Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why Not Wait Until The Regular Season To Evaluate Sheffield

It is a surprise the Tigers would release Gary Sheffield with a year and $14 million remaining on his contract.
He didn't have a good spring, but it would seem the wiser course of action would have been to see how Sheffield performed in the regular season before coming to a final decision. Then again, it tells you the Tigers' staff deemed Sheffield has lost his physical tools, that, in particular, his batspeed has waned. And to the Tigers' credit, they didn't keep Sheffield just to exploit his 500th home run.
It does better explain the Tigers' trade with Atlanta for outfielder Josh Anderson. Initially, the trade got a lot of kudos because Anderson runs well and put up decent stats in the major leagues last season. He is probably just a backup outfielder, though. Rudy Darrow is a better pitching prospect than he is being given credit. He is a long man or setup man, but he could have a long career in a role that is becoming increasingly important.
Marcus Thames can't play every day, but in a platoon he can effective. Anderson is one more option, especially if Jim Leyland decides to rest Carlos Guillen in the field once in awhile.
Sheffield will be signed by another team. There is nothing to lose. The Tigers will be on the hook for virtually all his salary.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Could This Be Larry Brown's Revenge?

Both the Pistons and Charlotte won Saturday night, so the Bobcats are just 2 1-2 games behind Detroit for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
There it is: Larry Brown’s chance to exact revenge from the Pistons.
Doubt Brown is thinking that way, but wouldn’t that be something if the Pistons don’t make the playoffs - and the Bobcats do?
Think back to the start of the season. That would have been deemed impossible at the time. Took Richard Hamilton not only coming back, but playing extremely well for the Pistons to beat the lowly Wizards Saturday. Charlotte has won four straight, so Brown’s team is playing well.
This will get interesting. I feel this way: If the Pistons manage to get into the seventh seed for the playoffs, and Orlando beats out Boston for No. 2, Detroit still has a realistic shot at winning its opening-round playoff series.

Random Thoughts

- I don’t know about the rest of the Tigers pitching staff, but I do believe they have the makings of a solid top of the starting rotation in Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Armando Galarraga.

- I’ve got news for first-year Lions head coach Jim Schwartz: Talent can’t be overemphasized. If he doesn’t much of it, he will not win with the Lions. Neither will any other coach.

- Count me among those who feel the Tigers should keep Ryan Perry to start the season. He throws in the mid-to-high 90s, and has pretty good command of the baseball. What else did the Tigers need to see this spring? I wouldn’t keep Rick Porcello to start the season, though. Unlike Perry, he has not seized the opportunity.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Kell Described Baseball With Absolute Perfection

I’ve often heard soccer referred to as "the beautiful game." To me, it is baseball.
There is a certain rhythm and pace to it that cannot be easily described.
Guess that is what made George Kell so special. With that Arkansas twang of his, he described baseball perfectly.
It was never meant to be a sport played at a frantic pace. It is played more at the pace George would tell it. With pauses. With goofy catch phrases he repeated over and over for years, in a manner that we loved because it was so warm and familiar to us.
My favorite, "He hit it like a bullet, Larry." I remember playing ball as a kid and somebody would hit a line drive. George’s voice saying just that would be the first thing in my mind.
He was also the only person I have ever known who constantly used the word, "lambasted." I would have no problem if they now removed the word from the dictionary in his honor.
When George would open a game with the simple words, "Thanks Al, and good afternoon everyone," it was as if the world was OK again.
That’s the way baseball is - the comfort of knowing, that as crazy as this world gets, the game is always there to soothe our souls.
I was one of the fortunate ones. I got to know George well. Everything you’re hearing about him is true. A terrific guy.
I don’t need to pop in a CD or DVD of an old Tigers’ broadcast to hear that voice. I will never forget it.
Doubt any of us will.

Random Thoughts

- How can Curt Schilling be considered such a strong Hall of Fame candidate when Jack Morris gets bypassed annually? Morris had more wins, dominated his era to a greater degree and turned in perhaps the most epic World Series performance of any pitcher. If anything, he was more clutch than Schilling. But it’s all about the bloody sock, isn’t it? Kind of reminds me of the Ozzie Smith and Alan Trammell situation. If only Tram had done back flips...

- The Pistons are only three games up on Charlotte to miss the playoffs. This team couldn’t miss the playoffs, could it? These last dozen games could get more interesting than we could have possibly imagined.

- Forget about the posturing about it being a quarterback competition in East Lansing. There is a little doubt among those close to the program that Keith Nichol will be Michigan State’s starting quarterback. The only way that could change is if he falls flat on his face in spring practice, but given the flashes he displayed during practice last fall, that is highly unlikely.


Monday, March 23, 2009

Lions Need To Draft A Safety; Robertson Needs Another Good Outing

The Lions would be wise to take a safety within the first three rounds of the draft. The best safeties available as far as I’m concerned are Louis Delmas from Western Michigan and Patrick Chung from Oregon. Delmas didn’t help his cause by reportedly scoring just a 12 out of 50 on the NFL’s Wonderlic test, which gauges aptitude. Also reportedly scoring a 12 was another potential Lions draft choice - linebacker Rey Maualuga from USC.
To me, that could be a good thing for the Lions - if either drops down in the draft as a result. Football smarts matter. Not sure you can rate that aspect of the game based on an intelligence test.

Random Thoughts

- If you look at the struggles of the Pistons, they aren’t just rooted in the Allen Iverson trade. I thought they had some young players - Amir Johnson, Jason Maxiell, Arron Afflalo - who would have more of an impact this season. What I don’t know is whether they aren’t that good or if Pistons coach Michael Curry just hasn’t done a good job of developing them.

- Don’t kid yourself. The Red Wings goaltending situation remains tenuous. Chris Osgood’s soaring confidence level hinges on not having any more stinker games before the playoffs begin.

- What a day to televise the Tigers game back to Detroit, eh? I don’t care if it was just an exhibition game, getting no-hit like that was embarrassing. Good thing is most of their hitters will be back in the lineup soon from the World Baseball Classic. The Tigers need another good outing from Nate Robertson to justify his apparent spot in the starting rotation. The way Justin Verlander threw Sunday was encouraging. Still don’t see how Jeremy Bonderman is going to be ready for the start of the season, though.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Good Outing Saturday Could Seal The Deal For Porcello

Of all the spring training stadiums in Florida, the one mimicking the atmosphere of a regular season game the most is Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. It’s huge, and is usually filled. There is also the aura of the Yankees there.
I don’t know if it is a perfect stage to find out exactly where Rick Porcello stands with the Tigers. There isn’t such a thing in spring training. The two most-overrated times to evaluate players are spring training and during September’s roster expansion. But it will provide the best environment possible under the circumstances.
Porcello is pitching for a spot on the major league team. If he weren’t, the Tigers would have already sent him back to the minor league camp. Nate Robertson, Dontrelle Willis and Zach Miner have not pitched well. There are many scouts, coaches and instructors in the organization that have already advised Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland that they believe Porcello is one of the top five starters in the organization - period - and belongs in the major leagues to start the season.
Everybody will know that when Porcello takes the mound Saturday - including Porcello himself - he is pitching for a major league job. It will be revealing how he handles the pressure. I’d really be surprised, if he pitches well, if the Tigers don’t keep him.

Random Thoughts

- I have Michigan State going all the way through the bracket and winning the national championship at Ford Field. My darkhorse is Washington, which I have reaching the Final Four and losing to MSU in the national semifinals. I have Michigan beating Clemson Thursday and being ousted from the tournament in the second round by Oklahoma.
And here’s a warning: I wouldn’t take any of my advice. My track record picking in the tournament is brutal.

- Chris Osgood has clearly played himself back into the picture as being the Red Wings No. 1 goalie in the playoffs. If he keeps playing the way he has the last three games, the job will be his. The key will be how Ty Conklin bounces back from blowing the lead in the Calgary game last week.


Monday, March 16, 2009

No Downside To Lions' Trade For Peterson

I don’t see a downside to the Lions trading defensive lineman Cory Redding to Seattle for linebacker Julian Peterson.
Redding was always willing with the Lions, but the last two seasons he wasn’t able to live up to the huge contract the Lions gave him after he surprisingly posted an 8-sack season in 2006. It didn’t matter when Shaun Rogers was still around and getting double-teammed. Redding still wasn’t productive - despite the Lions overall success the first half of the 2007 season.
Peterson started virtually all of Seattle’s games last year. He will be 31 next season, but still seems to have retained his physical tools. He is an extraordinarily-gifted player, who has often changed the course of games going back to when he took over Michigan State’s upset of No.1 Ohio State in 1998.
As importantly, he gives the Lions a premier defender. Peterson is not the type of player opposing offenses can afford to ignore. There is also a matter of confidence a player of Peterson’s stature brings to a defense.
He didn’t come cheap. His contract with the Seahawks, signed in 2006, was backloaded for the next few years. He is a $6.5 million player in 2009, but at least there is the possibility Peterson will provide production in conjunction to what the Lions are paying him. Redding wasn’t doing that, and it seemed unlikely he would in the future, either.
It was easily the best and biggest move the Lions have made this off season. Could a run at Jay Culter be next? Wouldn’t be surprised.

Random Thoughts

- Another rough outing by Zach Miner Monday only made the possibility of Rick Porcello beginning the season in the Tigers’ starting rotation all that more likely. Give the kid a shot. He can’t be any worse than Miner, Nate Robertson or Dontrelle Willis. And I’m not among those who feel like if Porcello doesn’t do well, it would damage his psyche beyond repair. I believe it would only help him understand what is necessary to pitch effectively in the major leagues.

- I know all about the RPI, but honestly, how can the Big Ten have seven representatives in the NCAA Tournament? Seems to me like the conference was relatively mediocre this season. Guess it says something about the overall strength of college basketball these days. Or is it parity rather than mediocrity? Hmmm.


Friday, March 13, 2009

The Way The Red Wings Are Playing Lately Does Matter

The Red Wings spotty play recently is a classic example why it is more difficult to stay on top than get there in the first place. I understand it’s an overused cliche and pardon me for using it, but the urgency just isn’t there for the Red Wings. The third period of Thursday night’s game vs. Calgary could not have made the point any clearer. The Red Wings might see the Flames in the playoffs. It would be naive to think the Flames’ comeback doesn’t give them a measure of confidence should that series occur. That’s especially true considering the Flames had lost their previous three games and were reeling.
It’s not a goaltending issue. It’s not a case of defensive strategy. It’s a lack of hunger. And while all criticism of the Red Wings is relative because of their lofty position, their play lately has been disappointing.

Random Thoughts

- The World Baseball Classic actually plays into the Tigers’ hands. Because of it, spring training is a week longer. That means extra time to get the pitching staff ready. The Tigers definitely need it.
I know Jim Leyland said he expects Jeremy Bonderman and Joel Zumaya, who will both throw in a simulated game Saturday, to be ready for the start of the season, but that still has to be viewed as a long shot. Even if they do start the season, there have to be questions about how long it will be until they get injured again.
The other factor is struggling left-handers Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis. They pitch Saturday as well, but in the exhibition game against the Mets. How much time do the Tigers need to evaluate them in spring training? The extra week can’t hurt in that regard - nor as they observe youngsters Rick Porcello and Ryan Perry.

- I’m a little bleary-eyed today, but can’t help it. Had to stay up late last night to see Syracuse’s six-overtime victory over Connecticut. One of the best games I’ve ever seen. Fascinating stuff.

- Mark McGwire, hitting instructor. Does that involve focus on technique or chemistry? Just wondering.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Have To Admit, I'm Drawn To The WBC

I have to admit, I'm torn about the World Baseball Classic.
My initial response to it is indifference. To me, it is Bud Selig's staged event. There is no good time to fit it in, particularly spring training. That makes it an invitation to injury. ESPN likes it because it is counter programing to conference postseason college basketball tournaments and the NCAA Tournament. Maybe that's why it plays the WBC up bigger than it should on SportsCenter.
Come on - was The Netherlands upset of the Dominican Republic really that big a deal? It's not like the Olympics, and teams that have been preparing for years for the event. They are basically all star teams from various nations put together in a haphazard way. Look at the all the stars who aren't playing in the WBC.
But I must concede that I find myself more and more drawn to the WBC. It's because I love baseball so much and can't resist. I'm almost embarrassed about it, but I am watching more and more.

Random Thoughts

- As long as Jay Cutler is disgruntled in Denver, the Lions should do everything possible to get him. But it will take a three-team trade in order to get it done because the Lions don't have a veteran QB replacement to offer in return. And yeah, I would trade the first overall pick for him. Or 20th overall.

- I don't care whether it is in the draft or free agency, but the Lions absolutely need to address the middle linebacker position.


Monday, March 09, 2009

Spartans' One-Seed Hopes Hinge On Big Ten's Reputation

Michigan State as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament will be predicated on two factors.
The Spartans, obviously, must win the Big Ten Tournament. It also depends on how much validity the selection committee gives the Big Ten.
The conference has been taking a beating annually in the Big Ten-ACC challenge. Its performance in the NCAA Tournament has been spotty in recent years.
That doesn’t help MSU’s cause. It was early in the season, when the Spartans were floundering without Goran Suton, but they were blown out by both North Carolina and Maryland. That doesn’t help, either.
State is ranked in the Top 10 nationally, and has been for much of the season, but only two other Big Ten teams are ranked in the Top 25 - Purdue and Illinois. Both are way down the list - and justifiably so.
The Big East and ACC are just stronger conferences overall. The Pac 10, honestly, is underrated, but there is no clear-cut best team that has emerged. The Big 12 remains formidable, but the Spartans got their marquee non-conference victories over Texas and Kansas.
Where, honestly, does the Big Ten rate these days?
State could certainly make a claim ahead of Memphis. The Big Ten is definitely stronger than Conference USA. Then again, weren’t the Spartans embarrassingly run out of the gym by the Tigers in last year’s NCAAs?
I do feel this about Michigan State: The Spartans chances of reaching the Final Four are as good as any team - regardless the conference.
Tom Izzo has done an excellent job of molding this team into his imagine. The Spartans play extremely hard. They rebound especially well. They are exceptionally scrappy.
If the Spartans run the table in the Big Ten Tournament, I can’t see how they don’t deserve a No. 1 seed.
Whether they actually get it or not will then depend on how much Big Ten titles are worth these days.

Random Thoughts

- The Red Wings played poorly defensively Saturday night against Columbus, but Chris Osgood’s performance wasn’t good. Seven goals? That’s not getting it done. It was definitely a step back for him - and the Red Wings. It is looking more and more like it will Ty Conklin or bust come playoff time.

- If Michigan wins a game in the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines belong in the NCAA Tournament. They beat Duke and UCLA. They won at Minnesota with a lot on the line in their regular season finale. Those are meaningful victories that can’t be ignored.

- I don’t why, but it made me laugh the other night watching the World Baseball Classic. It was Venezuela vs. Italy and they were pitching around Nick Punto - one of the best hitters on the Italian team. I also got a chuckle out of seeing Carlos Guillen take Jason Grilli deep.


Friday, March 06, 2009

On Jeff Larish, TO, Rodney Stuckey And NHL Trade Deadline

Jeff Larish has had a good spring for the Tigers. He had a pretty good season in the Arizona Fall League. There were times last season in the minor leagues that he showed promise.
He is a left-handed hitter, which the Tigers badly need in a lineup that tends to be balanced too much toward the right side.
Having said that, I’m not sure if Larish is the answer to any of the Tigers’ needs. First of all, he lacks a position. He is a first baseman. Miguel Cabrera will be there every day. Larish did play some third base in Arizona, and has played the outfield, but putting him in either of those positions is like fitting a square peg into a round hole.
Also, his swing is long. It’s why he may show promise at lower levels, but not be able to perform nearly as well in the major leagues. When he got a shot in the major leagues last year, he showed little power nor patience at the plate - and he struck out a lot.
Larish is not a young prospect, either. He is 26 - and will turn 27 in the fall. He will likely get an opportunity this season, but must make the most of it. And it has be hitting extraordinarily well. Larish can’t marginal hitter because of the position issue. But if he hits - really hits - they’ll find a way to get him in the lineup.

Random Thoughts

- Terrell Owens will get signed by some team, somewhere. He will immediately make that team better. He will then falter and throw the quarterback under the bus and depart with hurt feelings. It is his modus operandi. But forget about Owens’ age. It is non-factor. He can still play.

- Ask yourself this question? In three years will Rodney Stuckey be a perennial All Star? Two months ago, I would have definitely said yes. Right now, I’m not so sure.

- To me, Calgary was the big winner at the NHL trade deadline. Olli Jokiken should obviously be motivated come playoff time. Don’t be surprised if what transpired in his first game with the Flames carries on. He is a world-class player, who has been buried on non-playoff teams. Jordan Leopold is one of the best pointmen on the power play in the game. In an ideal world, the Red Wings would want to avoid the Flames in the playoffs until the conference finals. Or don’t play them at all. The Flames seem more threatening than the Sharks because Miikka Kiprusoff is a better money goalie than Evgeni Nabokov.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Meet Aaron Downey, The Red Wings Most Popular Player

Aaron Downey played less than four minutes Tuesday in the Red Wings’ 5-0 victory over St. Louis. He played less than five minutes during his previous appearance with the Red Wings earlier in the season against Dallas.
Downey was involved in a fight both times. The one Tuesday, with the Blues’ Cam Janssen, was particularly epic. It was a great fight, both players landing several blows before punching themselves out.
And it’s all anybody was talking about afterward.
As successful as the Red Wings are, and as skilled as their players may be, fighting is missed in this town.
It’s not logical, but Joe Kocur, Bob Probert and Darren McCarty probably rank among the top dozen most popular players in Red Wings history because of their ability and willingness to fight. Downey is as popular as any Red Wings player.
I have heard from a lot of Red Wing fans, from the very start of the season, about how they want Downey on the team. Doesn’t matter if the Red Wings aren’t really getting pounded by other teams physically. Or if Downey is very limited as a player - particularly in the context of the Red Wings and their superior skill.
It leads to a debate: Should the Red Wings strictly try to win hockey games, or should they give their fans what they want, which is Downey and more fighting?
The hockey purist in me says leave him in the minors, but there is no denying the obvious buzz it brings every time Downey is recalled from Grand Rapids.

Random Thoughts

- Sorry. Just don’t see how any outing during which Dontrelle Willis walked three hitters in three innings can be viewed as that much of a positive. He had one good inning. Not something to get carried away about.

- Antonio McDyess has been the key to the Pistons improved play lately. Can you imagine if they hadn’t gotten him back from the Nuggets after the Chauncey Billups deal. I thought the Pistons would have been better off without McDyess and going with their youngsters. I couldn’t have been more wrong.


Monday, March 02, 2009

The Tigers Need Bonderman To Solidify Rotation

The Tigers’ last-place finish in 2008 was a monumental surprise, but it isn’t when considered they were without Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis for most of the season.
Before 2008 began, a reasonable expectation was the two combining for 30 wins. Armando Galarraga made up some of it, but a subpar season by Justin Verlander pretty much gave what Galarraga accomplished back.
The anticipation within the Tigers organization for Willis this season is minimal. That wasn’t the case with Bonderman entering spring training.
He wasn’t throwing as hard the last two seasons because there was a circulation issue in his shoulder that was corrected by surgery. That’s what the Tigers were told by doctors. There has been hope Bonderman will not only come back this season, but also throw as well as ever in terms of velocity. Fifteen wins was being looked at as a real possibility, but it’s becoming more remote because of the shoulder issues Bonderman has experienced from the start of camp.
Edwin Jackson should help the rotation, but Bonderman can’t be counted on at this point. With Willis still in his funk, the Tigers will likely be depending on Nate Robertson and Zach Miner to fill out their rotation to begin the season. A wildcard still could be Rick Porcello - especially if Miner continues to pitch like the did the other day against the Pirates.

Random Thoughts

- Given what Richard Hamilton has done for this town - and what Allen Iverson hasn’t - it’s understandable Iverson will likely become the fall guy for the Pistons’ downturn this season. In truth, the fault lies with neither. The Pistons started winning regularly, too, when Hamilton went out of the lineup earlier this season. It’s not about the ingredients, but rather the mix, which is why it becomes addition by subtraction when either Hamilton or Iverson goes out of the lineup.

- I think it was a good think for the Lions that linebacker Ray Maualuga didn’t light it up at the NFL scouting combine. He’s a great football player - regardless. Maybe he will fall into the Lions lap at 20th overall.