Friday, November 30, 2007

What Happens Next?

OK Twins fans, you can and should be very happy about new GM Bill Smith's first major trade as the head man for your favorite baseball team. Prying former uber-prospect Delmon Young from the Tampa Bay Rays was impressive, even at the expense of a talent like Matt Garza.

Still, while you revel in your shiny new three-hole hitter you have to be wondering where all this is going.

It's common knowledge by now that unless Twins owner Carl Pohlad suddenly undergoes a Scrooge-esque experience, the best pitcher in baseball is going to be wearing another team's uniform in 2008.

Of course I'm talking about one Johan Santana and the trade rumors that continue to run rampant involving the lefty. If there was ever a guy you were going to pay top dollar to make sure he stays, it's Santana. Yet in typical Twins form they've managed to convince people that it's for the best that they get what they can for him now because they can't afford him.

My bad, they can afford him, they just choose not too.

So okay, Santana's out the door and in his place should be a nice little collection of young talent to pair with the aforementioned Young. A little chemistry building in a locker room revered for it's close knit atmosphere, perhaps Francisco Liriano gets healthy and returns to his dominating form and all is right with the world.

Of course there's always the other scenario, the one the Twins and their fans seem more than a little reluctant to consider.

In that scenario the hot-headed Young, taking the place of team leader and Twins icon Torii Hunter, shakes up the happy-go-lucky locker room and infuses it with a little good old fashioned diva attitude.

Liriano's recovery takes longer than expected and his stuff isn't nearly as un-hittable as the mental and physical hurdles prove too much for the young guy. On top of that the young players received in the Santana trade turn out to be a year or two away from really being good and manager Ron Gardenhire is left to juggle his roster all year.

Not only that, but the team's struggles support the front office's idea that it's a good idea to move closer Joe Nathan before he becomes a free agent and so they do just that and get less than market value for a guy who has to be considered one of the three or four best closers in the game.

You see where I'm going with this right? Where does it stop? When is it not good enough for a franchise with the second richest owner in all of sports is more willing to trade their best players than sign them?

Yes the Twins minor league system has been strong over the years and against all odds they've managed to run a successful organization built primarily on home-grown talent. But that kind of success can't last forever and at some point you need to start throwing some money around.

What are the top guys coming up in the Twins system supposed to think? At this point they can be reasonably sure that if they do make it to the show and perform well that they should keep their bags packed come contract time, and that's sad.

A look ahead at the top players on the Twins roster reveals that former AL MVP Justin Morneau could be next to go, followed by right fielder Michael Cuddyer and even the newly acquired Young if he doesn't get the kind of money I'm sure he believes he's worth from the Twins.

With a beautiful new ballpark on the horizon and sagging interest in both the Vikings and Timberwolves, now is the time for the Twins to step it up and claim their place as Minnesota's top draw.

Instead they seem content to spend less money than the Kansas City Royals and hope that things work out. I don't know about you, but like the Twins themselves, I'm not buying it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Forget for a minute that Sean Taylor was a star at the University of Miami, a first-round draft pick and a stud in the Washington Redskins secondary on his way to cementing his status as one of the game's very best.

Forget that Taylor had money or that he had a history of run-ins with the law and a less-than-stellar on-field reputation stemming from several incidents early on in his career.

In the end a family, both in blood and in profession, lost a brother, son, father, teammate and loved one in a senseless act of violence at the age of just 24. The same age as my baby sister, Alexis.

One man's death does not and should not overshadow the deaths of people around the world that you and I have never heard of, but the fact that a well-known public figure had to lose his life this way should remind us all just how random and fragile anyone's life can be.

By all accounts Taylor was a guy who had undergone major changes in a life once threatened by his own poor judgment and was on his way to grown-ass-man status.

He leaves behind a one-year-old daughter who now will be forced to grow up without a father in a world where too many kids do the same. Sure, her future should be intact financially thanks to her daddy's prowess on a football field, but her memories of him will sadly have to come from outside sources instead of from within.

In the next few days and weeks we may learn that Taylor's death was not a random act of violence but rather retaliation for a previous transgression. An unfortunate reality of a life lived in the fast lane of big time collegiate and professional sports.

Whatever the facts of the case may be, nothing changes the fact that a young man in the prime of his life was taken away far too soon.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Who Wants It?

It's only fitting given how ridiculously crazy college football has been this year in terms of the standings, that the race for the Heisman Trophy is as wide open as I can ever remember it being.

No fewer than six guys have a legitimate argument that can be made on their behalf, and with exactly zero undefeated major conference teams (sorry Hawaii) there is no one on the Heisman radar who can claim "best player on the best team" honors.

Since not even I can decide who should win the Heisman, I've decided to make arguments for each and let you the reader vote for who you think should take home the big trophy.

Chase Daniel - QB - Missouri: Anybody who watched Daniel dismantle the Kansas Jayhawks this past Saturday night, in a game the moved the Tigers in position to potentially play in the National Championship game, had to be impressed.

He showed poise, confidence and uncanny accuracy, going 40-of-49 for 361 yards and three touchdowns. Of course this is nothing new for Daniel who is completing over 70% of his passes through 12 games, including 36 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.

Even more impressive than that has been Daniel's ability to raise his game late in the season with everything on the line. In his last four games Daniel is 121-for-169 for 1,418 yards with 15 touchdowns and only one interception.

Only once all season did Daniel throw more interceptions than touchdowns in a game. That happened in the team's lone loss to Oklahoma in mid-October, and in that game he was 37-of-47 for 361 yards.

If Daniel and Missouri can beat Oklahoma this week in the Big 12 Championship, it would be tough for me to say that Daniel's all-around performance from start to finish was not Heisman-worthy.

Tim Tebow - QB - Florida: When you're the only player in the history of college football to throw for 20 touchdowns and rush for 20 touchdowns, that's pretty special. When you do it as a true sophomore in the best conference in the country you're downright scary.

Many believe that Tebow's gaudy offensive numbers and hard-nozed style has him positioned as the front-runner for the Heisman, and I can't say I disagree with that.

The one knock against Tebow however is how he performed against some of the toughest teams on Florida's schedule. In a loss to LSU Tebow's completion percentage was a paltry 46.2, and in a loss to Georgia he was held to minus-15 yards rushing; his only negative rushing day all season.

Outside of those two games however Tebow was brilliant, solidifying his status as arguably the most difficult player in the country to defend. At the age of 20 Tebow's legend grows larger by the day, and soon that legend may include a Heisman Trophy.

Darren McFadden - RB - Arkansas: There are big games, and then there are statement games, and McFadden's performance in an upset win over top-ranked LSU was the ultimate statement game.

All McFadden did on that Friday night in Baton Rouge was rush for 206 yards and three touchdowns and go 3-of-6 passing for 34 yards and a touchdown. All against one of the best defenses in the country who knew going in that they had to stop #5.

Of course one game does not make a season, and in McFadden's case for the Heisman, nothing could be more true. Three times this season McFadden was given fewer than 20 carries in a game and still he managed to rush for 1,725 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Those numbers eclipse the numbers from his sophomore campaign when he was the runner-up to Ohio State QB Troy Smith in the Heisman voting.

If McFadden does indeed turn pro, as many have speculated that he will, there will be one statistic that should wow NFL scouts in their evaluation of the Razorback running back. Want a hint?

Think zero.

As in zero fumbles lost in three season in the SEC. That's 764 carries, 46 catches and 22 pass attempts without putting the ball on the ground. To me that's all you need to know about the best running back in the country and possibly the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner.

Colt Brennan - QB - Hawaii: Fans of the run-and-shoot offense employed by Hawaii and head coach June Jones will remember fondly the last time a product of that system won the Heisman.

The year was 1989 and the player was Houston QB Andre Ware. That season Ware threw for 4,299 yards and 44 touchdowns on his way to the big prize.

While Brennan can't boast those type of numbers in 2007, the fact that his Hawaii Warriors are one win away from a perfect 13-0 season and a trip to a BCS bowl game has to count for something.

Of course that's not to say Brennan's numbers aren't impressive. Five times Brennan threw for more than 400 yards in a game in 2007, including a 495-yard performance in the season's biggest game for Hawaii this past Friday against Boise State.

Brennan was injured twice during the season and basically didn't play in either of those games (he did throw two passes against Nevada, but didn't start). Missing those two games will hurt Brennan's chances at winning the Heisman, but I for one think he's been impressive enough to deserve strong consideration for the award.

Glenn Dorsey - DT - LSU: The Heisman Trophy is supposed to be awarded to the best player in the country and for my money the best player, regardless of position, is LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey.

No defensive player has been a more consistent, disruptive force than the effervescent Dorsey who has spent more time in offensive backfields than some running backs.

With 61 total tackles and six sacks, Dorsey's numbers are hardly the type of jaw-dropping stats that usually win Heisman's. Add to that the fact LSU is no longer a factor in the National Championship picture and Dorsey is a long shot.

However if the Heisman committee is doing its job it will include Dorsey in the ceremony scheduled for December 8th. Of course Dorsey can always take comfort in the fact that he's likely to be a top-3 pick in next April's NFL Draft.

Pat White - QB - West Virginia: Like Chase Daniel at Missouri, West Virginia's rise to the top of the BCS standings can only help the Heisman chances of their dual-threat quarterback Pat White.

Of all the quarterbacks on this list White is clearly the best runner by virtue of his 1,144 yards on the ground with one game left to play. Conversely he is by far the least effective passer of the bunch.

White's completion percentage has gone up and his interceptions have gone down since 2006, a sign that he is becoming a better passer. And his 26 total touchdowns are impressive. But White's true value comes in his ability to guide his team to within one win of a berth in the National Championship.

White may have to wait a year before he wins a Heisman because of the competition this year, but his role in the elevation of the Mountaineer program deserves recognition, perhaps with a big, stiff-arming trophy.

So there it is, that's the list. You've noticed that I've included a second poll to go along with this article. Feel free to voice your opinion on this year's Heisman race.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Been Lazy Lately...

As I'm sure at least a few of you have noticed, I have been very lazy lately when it comes to posting new content here on Quick Hits. My bad.

This will change soon as I will be committing myself to at least three new articles each week, and most likely more than that.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Don't Pull That Trigger

A report from the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday indicated that the San Francisco Giants have been aggressive in their pursuit of Florida Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera who is widely regarded as one of the top-5 hitters in all of baseball.

On the surface one would think that this type of news would be sweet music to the ears of Giants fans everywhere, myself included. However the realization that the Giants would most likely have to include either staff ace Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum in the deal makes me flinch like a hitter seeing Lincecum's curveball for the first time.

I am a firm believer that you have to have pitching to win, and while the Giants have done very little winning of late, it's been their stockpiling of quality arms like Cain and Lincecum that has given me hope for the future of the franchise.

That said, Cabrera's resume is awfully impressive. At age 24 Cabrera has already amassed 138 homeruns as well as an OPS of .930 to go along with a .313 career batting average. While the baseball world is focused on Alex Rodriguez's march toward nearly every important career batting record, they fail to mention that Cabrera is beating a very similar path.

Both players saw their first significant action in the big leagues at age 20. A-Rod played in a combined 54 games in 1994 and 1995, while Cabrera as a rookie in 2003 played in 87 games and was a key member of the Marlins team that won the World Series that year.

From 1996 through 1999, A-Rod hit 143 homeruns and drove in 442 runs on 747 total hits. Cabrera meanwhile from 2004 through 2007 has swatted 126 homers and driven in 461 runs on 758 total hits.

Clearly Cabrera has a long way to go to rival the extended production of A-Rod, but given his age it's not crazy to think he might be the next guy in line to challenge the records that may be set by Rodriguez.

The only thing that worries me about Cabrera is his lack of physical fitness, which not only could expose him to injuries down the road, but move him off of third base and into left field. He's already not a very good defensive player at the hot corner and his overall value takes a bigger hit if he is forced to play the outfield.

Perhaps the better comparison for Cabrera is Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez, who like Cabrera is an all-around hitter who cares a little less about his physique and defense than his prowess at the plate.

Either way, the thought of replacing the most dominant offensive player of our generation (Barry Bonds) with a guy who has the potential to be nearly as dangerous is very tempting. Which is what scares me most about the possibility of him landing in San Francisco in exchange for either Cain or Lincecum.

Giants GM Brian Sabean recently signed a contract extension through the 2009 season with a club option for 2010 and it's clear to most who follow the team that these next few years will be his last if he is not able to rebuild the team in the post-Bonds era.

What better way to make a splash than to go out and get yourself another marquee hitter to help spark what has been one of baseball's worst offenses over the last few seasons and put butts in the seats of AT&T Park? This time however the price is just too high.

Cain at age 22 is primed and ready to become a legitimate Cy Young candidate after suffering through a 7-16 record in 2007 despite an ERA of only 3.65.

Lincecum meanwhile showed flashes of pure dominance as a 23-year-old rookie, striking out more batters than innings pitched with an arsenal of pitches that rivals the very best in the game.

The value of that type of one-two punch at the top of a rotation cannot be overstated and I'd much rather see the team try to put together a more balanced offensive attack through free agency and their own minor league system, while allowing Cain and Lincecum to develop further.

Do you think the Braves would have been so good for so long had they traded John Smoltz in the mid-90's trying to find a quick fix offensively? I certainly don't think so and I for one would prefer that type of long term success which can only be achieved with solid starting pitching.

A quick look at the free agent crop in 2009 shows several quality position players available such as first baseman Mark Teixeira, shortstop Rafael Furcal, and outfielders like Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn and Raul Ibanez.

Also the mere fact that Cabrera would be traded and not signed as a free agent would make me worried that at some point he'd want to sign elsewhere and then the Giants would be left with nothing to show for giving away one of the game's brightest young arms.

So please Brian Sabean, step away from the negotiating table, take a closer look at some of this year's crop of free agents and move forward with Cain and Lincecum as a part of the Giants future. Trust me, it's for the best.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Black Thursday

Nearly four years since Barry Bonds testified in front of a grand jury regarding his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs, the federal government on Thursday finally indicted baseball's all-time home run king on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.

I've read the indictment and my question, like many others, is why did this take so long?

Were they hoping his nagging injuries would finally get the best of him and his assault on the most hallowed record in sports would be stopped in its tracks?

Perhaps they thought Bonds would eventually fail a drug test which would of course end the chase for 755.

I'm sure all along they believed Bonds' personal trainer and friend Greg Anderson would eventually crack under the pressure of extended incarceration and provide them with the ammunition to take down the so-called "big fish" of the BALCO investigation.

Whatever the reason, I remain skeptical of the entire process while at the same time feeling a much stronger feeling of sadness and disappointment as it pertains to the greatest baseball player I have ever seen with my 27-year-old eyes.

As the sporting world has found out over the last few months with the outcomes of both the Michael Vick case as well as Marion Jones' admission of guilt, when the feds indict someone they most likely have a case that can be proved.

With that knowledge in hand I find myself still not questioning any of Bonds' on-field accomplishments, but certainly doubting his pride and arrogance as character issues that may ultimately send him to prison.

As bad as this is for the legacy of Barry Bonds, I still feel he is a Hall of Fame player. Whether or not he gets voted in is another issue altogether. But in an era of baseball where no one really knows how many players have used or are still using performance enhancing drugs, I can only conclude that the playing field on which Bonds performed was indeed level.

Unlike Vick and Jones however, I have an uneasy feeling that Bonds will fight this to the bitter end as he clearly believes in his heart and mind that he did nothing wrong. I suppose that belief could help him in the end beat the indictment, but clearly it has already damaged him irrevocably in the eyes of most.

The sad part about all of this is that it never had to get this far and the people who should be on trial for the steroid issue in baseball, namely the player's association and baseball itself, should be the ones with their reputations and livelihoods on the line.

It's always seemed terribly unfair to me that those in positions of power within the game turned a blind eye to performance enhancing drugs because at the time it suited their needs from a financial standpoint.

Now that the drugs that were allowed to infiltrate the great game of baseball by the game of baseball have cast a cloud of public rage and disappointment there's this rush to find some sort of "closure" to an issue that could have been dealt with much sooner.

Lets say Bonds is indeed found guilty of of the crimes he's been accused of and there is no longer doubt that he knew what he was doing when he used the cream and the clear and whatever else, are we supposed to believe that the whole steroid thing is over? Because it seems to me that's what baseball and the federal government would like us to believe.

My own father has served on a criminal grand jury, and it's usually a very black and white process in that if there is enough evidence to go forward, they go forward. If there isn't, they don't.

Still, in this case it apparently took not two, not three, but four years to come to the conclusion that they had enough evidence to move forward with the indictment. That fact in and of itself stinks if you ask me.

The fact that parts of the sealed testimony were leaked seems to me to be the perfect motive for the feds to make sure they got Bonds no matter what. They were so desperate at one point that they were trying to pin charges of tax evasion on Bonds, charges that they also knew would not stick, but they pursued because they just had to get him.

Since the beginning, the witch-hunt feeling to all of this has been the most troubling part in my opinion and today's news appears to confirm my feelings to that extent.

If Bonds is found to have perjured himself and the federal government finally gets their man then he will have to suffer the consequences of those actions. Until then I suppose there is nothing left to do but wait and see what comes of all of this.

I just hope that my favorite baseball team has the guts to not cower in a corner when this whole thing comes to a close. Regardless of what Bonds did he was the one who was primarily responsible for getting the beautiful ballpark built and basically resuscitating baseball in San Francisco, and he deserves to be given a proper ceremony retiring his number 25 as one of the all-time greats to ever wear a Giants uniform.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Don't Sleep on the Kid

"As with all the top receivers in the draft, the Vikings could be in the running for any of them. And while fans shudder at the thought of another semi-inexperienced South Carolina wideout, Rice could be a good fit at the top of the second round. He'd give the team a red zone threat and a quality player that should develop."

-Adam Doctolero from KFAN dot com's 2007 Draft Page

Lost in the hysteria that is Adrian Peterson has been the emergence of rookie wide receiver Sidney Rice as the legitimate threat the Vikings have been searching for ever since saying goodbye to superstar receiver Randy Moss.

Sure Peterson deserves the headlines for single handedly carrying the Vikings to two of their three wins, but I think most people would be surprised to know that Rice is tied for third among all rookie wideouts in catches with 18.

The guy he's tied with? None other than super-freak Calvin Johnson, the consensus "best player available" in the 2007 NFL Draft and second overall pick by the Detroit Lions. In all, six wide receivers were taken before Rice in the 2007 Draft

Rice's 212 receiving yards also place him fourth among rookie pass catchers and his two touchdowns trail only Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe for the rookie lead.

What's most impressive about Rice's performance thus far has been his ability to adjust and adapt to what has been a revolving door at quarterback for the Vikings. Trust me, going from the rocket arm of Tarvaris Jackson to the wet noodle of Brooks Bollinger is no easy task, but Rice has taken it all in stride.

We shouldn't be too surprised however that Rice has been able to succeed despite not knowing who will be throwing him the ball. In his two seasons at the University of South Carolina, Rice caught passes from five different quarterbacks and yet managed to haul in 23 touchdowns and 2,233 total receiving yards.

Somewhat surprising has been Rice's quick adjustment to the physical nature of the NFL. Coming out of college after his redshirt sophomore season at South Carolina, Rice has answered the questions about his toughness and slight stature and has drawn rave reviews from his coaches for his downfield blocking that has helped to spring Peterson for long gains.

Of course it hasn't been all good for the 21-year-old Rice who has struggled at times with dropping some very catchable balls and at times running less-than-stellar routes which has occasionally made it tough for him to get open.

To his credit though, the team's youngest player seems to making the adjustments necessary to take advantage of his big time skills. His 40-yard touchdown catch last week was the longest of the season for the rookie and showed off his ability to make plays down the field; a trait seemingly lost on the Vikings' other receivers.

Having already emerged as the team's best and most explosive option at the wide receiver position, Rice's continued development alongside Peterson should give Vikings fans plenty to look forward to in the coming years.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Good Game, But So What?

The so-called "game of the century" between the Patriots and Colts was pretty damn good, I have to admit. It included all the necessary ingredients from a long touchdown run to an acrobatic interception and even a big time fourth quarter comeback engineered by likely league MVP Tom Brady.

And in the end what did we learn from this clash of NFL titans? Absolutely nothing.

That's right, the game some people were calling the biggest regular season game of all time amounted to little more than an interesting matchup between two quality teams, both on their way to high seeds in the AFC playoffs.

In fact I'd argue that the Browns/Seahawks game playing opposite the Pats/Colts was a better and more important game. Seattle failing to widen its lead atop the NFC West and the upstart Browns going to 5-3 and just a game in the loss column behind division leader Pittsburgh, provided the type of drama and impact most thought would come from the league's two best teams going head-to-head.

I know Pats/Colts was sexier for all the big names and undefeated records involved, but in the grand scheme of things the matchup of these two teams will only mean something should it happen again in January; until then I couldn't care less.

It's a lot like the 50 Cent/Kanye West battle over record sales a couple of months ago. Who really gives a crap except magazines who need to sell more copies and terrible music television shows who could broadcast monkeys playing the drums and maintain their core audience?

Ultimately both of them made more money in a month than I'll probably see in my lifetime and last time I checked no one even gives a rip at this point.

If you really think about it, what did the Pats really accomplish? They barely scraped by against the defending Super Bowl champs who were missing their best receiver (Marvin Harrison), their starting left tackle (Tony Ugoh) and for the most part their slot guy (Anthony Gonzalez).

The fact that they came from behind doesn't make me even more impressed by New England, it makes me want to see if they can beat the Colts at closer to 100%. Do I think less of the Colts as a top team? Of course not, in fact I think they proved that they're the most well-equipped team in the league to handle the Pats come playoff time.

A look at the stats shows both teams averaged less than four yards per carry, hardly impressive, and the combined 171 penalty yards is pretty ugly.

So too were the three combined interceptions thrown by both Brady and Peyton Manning, and if not for Brady's fourth quarter flurry this game might have been remembered for the underwhelming play of the league's two top signal callers.

Clearly the thing that turned me off to this particular game was the hype. I tried to go into it with an open mind, hoping I suppose for a shootout of epic proportions in which Brady and Manning matched each other touchdown-for-touchdown. I didn't get that, and given how wonderful and exciting this game was supposed to be, it wasn't enough.

If there's one thing I hate it's being disappointed by a game everyone is sure will be great, because so rarely is that prediction ever true. It's the reason people not affiliated with the teams involved watch the Super Bowl more for the commercials than for the game itself.

In the interest of self-promotion, you need only read my #1 reason why college football is better than the NFL to figure out why there were no fewer than three games played on Saturday that truly deserved the type of hype that the Pats/Colts tilt received.

In the end there really isn't anything we can do to stop or even slow down the hype machine when it gets rolling, my only advice would be to steer clear.