Friday, March 29, 2013

More Fallout - NFL Free Agency Part Two

More Fallout - NFL Free Agency Part Two
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (3-29-13)

[Part One - The Fallout from NFL Free Agency begins]

The interesting thing about how this free agency period has played out is what is happening to veterans who are still usable players. In years past, these guys would never have been released, let alone be wallowing in purgatory with no one wanting to offer more than a one year deal. But since the cap did not increase very much and all those old contracts which were agreed upon during different times (huge cap increases and huge rookie deals to boot) are getting expensive, teams are running out of room. Jake Long's second contract was for less money than his first. Has that ever happened for a perennial pro bowler before? Players who would normally return for public relations' sake (Ed Reed, James Harrison, Dwight Freeney, Brian Urlacher) are being let go because loyalty is not affordable anymore.

The longer this plays out, the cheaper players will become. In a few weeks time, we may look back at that Mike Wallace contract and scratch our heads at why Miami gave him $30 million guaranteed or why teams jumped on the Paul Krugers and Dashon Goldsons when they could have had someone who was 80% the player for 20% the price.

Miami knew it had to overpay for Mike Wallace. They bought youth, and as you said, no one is paying for old age (veteran leadership) this off season. I don't think its fair to lump all of those veterans together though. And since when did Public Relations (PR) have any bearing on winning? Its all fine and dandy to have great PR, but no one will care or watch your team if they suck. Winning sells in life and the NFL. Winning comes with its own great PR and in the case of Ed Reed, the Ravens capitalized on the optimal time to cut ties with a diminishing return. They're the champs and have all the PR they need. On the flip side, James Harrison is a beast and the Steelers will regret letting him go. Same for Brian Urlacher, the Bears will regret that decision. He has a TON to prove and will do so admirably. I can't say the same for Dwight Freeney. He'll do well, but cutting him isn't the end of the world for the Colts.

What has shocked me is how quickly teams are snatching up the skill position players who were let go. Who needs Brian Urlacher anyways, lets go get ourselves a backup running back. The Titans signed Shonn Greene. Thanks for taking him off our hands! The Steelers signed Plaxico Burress. That won't end in good PR. What's appealing about these guys? And why is everyone ripping the teams who are letting them go? This brings me to the Jets. I am going to be the first, and possibly only, person to applaud their off season so far.

The New York Jets sucked last year. They sucked the year before too, but had the nice PR buzz of back to back AFC title games to cover up the smell. So what do you do with a crappy team? You tear it down and wave goodbye, piece by piece. I applaud their efforts to this end so far. Shonn Greene was an above average running back, but uninspired on the Jets. This team needs speed in the backfield and he was not the man for that job. They let countless other 'veterans' walk out the door and brought in a key veteran at quarterback, their black eye of a position. David Garrard has a lot to prove, so who better to spark Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow into proving their own value. One of them is bound to recapture their past potential. I understand your skepticism, but with the ninth pick in the draft the Jets are positioning themselves for future success.

Now back to the league at large. There is always turnover year to year, but until the draft happens in April, I'm not ready to crown anyone the next great team to go from worst to first. Teams like the Cowboys, usually loud this time of year, have been surprisingly quiet. What are you planning Jerry? This thing is just getting started.

Free agency is indeed just getting started. There are still dozens of players available who can make a difference for a team on the threshold of the playoffs. But haven't we learned anything about this league? Teams make 'The Leap' for no reason whatsoever. The off-season winners rarely translate, like Philadelphia of recent fame. People's favorite sleepers do not materialize; hello Carolina. And big leaps in wins are generated almost arbitrarily based on who stays healthiest and gets the best play from their quarterback.

Even more so than free agency, the draft does a good job of filling us in on who will make strides towards greatness. The problem is that we do not find out who wins a draft until years later. The only thing made immediately evident is when teams mess up, like Cleveland last season. Kansas City this year has a chance to make a pretty nice leap towards playoff contention. We won't find out if the draft helped them until much later, but we might know right away whether they screwed it up and set themselves back a season or two.

You're ability to abstain from having any real opinion here is impressive. I agree that Free Agency is mostly hype and while you choose to ignore it, I see it in reverse. The GREAT free agent signings are truly the ones you mentioned, the ones that don't make headlines, because offensive and defensive lines win championships. The signings that make the headlines should be viewed in reverse. Name me one big free agent signing that pushed a team to a level they weren't already at. Do it. I dare you!

There is always the exception, but the rule here is that off season spending, unlike in basketball and baseball where one or two guys can swing a division, is just for fun. If I was a betting man, I'd bet against the big spenders. Hence my view of the Dolphins and Titans. Neither team was good last year, both average at best. Yet now they've made a leap? Did they get a new coach that I'm unaware of? How about a new quarterback? No. Then no leap for you.

Final fallout for me from this free agency frenzy, the NFC East has been unbelievably quiet. I know I said it earlier, but all the teams were good last season and a key play-maker would help any one of them. The Giants resigned a few guys and are struggling to resign a few more, the Cowboys resigned a few guys too, but keeping your existing talent is hardly a headline. What gives? This division is glam and slam, at least it use to be. Come on Jerry, don't let Dez Bryant have all the headlines!

One big free agent signing pushed a team over the top just last season. The Seattle Seahawks signed quarterback Matt Flynn to a huge, new contract, after seeing him have just one impressive start at the end of the prior year. This certainty at the QB position allowed Seattle to then draft a building-block signal-caller in the middle rounds of the NFL draft, someone they knew would not need to start right out of the gate. This man, Russell Wilson, then went to start right out of the gate of course and brought Seattle to the playoffs. Without the Matt Flynn signing, Seattle would have felt the need to draft a quarterback earlier, one they thought could start week one. Instead, they waited to get the man they wanted for the future and he...started week one...okay yeah this is a lackluster example. Big name free agent signings NEVER work out! That's why I said it is pointless to make team predictions off of March movement.

I disagree about the NFC East though. Sure this division is not the cream of the crop it has been in years past. The Eagles struggled mightily; the Cowboys and Giants both took steps back. But just because this division is not making headlines doesn't mean they aren't making moves.

The Redskins have been very quiet this month, but their team rests on the health of their young quarterback. And they cut DeAngelo Hall, which is probably a bigger addition by subtraction than any signing could have been.

The Cowboys made some under-the-radar moves, which is a good thing for them. Being on the front page doesn't directly translate to wins, as Jerry Jones is finding out. Bringing in players like Ernie Sims, Justin Durant and Will Allen on short-term, low-risk contracts is a net positive for Jerry's World.

Philadelphia made a boatload of changes this off-season. They let a number of talented players who underachieved for them go: Cullen Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha. Meanwhile, they added more pieces than they lost with the additions of versatile back James Casey, Patrick Chung, Kenny Phillips and Cary Williams in the defensive backfield, and Connor Barwin in the linebacking corp. The Eagles have already had a very active off-season before the draft has even taken place.

And the New York Giants have made many smart moves, as GM Jerry Reese has become known for. They had to release a bevvy of useful players because of cap reasoning. It would have been nice to bring back Chris Canty, Osi Umenyiora, Michael Boley, Martellus Bennett and others. However, they simply could not afford to. The Giants ended up having over 20 players become free agents. To overcome the losses, the front office did their homework to acquire cheaper options who should contribute. With the likes of Dan Connor and Brandon Myers being added to fill gaping holes as well as the Giants bringing back key players on the offensive line, the team is in great shape as long as Victor Cruz does not get scooped up by another team as a restricted free agent.

Sure these weren't the most newsworthy moves. But as we've said, the moves that were making news were stupid. There is no football league where a Shonn Greene signing should be worth mentioning. Nothing against him, but he kind of sucks at being an NFL-caliber starting tailback.

Monday, March 25, 2013

NFL Free Agency Fallout: How Insane was that? - Part One

NFL Free Agency Fallout: How Insane was that? - Part One
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (3-25-13)

March Madness is in full swing, but the real drama in March is NFL Free Agency! Its time to talk free agency fallout, and this year its like the sky is literally falling on some teams, while others are floating up to heaven.

Free Agency began on March 12th. I want your instant reaction to the insanity that took place over those first 48 hours. The initial bombing raid, if you will, that has left the NFL in complete shock and recovery mode two weeks later.

That was quite a flurry, wasn't it? The NFL is definitely better than any of the other sports at drumming up interest around free agency movement since so many quality players get cut every year. This is directly related to the fact that contracts are not all guaranteed and teams often bring back their own players on new deals, but still. We never get to see anything like this in basketball or baseball where teams cannot afford to release players underperforming their deals.

A funny thing that developed though is who made news in those first few days. A lot of good players switched teams, but not all of them were headline worthy according to...somebody. The big names were all at skill positions, offensive players. I don't know why I expected anything less, but I had to actually do some hunting to learn about the other quality players moving around.

Who we did hear about were the wide receivers and the running backs, and there was a lot of movement in those two departments. It is certainly fun to learn who moved where, for fantasy purposes mostly. But I am not sure these moves have as much football weight as some of the other positions. Other than perhaps Reggie Bush, Wes Welker or the top guys at each spot, the rest are just names we know but impacts we will probably forget.

Instead, the real meat of free agency happens between the tackles on offense and on the other side of the ball. Jake Long signed with the Rams, providing aid to a seriously depleted unit; Will Beaty and Phil Loadholt returned to their respective teams, while Jermon Bushrod and Gosder Cherilus did not. On the defensive side, Adrian Wilson went to the Patriots; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie went to the Broncos; Connor Barwin moved to the Eagles while Cullen Jenkins moved to the Giants. These moves (along with many others) should have headlined free agency ahead of Shonn Greene or Rashard Mendenhall news.

There are a ton of players who still remain unsigned, but taking a quick scope of things overall, it seems like the Patriots made out pretty always. They lost Danny Woodhead but upgraded that spot to Leon Washington. They lost Wes Welker but stood firm by adding Danny Amendola. Patrick Chung left the defensive backfield but the Pats filled that hole with the addition of Wilson while also bringing back Kyle Arrington and Aqib Talib.

On the other hand, the Baltimore Ravens managed to lose player after player from their Super Bowl squad, and haven't really done much to replace them. Ray Lewis and Anquan Boldin are gone. It appears as though Ed Reed is too. Cary Williams, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Ma'ake Kemoeatu all left as unrestricted free agents while Bernard Pollard and Dennis Pitta may too move on through different means.

But, on the plus side, they made Joe Flacco the highest paid player in the history of the sport. So there's always that ($$$).

The NFL is definitely great television, no matter if games are being played or not. I must insert a caveat however, I'm SICK and TIRED of hearing EVERY SINGLE ESPN correspondent's opinion on the EXACT same story. I mean seriously, what the hell? You mean to tell me that the guys from Numbers Never Lie, Sportscenter, First Take, Mike and Mike and NFL Live all want to discuss how Revis Island may get traded? Or how Wes Welker is now a Bronco? Come on ESPN, if I learned anything out of this flurry of NFL news its that you're their bitch. I love the updates, but find something else to talk about. I can't listen to the same story and opinion all day long. I'm going to turn the channel.

But enough about ESPN. The NFL is what's really in upheaval, or at least that's what they want you to think. Besides the unparalleled gutting of the Baltimore Ravens, not much has changed. I'll address the Ravens first. They were old. They muscled out a Super Bowl championship and now they're getting younger. Flacco aside, he's now doomed to go down as the worst signing in Raven's history, they aren't paying for old guys and will slide gracefully into a rebuilding year.

Otherwise, like you noted, many MANY players have switched teams. The Broncos are better with Welker, the Seahawks are better with Percy Harvin and the 49ers are still very very good. The Patriots have also remained atop the AFC. What's changed? The teams that were good last year have made moves to keep them that way. Teams that were bad, like the Jets, are actually making the smart decision to get younger and dump as many of the players that made up their crappy team as possible.

I will call out the Dolphins as the lone exception here. Much like the Redskins in years past, they have managed to vastly improve their team on paper. I call BS. This is still a slightly above average team fighting for its life in a division with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. They'll be lucky to win nine games next year.

Friday, March 22, 2013

More What ha... happened? - March edition

More What ha... happened? - March edition
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (3-22-13)

[Monday's What ha... happened?]

We scour the internet for crazy sports photo and someone must try to explain it. Seesaw Sports asks what ha... happened? Monday: opening statements. Friday: rebuttal.

Real photos. Real results. But what in the heck happened?

I present to you the following:

Photo: Baseball in the face!

Title: "Don't mess with the Philly Phanatic."

Description: Its not enough that the Phillies stink, or that their fans are incessant booing machines. Now the Philly Phanatic, their beloved mascot, has turned on the team as well. Baseball in the face!

Was it the mascot, or something more sinister? You tell me, what ha...happened?

The baseball comes at the batter, Mr. Jimmy Rollins, from a very odd angle here. If it had come from the pitcher, it would have struck him in the ear hole. If it had come from the catcher, it would have struck him in the back of the head. But no, the ball makes contact square in the face, seemingly coming from the stands between home plate and first base. What!

This is the key factor in deciphering what happened. Some pictures are hard to pinpoint, but Jimmy Rollins getting hit in the face with a baseball is almost self-explanatory: One of the aforementioned booing machines, as you so aptly named them, threw it at him! Go Phillies!

Most fans at baseball games try to collect foul balls for an autograph or to give to their child, or something heartwarming like that. Not Phillies' fans though. Oh, hell no. They scoop up foul balls with one thing in mind and that's who to throw it at later. If the owner's box was at field level it would be protected like the Pope-mobile, but since the booing machines can't peg the owners with foul balls, only the players are left to choose from.

Jimmy Rollins is an obvious choice to get hit in the face. He's a player Philadelphia should be cherishing as his career winds down, but instead is getting turned on because he isn't as good as he used to be, or as good as they want/need him to be. Thus: Smack! Ball in the face.

Sorry Jimmy; former league MVPs deserve better. I hope your nose is okay.


Monday, March 18, 2013

What ha... happened? - March edition

What ha... happened? - March edition
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (3-18-13)

The internet is scoured for a crazy sports photo and someone must try to explain it. Seesaw Sports asks what ha... happened? Monday: opening statements. Friday: rebuttal.

Real photos. Real results. But what in the heck happened?

I present to you the following:

Photo: The Awesomest Soccer thing that has Ever Happened

Title: see above

Description: ditto

Since this is a soccer photo, I retain the right to suggest this man is possibly in mid-flop...which would certainly scar the awesomeness of said pic. However, the future has no bearing on the past.

So, what ha...happened?

Wow. I'm impressed. This photo not only has a man diving head first into the ground, but also the same man has fully extended himself so as to kick his opponent square in the face. Soccer is brutal! Or is it football in this instance? Whatever.

This is what happened. We all know how prideful international soccer players can be. Well let's just say missing a header is pretty embarrassing, I would know.

Yellow player whiffed on his header and went to the ground with it to cover things up. About halfway down he realized A) He was about to smash his head into the ground and be knocked out, and B) His opponent, the Red player, had an open shot at the ball. Initiate leg extension and face kick sequence. The result, a perfectly formed soccer triangle of yellow, red and green. That's what happened.

Friday, March 15, 2013

All out AL East 2013 Baseball Preview - Part Two

All out AL East 2013 Baseball Preview - Part Two
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (3-15-13)

[Part One - Fantasy picks & AL East]

Umm, wow, where do I begin? You're right about one thing, one run games are a sure fire way to an inflated or deflated record in baseball. However, you are DEAD wrong on the Orioles. They didn't just win one run games last year, they won games period. But assessing the Orioles record in 2013 is not merely about assessing them as a team, but assessing the other competition in the AL East. The Orioles have a well balanced lineup, Matt Wieters anyone, manipulated by a tremendous manager in Buck Showalter. Their pitching staff was decimated by injury last season and still managed to be great. They'll have both Zach Britton and Jason Hammel back at full strength. Don't tell me they aren't still a force.

But as to the real reason they finish second this season, the rest of the division just isn't any better save for the Rays. The Rays are a better version of the Orioles. Otherwise, the Blue Jays will do okay but are attempting to play the Yankees' game. The Yankees, all be it older, will play it better. And the Red Sox, come on. How can they finish ahead of the Orioles? They barely fielded a team last year, and last I checked, have done next to nothing to improve over the winter.

You conveniently left out your division standings. Afraid to put it on paper?  Man up.

Actually, I hate to pull the "facts" card out on you like this, but the Orioles whole playoff berth was on the back of winning one-run games and pretty much nothing else. They went 29-9 in one-run games. That is the best mark in baseball history since the turn of the century; the century in question being 1900!!

If they were simply above average in one-run games, say a .600 winning percentage, pretty damn solid, they would have finished with seven fewer wins and missed the playoffs by a healthy margin. Their entire fluky season was built on fluky wins and a fluky bullpen.

It is true they have some young pitching but no one in their rotation is anything more than a third starter. Who is Baltimore's ace, Wei-Yin Chen?? As for their lineup, they have a few good hitters, some young talents and a nice mix of power and speed...which probably means they have the fourth best lineup in the division. Come on, this is the AL East we're talking about!

You actually think they're better than the Red Sox? Boston still has Ellsbury and Pedroia and Ortiz. They added Victorino, Stephen Drew, and lots of power in Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes. As long as the starting rotation isn't below replacement level, this team will finish multiple games ahead of Baltimore.

Speaking of, I'm not one to back away from a prediction that no one will remember anyway unless I remind them of it because I nailed it on the head. So here is how the AL East will shape up this season:

(1) Tampa Bay
(2) New York
(3) Toronto
(4) Boston
(5) Baltimore

I love LOVE your faith in the Yankees to finish in the two spot and I obviously agree about Tampa Bay, but I never ever pick against the eye test. Baltimore passed the eye test last season with flying colors. Throw your history making stats out the window for a moment and watch them play. Now go watch Boston. No contest. Boston may have improved, and on paper they sound like a pretty formidable opponent, but the eye test doesn't lie. Baltimore is better and a lot better than you think.

You make my Baltimore pick seem like a shot in the dark, akin to picking the Mets to make the playoffs or something equally as absurd. Any truly surprising teams this season? Who will be this season's Orioles and who will be this season's Pirates? Both had monster first halves in 2012, but only the Orioles were able to hang on for the full 162.

The Pirates for 2013 will be the Cleveland Indians, strong from April until July, but ultimately on the outside looking in come September. They added some nice hitters to the lineup, but the team is just average. Our season's Orioles will be the Milwaukee Brewers. I know they were good a few seasons ago, but the team is very different now and will once again make a run into the wildcard.

The Indians is a very nice choice for this year's Pirates. They have a lot of talent on offense and some upside pitchers. This team is probably more talented overall than the Pirates were a season ago. But playing in the American League should certainly help see a second half decline here. I like that pick or their divisional foe, the Kansas City Royals. KC has even more talent than Cleveland does. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that their young hitters get off to a hot start and their veteran pitching staff does the rest. Of course there is little upside to a rotation of Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, Bruce Chen and Wade Davis, even with James Shields as the default ace; hence the second half collapse.

I can't get on board with your Brewers pick though. Not because they have no shot at contending for a wildcard; but because this team is too good to qualify as the 2013-version Orioles. Forget about Ryan Braun (AKA the number one fantasy player in baseball), Aramis Ramirez or the bats. Just look at that pitching staff. Yovani Gallardo is an All-Star candidate. Plus, Mike Fiers and Marco Estrada are solid starters. Baltimore won on the backs of a bullpen, a wing, and a prayer. Milwaukee deserves better.  The real Orioles run of this season will be made by the San Diego Padres.

All of the Padres' pieces fit:
- They have an underrated lineup; Chase Headley had a breakout season last year; young bats like Yonder Alonso and Cameron Maybin are ready to make a leap; and they have lots of speed to create trouble for opponents.

- They have an awful starting rotation; their "ace" is Edinson Volquez. According to baseball-reference's WAR stat, he's had only one season in his career worth more than one win and that was back in 2008 as a member of the Reds. So, other than 2008, there hasn't been a single season where he was more than one win better than a scrap heap, replacement schlub. In other news, he walked 105 batters last season.

- They have what should be a fantastic bullpen; Huston Street is a stud closer. Alongside him, Luke Gregerson is one of the best setup men in baseball. With Joe Thatcher and Dale Thayer, San Diego's late-inning army should be hard to score upon.

Also throw in the fact that San Diego will probably be predicted to finish last or fourth in the NL West this year and the parallels are perfect. Watch out National League; your day of reckoning is upon us!

Go Yankees!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Fantasy Baseball and AL East 2013 Preview - Part One

Fantasy Baseball and AL East 2013 Preview - Part One
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (3-11-13)

Pitchers and Catchers have reported. I know for you east coasters this is probably the first real sign of spring. Yay for you! Here on the left coast it means we can start talking fantasy baseball and season expectations. As a transplant to Los Angeles I take every opportunity too see our Yankees play out west. This season they visit both the Dodgers and the Angels. Kick ass! But now for something tangible. A la the Coors Light Cold Hard Facts, I propose two cold hard truth based questions.

First, who goes number one in the Fantasy Baseball draft? Or, for people who like to have more fun and play in an auction league like us, who goes for the highest price?

Second, kick off our 2013 AL East preview and tell me who finishes with a better record, the Red Sox or the Yankees?

Your first question is an interesting one. It almost comes down to the owner's personality. Do they want to go safe and reliable or take the riskier player? There are really only three options and anyone who throws in a different player is mentally unstable. The only three options for the top price in a fantasy draft are Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun or Mike Trout.

Miguel Cabrera is the safest play. All his hitting numbers will be massive; you know what you are getting.

Ryan Braun is probably the most likely to go first here because of the speed advantage he has over Cabrera. Where Cabrera will steal almost no bases, Braun has double digit steals every year, which is not something to be overlooked. All his hitting numbers will most likely fall just below Miggy everywhere else but not by much and not guaranteed. Braun is good enough to finish tops in the league in pretty much anything other than steals.

Which is where Mike Trout comes in. Trout may very well finish number one in steals. The other numbers are where the questions lie. Will he repeat that batting average and (more unlikely) all that power? If you're a believer in those categories, there is no way Trout would go anywhere but first. But, as fantasy is all about likelihood and minimizing risk, Trout is probably not going to be on the level of Cabrera or Braun in the power numbers or the average.

Does that help to not answer your question even remotely?

I suppose if it were me, I would take Ryan Braun first. Give me the safer bat with the added speed dimension even though the pick doesn't seem as fun as taking either of the other guys. Plus, who wants to root for Braun after all this PED business? ...Gah, picking first would be hard. I might rather have the third pick in a snake draft and let someone else decide.

The Yankees versus Red Sox is not an easy question either. Looking at it from a wider scope though, give me your predicted AL East finish, first through fifth. All five teams have talent and potential. I would really not be surprised by any order you give...with one exception. I know who is finishing last.

What a total cop out on both questions, but at least you selected your top pick. I was on edge for a moment before I saw you included Mike Trout in your top three and I understand why you take Braun first. But come on, Mike freaking Trout will be featured in a line up including Josh freaking Hamilton and Albert freaking Pujols. Power numbers will pail in comparison to RBI, On base %, Runs Scored and Steals. He is hands down the number one selection and highest priced draft choice.

Oh hmm, I wonder who nabbed Mr. Trout in our keeper league last year in a trade for the ages. That's right, I got him at a $30 steal for as long as I damn well please. He's the top pick.

On to the real thing, actual players participating to account for wins and loses. You may know who is finishing last in the American League East, but here's how the entire division stacks up top to bottom, one through five, playoffs through beer and fried chicken. I'll even throw in the number of games back to paint a clearer picture.

1. Tampa Bay Rays

2. Baltimore Orioles (2 GB)

3. New York Yankees (4 GB)

4. Toronto Blue Jays (5 GB)

5. Boston Red Sox (10 GB)

I'm not buying the Blue Jays. Every year they do their darnedest to make a splash over the winter in free agency. This year they did quite well on paper, but games are played April through September. Time will prove me right. I envision the Yankees in the Wildcard play-in game, ultimately making the playoffs that way. The Red Sox finally have a real rebuilding year and the Rays and Orioles continue to prove youth means more than the size of your paycheck.

I'm glad you took the time to write out your full AL East division standings with the amount of games back each team will finish. This makes it much easier for me to pinpoint how and why you're an idiot!

Really, this whole division comes down to one team: the Baltimore Orioles. Last year, they caught everyone off guard and had a miraculous season. Do you know where the term "miraculous" comes from? It's from the root world "miracle" meaning an act of a freaking higher power was needed for that to even come to fruition. The Orioles were the biggest bunch of fluking flukers who ever fluked in 2012.

Their whole season was built on winning one-run games, a statistic so fluky in and of itself that teams' records in one-run games year to year have absolutely no bearing on the team's success in subsequent seasons. They also hinged all their pitching on their bullpen arms since their starters were not even that good a year ago. Guess what we know about bullpen arms, especially middle relief pitchers? They are the flukiest position in sports, right ahead of field goal kickers in football. There is almost no correlation between a middle reliever's prior season and his current season's success rate. Remember when Luke Gregerson and Matt Thornton were the best arms in the game? Of course you don't because it only lasted one season! Hey Pedro Strop? Get ready to join this group.

There is LITTRALLY (said in the Rob Lowe as Chris Traeger voice) no way the Baltimore Orioles do not finish in last place this season, no way. Their lineup is average; their starting pitching is worse than that and their bullpen is coming back to earth faster than that meteor that hit Russia. What other facets of the game are there? Where is this team good?

[Todd's rankings, predictions and more on Friday]

Friday, March 8, 2013

Where has all the Madness Gone? - March Madness Part 2

Where has all the Madness Gone? - March Madness Part 2
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (3-8-13)

[Part One]

Let's see how your Final Four stacks up against my own from January. I will say, I may have jumped the gun a bit on my picks, but there's no going back now! Here they are:

Todd's Final Four - Missouri, Michigan, Ohio State, Syracuse
Dan's Final Four - Duke, Texas, NC State, Syracuse

I have a feeling we both may have missed on Indiana. I also enjoyed listening to Colin Cowherd talk about how overrated the Big 10 is this year. They so are! He made a strong case for St. Louis and Gonzaga as dark horse picks as well, which I love. I'm sticking by my predictions though. Never bet against Duke.

I can't help but feel much of the drama is sucked out of the tournament this season though. Where is the hype? What happened to the anxiety surrounding bubble teams? This years tournament crop is being shunned by ESPN and the like. What gives?

I want so badly to love March Madness, but its getting harder and harder each year as hardly any of the best players from last year are still around to watch. I'm not knocking them for hitting up the NBA, but damn has it hurt the casual fan here. My Boston University Terriers (Go BU! BC Sucks!) barely sniff the tournament, let alone win anything and your Virginia Tech Hokies get their bubble burst annually it seems. Where do we go from here? I want to get excited about it again!

I hate listening to Colin Cowherd because everything he says is simply for the sound bite. There's no logic or sense in his words. Really, the Big 10 is overrated? Michigan is undefeated against teams out of their conference this year. Indiana only has one loss to non-Big 10 schools. Illinois and Minnesota were flying high before their Big 10 schedule kicked in; they each have only one out-of-conference loss and are now getting beaten up by their Big 10 peers. This conference probably has seven of the top 30 schools in the country.

And he likes St. Louis and Gonzaga as dark horse teams?? St. Louis garnered 675 votes in the AP poll this week (reported by Sports Illustrated), meaning they are ranked as the 16th best team in the country, AKA a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If they lost in the first round of the Big Dance, it would be an UPSET! And Gonzaga? Is he serious?? Gonzaga is number one in the nation right now! They are going to get a one seed if everything stays like it is. A ONE SEED!

For the uninitiated, i.e. people who listen to Colin Cowherd, a one seed is favored to make the Final Four. If they do not, someone upset them!

A dark horse team? Really, Colin? Nice picks. My sleeper is Florida; they're way down at 11th this week in the national rankings.

As for your concern about the drama being gone, it really has a lot to do with four-year players being non-existent but also that everyone on top keeps losing this season. The perennial powers are still playing very well (Indiana, Michigan State, the aforementioned Duke) but the elite school (singular) doesn't exist. There is no one for other teams to target on their schedule. No one is running away with the season. No school is separating themselves from the rest of the country to make a huge storyline. Everyone at the top is just kind of playing reasonably well, ho hum. The good thing is that this should make for a wide open and exciting March Madness.

Really the only way to get back to what you once had, where you can be excited about seeing certain players and knowing rosters around the country is to play a simple game: Get to know your Freshmen.

There are a ton of amazing freshmen this season: Marcus Smart, Ben McLemore, Shabazz Muhammad are just a couple that pop into my mind. The game has swung young, kind of like the NBA, since one is a cause of the other. Huge college basketball fans these days follow high school recruiting and Rivals rankings of incoming freshmen. Rather than perusing last year's All-Conference teams to find out who will be good for an upcoming season, it is time to thumb through lists of the best recruiting classes. That is where the game has gone.

Colin Cowherd is tremendous and a great prognosticator. Perhaps his excellence at predicting games and outcomes is due in part to his sleepers actually being top teams to begin with, just ones we're talking about a bit less than the others. But his record stands and he is pretty awesome at making picks. Hold your tongue when St. Louis faces the Zags in the Sweet Sixteen. And what makes him great IS that he's polarizing, says what no one wants to hear, and yells at idiots for over played opinions. I could go all day.

Back to the game at hand. What you're saying is that college basketball is becoming more and more like college football. This is definitely a good thing for its overall success and popularity. Getting people interested in recruiting classes and high school standouts is a positive if it works. I'm calling BS. Football is leaps and bounds ahead of basketball in popularity and interest. The NFL draft is amazing to follow even if the show is lackluster. And this all trickles down into college and National Signing Day being a huge deal. I don't know any of those guys, but I now know which teams are on the up and up in the sport. The problem for college basketball starts with the NBA. The NBA draft stinks. It is god awful! Before it even starts you know basically who the top five picks are, and beyond that who cares. Its just a bunch of complimentary players or bench guys. Teams are smaller and its a star driven league. All the stars are in the top five, top ten max in the draft. If I don't care about the draft, then why do I care about college basketball or its equivalent to National Signing Day? I don't, and its hard to imagine a situation where I do care.

The NBA is putting on a great product right now and I think March Madness will be interesting. But as an outsider to the college game, I see no way I garner any interest in a tournament team outside of my Alma-mater. Yes, yes, I can play the simple game of getting to know my freshmen. But that's what the NCAA tournament use to be for. Now they want me to watch regular season college basketball. Not happening. Sorry.

The last thing I'll say on Cowherd, because he deserves even less time than we're giving him right now, is that if St. Louis and Gonzaga do meet in the Sweet Sixteen, it won't even be that surprising! They are both top 20 teams! Maybe he just doesn't understand what "sleeper" means.

You're right about the NBA draft. But it seems to me that should help aid your frustrations, not exacerbate them. Only the top five or so guys matter because it is a star driven league, sure. But 80% of those top five guys might be freshmen this season. It is even more paramount that you follow signing day and recruiting classes in basketball because one guy can shift an entire team's fortunes. That usually is not the case in football. So by seeing who nabs the top recruits, you'll have a pretty good idea of what teams might make a leap into contention during the season, and also have an eye on who will go near the top of the NBA draft. The turnaround on that information in football takes two or three years wherein basketball it all happens in one season! This should make it all easier and more exciting to follow. You just have a mental block against college basketball. That's on you. Don't blame the game!

As for the Big Dance, its always exciting just because of the built-in drama. Whether you know any players involved or not, the games are heart-pounding and you learn about stars (both freshmen and small-school seniors) during the tournament games. I guess your real problem is around this time, early March, where the tournament hasn't begun yet but you know nothing about the national teams and cannot dutifully fill out your bracket with any semblance of first hand knowledge. Sucker! This, I am sorry to say, is again, on you. Good luck with your bracket though.  That was sarcasm, just to be clear.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Madness of March is Here! Or is it? - Part One

The Madness of March is Here! Or is it? - Part One
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (3-4-13)

This has been one of the most wild college basketball seasons in my adult life. Top five teams are getting bounced week after week; the rankings have almost become irrelevant or added encouragement for the underdog, depending on how you look at it.

No team is safe with multiple schools having already lost as the number one team in the nation. This would ordinarily spell trouble for fans trying to predict playoff advancement. If even the best teams are constantly falling, who can you rely on?

However, when it comes to March Madness, where upsets are routine and unpredictability is always predictable, this may be to our advantage. When is a better time to ride the top teams than when the public (i.e. stupid squares who lose lots of money all the time in anything they bet) is going to be going hard against them?

With all that being said, which type of Big Dance do you prefer: the upsets straight through, leaving everyone's bracket in shambles or seeing the "best" teams advance through to the Final Four?

My favorite type of Big Dance is the one where my picks are right and I chose the champion correctly. That's only happened three times. I picked UConn, North Carolina and Duke correctly over the last decade. Go me! I know, all heavy favorites or top two seeds in the years they won. And if I'm being totally honest, I've chosen the champion correctly three times but definitely have NEVER gotten the majority of my picks correct. I've picked tons of upsets and I've picked next to none. No matter which way I go, I'm rarely over 50% and its because of exactly what you noted. Putting anything over fifty bucks on the tourney is nuts because you'll probably lose that money. Go play video poker instead. Vegas!

As for your question, I'd much rather see the top seeds advance. I like two number one's in the Final Four, a two or three and then one surprise team ranked six to eight. Balance. Then we get exciting games in the later rounds as well as some "Cinderella" drama and the reality that the rankings are not great and we're left with what we expected. Even three number one's in the Final Four is good, but anything less than two and you lost me a round or so ago. I know little to nothing about the Texas A&M's or Louisiana Lafayette's of the world and have no desire to actually watch them play basketball.

My entire March Madness experience hinges on the picks I've made. The upsets should stay in the first weekend and after that I'm all for chalk. It's hard for me, because the tournament has really lost its luster over the last five plus years. All the best college players are one and done to the NBA, so consequently I know no one. I use to know guys from the year before, watching them play in March Madness, but now anyone worth caring about leaves. It makes it tough to care, unless you enjoy following the sport during the regular season. I know you do, so I'm sure you have an opposing view. If not then just give me some picks! I made my Final Four selections back during the first week of January. What do you think now?

Even though no one wants to admit it, I think most of America agrees with you. People care about their brackets and upsets in the first or second round. After that, they want the top seeds advancing. The television ratings back this up. The years when George Mason and VCU went way farther than anyone anticipated, the viewership was down for those games. Buzzer beaters are nice in the round of 32. But in the Elite Eight, Americans want the best competing.

As for my tournament outlook, I'm really high on the SEC this year and really low on the ACC. The SEC is pretty awful after their top three teams but I think both Florida and Missouri are awesome and Kentucky can still make waves. I could see either Florida or Mizzou making the Final Four, Missouri's current struggles not withstanding.

The ACC, on the other hand, has a number of top teams but I have little confidence in them. NC State and North Carolina have already shown their true colors; they simply are not as good as we anticipated coming into the year. The opposite can be said about Miami but I would not feel good about backing them for a long tournament run; nor Duke for that matter. Duke always scares me since they can lose to anyone if their shots are not falling.

Outside of those two conferences, the stories are all in the Big 10. As many as five different Big 10 schools are good enough to make the Final Four (Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Minnesota) and I wouldn't be surprised if two of the final four came from that conference.

But enough explaining myself. I know people only care about picks and when picks are wrong so here goes:

The Final Four will consist of Missouri, Michigan, Ohio State and Syracuse.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Penny Pinching NY Yankees: Off-season recap Part Two

The Penny Pinching NY Yankees: Off-season recap Part Two
by Dan Salem and Todd Salem (3-1-13)

[Part One]

As a diehard Yankees fan I coped with the fact that after the 2011 season we would be stuck with an old team for another year, but I did not intend to sign up for this for two or three more. One more year is fine, you can get buy and hope people over achieve and in 2012 that's exactly what happened. I don't see this going nearly as well in 2013 or 2014 or 2015. Is it possible to transition a player into a hitting coach or third base coach under the terms of his current player's contract? If so then A-rod waving Robbie Cano home from the third base line while Derek Jeter pep talks the next batter up is fine by me!

Since our old guys will most likely continue to be old players, the Yankees will have a SUPER deep bench to go along with a lineup full of holes. I don't get it, what made you happy about this development? And isn't unsatisfied a bit underwhelming of an adjective here?

I agree that the penny pinching plan, or P3, is stupid. (Caveat: If all these reports are true...) It seems admirable, even smart, on the surface to dip below the pending tax increase, but not if they are going to simply disregard it a year later. Smart and admirable suddenly becomes greedy and self-centered. The Steinbrenners would be pocketing the difference and making the team no better. P3 is not what I was hoping for.

Originally, I was happy for all the reasons you mentioned: because I thought this might be a sign of the Yankees becoming smarter, younger and savvier on the field. They would invest in young talent and surround veterans with players getting better. The team would have some energy to mix with the experience, all the while spending less on contracts and taking less flak from opponents about their payroll. P3 might mean missing the playoffs for a year, but it was a sign of a complete turnaround of the franchise's way of working; that's why I was excited. The part about taking less flak was especially promising. Just imagine if the Yankees won the World Series with an average payroll! People would FREAK! A man can dream can't he.

It still is too soon to bury Pinstripes brass for avoiding this plan. Who knows what the roster will look like in 2015. However, this off-season has not been encouraging. The Yankees managed to get older somehow. They have some young catchers and pitchers, none of whom seem to be ready for the majors yet. And the rest of the farm system is pretty weak. At this point, Brett Gardner is the closest thing we have to watching a young prospect develop in the big time, and he's nearly 30 years old with not much upside left in this game.

I am still behind Brian Cashman until we know he has no plan. Don't forget that this year's crop of available free agents did not really fit what the team needed either. That cannot be ignored. And maybe P3 somehow turns Curtis Granderson's .320 on-base percentage and $40 million owed into the Kansas City Royals' hot, young third baseman Mike Moustakas. Kansas City is going for it this year after all.

I think the month of April will be telling this season. Most years it says little more than who worked harder in the off season, but a strong April rarely leads to a crappy year. At worst it leads to an average season. For our Yankees a dominant April is a necessity. Granderson is untradeable if the team can't win without him over the first month while he sits out with injury. And with Phil Hughes battling a bad back, Joba wanting to be a starter (I spit up my coffee when I read this. Is he serious?) and our prized young pitching arm yet to play a game in pinstripes, the team needs a strong start. If we can't survive April two games or more over .500 then I fear for the season.

A strong start allows Granderson to be moved at the All-star break. The Yankees need this to happen, to help clear the books and make room for their wealth of youth in the outfield. I'm psyched for this year because we haven't had a pitching team in years. Its always the hitters, always the lineup, with pitching needing to keep pace and not hold the team back.

Maybe a Yankee game won't average four hours this season. Maybe our pitching will dominate and the Yankees will be king of one and two run games. The NEW New York Yankees of 2013. Yeah, who am I kidding. Bring on the Bronx Bombers baby!