Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Only to the Pirates

In case you've missed it, the Pirates are locking horns with Pedro Alvarez and Scott Boras as we speak in quite possibly the most bizarre storyline yet from a series of already bizarre storylines. Check our old friend Dejan Kovacevic's PBC Blog for the complete up-to-the-minute details, and for now I wanted to weigh in with a few of my personal opinions.

I truly don't understand just what the heck Boras is doing here. He essentially is making two demands/claims here, one is that the Pirates signed Pedro Alvarez after the stated deadline, thus voiding his contract. The other is that, because of this, the Pirates should negotiate with Pedro Alvarez to a more amenable contract by their standards. Uhmm...what? What the hell does that even mean?

How can both of those things happen in the same vein of reality? If Boras gets his first request granted, that Alvarez was signed after the deadline and his deal should be voided, then the contract is terminated, does not go into effect and the Pirates certainly cannot then negotiate with him.

Seriously, this makes no sense whatsoever. And the big question now (besides what the end game here is) is, what took so long for this to come out? Seriously, the deadline was just about 2 weeks ago (okay 12 days), if this was an issue, why did it take up until now to come out? Why wasn't Boras raising a stink on the 16th or 17th?

My theory? I think ol' Scotty was shot down by the Alvarez family when the Pirates wouldn't pony up the dough, and the family threatened to go around him to get the contract with the Pirates, so Boras relented, but slowly, he began to whisper his poison into Pedro's ear. After a few days of this, Pedro was spun around and him and Boras were now united through Boras' manipulation, and now they are fighting against the Pirates for the money they feel that they deserve.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

2008 NFL Quick Hit Preview

Again, it's been difficult to keep up with the work on this site, and I am hopeful that once football season starts up, I will be able to put a lot more effort into this site, and give you comprehensive coverage of the football universe, including an all-encompassing weekly football column that you can rely on for all sorts of info. Until then, please be patient and keep checking back.
So for now, here is a quick hit of how I think the 2008 NFL Season will shake out with my projected standings. More is coming at a later date and time:

AFC East
New England 13-3
New York Jets 9-7
Buffalo 7-9
Miami 4-12
AFC North
Pittsburgh 10-6
Cleveland 8-8
Cincinnati 7-9
Baltimore 6-10
AFC South
Indianapolis 11-5
Jacksonville 10-6
Houston 8-8
Tennessee 7-9
AFC West
San Diego 12-4
Denver 8-8
Kansas City 5-11
Oakland 4-12
NFC East
Dallas 11-5
Philadelphia 10-6
Washington 9-7
New York Giants 8-8
NFC North
Green Bay 10-6
Minnesota 10-6
Chicago 6-10
Detroit 4-12
NFC South
New Orleans 10-6
Carolina 9-7
Tampa Bay 9-7
Atlanta 3-13
NFC West
Seattle 11-5
Arizona 8-8
St. Louis 5-11
San Francisco 4-12

Wild Card Round
Indianapolis over NY Jets
Pittsburgh over Jacksonville
New Orleans over Minnesota
Philadelphia over Green Bay
Divisional Round
New England over Pittsburgh
San Diego over Indianapolis
Dallas over New Orleans
Seattle over Philadelphia
Conference Championship
New England over San Diego
Dallas over Seattle
Super Bowl
New England over Dallas

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Previewing 2008

Folks I truly am sorry about the lack of site updates the past handful of days, but it has been a hectic time for me and now that everything appears to have settled down, I should be able to put up more frequent updates on the site.

The two biggest reasons for the lack of updates are 1) I purchased Madden 09 for my Xbox 360, ‘nuff said. And 2) I had to move into my new apartment at Pitt the past few days, and didn’t have my computer hooked, thus making it quite difficult to get much going on the internet. And, because I’m hooked on my Madden game like it’s cocaine and I’m Amy Winehouse I decided to base a column on it. No don’t worry, I’m not going to review it (although it is a truly great game and I recommend you go buy it immediately), instead I decided to sim an entire NFL season (the ‘08/09 season to be exact) and let everyone know what played out, how it played out, and some of the fun moments from the season. Without further ado…

It turns out that the preseason in Madden games is even more useless then the real preseason now that they took away the fun little improve young players feature that most people agreed was a good one. Whatever. The highest rated preseason passer? Billy Volek at a whopping 146.9, Ryan Fitzpatrick was third, JP Losman was fifth (a potential QB controversy looming in Buffalo?), and proving just how easy the preseason is in these games, Rex Grossman was ninth. Joey Galloway was the leading receiver in preseason ball, Brian Westbrook the leading rusher, Montrae Holland the leading pancake blocker, Cooper Carlisle gave up the most sacks, James Farrior nailed down the tackle title with 37, something named Victor Adeyanju led in sacks, and Ellis Hobbs in interceptions.
And of course, as always there were injuries in the preseason. I downloaded Brett Favre’s character to the Jets, and naturally, he tore his ACL in the preseason and is out for the year. Really glad I spent all that time on my Xbox downloading him for this sole purpose. Other season-ending injuries included: Brodie Croyle (Broken Tailbone) and Paul Posluszny (Hip Fracture). Marcus McNeill broke his ankle and is out 10 weeks, same for Correll Buckhalter, which proves once and for all just how incredibly realistic these games truly are. Terrell Suggs will miss 8 weeks, Nick Kaczur 7 weeks, and Darren Sproles will miss 6 weeks. No one is out who is of significance, and so, we advance to the regular season.

Also, just for fun, there are six players who are 99’s in this game. Take a moment and try to pinpoint them. It’s actually a fun game. I’ll discuss it down one paragraph with my thoughts.
By far the worst player in the game is Bills left tackle Demetrius Bell, who has an abysmal 54 rating, when the next lowest (King Dunlap) had a 60. I mean, did they really know enough about Demetrius Bell to make him by far the worst player in the game? That has to hurt his feelings, right? Couldn’t they have made 5 or 6 miserable offensive and defensive linemen all 60 ratings, just so no one is the worst. If I’m Demetrius I’m screaming at the top of my lungs to the Players Union, although I suppose they have more important matters to deal with. Still though, that just bothers me.

Okay, the 99’s: Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Bob Sanders, Peyton Manning, LaDainian Tomlinson, and… Antonio Gates. I mean, those first five are obvious, but Gates? Yeah he’s a great player, but did you ever consider him to be one of the six best players in football? Hell no. And how pissed are the linemen right now? They dominate the 98 category (1 OL and 3 DL), but still. For the record, I guess those first five, figured they would add 1-2 more, so I threw in pre-knee injury Shawne Merriman (who is only a 97!) and figured they would have a lineman somewhere, so tossed in Albert Haynesworth, too (a 98). But I probably would have guessed 10-12 more players before I guessed Gates for a 99. It just doesn’t feel right. Some of the most surprising ratings I noticed: Jason Taylor (a 98! Since when is he still that good?), Tony Gonzalez (also a 98!), Shane Lechler (it just feels icky putting a punter as a 97), Casey Hampton (still chugging at a 96 even though he’s been average the past two seasons), the entire Patriots O-Line (somehow I don’t think Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck, and Michael Strahan would be giving them a 96, two 95s, a 94, and an 86), Matt Birk (nearly was forced to retire due to injury and yet he is still somehow a 95), Zach Thomas (can barely control his motor functions but yet is a 94), and of course, DeAngelo Hall (the most overrated player in football continues that trend with a 93).

Okay, seriously now, onto the regular season:
Some fun notes:
-Tom Brady picked up where left off last season, winning the first two Offensive Player of the Week awards.
-Injuries: Kevin Curtis (Week 2), Ronald Curry (Week 2), Jeff Otah (Week 1), Larry Johnson (Week 2), Aaron Smith (Week 4 meaning the Steelers D should now fall apart), James Harrison (Week 6), Keith Brooking (Week 5), Antonio Cromartie (Week 6), Jerry Porter (Week 7), Rex Grossman (Week 7), Jon Kitna (Week 8), Devin Hester (Week 9), Derrick Johnson (Week 10), and Clinton Portis (Week 11) all suffered injuries that kept them out for at least 6 games or longer.
-Through the first three weeks of the season, 2 of the top 4 receivers in football were Derek Mason and Isaac Bruce. This is Madden ’09 not Madden ’99 right?
-Someone named Cortland Finnegan had 4 picks in one game in Week 2 for the Titans. According to my game, that tied an NFL record.

-Through six weeks, some of the surprises included: Vince Young is 4th in passer rating behind Brady, Roethlisberger, and Manning; Joe Flacco is very good; David Garrard, Matt Hasselbeck, Donovan McNabb, and Carson Palmer all have passer ratings below 75.0; Chester Taylor leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns; Isaac Bruce is still 4th in receptions, Derek Mason is 7th; Alan Branch and Alex Brown (two notorious loafers) lead the league in sacks with 8 apiece; Matt Turk has already punted 42 times for Houston; The Titans and Patriots are the only unbeaten teams left, both at 5-0; our beloved Steelers are 4-1; We had a tie! The Cardinals and Cowboys kissed each other’s sister, or however that works; The Bills and Jets are 0-5; Expected contenders the Vikings, Browns, Redskins, and Cowboys are all under .500. If the playoffs started today we’d have the Titans, Patriots, Chargers, Steelers, Colts, and Jaguars as our AFC seeds, in that order; The NFC would be considerably more surprising: The Cardinals, Eagles, Packers, Panthers, Giants, and Seahawks.

-After 8 weeks, the leading candidates for the awards are: MVP: Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Vince Young, Tony Romo. Offensive POY: Brady, Roethlisberger, Fred Taylor, Willie Parker, and Manning. Defensive POY: Roderick Hood (huh?), Cortland Finnegan (double huh?), Sabby Piscitelli (infinite huh?), DJ Williams, and Ronde Barber (needless to say its not a great year for the DPOY award. Offensive Rookie: Joe Flacco, Felix Jones, Malcolm Kelly, Marcus Smith, Matt Forte. Defensive Rookie: Joe Dizon, Leodis McKelvin, Keith Rivers, Curtis Lofton, Mike Jenkins. Coach of the Year: Jeff Fisher, N. Coach (evidently Bill Belicheck was paranoid about being in this game or something so they called him N. Coach instead. What a freakin’ weirdo), Andy Reid, Mike McCarthy, and John Fox.
-Bryant McFadden was the Week 9 defensive player of the week thanks to 2 picks.
-The Patriots lost a regular season game! A week 8 defeat at the hands of… the St. Louis Rams!

-Through 12 weeks, here are some tidbits: Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are locked atop the passer rating boards and no one’s that close to them; Brady has 29 TD’s in 11 games; The worst starting QB in football is Damon Huard, the second worst? Donovan McNabb (69.8 rating, 8 TD’s, 15 Int.) if only they had press scrutiny and booing fans calling radio stations in Madden. Now THAT’S a game I want to play; Brian Westbrook leads the league with 1102 yards, Marion Barber is second with 1,044, and third is… Kolby Smith! After LJ went down with an injury that knocked him out for most of the season, Smith has stepped in with 988 yards on 240 carries and 3 TD’s through 11 games; Roderick Hood has 8 interceptions; David Akers had attempted 37 field goals so far; Shane Lechler, Matt Turk, and Brian Moorman are all over 70 punts already this year; The AFC’s playoff picture looks like this: Patriots, Steelers, Titans, Chargers, Colts, and Jaguars in, with the Ravens, Bengals, Browns, and Chiefs just a game out. The NFC is the Saints, Eagles, Bears, Seahawks, Panthers, Rams with the Cowboys, Vikings, and Packers on the cusp; The Falcons and Jets are fighting for the top overall pick

-Heading into Week 17, here’s what’s at stake: The Patriots (12-3) are locked in at 1, the Colts, Steelers, and Chargers all have their divisions clinched at 10-5, so they are competing for the second bye. Not sure about the tiebreakers. The wildcard is still wide open. The Titans (8-7) and Texans (8-7) have it right now, but the Ravens (8-7) and Browns (8-7) also have the same record; The NFC is much more muddied. The Saints (11-4) and Panthers (11-4) have the top two records, but one will be the fifth seed, right now it is Carolina. They both have playoff spots clinched, though. The Cowboys (9-5-1) and Rams (9-6) both lead their divisions but can be caught, and the Bears (9-6) have the only division title in the NFC right now. The Eagles (9-6) would be the sixth team right now, and can catch Dallas, and the Seahawks (8-7) could catch several teams. The Falcons are 2-13, the Jets 3-12 in the fight for the top pick. Some of the surprisingly terrible teams were the Broncos (5-10), the Giants (6-9), the Redskins (6-9), the Buccaneers (6-9), the Vikings (7-8), and the Jaguars (7-8). Perhaps the team that overachieved the most was the Dolphins who are somehow 6-9 despite a heavy dose of Josh McCown this year; Tom Brady and Peyton Manning will likely be the only two quarterbacks to throw for 4,000 yards this year, though neither has it yet; Brian Westbrook is trying to hold off Marion Barber for the rushing title. Westbrook has 1,550 yards this year; Willie Parker leads the AFC with 1,288 yards; the most surprising entrant to the 1,000 yard club (besides Kolby Smith) could be Travis Henry who has 1,234 yards for the Lions; Reggie Wayne has the receptions title all but locked up with 101 grabs for 1,336 yards; I’m not sure if this is a lot, but Leonard Davis leads the NFL in pancake blocks (or maybe eats pancakes eaten, not too sure) with 121. It sounds like a lot; Somehow Zach Thomas has overcome severe brain damage to lead the league with 112 tackles; 6 guys lead the league with 11 sacks; Roderick Hood has 9 picks, DeAngelo Hall and Ronde Barber both have 8; the amount of field goals in this game is obscene. 5 kickers have attempted 40+ field goals, another 18 have attempted at least 30; And Matt Turk and Shane Lechler are each at 90 punts.

-After Week 17, here are the playoff teams: AFC: 1) New England (13-3), 2)Indianapolis (11-5), 3) San Diego (11-5), 4) Pittsburgh (10-6), 5) Cleveland (9-7), 6) Baltimore (9-7). Tennessee and Houston both crapped the bed in Week 17 with L’s. NFC: 1) New Orleans (12-4), 2) Chicago (10-6), 3)Philadelphia (10-6), 4) St. Louis (9-7), 5)Carolina (11-5), 6) Dallas (9-6-1). Also, the Falcons get the number one pick with a 3-13 record.

-The Playoff Results:
First Round
San Diego 44 Baltimore 24
Philadelphia 38 Dallas 23
Pittsburgh 27 Cleveland 7 (The Browns are still our bitch!)
St. Louis 16 Carolina 13
That’s right, the home teams won every time. Could this be a trend? Hmm…

Second Round:
New England 21 Pittsburgh 9 (Damn Patriots, we can’t beat these guys anymore)
New Orleans 23 St. Louis 13
Indianapolis 28 San Diego 13
Philadelphia 20 Chicago 12
Uh-oh, another Colts-Patsies AFC Championship game. Talk about predictable.

Conference Championship Round
New England 24 Indianapolis 7 (Peyton chokes with 2 picks, and Moss catches 2 Brady TD passes)
New Orleans 44 Philadelphia 34 (McNabb gets hurt, Philly turns it over 4 times despite outgaining NO)

New England 29 New Orleans 10 (CRAP! Brady wins MVP for 24/34 257 Yards 2 TD)

-Postseason Awards: MVP: Tom Brady, OPOY: Brady, DPOY: Ronde Barber, OROY: Joe Flacco, DROY: Curtis Lofton, Coach of the Year: John Fox.

-Roethlisberger, Parker, Ward, Simmons, Farrior, and Reed all make the Pro Bowl for the Steelers.

Friday, August 15, 2008

5 Big Questions for the 2008 Pitt Panthers

The follow up portion of my article from a few days back "5 Bold Predictions for the 2008 Pitt Panthers." No sense wasting time on a drawn-out intro, I think you get the idea.

1. Quarterback?
I think every true Panther fan fully understands this question with just the one word mentioned above. I originally had a question just about Bill Stull above, then thought about putting a question about Greg Cross and the Wildcat, and THEN I thought about putting a question about Pat Bostick and Kevan Smith, so I figured that just having a QB question in general was the best way of tackling this puppy.
The only thing that kept this team from 8 wins last season and a bowl berth was the quarterback position. However, last season wasn't a total loss, as it did gives serious seasoning to Pat Bostick, irrevocably proved that Kevan Smith should transfer to a D-II school and that the offense needed a quarterback who is a running threat to execute the Wildcat package. Fast forward to the present, with a healthy Bill Stull, a more mature and fit Bostick, a still terrible Smith, an athletic and versatile Greg Cross, and an undersized Tino Sunseri and suddenly things are very interesting at the quarterback position this season.
The questions, though, are still prevalent despite all of this. Who will start? Can they stay healthy? How will Cross be used? Why is Smith still allowed to practice with a D-I football team? Will Bostick and Sunseri take redshirts this year? Will Cross take a redshirt if he can't get it done? Who's the backup? Did last season's offense set the game of football back 30 years or 40? All of these are pertinent as we approach the season, but the bigest one of all is: Just how good is Billy Stull? A lot of fans seem to forget this, but people were very skeptical going into last season about Stull being good enough to lead this team. He played well in the opener, got hurt, missed the rest of the year and is now thought of as a sure thing to be a competent major college quarterback. What am I missing here? Don't get me wrong, I like Billy and think that he will be good and maybe even very good this year but by no means do I consider that to be a slam dunk.

2. Has Dorin found a home?
For the past two seasons, one of the most maddening things for Pitt fans to witness has been the constant shuffling of Dorin Dickerson among several different positions. It was especially perplexing to see him making efforts at linebacker a year ago when he obviously should have been playing a skill position. For the third time in as many seasons, though, Dickerson and the coaching staff are claiming they have found a permanent home for their Jack-Of-All-Trades-Master-Of-None talent, and this year it is tight end. Dickerson is instantly probably the fastest and most athletic tight end in college football, but it seems likely that he will be more of an ofensive playmaker then your traditional tight end. Expect to see him in the backfield, the slot, the tight end spot, and maybe even split out wide this season as the Panthers try to find a way to get Dickerson on the field. But after being mostlyunremarkable in first two years, can Dickerson finally find a home and stay there long enough to establish himself?

3. Seriously, how good is the offensive line?
Perhaps the most important question for the Panthers in the coming season. If Stull plays well and McCoy plays great, but the offensive line struggles, will we even be able to tell if the first two things are happening? That's the conundrum for any offensive players. They appear to have the talent, as detailed in my 5 Bold Predictions column, but boy are they green. Joe Thomas looks like a below average tackle, but he could maybe turn out to be better then we think. Jason Pinkston has all the talent in the world, but he's had attitude issues and is raw. The guards are more solid though, and Rob Houser appears to be a good anchor, so the question mostly comes to the men on the outside. Should be interesting.

4. Which incoming freshman will sit? Which will play?
Jonathan Baldwin will likely play, maybe even as the third receiver (and a potential starter if Derek Kinder is unable to go in the opener), and the same could be for defensive back Jarred Holley who appears to have done quite well thus far and may be the third corner (meaning a spot in the dime or even nickel) when the season opens. There are also talks that Lucas Nix may be forced into action because of a lack of depth at the tackle position, but this seems like a horrific idea to me to waste a redshirt year on a tackle who may not play a meaningful snap all season. I would rather keep him fresh on the scout team, and if someone underachieves or gets hurt, then remove the redshirt and let him try to earn PT, but to have him as your 3rd/4th tackle seems asinine. Chris Burns is another interesting debate. The Panthers are deep at tailback, but by all accounts, Burns has been excellent, and likely has earned the right to play. However, he likely would do nothing more then take meaningless snaps, and I think he will end up redshirting, with Kevin Collier, Shariff Harris, and even LaRod Stephens-Howling as the mopup guys. I think Shayne Hale is a virtual lock to be redshirted. Of course, Cam Saddler will take a medical redshirt. Other then that, I don't think anyone is worth mentioning as a potential player this season. Baldwin is almost certainly going to be an impact player from day one.

5. Can Wanny learn to coach on Game Day?
Dave Wannstedt has proven to be an excellent face for the university, a great recruiter, and a superb model for his players, but on Saturdays, there is no denying that the 'Stache has struggled. He has been developing as a collegiate coach over the last few seasons, and he outcoached Rich Rodriguez up and down the field in the Backyard Brawl. The Wildcat formation proved that he can adapt and is willing to deviate from his power pro style offense. It will be intersting to see if he can utilize that offense a little better with Greg Cross at the helm and maybe using Dorin Dickerson as well. Having Phil Bennett on the defensive side of the ball will also bring questions, as he is a new face, and while Paul Rhoads had issues at times during his tenure, he had a lot of good results, and certainly his unit often fared better then Matt Cavanaugh's. Many have said this is a make or break year for the coach, and while I don't necessarily agree, I do wonder how much longer he will be able to land elite recruits while putting up mediocre records as a coach. Anything less then 8 wins will be something of a disappointment for many Pitt fans, but any bowl game would at least be a step in the right direction.

Bloggin' the deadline away

5:24 With the looming signing deadline just a few hours off, I decided I'd live blog the next few hours, probably 'til about 8:00 or so, so I won't be able to cover everything, but let's hope something happens between now and then so we can FEEL THE EXCITEMENT! Anyway, it's been a busy couple days for the Pirates, signing Fresno State starting pitcher Justin Wilson for slot money a couple days ago, OF Robbie Grossman for (channeling my inner Dr. Evil) 1 miiiiiillllion dollars, and starting pitcher Quinton Miller for 900,000 dollars. All of them are pretty highly regarded, and this will certainly bolster the Pirates minor league depth, hopefully with a little bit of the quality that they have lacked as opposed to the quantity that they recently received. Updates in a bit...
5:48 Doesn't seem to be a ton happening right now. Most of my sources are dry at this point, though if you aren't a regular checker of the PBC Blog on the Post-Gazette website I just don't know what to tell you any more. In the mean time, if you are wondering what I am up to, I'm snacking on some pizza (, sipping on a coke, and watching That 70's Show. An all-around good time thus far. I'm on the lookout for something, anything, so let's hope that I scrouge up some sort of info for a post in a bit.
6:00 A story is up on the PG website about Pedro. DK gives his feeling and I agree. He also makes it sound like the Buccos may be backpedaling a bit on the Major League contract part. In fact, if they can do it in order to get Alvarez to agree to a little less of a signing bonus, then I would absolutely agree to it. My best guess is that Pedro gets a major league deal from the Bucs for 6.5 million dollars, and that it will be a bit backloaded to lower the Net Present Value (yes I am a business student in college). More in a few...
6:12 Here is a scouting reports courtesy of Baseball America

On Quinton Miller
-"The 6-foot-3 Miller has a quick arm and has shown a fastball reaching 93-94 mph at times. He has a feel for pitching and flashes a good, hard slider and average changeup at his best. However, his velocity dipped into the upper 80s at times this spring, and his fastball can straighten out."
-He is also a senior in high school and will likely not do anything for the Bucs until he reports to Instructional League in Bradenton in September.
-My best guess is he spend the entirety of next year with Low A Hickory, unless of course he were to do well there, and then we could see him make in appearance in Lynchburg, but I find that to be his highest possible ceiling for '09. Expect him to be 3-4 years (at least) until he reaches MLB, though I don't think we'd surprised if it was more then that.

6:28 Interesting piece by the Trib's Guy Junker, who is one of my favorite Pittsburgh sports personalities. The conundrum facing Huntington does appear to be that he needs to prove himself before Nutting agrees to open the purse strings, as I guess Nutting is too scarred from the past failures, but to tell you the truth, that is no way to run a business. Anyway, no updates on Alvarez right now it doesn't seem.

6:51 Sorry for the delay friends, I just pumped out another Pitt column, so enjoy. Obviously nothing new to report on Pedro, just basically waiting around. Here's Baseball America's scoop on Robbie Grossman:
" A switch-hitter with raw power from both sides of the plate as well as average speed, he projected as a sandwich- or second-round pick but slid because of signability. He had committed to Texas."
Not much of a scouting report I must admit, but that's about all anyone seems to know about him.

7:02 Alright folks, I've gotta run, still nothing on the Alvarez front, sorry to cut it short.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

AFC West Rundown

AFC West Rundown
Over the next week or so, I'm going to churn out one of these Rundowns for each of the 8 NFL divisions, which will be the beginnings of my NFL Preview. As the season gets closer, I will have some more in-depth coverage, including projected standings, and an in-depth Steelers preview. Part 4 of 8 can be found below. Enjoy.

The Chargers are the class of this division, without question. LaDainian Tomlinson continues to be the best all-around back in football, though he could be challenged this season by the amazing Adrian Peterson. It will be very interesting to see how well Phillip Rivers recovers from the knee injury he suffered at the end of last season, and he still remains something of a question mark as a franchise type quarterback. He is in the middle of an incredibly talented offense but questions about his character and his overall talent are still being raised. His main targets will again be the trio of Antonio Gates, Chris Chambers, and Vincent Jackson. Chambers is the consistent top receiver the team had been lacking, and enables Jackson to slide over as a lesser option in the offense, a spot he is much better suited for. The offensive line is the capper to this talented offense, as they are a solid unit led by the franchise tackle Marcus McNeill and sound young center Nick Hardwick. The defensive side of the ball is just about as talented as the offense, which is really saying something. Linemen Luis Castillo and Jamal Williams, linebacker Shawn Merriman and corner Antonio Cromartie are all among the best at their position in the conference, though Williams may be declining, and I personally think Cromartie is overrated because of his ball skills. The rest of the defense is sound enough, and this squad as a whole may be the most talented in the league from top to bottom. This could be a make or break year though for coach Norv Turner as the team's window is definitely closing.

In the second position in the division, the Denver Broncos are a team that is very tough to read for the coming year. They seem to be stuck in the middle of the conference, and are led into this middling position by the solid but unspectacular Jay Cutler who has had health issues of late. Selvin Young appears to be another nice find in Mike Shanahan's stable, but he isn't the franchise back the team once had in Clinton Portis. It's sometimes worth thinking about whether the Broncos have been hurt over the years but Shanahan's smugness and the fact that he has outsmarted himself on too many occasions. The line has faltered in recent years from its once legendary status, but is still among the better units in the league. Losing Rod Smith will certainly hurt, though, and Brandon Marshall being suspended for the first two games (at least) of the season will also damage an already limping passing game. The defense for Denver also appears to be on the down slope, as players like longtime vets Champ Bailey and Dre Bly may not have many years of effectivness left, and outside of DJ Williams and Elvis Dumervil there is little in the way of young playmaking ability at their disposal. All in all, the Broncos don't appear to be any better then 8th or 9th in the AFC, but are still good to enough to be considered well ahead of cellar dwellers. It's a tough spot to be in, and they need to make a definitive move in one direction or the other.

The Raiders are among the most intriguing young teams in the league, which is stunning considering how dreadful they were just two seasons ago. Young studs JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, and Michael Huff all have bright futures on the way, but none are proven entities yet and have room to grow. The Raiders may have hurt some of their natural young progress, though, with the foolish spending spree they went on this past offseason, handing out ludicrous contracts to the likes of Tommy Kelly (inconsistent and injury-prone), Javon Walker (What happened in Vegas didn't stay there), DeAngelo Hall (maybe the most overrated player in football), and Gibril Wilson (a nice enough player, but they paid him like an All-Pro). Still, the Raiders have a ton of natural talent, and if Lane Kiffin, who evidently has zero ownership support, can mold this group and get them pointed in the right direction, this club could be wildly intriguing in 2009, and will certainly be a tough opponent for many squads in the coming season.

The Chiefs appear to be bringing up the rear for the coming year, but like Oakland, they have quite a bit of young talent, and a potentially bright future. The Chiefs were widely praised for their work in last April's draft, and I couldn't agree more. First rounders Glenn Dorsey and Brendan Albert should both be impact starters for this club for a long time, and other rookies Jamaal Charles and Brandon Flowers could both be impact players before long with bright futures. The big issues in KC, besides the need for Larry Johnson to have his workload drastically reduced, is the quarterback position. If there's one beef with the Chiefs offseason plan, it's that the team is still relying on the mediocre Damon Huard and the unproven and equally mediocre Brodie Croyle to helm an otherwise talented offensive squad. Young receiver Dwayne Bowe will help out whoever starts quite a bit, and he is expected to build on a shockingly productive rookie season. Losing Jared Allen from the defense will hurt, but it may have been worth it to further the rebuilding process and keep the team chemistry intact. All in all, this team is moving in the right direction, but they will take their lumps while they build for beyond the coming season.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

AFC South Rundown

AFC South Rundown
Over the next week or so, I'm going to churn out one of these Rundowns for each of the 8 NFL divisions, which will be the beginnings of my NFL Preview. As the season gets closer, I will have some more in-depth coverage, including projected standings, and an in-depth Steelers preview. Part 3 of 8 can be found below. Enjoy.

The Colts have been the class of this division since its inception, and there is little reason to think that will change this year. Sure, the core of the team is aging and Peyton Manning is coming off of offseason surgery, but with their usual undersized, speedy defense, and the pass heavy attack, there’s little reason to think the Colts won’t be in the mix yet again in the AFC contender picture. One potential emerging star this year for the Colts could be WR Anthony Gonzalez who came on towards the end of last season and will be handed the slot receiver spot, one of Peyton Manning’s favorite safety nets on the field. Joseph Addai had another productive year last season, but the team is still expecting more from the third year running back, and he hopes to deliver this season. The O-Line is steady as ever, and youngster Tony Ugoh played admirably last season after Tarik Glenns stunning retirement, and he will be the star of this line before long. On the defensive side of the ball, Bob Sanders remains the best safety, and possibly best defender, in the game. Dwight Freeney has battled continuous health issues, but when he is on the field there are few more dominant players in football. The linebacking corps continues to be wildly undersized, a staple of the Colts for years, but their effectiveness cannot be questioned. And, of course, in close games, they have the ultimate weapon, Adam Vinatieri, waiting in the wings.

If anyone from this division can unseat mighty Indianapolis, it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars. From top to bottom, the Jags just may have more overall talent then their counterparts in Indy, but they continue to have major issues with the wide receiver position, and while David Garrard had a very good first year as the full-time starter, he is certainly not in Peyton Manning’s class, and likely never will be. What makes Jacksonville dangerous, though, is the potent running game they boast. The ageless Fred Taylor was once an injury-prone star in the making who could never make it through an entire season. Now, though, entering his 11th year, you have to wonder if maybe those injuries actually prolonged his career, as he made his first Pro Bowl this past season after a 1200 yard rushing season. Taylor is joined in the backfield by the small but incredibly powerful Maurice Jones-Drew (or MoJo for short). Jones-Drew gives the Jags the best 1-2 punch in football at the running back position, and will be a star when he finally wrests the full-time job from Taylor. As mentioned above, though, the Jags have had terrible luck at the wide receiver position, with several wasted high draft picks and free agent signings. They acquired not one but two career underachievers at this position in the offseason in Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson, and if even one of them pans out, the Jaguars will be ecstatic. Reggie Williams is a solid red zone target, but is mediocre on the rest of the field. The Jaguars defense was weakened by the loss of Marcus Stroud and John Henderson now stands alone in the middle. After failing to nail down a Jason Taylor trade, the Jags instead snatched a pair of pass rushers in the draft in Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, but it is questionable as to whether either is ready to consistently make a difference at this level. CBs Rashean Mathis and Brian Williams may be two of the most underrated players in football. Mathis has garnered some attention as a ballhawk, but Williams may actually be the more technically sound and consistent of the duo. The defense as a whole will still be a major strength for Jacksonville, and they are a team built to win in the postseason with their strong running game. If they can find even one legitimate deep threat for Garrard this could be the most dangerous team in the AFC.

Yes, we all know the old spiel by now about how all Vince Young does is win football games. But, until the ultra-talented young quarterbacks learns to throw the ball consistently enough to be a threat, this team will not be a threat to win in January. With that said, it’s a testament to Young’s ability and skill set that this team is even as good as they have been the last season and a half under his guidance. For whatever reason, the Titans have opted to give Young next to zero weapons at the receiver position, and have insisted on drafting running backs when they have one of the best running QBs in NFL history. Burly RB LenDale White isn’t a threat to break any long runs, but he is a grinder and was effective enough last season to maintain the starting spot. The Titans need speedy Chris Johnson to step up immediately and take some carries away from the plodding White. Ideally, the Titans would probably like to keep White to 12-15 touches a game, instead of the 20 or so he got last season. If Johnson can play, he and White could be one of the most effective Thunder and Lightning tandems in the league. At receiver, young Roydell Williams has shown some promise and could be a scary deep threat if he continues to mature, but that’s a big if. The other receivers and tight ends can best be described as mediocre (and that’s being generous), and it amazes how they expect Young, who has below average passing skills to begin with, to grow as a passer when they give him next to nothing to work with downfield. On the defensive side of the ball, much like an offense, it all revolves around one man, Albert Haynesworth. He was probably the most dominant defender in football a year ago, and is a mixture of both a run-stopping giant and solid pass rusher. It will be interesting to see how Jevon Kearse plays now that he is back in Tennessee. There is no question that Kearse still has the talent to be a difference maker on defense, but he hasn’t been an elite player in years. Keith Bulluck is the emotional leader of the defense and is still a serious playmaker at age 32. The secondary is steady, led by emerging star Michael Griffin and certainly won’t hurt a very solid defense.

The Texans finally saw .500 last season, and they definitely got better once again this offseason, but I don’t think anyone would bat an eyelash to see that record slip just a bit this year. They played a bit over their head last season, and while they did get better in the offseason, the rest of the elite AFC squads got better as well, and their division is either the deepest or second deepest in football, depending on who you ask. Matt Schaub finally got his long awaited chance and was decent when healthy, but that wasn’t really that often. Schaub missed five whole games and parts of three others. He needs to stay healthy and make more progress in his second year as a starter if this team is to get beyond that .500 threshold. Schaub will be assisted by the spectacular Andre Johnson who is among the most talented receivers in football, but like Schaub has had health issues. Kevin Walter had something of a breakout year in ’07, and the team thinks he can be a legit threat opposite ‘Dre. TE Owen Daniels also had a surprising year with 63 catches and is a nice safety valve for Schaub. What isn’t helpful for the offense though is the Texans dreadful running back position. The fact that they are still relying on Ahman Green as a starter tells you everything you need to know about the Texans. Green was washed up three years ago. Backup Chris Brown had a bunch of opportunities in Tennessee but things never worked out for him on a long-term basis. He will steal some carries though, simply because there is no way Green will be healthy or good. The offensive line will not do this running game any favors, either, as they are an average group, but are made mildly intriguing by the hiring of the great Alex Gibbs as the OL coach this offseason. The defense is what makes this team go. Mario Williams may be the best defensive player in a division full of impact defensive stars, and is certainly the most talented around. Amobi Okoye showed signs of being a very good interior lineman last season, and teaming him up with Super Mario could be a terror for opponents for the next decade. DeMeco Ryans is one of the better linebackers in the AFC, an all-around player out of the Derrick Brooks mold. This team has poured money and high picks into the secondary, but so far have not had a ton of success back there. Dunta Robinson is coming off serious injuries after a promising start to last season, so he will be a major question mark. The rest of the defense should help the ailing secondary though, and it will be the defensive side of the ball that pushes the Texans toward respectability ever so slowly.

5 Bold Predictions for the 2008 Pitt Panthers

5 Bold Predictions

By midseason, the offensive line will be very good.
There is no question that the single most maligned unit on the roster coming in to this season is the Panthers’ offensive line. I am here to tell you, however, that things are not nearly as bleak as they may seem. In fact, when you closely examine things, there is quite a bit of talent here, and after the unit is given a chance to jell (perhaps the most important thing for a line’s effectiveness), this could be the best group we have seen in quite some time. Wanny knows the offensive line game well, and he has recruited some real studs at this position, and it is about time we started seeing the fruits of this labor. The interior line appears mostly set, with center Rob Houser and guards CJ Davis and John Malecki. My anonymous source within the program (that’s right I have a source!) informs me that Houser has been excellent so far in camp, and that the coaches are expecting big things from him this season. Davis is a steady if unspectacular veteran of the line who could be challenged by heralded redshirt freshman Chris Jacobson, and John Malecki, a converted defensive tackle, has a real nasty streak and could be an excellent road grader for the run game. The real questions though, are on the outside. Promising sophomore Jason Pinkston looks like he will be given every opportunity to win a starting tackle spot, and I don’t expect the coaches to keep his talent on the sidelines. Pinkston is also a converted defensive tackle, and if he can stay healthy and remain well-behaved (he has had some off-field issues that have been mostly hushed up) he could be an excellent left tackle. The staff is confident he will grow into that role, and the biggest worry is likely opposite of Pinkston, at the probable right tackle slot. Old hand Joe Thomas is on top of the depth chart now, but he has been nothing special thus far and could definitely lose out to either one of two young guns, Lucas Nix and Jordan Gibbs. I would hazard a guess though that Nix would have to be darn near perfect to win that tackle spot and forfeit his redshirt season, as few things benefit a young lineman more than a year to just sit and learn. All in all, this line has as much talent as any corps in the conference, and the key appears to be the play of Pinkston. If he matures into the force many think he can be, Shady will have holes to drive Mack Trucks through and Bill Stull will have all day to sit back and throw.

The tight ends will be just as important to the passing game as the wide receivers.
I know, I know, on the surface this statements seems crazy for the artist formerly self-proclaimed as Wide Receiver U, but here are some things that we know to be true about the Panthers offense right now: 1) They currently consider Dorin Dickerson to be a tight end, even though he is probably the best all-around athlete on the team and is built like a wide receiver 2) The tight end position received more attention then it had in decades last season 3) Bill Stull is an accurate and smart quarterback but does not have great arm strength and will likely look underneath a lot 4) Nate Byham was a highly recruited tight end coming out of high school and had a very good sophomore season, and 5) The Wide Receiver position is nowhere near as deep as we thought it would be, and could even be called the shallowest it has been since Johnny Majors was running things. So, what do all of these things add up to you ask? I say they add up to Nate Byham getting 35 or so receptions, Dorin Dickerson getting 25-30 (as well as some reverses and handoffs as an H-back), and John Pelusi getting 10-15 receptions. So simple math means… 80 receptions for the tight ends? I know it still seems crazy that the wideouts won’t easily outdo that, but also factor in that LaRod Stephens-Howling could be split out in the slot at times as well, and that the backfield is backed full with talent needing carries, and maybe you are starting to see my point. In fact, I even considered making the statement that the tight ends would catch MORE passes then the wide receivers before I realized that was a little TOO bold. Still not biting? Well I’m sure the big reason behind that is skepticism over my fifth claim above, that the wide receiver position is shallow this year (Indeed, I wasn’t too sure myself when my buddy made this claim last week) but do the math. By all accounts, Derek Kinder is still not 100% and may not be ready to play every down in time for the opener, Maurice Williams is long gone, TJ Porter is also injured (though he is expected to be ready for the opener), Cedric McGee has never been anything more than the third or fourth option, and we likely will see at least one of the true freshman duo of Jonathan Baldwin and Audrey Wright get the redshirt, and the other likely will have only a minimal impact. That leaves Oderick Turner as the only sure bet to snag 30+ passes (although I think that Kinder will get there as long as he’s good for at least 9-10 games).

Shady will improve upon last year’s numbers and make a trip on the award circuit this December.
I know that it certainly isn’t bold to say McCoy will go for 1500+ yards and 15 TD’s this year (both of which I think he will reach and surpass), as those are numbers are probably more expectations then bold predictions, but I’m also going throw these predictions out there for the talented tailback. He goes for more like 1600-1700 yards, wins the Doak Walker Award, is named First Team All-America, gets nominated for at least one national player of the year award (though probably not the Heisman unless Pitt wins the Big East), and is the Big East Offensive Player of the Year. I think that qualifies as bold, no?

The Panther defense will be the best in the Big East and avoid any “Paul Rhoads specials.”
Okay I need to explain this one a bit. First, the “Paul Rhoads Special” is the name myself, some friends, and my Dad developed for those games in years past when Rhoads and his defense would be chugging along through the season just fine, ranking near the best in the conference statistically, and then out of the blue, and usually against an overmatched opponent, they would show completely unprepared absolutely crap the bed (Think the Navy game last year or the UConn game from 2006). Under new coordinator Phil Bennett, we should expect much more consistency from our D. As for being the best in the conference, I think that title is well within their reach. They have the spectacular Scott McKillop returning as the heart and soul of the unit, and I fully expect another monster season from him. The defensive line should also be a major strength again this year, despite the loss of the incredibly unlucky Doug Fulmer for the season. Tommie Duhart, Greg Romeus, Mick Williams, and Gus Mustakas will be the anchors on the line, and all are expected to have big years. The secondary is the big question mark, though, but is also the area with the most total talent, as well as the spot with the most people vying for playing time. I think Aaron Berry will grow into a top-flight college corner this season, Jovanni Chappel will be a sound starter opposite him, and Dom DiCicco and Elijah Fields will both have big years from the safety position.

Pitt will beat WVU. Again.
C’mon, it will be Senior Day, the air of invincibility that surrounded the Mountaineers for a few years is most assuredly gone, and I have the Panthers pegged at 9-2 heading into this game, and they could maybe even have a shot at a Big East Title, or at least a share of one. Do they need any more reasons for confidence? I don’t think so.

Monday, August 11, 2008

AFC North Rundown

Over the next week or so, I'm going to churn out one of these Rundowns for each of the 8 NFL divisions, which will be the beginnings of my NFL Preview. As the season gets closer, I will have some more in-depth coverage, including projected standings, and an in-depth Steelers preview. Part 1 of 8 can be found below. Enjoy.

I'm going to save most of my Steeler thoughts for the rest of the blog, and the in-depth Steelers preview coming up in the near future, so for the time being, let's run down the other three squads from the AFC North.

The Bengals are a dangerous team in my personal opinion. Granted they have some of the worst chemistry that you will ever find anywhere, and Marvin Lewis has thus far proven himself to be a below-average coach, but they have so much talent across the board on this roster that if they to have a steadying influence from the top of the organization and if Carson Palmer were able to become a true leader, this team could make some serious waves. Of course, much of their chemistry issues stem from Ocho-Cinco himself, the talented but somewhat overrated Chad Johnson. A real trouble spot for this team though is the running game. Rudi Johnson was awful last season and looks like he may be finished. Kenny Watson is a solid backup but isn't every down material. Their line is solid, anchored by good tackles Levi Jones and Willie Anderson but they can only do so much to get that running game in gear. Defensively they have never developed the way Lewis claimed they would, and his longtime rep as a great defensive coach has been heavily tarnished, to say the least. They do have talent in the form of youngsters like Keith Rivers, Leon Hall, and Robert Geathers, but they likely will stay be plagued by a penchant for giving up big plays at bad times. This team, while still ultra-talented is likely going to struggle to get beyond a .500 record, and you've got to think that this is Lewis' last year at the helm.

The Browns are everyone's chic pick headed into this season, which is why, under no circumstances, would I wager on them to surpass the Steelers for division supremacy. Whenever a bandwagon is THIS full, it's a definite warning sign for anyone who is thinking of jumping on board. Derek Anderson came out of nowhere last season, but it will be very interesting to see how he does when teams are game planning on how to stop him. While he does have excellent weapons around him, you've got to think that at some point, the wheels will fall of Jamal Lewis and while Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards are both coming off great years, they have had issues in the past and still remain something of uncertainties. Much like their Ohio counterparts, the Browns also have had issues with their defense despite a head coach who made his name on the defensive side of the ball. The Browns made a number of moves in the offseason to address this defensive shortcomings, but I'm still not sold. Shaun Rogers has a well-deserved rep for taking plays off, and it really hurt the secondary when the team lost Leigh Bodden to pick Rogers up. I do think that Kamerion Wimbley is in for a bounce back year after struggling through much of last season. With as much talent as the Brownies have on the offensive side of the ball, the Browns certainly can't be dismissed, but now that they are viewed as a legit threat for the first time in years, it will be very interesting to see how the team deals with the new dynamic.

The Ravens are in full rebuilding mode at this point, and if they do the right thing and get Joe Flacco plenty of snaps this season, you can write this year off but the future will be better for it. Early word out of Baltimore camp is also that Willis McGahee may be having injury issues, and that would only further derail their season. The defense will be stout yet again, as Ray Lewis would never allow it to be anything but, and having Ed Reed in the secondary certainly helps as well. Still, the Birdies will be hard-pressed to get past a handful of wins with an offense that figures to struggle mightily until their QB situation is handled.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Random Thoughts From A Sports Filled Day

Some thoughts after a day full of intense sports watching

-I still insist that the U.S. Men’s Basketball team looks vulnerable. Yes, they had success against China, but did you see the game? China stayed in the game in the first half by raining threes, and by all accounts, the shooters on this Chinese team are nothing out of the ordinary. Sure they cooled off because of a lack of depth, which was obviously coming, but what happens when they take on the sharpshooters from Argentina, Italy, Spain, and Greece? I still think that the U.S. will likely end up winning gold, but I’m not convinced they do so unblemished, and I would be very concerned if the U.S. matches up against one of the aforementioned teams in the title game.

-I am absolutely loving having the Olympics back in my life. I’ve never paid as much attention to the Games as I have in these past few days, but I was riveted by last night’s live swimming marathon that included Michael Phelps’ domination in the 400 IM and a number of other American medals (though it was somewhat upsetting to see no other Americans take home the gold). My only complaint? As always with the Olympics and with NBC, they just run too many human interest puff pieces. For instance, I was watching some of the men’s gymnastics last night (hey, I had to throw the girlfriend a bone, and the stuff is mildly entertaining if only for the sheer wow factor of some of the stuff they pull off) and I could see on the large video screen that there were multiple events taking place at the same time (for instance they showed the majority of the rings but I could see guys on the pommel horse that they never televised) and instead of showing us all of these events in a tape delay loop sort of thing, they cut to a ton of commercials, kept a Michael Phelps countdown going, ran puff pieces on the Americans AND even showed a piece on some Chinese gymnast that they had to subtitle! Who in NBC’s market wants to watch an interest piece that A) is about any foreigner and B) has subtitles? That seemed crazy to me. Anyway, here’s hoping things get a little better as the games go along.

-Here’s one thing that I could do without: The constant shots of President Bush whenever he’s in attendance. Look, I do my best to keep politics out of this blog, but why celebrate the attendance of one of the least popular leaders in the history of our nation? Hey George, we appreciate the show of support, but how about you head back to D.C. and try to salvage what’s left of your Presidency over the next few months. Thanks.

-Dwight Howard is an absolute beast that I honestly don’t think anyone in this tournament can stop. The problem is, the U.S. isn’t giving him nearly enough touches inside. You had to see the deer in the headlights look in the eyes of the Chinese team to fully appreciate how good this guy is. He’s faster, stronger, and infinitely more terrifying then anyone else in this tournament.

-I know Dwyane Wade is wildly effective at what he does, but is there anything that makes basketball less watchable then when D-Wade goes into one of his “Hey I’m going to drive to the rim repeatedly, flop off of a big guy and heave up a hideous shot at the rim so that I can draw a foul” spells? I mean, is it any wonder why it’s increasingly difficult for the NBA to appeal to the casual fan? Crap like that makes me want to puke.

-Well, so much for my claim that Byron Leftwich may not want to be a Steeler because of the potentially short-term nature of the job. Of course, I forgot to discount the fact that Leftwich likely was holding up a “Will take snaps for food” sign on the streets of Jacksonville prior to the Steelers calling him. Let’s just hope they keep Leftwich and Casey Hampton away from each other on the off-chance that one challenges the other to an eating contest.

-See what I mean about the PGA Championship? After a Sunday that featured more NFL Preseason stories and games, the U.S.-China men’s basketball game, the Michael Phelps stories, the coverage of the other Olympic Events, and local baseball coverage, the PGA Championship was basically an afterthought.

-That said, for those true fans who watched the thing, there’s no denying that it was quite the exciting finish. I keep thinking one of these days Sergio Garcia is going to come through in a major, but after missing out on yet another chance, I’m beginning to wonder if he isn’t this generation’s Colin Montgomerie.

-I caught an interview with Neal Huntington on the Pirates pre-game show, and some of the highlights of the interview were as follows: He made it sound as if it were a certainty that Tom Gorzelanny will be back up with the Pirates before the end of the season; He also made it pretty clear that Jason Davis may make just this one start for the Pirates today, and that, if not Gorzo, then Ross Ohlendorf could supplant Davis next week; Also on Ohlendorf, Huntington claimed that the Pirates had Ohlendorf’s fastball up around 97-98 MPH last week in Indianapolis, which I find a little hard to believe, but would be wonderful if it were true; When asked by King about the potential of having as many as “10 pitchers competing for starting roles” next spring, Huntington made clear yet again that he was disappointed they were not able to acquire a true potential ace at the deadline, but also pointed out that this will be about double the number of starters the team had coming into this year, and that they will not be forced to stick with anyone who was struggling just because they had no other options (a clear shot at Snell and Gorzo). Just out of curiosity, I took a stab at naming the 10 starters King referred to and here’s what I had: Snell, Gorzelanny, Paul Maholm (who should have a spot locked up), Zach Duke, Ross Ohlendorf, Phil Dumatrait, Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, and… well I’m not sure who the other two are that King mentioned. Maybe Jimmy Barthmaier and Ty Taubenheim? The Notorious JVB? Jason Davis? Useless Herrera? Let’s just call it 8 guys to be safe here Robby. Huntington also talked about the glut of 3B and made clear that the team still thinks Neil Walker has a long way to go before he is major league ready, but that they still view him as a definite top prospect. What was alarming, though, was that, when referring to Pedro Alvarez, he prefaced his statements with a big old IF, as in IF we sign Pedro Alvarez, and IF we are able to come to a deal. I’m not sure if that really means anything, but it’s still a little jarring to here with just 5 days to go until the deadline.

-Not one, but two little league caliber defensive plays by the Bucs in their game today. In the bottom of the third inning of today’s game, the Pirates threw the ball around the infield like a bunch of little leaguers in a downright embarrassing display. Doumit and Davis collided on a bunt attempt by Jamie Moyer, and then when Davis picked it up, he hurled it past the first baseman Doug Mietnkiewicz, who then grabbed the overthrow and whipped it to second base, only to have it deflect off of Moyer while he was standing on the bag, and then go into the outfield and the decrepit Jamie Moyer then limped to third base, and scored moments later on a sacrifice fly, wheelchair and all. Ugh, I had to change the channel after that one. Then, in the bottom of the fifth inning, Brandon Moss ventured over to the foul line, bobbled a fly that appeared as though it would have gone down in foul territory, but Moss dropped it and it fell into fair territory so the ump incorrectly ruled it a fair ball and then Moss, who didn’t realize that he had a potential force out at second, took his time getting the ball back into the infield and missed this other potential out.

-A cute ball girl for the Phillies misses an easy foul grounder in the 4th and is promptly booed. Nothing quite like being a Philly fan, is there?

-Davis’ shocking quality start today now makes 5 in a row quality starts for our hometown PBC, and, despite the bullpen’s untimely collapse, this club continues to show some signs of life after that dismantling at the trade deadline.

-I’m looking forward to what should be an excellent finale to today’s sporting festivities with the Men’s Swimming 400 Freestyle Relay. World Records have been falling left and right in this pool thus far this week, and I think we could be in for another toppling tonight, and let’s just hope it falls in favor of the Red, White, and Blue. Until tomorrow, folks, enjoy the Olympic spirit

AFC East Rundown

Over the next week or so, I'm going to churn out one of these Rundowns for each of the 8 NFL divisions, which will be the beginnings of my NFL Preview. As the season gets closer, I will have some more in-depth coverage, including projected standings, and an in-depth Steelers preview. Part 1 of 8 can be found below. Enjoy.
Division Rundowns:
AFC East
The Patriots are still the class of this division, make no mistake about it. And, with a relatively easy schedule, don’t be the least bit surprised to see them rack up an alarmingly high win total. However, unlike last season, I think this bunch has absolutely no desire whatsoever to make a run at perfection. They saw how badly they were beaten down by the questions and the media hype of a year ago, and, while I think they will run away with the top seed in the AFC, I also think they will be more then happy to slide in at, say, 13 or 14 wins, instead of another extended winning streak. Their secondary continues to be a serious weak spot, but the rest of their defense should be pretty stout, and if Jerod Mayo can make his way into the lineup, I think he could make a definite run at the Defensive Rookie of the Year crown. Offensively, they are as potent as ever, and while I don’t expect Tom Brady and Randy Moss to equal their scoring production of a year ago, I still think they will be the best in the league at their position and that Wes Welker will snag upwards of 80 passes, and Laurence Maroney should also have a nice year and should challenge for 1,000 yards rushing. The Offensive Line, after being pummeled by the Giants D-Line a year ago will still be a vulnerable spot for teams with prolific pass rushers, but Belichick has never met a challenge he didn’t know how to scheme for, and I think that will be less of an issue this season
The Jets made the transaction of the off-season, and the off-season technically wasn’t even in session any longer when they dealt for Brett Favre last week. I’m still not so sure that acquiring Broadway Brett makes this team a playoff team, but they should at least challenge for a spot, and his addition gives them the best of both worlds that they previously had. He has the veteran moxy, leadership, and accuracy of Chad Pennington, while also having more then the arm strength of Kellen Clemens, so he vaults this team from 5 or so wins to probably somewhere around 8-9 wins, and while they have no chance at the AFC East title, don’t be surprised to see them fight for a wildcard spot down to the last weekend. The big key for the Jets, though, will be establishing a solid running game. Thomas Jones was mediocre last season, and Leon Washington does not have every down back potential, but a major upgrade in the offensive line could elevate their running game to a higher level. Favre will also have a better set of receivers then he had in Green Bay, with solid deep threat Jerricho Cotchery and the ageless Laveranues Coles. They don’t have the depth the Packers had, though, so it will be interesting to see if Favre can develop some of these unknowns the way he would develop them in the Bay. Defensively, the Jets are an intriguing team. They certainly have the talent to be a top flight unit, but an eclectic bunch that includes the wildly inconsistent Kris Jenkins, talented rookie Vernon Gholston, dangerous DE Shaun Ellis, steady LB David Harris, and a talented young secondary led by Darrelle Revis has much to prove in the coming year, which the front office has clearly anointed as a playoff or bust type season.
Prior to the Jets bring in Favre, the Bills were everyone’s favorite sleeper team in the AFC. The theory held that, with a steady young QB, a talented and fresh running back, some sound wide receivers, a steady defense, and a manageable schedule, the Bills could rack up 9 or so wins and potentially find a back door into the playoffs. Now, though, they get both Brady and Favre twice, not to mention trips to Jacksonville and Denver, a visit from San Diego and a home game in Toronto. Maybe we all jumped the gun a little on anointing the Bills a sleeper team. Nevertheless, the Bills should be a steady team in Dick Jauron’s third year, but Trent Edwards showed little signs of being the type of QB who can win games for you in his first year, and while those days may be coming, they certainly aren’t here yet. Until then, the team will rely heavily on young Marshawn Lynch, the dangerous Lee Evans, and hope that a very talented defense can play up to its impressive potential. They have one of the best all-around D-Lines in football thanks to the likes of Aaron Schobel, the mammoth Marcus Stroud, and John McCargo, and Paul Posluszny will anchor the middle in the LB corps. Expect the Bills to hang tough with a lot of teams, but unless Edwards makes some unforeseen progress this season, we’re pegging the Bills as still being another year away in a division that just got much tougher.
But hey, at least the Bills are in much better shape than the Dolphins who moved through last season completely directionless, and after doing that spectacular impersonation of an amoeba, they think they’ve found some direction in the Book of Parcells. This time, the Tuna isn’t the coach, and one of his many disciples, Tony Sparano, is instead the man running the show in South Beach. The Fish, following the lead of their Florida counterparts in Tampa, have decided to collect as many average quarterbacks as possible, and have quite the collection at this point. After the signing of the noodle-armed Chad Pennington, the QB competition appears to be over, but with the young Chad Henne waiting in the wings, the young but old John Beck (he’ll be 27 on Opening Day in just his second year!), and the mediocre Josh McCown, if Pennington’s arm troubles hurt the team, there could be a quick hook. The Fins, though, clearly are building for beyond 2008, and will start a number of inexperienced and underqualified players this season in the hopes of picking up a few gems, as Parcells has been known to do over the years.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Fixing the PGA Championship

I spent much of my afternoon at work Thursday reading through Jason Sobel’s Live Blog about the PGA Championship. (Yes I do absolutely nothing all day at work) and it occurred to me that, whether it was because of the NFL Preseason, Favreapalooza 2008, the MLB races heating up, or a Tiger-less field, I had seen almost NOTHING about the PGA Championship this year. And even worse, I myself, a pretty big golf fan, found myself to be more excited for Jason Sobel’s Live Blog (a highly entertaining blog if there ever was one) then for the actual tournament.
I know, I know, Tiger Woods is (channeling my inner generic sports announcer) out with a knee, but this is supposed to be one of the four most important golf tournaments of the year, and yet the one word that seemed to describe the general publics view was: apathy. Probably not quite what the PGA of America had in mind when they cooked this baby up. In recent years, the TV ratings have been slightly up, probably because El Tigre tends to do pretty well in this tournament.
This year though, you’ve got to expect abysmal numbers unless a truly great story emerges (a la Greg Norman at the British Open). All of this brings me back to my original point, which was: What’s wrong with the PGA Championship? As a big golf fan, I can all but guarantee that my following of this event will consist of leafing through Sobel’s live blog and flipping by the tournament over the weekend to peak at the leader board. And that’s coming from someone who considers themselves to be a pretty big golf fan.
So that brings up one logical question: Why is the PGA Championship the ugly stepchild of Golf’s four majors? Well, the Masters is all about prestige and tradition (a tradition unlike any other in fact), the U.S. Open is our nation’s championship and is usually constructed so that the average Joe would shoot roughly 100 over par, and of course, the British Open is the kooky major that involves links, pot bunkers, road holes, natural disaster level winds, and almost always, rain.
As for the PGA, well it has mediocre tradition, the least prestige of any major, and plays moderately difficult but never THAT difficult. In fact about the only thing that separates it from the rest of the non-major tournaments is that it rotates sites every year. And as for prestige, it can even be argued that the PGA may have LESS prestige then some of the WGC Events, and it has even be suggested in the past that perhaps the PGA championship should be removed from major status in favor of the Players Championship.
Now with the topic and question narrowed down, it’s all about finding ourselves a palatable solution, and this is what has vexed the PGA supporters for years. A quick history lesson reveals that the PGA Championship once had a very unique feel to it, as it was a match play tournament until 1958, when it was altered to stroke play. There are a number of reasons given for the change, but the most commonly accepted is that the television era in golf was being ushered in, and TV gurus preferred the stroke play because it meant more players were involved and the final of the tournament was more easily televised when there were lots of players instead of a single match in the final. So, the PGA of America took away the match play, switched to stroke, and because there are only so many good American courses that can host majors, the PGA Championship has essentially become the U.S. Open Lite. And that seems to be the most simplistic reason for the PGA Championship’s impotency.
But fear not, I see a solution, and it’s not the obvious one that oh so many people are expecting to hear.
We have heard time and again that, in order for the PGA Championship to become a popular major on the level of the U.S. and British Open it needs to revert to its old form of Match Play. That, my friends, is absolute nonsense. Sure, there would be the years where Tiger Woods would blow into the final, and maybe even meet up with an equally big name player like the token evil foreigner like Sergio Garcia or the Lord he was born a Gamblin’ Man Phil Mickelson, but the TV networks would have an absolute cow over this idea for fear of a year like this when we could see J.B. Holmes and Charlie Wi in a potential final, the players likely want no part of an extended tournament, and, truth be told, the whole match play in a Major Championship seems a little gimmick-y to me. I mean, sure, as you and your buddies all know, there are dozens of ways to score golf matches, but when it comes right down to it, the one that matters the most and is the best measure is good old fashioned stroke play.
So, then, what could be my possible solution to the PGA Championship’s identity crisis? Easy. Avoid being the U.S. Open Lite by doing the one thing the U.S. Open can’t do… Travel abroad.
I know, I know, the PGA Championship is hosted by the PGA of America, but who says that has to be the way forever? Sometimes change is a necessary evil, and in this day and age of the ever-globalizing sport of golf, isn’t it time we let other countries have a major? After all, PGA does not stand for Professional Golf in America, it stands for Professional Golfers’ Association. If the PGA of America still wants its own tournament in America only, fine, it can have one, but the PGA Championship shouldn’t be restricted to borders, it should be able to go anywhere the PGA name is taken. With this deal on the table, the International Federation of PGA Tours would then be in charge of its namesake, the PGA Championship. The IFPGA (my own little acronym) consists of the Asian Tour (excluding Japan), the European Tour, the Japan Tour, the PGA of America, the PGA Tour of Australasia, and the Sunshine Tour (which is in Africa and takes place mostly in South Africa). We could also throw in the lesser Canadian Tour and the Tour de las Americas as well on the chance that they may develop excellent courses.
Sure, the PGA Championship still probably would not reach the popularity of the U.S. Open and The Masters within the United States or the British Open in the UK, but imagine the incredible popularity such an event could have internationally, and imagine the uniqueness of such an event.
To appease the stodgy folks in the U.K. the PGA would likely have to sign off on staying out of their rotation, but I’m sure the pros would be more then okay with that, and for the most part, I would also encourage the folks at the PGA to steer clear of the U.S. Open venues as well, simply so that they can once again avoid being considered the U.S. Open Lite.
According to a 2007 List compiled by Golf Magazine on the Top 100 courses in the World, there are 23 courses that are outside of the U.S. or the United Kingdom area, and of the U.S. and UK courses, there are several that have never hosted a major either. Popular locations would likely be in the Australia/ New Zealand region, the Japan region, and a few courses across Western Europe, as well as maybe a trip or two to resort locations like the Pete Dye designed Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic (I mean, what golfer wouldn’t love to go there) or the Jack Nicklaus designed Cabo del Sol in Mexico? Plus, imagine the competition in other resort areas (like say the recently developing Mediterranean region) that could draw the interest of the PGA Championship down the line.
I know, I know, the PGA of America will go kicking and screaming into the night when this sucker is proposed, but tell me where I went wrong with this proposal. It likely won’t help the PGA Championship’s standing as the fourth major in the eyes of American fans, but it will instantly become the most popular major among countless foreign fans, and if it helps to grow the popularity of the game abroad, and maybe ups the American TV ratings through good old fashioned curiosity, well, I think the PGA will be okay with that as well. I mean, truth be told, it will surely beat the PGA standing pat with the current format.

What He Really Meant to Say: Frank Coonelly

Frank Coonelly, who has been one of the most fan-friendly and media-friendly team Presidents in sports over the past few months participated in another of his monthly chats in which he fields a handful of questions from the fans and gives (mostly) surprisingly blunt responses. The full transcript can be found here, but we felt that it would be fun to translate what Connelly said into what he REALLY meant, because no one that high up in authority is going to spill all of their beans, right? Without further ado...

jm_bucsfan: Are the Pirates officially in a "rebuilding" mode now?
Coonelly: jm_bucsfan, the Pirates are continuing a "building" plan. That plan includes an aggressive international signing season this past July, an aggressive Draft in the First-Year Player Draft in June and obviously the recent trades we made to secure eight exciting young players who we believe will be an important part of our present and future.
What He Coonelly Really Meant: Uh, are you kidding me? Of course we're in a rebuilding mode. What do you call it when you trade away your best two hitters and your best reliever for a bevy of young players who need at least a few years before they reach their whole potential. But listen, the money we saved? Don't worry, I convinced Bob Nutting to stop sinking that dough into his newspaper business and it will be used to kidnap Scott Boras until after August 15th so that we can negotiate with Pedro Alvarez like civilized people.

schnoah2: It was said that the three-way trade with Boston, Pirates and Marlins that the Marlins said it was your fault, and we said it was their fault ... what really happened?
Coonelly: schnoah2, I am not sure that it is appropriate to attempt to place blame on any club. We ended up making a trade that we were very pleased with, so we don't feel a need to attempt to assess blame. That said, we were in a position in both Boston/L.A. and the Boston/Florida talks in which were dealing with Boston and Boston was attempting to secure from the other teams players that it would send to us.
So in some sense, we were not directly negotiating with clubs with whom we were going to receive players, and that made the negotiations somewhat more difficult. We had targeted two players from the Marlins who we felt we needed to secure in a trade involving Jason Bay. And we had targeted the two Dodgers players we ultimately received.
As I understand it, the Boston/Florida trade was not concluded not because of the players we were seeking but because of the money that Florida was seeking from Boston.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Florida said it was our fault? How dare they. Listen, of the original three team deal between us, The Red Sox, and The Marlins, only the Marlins dropped out because their owner is a worthless penny-pincher who wanted the Red Sox to actually pay him more then Manny Ramirez's salary for the season. How absurd is that? So anyway, we told him them to go to hell, and brought LA in instead.

sonnie11: How does the team plan to use the $20 million-plus it will save by not having Matt Morris, Bay, Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte on the 2009 roster?
Coonelly: sonnie11, We intend to invest budgeted payroll dollars on putting together the best Major League roster that we can assemble. We have nine players eligible for arbitration in 2009, including five players who are eligible for the first time and who all will receive significant raises. We also will, of course, evaluate the free-agent market and determine whether there are players who can help us win in 2009 and beyond.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Well first of all, if you knew your stuff, you'd know that Matt Morris was NEVER going to be here in '09, and that Damaso Marte's option had about as much chance of being picked up as Pittsburgh does to host the 2016 Olympics. But this team has a lot of young players with enough experience that they are close to needing to be seriously paid, which means we need to decide which ones are worth it and which aren't, which means that the trading of some of ML players likely is not yet at an end. As for the free agent market, we won't be very active except to scour the bargain bin for some veteran backups. And we certainly won't be looking for short-term 1 year starters like that idiot Littlefield used to do.

bucsfan69_2: Why do we continue to develop young talent and then send it away when the players are in their prime? Is it solely based on salary?
Coonelly: bucsfan69_2, that is a question that I have been asked on several occasions over the last week. I cannot speak for past leadership, but I can tell you that it is not our intent to develop players so that we can trade them to other teams.
In fact, our plan is to develop premier players and then retain them in Pittsburgh for as long as we possibly can. We concluded that trading Nady, Marte and Bay at this time put us in the best position to build a championship caliber organization as soon as possible. Once we have a Minor League system with the type of depth that a Major League club needs, we won't be in a position where we have to acquire eight quality young players by trading three players over whom we had just 2 1/2 years of control.
In other words, once we have more talent in the system, we will not need to utilize our valuable veteran assets to acquire multiple players in return.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Well, yeah, pretty much. Why spend all this money when we can finish last with or without Bay and Nady. I mean, hey, at least we aren't crazy like the Houston Astros who made deadline deals so that they can contend... and yet they are struggling to stay above us in the standings. We might as well save the money now, get a few decent players in return and sink the dough into signing more of these draft picks.
bay569: Who is up for arbitration on 2009?
Coonelly: bay569, the players are Adam LaRoche, Ryan Doumit, Nate McLouth, Jose Bautista, Denny Bautista, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Tyler Yates and John Grabow.
What Coonelly Really Meant: What am I, your slave? Look it up yourself.

cybixler: Frank, when can we expect to see Tom Gorzelanny back in Pittsburgh?
Coonelly: cybixler, Tom has worked extremely hard in Indianapolis to regain the command and confidence that he showed last year and throughout most of his Minor League career. His last two outings were particularly encouraging. If Tom continues his progress, I believe that we will see him in Pittsburgh sooner rather than later.
What Coonelly Really Meant: After stinking the joint out in Indy at first, Gorzo has gotten a little better in Indy, and is finally showing signs of the player we thought he could be. Albeit, those signs are in AAA. He may be back before the end of the year, but if Karstens and Maholm continue to pitch well, Snell can find his groove (as he has shown some signs of), either Dan McCutchen or Ross Ohlendorf can make an impact up here, Gorzo could find himself fighting for a starting spot with Zach Duke next spring. But hey, at least all this means the notorious JVB will never make another start for the Pirates.

bobkipper51: Will the signing of [top pick Pedro] Alvarez affect the signing of the other unsigned top-10 picks? Your recent interview makes it sound as if Alvarez doesn't sign you'll be able to sign the others, but there's been little said about whether we'll sign the others if Alvarez signs.
Coonelly: bobkipper51, That is a good question. What I said in the interview was that the Pirates would be foolish to meet the unreasonable demands of an agent for one player, because -- among other reasons -- that would make it far more difficult if not impossible to sign other talented selections who we are attempting to sign. If we're able to sign Pedro at a figure that is consistent with the market for drafted players, we will have sufficient resources in our budget to sign several other drafted players we have targeted.
Another fan asked how we were doing on the Alvarez negotiations. We remain confident he wants to become a pro player this year and is excited to start his career with the Pirates. Unfortunately, it appears that the agents for several high choices have concluded that their best deals will come at the 11th hour, in this case late in the day on Aug. 15. That is certainly frustrating for an organization that is anxious to begin the development of a player that we view as a cornerstone moving forward, and I'm sure it is also frustrating for the players whose dreams are to become Major League players and whose progression to the Major Leagues is obviously delayed by such a tactic.
What Coonelly Really Meant:
It sucks being delayed by this B.S. Tactic, which is why I'm trying to arrange for Boras' kidnapping. Keep your fingers crossed for me. Make no mistake, WE WILL SIGN PEDRO! We'll also do our best to sign these other high picks, including these two nuts from Fresno State, the injured one and the one who thinks that it matters at all to us that he pitched well in the College World Series.

gjs867: Why should we sign Maholm long term, after just half a year of good pitching?
Coonelly: gjs867, I'm glad that you asked that question. I am not sure where Dejan [Kovacevic] received information that we had made a decision to offer a multiyear contract to Paul. Paul has been our most consistent starter this year and has demonstrated the type of command and aggressiveness in attacking the strike zone that we are looking for.
I did stress to Dejan that we will be evaluating our arbitration-eligible players and making decisions regarding which players we will approach to discuss signing them to potential multiyear contracts. We have not made any decisions regarding which players we will approach as of yet.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Yeah that was Dejan's bad on that one. It's okay Dejan, I still you, you're still my boy. Doumit and McLouth could both be signed though, he was right about that, so 2/3 ain't bad I suppose.

bucabing: Frank, is there a game plan for the organization to address Jose Tabata's reported attitude issues?
Coonelly: bucabing, the game plan is the same approach that we follow with all of our players in the organization. We expect every player wearing a Pirate or Pirate-affiliated uniform to conduct himself as a professional, and that means playing the game the right way, respecting the organization and respecting the fans that support our organization. [Pirates director of player development] Kyle Stark and his coordinators and coaches do a terrific job instilling these values in all of our young players.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Yeah if he gives us any lip, we're gonna pop him one. No, no just kidding. I mean come on the kid is 19. When you were 19 weren't you getting into all kinds of shenanigans? I know I was. I mean, in case you didn't know, I did got to Penn State, needless to say, I know how to misbehave. And look at me, I turned out just fine. Tabata will grow out of it, and if not THEN we'll pop him one.

77bucco: If you have to wait till the last hour, doesn't that make it impossible to get all of your top 10 [Draft picks] signed?
Coonelly: 77bucco, your question is a good one and that is why we have been working hard to sign well in advance of the last hour all of the players we have targeted.
As you know, it takes two parties to negotiate a contract, and it's been difficult to get the agents to the negotiating table. We will continue to attempt to sign as many as we can between now and Aug. 15 and hope that not all of the negotiations will take place in the last hour.
What Coonelly Really Meant:
Weren't you listening before, we're going to sign as many of these as possible knowing that we will sign Pedro as well.

buccogrl81: With Doumit and McLouth both having a standout year, will you work hard at re-signing them? It would be a shame to lose those two.
Coonelly: buccogrl81, you are certainly right that Doumit and McLouth have been consistent producers all year long and are an important part of our present and future. As noted earlier, both players are eligible for arbitration for the first time following this season. We have said from the outset that -- in the right situations -- we will attempt to lock up our good young players to multiyear contracts that buy out one or more free-agent year. As I indicated earlier, we have not made decisions yet as to which players we intend to approach this offseason, but Ryan and Nate are certainly two strong candidates.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Look, these two are our two best young hitters, and we will do our best to sign these two to 2 or 3 year deals, but we are not about to break the bank for either as they are both still relatively unproven. McLouth's production has mostly come out of nowhere, and Doumit, while we always knew he could rake has been (mostly) healthy for the first time in his career.

cybixler: Frank, you just said the trade of Nady, Marte, and Bay was to put you in the best position to build a championship caliber organization as soon as possible. Back in June, you were quoted as saying you thought the team could compete. Why the flip-flop?
Coonelly: cybixler, I feel like a politician when I say I don't believe I've engaged in a flip-flop. We said at the outset of this year that we wanted to give this team a chance to make a run at the postseason. We did that, but unfortunately our starting pitching has been such that, even with one of the top offenses in the NL, we were not in a position to challenge the Cubs, Brewers or Cardinals for a postseason berth. As our inability to replace injured or ineffective pitchers with quality replacements demonstrated, we need more talent in order to be competitive.
Had we done nothing at the Trade Deadline, we would have continued to be short of the type of talent necessary to be a championship- caliber team. We believe that we accelerated the day when we will return to being a championship-caliber team by adding eight quality players to our system, seven of whom were playing at Double-A or above and four of whom are now playing in Pittsburgh.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Look, how was I supposed to know that our pitching staff would continue to crap the bed? I mean c'mon, we weren't going to contend this year or next with our crop, so it made sense to plan for 2010, right?

gjs867: Why wouldn't we overpay Alvarez?
Coonelly: gjs867, your question sounds like it may have been submitted on behalf of [agent] Scott Boras. We have been extremely aggressive in our efforts to sign Alvarez. We have been so aggressive that even our initial offer could meet some people's definition of "overpaying." We cannot, however, impair our ability to sign other drafted players, impair our ability to sign high Draft choices in 2009 and beyond or impair our ability to sign and retain our good young players like McLouth, Doumit and others, by simply giving every dollar that's available to this organization to one player who has never put on a professional uniform or taken a single at bat at the Major League level.
That would be irresponsible and would hamstring the organization for years to come. Pedro is an extremely talented player who has had a decorated amateur career, and we hope he will have a long and successful career with the Pirates.
What Coonelly Meant: We probably will.
shamtown: What would you say the chances of signing Alvarez are? If we can't sign high end Draft picks because of money, does it make sense to take them?
Coonelly: shamtown, all right this will have to be the last question of the day and, not surprisingly it is another question on the Alvarez negotiations.
It's impossible for me to place odds on our ability to sign Pedro. All I can say is that we very much want to sign him, and we continue to believe that he very much wants to sign with the Pirates. Returning for his senior year at Vanderbilt and coming out into the Draft as a senior with very little leverage or playing independent ball are not particularly attractive options for him, and while the third selection in the draft which we would receive as compensation if we are unable to sign Pedro is certainly a valuable asset, our strong preference is signing Alvarez this year.
We selected Pedro because he was, in our view, the best player available when we selected at No. 2. We believe that we can sign him, and we thought it was critical for us not to take a compromise or "safe" player. This is something that the organization has been accused of doing in the past. Whether this was the approach in the past or not is irrelevant. Our approach is to select the best player available when we Draft and to make every effort to sign him. We have sufficient resources to sign Pedro, consistent even with the escalated Draft values of today.
What Coonelly Really Meant: If I can get this mob contract put out on Boras? Our odds increase exponentially, probably all the way to 99.9 %. Otherwise, I'd say the chances are still very good that we will sign Pedro, probably upwards of 75%, simply because it's best for both parties to get this deal done now. However, any contract we reach with him will likely come very late at night August 15.
Coonelly: Thanks to all of you for joining us this month. We appreciate your passion for Pirates baseball.
What Coonelly Really Meant: Hey, if there are this many of you that care enough to badger me about Pirates baseball in a chat room for an hour, why in the hell aren't more of you at the games? We have promotions!