Friday, July 31, 2009

The Longest Wait

The most anticipated season in Michigan Football history is one month and five days away according to the ticker over at That’s just close enough for the excitement of the season to start creeping in and just far enough away to incite boredom amongst a fanbase that would probably pay $200 per person just to get the season started today. It has been 251 days since Michigan last played a football game and there’s still over a month of waiting to go. There were only 243 days between games entering Rich Rodriguez’s debut at Michigan and that seemed like an eternity. We're already eight days beyond that. By the time Michigan suits up against Western Michigan on September 5, it will have been a whopping 288 days since Michigan played its last football game. That’s 45 additional days of wait over last season. One can only hope that the coaching staff has made better use of those days than the media and fanbase.

Every possible story about Michigan football that could have been written has been ten times over. Every possible debate that could have been argued has been ten times over. The sheer magnification of the microscope that has been placed on the football program has ratcheted up expectations exponentially for 2009. Pick up a college football preview magazine at the newsstands or Google “2009 Michigan Football Preview” and you’re likely to find someone proclaiming this to be a “make or break” year for Rodriguez. You’ll probably see a mention of “disgruntled Wolverines faithful” which is almost always accompanied by Rodriguez being placed on the “hot seat.” When people with ink write things enough times, readers start believing it. Last season was brutal in every conceivable way. Nobody could ever deny that. Considering the cast of characters at quarterback and the overall incompatibility the roster had with the spread offense, 2008 might as well have never happened. It’s in the record books. Fans had to endure it. In terms of what it means moving forward, though, 2008 is a non-factor. It means nothing. For all intents and purposes, 2009 is a mulligan for Rodriguez. Nobody knows what this year will bring but it doesn't take much thought to realize this year will be different. Legitimate optimism based on new personnel should preside whereas last season was filled with the “we are Michigan how bad can it be?” type of optimism. This should be a year of hope and growth with eyes set for big things in 2010. Instead, the salivating inkmen have fooled many into thinking that 2009 is Rodriguez’s final exam.

It would be one thing if what happened in magazines stayed in magazines. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works. Perception is often reality. College football writers and idiots alike (see; the blowhards at Maxim who I won't even bother linking to) have painted a dire picture of the Michigan football program and Rodriguez’s subsequent tenuous job security. Neither is true but because of what has been written, many fans think they are. Instead of anticipating the de facto beginning of the Rodriguez era at Michigan with hope and optimism, much of the anticipation has shifted towards tension filled reservations. That’s where the extra 45 days are not helping things at all. Message boards have turned to cannibalistic behavior with maize on blue crime increasing daily. Recruiting has been dissected and criticized more than it ever has been before despite an impressive haul. Player departures are treated as if they’re just another block removed from a teetering Jenga tower. The announcement of Connecticut being the dedication game for the Bigger House in 2010 was met with near universal dissatisfaction. To be a Michigan fan right now is to navigate a breeding ground for negativity. Those who have GPS are probably staying on the periphery but far too many have been influenced by the Phil Steele’s of the world who have obviously forgotten how unimportant and meaningless “year ones” are for coaches. He may want to look up a few guys by the name of Pete Carroll, Jim Tressel, and Nick Saban to get some perspective.

No amount of logic or reasoning is going to bring peace or perspective to fans who remain unconvinced of the storm that's brewing in Ann Arbor. The only thing that will change anyone’s opinion is “wins.” Unfortunately, there’s not much the team can do about that right now. Michigan fans might be well-advised to take a mental vacation until September. The next 36 days are going to feel like 36 viewings of last year's Ohio State-game.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Tigers need a Big Donkey

With only two days left before the MLB Trade Deadline, this is my last chance to wax poetic about what the Tigers need to do to maximize their chances of playing baseball in October. Fall ‘06 was too much fun to let this chance slip away due to paralysis by analysis. Staying pat should not be an option. I’m not going to waste your time by fawning over Roy Halladay who every team obviously needs. Despite the rookification of Rick Porcello, the rotation is still the hallmark of the team. Plus, come postseason, Edwin Jackson and Justin Verlander will be on the mound for four of seven games. I’m sure the Tigers can find one or two serviceable starters in-house to pitch the other games. What the Tigers absolutely need is a massive OPS infusion. They have been atrocious at the plate; so much so that it is tough to imagine winning the division without a significant upgrade. The latest stretch of futility is an 11-game streak in which the Tigers have averaged just 2.9 runs per game including five one-run efforts. That last statistic is disturbing especially considering the firepower within the division. The ChiSox are heating up and Minnesota still might have the best lineup in the division by the end of the year. If the Tigers have any chance of holding off Chicago and Minnesota, they will most definitely need more ammunition. That doesn’t mean Josh Willingham or Nick Johnson. If Mike Ilitch wants his cherished October-revenue, he needs to encourage Dave Dombrowski to think big; like 6’6, 240lbs big.

The Tigers need Adam Dunn like Nancy Grace needs a mute button. Dunn is an offensive powerhouse. He is having arguably his best season as a major leaguer for a Washington Nationals team threatening to become the worst team in MLB history. With or without lineup protection, Dunn is a top-tier run-producer. The Tigers currently boast the left field/DH/right field carousel of Clete Thomas, Marcus Thames, Carlos Guillen, Ryan Raburn, and Magglio Ordonez. Suffice it to say, there is plenty of room for Dunn.

Dunn would provide a massive boost to the lineup in a number of ways. He would rescue Miguel Cabrera from the lonely island that he currently inhabits in the middle of the order. After a strong start to the season, Cabrera’s production has tailed off. Pitchers have opted to take their chances with the rest of the Tigers lineup and it has paid off. He would also give the Tigers a powerful left-handed bat for the first time since Ted Williams wore a Tigers uniform in my dreams. Dunn isn’t just good because he hits home runs. The last thing the Tigers needs is a “home run or bust” player. Dunn is good because he gets on base; a lot! Since 2004, no player in MLB has more walks. In fact, Dunn is quietly putting together a HOF resume. Over the last five years, he has averaged 111 walks, 98 runs, 100 RBIs, 41 home runs, a .382 OBP, and a 133 OPS+. Those last two numbers—the two most important—are up considerably this season. It’s not hard to imagine the Tigers lineup not only improving but actually being potent with a Miggy/Dunn combo.

Rumors persist that the Nats are asking quite a bit for Dunn as they should be. Dunn’s salary might be the most reasonable in baseball. He is set to make $12 million next season. This isn’t a rent-a-player type deal. Dunn is one of the top run producers in MLB. It should hurt to acquire him. In my opinion, the Tigers will not make the playoffs with their current roster. Minnesota and Chicago are too good to keep at bay without making a move. Rick Porcello will not be as productive as he was during the first half. Starting pitching will not be able to carry this team by itself. Unfortunately, the bats will not just magically energize. Sometimes good-but-flawed teams need to pay the price at the trade deadline to make the playoffs. The Tigers are very likely in that situation. In my opinion, Adam Dunn is the answer. Plus, his nickname is “Big Donkey.” That’s worth a prospect or two in itself.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Evaluator

The Michigan football program had become somewhat “soft” during Lloyd Carr’s waning years. The program lacked the conditioning necessary to maximize the talents of its athletes. Michigan was also riddled with a number of athletes who seemingly lost the desire to compete or even play football all together. While some of that can be blamed on Carr for not adapting to a more physically challenging conditioning program and for not having a coaching staff reputable enough to get the most out of its players, Carr was likely dealing with damaged goods before they ever stepped foot on campus. His inability to differentiate between levels of potential among similarly rated recruits is likely what caused an uncharacteristically high level of underachieving and burnout to begin with. It wasn’t his fault as a coach that he couldn’t get uninspired players to produce at a higher level but it was his fault as a recruiter that he even had those uninspired players to begin with.

Head over to the Rivals recruiting database and dial up any top 10 class from any year and you’ll quickly find that there are huge differences in college performance by similarly rated recruits. Some flourish while many more don’t. Picking out the “right” recruit—regardless of how many stars he has—is a skill that many coaches do not possess. Lloyd Carr won at Michigan because he basically had the pick of the litter. Among the rash of four star recruits he was privy to, there were bound to be the necessary number of skilled contributors to keep Michigan near the top of the Big Ten—and there were. Rich Rodriguez won at WVU for a very different reason. Despite having to select among the runts of the litter, he arguably fielded better teams at WVU than Carr did during his last few years at Michigan. The difference can be explained by the idea that Rodriguez is a superb evaluator of talent. While most fans—and many coaches—tend to assume that all four star recruits are of similar value to each other and that four stars is automatically better than three stars and so on, Rodriguez can look at two four star recruits and see two very different players and expected outcomes. I don’t know whether this comes from an innate ability to predict work ethic or sense a recruit’s passion for football or both. Maybe it’s just that he understands his system so well that players who would otherwise flounder in a traditional system look like a million bucks to him. Whatever it is, Rodriguez isn’t just a guy who maximizes talent with a clever system and a brutal strength and conditioning program. That’s just half the equation. He’s already ahead of his coaching colleagues before his players ever get to campus.

Much of Rodriguez’s success comes from recruiting attitude as much as skill. The result is the antithesis of a lazy locker room. Knowing who will make it through his rigorous practice regiments before they even get to campus keeps down the number of scholarships blown on guys who can’t hack it or inevitably lose the passion to play football. Unfortunately, that is something that infested Carr’s teams. Recruiting is like a giant game of Minesweeper. Those who look for as many highly-rated players as possible are essentially playing Minesweeper without adhering to the all-too-important numbers. In recruiting, Rodriguez pays attention to the “numbers”—or a certain set of attributes that predict success on the football field. Rodriguez knows what to look for on the recruiting trail and that has led to both individual and team success well beyond what is expected.

In the five seasons from 2004-08 (all Rodriguez recruits), the West Virginia football program produced 31 different players on the All-Big East First or Second Team. That was, by far, the most in the Big East over that span. A whopping 25 of them were either two star or unrated recruits according to Rivals. Twelve of those 25 two star recruits were selected to the All-Big East First Team. Two star recruits are a dime a dozen. Any big-time program can pretty much take any two star it wants without competition. Rodriguez’s rival coaches in the Big East had access to the same two star recruits that he ended up winning with. Their recruiting classes—like Rodriguez’s—featured a bevy of unknown recruits who were rejected by the major recruiting powers. The difference is that Rodriguez did a better job of identifying not just talent but attitudes, work ethic and passion for football than his rival coaches. Among the two star recruits who made All-Big East under Rodriguez were a number of position switches that might not have happened with “softer” recruits. Jeremy Scheffey was a two star DE recruit who made the All-Big East First Team as an offensive guard. Ken McLee was a two star running back recruit who ended up a First Team All-Big East linebacker. Mike Dent came in as a defensive end and made Second Team All-Big East as a center. Scooter Berry made the All-Big East Second Team as a DL after coming in as a running back. And then there’s Pat White who came in as a wide receiver and left as one of the most prolific QBs in college football history. How often under Carr did a player at Michigan switch positions and become an All-Conference contributor? When they failed to pan out under Carr, they did so miserably. It wasn’t by accident or poor luck (Antonio Bass aside). Rodriguez arms his rosters with moldable, hungry players who rarely “give up” or can’t hack it which reduces wasted scholarships.

Limiting the number of scholarships wasted on burnout virtually guarantees a high level of competition in practice which—not coincidentally—is one of Rodriguez’s self-professed calling cards. Competition in practice forces players to pick up their effort which leads to better results. Under Carr, enough players worked out to field a typical Michigan-caliber team but those players were cheated out of competition that only would’ve made them better. The inordinate number of burnouts under Carr gave Michigan’s first string a license to relax without fear of losing their job. Think of how much of a difference daily competition at all 22 starting positions makes compared to no competition at all. It’s very likely the difference between the soft product that Michigan put out on the field against Oregon in ’07 and the product West Virginia put out on the field against Oklahoma in the ’08 Sugar Bowl. Carr had a roster full of four stars who lacked competition and conditioning while Rodriguez had a roster of hand-picked two stars who were knee-deep in competition and as conditioned as any team in the country. The ability to predict success on the college level is an attribute—or a skill—that separates Rodriguez from the majority of D-I coaches. Sure, it helps that he has perfected an offensive system that defenses have not been able to defend. It also helps that he has one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the country. Those alone are enough to put a winning product on the field. What moves Rodriguez from a good-to-great coach is what he is able to see before his players ever get to college.

When Michigan hired Rodriguez, I was pretty fired up. I knew his arrival signified a departure from the days of conditioning built on pizza and twinkies. I knew his reputation of getting the most out of his players regardless of their “star rating” coming out of high school would pay major dividends. Rodriguez preached conditioning, competition, and transparency which were exactly what the program had been missing. It wasn’t until Rodriguez started recruiting at Michigan that I realized his ability to evaluate talent. Since coming to Michigan, Rodriguez has unearthed a number of under-the-radar recruits before the rest of the top programs could. Take Patrick Omameh, for example. He was a two-star MAC-level recruit from Ohio who had been ignored by Ohio State. Rodriguez extended an offer shortly before National Signing Day and Omameh accepted making him the only two-star recruit in Michigan’s 2008 recruiting class. Ohio State tried to get Omameh to change his mind but came to the party too late. Omameh quickly developed into one of Michigan’s most promising linemen and consistently receives praise as a star-in-waiting. Despite the 17 four-star players in Omameh’s class, there is a decent chance that he will end up being the best player of the lot.

Other examples of Rodriguez being the first in on a recruit are plentiful. He offered Cornelius Jones—a ‘10 Ath/QB from S.C.— way back in June 2008. Michigan only had four commitments for its 2009 class at the time. Jones still remains unrated by Rivals but has reportedly been approached by a number of SEC and southern schools trying to get him to flip his commitment. Rodriguez was in on Jones over a year before any of the other major programs showed interest. Recruits like Vincent Smith and Christian Pace—both three star recruits who are expected to flourish at Michigan—are other examples of Rodriguez identifying talent seemingly overlooked by other major programs.

Rodriguez was also first to the scene (among big boys anyways) on both Taylor Lewan and Jeremy Gallon in the 2009 class. Both were four star recruits so they weren’t exactly unknowns. However, both saw their stock and expectations rise significantly after they dazzled at the post-season All-American games. Lewan and Gallon illustrate what makes Rodriguez’s presence and future so exciting in Ann Arbor. He unearthed overlooked two star recruits at West Virginia and turned many into All-Conference performers while leading the program to unseen success. Imagine what he can get out of unearthing overlooked four star recruits at a place as prominent as Michigan.

I had previously overlooked Rodriguez’s ability to evaluate talent. I had just assumed that the magic started after his players got to school. It didn’t occur to me until he started recruiting at Michigan that a big part of his edge is gained well before his recruits ever put on a uniform. In fact, it was such an egregious slight on my part that the more I think of it, the more it seems possible that Rodriguez’s best attribute as a coach is his ability to evaluate and identify talent before everyone else. For a guy who invented and mastered the spread offense and has one of the top strength and conditioning programs in the country, that’s saying quite a bit.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fatal Fiveway

The five best teams in the NBA when healthy are Boston, L.A., Cleveland, Orlando, and San Antonio. Those teams have produced the last three NBA Champions while all five have made the NBA Finals at least once in the last three years. I think it would be difficult to argue that there is another team that should be in that group. The dividing line between this group and the next is fairly substantial. I understand the Spurs were bounced from the playoffs in round one against Dallas but clearly the absence of Manu Ginobili crippled Pop’s crew. Denver got hot for a minute and Portland certainly seems to have a bright future but that’s all there is in the name of competition in the entire league. That was before the great off-season arms legs race of ’09. All five teams made major acquisitions over the summer. The gap between the good and everyone else just got much bigger making the 2010 regular season a guaranteed snoozefest while simultaneously making the 2010 postseason one of the most anticipated in recent memory. Here is an early look at the favorites to take home the '10 Larry O'Brien Trophy in order from most to least likely:

1). Boston

I won’t go as far as to say the Lakers just won a tainted championship. Although, I have no problem grouping this L.A. team with the Houston Rockets of Jordan-less back-to-back championship fame. Both teams won championships as a result of extremely fortuitous circumstances. Both teams very likely would’ve lost if not for such circumstances. It’s not hard to imagine Boston handling L.A. in a seven game series just 12 months after doing it the first time (technically it was the 8th time but you know what I mean). KG’s injury changed everything. It put a ring on the Zen Master’s last naked digit while simultaneously making millions of young basketball fans mistakenly believe that Kobe Bryant is the G.O.A.T. The former is annoying while the latter is a travesty. If you’re under 20 and like basketball, please Google “Michael Jordan” before forming an opinion. Sorry for the digression. KG should be ready to go next season but the big story in Boston is the monumental addition of Rasheed Wallace. KG and Sheed are poised to become the best defensive frontcourt duo since a couple of fellas by the name of David Robinson and Tim Duncan suffocated dwellers of the paint ten years ago. The Boston Three Party and Danny Ainge deserve a lot of credit here. They realized just how impactful Rasheed could be and they also realized that they could probably sign him for the mid-level exception given his age and diminished production. Boston should have no problem destroying the NBA next season barring major injuries. I won’t go as far as to guaransheed a Boston-Championship. Some of you may remember my one and only guaransheed from three years ago. I’m not interested in messing with a perfect percentage. However, if the Celtics can stay healthy, I think they have a chance to be one of the best teams in NBA history.

2). Cleveland

Regular readers of the blog know what I think of Shaquille O’Neal. Even at 36, he is still one of the best centers in the NBA and still shoots an incredibly high percentage from the field. Cleveland might not get a lot of credit for bringing in Shaq but I think it was one of the best moves Cavs management could’ve made. The mystery here is whether or not Shaq and LeBron can fit on the court at the same time. Shaq is the biggest player to ever play the game. LeBron is the biggest shooting guard to ever play the game. Shaq lives in the paint. LeBron lives in the paint. How is that going to work? At least Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao can knock down a 10-footer off a Lebron drive-and-dish. I’m not sure that Shaq even realizes it’s legal to take a shot from 10’. While on the subject: isn’t it amazing that after 17 years in the NBA, Shaq has still not even remotely sniffed an NBA-quality 10-foot jumper? What does he do in practice? Nonetheless, Shaq represents the first bona fide superstar that LeBron has played with. Mo Williams is a solid player but I think it’s safe to say that LeBron made him an All-Star. Like LeBron, Shaq demands a double team. Defenses will have to decide who to double leaving the other to feast on overmatched defenders. Shaq’s presence also means you’re unlikely to see Orlando beat Cleveland in a series again anytime soon. Dwight Howard is about to find out just how big he isn’t—at least compared to the Diesel.

3). San Antonio

This might come as a shocker but trust me on this one. The Spurs made two savvy acquisitions that should immediately reposition them as front-runners in the Western Conference. First, they acquired Richard Jefferson who should fit in nicely with San Antonio’s defense-first mentality while also bringing its offense out of the Stone Age. The Spurs have been bounced from the playoffs the last two years because their defense has slipped and they’ve struggled to score with Manu Ginobili in street clothes. When you’re relying heavily on Matt Bonner, Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, and Fabricio Oberto to score points, you’re not going to beat elite teams. The Spurs needed a wing scorer who won’t compromise the team defensively and Jefferson is the perfect prescription. The Spurs also picked up Antonio McDyess who took my advice and got the hell out of the Palace (Although, Rasheed beat him to Boston). Dice should have plenty of room and permission to shoot his 12’ daggers. Duncan will benefit greatly by having someone of Dice’s caliber in the paint. The Spurs will look like an entirely different team next season which is not good for the…

4). Los Angeles Lakers

The first three teams on this list made impactful additions without losing major pieces. The same cannot be said for the Lakers. Who would you rather have: Ron Artest or Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza? I don’t necessarily think there is a clear-cut right answer which suggests that the Lakers likely have not improved. In fact, if I absolutely had to choose, I would stick with Odom and Ariza. The Lakers aren’t in danger of a substantial regression or anything like that. Andrew Bynum should return to form after returning too early from his knee injury for the playoffs. Pau Gasol is still the perfect compliment to Kobe Bryant. On a side note: Gasol absolutely needs to be called, “The Big Ostrich”. Nobody looks more like an ostrich than Pau Gasol. The Lakers will certainly be good next season but they lose quite a bit of length and athleticism to go along with defense and toughness with the departures of Odom (assuming he doesn't re-sign) and Ariza. Luckily for them, the Western Conference only features one legit threat. There have been a lot of Lakers vs. Spurs showdowns over the last ten years but if everyone stays healthy, their inevitable 2010 battle could be the best.

5). Orlando Magic

Who would you rather have: Vince Carter or Hedu Turkoglu? I’d probably lean slightly towards VC simply because of his athleticism but I don’t think the difference is substantial which likely means the Magic aren't destined for much of an improvement. The Magic deserve credit for coming out of the Eastern Conference after clearly being the third best team in the conference for the majority of the regular season. Orlando also did everyone a favor by postponing the looming coronation of King James another year but they, too, benefited greatly from the absence of KG. The Magic don’t sniff the Finals with Boston fully healthy. The Magic should easily be the fifth best team in the NBA next season especially with the return of a healthy Jameer Nelson. However, Cleveland diagnosed the reason it lost to Orlando and quickly came up with the proper antidote in the form of Shaq. Dwight Howard will not be permitted to go for 26 and 13 the next time these teams meet in the playoffs. Interestingly, I think Orlando would’ve relished the opportunity to play the Lakers without Odom and Ariza. There wasn’t a lot separating the Lakers and Magic in '09. Even less will separate them in '10.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hey, hey, hey!

During Fox’s broadcast of the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday night, Eric Karros interviewed Albert Pujols in the NL dugout. Karros started off the interview by matter-of-factly pointing out that Pujols is the best player in baseball. Pujols embarrassingly responded by saying, “I don’t think I’m the best player in the game.” In fairness to Phat Albert, I appreciate his attempt at humility. However, to quote The Rock, “it doesn’t matter what you think.” Albert, you are the best player in MLB and it’s not close. There’s even an outside chance that Pujols could end up being the greatest baseball player of all-time when various factors are taken into consideration (i.e. strength of era). We won’t know that for a while, though. What we do know is that no player in the history of MLB has had a better start to a career and, at 29, he has no peers in either league.

Pujols is the active major league leader in both batting average and Slugging %. That means he is the best pure hitter and the best power hitter in baseball. He’s a better pure hitter than Ichiro and a better power hitter than Ryan Howard. He also sports one of the best “eyes” in the game which has led to a ridiculous BB:SO ratio of 767 to 541. Over the past three years, that ratio has climbed to almost 2 to 1. Even more impressive is his SO/AB ratio. Of the top 20 active players in that category, there are 19 singles hitters and Albert Pujols. He is the ultimate baseball player. His nickname is “The Machine” which is apropos considering his likeness to one. He does the same thing at an unbelievably efficient level, year after year.

Pujols has been a superstar ever since he entered the majors in 2001. The fact that he is the first player in MLB history to start his career with eight (soon-to-be-nine) consecutive seasons of at least 30 home runs, 100 RBIs, and a .300 batting average has been well-documented. No player in MLB history has reached 300 home runs in fewer games. No player in MLB history has hit more home runs through nine seasons. He has two MVPs to go along with three seconds, a third, and a fourth. He's even the best defensive first baseman in the NL. Did I mention he’s only 29? Those accomplishments speak for themselves. He has already cemented himself as one of the greatest players in MLB history regardless of what happens going forward.

The story here isn’t that Pujols is great. That has been established. The story is that he is greater now than he has ever been. He leads MLB in Runs, RBIs, Home Runs, OBP, Slug %, TBs, Walks, Runs Created, OPS+, and XBHs. It would be impressive enough if he just led his own team in those categories let alone the National League and MLB. His OPS+ of 209 would be the highest full-season mark by a non-steroid user since 1957. He has a very good chance—perhaps the best chance of anyone since Yaz did it in 1967—of winning the Triple Crown. A MLB Triple Crown—something that has only been accomplished five times in MLB history—might even be within reach. Pujols leads MLB in home runs and RBIs by margins of eight and nine, respectively. He’s quite a ways behind Joe Mauer and Ichiro in batting average but he is sitting in a good position at .332. It’s unlikely that Mauer (.373) and Ichiro (.362) will keep hitting at their respective paces while Pujols is simply hitting his career average. If he can catch the leaders in batting average, he would likely become the first player to win the MLB Triple Crown since Mickey Mantle in 1956.

His path to the NL Triple Crown, however, is much easier. He trails Hanley Ramirez in batting average by 17 points. After that, it’s Pujols and Pablo Sandoval in a virtual dead heat. Pujols’s quest for a Triple Crown very well could be the story of the second half. However, the season he is putting together is even more impressive than a Triple Crown. Most serious baseball fans would agree that Runs, OPS, Slug %, and OBP are all more important statistics than “Batting Average.” So even if he falls short in batting average, he would lead the league in four categories even more impressive than the third—and least important—leg of the Triple Crown. Leading the league in all of those categories might not have a catchy name but it certainly would win out in degree of difficulty. Now just imagine what he could do with some protection in the Cardinals lineup!

Before the news broke in Spring Training that A-Rod had used steroids, he was viewed by some as the savior of baseball’s record books. The juicers of the last 15 years had littered the record books leaving a multitude of black marks for the sport. A-Rod was to be for baseball what Mr. Clean is to countertops; or that was the plan. That dream ended abruptly when he was proven to be a cheat. Because of Pujols’s assault on the record books and the fact that he hasn’t been connected to PEDs, the unofficial responsibility of Mr. Clean will inevitably fall into the hands of Pujols. Here’s hoping he’s better with a mop than A-Rod.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Someone forgot the Booze

It was sad and sobering to find out that the rumors of Joe D’s courtship of Ben Gordon were true. Reports suggesting Joe D’s interest had been around for a while but I—along with what I’m assuming were many dumbfounded Pistons fans—didn’t want to believe that such an inexplicable infatuation existed. Gordon is not versatile enough to merit such a large chunk of the payroll especially considering he’ll be coming off the bench. His game leaves a lot to be desired. He is not a particularly good defender. He is undersized for a shooting guard. He isn’t particularly good at getting to the rim. Plus—and most troublesome—he plays the same position as Rip Hamilton. Remember when the Lakers spent $12 million on Joe Johnson to backup Kobe Bryant at shooting guard? I don’t either. Most NBA GMs are smart enough to not do such a thing.

I’m slightly more enthused about the addition of Charlie Villanueva mainly because a) he costs less and b) he isn’t a shooting guard. The Pistons inked Villanueva to a deal that pays out $7 million a year. Considering some of the mammoth stat lines that he put up in 2008, he could end up turning out to be a monumental bargain. He could also turn out to be a less effective and equally frustrating version of Rasheed Wallace. Still, the gamble isn’t a bad one and I would’ve been intrigued just as the Pistons were. However, I certainly would not have let the addition of Villanueva ruin the possibility of signing two max-contract players which seems to be the case.

I had written extensively over the last few months about Detroit’s generous cap space and how to not ruin the advantageous situation it presented. The Pistons had room for two max contracts next season and considering the absurdity of riches available in the Summer of LeBron, daydreams of Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson signing with the Pistons were difficult to ignore. I implored Joe D not to simply spend his fortune a year early just because he had the money. Obviously, I have no influence at 4 Championship Dr. The money is gone and so are all of the dreamy scenarios that fans had mapped out in their heads.

My opinion may be in the minority but I’ve never been afraid of blowing a season on rebuilding/retooling if it’s necessary to get to the next level. For instance, if Rich Rodriguez leads Michigan to the success that I think he will, then suffering through one pathetic season will be well worth it. The problem is that GMs have such precarious job security that they don’t have the luxury of burning a year. Joe D’s job is not in jeopardy, though. If anyone has the luxury of burning a year without consequence, it’s him. Joe should’ve rolled with what he had for 2009-10 and banked his loot for next season. The Pistons would’ve come away with three things: 1) lottery pick for 2010, 2) a better understanding of Rodney Stuckey’s ability (or inability) to play point and 3) $30+ million to burn on the greatest free agent class in NBA history. Instead, Joe D psyched himself out and blew all of that on an undersized shooting guard and a shakier version of Rasheed Wallace.

Even after Joe inked Gordon and Villanueva, this whole transition didn’t have to go poorly. The addition of Gordon makes little to no sense given the presence of Rip Hamilton. However, rumors circulated that the Pistons were talking to the Jazz about a Boozer for Hamilton trade. That would’ve changed everything. The addition of Boozer would’ve given the Pistons immediate credibility and a roster more talented than most of the league. Boozer, Villanueva, and Tayshaun Prince to go along with Ben Gordon and Rodney Stuckey in the backcourt would’ve given the Pistons a bevy of scoring options. Boozer would’ve been the answer to the low post woes that have haunted the Pistons for years. Even if you don't like Boozer, it would've been a great move. He is a free agent next season which would’ve made the trade an even bigger score for the Pistons. Boozer would either re-sign with the Pistons or go somewhere else leaving them enough money to shop for one of the superstars of the 2010 free agent class. Either way, acquiring Boozer would’ve been a huge score. It would change my view of Joe D permanently if it came to light that he was responsible for nixing a Hamilton for Boozer trade. Instead, I’ll have to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume it was Utah who declined.

Joe D is very close to painting himself into a corner. He has $23 million allocated to shooting guards for the next four years. That would be #2 on the list of “How Not to Build a Championship Contender” just behind “hiring Kevin McHale to make important decisions.” Joe has one way out and it’s exchanging Rip for a big-man. His legacy likely rides on it.

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