Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hating Brett Favre

As long as I can remember, I've always hated Brett Favre.* I grew up watching him lead the Packers to two Super Bowls (winning one) and being a perennial MVP candidate. He played for the Vikings biggest rival, and while he was leading the Packers to winning season after winning season the Vikings were lucky to earn a wildcard birth. So naturally I spent my childhood hating Brett Favre.

*Hate is a strong word. I don't truly 'hate' anyone, and it's pretty hard to hate someone you've never actually met. But I would say Brett Favre was as close as any athlete in my lifetime to me actually hating.

Then the Packers rightfully chose Aaron Rodgers over Favre after he tried to unretire, traded him to the Jets, and eventually after a season in New York Favre finally got what he wanted; he was going to sign with the Vikings. On the day the Vikings signed Favre, many Vikings fans were excited, some were angry, and others took a wait and see approach. I had no problem with the move, because the Vikings clearly weren't going to be contenders with Tarvaris Jackson at the helm. But I still didn't like Favre.

What's come out about Favre this year in regards to the Jenn Sterger stuff isn't all that surprising. There had been rumblings for years that Favre had a different woman in basically every city, but again the Vikings signed Favre to play quarterback, not to be a great role model for fans. Despite hating Favre my whole life, his 2009 season made it easy to like watching him play. It was easy to put up with the drama, the attention-seeking, and the spats with his head coach and certain players because quite frankly he was putting up MVP caliber numbers. Then he threw that interception in the NFC Championship game and it was all downhill from there.

However, despite my strong dislike for Brett Favre, I will always respect him as a football player. The guy played in 297 straight games as a quarterback. He went from 'out' to 'questionable' the day of a Monday Night Game, when the Vikings were already mathematically eliminated. Maybe he didn't want his last throw to be an interception. Maybe he wanted all the attention one more time. But most likely he just wanted to get back out there and play, and that's what he did.

After the game, Favre apparently told Julius Peppers "Go beat the Packers in a couple of weeks." The Bears have already won the division, so they may not even play a lot of their starters in that week 17 game, but it's clear Favre still has a strong dislike towards Ted Thompson and the Packers organization. Pro Football Talk, the site I linked to, seems to think this is just another sign of Favre's selfishness that in a season that has gone so terribly wrong all Favre is thinking about is watching the Packers lose. That seems unfair to me. I do believe Favre wanted nothing more than to win a Super Bowl with the Vikes this year, so he could stick it to Ted Thompson. It didn't work out. Ted Thompson is paid to make personnel decisions, Favre is paid to play, and with how well Aaron Rodgers has played since Favre left, it's clear the Packers made the right choice.

But Favre is still human. He feels that he did enough for that franchise to determine on his own terms when he wanted to walk away. And I think the Packers were going to give him that opportunity, until he retired and then tried to come back after the playbook had been slightly modified to better suit Rodgers' strengths. Regardless of why it happened, Favre getting traded clearly bothered him. Being forced out of a place you thought was your home is something that would leave anyone bitter, just because Favre is a hall-of-fame QB doesn't mean he's immune to those feelings.

It frustrates me quite a bit to read that Favre wanting the Bears to beat the Packers is a glimpse into his character. Anyone that has competed at a high level is naturally more competitive than the average person. I think most athletes would feel the same way Favre does, and as a matter of fact I bet the average person would even feel that way. We all hold grudges. If you've ever been fired, dumped or used, chances are you held a grudge against your boss or your ex. Some of you still hold that grudge. Brett Favre is no different than the average person in this situation.

Brett Favre has done a lot of foolish things over his career, but telling Julius Peppers to beat the team that essentially fired him is not foolish. It's human nature, it's the way most of us are built, and suggesting that Favre's bitterness is a glimpse into his character really bothers me. He's not a great person, he's been a terrible QB all season, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with him wanting to stick it to the people that he feels screwed him over. It happens every day, at every job, with every kind of person. Brett Favre is no exception, so let's please stop trying to analyze every little thing the former great does. Just let him ride off into the sunset, for everyone's sake.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Twins Foolishly Trade JJ Hardy

When the Twins won the bidding for exclusive negotiation rights with Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka, many people connected the dots and assumed it would mean the team was going to trade JJ Hardy to free up some salary to make it happen. That's precisely what the team did last week, trading Hardy to the Baltimore Orioles for two hard-throwing minor league pitchers. Brett Jacobson is a 24-year-old with a mid-high 90's fastball, and the Twins undoubtedly are hoping he can be a power arm for them this coming season and for years to come. James Hoey will be 28 in a few weeks, but his minor league strikeout and walk numbers were impressive enough that the Twins clearly think he can be a cog in their bullpen as well.

Unfortunately, neither pitcher is considered even an above-average prospect. The Twins are really trusting their scouts*, as they always tend to do, rather than looking at the stats that would make it apparent neither player is likely to be a great reliever. Jacobson has never pitched above A-ball, despite being old for every level he's played at, so while his sub-3 ERA and 9.0 K/9 are impressive, they're not nearly as dominant as you would expect from a pitcher repeating the same level with mid-90's gas. Hoey's minor league numbers last year were more impressive, as he struck out 70 batters in just over 50 innings between AA and AAA. Of course, Anthony Slama has better numbers than Hoey over that time and is still slightly younger, but because Slama doesn't have mid-90's heat the team has shown over the last year and a half they don't think Slama is for real.

*I'm sure when I write I come off as pro-stats and anti-scouts, but that's not the case. I use stats because obviously there aren't scouting reports of these players available from my computer. I think scouts are massively important, and the Twins have done a very good job with their philosophies over the last decade. I remember when the Twins traded AJ Pierzysnki to the Giants, my initial thought was that they got nothing of real value.

I was like 13 or 14, though, and didn't seem to care because it meant Joe Mauer was going to be the starting catcher. I decided just now to look at Nathan, Liriano and Bonser's numbers to that point prior to the trade, just to see if the Twins scouts picked out gems or if the stats had also suggested potential greatness. Joe Nathan didn't 'break-out' at least from a national perspective until he arrived in Minnesota, but the year prior to coming to Minnesota Nathan was great, posting a 2.96 ERA in 79 innings, striking out 83 and walking just 33. The stats and scouts agreed. Liriano wasn't as clear as Nathan, and the scouts deserve credit for him, although I think most people would have only needed to see Liriano throw once or twice to know what he had. He had a great year as an 18-year-old in 2002, striking out 85 in 80 innings in low A before pitching just 18 innings in 2003 after being injured. Still, I think looking at just his minor league stats it would be apparent he had an injury history but a chance to be dominant. Not as dominant as he was for that stretch in 2006, but still top-of-the-rotation type numbers. Boof Bonser was pushed as the centerpiece of the trade by some, because he was a former first rounder whose minor league ERA looked solid. He posted a 3.75 ERA between AA and AAA as a 21-year-old, but his strikeout and walk rates didn't suggest anything more than bottom-of-the-rotation starter, albeit sometime soon. He eventually had one solid year for the Twins before having arm troubles and bouncing around the league.

The point of that random tangent was hopefully to show an example of when scouting was much more important than stats, but it actually had a reverse-effect and instead showed anyone with knowledge of stats back then would have come to likely more correct conclusions on the three players than the scouts did. Interesting, if nothing else.

Hoey and Jacobson at least have the power arms to suggest dominance is possible, and Rick Anderson has done some amazing things with project starters and relievers over the years as the team's pitching coach, but this return for Hardy is underwhelming to say the least. I've already explained that Hardy is an above-average shortstop, with a chance to be elite if he can stay healthy. Basically, when you have a middle infielder on a one-year contract, someone like Hardy is ideal. If he performs like he has the last two years, he's above average, and if he hits like he did after allowing his wrist to heal, he truly is elite. For a team that's willing to be in the top 10 in payroll for the foreseeable future, paying $6 or $7MM for one year of that kind of play is hardly a burden and actually is extremely likely to be a bargain.

Now, most people see that Hardy is coming off a season in which he hit just .268, while the player the Twins replaced him with hit .346 in Japan last year. These people will naturally assume that they have upgraded the position, and there's nothing wrong with that assumption. I understand not everyone cares nearly as much as I do about stats, but there is a lot of flawed logic in simply looking at Hardy and Nishioka's batting averages last year.

One problem with this logic is that Hardy hit .268 in the best league in the World, while Nishioka hit .346 in a very good but still inferior Japanese league. Seeing that Nishioka was the first player since Ichiro to lead his league in hits with more than 200, and knowing that Ichiro has been one of the best lead-off hitters in baseball history, the assumption would be that the Twins have added at least an all-star caliber player. Again, that assumption is likely to be off-base.

There's no doubting that Nishioka had a great year last year, but as I've mentioned here before, it's worrisome  that he has shown little to no power even while in Japan. The comparable middle infielders that have come over all had great power numbers, like Kaz Matsui and Akinori Iwamura. Iwamura went from a 35+ HR hitter in Japan to a speedy, slap type hitter with little power here in the states. Matsui was probably the biggest free agent flop of the last ten years, at least based on the hype he had when coming over. Most expected him to become an all-star, and he's been just replacement level pretty much his whole career.

What makes Nishioka even more worrisome is that his previous three seasons prior to 2010 were below average years even in Japan. Trading a shortstop who has proven over the years to be above-average to elite and replacing him with a shortstop who has defensive questions, little power and whose 2010 season may be an outlier based on his previous performance in Japan is likely going to cost the Twins multiple wins this coming season.

Taking Hardy's loss a step further, the Twins organization doesn't seem to understand the correlation between infield defense and ground ball pitchers, or outfield defense and fly ball pitchers. The Twins are the favorites to re-sign Carl Pavano, likely for two years with a third year option, and while I wouldn't be upset to see Pavano leave he has been good and it's not the end of the world to bring back the team's second best pitcher last year. Unfortunately, Pavano is an extremely ground ball heavy starter, and trading one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball is not going to help Pavano's contract look like a great deal. Much like last off-season when I said the Twins were foolishly going to start below average defenders throughout their outfield despite having one of the most fly-ball heavy staffs in baseball, the Twins are now trading a fantastic defensive infielder while at the SAME TIME working on bringing back a veteran starter who relies heavily on great infield defense. The Twins outfield defense deserves at least some of the blame for Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn's struggles last season, and while I don't think Pavano is going to go from a solid #2 starter to a #5 starter because of a lack of Hardy's defense, it's possible he becomes another mid-rotation type starter without an elite defensive shortstop**.

**The Twins were apparently interested in acquiring Brendan Ryan from the Cardinals , and while I would have obviously preferred Hardy to Ryan because Hardy is a much better hitter, Ryan is the best defensive shortstop in baseball. So if the Twins had decided to go with a Ryan/Yoshi middle infield, while not as good as it would have been with Hardy, adding Ryan would have been a great move and one that would have made a Pavano return even better. Unfortunately, Ryan was sent to Seattle yesterday, so there really isn't a capable replacement available. Sigh.

Regardless of what happens, the Twins to this point seem to have simply made their team worse, despite promising more spending this off-season. While this hasn't been a fun off-season, the team should remain in contention for the division title next season if nothing else, and then a ton of money is coming off the books before next off-season. That could mean we see the Twins make their first real big free agent signing at this time next year. I'm guessing that player won't be JJ Hardy, though.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Dedication: Parents, Jeter and the Yanks

Baseball has been one of the biggest influences in my life for as long as I can remember. My dad was always a big sports fan, and despite being the first captain of Tom Saterdalen's legendary high school hockey coaching career at Bloomington Jefferson, as well as eventually having a chance to be drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks, he always says he loved baseball more than hockey. My dad chose to simply quit hockey, rather than be drafted and re-assigned to the then EHL, which in my dad’s words was a dirty league that just “didn’t seem like much fun.” Instead he got married and started a family, and when he tells me he doesn't regret for a minute the decision, I believe him.

When I was about three years old, my dad and I started playing catch on a near daily basis in the summer. As a three-year-old, it was the highlight of my day. At 5:00 every night I would sit in either my living room window that overlooked our driveway, or I’d sit out on the front step with two baseball gloves and a ball. Sometimes my dad would come home at 5, but almost always he wouldn’t get home until 7 at the earliest. No matter what time he got home, he always simply went to his room and changed into some shorts and a t-shirt, and he took me into the backyard. This was absolutely the highlight of my day from the time I was two or three until I was about eight. Here was a man that would go into work at 6 or 7 AM every day of the week, and oftentimes stay until 7 at night, because he worked on commission and he wanted to provide for his family. As I look back on that today, almost twenty years later, I’m blown away. Not only did he work his ass off for 12 hours or more on a daily basis, he never said no to me. Even on his worst days, regardless of how tired he was, he always made time for me, and once my brother showed an interest in playing catch, for him too.

My dad also coached most of my traveling teams growing up, at least from the time I was 10 until I was about 14. We practiced an awful lot, almost daily when we didn't have games, and there’s no doubting it made us a better team. We were always among the top 10 teams in the state, and the dedication my dad and the other parents that helped out had to us kids was something we didn't appreciate then. However, I feel fairly confident saying every one of us kids appreciates what all those parents did for us so many years back, and I can’t thank my dad enough for the time he put in to things he really didn't need to. Sure, we argued, and disagreed as I got older, but that comes with the territory. I was a teenager who was always right, and even if my dad was right (which he was more times than I gave him credit for) I’d still usually find something to argue about being the jackass that I was. It never left the field though, and when we got home everything was always just fine.

Parents are the most dedicated people on this earth, and we don’t give them enough credit, even as we get older. I will never be able to repay my dad for the time he spent with me over the years, or my mom for the things she did for me. But I know they don’t expect that. All they want is to know they’ve raised someone they can be proud of, and someone who will spend the same amount of time with his kids that they did. I strive to be that person every day because I know I owe it to my parents for everything they’ve ever done for me.

This trip down memory lane for me and hopefully most of you leads me to one person: Derek Jeter. Jeter came into the league at about the same time I actually remember watching the World Series, so when I see Derek Jeter I have a million memories from my childhood. Jeter is the kid who got spoiled right away, and the Yankees are his rich parents. He came up in 1996, the same year the Yankees began their ridiculous stretch of four World Series titles in five years. Now, it’d be silly of me to just say Jeter was lucky to be called up when he was, because obviously he had an awful lot to do with those great Yankee teams. But he got called up with Andy Pettite, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera, who are all still Yankees. (Except Pettite at the moment but most expect him to re-sign soon.) Jeter was paid nearly $200MM over fifteen years, went to the playoffs every year but one, and won five World Series’ Championships. Five.

We all know Jeter struggled this year. He still posted a slightly above average OPS for his position, at .710. For comparison’s sake, JJ Hardy’s OPS was .713 although he played in less games. Of course, Jeter’s defense ranked as well below average (don’t let that Gold Glove fool you) too, so he actually was below league average last year for shortstops. As a 36-year-old, it looks like his career is entering its twilight years. 

His contract was up this off-season, and after paying him about $19MM a year for the last ten years, there was little doubt that Jeter’s on-field performance and advanced age were going to lead to a reduced salary in 2011. It was tricky though because he still is Derek Jeter, and much like a parent with their own kid, Derek Jeter will always be worth more to the New York Yankees than any team in sports until he retires. The Yankees reportedly started the bidding at $15MM a year over three years, so not too much of a pay-cut. Then Jeter apparently countered with a ridiculous 5 or 6-year contract worth $23MM or more a season. Eventually the two sides met and Jeter agreed to a 3-year, $51MM contract that could be four years if Jeter meets certain incentives over the next three years. 

I don’t care how much Derek Jeter makes, though. The Yankees allegedly pride themselves on being the 'premier organization in sports' yet they had no problems negotiating through the media to put Derek Jeter in an awkward position. $50MM or close to it is a ton of money, and the average people who aren’t agents or professional athletes will never understand how someone could turn down that kind of money. Many people say “Once you get that high, it doesn’t even matter how much more money you make!” Those people are right, to an extent, but to Jeter this wasn’t about providing for his family. No, this was about pride. Jeter is the face of the New York Yankees and has been, honestly, since 1996. When his agent compared him to Babe Ruth, I didn’t even flinch. Ruth was a superior player in every facet, no doubt, but his agent was pointing out that ‘Derek Jeter’ is as much Yankee as ‘Babe Ruth.’ He’s right.

The Yankees didn’t need to go public with any of the negotiations though. Jeter mentioned at his press conference after signing the new contract that he was upset with how public they got, and I don’t blame him. Here’s a guy who has spent most of his career priding himself on staying out of trouble, doing things the right way, and being a stand-up person both on and off the field. Derek Jeter is the captain of arguably the most famous team in the world, and he spent most of his prime as a bachelor in New York City. The guy was absolutely taking home whoever he wanted whenever he wanted, but we never heard bad stories about the guy. Even when he’s taking random girls back to his apartment on a nightly basis, he does it with such grace that nobody even cares.*

*Well, the guys care, but in a God-he’s-fucking-awesome kind of way.

Derek Jeter will be fine, and the $17MM a year he’s getting should help him get over any anger issues he has stemming from the public negotiations. He’s making more than AJ Burnett, so that’s not an embarrassment he needs to worry about either. But Jeter learned that regardless of what you do for your team, or your city, professional sports will always be strictly a business. Jeter has brought joy and grace to a fan base that hadn’t seen it in quite some time, he’s helped lead a once proud franchise back to that status, and yet when it’s time for a new contract the Yankees low ball their captain and then leak that he’s greedy to the press.

Derek Jeter is the perfect example of what we want in a baseball player: Talented. Humble. Charismatic. He’s clutch. Most importantly he's not an asshole.

The New York Yankees as an organization are the perfect example of what is wrong in baseball: Cocky. Entitled. They have a hall-of-fame infield that, not counting the catcher, is making $80MM. Four positions; $80MM. Prior to last season, the Twins had never spent that much money on an entire team, yet the Yankees are doing it for four players. Of course, the Yankees organization has worked incredibly hard over the years to market their brand, to take advantage of their gigantic market, and they've done that successfully.

It’s almost like the Yankees organization spent so much time working to make money so they knew that when this day came, and Derek Jeter needed to be taken care of, they could vastly outspend any team regardless of Jeter's on-field production, because of what he did in the past. So while Jeter may be upset that the negotiations became public, he needs to realize like many of us, that his ‘parents’ still did what was best for him and his career. It’s clear the Yankees are dedicated to Derek Jeter, and I’m sure sometime in the next three years, Jeter will find a way to say thank you. 

Now if I can just find a way to thank my parents...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Gophers Hire... Jerry Kill?

When I first saw that Joe Schmit had tweeted that Jerry Kill was likely the next Gopher football head coach, I just figured this was another early leak by him that would ultimately be proven wrong, just like when he said Joe Mauer had agreed to a 10-year contract extension about a month before he actually signed an 8-year one. It wasn't because I think Joe Schmit is bad at his job, but rather because to me Jerry Kill made no sense for the Gophers. Joel Maturi, after striking out in 2007 by hiring Tim Brewster, needed to make a big hire to get some excitement around the program again. He had even said that he was "going on the road looking for another Tubby Smith." Jerry Kill is not a 'Tubby Smith-like hire' by any means.

It was clear when the team confirmed that Kill was the coach that there was simply no  way he was Maturi's first choice. Maturi admitted as much today, saying Kill wasn't his first choice but everyone he talked to kept bringing his name up. Kill was the best man in TCU coach Gary Patterson's wedding, and considering Maturi made a real push to bring Patterson here in '07 before Brewster, I don't doubt that Patterson was pushing Kill big time for our Gophers. Maturi has said before he thinks very highly of Patterson, and Patterson put in a good word for his good friend and Maturi started to dig deeper.

Jerry Kill has won at every school he's been at. There's no arguing that. He went 38-14 at Saginaw State, 11-11 at Emporia State, 55-32 at Southern Illinois and then most recently 23-16 at Northern Illinois. 127 wins is nothing to scoff at, but since arriving at Northern Illinois Kill's team was just 2-12 against ranked teams. That's not surprising, considering Northern Illinois isn't in the same tier as ranked teams, but it's still enough to make me worry. Kill has been great at winning the games his team is supposed to win, and after watching Tim Brewster lead our Gophers to losses against teams they should have easily beaten, winning the games they're supposed to is undoubtedly an upgrade. My only worry is that the Gophers don't have nearly as many games a year that they 'should win' like Northern Illinois, so Kill is going to need to bring in more talent than he was able to at Northern Illinois (that shouldn't be too tough) if they're going to compete in the Big Ten.*

*Are we going to rename the conferences anytime soon? It's fairly ridiculous to me that the Big Ten now has 12 teams, but will continue to be called the Big Ten, while the Big 12 has ten teams and will be called the Big 12 still. Obviously just switching the conference names would confuse everyone, but there has to be a solution to this idiocy.

I watched Kill's introductory press conference, and he was more charismatic than I thought he'd be. He was engaging, funny at times, and he didn't sound as dumb as Brewster did four years ago. All positives. One of his funniest lines was that he was able to convince his wife to marry him, so he should have no problems convincing kids to play for him. He has a point, because he's a very strange looking man, but I need to see a picture of his wife before I agree with him. If he overachieved, and she's far out of his league, then I'll have faith that the Gophers are in good hands. If she looks like Janet Reno, well then Maturi might as well start packing his bags now because he'll be fired with Kill within three years. The point of course is that if he can convince players that are considered 'out of Minnesota's league' to come here the team will win and win big. If he needs to convince the borderline D-1 high school players in this state to come to Minnesota, then they'll continue to lose.

For now, I'm willing to give the new coach the benefit of the doubt. Kill isn't the sexy hire, as he isn't a big-name, and his track record while solid is hardly super impressive. Maturi has screwed up every major decision he's made regarding basketball and football since he took over as AD except hiring Tubby Smith, so it's natural for us fans to just assume the worst. Especially when a guy who looks like one of those creeps on 'To Catch a Predator' is the new hire from a small school. I asked my buddy Jenks to talk me off the ledge when Kill was announced, and he did a good job. Apparently Kill's offense is perfectly suited for Gray, his assistants are loyal and that creates stability at coordinator positions (something Brewster never had) and even at Northern Illinois he was competitive against Big Ten teams on the road.

Some have said a best-case scenario is that the Gophers just hired Glen Mason 2.0. While I think the ceiling for the Kill era is certainly higher than that, if he becomes a new version of Glen Mason it won't be the end of the world after watching Brewster lead this program into the ground for four years. Jerry Kill, you have my support, even if my initial reaction was that your hire was a huge mistake.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tsuyoshi Nishioka: Good or Bad Move?

When the off-season began, I mentioned via Twitter that I had hoped the Twins would target a specific Japanese middle infielder to fill their second base hole. Unfortunately, my preference was Hiroyuki Nakajima, who from 2005-2009 had posted OPS' of .849, .801, .937 and .891. His Japanese team decided not to post him, though, and he wasn't available this off-season. The Twins did however win the bidding for a different Japanese middle infielder, Tsuyoshi Nishioka. For the sake of easiness, I'm going to be calling him Yoshi for the rest of the time I write about him.

From 2005-2009, Yoshi posted OPS' of .748, .759, .820 and .787. Last season, though, Yoshi had a breakout year in which he hit .346/.423/.482 and became the first player since Ichiro to finish with over 200 hits in a season. The Japanese season is only 144 games, so Yoshi's 209 hits are impressive any way you slice it. However, early signs seem to suggest that Nishioka was more lucky than good last year, as he hit an amazing .399 on balls in play. Someone with great speed and slap-hitting ability, like Ichiro, will often have a very high average on balls in play. But unfortunately Yoshi doesn't appear to have the same lightening quick speed as Ichiro, as he was only successful on about 70% of his steal attempts while in Japan over his career. That's not all that impressive, and it should be even worse playing with better players in the United States.

Also, while those OPS' look solid compared to middle infielders in the states, the fact is they can be expected to take a pretty big drop off when he arrives here and faces better competition. Both Akinori Iwamura and Kaz Matsui were elite power hitters in Japan before coming to play over here, and their power disappeared. The fact that Yoshi has never even had power in Japan is worrisome, and there's at least a chance that he never has even a decent season with the bat. An OPS approaching .700 next season would be a best-case scenario in my opinion, but I hope I'm wrong and he's much, much better.

The Twins have been predicted to sign Yoshi for anywhere between $9 and $18MM total over three years, and I think it will be much closer to if not exactly $9MM. That would put the Twins financial commitment at $14MM over three years, or just under the $5MM Orlando Hudson made last year. If the team is planning on moving Yoshi to second base and having him replace Hudson, I like the move. I don't think he's going to be a superstar or even an all-star caliber player, but he should be at least a good defensive second baseman and if he can hit .275/.335/.345 he'll be worth the money and still likely an upgrade over what Alexi Casilla would provide next season.

The Twins however are apparently at least considering leaving Yoshi at shortstop, and then trading JJ Hardy to save money and give Alexi Casilla the starting second base job. I already explained in great detail why Hardy is actually a bargain at $7MM and if he stays healthy next season he could be a top three shortstop in baseball. Replacing that with a relatively unknown middle infielder who's impressive 2010 season in Japan looks more like a fluke than anything would be a huge mistake for a team hoping to win yet another division title and hopefully avoid being swept in the playoffs again.

If the team keeps Hardy, uses Yoshi at second, and Casilla as a utility man, I'm on board with the move. If the team uses Yoshi at short, Casilla at second and trades Hardy for bullpen help or prospects, I will consider the signing a colossal mistake. Here's to hoping the Twins keep Hardy around and use Casilla where he's best suited, in a utility role. That would also keep Matt Tolbert off the roster, which is nothing but a good thing. We should know within the next week or two just how the middle infield will look in the spring, so count me among those who hopes the Twins keep Hardy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bullet Points: Victor, J Upton & Jeter

The Detroit Tigers agreed to a four year, $50MM contract with Victor Martinez yesterday.
  • If the Tigers plan to play Martinez almost exclusively at catcher, the deal is a steal. Martinez hit .303/.381/.480 in 2009 and followed that up with a .302/.351/.493 season in 2010. For comparison's sake, Mauer's career line of .327/.407/.481 is close to Martinez's last two seasons offensively. Mauer is entering year one of an eight-year, $184MM contract. Of course, Mauer is leaps and bounds better than Victor defensively and has actually been quite a bit healthier over the last several years. 
  • Martinez would be a huge upgrade offensively over Gerald Laird (.207/.263/.304 last year) and Alex Avila (.228/.316/.340), although Laird is probably the best defensive catcher in baseball. Detroit is expected to continue to platoon Avila and Laird, while giving Martinez maybe 15 starts at catcher with almost all the rest of his starts coming as a designated hitter because of Martinez's lack of defense at the catcher position. 
  • Detroit got only a .259/.341/.373 line out of the DH position last year, so even if Martinez doesn't improve upon his season from a year ago his .302/.351/.493 line would be a major upgrade offensively with zero risk on the defensive side since, obviously, the DH doesn't play defense. However, with several aging, very good hitters on the market, the Tigers could have potentially signed someone like Manny Ramirez, Vlad Guerrero or even Jim Thome to DH while giving Martinez most of the starts at catcher. As a Twins fan, it's tough to see such a good player like Martinez sign with the Tigers, but hearing they plan on using him almost exclusively at DH softens the blow.
  • Regardless, getting Victor Martinez for four years and just over $12MM per year is a steal, and his poor defense undoubtedly cost him a chance to probably double his money. The Tigers will benefit quite a bit from this signing, hopefully not enough to surpass our Twins anytime soon though.

The Arizona Diamondbacks are apparently willing to trade 23-year-old superstar Justin Upton, although they reportedly need to "clearly win the trade." (And just ignore the fact that the Twitter link has Jon Heyman calling Upton a 21-year-old. It's not like he covers baseball for a living. Oh wait.)
  • This is why it's extremely dangerous to give a new GM only a two-year contract. Kevin Towers knows if he doesn't win in the next two years, or at least show substantial progress, he'll need another job. Arizona likely won't bring back Brandon Webb, who's been hurt for almost two years anyways, and they have several gaping holes to fill. The only way this team may contend soon is if they trade Upton for solid young players AND one or two proven, above-average veterans. So Towers is pushing his best asset to the middle of the table and hoping he gets an offer he can't refuse. I think it will be a mistake if they trade him.
  • As a 21-year-old in 2009, Upton hit .300/.366/.532, adding 26 home runs and 20 steals. Just because he's young doesn't mean he's necessarily going to improve over the next four years, and he's undoubtedly only available because he regressed slightly this past season. However, even if Upton just matches his 2009 season, he's a legitimate 5-tool star and he's signed to a team-friendly contract that will pay him $51MM over the next four years.
  • Can the Twins make an offer for Upton that would be considered? I don't think so. Arizona likely would prefer a solid mid-rotation starter, which I think the Twins could part with in Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn or Kevin Slowey. However, that would be just a starting point. I think the Twins would need to offer something like Kevin Slowey, Denard Span, One of Aaron Hicks or Kyle Gibson, and probably a slightly lower tier prospect like Ben Revere. That's an awful lot to give up for one player, and even then I'm not sure Arizona wouldn't receive a better offer. Sorry, Twins fans, I think we need to cross Justin Upton off of our Christmas lists.

The Yankees have reportedly offered Derek Jeter a 3-year, $45MM contract, but Jeter and his agent are looking for "more money and more years." Brian Cashman apparently has told Jeter to test the market.
  • This is getting ridiculous. Jeter is likely looking for something like 5 years and $100MM, but that's outrageous. Despite winning yet another gold glove this year, Jeter remains a below average defensive shortstop according to every defensive statistic there is, as well as scouts who continue to watch him play. He wins gold gloves because he's highly respected by the players and coaches who vote for them.
  • I love Jeter. He's certainly one of my favorite athletes in sports, but the facts are the facts. He's coming off the worst season of his career, hitting just .270/.340/.370. (JJ Hardy had a better OPS, although in less games, for comparison's sake.) He'll be 37 years old for the 2011 season. The argument that 2010 was "just an off year for him" is silly in my opinion, because if anything 2009 would seem to be the outlier over the last three years. As a 35-year-old Jeter in 2008 hit just .300/.363/.408, and at the time his .771 OPS was his worst since his 15 game cup of coffee as a rookie in 1995. He bounced back with a very good .334/.406/.465 season in 2009, before really falling off this year.
  • There's only one team that may give Jeter more than $15MM a year for three years. The Boston Red Sox. I don't think they will, because Jeter is clearly declining and Boston definitely doesn't want to pay a .250 hitter with no power $20MM a year or close to it when he's 40 years old. However, with Beltre unlikely to re-sign there, they will need a third baseman. If they offered Jeter something like 4 years and $68MM, I think Jeter would seriously consider it. If nothing else, the Yankees would match the contract, and Boston would now have forced their biggest rival to pay an extra $20-25MM to a declining player.
  • Ultimately, I think Jeter re-signs in New York for something like three years and $50MM. The Yankees have the deepest pockets in baseball, and even if Jeter continues to decline, he's worth $17MM a year to that franchise on name recognition alone. These negotiations might get messy, but like everyone else, I'd be shocked if Jeter wasn't a Yankee on opening day.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Childress Firing Creating False Optimism

Viking fans have been rejoicing all day upon hearing the news that Brad Childress has been relieved of his duties as the team's head coach. As fans we grew tired of Childress because the team has terribly underachieved this year, Childress seems to have absolutely terrible people skills, and most of the players reportedly had no respect for him. Naturally, I was happy to hear the team had gotten rid of Childress. There's no doubting he had worn out his welcome here, and after getting embarrassed 31-3 on Sunday Vikings owner Zygi Wilf had little choice but to fire Childress. It was absolutely the right choice.

But just because it was the right decision at this time doesn't mean it's going to benefit the team in the future. First, and foremost, the Vikings need a franchise QB. The only realistic way they will get that franchise QB is if they continue to lose games at a high-rate, to put them in the best position to land a high draft pick and use that pick on a highly regarded rookie QB. Every game the Vikings win will obviously lower their chances to land this potential franchise QB. There's no doubt the team has looked terrible under Childress pretty much all season, and that certainly wasn't going to change over the next six games if he remained head coach. So, oddly enough, the Vikings have now given themselves a better chance to win, but considering the team is all but mathematically eliminated, winning now isn't what this team needs to contend next season and into the future.

Second, I don't think Leslie Frazier is the answer. He's been hyped and hyped over the last several years as a future head coach, but despite getting seven interviews for head coaching vacancies in the last few years, he was never chosen. However, he's in a very good position to look good auditioning for this job for the rest of the season. The team's schedule is fairly weak for the rest of the year. I think the team will play very well this week against Washington, because first of all Washington isn't good and secondly the team will come out with energy thanks to the ouster of Childress just like the Cowboys did a few weeks ago. This is going to cause some issues for the organization; if the Vikings go 3-3 under Frazier, losing to likely playoff-bound Chicago, Philadelphia and New York, the decision to replace him shouldn't be all that difficult. However, if the team beats Washington, Buffalo and Detroit, along with pulling off one or two upsets, the decision will be a lot tougher. I'm hoping Zygi is targeting Jon Gruden or a similar big name coach to take over after the season, but if Frazier leads this team to a 4-2 or 5-1 record against a watered down schedule, I find it hard to believe he'd let Frazier go.

Fans always talk about what a great coach Mike Tomlin is. That's true. However, these same people tend to think that because Tomlin is both black and a former Vikings defensive coordinator that Leslie Frazier is going to be just as successful. Frazier may end up being a great coach, but he also may end up being terrible. If Childress deserved to be fired because the team has played poorly, it seems silly that Leslie Frazier was promoted to replace him when the defense hasn't been very good either. Frazier deserves criticism for a defense that has vastly underperformed, and I doubt he's going to be a successful head coach in this league. If the Vikings retain him after this year, I hope I'm wrong and he becomes a good coach. His track record though seems to suggest that he's not going to be the kind of coach this team needs to become a good team again in the near future.

Lastly, Leslie Frazier is committed to Brett Favre. Frazier already said today Favre was going to be his starting quarterback, which is bad news for Vikings fans. The team needs to start looking towards the future. Favre will retire at season's end, if not sooner, and with the season all but over, it's time to see if Tarvaris Jackson could be the starter next year. He's a free agent to be, and if the team was able to start him for the last six games they would have a good idea if he would be capable of starting for this team next season. With Frazier convinced Favre gives the team the best chance to win (I disagree) he's going to continue to start Favre because he's auditioning for the team's head coaching job into the future. Favre has been terrible, and replacing him now is what would be best for the organization; unfortunately, as long as Frazier is running the ship and Favre is on the roster, that won't be the case.

The firing of Childress has created a false optimism among us fans. We are excited that our least favorite person in sports is no longer connected to one of our favorite teams; who can blame us? However, we need to realize as fans that this team has a long ways to go to actually get back to the level they were at even last year, and replacing Childress with Frazier at this point in the season may actually hurt this team more in the future than it helps. Not because Childress was going to lead this team anywhere, but because now the team may choose to keep Frazier around next season as the head coach. They also will spend the majority or all of the season watching Brett Favre play without getting even a glimpse at Tarvaris Jackson or Joe Webb. And, of course, they will probably win more games now under Frazier than they would have under Childress, costing them a franchise QB. Sometimes, what we want as fans and what is absolutely the right decision at the time, is not the answer for the future of the team. Unfortunately, this looks like it's going to end up being one of those cases.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Michael Vick

On Monday night, Eagles QB Mike Vick had one of the greatest games in NFL History. He threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns, and ran for 80 yards and another two touchdowns. Vick had over 400 yards of total offense and SIX touchdowns, an amazing game by any player under any circumstances. However, Vick's performance was even more eye-opening than usual, because of his checkered past both on and off the field.

Vick's performance this season has been a pleasure to watch; there's no doubting that. He's finally learning how to go through his progressions, remain patient in the pocket, and he seems to make at least one or two huge plays every game. If he can continue to stay healthy he's the favorite to win the NFL MVP Award, and that would truly be an amazing turn around from where this guy was two years ago.

We all know the story. Vick was caught running an illegal dog-fighting operation at one of his homes in Virginia. He admitted to killing innocent dogs, sometimes because they were too hurt after a fight, and other times simply because they lost. No matter how many great things Vick does from this point forward, on or off the field, it's impossible to just look past the fact that Vick got joy and entertainment out of killing of innocent animals.

Personally, I think Vick simply surrounded himself with the wrong people, and he grew up in a culture that most of us can't believe. Vick was never truly taught what was right and wrong. That's not an excuse, because someone shouldn't have to tell a person that fighting and killing innocent dogs is wrong. It's a terrible thing, and anyone who thinks otherwise is flat out stupid.

I've seen a lot of people over the last two days talking about Vick; everyone seems to be jumping back on the bandwagon. That's not surprising at all, and in my opinion there's nothing wrong with it. Vick appears to be a changed person. He's talking to youths all across the country about the negative effects of his decisions, and while the message is clearly to avoid animal cruelty, he's teaching these kids that every poor decision they make will have consequences no matter who they are. Vick lost a $100MM contract, was forced to file for bankruptcy, and spent nearly two years during what should have been the prime of his career in jail. As far as poor decisions having consequences go, Vick's poor decision couldn't have cost him more aside from his life.

What bothers me is the people who say they've 'always been a Vick fan.' Look, the guy is a joy to watch on the field this year. He's as quick as ever, and he can make anyone miss in the open field. His throw on Monday night to open the game to DeSean Jackson was a thing of beauty, and the rest of the night wasn't much different. He appears to have finally reached his potential, as a 30-year-old who has been through more than he needed to be. Anyone that remained a loyal Vick fan while he was on trial, or in jail, should be ashamed. Imagine if Vick had killed your dog? The dogs they rescued were so scared of human interaction that several of them had to be put down because they were deemed incurable. It's terribly sad to think of these poor innocent dogs being electrocuted or drowned because they either lost a fight or refused to fight. Anyone that can be a fan of someone during that time isn't loyal; they're obsessed and not in a good way.

Look, Vick served his time and he lost more money than I'll probably ever make in my lifetime. Going to jail seems like the best thing that could have happened to Mike Vick the football player, because now he understands just how blessed he is. He's working harder, listening to his coaches, and the results are eye-opening. He's been the best player in football this year when healthy and the Eagles are a legitimate Super Bowl contender as long as Vick is behind center.

He absolutely deserved a second chance. I believe everyone does, and it does seem that Vick is in fact a completely different person. He understands what he did was terrible, and when he thinks about all the stuff he lost, he knows how dumb it was. I'm rooting for Vick to make it all the way back, to win the NFL MVP Award, and take the Eagles to a place Donovan McNabb never could. I love watching Vick, and when he's been interviewed this year he comes off as humble and as someone who finally gets it. There aren't many stories that are more inspirational than someone who loses everything battling his way back to the top; the fact that Vick is doing it with such flare and humility makes it that much better to watch.

However, I will never fully be a Michael Vick fan. I've gone from despising him to putting up with him to now, finally, rooting for him. But I can't get past what he did. I can't relate to what Kobe Bryant did, and cheating on your wife is a terrible mistake, but I don't think he actually raped that girl in the Colorado hotel room so it's much easier for me to watch him and cheer for him. The fact that he's a pompous asshole is more of a reason for people to dislike him than cheating on his wife; right or wrong, that's the culture we live in. But killing innocent dogs is something that cannot be overstated. Some of the images that were shown in the immediate aftermath of the allegations were stunning. I'm not going to post any here, because trust me it's nothing anyone wants to see, but if you haven't seen them a simple Google search will find them.

Mike Vick appears to be a changed man off the field, and he's absolutely a changed man on the field. If you want to be a Vick fan, that's fine. The better he plays over time, the more and more people there will be that forgive him for what he did. But just because he's remorseful for what he did doesn't mean we all should instantly forgive him. I'm willing to bet there's a lot of criminals in prison that are remorseful for what they did, but none of us are willing to forgive a convicted rapist or murderer simply because they know what they did was wrong. The only reason some people are willing to forgive Vick completely for what he did is because he's playing at a high level again. Sometimes sports can feel like they are a way of life; the way fans have unwavering support for the team through good times and bad, the way people schedule their days and nights around their favorite teams game that week, etc. But we can't forget as a society that there is a lot more to life than sports, and Mike Vick is living proof.

I will continue to root for the man, and hope he has actually changed. But as someone who loves dogs, I will never forgive him for killing them. I'd hope that most people will agree Vick can never be forgiven for what he did, but the sad fact is our culture would rather watch Mike Vick do what he did on Monday and forgive him for what he did two years ago, while mocking Tim Tebow for going overseas and helping perform circumcisions in third-world countries. Vick is electric, Tebow at this point throws like my grandma. It's unfortunate that we lose sight of the real important things in life simply because someone can do things on a football field we only dream of. When I have a kid, all I know is I hope he turns out like Tim Tebow, not Michael Vick. I think most people would agree with that, but everyone should.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pete Rose: Hall of Famer

This was a paper I wrote for an English class about two years ago... certainly nice to get to choose our own topics. And yes, this is a repost, although based on traffic numbers, very few of you actually saw this when I posted it 10 months ago. Enjoy, and post in the comments what you think Rose's ultimate fate should be: Hall of Famer or not?

To this day, Pete Rose has the most hits in Major League Baseball History. Only two players in the history of Major League Baseball have finished their careers with 4,000 hits. Those two players are Ty Cobb, who is in the Hall of Fame and currently second on the all-time hit list, and Pete Rose. Despite this incredible record, since 1986, baseball has banned Rose from even being considered for baseball’s Hall of Fame. While Rose was managing, after he had retired, he committed what is considered to be the cardinal sin of America’s pastime: betting on baseball. Rule 21 in the MLB Rule Book is lengthy and verbose but essentially states anyone affiliated with any Major League Baseball team is forbidden from betting on baseball, with the punishment resulting in a lifetime ban from the game. This rule is misguided and oftentimes misinterpreted, which has kept Rose from being enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Major League Baseball is acting hypocritically in its interpretation, as are the sports writers who vote for the Hall of Fame nominees. The Hall of Fame includes multiple admitted rule-breakers such as Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford. Rose was caught betting on baseball during his managing career, not his playing career by which he should be remembered. Rose is a Hall-of-Fame caliber player, not a Hall-of-Fame caliber manager. Major League Baseball is committing an injustice not allowing this former marquee player into its Hall of Fame.

Pete Rose finished his playing career with 4,256 hits, the most in Major League Baseball history. He finished his managing career with a slightly above average record of 412-373. Rose committed his offense as a manager and was banned from baseball for life because of it. However, his accomplishments prior to the ban are important and should be a serious part of the conversation. While Rose does admit to betting on his team while managing, he is adamant that he never bet against it and there is no proof to suggest otherwise. In an interview with ESPN’s Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann (both now of NBC), Rose said, "I bet on my team to win every night because I love my team, I believe in my team. I did everything in my power every night to win that game." No one has disputed these claims. Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame for what he achieved as a player, not a manager. He bet as a manager, he hit as a player.

Pitchers Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford both currently have plaques in the Hall of Fame. However, both admitted to breaking MLB rules during their playing careers. In 1920, baseball banned any doctoring of the baseball, as it gave an unfair advantage to the pitcher. Throughout his career and prior to his 1967 retirement it was widely known that Ford doctored the ball in order to gain a competitive advantage. Following the 1963 World Series, in which Ford’s Yankees were swept in four games by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ford was quoted as saying, according to ESPN, "I used enough mud to build a dam.” He was referring to using mud to doctor the baseball. Ford was the starting pitcher in games one and four.

Perry retired following the 1983 season, yet in a 1977 interview with Newsweek, Perry was quoted as saying "Greaseball, greaseball, greaseball, that's all I throw him [Rod Carew], and he still hits them. He's the only player in baseball who consistently hits my grease. He sees the ball so well, I guess he can pick out the dry side." Perry was clearly referring to his famous Vaseline ball, in which he would put Vaseline from inside his jersey that he had placed on his chest all over the ball. Both of these pitchers had very successful playing careers and sports writers voted both into the Hall of Fame. However, both admitted to cheating while still playing, yet Pete Rose isn’t allowed into the Hall of Fame for breaking a rule of the same caliber while he was managing. As long as Major League Baseball celebrates certain cheaters and bans others, it will be an organization marred by hypocrisy.

There are those who believe what Rose did does not compare to what Perry and Ford did. They claim a much fairer comparison is that of one ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson. Jackson was the star player on the notorious 1919 Chicago Black Sox team that willingly threw the World Series in exchange for payment from Arnold Rothstein. Eight of the nine starting players accepted the payment, including Jackson. The heavily favored White Sox lost the best-of-nine series five games to three. Despite Jackson’s denials of throwing the Series, the league banned him from baseball during his prime, although he likely would have been a Hall of Famer. Those who believe Rose doesn’t belong argue this as an example that the principle of the two crimes is ultimately the same. Both bet on their teams, and both were banned from baseball.

However, there are critical differences between the two players and situations. First, Rose bet on his team to win while Jackson accepted a cash payment to ensure his team lost the World Series. Also, Jackson committed the offense in the middle of his career, and therefore was unable to increase his statistics. Therefore, Jackson’s career numbers don’t provide a legitimate case for Hall of Fame consideration. Pete Rose finished his playing career outright with nearly 2,500 more hits than Shoeless Joe did. Although both broke the same general rule, common sense dictates that is where the similarities between the offenses end. Additionally the issue is clearly more complicated and not black and white.

Over his 24-year playing career, Pete Rose earned a spot in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Nevertheless, he is being kept out for an offense he committed during his managing career. Clearly the Hall of Fame does not deal in moral absolutes when it allows the plaques of Gaylord Perry and Whitey Ford to be prominently placed in the Hall of Fame with no mention of their offenses. It is unfair and duplicitous to leave Pete Rose out of the Hall of Fame. Like all inductees, he deserves to be honored for his extraordinary accomplishments during his playing career and not remembered for the mistakes he made after his retirement.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Your Next Vikings QB

While the Vikings aren't entirely out of contention for a playoff spot and even a division title this year, a 3-5 start for a team that was so good last season has a lot of fans looking towards the future. The future of the team is a big issue, as the team has sacrificed some youth over the last few years to try and make a last-ditch Super Bowl run with some of their veterans. While there are several major issues, the biggest and most important decision is who the Vikings will ultimately target to be their starting QB next season. It seems like a virtual certainty this is Brett Favre's last season, and while we really never know with him, I'm just going to assume he's not returning.

There are going to be several options for the organization to choose from, although it's unlikely the team will be acquiring a sure-fire pro bowler. Former 2nd-round pick and 'future franchise QB' Tarvaris Jackson is a free-agent-to-be. Joe Webb was a 6th round pick drafted to be a receiver until the coaching staff saw him throw in mini-camp. Michael Vick is going to be a free agent. Donovan McNabb is going to be a free agent. Ryan Mallet, Andrew Luck and Jake Locker currently all have first round grades from most draft experts, so the team could look to finally draft a first round quarterback again. That's at least seven options the team will undoubtedly consider. I'll take a look at the three rookies in the near future; so for now let's just look at Jackson, Webb, Vick and McNabb.*

*It's interesting to me that the Vikings have a history over the last ten-fifteen years of great black quarterbacks. They signed Warren Moon, saw Randall Cunningham revive his career on the second greatest offensive team in NFL history, and then drafted and developed Daunte Culpepper into a pro-bowl, MVP caliber quarterback before injuries and coaching changes ruined his career. The four non-rookie options for this team for this coming season in my opinion are also all black. There's not a point to this random sidebar, but it's interesting nonetheless in a league in which most quarterbacks are white.*

Tarvaris Jackson: Jackson was drafted at the end of the 2nd round in 2006, Brad Childress' first draft as head coach. When he was drafted the organization warned that he was a project, and he likely wouldn't see the field in his first season on the team. Well, Brad Johnson was brutal enough that Childress decided to give Jackson the starting job for the final two games of the season. Jackson played in four games as a rookie, posting a very poor QB rating of 62.5 in 81 pass attempts. He did manage to run for 77 yards though on just 15 carries, good for a 5.1 average.

It was clear Jackson had the tools to one day be a good player, but as a rookie he wasn't anywhere close to being an NFL caliber quarterback. Jackson went into 2007 as the team's starting QB, and he battled a few injuries that held him to 12 games. While fans were optimistic that Jackson's athleticism would mask just how raw his talent was, that wasn't the case. Jackson threw nine touchdowns and twelve interceptions in his second year, posting a QB rating of 70.8. At this point, many fans wanted a new QB already, despite the fact that Jackson was a former D-1 AA player who had been called a project the day he was drafted. For these fans to expect Jackson to excel immediately was foolish, but again, sports can turn even the most rational people into irrational fools.

In 2008, Jackson was again the starter, although the team brought in Gus Frerotte to at least challenge Jackson and provide a 'stable' veteran if needed. Whether Frerotte was good enough to bring in at all is a debate for another time, but it's my opinion that Frerotte was brutal and the team really made a misguided decision when they benched Jackson after two games for Gus. The Vikings started 0-2, and Jackson didn't play great, but a Visanthe Shiancoe dropped TD in the red zone was ultimately the difference between 0-2 and 1-1, and in my opinion it wasn't the right move. Frerotte predictably struggled, to the point where I legitimately cheered when he left injured against Chicago, but the team was talented elsewhere and won games in spite of Gus. Jackson was reinserted as the starter near the end of the year, and his final stats were solid: nine touchdowns and just two interceptions, good for a QB rating of 95.4, including a four touchdown-zero interception performance against the Arizona Cardinals. His completion percentage was still under 60%, which isn't a great sign, but his ability to make plays with his feet more than made up for it. Jackson seemed on his way to turning the corner after the '08 season, even if most Vikings fans refused to notice.

In 2009, the Vikings failed to learn from the Gus Frerotte mistake and traded a fourth round pick for Sage Rosenfels to compete with T-Jack. T-Jack still appeared to be the starter, though, until Lord Favre decided he'd unretire and sign with the Vikings. Signing Favre was a no-brainer, and Jackson was obviously relegated to back up duty. He has held that position since. In extremely limited playing time over the last two years, Jackson is 18-27 with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. He looked solid when he played near the end of the Patriots game a few weeks ago.

My first assumption is that it's simply a small sample size; Jackson is an average quarterback who will never be the guy to lead the Vikings atop the NFL ladder. The fact that he's going to be 28 when next season starts seems to suggest to me that he's no longer a 'project' and he needs to start producing. Of course, it's difficult to produce when you aren't given an opportunity, and in his very limited opportunities he's been very good over the last two years.

I think it's clear Jackson deserves a chance to start somewhere, and I do think if the Vikings offered Jackson a contract and told him he was the team's starting QB next season, he'd re-sign here without much thought. However, complicating matters is the status of Brad Childress. I don't think Jackson likes Childress, like most Vikings players and fans, but if the team brings in a different coach, it's possible that the coaches system won't be a fit for Jackson. It's my opinion, though, that good quarterbacks will do well in any system. If Jackson is indeed considered a starting-caliber player by those who make decisions, the team's offensive playbook shouldn't keep them from retaining him.

Joe Webb : Webb was an athletic specimen at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB) and was among the best players in college football. UAB used him at quarterback, but early scouting reports suggested that he'd have to transition elsewhere in the NFL because his arm wasn't NFL-caliber. He was considered a potential late round steal if he could adjust to being a receiver, and the Vikings decided to take a gamble on him in the sixth round last year.

Favre's decision to sit out all of the mini-camps and most of training camp actually really benefited Webb, and if he develops into a starting caliber quarterback it will also really benefit the future of this team. The Vikings needed an extra arm to throw balls to the many receivers, and while originally they had wanted to bring someone in to do that to allow Webb to stay at receiver, things changed. Childress saw Webb throwing the ball around and decided to give him a long look at QB. The thinking was that Webb was a long ways away even as a receiver, and if he had the chance to develop into a quarterback, that would be much more valuable down the line.

Webb looked very good in the pre-season, and many fans have been calling for Joe Webb to replace Favre. These fans undoubtedly dislike Jackson because of his early struggles, and want to see what Webb can do. Of course, all that would likely lead to is these same fans jumping off the Webb bandwagon in the near future when he struggles. He's not yet ready to be an NFL QB, and I think it's silly for fans to expect Webb to be the future of this team. The fact is most sixth round quarterbacks don't develop into anything; for every Tom Brady there are hundreds of Ken Dorsey's.

Webb is a special case, though. There's no doubting his ridiculous athleticism; and if he can learn to read defenses and his arm is even average, he could be special. That said, I think it would be a mistake to expect Joe Webb to be the starter next season when the team will still have some talented veterans. If the Vikings decide to rebuild and are willing to endure a losing season, Webb is the right guy because he will develop more by playing and the tools are there to be great. I just don't think he's going to be a starting-caliber QB next season. I am optimistic he will one day develop into a solid player, though.

Michael Vick : Michael Vick has had probably the strangest career of anyone currently playing professional sports. He was considered a sure-thing when he was taken #1 overall by the Falcons, and even before all of his legal issues, he wasn't a great quarterback. He was loved by the fans because of how electric he could be, and 2007 Mike Vick will always be the greatest video game player of my lifetime. The only one who compares is Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl, but I wasn't yet alive. Look, I'm not here to defend or criticize what he did. It was a terrible thing; some will say unforgivable, and I won't argue or try to persuade people to feel differently. Bill Simmons did a great job explaining Vick's situation and I feel basically exactly the same way he does.

Vick is having a sensational comeback year in Philadelphia. After an injury to Kevin Kolb against Green Bay opened the door for a Vick return, he hasn't looked back. Vick did get hurt a few weeks ago, breaking some ribs, but he's returned to the field now and he swears he'll be better about avoiding unnecessary contact to prevent future injuries. Vick has always been fantastic to watch because of his unbelievable arm strength/speed combination. He can outrun defensive backs consistently, and he sometimes has to harness his arm strength to avoid overthrowing even the fastest of receivers. He's extremely talented and always has been.

He didn't really ever put it all together though, until this year. Now, he's only played in 5 games this season, so it's possible it's simply an example of a small sample size confusing us. I don't think that's the case though, and most people tend to agree with me. Vick has looked much smarter, much calmer, and he's made much better decisions all year. Andy Reid seems to have really gotten through to Vick in ways his previous coaches couldn't; and of course spending almost two years in jail will make you more receptive to your coaches advice.

Vick has thrown for over 1,000 yards, ran for another 261, thrown seven touchdowns and most importantly he has no interceptions. He's arguably been the league MVP to this point, and if he continues to excel, the Eagles will likely look to lock Vick up (excuse the pun) long-term. It's a tricky situation with absolutely no parallels to learn from, so I wouldn't be surprised by anything. If Vick was to re-sign for $10MM a year for four years, or more, I'd understand. If he became a free agent, the bidding war would be interesting. Zygi has proven in the past he'll spend money when necessary. If the team feels Vick is the answer, I think the Vikings have to be among the favorites to land him. It would certainly sell tickets, although some fans would likely refuse to support a team with a convicted dog-killer at quarterback.

Vick is hands down the best option of the ones covered in this piece, which is also why it's very difficult to predict just what will happen with him. I would love to see Vick in purple next year, but at this point I'd guess he doesn't even hit the market and the Eagles lock him up, creating yet another QB controversy in Philly. That could make Kevin Kolb available, but for now that's just speculation and the Vikings really can't afford to trade away anymore draft picks, so Kolb isn't a legitimate target in my opinion if he becomes available.

Donovan McNabb : McNabb has had a very good career. However, he has been substantially overrated for many years. His career QB rating of 85.9 is respectable, but it's not anywhere close to an elite level like he's been portrayed throughout his career. He has had great years, just not enough to make him truly elite.

He has struggled this season, even getting benched at the end of the game against Detroit for Rex Grossman. Yes, Rex Grossman. Obviously that was simply a foolish decision by an even more overrated head coach in Mike Shanahan. McNabb is likely having trouble because it's difficult to learn a new system in one year, especially after playing in the same system for so long. Again, though, I think a good quarterback will be a good quarterback in any system, and there's no arguing McNabb is struggling this year. He has terrible receivers and no running game, though, so that's undoubtedly part of the issue.

Personally, I don't want the Vikings to go after McNabb if he's a free agent. He'll be 35 in a week, and his struggles at this point in his career are a red flag to me. It's rare for quarterbacks to continue to play at a high level past their 35th birthday; the only ones that really have are the truly elite ones or in Rich Gannon's case, the fluky ones. But McNabb doesn't strike me as likely to be a 'fluke' because those kinds of things only happen when the right player finds the right coach at just the right time. Gannon and Jon Gruden were sensational together. I don't think McNabb and any head coach, even Gruden, would have that same magic. And as I mentioned previously, McNabb is not an elite quarterback and really hasn't been since 2004.

He'll command more money than he's worth, and the truth is it's very likely Jackson would outperform McNabb over a full season if given the opportunity. For that reason, I'd much rather have a 28-year-old Jackson making about half the money that McNabb will be.

So, what should happen? If Vick becomes a free agent, the Vikings should sell the farm to bring him to Minnesota. He's playing at an elite level right now, and spending two years in prison means his body is far less beat up than most 30-year-old NFL QB's. If not, the team should simply re-sign T-Jack and finally give him the opportunity to show the organization and the fans what he can do.

Regardless, I think the team needs to determine if Joe Webb is the future of this team or not. If he isn't, which is the way I tend to lean, they need to draft an elite QB prospect and let him develop behind Jackson or Vick. This team needs a young, franchise QB to build around as they age; I'll take a look at some of those prospects in the near future. For now, as a Vikings fan, my 2011 wish list is: Vick, T-Jack. No McNabb. And no Webb, yet.

And of course, no Childress.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Learning From Our Mistakes

Every single one of us makes mistakes on a daily basis. Some days those mistakes are bigger than others, but since we all make mistakes, most people tend to be forgiving when we do make a mistake. As a culture, we tend to get more annoyed and frustrated though when the same people continue to make the same mistakes. This is human nature; if someone can't learn from their mistakes, it's natural for us to get angry because it seems as if the person isn't trying to improve their issues, whatever they may be.

Over the past decade, the Twins have been a very well-run organization and they have (rightfully so) been given an awful lot of credit for it. They draft well, develop talent well, and even when they aren't all that talented they always seem to at least find a way to be in the division race late in the year. It's fantastic that they have drafted well, because if a team drafts well they can mask even a colossal mistake that the front-office may have made with a free agent or trade.

Look at the San Francisco Giants. They're the defending World Series champions now, yet they spent $18MM this year on a starting pitcher who didn't pitch one inning in the post-season despite being healthy in Barry Zito. The Giants payroll was just under $100MM, so that means they spent about 20% of their payroll on someone who was useless during the playoffs. But since they drafted Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Jonathan Sanchez and Brian Wilson, they were able to make up for Zito's bloated contract with home-grown stars.

The Twins, thankfully, don't have a colossal mistake on their roster like Barry Zito. Michael Cuddyer is fairly overpaid, but he's a free agent at the end of the year and he was worth the money as recently as two seasons ago. However, the Twins seem to continue to make the same mistakes off-season after off-season. Last off-season, the team was pretty much flawless, although that's in large part due more to luck than anything. They did waste almost $1MM on Clay Condrey, who was never healthy, and Jarrod Washburn misguidedly turned down the team's $5MM offer which saved the team enough money to fill an actual need at second base. They spent that money on Orlando Hudson instead.

This is an organization that signed Livan Hernandez and Ramon Ortiz when they had better, cheaper, younger options in their system already. They signed Tony Batista and Rondell White despite very little evidence that either would be even remotely productive. The Twins organization never seems to make the gigantic mistake, but rather a series of small mistakes. Even spending the money they spent last year on Clay Condrey on the amateur draft may have allowed the team to target a high-schooler who had slipped due to bonus demands. $950K is two or three signings of very good high school players; it would be better business and it would make the team better if the silly signings would stop.

Unfortunately, three days into the off-season, the signs seem to point towards those same old Twins.

It was announced yesterday that the Twins had agreed on a major-league deal with starting pitcher Eric Hacker. My thoughts upon hearing the news, much like your reaction to hearing that name now, was "Who?" So who is Eric Hacker and why are the Twins signing him to a major league contract?

Hacker was a 27-year-old starter in AAA last year who put up rather pedestrian numbers. He posted an ERA over 4, struck out just 128 in over 170 innings pitched, and he allowed over a hit an inning. Hacker isn't anything more than a bottom of the rotation starter in AAA, and it seemed silly to me that the team would be spending any sort of money on this player when they have better options all throughout the system.

Well, as it turns out, the team likely won't lose any money on this deal. Hacker was given a major league contract because he had to be based on his service time, but there's less than a zero percent chance he makes the opening day roster in my opinion. As long as he doesn't start the season on the Twins 25-man roster, he won't be making anything more than what a AAA pitcher would make, so strictly from a monetary perspective the Twins will likely lose nothing more than they already would have.

However, Hacker is now filling a spot on the Twins 40-man roster. Any player that has played at least three seasons in the minor leagues is subject to the Rule V draft. The Rule V draft is where the Twins landed Johan Santana for a measly $50K, and the Marlins landed Dan Uggla, among others. You can protect players in your own organization by placing them on the 40-man roster. However, generally, the Rule V draft doesn't garner much attention. That said, it seems silly to me that this team would waste a 40-man roster spot on a 27-year-old pitcher that not only has little chance to crack the opening day roster, he's likely to be at best a #4 starter in Rochester.

Nothing about his stats suggest he's a power arm that could be converted to a reliever; he seems to be a pitch-to-contact type starter. The Twins love those kinds of pitchers, but Hacker does nothing exceptionally well and to be blunt he doesn't do much even league-average, either. He gave up 21 home runs last season in 29 starts, which seems like even more proof that his stuff is well below average.

Again, signing Eric Hacker to the contract they did isn't likely going to cost the team a divisional title or anything along those lines; but if enough of these silly mistakes continue to happen, it could eventually cost the team a talented prospect or even worse a solid veteran that could help during the season.

The more worrisome 'mistake' this team almost made, though, was bidding on Japanese starter Hisashi Iwakuma. Sure, it would have been interesting to see the the Twins go after a Japanese star. He posted an ERA under 3 last year in Japan, and he was widely considered the second best pitcher in Japan behind Yu Darvish. However, scouts that have seen him play believe he projects as a #4 starter in the big leagues, a borderline #3 at his absolute best. The A's reportedly won the bidding by putting in a bid of $17MM or so, and that's before they have to pay Iwakuma anything. I would expect the A's to eventually sign Iwakuma to a 4-year, $35MM contract. That's entirely a guess, but it seems in the ballpark; and it might even be higher.

If the Twins had instead spent that money, they'd have a log-jam of starters again and top prospect Kyle Gibson would likely need not one but two starters to struggle or get hurt to get his chance to show what he can do. The Twins have enough needs without spending any money on another starter, as I've explained before, so it's disheartening to see this team target two starting pitchers in the first few days of free agency. The team could use an ace to pair with Francisco Liriano, no doubt, but Cliff Lee isn't going to be a Twin so it seems very foolish to target any other free agent starters.

Hopefully the team doesn't feel the need to bring in a 'veteran' starter for the pitching staff, wasting valuable resources that could be used to improve a very weak bench or to find a starting second baseman. One of these years the Twins will have to learn from their mistakes, right? Don't count on it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


- To the surprise of zero Twins fans, Bud Selig is kind of a dope.

- The mute button on my remote is no longer needed while watching Sunday Night Baseball.

- Finally, a dating site for Tim Tebow and Aaron Rodgers.

- And some advice for those two when that special time arrives.

- When Zygi Wilf finally does fire Brad Childress, hopefully he'll at least consider one of these former greats.

- The Twins seemed to prove they're willing to spend money again this off-season, bidding on Japanese starter Hisashi Iwakuma but ultimately coming up short.

- Former Tigers manager George 'Sparky' Anderson died this past week at 76.

- Aidan is a 5-year-old with Leukemia. If you'd like to support the family, Aidan draws pictures and they are for sale here.

- Science really is amazing, even if I don't understand it at all.

- I'd like to spend my summer visiting several of these places, if anyone wants to fund the trip let me know.

- I want to write stories like this and get paid for it, too.

- Boom Shockalocka, coming November 17 to the only two systems guys actually play.

- I'm not sure if I should laugh at the creativity or cry at the lack of security.

- And finally, Uhh, what?

Monday, November 8, 2010


Sports can cause even the most rational of people to become irrational. I'm sure there were Patriots fans yesterday that were watching their Pats get handled fairly easily by the Browns (and the Belichick-hated Eric Mangini) and were shouting at the TV angry with Belichick's coaching because they were losing 34-14. Belichick is arguably the greatest coach in NFL history; he's at least top-five though. The point is that all fans are irrational in the heat of the moment. These emotions, even in us fans, are what make sports so great. One minute you can be watching your favorite team trailing by two touchdowns with four minutes left and the next minute they've tied the game and are headed to overtime. When people are upset in the heat of the moment and aren't rational, I understand it. I rarely agree with these people and often find myself defending someone I really don't want to be defending, but I do understand where the irrationality comes from. Sometimes it's Ron Gardenhire, sometimes it's Bill Smith, but more often than not it's Brad Childress.

I don't want to defend Brad Childess. Of all the people that currently have anything to do with any of my favorite teams, Childress is by far my least favorite person. Aside from several poor in-game coaching decisions over the years, Childress seems to have worse people skills than Hannibal Lecter. He's got a huge ego, and there's no doubt he believes that he truly is a great coach. He obviously isn't. Once he released Randy Moss, my favorite athlete of all-time, I turned to the 'fire Childress now' camp and I had no plans on defending him ever again.

His fourth and goal calls have been brutal, but the hypocrisy of many fans today was laughable. Adrian Peterson had been given the ball every time they went for it on fourth and goal from inside the 3-yard-line all year, and he had been stopped all three times. Every time fans complained and said things like "Don't give it to AP you're too predictable!" at their TV's directed towards Brad Childress. Then today these same people were angry when the team decided to throw it, wondering aloud why they didn't give the ball to their best player to gain half a yard. Don't worry, if you were one of these people, you weren't alone. Facebook statuses, text messages, phone calls---I talked to several people who were being hypocritical. I understood it, though. The failed fourth down seemed like it was going to be the final nail in the coffin for the team's season. It wasn't, and nobody seems to remember that point of the game.

First, and foremost, this win is not all that impressive. Yes, the team looked absolutely sensational during the final four minutes of regulation and overtime. That was impressive, and it was about time some of the key players on this team stepped up when it was necessary. However, the team was playing a very mediocre Arizona team that doesn't have an NFL, starting-quality quarterback. Mistake after mistake hurt the Vikings until the last four minutes, and a game that really shouldn't have been all that close went into overtime. Yes, technically, it saved the season. The Vikings still have a chance at the playoffs, especially in a very tight NFC that has yet to really see a team pull away from the field. But if the team doesn't win at Chicago next week and then again at home against Green Bay, the season is likely still over. So this win was a small step in the right direction, but if they don't take care of business over the next few weeks it will ultimately be meaningless.

Now, after the game, Brad Childress was asked how he was holding up emotionally with everything that has happened this week, including his job security being talked about all week. Childress made what was a pretty good joke; he simply said "I'm not gonna stand up here like Brett and say I need a hug. I'm fine." Some members of the media went crazy. I saw Tony Dungy react* during NBC's Football Night in America, and it angered me. Pro Football Talk had a story about it within hours of the game ending.

*Tony Dungy is a great man. He was a good not great coach who couldn't carry a solid Tampa Bay team far enough. He lost his job, the Bucs traded multiple draft picks for Jon Gruden and he led them to a Super Bowl victory. Dungy latched on in Indianapolis with the best quarterback in football and arguably in the history of the NFL and managed to win one finally. However, the more I see him discussing other coaches/players/etc the more I want to see someone hit him in the face. He doesn't deserve to be hit in the face; but that's the feeling I get. He ALWAYS is talking like he's so much better than everyone else in football. He criticized Rex Ryan for swearing too much on Hard Knocks. Mr. Dungy, are you JOKING? Just because you chose not to swear often (if at all) doesn't mean Rex Ryan is wrong in the way he goes about coaching his football team. Dungy was the EXCEPTION, not the rule. Every football coach at pretty much every level swears. It's not a big deal.

The media seemed to think Childress took an unwarranted shot at Brett Favre. Look, the timing of the joke was idiotic. Nobody besides maybe a few local media guys are backing up Childress, and since the media always defends Brett Favre (even when he sends text messages to a 24-year-old woman while married with children) Childress had to know a joke about Favre wouldn't go over well.

I for one enjoyed the joke. Favre is tough as nails, no doubt, but he seems to have a NEED for everyone to know just how tough he is. The announcers during the game kept talking about Favre's foot and how painful it looked in the pre-game meetings players have with the announcers usually on Friday's. I kept wondering how they had seen his foot though; it likely was covered by a shoe, or a boot or something considering it was cold in Minnesota all week. Nope. Favre went to the meeting in flip flops. I understand that some people will say he was just wearing flip flops because it's more comfortable on his foot/ankle, and while I'm not going to argue with that defense, there's no denying that Favre loves to build the drama. It seems more likely to me that Favre wore the flip flops to subtly show the announcers his foot, leading to them gushing about his toughness on Sunday.

Favre has whined all year about his age; how injured he is, etc. If Favre is going to continue to talk about all of his ailments in order to try to explain away his problems this year, than I hope he understands it's fair game for others to point out how often he does it. Childress should not have made a joke about Favre with all the tension surrounding this team, it was idiotic, yes. But the joke wasn't nearly the big deal the media is trying to make it, and now that the Vikings finally won a game the media needs to continue to build the drama.

Childress still needs to be fired at season's end, or even sooner**, and the way he treated the Moss situation will always be a major embarrassment for any Vikings fan. But don't start making non-stories into major stories simply because it'll bring you better ratings either on TV or the internet. The people that criticized Childress today for his comments are obviously much more qualified to talk about football for a living than me, and it would have been nice if after an impressive comeback but generally a poor showing that the media was talking about that instead of Childress' ultimately meaningless comments.

**As fans, we couldn't comprehend how Wilf would keep Childress over Moss this week. It's not that simple, though. I think Wilf is planning on firing Childress at the end of the season unless this team makes some miracle run back to the NFC Championship game. It sends a terrible message to this team's next head coach if the owner sides with a player who has a history of issues (Moss) over the team's head coach who also has final say over any roster moves. Wilf undoubtedly wants to build positive buzz around this team so he can get them a new stadium. The best way to do that aside from deep playoff runs is by hiring a big name coach. I think Wilf will fire Childress and look to hire either Bill Parcells in a VP-type role like he had in Miami, or he'll hire Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden. I don't think the Vikings go into the 2011 season without making a major coaching hire, and that hire would not be Leslie Frazier. Wilf is already planning for next year in my mind.**

It's much easier to be rational hours after the game, especially after a come from behind win. But Brad, just because I'm defending you for the misguided comments, I still hate you.

Update: Childress was jokingly referring to a joke Favre had made on Wednesday. That makes what he said even less of an issue, but I still expect most of the media to chastize Chilly for it. There's plenty of things that the media can criticize this pinhead for, just be fair and level-headed about it. Here's the link, the story is near the bottom of the article.


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