Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bring me your prospects, your draft picks, you expiring overpriced contracts! It's trade time in the NHL!!!!!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No not Christmas - NHL trade deadline week! We are a week away from the deadline and it’s time for the contenders to stock their rosters and those on the outside to plan for the future. Two guesses as to which category the Lightning belong in.

In anticipation to some wheeling and dealing on Channelside Drive I will breakdown the roster to see who is staying and who is going.

Not going anywhere (M*A*S*H Unit)

Paul Ranger - It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Ranger has been playing hurt all season. He never seemed comfortable following off-season surgery. A couple of extra months of rest and rehab will hopefully allow him to come back as the cornerstone of the blue line next season.

Andrej Meszaros - The Slovakian defenseman has suffered through a tough season. Season ending surgery capped off a season that saw him on pace for a career low in goals. High expectations greeted him after the Bolts traded a number one pick, young prospect Alex Picard and Flip Kuba for him at the beginning of the season. Oh yeah and he took a puck to the face that cost him his rugged good looks.

Mike Smith - A concussion (the second of his career) ended his breakout season. Given a chance to be a number one goalie for the first time in his career, Smith proved management right as he was the only reason the Lightning had a chance to win on a nightly basis in the first half of the season. Shutting him down for the rest of the season wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Olaf Kolzig - If he hadn’t required season ending bicep surgery Kolzig might have been moved already. The veteran net minder might have found his way back to Washington or out to Chicago. It looks like he might retire after this season, but it was nice to see my favorite goalie suit up for my favorite team.

Not going anywhere (Future of the Team Unit)

Vincent Lecavalier - The cloud of drama seems to have passed. GM Brian Lawton has said he isn’t being moved. The Canadians had their shot to pick him up and didn‘t pull the trigger. As they fade in the playoffs I don’t see them getting any closer to making the deal happen. A recent slump ( no goals and 3 assists in the last 5 games) isn’t increasing demand for Vincent either. For now, management seems committed to building the team around him.

Steven Stamkos - Since adopting the Tocchet Routine (increased weight training and the occasional healthy scratch to watch the game from the press box) Stamkos has steadily improved on the ice. He will be in black and blue for many years to come, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see him moved to a winger position where he could use his speed and surprisingly hard shot to a greater advantage.

Matt Smaby - He also gets my vote for IronMan of the season award. Playing with an injured right foot for most of the last month Smaby has jumped past Mike Lundin and oft-injured Andy Rodgers as the bright spot on the Lightning blue line for the future.

Not going anywhere (Thanks Big Long Contract Unit)

Ryan Malone - I’m sure the Penguins wouldn’t mind seeing him on their power play these days.

Probably not moving (Who Would Want Them Unit)

Josef Melichar - If it wasn’t for injuries he wouldn’t be on the team right now.

Lukas Kraijeck - “Farmer” Lukas (for his tendancy to pitchfork the puck down the ice instead of actually passing it to someone) is hurt as well, but my dislike for him made me put him in this category.

Ryan Craig - I love me some Craig-ers. Too bad I jinxed him two season’s ago.

David Koci - An unsung hero for the Bolts this season. This converted forward has been logging minutes on the blue line over the last few months. I don’t see a team in contention making a play for an enforcer who would probably be scratched for most of the rest of the season if it wasn’t for the injuries suffered by the Lightning this year.

Mike McKenna - McKenna is proving that he could be a solid back up in the MLB, but a team would have to be desperate to pick him up for a playoff run.

Kari Ramo - Much like McKenna Ramo wouldn’t be a starter on any team in contention right now. However, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him in a package deal. At 22, he is still young enough to develop into a number one goalie and a team that doesn’t need him this year, but might need a goalie in a couple of years might be willing to pick him up. For instance the Devils may be looking at a future without Marty Brodeur pretty soon. Moving Ramo would also free up playing time for Riku Helenius in Norfolk. The Lightning have a glut of young talent in between the pipes and need to figure out what to do with them.

Could be traded (Offer Me Something and They’re Yours Unit)

Matt Pettinger - Quietly putting together a solid year Pettinger could move for a lower round draft pick to a team that is looking for a speedy fore checker who can throw the occasional puck in the net.

Marek Malik - Hey he’s got experience!

Gary Roberts - Hey, he’s a leader! He’s got experience! He’s old!

Evgeny Artyukhin - Arty was almost put into the future of the team category, but much like Pettinger a team looking for some depth might lob a deal the Lightning’s way. As a ferocious fore checker (alliteration alert!) he can definitely be a disruptive force in the offensive zone. Again, I would be surprised if he was packaged with another player.

Now we’re talkin’ (Could Help a Contender Unit)

Vaclav Prospal - Vinny is in the same position as he was last year except for having fewer goals and a reasonable cap hit ($3.5 Million or the next two years). Playing for a contender may light a spark in him, maybe a desperate Ottawa team could be enticed to part with Alex Picard?

Adam Hall - A defensive minded center man with a cap friendly contract? For a team looking for depth Hall may be worth a mid round draft pick.

Jeff Halpern - Rumors abound that Columbus is interested in Halpern. He has never gotten on track this season, but could add veteran leadership to a younger Blue Jacket team.

Steve Eminger - Eminger’s play has made Matt Carle a forgotten man. I would like to see him stay in the Black and Blue, but a team like Washington who is looking for depth on the blue line might dangle enough to talk the Bolts into moving him.

Corey Murphy - A poor man’s Steve Eminger, Murphy has played well since coming over from Florida (a move that the Lightning brass isn’t getting enough credit for) he could be useful for a team looking for a point man on a second power play unit.

Already writing their legacy (Most Likely to be Moved Unit)

Mark Recchi - The Bolts best player during the first half of the season (despite his lackluster +/- rating) Recchi personifies the veteran force that teams like to pick up this time of year. He could bring back live prospects that have a chance of cracking the Bolts lineup next year.

Martin St Louis - Man, a year ago I would be all over the “Trade Marty” bandwagon. This year, not so much. Vincent might wear the “C”, but number 26 is the true leader of this team. The hot rumors have had him going to Pittsburgh for much of the year. He would fit nicely on a line with playmaker Sidney Crosby.

However, I wouldn’t be surprised if his old buddy John Tortorella might look for him to join him in New York. St Louis would be a nice fit for the up-tempo style Torts will want to instill. Of course they would have to find someway to fit his salary onto a team that has five players whose cap hit is over $5 Million next season.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Montreal’s name creeps into the discussion as the deadline approaches. With Lawton basically taking Vincent off of the table, a quickly fading Canadians organization may want to bring their other local product back. Would they look to move disgruntled forward Alexei Kovalav and a prospect like PK Subban for St Louis. The Bolts would get a top tier prospect in Subban and Kovalev is a unrestricted free agent after the season so they will get cap relief as well.

By posting this I’m sure I just sealed Vincent’s fate. My reputation for predicting things isn’t great, in fact it’s quite horrible. If nothing else it will be a fun seven days!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Sea of Happy Fans Festing it up.

Saturday was Valentine’s Day. It was also the Rays Fan Fest. Oh decisions, decisions. Whatever should I do? Why not celebrate both? With some planning I was able to book a room at the Vinoy in downtown St Pete which was only about 10 minutes from Tropicana Field. My better half had zero interest in Fan Fest so she went off shopping and I went downtown. We would meet up later for a nice dinner and a night in St Pete overlooking the harbor.

The doors opened at 10.00am, but no one was signing until noon, so I wasn‘t in a big hurry to get inside.. I decided to get breakfast at the Dome Restaurant. Two eggs, bacon and home fries for $6.00 - not a bad deal. Sufficiently fed I headed for the trop.

It was crowded, like playoff game crowded.

My hopes of getting multiple autographs were quickly plummeting. With a self imposed deadline of 3.00 pm I didn’t think I would get more than 3 or 4. The $10 “donation” for autographs hadn’t deterred a soul. Perhaps the best part were the guys chugging beers at 10.30 in the morning.

After studying the autograph the night before I figured Carl Crawford would be worth waiting in line for. Then I rolled in and saw the line for CC. It was insane.
As in it wrapped through it’s Disney-like rows and then out the emergency exit. I would find out later that people ran to the line as soon as the doors opened. Even at 10.45 in the morning I knew I wouldn’t get his autograph. With spring training down in Port Charolette this year I guess I’m going to have to try and get his signature through the mail.

Checking the rest of the lines I decided that Gabe Kapler would be my best bet for the first hour. After all there were only about 10 people in his line . Figuring I had some time to kill I wandered about. Fan Fest has the typical kid friendly activities - whiffle ball batting practice, a speed gun to see how hard you can throw, etc. There was a vendor selling some cards for way more than they worth to the suckers who wanted to get something signed.

Fan Fest was for the Fans and also a chance for thei Rays business partners to advertise and hand out worthless trinkets. I browsed the booths to see if anyone had anything worth while - they didn’t. No free cards that I could find and the baseball grab bags had sold out already.

There was one attraction I knew I had to hit. Luckily the line wasn’t long and it moved fairly quickly. More details on that later in the post. It would be my favorite autograph of the day.

After killing about 30 minutes wandering around and weaving through people I headed back to Kapler’s line. Another 10 people or so had joined it while I was gone. I got into my place and plugged in my ear buds. Five years of Fan Fests had prepared me. Along with the cards in a binder I had an Ipod, a notepad, A Movable Feast by Ernest Hemmingway and my digital camera.

Not long after I got in line a couple of guys that I play softball with stopped by. They had been there since 9.00 (season ticket holders were allowed in an hour early) and had seen everything that there was to offer. They tipped me off to the free photo session with the American League Championship trophy.

Shortly after 12.00 the line started moving. One thing I noticed this year is that the players were on time. In the past they had come straight from practice over at the Huggins-Stengel Complex about 20 minutes away and were notorious for running late. This year it seemed everyone was on time except for Evan Longoria who had to cancel his appearance due to “emergency circumstances”. It’ll be interesting to see what those details are.

Gabe Kapler was extremely nice and signed a Topps Heritage card I had showing him in a Brewers uniform. I had toyed with the idea of printing out one of his promotional photos that show him topless and having him sign it, but decided that might be a little awkward for him so I stuck with the card.

Signing with him was Matt Spring, a light hitting catcher the Rays drafted in the 4th round in 2004. A quick search on line revealed him to be an offensively challenged hard working catcher who probably doesn’t have a great chance of making the roster anytime soon. I had him sign a blank card (it was either that or my copy of a Movable Feast).

After getting the signatures I headed off to get my picture taken with the William Harridge Trophy. Harridge was the American League president from 1931-58. According to Wikepedia he was a driving force behind convincing the owners to start the All-Star game. It was out by the left field foul pole and had a small line. It seemed not too many people had found out about it. So after about a 10 minute wait I added that to my pictures of me with a trophy collection (if you’re keeping a list at home it now stands at: The Stanley Cup, The Lombardi Trophy and the AL Champion Trophy).

After that it was time to get back in line. The lucky winners Matt Joyce and Grant Balfor. The other lines were way to long. Crawford was followed by James Shields (filling in for Longoria). Pat Burrell’s line was way too long as was rookie shortstop Tim Beckham. The Joyce line took about hour to get through. By that time the crowds were starting to get restless. A lady behind me was getting a little upset at the line cutters, not understanding that some of us were standing to the side because we didn’t want to get Chad Bradford’s autograph .

Balfour signed a Heritage Team card, for some reason I neglected to put one of his cards in the binder. That guy is in tremendous shape. It’s no joke that he could be an Iron Man if he didn’t want to play baseball.

I found him to be nice and easy going, definitely a 180 degree turn from his on field persona.

Joyce was nice as well. I had him sign a 2009 Topps and he mentioned that he hadn’t seen that card yet. I almost gave him a second copy that I had on me but realized he could probably afford one. By now it was a bout 2.30 and I was done with lines, with people and with standing in the outfield grass. I collected my belongings and headed out.

This was by far the most crowded Fan Fest the Rays had put on in their history. There were at least twice as many people wandering about, some with a purpose and others with a beer. I recognized some of the dealers that I had seen before - stocking up on their autographs that were going to overcharge people for.

It’s always interesting to see what people get signed. I choose to get cards signed, easy to store and light to carry. One person had an oversized world series ticket that he was getting signed. A lot of people were getting the Carl Crawford Sports Illustrated cover signed. I didn’t see the guy with the big bat, a TBA regular who has a six foot baseball bat that has more than 2000 signatures on it, but I heard he was in the house.

Next year’s Fest will be interesting, not sure if I’ll be attending. It’s gotten to the point where it’s too crowded to be worth it for the autographs. Other than the autographs there’s not much else to do that I haven’t done already. Of course, if they struggle this year I’m sure the attendance will drop to a more reasonable amount. This town isn’t anything if not a front runner.

Oh year I almost forgot - the first autograph I picked up in the morning. The one and only World Champion Food Eater himself - Joey Chestnut.

I had him sign an Allen & Ginter base card. He chuckled as he signed it and was genuinely happy to see it. He said he was just a regular guy and it blew his mind that he was on a baseball card - all because he ate stuff.

Later on he would pull off the milk challenge. He drank a gallon of milk in about a minute.

By far the most amazing thing I’ve seen in that building since October.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Where are my Topps?!?! Collecting Strategy for 2009. Oh and a shamless ploy to drive traffic disguised as a contest

After reading one of Dave’s posts last week over at Fielders Choice I realized that my collecting last year was all over the map as well. Topps, Upper Deck, Baseball, Hockey, packs, boxes, blasters - basically however I could get cards I got them. That left me with a lot incomplete sets and a lot of wasted money. So after much thought, well at least 10 minutes I came up with a plan.

The number one tenet of CB’s Collecting Strategy of 2009 - no blasters. Blasters became the temptation buy of 2008 for me. Twenty bucks for 7 packs (plus one bonus pack!) and a generic memorabilia card seemed like a good deal. Then I started checking boxes in the shop and online. Why drop a twenty on 8 packs every week when I could get 36 packs for around $50 if I was a smart buyer. So blasters are out.

The number two tent of CB’s Collecting Strategy of 2009 - pick one or the other. Either Topps or Upper Deck base. Trying to complete both base sets wastes times and money. So after reviewing the previews for both and reading some of the early reviews I went with Topps. I’ll still go for the Rays and O’s in Upper Deck, but I’ll try and pick those up in trades rather than in packs.

Of course I’ve run into a problem with that already. I’ll get to that in a little bit.

The number three tenet of CB’s Collection Strategy of 2009. Limit what I buy and stick to it. No dabbling into four or five sets “to see what they’re like”. That led me on this insane quest to finish the Heritage High Number series from 2008. I didn’t care for Heritage’s base so why am I collecting what is basically an update series to that set - because I got bored that’s why. Instead of focusing on completing the sets I had from earlier this year I was tempted by the shiny new product on the shelves. None of that this year.

So that’s it. Three basic guidelines to hopefully control my spending and help focus my collection. I also want to give away 5,000 cards, but that’s a separate challenge. Due to a bad bet and helping some young cousins start their collection I’ve knocked about 800 cards out already. Hopefully, some football collectors will help take some cards off of my hands.

Of course the best laid plans are subject to unexpected obstacles. For instance my strategy was to collect Topps base series one as my first set this year. I got off to a strong start last week picking up some packs at the local Target. I think I ended up getting about 12 packs or so. No big hits, but I did get the David Price rookie and a Pee Wee Reese short print.

Wednesday I decided to run to the hobby shop at lunch to pick up some more packs. My teammate is getting back into the hobby as well so I told him I’d pick a couple of packs for him as well. I got to my local shop and looked at the baseball section. 2009 Upper Deck was there, as was the devils sugar - Heritage High Number, but an empty space where I could only guess 2009 Topps should be.

I asked the owner if had any and he said nope and he wasn’t planning on getting any more. According to him his distributor would only let him buy a case at $100 bucks a box. He didn’t want to spend that kind of money for a base set so he was waiting for more to show up or hoped that he could get a good deal on a retail box. A retail box? I could go to Target for that.

So not wanting to leave empty handed I bought two Upper Deck hobby packs (breaking tent number 3) and some Heritage. No big hits in any of the packs. I stopped at Target on the way back to work and they were totally out of Topps 2009 as well. A stop at a different Target after work also revealed no Topps.

Frustrated and jonesing for some Topps I made my first foray into online box buying. I picked up a box of 2009 Topps from Dave and Adams Card World and also a box of 2008 Upper Deck Series Two. At $75 for the Topps I’m half tempted to take it to the shop owner and offer it to him for $95 to see if he’d take it.

Who am I kidding I’m going to enjoy ripping those packs open!

In order to make amends for breaking tenet number three I’m going to give away the Upper Deck packs I bought today - well everything except for the two O’s and two Rays that I got. Think of this as a mini contest. The first person to leave a comment with the correct answer to the question below will win the following:

#79 David Eckstein
#16Carlos Quinton
#100 Edwin Encarnacion
#136 Kenny Rogers
#199 Rafael Furcal
#101 Jeff Keppiinger
#404 Phil Coke - RC
#458 Angels Team Leaders
#OPC-19 Felix Hernandez
#100 UD 20th Anniversery Mania - Orlando Magic
#486 Matt Holliday Team Checklist
#402 Matt Antonelli - RC
#221 Jason Kendall
#272 Andy Pettitte
#235 Fernando Tatis
#344 Troy Glaus
#378 Milton Bradley
#327 Randy Winn
#310 Tom Gorzelanny
#396 Austin Kearns
#289 Joe Blanton
#279 Justin Duchscherer
#296 Shane Victorino
#262 Robinson Cano
#433 Mets Team Leaders
#USA-7 Casey Weathers
YSL 6683 Alex Rodriguez
#493 Carlos Quentin Team Checklist
#178 Vladimir Guerreo
#115 Matt Holliday
#139 Todd Jones
#195 Matt Kemp
#58 Jason Bay
#67 Geovany Soto
#4 Dan Haren
#395 Ryan Zimmerman

And the question is:

In 1978 the Baltimore Orioles drafted future icon Cal Ripken, Jr. in the second round. He was their 4th pick of the draft. What three players did the O’s draft before picking the future Hall of Famer?

Leave your answer in the comments. First to get the right names wins the cards.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bring me the head of Alex Rodriguez! Oh wait Family Guy is on....never mind.

So am I supposed to be surprised about Alex Rodriguez? Am I supposed to be mad, outraged, frothing at the mouth? Ehh. I guess I should, after all he tainted his legacy and tarnished his name, right? After all, the greatest player of our generation just got caught cheating. Well, I’m sorry if I refuse to give into the hate. Besides it’s pointless to get worked up. Like Derek Jeter just said on the MLB Network, “we all move on”.

Rodriguez is doing what he has to do, what his handlers are telling him to do. He went on ESPN and apologized. It will be a rough year for him, but if he puts up a .320, 50 HR, 120 RBI year then it will be forgotten. Well maybe not forgotten, but definitely moved to the back burner. We’ve seen it happen with Andy Pettite, Jason Giambi and Brian Roberts. We as fans are nothing if not forgiving. Heck, even in the vast canon of fiction surrounding the game there is a sense of forgiveness. I was watching Major League last night and even Jake Taylor was able to root for Roger Dorn at the end of the game -and that was after he threatened to “rip his nuts off”.

I would imagine the Yankee 3rd baseman gives one more major interview (Katie Couric or Maury Schaffer?) and then move on and refuse to talk about it. The interesting thing is how this will affect his career. The knee jerk reaction is to say he ruined his chances for the Hall of Fame. I’m not so sure about that. At 33 he’s got a chance to play another 5-8 years at a high level. After that a 5 year waiting period before his name comes up on the ballot and you’re looking at another decade before the votes are taken.

In this day in age 10 years is a lifetime. In the Internet Era everyone is already looking for the next big story. By the time his name comes up for voting I imagine most of the names will be out and we’ll have a greater look at the total picture of the steroid era. Not only that, but a lot of the old school writers, the ones who are spitting at the bit to flagellate him now will be out of the voting and hopefully replaced by a younger crowd who might be a bit more lenient to the steroid users.

I’m not a big fan of him. I think he tries to hard in everything he does. He doesn’t seem to be able to relax and just be himself, he has to be the perfect player, perfect teammate or the perfect person. So when he slaps a ball out of some ones’ hands or yells at a player trying to catch a pop up it just comes off as….I don’t know if phony is the right word, but something like that.

Looking back it’s probably not surprising that he tried steroids. With the largest contract in baseball I’m sure he did feel the pressure to be better than the best he could be. Knowing that there was no punishment if he did get caught why wouldn’t he try them? Should we let him off the hook? Of course not, but with what little we know of his personality as fans we sure as heck shouldn’t be surprised.

Do I give him credit for admitting and apologizing? No way. Admit it when you do it if you’re truly sorry not when you’re caught. My mom taught me that lesson when I was 8 years old. I doubt his sincerity as well. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and more jaded, but it strikes me all as damage control. He’s only apologizing because he knows it’s the best way to get it over with. The thing that gets me is that it will work, maybe that’s where the real tragedy lies.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Return of Quick Hits

It's been a while since I posted (as I'm sure you've noticed). I'll have a couple of posts up hopefully later this week and from then on I hope to post at least once a week. Grand goals indeed. Till then here are a couple of quick hits.

1. Picked up my first packs of 2009 Topps today. I like them. It looks like Topps stepped up the photography a bit for their base set this year. My favorite part of the card might be the little factoids that line the top of the back of the card.

One of the cards I received was a Mickey Mantle. Not unusual as he has been a part of their sets for the last few years. What was weird was that his position was listed as "shortstop". I'm thinking I see a gimmick here. Could there be 9 variations of this card - one for each position?

2. The Lightning season is done. Finito. No playoffs for these boys. Blowing a 3 goal lead to a team they're chasing in the playoffs is not good. Starting Mike McKenna in net also not good. Hopefully Mike smith is back on Saturday as planned.

3. Mojo. Didn't know about it, don't like it, won't use it.

4. Rays offseason gets a solid B+ so far. Shored up the bullpen and found a right handed power bat. Matt Joyce for Ed Jackson was a solid trade. Nice young bat for a pitcher that was expendable and it opens up a spot in the rotation for David Price. Friedman and Co. are showing themselves to be quite wily.

5. Jon Gruden's firing. About 3 seasons overdue.

6. Liverpool's loss to Everton. Sigggghhhhh. Rafa can't get these guys motivated to win against lesser talent. Coming off the big win against Chelsea they were flat in this game and are now out of the FA Cup. Looming larger would be the injury to Steven Gerrard. Hamstring injuries never heal fast and they're in a fight for first in the Premiership.

that's it. back to regularly scheduled programming this weekend.