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 tsn.ca 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.
November 30, 2006
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.
November 27, 2006
It was quite the intense weekend.
It began with the 7-1 beating the Leafs handed down to the Washington Capitals. What can I say? It was just one of those nights when the Leafs had all the bounces and everything was going in. Seven different goal scorers, and still missing Mats Sundin. The recent stretch without the Captain has shown the character of this team. At the start of the year I, along with most everybody else, was wondering who the heck was going to score goals on this team. Behind Sundin, the offense looked a little weak. But 25 games into the season and the Leafs have scored 89 goals, good for second-best in the Eastern Conference, and third in the league! The scoring is there, and it's pretty spread out. On top of those pretty darn impressive numbers, Sundin has missed time, and guys who were being counted on like - cough cough - Alex Steen, have produced next to nothing (one bloody goal, and it was while he was on his rump in front of the net against Calgary). I got to shout out the Captain. In training camp Sundin was one of the few guys saying that he believed this team could score, and had the talent to do so. He was right, and he is wise.
Saturday the Bruins came to town. The schedule is rearing its ugly head again, as these teams met for the third time in a week. I'm hating the 8 divisional games, and this is exactly why. Boston plays some incredibly boring hockey, and I don't really want to see them this often. It's not fun. It's not the "new NHL". The Bruins are great at shutting down the attack through the neutral zone, and the Leafs just can't do anything against them. I believe they are emplyoying the dreaded neutral zone trap, and it's working against the Leafs, who cannot be successful unless they can play the strong forechecking game that has become the norm under Paul Maurice. The game ended 3-1, and Tim Thomas played well for the Bruins again, although he wasn't tested as much as he should have been.
The third period in the game was definitely extremely entertaining. Way more than the second. I'm not sure how many rum and cokes I had, although I was starting to get up there, but I thought the third period was as good as any period I'd seen all year. The Leafs were down 2-1 and were pressing real hard. They were skating well, and generating chances. The play was back and forth and it honestly felt like a playoff game, and I was sure the Leafs were going to tie it up. But Boston did get the go ahead goal, and ironically it was Brad Boyes, the former Leaf who was traded for Owen Nolan.
Big Mats returned for this tilt, and almost typically after a 7-1 blowout, Sundin was the only one able to get one past Thomas. Those ten minutes in the third made the game. Otherwise it was another snoozer.
Thanks to the wonderful schedule the Bruins are in town on Tuesday as well. Hopefully the Leafs can adjust and take it to the B's this time. Oh, and props to Darcy Tucker for absolutely shollacking Zdeno Chara in the corner. Chara's a HUGE dude. We all remember how he bounced Bryan McCabe on the ice like a rag doll. It takes quite a lot of testicular fortitude to attempt and successfully knock him down with a good bodycheck. That's the beauty of Darcy Tucker. He has no fear, and doesn't play as if he is only five foot nine. He's an Alberta boy, that Tucker, but he's a born and bred Maple Leaf. God bless him.
Sunday was the annual trip with friends to the disgusting city of Buffalo for an NFL game between the Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars. First of all, I want to thank God for the beautiful weather he blessed us with on this trip. This was the third year in a row I've gone down for a game with friends, and the weather the last two times hasn't been that great. This time it was sunny and almost 12 or 13 degrees celsius. Splendid weather!
I'm not sure I'll ever understand why people tailgate and get hammered so early in the morning to watch a football game, but it's fun to do once a year. I can't imagine how much alcohol is consumed before and during a football game in Buffalo. It's actually kind of disturbing. One ritual that my friends and I employ, which I absolutely love, is the beer session outside the gate of the stadium. We stand in a circle, pop open a number of beers, and everyone takes a swag or two or three and passes it on, till all the beer is done. Sounds charming eh? I know. It is.
I lodged on the American side of Niagara Falls, for the first time ever in life, on Saturday night. The American side of the falls is a disgrace. It's dirty. It stinks. It's just a very shoddy place. The Canadian side is hella better. I can't believe how terrible the U.S. side really is. It's not developed at all, and the casino looks like a convention centre turned casino. And the casino took a lot of my money. That adds to my disdain of the city.
I guess Niagara Falls, New York is a lot like Buffalo, New York. I'm so glad I don't live in Buffalo. It's a hideous city. The houses look terrible and very old. I'm hating, I know, but it's really bad down there. Toronto's marvellous, and the two cities can't even be compared. I guess going down there just makes me appreciate Toronto and it's people even more.
I'd definitely encourage sports fans to go to an NFL game once in their lifetime. It's a very interesting experience. Like I said, there's alcohol galore, and almost everyone is intoxicated. Men, women, children. Ok, well not really the children, but I wouldn't be surprised if a few were. Our group - Forty's 20 - had endzone seats that were pretty damn good. It was our first time in the endzone, and let me tell you, I've never been in a louder stadium.
It was a close game, the Bills won 27-24 on a last second field goal. The Jags tied it up with less than a minute left in the 4th quarter, and on their drive, they took 2 offside penalties that were a direct result of the crowd. The crowd really becomes the 12th man in football. It was pretty intense to be a part of that.
I'm not sure how old Ralph Wilson Stadium out in Orchard Park is, but Ralph, if you can see this, you need to invest in new washrooms. It's a pretty strange set up they got going down there. The men's washrooms employ the trough-style urinal. One long communal pisser. Everyone's hammered, and the line's get tremendously long. It's also a bit intimidating, because of the lack of privacy. A couple of us were talking about "stage fright" and all the pressure due to the ridiculously long lines. It's true! It's not a comfortable situation to be going to the washroom, especially as a young, brown fellow, amidst a sea of George W. Bush loving white men.
Anyway, the sink to wash your hands is like the one from my old high school - a communal sink, where u press the lever with your foot below, in order to get the water to come out. Now get this - the lines for the washrooms were so long, that fully grown men were relieving themselves in the sink. It was one of the most disgusting things I have seen in a long time, and I couldn't believe the amount of people doing this. I mean come on. We've all got to use the urinal, and we've all got to wait. For grown men to stoop that low was sickening. It turned me off of the Bills, the stadium and the city of Buffalo. Certainly there's no shout outs for the people of Buffalo. Damn sickos.
All in all, it was a great weekend. I hate to end the post on the washroom ettiquite of Buffalonians, or lack there of, but it was quite the pathetic display.
My friend Mike put it best:
"Stay classy, Buffalo!"
Goodnight, wonderful city of Toronto...
November 23, 2006
Difficult loss for the Leafs down in Buffalo tonight. 7-4 final. The score doesn't do the Leafs justice though. They fought back from being down 4-2 and the game was tied at 4 with about 6 minutes left. Raycroft messed up. It was a bad clearing attempt behind the net, and the puck ended up in our net. Just one of those things that happens every now and then. It was just brutal that it happened tonight. Excruciating timing. Raycroft's not going to get a lot of sleep tonight. But it happens. I'm a goalie too, I know how it feels. And believe me, it's not a good feeling. Knowing that you've let your teammates down, the guys you go to battle with, is not a pleasant feeling. But that's life - I trust that Raycroft will bounce back.
My two beefs of the night:
1) I hate that bloody horn down in Buffalo. It's not like other goal horns. It's louder. And comes off as too aggressive and abnoxious. The fact that I heard it seven times tonight probably made it get under my skin a little more, but that doesn't matter. I'm not feeling that horn.
2) What's up with the Sabres celebrating every goal like it's the greatest goal ever scored? They seem to be loving the arm pumpage. Afinogenov did it, Novotny did it, and Briere did it twice. Briere's game winning goal was absolutely brutal. Raycroft was on his derriere, after he tripped over himself, and Briere had an open net. Yet there he goes, skating into the corner, pumping his arm as if he'd just deked out the entire team. Briere needs a beating. The Sabres are annoyingly fast and extremely agitating. But they need to relax on the celebrations, otherwise it will come back to haunt them.
The Leafs should have had a point tonight as it was there for the taking. I hate games like these because these days it seems like every point squandered will come back to get you. The Leafs are done one quarter of their season, and are sitting in fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Games like these bother me, but I can't be upset with how the team has performed so far. In my last post, I asked for the hockey Gods to throw us a bone, and ease up on the injuries. The next night, Raycroft went down with his groin injury. Then Aubin missed a game with the flu. It's been one thing after another, and with all the injuries, I must admit the Leafs have done well so far through the first part of the season.
In this era of the salary cap, it's a lot more difficult to make trades, especially when injuries strike. The Leafs have been able to win games with a patched up defence core and without Mats Sundin. It's a testament to the system John Ferguson Jr. has set up in Toronto, and I think it's fair that he's been given a contract extension. But Johnny boy, don't take my words as a vote of confidence. I've still got my eye on you.
Sundin's been out for 6 games. I miss you bud. I hope to see you back on the ice on Saturday. The Buds have won three games, and lost three games since the Captain went down. I'll take that record without our best player. All I wanted was for us to stay afloat, and play .500 hockey. Kudos to guys for stepping up and playing well in Sundin's absence. I don't know who that guy wearing #80 is out there for the Leafs, but it's definitely not the Antropov of old. This is the Antropov that teases us with all the potential. And he's doing it again. My brother said it best, it's just about time he gets injured again. Wellwood has been great moving back to centre, and Poni is just evolving into a fantastic winger. I love the way he cuts in and drives to the net, using that big body of his. Only 13 goals to go baby!
The offence sputtered for a couple of games without Sundin, both losses to the Bruins and Devils, who play the most boring hockey ever. Both games were incredibly boring. I'm falling asleep just thinking about them. Back to my point - Sundin's a huge part of this team, and I think overall the team has done well without him. Peca has been a force on the PK all year, and although I long for the days when he could score 20 goals, I think he's doing a superb job with this team.
I can't say enough about Darcy Tucker, Bryan McCabe, and most of all, may main man Tomas Kaberle. Tucker's got 15 goals, McCabe and Kaberle are I think tied for the top scoring defenceman and I truly believe that Kaberle is one of the most gifted defenseman to ever play for the Leafs. This guy can just pass the puck like nobody's business. It's beautiful to watch. The grace, the composure. Kabby is just a pleasure, and I can't wait to get his number 15 printed on the back of my jersey. So good, yet still so underrated.
I must admit, I love Paul Maurice. This guy is one helluva coach, and exactly the tonic this Leafs team needed. He knows when to get on the team. He knows when to lay off. He knows when to call a time-out. He just knows how to coach. A lot of media types are saying that the Leafs are the surprise team this year in the NHL. I'm not sure if I'd label them that, although I'm not really sure what expectations I had for them this year. I thought they would be competitive, but I guess they have exceeded most of my expectations. I just love the style of play Maurice employs. Everyone's got to work hard and be aggressive, and the hard work seems to be paying off. It's just such a much needed change from the laid back attitude under Pat Quinn, where players weren't really held accountable, and hard work was never encouraged. Maurice is the perfect man to be steering this Leafs ship. I've definitely bought into what he's been selling.
Before I leave you, some random thoughts:
- I read in the Star that the combined salaries of Frank Catallanotto and Shea Hillenbrand were $8.5 million last season. Both contracts are off the books now, and Thomas comes into the mix at $9 million. An actual increase of $500,000 in payroll for a DH who got some MVP consideration. Booyah! So all of you who say it's a bad signing, shutup.
- The aforementioned Catallannotto is now a Texan Ranger, and Justin Speier is now a Los Angeles Angel of Anaheim. Two classy guys who played well in their years with the Blue Jays. Their service is appreciated, and I wish em well.
- Morneau wins the American League MVP. I found out from the little tv screen in an elevator at work. It definitely took me by surprise. When I read the information, I just said "What?!?" and the person next to me looked like I was crazy. I thought, and still think, Jeter deserved it. Didn't think Morneau had a shot. Shows how much I know.
- Canadian's have won the MVP's in baseball, hockey and basketball in the last year. That is pretty incredible. Well done Justin Morneau, Joe Thornton and Steve Nash.
- Just imagine how bad the Toronto Raptors would be without Chris Bosh.
- Quebec as a nation within Canada? Stephen Harper is an idiot. Someone, please remind me to vote in the next election.
November 17, 2006
Frank Thomas, the newest member of the Toronto Blue Jays. That one certainly came out of left field. Most definitely took me by surprise. It's been about 24 hours since the rumour broke that Thomas and the Jays are close to a deal. Reports out of Florida say that pending a Thomas physical, the deal is all but done and will be announced Friday.
In that case, let me be the first to welcome The Big Hurt to the great city of Toronto. A great place for him to play out the rest of what has been a solid career. Looks like J.P. Ricciardi has surprised Toronto, and the baseball world, once again.
When I first heard the news I was, first of all, very surprised. It was just so unexpected. Once I picked up my jaw off the floor I was able to say, "Yeah, one of the Jays' biggest holes is at designated hitter."
I don't care how old Thomas is - 38 by the way. I don't care that last year was his first injury free season in the last three years. Right now, all I care about is his 37 home runs and 100+ rbi's. Honestly, none of the past matters. Not to me. Not right now, anyway. I'm looking at this signing with pure, 100% optimism. JP just added another big bat to an already potent line-up.
Now most of the comments I've heard in regards to this signing have been negative. The majority of Torontonian's who follow the Jays with a passion are ripping JP for this deal. I've heard all the regular ones:
"He's too old. He's too injury prone. What is JP thinking? Why didn't we get Zito? What about Lilly? Why didn't we keep Delgado a few years ago?"
And my favourite one of all: "How could we give him $10 million!?!?"
I just don't get why people are so fixated on the salary. Really, who cares? Is the money coming out of our pockets? No. Not at all. This is Ted Rogers' money, and if he wants to spend it on putting a solid team together, who are we to argue and complain about the salary. Bob McCown is dead on - the Jays can pay him $20 million for all I care. It doesn't matter.
Now I know I'll get some people saying his salary will be reflected in Jays ticket prices, or concession prices. Something. Anything. But the truth is, even if the Jays raise tickets by $1, is that going to stop you from heading out to the Rogers Centre to watch a game? Give me a break. You know that by going to a game, you're going to spend a certain amount of coin, even if the team is crap. You know how much a ticket goes for, on average, and you know you're going to be paying too much for food. Ticket prices are always going up, and the Jays haven't been to the playoffs since my bloody youth. I'm 24. I'll pay a few extra bucks the one or two times I go watch a game if it means we make the playoffs.
Now I know it's dangerous to manage a team using the Leafs "pick up a veteran 5 years removed from his best season" mentality. It's definitely a gamble. A gamble worth $20 million. But seriously, come up with a better excuse as to why you think Thomas should not be a Blue Jay. Don't mention the money, and we can have a decent discussion on the topic. It's going on Ted's tab, so lets not go crazy over the amount, ok?
Now there are viable viewpoints out there, as to why this is not a good signing. I've heard someone say that the Jays lineup is already strong enough, why add another bat? Now my take on the situation is this: everyone knows pitching is, and always will be, at a premium. It's tough to put together a solid starting rotation. Even the Yankees and Red Sox, who have the deepest pockets in baseball, can't put together a great rotation on the regular. It's simply difficult to do. In light of that, Boston this week payed some Japanese ballclub $51 million just to NEGOTIATE a contract with a Japanese import pitcher, who's clearly the next best thing since sliced bread. That is an absoloutely ridiculous amount of money, and it clearly highlights the problems in baseball's economic system.
The thing that pisses me off is, first of all, that we are stuck in the AL East with the Yankees and Red Sox. I read an SI piece about how it's incredible that the Red Sox call the Yanks the "Evil Empire" when they conduct business the same way as the boys from NYC. They're both "Evil Empires" and how in hell are the Jays supposed to compete with these guys? It's infuriating. That's one thing I like about JP Ricciardi. He's trying. He's doing all he can. Last year we "overpaid" BJ Ryan and AJ Burnett, but once again, WHO CARES? JP's not creating the market. The market is being set by teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, who pay anyone anything.
The $51 million paid by Boston to the Japanese team WILL NOT COUNT AGAINST THEIR PAYROLL and therefore the Rex Sox will not be taxed for it under baseball's luxury tax system. They just paid an amount that would probably equal the payrolls of both the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates, to negotiate with a player. And teams like the Royals, Pirates, and Jays, won't see a penny out of that, even though revenue sharing exists. It's absurd. I could go on, but that's my point - baseball spending is out of control, and unless the fans want to watch the team sit around and do NOTHING, we have to pay free agents like Frank Thomas the money the market defines for them. If JP could get Thomas for $5 million, I'm sure he would.
Back to my point - pitching is at a premium. All pitchers get overpaid. Wait and see the amount of money thrown at Ted Lilly, who's nothing more than a 3rd or 4th starter, with a career record hovering around .500. The Jays can't afford to match the Yanks and Red Sox when they offer pitchers ridiculous amounts of money. We just can't do it. Now we've got 2 really good pitchers, and a decent third starter. We'd love to get Lilly back, but the odds are not in our favour. If the pitching is too expensive, we might as well try and assemble the most powerful lineup that we can. The Jays already boasted an incredible offense, and with the hole at DH thanks to the departure of Shea Hillenbrand, who better to fill it than The Big Hurt? Wells, Rios, Glaus, Overbay, Thomas. It's the Toronto BOMB Jays!
We can't afford the best pitchers. We've already got the best in Doc Halladay, and if AJ Burnett can pitch how he did in the final two months of the season, Toronto will have a formidable one-two punch in the rotation. So I applaude JP for going out and signing another big bat. Why the hell not?
JP's still got lots of work to do though. Frank Catalanatto, Justin Speier, Bengie Molina, Ted Lilly and Gregg Zaun are all free agents. Supposedly JP has been talking to Rod Barajas' agent. I wouldn't mind him as our new catcher. I'm good with any of those three - Zaun, Molina or Barajas. My gut tells me Zaun will be back. I was hoping The Cat would be back in the fold but with the signing of Thomas, I doubt it. I think Reed Johnson is ready to play everyday, anyway, so I thank The Cat for his service, and wish him well. I'm really hoping there's someway we can get Speier and Lilly back, although retaining both of them seems difficult. Brandon League was lights out last season, and if Speier does end up with another team, League is going to have to step into the set-up role and take care of business.
There's also the business of assessing the middle infield. Have the Blue Jays given up on Russ Adams? I know a lot of people have. I think I'm one of them, although I don't mind giving him one last shot to become an everyday second basemen.
I love the off-season, for all these reasons and more. I also heard the Jays are interested in Mark Mulder. He'll definitely come cheaper than Ted Lilly, and of what I remember of him from his days in Oakland, I'd love to see him in a Jays uniform.
Will JP resign Vernon long term? I think it's pretty clear the Jays won't be trading him in the off-season. I think that's wise. He's under contract for next year, we might as well keep him. He's amazing. Every night before I turn in, I pray to God that Vernon will sign an extension. But I'm not going to hold my breath.
Frank Thomas, welcome to Toronto. People might be hating, but I'm happy your here.
If you're out there and reading, leave a comment and tell me what you think about the newest member of the Blue Jays family.
Oh, and thanks, Mr. Rogers.
November 09, 2006
It was around 12:30 pm this afternoon when I looked around my cubicle, to see if anyone was blatantly looking at me and could see my computer screen. The coast was clear, so I went ahead and made my daily online trek to TSN.ca. As the website loaded onto my slow Apple (lame excuse of a) computer, the photograph for the top storycame up. It was of Mats Sundin. There was no headline, but immediately I knew something was wrong - because the Leafs weren't playing today. Finally, what seemed like minutes later and was probably about three seconds, the headline came up - "Sundin Out 3-4 Weeks".
I froze up. He'd been injured in practice, or worse, off the ice. Everything seemed to get quiet around me. I didn't know what to do, but I finally read the lead to the story. Sundin has a torn ligament in his elbow, and is expected to miss about a month of action. I felt a sweat break out on my brow. I looked around, to see if anyone noticed the clear discomfort I was now in. I grabbed my water bottle and nourished myself. I had to stay calm.
I thought about the injury, and saw in my mind the exact moment it happened in Monday's game. Sundin was going around the Philadelphia net with his head down and as he rounded the net somebody on the Flyers - I'm not sure who - clocked him pretty hard, and the brunt of the blow was on Sundin's right arm and elbow. I remember Mats almost flinching, and I knew he was in some pain. But he finished the game. There didn't seem to be anything wrong.
But clearly he is the latest Maple Leaf to join the club's walking wounded. The only problem is, he's the best player on the team. The best player on the ice and off it. The emotional leader. The physical leader. The man with the "C". The driver of the bus. As Sundin goes, so do the Leafs.
We've been here before. Sundin was knocked out of the first game of the regular season last year. But we had a little more depth at centre ice last year. It was Eric Lindros who really picked up the slack in Sundin's absence.
Mats has had a remarkably healthy hockey career. Only in the last few years has he spent some significant time on the injured last. At the same time, he's getting older, and so is his body. At 36 years of age, he's getting up there. But he has been great so far this year. Actually, more than great. He's been dominant.
Alright hockey Gods, that's two big injuries you've thrown our way already this year. And I'm not counting the injuries to Bell, Colaiacovo, and Kronwall. Those are minor. Kubina and Sundin, those are the big ones. So now, please, chill out hockey Gods. The way I see it, it's better now than during the stretch or during the playoffs. Lets get the major injuries out of the way.
I'm worried, but at the same time excited. Mainly worried, because the Leafs are not too strong up front. Ironically, the team has scored the third-most goals in the Eastern Conference. So my argument that the team is lacking the firepower it needs is not really true. But losing Mats will certainly hurt this team. He is just too important for it not too.
I'm excited because I want to see who will step up. Wellwood's tailed off nicely since his hot start to the season. He might get a chance to move to centre ice in the wake of Sundin's injury. Maybe Peca will step up. Steen really needs to wake up and start scoring some goals, especially now that Mats is gone. O'Neill needs to continue his decent play. Matty Stajan has been good so far, but now is his chance to make that leap in his career. If Stajan doesn't finish the season with 20 goals, he's not developing properly. He's on his way, I just need him to keep it up. Antropov and Ponikarovsky need to find the net on a regular basis. The goal scoring machine known as Tomas Kaberle can hopefully continue to score the way he is right now.
I don't who will step up. Maybe nobody will, and Ferguson will be forced to address the depth up front, but I like Paul Maurice and the effort he's getting from his players. Luckily, Mats' injury isn't too serious. We just have to stay afloat while he is gone. Pavel Kubina's return will help us defensively, and hopefully Razor can stay hot. Sundin's injury will test the character of this team, and hopefully the boys can come together as a group, show some resolve and leadership, and hold the fort while Captain Mats heals.
For a team looking to find their identity and continue to play consistently, maybe this is a good thing. Mats is injured. There's nothing anyone can do about it. But maybe there is a silver lining. We all know what Sundin is all about. Now I'm hoping to find out what the rest of the team is all about. You know what, maybe I am more excited than worried. I'm lookin forward to it.
November 06, 2006
It's been quite the 72 hours in my world of sports. The Leafs beat the Sabres in Buffalo, the Argos won a thrilling playoff game at the Rogers Centre, and the Leafs capped it tonight with a 4-1 win against the Flyers at the Hangar.
I was afraid the Leafs would come out a little sluggish tonight since the Flyers SUCK. Tonight's game was a struggle and could have gone either way. Andrew Raycroft was the difference, as he has been lately. The kid's on fire and it's good to see him bounce back with great games after those beatings from Ottawa. A couple of games like that can really mess with a goalie's head - especially a young goalie like Raycroft, playing in this media crazy town - but he's shown composure and it's encouraging.
I wouldn't have been surprised had the Flyers came in tonight and won. It would have been typical for the Leafs to go into Buffalo and win a game I thought was impossible to win, and then come home and lose a game they should surely win. It seemed like that was going to happen because the Leafs had hit 5 posts by the end of the second period. I thought the hockey Gods were going to continue to shine on Nith-a-makki of Philadelphia. I LOVE the way Joe Bowen says his name. I have to admit though, that my brother called the Leafs win in Buffalo and said tonight would be a struggle. He is wise.
The facts are that the Leafs are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, and Raycroft is one of the hottest goalies. Another 40 saves for him tonight. I'm singing the McDonald's commercial in my head right now - I'm lovin it! There's no secret what great goaltending can do for a team. Here in Toronto, we've been blessed with great goaltending. Well we were, until last year, when Belfour shit the bed. Hopefully Raycroft can continue his solid play.
Shoutouts to Poni and Antropov for their game tonight. I know I hate on Antropov, but I guess I do it because its the cool thing to do - everyone's doing it! But I truly believe that at $1 million per season, he's kind of a bargain. Tonight was one of those nights where he showed flashes of the potential that made him a bloody top 10 first round pick. He shows it every once in a while. To tease us. That bastard. But he scored the game winner, so I got to give him props tonight.
And Poni's goal was a BEAUTY. It was especially for my boy 40. We've got $100 on the line that Poni will get 21 goals, his mark from last year. The PONI Count is now at 6. He's on pace, ladies and gentlemen. Poni's my boy. I urge all of you, especially 40, to join me on the Poni Express.
The Leafs have won 5 of 6, but the news gets even better. Pavel Kubina will be back in the lineup on Thursday in Beantown. Big game for our main man Raycroft, as he goes back to Boston for the first time since the trade that sent him to Toronto. Hopefully he can have a solid game and tell Boston to SHOVE IT.
And before I leave you, I've got to show love to the AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRGOOOOOOOOOOOOOSS!! What a football game on Sunday. I'm not really a football fan. I never, ever watch a regular season CFL game, but in the playoffs I jump on the bandwagon ridiculously hard. I caught almost the entire game between the Argos and Blue Bombers, and it was awesome. Three downs makes for more passing and more exciting football. Screw the NFL. I want Ricky Williams - marijuana's poster boy - to win a Grey Cup! The Argos looked down and out late in the game, but Pinball Clemons put in backup QB Michael Bishop and they stormed back to win it. It was one of the most exciting football games I've ever seen. I'll be watching the Alouettes/Argos Eastern Final for sure, although I have no idea when it is...
Now that I think about it, the past 72 hours in my world of sports weren't PERFECT. The Raptors lost on Sunday to the Spurs. But I'll save my Raptors talk for later.
November 05, 2006
Confession: I was the last person in this city who thought the Leafs would be the first team to beat the Buffalo Sabres this year (in regulation). Not in Buffalo. Not with the way the Sabres have been playing. But that's the beauty of the good ol' hockey game.
Helluva road game played by the Leafs - 4-1 Leafs final. I was thinking at the start of the game that the Leafs just gotta survive the first ten minutes, and the first period, in order to have any chance to beat the hella fast Sabres. Toronto didn't exactly get off to a great start - Hecht's goal was a stinker.
But the Leafs bounced back thanks to - who else - Captain Mats. Once again he was driving the bus tonight. Two goals, one assist and just an overall dominating performance. It's strange, sometimes Mats looks so disinterested out there, but on most nights he plays with a sense of determination that this team so desperately needs. He's a leader. I'd go anywhere with Mats. I trust him with my life. Great pass to Tucker on the second goal. Tucker's already got 10 goals - he's gonna hear that CHA-CHING sound big time when he signs his new contract. He deserves every penny though and I want him to be a Leaf for the rest of his career. Mats Sundin and Darcy Tucker are the epitomy of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Raycroft was solid when he had to be. It was just a really good road game. Granted, the Sabres were going to lose sooner or later - it was bound to happen. But it's still quite satisfying to go into their building and take care of business. And how about the penalty killing!? Off the heezy (indeed!) again tonight. Peca's been great on the PK.
Shout outs to the kids on defense - White and Bell were great tonight. White's creative with the puck. He seems to be betting more confident out there. He and Hal Gill make a pretty sweet combo back there. There will be growing pains and nights where I'm cussing out White, but he made a great pass to Mats on the fourth goal tonight. It was a pass that showed his patience and smarts. He's special. He reminds me of a combination of Brian Rafalski and Tomas Kaberle. Very excite! I like!
Great way to end the three game road trip. I can't beleaf we dropped a game to bloody Ed Belfour, but two out of three is a successful trip, and I look forward to the Leafs kicking the crap out of the Flyers on Monday. And Kubina might be back! Very excite!!!!
The Leafs definitely get a "waa-waa-wee-wah" Borat style for tonight's effort.