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Friday, March 6, 2009

Happy Friday!

Because once again i am leaving work early on a Friday (I rule!), this weeks Happy Friday post is going up a bit earlier than normal. But no matter, because it's Friday!

fail owned pwned pictures
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Enjoy your weekend everyone!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

NFL CBA: Problems Looming

One of my greatest passions in my sports life is the Minnesota Vikings, and by extension the NFL in general. As such, i tend to follow things in the NFL pretty closely, especially issues that have the possibility of greatly affecting the game as we know it. One such issue, that i believe is not getting near enough exposure, is the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations between the NFL Players Association (NFLPA or Union) and the owners.

I've detailed the actual negotiations and what the issues will be here and here, as well as what the untimely passing of Gene Upshaw means for the negotiations here and here. I've also wrote about how the StarCaps suspensions/court cases coming up will affect the negotiations here. All this is to say that i feel this is a very important issue as well as something i am keeping a very close eye on.

I'm writing this article to focus on what perhaps will be the most important issue facing the NFLPA heading into the negotiations with the owners: Who their leader will be.

With the passing of Gene Upshaw almost a year ago, the NFLPA appointed Titans Center Kevin Mawae as interim president, with the knowledge they would be electing a new president in their winter meetings, which begin next week in Hawaii. Since that time, the selection process has been narrowed down to three names: Former players Troy Vincent and Trace Armstrong, both of whom have served as Union President in the past, and lawyer DeMaurice Smith.

As stated in the story above, the reason for Smith's inclusion on the final ballot is more or less a fail safe; There are growing concerns the NFLPA will split on which former player to elect as union head. In that event, Smith will be looked at as a sort of impartial party. That fact alone underscores not only the seriousness of the process, but also the problems plaguing it. Vincent has been mired in controversy since almost the moment he was mentioned as a candidate, having been accused of lobbying for the job, and recruiting congressman to write letters on his behalf (without specifically mentioning him) that raised questions on the integrity of the process.

So, how does all this affect the actual CBA negotiations, which will be taking place later this summer? Well, it means everything. If the NFLPA comes to a quick, majority decision on their new head and comes out looking strong and together, they are in good shape for the negotiations. If, however, the NFLPA has trouble picking a new leader, is split on the decision, and comes out fighting within itself and fractured (as many think is very possible), the negotiations are in big, big trouble.

As i mentioned in my previous article about the steroid suspension and the CBA, any little thing that either the NFLPA or the owners can jump on and take advantage of, they will. If the Union is fractured, suddenly the owners go into the negotiations looking to 'win' instead of just compromise. With that attitude they are likely to upset the NFLPA, causing a stall in the negotiations.

And just as a reminder, if the NFLPA and the owners cannot come to an agreement and get a new CBA in place before the 2010 season, that season will be an uncapped year. What that means is that for that season, there will be no salary cap, much like how MLB operates. If the NFL goes one year without a cap, it will be very, very, very hard to ever get a salary cap back in place. That would be very bad for the NFL.

I know i harp on it a lot, but please pay attention next week to the NFLPA meetings, not just for who they elect, but how they get elected and how the Union comes out of the meetings. The NFL as we currently know it is in the balance...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Diamondbacks Starting Pitching Situation

Last week i previewed the 2009 Dbacks in two segments, one for the outfield, and the infield. Today i'll get to my last preview for the season, the starting pitching.

Unlike anything behind the mound, the Dbacks starting pitching for 2009 seems pretty well set. They made one major acquisition (Jon Garland), and had one major loss (Randy Johnson). They have one guy who will be stepping up into a starter's role (Max Scherzer), and three guys who were all here last year (Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, and Doug Davis). Without further adu, let's get into it.

Just as it's been the last 5 years, Brandon Webb is the anchor of the Dbacks pitching staff. A ground ball machine, Webb is about as reliable a #1 starter as you could ask for. With a 22-7 record last year and his penchant for going deep into ballgames, Webb is the perfect pitcher to head a rotation.

At 16-8 with a 3.33 ERA, Dan Haren has good enough stuff to be a #1 on a lot of staff's in MLB. The fact that the Dbacks only need him to be a #2 is fantastic. The Dbacks acquired Haren before the 2008 season, with the clear intention being that they were building on pitching on defense. Unfortunately for the Dbacks (and Haren), the defense wasn't always there. The pitching was, and Haren was a big part of that in 2008. He will be counted on again this season if the Dbacks look to win the NL West.

There seems to be a bit of a debate on which pitcher to put in this slot and which pitcher to put in the #4 hole, but for now it seems like Doug Davis will be here. Davis is a lefty who won't overpower anyone with his stuff, but is a crafty pitcher. When his curve is working it's absolutely filthy. Most games he can be counted to get through 6 innings; anything more than that is a bonus. Davis went 6-8 last year with a 4.32 ERA, though to be fair he missed a good chunk of the season after undergoing surgery to remove some cancerous cells. Davis has a tendency to start the season a little slow but finish very strong. Something like a 12-8 record from him would be great.

Diamondbacks newcomer Jon Garland will fit nicely into this spot for the club. A record of 14-8, which Garland posted last season with the Angels, would be a pretty good record from your #4 spot. Garland has been an 18-game winner twice, and has posted double digit win totals in each of the last 7 seasons. If he can continue to do that, the Dbacks are in good shape.

Which brings us to the back-end of the rotation, the one 'weak' link if you will. How weak it actually is depends on how well you think a rookie will do. Ok, so maybe Scherzer isn't a rookie, as he got playing time last year, but this is the first time he goes into a season as a starter. He was just 0-4 last year, but posted a fantastic 3.05 ERA. It's hard to predict how he will react to being 'the man', but seeing as he's only the #5, and the Dbacks have four really solid pitchers in front of him, there shouldn't be a ton of pressure on him. All you really look from a #5 is something close to a .500 record.

So there you have it. I will not delve into the bullpen situation, mostly because it was such an abject disaster last year and i have no idea how it will play out this year. But with a very strong starting rotation, a little bit of defense, and a little more maturity from our young players, the Dbacks could be on the cusp of a great year. Let's hope it plays out that way...

Monday, March 2, 2009

US Soccer Players In Europe

Interesting article on TWWL today from a David Mosse regarding the state of the American soccer player trying to break through in European leagues. He calls it a glass ceiling, and makes a passing mention to it being similar to the Jackie Robinson situation with MLB. While i think that's a bit extreme, he makes some good points.

The Americans most talented players are struggling to gain a footing with top teams in top leagues in Europe, often because of an unwillingness to even give them a chance to earn playing time (Fulham FC notwithstanding of course. They are the only club that has given Americans substantial opportunity and playing time, and have been rewarded nicely. Curious to note also that that success has come in the form of forwards Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, and at least a chance for Eddie Johnson. Forward has always been the weakest position for American players, yet they are finding success at Fulham given the opportunity).

The US Men's National Team has made gigantic strides the last twenty years in making themselves a respectable and respected outfit, becoming arguably the kings of CONCACAF. The individual players, however, still struggle mightily to garner that same respect. It is something that will need to change for the US Team to make the next step; In order for the players to grow and mature their skills, they need to be playing in the top leagues with the top teams. It becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. With players not being given opportunities because of their supposed lack of skill, and the player not able to hone that skill against the best of the best.

It is frustrating to watch America's most talented soccer players toil in obscurity in second-rate divisions and sit on the bench in first divisions in Europe. As Mosse points out in his story, they will need a player that can break through that 'glass ceiling' and show the Americans are worth the time and effort. For my money, look for that player to be Michael Bradley, who after absolutely killing in the Dutch league with Herenveen last year, has moved onto Borussia Monchengladbach in the German Bundesliga this year. While Gladbach is stuck in near relegation zone, Bradley has excelled with them. If anyone is poised to break through in a top League with a top team, it will be Bradley, and soon.

Once that happens, expect even more opportunities for Americans abroad, and a new found level of play for the US Men's National Team as a result...