Monday, November 28, 2011

Lockout Unlocks: NBA Back in Business

Well, they've already missed about a month of regular season action do to on-going discussions regarding the new CBA, but things finally took a turn for the best over the weekend. As soon as the new deal is ratified, which should happen any day now, the National Basketball Association will be back in business.

Now, don't expect to see free agents signing anywhere once the CBA has been ratified, as free agency wont start until December 9th. However, do expect teams and players to start discussions immediately, and deals to be unofficially announced even before that date. Speaking of free agency, this class isn't necessarily stocked with premium talent and has nowhere near the star power it did in summer 2010, but there are still a few nice players on this market that could come in and help a team like the Warriors. I've been thinking that the W's best chance to upgrade their roster would be via trade, but the one spot where the Warriors are weak happens to be the most stocked position on the free agent market, center. Andris Biedrins is currently the starter and is making over $10M this season, but has really had a rough couple of seasons since Barron Davis left the Bay Area. I'm not sure the Warriors are confident in starting the season with the thought of giving Biedrins huge minutes at center. They could deal him, or cut his work load way back, but it shouldn't keep them for exploring ways to improve themselves. The two guys I'd like to see them at least inquire about are Nene Hilario and Mark Gasol. Nene would bring the type of defense that Biedrins has failed at while Gasol would bring consistency, athleticism and scoring to the front-court. Nene is unrestricted, so would be an easier target, yet he's the consensus #1 free agent out there, so he could be tough to snag.

Now, as far as the details in the new Labor Agreement, I'm not going to go through each thing and ramble about it here, although here is a list of the changes to the new agreement. The only thing that jumped out at me when glancing over the new agreement is that the league will still be able to squeeze a 66-game schedule out of this by having teams play on back-to-back-to-back nights on numerous occasions throughout the season. Tip for Warriors head coach Mark Jackson, get your team in shape and keep youngsters for that bench because those 3 consecutive game nights will drain a team. Luckily for the Warriors, their average age in their starting lineup is 25, so it could be an advantage for them especially if Jackson has them running offensively. We don't know yet exactly when the tip-off for the regular season will be, as the new CBA has yet to be ratified, but NBA officials have stated they're shooting to be open before Christmas, which is their biggest non-playoff night of the year as far as television ratings. David Stern is way too greedy to let that cash cow slip by him, so I fully expect the NBA to be in regular season mode by the end of December. The real question is, how long is it going to take teams to start playing their brand of basketball after such a long layoff and virtually no training camp? Time will tell, but it's certainly great to have the NBA back... Fantasy Draft Time!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Predicting MLB's Top Free Agent's Destination

The MLB free agency period is starting to heat up as we inch closer to December, but none of the premiere free agents have found homes yet. Here is our prediction as to where the top-12 free agents on the market end up:

1. Albert Pujols, 1B- The best free agent to hit the market in years will easily be the winters most sought after prize, but after winning it all with St. Louis, I have a tough time seeing them let him walk. Re-signs with Cardinals, 8 year/$224 Million.

2. Prince Fielder, 1B- A great consolation prize in the Pujols sweepstakes probably won't sign until Albert is off the market. Milwaukee wants him back, but I see a bigger market getting involved and Prince following the money. Signs with Cubs, 7 year/$160 Million.

3. Jose Reyes, SS- An injury plauged 2011 really hampered what was going to be a great season. Even though he barely cracked 100 games, he still put up huge numbers, is only 28 and plays a premium position and he'll get paid accordingly. Signs with Marlins, 7 year/$115 Million.

4. C.J. Wilson, SP- He's been the Rangers' ace the last few seasons, but hasn't shown up when they've needed him in October. Still, he's been one of baseball's best lefties in recent years and is going to cash in. The Yankees or Angels appear the most logical fit with the most money to spend. Signs with Angels, 6 Year/$85 Million.

5. Yu Darvish, SP- The Japanese import will likely ink with some major league team this winter, and he comes over more hyped up than Daisuke Matsuzaka was back in '06. Reminds me a lot of Pedro Martinez with his had fastball, slider and off-the-table forkball (highlight video). Signs with Rangers, 4 Year/$55 Million.

6. Carlos Beltran, OF- The best outfielder on the market is coming off a very nice All-Star season, but still has some injury concerns as he hits his mid-30's. Still can rake though, and should easily get a 2-3 year deal with a team in need of hitting. Re-signs with Giants, 2 Year/$28.5 Million.

7. Jimmy Rollins, SS- Like the case with Fielder and Pujols, Rollins will probably fall to whoever comes up 2nd in the Jose Reyes sweepstakes. Rollins is older than Reyes and doesn't have the quality years that he 28 year-old has left, but should have no problem finding a 3-4 year deal. Re-signs with Phillies, 3 Year/$40 Million.

8. Roy Oswalt, SP- Flying a bit under the radar this winter, but still very effective into his mid-30's. Won't cash in like the younger left-handed Wilson, but on a 3 year contract, could be very efficient in this over-priced pitching market. Signs with Yankees, 3 Year/$39 Million.

9. Michael Cuddyer, OF/IF- I have him this high because of the kind of hitter he is and his ability to play multiple positions. He's probably the 2nd best outfield option on the market, and shouldn't break the bank to get signed. Signs with Boston, 3 Year/$33 Million.

10. Ryan Madson, RP- The market's clear-cut top closer with Jonathan Pappelbon now in Philly. Madson could very well be headed to Boston to now fill Pappelbon's old spot like Pappelbon did his. This market is stocked with closing options though. Signs with Boston, 4 Year/$42 Million.

11. Yoenis Cespedes, OF- The Cuban defector is getting a lot of hype heading into the winter. A lot of people see him as a younger, healthier option to Carlos Beltran. Still risky since he's never played in the Big Leagues, but he has tools very similar to a young Vlad Guerrero. Signs with Nationals, 4 Year/$52 Million.

12. Aramis Ramirez, 3B
- He's asking for big money, but his declining defense at third base makes him best suited for the AL. Still can rake though as long as he's healthy, and a sure bet for .285 avg, 25+ homers and 90+ RBI with a full season. Signs with White Sox, 4 Years/$44 Million.

Other Prominant Free Agent Predictions:
David Ortiz, DH
(2 Years/$25 Million w/Red Sox); Mark Buehrle, SP (3 Year/$40 Million w/Tigers);
Heath Bell, RP (3 Year/$36 Million w/Rays); Grady Sizemore, OF (1 Year/$9.5 Million w/Cubs); Carlos Pena, 1B (2 Year/$22 Million w/Brewers); Francisco Rodriguez, RP (3 Year/$28 Million w/Blue Jays)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gore Ready for Sunday, McFadden Out Again

Coming off his worst start as a pro in an injury shortened game vs. the Giants last weekend, Frank Gore is healing up surprisingly fast. The Raiders aren't so lucky, as their start back Darren McFadden will miss at least another game with his bum foot.

The pro-bowl back said he fully expects to be on the field Sunday for the 49ers match-up with the Arizona Cardinals. Even if that is the case though, I expect his workload to be a fraction of what it typically is, especially if the 49ers gain control of the game early like expected. Kendal Hunter has been outstanding as the change of pace back thus far and filled in admirably for Gore vs. the Giants. I still expect Gore to start as long as he's healthy, and get the majority of the carries, but if the 49ers are smart, they'll pace the 28 year-old and not give him more than 12-15 touches. The 49ers need to be taking advantage of their schedule right now and if it means resting a key player or two vs. the weaker teams in the league like Arizona, then I'm all for it. However, the 49ers need to be on their game and must take advantage of the light schedule if they are going to start resting their veterans a bit more. Staying on the injury front, it was very good to see Braylon Edwards back on the field after his brief absence. Michael Crabtree leaped into the forefront of the 49ers passing game in his absence, but he appeared to be on the same page as Alex Smith last Sunday like he never missed a beat. The 49ers didn't have him out there for every offensive snap though, as they're bringing him along a little slower than they have to. They need to use the same logic with Frank Gore.

Across the bay, the Raiders have their own backfield injury to deal with, as Run DMC has missed the last two games with a foot sprain, and will likely miss a 3rd consecutive game this weekend vs. Minnesota. Luckily for the Raiders though, they have Michael Bush backing him, and Bush has been a monster the last few weeks. I've always thought that Bush would be a great featured back because of his power and speed, and he's showed it November. So much so that the Raiders could find themselves shopping the former Rutgers star this offseason. I'm sure they'd like to hang onto Bush as McFadden's caddy, but I'm sure he'll want more carries after his showing over the last 2 seasons, and this could be the time for the Raiders to really cash in on him. I mentioned trading him before the deadline as part of the Carson Palmer deal, but his name was never brought up. Speaking of Palmer, in McFadden's absence, Carson has taken reigns of the offense and begun to get very comfortable. After his miserable start vs. KC before the bye, he's torched the Broncos and Chargers, throwing for 631 yards and 5 TD's in the last two weeks. He's also found his favorite target, taking a real liking to rookie Denarious Moore and putting the talented wideout right back on the pace he was at in the beginning of the year. With their passing game now catching up with their rushing attack, the Raiders have improved to 6-3 and look destined playoff football for the first time Since 2002.

Stanford Falls to #9: Unfortunately for the Stanford Cardinal, they couldn't keep up with the 49ers and Raiders winning ways last weekend. They fell to the speedy Oregon Ducks, who really laid it to Stanford like I haven't seen in a few years. They had control of the game from the get go and really gave Andrew Luck trouble all night long. I knew it was going to be a battle, but Oregon really made it look easy. We'll talk much more Stanford football as we gear up for Bowl season, but this loss eliminates any hope at a National Championship appearance for the Cardinal.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

49ers Hold Off Giants, Move to 8-1

In one of the biggest home games in years for the 49ers, they showed up to play and held off a tough New York Giants squad to move to 8-1. This was a huge win to disprove all the doubters who have given the 49ers schedule sole credit for their incredible first half.

What was probably the most impressive thing about this victory, is the 49ers offense was very productive without their hoss in the backfield. Frank Gore left the game early on after carrying the ball just 6 times for a grand total of 0 yards. Gore tweaked his knee in the first half, forcing him to the sidelines and leaving his streak of 100-yard rushing games dead at 5. Fortuanately for San Francisco though, Alex Smith, again had a big day Sunday, and Gores replacement stepped up big in his absence. Rookie back Kendal Hunter had just 6 carries on the day, but made them count, highlighted with a 17 yard scamper in the 4th quarter that ended up being the game deciding score. Eli Manning made it interesting with a quick TD pass to Hakeem Nicks, and drove done the field in the final minute getting to the 49ers 10 yard line, but failed on a 4th and short with 30 seconds left which sealed the game for the Niners. It really was a quarterback duel, and even though Alex Smith was outgained by Manning in the yards department, 311 to 242, he actually sported a higher QB rating than Manning as he turned the ball over just once. It was truly an eye opener for me to watch this team hold in the 4th quarter after seeing them blow so many of those leads in the last few seasons. That, to me, is a sign that tells me that this team is for real.

Talking about for real, how incredible was the defensive performance for the 49ers? They eliminated the Giants' rushing attack early and forced them into a one-dimensional offense. The pass rush was solid, and although Manning did throw for over 300 yards, he threw the ball 40 times to get there, and the 49ers took advantage of his throws that weren't on target. Carlos Rogers continues to prove the most valuable free agent that this team brought in over the summer, as he collected both picks Sunday to raise his total to 5 on the season. With 7 games still remaining, the former first round pick is on pace for 9 picks, which is one more than he had for his whole career coming into the season. Now I'm not saying he's going to get to the 9, but 7-8 is a very reachable goal and would certainly plan Rogers in the Pro Bowl. As we pointed out in our last post, Rogers won't be the only one on this defense representing the NFC in February. Patrick Willis and Novorro Bowman have become machines in the middle for this defense, as the two combined for 19 tackles while Willis recorded the only sack of Manning Sunday. Even though they only got credited with one sack this afternoon, the constant pressure on Eli was huge for this secondary and a big part of Rogers' two interceptions. On both sides of the ball, especially without Gore, I don't think even Jim Harbough could have drawn it up any better!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

49ers Climb to 7-1, The 2nd Best Record in NFL

The 49ers have officially hit their mid-way point in their 2011 season, and nobody could have drawn it up any better than how it's gone so far for this team.

You take away that late game comeback by Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys and this team is sitting right along with Green Bay as the only un-beatens in the league. Granted, they haven't had the hardest of schedules thus far, and their 2nd half schedule has just Baltimore and Pittsburgh as the only 2 winning teams, but they've played steady football, and these wins are certainly no fluke. We talked a lot in the last post about Alex Smith, and how he's become a completely new QB under Jim Harbough and put up another solid game Sunday vs. the Redskins. Smith threw for 200 yards with a score and led the 49ers to another easy victory. Alex also upped his season QB rating to 97.3, good for 6th in the NFL. Again, he hasn't put up ridiculous numbers by any stretch, but his 2 int's are the lowest total of any NFL QB who's thrown for 10 or more TD's. His lack of turnovers and ability to keep drives alive this year has been what's set him apart from the pre-2011 Alex Smith. He's on pace for a 20/4 touchdown/interception ratio for the season, and I see him just getting better and better. You can attribute a lot of his success, as well as the hole offense, to the much improved O-Line. The unit has really gelled together and is starting to play up to their potential, loaded with high-round draft picks. They've also helped pave the way for a determined Frank Gore, who collected his 5th straight game over 100 yards rushing after a very slow start to the year.

The offense has been surprising this year, but the strength of this team still lies on the defensive side of the ball, and if they keep up with the way they've been playing, that defense will be sending numerous players to the pro-bowl in February. There are already 3 guys who I think are pretty much locks to be there, and those three are linebackers Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowman and cornerback Carlos Rogers. Their linebacking corps have become one of the better bunches in all of the NFL. Along with Bowman and Willis, they have rookie linebacker Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks who have 12 sacks between them so far and each appear to be getting better as the weeks go by. The only spot on defense where they still get exposed occasionally is in the secondary, but even that seems to be tightening up as the weeks go by. It's hard to fathom, judging where this team has been over the previous 10 years, but they could very well be looking at a 14-2 or 13-3 record for this season. A record that strong wouldn't just get them to the playoffs, it would like get them a first round bye too, something this team hasn't had since the days of Steve Young, Garrison Hearst and Terrell Owens. The difference between that team and this one though, is this team is much younger and appears to be just hitting it's stride. Good time to be a Niner fan.