey fight to the crap the Islanders pulled in that game.

How dare the league not do what Lemieux wanted? But what exactly did Lemieux want or expect the NHL to do? We'd love to know.

Should cowardly New York Islanders forward Matt Martin have earned more than the four games he did for his sucker punch on Pittsburgh forward Maxime Talbot in Friday's game? Of course.

But Trevor Gillies received nine games for his equally cowardly elbow to Eric Tangradi. The Isles also received a $100,000 fine. Pittsburgh forward (and former Islander Eric Godard) received 10 games for coming off the bench.

You think the Islanders liked how this played out? Sources tell the Islanders were saying Sunday that they were the ones getting done over by the league and this was a conspiracy on the NHL's part to protect the Penguins.

So, just what else did Lemieux want or expect?

Even when you suspend cannon fodder like Martin and Gillies (they have a combined three goals this season; would anyone notice if they were banned for the rest of the year?), does it really strike at the core issue of respect?

Yes, of course this was a conspiracy to protect the Penguins. I love hearing that one everyday. The penalties should have been much more severe. Eric Godard should not be the one receiving the largest suspension. The three Islanders should all be suspended for 20+ games. The Islanders should have been fined more than $100,000. This was an organizational decision. As Burnside points out, these three guys won't exactly be missed. They can barely crack the Islanders' roster. That's why the team should face a stiffer penalty. The coach and the GM should both be fined/suspended. The NHL needs to prevent this garbage from happening. Does anyone think the "discipline" doled out after this incident will have any impact?

It's not hard to see where Lemieux's outburst comes from. The Pens have lost four of five games, including Sunday's 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers. They have been without Crosby for more than a month with a concussion and there is no timetable for his return or even any guarantee he will return this season. Evgeni Malkin is gone for the season with a knee injury. Half their forward contingent has been sidelined by injury.

And so, a team that looked to be primed for another long Stanley Cup run at the end of December looks to be significantly less than that now. The 9-3 loss Friday and subsequent pounding by the Islanders were humiliating, and Lemieux is right on one count to call it a "travesty." But that wasn't the only travesty to come out of the Isles/Pens "Slap Shot" revival.

Want to have intelligent debate on the issue of violence in hockey, or what to do about head shots? We're all for it.

Want to have a meaningful debate about whether the NHL's handling of supplemental discipline deserves an overhaul? We've been saying that for ages.

Having someone like Lemieux weigh in would be a significant moment, just as it's crucial to hear from players like Crosby and Jonathan Toews and Chris Pronger and the rest of the game's leaders, especially when it comes to changing the climate of disrespect that continues to plague the league.

But this wasn't a call to action; it came off as a petulant child stomping his feet.

Sure, Mario's probably frustrated about the way things are going right now. But the Pens have slumped far worse than this, and he's never said anything before. He wasn't a "petulant child" when Crosby took two head shots or when he was taken down by Steve Downie last year with a dangerous hit. This was about this game, and the NHL's complete failure to do anything about it.

Lemieux threw the NHL under the bus Sunday. Not that the league doesn't need the occasional adjustment, but this is the same league that worked shoulder to shoulder with Lemieux to get him his new arena, keep his team in Pittsburgh and, oh yes, get his millions out of the team.

Even if he had decided to give the league a little goose about how it handled L'affaire Long Island, OK. If it made Lemieux feel better to vent, fair enough; he's earned some leeway, we suppose. But then, there was the threat to pick up his golden puck and go home.

"If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to rethink whether I want to be a part of it," Lemieux concluded in his statement.

Gee, get over yourself.

1.The NHL needed to be thrown under the bus here. 2. We're not talking about the arena. 3. Yeah, Mario's statement about rethinking whether he wants to be part of the league is possibly the worst bluff ever.

It's more than a little rich that Lemieux is threatening to walk away from the game now that he's got a shiny new arena and presumably all the millions he was owed all those years back when he hated the game but saved the team in Pittsburgh nonetheless. Was this even Lemieux's doing, this "statement," or did it come from somewhere else in the posh offices at Consol Energy Center? Regardless, the statement has Lemieux's name attached to it and he must wear it.

We can only assume Lemieux will get a little dose of the same medicine Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi received awhile back. Lombardi mouthed off about the integrity of the NHL's hockey operations department and took a $50,000 shot in the jaw for his troubles. We're guessing Lemieux will have to answer to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, et al, with his checkbook, as he should.

Big picture? How about this: Lemieux could apologize for going over the top on this one, or he could actually become a meaningful part of the debate on how to make the game he insists he loves better.

How about this: Scott Burnside could stop being a complete jagoff.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hat tip to the Trib

For finding the one guy in all of Pittsburgh who thinks the Pirates should raise their prices:

"From a business perspective, I think they have to raise them," said John Clark, professor of sport management and director of the MBA program at Robert Morris University. "I've been expecting it to happen for the past couple of years. I think Pirates baseball is worth more than what we pay for it right now."

I did not think such a person would ever be found, nor did I think the PTR had the means to find him. I stand corrected.

Also, let's consider things from a common sense perspective. The Pirates are not only terrible at baseball, they are terrible at drawing crowds. Yet, they still make money now. Why mess with a good thing?

Just tossing that out there. Happy Pitchers-and-Catchers Day, everyone!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

This is really dumb and you're going to hear about it

Is everyone familiar with the new OT rules for NFL playoff games?

Yes? You are? Good. Then you won't need to read this:

It used to be that the first team to score in the extra period won the game, no matter what.

Now, if Team A wins the coin toss, gets the opening kickoff and scores a touchdown, it wins the game. But if Team A kicks a field goal, Team B gets a possession. If Team B also kicks a field goal, tying the score, the game continues, and the next points scored by either team earns a victory; if Team B scores a touchdown, it wins; and if Team B doesn’t score on its first possession, Team A wins.

A safety at any point ends things.

This is a dumb change to the rules, not because it's ruining something that was good, but rather because it's failing to solve something that was bad.

It used to be that whoever scored first during OT won the game. Stats showed that the team winning the coin flip had a disproportionate chance of scoring first, and therefore luck had a ton of influence deciding the contest. The other issue that was problematic was the "short field" nature of sudden death OT. If any points will win the game, then a team really only needed to drive to inside of the 30-yard line and kick the field goal. Not only did the loser of the coin flip have no guarantee of a possession, but they also had a much shorter field to defend.

What the new rule does is delay these problems of fairness. Yes, it sort of tempers the effectiveness of a FG, but let's assume that both teams kick 3 points. In that case, the rules would just revert to how they used to be, with the lucky winner of the coin flip getting the ball, and the other team unable to answer back, should they allow another FG. Again, too much reliance on a coin.

Now the reasoning behind sudden death OT is to protect players' health. They've just done battle for 60 minutes, and it's unfair to ask them to burn it for another 15 minutes, or however long they have to go. This is especially true in the regular season when they'll be facing a slightly better rested opponent the following week. Fair enough.

So let's consider two fixes to overtime that would keep things fair from a competitive standpoint, and also preserve players somewhat.

1) The Kansas Overtime model.

NCAA football has gotten one thing right, and that's the shootout for solving overtime. Basically, you flip a coin to decide who goes first; in going first, there is no competitive advantage, it's simply like sides of an inning in baseball. The team with the ball starts their drive on THEIR OPPONENT'S 25-yard line, well within scoring range. The possession continues until a score or turnover. Then the opponent gets the same chance from the opposite side of the field. If both teams are able to consistently score 7 points on each other, the rules can be modified to require 2-point conversions.

The NCAA cannot allow for ties in their standings, so this model is used to ensure that there is always a winner. It's also not TOO stressful on the players, what with the abridged field. I would say for the NFL's regular season, this would be a good model, with the potential for a tie built in if nothing is settled after 3 possessions, each way.

2) The play-some-football model.

All that stuff I was saying about player safety and stamina is important... but maybe less so in the Super Bowl. Therefore, why not introduce two mini-halves as overtime? Kick the ball off to a team, and start the game clock at 5 minutes. Then, at the end of those 5 minutes, the other team receives the kickoff to begin the second, 5 minute OT half. I don't know what you do if after 70 minutes, everything is still tied, but I assume you play another 10. And so on. It's the Super Bowl. It would be awesome entertainment. Player health would not be THAT endangered, considering they'd have an entire off-season to rest.

The main advantage to this model is use of the whole field. It adds pressure, without changing the playbook. It also returns emphasis to the game clock, which is a defining aspect of football. It wouldn't be enough to score and defend, a team would also then have to protect the ball until time expired.

More than anything, the key to fixing overtime is synthesizing the competitive balance of regulation rules. In regulation the coin toss doesn't mean THAT much, because both teams still get equal time on one side of the field, and both teams get to be on the receiving end of a kickoff. When a team is granted something that the other team isn't, and it's a result of a 50/50 proposition, then you have trouble.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Pouncey Question

Maukice Pouncey has a high ankle sprain (fracture) and a separate broken bone in his ankle, sustained against the Jets in the AFC Championship. There is no way in hell he is going to play this weekend. That said, here are some possibilities:

1) The Steelers refuse to rule Pouncey out until the last minute with the aim of keeping Packers' NT B.J. Raji guessing as to which giant, hulking center he will have to face on Sunday.

2) The Steelers give Pouncey as long as humanly possible to heal before the game. He plays, and he has a Michael Jordan flu game.

3) The Pouncey is not injured. The entire thing is a facade meant to deflect attention from the rest of the team's penchant for boozing, strippers and waltzing around Dallas like they own the joint.

4) The Pouncey is critically injured and not going to play. The only reason the Steelers have not yet ruled him out is that they are searching for ways around this.

4a) The Steelers are working on the logistics of a plan to secretly replace Marukice with his twin brother, Florida guard Mike Pouncey. This can likely be done without anyone noticing.

4b) If Mike Pouncey can not be acquired in time to play in his brother's stead, the Steelers will hire Kenan Thompson and dress him in Pouncey's uniform, and incorporate a football-ized version of his memorable "knuckle-puck" move from "D2: The Mighty Ducks." Upon being handed the ball, Thompson will become confused by Green Bay's "psycho" formation of one down lineman and eight in the box, and immediately slip into a very funny impersonation of Bill Cosby that will result in a net loss of two yards, following a declined holding penalty against Ramon Foster.

5) Doug Legursky plays and is good.

6) Doug Legursky plays and is alright.

7) Doug Legursky plays and is bad.

8) The gravitational pull of these two teams meeting in the Super Bowl reaches fever pitch prior to game time, and just as the kicker begins to swing his leg downward toward the ball on the opening kickoff, a black hole opens up in Mexico and the Earth caves in on itself.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011