Saturday, February 27, 2010

49ers Should Pursue Peppers

The Carolina Panthers recently released all-pro, pass-rushing defensive end, Julius Peppers and the 49ers should absolutely have interest. In fact, they should have so much interest that they should be able to recruit him to San Francisco.

There aren't many pass rushers in the league that have had the success that Peppers has had since he came into the league in 2002. He's averaged 10 sacks per year over that span, but if you take away one surprising off-year in which he only collected 2.5 sacks, he averaged 12 over the other 7 seasons. That's an element in which the 49ers have been consistently below league average ever since their success in the late 90's with Chris Doleman and Roy Barker. I'm getting visions of a Justin Smith/Julius Peppers tandem at D-end and that would be something special. Another huge positive, aside from the rock solid production Peppers would bring, is that he's a free agent and wouldn't cost the 49ers any draft picks to obtain. Now, Peppers is going to be one of the most sought after defensive free agents on the market this year, so by no means is it going to be easy for the 49ers to get him. I would like to see them take the same approach with him that they did Nate Clements a few years back in order to lock him up. The Niners haven't really been big players in free agency in recent years, and with the way the team is developing, this is going to be a very crucial offseason.

With Kurt Warner recently retiring, the NFC west is wide open. If the 49ers can add a few pieces that come in and help the team immediately (left tackle, pass rushing D-end, speed receiver/returner and maybe a DB) then they can easily put themselves in position to win their division, and it's not like they need to add a bunch of pieces either. A guy who I'd potentially like to see them add in order to fill their need for a kick returner and a guy to spread the field on offense is Joshua Cribbs. He scored on 4 kickoff/punt returns last season and wants to get more involved on the offensive side of the ball rather than just returning kicks. The Niners have some nice receiving options for Alex Smith, but they could use a guy who can burn, and beat a defensive back deep. Michal Crabtree is quick and can go deep, but he's not the fastest receiver out there and neither is Josh Morgan. Vernon Davis is actually the fastest guy on offense right now, and he's their tight-end. There are a few restricted Free agents who I'd love to see the Niners grab. Brandon Marshall likely isn't going anywhere, but imagine an offense with Crabtree, Davis, Marshall and Gore, I think Alex Smith would only have to be average to throw for 25 touchdowns. A little less of a long shot, but still a restricted free agent, is Malcom Floyd. He's lanky and fast and really broke out last season.

Stay tuned as we get into March, we'll start our NFL draft coverage, mock drafts and more. It should be an exciting draft for Bay Area football fans as the Niners have two first rounders (13 & 17) and the Raiders hold a pick in the top-10 (8). Off the top of my head, Dez Bryant would be a nice pick for one of the Niner's choices and for the Raiders pick, linebacker Rolando McClain is an all-around, special talent at middle linebacker and could anchor the middle of their defense! However, the combine showings have begun and things could definitely change in the next 6 weeks.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A's Spring Training Workouts Begin

The Oakland A's spring workouts have begun, and for the first time in a couple of years, the team has some expectations coming into the season.

Among the headlines to come out of A's camp so far is the positive feedback they've gotten regarding their new staff ace's health. Ben Sheets reported to camp last week and deemed himself 100% healthy and ready to start pitching again for the first time since September 2008. The A's have penciled him in to start their Cactus League opener vs. the Cubs a week from Thursday and they aren't planning on keeping him on a leash this spring. They aren't quite as optimistic regarding fellow right-handed starter Justin Ducsherer, who reported no ill-effects while throwing a 20-pitch bullpen session last week, but experienced some pain in his lower back afterwords. With the addition of Sheets and the development of their young arms like Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden, the starting rotation is supposed to be the A's strength, and Duchsherer is a very key component to the starting staff. The 32 year-old right-hander thrived in 2008, his first year as a starting pitcher, sporting a 2.54 era and a 10-8 record throughout 22 starts. If he would have gotten to make his other 10-12 starts, he very well could have been mentioned in the Cy Young award mix, as his numbers were really that good. Then he missed all of 2009, and hasn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues since early August 2008. The A's should be cautious with Duchsherer, and ease him along, and although they appear confident with Sheets, they should do the same with him at least in the spring. Those two are just too important for the A's to risk having them go down by overworking in the Spring.

Speaking of guys coming back from injury, the only A's player left over from their winning seasons earlier in the early 2000's, Eric Chavez, is trying to make a comeback after totaling 119 at-bats over the last 2 seasons. Chavez has brought a first basemen's mitt to Phoenix this year as the A's try and find a position for him that will keep him on the field. Chavez's shoulder strength is an issue and the A's figure first base should alleviate that concern, plus he's familiar with playing a corner infield spot and does posses the skill-set to make a smooth transition across the diamond. Him getting reps at first could jeopardize Daric Barton's playing time a bit, but I think a little competition should be good for the 24 year-old first basemen. Barton has failed to reel in the full-time first base gig after the A's have basically handed him the job the last two seasons, so now they're going to mix Chavy, and maybe even a little bit of Jake Fox in at first to possibly spark Barton a bit. Getting Chavez healthy just improves the A's all-around, and that should be a priority for them this spring. I doubt he ever gets back to his pre-2007 form, but I could see him still hitting around .300 with 15-20 homers if he can provide 400-450 at-bats.

Giants Spring Coverage
: Like the A's, Tim Lincecum, Pablo Sandoval and the Giants have started their official spring workouts as well. We will occasionally mention the Giants over here at the Bay Area Sports Journal, but most of our Giants coverage we save for our Giants Blog over @ The Giants Baseball Blog so be sure to check it out for Giants consistent Giants updates.

March Madness Coverage: Also, with the NCAA Basketball season approaching the Tournament, make sure you check us out for our March Madness Picks, predictions and full coverage here at the Bay Sports Journal. March will indeed be a busy month as we prepare for the upcoming Major League Baseball Season, April's NFL draft and the NCAA Tournament projections.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Deadline Passes, Amare Stays Put

So many people, myself included, felt Amare Stoudemire's time in Phoenix would expire Thursday, There were a couple of teams that had major interest (Heat and Cavs to begin with) that were trying to come up with a package that would meet the Suns' desire, but in the end, Stoudemire will be staying put in Phoenix, at least to finish off the 2009-'10 season.

As I said in our last post here, none of the packages that the Heat or Cavs could offer would have matched up with what the Suns wanted from the Warriors for Stoudemire this summer. They wanted at least Andris Biedrins and Stephen Curry and probably would have also requested either Anthony Randolph or Brandon Wright. The names that were atop the Cleveland/Miami offers were JJ Hickson and Michael Beasley. Don't get me wrong, Beasley and Hickson are both very nice, young talents that could turn out to be studs, but those guys don't come close to comparing with Amare Stoudemire, who is arguably the top power forward in the West when he's right. Instead, the Cavs settled for Antawn Jamison, who cost them Zydrunas Illgauskas and their 2010 first round pick. The addition of Jamison makes the Cavs stronger, and I do think they'll represent the East in the NBA Finals this year, but I still don't think they match-up with LA well enough to beat them in a 7-game series. The Heat wisely stood pat, and decided to hang onto Beasley, Mario Chalmers and all their draft choices and I think it was a good decision by them. Unless they could have gotten Stoudemire without having to part with too much, and I think Beasely, Chalmers and a draft choice would have been too much, I don't think they really could have competed with the Cavs in the Playoffs anyway.

There were some other pretty big names on the move though Thursday, with Tracy McGrady going to New York, Caron Butler and Josh Howard swapping teams, Kevin Martin to the Rockets and '10 dunk contest winner Nate Robinson heading to Boston. I'm a big fan of the trade deadline in all sports, especially the baseball and basketball deadlines as they seem to be the most active. Normally, a trade deadline has winners and losers. Now, all teams who made deals did so for there own reasons, but there were definitely some teams that made moves that really left there team without a direction or a core to build around (see Washington Wizards). Here are the teams that I think came out the best and the teams that could have done better, the 3 "winners" and the 3 teams that really could be kicking themselves if things don't go as planned for them this summer:


3. Cleveland Cavaliers: They didn't get Stoudemire, but I don't think there's any doubt that they improved themselves as a team. They clearly have made themselves the team to beat in the Eastern Conference and they should, barring injury or major upset, be in the Finals the talent they have now accumulated on that roster.

2. Dallas Mavericks: I like the additions of Butler and Brendan Heywood. They needed the size in Haywood now that Dampier is out for a while, and I think Butler's a much better fit, and really is the better player, than Howard was in Dallas. Butler can play the 2, and is a very strong defender, something they really need in Dallas. Overall, strong move for Mavs and it certainly better suits them to face LA now that they have Butler to guard Kobe.

1. Houston Rockets: The Rockets win with a few moves. First off, they cashed in on Tracy McGrady, and turned him into Jordan Hill, Jarrod Jeffries and the chance to swap first rounders with NY in 2011, and their 2012 first rounder. Hill was a top-10 pick from last July, and is still very raw, but he'll get plenty of time in Houston to prove himself, and I do think he's going to end up being a pretty good ballplayer. Oh yeah, they also added one of the top scoring 2 guards in the league in Kevin Martin. The addition of Martin helps the Rockets in so many ways, like allowing Trevor Ariza to move to his natural spot, small forward, and gives Houston a premiere outside shooter to team up with Yao Ming. I just really like Houston's depth and size, and they could be one of the top teams in the West with a healthy Yao Ming in 2010-11.


3. LA Clippers: The Clippers, just like the Kings and Wizards, just gave away a few valuable pieces to their roster. They sent Marcus Camby to Portland for Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw. That's giving up a premiere defensive big-man for two career, 20-minute-a-night bench/role players. Granted, Blake and Outlaw are solid NBA bench players when healthy, they are just role players. The deal left Clippers players even scratching their heads and questioning the move and that means they've got to be questioning management and the direction of the team in general. It goes further than just dealing away a player for 2, much lesser players. They also sent Al Thornton, a young, athletic forward with upside, though he had been struggling, to Washington to clear cap space in hopes of landing a big fish in free agency this summer.

2. New York Knicks: The Knicks did clear up cap space for this summer, but they have some much work to be done, and are so far away from being a contender, that I think they're going to have a tough time actually louring free agents to come there. And if they end up failing to add one or two of the top guys out there, than these moves will really look bad come next fall. T-Mac's contract expires at the end of the year, but I think they could have gotten someone who could help them out for a couple of years on the cheap by giving up a top pick like Jordan Hill. I guess the Knicks just didn't see Hill ever succeeding for them in NY, but I think he should have gotten more of a chance. You just don't give up a top-10 talent for 2 months of Tracy McGrady when your in rebuilding mode.

1. Washington Wizards: The Kings get strong consideration here as well, but at least they are left with some sort of direction. The Wizards just got rid of everyone for the bare minimum in return compared to what they gave up. I understand they want to rebuild, but they shouldn't have just completely overhauled their roster, especially without bringing back a piece that they could build around. This year, they've already lost Gilbert Arenas, now they just lost 3/4 of their starting 5 from the beginning of the year, giving away Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. They should have kept Caron Butler. Instead, the top player on their roster is now probably Al Thornton and that's just sad. As the dust settles after the flurry of deals, I think the Wizards are now the worst team in the NBA, at least on paper, running our a starting five of PG Randy Foye, SG Mike Miller, SF Josh Howard, PF Al Thornton, C Andray Blatche. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention, their team president doesn't forsee them getting involved in the bidding for Dwayne Wade, Lebron James, Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson... What a positive situation.

Monday, February 15, 2010

NBA Trade Deadline Approaching

This weekend marked the NBA's 59th All-Star game, and with the second half tipping off tonight and trade deadline just a couple days away, we could be seeing some big names on the move.

On Tuesday, the first of what should be a flurry of moves took place, as the Clippers sent Marcus Camby to the Blazers in exchange for Travis Outlaw, Steve Blake and $3 million. The move gives the Blazers some inside help after losing Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla for the season. The Blazers are having a good season and are on pace for a playoff birth, but they've been starting Juwon Howard at center over the last few weeks and definitely needed to add some depth to their front court. Camby brings a tremendous defensive presence and a guy who can rebound on both ends of the floor. The 6'11" center's shot blocking and ppg numbers are down, but the Blazers don't necessarily need him to score 15-20 points per night. I think they added him with the thought that they'll need a guy to compete with the Andrew Bynum's, Tim Duncan's and Amare Stoudemire's when they get into the playoffs. Overall, I'd have to say good move for the Blazers as they get their big man without having to really part with too much, and the Clips achieved their goal in freeing up some cash.

Now, with the deadline just two days away (Thursday) all eyes are on Amare Stoudemire and the Cleveland Cavs. I'm not exactly sure why the Suns are so determined to deal Stoudemire? Over the summer, they had talks with the Warriors about possibly sending him to Golden State and it seems like they've been shopping him ever since. If the Cavs do indeed land one of the games premiere big men to pair up with LeBron James, things could scary for the rest of the Eastern Conference. Remember Kobe and Shaq in the early 2000's? That's the type of dynamic that duo would provide Cleveland, and that would really put them over the top in the East and give them a chance to compete with the Western Conference's top teams. Supposedly, the two guys who have been targeted by Phoenix in the deal are Zydrunas Ilgauskas and J.J. Hickerson, a big drop-off from the package of Andris Biedrins and Stephen Curry that they wanted from the Warriors last summer. The other squad rumored to be in the mix for Amare are the Miami Heat. Now, it adding him to Miami wouldn't quite impact the Heat as much as it would the Cavs, but if they could add Amare with Dwayne Wade, that could make the Heat the team to beat in the East. Amare is the key chip to this years trade deadline, and whoever ends up with him will drastically impact their chances at making the NBA Finals.

The consolation prize to Stoudemire appears to be Antwan Jamison. If the Suns decide to hang onto Amare, or for teams that have interest in him but can't get him, Jamison becomes the best big man on the market. Other names that could be on the move in the next few days are Tracy McGrady (possibly heading to New York) and possibly the Warriors' Corey Maggette (Cavs have interest in him).

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Football Done, NCAA Tourney Approaching

With the Super Bowl Champions crowned, and with the ticker tape parade already completed in New Orleans, it's not time to turn focus to the Diamond and the Court.

First off, I must say, I feel superstitiously responsible for the Super Bowl outcome. The last 4 or 5 championship games/series predictions I've made have been off. I thought the Colts would have been professional enough and prepared enough to handle the Saints, but the Colts didn't look like they were as prepared as the Saints and certainly didn't play with the urgency New Orleans did. I don't want to write too much about a game that's already been dissected in-and-out (sorry, no Hank Basket comments) throughout the week. I just wanted say my piece on it. I blame the Colts lack of aggression on their coach and I blame their lack of run game on their offensive line. The reason I give the portion of the blame to coach Caldwell is because of the way he allowed the Indy offense to run in the 2nd half. He's got the all-world QB in Peyton Manning, and wasn't allowing him to do what he does best. He kind of put Peyton on a leash in the second half. Not to take anything away from the Saints, but if Manning came out throwing like he normally does in the 2nd half, and that if that one special teams play would have transpired as it should have, the Colts would have won. Still though, hat's off to coach Peyton and Drew Brees for truly going above and beyond to bring their city home a title! They outplayed, out-coached and out-exicuted Indy and deserved to win.

With the Super Bowl now behind us though, it's time we can turn the focus to the upcoming NCAA Tournament and really start to get into some baseball talk. On the NCAA hoops front, the Cal Bears have been rolling of late and are atop the Pac 10. and have a big time match-up coming up Thursday night with the Huskies who happen to be right on their heels for the Pac's top spot. Cal has been led by their two top seniors, guards Jerome Randle (19.1 ppg, 4.7 apg) and Patrick Christopher (16.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg) who are 4th and 7th respectively in Pac 10 scoring. Those two have the talent to carry the Bears deep into the March tourney, but like I said when I was previewing the Cal/Stanford season, Cal needs to get contributions from their front-court. 7'3" center Max Zhang has continued to disappoint, and Cal's top rebounder, Jamal Boykin, is bringing down just 6.2 boards per night. Cal will have to contain Washington's all-around stud, Quincy Pondexter who's averaged over 25 points and 10 boards over his last 8 games.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Super Bowl XLIV Preview and Prediction

Offense, offense, offense. If you like offense, your going to be in for a treat Sunday. Super Bowl XLIV is setting up to be one of the highest-scoring "Big Game" in recent years, with the teams top two offenses from their respective league, the Saints for the NFC and the Colts for the AFC, will square off in Miami to battle for the NFL's ultimate prize.

The Saints are really the feel good story of the NFL, as they've come back tremendously strong after the disaster of Hurricane Katrina and have rallied that state behind them, but that's not why they're in the Super Bowl. They're there because they have the best quarterback in the NFC leading their charge and a surplus of speedy weapons like Reggie Bush, Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Rob Meachem and Jeremy Shockey surrounding him on offense. They're defense has also come a long, long way from just a few years back, as they are led by Pro-Bowl Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Safety Darren Sharper, D-end Will Smith and CB Jabari Greer. Where as the Colts have been a powerhouse for much of the 2000's, and have continuously trotted out one of the leagues elite offenses' since drafting Peyton Manning in 1998. Providing Manning with options on Sunday will be All-Pro wideout Reggie Wayne, youngster Pierre Garcon and pro-bowl tight-end Dallas Clark.

I think the big key to this game will be the Indy defense and their health. The one guy who really makes the Indy defense go is their all-world pass-rushing defensive end Dwight Freeney, who's battling a bum ankle and will likely be limited in his playing time and his effectiveness on Sunday. He's a guy who makes the Colts defense so tough to pass on and if he's not able to go, or isn't himself in the game, it could really open up the Saints passing game. Then again, if the Colts can just get him on the field, it will force the Saints offensive line to adjust accordingly and he'd still probably require a double-team, thus opening up options for the Colts pass-rush. I'm expecting both teams to put up big offensive numbers anyway, so the key to the game will be turnovers, and the only really way to get Brees and Manning to each turn the ball over is to put pressure on them. The Colts do have the edge defensively, the Saints are coming off a five-turnover performance vs. Brett Favre and the Vikings. The key pass-rushing specialist on the Saints end is Will Smith, who isn't quite up to Freeney's level, but is coming off a career-high 13-sack season with 3 forced fumbles and he's going to have to lead the charge and get into the Indy backfield all afternoon.

Offensively, the wild-card for New Orleans will be Reggie Bush. Because of the Colts high-octane pass-rush, the Saints are going to have to keep them at bey by using screens and running draws and what not, and the guy who will be in the center of those type of plays will be Reggie Bush. The Colts bring a defense very similar to the Arizona Cardinal's (speedy defense with strong pass-rush and solid defensive backfield, but can get ran on) and Bush came up large in that game. Bush is also crucial in the return game and will be key in what kind of field position the New Orleans Saints will have. Pierre Thomas is going to be key as well as the Colts can be run on and their weakness is in between the tackles which is Thomas' area of work. If Thomas and Bush can keep the Colts pass-rush honest, then they'll likely score enough points to keep up with the high powered Colts attack. The Saints cannot be one-dimensional and stick with the pass only, they have to run the football.

For the Colts, they'll just need to stick to what they do best and that's let Peyton Manning exploit match-ups against Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Reggie Wayne. Or in other words, let Manning go to work and not hold him back whatsoever. One of the things that Manning is so terrific is taking advantage of miss-matches, and there is one seemingly on every pass play for the Colts. Indy, though, like the Saints, cannot become one dimensional with the pass, they need to get Joseph Addai involved early and often to keep the pressure off Manning. If the Colts play their game, I really think it will be theirs to lose. It's going to be a close one, there's no doubt in my mind on that part, but the Colts have been there before and Peyton Manning really is built for games like this. No knock on Brees, but the Saints aren't exactly on their hottest streak. They lost their last 3 games in the regular season and needed to force 5 turnovers to barely edge out the Vikings by 3 points in the NFC Championship. The Colts would have went undefeated had they played their first unit throughout the last 2 games, and they really haven't had a slip-up all season long.

My predictions is that Peyton Manning will be Peyton Manning and throw 3 TD passes and 350 yards through the air. Brees will do his best to match him, and I actually bet he'll throw for more yards (380+) than Manning, but not as many scores(2), but it won't be enough as the Colts pull it out, 31-27. Game MVP goes to Peyton Manning, but my darkhourse pick will be Dallas Clark.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A's Continue to Stay Busy

Continuing with what has been the most active A's offseason in recent years, the A's made a few more additions to their squad over the weekend, signing outfielder Gabe Gross and reliever Michael Wuertz and trading for infielder Adam Rosales and Willy Taveras.

The A's quickly designated Taveras for assignment though, as they now sort of have a logjam in their outfield. That's what makes the signing of Gross a little puzzling, but apparently the A's have him penciled in as their 4th outfielder. Adam Rosales should figure heavily into the utility-player mix once spring starts as he could be the favorite for that role. I'm a little surprised by the Taveras DFA though. He did struggle last year, but is just 2 seasons removed from a .320 avg, 33 stolen base season with Cincinnati, and could give the A's another speedy option off the bench. The A's are pretty stocked with light-hitting outfielders though and I guess they didn't see a spot for Taveras, but you'd think they could have probably gotten something for him. The Giants are a team that could certianly use an experienced leadoff man with speed like Taveras', and they may be in line to offer him a spring training invite. The A's do have Rajai Davis and Coco Crisp already on their center field depth chart, so it doesn't look like there were going to be a ton of at-bats for Taveras if he had stayed on the roster though anyway. Gross though, will bring an element that none of the other Oakland outfielders posses (unless Jake Fox start in right field rather than first base) in that he's got some pop. The left-handed right-fielder has hit 19 homers in 590 at-bats over the last 2 seasons, and as most Billy Beane acquisitions, he's a guy that will take a walk and can make a pitcher work. All Adam Rosales cost the A's was Aaron Miles, in what could end up being another steal by Beane. Rosales is a 26 year-old player with upside, albeit marginal upside, and the A's just had to part with 33 year-old Aaron Miles, who will struggle to stay on a major league roster.

The A's also agreed to re-sign reliever Micheal Wuertz to a 2-year, $5.5 million deal. Wuertz threw very well for Oakland last year after coming over from the Cubs, carrying an era of 2.63, a WHIP of 0.95 and a 4:1-K:BB ratio in route to striking out 102 batters in just 78 innings of work. Outside of Andrew Bailey, he was Oakland's most consistent reliever. Very rarely do we see Billy Beane shell out multi-year deals to veteran mid-relievers, but Wuertz has a solid track record and I think this is going to end up being another good move for Oakland. Depending on how Joey Devine's health is coming into spring, Wuertz could end up as the A's primary set-up man for Bailey, but if Devine is ready to go in Spring, he'll probably get that spot. The A's bully looks like it's pretty much finished as they will likely carry these 7: RHP Andrew Bailey, RHP Michael Wuertz, RHP Brad Zieglar, RHP Joey Devine, LHP Josh Outman, LHP Gio Gonzalez (long reliever), LHP Brad Kilby.

Super Bowl Preview: With the A's staying so busy recently, we haven't had a chance to get into the NFL playoffs much yet, but in our next post, we'll break down this Sunday's Super Bowl match-up between the high-powered offenses, New Orleans and Indianapolis, so stay tuned for that, it should be up Wednesday or Thursday!!!