Tuesday, April 25, 2006

NFL; UPDATED MOCK DRAFT!

UPDATED ON THURSDAY!

Fantasy Baseballers, need a Catcher? Check out Johnny Estrada.

As is always the case during the week leading up to the NFL draft... one of the most highly anticipated events on the sports calendar, the usual pre-draft jockeying, press leaks, and mind games have entered full-swing mode! Teams are talking up players they have no intention of drafting, coaches are working out athletes they have no interest in, and the media dutifully reports every carefully choreographed move.
The Texans are trying to settle upon contract terms with RB Reggie Bush, a guy that given their current Running Back situation and plethora of needs they have little business drafting, the Saints are attempting to arrive upon a consensus... Offensive Line of Defensive line? Possibly one of the 2 highly rated Quarterbacks? And the Jets are giving much thought to moving out of their 4-slot; either up or down. Either way, Saturday... as it always is, will be filled with cheers, jeers, and a surprise pick or 3!
As of Tuesday, 4/25:

1. Texans; RB Reggie Bush: Bush, arguably the best running back to enter the league in over a decade, is just too talented to pass upon. A last minute deal with... the Jets (the most likely of the bunch), Packers, or Patriots is not out of the question. Bush, a more dynamic version of a young Marshall Faulk, can line up as a Wide Receiver and excels as a return man. He is, however, slight of build, and any team that selects him will have to monitor his touches carefully... 20 touches per game will most likely be his limit.

Alternative Pick; D'Brickashaw Ferguson: The team is riddled with needs, but a franchise Left Tackle is paramount. Ferguson has Orlando Pace / Jonathan Ogden type talent, and the team will go only as far as QB David Carr will take them. Trading out of the top slot might allow the team to draft one of the better Wide Receivers as well.

2. Saints; DE Mario Williams: This pick hasn't changed since my first mock draft, though the Saints would like very much to trade down and out of it. Yes, current Saint DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith are immensely talented, but Williams is a force of nature on par with Panther End Julius Peppers and the 'Aint D would take a big step forward with Williams getting in opposing Qubes' grills.

Alternative Pick; QB Vince Young: Some say Matt Leinart, but Young is far more mobile and athletic... and the team might try to draft and trade the Texas star.

3. Titans; QB Matt Leinart: Like the above... and next 5-6 picks, I ain't budging off of my first mock draft. The Titans have a huge problem on their collective hands as "Air McNair" needs to be permanently grounded. As it stands already, in another decade or so, McNair will struggle to put his pants on in the morning. In Leinart, a future star, the Titans will trot-out a brilliant Signal Caller who worked with the team's Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow when both were at USC. With a 25-1 record in his 26 collegiate starts, Leinart tossed 71 TDs (second only to Carson Palmer), demonstrated exemplary touch and better than advertised arm strength, and has the maturity to take command of the huddle as a rookie.

Alternative Pick; Vince Young: More than one league observer and coach has questioned Leinart's durability and feels the record-setting Trojan to be a "product of the system," and in Billy Volek the team has a backup who's capable of starting. Volek has posted some gaudy numbers while filling in for McNair over the past 2 seasons (In 8 starts during the '04 season, Volek hung 2,486/19/10), and if the staff is more enamored of Young and his jaw-dropping athleticism... they'll be able to plug Volek in as a rock-solid stop-gap and give Vince time to absorb the playbook and adjust to the speed of the pro game.
All of that being said, it is more likely that Tennessee will opt for Leinart.

4. Jets; OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson: Yes, much like the Houston Texans the Jets are also riddled with holes and saddled with needs; the secondary needs work, RB Curtis Martin looked awful last season, the receiving corps is weak, and the team's pass rush is anemic... especially in light of the John Abraham trade.
The Jets own the 4th, 29th and 35th selections in this draft, and they could try to package this pick up with one or both of the other top selections in order to move up to 1. Now reports have linked the team to RB Reggie Bush, which would answer multiple needs. The USC star can line-up as a receiver as well as return Kick-Offs and Punts. But, unless Gang Green makes a deal and moves out of this spot which at this point will come only via a draft day machination, the club will miss out on Bush and opt to pull the most talented player off of the board. At this stage that player will be the mammoth Tackle, D'Brickashaw Ferguson. If the numerous personnel and talent assessors are correct and the Virginia O-lineman is the second coming of Tony Boselli, the Jets will have a 10 year perennial All-Star. Needless to say, though, Ferguson isn't a "sexy" pick, and commissioner Paul Tagliabue will be showered with boos as soon as "and with the 4th pick in the 2006 NFL draft, the NY Jets select Virginia..." leaves his mouth. Yeah, yeah, yeah. If the Jets elect to pass on Ferguson they will be left with raw, inexperienced athletes who are likely to get their starting QB killed. D'Brickashaw Ferguson is an excellent choice and will serve as a building block for a powerful O-line.

Alternative Pick; DE Mario Williams or Reggie Bush: If the Saints opt to select a Quarterback and Williams drops into the Jets' lap, they'll have a hard time choosing between he and Ferguson. If, by chance, the Texans elect to trade out of the 1-spot and multiply their number of draft picks, the Jets won't even blink; they'll pull the Heisman Trophy winning runner right off the board and groom him behind C-Mart' for a year.

5. Packers; LB A.J Hawk: The Pack' are in a world of hurt. Though their Canton-bound QB has decided to return for the 2006 season, RB Ahman Green looked cooked to me before last season, WR Javon Walker claims he'll retire before donning a 'Bay uni' again, and the D is in ghastly shape. But after using a first-rounder on QB Aaron Rogers last year, the team will likely pass on the remaining QB-Musketeer, Vanderbilt product Jay Cutler, and the team will look to bolster the run defense. In OLB A.J Hawk they will get a hard-nosed player who has a cool Football name. In addition to his nifty name , Hawk is as strong as a bull, can make sideline to sideline plays, has been compared to Bear great Brian Urlacher, and is capable of covering both backs and Tight Ends. Expect the team to grab Hawk, the most coveted outside 'backer in this draft, with their 5th pick and to use their 2nd round pick on a Wideout.

Alternative Pick: LB Ernie Sims or WR Santonio Holmes: Many mock drafts have Iowa OLB Chad Greenway ranked after Hawk, the consensus #1 at this position. But Sims, while undersized at 5-11, has quick-as-a-blink speed (4.5 40) and hits like a truck. A proven playmaker, Green Bay wouldn't be adverse to lining veteran LB Nick Barnett up with either Hawk or Sims. And, given the state of pass catching affairs, a vertical threat such as Holmes would bolster a receiving unit that thinned-out as rapidly as Mary-Kate Olson due to injuries last season. I don't believe the Packers will expend such a high pick on a mid-round talent such as Holmes, and I firmly believe LB A.J Hawk is G-Bay's quarry.

6. 49'ers; TE Vernon Davis: The Niners' must give young QB Alex Smith some playmaking targets. In this age of pass catching TEs, a 6-4/265 target who runs a sub 4.4 40 and can make things happen after the catch is a commodity indeed. Think of Charger TE Antonio Gates... but with more speed. Davis could start from Week 1.

Alternative Pick; S Michael Huff or DT Broderick Bunkley: The offense is a huge issue, especially seeing as how the new franchise Quaterback is essentially a 1-man band. However, the Defense has been stripped to the bone and the versatile, hard-hitting Michael Huff might be a good building block. Likewise, Bunkley is a 6-3/310 defensive centerpiece. Enormously powerful and as disruptive as a bull in a china shop, the Niners can't go wrong with either player. But, in the interest of QB Alex Smith's well being and to render the run game marginally effective, chances are that the team will take Vernon Davis, the hands-down best pass catching Tight End in the draft.

7. Raiders; QB Vince Young: Without doubt a team owner Al Davis covets athleticism, a quality Vince Young has in triplicate form.
A big man at 6-5/230, Young possesses a strong arm and runs with both speed and power. His great strength allows him to make throws with defenders draped all over him, and his vision permits him to scramble and find the open man downfield. As everyone is aware, however, concerns abound. After scoring a 10 on the Wunderlic test Young's intellect has been likened to that of a chipmunk, and nothing could be further from the truth. Young is a leader of men, has great character, and can take command of an NFL huddle. Of that, there is no question. There IS some concern as to whether or not the former Texas star will be able to identify, dissect, and conquer the countless defensive looks opponents will show him. In addition, some NFL scouts remain adamant that his throwing motion is so raw that his entire motion will have to be broken down and rebuilt. This could, in turn, diminish his effectiveness. In the end the final draft decision belongs to Gradndpa Al, and with veteran Signal Caller Kerry Collins looking a great deal like a deer caught in the headlights of a speeding pick-up truck last season... so long as he's available, Vince Young is as close to a slam dunk as you'll find in any draft.

Alternative Pick: Matt Leinart (if the Titans take Young) or Jay Cutler (if both top-rated QBs are off the Board).

8. Bills; DT Haloti N'Gata: With Sam Adams now suiting up for the Bengals the Bill run Defense is in even worse shape than it was in last season; that is, utterly abhorrent! Ceding 4.5 yards per tote and almost 140 YPG, the Bill run D, ranked 31st in the league, was nearly non-existant and such cannot go on again. N'Gata is a mountain of a man at 6-5/340, and he possesses the skills to be a dominant player. The question is whether or not N'Gata is willing to put his nose to the grindstone, get his largely soft body into Football shape, and become a "take-no-prisoners" Tackle. And that, my Football watching friends, is precisely the type of player the Bills need to draft... and that's precisely the type of player Haloti N'Gata can become.

Alternate Picks; DT Broderick Bunkley: Lacking N'Gata's size and ability to gobble up space, Bunkley might be a bit less attractive to the Bills who need a lane-clogging DT. That being said Bunks' speed, strength at the point of attack, and ability to explode into the backfield render him an excellent consolation prize should N'Gata be gone. In fact, it's distinctly possible the Bills draft Bunkley because of his speed and herculean strength (he benched 255 40 times at the Combine).

9. Lions; LB Ernie Sims: The Lions have a litany of needs, not the least of which is a new GM. Incumbent Matt Millen has made a number of questionable calls and decisions to this point, and in so doing has proven that a 5 day, 8 hour work week is untenable for an franchise manager. After expending 1st round draft choices on a trio of Wideouts, a Running Back and a Quarterback who will more than likely be moved in a draft day deal, the Lion brain trust MUST address a Defense that is truly coming undone. The unit gave up ground yards at an alarming rate (127+) last year and in Teddy Lehman (participated in a scant 6 contests last year), Alex Smith (hasn't played since '04) and Boss Bailey (didn't play at all in '04 and started 11 games last year), the Lions field a Linebacking unit that is prone to injury and struggles to make plays. FSU LB Ernie Sims may be on the short side (6'), but the guy plays at full tilt, from sideline to sideline and from snap to whistle. In addition, Sims is solid enough in coverage and fast enough to get into the backfield. There are serious questions about his ability to play under control and whether or not he's worth using a top-10 pick on.

Alternative Picks; S Michael Huff or QB Jay Cutler: Huff is a 6-1/205 Lb human Cruise Missile. The Texas Safety uses his 4.3 speed to close quickly, hits with tooth-loosening violence, and excels in run support. In addition his coverage skills are excellent, allowing him to slip into man-to-man sets, and he relishes Special Teams play. The opportunity to seperate a return man from the ball... and possibly his head from his body has real appeal to Huff, and all of the above render him an ideal pick for the Lions. So much so they may be more inclined to pass on a questionable Sims and take the Safety with this pick. With the off-season acquisitions of both John Kitna (Bengals) and Josh McCown (Cardinals), coupled with last season's 5th round choice Dan Orlovsky showing flashes, perennial project Joey Harrington is no longer even listed on the depth chart! Although it's a longshot given the club's bevy of needs and current stable of Field Generals, a wildcard selection could be Vandy' QB Jay Cutler.

10. Cardinals; QB Jay Cutler: Although Card' coach Denny Green has a practice of taking "the best player available" when it's his turn to draft, more often than not that player turns out to be an offensive player. Green tends to ignore the defensive side of the ball come this time of year preferring, instead, to flesh-out the team's offense via the draft... and the defense through free agency. That being said, the veteran coach has softened his stance on expending high picks on defensive players as the drafting of LB Karlos Dansby ('04 2nd rounder) and CB Antrel Rolle (8th overall last year) will attest. Still, the D was very iffy last year, ranking 26th in points allowed. But alas, with young QB Josh McCown being allowed to sign with the Lions as a free agent, Green's team is left with venerable Kurt Warner and steak Tar-Tar raw John Navarre over Center. Yes, the Defense is riven with holes and the Offensive line remains a weak point, but Green will probably cross his fingers and hope that his Secondary, and specifically Rolle, steps it up, his D-line holds, and the team is able to out-point its foes.
And therein lies a problem. QB Kurt Warner is about as sturdy as your average septugenarian, and it's not a matter of if the greybeard Qube' succumbs to injury but when. The team is almost bound to take a Quarterback in this draft... their just not forced to do so in the first round. Other Signal Callers of consequence such as Alabama's Brodie Croyle, Clemson's Charlie Whitehurst, and to a lesser degree Michael Vick's judgement challenged brother, Marcus, will be available in the later rounds. With a peerless pair of pass catchers in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald and a world-class runner in former Colt Edgerrin James lining up opposite whomever is jammin' hands under the Centers' butt, the O will score points. Whether or not Denny Green elects to address his anemic O-Line or vulnerable D will be the multi-million dollar question. Chances are, however, Cutler will be too attractive to pass up.

Alternative Picks; DT Winston Justice, TE Vernon Davis or LB Chad Greenway: All 3 athletes would fill positions of need. Currently, the team is trotting-out TE Eric Edwards, an undrafted kid out of LSU. Although the pass catching coffers are full, Green covets a TE capable of giving an opposing D-Coordinator fits and Davis would fit that bill to a tee. Should the polished product fall into the Card' coaches' lap... he'd have an easier time saying no to a slab of chocolate layer cake. Neither Darnell Dockett nor Kendrick Clancy has lived up to his ability and the team desperately needs a difference making Tackle. Lastly, the team gave opposing Quarterbacks far too much time to pick them apart last season, placing added pressure upon the Secondary. Green would like a flexible 'backer; one with enough speed to get into a Quarterback's grill but who can also drop into coverage should the play call demand it. Greenway is a heady, team-first Linebacker who offers those skills.

11. Rams; CB Jimmy Williams: As good as the Rams are offensively is as bad as they are defensively. For a team that fields an embarrassment of offensive riches... their 2005 6-10 record was shameful. For starters, the club has an apparent allergy to tackling as there's no other way to explain a 28th ranked run D that surrendered 136+ rushing YPG. Next, the Cornerback play was atrocious. Although the team has a number of visible CBs such as Jerametrius Butler and DaJuan Groce, only 1 Corner', Mike Furrey, has as many as 4 picks. The next highest INT total was LB Pisa Tinoisamoa's 2. Enter Virginia Tech's Jimmy Williams. A big Corner' at 6-2/215, Williams has the speed to pace virtually any pass catcher, the size to play bump and run, and is confident enough to not get discouraged should he be beaten for a score or big gain. In addition, Williams has a Safety's mentality... and has been called a "tweener." The fact of the matter is, with Ram S Adam Archuletta's questionable back, Williams's ability to play the position would be an asset.

Alternative Picks; S Michael Huff, CB Tye Hill, DT Broderick Bunkley: The others have been covered, but Hill is one of the speediest players in the entire draft. Able to run a 4.3 40 Hill can high-point the ball, is a very physical corner, and is unafraid to support the run. The knock on this physical marvel? At 5-9/185, Hill is more of a "speed bump."

12. Browns; DE Kamerion Wimbley:

13. Ravens; CB Jonathan Joseph:

14. Eagles; LB Chad Greenway:

15. Broncos; WR Chad Jackson:

16. Dolphins; WR Santonio Holmes:

17. Vikings; OLB Bobby Carpenter:

18. Cowboys; S Donte Whitner:

19. Chargers; CB Antonio Cromartie:

20. Chiefs; DE Manny Lawson:

21. Patriots; RB DeAngelo Williams:

22. Forty-Niners; CB Tye Hill:

23. Buccaneers; C Nick Mangold:

24. Bengals; S Jared Allen:

25. Giants; RB Laurence Maroney:

26. Bears; TE Mercedes Lewis:

27. Panthers; RB LenDale White:

28. Jaguars; LB Thomas Howard:

29. Jets; WR Greg Jennings:

30. Colts; RB Joseph Addai:

31. Seahawks; G Davin Joseph:

32. Steelers; S Daniel Bullocks:

REMAINDER OF ROUND 1 MOCK DRAFT TOMORROW!

Monday, April 24, 2006

NBA PLAYOFF PREVIEW CONT'D!

PUTTIN' THE WRAPS ON ROUND 1 OF THE EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF PICTURE

DALLAS MAVERICKS V. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES:
The Mavs' outclass the Grizz' in virtually every category. In PF Dirk Nowitzki Dallas has an MVP caliber Forward who's;
A. A true 7-footer.
B. Possesses remarkable agility for such a big man. In fact, the "Giant German" can put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop.
C. Dirk, who averaged almost 27 PPG, has a sugar sweet shot (shot a remarkable 48% from the floor and 90% from the 'stripe this year), can drain the 3 (40+ % from 3-point land), and is the prototypical Euro-Hoopstah'. Nowitzki's complete game and emergence was the genesis of the league's interest/obsession in European players.
Needless to say, Dirk's 31 point, 11 'board game spurred the team to its 103-93 Game 1 victory. But in addition to "Dirk Terrific," and although assists aren't necessarily his forte', Dallas has a solid scoring PG in Jason Terry (17+ PPG), an up and coming stud in SF Josh Howard who, although he was saddled with a nagging back injury all season, still posted a more than respectable 15+/6+/2, and a bench that is amongst the deepest (Marquis Daniels, Jerry Stackhouse, Keith Van Horn) in the league.
This should be a relatively easy round for the Mavs'.

PIVOTAL PLAYER PF Dirk Nowitzki: As Dirk goes... so go the Mavs'. Now, that's not to say that the team couldn't win with Dirk sidelined because they can. But... they are a different club with the formidable Forward on the floor. Last year Nowitzki played through the pain of plantar fascitiis and was saddled with naggy high ankle sprains. This year, Dirk was able to stay on the court for 81 of 82 games, and didn't suffer the pains of last year. A brilliant talent, Nowitzki is no less important to the Mavericks than Shaq' is to the Miami Heat. A bold statement for sure, but one that is not without merit.

GRIZZLIES: A flurry of late season wins allowed the team to secure the daunting 5-seed, and the team's aggressive, relentless defense must be acknowledged.
PF Pau Gasol, much like his Euro-colleague Dirk Nowitzki, is also a true 7-footer, can take his man off the dribble, and is as fundamentally sound a player as you'll find this side of Spur star Tim Duncan. Gasol averaged 20+/9/4.6, with almost 2 Blocks and a steal per game. His shooting percentage of 50.3% from the floor was even better than Nowitzki's 48%, and alongside tough-as-nails SF Shane Battier and jack-of-all-trades Mike Miller, Memphis has a decent threesome.
Still, the team lacks the firepower to compete with the big boys of the NBA and their bench is about as deep as a kiddy pool.

PIVOTAL PLAYER: SF Mike Miller: No doubt, Gasol is crucial to this team's fortunes. And that's just it... opponents are aware that shutting down Gasol is tantamount to shutting down the Grizzlies. But, if Mike Miller... a guy who shoots 46+% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc can catch fire, Dallas will be forced to allot defensive resources to covering him. Covering both Gasol and Miller will leave the underneath stuff open for Battier, and when the D collapses upon Battier the former Duke star can kick it out to veteran Bobby Jackson. See what I mean?

PREDICTION? Break out the brooms, Dallas in a "Suhweeep!"

MIAMI HEAT V. CHICAGO BULLS:
Miami... ah, Miami. Following in the highly successful Laker and Bull template, the franchise features a dominating Center and a lethal Shooting Guard who is able to blow past a defender and take it to the hoop... or kick it out to the open role player. Shaq', the pre-eminent Center of this generation may be aging, but he remains the most formidable Basketball force on the planet when he's healthy. That being said, O'Neal's skills appear to have entered a full-blown retreat; his 20 points, (down 2 full points from last season), 9.2 Rebounds, and 1.9 Assists per game were all career lows, and "The Big Aristotle" is becoming increasingly fragile. O'Neal played 59 games this year, his lowest total since his '96 season as a Laker, and it just seems that while the mind is willing... Shaq's ego is writing checks his body can no longer cash. Still, all in all, Shaquille O'Neal remains a force to be reckoned with... he remains the most dominant Center in Basketball.
Playing Robin to Shaq's Batman is SG Dwyane Wade. The '03 1st round pick has rapidly risen to stardom, thanks in no small part to O'Neal's presence. Where Shaq' found himself with career low numbers at season's end... Wade found himself with a pile of career best diggies'! Unafraid to toss his body around for the good of the team, Wade is a selfless player and is a more likeable and younger, version of Kobe Bryant.

PIVOTAL PLAYER; Shaquille O'Neal / Udonis Haslem: If O'Neal can dominate the paint... and really, the Bulls are ill-equipped to handle him, they'll be forced to collapse upon him and leave Wade and PF Udonis Haslem relatively unmolested. Wade will still attract attention, even if the Bulls are forced to leave Haslem unguarded. Udonis, who is now facing a 1-game suspension for tossing his mouthpiece at an official, will have to make the Bulls pay for their disrespect by sinking 18-20 points per contest.

CHICAGO BULLS:
A blossoming franchise, the team features a blossoming young core...

TO BE CONTINUED!

WESTERN CONFERENCE; ROUND 1 OF THE PLAYOFF PICTURE!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

NBA PLAYOFFS; EASTERN CONFERENCE!

How 'bout it Hoopster fans? After an 82 game season which always feels longer, the NBA playoffs are finally upon us! Who made it and who didn't?

EASTERN CONFERENCE; ATLANTIC DIVISION:
WHO'S IN?
NEW JERSEY NETS: Here's a team that finally looks to be complete. In Nenad Krstic the team finally has a legit' Center. The dude really came on over the final 1/3 of the season and can both score AND rebound. While he may not be a tremendous shot blocker, Krstic is a true 7-footer and is able to force opponents to alter their shots. In conjunction with Krstic's emergence, SF Richard Jefferson was able to stay healthy and has really sharpened his game. The most impressive aspect to RJ's game? The guy worked on his mid-range jumper, improved his shootinge % by 70+ points, and averaged a hair under 20 PPG. Draining 49.3% of his shots from the field, RJ was second only to Nenad Krstic, who shot 50%. Naturally, PG Jason Kidd made the post-season possible. The prolific Point's leadership, court-vision, and ability to elevate the games of his teammates render him on par with Sun PG and reigning league MVP, Steve Nash.
PIVOTAL PLAYER; Richard Jefferson: It will be up to Jefferson to harry, defend, and score upon the fundamentally solid Peja Stojakovic.
If ANY favorite is looking at a 1st round exit... it'd be the New Jersey Nets. With PF Jermaine O'Neal peaking at the right time and a bench that is deeper, and more talented than that of NJ, coach Lawrence Frank had best work his troops up into a lather.
PREDICTION: Nets in a hard-fought 6.

WHO'S OUT? EVERYONE ELSE!

To no great surprise the Knicks, 23 win abomination that they were, didn't make it in. Nor, for that matter, did AI's 76'ers, Paul Pierce's young Celtics, or the very impressive Chris Bosh and his team Toronto.

CENTRAL DIVISION:
WHO'S IN?
EVERYBODY!

DETROIT PISTONS V. MILWAUKEE BUCKS: In what looks to be the most post-C's most lopsided series the Pistons, who went 3-0 against Milwaukee this season, should reduce the Bucks into so much venison.
BUCKS: Here's a team that backs into the playoffs with a losing record (40-42), thus underscoring the preposterous nature of the NBA system. PG T.J Ford's return from a scary neck injury is impressive and should be applauded; the simple fact that Ford is even playing at this level is a testament to both the medical care he received and his tenacious nature. That being said, the guy is a 6 foot, 165 pound gnat, and the much larger (6-3/203) and more skilled MoTown PG Chauncey Billups will punish his adversary. The Pistons take no prisoners during the post-season... and they didn't take many during their 64 win regular season rampage. Milwaukee will have no answer for Center Ben Wallace and his fearsome game and steel-smelting glare. Who's gonna' box-out Big Ben, rookie Andrew Bogut? Uh-uh, no chance, Center Jamaal Magloire whose numbers took a header this year? No way. Then, add PF Rasheed Wallace's physical style and 15+ PPG, SG Rip' Hamilton's sugar-sweet, "best-in-the-league Jumper, and a deep bench that boasts lightning-quick Antonio McDyess, and you have a recipe for a series sweep. With so many weapons at hand, the Pistons will be a tough nut to crack for anyone.
PIVOTAL PLAYER; Chauncey Billups: Chauncey scored 18+ PPG while dishing almost 9 assists per game this year, and is a solid defender.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS: The Bucks have a very nice player in Michael Redd but they will be unable to body-up with a VERY formidable Detroit squad. The only chance the Bucks have... of winning a game, is to go up-tempo by pairing Maurice Williams with T.J Ford. Ford and Williams, who has also struggled with a number of injuries this season, are jitterbug quick and it will be difficult for the Pistons to defend them both.
PIVOTAL PLAYER; Michael Redd: Even if Redd drops 50 points a game the Bucks will still lose.

PREDICTION: Pistons sweep!

WASHINGTON WIZARDS V. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS:
In what will probably be the most exciting match-up of the 1st round, King James makes his much anticipated post-season debut and leads his merry band of 4-seed Cavs' against the 5-seed Washington Wizards.
This is NOT "your MJ's" Wizards! PG Gilbert Arenas, an incredibly athletic hoopster who recorded almost 30 PPG, led the Wiz' to a 3-1 regular season record against the Cavs'. In no uncertain terms, Washington made it clear that they were eager to meet up with Cleveland in the 1st round of the "second-season." PF Antawn Jamison is talented enough to lead a team of his own, but alongside Arenas and a rapidly improving Caron Butler... the Wizards will make "The King" disappear.

PIVOTAL PLAYER; Caron Butler: It's a no-brainer that both Jamison and Arenas will get their points, but if Butler catches fire... Washington will go medieval on Cleveland.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: LeBron is LeBron, and he alone affords the team a chance to see the 2nd round. That being said, experience counts for a great deal and the Cavs' are sorely lacking in it. Post-season, that is.

Friday, April 21, 2006

KNICK SEASON A TOTAL WASH-OUT!

After the 33-49 embarrassment that was the 2004-'05 New York Knickerbockers, what did we learn from this season, Knick fans?

We haven't made the playoffs since 2003 season when we snuck into the post-season with a sub-.500 record, and things look pretty gloomy for the foreseeable future, that's what. This year's 23 win abomination was the worst Knick team in 2 decades or so, and oh yes, we also learned one more thing; ISAIAH THOMAS MUST GO!

Let's be straight-up blunt, shall we? Coach Larry Brown did a terrible job with the club this season, no knowlegable Hoops fan will dispute that. But I am compelled to wonder, just what in G-d's good name did "LB," Thomas, and Garden Veep' James Dolan discuss during all those summer pow-wows that were held at Brown's East Hampton home? Given the state of things, Basketball wasn't on the itinerary!

Breaking some things down in greater detail;
1. The Eddy Curry Deal: The Knicks acquired the offensive-minded Center and Antonio Davis in exchange for Tim Thomas, who is undoubtedly a guy Larry would love to have on his roster, Michael Sweetney, Jermaine Jackson, this year's 1st round pick... and a pair of 2nd round selections ('07 and '09). While I don't bemoan the loss of Sweetney or Jackson, Thomas' grit, ability to rebound, and willingness to just about anything to help his team was something this Knick club certainly could've used. But how egregious is it that Thomas overlooked the potentiality of the Knicks receiving an '06 lottery pick?
What are Isaiah's qualifications after all? He is the man who ran the Continental Basketball Association into the ground and out of business, did bupkiss as the Vice Prez' of the Raptors (okay, so he drafted Vince Carter), and posted .500-ish records as coach of the Pacers before getting axed from that gig.

2. Not Protecting the 1st Round Pick: Without doubt, the Bulls are giddy that in exchange for a high-priced, defensively-challenged Center with a scary heart condition, they will receive... at the very least, the #3 pick in this year's draft.

3. No Regrets: Isaiah was just quoted as saying, "there's nothing about this season that I regret. I would make do everything I did all over again, in exactly the same way." This means that Thomas has no regrets over a 23 win season and that, my friends, is the absolute height of hubris.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

STRIPPING THE 'WIRE; PITCHERS?

Finding hurlers capable of contributing to a fantasy team isn't always easy. However, there are several gems... and baubles, sprinkled throughout the Waiver Wire.
Is your team in need of a solid #3 arm or spot starter? Let's take a quick perusal and see who might be available in your league...

Starting Pitchers:

San Francisco Giants; Jamey Wright: Neither gem nor bauble be, but Jamey could be "Mr. Wright" for another game or 3! With wins in his first 2 starts and an ERA of 3 flat, the 11 year vet' goes for W #3 tonight in 'Zona. See how he fares. I don't think he can keep this up, but should Wright does pick up another win... or even a decent no-decision, he'll be a worthwhile stop-gap grab.

St. Louis Cardinals; Jason Marquis: Allowing an average of 5 hits and 2 ERs per game, Marquis has recorded a trio of wins. Bolstered by a scary-good offense led by All-World slugger Albie' Pujols, Marquis should continue to receive adequate run support. Keep in mind that the Cards' haven't knocked the stuffing out of the ball when he's pitched, but they have played well enough to make the 28 year old a worthy spot starter.

Milwaukee Brewers; Chris Capuano: Contingent upon the depth of your league, Capuano should be available. That being said, if he continues to toss the pill as he has been he won't be a 'Wire resident for long. Cap' has been pretty darn' good but has suffered a pair of tough-luck losses. Over the span of his 4 starts, the guy has blown away 28 batters (dating from his most recent start to his 1st, 8, 6, 7 and 7 K games) and is 2-2 with an ERA of 3.46. A very solid mixed-league option.

San Diego Padres; Chris Young: Here again, Young's availability will be contingent upon the depth of your league. After allowing 4 earned runs in his 1st start against the Rockies while in hitter friendly Colorado, Young toughened-up. The kid 1-hit the Marlins over 6+ innings in his 2nd start and then got his revenge against the Rockies by scattering 5 hits and 2 runs in his 2nd win of the season. An excellent grab, Young looks to be "Keeper" material at this early juncture.

OTHERS TO CONSIDER:

NY Mets; Brian Bannister: If he can maintain his poise the 2nd time through the league, Bannister has 15 Win po'.

Los Angeles Dodgers; Brad Penny: The Dodgers' crappy O renders Penny a Nickle and Dime pickup. Still, he's a high strikeout hurler who has enjoyed some success and knows how to get out of tight spots.

Washington Nationals; John Patterson: A mixed bag so far, Patterson's most recent start was a 13 K, 3 hit, 1 run gem!

Minnesota Twins; Scott Baker: Minny' has a strong young pitcher in Baker who has permitted just 6 ERs in his 3 starts. His command is solid as evidenced by a mere 4 Walks over the 3 game sample, and he's got strikeout stuff. He'll have his ups and downs, but he also looks like a future #2.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

FANTASY BASEBALL; ROSTER HOLES TO FILL?

Well, we're well into Week 2 of the '06 Baseball season and many owners have holes to fill. Catchers NOT named Johjima, Lo Duca, Hernandez, and Martinez aren't producing much, 2nd Sackers such as Rickie Weeks, Chase Utley and Brian Roberts are sluggish, and well, I could go on. Let's take a look at some early season surprises who just might be available through YOUR leagues' Waiver Wire!
***STARTING FROM 3B, ALL ATHLETES ARE NEW!

CATCHERS:

Atlanta Braves; Brian McCann: 'Cann may not boast the highest of batting averages (.244), but with only 3 Ks and 2 Walks in 41 ABs... the dude puts the ball in play. A trio of Dingers' and a troika of Doubles are indicative of more than a little pop as well. Given everything we've seen, the Hot-Lanta receiver has GOT to start hitting the ball where the opponents ain't. Look for a slight uptick in his average... and a season of 20-25 HRs.
***McCann has cooled off a bit, start him again when he starts hitting again.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays; Toby Hall: Not an All-Star, Hall, but a .333 average and but a single K in 33 plate appearances are good enough to garner Hall a spot as a backup fantasy Catcher for a strapped team.

Florida Marlins; Josh Willingham: In deeper leagues- okay, even in leagues with 8 or more teams, Willingham will be on someone's roster. That being said, it's still quite early and should his owner have a glaring hole... they may not balk at moving him in order to fill a position of need. Willingham is worth trading for! After just a dozen tilts J-Will' has already recorded 3 Homers', 5 Doubles, 11 Ribbies', and boasts an average of .318.

**Catcher is awfully thin this year, and after the established stars; Victor Martinez, Ramon Hernandez, Joe Mauer, Michael Barrett, Posada and I-Rod... the talent level dwindles precariously. This is a position many owners punted due to the iffy depth.

1st BASE:

Texas Rangers; Phil Nevin: The veteran 1st Bagger is a full-time DH now, but he still falls under the 1st base banner. Surrounded by more meat than butcher, Nevin is batting clean-up for Texas and has been the recipient of a LOT of hittable pitches. So far, you're looking at a .250/3/12, with 5 Walks and 6 whiffs. In hitter friendly Arlington, the 35 year old should crank 25-28 Home Runs by season's end.

San Diego Padres; Adrian Gonzalez: With Mark Teixeira looking like the Rangers' 1st Baseman for the foreseeable decade... and lacking the skills to play another position, the pitching-starved Rangers swapped their prize prospect for a talented by injury-prone hurler in Adam Eaton. Now, as a Pad', Gonzalez has the opportunity to play everyday. Although he may be tapering off a bit, the kid's got enough talent to maintain a .280-ish average. Displaying nothing more than gap power, Adrian Gonzalez seems to lack the punch of most 1st Basemen so he'll have to hit an awful lot of Doubles.

Minnesota Twins; Justin Morneau: With little doubt, More-No is on your 'Wire. That is, unless your belong to a 12 team league. But, after going 6 for his last 14, and with 4 HRs and 13 Ribbies' already in the bank, some astute owner WILL pick him up. Soon.

Atlanta Braves; Adam LaRoche: I pimped LaRoche last year, I pimped him in my "Pre-Draft" positional rankings this year, and now I'm pushing him as a 'Wire grab. Although his batting average is still a knuckle-scraping .224, "Roach" has flashed nice power. Of his 12 hits, 3 were Home Runs and 6 were Doubles... that leaves just 3 singles!

**1st Base is rather deep this year, and guys like Travis Hafner, Chris Shelton (a ridiculous .512 BA with an OPS exceeding 2.0!), Albert Pujols, and Richie Sexon have picked up right where they left off last season. Likewise, new blood such as Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, and Conor Jackson are all demonstrating that indeed, their time has come!

2nd BASE:

Arizona Diamondbacks; Damion Easley: Although he's not much more than a stop-gap, the 38 year old is currently hitting .333/1/5/5 with 3 Doubles, a Triple, and 5 Walks. That kind of production, even in limited time, is enough to attract short-term attention.

Pittsburgh Pirates; Jose Castillo: What will 16 hits in 49 ABs get you? A .327 average and attention from 2nd Base strapped owners. Castillo brags base-stealing speed (2 SB, 6 RBI, 7 Runs) as well, so he's able to help out in a variety of categories.

Colorado Rockies; Clint Barmes: Barmes, who was smacking the white offa' the ball prior to a tragic venison accident that substantially abridged last season, has begun anew. As of today, Barmes is at .286/1/6/12, with a pair of 2-baggers and a triple. He does, however, need to cut-down on his strikeouts.

SHORTSTOP:

Florida Marlins; Hanley Ramirez: Once Boston's most-prized prospect, the Red Sox's serious need for frontline pitching led the team to send the Marlins their hot shot Shorty' in exchange for fireballer Josh Beckett. Given Ramirez's rock-solid play of late (before Wednesday's game: .364/2/7/15, with 5 Doubles and 2 Triples) his availability will be suspect in all but the most shallow of leagues. But then again, given his awful Walk to Strikeout ratio which is nearly 1:3 (6 BBs to 16 Ks inc. today's tilt), Hanley might be had for the right offer. Given that he possesses 25 steal, 18-20 Homer power... teams in need of Stolen Bases could do far worse.

Pittsburgh Pirates; Jack Wilson: The '04 Buc' bombshell (200+ hits and a .308 BA) suffered a bombed-out '05 "cam-pain" (.257 BA and a SLG % that fell by almost 100 points). Has the "sha-wing" returned to Wilson's game? I dunno' as it's still quite early, but so far Jack's belted-out an awfully nice .333 BA, a SLG % exceeding .600, and has already hit 4 Home Runs (he hit just 8 last year). If nothing else the Pirate middle infielder should make for an excellent short-term pickup, and if he maintains his hot hitting... well, then, you scored yourself a very productive back-up.

Texas Rangers; Ian Kinsler: Kinsler, who is listed as a Shortstop in many leagues and a 2B in still others, went on the DL with a dislocated thumb on April 12th. Expected to miss up to 4 weeks, many owners have already opted to cut bait and part with the 25 year old Ranger who was hitting, at the time he suffered his bum thumb, at a scorching .476 clip. Granted, Kinsler's sample was a scant 21 plate appearances but he appears to have a very nice command of the strike-zone and is patient enough to work a Walk. And, hitting amid the po-tent Texas lineup... Kinsler has stud potential.

Cincinatti Reds; Rich Aurilia: Another guy who sneaks in as a Shortstop due to 30 games played at the position in '05, Aurilia has started to tattoo the ball. One of the most appealing aspects of the 2nd year Red is his versatility. Last year, Aurilia played 2nd, 3rd, and Shortstop, and he's already logged a game at 3rd this year due to Edwin Encarnacion's stone-handed, 3 error game. As of Wednesday, 4/19, Rich is hitting a more than acceptable .286/3/10, with a Slugging % of .571.

Milwaukee Brewers; J.J Hardy: After being so highly regarded on draft day, Hardy's hardly hit. He is, however, much too talented to stay down for long, and his sparkling leather-work will keep him on-field. A streaky hitter so far, the 24 year old Brewer is hitting .259/2/7 with a swiped bag out of the 2-hole.

3rd BASE:

Tampa Bay Devil Rays; Ty Wiggington: Wiggy' became just the 3rd Devil Ray to hammer at least 5 Dingers' through the first 13 games. Currently swatting a sweet .289/6/14 and boasting an OPS over 1.0, ride the Ray while he's hot. At this point in his career the 30 year old corner infielder is a known quantity and probably won't be turning into a .290/35 hitter. Still, he's been piling up quality fantasy points and should continue to do so as long as both Huff and Baldelli are on the DL.

Boston Red Sox; Kevin Youkilis: As with the previously mentioned SS Hanley Ramirez, Boston drafted Youkilis and had him pegged as a future everyday player. Although the club was forced to trade Ramirez, Youkilis has indeed become an everyday player and is producing at a high level. At .318/0/8/7 and with 5 Doubles and an OBP of .426, Youkilis may lack traditional hot-corner power but he should still be picked up in most Mixed-League formats. Rest assured, if you don't grab him... someone will!

Cleveland Indians; Casey Blake: Predicated upon your leagues' rules and minimums, Blake qualifies at 3rd due to the 6 games he played there last season. Another athlete who has knocked around various minor league systems and big clubs for several years, Blake is no spring chicken at age 33. Nevertheless, a .447 BA, 14 RBIs, 2 Home Runs, 5 Doubles, and 9 Walks out of 47 total ABs capably explain a white-hot line of .447/.681/.536 (BA/SLG/OBP). Another killer "Utility" or plug-in position player, jump on Blake with both feet while he's still seeing the ball so darn well! You can always cut him after/if he cools off.

Cincinatti Reds; Edwin Encarnacion: A ghastly-bad show of defense prompted a benching last week, thus allowing the above-mentioned Rich Aurilia to wield his still lethal lumber. Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. "Double-E" has above average power as evidenced by today's 6th Double, and after going 7 for 19... Encarnacion won't be benched. He may, however, be avilable via trade or 'Wire in shallow leagues.

OUTFIELDERS:

Washington Nationals; Ryan Church: Will the Nat' Leftfielder retain his slender hold on a starting job? Dunno, don't care. Church was called up and inserted into the starting lineup with uncanny timing. An ugly spring led to his demotion to Triple-A, but after being brought back up... an 0-7 mini-slump was broken in dramatic fashion. Church apparently found religion AND his stroke, whalloping 3 Homers in 8 ABs. His scorching-hot hitting culminated in a Grand Slam against the Phillies yesterday, and whether or not he'll continue to hit balls into a low earth orbit remains to be seen. Grab him, stash him, and play him if you need the power... cut him if he sinks into a batting funk again. Something tells me, though, this National is in Washington to stay!

New York Mets; Xavier Nady: A Rightfielder who was brought over from San Diego in the Piazza pie deal, Nady finished last season on a tear... and has picked up right where he left off. Many Met fans were overheard saying, "Xavier Knotty who?" Nady's gone batty, batty, batty! .386/4/8, with a Slugging % of .729. Listen up NL b'East fans, assuming the rotation can remain healthy the New York Metropolitan position players field are a talented, imposing bunch.

Pittsburgh Pirates; Craig Wilson: Here's another kid who, depending upon your league, will qualify as an Outfielder, 1st Bagger, or both. One thing that's not in dispute, though is the fact that he's utterly stinging the ball! Craig A' was inserted into the starting lineup when Sean Casey went down with a pair of back fractures and has hit a fine .341/6/12/12, with 4 Doubles, a Triple, and a Video Game-esque SLG % of .927 in his stead. You realize, those diggies' give him a preposterous OPS of 1.34!

Houston Astros; Jason Lane: I am NOT trying to introduce you to a player who most knowlegable fantasy fans became well acquainted with last season. Rather, I am urging you to pick him up off of the 'Wire as so many owners gave up on him due to a sluggish start. Lane has heated up demonstrably in recent days, and the 'Stro Rightfielder is now hitting .208/3/7/14. Although Houston's 1-9 isn't quite as powerful as many other lineups, Morgan Ensberg, Lance Berkman, Biggio, Preston Wilson and Lane are still formidable and afford each other with solid protection.

Toronto Blue Jays; Alexis Rios: Last season, it seemed as if the Blue Jay was perched on the cusp of stardom... but a dearth of power held him back. This season, though, the Rightfielder has been hitting a lights-out .395/5/14, and is posting a SLG % of .842. While he's unlikely to be available through the Waiver Wire... Rios is a star in the making!

Gang-Green Caught Looking At Bush?

My oh my sports fans! Although the Jets are riddled with holes and needs, none other than former Heisman Trophy winner and alleged #1 draft pick, RB Reggie Bush was working out for the team yesterday! Obviously, this would indicate a number of things.
1. The Jets are seriously pondering trading out of their current draft position of 4.

2. The Texans, owners of the 1st overall pick in this years' draft, are in even worse roster shape than New York. With experts predicting that a high number of contributing players will be available in the 3-5th rounds, Houston would be able to plug a number of holes by turning their 1st pick into... multiple picks.

3. Perhaps Houston's most glaring need is at Offensive Tackle. With QB David Carr going down more times than a Vegas call-girl last season... not to mention the whuppin' he's been subjected to in years prior, the Texans MUST keep Carr both healthy and grass-stain free. An OT such as Virginia's highly touted D'Brickashaw Ferguson, a talent who's already being compared to legends such as the Rams' Orlando Pace and Balty's Jonathan Ogden, should be available at #4... not coincidentally, the Jet slot. Further, with proven 1,000 yard back Domanick Davis AND last year's 3rd round pick, RB Vernand Morency, already in the Texan fold, Houston can certainly forego a high round runner.

4. After securing Patrick Ramsey from Washington, and with a returning Chad Pennington, the Quarterback position is presumably set. However, RB Curtis Martin finally looked his age last season; he was lacking his trademark burst and was seemingly unable to shake tacklers.

Folks, 2 + 2= 4, and where there's smoke there's fire! Although the Jets could use a playmaking 'Backer or a 10-year Offensive lineman, RB Reggie Bush possesses the potential to be the most explosive talent the league has seen in years. Bush looks a lot like Ram 'back Marshall Faulk did in his prime... but Reggie has even more speed and explosiveness. Couple his running skills with his ability to line-up as a receiver... another glaring need for Mr. Mangini, and Presto-Change-O! Pick #4 plus a minimum of 2-3 other high picks in this and possibly next year's draft will net the Jets some Bush!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

STRIPPIN' THE WIRE... WEEK 2!

Again, I apologize for the lag in writing... I was away for the holiday!


Well, we're well into Week 2 of the '06 Baseball season and many owners have holes to fill. Catchers NOT named Johjima, Lo Duca, Hernandez, and Martinez aren't producing much, 2nd Sackers such as Rickie Weeks, Chase Utley and Brian Roberts are sluggish, and well, I could go on. Let's take a look at some early season surprises who just might be available through YOUR leagues' Waiver Wire!

CATCHERS:

Atlanta Braves; Brian McCann: 'Cann may not boast the highest of batting averages (.244), but with only 3 Ks and 2 Walks in 41 ABs... the dude puts the ball in play. A trio of Dingers' and a troika of Doubles are indicative of more than a little pop as well. Given everything we've seen, the Hot-Lanta receiver has GOT to start hitting the ball where the opponents ain't. Look for a slight uptick in his average... and a season of 20-25 HRs.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays; Toby Hall: Not an All-Star, Hall, but a .333 average and but a single K in 33 plate appearances are good enough to garner Hall a spot as a backup fantasy Catcher for a strapped team.

Florida Marlins; Josh Willingham: In deeper leagues- okay, even in leagues with 8 or more teams, Willingham will be on someone's roster. That being said, it's still quite early and should his owner have a glaring hole... they may not balk at moving him in order to fill a position of need. Willingham is worth trading for! After just a dozen tilts J-Will' has already recorded 3 Homers', 5 Doubles, 11 Ribbies', and boasts an average of .318.

**Catcher is awfully thin this year, and after the established stars; Victor Martinez, Ramon Hernandez, Joe Mauer, Michael Barrett, Posada and I-Rod... the talent level dwindles precariously. This is a position many owners punted due to the iffy depth.

1st BASE:

Texas Rangers; Phil Nevin: The veteran 1st Bagger is a full-time DH now, but he still falls under the 1st base banner. Surrounded by more meat than butcher, Nevin is batting clean-up for Texas and has been the recipient of a LOT of hittable pitches. So far, you're looking at a .250/3/12, with 5 Walks and 6 whiffs. In hitter friendly Arlington, the 35 year old should crank 25-28 Home Runs by season's end.

San Diego Padres; Adrian Gonzalez: With Mark Teixeira looking like the Rangers' 1st Baseman for the foreseeable decade... and lacking the skills to play another position, the pitching-starved Rangers swapped their prize prospect for a talented by injury-prone hurler in Adam Eaton. Now, as a Pad', Gonzalez has the opportunity to play everyday. Although he may be tapering off a bit, the kid's got enough talent to maintain a .280-ish average. Displaying nothing more than gap power, Adrian Gonzalez seems to lack the punch of most 1st Basemen so he'll have to hit an awful lot of Doubles.

Minnesota Twins; Justin Morneau: With little doubt, More-No is on your 'Wire. That is, unless your belong to a 12 team league. But, after going 6 for his last 14, and with 4 HRs and 13 Ribbies' already in the bank, some astute owner WILL pick him up. Soon.

Atlanta Braves; Adam LaRoche: I pimped LaRoche last year, I pimped him in my "Pre-Draft" positional rankings this year, and now I'm pushing him as a 'Wire grab. Although his batting average is still a knuckle-scraping .224, "Roach" has flashed nice power. Of his 12 hits, 3 were Home Runs and 6 were Doubles... that leaves just 3 singles!

**1st Base is rather deep this year, and guys like Travis Hafner, Chris Shelton (a ridiculous .512 BA with an OPS exceeding 2.0!), Albert Pujols, and Richie Sexon have picked up right where they left off last season. Likewise, new blood such as Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, and Conor Jackson are all demonstrating that indeed, their time has come!

2nd BASE:

Arizona Diamondbacks; Damion Easley: Although he's not much more than a stop-gap, the 38 year old is currently hitting .333/1/5/5 with 3 Doubles, a Triple, and 5 Walks. That kind of production, even in limited time, is enough to attract short-term attention.

Pittsburgh Pirates; Jose Castillo: What will 16 hits in 49 ABs get you? A .327 average and attention from 2nd Base strapped owners. Castillo brags base-stealing speed (2 SB, 6 RBI, 7 Runs) as well, so he's able to help out in a variety of categories.

Colorado Rockies; Clint Barmes: Barmes, who was smacking the white offa' the ball prior to a tragic venison accident that substantially abridged last season, has begun anew. As of today, Barmes is at .286/1/6/12, with a pair of 2-baggers and a triple. He does, however, need to cut-down on his strikeouts.

SHORTSTOP:

Florida Marlins; Hanley Ramirez: Once Boston's most-prized prospect, the Red Sox's serious need for frontline pitching led the team to send the Marlins their hot shot Shorty' in exchange for fireballer Josh Beckett. Given Ramirez's rock-solid play of late (before Wednesday's game: .364/2/7/15, with 5 Doubles and 2 Triples) his availability will be suspect in all but the most shallow of leagues. But then again, given his awful Walk to Strikeout ratio which is nearly 1:3 (6 BBs to 16 Ks inc. today's tilt), Hanley might be had for the right offer. Given that he possesses 25 steal, 18-20 Homer power... teams in need of Stolen Bases could do far worse.

Pittsburgh Pirates; Jack Wilson: The '04 Buc' bombshell (200+ hits and a .308 BA) suffered a bombed-out '05 "cam-pain" (.257 BA and a SLG % that fell by almost 100 points). Has the "sha-wing" returned to Wilson's game? I dunno' as it's still quite early, but so far Jack's belted-out an awfully nice .333 BA, a SLG % exceeding .600, and has already hit 4 Home Runs (he hit just 8 last year). If nothing else the Pirate middle infielder should make for an excellent short-term pickup, and if he maintains his hot hitting... well, then, you scored yourself a very productive back-up.

Texas Rangers; Ian Kinsler: Kinsler, who is listed as a Shortstop in many leagues and a 2B in still others, went on the DL with a dislocated thumb on April 12th. Expected to miss up to 4 weeks, many owners have already opted to cut bait and part with the 25 year old Ranger who was hitting, at the time he suffered his bum thumb, at a scorching .476 clip. Granted, Kinsler's sample was a scant 21 plate appearances but he appears to have a very nice command of the strike-zone and is patient enough to work a Walk. And, hitting amid the po-tent Texas lineup... Kinsler has stud potential.

Cincinatti Reds; Rich Aurilia: Another guy who sneaks in as a Shortstop due to 30 games played at the position in '05, Aurilia has started to tattoo the ball. One of the most appealing aspects of the 2nd year Red is his versatility. Last year, Aurilia played 2nd, 3rd, and Shortstop, and he's already logged a game at 3rd this year due to Edwin Encarnacion's stone-handed, 3 error game. As of Wednesday, 4/19, Rich is hitting a more than acceptable .286/3/10, with a Slugging % of .571.

Milwaukee Brewers; J.J Hardy: After being so highly regarded on draft day, Hardy's hardly hit. He is, however, much too talented to stay down for long, and his sparkling leather-work will keep him on-field. A streaky hitter so far, the 24 year old Brewer is hitting .259/2/7 with a swiped bag out of the 2-hole.

3rd BASE:

Tampa Bay Devil Rays; Ty Wiggington: Wiggy' became just the 3rd Devil Ray to hammer at least 5 Dingers' through the first 13 games. Currently swatting a sweet .289/6/14 and boasting an OPS over 1.0, ride the Ray while he's hot. At this point in his career the 30 year old corner infielder is a known quantity and probably won't be turning into a .290/35 hitter. Still, he's been piling up quality fantasy points and should continue to do so as long as both Huff and Baldelli are on the DL.

Boston Red Sox; Kevin Youkilis: As with the previously mentioned SS Hanley Ramirez, Boston drafted Youkilis and had him pegged as a future everyday player. Although the club was forced to trade Ramirez, Youkilis has indeed become an everyday player and is producing at a high level. At .318/0/8/7 and with 5 Doubles and an OBP of .426, Youkilis may lack traditional hot-corner power but he should still be picked up in most Mixed-League formats. Rest assured, if you don't grab him... someone will!

Cleveland Indians; Casey Blake: Predicated upon your leagues' rules and minimums, Blake qualifies at 3rd due to the 6 games he played there last season. Another athlete who has knocked around various minor league systems and big clubs for several years, Blake is no spring chicken at age 33. Nevertheless, a .447 BA, 14 RBIs, 2 Home Runs, 5 Doubles, and 9 Walks out of 47 total ABs capably explain a white-hot line of .447/.681/.536 (BA/SLG/OBP). Another killer "Utility" or plug-in position player, jump on Blake with both feet while he's still seeing the ball so darn well! You can always cut him after/if he cools off.

Cincinatti Reds; Edwin Encarnacion: A ghastly-bad show of defense prompted a benching last week, thus allowing the above-mentioned Rich Aurilia to wield his still lethal lumber. Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. "Double-E" has above average power as evidenced by today's 6th Double, and after going 7 for 19... Encarnacion won't be benched. He may, however, be avilable via trade or 'Wire in shallow leagues.

OUTFIELDERS ARE LISTED IN THE 4/19 ARTICLE!:

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

FANTASY BASEBALL; WAIVER WIRE RUNNIING HOT AND COLD!

As happens every season, fantasy baseball is sprinkled with disappointments.

Some top fantasy players aren't performing, others are injured, and several youngsters are just emerging. Let's take a quick tour.

Catchers: These guys are doin' some "rotten squattin'!"

1. Texas Rangers; Rod Barajas: In a lineup that features a cast of mashers and bashers, Barajas manages to stand-out by virtue of his mediocrity.

2. Oakland A's; Jason Kendall: Ehh', whattya' want, none of the A's are hitting right now.


Catchers: Some Red-Hot Receivers!

1. Seattle Mariners; Kenji Johjima: This Japanese import is exceeding all expectations. On a team with little punch, Johjima's bat and sparkling Defense stands out.

2. Chicago Cubs; Michael Barrett: Finally, Barrett's bat is garnering him some notice. He could turn out to be the most offensively productive Catcher of the year.

3. NY Mets; Paul Lo Duca: The Mets do not want for offense. However, with Piazza gone... Lo Duca's Home Run power from behind the plate is most welcome!

1st Basemen: Brrr, you guys are chillier than Mount Everest in December!

1. Arizona Diamondbacks; Shawn Green: Cold? Green's currently swatting .150 (3/20). The former 1st Bagger turned Outfielder is always a slow starter and he's best relegated to the fantasy bench until such time as he goes on his usual tear. That being said, though, his production is often erratic and Shawn Green may no longer an everyday player. At least, a top to second tier everyday fantasy athlete.

2. NY Yankees; Jason Giambi: Another corner man who has an irritating habit of picking-up in sometime around mid-May, the "Giambino" is currently hitting a cool .210. One of the protagonists in the best-selling "Game of Shadows," it took Giambi all of spring training AND 7 regular-season tilts to record an extra-base hit; Giambi cranked a Joe Mays offering into the Right-Field stands yesterday... and accepted walks 8, 9, and 10.

3. San Diego Padres; Mike Piazza: Frankly, I don't know if Piazza's a Catcher, 1st Baseman or DH. Further, I'm unsure as to whether or not the Pads' have a handle on it either! Anyway, the Cooperstown-bound backstop is hitting an empty (for him, anyway) .263, with 1 HR, 1 Double, 3 Ribbies', and no Walks.

4. Milwaukee Brewers; Prince Fielder: Although growing pains were expected, the staff thought Fielder would be better than .269/1/3. Sure, a few more months of Trip-A' seasoning wouldn't have hurt the soon to be 22 year old (May), but after he systematically dismantled minor league pitching it was believed that Prince was ready to be "Kinged" everyday 1st Baseman. But, with 9 whiffs in 26 plate appearances... ahhh, perhaps not.


1st Basemen Whew! You boys are "en fuego!"

1. Detroit Tigers; Chris Shelton: Putting the bite back into the Tiger O, Shelton's been one of this season's brightest lights and the dude's been smackin' the white offa' the ball. Pulverizing opposing pitching at a .536 clip, Shelton's already notched 5 Round-Trippers', 3 Doubles, 2 Triples, and has knocked in 10 Runs. With a Slugging % of 1.321 and an OPS that approaches 2.0, obviously there's no way the Tiger can keep up such a white-hot pace. Still, it'll be fun while it lasts! Chris Shelton... assuming he's really this good and the lineup around him plays to its full potential, could finish the season with a line of .320/38/135.

2. San Diego Padres; Adrian Gonzalez: After Ryan Klesko elected to undergo the kife, the everyday 1st base job was given to Adrian Gonzalez. And now that the former Texas Ranger is displaying great poise and discipline at the dish, he'll be hard to dislodge once Kleso returns. Currently, "A-Gone" is hitting .304, with a Homer', 3 Doubles, 6 Runs scored, and has struck-out just twice in 23 ABs.
***The hits just keeep on comin'! At the time of this writing, the Pad' 1st Sacker is 4/4, with 2 Ribs' and 2 Runs.

3. Chicago White Sox: Jim Thome: Naturally, Jim Thome's known to every Baseball fan. But after a horrifying and abridged .207/7/30 2005 season, it would appear as if Thome's back in the groove! Off to a crushing start, the savvy veteran has rediscovered his power stroke and is hitting at a .318/5/8 pace including today's 1 Homer', 2 Ribbie' game. Reports of Jim's demise were, apparently, premature!


2nd Basemen: 2... Two... Too Bad!

1. Baltimore Orioles; Brian Roberts: As per my "Positional Preview" and though I concede it's too early to predict any real trend, Roberts' season is shaping up precisely as I'd anticpated; he's much, MUCH closer to the middle infielder we saw over the 2nd half of 2005 than the "out of his mind," Babe Ruth-esque 2nd Bagger who exceeded his 2004 Home Run total... by the end of April of last year!

2. Tampa Bay Devil Rays; Jorge Cantu: To say that Cantu's in a slump is a marked understatement. Whether or not he'll be able to reach last seasons' numbers is a matter of some debate... but it's far too early to bury him.

3. Philadelphia Phillies; Chase Utley: Dude was red-hot last year... he'll heat up, but his owners are starting to squirm.

4. Milwaukee Brewers; Rickie Weeks; Another much-hyped youngster, Weeks also could've used additional Minor League time. The Brewers trot out a number of youngsters and WILL experience substantial growing pains.


2nd Basemen: Too Hot to Handle... They're Surprising Me Too!

1. Kansas City Royals; Mark Grudzielanek: He's knocked the rust off and is a legit' fantasy start.

2. Chicago Cubs; Ronny Cedeno: Cedeno may not have much pop, but for a guy who entered the season with a job and knew he faced no competition, he's worked awfully hard.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates; Jose Castillo: The Pirates field more talent than many realize, and the 2nd Sacker's one of 'em.

4. Washington Nationals; Jose Vidro: Nice. Plain and simple, nice! The Nats' are a much better team than many realize... I said it last season and I'm sayin' it again this season.


Shortstops: Owners Are Getting Short-Shrift!

1. Oakland A's; Bobby Crosby: Coming off an injury-marred year, 2006 has been marked by... umm, another injury. This is becoming a nasty little trend.

2. St. Louis Cardinals; David Eckstein: Gritty yes, nifty with the bat? So far... not so much.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers; Rafael Furcal: The soft Dodger offense isn't helping him any, but 1 XBH in 32 ABs is inexcusable.

4. Washington Nationals; Ryan Zimmerman: Over-hyped at this point, owners were duped into drafting him much too early by over-zealous writers.

Shortstops: Nobody's Getting Shortchanged!

1. San Francisco Giants; Omar Vizquel: Absolutely ageless!

THE REST ... ALONG WITH THE BLURBS FOR MY 2006 MOCK NFL DRAFT TO COME!

Friday, April 07, 2006

2006 NFL MOCK DRAFT

ALL PICKS SLOTTED, BLURBS 1/3 COMPLETE!

The 2006 NFL draft is nearly upon us and frankly, it would seem as if a huge divide exists between the top-tier talent and the mid-level athletes. The top 10 picks, let's say, are without doubt the cream of this draft's crop. Then, from everything I'm hearing and reading, picks 11-20 are virtually interchangeable; seperated by nothing more tangible than scouts' opinions.. Which of course explains why so many teams are looking to trade up and out of these pricey slots. Now that's NOT to say that the level of talent in the '06 draft is poor, because the situation is actually quite the opposite. There's great value to be had throughout the entire first day, and indeed day-2 will undoubtedly yield several diamonds in the raw.

As we did last season, let's peruse the 1st round of the draft. We'll discuss the most likely pick, team needs, and "alternative selections." Keep in mind, though, that there may be a great deal of movement this season. This year a troika of talented, future franchise collegiate signal callers will have their names called by the conclusion of the 1st round; USC's Matt Leinart, Texas's Vince Young and rapidly-rising Vanderbilt product Jay Cutler. Given the number of veteran Quarterbacks that swapped Unis', coupled with the number of teams that still need franchise field generals, clubs possessing low number picks may opt to jockey those valuable selections into additional draft picks and experienced players.

As is the case every year, surprises will no doubt abound!

1. Houston Texans; RB Reggie Bush: No shocker here. Even with proven 1,000 yard runner Domanick "Double-D" Davis in the fold (Doub' D' was awarded with a $21.1 Milly' contract extension) and '05 draft pick Vernand Morency backing Davis up, the most explosive offensive talent in the draft will go to the team that can least afford to take him. It wouldn't matter if the 2006 Texans could somehow manage to trot-out a backfield consisting of Walter Payton, Red Grange, and Barry Sanders. WR Andre' Johnson is a 1-man pass catching band, and with no complementary receiver or receiving corps to help keep the pressure off of the run game the offense is waaay too predictable. Then, you must take the gossamer-thin Houston O-Line into consideration. Carr is... and always has, been forced to run for his very life, and as a consequence the young man's development may have been permanently affected. The Texans can't draft Matt Leinart since they recently resigned David Carr to a big dollar deal. But realistically, if the Texan brain-trust was really smart, they'd grab Virgina OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson. Someone's got to keep Carr upright and grass-stain free, and seeing as how the guy's been a human pinata... another 50+ Sack season could cost the Houston QB his health, ala Daunte' Culpepper.
If the Texan front office could tear their collective eyes away from the offense for a moment they'd be forced to address a horrifying defense. Said defense ranked second-to-last in "total yards allowed" (yielding 364 per game) and was far and away the worst in the league at defending the run; opposing ball carriers gashed the Texans for nearly 145 ground yards per game. With a veritable feast of talent laid out before them, Houston will still take Reggie Bush with the 1st overall pick in the 1st round of the 2006 draft.
Count on the Texans lining Bush up in the Slot where his 4.3 speed and liquid-quick open-field moves can be put to lethal use. Likewise, there has been talk of using Bush on Punt and Kickoff returns. Given his rather slight build (5-10/200), though, there are legitimate questions as to whether or not Reggie Bush can endure 20 touches per game in addition to the beating a return-man is subjected to.
Bottom line? This Heisman Trophy winner is the most exciting talent to enter the league since Falcon QB Michael Vick, and looks to be a more gifted version of Ram RB Marshall Faulk... when the scat-back was in his prime. All niceties aside, Houston will continue to flounder and lose until such time as they can stop opposing offenses, line a credible receiving threat up opposite Andre' Johnson, and provide QB David Carr with real protection.
OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Although I wouldn't count on it, OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson is a VERY remote possibility... DE Mario Williams even more unlikely.

2. New Orleans Saints: DE Mario Williams: The winds of Quarterback change are a-blowin', and former San Diego slinger Drew Brees is a breath of fresh air for this stagnating team. Once Brees was wooed and signed the need for a franchise Quarterback vanished, and now the smack around the league has the defensively deficient 'Aints snatchin' N.C State stud Mario Williams, the hands-down best Defensive End in the draft, off the 'board. Ohio State LB A.J Hawk also remains a possibility, but Williams is a 6-7/295 freak of nature. The elite prospect pairs Running Back speed with lineman strength, and boasting absurd athleticism has been likened to Panther great Julius Peppers.
Bottom line? Defensive Ends with Williams' ability are rare commodities.
Keep in mind, though, that the team already fields both DEs Charles Grant and Will Smith. Realistically, the Saints are riddled with needs, face a HUGE rebuilding project, and it's not inconceivable that they trade out of this spot in order to maximize their picks.
OTHER POSSIBILITIES: LB A.J Hawk, OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson

3. Tennessee Titans: QB Matt Leinart: Matt will go no further. Although Billy Volek resigned with the team and believed the starting job would be his once "Air" hung 'em up, Leinart's much too talented... and marketable, to pass up. After crafting a 37-2 record, including a string of 34 consecutive W's, Leinart will go down as one of the College game's greatest and most prolific passers. Possessing poise and intangibles that only "the great ones" can boast, the USC field general is clearly the most polished and NFL-ready QB in this draft. Further, league observers believe that had Leinart opted to skip "Ball-Room Dancing," "Great American Beers," and "Competitive Basket-Weaving," (dude took a single class and stayed in college last year, living "the life." To me, this just further underscores his genius!)... okay, Leinart took only Ball Room Dancing, he would've been the first overall selection in last years' draft. It's widely believed that Leinart is head and shoulders above both of 2005's top Quarterback selections, San Francisco's Alex Smith and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers.
All of that is well and good, but it does not mean that he'll turn out to be the best NFL Quarterback in this year's draft. Leinart's critics' claims range from the always-popular "he's a system Quarterback" to "anyone would thrive with the talent that surrounded him at USC" to "I question his arm strength and durability."
Bottom line? Matt Leinart can make all the throws, including an especially pretty deep ball, and can take command of an NFL huddle immediately. And, with maturity that belies his age, above-average pocket presence, and the ability to operate under pressure, the guy has the potential to be the "next Tom Brady." Although rookie Quarterbacks rarely make an impact, even Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger enjoyed limited success, Leinart could be thrown to the dogs in short order. Incumbent Steve McNair should be applauded for his grit and courage, but at this point in his career he's about as durable as a Grade-A egg. Without doubt, Leinart will be starting at some point this season.
OTHER POSSIBILITIES? QB Vince Young Young's far too raw and his mechanics need a lot of work. The Titans seem to be committed to Leinart; a kid they believe will render their offense relevant immediately.

4. NY Jets: OT D'Brickashaw Ferguson: After trading John Abraham to the Falcons for the 29th overall pick in this year's draft, NY has a vaccuum to fill; pass rush specialist. Abraham may not have been the toughest 'backer in the league nor was he the guttiest, but he could get after the Quarterback in a heartbeat, was able to shed blockers effectively, and when motivated... few offensive linemen are able to restrain him. However, as glaring a need as that may be the loss of OT Jason Fabini renders the O-Line a 1st round "must address." The team will likely grab a pass rusher or formidable Defensive End with their other 1st round selection.
D'Brickashaw Ferguson has yet to take a pro snap, but his name is already being uttered alongside Raven Jonathan Ogden's and Ram Orlando Pace's. At 6-5/295, and with a wingspan akin to a Boeing 747's...

5. Green Bay Packers:LB A.J Hawk:

6. San Francisco 49'ers: TE Vernon Davis:

7. Oakland Raiders: Vince Young:

8. Buffalo Bills: OT Winston Justice:

9. Detroit Lions: S Michael Huff:

10. Arizona Cardinals: QB Jay Cutler:

11. St. Louis Rams: CB Jimmy Williams:

12. Cleveland Browns: DT Haloti Ngata:

13. Baltimore Ravens: DT Broderick Bunkley:

14. Philadelphia Eagles: RB LenDale White:

15. Denver Broncos: DeAngelo Williams:

16. Miami Dolphins: CB Tye Hill:

17. Minnesota Vikings: OLB Ernie Sims:

18. Dallas Cowboys: WR Santonio Holmes:

19. San Diego Chargers: WR Chad Jackson:

20. Kansas City Chiefs: CB Ashton Youboty:

21. New England Patriots: RB Laurence Maroney:

22. Denver Broncos (From Washington): DE Tamba Hall:

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OT Marcus McNeill:

24. Cincinnati Bengals: DT Gabe Watson:

25. New York Giants: LB Ernie Sims:

26. Chicago Bears: TE Leonard Pope:

27. Carolina Panthers: OLB DeMeco Ryans:

28. Jacksonville Jaguars: OLB Thomas Howard:

29. New York Jets (From Denver/Atlanta): C Nick Mangold:

30. Indianapolis Colts: RB Joseph Addai:

31. Seattle Seahawks: OG Max-Jean Giles:

32. Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Sinorice Rice:

NEXT 10 BY TOMORROW, ALL BLURBS BY SUNDAY!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

THE AL 'BEAST; 2nd PLACE RED SOX!

COMPLETED ON FRIDAY!

PROJECTED FINISHES FOR THE AL EAST!

NY YANKEES: 95+ WINS: Assuming Mussina is a 16+ game winner, Unit is an 18+ game winner, and Kyle Farnsworth is a reliable... bodering upon dominant, set-up man. This is a team with 1,000 run, 100 win ability.

BOSTON RED SOX: 90 WINS: So long as Schilling remains on the mound, and the Closer situation settles itself; Foulke's balky knees may force either Timlin, or more likely talented young John Papelbon, into the role. In addition, Coco Crisp MUST do a credible job replacing the departed Damon. The te

TORONTO BLUE JAYS 75+ WINS: The additions of 1B Lyle Overbay, 3B Troy Glaus, and Closer B.J Ryan, when coupled with a potentially dominant rotation could... could, push the Jays past the Red Sox! Should the Blue Jays best the BoSox, can you imagine the Brouhaha that would boil over Boston? Glaus anchors the infield as well as the lineup, and Roy Halladay, if healthy, is a Cy Young candidate.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES: The O's off-season was a mixed bag. Building for the future, signing Pitching Coach Leo Mazzone was a no-brainer. A brilliant teacher and solid assessor of talent, Mazzone is capable of extracting every ounce of effort and talent from his stable of arms. In addition, Sam Perlozzo was a managerial G-d send.
As for talent, the Orioles dropped the ball. Thoroughly misjudging the market, Balty' lost out on every credible closer... and will be forced to put the ball, and game, into unproven Chris Ray's 9th inning glove. Meanwhile, Melvin Mora's '05 was nothing like his off the charts '04, and Miguel Tejada could see his average, and power numbers, take a Nestea plunge.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS: This could've been the year that manager Lou Piniella stroked while on the field. In an effort to boost the team's morale and standings, the team inked "Who Dat?" manager Joe Maddon. The club is certainly not without talent, and 2B Jorge Cantu, 3B Aubrey Huff, SS Julio Lugo, LF'er Carl Crawford and RF'er Jhonny Gomes constitute quite an offensive battery. The issue is pitching, and after the enormously gifted but unquestionably erratic Scott Kazmir, Mark Hendrickson, should he emerge, could catapult himself up from 5th in the rotation to 2nd. Casey Fossum, Seth McClung, and Doug Waechter are unimpressive at best, liabilities at worst. The team is entrusting Doug Micelli with Closing duties... but he does NOT look to be the answer, and my money's on Chad Orvella winninb the job by mid-season.

THE RED SOCK: "Feurrot Sochen in German, "Rojo Calcetin" in Spanish, "Reddo Shiire" in Japanese, and "Sore Losers" in plain ol' "Yank-ese!"

PROJECTED FINISH; 2ND PLACE IN THE AL EAST- "WILD CARD" WINNERS

The team went through much tumult over the off-season and as so many other Championship winning teams have, the Sox lost some talent. In much the same way an expensive automobile left on a deserted side street will have some of its' shinier parts ripped off, other clubs willing to shell-out big money contracts to players the Red Sock brass deemed expendable, or too costly to retain, were snatched-up. In addition, bright young GM Theo Epstein, architect of the current Sock team, went off on his merry way... only to find his way back to Beantown after receiving a nice compensation package. Theo possesses a sharp baseball mind and a keen eye for talent.
Although the 3-4 combo of David "Big Papi" Ortiz and Manny Ramirez remain intact, the loss of speedy Centerfielder and On Base machine Johnny Damon will be felt up and down the lineup.
It's my suspicion that unlike the Yankees (yesterday's post), a team quite capable of a 95+ Win, 1,000 run season, the BoSox won't be able to score with impunity ala' last season, and they MUST decide upon... and commit to, a full-time Closer. Although manager Terry Francona believes that Keith Foulke is "back," the veteran reliever is starting the season on 2 balky knees and, coming off a 15 Save season that saw him post an ERA of almost 6.00, he just doesn't inspire much confidence. Behind Foulke, talented young Johnathan Papelbon is drooling and waiting for Foulke to falter. No doubt, the 3rd year, 34 year old 'Sock Saver will be on a short leash. We shall see!

KEY ADDITIONS: Josh Beckett, Coco Crisp, Wily Mo Pena, Mark Loretta, Hee Seop Choi, Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, J.T Snow, Andy Marte, john Flaherty, Rudy Seanez, David Riske

KEY LOSSES: Johnny Damon, Bronson Arroyo, Bill Mueller, Edgar Renteria, Mike Stanton, Wade Miller, Mike Myers, Hanley Ramirez

POSITION PLAYERS:
The loss of CF'er Johnny Damon cannot be underestimated. Damon, aside from knowing how to work a count and exasperate a pitcher, possesses 15+ HR power, is a brilliant base-runner, and can cover more ground than a John Deere Riding Mower. Likewise, Bill Mueller's departure will be felt in the power and RBI departments. Epstein and company did a nice job acquiring both 2B Mark Loretta, who will much prefer Fenway to Petco, and Coco Crisp. Crisp, now that he has a chance to be an everyday player, should blossom.

C: JASON VARITEK: Varitek is certainly getting up there in years, and at 35 he's a contemporary of some of the most prolific... and oldest, backstops in the bigs'; Ivan Rodriguez, Javy Lopez, Jorge Posada, and Mike Piazza. Nevertheless, the Sock Catcher is no slouch with the lumber himself, and his .281/20/70/70, 30 Double, .489 SLG % '05 season set some marks. His .856 OPS and 22 Homers led all Catchers, and 70 Ribs' and 70 Runs were good enough for 3rd at the position. For fantasy purposes, that's outstanding production for a Catcher. Even taking their considerable positional losses into account, the much-storied club remains an imposing offensive team and Varitek is a key cog in the BoSock dynam-O.
While it's probably time to take 'Teks' age into account, I would still look for something akin to .280/18/65... and if Wily Mo and Coco and go-go, Varitek's RBI total could even creep up a bit.


1B: J.T SNOW/ KEVIN YOUKILIS: How long does a prospect remain a prospect? What's the expiration date on "potential?" And... when does a promising youngster become a "could've been?" With luck Youkilis, who was a "Hot Cornerman" by trade... until the team traded for savvy Mike Lowell, will slide into the opposite corner and attempt to pay dividends on 6 long seasons of minor league dues. The problem lies in Youkilis's power, or lack thereof. Boasting an OBP of .400 last year, he also rang-up a total of 30 Round-Trippers'. Over the span of his 6 year Minor League career, that is. Knowlegeable fantasy folk know that... hell, ANY Baseball fan worth his salt knows that a team needs 30 HR power from it's corner infielders. Generally speaking, 1st Baggers are defensive liabilities capable of wielding a bat as if it were a toothpick. Clearly, given Youkilis's, umm, shallow gap power, his game is built upon contact.
Although he's considered a top "Sleeper" in many fantasy circles, I see Youkilis as nothing more than a .255/10/45 player assuming he sees 145 or so games.
One of the older players in the game at 38 (he, Todd Jones, Greg Maddux, and Julio Franco often play Bridge), Snow's bat has cooled considerably over the past 3 seasons or so. To be fair, though, he somehow managed to sandwich a .327/.529/.429 12/60, 113 hit, 32 Double 2004 campaign in between a .274/.418/.387 8/50, 70 hit '03, and a .275/.365/.343, 4/40, 101 hit 2005. All of those diggies' aside, Snow should be considered nothing more than a late-inning defensive replacement and bench depth for the Red Sox, and a near-zero fantasy 1st baseman; .255/8/45.


2B: MARK LORETTA: M-Lo'... okay, so the 2nd bagger's butt isn't a thing of beauty as J-Lo's is, but then again J-Lo' ain't gonna' turn a DP' with the grace and beauty that M-Lo' can!
Seriously, though. Loretta was never happy playing in Petco Park; a field with dimensions that may be closer to those of a State Park then ballpark. Fenway, coupled with teammates David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, should help propel the Red Sock middle infielder's numbers upwards, although hopes that he'll approach the numbers of his career 2004 campaign should be extinguished right now.
An excellent offensive 2nd baseman who may be a tier below guys like Kent, Soriano, and Chase Utley, batting 2nd in the BoSock order should allow M-Lo to reach .305/15/85.

SS: ALEX GONZALEZ: Although the departed Edgar Renteria was unable to recapture the magic he displayed as a Cardinal Shortstop, he was still a better play than Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who came over from Florida, offers a better glove hut he's hit better than .265 only once, in '01. It could be that if he flounders at the plate, bench player Alex Cora will see 2 or so games a week at Short'.
The loss of Renteria is one of Boston's costlier departures, and Gonzalez looks to be nothing more than a .250/15/65 player.


3B: MIKE LOWELL: The longtime Marlin is hoping that Beantown's mighty lineup will allow him the opportunity to re-discover his .290/25+/90+ po'. Coming off a perfectly hideous 2005, Lowell can't help but to improve.
However, the corner infielder's bat has reportedly slowed down considerably, and even though he's just "32"... on the wrong side of 30, anything can happen. While it's too soon to judge, his current average of .182 is somewhat less than encouraging.
If Lo' can scratch-out a .245/10/65 season, that will be a victory in and of itself.


LF: MANNY RAMIREZ: ManRam; professional malcontent... but a heckuva' good lockerroom card player! Not the headiest of ball players, Ramirez has mistaken the number of outs in an inning on more than once occassion; this would leave fans to believe that he just doesn't care. Umm, they might be right. A "me" and "stat'" driven athlete, Ramirez is a top-tier talent. A 35 year old talent, and it wouldn't be a shocker to see his average take a bit of a plunge as it did last season, falling to .292. While that's nothing to sneeze at, particularly when you take 45 HRs, 144 RBIs, and 30 Doubles into consideration... but it was the first time his average dipped below .300 since he suited up for Cleveland in '98 (.294). And, over the course of ManRam's 14 year career, he's had just 4 seasons of sub-.300 ball. Look for '05 to be a 5th.
The loss of Damon and Mueller sting, and Manny and Big Papi' will bear the brunt of the pain. Look for a modest correction in Ramirez's production, something resembling .289/38/130. Manny should still be a top-15 OF'er.


CF: COCO CRISP: A mere $365,000 (and I'm rounding up) earned Cleveland a .300/.465/.345 16/69/86, 15 SB, 42 Double, 4 Triple season from from Coco last year. At that price was Coco burnt? You bet, to a "crisp!" Now, roaming Centerfield with former Cin' City' bench player Wily Mo, Crisp has some big shoes to fill; Johnny "Da'Mans." Just 26, Crisp is growing into his body and developing "his game." And allow me to inform you, just entering the prime of his career... Crisp's "game" resembles that of a young Andruw Jones. He may not possess the power 'Druw does, but Crisp should be capable of 25 Dingers' by the time he's 28, and with his blazing speed he covers a lot of ground. Just like Jones.
As long as the BoSock CF'ers Slugging and OBP percentages keep climbing, his fantasy (and real) value will climb correlationally. With all the meat and muscle batting behind the Sox's newest leadoff hitter, a .310/18-20/60/90 season is NOT out of reach.


RF: TROT NIXON / WILY MO PENA: The Nixon administration began in '96... the "Trot Nixon" administration, that is. And although Trot was expected to surrender at least 1/3 of his starts to foerm Red OF'er Wily Mo Pena, with a hit in each of Boston's 1st 3 games, including a 2 run Round-Tripper' in Game 1, the incumbent Sock is no crook and won't waste a roster space.
Assuming the Sox trot Nixon out for 125+ contests, look for a .275/15/65 season.


DH: DAVID ORTIZ: David Ortiz, "Big Papi'," DH-D-Luxe. Ortiz is one of the leagues' most lethal batsmen, and at 6-4/240, the bat looks like a toothpick in his mighty mitts! His .300/.604/.397 47/148/119, 40 Double, 180 hit '05 earned him serious MVP consideration. Although he was edged-out by Yankee 3B A-Rod's equally impressive (.321/.610/.421 48/130/124, 194 hit, 21 SB) season, probably due to the uproar a non-position player would've provoked by winning the award, Papi' was probably the more feared batter of the 2. While the Yankee roster was bolstered over the off-season, the Sox's lineup took some costly hits; Johnny Damon, Bill Mueller and Edgar Renteria to name but a trio.
Nevertheless, last season's "Hank Aaron Award" and AL RBI leader still cleans-up for a very impressive cast of Beantown boppers, and at age 30 the DH isn't forced to absorb the beating a regular position player is subjected to. Therefore, another "Ruthian" campaign of .325/45/135 could even be on the conservative side.


STARTING ROTATION:
A potentially dominant group, the team could feature a troika of #1 quality arms in Schill', Beckett and Clement. After facing Wakefield's Knuckler and "junk," facing a mid-high 90's Beckett the following day is tantamount to getting splashed with ice water.

CURT SCHILLING Talk about a true "Red Sock," Schilling and his fabled "bloody sock" will forever live in World Series history and be an inseperable component of Beantown lore. When he's on, there are few better. Schilling may be disliked by many in the league (including an appreciable percentage of teammates) and looked upon as an arrogant know-it-all, but there's no disputing his ability... or age, 39. Even the arch-rival Yankees will grudingly admit that the dude's a horse, his mid-90's Fastball is electric, it still explodes through the zone, and few pitchers possess better control.
Bottom line? Schilling is a dogged competitor, he won't allow minor injuries tro knock him from the rotation, and another 16 Win season... so long as he stays relatively healthy, should be on the way.


TIM WAKEFIELD: After facing a hard-throwing Schill', opponents must contend with Wakefield's butterfly Knucklers. There are 2 types of games Wake' has; those in which he's hammered and yanked by the 4th inning, and those in which he positively confounds and exasperates opponents. Last year, the 39 year old Junkballer went 16-12 (including 3 complete games), with 150+ Ks, an ERA of 4.15 and a WHIP of 1.23. The downside to wakefield is that a scant few Catchers can handle him, as even Tim doesn't know, exactly, where his pitchers will flutter to.
Although the guy didn't miss a start last season, it would be alot to expect the same spate of good health this year. If Wakefield can bank 15 Ws, GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona will be thrilled.


JOSH BECKETT: The former Marlin was signed because the team felt, quite understandably, that their stable of pitchers was aging rapidly. Although the 25 year old Beckett's been besiged by blister problems, his talent is undeniable.
Supported by an impressive offensive armada and with his fabuluous stuff, Josh is capable of reaching 20 wins this year and a 3.20 ERA.


MATT CLEMENT: Clement never reached his true potential as a Chicago Cub. Perhaps the coaching staff never took the time to hone his mechanics... perhaps the iffy run support cost him, or perhaps it was a combination of those things... and others, but one thing's for cdertain; Clement is an immensely gifted hurler.
Clement came over to Boston mid-season of last year and the results were immediate; 1-2 in 17 starts and an All-Star berth!
Matt Clement boasts an arsenal that renders him far better than a #4, but Francona likes Wakefield as his #2 man, primarily because his jinky stuff sets-up both Beckett and Clement. If he can harness his pitches and throw them with consistency, a 17 Win season is not out of the question.


BULLPEN:

KEITH FOULKE: Aging and not gracefully, Foulke is puttering about on 2 balky knees and probably won't make it past June as the Sock Closer. Most likely, he'll either be forced to go back under the knife, be relegated to mop-up duty, or go on the DL.

MIKE TIMLIN Timlin should see ample mop-up duty... but my hard-earned dough's on Papelbon to supplant Keith cause his knees are "Foulked!"

DAVID RISKE: Middle-relief and possibly a stop-gap Closer, the BP is a shaky situation for Beantown.

JONATHAN PAPELBON: Pap' already notched his 1st Save of the season and I expect it'll be far from his last. A sneaky-good "Sleeper" at Closer, Papelbon absolutely blew AWAY the Rangers on Wednesday, 4/5.