Monday, December 20, 2010

Magic/Wizards Trade Shakes Up the East

The Orlando Magic greatly increased their chances at making some noise in the NBA Playoffs, and although the Heat's James-Bosh-Wade trio will be a tough assignment, the Magic have positioned themselves for a legit run at Miami and Boston in the East.

The key to this deal for Orlando is Arenas. If he can get back to his pre-injury/gun-totting ways and focus on basketball, he's still one of the best play-makers in the NBA at age 28. And Warrior fans are well aware of J-Rich's abilities when he's on, he can be an explosive scoring 2-guard. All the Magic had to part with were the aging and in-effective Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis. I know contract issues probably have a lot to do with this deal, but talent wise, I'd say the Magic robbed Washington blind. Again, a big part of it will be Arenas getting healthy and on track, but he doesn't even necessarily have to start since Orlando has Jameer Nelson on board, so they can ease him back into his full, starting load, which doesn't look too far off. Richardson, on the other hand, is having one of his better season's of his career averaging nearly 20 points and 5 boards per night. So after this deal, the Magic starting-5 look like this:

PG: Gilbert Arenas/Jameer Nelson
SG: Jason Richardson
SF: Hedo Turkoglu
PF: Brandon Bass
C: Dwight Howard

This also strengthens their bench. They have Quentin Richardson, Jameer Nelson (or Arenas if he doesn't start), Ryan Anderson, Chris Duhon and JJ Reddick all playing big roles off the bench. The one upside the Magic have on Boston and Miami is that they have that 7-foot beast in Howard, who is heads and shoulders above the other centers in the South East Conference. I can't wait to see the new-look Magic take on the so called "best talented NBA team" in the Miami Heat. If Howard and Arenas are both healthy and on their game, my bet goes to the Magic.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A's Keep Adding: Harden Returns

The A's have been one of the more active teams in baseball this winter, and just when you think they're going to slow down a bit, they make two big moves that help shape the makeup of the ball club. Just days within signing one of the better left-handed DH's in the league in Hideki Matsui, Billy Beane brought back former A's ace Rich Harden, and outfielder Josh Williangham from Washington.

Billy Beane is quietly leading the A's on one of the most successful, under-the-radar offseason's in baseball. I absolutely love both of these moves for the Oakland. Sure, Harden is a huge injury risk, but he's done some great things here in Oakland, and if they can squeeze 20-25 starts out of him in 2011, he'll be well worth the 1.5 million he's set to make this coming season. He has never thrown a complete injury free season, but he can give you 15-20 solid outings, with the potential to dominate, and has the flexibility to pitch in late relief if need be. The A's can either use him as a 5th starter, where he'd only asked to throw 5-6 innings per start, or they could use him in relief, and I just think it's a great, low-risk/high-reward signing for Beane. Not only does Harden still bring a talented right-arm, he's also a seasoned vet who can help nurture and extremely young A's pitching staff. They have Trevor Cahil, Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez who are all younger than Harden and are guaranteed spots in the rotation, so it would be Harden vs. Brandon McCarthy for that 5th spot and I tell ya', if Rich Harden and co. are healthy, the A's have the best staff in the American League. Yeah, I said it, and I'm not even a A's fan!

Onto Willingham, who is a guy I was really hoping the Giants would get in kind of a Cody Ross role during the middle of the year last season. He's got 30-HR potential if given a full playing load and even as a part-timer in Washington, he was still able to able to manage a 20/60 line in under 400 at-bats per season. He's a good fielding right fielder who's been overshadowed by playing in Washington, and I think the A's may have found themselves a diamond in the rough. So now with Willingham aboard along with Matsui and DeJesus, the A's have themselves a glut of outfielders. Remember, they still have Coco Crisp and Conor Jackson out there as well. My guess is that DeJesus goes to left and Willingham to right while Conor becomes the 4th outfielder and rides the pine with Ryan Sweeney. This A's outfield is much, much better than the one they ended the year with last season and if their young infield can keep maturing, they should keep improving. Beane also mentioned they haven't ruled out talks with 3rd basemen Adrian Beltre, and the fact they steered clear of Iwakuma could indicate they may have other plans for that money. Whether that's Adrian Beltre or not remains to be seen, but I'd say no on Beltre, especially at Scott Boras' prices, though adding him to this A's team makes them the AL West favorites in my mind.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Smith Beats Seahawks/A's Land Matsui

Two big things have happened to Bay Area sports teams over the last 3 days. One is that the 49ers kept their dim playoff hopes alive by smoking the Seahawks behind a great outing from Alex Smith. Then the A's announced Tuesday that they will be bringing in Hideki Matsui to DH for them in 2011, the biggest name Athletic' since Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada and Dan Haren.

Alex Smith Dominates: First off, we'll start with the Niners, and for the first time in a long while, there are a lot of positives to talk about. Alex Smith looked like a number 1 pick, going 17-27 for 255 yards and 3 scores, coupled with 0 turnovers. He had by far his best game of the 2010 season and like he normally does once every blue moon, he showed #1 pick potential. Problem is, he is a guy who's never had the ability to do that week to week. He finished last year off strong, but nothing was on the line, and I think we're in fore the same situation this time around. The Niners can still technically sneak into the playoffs, but there is no pressure on them anymore, and Smith can relax and just play. It seems like when he does that, and when coaches aren't all in his face and every body's pulling him in different directions, he ends up playing well. Keep in mind that the Niners running game was virtually non-existent, and their top pick from '09, WR Michael Crabtree, was a non-factor, so a 40-21 win gets even more magnified. The Seahawks aren't a defensive powerhouse, but they're no slouches, and the fact that Smith picked them apart has to be attributed to the way he played. However, even if Smith finishes the year off perfectly and the 49ers are stuck in the same position they were last February on whether to keep him or axe him, there is no possible way Alex Smith can be wearing a 49er uniform beyond this season.

A's Ink Hideki Matsui: Onto Matsui, who, believe it or not, was a great bargain for Billy Beane and the A's, if you ask me. The A's are a young team without much direction offensively, and although Matsui's language barrier will keep him from being a real vocal leader in the clubhouse, the guy has won all his life and should rub off well on these young A's hitters. The 36 year-old still managed to hit 28 homers and drive in 84 runs hitting .274 while DH'ing for the Angels in his first season away from New York (an off year by his standards). The A's lack power, and lack left-handed hitting in general, and Matsui immediately takes care of those two holes, plus he's coming in at a bargain at $4.75 million. Matsui joins David DeJesus as the two new lefties who should help turn the A's horrific offense around. He's penciled in to DH right now, but can also fill in for Conor Jackson in left field when needed too. As long as he's healthy, he's going to be the A's biggest threat at the plate, and I think right now, he'd be their option to cleanup, sandwiched between Kurt Suzuki and Kevin Kouzmanoff. They still have a ways to go in terms of adding run production to their lineup, but as far as defense and young starting pitching, the A's are on the right path.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Alex Smith Back In At QB for 49ers

After Troy Smith's most recent hideous performance vs. the Packers, Mike Singletarry and co. have decided to go back to Alex Smith, and it will probably be his job for the rest of the season.

Even at 4-8, the 49ers playoff hopes are still alive, and if they can pull of the win this weekend vs. the Seahawks, then they'll again be just 1 game out of first heading into the final 3 weeks of the season. They feel Alex Smith gives them the best shot at winning these next few games, and I don't blame them after the last few outings that Troy Smith had. Troy once again failed to complete 50% of his passes, going 10-25 for 198 yards with 1 TD and 1 Int. So, after his 3rd consecutive loss, the 49ers are going back to Alex, their #1 pick from the '05 draft, and the arm they pinned their hopeful 2010 season on, and if the Niners want to make their first playoff appearance since 2003, they'll need Alex to be nearly perfect over these next 4 weeks. Even more so now that Frank Gore is gone. And without Gore, and with Smith back at the helm, I think the 49ers need to open things up and run a spread-type offense. Remember when Smith had that hot streak in 2009? It was because the 49ers opened up the playbook and allowed him to throw 35+ times per week. The only problem with that game plan, is that it steered away from Frank Gore, the 49ers most valuable asset on offense. Well, now without Gore, they don't need to worry about that, as Brian Westbrook is one of the best pass-catching running backs of this generation, and could be huge in the passing game.

Either way, the 49ers are in a must-win situation Sunday, and need to pull out all the stops if they indeed have any hope of making a late season playoff run. But still, even if they did manage to sneak in and win this horrendous division, do you really see an offense led by Alex Smith and the aging Brian Westbrook doing anything miraculous in January? I hate to be a skeptic, but I don't. I'm more focused on the 49ers potential draft position than them making a playoff run to end this season and if the season did end today, the 49ers would find themselves with the 7th pick in the draft. Again though, there's still a month left, but at this point, again, I think it would be better for the Niners to lose out than to win out. If they win-out, they may sneak into the playoffs, only to be destroyed in the first round. Then come April, they'd pick around 20 rather than in the top-10. If they lose-out, they could find themselves in position to be in the top-5, and if they can get in the top-5, they should be able to figure out a way to get their QB. I never root for my teams to lose, but at this point, it would probably work out best for the 49ers in the long run.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Padres Trade Gonzalez, Jeter Back With NY

Well, it was a big day on the baseball hot-stove front Saturday, as Adrian Gonzalez was finally dealt to Boston, Jeter returned to New York, De La Rosa to Colorado and Lance Berkman found a new home with the Cardinals. And we haven't even gotten to the winter meetings yet.

I wonder if there is going to be anything left for anyone at the meetings with the flurry of action that's gone on over the last few days. The big news being the Adrian Gonzalez trade to the Red Sox, which finally went through. This was talked about all offseason, so I'm not surprised the Padres dealt Gonzalez, just a little surprised they didn't demand at least one young major league proven player in return. They just gave away their franchise player for 3 guys who "could be" something a few years down the line, and I don't think that's good enough. With Gonzalez, you'd think they could have at least pried Jacoby Ellsbury or Dustin Pedroia away from Boston, as well as two of those top-5 prospects. I don't know, maybe San Diego just got a few cornerstones for the next decade, and being a Giants fan, I don't have any problem with seeing Gonzalez leave the division, just saying from a pure baseball standpoint, I think Boston won this deal, flat-out... And in the aftermath of trading Gonzalez, the Padres now appear set on doing a full dismantle, and plan on moving closer Heath Bell before opening day as well.

As far as the other moves from the day, not really surprised by any of them, though the one that did stick out a bit was Berkman getting $8 million for 2011 from the Cardinals. Berkman and Pat Burrell are very similar players at this point, and Burrell is actually coming off the better season. If the Cards gave Berkman $8 Mill, I wonder what they would have gave Burrell to come there and play a corner outfield spot? Oh yeah, and the Giants get Burrell for 1 million plus incentives in 2011. So you be the judge, what's the better value? Other than that, the money seemed right on point with what I expected for Jorge De La Rosa, who got 2 years and 22 Million from the Rockies to return to Colorado, and it was a good move for both parties. The Rockies know De La Rosa can pitch in Denver, and as long as De La Rosa pitches the way he has the last 2 seasons, he'll make this a 3 year-$35 M deal, which should keep him plenty motivated... Jeter's deal with the Yankees is supposedly a 3 year/$51M deal, which is about 10 million lower than he was looking to get, but in the end, he got his 3rd year, and at $17 M/year over the next 3, money shouldn't be an issue for Derek Jeter. I don't think anyone ever really genuinely believed Jeter's exploration of the free agent market, like Bonds with the Giants, he was destined to return to New York, and probably will be until the end of his career.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

MLB Hot-Stove Heating Up

In addition to the Stanford post today, I Also wanted to talk a bit on the MLB offseason, as moves have started to happen rapidly and the GM meetings are just 1 short week away.

The Bay Area teams have both been active, as we've mentioned the A's moves grabbing third basemen Edwin Encarnacion for nothing off of waivers from Toronto, then trading for LF David DeJesus. The Giants have been just as busy, re-signing 1B/OF Aubrey Huff, then in the wake of losing SS/3B Juan Uribe to the Dodgers, they went out and signed former A's shortstop Miguel Tejada. That all happened in November, so I can only imaging what's in store for December and January. The A's are now apparently focused on Lance Berkman to be a possible DH for them in 2011... Elsewhere, the other big signing thus far has been Victor Martinez to Detroit at 4 Yr/$50M, which I don't think is too bad a deal for Detroit in this market. Some think Martinez's skills are eroding behind the plate, but he can be moved to 1B or DH, as he's a .300 hitter with 25/100 potential when healthy, and he's finally supposed to be healthy.

The biggest steal of the offseason so far has to go to the Florida Marlins, who got themselves a potential legit #2 starter in Javier Vazquez at 1 year for $7 million. I was kinda looking at Vazquez as a back-up plan for the Giants if they decided to deal Jonathan Sanchez this winter, and at that price, he would have been worth it. In the NL, that dude is nails with stats similar to Matt Cain's, with even more strikeouts (look what he did for Atlanta in 2009). At worst, Florida can cash him in at the trade deadline to some contender for a legit prospect. Win-Win move for the Marlins...Though this market is very thin, there are still some marquee guys out there looking for homes. Cliff Lee, Adam Dunn, Carl Crawford, Derek Jeter, Jayson Werth and Adrian Beltre are all still available, and none appear to close to getting anything done. As far as the top guys, my guess is Jeter obviously winds up back with the Yanks, Crawford with some big market team like the Angels, Red Sox, Yankees or Mets and I think this is the year Adam Dunn makes the switch to the AL (Maybe Boston or Chicago), a league which really suits his style to a T (though I wouldn't mind him playing the role of Pat Burrell for the Giants for the next 2 years, but not 4).... Much, much more Hot-Stove talk to come, as we'll probably make this a weekly occurrence here at the BASJ. And obviously, for day-to-day Giants stuff, check out The Giants Baseball Blog.

Stanford Still Waiting

We're officially in December now, and the 11-1 Stanford Cardinal football team is still unclear on what Bowl game they'll be playing in later this month, or possibly even in early January.

There is a slight chance they end up in the National Championship game, which this year is the Rose Bowl, but are more likely destined for either the Fiesta or Orange Bowl. They had a great year, and we didn't get a chance to talk about them as much as I wanted to here during the season, but I just wanted to point out what a great thing they have going at the quarterback position in sophomore Andrew Luck. I mentioned Luck a few posts back when discussing the 49ers possible draft position, and if they do end up with a top-3 pick, they should definitely use it on the 6'4", 21 year-old (who appears headed for the Draft). During the regular season, Luck ended up with a QB rating of 115.4, with a 70% pass completion percentage going 245 of 349, and threw 28 TD's compared to just 7 interceptions. He played in all 12 of the Cardinal's games and was instrumental in all their victories. Some were concerned with the way he sort of tailed off a bit in November, but he ended huge Saturday with a 305 yard, 4 TD performance in the win over Oregon State. Outside of the Heisman hopeful Luck, the Cardinal were led by Sophomore RB Stepfan Taylor (210 carries, 1,023 yards, 15 rush TD's) and senior WR Doug Baldwin (56/824/9), who was Luck's favorite target by far.

The Cal Bears weren't as lucky this year, as they battled injury in in-effectiveness both to a diassapointing 5-7 years. They had some expectations this year with senior Kevin Reilly leading the charge and Justin Forsett 2.0 in Shane Vereen, but things never materialized, kind of like Reilly's whole career at QB with the Bears. All I can say is, finally he's gone! He was like Cal's version of Alex Smith and the Niners, just never worked out after so much expectation.