Tuesday, February 28, 2006

What the Foulke....?

So a week ago... the sun was shining.

Today, not so much.

So Papelbon or Hansen closing by April 31st?

Monday, February 27, 2006

ESPN enters British Market

After a year of rumour, today Disney confirmed that they will launch the ESPN Classic channel in the United Kingdom on the Sky platform from March 13th at 7PM. It is expected that they will use the channel to gain a foothold in the British marketplace and decide whether their is demand to launch a channel in the UK solely for the purpose of North American Sports.

Currently fans of North American Sports in the UK have several options, the NFL is shown on Sky Sports with a double-header each Sunday as well as Thanksgiving games and extra Christmas games and all playoff games. Terrestrial network Five.tv own regular season rights and show Sunday and Monday Night Football. Fellow terrestrial network itv show the Superbowl.

Major League Baseball has been shown on Five.tv is the guise of the nationally televised ESPN game on Sunday nights and ESPN2's game on Wednesday night for many years but last season the Wednesday night games moved to sky's channel 425. The extra subscription channel NASN has shown 250+ games from MLB including the Division Series and Championship Series live for the past few years but the World Series has been exclusive to Five.tv for British fans. However NASN have yet to confirm their plans for the 2006 season although they are 'optimistic' to bring back baseball with the same amount of games.

NHL and NBA both have homes on NASN and Five.tv with Sky Sports also owning a handful of rights to live NBA games.

With ESPN holding rights at some level of all live sports in the US, they have made a fair few quid selling the UK rights for these events but now they'll start assessing whether there is room to launch their own network in the UK.

The only deal signed already for any of these sports past 2006 are the satellite rights to the National Football League which Sky Sports hold.

Interesting times for UK fans of North American Sports...

Whatever happend to ... the likely lads... or the Big 4 if you prefer?

Prior to the Red Sox World Series season in 2004, much breath was spent discussing the likely outcome of negotiations with the Big 4 - Martinez, Garciaparra, Varitek and Lowe.

As I noted in this early post if you had told any Sox fan before the 2004 season that the outcome of our negotiations with the 4 would have seen only Varitek return, then most of us would have been unhappy - but given how 2004 turned out... Theo could have tossed all 4 and pretty much gotten away with it... except the pitching rotation would have lynched him for the loss of V'Tek.

So now, 12 months later - how did losing three of the four work out?

1) Pedro Martinez


















A simple analysis says that the Sox made a big mistake here - that performance in Boston would have been enough to make the Sox easy winners of the AL East, regardless of which of Wells / Clement hadn't been hired. But that clearly isn't the full story. Those numbers were achieved in the more pitcher friendly NL, while Pedro shut down early in 2005 due to pain from his toe, which can only continue to get worse as the Mets cough up $39m over the next 3 years. I don't think any Sox fan, or any member of the Sox front office thought the Sox would be better off without Pedro in 2005, but if I remember to repeat this in 2007 and 2008... I still think that the Sox made the correct call here.

2) Nomar Garciaparra


















Perhaps the key issue, and key number is - 62 - the number of games that Nomar played for the Cubs last year. Nomar of course never made it to free agency with the Sox, having been traded away to the Cubs mid way through 'that' season. The issues that the Sox had with Nomar - increasingly prone to injury - continued in his time with the Cubs, leading the Cubs to make the same call as the Sox, and now forcing Nomar further along the defensive spectrum from SS, to 3b to 1b with the Dodgers. Painful as it may have been at the time, and still is for many Sox fans, Theo clearly made the right call, eventually (we could still have another 2 years at $15m to go remember) on #5.

3) Derek Lowe


















Derek Lowe pitched better in 2005 than he did in 2004 - no question. But by much? He pitched in the NL, he went from a hitter's park to a pitcher's park... and watching him on MLB Extra Innings - he was pretty much exactly the same pitcher as he was in 2004 - capable of great outings, but capable of awful outings, capable of great innings, capable of awful innings... in the same game. One particular outing against the Reds early in the season, 5 scoreless innings followed by a 6 run 6th inning to earn the loss would have satisfactorily summed up the Red Sox fans experience of Lowe in 2003 and 2004. Again, for me, the Sox made the correct call on Lowe as well.

Next year we can add JD to this list - I think his year 1 analysis will look an awful lot like Pedro's - a mistake in year 1, but thereafter....

Sunday, February 26, 2006

What is up with Sheff?

Gary Sheffield's outburst earlier in the week shocked us all as just a day after the slugger looked set to have his 2007 option picked up, the right-fielder said that he didn't trust the GM and he didn't care what happened to the contract and was even willing to be traded, I'm not surprised most Yankee fans heads were spinning.

Sheffield as we all know is a bit of a livewire to say the least. He is arguably the most feared hitter in the Yankees line-up and he brings an intensity to the club which helps. However the Yankees don't like people who go into the year worrying about their future, traditionally the Yankees have always rewarded players handsomely for good performances and if it is merited, the club will without doubt trigger the option on Sheffield for next season.

So why did he fly off at the handle, not just at ESPN but also at the Yankees, and in particular the GM, Brian Cashman? Is he trying to force his hand and get the option exercised before the season starts? Quite possibly, but more than likely is that he was just doing what he's been known for throughout his career, being a jerk.

His undoubted ability has always been overshadowed in some respects by his attitude. No-one can argue with his production, his devastating bat speed and his willingness, but off the field he has always been difficult and he, like Barry Bonds just seem to make it hard for fans to root for them. Whilst A-Rod tries so hard to get everyone to love him, Sheffield just seems to open his gob before engaging brain.

The Yankees won't be trading him that is for sure, he knows that, but as long as he acts like a spoilt brat, which is how he's acting, then the higher the odds are that he won't be back for 2007. The Yankees won't be bent over a barrel by anyone and Sheffield needs to realise that kicking up a fuss might help in a smaller franchise who need his star quality and production, but in the Bronx, things are done the Yankee way, and if he doesn't want to do it that they then the two will part company.

He will be paid $13m over this year, personally I wouldn't mind $13m in my lifetime, and yet he's throwing his toys out of the pram about next year. I'm really not impressed by Sheffield, but I suppose if he puts up the numbers then all will be ok, but I feel the likelihood of him patrolling RF beyond this year is slowly but surely ever dwindling.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Spring training disasters

Well my posting has all but stopped - but I have an excuse (well several) - bronchitis... followed by Hawaii-itis... followed now by a broken finger... please send all donations, flowers and chocolates directly to me! That bout of Hawaii-itis was particularly bad - it is tough to post when all you want to do is snooze on the beach!

But the Sox are now all firmly in camp... well almost all. I really amn't sure what to make of Manny's agreed absence. Baseball players finish up in October... they start up again in February... and they need extra time off? And he isn't alone, K-Rod just reported to camp today because of visa problems, Pedro took time out of camp on Friday to deal with personal matters and it is an almost annual story that we hear of players struggling to be fit after off-season surgery... that took place in January...

When we look at the Sox offense v. 2005, I think a reasonable arguement can be made that says the 2006 team is worse (although not a lot), but with potentially more upside than last year's offense - departing are;



.272 / .355 / .753



.216 / .328 / .689



.276 / .335 / .721



.295 / .369 / .799



.316 / .366 / .805

While arriving are;



.278 / .400 / .805



.280 / .360 / .707



.264 / .319 / .686



.236 / .298 / .658



.300 / .345 / .810

Clearly Loretta and Lowell are coming off down years - and have the potential to be significantly more valuable to the Sox than last year's stat lines show, but if they do perform at last year's level, Loretta will be fine, while the likliehood is that the Sox will replace Lowell - either by moving Youkilis back accross the diamond and picking up a 1b in a trade, or by acquiring a 3b in the market - if last year is really his new 'level'. Interestingly, one of the consolations that has been taken from the Lowell pick up is that he has a great 'gold' glove - but reading Peter Gammons 'blog' entry at ESPN Insider today, the defensive rankings that he talks about, only have Lowell at 21st... but they also have A-Rod as the worst bunt fielding 3b in baseball...

The big issue then for this Sox team is how (should that be if?) Manny performs...



.292 / .388 / .982

This team isn't good enough to miss that line...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

That time of year... Sox reviews

Well we are approaching that time of year when columnists aplenty start the review season - the first batch of Red Sox reviews are out there... and the general consensus is... not great.

You can catch;
I will try and link to more as they appear - but given the early returns, it is obvious that the grumblings that have been coming out of the columnist community over the Red Sox off-season moves will be repeated in the season reviews - too many question marks in key areas.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Week that was - The Sunday Seven

As I’m shattered the Sunday Nine has been shortened to a special NFL dominated Sunday Seven this week.

So last week we witnessed one of the dullest Superbowl in recent history. I watched it and just longed for USC v Texas or USC v Notre Dame or USC v Fresno State or Colts v Pats or something good. Big Ben looked awful but won, the Seahawks looked better but lost. Whilst I enjoy football I’m glad the baseball season is coming back soon, I really am.

The final word on the Superbowl goes to the referees. They were atrocious and anyone who disagrees is just plain wrong. The phantom call on the Seahawks TD that never was early on set the stall out for a game which will always be remembered for being badly refereed. The refs didn’t lose the game for the Seahawks as the Steelers found the big plays but the refs certainly didn’t help the contest in any way shape or form. Why not give the big games to the big experienced referees or is that too simple?

ESPN and NBC agreed a stunning deal to allow Al Michaels to leave the cable giant and broadcast games with John Madden again on NBC. Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was the dealmaker, the pre-runner to Mickey Mouse whose right have been passed on to the Disney Corp. who own ESPN. Another part of the deal sees cable rights to Friday coverage of the next four Ryder Cups through 2014 pass to ESPN. NBC also granted ESPN increased usage of Olympic highlights through 2012 and other NBC properties through 2011. NBC, in turn, gets expanded highlight rights to ABC and ESPN events. Is Al Michaels really worth it? I really don’t think so.

This move paved the way for my boy Tony Kornheiser to be installed as a second colour guy alongside Mike Tirico and Joe Theismann. Kornheiser presents one of my favourite shows on TV and I’m delighted that his new gig will bring him into the mainstream as well as keeping him in the chair for PTI. Having some humour in a commentary box is always a plus in my eyes and Tony isn’t a comedian but just a genuinely funny guy who knows sport inside and out. I’m looking forward to the new MNF, let’s hope it’s as good as I envisage.

More NFL news, it’s just dominating today and the Oakland Raiders have installed Art Shell as Head Coach for the second time. Shell was at least the third choice behind Ken Wizenhunt (Steelers Offensive Co-Ord.) and Mike Martz were both favoured but turned down the opportunity to coach the lacklustre Raiders. Whilst this move smells of desperation, it might actually work in the Raiders favour as this guy has worked under Al Davis before and knows what being a Raider is all about, still if they go 8-8 next season he’ll of done an amazing job.

The Men’s Downhill was this morning and surprise surprise Bode Miller didn’t win gold. I don’t want to knock the guy but he’s made such a big deal about himself that he needed to walk the walk and he didn’t. Some French bloke won not that anyone cares but the important fact is Miller didn’t – shame.

Alfonso Soriano has lost his arbitration case but will still collect a cool $10m next season and he still won’t play in the OF. Not bad money for a bench player is it? Soriano had the natural talent to be an all-time great but the attitude of a lazy arse sitting back and resting on his laurels (reminds me of me and my broadcasting ways but I don’t get Soriano money for doing the odd bit of freelance work here and there alas). I fully expect Soriano to be traded as the Nats can’t afford for him to be sitting on their bench but his stock is falling all the time and it is getting to the stage where they’ll find it difficult to give him away.

The baseball season is fast approaching and we’ll be getting back into the swing of things soon, it's just the fact that hardly anything is going on at the moment with the Sox or Yanks!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Week that was - The Sunday Nine

So here we are, Superbowl Sunday and although most people won’t get to read this until after the big event, we’ll start this weeks Sunday Nine with my thoughts of the big game.

The Steelers are going to win it and win it close. They’ve gone through the #1, 2 and 3 seeds and are on an emotional high. The 3 4 defence is something the Seahawks haven’t seen yet and although I think both teams will move the ball well, I think the Steelers and their special teams and big plays will win them this game. The Seahawks have yet to beat a team with a winning record on the road and even though this game isn’t in Pittsburgh, it’ll be like a home game for the Steelers and I predict an enjoyable game but a lacklustre H/T show.

Well done to the NFL for electing Warren Moon to the Hall of Fame this weekend. I was worried that his five years out in Canada may of harmed his chances but he is undoubtedly a Hall of Famer and fully deserved to go into the Hall. The full allocation was used up this year as Troy Aikman, Harry Carson Rayfield Wright, Reggie White and John Madden will join Moon at the inductions over the weekend of Aug 5/6.

Fantasy Baseball opened this week on Yahoo which is where both Neil and myself play. I am already committed to two leagues, and am waiting to decide on my two others. One is a new keeper league which has already drafted and another one on the UK Baseball Fan site. For the record my already drafted team in a 16 deep keeper league (12 ML keepers, 4 mL) is as follows (in draft order)

Miguel Tejada – SS
David Wright – 3B
Justin Morneau – 1B
Victor Martinez – C
Hideki Matsui – OF
Jake Westbrook – SP
Cliff Lee – SP
Kevin Millwood – SP
John Lackey – SP
Carl Pavano – SP
Gustavo Chacin – SP
Bob Wickman – RP
Troy Percival – RP
Chien Ming-Wang – SP
Jarrod Washburn – SP
Trot Nixon – OF
Adam Kennedy – 2B
Gavin Floyd – SP
Hayden Penn – SP
Shannon Stewart – OF
Jose Lopez – SS/2B
Frank Thomas – Util
Aaron Rowand – OF
Tim Wakefield – SP

In the mL section of the draft I have the following:

Joel Guzman – SS – Dodgers
Jeff Niemann – SP – Devil Rays
Daisuke Matsuzaka – SP – Japanese League (Didn’t come over)
Scott Olsen – SP Marlins
Jong-Soo Shim – OF – Korean Free Agent (Has yet to come over)
Kenji Johjima – C – Japanese and has signed for the Mariners
J Brent Cox – RP – Yankees
Naoyuki Shimizu – SP – Japanese League and again wasn’t posted

I like the depth of my rotation and I have a fair bit of power but with little relief pitching to speak of or speed, this team certainly wasn’t the best I’ve ever drafted. I shall no doubt write about my fantasy teams throughout the season.

Away from fantasy world, some high school kid lobbed up 113 points in a basketball game, why? This kid should’ve been benched the moment the game was won as I am sure this type of event does not help either her school’s image, the opposition school’s youngsters and it won’t help her as she’ll now be singled out by opposition coaches.

Tiger is 2/2 in 2006 and 2/2 in playoffs as he beat The Big Easy out in Dubai at the first extra hole as the South African hit his approach shot into the water, another four inches and he clears the lake but it wasn’t to be and Tiger picks up yet another winners cheque. He may now be the perceived wrong side of 30 but this player has many wins left in him and anyone that thought anything different were deluding themselves.

I wrote last week about the Mintina Hingis story and how great it was and then this week she goes and reaches a final. To see someone retire from a sport and come back and be a success is by no means unheard of but in a solo sport it is very difficult and to of done it in such a short amount is quite simply breathtaking. Her rise to prominence in the sport yet again is a breath of fresh air in a sport which is one of the most competitive around.

For the UK fans, these are the games that are provisionally scheduled for live Sunday night broadcasting on Five:

April 2 Cleveland @ Chicago WS
April 9 St Louis @ Chicago Cubs
April 16 SF Giants @ LA Dodgers
April 23 Atlanta @ Washington
April 30 Texas @ Cleveland
May 7 S F Giants @ Philadelphia
May 14 Chicago WS @ Minnesota
May 21 N Y Yankees @ N Y Mets
May 28 Oakland @ Texas

So only one game involving either the Yanks or Sox in the opening two months, just delighted that I’m now of the mlb.tv and NASN age that’s all I’ll say but it is a good mix of teams I’ll give ESPN that.

The big move of the week baseball wise was Mike Piazza to the Padres, now whilst most think that this is not the best move for Piazza, his options seemed to of been dwindling pretty quickly. The right spot for Mike is clearly a DH in a hitter friendly park, not as a catcher in the second worst hitting field in the bigs but that’s the way it has worked out for the former Mets symbol. Where as the Big Hurt going to Oakland was a good fit for all parties, this move works for the Padres as they had no quality at Catcher and have got a former MVP pretty cheap but Piazza will not thrive in Petco and I doubt he’ll be hot property come fantasy draft time.

We’ll end up where we started. Less than two hours until the Superbowl starts, hope you all enjoy/enjoyed the game and that it wasn’t decided by a poor refereeing decision, something that has plagued the NFL throughout these playoffs.

More thoughts next week on the weeks events and as normal Neil and I will be providing Sox and Yanks news and views throughout the week, with Neil H blogging from Hawaii.

Beckett, Red Sox, agree to one-year deal

The Red Sox agreed a one-year deal with arbitration eligible ace Josh Beckett last night for the princely sum of $4,325,000. Beckett, who was acquired by the Sox earlier in the off season was voted the MVP of the 2003 World Series where he shut out the Yankees in the Bronx to win game six and the title of Champions.

He went 15-8 last year with a 3.38 ERA last season and there is little doubt that this guy has an all-star arm and ace stuff. The big question mark surrounding Beckett has always been his ability to stay healthy but he has constantly logged up more innings in every season that he's been a Major League ballplayer.

The amount is about half way between the number which Beckett and the Sox first put on the table, and I think it is very much fair value. Should he stay healthy next season then the Sox have got a good starting pitcher who'll perform very well all season long at a very reasonable price.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Clemens, Yankees, Not just a pipe dream

The New York Yankees and Roger Clemens, could it be? Andy Pettitte expects the seven-time Cy Young award winner to return for a 23rd season as a Major League Ball player and with Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada actively recruiting the former Yankee, the possibility of him returning for a second-stint with the Bombers seems to be ever so slowly increasing.

Clemens has already stated that he'll only consider playing for four teams next year, the Yankees, Red Sox, Astros or Rangers. Having come off a season where he led the League in lowest ERA, and a season where he'd of won another Cy Young if it wasn't for the minimal support he received from his offense, the 43 year-old certainly still has what it takes to be a front line starter.

He cannot re-sign with the Astros until May 1 but they are still the favourites to lure him back, with his son in the Astros system and playing close to home, they seem the logical fit. However both big market AL East teams are interested in bringing the Rocket back. He has seemingly buried the hatchet with the Red Sox after his acrimonious departure from the franchise after the 1996 season, and the Yankees are always interested in any top-tier talent that becomes available.

The Yankees currently have seven starters on their books, with only Randy and Moose locked into the rotation. Chacon, Wang and Pavano are expected to round out the starting crew with Small and Wright for the pen/on the trade block. Wang isn't about to be traded but all three of Wright, Pavano and Small could easily be moved if the right offer was on the table, heck even Chacon too.

The Sox are shopping Clement and if they could bring in Roger to replace him then it seriously upgrades them in that department.

Personally speaking I fully expect Clemens to be back and I think he'll pitch for five months with the Astros, but this story will rumble on and on until there is a definitive decision by the shoo-in first ballot Hall of Famer.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sox fill in SS hole

Days after the Red Sox filled in the gaping hole in CF with Coco Crisp, the Boston Herald citing multiple baseball sources stated that the club had agreed a three million pound one-year deal with former Florida Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez.

As a Yankee fan I'm not overly concerned or fearful of this signing but they of course are famous last words. A career .245 hitter with a sub .300 OBP through his first eight seasons in the bigs is nothing to write home about. He only has a career Fielding Percentage of .971 which also isn't exactly head turning.

This deal does smell a bit of desperation but I suppose the Sox do have enough firepower to overcome a hole at the bottom of the line-up. This move finalizes the probable line-up for '06:

1. Coco Crisp CF
2. Mark Loretta 2B
3. David Ortiz DH
4. Manny Ramirez LF
5. Jason Varitek C
6. Trot Nixon RF
7. Mike Lowell 3B
8. Kevin Youkilis 1B
9. Alex Gonzalez SS

On paper that team is weaker than this time twelve months ago whereas the Yanks seem stronger with no questions about Giambi, an upgrade is CF with Damon and at 2B with Cano over Woe is me Mack.

Still, there's a reason we play 162 games and don't decide things on paper isn't there?