Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rickelsblog on the move

By Jeff

After 666 posts on Blogger, Rickelsblog is moving to WordPress. All of the old posts have already been moved and new ones will be posted at The design is still being worked on, but the posts are there and it already has a cleaner feel.

Monday, August 5, 2013

It's time to commend MLB

By Jeff

Major league Baseball, and even commissioner Bud Selig, deserve respect and recognition for their complete turnaround when it comes to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

Yes, I said it. Bud Selig, the man who made an exhibition game have a major impact on the World Series and has fought instant replay at every turn despite us living in 2013, deserves some props for the stance he has taken on PEDs since the league and its fans were duped by the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds to name a few.

"Do you think Jeter will still be my fake friend?"
Reports are coming out that today will be the day MLB hands out suspensions to those players implicated in the Biogenesis scandal. Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun was already hit with a 65-game suspension. Now it's expected that New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez will be banned through the 2014 season. It would be the longest suspension handed out since MLB and Selig revised their drug policy and consequences.

This is the same A-Rod who is one of the most recognizable names and faces in baseball. The same A-Rod who was supposed to be a key player in helping baseball fans forget the steroid era. The same A-Rod who has 647 career home runs and was supposed to give us a clean home run champion.

What I'm trying to say is that this is one of MLB's marquee players, yet the league is going to suspend him for more than a year. Throw in Braun and baseball will be handing out more than 200 games of suspensions between two players who have combined to win four MVP awards.

What other major sports league has done this? Ray Lewis plead guilty to obstruction of justice in a murder investigation, and the NFL didn't suspend him a single game. Ben Roethlisberger was accused of rape and was suspended four games. If a player tests positive for a banned substance in the NFL, he only misses four games.

And do you really believe that players in the NBA and NHL are completely clean? I haven't heard of a single steroid suspension in either of those leagues to scrubs players, let alone the stars.

There is no question that MLB got themselves into mess they're now cleaning up. They did not have strict PED rules in place when the country was entranced by MCGwire and Sosa's home run race. They gladly turned a blind eye to the fact that these players heads were growing faster than their power numbers because fans were filling up stadiums to watch.

But at least they are working to clean up the mess. They aren't just sweeping the dirt under the rug. They pulled out the Power Vac and legitimately trying to clean up their sport. They are not showing an special treatment to the game's stars. Every player is being treated the same.

It took a while for MLB to recognize the problem in their sport, but it is commendable that they are taking big strides to correct their past negligence.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Taillon header to AAA

By Jeff

The Pittsburgh Pirates organization has promoted its top prospect, starting pitcher Jameson Taillon, from AA to AAA.

The move was expected. The 2010 No. 2 pick posted a 3.67 ERA across 19 starts. What was more impressive was his 106/36 K/BB ratio.

If Taillon continues on his current path, he will probably get called up next June.

It is exciting to hear about Taillon's success in the minors and see Gerrit Cole's at the major league level. This is the first time in a long time that the Buccos have had multiple young starters with such high ceilings. Hell, when was the last time they had one? People were excited for Brad Lincoln, but that was more out of desperation. Maybe I never read about it, but it seemed that he was never touted by baseball minds outside of Pittsburgh the way Taillon is and Cole was.

We may not see Taillon this year, but fans have to be pleased that he continues to grow, improve and advance through the system. He and Cole could be one of the best 1-2 combinations in the majors for a long time to come. They both still have a ways to go, but it's definitely possible and has Pirates fans pumped.

Was Huntington gun shy or smart?

By Jeff

Obviously I don't work in any front office in Major League Baseball. I doubt this blog would exist if I did. So it is impossible for me to know what went down during Wednesday's trade deadline.

Here is what I do know. There were slim pickings this year. When Alex Rios is the biggest bat being talked about on the market, and Bud Norris is the only pitcher creating real buzz, you know there are not a lot of quality options.

But I also know that he Pittburgh Pirates have a serious hole in right field, and a slightly less serious hole at first base, when it comes to bats. The team could have used an upgrade. I'm not saying the team should have given up a grade A prospect for Rios, but I was expecting and hoping they would do something. Really, I just wanted Kendrys Morales. He is a free agent next year and his current team, the Seattle Mariners, are not going anywhere this season.

Alas, the Buccos didn't trade for Morales. They didn't trade for anyone.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington claims that he made offers that made him uncomfortable. News even leaked out that he made a major offer for Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.Yet not moves were made.

It was a little surprising that the Pirates didn't acquire even someone minor. I know Bob Smizik was gushing about bringing in David DeJesus from the Chicago Cubs, and I actually agree with him. DeJesus is not a sexy name, but he hits righties well, would have been an upgrade in right field and couldn't have cost that much.

So why no moves, Neal? It could be that selling teams recognized the Pirates had a huge need in right field and were demanding more than Huntington was willing to give up. If this is the case, I fully agree with the decision to do nothing. But if Huntington didn't pull the trigger on a deal because he unwilling to part with mid-range prospects, like Ken Rosenthal thinks here, then I'm a little disappointed in the man.

Another interesting point Rosenthal brings up is that the Miami Herald tweeted that a source within the Marlins organization said the team received plenty of calls regarding Stanton, but none of those calls were from the Pirates. It makes you wonder, was Huntington lying about making an offer to Stanton? If he was lying, was he also fibbing about making other offers that made him uncomfortable?

True or not, it doesn't matter. This is the team fans have from this point out. It is a team that currently holds the best record in baseball. Despite no trades, Huntington, the coaching staff and the players have built a winning team that has brought excitement to their fans. This team has shown they can beat the best the National League has to offer without any reinforcements. Fans can complain about Huntington if the team comes up short in September or October, but for now, let's enjoy the ride.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Pirates shine on national stage

By Jeff

Last night was almost a perfect example of why the Pittsburgh Pirates have been successful this year.

The only thing lacking exceptional starting pitching. Jeff Locke allowed four runs on 10 hits in four innings. It was the first time he allowed more than three runs in a game since April. While it was a poor start, if you look back at the first inning when the Cardinals scored two runs, Locke was making good pitches and the St. Louis hitters were doing a better job of hitting.

Aside from an unusual poor showing from the starting pitching, the rest of the Pirates' strengths were showcased in the win. The bullpen had a tall order and responded with five shutout innings. The team was very resilient, coming back from multiple deficits throughout the game. Finally, the team got some timely hitting.

That last part is really the key. When the Pirates are losing games and struggling, it's because they make they can't get critical hits when they need them. When they're rolling, like they are right now, they get big hits from just about every spot in the lineup.

Last night's hero was Neil Walker. He has had a rough 2013. His power lately has been non-existent. But last night he went deep early in the game, got a clutch hit in the eighth inning, made a smart base running play to get to second on a fly ball to left field and then scored on a Russell Martin single.

The best part of last night's game, aside from being the fourth in a row against the Cardinals, was that they did it in front of a national audience on ESPN.

Living outside of Pittsburgh, you hear a lot of media and sports fans talking about the Pirates and thinking they're lucky. You hear nationally recognized sports talk show hosts claim that the Pirates were in trouble and needed a closer with Jason Grilli down, never mentioning Mark Melancon. So it was nice to have the team step up to the national stage and give the Zoltan to all these doubters and ignoramouses.

While this series against the Cardinals will be considered a great success no matter the outcome tonight, October is still a long way to go. If the team keeps playing like it did last night, only with better starting pitching, there will be playoff baseball in Pittsburgh. But after the past two seasons, Pirates fans and the team cannot get ahead of themselves. They all need to eat, breath and live the most annoying cliche of all time. They need to just focus on one game at a time until there is that little x or z by their name in the standings.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

MLB trade deadline looking like a dud

By Jeff

If there is one problem with a second wild card in the MLB playoffs it is that now more teams think they are still in playoff contention at this point in the season. This of course leads to less sellers at the trade deadline and less action.

And this year has seen very little action. The biggest names that have moved in the past week have been Jake Peavy going to Boston, Alfonso Soriano being shipped to the New York Yankees and Matt Garza being acquired by the Texas Rangers. None of these moves were blockbusters and I don't see them making a big difference for any of the teams.

Last year was the first time since 2007 that Peavy pitched more than 200 innings. This year he has a WAR of 1. He is on the decline and has only pitched 80 innings this year.

Soriano has been on the decline practically every year since 2006. His WAR is .3 this season.

Garza is the best of the bunch. The only he has had a season ERA greater than 4 was in his rookie year with the Minnesota Twins. But the fact the Rangers had to give some of their top prospects to get him is a bit ridiculous. He's never finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting and has a career ERA of 3.77. He is a No. 2 or 3 starter at best, not an ace.

There have been some small moves. Ian Kennedy is headed to San Diego for reliever Joe Thatcher and a prospect, but really all the news has been that teams are not trading.

So what will the Pirates do? There were reports yesterday that they and the Chicago White Sox were close to a deal that would send Alex Rios to the Pirates. Later in the day it was reported that those talks had fallen through, which is probably for the best. With so few commodities on the market, it probably would have cost the Buccos way more than Rios is worth.

Other reports have linked the Pirates to Houston Astros starting pitcher Bud Norris. Again, that would be a silly move for the Pirates. Norris would not be much of an improvement to the rotation and it would probably cost a few good prospects to get him.

It's boring, but with the players available, it's definitely best for the Pirates to stand pat. Now if the team could get a bat like Kendrys Morales for a cheap price, I say they jump quick and make the move. It doesn't seem like that kind of move is in the works, though.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Expand replay in MLB

By Jeff

Can we please expand video replay in Major League Baseball? There is no excuse to allow bad calls to affect the outcome of games. It seems like such an obvious change that would improve the game, there is a very strong contingent of baseball fans and executives who fight replay at every turn.

Last night was another example of why we need change. Jerry Meals was the umpire and he was in terrible position. The poor positioning led to a horrible call in a one-run game. There is no guarantee the Boston Red Sox would have won if Daniel Nava was correctly called safe, but the game would have been tied in the eighth inning if the correct call was made.

See for yourself.

Anyone looking at that video could see in seconds that Nava was safe and this game should have been tied.

I hear a lot of opponents of replay complain that replay would slow baseball down even more. Well, what about all the arguing and ejections that happen after questionable calls? How much time does that waste? What about the guy that has to readjust his battling gloves after every pitch? Hell, sometimes they don't even see a pitch, call time and then readjust their batting gloves. It's ridiculous.

Replay isn't perfect. There are examples of umpires in baseball and referees in football making the wrong call even after seeing replay. There is no way to completely eliminate human error in sports. But that is a poor argument against replay. It may not result in every call being correct, but it will certainly get more calls right. Isn't that what we as fans want?

I don't want every play to be reviewable. Make logical rules and I'll be happy. Give a team two challenges per game and make sure only specific types of plays are eligible to be challenged. There will be struggles in the beginning, but most improvements in the sports world have growing pains.

If MLB isn't going to give fans replay, at least get exile Jerry Meals to the Frontier League. Pirates fans may recall he is the man responsible for the worst call in recent Pirates memory.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Talk of Pujols' demise premature

By Jeff

Albert Pujols is probably going to miss the rest of the season with a plantar fasciitis. That has led all the of the sports media to begin speculating if he is a bust with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and if he has the worst contract in baseball history.

Let me start by saying that the deal the Angels to Pujols was a terrible deal for the team. Anytime you are obligated to be paying a baseball players at least $29 million when they are 40 or older, the contract is bad.

With that being said, I think all these baseball analysts are a bit premature to be calling Pujols a bust. He hasn't played two full seasons with the Angels yet. While his offensive numbers may have been down in both seasons, that can happen to power hitters. Especially when said power hitters are playing with lower body injuries.

I doubt he will hit 40 homers in a season again, but last year he had 30 and was on pace to hit 30 again this year. I really think if he comes back next season in full health, he could easily replicate his 2007 and 2011 seasons. If he has three or four seasons with the Angels hitting .300 and 30 to 35 bombs, I wouldn't call him a bust.

What Pujols has going in his favor is he plays in the American League. If his body can't hold up to playing the field 150 games each season, he can DH. The perfect example if David Ortiz. The Boston DH is having one of his best seasons since his crazy goods stretch between 2004 and 2007. Back in 2008 and 2009 analysts and fans were asking these same questions of Ortiz that they're asking about Pujols. Is he done? What happened to the Papi of old?

Well, Ortiz responded with four consecutive All-Star appearances. He continues to mash the ball and is a major reason the Red Sox are the best team in the American League.

There is no reason why Pujols can't have that same kind of resurgence once he gets healthy. He will never live up to the contract he signed, no one could live up to a $200+ million deal. But to label him a bust after less than two, unhealthy seasons is unfair.

Steelers camp brings excitement, questions

By Jeff

This has been a weird summer for Pittsburgh sports fans. I can only speak for myself, but I think there has been a lot less attention paid to the Steelers, as the Pirates have been having an incredible season.

Of course, the Steelers collapse at the end of last season might have fans less excited about this year. If you don't know Pittsburgh fans, they tend to pile on the pessimism when the tiniest thing goes wrong with a team, let alone a legitimate collapse.

Well, training camp is here so fans can't hide from the Steelers any more. There are some serious concerns coming into this year.

The biggest is Ben Roethlisberger. It's amazing to think he has been in the league 10 years. For the majority of that time, Roethlisberger has been about as clutch as they come. When the team was down late or needed someone to make a play, he usually answered the call and did what was necessary to win or put the team in position to win.

That all changed last year.

Fans got a taste in Week 1 of what was to come for the rest of the season. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger threw a interception returned for a touchdown.

He recovered and played some of the best football of his career in the middle of the season, but then things went south again. With the playoffs on the line, Roethlisberger cost the team three consecutive games in December. He could have been the hero we had all come to expect him to be late in games and instead through game-changing picks.

If the team gets that Roethlisberger again, it's going to be a long season for the team and fans.

While the quarterback is the most important man on the roster, there are some other offensive uncertainties that could affect Roethlisberger's play this year.

Can Antonio Brown be a reliable No. 1 receiver? He closed out 2012 strong with touchdowns in the final four games, but his yards per reception on the season took a huge hit. It dropped from 16.1 in 2011 to 11.9 in 2012.

More importantly, can Emmanuel Sanders contribute as a starter? He's never had more than 44 catches in a season.

If these two can carry the load and fill the void left by Mike Wallace, then the team is in trouble. There is not a lot of depth at receiver on this team.

Then there is the offensive line. This is always a weakness for the Steelers. Three of the team's regular linemen from last year are gone. As a result, Marcus Gilbert will be relied upon at left tackle to protect Roethlisberger's blind side, David DeCastro will have to stay healthy at right guard, Mike Adams will have to improve at right tackle from an up and down rookie year (He also got friggin' stabbed in the offseason!), and Maurkice Pouncey needs to stay healthy.

Oh, and the team will be without arguably their best player last year in Heath Miller. Call me crazy, but I am not excited to have Matt Spaeth and David Paulson trying to fill the void left by Miller.

I'm not too concerned on the other side of the ball. James Harrison last season was not the ferocious James Harrison of old. He is in decline and I think a healthy Jason Worilds will do just fine at outside linebacker.

The question with the defense, as it is every year, is can Troy Polamalu stay healthy? When he is near 100 percent (He will never be 100 percent again in his life), Polamalu is one of the top defensive playmakers in the league. Teams have to plan around him, and even then it's hard to have any idea where the hell he is going to end up on the field. But he has no idea how to tackle properly and just launches his body with no regard for his own health, so he is never healthy.

On paper, the Steelers look like another 8-8 team. But this is the NFL. Guys like Worilds and Sanders could finally have that breakout season and make the team look brilliant for letting veterans walk. It's impossible to predict how it turns out, so I'm saying 10-6 and the Wild Card.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

How did I miss this Pirates story?

By Jeff

Apparently there was a porn star dressed as a unicorn who got kicked out of PNC Park earlier this month for dancing like a stripper.

I guess one of the things that comes with a winning ball club is adult film stars dressed as mythical creatures attending games. I can think of worse things...

Yigo as a pup

By Jeff

Yigo was already 5 to 8 months old when I found him at the Guam Animals in Needs (G.A.I.N.) shelter on Guam in 2008. So I never got to see the little cutie as a puppy.

Until now. Kind of.

G.A.I.N. just brought in a pair of puppies off the streets of Guam and look just like I imagine Yigo did when he was just a pup being pulled out of the jungles. What do you think?

Maybe Yigo sneaked out of the house when I was away, flew to Guam,
reversed his nuetering and fathered these cuties. Maybe.
This is why someone should adopt those puppies above.
This will be what these puppies look like in a year.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Little Yigo in the Big Apple

By Jeff

My dog Yigo has made quite a journey. He was scavenging the jungles of Guam at this time five years ago. Who would have thought that today he'd be in front of a national television audience on "The View"?

That's right, my little Long-Haired Guamanian Jungle Shepherd joined nine other dogs as part of "The View's 5th Annual Mutt Show". Part of the prize was we got to spend a night in New York City. 

Now, Yigo is a very skittish dog. He is frightened when you open the freezer door (For some reason he has no issue with the refrigerator door, even though they are a part of the same machine.), and gets startled by any loud noise. With this in mind, we were thinking the sights and sounds of New York City would send the little dude into sensory overload.

Not so.

The little guy was a champ navigating his way through the crazy and crowded streets of Times Square. The only hiccups were the vents on the sidewalks. Yigo refused to walk on them, which led to a few traffic jams on the sidewalks.

Yigo loved Times Square and all the people.
I think Yigo enjoyed Times Square because he loves people, and there were a ton of people! The tourists and people of New York City loved Yigo. Countless people stopped to say how cute he was and ask how old the "puppy" was. When my wife and I informed others that Yigo is actually about 6 years old the results were looks of shock and disbelief that became a common theme of the trip.

Of course, there was no way Yigo was going to NYC and not hitting up Central Park. He tried to jump into one of the many softball games going on, but we thought it might not go over so well. We settled on taking him over the bridges and through the tunnels of the park and he seemed content with that.

What was surprising is I think he actually enjoyed Times Square more than Central Park. You see, Yigo is not a big fan of dogs he doesn't live with. The old jungle/street dog mentality kicks in and he wants others to know he is baddest mofo on the block. This tough guy mentality would come into play the next day on "The View"...

Yigo couldn't care less about the camera,
because he's ready to pounce on a pair Yorkies.
After getting back from Central Park, Yigo was pretty much beat. The little guy had a long day being cooped up in the car for almost three hours and then walking to Central Park and back. Too bad we had some more walking to do. The hotel we were staying at didn't have any greenery around it. The woman at the front desk said that Bryant Park was our best bet to find a place he could do his business.

The only problem with that is Bryant Park does not allow dogs. Fortunately, Yigo can't read and did his business right in the middle of the park while he enjoyed the view of the NYC Public Library.

Yigo is pretty proud of himself for peeing in
Bryant Park and not getting kicked out.
Thursday was the big day. The taping of Mutt Show and Yigo's shining moment. He met his competition early that morning in the lobby. They were all cute dogs, but none of them were on the same level as Yigo (I know, I'm bias). Of the other pups, Yigo really didn't like Copper, a 2-year-old collie mix. Any time Copper came close, which was very often because his owner had very little control over him, Yigo would tense up and get ready to throw down.

If you see this dog, beware. Copper will distract you with
cuteness and then eat yours and your dog's food.
The whole experience with "The View" was fun and interesting. Unless you're in the industry, you don't understand or appreciate all the work that goes into a television taping. Every little detail is scrutinized and debated. One minute you think you're doing one thing, the next it's being completely changed and an intern is being yelled at by a jerk of a director. Well, he was a jerk unless you were an attractive woman...

As soon as we got there we went through rehearsals. We all had to pack into this small waiting room in the order we would be called out. Well, Yigo is tight places with strange dogs is a bit problematic. Especially when Yigo and I had to pass the other dogs in a space no wider than a doorway. Needless to say, there was growling and some lunges. I wish I could say it was mutual, but really it was all Yigo. The other dogs were just being friendly and Yigo was telling them he had enough friends.

Can you blame him? This was a competition. Yigo had come all the way from Guam and wasn't going to let pleasantries get in the way. Would you like it if the Steelers and Ravens were hanging out before a game and playing video games together? Hell no! I figured he was also having flashbacks of living in the jungle when other packs of dogs tried to take his food or water and he wasn't going to have any of that!

Don't let those adorable eyes fool you,
Yigo will pounce if a dog gets in his grill.
Surprisingly, the best part of the day was not the taping itself. The studio only has one elevator taking audience members to the taping. This leads to a huge line of excited women waiting in the lobby that we had to pass by in order to take Yigo out for a last-second potty break. While the other owners and their dogs just passed by, Yigo stopped and let dozens of these women pet him and tell him how cute he was. Several thought he was an adoptable dog and offered to rescue him. It was incredible. Several women even undid the partition so they could get closer to Yigo, and he loved every second of it.

At this point, we had been in the studio from about 7 a.m. to noon. You'd think that the talent or the special guest judge and highly promoted dog lover Harrison Forbes would stop by the staging room at least once to say hello to the pups and meet them. Nope. Forbes may have said a dozen words to the five contestants and their dogs when the camera wasn't rolling. I've got to imagine Cesar Millan is much cooler.

Things got really interesting when it was time to take our places backstage and prepare for the actual taping. That room that was really cramped when it was just the five dogs, their owners and a producer was now filled with multiple show employees, including Whoopi Goldberg and Margaret Cho. Needless to say, the room was more cramped than ever and Yigo was a whole lot closer to a bunch of dogs he didn't like. Copper got a little too close again and Yigo was ready to throw down. The problem this time was Goldberg was right there and bolted out of the room, terrified that she would become collateral damage.

Not the best start for Yigo if he wanted to win and become a national celebrity!

Now, not everyone who reads this blog has seen the episode yet, so I won't spoil who was selected as the mutt of the year. What I can tell you is that when Yigo came out, those women who saw him in the lobby remembered him and gave him the biggest ovation any of the other dogs received. It was incredible. And the best part was the little guy didn't back down. The bright lights and loud noises had no effect on him. He jumped right on the podium and made no attempts to bolt for the nearest door.

With the show taping completed, we headed for the elevator. It was at that moment that the doors opened up and Goldberg asked Yigo, Julianna and I to join her. She understood that Yigo was a sweetie and just needed to be away from the other dogs to be his pleasant self. While it was a great experience, I would die a happy man if I never heard Whoopi Goldberg say the word "stank" again.

In case you couldn't tell, Yigo hates to he held.
All in all, it was an amazing journey for Yigo. We can now add New York City to Guam, Honolulu, Houston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia as places Yigo, the world traveling dog, has visited in his life.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Grilli feeling dreaded forearm tightness

By Jeff

There are certain phrases in baseball you never want to hear in the same sentence with players on the teams you cheer.

The first thing is "Dr. James Andrew." If you have a player seeing that guy, more often then not it is a serious injury. The second is shoulder or forearm tightness. Those terms usually are followed by Tommy John or rotator cuff surgery.

Well, last night, Pirates closer and All-Star Jason Grilli left in the bottom of the ninth inning with forearm tightness. With the news comes speculation from the local and national media. Many are fearing that Grilli could be done for the year.

Losing your All-Star closer, who has the second most saves in the league, is usually a pretty tough pill to swallow. Fortunately for the Buccos and their fans, the bullpen is one area they could afford an injury of this magnitude. If Grilli is out for an extended period of time, current set-up man Mark Melancon will do fine in the closer role. He has an ERA and WHIP below one.

If Melancon can't handle the stress of the closer role, then the Pirates have other options in Tony Watson, Justin Wilson or Vin Mazzaro who should be able to do the job if need be.

While injuries to All-Stars are never good, the Buccos lucked out in this one. If they were to lose Andrew McCutchen or Pedro Alvarez, there would be very little optimism for a playoff run.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Braun suspended for remainder of season

By Jeff

Another big name has fallen in Major League Baseball. According to a report on ESPN, MLB has suspended Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and former NL MVP Ryan Braun for the remaining 65 games of the season. The official reasoning was "violations of the Basic Agreement and its Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program."

Braun, as you may recall, escaped a 50-game suspension last year for using performance enhancing drugs. He did not get off because the another test game back negative or anything, but because the drug tester apparently did not follow the proper procedures when mailing in the test sample.

The suspension was not surprising. Braun was listed in the Biogenesis scandal. What was a little surprising is that the suspension is 65 games. If players test positive for steroids or other PEDs, they receive an automatic 50-game suspension. Technically, Braun still hasn't tested positive for steroids. There is evidence that he did indeed use sort of banned substance, but not positive tests that did not get overturned.

Those facts lead to another surprise. Braun is not fighting the suspension. MLB must have quite a case against Braun, and probably others mentioned in the Biogenesis scandal like Alex Rodriquez, if Braun and the players' association isn't appealing the suspension.

In the story on ESPN linked here, Braun admits that he has "...made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions." This is the Jason Giambi strategy that has become the go-to when it comes to PED cases. Braun says he did something wrong. But he doesn't say what it is, and probably never will, in hopes that he will serve his time and be welcomed back with open arms.

A report released in 2005 said Giambi admitted to a grand jury that he did steroids before and after joining the New York Yankees in 2002. Giambi had a press conference where he apologized for his actions, but never used the words steroids or PEDs. He just apologized for something. Just like Braun is doing. The strategy worked, people forgave Giambi and he ended up winning Comeback Player of the Year in 2005.

How ridiculous would it be if Braun comes back in 2014 in MVP form and wins Comeback Player of Year? I doubt it happens, because Braun is the only player I remember who actually appealed a drug suspension from MLB and won. I can't see them awarding him in any way next year.

While Braun is certainly the best player on the Biogenesis list, he will not be the only one to get hit with a suspension. There are rumors out there that A-Rod could get 150 games. There were also another 18 names on that list, so I fully expect at least a few more to get hit with at least 50-game suspensions

Jagr to Devils, more links

By Jeff

  • All former Pittsburgh Penguin, New York Ranger, Philadelphia Flyer and now current New Jersey Devil Jaromir Jagr is to spend some time with the New York Islanders and he will complete the tour of the old Atlantic Division. [Puck Daddy]
  • Former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Erik Bedard had a no-hitter going this weekend, and then he took himself out of the game after six innings. His logic makes sense. The guy knows he can't go more than 110 pitches. Maybe Johan Santana should take notes. [ESPN]
  • Adrian Peterson, eat your heart out. Robert Griffin III has been medically cleared to play football only six months after tearing his ACL in the playoffs last season. I'm not sure how that works. Could deer antler spray be involved? [Rotoworld]
  • The good news for Peyton Manning is that Von Miller is on his team, so he doesn't have to worry about the All-Pro breaking his neck or anything. The bad news is Miller could be suspended for four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy. No Elvis Dumervil all season and no Miller for the first four games could be very tough on the Denver Broncos. [USA Today]
  • Peter King is channeling his inner Bill Simmons and He has started a new Web site, Monday Morning Quarterback, that will be all things football. This is the trend we're seeing in sports media today. We could be a few years away from no longer having iconic sports magazines and print publications, as everything will be these super sites. [MMQB] 
  • Speaking of Deadspin, they have a great picture of Miek Tomlin and some tattooed woman. [Deadspin] 
  • A study has found that stricter rules in the NHL have not cut down on the number of concussions suffered by players. Apparently hockey is a full-contact sport. Who knew? [SI]

Thom Brennaman thinks someone 'sucks'

By Jeff

Thanks for blog reader Joe for pointing out that Fox play-by-play man and Cincinnati Reds announcer had a hot mic yesterday when he said "This guy sucks" during the Pittsburgh Pirates-Reds game.

Brennaman made the comment immediately after Pirates pitcher and all-star Jeff Locke walked Reds shortstop Zack Cozart.

Naturally, the story got posted on the always entertaining

One would hope that a national baseball media personality like Brennaman knows that Locke has not allowed more than three earned runs in his past 16 starts, and in seven of those starts he hasn't given up a single run. Or that he has an ERA of 2.11, which is the second lowest in all of MLB for starting pitchers.

One would hope...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Comic book fangasm on the way: Batman, Superman to star in film together

By Jeff

DC Comics fans around the world may need a few moments to themselves. It was announced at Comic-Con yesterday that the sequel to "Man of Steel", which will begin production next year, will feature both Superman and Batman.

There have been countless comics, cartoon shows and video games that combine two of the most recognizable super heroes in the world, but this is the first time they'll be together on the big screen.

You can read more about it here.

My big question is will the new Batman try and replicate the incredibly annoying and overdone Batman voice that Christian Bale used. If that's the route they want to go, I hope they cast Danny Pudi.

Buccos collapse panic creeping in

By Jeff

It's only July. It's only July. It's only July.

That's what I keep telling myself in order to try and fight off the panic that's on the rise in regards to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team is still second in the NL Central and lead the Wild Card by five and a half games, but they've lost three in a row to the division rival Cincinnati Reds and seven of the past 10 total.

What's alarming is the hitting is just not coming around. Other than Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, the whole team seems to be in a slump. After being one of the best hitters in baseball in June, Pedro Alvarez has two hits in his last 22 at bats. Garrett Jones has one hit against lefties this year, which results in him being subbed out in favor of pinch hitter Michael McKenry in a key situation last night. That is the same McKenry who has all of three hits since May 30 (42 at bats).

Last night was the perfect example of why I'm terrified of another late-summer collapse by the Pirates. The starting pitching wasn't great. AJ Burnett gave up 10 hits and five runs (only two were earned). The defense ended up costing the team runs instead of saving them, which has rarely been the case this season. So that meant the offense had to make up for the off days of the pitching and defense. Well, the Pirates' bats responded with leaving 12 men on base and going 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

The worst was the ninth inning when the team had runners on first and third with no one out in a one-run game. That's two chances where a ground ball to the right side of the infield or a moderate to deep fly out would score a run. The results were a pop up and two strike outs.


Changes need to be made to this team now. Brandon Inge is so bad, McKenry is being used in pinch hitting situations before him. Why is he still on the roster if he is basically unusable? Being a nice guy in the club house doesn't win ball games. Ask Jack Wilson about that. Josh Harrison isn't much better, but he's still better than Inge and deserves that roster spot.

Tony Sanchez should be called up to replace McKenry. I get that the organization wants Sanchez to keep developing and play every day in AAA, but if he hit only .250 off the bench, he'd be a huge improvement over McKenry.

The team will need to do more than makes moves within the organization. A trade or two need to be made. I'm not talking about a major one that would cost a top prospect, I'm talking about minor moves that could shore up the bench. Pittsburgh is 20th in the league in pinch hitting batting average at .204. They need help.

Pitching certainly wins championships, but you still need to score runs. The Pirates were averaging 3.83 runs per game heading into last night's game. Between 2010 and last season, the lowest amount of runs per game for an NL playoff team was 4.13. Now that is only one season with the second wild card spot, so we might see that number come down over the next few years. But still, it's pretty obvious this team isn't scoring runs lately, and it could cost them the playoffs.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

10 greatest movie villains

By Jeff

What makes a great movie villain? The answer will probably change depending on who is answering. For me, the character has to be one evil SOB. A great bad guy is one whom you despise. When the movie's hero takes them down, you feel like the world is a better place now that they have been dealt with.

This doesn't mean that you can't enjoy the antagonist's actions during the film. It is quite the opposite. A good baddie makes the movie more enjoyable. Sure, you're cheering against them and think they are evil, but it is fun watching them cause chaos.

So here are my favorite bad guys of all time in the movie world. I chose not to pick any historic figures. That's unfair. Any movie with Hitler in it would make the list since Hitler is one of the most, if not the most, evil person known to walk this planet. So the characters on this list must be fictional people. Also, there are going to be spoilers. If you see a movie on the list you haven't seen but plan on it, you may want to avoid the list. You have been warned.

10. Darth Vader - "Star Wars": OK, why is Darth so low on the list? He redeemed himself at the end. So he went from being this evil killing machine who force choked people to death for making snarky comments, to a dude who brought balance to the Force by killing the Emperor and saving his son's life. While Vader's actions in "Return of the Jedi" made him into a good guy, you can't discount how bad the man was in "A New Hope" and "Empire Strikes Back". He blew up an entire planet! Then he goes on and freezes a man alive. He was not a good person and for most of the series you're hoping Luke decapitates the cyborg.

9. Commodus - "Gladiator": The young emperor probably would have made this list if the only things he did were kill his daddy, frame Maximus and order the death of Maximus' family. That's pretty cold stuff. But the entire movie he is trying to bang his sister. On top of that, he threatened to kill said sister's young son. His demise was one of the only times I've ever actually condoned cheering in a movie theater.

Commodus was born to be a Philadelphia sports fan.

8. Warden Norton - "Shawshank Redemption": Warden Norton, played superbly by Bob Gunton, was the type of villain you hate because he is such a coward. He never does his own dirty work. He just uses his position to influence and order others. Norton never murders anyone like Captain Hadley (Clancy Brown), and doesn't rape anyone like Bogs (Mark Rolston), but he orchestrates Tommy's murder and knowingly withholds information that could clear Andy Dufresne's (Tim Robbins) name. It also pisses you off that he gets off light. Bogs is paralyzed for life, Hadley will probably serve life in prison after a career of torturing and killing inmates, while Norton gets off with a painless death. Yeah, he's dead, but I'm pretty sure Hadley and Bogs would prefer that fate to their own.

7. The Joker - "The Dark Knight": As silly as the idea that the Joker could bring a city to marshal law with the help of street thugs and some escaped criminally insane inmates, his character was awesome. Going into the movie, you knew Batman was going to win. He had to, right? Despite this knowledge, I still went into the final 30 minutes of the movie thinking the Joker was going to get the better of Batman and it wouldn't be until the third movie that Batman overcame the crazy clown. You can't mention director Christopher Nolan's Joker without giving props to Heath Ledger's performance. I'm fairly certain without him this movie doesn't get critical and fanboy love it does. It really proved the point that comic/superhero movies only go so far as the villain, and the Joker was the best we've seen.

6. Febre (Man in Black) - "The Musketeer": This was a terrible movie. It was a different take on the classic "Three Musketeers" and fell flat in just about every way. The one place where it excelled was the Tim Roth's portrayal of Febre. There is one scene where Febre kills d'Artagnan's father and rides away as the man's wife cries over his body. Febre then comes back into the screen and without a word cuts the woman down, and rides away again. And that is the very beginning. He continues this ruthlessness and unnecessary killing throughout the film and it becomes the only thing you're looking forward to other than this crappy movie ending.

5. Cool Ethan - "Slackers" - Yes, this is a obscene college comedy, but the character of Cool Ethan is in my top 10 characters, not just villains, of all time. He may not be the killer/evil genius that everyone else on this list is, but it doesn't make him less of a bad guy. The movie could have easily been made into a college horror movie and Cool Ethan would have been the stalking killer. If it weren't for hilarious lines and mannerisms, he's not that far removed from being that guy you're scared will follow someone to all their classes, steal that person's stuff and then kill them in the end. Cool Ethan does the first two, but then just tries to get our heroes expelled rather than kill them in the end.

4. Hans Gruber - "Die Hard": Has there ever been a calmer or cooler bad guy in films (Well, No. 1 on this list probably beats him out...)? Did he ever lose control of the situation? He was unarmed and staring his enemy in the face, yet was brilliant enough to create an alias and remember a guy's name from the building directory. He calmly shoots people in the head because they don't give him what he wants or because he knows killing Ellis will mess with McClane's head. Even at the end, you think there is a chance he might get a final shot off at McClane as he's about to plummet to his death.

Don't let the whimpy gun fool you,
Hans Gruber will pop you in the skull.

3. Neil McCauley - "Heat": McCauley (Robert De Niro) is similar to Vader, in that he has some redeeming qualities. There are times where the audience probably feels as though McCauley is the protagonist of the film and they end up rooting for him. I kind of held that against Vader but not McCauley. The difference is you could argue Vader saved the entire galaxy from a genocidal maniac. McCauley was a criminal, and although Van Zant crossed him, McCauley executed him and Waingro. Yes, both those men were criminal, and Waingro was an especially sick dude, but McCauley didn't murder them to help the world. He did it because they crossed him and ruined his perfect crime. As much as you want to root for McCauley, he murdered police several people, including police officers. He's not a good person.

2. Kurgan - "Highlander": Did you love Clancy Brown in "Shawshank Redemption"? Well "Highlander" is the best work he has done in movies. Kurgan is an immortal with one thing on his mind: becoming the one and winning the prize. For centuries he murdered men, women and children as he searched out other immortals to kill. The fact he uses a sword for all of his murdering probably makes him that much more intimidating and awesome when it comes to a bad guy. That and the fact he just has no moral compass.

Imagine this dude chasing you and threatening to cut off your head.

To Kurgan, humans are insignificant. He kills them with no remorse and takes pleasure in it. Finally, he just looks like a bad man! He is physically imposing, has the voice that would haunt your dreams and he actually succeeds where countless Bond villains failed when he killed Sean Connery.

1. Kaiser Soze - "The Usual Suspects" (HUGE SPOILER!): The scariest thing about Soze isn't that he kills anyone who gets in his way and also anyone who could be considered a loose end. It's that he is smarter than everyone. The other characters in the movie try to get a step ahead of him, but they are playing from behind from the get go and never have a chance to catch up. The result? Soze gets exactly what he wants and any witnesses to his crimes are dead. On top of that, he sits in a police station for hours, right in front of police officers and government agents who would have their careers made with a bust of one of the world's most notorious criminals, and calmly spins a tail that leaves them thinking another man is Soze. Oh, and unlike every other guy on this list,Soze wins.

Friday, July 19, 2013

NHL players will participate in Sochi Olympics

By Jeff

It's not a surprise, but we will get to see NHL players in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

While the news is not surprising, it is great news. Olympic hockey is one of the most entertaining sporting events in the world. Sure, Germany, Austria and a few other teams are not that exciting, but watching hockey super powers like Sweden, USA, Russia and Canada duking it out for world dominance is incredible.

I would argue it rivals the Stanley Cup Playoffs in terms of excitement. The Olympics is hockey at its finest. There are no goons on the ice, whose only roles are to fight and defend the team's stars. At the Olympics, every player on the top teams is a star. The ice is wider, so there is more space for these amazing players to play the game with speed and skill.

What would you rather see: the game played at a fast pace with crisp passing and an environment that allows the best players in the world to truly illustrate their talent, or the ice being clogged up by guys that can hardly skate at the pro level and who slow the game down?

Obviously this kind of hockey could not be established in the NHL. There just are not enough great players in the world to field 30 competitive teams. We need the Tanner Glasses, Steve Otts and similar players in order to fill the teams.

Of course, there is also the added bonus of no NHL All-Star Game, which is a complete waste of time where players don't try. When you think about it, the Olympics is hockey's real all-star event. You have the best players in the world, not just the NHL, busting their asses in order to bring gold to their country.

Here is a link to the Olympic schedule. USA and Russia are in the same group. Get pumped!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

'Sharknado' sequel is happening

By Jeff

SyFy Channel is brilliant. They produce and air terribly awesome disaster/monster movies all the time. But they really outdid themselves with "Sharknado".

In case you missed it, the title pretty much says it all. Los Angeles is tormented by a hurricane that propels giant, man-eating sharks onto the population. It is as phenomenal as it is sounds.

And we're going to get more!

SyFy announced that they are making a sequel!

Get pumped.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Should Pounceys apologize?

By Jeff

Most Pittsburgh and sports fans have probably seen the picture of Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey and his brother, Miami Dolphins center Mike, with hats on that say "Free Hernandez". The hats are of course referring to the brothers' former teammate Aaron Hernandez, who was arrested and charged with murder.

It has set off a PR storm, and many are calling the Pounceys insensitive, among other things. Maurkice has since apologized for the picture and for offending anyone. The question is, should he and his brother apologize?

The picture makes wearing the hats look worse. It's as if they are showing off the hats and think its' cool and funny. I think they are just making goofy poses with a fan or friend and are not trying to draw attention to their hats.

Because Hernandez has not even been tried, let alone found guilty, I have no problem with his friends, family and former teammates supporting him. If that is what the Pounceys are doing here, I don't think they have anything to apologize about. They have every right to speak their minds, whether it is with words or hats.

At the same time, I understand if people think they are being insensitive to the victim's family. When one uses says to "free" someone, it usually has the connotation that the person is unjustly imprisoned. It seems like there is a lot of evidence pointing at Hernandez and I don't think taking him into custody is motivated by race, religion or any other reason other than the police and prosecutors believe that Hernandez committed the murder.

So using the term "Free Hernandez" is probably the wrong way to go toward showing support for the man, but there is nothing wrong with supporting him as long as he has not been found guilty.

Remembering the X Generation

By Jeff

One of the worst times in the history of the Pittsburgh Penguins was at the turn of the millennium. The team had no money and were selling off their best players piece by piece for no-named prospects who never amounted to much. The hockey was not very good and the team's record (they didn't record more than 28 wins in a season between 2001-2006) was embarrassing. It even looked like Pittsburgh would lose the team to Kansas City.

So why was this era (also referred to as the Dark Ages by The Pensblog) one of my fondest memories as a Pens and sports fan?

The X Generation was the result of the Pens having no money to keep paying stars like Jaromir Jagr, Alex Kovalev, Martin Straka, etc... Instead of these 30 to 50-goal scorers we had guys like Rico Fata, Konstantin Kolstov (The real-life Mendoza of "D2: The Mighty Ducks"), Milan Kraft, Kris Beech, Josef Melichar and Dick Tarnstrom to name a few. Not a single one of them is still in the NHL, and most of them didn't last more more than a season after the lockout.

So again, how did the Pens organization sell me on this group of AHL players. Seriously, there may have been a few diamonds on these teams like Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, but for the most part the Pens were fielding a bad AHL team and asking people to buy tickets.

What made this era so much fun was a combination of just that stage of my life and the team making some brilliant marketing moves.

The X Generation coincided with my high school years. Basically, for the first time in my life, I could go downtown with friends without needing a ride from parents or any kind of supervision. This was also the time in my life where I actually started following the hometown teams, and sports in general, much more closely. Yeah, I would root for the Pittsburgh teams if they were on TV before this time, but I was much more interested in going to movies or playing video games all night. I didn't really care that much about sports results.

But once high school hit, my friends and I began talking sports pretty much non-stop. I had to know my stuff! But why did I begin loving the Pens more than any other team? First, the student rush program they began. You see, the Pens knew their on-ice product was terrible and would have trouble selling tickets. How did they respond? With $20 tickets for anyone could show a student ID. Not only were the seats just $20, but they were the best available seat. As you can imagine, the best available seats to see a terrible team were pretty damn good. My friends and I would get incredible seats rows from the ice that are hundreds of dollars now.

The great, cheap seats were certainly a major factor, but I also started loving the team, even if they sucked. Say what you will about the talent of the X Generation, but every time I went to a game they played their asses off. We didn't see a lot of wins, but we did see guys giving it their all no matter who the opponent was and how few people were in the seats.

If it were not for the X Generation and the clever marketing of the Pens organization, I doubt I would be as big of a fan as I am today. When your team is so terrible for a extended period of time, you really learn to appreciate them when they turn it around and become a constant championship contender. I feel like I grew up with this generation of Pens players and coaches, which is a feeling I've never had toward a sports team before.

And it's all because of the X Generation.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

To trade prospects or not to trade prospects?

By Jeff

How much fun is it to talk Major League Baseball trades when the Pittsburgh Pirates are not selling off half their team, but are actually buyers in July? Well, I'm having fun at least.

With the deadline a few weeks away, there is a lot of speculation about what the Pirates are going to do. Former Reds and Expos/Nationals general manager said he thought the Buccos should part with two of their top 10 prospects for Alex Rios and Alexei Ramirez of the Chicago White Sox.

Whether it is for players like Rios or Ramirez, or others, the question is when/do you move your top prospects for proven talent, or do you make smaller moves that don't really affect the farm's best?

I honestly don't know where I fall, because history is mixed on the topic. There are times I am all for moving unproven players, who may never amount to anything in the big leagues, for those who have shown they can play in the majors. But then again, when you cheer for a small-market team, you have to build through prospects, who can be controlled by the team for a long time at a reasonable price. But then we flip back to the sell the farm side of things and the idea that one way to use talented prospects is to move them for already developed players.

It seems like an endless debate that both sides could argue. So here are some example of deals where top prospects were moved and how their careers have gone.

  • Milwaukee Brewers trade for CC Sabathia 

Back in 2008, the Milwaukee Brewers were on pace to make the postseason for the first time in 26 years. They needed some pitching help and sold the farm to bring in Sabathia. The Brewers ended up moving Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Zach Jackson and Rob Bryson.

Sabathia was incredible for the Brewers down the stretch, posting an ERA below 2 and pitching seven complete games in 17 starts. LaPorta was the centerpiece for Cleveland's end of the deal, but he has not panned out for the Indians. He is now 28 and still in the minors. When given a shot in the Majors, he has failed to hit higher than .254. Jackson hasn't pitched in the majors since 2009 and was terrible when he was given a shot. Bryson has yet to appear in the majors and it doesn't look as if he ever will make an impact in the show.

The fat power propelled the Brewers to the playoffs...
...and then signed a fat contract with the Yankees.
 The only player from the deal who has contributed to the Indians is Brantley. He is by no means a star, but he has been an everyday contributor for the past two seasons and has a respectable .275 average.

Sure, Sabathia left the Brewers after 2008 for the New York Yankees, but looking at the players involved, it's hard to imagine the Brewers wouldn't make this trade again in a heartbeat.

  • Indians ship Cliff Lee to Philadelphia, Phillies unload Lee to Mariners, Mariners send Lee to Rangers
Hard to believe a guy like Lee was moved three times within a year, but he was back in. Every team that got Lee received a great pitcher. He performed like an ace in all three places. The return for him in all three places hasn't been so great.

Cleveland - The Indians received Jason Donald, Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson and Jason Knapp for Lee in 2009. Donald has been nothing more than a utility infielder with little impact and hasn't played with the Indians in 2013 at age 28. Carrasco has a career ERA of 5.47, including 9.10 in 2013, in 39 starts since 2009. Marson, a catcher has been terrible (.219 career average, five homers). Knapp is only 22 and hasn't played above Single A. He may turn into something, but it's hard to tell at this point.

Hmmm. I'm thinking the Indians might want this one back.
 Philadelphia - This was an absurd, nine-player, trade that involved four teams before the 2010 season. The Phillies got Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays, who won a Cy Young and pitched a no-hitter for the Phils. He got hurt last year, but he was a top five pitcher in the league for 2010 and 2011. The Phils also got Phillipe Aumont, Tyson Gilles and Juan Ramirez from the Mariners. Aumont has been an OK reliever for the Phils the past two years, but nothing special. Gilles is 24 and just moved up to AAA this year where he is batting .208. Ramirez made his debut in the majors this season. He's off to a decent start with 2.57 ERA in seven innings.

Seattle - Seeing their 2010 season fall apart despite Lee's great season, the Mariners traded Lee to the Texas Rangers for Justin Smoak, Blake Beavan, Josh Lueke and Matt Lawson. It hasn't worked out so well for the Mariners. The supposed centerpiece of the deal, Smoak, has been a mediocre player for the Mariners. The power prospect has yet to hit more than 19 homers and can't hit for average to save his life. Beavan has 43 starts with the M's, but has been moved the bullpen and his ERA has ballooned to 6.13 this season. Lueke made 25 appearances for the team in 2010 before being shipped to the Tampa Bay Rays for John Jaso. The utility infielder Lawson has done squat and was actually sent down to AA this year.

Are you seeing a trend with Lee? He has been traded on three separate occasions for prospects, and not a single one of said prospects has lived up to projections at the Major League level. He is another example, or three, of how paying for a known commodity with prospects is a good move.

  • Blue Jays trade Halladay
In the same move that saw the Phillies send Lee to Seattle, the Blue Jays started a rebuild by trading the ace of their rotation and face of the franchise to the Phillies. In return they received Kyle Drabek, Travis d'Arnaud and Brett Wallace. We already covered how Halladay has been mostly a great success for the Phillies, but now it's time to see what the Jays got in return.

Toronto expected to replace their ace with a future ace in the form of Kyle Drabek. Too bad Drabek struggled with command every time the Jays called him up and then underwent Tommy John surgery last season. Drabek never showed signs of being a reliable fifth starter, let alone an ace before the injury. Now he has two major surgeries on his resume and has career reliever written all over him.

Who knew acquiring a potential Hall of Famer could be so easy?
 The other two players never made it to the big club. d'Arnaud was a part of the deal that brought the Jays R.A. Dickey this past winter (Not looking good for the Jays) and Wallace was sent to Houston for speedster Anthony Gose. Neither Gose nor Wallace have lived up the the expectations, but Gose is only 22.

Once again, the team dealing for the star is the winner, while the team collecting prospects is seeing poor results from the prospects acquired.

  • Manny to Dodger, Bay to Sox, crap to Pirates
Ouch. This one still stings for Pirates fans. The Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox and Pirates made one of the biggest trade deadline deals of all time. It saw former World Series MVP and one of the greatest pure hitters of all time, Manny Ramirez, finally wear out his welcome in Boston and get moved to the Dodgers. In return, the Red Sox received Jason Bay from the Pirates, who received Brandon Moss and Craig Hansen from Boston and Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris from the Dodgers.


The two teams that received the veteran stars won big time in the deal, while the Pirates go practically nothing from three of the four prospects they got back in return.

Ramirez had one of the greatest stretches that I've ever seen in baseball once he got to LA. In 53 regular season games that year he had 17 home runs and a slash line of .396/.489/.743. On top of that, Ramirez hit over .500 in eight playoff games that fall. He never came close to replicating those numbers for the Dodgers in the next season and a half, but considering what they gave up to get him, I would say it worked out for them.

The Red Sox got a great player in Bay as well. He finished 2008 strong and had a great postseason that year with Boston. That momentum carried over into 2009, in which Bay had a career high 36 home runs and 119 RBIs.

How did those prospects for the Pirates do? I think this sums it up.

The big get for the Pirates was supposed to be LaRoche, a power-hitting third baseman. The only problem is he had no power with the Pirates. Hell, he couldn't hit at all for the Pirates. In 301 games with the Pirates, the "power-hitting" LaRoche hit 19 home runs for the Buccos. He showed some promise in 2009, but then came crashing down to earth in 2010. He's had four plate appearances in the majors since the start of the 2012 season...

Thanks for nothing, Andy.
 Moss was an outfielder who was supposed to be another power-hitter. Again, the power never developed for the Pirates. In reality, the Pirates received damaged goods. Moss never seemed fully healthy with the Buccos and only hit 13 home runs combined in 2008 and 2009 for the team. After 27 plate appearances in 2010, the Pirates designated Moss for assignment. Eventually Moss made it back to the majors with the Oakland A's in 2012.

Hansen was terrible in 21 appearances for the Pirates. He was hurt a lot and is currently out of baseball.

If there was a positive to take from this trade on the Pirates' side of things, it is that Morris is actually still with the team and contributing. He is a part of one of the best bullpen's in baseball and doing pretty well. But come on. When you move a 30-homer guy like Bay, you expect to say you got back more than 32 home runs and a decent bullpen arm, right?

  • Boston acquires Beckett and Lowell from Marlins
Finally! A deal where the prospects actually panned out!

After the 2005 season, the Florida Marlins had their regularly scheduled fire sale. They sent Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota to the Red Sox for prospects Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado and Harvey Garcia.

Beckett was terrible in 2006, but rebounded to win 20 games in 2007 and have a phenomenal postseason that saw the Red Sox win the World Series. He had another few bad seasons mixed in with excellent ones until he was traded last year at the deadline. Despite the rocky finish, I think the Sox are happy in the World Series he helped them win and the three All-Star appearances Beckett made in his time there.

Lowell hit 80 home runs between 2006 and 2010 and hit .352 with two home runs and 15 RBIs during Boston's 2007 World Series run.

Mota was just a throw-in and never pitched an inning for the Sox.

Down in Florida, the Marlins got a player in Ramirez who was one of the game's best players between 2006 and 2010. In that time, Ramirez hit 124 home runs, stole 196 bases, scored 562 runs and never hit below .292. Can you think of a more dynamic player in that time frame than Ramirez? Sure, his fielding hurt the club at times, but his offense more than made up for it.

Han-Ram was unstoppable
until he became a diva
The other successful piece for the Marlins was Sanchez. He some rough years in 2007 and 2008, but had an ERA below four for the rest of his career in Florida/Miami before being traded to Detroit around the deadline in 2012.
The other two prospects acquired in the deal did nothing for the Marlins. Delgado made all of two appearances for the team and hasn't pitched in the majors since 2008. Garcia made eight appearances in 2007 and hasn't sniffed the majors since.

  • Rangers ship Teixeira to Braves
Mark Teixeira has arguably been one of the best first basemen in baseball since he made is debut with the Texas Rangers in 2003. Unfortunately, that was the time when the Rangers had absolutely no pitching and couldn't make the playoffs. He was also a Scott Boras client and due for a huge raise, so the Rangers sent him to the Atlanta Braves in 2007 for prospects in Elvis Andrus, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Neftali Perez and Beau Jones.

This is a trade where it definitely worked out better for the team receiving the prospects. While Teixeira played extremely well for the Braves, he had 37 home runs, 134 RBIs and a WAR (I threw that in for Mike) of 6.1 in 157 games for the Braves between 2007 and 2008. The only problem was the rest of the Braves stunk. The team failed to make the playoffs in 2007 and were doing terrible in 2008, which led to them sending Tex to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at the deadline that year. Considering the Braves got a AA pitcher who was not regarded as a top prospect and Casey Kotchman for Tex, I think it's safe to say getting Tex never paid off for the Braves.

Teixeira, center, waving to the 27 fans
attending a Braves game.
On the flip side, the Rangers got three guys who have been big-time contributors for their ball club.

Andrus has been the everyday shortstop for the Rangers since 2009 and has 142 stolen bases for his career to go along with a .271 average and solid defense.

Perez had three incredible years out of the bullpen between 2009 and 2011, two of which were as a closer where he recorded a combined 72 saves. The Rangers moved him into the rotation in 2012, and he was having a great season until he suffered and injury and needed Tommy John surgery. He has a career ERA of 2.67 and 8.8 K/9.

Harrison got off to a rocky start in Texas, but was arguably the team's best pitcher in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Both years he had a sub-3.40 ERA, pitched more than 185 innings and had a combined WAR of 10.1.

The other two prospects in the deal didn't do much for the Rangers. Saltalamacchia, while a lot of fun to say and try to spell without Googling, never turned into the elite catcher he was supposed to. From 2007 and 2010 he hit all of 19 home runs. And that is playing half his games in one of the most home-run friendly parks in the bigs.

Jones is 26 and no longer in the Rangers' organization. He is looking like a career minor-leaguer.

Wow. This post turned into quite a monster. I think what it shows is if a team has an opportunity to add a star or two to their team at the cost of prospects, no matter how highly regarded they are, they should pull the trigger. If they would only get average or a little above average players for said top prospects, then I think the team should hold off.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pirates trade for OF/1B, don't get excited

By Jeff

Well, Buccos fans have been screaming for the organization to bring in an outfield bat for months, and the organization listened. Kind of...

The Pirates traded RHP Tim Alderson to the Baltimore Orioles for minor league OF/1B Russ Canzler. You may recall Alderson is the guy the Buccos received from the San Francisco Giants for Freddy Sanchez straight up who ended up losing all kinds of velocity and mechanics once he joined the Pirates system (Ramming head against wall).

Canzler is 25 and only has 96 at bats at the Major League level. He has 11 home runs and 49 RBIs in AAA this season. His career high in home runs in the minors is 22.

Yeah, this is not the move Pirates fans were hoping for when they hear news that the Pirates have acquired an outfielder in July. This is probably just an organizational depth move, so I wouldn't read to much into it. Pirates fans may prematurely call it a repeat of the Travis Snider trade last July, but Snider was actually a first-round pick and highly touted prospect at one point in his career. It wasn't crazy to think he just needed a fresh start. Canzler never had that kind of hype and will probably never play for the Pirates unless a rash of injuries/bird flu outbreak decimates the big league club.

Yigo to be a star

By Jeff

My baby boy Yigo will be featured on "The View's" fifth annual "Mutt Show" later this month!

Can you tell Yigo is pumped?

Julianna told me that they have this contest for mutts, so we entered both Yigo and Lucy. Our little girl didn't make the cut, but Yigo was selected as an automatic winner. He and I will be on "The View" later this month to tell his story in 30 seconds and have some guy from the Westminster Dog Show speculate as to what breeds he is.

I'm just hoping the fame doesn't go to the little guy's head. It's hard enough getting him to do stuff he doesn't want to...

McLouth trade (finally) paying off

By Jeff

One of the most frustrating things about trades in Major League Baseball is that it sometimes takes years to figure out if a trade worked out for your team or not. A perfect example of this is the Nate McLouth trade of 2009.

McLouth was coming off a career year with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After a few years of toiling as bench player, McLouth won the center fielder job and became an All-Star that year. He finished with a career-high 26 home runs, .276 average and 23 steals. The breakout year earned him a three-year, $15.75 million extension with the Buccos. The extension gave Pirates fans hope that they were serious about building around their young players.

The Pirates then traded him in June of 2009 to the Atlanta Braves, which caused some outrage from fans. I admit, my immediate reaction was anger. Here was a player that it seemed had the potential to be real good player for the Bucs, and the organization moved him for three players I had never heard of in Gorkys Hernandez, Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke. It seemed like the typical Pirates salary dump that Pirates fans had grown accustomed to over the years.

I reached out to my friend at Baseball America when it happened to try and gain an understanding/hope about the trade. I didn't receive much hope. He told me Hernandez was a light-hitting center fielder, Morton could maybe be a No. 4 or 5 starter and Locke would be lucky to make it as a starter in the big leagues. It was not an encouraging conversation.

The trade was somewhat forgotten over the years because McLouth was one of the worst players in the league for the Braves. He never came close to replicating the 26 homers from 2008 or broke .230 in either of his two full seasons with the Braves.

On the Pirates side of things, we saw all of 26 plate appearances out of Hernandez in a Pittsburgh uniform. He was traded last season in the Gaby Sanchez deal.

Morton has been a roller coaster ride. He was one of the worst starters in the league in 2010 with a 7.57 ERA and 12 losses. He then decided it would benefit him to try his damndest to replicate Roy Halladay's deliver, and it worked wonders! Morton came back in 2011 and had an ERA of 3.83 in 29 starts. His 2012 was cut short by injury, but he has come back in 2013 and become a reliable No. 4 or No. 5 starter.

Then there is Locke. He had tryouts with Pirates in 2011 and 2012 that showed no promise. He had the Pittsburgh media and fans saying he could not be a Major League pitcher. Well, Locke is proving us all wrong. Preseason injuries and a solid spring training gave Locke a chance and he took full advantage. He hasn't given up more than three runs in a start since mid-April and will be an All-Star this season with a 2.15 ERA. People who look at those advanced stats will say he it playing above himself, and that may be true, but for right now he is team's best starter and has made the Pirates a winner in the McLouth trade.

It only took four years...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Alvarez joining Home Run Derby

By Jeff

Is anyone else afraid that Pedro Alvarez will suffer Bobby Abreu syndrome by participating in this year's Home Run Derby?

If you haven't heard, Alvarez, who was not originally selected to the NL Home Run Derby squad, will be replacing the injured Carlos Gonzalez.

Don't get me wrong, Alvarez is a perfect fit for the derby. He can crush the ball and has been one of the best home run hitters in the league since June. But we Pirates fans are finally seeing him grow as a more complete hitter. He is taking balls the other way and has raised his average to around .250. Will the Home Run Derby mess up his swing for the rest of the season? I'm terrified that it might.

Mitch Williams is not smart

By Jeff

Former World Series-losing pitcher Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams is kind of an idiot, yet he has a job as a baseball analyst. It doesn't make sense, but we have to live with it.

The latest example of Williams' lack of intelligence occurred Wednesday Night on MLB Network. "Wild Thing" was telling viewers that pitchers should throw in on Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig. That actually made sense. Then he went on to say that if pitchers don't throw in then they will be struck in the head with line drives. That led to a clip of Brandon McCarthy's injury last season that almost killed him.

I don't really understand how not brushing back players results in more line drives at pitchers. And neither does McCarthy. He took umbrage to Williams' statement and started an awesome Twitter assault on Williams.

You can read about it here. I'm surprised McCarthy didn't include this video in a tweet or two...

Kovalchuk retires from NHL, crushes souls of Devils fans

By Jeff

Wow. What else is there to say regarding the breaking news that New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk is retiring from the NHL?

He is perhaps the most gifted scorer in the team's history, and certainly is better than anyone they've had in recent years. If he doesn't play another game in the NHL he will end up with 417 goals and 399 assists. Other than his rookie year with the Atlanta Thrashers, Kovalchuk topped 30 goals in every full season of his NHL career.

If you are one of the dozens of Devils fans out there, you're probably in a bit of a panic. I imagine their reaction resembles the mix of confusion and anxiety my dogs express when we turn on the vacuum cleaner. But unlike my dogs, there is no closet sanctuary for Devils fans run to until the evil machine is tamed and put away.

Devils fans and the team have to face the 2013-2014 season with their primary weapons being a 37-year-old Patrick Elias and 30-year-old Ryan Clowe who is declining and scored a whopping three goals last season.

Sure, they still have Corey Schneider and Martin Brodeur in net, but you can't win if you can't score. Good goaltending and team defense can get you to the playoffs (See Phoenix Coyotes, Nashville Predators and 2010-2011 Pittsburgh Penguins), but a team needs serious goal-scoring ability to hoist the Stanley Cup.

What makes this news even sweeter, or bitter if you're a Devils fan, is that the Devils won't have their first-round pick next year because they got busted circumventing the salary cap with Kovalchuk deal. And with no Kovalchuk, that could be a top 10 pick they'll be missing out on.

The good news for Devils fans, is the team is not required to pay Kovalchuk anything. That means they might not run out of money this year! The move will also clear up cap space and the Devils will only be penalized $250K per season for the next 12 years, according to Bob McKenzie. That is much better than the $3.7 million per season they would be paying for seven years if he had retired in five years.

Kovalchuk's retirement may help the team down the line by freeing up cap space. Then again, would you rather cap flexibility or a potential 40-goal scorer who was on a road to the Hall of Fame?

You can read the Devils' and Kovalchuk's statements here.