Saturday, September 22, 2007

Lightning News

I wish it was better, but is reporting that Dan Boyle will miss "several weeks" after slicing a tendon in his wrist hanging up his skates after the game on Saturday. Add that one to the list of odd sports injuries (Glenallen Hill, Mike Matheny and Tom Barrasso among others).

This isn't good for the team or for Boyle. The Bolts were thin at the blueline going into camp and now the situation is worse. Look for a young player like Matt Smaby or Bryce Lampman to step up. By missing the first few weeks of the season Boyle misses valuable ice time going into his free agent year.

Other bad news has Vincent Lecavalier leaving the game with an undisclosed "upper body injury". Erik Erlendsson is reporting on his Tampa Tribune blog that Vinny's injury "isn't serious" and that he shouldn't miss any time. That's nice to hear, but it makes me wonder why they aren't releasing any information about the injury. I understand the trickery and shenanigans come play off time, but this is preseason.

So far since the Boys in Black donned the new jerseys they've been swarmed with a rash of injuries. Chris Gratton, Andre Roy, Michelle Ouellett, Boyle and Lecavalier all have been bitten by the injury bug. Let's hope we're not looking at a new curse - The Reebok Jersey Curse....shudder.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

BorASS.... get it... it's clever isn't it?

Man. With the way the Rays have been playing lately I thought I would be able to break the drought with a positive article. After all I did think they were going to pull off the 75 wins this year, that’s pretty optimistic. Instead, I have to write about the one man that 99% of the sporting world hates.

As the Rays season draws to a close there are few bright spots to look back on. There is B.J. Upton’s emergence as an elegant and gifted center fielder. The pitching staff’s anchors of James Shields and Scott Kazmir both gave glimpses of a 20 win future. The Chosen One – Andy Sonnenstine – shook off some rough outings to earn a spot in the rotation next season. Over all , there was one slugger who shined above them all – Carlos Pena.

Yet one person decided to rain on the parade. That person is Scott Boras. Yes that Scott Boras. He’s super agent to the athletic stars and despised by 99% of the sporting world. The 1% that doesn’t hate him just happen to be his clients. One of those clients is the aforementioned Pena.

Picked up off the large pile of former number one draft pick busts in the off season he joined the Rays as a non roster invitee. As the season progressed Pena developed into the power threat that has been lacking in Rays history. He has set a franchise record in home runs and is nearing Jorge Cantu’s RBI record of 117. His slick fielding at first often goes unnoticed, but has helped steady an infield comprised totally of players playing full time for the first time in the careers.

Without Pena’s prodigious blasts off and past the catwalks it would be hard to imagine how bad Tampa’s record would be this season. It’s hard to measure how much pressure he has taken off of young hitters like Upton and Delmon Young (who should be looking at serious Rookie of the Year consideration, but that’s a story for a later column).

Right now the young Dominican, hard to think he’s only 29, is surely a lock for comeback player of the year. Last season he bounced between the minors and the Boston Red Sox finding only 33 at bats in the majors. It looked like he was destined to become another prospect whose ability never matched his potential.

A less than stellar spring training made him one of the final cuts and he was only spared starting the season in Durham by a late injury to Greg Norton. He then slowly earned playing time and unseated Ty Wigginton as the every day first baseman. 40 home runs and 112 RBI later he is the heart of the lineup.

The best part is that the Rays control his rights for two more years. This is where Boras slithers into the picture. Even before the feel good story of the year can complete a season he has to open his mouth and put a damper on the celebration.

“Carlos Pena is the greatest player to ever put on a Devil Ray uniform,” Agent Evil spouted off before Monday’s game in LA. I understand that his job is to promote his clients, especially ones who are arbitration eligible, but to make an absurd comment like that is reprehensible. I’m sure former Rays Fred McGriff and Wade Boggs wouldn’t mind comparing careers with the young Mr. Pena. Even current Rays Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir may take umbrage at Boras’ presumption.

A less abrasive way to phrase it might have been to say that Pena has had the best season of any Ray ever. That is a much stronger point to make. To declare the southpaw slugger the “greatest ever” forces one to overlook the fact that Pena has a lifetime average of .251 and only averaged 12 home runs heading into the season. Which I’m sure Boras wouldn’t mind one overlooking.

If Boras had kept his mouth shut after that comment I would have been fine, a little irritated but mostly fine. Of course he’s not capable of keeping his mouth shut. He insinuated that the Rays got one of the best deals ever by “getting a player who had a $15 million season for about $1.2 Million”.

That’s where I have a problem. Boras has now set the bar for negotiating and arbitration. The magic number is out there - $15 million. It is an absurd number for a player who has had one very strong year. There is no way the Rays can play in that ball field. Nor should they. In fact they should laugh in Boras’ face and hang up on him the next time he calls.

Agents in general and Boras in particular are very good at throwing numbers out to the press. Ted Lilly is a $40 million pitcher of Al Soriano is a $100 outfielder. Where do those numbers come from – their agents. They’re definitely not generated on past performance merely future potential. Barry Zito’s agent (Scott Boras shocking I know!) didn’t get the pitcher a $126 Million deal because of the 102 wins he had with Oakland, but because Boras convinced the Giants Zito would win that many games in the future.

Now, if the Rays do the smart thing they can’t win. Boras will crow about how tight fisted they are and how he just wants a “fair deal”. A fair deal is 3 years at $15 Million. Make Pena prove it’s not an aberration. If the Rays sink more than $5 Million a year into Pena and he ends up a bust then they damage all progress made over the last few years.

If they do throw $10 Million at Pena how are they going to keep Crawford happy knowing that he worked his way through the team and is getting half of what Pena makes? That’s not good. Wouldn’t that money be spent better on locking up Kazmir or Shields? I think it would.

This is not a knock on Pena. He has said all the right things and done all the right things. I honestly believe he would like to stay, but his test will come in the off-season. If he really does want to stay he has to reign Boras in. All of the good will and good feeling can be erased in one nasty arbitration hearing. Make no mistake if this goes to arbitration it will get ugly. The Rays management will have no problem finding faults with their first baseman and despite what players say that type of feud has lasting consequences.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Better Late Than Never...

There is no better time of year for living in the TBA than football season. The dawn of another Buccaneer season brings out the fans like nothing else. Couple that with the fact that my Sirius has been out of commission for the better part of two weeks and that means I’ve been listening to a lot more local radio than ever. I will say that most of the callers are highly optimistic, it’s kind of cute. So for them I present my first annual Tampa Bay Buccaneer Season Preview.

Lets start with the overall record. Last season Tampa Bay struggled to a 4-12 record. While it led to radio gold I did feel bad for some of my co-workers who wiped their tears away with the sleeves of their brand new Chris Simms jerseys. Even with another off-season upgrade I don’t see the Bucs breaking the 6 win barrier. So for fun lets call it 5-11.

What’s going to lead to this one win improvement? Well lets break it down by some key positions:


At one point the Pewter Pirates had 7 quarterbacks on the roster. Wisely they trimmed it down to 4 to start the season. That’s right they’re keeping 4 quarterbacks on the roster. Oddly enough it’s not a bad idea. The last few seasons have not been kind to the position. That’s on the offensive line.

The first victim starter will be Jeff Garcia. At 37 he’s not the young kid that terrorized defenses with his feet and then burning them with his arm. He does give Coach Jon Gruden a veteran play caller who can buy time with his mobility and make the wise throws. Compared to the statuesque (and spleenless) Chris Simms or the overmatched Bruce Gradkowski Garcia is definitely an upgrade from last season.

Running Back:

Carnell Williams comes into his third season as the starter. It’s been a roller coaster career for him so far. Rookie of the Year his first season followed up by a miserable sophomore season which saw him rush for only 1 touchdown and 798 yards.

The big question for Williams is going to be his health. If he can play 16 effective games then the Bucs could have a decent season. Of course as I write this Williams is being led to the locker room after taking a vicious hit to the ribs. It looks like it’s time for Mike Pittman and “Mr. August” Ernest Graham.

For the first time in the Pewter and Red days the A-Train whistles will be silent at Raymond James Stadium. Crowd favorite Mike Alstott announced that he will not play this year due to aggravating a neck injury in camp. Speculation is that he will retire at the end of the season so the days of watching number 40 pound his way to a 3 yard game are over.

If you live outside the area you have no idea how seriously this affects the TBA. No player that has suited up for Tampa had been more revered for doing so little as Alstott. His jersey dots the stands with greater regularity than Brooks, Williams or Galloway. Actually come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Galloway jersey.

Right now it’s a push, if Williams injury is serious we can call it a downgrade.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Other than Jeremy Stevens there were no real new players brought in. Much of the off-season debate revolved around the Bucs’ decision to not trade up in the draft to take sure fire sensation Calvin Johnson. So Joey Galloway starts as the primary threat backed up by possession receiver Ike Hilliard and the incredibly disappearing Mike Clayton. David Boston had a strong camp, but his status is undetermined due to a bizarre DUI stop.
On the tight end side Jeremy Stevens has his own legal issues as a jury convicted him on charges of a DUI so he could be spending time in jail instead of a huddle. Alex Smith, no the other Alex Smith returns and hopes to improve his reception totals over the last two seasons. If Stevens is out look for former Jet Anthony Becht to pick up some playing time. Overall this is a push as well.

Offensive Line:

If you’ve watched the Bucs for the last few years you know the story. The line is bad, but at least this year they’re young and bad. So by 2010 they could be a solid squad. Let’s give this a push as well.


I like what they did in the off-season. Drafting Gaines Adams allowed them to cut perennial malcontent Simeon Rice. While Adams looks a little lost out there, he should progress throughout the year and turn into a pretty good young player. The weight of the offensive line should fall on the shoulders of Greg Spires and Chris Hovan.

The linebackers and the secondary should improve with the addition of Cato June and the return of Brian Kelly. The addition by subtraction factor plays a role with Anquan Bolden not being on the roster. Not many people were torched on a football field as often as Mr. Bolden was last season.

Speaking of Mr’s – Mr. Derrick Brooks returns for another season. The 13 year veteran returns to anchor the defense and although there are whispers that he’s not the player he used to be he should turn in another Pro Bowl caliber performance.

The 2007 defense ranks as an upgrade over last years.


Monte Kiffen will scheme and scheme and find a way to pull the defense together.

Jon Gruden is on the hot seat. Frankly it’s his own fault. He had never adapted his style to the talent available to him. He preferred to bring a rotating cast of veterans hoping that they would pick up his system and make a difference. They haven’t. This season is more of the same with Jeff Garcia and offensive lineman Luke Petitgout

Another push for this category.

So overall there is some improvement in the quarterback department and on the defense. Enough improvement to pick up a win or two, but not enough to make a difference even in the sub-par NFC.

In the time it took me to write this post not only has Carnell Williams suffered bruised ribs, but Jeff Garcia was knocked woozy by a vicious hit a well. After three seasons Buc fans finally get to experience the greatness that is Luke McCown. I look forward to some highly entertaining radio tomorrow.