November 30, 2006

What Does It All Mean...?

It's an exciting time for sports fans in Toronto. The Leafs are well into the hockey season, the Raptors have played 15 games, and J.P. Ricciardi is probably one of the busiest men on the sports planet as the Jays have come out swinging again in baseball's offseason.

First things first, let me officially welcome Frank Thomas to Toronto. He talked about looking forward to playing in baseball's "glory division", the American League East, and that sits well with me. This division ain't no joke, and a healthy and productive Thomas will be crucial for the Jays to continue up the AL East ladder. The Jays made the Rogers Centre a home run haven last season, and here's to Thomas joining the party.

Gregg Zaun is also officially back in the mix for the Jays, and that didn't look like it was going to happen a couple of days ago. The Jays had an agreement in principle with Rod Barajas, but it broke down Tuesday night, after Barajas apparently backed out of the deal. Now I wasn't too sure why JP and the Jays had all this interest in Barajas. He's not even that good. He's a tad bit younger than Zauner, and throws out a few more guys, but other than that Zaun's a much better player.

I'm really glad Zauner is back in the fold. I logged onto late Tuesday night and saw that the Barajas deal fell through and I was pretty shocked, but happy, about it. Sort of like George Costanza - restrained jubilation. It just didn't make sense, because Barajas was supposed to just take a physical, and would be introduced at the same press conference as The Big Hurt.

Now I've heard that Barajas got cold feet, fired his agent and then wanted to renegotiate. I also heard that the MLB Players Association also gave him a call, and asked him what in God's name he was doing taking a paycut as a free agent. Either way, something happened, he backed out of the deal. JP got pissed, called Zaun, and they were able to hammer out a deal. I read in the Star that Zaun had cancelled his cell phone service and was to go to New York to talk to the Yankees about joining them as a backup catcher. That says a lot. He totally believed his time with the Jays was done. But Zaun's back, and he's glad to be back. I like Zauner. He's a patient hitter, he takes walks and his on-base percentage is way higher than Barajas'. And Zaun wants to be here - he likes the team and the city. He's one of the more vocal guys on the team and is definitely a leader.

I like to root for guys like Zaun. He was a backup catcher his whole career, and never really gave a damn about anything. He started drinking and became possessed by the demons of alcohol. A serious drinking problem and terrible attitude pretty much killed his baseball career and he was released by the Expos in 2004. He signed on as a backup catcher with the Jays, gave up the alcohol, and changed his attitude. He got to play due to injuries with the Jays, and really made his mark. He didn't complain once when the Jays screwed him and signed Molina last season. He just said he would put the team first, and he did his job pretty damn well. He put up solid numbers and proved he should be a starter. He supposedly stood up to Shea Hillenbrand during the whole Hillend-gate fiasco, he works well with the pitching staff, and he's a good role model for the young players. It's pretty uncommon to turn a career, on life support, around at age 32. Props out to my man Zauner.

JP wasn't done there. He's supposedly signed Royce Clayton to a one year, $1.5 million contract. Clayton's not a very good hitter, but he's good with the glove. This means Hill is the everyday second baseman, and this kid's only going to bet bettter, so its nice to see he'll have some stability on the field. I don't mind Clayton. JP tried to get Adam Kennedy, but he went to St. Louis. Either way, the question mark that existed in the middle infield, no longer exists.

JP's also been wooing Gil Meche. He was in town and was treated to dinner and a Leafs game. In a perfect world, the Jays could resign Lilly and pick up Meche, but the chances of that are slim. I wouldn't mind either one of those two pitchers, although I'd probably like to have the southpaw Lilly a bit more.

Speaking of pitchers, I wonder what the Jays are going to do with Josh Towers? He's still under contract next year at over $2 million. That bastard.

Anywho, what does it all mean? It means the JP and the Jays are really trying to take the next step, and I commend them for that. In JP Ricciardi I trust - it's been my motto for a few years now. The guy just looks like he knows what he's doing. Baseball's annual Winter Meetings get started on Friday, and there's definitely going to be some fireworks, and hopefully we'll have a pitcher, or two, by the time this weekend is through. Good luck JP, bring home the bacon!


Back to back losses on home ice for the Leafs against the Bruins. Not exactly what the team was looking for, eh? What makes it more disheartening is that the Leafs had Sunday and Monday to watch film and figure out how to beat those bloody Bruins. They trapped it up again but the Leafs can't be faulted for their effort. They had 46 shots, I beleaf, on Tim Thomas. In Washington, everything went in. Against Boston, nothing went in. What can you do? That's how it goes, especially in a game of inches. Just got to keep on skating and firing pucks to the net.

Big game tomorrow night in the A-town facing the Trashers. The Leafs have lost three of their last four. Any prolonged 8 or 10 game losing stretch will cost a team a playoff spot this year. Consistency is the only way of getting into the playoffs. The Leafs went on a big losing streak last year in January, and that's why they missed the dance. I'm interested in seeing how this team bounces back from a few losses, especially a difficult one on Tuesday against Boston. Paul Maurice has to prepare this team. He's got to make sure everyone knows what is at stake. Certain players, like Mats, and Kabby, and Darcy have to make sure this team doesn't slide into a prolonged funk. This team simply can't afford it.

I read before Tuesday's game that some players on Boston were going to shoot up high on Raycroft, because they know his tendencies. Wouldn't you know it, the first two goals by the B's were up high, glove side. Raycroft's got to be a little more solid in the net for the Leafs, and when the team is down 2-1, he just has to make sure he keeps the score that way.

Oh, and JFJ made a trade! Mikael Tellqvist for a 4th round pick and agitator Tyson Nash. This trade doesn't mean all that much. Tellqvist had his chance last year, to become the goalie of the present for the Leafs, but he blew his chance. Aubin came in, and the rest is history. I'm not sure he'll ever be more than a backup goalie in the NHL, but I wish him well, and thank him for his service. As for Nash, he'll be joining the Marlies, where he should be staying. He's annoying, and just takes penalties. And isn't that what Wade Belak is for? I'll take the 4th round draft pick for Tellqvist anyday.

Oh, one more thing. Does anyone else find it extremely exruciating to watch Alex Steen struggle so mightily? He had 45 points last year. Now he's on pace for 4 goals. Brutality is there.

What does it all mean? It means that the next couple of games will really test the mental fortitude of this Leafs team. The Leafs were taught a valuable lesson last year when their losing slide cost them a playoff spot. Here's hoping they learned it.


The Raptors lost to the Dallas Mavericks tonight, a game they didn't have a prayer winning.

I haven't written about the Raptors yet, but they've now completed their first month of the season, with a record of five wins and ten losses. Last November, they won one game. Like I always tell my girlfriend, I'm all about progress. Four more wins! We're going in the right direction. The best part is, the Raps are only one game out of first place in the division. New Jersey, along with the ultimate bitch Vince Carter, lead the division with a fantastic 6-9 record. That's just pathetic, but great for the Raptors.

It's hard to imagine where this team would be without Chris Bosh. He's averaging a double-double a night, and has turned into a force in this league. Only in his early twenties, he's the face of the franchise and a leader on the court. His maturation process has been quick and smooth, and it's been a pleasure watching him develop into the player he is today. He really could turn out to be the next Kevin Garnett, and that's music to my ears. There was a game against Golden State earlier on in the year, where Bosh went ballistic on #1 draft pick Andrea Bargnani. Bargnani got beaten on defense on back-to-back possessions and Bosh just let him have it. It was great to see Bosh getting emotional and trying to set a fire under Bargnani. Props to Bosh, for signing a contract extension and leading the way for the Raptors.

I like what Bryan Colangelo has done with this team. I'll devote a post to the Raptors soon enough.

Calderon is playing great and with 25 x the confidence he had last year. I like Garbajosa, he's a blue collar guy who fights under the glass. Rasho Nesterovic provides inner defence the Raptors so badly need, and another big body under the glass. Anthony Parker hasn't really got his offensive game going yet, but he's a solid defender, and you can never have too many of those. Fred Jones has been inconsistent, but he's got the ability to take the ball to the rack, and he'll be successful when he does that on a regular basis. TJ Ford has come as advertised - he's quick as hell. Sometimes too quick for his own good, as he gets under the rim so fast that it's like he doesn't know what to do once he gets there. He likes to pass the ball though, and that's refreshing. He had a game where he picked up 20 assists, and that's certainly encouraging. He's also so young, and Colangelo has locked him up for a few years, which is good to see. The foundation is there.

Speaking of foundation, how about my main man Andrea Bargnani? This kid has been, pardon my Italian, mucho bella! After riding the bench to start the season, Mitchell has increased the kids floor time and he's proving it to be a good decision. Bargnani is 7 foot 1, but he can put the ball on the floor and drive, or pull up for a jumper. He's got fantastic range and also isn't afraid to jack it up from behind the arc. I'm really tickled with excitement about this kid. He really does seem to have limitless potential, and although I know it's early, just like my man JP Ricciardi, I trust in Bryan Colangelo. Just look at the way he dresses. Always in an immaculate suit and looking fly. How can you not trust a man that looks that good and that confident? Do your thing Colangelo.

Interesting tidbit. The Raps were down about 20 points tonight in the 4th quarter, and their streak of hitting a three ball in 628 straight games was about to end. They got the ball with about 15 seconds to go and Derek Martin was dribbling out the clock. With about half a second left, he jacked up a three ball and SWISH! I found it rather amusing that in a game the Raps lost 117-98, Chuck Swirsky ended the game yelling "OH MY GOODNESS ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?!? ONIONS BABY ONIONS!!"

Such are the times in Raptor-land.

What does it all mean? It means five wins is better than one, and that the Raptors are getting better. It means Chris Bosh is still only 22. It means for Andrea Bargnani, the sky is the limit. It means we have to be patient. As of tonight, we're only a game out of first place. I can't complain about that.

Goodnight, Toronto...