Friday, December 02, 2011

LIFE: Tree's Up!

It is a testament to my conniving ways that, once again, I have a Christmas Tree worth bragging about in my living room. And it took me all of 30 seconds to add the finishing touch, the angel atop the tree. The rest of the work? All done by the junior members of my extended family.

The Christmas Tree Raising Ceremony was a bit special this year in that A.J. rejoined the Movie Mob for the first time since 2008. He's turning 18 in about six weeks and getting a bit smarter each year. Sooner or later, he's going to realize that he and his workmates do all the raising part, while I sit back and steal all the thunder with my angel at the end of a grasping stick routine. Still it was awfully nice to have him back.

His sister, Angela, is the ringleader of what is left of the Movie Mob, which over the years has included about nine different kids at various times. In the early years, I had to bribe the young'uns with food and a movie to do all the work, come Tree Raising Ceremony time. These days, the actually believe it's fun and no bribes necessary. Heck, Angela even roped in her best friend Megan a few years back and the newest member of the Mob finished her fourth tree Thursday night.

Each year, each kid got money to buy a single ornament. And from the first three has grown a tree regularly festooned with all kinds of interesting balls and baubles, from tiny little fake lights (NO electricity allowed near my tree) to gigantic ornaments that could double for a disco ball in a pinch. That one hides the 'hole' that makes itself evident in my artificial tree. Throw on a bunch of hand-made ornaments that date back to the turn of the century and the first tree, some strings of beads and festive, feathery boas plus the re-introduction of tinsel this year and you get a tree that is ALMOST completely full.

Still has lots of places for my various Montreal Canadiens themed ornaments, a yearly gift from A.J. and Angela's parents. The final result is perfect.

You'll have to take my word. Just look at the grins on the faces of, respectively from left to right, Angela, Megan and A.J.

Last year, the tree stayed up until almost Easter, awaiting all the various members of my family to beat a path to my door and see it. Until then, I saw no reason to take it down. I'm hoping that it can come down a little quicker this year. But if it makes to Easter or even my mid-summer birthday, so what?

It really is a pretty sight.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

INTERNET: The Cure For Ego

Just noticed, the most page views I've had for a blog posting. The winner? The quick test for seeing if a posting widget worked. In other words, the most visits were for a post where I said nothing. Considered me deflated.

LIFE: Rusting Away in Margaritaville

Sorry about the title. It should have been Rusting Away in My Driveway. But you're here, so you might as well know, I've given up my car. More or less.

The Saturn I've driven throughout this century is now parked in my driveway, tucked out of sight up against the kitchen window. I no longer am insured to drive the car and the only reason I haven't sold it  (or scrapped it, which my father has stumped for, for about half of this century), is that I might just bring it out of retirement in the spring, throw a few bucks into it and see if I can nurse it along for another couple of years. Assuming The Experiment fails.

I have been thinking of going no-car for at least two years. The economics of it has been close. But not close enough to not have a car for when the mood--or an emergency--strikes me. After all, I'm the guy who normally shops for groceries at 4 am. Amazingly few lines at the checkout stand at that time of the morning. Against that, the bread isn't always bountiful or fresh. And you can't buy lottery tickets. Oops, that last one was supposed to go into the Pro column.

In reality, I've been known to leave the house as few as one time a month. That's to fetch money from clients and put it into the bank. Inevitably to be followed by a little food shopping. In February, at least the last three, I've managed to not leave the Cave at all in two of them. The other? Had a doctor's appointment on the 28th. I'm not a Travellin' Man.

What really tipped the scales in favour of trying The Experiment was finding out that the daily rental cost from Enterprise would be a LOT less than the hundred bucks I thought it would be. The range I will be paying for a small car will be $50-$63 per day. A three-day weekend for $123, tax and insurance in, would be doable in rare cases (like, say, Christmas shopping in December, if I hadn't already finished my shopping for this year). And even those prices are subject to some change downward. Ed Hills tells me my trusty Visa credit card might get me out of the $23 insurance cost. I'll be investigating. But for right now, I'm assuming the costs I've outlined above.

For taxi rides, it's seven bucks each way to my doctor's, eight bucks to the City Centre Mall and $15 to my main client. So, if it's just to get there and back, I can keep THOSE trips down to a financially feasible outlay.

Against THOSE costs, I won't be paying my insurance, which rose 17 percent this year to around $114 a month. I live in Brampton, apparently the worst city for driving in all of Canada (have these insurers ever visited Montreal?). So, if they (they being the guaranteed profit-making insurance companies) don't get you one year, they get you the next. Don't know anybody who hasn't been dinged above 15 percent in at least one of the last two years. They seem to do it in odd years to me, even years to Patrick's family, for example. In my case, I haven't asked anything of my insurance company in more than 30 years. And the car I'm driving isn't worth much more than scrap. So naturally, they assume I should pay them another $200 next year for doing it again. Ahhhh, no. You will also notice that JUST the insurance payment saved means I have two Enterprise days pre-paid.

Now, factor in the license plate renewal, my own private yearly experience in hell. I've had ALL kinds of issues with license renewals and not having to do them next summer and every summer after that? Priceless. But for now, let's just attach a hundred dollar bill in fees and time spent to my savings. Emission tests for the car were due in 2012. Time and money adds up to one Enterprise day there too.

Which brings me to repairs. I have been going to Lew at All About Imports for a few years from now. He's a jewel. An honest mechanic who appreciates the dollars I contribute to his daughter's college fund, but won't take a dime he doesn't work for or have to. He had the Saturn in for pre-winter service in early October, with instructions to do the breaks, which felt a bit mushy, too. I knew I was going to have to eat the better part of five bills.

Instead, he came to me with the news that the car was going to be a progressive money pit over the winter and into the spring. I should replace the calipers behind the breaks. The exhaust system, stem to stern, was looking frail and the service log book indicated I was already two years past the date the drive belt should be replaced. I could drive the car home as is, and park it. He and I'd talked over that possibility often enough in service visits over the last few years. Or he could do the brakes right then and there. Or, or, or... His reckoning was that after putting in the two thousand dollars, the ol' Saturn might get around two years before finally, truly, earning scrap-heap status. And he thought it was throwing good money after bad. His recommendation was a newer car, knowing that I've never bought an actual new car in my life.

So, I told him to pack it up and I'd drive it home as is. I knew my insurance was paid up until Remembrance Day. I wanted to extract the last bit of THAT money (well, the benefit of having spent that money, as required by law). And as I got closer to that day and investigated the possibility of doing without the car, I started to look at it as a day to just walk away. And I have.

Can I get by without a car at hand, rusting away in the driveway? I really think so. I might even be money in pocket, if I can rearrange those few times out and about, down to just one day a month. Shopper's Drug Mart, the beneficiaries of more than $300 a month in prescription bills, will deliver for free. Heck, they even call me these days, when I go a little long in renewing a prescription. I think I'm taking eight different kinds of pills daily. Patrick's wife Dawna has been doing Costco runs and asking me if I need anything for more than a year as it is. I was only maintaining my membership for McCain's French Fries and Heinz Ketchup, two of the most important food groups there are. I lament the passing of the availablity of the Kirkland Potato Chips. And other friends have volunteered to make milk and bread runs (Naturel Lactose Free 2% milk, Weight Watcher's White Bread).

I don't socialize much. When I do, it's because people have ignored the "UNWELCOME" mat at the front door and have come to see me. They apparently don't believe my good-bye sentiment, "Be A Stranger!" I spend my time reading, watching TV and using the computer for work and play. I actually have access through the internet to my clients' computers and, to be honest, clients like it when I stay away. A visit from me frequently brings work to a stop. I'm a bit of an attention hound. For bridge tournaments and the like, my partner of the day usually drives and I pay gas and parking. Works for them.

Ultimately, there will be yet other side benefits. Impulse control isn't one of my strongest suits. I know I dithered for 18 months before buying a tablet (which I love dearly). But generally, I'm a "See It, Buy It" kind of guy. Or a "I Feel Like Some Fast Food" guy. Not pizza, which can be delivered, but only enters the house when the Movie Gang is around. Nope, it's popcorn from Kernels. Or fries and a dog at my favourite local spot, Sonny's Drive-In. Then there is my total lack of control in front of a magazine rack. A magazine I can't partially (or fully) read on the internet is a rarity. And even when I do get one of those, I ready a small portion of it, browse through the rest and when finished, toss it onto the stack. And that stack fills two rooms and most of the basement in the house. Did I mention NO SELF CONTROL? If I'm right and can limit my excursions to one a month, I bet I could save upwards of another fifty bucks in simple lost opportunities to prove how weak my will is.

The single benefit that pleases my folks is that it cut down on my already meager time spent on the road. Less opportunities for kooks to kill me. In my last trip to my main client in the Saturn, I watched a car in front of me edge out into the left-hand turn lane, with blinkers indicated he was going to turn left. He then made a right-hand turn across two lanes of traffic and lived to tell about it because it was mid-afternoon and nobody was in the right lane and coming hard with the green light. On the way home, a somewhat similar situation saw a car go right THROUGH the red light I was sitting at, not even slowing the littlest bit to see if there was a crossing truck or whatever to blot out his (probably) besotted life. I actually caught up to the schmuck at the NEXT light. He couldn't speed on through that one because there cars in both lanes obeying, you know, the law. As soon as the light turned green, he started cutting in and out, risking a LOT of people's lives. I caught up to him AT THE NEXT RED LIGHT. This time, I turned off, not willing to engage in what had to be an incipient multi-car crash caused by this mental midget.

I've often said that the only benefit I could think of for getting rich was to be able to afford a chauffeur driven Humvee. These days, I'm not even sure that would be safe enough. No, it's better I let my car rust away in my version of Margaritaville.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

SPORTS: Act Like You Haven't Been There Before

I was talking to a friend and I mentioned the old saw, "Never meet your idols." Seems, a lot of the times, the idols have clay feet. I was telling her the story of meeting a former major TV star on the set of a movie, one that I had a crush on as a teenager. Turns out the lady in question was incredibly unpleasant ... and headed for a career crash out of the movies. Karma can be a friend.

Another of my heroes was Joe Paterno. He said the single quote I've repeated most often in my life from somebody in sports. "Act like you've been there before." It was said to a long-forgotten running back who, upon scoring, started dancing like he was at Studio 54. Can I date myself or what? Actually, more like a combination of a Studio 54 coked-up dancer and any of your pick of hyper-active animals from the zoo. He was saying, in essence, just hand the ball to the referee and jog back to the team huddle like you had done this several times a day and it was a ho-hum thing. Stop drawing attention to yourself in a team sport where nobody scores without lots of help from the faceless grunts on the offensive line.

Team first in a team sport. I wish the jackasses of the world (you know, Chad WhoCaresWhatHeSaysHisLastNameIs, troubled Terrell Owens and A. Bruce III) understood how contemptible they were to we who aren't interested in laughing at their zoo-like antics. If we wanted a clown show, a football game was the last place we'd turn our attention.

For that one statement, I had a lot of respect for Joe Pa. And it's all gone. Like him.

Tonight, just minutes ago, the Penn State head honchos tied a can to his butt, not letting him even finish out the season he'd earlier announced tonight would be his last. His record, his longevity, his famous quote, didn't save him from the fate he deserved starting a bit less than nine years ago.

The firing should have come a day or two after he 'reported' what he'd been told to the administration. His friend Jerry Sandusky has NOW been arrested for some allegedly awful things involving young boys, many from a charity for youngsters he ran. He allegedly took advantage of the nine years Paterno's largesse provided him to ruin many more lives. Nothing wrong with Paterno just following university procedure then and reporting it the way he did. But the clock ticking on his eventual disgrace began some time in the next couple of days after that. The most famous and respected man in Pennsylvannia didn't pursue the case. He didn't use his considerable clout to see if the story was true or not.

Football was too important to waste on investigating the disposition of the matter. He was proven, eventually, to be ethically bankrupt, if technically innocent according to the law.

My idol had a clay heart. I will never quote him ever again.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

LIFE: I Need To Retire. NOW!

So I get a phone call from the designated victim at my main client. The guy has been picked since they know I'm about to implode and he's one of the few I respect there and they hope that I will spare his life when I go thermo-nuclear.

THEY have a customer who's operational staff seems to consist of in-bred idiots who have somehow stumbled onto a fool-proof way to make money. Cuz, lord love a duck, these idiots establish new levels of stupidity every time I have to deal with one of their requests to change my client's software to accommodate their latest flight in la-la land. This crowd once had me change a product label five times. In ONE day.

So the newest request came yesterday. They want an asterisk on the end of their part numbers. Now, that doesn't SEEM like a bizarre request. But there's a small technical detail. The asterisk screws up barcodes. Well, maybe not ALL barcodes, but the most popular one, barcode 3 of 9. The one my client uses for ALL of its customers. And because of that, I have written very specific safeguards into the systems software there to prevent an asterisk from ever getting accidentally input into the part number system.

And today, even after sending my client the info about the barcode issue, they woke me up to tell me, yep, go ahead with changing 20 years of protective software to accommodate these loons. Besides, it will only be needed for six months, That's because the asterisk is going to used to show which products are being made of one material before changing over to another material a half year hence. No, the customer won't use a letter to designate the old material. Yes, the customer understands that they WON'T BE ABLE TO READ THE BARCODES. Yes, the customer is right, because they represent millions of dollars of net income to my client. And besides, it will only be for six months.


I have temper issues. It's a big reason why I work away from people. The assault laws and all. But my blood pressure spiked on this one. It's one thing to suggest stupid things. It's another thing entirely to ask for something, get told it's REALLY, REALLY A HORRIBLE IDEA, and then say, "Ya, I hear you. But do it anyway."

There's no getting around this. I will have to do it, although I have suggested at least one option that doesn't completely futz up the whole system and is barcodable (something asterisk-like, but not an asterisk). But if I can dilly dally long enough, maybe a falling piece of space debris will fall onto their building and wipe these morons off the face of the earth.

Or maybe I'll retire before then. Where's that ticket from last night's lottery?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

SPORTS: Solving The NBA CBA Conundrum

They are back negotiating in New York as I write this. And some optimism, pushed mainly by Chris Sheridan, is in the air. The optimism is based on some unassailable logic. These fools are losing money by the minute, even if they haven't actually lost any games, permanently. The owners HAVE lost their exhibition cherry on the top of their payday Sundays.

Given my oft-told antipathy towards unions, it might be surprising that I think the players should get the 53 percent of BRI (basketball related income) that marks a four percent reduction from the just expired pact. I do think 50-50 is fair, but the monies are so huge, that haggling over getting to 50-50 by ownership and potentially punting the season, is not worth it. At 53-47, there is evidence that the 22 or so NBA teams that supposedly lost money, can get back to even. Might not guarantee multi millions in profit for all, but breaking even becomes realistic for all.

For giving in at 53 percent, I want (and so do the team owners) the owners to win the systemic part of the contract. There HAS to be change there to change the game and give the smaller markets a chance to compete with the bigger markets on the basis of management and a little luck, rather than with big bucks.

I've seen many, many articles that say parity is impossible in the NBA and that the raising popularity of the game is proof that the public loves having super-teams dominate the game. It has been ever thus. Celtics vs. Lakers seemingly every other year, with super-star driven temporary upstarts like the Jordan-led Bulls, the Olajuwon-led Rockets and the Robinson/Duncan-led Spurs providing the intermissions between Boston and L.A. playing for it all. The Rose-led Bulls, the Durant-led Thunder and the Miami Amigos are the new intermission acts. I fear the Mavs are a one-year wonder. But I'd be happy to be wrong.

Welllll, I think the arguments are built on a foundation of quicksand. The ABSENCE of proof is NOT the PROOF of absence. Because league conditions have never been good for parity, there is NO PROOF that parity isn't possible. And if possible, wouldn't parity be MORE POPULAR than the current 'super-team as target' model. The NBA SHOULD strive for the NFL model, not a modified NHL model. Or god forbid, that bleepin' MLB model, where the Jays have to hope for off-years from the Yankees AND the Red Sox, or lose for a generation, to build up a talent base similar to that of the Rays. And even the Rays are looking at the expiration of that talent pipeline, meaning they'll have to retrench to rebuilding mode by the end of this decade.

The Bob Costas plan is a good start for systemic changes. Costas points out that every sports game that generates revenue requires TWO teams. The Knicks don't draw thousands of on-site fans and millions in TV and radio revenue (plus merchandising) for intra-squad games. Nope. Logically, the two teams should then share the proceeds of conducting their business in public. While James Dolan and Jerry Buss might sputter and bluster, they can't argue with Costas' logic. But they have to do what ever team will have to do. They will have to throw half of what they get for each game, minus well-audited expenses, over and above the NBA Head-Office distributed money, into a pot that gets shared equally by all teams at the end of the year. While the biggest part of what they get back will be their own money, it will be their FAIR SHARE of the money.

This sharing HAS to be part of the new CBA. It means the teams can punt the BRI split agreement and take the onus of returning profitability to the small markets off the players and put it on the owner's partners in the NBA, their fellow owners. If you bargain collectively, you ARE a collective.

Now, Dolan and Buss et al are going to be loathe to put bucks into other owners' pockets and have them then go and spend that on bling for their beloveds. They'll want some NBA ties to the money so that it gets put back into the following year's pot. So the owners are going to have to institute a floor payroll-wise. This will prevent teams from dunkirking a year (or in the Knicks' case, YEARS) to get some hoped-for saviour in the draft or on the free agent market. So, while there can be a soft cap, there has to be a floor to protect the fans of truly futzed-up franchises from ownership rolling the dice.

And, despite the sharing, there has to be a cap that is real in more than hope, which is more of the case these days. There can't be a 2/1 spread between teams. The floor will help with that. But there has to be some damage to the ability for some teams to outspend their mistakes. Note, I didn't say other teams. Mistakes. The San Antonio Spurs, a very well franchise, have lost money the last two years. Peter Holt, the owner, seems a pretty reasonable guy. His team has excelled over the last decade, won more than their little town's share of NBA crowns. But he says all of that only postponed the moment they lost money, which they have for two years in a row. To that, I say two words. Richard Jefferson. A mistake.

But that seems to be the only mistake the Spurs have made. Compare that to the series of mistakes the always-profitable Knicks have made over the same period. It's a systemic advantage based on the Knicks being located in New York and the problem with saying, well, at least they'll never be a threat to win it all with Dolan in charge, is that the rest of the league PAYS for the Knicks' mistakes too.

Because salaries are compared, what the Knicks over-pay becomes an argument in the contract negotiations for other teams with other players. Ideally it shouldn't. But it does. Agents have to earn their three percent. Plus, the Knicks' willingness to over-pay willy nilly means players want to get the end of that particular rainbow. Thus, bleepin' mental midgets like Anthony orchestrate their move to the Big Apple. Ariston's Miami operation and Buss' Lakers all become alternative locales for re-location. L.A.'s not nearly as badly run as the Knicks, but Hollywood beckons the Dwight Howard's of the world, doing half of the recruiting work. That Howard apparently thinks he's underexposed toiling in Orland and wants to move to the Left Coast a year hence, diminishes him. Mind you, if the Magic ownership, already spending in luxury tax territory, can UP the spending and put a REAL championship contender around him, Howard might deign to stay. Might.

So, yes, there has to be other changes to limit the players' ability to form super-teams (Miami), or issue not-so-private trade me now, cuz I'm leaving in a year demands. And, as for guys with existing long-term contracts who issue trade demands and stop trying too hard while waiting, I suggest the CBA include the ability to trade players to the CBA, the Chinese Basketball Association. I truly and completely hate the players who do this crap. But onto my solutions.

No limit to individual salaries. Pay Dwayne Wade $50M and the odds the Heat will have the tucker to add the other Amigos diminishes drastically. There ARE studies that show the very best of the super-stars really are worth $30M a year AND UPWARDS! There might only be fifteen or so true super-stars, but if each gets paid what they are worth, they'll be spread around 15 teams, rather than ganged up on four or five. If some of the stars decide to take drastic pay haircuts to go for the title, I guarantee it will be on one-year contracts, two years at the most. And, as the Heat have shown, it might take two years to get their acts completely integrated. And then the pact will be over.

Put an aggressive sliding scale luxury tax plan in place. Because of the Costas plan, they ability to go completely crazy will be limited to any business-like team owner. For the owners who treat their teams as hobby toys, there's NO cap possible. But it should HURT to go crazy. So start the luxury tax at $1.25 for every dollar for the first million over the soft cap number. And double it for 1-5 Million over the cap. And double it again after that to 10 million. And DOUBLE that again after 10 million. The luxury tax goes into the non-luxury teams pot to be distributed to them. And that's over-and-above the other shared revenue pot.

Establish a salary floor. The floor should be 75-80 percent of the soft cap. And, here's the dunkirk season kicker. The team should have a minimum salary going forward at the end of the season too. No more having two minimum salary players on the payroll before heading into the off-season to raid other teams of their best free agents. What should that floor be? I'm guessing 25 percent might be about right.

Increase trade options. Right now, the difference in deals when calculating total salary exchanged is a million dollars or 125 percent. Make the percentage 150 percent. And I wouldn't cry in my soup if it was 175 percent. This will get rid of a lot or throw-in players, some of whom have local followings and some of whom have deal-killing abilities (Devean George comes to mind). This will largely create principal for principal trades. Or at least more of them. As an aside, no sign and trades. If you think the player is headed elsewhere in the off-season, trade him at the deadline. Oh, and no trade exceptions. These are mostly mythical paperwork to mollify the team losing the star anyways. And yes, I know Colangelo made decent use of portions of exceptions in the past. It's still mostly P.R. fluffery.

Exceptions need to be culled back. Establish mid-level exception contracts that increase in value as some percentage of overall BRI. That protects the players' ability to enjoy the fruits of their increased revenue generating. But no bloody yearly raises. It's an EXCEPTION. If the player doesn't want an exception contract, don't sign one. There are  other teams in the league. As for the number and substance of exceptions, I would offer something like the mid-level exception that currently exists (say four times the league minimum) and a second one to be used one at a time that represents double the league minimum salary for a player with at least eight years experience in the league. These are the kind of roster fillers that any team can use and these old pros shouldn't have to play for the league minimum like some second-round draft choice.

Pay for play. Injuries are a fact of life. Teams need some protection against long-term injuries. The players should STILL get paid, but the impact an injury has on the teams should be mitigated in some way. That includes cap-hit reductions of an immediate nature once a player has been deemed out for the season. Sure, third-party (League) doctors have to be the arbiter of being out for the season, but a team has to have the ability to use newly-available space to do something right there and then. Might not be possible if the injured player is a star, but for supporting characters, it might get the team back to par. If the injury extends into the next season, there should be provision to put the player on the injured list for say a half-seaon or full season. In the first case, the team gets only cap relief. In the second case, it's cap relief and an extra roster spot. If the player wishes to contest the medical exception, he can be granted his release from the contract, but at the cost of giving up his guaranteed remaining salary.

Contract limits. I think it was Marvin Miller who once observed that the worst thing that could happen to players in baseball was if all contracts were limited to one year and every player became a free agent every winter. It would drive down contracts in a manner what would shock the players. Supply and demand. The effect in basketball, due to the smaller active rosters (eight to nine versus 25), would be chaos, leading to more Miami get-togethers. But, shorter contracts still hews closer to the supply vs. demand ideal sweet spot. Which might be two-year contracts or three-year contracts. But at the very least, the longest contract should only be four years. Even for super-stars. This mitigates the injury problem from above, and the motivation problem, which we'll call the Eddie Curry Rule. For older players who suddenly become less than what they were (Rashard Lewis, Richard Jefferson and Richard Hamilton come immediately to mind), the long-term pain is a lot shorter.

Wink, wink. As much as I hate blackmailing players (Anthony, Carter, et al), I really, really, REALLY hate paying players to play for somebody else. Players angle for buyouts at the end of the season and some of them have mastered the ability to get traded and then re-sign back with their original teams in time for the playoffs. Ilgauskas did that a couple of years ago, getting a late-season month-long vacation to rest up for LeBron James' last playoff run with the Cavaliers. New rule. A player who accepts a buyout is barred from resigning with any team that held his rights, however briefly, during the current season. AND, the player may only sign for the pro-rated minimum salary rate for the remainder of the season. That limits (mostly) double-dipping AND eliminates a rationale for a player to do whatever it takes to get a buyout. And by the way, I would limit ALL buyouts to a ratio of games played versus games left. For example, if a player angles for a buyout for the remainder of the season half-way through it, he gets a maximum of 50 percent of his remaining contracted-for salary. If he waits for the three-quarter mark, he gets 75 percent of the value.

Trade demands should cost the player. He should have some skin in the deal. If he doesn't want to honour his contract, fine. But the team should have the option of cutting the sorry excuse for a jackass at a reduced cost, rather than trading him for  a dime on the dollar of value. Why should the team have to take back salary ballast because the s.o.b. thinks his contract his a one-way street in his favour? So make the trade demand something official. A player has to register a trade demand with the league office. At which point, the clock starts ticking. After 15 days, the team has to have traded the player, OR can release him for a cost system similar to the system outlined above. The cost to the team is a financial function of how much of the contract the trade-demanding player has fulfilled versus what's remaining. And a released player via a trade demand can ONLY sign for the league minimum for the length of the contract he signs in the same season as his release. Thus, the official response to any grousing player is, "Do you want to make that official?" That will shut up MOST of the gripers.

Well, there is my systemic changes. It's not complete. There's a thousand smaller changes that will be implemented in addition to what I've laid out above. But this system WILL go a long ways to achieving parity by limiting super-teams. It will make most NBA franchises profitable and the well-run ones even more profitable because they will get playoff cash. It will close some of the loopholes the lowest of the low from shaming their sport with their idiotic choices on and off the floor. Limit the truly hateful parts of the NBA and it will get even MORE popular.

And you can't prove I'm wrong. Because everything I've written is almost inevitably unlikely to be implemented. See, I can use flawed logic too.

Friday, October 14, 2011

SPORTS: The Joey Votto Trade

Okay, I've addressed this, this week. There won't be a trade between the Blue Jays and the Reds that puts Joey Votto in a Blue Jay uniform. On the scale of possibilities ... well it isn't on the scale of possibilities.

I read it again at where the author suggested Adam Lind as the foundation of a trade between the two teams. The author is obviously a huge Adam Lind fan. A relative perhaps?

Here's what I TRIED to log in as a comment. Unfortunately I'm not smart enough to let my security precautions allow this comment. Besides, it requires being an active social community member. I don't do social media. Anyway ...

"The column thesis involving Lind is flawed because the reason that the Reds are even contemplating a trade of Votto ("We will listen, but we are not actively shopping Joey."), is because of Yonder Alonso. So no Lind. The trade speculation involves Cincy fans fantasizing about acquiring Bautista and/or Romero in a lop-sided deal and Toronto fans fantasizing about getting Votto for 50 cents on the dollar. While Toronto HAS the assets to acquire Votto, it would be a question of robbing Paul to pay Peter. The kinds of trades Anthopoulos needs to make are ones where minor league assets and possibly a major league sufficiency of value can be converted into better pieces. Right now, the only such pieces are Escobar and Arrencibia (maybe Snider, but l'm one of the non-Snider believers), presuming the Blue Jays' management believes enough in Hechavarria and D'Arnaud. Escobar would be coveted by the Reds, but Arrencibia, not so much. So, would the Reds be willing to trade for prospects? Not that I've heard. The chances of a Blue Jays-Reds trade are exceedingly slim. Not zero, but not worth the bandwidth that we've wasted on it."

Votto will be free to sign with Toronto two winters from now. Will the Jays be a contender before that? Not without a Fielder or a Pujols joining the team. And not with the gigantic talent hole would be the result in the aftermath of an immediate Votto acquisition ... with its inherent risks that he walks two years later.

So unless the Cincy GM has a huge mental lapse, a Wells Contract Acquisition level lapse, there will be no trade. At least to Toronto. The only reason I can't say NO CHANCE at all, is well, that Wells trade that cemented Alex Anthopoulos' rep as a magic-worker.

As for the writers and fans who yak about this kind of folderal, I have promised Mom I wouldn't use the M word at all today. She didn't say anything about Ignoramuses though.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

SPORTS: Starting and Finishing 2012

My interest in the baseball play-offs waned somewhat once my prediction of a Phillie victory over Detroit became yet one more excuse to avoid the betting parlours. Do they still have betting parlours anymore? At any rate, my thoughts, as evidenced the last two days, has turned to the Toronto Blue Jays of 2012 (and the shenanigans that will shape them between now and then).

Question: How many Blue Jays are you sure will start AND finish the year as Toronto Blue Jays, considering their roster now, before the World Series begins? My answer? FOUR!

The Blue Jays are not World Series contenders as presently constituted. They are what they are. A .500 club where a solid to great season for most of their current players would get them to just short of 90 wins. And that won't change appreciably with little change in current faces two and three years down the line. In fact, it'd better change. Or I suspect we would then find out that the great useless wizard of odds, J.P. Ricciardi would be revealed as having never been fired and was operating the club secretly from behind the screen in New England. But enough of my nightmares.

Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Ricky Romero and Henderson Alvarez will start and finish in Toronto. Everybody else? Hope they don't have long-term leases.

That's not to say that the other 21 guys in Toronto whites need to start packing right away. But they all won't be back and the ones that start in Toronto are no guarantee to finish in the same place.


As much as the pitchers would like Jose Molina back, the fact is that he's more valuable to Toronto as a Type B Free Agent and the sandwich pick he'd earn Toronto if he turned down arbitration and signed elsewhere this off-season. Swapping him out for one of the Pittsburgh coming cast-offs might work out for both clubs. And, while J.P. Arrencibia did knock the ball out of the park frequently enough to earn Rookie of the Year comments, he's never going to hit for average nor turn into a defensive whiz. But he might have a sell-high price that proves irresistable around the big leagues. Whether he goes in the off-season or part way through the year when uber-prospect Travis D'Arnaud goes the Lawrie route in a short stay in Las Vegas, the Toronto catcher of the future is NOT named Arrencibia. Trading him ASAP keeps his value as high as it's going to go. Sign a Jason Varitek or a Gerald Laird to babysit for the months D'Arnaud's in the Nevada desert and you might have the best of all worlds.


Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion both represent trade targets due to their contracts and chances of earning out on those contracts. Lind has a very favourable pay package with affordable options, while Encarnacion is a low-cost doubles machine who's busted 20 homers two of the last three seasons. Either could be all-year Jays next year, or both could be gone in a free-agent fuelled re-vamping this off-season. Frankly, Lind's the more valuable trade chip, with the higher up-side. He hits left-handed and that's a good thing. Plus, he's a really good guy that doesn't need Bautista mothering him. On the other hand, Encarnacion's fielding woes aside, he's a candidate to be moved. First, in the right environment, I think he could thrive and wouldn't be that much of a defensive liability. Secondly, he's signed for a year on a real nice ticket. Plus, I'd like to see him try LF to see if he could hide out there and provide the occasional infield help on the corners. If he COULD play LF, he'd make an almost ideal NATIONAL League player. What at the odds either of them moves? Less than 50-50. But it's not zero.

Shortstop Yunel Escobar ALSO has a team-friendly contract and he's re-emerged as a solid player thanks, apparently, to the guiding influences of Bautista. I'd be awfully wary of trading for him if I was one of the other 28 teams that might do so. I presume Atlanta would not be on that list. But the guy is thisclose to being the All-Star shortstop in the American League for the next half-decade. Escobar's problem is that Toronto has Adeiny Hechavarria on a major league contract. He never impresses with his bat, but has hit better each step up the ladder. Getting him to Toronto and Bautista's influences might just finish the polishing the defensive whiz needs to be an integral part of the next contending Blue Jay team. Add Hechavarria to whatever prizes Escobar could bring back could make Escobar an ex-Jay. Certainly, the validity of the trade plan should be evident a few months into Hechavarria's stay in Las Vegas.

Kelly Johnson is the best second-base alternative for Toronto next year, and if signed, would, indeed, finish the season in Toronto. But being the best free agent at the position (assuming Arizona finds a way to keep ex-Jay Aaron Hill), might price him out of Anthopoulous' adjudged price for his talent. And if AA has done anything, it's prove he won't go past his price. Johnson's advantage comes from Toronto's one organizational lack, second basemen. If pushed the wall, I'm sure Anthopoulos would reach out and see what San Diego would want for the last year of Orlando Hudson's contract. The Padres might be willing to deal the one-time Jay for nothing more than salary relief. Such a move, or something similar to it, would allow Anthopoulos to stave off the decision for another year. So, it's no lead pipe cinch that Johnson's back. Or that Hill would be coming back either.

Speaking of coming back, it's been so stated so often, that the return of John McDonald to Toronto borders on tampering. McDonald has all the appearance of a Toronto lifer. But it was he that approached management and discussed the desire to get meaningful October baseball on his resume before he packed it in. Did his taste in Arizona whet his appetite for more? Could he spurn the playing contract in Toronto to sign with, say the Phillies? I'd say no, but I've been wrong before. Regardless, if he does come back, there's no regular role for Mike McCoy. And that would be disappointing, Because I think he's a perfect 25th guy. But he's a free agent and won't have to accept the Toronto-Las Vegas shuttle for next year.

Mark Teahen and any other Blue Jay infielder not named Brett Lawrie. Gone one way or another. And Lawrie? Starting 3B in the All-Star Game. A Blue Jay for life. Hopefully.


Bautista will spend the whole year in right field, barring a long-term Lawrie injury. It's not like Brett stayed healthy all of 2010 and will never see the wrong side of the disabled list again. He's kamikaze all the way. Unfortunately, Jose demonstrated a little proclivity in that area himself, as he didn't give the walls the consideration they deserved. Even in meaningless All-Star Games. But the kind of idiot rumours like the Votto-Bautista trade scenarios postulated by the mentally infirm are nothing more than pipedreams for the other side. At $14M annually, Bautista is a bargain just for his on-field exploits. He might be worth that price for what he does off the field, too. Simply the best contract in the game.

Colby Rasmus is on a four-month trial in centre field next season. If he shows he can do the job, he becomes a long-term Blue Jay. If he makes it look like his first two seasons in St. Louis are the outliers, then Anthopoulos will simply bring up Anthony Gose to man the spot and deal Rasmus for whatever leftover value he might have. In the long-run, it cost this team some 2011 wins and Marc Rzepczynski to acquire Rasmus. And while the club might later rue the trade, this probably isn't a case of giving up Lou Brock to get Ernie Broglio. Given how quickly Anthopoulos admits his mistakes, a slow-starting Rasmus wouldn't get a lot of rope. On the other hand, Rasmus MIGHT be the star centre-fielder a contending team wins with. In that case, Gose to centre, Rasmus to right and Bautista to DH might happen sooner than people think. At the very least, Gose will get a go sometime in the second half this year. Might be September, might be earlier. The club needs to find out whether he can hit enough to get on-base and utilize his top-rated speed. The defence is major-league worthy right now.

Which leaves us with LF, the place where prospects go to disappoint in Toronto. It's been that way for decades. I'm on record with Toronto needing to cut bait with Travis Snider. Maybe he blossoms elsewhere. But he's not going to do it in Toronto. If anything, manager John Farrell seemed harder on him than did Clarence Gaston. If that's possible. And he and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy do not click. And while I DO see the chance that Murphy moves on, it's not overly likely that he would be replaced by Snider's hitting guru in Vegas. It would be decidely against the odds that Snider plays all year long in Toronto.

I like Eric Thames on a personal level. He seems to get it. But he's not going to be a defensive asset, not now, not ever. And I really, really fear his offense was very largely the creation of batting in front of Bautista, frequently with Escobar on base. Is batting .280 with some power good enough for a contending team? Would, say Rasmus, do better in the same luxurious spot? My answer to those questions is NO and PROBABLY. My biggest issue would then be to do what with Thames? He's liable to become an AAAA guy in Vegas. So, I think a trade might be Toronto's advantage. It's not as dire as the need to move out Snider. And he could be a reasonable place-holder on another non-contending team, with the resulting chance he might take the next step. But I wouldn't bet the farm he does the full-year thing. Not with Gose, Jake Marisnick and even Moises Sierra on the way.

Rajai Davis will start the season as almost the perfect fourth outfielder. He offers speed and some occasional power. He could, in fact, play left field for the team all season in his walk year. But, three things conspire against him. He's become a weaker fielder each of the last three years, using speed to overcome less and less of his lousy baseball sense. He's got a big ticker for a fourth outfielder. And he was brittle last year. On the other hand, his package is the kind that always attracts contending teams come the end of July. Sooooo, he stays for four months to build up value and then joins the caravan out of town when the action heats up.

Adam Loewen? A better story than a result. He's too old for real prospect status. My guess is that he's a fifth outfielder that some team will play as a fourth outfielder because he has enough defensive chops to play centre. But that team will not be Toronto. Dewayne Wise? Already gone.


Ricky Romero stays. 'Nuff said. Any idea of packing Romero and Lawrie AND more to get Joey Votto is so completely idiotic as not to deserve comment. But I will. MORONS. ALL OF YOU.

My last guaranteed keep is Henderson Alvarez, who would have elicited a "Who's he?" at the start of the last season by most everybody in fandom. I have always said the major league stars come from AA, that spending a year in AAA is a tacit admittal that the guy can be good, but never great. And I think Alvarez continues this trend. He might not top the rotation, but he'll fill the fourth or maybe the fifth slot all year long. Pitched too much to be a Rookie of the Year candidate in the coming season. Otherwise, save for those few extra innings, I think he'd be a leading contender.

Brandan Morrow is tittilating. Enough stuff for a number one starter, enough stuff to solve the Toronto Blue Jay closer issue. And enough less-than-spectacular nights to wonder if keeping Brandon League might have been the way to go after all. Sure, League did the same dance, but at least he was home-grown. That said, the only way Morrow doesn't start and finish in T.O. next year is because he gets traded in the off-season for something akin to an expensive sure thing. IF Tampa Bay wasn't in the same division, a Morrow for James Shields kind of deal would be the kind that would get him out of T.O. The other place to look might be Atlanta. Trading Morrow is unlikely, just not inconceivable.

Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek and Dustin McGowan each have chances to start and finish starting in Toronto come 2012. I've never been a Cecil fan and think he could end up elsewhere the easiest of the lot. He's won 15 games as recently as 2010 and he was dynamite against left-handed batting even in his disastrous 2011. He'll eventually be a left-handed relief specialist, a la Arthur Lee Rhodes. But Cecil is the one pitcher that might bring back the most interesting return for the team. Selling of Drabek at this point would be almost counter-productive. Finding the right coach for him in Vegas is paramount to rebuilding his value. And it wouldn't shock me if they do 'Roy Halladay Redux' and send Drabek all the way to the beginning to rebuild his confidence, command and concentration. Which would not surprise me in replicating the Halladay result. On the other hand, Drabek might just actually be a nova who is now eclipsed. Either way, don't write his name into the pitching logs for all of next season. McGowan's health is the issue that prevents HIM from doing that. His command seemed to be back and he was pitching in the mid-90s again. Besides being a great comeback story, McGowan also has the pitching skill set to earn a rotation slot. Unfortunately, confidence in him requires having a surgeon on call.

There are kids who powered Lansing and New Hampshire on the way to great seasons last year. They've already passed might-have-beens like Brad Mills already. Will any of them, most likely Deck McGuire or Chad Beck, join Alvarez in Toronto? At various points in the season. But guaranteed for any of them? No.


The closer will not be Frankie Francisco next year. Might be Morrow. Might be one of the kids from New Hampshire. Probably will be a hired gun from elsewhere. Listed order of preference: Ryan Madson, Jon Papelbon, Matt Thornton, Heath Bell, Frankie Rodriguez. Put Jose Valverde at the head of the list if Detroit bizarrely lets him go. As for Francisco, he's gone for the sandwich pick he earned. Toronto won't pay his ticket at the price he'll get elsewhere.

Every other reliever who finished the season in Toronto are going to be in competition to come back. Casey Janssen and Jesse Litsch look like keepers, as does long-man Carlos Villanueva. It wouldn't be beyond the realm to see Shawn Camp and/or John Rauch start the year in Toronto on new deals. But each of those five is right-handed. One or two will definitely not be back, with Camp and Rauch being the likely cases. I think Rauch will be a Type B and I'm guessing Camp's close. Joel Carreno, another righty, did enough to suggest he'd compete, while still leaving Las Vegas as his likely season-starting residence.

As it stands now, Luis Perez did enough to suggest he COULD be part of the left-handed section of the team. But consistency wasn't his by-word. He looked a lot better in the starting rotation than he did in relief. Which means Toronto could have a brand-new lefty line-up in the bullpen. Who these new guys are is anybody's guess.

Bottom line with any bullpen is change. Not a single pitcher on this list of bullpen arms is even close to being guaranteed long-term Toronto residence. I mean, Rzepczynski was as close to a lock for long-term Toronto residence as the team had last year ... until he went to St. Louis in the Rasmus deal. Jason Frasor. Remember him? Set the club record for appearances by a pitcher. And days later was a Chicago White Sox.

Such is the lot in life of a bullpen pitcher (unless named Mariano Rivera), that they all keep their suitcases packed.


So, I rest my case. How many Blue Jays will play out the whole season next year here in Toronto. The odds are about 12-16 will pull off the feat. The number of guaranteed full-year residents in Toronto from the current 40-man roster? Well, I say four. But you know, I could be a tad bit optimistic in that prediction.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

SPORTS: Pushing All In THIS Year. Or Next?

Toronto Blue Jays fans have been hankering for a revival of the early nineties when the club was world champion twice over ... and the team with the largest payroll. The latter will never happen again. In fact, tripling the payroll wouldn't even get them within a all-star pitcher's contract of the New York Yankees. And might not even get them past the Boston Red Sox payroll. But the first part? Well, the Blue Jay fans are dreaming of ticker tape parades again.

Which presents a problem for GM Alex Anthopoulos. He's got a .500 ball club that has the locals all hot and bothered. "Spend some money," they all say, certain that with only a few more shekels from Rogers' coffers, the Blue Jays could be world champions again. The age-impaired Yanks, the payroll-stricken Rays and the apparent return of Babe Ruth's Curse to the hallowed ground of Fenway Park all demand instant action.

BUT, is THIS year the year AA pushes all in? Could he sell one more rebuilding year before breaking the piggy bank in the winter of 2012-2013? Fact is, Anthopoulos hates the idea of giving away a first-round draft pick as compensation for signing a Type A free agent. Another year of stocking the Blue Jays farm system would leave him better placed to trade for ready Major League talent a year from now or to go on a draft-pick and money costing spree next off-season. That's assuming the current rules are still in effect once MLB and the player's union finish off their collective bargaining agreement this winter. That agreement MIGHT have an extra wild card in place for 2012. Might not. But it almost certaily will have that extra carrot on a stick come 2013.

On the other hand, the natives are restless. For all the good AA's done in ridding our memories of J.P. Ricciardi (a process I thought impossible), his results have been a better team playing to about the same performance levels as his sad sack predecessor. Oh, the future is so bright you have to wear blue-colour shades. But add one more season like the last two, maybe even a drop-off to 1st round draft pick protected sub-.500 status, and you might hear more than just rumbles from the fans. And Anthopoulos fan and protector Paul Beeston is only signed as head honcho through to the end of next year. I'd like to think that Beest is here to enjoy the ride back to prominence, but I wouldn't mortgage the house on it. No guarantees that Patrick and Dawna would let me take up residence on their couch.

The other thing to consider is whether this is the off-season to go free agent hunting? Ideally, the Jays would like to do it all in one off-season because then you pay off Type A free agent acquisitions in the likes of second, third and maybe even fourth-round draft picks. Do it year by year and the cost (again assuming a continuation of current rules) is first round picks each year. And while only about a third of first round picks click, doing it three years in a row means you have likely lost a star for your three expensive new acquisitions.

It's not like Toronto doesn't have holes the kids might not cover in the near term. Toronto needs a second baseman, a left-field solution, a closer, some other relievers and a stud for the top of the rotation (and wouldn't turn down two). If you don't believe in an Adam Lind bounce back, you need a first baseman. And one of the above-mentioned additions needs to be somebody who can put the fear in the thought of walking Jose Bautista with first base open.

The second baseman in question should be left-handed hitting Kelly Johnson. I expect a bounce-back season for him. And his cost is, more or less, already buried in the current payroll. 

Now, if I had an EXTRA $60M to play around with, I'd see if I could get Yu Darvish for something less than $20M after factoring in the posting fee. That pickup requires money only. I'd look at another $15M for a closer, prefering Ryan Madson over Jon Papelbon because donating to the well-being of the BoSox doesn't feel right. And I'd give the rest (and a bit more) to Prince Fielder. Old Toronto assistant GM Gord Ash could make better use out of that first round pick. And I'd hope huge fan favourite John McDonald would get an offer so immense, he'd have to turn down a set-in-stone return to Toronto so that the Jays could re-sign Mike McCoy. I know, heresy. But I think Mikey brings just a bit more to the 25th man role than would McDonald. Better still would have McDonald retiring to a role as a coach, one that could see him re-activated in the case of a dire emergency.

Then, I would start trading some of the talent to fill out the pen. Tampa Bay did it. Texas re-tooled mid summer. Minnesota failed miserably at the task. I think some of the young talent Toronto possesses and the right mix and match picks could work. But the team needs some of the current holdovers to step up and get lucky with the incoming lefties (at least two). The most important trade would be the one sending Lind or Edwin Encarnacion packing to shore up left field. Left field SHOULD be the easiest spot on the field to fill with an able player. Finally, the second pitching stud would require Brandon Morrow (or Brett Cecil with some myopic GM, but they just sent Tony Reagins packing in Anaheim, oh well) plus some farm subsidies.

But, let's say Anthopoulos holds the pay stubs and cards tight and waits for ANOTHER YEAR. The crop for next winter has lots of outfielders and starting pitchers of worth, but those crops can be cut down considerably in the interim. Assuming most of the would-be free agents do re-resign, the fact is,  this year's depleted group might look pretty good to what might be the pickings a year from now. Which might then lead to Toronto depending on the graduating group of kids they have in the pipeline. Again. Which might prove the most winning decision, both for the team on the field and for the accountants at head office. On the other hand, hitting the quinella isn't something Toronto fans would be happy about until it paid off. It might turn out that the team's MVP (Most Valuable Personnel) will be the beleagured group in the PR Office.

Anthopoulos has long postulated a trading regime for team improvement. And barring the Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco trade (Grrrr, teeth gnashing), it's hard to see where Anthopoulos has done much wrong. He's quick to move guys no matter what they've done in the short term to win his heart. He understands the allure of young pitchers, and even middle-aged ones. He connives team-positive options on just about every contract he gets signed, thus limiting the fall-out when an Aaron Hill or an Adam Lind falls down. Those contracts are attractive, even with sligthly sub-par results. So, it's not unforseeable that AA gets busy on the trading front over the next 30 months or so.

But first he has to ask himself that cogent question. This year or next?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

SPORTS: The 1B Conundrum

Wouldn't it be great to have Albert Pujols in the Toronto Blue Jays' line-up next year, even if it cost $30M a season to put him there? And you know, watching more of Prince Fielder over the last ten days has me convinced he'd look almost as good, even at $27M. BUT, although I don't think GM Alex Anthopoulos has ever categorically denied he's had the same dream, I'm coming around to the idea that neither NL star is coming to T.O. to play in Blue Jay whites.

To be honest, I've also come around to the idea of prefering Fielder over Pujols. I first saw the rotund Milwaukee Brewer as a pre-teen, bashing balls out of the Toronto ballyard. He wasn't the most svelte of kids even then, but the girth he now sports is waaaay more muscle than fat and he does possess two ever-lovin' qualities. He has extremely quick hands, the David Ortiz kind that lasts well past the rest of his body's best-before date. And he's left-handed.

The idea of getting either Pujols or Fielder is founded very much on the need for protection for Jose Bautista. The right-swinging Pujols would do that, but there's a certain nightmarish charm in having a lefty slugger protect the righty Bautista. Late in games, it's going to take two one-batter situational pitchers to get around the duo.

And to be honest, Fielder is a better fielder than merely sighting him at the All-Star Game would have you believe. Maybe not Gold Glove good, but good. Over a seven-year contract for the 29-year old, I wouldn't be surprised to see him be a first choice at 1B for four of the seven years. Then, he could (and would) settle back into an Ortizian role for the remainder of his contract. In other words, I would have no problem paying either his bill or Pujols' bill should either guy deign to head north of the 49th Parallel.

In fact, I've stumped for the very idea. It's not like the Jays aren't in a position to outbid baseball for either guy. And getting Bautista protection would up Joey Bats' production. So, why not do it?

The makeup of the team currently, AA's antipathy towards losing a first-round draft pick ... and Bautista.

I hadn't thought much about it until a column posting elsewhere brought it up, but it might not be a good idea to get a DH type because that position MIGHT be manned by Bautista rather sooner than later. I know the defensive metrics aren't very fair to Bautista who's a better right fielder than the numbers seem to say. Plus, he can fill in at 3B, where I think Brett Lawrie might miss more than the occasional game, playing kamikaze style all the time. But really, with the upcoming Blue Jay outfield talent, it's more than possible that Joey Bats might turn out to be a DH as soon as two seasons from now.

Can you sign a player long-term that will have to share the DH slot, and possibly 1B, with Bautista? Right around the time you might HAVE to move Bautista into DH, the career arcs of either Pujols or Fielder might be headed in the exact same direction.

That's a conundrum that need's resolving before signing either of the sluggers, or even thinking about a Joey Votto trade, a dream dreamt up by Walt Jocketty, who talks like he wouldn't even think about that, but then adds a Mark Texiera-like booty to emerging 1B candidate Yonder Alonso and sees a bright rosy Cincy Reds future.

Besides, even if AA can nab one of the three aforementioned first sackers, whither Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion?

Lind is an underpaid and under-appreciated ball player who opened eyes this summer with his very solid play around first base. While not Gold Glove level, I don't see it beyond the possibility he might get there. I was aware of his history as a collegiate first baseman, but was gob-smacked at how good he was. His problem, of course, was that his numbers offensively took a second-half tumble, removing his ability to protect Bautista, which resulted in a down-turn in Bautista's numbers, maybe costing him the MVP. But here's something the numbers didn't reveal. He became a first-time father at the end of the season. Births, Marriages, Deaths and Divorces. People get through these life-changing events, but most times, the passage isn't smooth. Baseball is a game of the three C's, Capability, Confidence and Concentration. Have a break in the third C and baseball can become a very hard game to play. It wouldn't shock me at all if Lind returned to being a Silver Slugger winning elite player. He did that two years ago and his hot streak early in the season, split in two by his injury, was long enough for me to think he's still got it. Plus, he's got that incredibly team-friendly contract,

Encarnacion really had me going in August. I'd seen that seed in him and thought we were watching the emergence of a mini-Bautista, with the actual Bautista serving as his mentor and chief kicker of the ass. But as suddenly as it came, it went away. Fooled again. E-5/E-3 actually became somewhat reliable defensively and kept it at that level through the finish line. But his old lunging habits at the plate returned in September, although not to the same degree as his horrible first two months. Still, given the assurety of his presence in the line-up, Encarnacion earned out his contract, and then some. In fact, he'll be pretty well underpaid in 2012 if he merely duplicates 2011, although the Jays hope he smooths out the peak and valley results. And, if he can just do June-August twice over in 2012, well he'll be great.

So, barring a change in the Blue Jays' roster, you need one of Bautista or Encarnacion to play the outfield (Encarnacion practiced in LF, but never played there, I believe), the other to play DH in a tandem with 1B Lind. Add one of the NL stars and you have to move one of the players currently ensconsed here in Toronto. Play Encarnacion part-time and he'll never rise to meet that potential three months this past summer shows he has. Now, both Lind and Encarnacion have nice contracts for interested trade partners. But money isn't the whole thing. You have to have believe the player will bounce back (Lind) or do a Bautista (Encarnacion) to think of trading something of worth back to Canada.

Ultimately, the best of all worlds would be signing Fielder, trading Lind and AAAA prospect Travis Snider for a quality left fielder and letting Encarnacion be the DH this year in the hopes he turns into a Type B Free Agent next winter. That would leave enough playing time to handle Bautista and Fielder for three more years, at which point you might have to move one or the other DH candidate for an actual first baseman (or maybe Mike McDade will be on hand with bat in tow).

Of course, that scenario requires Anthopoulos to get over his aversion to surrendering first-round picks and for the Jays to find a trading partner for the Lind-Snider package. I opined earlier this year that it made sense for the Dodgers to give up Andre Ethier. Chiefly because the Dodgers were seemingly set on cutting James Loney loose. Well, Loney closed very well over the last six weeks of the season, making the deal less attractive to Los Angeles. On the other hand, Ethier ended up hurt, as was Snider. Still, the allure of a Lind bounce-back, maybe Snider relishing a new set of coaches and a move closer to his home state and the worries that Ethier might be too expensive to keep, might still give this trade proposal legs. Loney might then be a trading chip to the teams that don't wind up with Pujols or Fielder.

First base. Tis a conundrum indeed.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

SOFTWARE: New Top Dog in Remote Viewing Software

I have been a fan of CrossLoop forever. Well, forever in terms for how long the company has been up and running. Actually thought it was a European start-up when I wrote about how the software saved my sanity back in February 2008. I waxed prosaically back in August 2009 when a friend called from Cairo, Egypt with a problem and I was able to fix it, using Crossloop.

Today I have stopped using CrossLoop. Mostly because it no longer works on my computer when trying to help out Dad. Didn't work on any computer in the house when trying to get through to Patrick as a test case.
Crossloop help insists it's my security software settings. Which haven't changed any time lately. And I have Popeye running WinXPSP3 with ZoneAlarm and Avast Anti-Virus Free while Quincy runs Win7SP1, the native Microsoft firewall and Avast Pro. Since I've said I've set the security settings (well, checked them) and they've said do it twice, despite what I've said, I started looking for a new Remote Viewing Software option.

And I have a winner. A BIG winner it looks like. TeamViewer Free from TeamViewer Software works with my current security settings (Although I had to add an exception to the MS Firewall for an incoming request from Patrick). And it BLOWS away the free version of CrossLoop.

At least in one night of trials it does. The remote viewing between Patrick and I was fast, smooth and pretty to look at. We switched who was viewing whom and Patrick could see all of my monitors, individually, or as one big desktop. I could see HIS desktop, which is deeper than mine. The video scaled impressively. Mouse movements were responsive.

And I didn't crash nor freeze once during the (admittedly, short) test.

All I had to do was send Patrick via email a small TeamViewerQS.exe file to run. He ran it, got an ID and a password for me to enter and we were connected. The ID is a nine-digit number and the password is a four-digit number. Compared to CrossLoop's single, different every time, 12-digit number. But there IS a trick. TeamViewer's main program, the one I'M running, remembers that ID, so I can just pick it from a list. Sooooo, it's the password, which changes with each running, that I have to have and type in.

The difference also includes no verification on the part of Dad's end, as adverse to Dad having to click Connect and then Approve me looking over his shoulder. The less Dad has to do in this support issue, the better.

It's hard to contain myself over just how impressed I am with TeamViewer.

I like the price, performance and ease of use. It also delves less into the nagging than does CrossLoop these days. CrossLoop on start and exit nags away at you to go pro. That's fair. I AM willing to look at ads for the product and the occasional email, all promoting parts of the service from CrossLoop that I don't need. TeamViewer is more restrained with the on-screen pleas and rather than the every-time exiting nag, it shows an ad some of the time. And it's not necessarily a TeamViewer ad. Both Patrick and I saw an ad for Vipre Security after the initial running. But I haven't seen it since.

The one thing for sure is that TeamViewer has a MUCH WIDER GAP between its free and pro product lines. Say about seven hundred smackers!!! The Free version is for the kind of thing that I'm doing. And nothing more. Any commercial licence STARTS at $695. Wow! At least that's the case right now.

Who knows in the future? I still use Remote Desktop Connection for the various companies I work with, with UltraVNC going the last mile (or some number of feet) between the corporate servers and the individual workstations. Normally, I wouldn't mind seeing how TeamViewer might work, since it supposedly has a Virtual Private Network feature. But no way I could get any of the bosses to fly for that kind of money for a three-user licence.

But rather than fret about what isn't going to be, I'm going to address an issue Pops had with his scan-and-email routine last weekend. And ten minutes later, after I've solved the problem, asked how Mom is and found out when the folks are coming up for a visit this month, I'll be done with TeamViewer for a good little while.

Back to the ballgame.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

LIFE: Free From The Twin Scourges

A LOT of money has been spent in the last couple of months on the political campaigns that culminate in the Ontario provincial elections today. How do I know? 'Cuz those $%(*$%)*($%& politicians employed every $%*(&_%*& political polling company around to call and harass me repeatedly over the last month. And the election this week ends that. I return myself to blissful, peaceful silence, free from the constant ringing created by automated dialing systems.

Honestly. I hate politicians in general. I have never met one that made my heart sing, even legendary Hazel McCallion, the long-time major of Mississauga, just down the road. Met Hazel at the hockey rink at a Brampton Canadettes Hockey Tournament (Largest woman's hockey tournament in the world and has been for decades). She impressed me a bit. Just to the point of not wanting to dump my drink over her. But aside from Hazel, nada. There's politicians I never met that I respect. I could list both here, but why bother? I'd rather spend time with a used car salesman.

Now, if there is something lower on the evolutionary scale that a politician, it's probably a political polling worker. Yes, I know people got to eat. And telephone sales jobs (the everyday version of the poll caller) are the job of last resort. But there's a certain stupidity to political pollers that merit special contempt.

IF I hang up on you as soon as the word 'political' comes up in conversation and I do exactly the same thing the second time, what are the odds you're going to succeed the third time? Zero. Less than zero? On Sunday, I hung up on the same cretin FIVE times. And don't even get me started on the totally automated phone interruptions of my life.

And reserve a special place in hell for the current holder of my riding's seat in provincial parliament, he of the access to the 000-0000 telephone number from my area code. It's a number I cannot block with my phone's call-blocking feature. If I try to block the specific ten-digit number, my otherwise great phones block ALL phone calls. And he knows that. And he called THREE %*$&$_*%&_)$% times to THANK me for my support. Cretin. And, oh by the way, I didn't vote for you last time and I won't be voting for you today. 

I should also point out that I DID participate in an Angus Reid poll the same day. I've done them semi-regularly for years. I was told eight minutes and the poll took eight minutes. It discussed a wide range of topics (as wide as eight minutes allows) and when the inevitable three questions about politics were answered, "I decline to answer questions about my voting preferences," the pollster accepted the answer with equanimity and moved on. See, I do understand the differences between legitimate polling companies and scum-sucking ideological hacks bothering me for no good reason.

There's long been a saw about  "Kill all the lawyers," dating back to William Shakespeare and one of the Henry VI plays. Actually, the quote is "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." Well, good old Will had it wrong. Well before the lawyers, I have a whole different group of life-interfering %&$)&$^&(# to do away with first.

Any guesses?

Well, it all ends in the next few hours. One group of incoming cretins will replace the outgoing group of idiots. The Marching Moron Society continues to wind it's way inexorably towards the future. But, at least for the next little while, it will be a little more peaceful.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

MOVIES: One For My Money ... Maybe

Just saw the first trailer for One For The Money, the adaption of the first of the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich. Those books have been a birthday present staple in this house for most of the last two decades. I love them in general, although there's been some rough spots since the turn of the century.

Casting a movie adaption has been a long-time pastime for Plum conniseurs. Stephanie is a Jersey Girl through and through. Many names were put forth, many good names. Not once did I see Katherine Heigl suggested. And off the trailer, I know why. I mean it's one thing to take an NFL trust-fund babe like Rooney Mara and pierce her ears and a few other places and ask her to do a Swedish accent in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. It's another thing to take a pretty face and try to get her to do Jersey tough, bodacious and vulnerable. Sorry, but this isn't working for me.

On the other hand, they do do some good things with the other role choices. Especially inspired is Debbie Reynolds as Grandma Mazur. Grandma was a vital part of the early success of the Plum series before suffering from over-use, something Evanovich has cut back on in the last couple of books. Still, it might be worth going to this movie just to see Reynolds ham it up.

The other key roles are Jason O'Mara, a fine (not so) wee broth of an Irish lad as Joe Morelli (you know, the Morelli of Sicilian heritage) and Daniel Sunjata as Ranger. Both guys are fine actors and Sunjata looks the part. O'Mara? Well, besides the trailer making confusing intimations that Stephanie is looking to arrest Morelli, I think O'Mara can pull it off. But he doesn't look any more like Morelli of the book than I do.

Lulu is played by Sherri Shepherd. She's loud, brassy and overly-developed in many places. I approve.

So, am I looking forward to going to the multiplex come January to catch this movie? Geez, I hate Heigl (a feeling shared with many co-workers according to reports). At least for this role. And they've apparently beefed up her capability quotient and taken away her aversion to guns. But they do blow up a car. One at least. Although it might not be her car, so to speak.

That's good enough for me. For a weekday matinee. Assuming it lasts that long.

Monday, September 19, 2011

SPORTS: Hey Morons, Unaswered IS In Dictionaries

Several times this weekend, both on-air in the game and on wrap-up shows, I heard announcers say that the Buffalo Bills scored 21 unanswered points yada yada. Invariably they then said "Oakland scored ..."

Now, I'm a little testy about this kind of thing. But c'mon! Unanswered means NO ANSWER. Saying the other team scored with your next breathe, proving it's better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it, really is infuriating. Idiots.

And what to think of the writer for who, 24 hours later and with an editor presumable available, then repeats the same bleepin' mistake? Idiots all. It's lazy thinking.

By the way, the phrase all these morons were looking for was 21 STRAIGHT points!!

You want unanswered? I'll give you unaswered. This is my 250th unanswered blog in a row. THAT's unanswered! What, I had a blog comment last month?

Never mind.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

SPORTS: One Gotta Go

Last night, as I watched my two TV's where both Toronto teams imploded, the horror was occurring on the big screen. That was the one where the Toronto Argonauts were laying a large egg at home. Sound up, big pic, and I didn't even have the comfort of the small screen where the Toronto Blue Jays were coughing up a 2-0 lead in New York to Brett Gardiner and the Yankees. I guess it's true that you can't take your eyes off a train wreck.

Monday at the latest, the Argonauts have to say good-bye to either offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo or to Chet Lemon's hold on the starting quarterback position. Heck, it should happen today.

At issue is the Argo offensive policy of throwing about 101 percent of their passes in the -5 to 5 yard zone. If that's Elizondo's decision, than his butt should be lined with aluminum cans and dragged down the under-construction Gardiner Expressway until he's far enough out of town for the 'stupid' stench to wear off. Yes, I know that that system works in Montreal. Lemon isn't Anthony Calvillo. And exactly NONE of the Argo wideouts could start in Montreal and maybe only one would get part-time minutes. Installing a plan without the parts is beyond dumb.

So, assuming Elizondo isn't an idiot of the level of an American Republican Presidential Candidate, then Chet "The Losing Bet" Lemon needs a seat on the bench. That bench has been propped up by Dalton "Never to see the field again" Bell, who proved utterly inadequate last night and B.J. Hall. Yes fans, there is a B.J. Hall on the squad. And last night, from field level, we got our first glimpse at Steven Jyles, he of the high draft pick cost this past spring.

And if Jyles doesn't take ALL the first-team reps this week, then Jim Barker, who survived the internal power struggle with Adam Rita, should go visit Rita and be fired ASAP. Barker cannot send Lemon out for the rematch with B.C. His players know Lemon's a nice, but inadequate QB. They want to win. And Lemon going 11 for 15 with three drops for FIFTY-ONE yards is not going to cut it. They know he can throw longer, but he needs plenty of time to do that. Time he'd get if they ran Boyd more often, or faked it. Say, isn't that Elizondo's decision?

I know the Argo receiving corps is barely as good as that group starting at St. F. X. But they all run their little routes in linebacker-patrolled territory and we wonder why they suddenly develop accordion arms. Stretch the field so that everybody doesn't bunch their whole defence within 15 yards of the line and maybe something good will happen. The problem is, if the Argos misfire on a first-down bomb, the WHOLE BLEEPIN' LEAGUE know Lemon will try a five-yarder on second down and hope for a few broken tackles.

I like the CFL better than NFL because I know the average CFL game is more entertaining than the average NFL game. In fact, barring having money or a roto rooting interest, it's more like a 3-1 bet the CFL game is better. Unless we are talking Toronto. 'Cuz, when the rooting interest fades here, the game's no better than a scoreless friendly soccer game.

Maybe the solution should be two-fold. No Elizondo. No Lemon. That way you get the culprit for sure.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Testing Quick Post

This is just a test to see if my quick post widget actually works.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

BOOKS: Mr. Monk On The Couch by Lee Goldberg

Yes, I know Review Month is behind me (and writing 31 reviews without making them all cookie cutter examples of effusive praise is harder than it looks). But I did sort of screw up one review, Lee Goldberg's The Walk. So, to make up for the faux pas, I offer a bonus review of yet another five star book. Also written by Goldberg.

If Mr. Monk On The Couch had been a script for the long running Monk TV series, it might have been what they call a backdoor pilot script. For a spin-off. In this case, for Natalie Teeger, P.I.

Goldberg is relishing the freedom, the end of the TV series has afforded him. That's obvious. It's odd to refer to this book being Natalie-centric, when in fact, she narrates every book and it's her voice in your head all the time. But in the previous 11 books in the series, that voice was talking about Monk most of the time.

Natalie takes on a case of her own after she and Monk attend a prospective murder scene and determine, against the odds, that the deceased died of natural causes. This ends the entertaining puzzle part for Monk. And despite Monk's derision, Natalie picks up the pieces of the dead man's life and finds herself playing amateur sleuth.

Although Monk doesn't want to be involved, she does get help from Captain Stottlemeyer and from an unexpected source. Monk's brother Ambrose is a big help, as is his live-in girlfriend slash assistant Yuki. Introduced last book as the assistant to dying writer Dub Clemens, Yuki is an irritant to Adrian Monk, being, in his words, "An ex-con motorcycle mama." And that's without him even knowing about her tattoo (or is it tattoos?). Adrian feels he's lost his brother to this evil conniving temptress to the dark side.

Which makes this a return of sorts to the old Adrian Monk. I'm not that much in favour of the U-turn. I like the new Adrian from the last book, one less completely and utterly self-absorbed and one who showed interest in the happiness of others. Other than an insightful exchange in a session at Dr. Bell's that includes Natalie, Monk is Monk, as we have known him. Too bad.

On the other hand, Natalie shows spunk and initiative throughout the book in getting to the mystery behind the man's life. She uses her resources (Leeland, Ambrose and Yuki) and even comes up with bits and pieces herself. She gets the big reveal moment near the end of the book that Monk can't anticipate. And discovers that not all puzzle-solving has a triumphant finish.

As they say in the late-night infomercials, but wait, there's more. While Natalie's doing her P.I. with training wheels thing, there are other murders for Adrian Monk to solve. And solve them he does. Only to have a suit from upstairs at the Police Department invalidate his solutions because he doesn't have proof he's right. Knowing who and how a bunch of murders happened turns out frustratingly inconclusive, a "Here's what happened" moment without the payoff/conviction.

Until Natalie and Detective Amy Devlin rescue the case by thinking, and working, outside the box. We see Natalie working 'undercover' for the first time. And I bet you it won't be the last time.

The question posed in the book is, what would happen to Natalie if something happened to Monk? She might go back to her rich family. But not now. We know the answer.

Natalie Teeger, P.I.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

BOOKS: The Spy by Clive Cussler

The book review month ends with what is a bit of a surprise to me, a period piece. I normally like my books to be about the day after tomorrow, or even further into the future. I did my time with noirish books that looked back at earlier last century when I was a young 'un. But Clive Cussler is Clive Cussler and I am nothing, if not a completist when it comes to his work.

I though the initial book in the Isaac Bell series, The Chase, was pretty decent. Cussler loves trains and I learned more about them than I had before (and I had a grandfather who was in the train business). Justin Scott came on (at least getting cover credit) for the second book in the series, The Wrecker (review). It was an improvement. The third book in the series, The Spy, is another step up in entertainment value.

The America-spanning travelogues of the first two books largely disappear here as Cussler concentrates the action on the eastern seaboard. It all takes place in the decade before the first World War and tensions are ratcheted up because everybody knows a conflict to blow all other conflicts up, is in the future. Spies, saboteurs and thieves are seemingly on every corner in New York.

Cussler can paint an historical picture as a backdrop to a thriller as well as any writer in the business, although who knows who's doing the actual wordsmithing these days. Cussler's book factory approach with co-authors leaves some doubt about who does what. Whatever Scott's contributions this time out, it produces a great read. And one that is probably pretty spot on with background minutiae.

A secret project called Hull 44 is at the heart of this story. It's supposed to give an eventual edge to the Americans in any future battle at sea. But spies from Japan, Germany and even Great Britain want the technology. And murdering guards and inventors and technicians don't seem beyond what they will do. Bell and his Van Dorn Detective Agency are called in as protection initially, detectives after the fact of the theft of key technology.

And Bell makes for an appealing hero. Women throw themselves at him with regularity, but he remains true to his sweetheart, Marion Morgan the actress. She gives as good as she gets and the pair have some entertaining patter.  Bell's an action hero as we go along and a little less invulnerable than the typical lead character. He needs help and gets it from his sturdy fellow detectives of the Van Dorn.

From the Brooklyn Shipyards to Hell's Kitchen, Bell tries every trick in the books to reveal the plots and identities of the bad guys. It all culminates in a not-so-leisurely submarine ride up the Manhattan River with things threatening to explode and take the city, so great they named it twice, down.

The action finished, it's time to rest a spell and move ahead to the book's future in one final chapter. As with the other books in this series, it's quite compelling. And a nice capper on the best book of the lot.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

BOOKS: Doppelgangster by Laura Resnick

It's extremely rare for me to start a series somewhere in the middle and then backtrack. I came to Laura Resnick's Esther Diamond series with the third book Unsympathetic Magic (review) and made an effort to go back and read the first two volumes. The series starter Disappearing Nightly was just about as good as Unsympathetic Magic. But the treasure turned out to be the book in the middle, Doppelgangster.

Jewish Esther makes for an appealing heroine, an actress slash waitress who has mother problems, a would-be boyfriend named Lopez and a friendship with a real-life wizard and as a result, too much knowledge of the world of real magic. It's a mix that doesn't always go well for her. But, as Lou Grant would say, she's got spunk.

Coming off having played a part in rescuing New York from a crazy magician's apprentice last book, Esther tries to cope with her part in killing off  Hieronymus. The deed was actually done by Dr. Maximillian Zadok, Manhattan's resident sorcerer and a long-time member of the Magnum Collegium (think Sorceror's Union). By long time, we are  talking centuries. He makes for a strange pairing with the twenty-something Esther. As does detective Connor Lopez, a down to earth sort who doesn't believe in magic. Which complicates things for Esther because she gets mixed up in things magical without even trying.

Like waitressing at a local joint that's mobbed up. She sings songs, waits tables and gets good tips from the connected guys who appreciate a pretty young thing. She's doing the waitressing thing when a hit goes down right in front of her. By a bullet that doesn't exactly follow a straight line. And not too long after the hit, she meets the victim just coming into the restaurant for a bite to eat.

As it turns out, its his doppelganger she meets.

And pretty soon it's open mob war season with bodies dropping, sometimes twice, as bad guys and their doppelgangers meet their demise. Esther and Max are right in the thick of things, trying to prevent all-out war, aided and abetted by the extremely pragmatic Lucky Battistuzzi, that rarity of all rarities, a retired hit man. Lucky seems to accept the magically conflicted situation and is a constant source of one-liners.

The mystery of who's behind things turns out a little surprising, so the book qualifies well in that regard. The laughs come easy and often, despite the mayhem. Esther is a chicklit goddess supreme, wanting things normal, but not getting them. And we get introduced to Nelli the Dog, who plays a big part in the third book, but was missing in the first one. Nelli's Max's familiar.

And you know me, I'm a sucker for a book with a dog.

Laura Resnick writes pager-turners, just like her dad Mike. This one's the best yet.

SPORTS: The Drive For Sixteenth Best

The Toronto Blue Jays are in a race. That race is for the 16th best record in Major League Baseball at season's end. Seventeenth best would be better, but the Jays need to get a little late June Swoon thing going to cement being in the bottom half of the teams when 2011 comes to a close.

As of today, Toronto holds that coveted sixteenth-best slot, but are in a four-way dogfight with Cincinnati, Cleveland and the White Sox. All but Cleveland have 67 wins, Cleveland being one ahead there by only winning 66. But Toronto's also lost 67, which is only matched by the Reds. This backward race goes to the team with the LEAST number of wins when everything is said and done, assuming all four play 162 games. And the tie goes to the team with the worst record from the year before, something Toronto holds over Cincy, and I believe, the ChiSox.

Do I want MY team to lose, and lose a lot, through September? Yep. It's all about the off-season of signing free agents and the 2012 summer draft. And with any luck, the Blue Jays will benefit from some, as yet unrevealed Alex Anthopoulos move that will help cement their hoped-for losing record. Maybe it's shutting down Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow or Brett Cecil. Or all three. Maybe it's losing Casey Janssen's number while kids from the farm get their feet wet at the end of games. Or how about surgery for any of the regulars, who must all be playing with bumps and bruises by this time.

IF the Jays can finish out of the top half of teams, they will get a better draft slot come next summer. That will go along with the #22 pick they 'earned' by not signing Beede two weeks ago. Two first-round picks in the top 22 seems fair recompense for a team chasing down the Yanks and BoSox (let alone the Rays) in the brutal AL East.

It ALSO means, the Jays can go out and sign a Type-A free agent and ONLY have to hand over a second round draft pick in recompense. And a SECOND Type-A gets a third rounder and so on and so on.

Let's say the Jays break the bank and everybody else's heart and woo Albert Pujols, Jon Papelbon and C.C. Sabathia (Yes, I know it won't happen, but it will be illustrative) to Toronto. Say Pujols for $30M per year, Sabathia for $27M and Papelbon for $14. The Jays then package Travis Snider, Adam Lind and a pitcher from down in the boonies to the Dodgers for Andre Ethier and re-sign Kelly Johnson for, say $7M per annum. There, I just doubled the Jays' payroll. And I still have a bullpen to rebuild between the starters and Papelbon. Oh, and we re-sign Johnny McDonald because without signing him, who cares about Pujols, Sabathia and the lot?

What does all that cost Toronto besides Rogers Corp money? A second round draft pick to St. Louis, a third-rounder to the Yankees and a piddling fourth rounder for a probable Type-A FA to Boston. The same Boston who's been letting fading stars go for first round picks and a sandwich pick for the last few years. This just feels sooooo right.

While I fantasize about a line-up that includes Ethier LF, Rasmus CF, Bautista RF, Pujols 1B, Escobar SS, Encarnacion DH, Lawrie 3B, Johnson 2B and Arrencibia C and a starting pitching staff of Sabathia, Romero, Morrow, Cecil and one of the bunnies, I'm not sure AA would go all in with the loot, if it meant giving up that first round draft pick. Why? I think he sees a big splash as being exactly that. It could leave the Jays wet. And without aid coming down the pipeline five years from now. After all, MOST drafts for MOST teams do well to produce two average plus players. If the Jays are to contend, not for a single season, but regularly, that pipeline has to be re-filled every summer. And the best way to fill it is with first-round talent.

Keeping that pick is going to keep AA up at night. He wants it and he wants the free agents that opening the coffers at Rogers HQ will provide him this off-season. The easiest way to get what he wants is to not have much of a September as the season dies down.

Winning by losing. It's the only way.

CORRECTION: The Walk Review update

I misread the note about Lee Goldberg walking the route written about in The Walk after the Northridge earthquake and using that as the basis for the story. In fact, as I have been alerted by Mr. Goldberg, he came up with the idea in the aftermath of the earthquake and later walked the course, so to speak, in parts, to get the details correct. I apologize for the error.

The section mentioning that error has since been corrected in the actual review itself.

Monday, August 29, 2011

BOOKS: I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore

One of the issues I had with Siskel and Ebert (and other long-running critics like them) is a critique along the lines of, "Nothing original, I've seen it before, so I'm giving it a thumbs down." Drove me batty for two reasons. First, not everybody has seen the canon of movies either of them had and so are new to the concept/plot/whatever. Secondly, it never answers the question, is it well done?

Which brings me to I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore. The movie version of the book didn't do boffo business last year. But I liked it well enough to go and get the book. And you know, it's VERY familiar and pretty well done. But the target audience, the YA crowd, aren't going to get that re-warmed cliche feeling at all. THEY don't have the backlog of previous books to compare it to. To them, this is probably a five-star book. I mean, compare it to the Twilight books and it looks like this book is top-shelf stuff, only without the vampires and swooning and stuff.

I should also mention that Pittacus Lore is a pen name. And that part of the writing team behind the name is James Frey. Of A Million Little Pieces infamy. He apparently can write fiction. (Oh, that's catty. But true.)

If you didn't catch the movie, here's the gist. A group of alien kids with their bodyguard mentors are hiding out on Earth. The bad guys arrive and, for whatever reason, have to catch and kill the kids in a specific order. As each dies, the rest on the hit list actually feels that death. And they know when his or her turn is coming up. Like the title says, the focus of this book (the first in a series), is kid number four. He's been know by several names over the years as he strives to remain below the radar of the bad guys.

He becomes John Smith, a student at a high school in Paradise, Ohio as the book gets going. He also becomes target number one at about the same time. Normally, that would have him and his keeper/mentor/pseudo father figure Henri on the move again. But this time, John's got motive to stay and fight. Her name is Sarah. And there's a friend who eventually learns all the secrets, but is a true and good friend even before then. John wants to stay and stand his ground.

Which is foolhardy of course. But his kind have powers. Slowly developing powers, but the kind of powers super-heroes are made for. Henri tries to force the development of the powers in time for the inevitable arrival of the bad guys. It's a race. With tragic consequences if John's a slow developer.

Lore develops the tension quite well. The battle with the bad guys predictably turns out mostly well in the end. And introduces the next target (but one). I have every intention of getting The Power of Six.

Because I look good craftsmanship and a page turner. Even if it appears a little familiar. After all, Vin Scully once said, "The reason I try my best on every broadcast is because I know that somewhere out there, this is the first one for somebody. I owe it to them never to just go through the motions."

So thumbs up to this book.