Friday, August 28, 2009

Kazmir Traded - Has the Towel Been Thrown In?

According to MLB Trade Rumors Scott Kazmir has been traded to the Angels for two prospects (lefty Alexander Torres and 3rd baseman Matthew Sweeney).

The timing makes this deal more interesting than anything else. The Rays are still in the race and Kazmir has been pitching better since coming off the DL. It will also be interesting to see who takes his spot in the rotation.

At first glance this deal is financial more than anything else. The hard throwing lefthander is owed $20 million over the next two years and the early reports have the Angels picking up his entire salary.

The nDRO has made it known that if attendance wasn't where they needed it to be their could be repercussions. With the talent the Rays have at the pitching position Kazmir was a likely candidate. I just thought it would happen in the off-season.

The good news - this probably keeps Carl Crawford in a Tampa Bay uniform for another year. I haven't questioned too many moves that Friedman and Co. have made, but the timing of this raises eyebrows.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Victor Hedman - super collector?

Well maybe not a super collector, but TSN is reporting that while the big Swede was growing up he had over 200 cards of fellow Swede Peter Forsberg.

According to the article it looks like all three of the top picks (Hedman, John Tavares and Matt Duchene) were avid collectors when they were younger. I wonder if that means they'll be more tolerable for the autograph hounds out there?

If I'm still umemployed when the season rolls around it looks like I might be hanging out at the Ice Palace during the morning skates.

Any chance the Bolts will play this clip anytime Hedman does anything on the ice? 'Cause I'm all for anything that brings back the greatness that is Stitch Jones.

Well up until the Swede gets his ass kicked....

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

From Stud to not such a stud?

Is Vinny still a “superstar”? That might seem like a silly question to ask about someone who hasn’t turned 30 yet and is only two season removed from a fifty goal season. Oh yeah and he makes $10 million. Surely a team would not invest that type of money in an average player. Yet some signs might be pointing to the glory days fading for the Lightning center.

Full disclosure. I like Vincent Lecavalier. I hope he stays a member of the Lightning for the rest of his hall-of-fame career. I’m pretty sure I wrote a reverse-jinx post saying that trading him wouldn’t be a bad idea. I collect his cards, even paid close to Beckett value for a jersey card, at a card shop non the less. So maybe that clouds my judgment a bit.

That, however, might explain some things. I’m not a reporter who is supposed to remain impartial. I’m a fan who writes about his favorite teams. As a fan of Vincent Lecavalier, as a fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning, as a ½ season ticket holder (thanks unemployment check!), as all of those things I think the answer to the question is a resounding yes.

I think most of the people in the TBA would agree with me. I think a lot of people in Montreal would agree with me as well. An article I read today made me wonder a bit if his star is tarnished a tad. Michael Farber, one of the mainstream media folks who writes excellent stories about hockey, talked about Team Canada. The gist of the article is that Lecavalier, along with Joe Thornton, might not make the Olympic team.

Initially, that’s a shocking thought. Could there really be 5-6 NHL centers better than Vinny? Farber lists Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf as his top two centers. Mike Richards or Jonathan Toews would look to be the fourth line center and the rest of the centers in camp would be able to center or wing making them more valuable to the team.

Thornton and Lecavalier would be the odd men out as one position players. The thought that Vinny isn’t good enough to crack Canada’s roster is a sobering one. Coupled with his numbers from last season (29 goals and 67 points) and his superstar status is even shakier.

CBS sports had him ranked as their 34th best scorer at the end of last year. He doesn’t crack the top 20 of TSN’s player rankings (last updated in April). Now those numbers are based on his performance from last season, but it could signal a trend that Lightning fans might not like.

The new generation of the NHL is represented by Ovcehkin, Crosby and Malkin. The next generation is John Taveras and Vinny’s teammate Steven Stamkos. Lecavalier is caught in an in-between period of his career. Despite only being 29 he has been in the league for 9 seasons so it‘s a stretch to talk about his future potential. He should be in his prime, but is coming off his worst season statistically since 2002-03.

He also has never worn the captain’s “C” well. He isn’t an outgoing, in-your-face leader of men. His best seasons have come with an “A” on his sweater, when someone else is the acknowledged leader. It seems that he is more comfortable when there is a veteran player that can take the responsibility. Unfortunately, he is now that veteran player.

I think he’s a player that needs to be challenged. He came to age under the tough love coaching of John Tortorella. The country club atmosphere that Barry Melrose had for the start of the season is not conducive to him achieving his maximum results. Throughout the season Rick Tocchet seemed to let him be as well. Perhaps being a little tougher on his captain this season might produce better results.

This season is going to be huge for him. The big contract comes with big expectations. In order for the Bolts to sniff the playoffs they need two things:

1. Mike Smith healthy
2. Vincent Lecavalier scoring 40 goals.

He needs to reestablish his dominance. Health wise there should be no excuses. The shoulder injury that hampered him the last two seasons should be done. His off-season wrist surgery appears to have no effects as Farber reports that Lecavalier is having an excellent camp as he is “shooting the puck with more authority than he has in the past two years”.

Shooting the puck is a good thing. Vinny gets a little pass-happy at times. It’s a tribute to how unselfish he is on the ice. The thing is - sometimes the superstar needs to be a bit selfish. He needs to take his shots. In the two years he was among the elite there were moments, periods, games where Lecavalier put the team on his back and dominated. They need that again.

So is he still a superstar? Well ,to crib a term from everyone’s favorite collectible magazine I would currently call him an unlisted star. Here’s hoping there’s an up arrow next to his name by the time the season is over.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Was it Over When the Germans Bombed Peal Harbor? aka the Rays are still in this thing!

Since we live in the age of the negative let us start with the bad news. The Rays aren’t going to repeat as American League East Champions. With just under forty games to go they aren’t in a position to make up the 10 games that separate the two teams in the standings. Luckily for the Rays they live in the age of the wild card.

That leads to the good news. Despite the impression you might get from listening to local radio, the Rays are still in the middle of the post season hunt. They took two out of three from the Rangers this weekend and closed the gap to two games behind the surprising ball club from Arlington. Both teams are still chasing Boston for the outright lead.

The Rays have a leg up in that chase as they have 6 games head to head with Boston while Texas has finished their season series with the Red Sox. Making up games is always easiest when you’re playing the team head to head. With the success that the Rays have had against Boston over the last two years it isn’t inconceivable that a 3-4 game lead can be erased within a week.

All season long fans and radio hosts have bashed the Rays to the point where one would assume the team was on pace for another 100 loss season. Why all of the hate? Well one thing you must understand about the TBA (that’s Tampa Bay Area for you new readers) is that if the team isn’t first it might as well be last.

The flip side is if the team is in last (which happens quite a bit around these parts) all the fans want is for the team to be competitive. Of course, by competitive they mean in first place. Have the Rays struggled at times this year? Definitely. Does that mean we should spew venom over the air waves and question their integrity on a day to day basis? Definitely not.

Fans let me tell you - it’s not embarrassing to cheer for a team that doesn’t end up in first place. After all, only one team gets to hoist the trophy at the end of the year. Cheer for them when they win and cheer for them when they lose. Ninety nine percent of your life is going to be spent supporting a team that doesn’t win it all.

Besides, where’s the fun in cheering only when they win? That’s like putting together a 15 piece puzzle. Sure you get the pride in putting it together, but where’s the challenge? It’s not like the Rays are a losing team this year. They are on pace to win 88 games. For those of you who have been here longer than a season and a half wouldn’t that have sounded grand in 2007 (66 wins), 2006 (61 wins) or 2005 (67 wins).

The Rays have stayed in the chase despite sub par seasons from their top two pitchers, Scott Kazmir and James Shields, and rough years from BJ Upton and Dioner Navarro. Luckily those struggles have been off-set by career years from Jason Bartlett and Jeff Niemann, not to mention the reemergence of Carl Crawford.

What happens if Kazmir continues his recent success and Shields starts getting some run support? The Rays start putting together 5 and 6 game winning streaks, that’s what happens. It’s better for your team to be hot in September than in April. Remember all of the complaining about resting starters in April and May - well this is why Maddon did it. So that his team is the freshest when the games mean the most.

The Yankees are clear and gone, but the Red Sox are still vulnerable. A strong finish and the Rays can nip the Sox at the wire. So let us turn those frowns upside down. Let us hear some Joe Maddon-ish optimism out there. I’m hoping the black hair dye catches on like the Ray-Hawk, I would find it amusing if the Trop was packed with 60 year olds looking like Death Cab-listening emo’s.

So when I tune in the radio tomorrow I want to hear some positive thoughts out there. Don’t back down to the radio tough guys and their negativity, because to paraphrase Jackie DeShannon, what the world needs now is positivity sweet positivity. It truly is the one thing that there’s just too little of.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lightning Trade Artyukhin and an announcement.

Pearls Before Swine

I'm done with reading comments on certain sports pages that cover my favorite team. Too much hatred out there. At first it seemed like the comments pages provided information and helpful links, now they're just filled with hate filled invectives at players, coaches or other posters.

In the best interests of my mental health and blood pressure I'm done reading them. I think the internet would be a slightly better place if people weren't allowed to post a comment on a story for 24 hours. Passion is one thing, but the negativity that is overtaking reason is getting out of hand.

Oh, and the Lightning traded the Russian Freight Trane Evgeny Artyukhin to Anaheim for Drew Miller and a 3rd round pick. It seems Miller will be another name in the hat for a spot on the third or fourth line.

The good news is that it frees up even more cap space that can be used to conclude the long courtship of Alex Tanguay.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mail Call!

Mail day. Is there anything better than having those little yellow envelopes in the mail? Probably, but it’s still pretty cool. The other day I wandered down to the mailbox and saw that Mr. Mailman had dropped not one, but TWO envelops in the ol’ mail slot. Good times indeed.

Envelope #1 -

Courtesy of JD’s Daddy from JD's Wild Cardz

I sent him some Heritage 2009 extras that I had in exchange for a 2009 Icons Scott Kazmir relic card. It’s shiny and Scott looks like he’s pitching from the stretch. Something that he’s done quite a bit over the past two seasons.

Mike also threw in a few Evan Longoria cards. The 09 Topps base is probably my favorite since it features a Ray and the good ol’ Topps All Star Rookie trophy. One of these days I’m going to start collecting all of the cards that feature the iconic trophy on it.

Envelope #2 -

Courtesy of Chris from Nacho’s Grande aka FanOfReds

Chris helped me clear out some 2009 Allen and Ginter extras and minis that were taking up space on my desk. In return he was going to hook me up with a Carl Crawford Heritage jersey card and “some assorted rays/orioles cards”. Nice, that’s right up my dual collecting alley.

Above you see the highlights out of the 28 cards he sent me. I love the Dick Perez sketch cards. The 1993 Topps Gregg Olsen reminds of what it was like back when the O’s had a closer. The 1988 first round pick racked up 160 saves in six years with the O’s including 27 in the magical 1989 “Why Not” season where a rusty nail was the only thing that kept the O’s out of the postseason.

Chris also knocked off two cards from my 2009 Topps wanted list and one more of my 2008 Allen & Ginter (less than 10 to go!).

Thanks a lot guys!

The Latest from Lightning Land

So what’s happened since last we talked about Lightning hockey. Umm not much. They cut popular winger, Vinny Prospal, the owners are now engaged in an all-out, buy-the other-out battle for control of the team. They did manage to con someone into taking Radim Vrbata off of their hands before they were forced to eat his contract. Oh, and their number one goalie who is coming off a serious concussion took a shot off the helmet, from a 14-year old. So all in all a normal off-season continues.

Let’s tackle issue two first. According to the St Pete Times it was announced on Sunday that the NHL has told co-owners Len Barrie and Oren Koules that there can only be one. Barrie is up to bat first and has till the end of September to buy out Koules. If he is unable to then Koules has the chance to buy out Barrie. If neither can come to an agreement then former owner Palace Sports and Entertainment can regain control of the team or the league will accept offers for the team from any eligible party not named Jim Balsillie.

This latest missive from the head offices is the latest in a series designed to bring balance to the Force…..err the Lightning hockey club. You know what? Whoever buys the team should rename it Lightning Club de Hockey. Just for fun. And the word “club” looks odd if you type it three times in four sentences. OK, back to the column.

First, Mr. Bettman called the grownups into his office during the draft weekend to sort out who did what with the club. Koules was named the head boss, GM Brian Lawton was in charge of player acquisitions and Barrie had to sign off on all moves over $2.5 million.

Second, Barrie had to prove he could pay off his share of the debt. He produced a $10 million letter of credit that satisfied the league. He also settled a $3 million loan Koules had given him last season. It looks like someone has enough money to keep him in Ed Hardy shirts and Diesel jeans for quite some time now. If it’s enough to acquire sole ownership is a questions yet to be answered.

Finally, this buy out situation. Hopefully, they can figure it out without getting the courts involved. The last thing the team and the league needs is another situation like the one taking place in Phoenix. No one (I.e. local radio hosts) knows why Barrie was given the first chance for sole ownership.

This humble writer’s theory is that the NHL would like Koules to own the franchise. Barrie is going to have much less time to secure the funds necessary to buy out his co-owner / rival. The amount of money required to buy out the other hasn’t been mentioned. OK Hockey bought the team last year for about $200 million (about $100 million which was financed by Palace Sports). We can assume, however, that it is a healthy bit of coin.

Barrie has had cash problems in the past, most of them caused by the ongoing saga of his Bear Mountain Resort in British Columbia. On July 20th of this year he announced that he hoped to “finalize a $350 million investment in Bear Mountain Resort arranged by Siraj Capital (Dubai) Ltd.” in October. How much of that money is going into his pockets remains to be seen. In the same statement he said that the funds would be used for “expansion and future development of the Resort”.

Will he get enough, and will it be in time for him to own the team outright? I don’t think so. He still has the chance to put together a group of investors, something he’s allegedly been trying to do since earlier this year.

Can the Lightning survive a Len Barrie-led ownership? I think they can, but it would be stressful. The rumors of the Lightning not being able to meet payroll would probably persist. Personnel would continue to fluctuate. Despite his support of Vincent Lecavalier, the possibility of a trade wouldn’t go away. As long as money is an issue for this club the possibility of trading their elite center man will always be on the table.

Thinking about it makes my head hurt. I can’t wait for training camp. If my current employment situation continues, well my lack of employment I should say, I might be able to attend some of the camp sessions. Woo-hoo! More autographs!

One player that I won’t be getting an autograph from is Vaclav “Vinny” Prospal. In a somewhat surprising move the Club de Lightning (catchy isn’t it?) cut ties with one third of the once vaunted “MVP” line, Surprising in the sense that they were already short a top six scorer before the move.

If they’re able to turn his dismissal into cap space to sign Alex Tanguay and Petr Sykora or Maxim Afinagoniv then it might all work out. Prospal is well liked by a majority of Lightning fans, but has been spotty at best in non-contract years. Forty-five points and a -20 is unacceptable for a player who spent his time on the top two lines. Especially when he hitting the cap at $3.5 million.

Under the terms of the bargaining agreement the Lightning cap will know be dinged at $1.17 million a year for the next six years (2/3 of the remaining contract over twice the length). The Bolts also saved some coin by finding a taker for disenfranchised winger Radim Vrbata. The Lightning sent him back to the Coyotes for Todd Fedoruk and blue liner David Hale.

How will this affect Lecavalier? Reports are that he was best buddies with Prospal, and while I’m sure he understands it’s business related you can’t help but think he’s bummed out about it. Much like he probably wasn’t too pleased with the plethora of trade talk over the last two years.

Of course winning would go a long way to helping him get over it. The pressure is on GM Lawton to make this all work out. So far his summer has gone rather well. He has gone out of his way to make sure there will be depth on the backline, a notable weakness from last season. Bringing in two wingers who could get into the 15-23 goal range each would turn this team into a potential playoff contender.

Oh and by the way, Mike Smith did survive the shot off the head from the teenager. So I guess that’s good news, eh?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Contest....Also Hopefully the only time I have to use the NASCAR tag

So I went to the flea market today for some new card relief. I spent five bucks and managed to cut down my 2008 Allen & Ginter needs by one, my 1983 Topps needs by 25, mt random Oriole cards by about 25 and my Crawford collection by 3.

The owner also threw in a bag of 200 various cards for free. In that bag was 43 NASCAR / Racing cards. I'm not an aficionado of the racing sports so I have no use for these.

Hopefully someone out there does. So I propose this. The first person that can offer me one (just one) Carl Crawford relic, auto, or just cool ass card that I don't have gets the entire lot.

First come first serve.....

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Is this the end of baseball cards as we know it? Probably not

As I was enjoying my morning bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios and starting on my daily internet surfing my life was flipped around and turned upside down. Did I finally get a job offer - alas no. Instead I stumbled accross an article on google news.

Upper Deck, after losing it’s NBA license a few months ago, also has lost it’s MLB license. Major League Baseball and Topps have come to a five year agreement that makes Topps the exclusive rights holder for trading cards. Wow. For the first time since 1989 there won’t be an Upper Deck base set to look forward to.

Well that might not be entirely true. Upper Deck does still have an agreement with the players’ association so they can release cards with their images on it. They just won’t be able to have the major league logo or the team logo’s on the cards. How this will be received by the collecting universe won’t be known until the new releases come out next year.

Upper Deck has definitely stumbled this year. Their base set lacked imagination, Goudey was a step back from last year and their decision to cut Masterpieces from the rotation was met with almost universal scorn by the collecting blog-o-sphere. Their one last hope to salvage 2009 lies in their new Goodwin Champions release that should be coming out shortly.

Goodwin Champions, check Mario’s page for a preview, is Upper Deck’s shot at an Allen & Ginter artist inspired set with oddball inserts. If it’s successful it should be an easy set to keep rolling out. Airbrushing off the logos in a “painted” set would look more natural than it would on a photo based set.

Hopefully this is a wakeup call for Upper Deck. Lack of imagination and worthless sets have plagued them over the last few years. UD Documentary (a good idea poorly executed), UD X (just a poor concept) and A Piece of History have all failed. Perhaps losing their license will force them to blow up their products and start from scratch.

In 1989 they were the new kids on the scene. Stunning photography and superior card stock made the competition seem like a minor league product. Unfortunately for UD the rest of the companies, at least the one’s that survived, improved their product to the point that there was a level playing field again.

Topps’ 2009 base set marked the first year where I thought their photography was better than UD’s. The pressure will be on Topps to keep their product from growing stagnant now that they have a monopoly on the MLB licensing. Some are referring to this as a new glory age, like the ’70’s, when Topps last held an exclusive contract.

Today’s high end, $150-a-pack card universe is a lot different then it was four decades ago. How will card shops / on-line retailers react if Topps releases a high end set that bombs with the collecting public? They might not have another brand to turn to in order to help recoup lost sales.

Michael Eisner, Topps Owner, is playing this as a chance for Topps to bring the industry back to the kids. An interesting position, but how is that going to go over with the collectors? Kids aren’t dropping $80-$100 for a box of Allen & Ginter. It’s going to be interesting to see if they can balance an appeal to kids and still satisfy the higher end / older collector out there. Who knows maybe we’ll see a decent product for less than a buck a pack next year.

Is this the beginning of the end for baseball card collecting? No. It’s an upheaval that needs to happen every few decades to freshen things up. Five years will go by pretty quickly, in that time Upper Deck could be back and better than ever. Panini might show that it can do cards as well as stickers. Without competition Topps might have the freedom to try some truly innovative designs without having to worry about the bottom line.

Will they be able to rebound and offer a competitive product in 2010? Will they scrap baseball and focus on hockey - the sport they have an exclusive contract with? Only time will tell.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Good day in Baltimore.....

According to the Brett Hollander show that I'm listening to online, Derrick Mason is going to report to the Ravens tomorrow. His retirement is over.

I'm not too surprised by this. I had a feeling that Mason was rattled by Steve McNair's death and didn't know what he wanted to do. After taking a couple of weeks to think about it he must have realized he still had some gas in the tank.

That's pretty good news for the Ravens who would have been staring at a huge hole in their receiving corps if Mason had stayed retired. He's not going to light up the scoreboard with touchdowns, but he abilty to get open and extend drives by making receptions on 3rd down is key to the Ravens offense.

Also, the same show is reporting that Andy McPhail is debating whether or not to bring up pitching phenom Brian Matusz. With Brad Bergesen on the DL the O's are short a starter and it appears they want to take at the young right hander.

The 22-year-old has dominated AA going 7-0 in his seven starts. The left-hander's ERA is an absurd 1.59 and has struck out 45 hitters while only walking 10.

If he is called up then that would make the O's 3 for 3 in calling up their top prospects this season. Baseball America had Matusz ranked third behind Matt Wieters and Chris Tillman.

Looks like O's fans get a glimpse of the future a little sooner than expected.