Tuesday, November 24, 2009

SPORTS: Brian Burke

I quibble with the perception that Brian Burke is a hockey savant, a man who seemingly has the golden touch. I feel he took over the major parts of a Stanley Cup team from Brian Murray and sawed off the rough edges and added some glue guys (talented, but glue nonetheless) and got a Cup to smear over lesser stints in Hartford and Vancouver. I have a saying for it, "Burke's blarney."

I previously thought of him as a poor man's Don Cherry by way of America.

And in the most part, my evaluation of him as a hockey guy is still on hold. But as a man? Totally, completely reversed. Brian Burke is a man. A good man. A man I'd like in my foxhole and in peacetime, living next door.

He's the father of Brendan Burke. The story of that relationship is told in a column up at ESPN.com written by John Buccigross. I heard about it a half-hour ago when Buccigross was interviewed on TheFan590 by Bob McCown. He didn't preface the reason for the story while teasing the piece and I won't either. But, if you are interested in a peek behind the public persona of Brian Burke and learn of the outstanding guy Brendan Burke is, (and University of Miami hockey coach Enrico Blasi should be included in the hosannas as well) then go to http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/columns/story?columnist=buccigross_john&id=4685761.

You will be glad you did, unless you are an idiotic close-minded fool. Which you shouldn't be, if you are reading this blog.

Brian Burke. Brendan Burke. Enrico Blasi. Thank you for being the people you are. The world is better for it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

SPORTS: Tyler Seguin Doing Dad Proud

The news today (yesterday, but today when writing this) that Tyler Seguin is now the top-rated Ontario Junior for the 2010 NHL Draft brought back some memories. Even though I never met the young man.

I met Tyler's dad, Paul, way back when. Back in the days when Paul spent his summers playing softball at a pretty decent level, before focusing on hockey. He eventually played for my Bramalea Blues junior team and then moved on to captain the University of Vermont. Tyler thinks his dad was a fighter, but the Paul Seguin I remember was a rock-hard defenseman who played hockey the right way and didn't drop the dukes much in junior. Hard to believe college hockey turned him into a Green Mountain Brawler Boy. But if that's the picture he wants for his son, who am I to disagree.

As a softball player, some of that burning desire came through. Bluntly, it was desire, not talent that got Paul on my rep team as an atom division Bramalea Buckaroo. He was a bit smaller than the other guys, but he never took a play off. I always wondered if he was having fun, because he didn't smile all that often. That wasn't all that unusual, according to his parents, who smiled a lot for him. They were still a bit reserved, but the kind of folk you'd want living next door. Solid, good people, a joy to be around for a kid (I was still in my teens despite coaching the reps) who didn't get along with all that many parents in those days. We didn't exactly win a lot of games that season.

But Paul seemed to survive my coaching and made the smart decision to eschew Junior A to play with the then Junior B Blues. I think we were still B's then, although it MIGHT have been the first season of Provincial Junior A, or even a season in the old outlaw Metro Junior Hockey League for the team. I'm old, the mind wanders. He knew then that he wasn't headed for the Big Show, but he was going to use hockey to get a first-rate education. And he did. And there was never a coach in any sport who ever was disappointed having Paul Seguin on his roster.

Paul's NHL dreams never got going, but it sure looks like Tyler's is just starting. Given his genes, it's impossible to believe he WON'T be a success.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SPORTS: Please Don't Trade Vernon Wells

How's that for a headline?

The worst Ricciardi in baseball, a Ricciardi being a really, really bad contract, Vernon Wells would be shipped out of town for a bag of bats, if most customers at the Rogers Centre had their way. They'd be happy to see him as an ex-Toronto Blue Jay. Mostly because he won't/can't earn that ridiculous stipend. No matter that he was actually underpaid last year and the year before, all anybody can moan about is 20-plus mill for each of the next four years.

And, in a way, they are right. He won't earn the money. But these are the days of ordinary outfielders earning eight figures anyway. And a healthy Vernon Wells is ordinary with gusts to above average. And that means you'd almost certainly throw out about $10M a year in value throwing him away for nothing. That's a fairly different situation than his former running mate, Alex Rios, who looks incapable of earning his big bucks in Chicago. Looks like Ricciardi did right giving away his last Ricciardi. Gawd that gets confusing. But I'd rather keep Wells for 30-50 cents on the dollar than zero cents on the dollar.

At any rate, The Toronto Blue Jays enter a new phase of the franchise's existence. Intelligent planning has returned. Scouts have been signed aplenty and kiddie GM Alex Anthopoulos is about to embark on a different direction. The old one, seeking to win 82 games and keep moaning about being in the same division as Boston and New York, is now thankfully history. So, do the Jays get serious around the automatic bank teller machines and stiffen up the budget to $120M or drop down to the $50M-$70M area and build for three years hence. As a newly-(re)minted Jays fan, I would MUCH prefer the former.

Let's see. We could re-up Scutaro and Barajas (and get Johnny Mac back too). I'd sign Adrian Beltre and let him give Roy Halladay Scott Rolen-like defence. And I'd ink Mike Cameron to play centre and shift Wells to right field. Which is where he'd be a lot closer to earning his money than as a fleet-footed flyhawk, which he really isn't anymore. Now, I'd finish off raising the payroll by $30M by trying to find a taker for Lyle Overbay (Atlanta for one of the pitchers?). That money would then go to former Montreal Expo Vladimir Guerrero. The new first baseman would be DH-extraordinaire Adam Lind. Leaving us with a starting lineup of C-Barajas 1B-Lind 2B-Hill SS-Scutaro 3B-Beltre LF-Snider CF-Cameron RF-Wells DH-Guerrero. The four subs would be Edwin Encarnacion, Johnny Mac, Jose Bautista (or maybe Joe Inglett) and a catcher, probably Raul Chavez. The pitching staff wouldn't have many changes, including keeping the Doc. There would have to be 12 pitchers, cuz outgoing manager Clarence Gaston goes through them like cocktail weenies at a party. It's a paper-thin roster with some injury risks (Wells and Guerrero chiefly), but it COULD score runs. If Lind has some sort of defensive awakening at first, the only sub-standard defender in the lot would be Snider. Barajas isn't any great shakes either, but Chavez is pretty good.

All it takes is for the kiddie corps of pitchers to grow up and provide 26 weeks of what they did for six weeks this year. Is that possible? Yeah, sure. Probably? Nah, not so much. But you have to hang your hat on something. Somebody has to produce for low pay somewhere, for the Jays to be successful.

Now, having outlined the dream, here's the reality. The Jays are going young and cheap. Forget Beltre, Cameron and Guerrero. Maybe forget Scutaro and probably forget Barajas. And almost certainly hang onto to that memory of Roy Halladay striding off the mound two months ago, having won his last start as a Toronto Blue Jay. He's going to go. It's just a matter of where, with a little when thrown in. His fabulous Blue Jay career is done.

So, we have the normal contenders for the best pitcher in baseball. I really don't like the usual Yankee package being bruited. The catcher can't catch and I'm not sold on any pitcher not named Phil Hughes, and he's not escaping pinstripes. Austin Jackson is a year away and answers a need. But he's not the outfielder rose amongst the flowers being offered up. The Boston fleecing of Cleveland in the Victor Martinez deal makes all Boston prospects suspect. And Philly is looking for a third-baseman on the open market already, and might not have the pennies AND prospects, after Cliff Lee cost them all of their B-guys.

One trade suggested by somebody is a New York Mets package for highly touted OF Fernando Martinez and SS Wilmer Flores. Neither is old enough to vote and neither has torn it up in the minors. But both have that 'IT' factor highly touted prospects for New York teams have. And there's only the two of them in the trade, cuz the Mets would ALSO take Wells and his contract off Toronto's hands at the same time. And to me, that would be the trade breaker. Trading Halladay has to replenish a Blue Jay farm system that just doesn't have any prospective star major leaguers in it. I'm not even sure the usual future Jays that we normally talk about; Jackson, Cooper, the second basemrn, Arencibia and the late-blossoming Dopirak will ever round out a big league bench, let alone start for any team. A Halladay trade MUST garner one and probably two current big leaguers, the second one being a rookie. A star-potential minor leaguer and a project have to be included too. There HAS to be a potential star and there HAS to be at least four potential future Jays in the deal. Otherwise, it's best to take those two draft picks Halladay will bring in the summer of 2011. He's worth that much to a young Blue Jay team as a mentor and role model for one more season.

For me, the team I think Toronto matches up with is Texas. It'll take Neftali Perez or Derek Holland, Brandon McCarthy and two of the better Ranger prospects, but that's the kind of deal GM-Alex needs to make. I just wish the ownership in Texas didn't have such a case of the cash shorts right now. Otherwise, I think this hookup would be a cinch.

Overbay has to go too. I do think Atlanta would be a good destination. If Overbay, a fine fielder, ever re-developed some of his power long term, you are talking about a .280 hitting Gold Glove candidate with 20 homer and 50 double potential. And for $7M, not crazy expensive. Scutaro has to go too, cuz he's worth more as two high draft picks than he would be playing in Toronto for the next couple of years in rebuilding. Barajas has to go, because he's just not worth the money. In a rebuilding Blue Jays season, they be looking to pair Chavez with either Arencibia or more likely Brian Jeroloman. Keeping Jeroloman and Chavez, both defensive whizzes, would give Arencibia time for a full-time gig in Las Vegas. After that, the Blue Jays would know whether he's a legit prospect or not. Of course, I STILL think we should sign John McDonald and give him the shortstop spot full-time, since anybody demonstrably better overall would be counter-productive in terms of paying too much for a team with such modest goals.

That leaves an offensive roster with some talent, Lind and Aaron Hill. Snider, who can't possibly play right field full time at the major league level, probably can become an average-plus left fielder offensively and something close to adequate defensively. And you still have Wells. I'd go out and sign one of Marlon Byrd, Randy Winn or Rick Ankiel to play right field. Maybe a Coco Crisp and slide Wells to right would be an alternative. And you know, I wouldn't even hate the idea of Eric Hinske being the latest Blue Jay to come home and play right. Shockingly, I also think Bautista could play right for a year while the Jays regroup for a better bunch of choices a year hence. What the Jays cannot do is go with Lind-Wells-Snider across the outfield grass. That's waaaaaay too ugly to contemplate. Lind is either a future 1B or a DH with the ability to spell Snider in left on occasion.

Edwin Encarnacion will get a chance to prove himself fully healthy. I'd even consider signing him to an extension now, say for two extra years at $4M each plus a team option for $5M. The reason? I think he can shift to right field if the hot corner proves too much for him. I think he could provide the same kind of game Hinske or Bautista could provide. And that's a worst-case scenario. If, on the other hand, he comes back to 2007 levels, the contract would be a bargain. Like I say, you gotta hit the occasional homer out of the ballpark, and I think Encarnacion is the only Blue Jay with unshown upside.

In addition to Halladay, some of the other highly-thought of Blue Jay pitchers would have to go. Scott Downs and Brian Tallet would be the most obvious trading chips. But I'd do my best to move Jason Frasor and Jeremy Accardo, assuming either aren't made free agents earlier. I would expect young projects back for the first two and salary relief back for the latter two. And I would see if Brandon League could handle the closer duties. If not, he'd go mid-season. Otherwise, I'd fill with the kids who pitched in Toronto this year. No signing wise old vets. I'd get maybe one, somebody in the vein of Dan Plesac when he was here. Somebody to talk to. Otherwise, I'd just let the kids pitch in the big leagues, rather than down in Las Vegas, what with that bandbox confidence-crusher of a stadium. I'd TRY to talk Gaston into letting them pitch themselves out of trouble, surely a bargain Gaston can make for the managing/consulting gift of a contract given to him by old pal CEO Paul Beeston.

The goal of the reconstituted Blue Jays would be win 63 games. And get a high draft choice in 2011. And to sign the bunch of picks the team will have in 2010, even if it means overpaying them. The need is to expand the talent base of players who won't cost too much until well into the next decade. Then, with some judicious talent drafting and a bigger budget, the team can go on the financial hunt when the prey is much, much better out there than it is now. The club will know if Snider is legit and whether Lind can play first. Whichever (if any) of the Ricciardi era draft screwups can overcome their current low evaluations will be known. The talent acquired for Halladay will be contributing or close to it. That's when the purse-strings will come off and GM-Alex will show whether he's really the wunderkind Beeston thinks he is.

But it's probably going to be a couple of very bad years for the Blue Jays and their fans. I just hope Vernon Wells will keep my company during those campaigns.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

SPORTS: Trade Me

No, I do not seek exit from this blog to some other. They (the new blog people) might want me to work more regularly. Can't have that. But I AM blogging today about that most putrid of all trends in pro sports these days, the trade demand.

You already know how I feel about that particularly odious stunt. I hope (vainly) Dany Heatley isn't named to Canada's men's hockey team for the Olympics. Won't watch a game with him wearing MY flag. I've hoped Baron Davis would break a leg and my feelings about Vince Carter border on the grounds for arresting on threatening charges. The latest cro-magnon to issue the trade request is Stephen Jackson of the Golden State Warriors, a mental midget with a fair bit of basketball talent, a big contract, a HUGE ego and an agent willing to play along for his payday.

I'm sick and tired of it. I hate when the muddy tip of the tail of the dog wags the dog. Jackson is a bad boy, history tells us. His antics were one of the reasons the Indiana Pacers fell apart, becoming the JailBlazers' East. Not all the reason. Else even Don Nelson, a once-great basketball player, coach and executive, but now just a doddering old fool, wouldn't have tried acquiring him. Nelson did. And for one shining post-season, his this century's version of Run-DMC pulled off one highlight win after another in an improbable run to the Western finals. But the aforementioned Davis split for the San Diego dough and the illusion a good Spring brings popped like the zit that Jackson uses for a brain.

Here we are two years later and Jackson did all captains proud (they aren't him) by demanding a trade. He's acted like the jackass he is and his agent is worse. His teammates want him gone. And nobody is trying too hard to part Jackson and the Warriors. If they do, you can bet Golden State will be accepting 10 cents on the talent dollar to move his big talent and bozo brain.

It's time, as the new player's agreement between the NBA and it's money-makers is due for renegotiation, that this matter be addressed. There's also the matter of old vets looking for one more run at the title to go in and say ... release me. They then join a contender and hope to be able to get a ring for one of their fingers or toes. Problem is, they also want their full remaining money PLUS what they can squeeze out of the new team. The upside to the team being left in the rear-view window of the Mercedes/BMW/Lamborghini? Good will for the next vet who 'knows' they will treat him right when HE demands money for no service. Aaaaaaarrrrrrgghhhhh!

So, here's the new rule structure to govern written trade demands (as adverse trade requests). Player will be accommodated within 15 days of his trade request. If he doesn't get traded, he can ask for, and receive his release. Should he DECLINE his opportunity for release, he cannot issue a trade demand for one year from the date of his initial trade demand.

What's the catch? Thought you'd ask.

A player who demands to be traded can be released on the following payment plan: The money owed to him for the remaining games on his contract will be paid on the following percentage basis. The NUMBER of games the player played or was eligible to play (trips to the injury list and DNP-CD count as being eligible) will be divided into the number of games contracted for. That percentage of money still to be paid will represent the buyout. The morning of the date of the trade deadline represents the dividing line between games eligible to play and the rest of the contracted-for games.

Let's use Jackson and some rough numbers. He signed, I believe, a five-year deal (410 games). He was around for 82 games for year one and let's say 18 this year. That represent him making himself available for 100 of the 410 games contracted for. It's a hair under 25 per cent of the contract being fulfilled. So, he can be bought out for 25 per cent of the remaining value of his contract. That's three seasons at roughly nine million plus what's left on this year, which comes out to about seven million. Let's call it 34 million bucks outstanding. If you take a quarter of that you get eight and a half million dollars to wipe the contract off the books. Would Golden State give Jackson a golden handshake of 8.5M and forgo making a lop-sided trade. In a New York minute. Which is where Jackson would probably end up.

And just to add a kicker to the kind of shenanigans players and their agents would come up. IF you do get your release through a trade demand, the SIGNING players could only offer you a deal for the same kind of money you just passed up. The MAXIMUM any team can offer, for however many years they want, is the difference between what you made this season for the old team and the contracted for total (Bonuses included). So, if Jackson wants to ditch Golden State, then he's capped at that seven million he had left on this deal for this year.

I'd also limit the length of contract. More study would be needed, but not to exceed the length of the original contract reneged on by the player stands to reason.

So what kind of fool would then put his trade demand in writing? Well, pro sports (and I'm making this trade-me ruling a standard for ALL pro team sports) is filled with idiots who are athletic freaks and mentally-deficient dufuses. Dufii? At any rate, there'd be no problem getting some of them to make their trade demands contractually altering. The agents would pull out their hair, but some would do it.

On the other hand, some of the players would pull the Carter disappearing act. Withholding effort and saying things about people, places and institutions privately (or even sometimes publicly), all in an effort to get themselves traded. See ya in court. An arbitration panel would be set up with a player association rep, a league official and an agreed-on arbiter, would review evidence from the team and deem if a de facto trade demand had been issued. The player could NOT play during the review period, thus teams could not reasonably use it to 'punish' a player. Teams LOSING an arbitration decision would get fined a good solid million for abuse of the process. Plus costs.

Players who are INJURED cannot issue a trade demand nor be taken to trade request arbitration. Can't have bad contracts to injured players done away with through collusion. They have to be bought out the same way as always. The old-fashioned way. Through negotiation.

Which leaves one last area. The impact on the cap space. Getting back all of the money the player fleeing took under the cap doesn't make sense. Getting either the space for one year spread out over the remainder of the length of the contract OR a trade exception for his remaining cap hit seems about right. The latter rather than the former, is probably best. And, oh yes, the cap hit for any team signing him as a FREE agent, rather than acquiring him in a trade, will be for the full remainder of that exception. So, even if the Knicks sign Jackson for two million for the rest of the year, they have to take a seven mill hit. Makes it MUCH more enticing to trade for him. And, since he's a 7M hit regardless, they might as well get rid of some cap-taking contracts on the way back. But Golden State doesn't have to accept any old offer, the Warriors can pay the 8.5M walking price and be done with him.

Now, this is a situation 98 per cent of the NBA players will never find themselves in. Most of them know just how great they have it. Being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more, waaaaay more) to play a game they love and are good at, isn't the most arduous job in the world. And, like most people, they honour their contractual commitments.

But for some of these twits, rules HAVE to be emplaced to prevent the inmates from taking over the asylum.

Besides, won't it be great to see some coach asked, "Hey, we hear your star player has asked to be traded." His reply, honestly, factually, "News to me. He hasn't put it on paper. And, until he does, it's a non-issue. Not worth commenting on. Next question."


Brandon Jennings had a decent night out tonight for the Milwaukee Bucks. The rookie put up 55 for the Bucks and that makes my prediction that he'd be the biggest flop amongst rookie picks this past summer look bad. Really bad. Really, REALLY bad.

On the other hand, I still have time. Afterall, less than 10 games in to Channing Frye's career, the one-time New York Knick was making my calls for doom and gloom for his future look almost as bad. THAT didn't work out too badly for me, although he seems to have come back to solid sub status with Phoenix this year. And Jennings has a LOT of Stephon Marbury in him. Talent and swagger don't always mix. Some times it leads to self-immolation.

So I wait. The fuse is lit. Maybe he blows all up or maybe he blows up. Don't like my chances now, but life is long.