Thursday, December 31, 2009

Here we go again ...

***UPDATE*** Paul Sullivan says the deal is done, and it's for three years, $15 million. Shockingly, Bruce Levine says the deal is believed to be backloaded.

The Cubs have now taken Milton Bradley, Rudy Jaramillo and Marlon Byrd from the Rangers in the last year.

Another free agent signing the Cubs are going to regret. According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are close to signing free agent OF Marlon Byrd to a three-year deal. Byrd is 32 and coming off a career year, two rather disconcerting facts. And even in that career year, he put up just 20 HR and 89 RBI, along with a .283 batting average and a subpar .329 OBP, all in a hitter-friendly ballpark in Arlington.

The 20 home runs were twice the number he has hit in any other season, and the next-most RBI he's ever tallied is 53. His career averages? Twelve HR, 69 RBI, .279 average, .340 OBP.

The terms of the contract are unknown, but committing three years to a very average outfielder coming off a career year for anything more than about $3 million per year would be a mistake. And we all know he'll get more than $9 million. Hendry's made a lot of great moves in his time as GM, but this appears to be yet another case of him overpaying for an outfielder in the hopes that he'll be better than he's ever been before.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

So this is what we've been missing

Week 16: Bears 36, Vikings 30 (OT)

I was excited about the Bears-Vikings game for three reasons:

1) I was allowing myself to be. Though the Bears have given their fans zero incentive to get jazzed up for their games this year, I figured the Monday night affair was essentially their last game of the year. Even if they beat the Lions this coming Sunday ... meh. The game against the Vikings would be the last chance of the season to hope for something unexpected, so I decided to buy in just for fun.

2) Sure, beating teams like the Ravens or Eagles would have been nice, but this game provided some real juicy storylines. With Adrian Peterson struggling, Favre and Childress bickering and the Vikings having lost two of three coming in, the Bears had a chance to throw a nice stomach punch at their already-reeling rival. On top of that, a loss would eliminate Minnesota's chance at the 1 seed and keep alive the possibility that they could fall as low as the 4 seed.

3) Granted, I was practically begging for someone to give me a reason to believe the Bears could actually win the game, looking for something, anything in which to ground my manufactured hope, but I found it on the Chicago Now Website. Brad Palmer, aka The Professor, explored the extreme variance between Favre and the Vikings' play on turf vs. grass. A couple examples: Favre was 12-2 his last 14 games at Soldier Field, and both losses were in December; the Vikings had outscored opponents by 16 points a game on turf, but on grass it was even.

So in front of the TV I sat, armed with pretend hope, buoyed by a bevy of anti-Favre and anti-Vikings sentiment, and comforted by a dash of reasons that the Bears might actually come out on top.

And what do we have here? A 16-0 halftime lead? Adrian Peterson running into a wall of tacklers every time he gets the ball? Pressure on Favre, in one case resulting in a sack and a fumble?

I'm glad I found a way to go into this game believing this type of performance was actually a remote possibility, because otherwise, my brain would not have been able to translate the images I was seeing on the screen. Since when do the Bears play hard for four quarters (plus overtime!)? Since when do they commit just three penalties through an entire game (including overtime!)? Since when does Jay Cutler throw four touchdowns (and only one pick!) and finish with a higher QB rating than Favre?

The answer's easy: since Monday. This instant classic of a game teased Bears fans with what could have been this year.
  • Cutler did miss some wide open receivers and tried to force it a few times, but he had solid protection all day and threw for over 250 yards, the aforementioned four TDs and "just" one interception.
  • Devin Aromashodu, playing because the other Devin--Hester--was out with an injury, made us wonder again why it took this long for him to see time. He piled up 150 yards receiving on seven catches, including the game-winning 39-yard TD reception in overtime.
  • The Bears won the all-important turnover battle by forcing a Favre fumble and by scooping up A.P.'s fumble in OT, which set up the Aromashodu touchdown.
  • Though the Bears couldn't hold a 17-point lead in regulation, they remained focused and played hard in overtime, eventually getting the best of a team that had a lot more to play for.
Unfortunately, we've seen far too little of this type of effort this season. While this game may have been a small work of art in the eyes of the Bears faithful, the big picture remains the same. Congrats to everyone involved on a surprising and thrilling victory, but I hope this doesn't provide the McCaskeys with a reason to stay the course. They may have been searching for any reason at all to justify keeping Lovie and saving $11 million, and I hope this exciting victory doesn't lead them down the wrong path.

My dad wanted to write a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking him to cancel the game, and I couldn't blame him. As I stated in my game preview, it was frustrating to think that the Vikings got to beat up on the Bears at a crucial point in their season. Was there really a need to play the game and make us suffer through another lackluster performance? Couldn't we just alter the standings accordingly?

But thank you, Bears, for showing up and caring for once. For being disciplined, and focused, and displaying the positive characteristics that any fan has a right to expect from his/her favorite team. It took you 16 weeks to do so, but thanks nonetheless. I'm speaking specifically to the Week 16 version of the Bears when I say: I look forward to seeing you next year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

16-0? No thanks.

The Colts essentially gave away their chance at an undefeated season on Sunday. Ahead 15-10 in the third quarter, head coach Jim Caldwell pulled Peyton Manning and threw rookie Curtis Painter into the fire against the best defense in the league. Painter, who had never taken an NFL snap, immediately fumbled near the goal line, and the Jets recovered it for a touchdown. The Colts offense could do very little the rest of the way, and the '72 Dolphins rejoiced.

I may be biased because of my disdain for Mercury Morris and the Dolphins, but I think this was a terrible decision. Everyone says, "The undefeated season means nothing. All that really matters is winning the Super Bowl." Yes, raising the Lombardi Trophy over your head is the most important thing. But is going 19-0 along the way really not important at all? Most football fans know the Colts won the Super Bowl recently, but might not even be able to tell you the exact year. If a team were to do what was pretty much unthinkable until the Patriots nearly accomplished it a couple years ago, they would be one of the most memorable teams of all time, in any sport. That doesn't matter at all?

On top of that, we've seen teams bench their starters at the end of the year time and time again, and while it obviously keeps said players from getting injured, it can also curb momentum and disturb mojo (see: 2005 Indianapolis Colts). If the Colts sit Manning for a significant portion of this week's game as well, he will go four weeks between playing full games (the final two weeks of the regular season plus the bye week). Is that really the best recipe for a Super Bowl run?

And lastly, we're talking about Peyton Manning here, a man who has never missed a game due to injury. He's as likely to tear his MCL tripping over a member of the chain gang as he is taking a third down snap. Okay, that's probably not true. But this is not an aging, injury-prone player we're talking about. A guy who misses three games a year? A guy with a history of concussions or arm injuries? I get that. But not Peyton Manning.

(By the way, taking him out with a lead or deficit of 14 points or more? Makes total sense. But up five in the third quarter? That's where you lose me.)

It seems to me that the Colts would have risked rather little by playing Manning and their other starters for the majority of their final few games. And they stood to gain a place in NFL and sports lore, and to accomplish something that may never be repeated. But less than six quarters away from completing the regular season portion of said accomplishment, they decided to forfeit any chance of joining the Dolphins on that most unique of pedestals.

While the Cowboys stole the Saints' potential perfect season, the Colts simply gave theirs away. '72 Dolphins, your distinction is safe; the Colts want no part of it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chicago rumors

If the Bears do decide to axe Lovie, I hope they move quickly. ESPN reports that Bill Cowher is likely to coach in 2010, and has already been mentioned in connection with potential job openings in Carolina and Tampa Bay.

While Mike Shanahan was rumored to have interest in a potential Bears job, ESPN's Adam Schefter recently tweeted: "Despite speculation to contrary, Mike Shanahan will not wind up coaching Chicago nor Houston. Too much respect for Lovie and (Gary) Kubiak.''

I'm not sure that "respect" precludes you from succeeding a fellow coach, but this would be disappointing if true. Either way, it seems likely that the Bears would have better coaching options this offseason than next. But those options could start to dwindle shortly after the season's end.

Fernando Who?

Phil Rogers suggests that the Cubs could look at the Rays' Fernando Perez to fill their center field void. The move would certainly be a gamble, as Perez played just 18 games last year to the tune of a .206 average.

Meanwhile, Bleed Cubbie Blue prefers a Reed Johnson/Sam Fuld platoon. I'm not necessarily sold on Fuld from an offensive standpoint, but I wouldn't mind seeing Reed Johnson as part of the solution. I will say that Johnson and Fuld in center with Fukudome in right would significantly improve the Cubs' outfield defense over last year.

Vinny survived Christmas; what about New Year's?

ESPN indicates that the Bulls have already decided to fire Coach Vinny Del Negro, but would like to have a replacement in place before making it official.

Not only would a new coach still have time to turn this into a respectable season, but he'd have the opportunity to build a reputation in the hopes of luring some of the big-time free agents due to hit the market this summer. The Bulls will have more cap space than almost any other team this offseason.

Hopefully Paxson will be able to snag a coach who already has a reputation, though, such as Avery Johnson, as opposed to another guy who has never coached a game in his life.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Bears win is pretty Favre-fetched

I am not happy, and I'll tell you why.

The wheels appear to be coming off in Minnesota. Or at least, the tires have lost a significant amount of tread. Favre's calling audibles for himself against Coach Brad Childress's wishes; Childress is apparently unleashing expletive-laden tirades at Favre; and the team has lost two of three, including a blowout against Carolina.

All that makes me very, very happy. So why am I so upset? Because the Vikings get to lick their wounds against the Bears.

The fact that everything seems to be spinning out of control up north, that a circus appears to be forming in the Metrodome, is like chicken soup on a cold night--it warms me and gives me strength. Could Favre's selfishness really end up at the core of a quick playoff exit for the Vikings? (Along with a sprinkle of arrogance from Brad Childress.) The possibility makes me positively giddy.

While I was clearly wrong about them finishing 9-7, I did say prior to the season:
Will Favre be able to handle playing second fiddle to the running back all season? Can the primo primadonna of sports take the back seat? Not to mention there have already been stories about Favre not fitting in in the locker room.
But while this train appears to be coming off the tracks, it's likely to be running smoothly once again after a matchup with the Bears on Monday night. If only the Vikings could have played two respectable teams to close out the season, they might have continued to slide, and perhaps even fallen to the three (or even four!) seed. But instead, they get the woeful Bears and an opportunity to right the ship. (And yes, I realize I have referred to the Vikings as a car, a train, and a ship in this post.)

I think Lovie's probably going to be fired after the season no matter what, but a surprising win over the division-leading Vikings could do wonders for his future in Chicago. Can the Bears rise to the occasion?


Mother Nature.
As of today, it's not supposed to be that bad Monday night. But it could snow Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and be in the 20s during the game. Seems likely the weather will play a role in a late December night game in Chicago.

Early momentum. The story leading into the game will be the tension between Favre and Childress and Minnesota's recent struggles. The first quarter has been a problem for the Bears all year, but if they can score first and play well early, the pressure will fall squarely on the Vikings.

That word that starts with an "I" and ends with the other team having the ball. Benjamin Franklin once said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." I'm not sure how many times I've pleaded for Cutler to cut down on the picks, but I'm not insane--while I beg Cutler to be careful with the ball, I don't actually expect it to happen.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Matt Capps could decide destination tomorrow

***UPDATE*** Capps has agreed to terms with the Nationals, says Bruce Levine.

According to a tweet by Nationals beat writer William Ladson, reliever Matt Capps will decide Wednesday night whether he'll sign with the Nationals or Cubs. Jerry Crasnick of adds that a factor in his decision is the fact that Capps would set up for the Cubs but would close for the Nationals. Capps, a 26-year-old righty, was non-tendered by the Pirates after a rough season.

Capps, though, posted ERAs of 3.79, 2.28, and 3.02, respectively, from 2006 - 2008. In 2008, he walked just five men over 53.2 innings.

The Cubs could use more help in the bullpen, and I think Capps would be a nice addition. The Cubs' Web site reports that former Pirate John Grabow is doing his part to recruit Capps to the North side. Grabow and Capps share the same agent.

As Trevor Sierra pointed out in a text yesterday, Capps should probably consider that the Nationals are guaranteed to make the playoffs in 2010. Having signed Jason Marquis to a two-year deal, Washington is actually guaranteed to make the postseason each of the next two years. After all, Marquis has made the playoffs each of his 10 years in the majors, with four different organizations.

Shirtless fan admits after game that he was really f***ing cold

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

BETHLEHEM, Penn.--In an interview with Wait 'til this Year, Lehigh student and football fan Jake Mandrin admitted that while he "played it cool" at the school's final home game on Nov. 21 against Lafayette, going shirtless for the entire game did, in fact, make him really f***ing cold.

During the interview--which took place three days after the game--Mandrin's teeth chattered slightly and there appeared to be blood in his nipular regions.

"So ... cold ..." Mandrin said before he was provided a cup of hot tea.

"I thought it'd be cool to take off my shirt. You know, last game of the year, really go all out. And I just kept telling everyone, 'Dude, it's not that bad! I feel great! You guys should do it, too, it's so freeing!' But it wasn't freeing; it was just freezing."

Adding to Mandrin's self-inflicted woes on that cold November afternoon was the fact that the game went into overtime (Lehigh won 27-21).

"I couldn't believe it," Mandrin said. "Aloud, I was screaming and saying 'Bring it on!' and 'Is it warming up out here? It feels almost ... tropical.' But inside I was crying. I was so very, very cold. I kind of hate football now."

Mandrin, a junior, said he is considering transferring to Florida State, Arizona or UCLA.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bulls can't seal victory, which may seal Vinny's fate

Vinny Del Negro, meet Scott Skiles.

For lunch. To get advice on how to handle getting fired right around Christmas. Because that's what's about to happen to you.

Skiles--who now coaches the Bucks, a team with a better record than the Bulls--was fired by the Bulls on Christmas Eve in 2007. Del Negro seems to be begging for the same fate to befall him. His hapless Bulls have gone 4-13 since mid-November, but just to make sure John Paxson fully understood their incompetence, they blew a 35-point third quarter lead against the sub-.500 Kings. At home.

It was the biggest comeback in the NBA since 1996. It was pathetic. Del Negro has clearly lost this team.

While the Bulls took the Celtics to seven games in one of the greatest playoff series ever played last year, they were just a 41-41 team in the regular season. And now they're 10-17 this year and getting worse. Though I'm not sure it can get any worse than Monday's performance.

Oh, and Vinny--when you have that lunch with Scott Skiles, bring Lovie with you.

And now, for some ... hockey?!!

You may have already seen/heard this, but it's pretty funny. The Florida Panthers radio announcer has a rather interesting way of calling goals.

He never ceases to amaze

Good column by Dan Wetzel on the continued arrogance and me-first attitude of the 40-year-old Vermin. (hat tip: my mom)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Back to your regularly scheduled blowout

Week 15: Ravens 31, Bears 7

Did you happen to see the Panthers dominate the Vikings on Sunday night? Or the Raiders put together a last-minute drive to beat the Broncos in Denver? Or Tampa Bay getting their second win by pasting the Seahawks? Did you see the Lions put up a helluva fight against the Cardinals?

I just wanted to make sure you were aware that sometimes even bad teams can beat good ones. Any given Sunday, and all that. You show up, you play hard, and you never know.

Unfortunately, the Bears know how to show up, but they can't seem to figure out the whole "play hard" thing. Which means we Bears fans always know that a loss is on the horizon when the Ravens or the Bengals or the Cardinals are on the same field.

The team had to battle a blizzard just to get to Baltimore. Turns out they should have called Roger Goodell and asked for a snow day. After all, I'm pretty sure Jay Cutler has two eyes made out of coal after watching him throw three more interceptions. When Cutler scrambled for 13 yards and a first down early in the second quarter, I thought, "Oh, I get it now! Cutler should have been a running back!" How did it take us all so long to see it? He can't throw for s**t, but the man can run!

Despite committing to the air attack because they were trailing the entire game, Cutler failed to throw for 100 yards. And keep in mind that the measly seven points they put on the board were the result of Earl Bennett's punt return, not the offense.

Cutler wasn't the only one to blame. I can't help but think that the rest of the players have twigs for hands, because they put the ball on the turf twice. That's six turnovers in all, folks! On the bright side, Cutler's QB rating was higher than the number of turnovers the Bears had (but only by 1.9).

I must say, the Bears have this "turnover" thing down pat. Hopefully that will bode well as the McCaskeys consider the massive turnover that needs to take place in the upper ranks of the organization. Lovie must feel like his nuts are roasting on an open fire after Jerry Angelo said Sunday that he doesn't "look at money in those times," referring to the $11 million that would be owed Lovie if he were shown the door. "It's not about money. It's about doing what we need to do to be a good football team."

One can only hope the McCaskeys take Angelo's words to heart, and that they see Angelo as part of the problem as well. And, of course, Ron Turner needs to go, too, if for no other reason than because he called some sort of fade-like pass to Greg Olsen on fourth-and-goal from the two.

For Christmas, I would have taken some glimmer of hope that the Bears could at some point step up, play a solid game, and play with one of the better teams in the league. Not even that they would actually do it, just the ability to hope that they would. But since that's not going to happen, I'll settle for the second thing on my list: on Lovie, on Dasher, on Dancer and Prancer; on Ronnie (Turner), on Vixen, on Comet and Cupid; on Jerry (Angelo), on Donner, on Blitzen and Rudolph! And don't come back!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Milton Bradley traded

According to the Cubs' Web site, Milton Bradley has finally been traded. Carlos Silva comes to the Cubs, and the Mariners will send the Cubs' $9 million. All in all, this saves the Cubs $6 million as Silva is owed $24 million over the next two years as opposed to the $21 going Bradley's way.

Silva has been slowed by injuries and suckiness since signing a four-year, $48 million deal prior to the 2008 season. His last productive season was 2007 when he was 13-14 with a 4.19 ERA with the Twins.

(hat tip: Brian Brennan)

Bears get another chance to affect playoff race

The Ravens, like the Bears, are an underachieving team. After making it to the AFC Championship game last year with rookie QB Joe Flacco, Baltimore fans had reason to expect even better things in '09. A 3-0 start reinforced their hopes.

But they lost their next three games and have since alternated wins and losses on their way to a 7-6 record. Their mediocrity has them on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff race, though they certainly have time to change that. In fact, a win over the Bears would vault them into playoff position after the Jags lost last night.

The Ravens' offense has actually improved over last year, but their normally suffocating defense, while still ranked eighth in the league, has slipped. This is the first time since 2003 they've ranked outside the top six.


Contain Ray Rice. Easier said than done. Rice has rushed for over 1,000 yards and has over 600 additional receiving yards. While Flacco is having a solid season, he hasn't looked quite as confident as he did last year. The Bears need to focus on Rice and force Flacco to beat them.

Stay disciplined on "D." This is something of a caveat to the first key. While the Bears will be inclined to go all out against the run, they need to beware of Rice catching passes out of the backfield. They need to "stay at home" so as not to get burned by the screen pass.

No interceptions! Duh. Cutler continues to lead the league with 22 picks. His mistakes have cost the Bears many a chance to score and even a couple wins. If the Bears want to have any chance of beating a decent team on the road, Cutler has to throw the ball solely to his own teammates.

Where'd he come from?

QB Joe Flacco, Delaware
RB Ray Rice, Rutgers
WR Mark Clayton, Oklahoma
WR Derrick Mason, Michigan State
TE Todd Heap, Arizona State
LB Ray Lewis, Miami
S Ed Reed, Miami
LB Prescott Burgess, Michigan

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NFL Visions, Part 2


AFC Playoff picture
Denver (8-5) and Jacksonville (7-6) would be in if the season ended today (it doesn't), but Miami, the Jets and Baltimore are all 7-6 as well while the Steelers, Texans and Titans are 6-7. Of the teams currently on the outside looking in, Baltimore might be the one to keep an eye on. They get the Bears, Steelers and Raiders in their final three games, while the Jets draw both the Colts and Bengals and the Dolphins have to deal with the Titans, the Texans and the Steelers.

But wait! The Dolphins and Jets trail the Patriots by just one game in the AFC East as well. It looks like Week 17 will have an awful lot to say about this year's playoffs.

New York Giants, 7-6
This has to be the most mercurial team in the NFL this year. They had the highest of expectations heading into the season, which made their 5-0 start rather ho hum. But the four consecutive losses that succeeded it were quite a shock. A win over the Falcons made some--me, at least--believe they were back on track, but then they got obliterated by the Broncos on Thanksgiving and I gave up on them. So, naturally, they beat the Cowboys the following week. But then they gave up 45 points in a loss to the Eagles this past week. Bottom line: if you're a betting man (or woman), take a big, fat, black marker and black out the Giants game each week from your list of betting options. I hope they don't make the playoffs, because that would be one postseason betting option out the window.


Chicago Bears, 5-8
I've dedicated plenty of ink (er, computer words) to the Bears' suckiness. There's no doubt in my mind that they belong in this category. Three of their five wins were over the Rams, Browns and Lions. Now I realize you can only play the games on your schedule, and a win's a win. But the NFL, with its 16-game schedule, requires fans to scrutinize teams' schedules more closely than in any other sport. If the Bears has played, say, the NFC East rather than the NFC West, their record would probably be 3-10 instead of 5-8. And if that were the case, Halas Hall would be in full out panic mode, rather than "Hm, perhaps we should make a change, but perhaps not" mode.

Every Sunday morning, I get a little excited about the upcoming Bears game (although in recent weeks, I've gone from being a little excited to a little excited to a little excited, but it's still there). But pretty much as soon as the game starts, I remember how dreadfully awful they are and that I don't really like watching them. I'm too much of a fan not to watch, but I wish I could follow the advice of my own category and not look at them. Because they're hideous.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1-12
Man, what happened to this team? They were 8-4 at one point last year, but lost their last four games. Which makes them 1-16 in their last 17 games. And while QB Josh Freeman was looking good for a while, he threw five interceptions two weeks ago against Carolina, and then three more last week against the Jets. At least his interception total dropped from Week 13 to Week 14. So ... they have that going for them.

Kansas City Chiefs, 3-10
Remember when Matt Cassel had a big year with the Patriots last year, and then he became a free agent, and he signed with the Chiefs? And it was like, "Hm, maybe the Chiefs will be decent this year." Um, no. Cassel has had some decent games this year, but the Chiefs have scored the fifth-fewest points in the league. Not to be out-sucked, the defense has allowed the fourth-most points in the league. Perhaps the most amazing thing about Kansas City's miserable season has been their struggles at home. They've amassed a 140-40 record at Arrowhead since 1990, which is the NFL's best home record in that stretch. But they're just 1-6 there in 2009.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NFL Visions, Part 1


Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints, 13-0
It may never again be this easy to peg the teams for which things are looking up this late in the season. Two undefeated teams through Week 14? Seriously?

Only four NFL teams have finished the regular season undefeated: The Bears went 13-0 in 1934 and 11-0 in 1942; the Dolphins are the only team ever to run the table in both the regular season and postseason, going 17-0 in 1972; and the Patriots went 16-0 two years ago. And now, we could be just three weeks away from two teams accomplishing the feat in the same season.

I'll tell you what I'm hoping for: the undefeated Saints vs. the undefeated Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. Not only would it pit the two best quarterbacks and two of the NFL's best offenses against one another, it would also guarantee that we would never again have to hear from Mercury Morris and those stuck up '72 Dolphins. Do they have a right to be proud of what they accomplished? Hell yes. But they don't have a right to annoy the hell out of me with their disrespectful diatribes about how no one else could ever possibly be as good as they were (okay, technically, they do have that right). I submit Exhibit A:

So keep up the good work, Colts and Saints. I hope to see one of you doing a champagne toast to an undefeated season, as opposed to once again hearing the rumors of Nick Buoniconti, Bob Griese and Dick Anderson raising a glass to celebrate the last remaining undefeated team losing its first game of the season.

San Diego Chargers, 10-3
Through Week 6, the Chargers were being very Charger-like--unpredictable and underachieving. They were 2-3 and 3.5 games behind the Broncos in the NFC West. But since then, they've been charging upward in the standings. Having ripped off eight straight wins, they now have a two-game lead in the division and have pounded their way to the second-best record in the AFC. If they can finish strong, they can secure a first-round bye for just the second time since 1995.

Philadelphia Eagles, 9-4
First, the Giants were 5-0 and were going to roll to an easy division title. Then, the Cowboys were 8-3 and were finally going to put it all together to win the East.

But after four straight victories, it's the Eagles who have soared to the top of the division. They've scored at least 23 points in their last five games, DeSean Jackson is ridiculous, Michael Vick is starting to contribute a bit, and they appear primed to make yet another playoff run.

Green Bay Packers, 9-4
Winning streaks galore! The Packers' streak stands at five after they beat the punchless Bears. Though their offensive line could be their downfall if they make the playoffs, a combination of Aaron Rodgers living up to the preseason hype and a defense allowing the second-fewest yards in the league has Green Bay in the playoff pack. If the season ended today, they would be the 5 seed.

I know this is somewhat sacrilegious coming from a Bears fan, but I'm rooting for an eventual Packers-Vikings playoff match-up and a revenge victory for the Packers. I'm still a Packers-hater, no doubt. But I would pay a decent sum of money just to see the shot of Brett Favre on the sideline, his head hanging low as time winds down and his season comes to a painful end at the hands of his former team. Can you imagine how elated Packer Nation would be? Okay, actually, I don't want to imagine that. I do still hate the Packers. But this season, I hate Favre more. And I can't think of a better way for his season--and, one can only hope, his career--to end than with a three-interception game against the team he so royally and selfishly screwed over.


Pittsburgh Steelers, 6-7
That looks weird, doesn't it? A losing record for one of the few teams we've become accustomed to seeing in the playoffs every year. They saw postseason action in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008. Interestingly, their disappointing 2006 season came on the heels of a Super Bowl victory the year prior. They're apparently suffering from a Super Bowl hangover once again as they have lost five straight and lost earlier this season to the Bears. Really, we should have known it was over for them right then. With the two teams who currently hold Wild Card spots (Broncos and Jaguars) losing this week, the Steelers still have an outside chance. But things are certainly looking down for Mike Tomlin's team.

Houston Texans, 6-7
A blowout victory against the Seahawks on Sunday put an end to a four-game losing streak, but this will likely mark the fourth consecutive season of between six and eight wins for the franchise. Head Coach Gary Kubiak has been at the helm each of those years, and many believe this will be the end of the road for him. His Texans always seem to tease their fans and show potential early in the season, but it always amounts to nothing.

Dallas Cowboys, 8-5

If you're a Cowboys fan, you probably just twitched. Or perhaps you involuntarily slammed your head into the nearest hard surface. Just when it looked like the Cowboys were hitting their stride, they lost to the reeling Giants and then to the surging Chargers. With the Saints, Redskins and Eagles remaining on their schedule, Cowboys fans have a lot to fear. For now, they remain in the playoff picture. For now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Cubs sign big-time free agent

It looks like this is about as big as it's going to get this offseason--Ron Santo signed a three-year extension with WGN Radio, and will continue to serve as the color analyst for Cubs games.

I'm not sure what it says if you click that link at this moment, but as of 9:30 p.m. Tuesday--the day after the story was originally posted--the subheader said "Former Cubs DH entering 21st season in radio booth."

Huh? DH? Ron Santo did a lot of very impressive things in his career, but serving as the designated hitter for an organization that has never had a designated hitter was not one of them. While Santo did play DH for 47 games with the White Sox in 1974, he is certainly not a former Cubs DH.

It's too bad there aren't broadcasts during the offseason, because I can just hear Santo now:

Pat Hughes: "Jim Hendry still hasn't found a suitor for Milton Bradley."

Santo: "Aww, man!! Come on!!"

Hughes: "One of Hendry's free agent targets, Mike Cameron, signed a deal with the Red Sox."

Santo: "Nooooooo!!!!"

Hopefully by the time his new three-year deal is up, Pat Hughes will be able to introduce his partner as "Hall of Famer Ron Santo."

Jerry Jones wants to be more involved, will play tight end and free safety for remainder of season

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

Jerry Jones, shown here practicing his ass patting.

DALLAS--Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, possibly the most involved owner in the history of sports, has gotten the itch to be even more involved with his team. For this reason, he announced on Wednesday that he plans to play both tight end and free safety for the remainder of this season, and possibly beyond.

"I've always taken a very active role with this organization," said Jones. "But it's time to get serious. Standing on the sideline during games? Giving injury updates to the media? That stuff's for pansies. I'm ready to really get involved. Gimme some pads, motherf**kers!!"

While Jones did play college football, he is now 67 years old. But if he's known for anything, it's for being a crazy son of a bitch. When asked if this might be a slightly selfish decision not in the best interest of the team, Jones simply put on a cowboy hat (not a Cowboys hat, a cowboy hat) and said "Yee-ha!" When the reporter followed up by asking if Jones really believes he can keep up on the field, Jones shot a pistol into the air and told the reporter he was fired.

Jones added that he might try kicking a field goal as well, but only if it's a game-winning field goal as time expires.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Send 'em packing

Week 14: Packers 21, Bears 14

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In many respects, the Bears and Packers played very similarly on Sunday. Sixteen first downs for Green Bay, fourteen for the Bears. Third down conversions? Both teams were 5-for-13. The Packers ran just one more play than the Bears. They both had two turnovers. Etc.

But in the end, the Packers showed why they're a team that wins, and the Bears showed why they're a team that loses.

Ahead by a point in the final quarter, Jay Cutler busted out the cutlery we're all so familiar with, slicing and dicing the Bears' chances of winning by throwing a pick on the left sideline. The turnover shifted the momentum as well as the lead as it led to a Packers touchdown and two-point conversion.

But there were still over 12 minutes on the clock. Plenty of time. The Bears got a first down thanks to a Green Bay penalty, but could make nothing of it. And then a "hold," as Mason Crosby missed a makeable field goal. Bears got it back, but a 15-yard facemask penalty on offense stopped that drive almost before it started. Bears eventually got the ball back again. And then on 4th-and-4, a false start on Olin Kreutz. Kreutz was on the receiving end of some s**t-talking in the week leading up to the game, and his penalty was just the icing on the Bears' giant penalty cake, a dessert which they ate with great rapaciousness all game long.

In all, the Bears were flagged for 13 penalties totaling 109 yards. 109 yards! They ran for 59 yards and were penalized for 109. These guys are as disciplined as Tiger Woods in a champagne room.

What's frustrating is that the Bears actually had a chance to win this one. When's the last time they had momentum in the fourth quarter against a quality team? They had a golden opportunity to take down their rival and put a dent in their playoff hopes.

But the penalties just killed them. And they have all season. This is one reason the organization has to think seriously about going in a new direction with their head coach.

But here's the biggest reason: some coaches are under fire despite having had little time to implement their system (e.g. Eric Mangini and Raheem Morris). Other coaches are on the hot seat because of a quick and unexpected dropoff (e.g. John Fox and Jeff Fisher). But Lovie doesn't fit in either of these camps. Rather, Lovie has been around since 2004, has had time to implement his system, and has seen a carousel of coaches roam the sideline with him. And yet, the Bears are consistently getting worse. They've followed up their Super Bowl season with a 7-9 campaign, then a 9-7 one, and now they'll be 8-8 at best, but likely 6-10. This will be the third straight year the Bears have missed the playoffs. Lovie is fond of saying that the Bears "get off the bus running." Right now, the bus he's driving is going downhill fast, and the brakes are out.

Having said that, I also think Lovie is working with limited talent. GM Jerry Angelo's draft picks have been horrendous, and I believe he needs to go as well. There may not be a better example in the NFL of a team that needs to make wholesale changes. Some teams need a new guy in the front office, others need a new guy calling the shots, and still others are just a player or two away from a breakout season. The Bears, on the other hand, need to break out the vacuum and the Pledge and clean house. Their GM and coach have had years to make their mark, and the team seems to be floating out to sea ever since the Super Bowl season.

Friday, December 11, 2009

An NFC North battle in NFC North weather

After a loss to the previously winless Bucs in Week 9, the Packers were 4-4 and staring down a so-so season. But after four straight wins, they're 8-4 and currently in position to make the playoffs (anyone else rooting for a Packers-Vikings match-up?). Given their newfound hope for a successful 2009 campaign, the Bears have a chance to produce what would perhaps be the brightest spot of their season by doing damage to the Pack's playoff hopes and winning a rivalry game.

After losing seven straight games to Green Bay earlier in the decade, the Bears have now won seven of the last eleven games, including the last two at Soldier Field. This Sunday's game is bound to be a heated affair despite the forecast calling for a high of 37 and snow.


Pressure Rodgers ... or else. Rodgers has the fourth-best QB rating in the league and is fifth in passing yards. And this despite having been sacked eight more times than any other QB. He's been sacked at least once in all but one game, and at least twice in nine games! The Bears are in the bottom half of the league in sacks, but they should be able to produce some pressure against the Pack. And they'd better, if they don't want to get torched.

Running between the tackles. Because of the weather, we may be in for a game similar to what we saw between Pittsburgh and Cleveland last night--keeping it simple, pounding the ball. That doesn't bode all that well for the Bears given Forte's struggles, but Ryan Grant hasn't made a ton of noise this year either. Getting the running game going might be a requirement to win this game.

Hester and Briggs. Both are questionable due a calf injury (Hester) and a sprained left knee (Briggs). It seems highly unlikely that the Bears can win this game even at full strength. If their best defensive player and one of their key offensive weapons are out, the Bears will be guaranteed a .500 or worse season when the game's over.

Where'd he come from?

QB Aaron Rodgers, California
RB Ryan Grant, Notre Dame
WR Donald Driver, Alcorn State
LB A.J. Hawk, Ohio State
CB Charles Woodson, Michigan

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Those I love to hate, Part 2

Romo and the 'Boys

Oh, it's December already? We've had some unseasonably warm weather and didn't get any snow until this week, but I could have sworn I saw the Cowboys lose to an inferior team on Sunday. Let me check my calendar here ... yup, it's December!

I may or may not have been (emphasis on "may") a 49ers fan when I was younger, and it was this devotion that planted the seed of my enmity for "America's team." It's the fact that they're often referred to as "America's team" that makes me still hate them. And the fact that Jerry Jones is the owner, that provides some water and sunlight for the seed as well. And also the fact that approximately 72 percent of the players on their roster in the mid-90s were at one point convicted of a felony. Oh, and the fact that Emmitt Smith holds the all-time rushing record even though I could have gained at least 8,000 career rushing yards with that O-line. Emmitt was good, no doubt, but he was no Barry Sanders, and he was no Walter Payton.

So anyways, suffice to say that I've enjoyed the hell out of the Cowboys' 13-year drought without a playoff victory. Can you believe that? Way back in 1996 they beat the Vikings to earn a spot in the NFC Championship game, which they lost to Carolina. Since then, they've been to the playoffs four times and are 0-4. It's beautiful! As far as I'm concerned, they could put a picture of Romo fumbling the extra point snap against the Seahawks in the Louvre. If I were walking around the Louvre and came upon that picture, my eyes would be transfixed and I would probably shed a tear. "It's so ... it's so beautiful." (By the way, it was announced today that Romo will once again be the holder on place kicks, after a three-year layoff.)

And it's beautiful to be a Dallas hater in December. They're 5-11 after December 1 since 2006. And what do we have here? A 31-24 loss to the reeling Giants to kick off the December slate this year, with games coming up against the Chargers and Saints. The seed is strong. It grows. May it blossom.


Was anyone else rooting really, really hard for Nebraska to beat Texas on Saturday so that all hell would break loose in the BCS? We came a last-second field goal from complete chaos.

I love college football, but the fact that there's no playoff system really takes some of the air out of it for me. Every other sport--including Division II and Division III football--has a playoff system, but not the FBS. If Cincinnati beats Florida in the Sugar Bowl, and therefore finishes the season undefeated, in what way is it clear that the winner of the so-called "title game" is in fact better than Cincy? What proof do we have that the winner of the TCU-Boise State game is not better than the winner of the title game?

From a logical standpoint, a playoff system seems rather obvious to me. Many people argue that it's not viable from a financial standpoint. But why not? March Madness, the biggest playoff system in all of sports, is perhaps the most followed postseason in all of professional and college sports. If they held an eight-team playoff this year, the match-ups would look like this:

1 Alabama vs. 8 Ohio State
2 Texas vs. 7 Oregon
3 Cincinnati vs. 6 Boise State
4 TCU vs. 5 Florida

Let's just assume all the favorites would win. That would set up:

1 Alabama vs. 4 TCU
2 Texas vs. 3 Cincinnati

And finally:

1 Alabama vs. 2 Texas

Would you not tune in for most if not all of those games? People are programmed to like playoffs. Win and you go on, lose and you go home. As I said about March Madness earlier in the year, it feels natural. Darwinian. The current system seems contrived and leaves you feeling empty inside.

And keep the sponsors for all I care. Alabama vs. Ohio State can be the Sugar Bowl. Fine. Whatever. Call 'em whatever you want. And they can still play all the other bowl games too. Having a playoff doesn't preclude other games from taking place. Sort of like the NIT in college basketball. It seems impossible to me that they couldn't find a way to make a crapload of money on a playoff system. (Side note: I admit that I don't know how all the logistics would work, i.e. when and where all the games would be played. But I'm confident that someone could figure it out.)

And lastly, I don't accept the argument about someone "getting left out." Someone is always left out. It happens in baseball, football, March Madness (and now they've added that 65th team, who gets to play for the opportunity to get their ass kicked by one of the best teams in the country), and every other sport. Even as it is, someone gets left out. Are Virginia Tech, Penn State and LSU clearly undeserving of a spot in a BCS bowl game?

But I digress. That Nebraska-Texas game almost provided some of the ammunition needed to bring the BCS to its knees. I guess I'll go on hating it for another year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Those I love to hate

A decent percentage of my sports-watching time is dedicated to enjoying the failures of the players and teams that I strongly dislike. Is this sick? Perhaps. Unhealthy? Maybe. But it's part of being a sports fan. Bill Simmons calls it sports-hate.

When you watch enough sports (or more than enough, in my case), you're bound to gain an appreciation for some players, and an attendant desire to see them succeed. But the other side of that coin is that you're going to come to root against other players. Maybe a player is a thorn in the side of your favorite team; perhaps another player just rubs you the wrong way. As Simmons says, "there doesn't have to be anything rational about it." (Another important note: it's not real hate. In the end, it's all in good fun.) For the same sometimes-inexplicable reasons we come to dislike politicians, actors and TV personalities, sometimes we just want to see an athlete or team go down in flames.

On that note, the next couple of posts are dedicated to some of the people and things I've been loving to hate of late:

Notre Dame football

I've already explained some of the reasons I despise Notre Dame. And since I wrote that blog post, the fightless Irish lost to Navy, Pitt, UConn and Stanford. They get their glory from God, I get mine from watching the annual Notre Dame free fall. Glorious, indeed.

Four straight losses to end the season. A 6-6 record. And then something we all knew was coming: Charlie Weis got the axe. Despite six years remaining on that ridiculous contract that's bigger than Weis himself, Notre Dame had little choice but to can the man they so recently anointed their savior. Since Bob Davie and Ty Willingham were unceremoniously and unrightfully dispatched earlier than they should have been, Weis and his sub-Davie and sub-Willingham record had to go as well.

But here's what capped it off for me: Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, the man who fired Weis, announced last week that Notre Dame would not participate in a bowl game despite the fact that they qualified for one. As far as I can tell, their reasons were:

1) They don't have a coach (as if none of the assistants could fill in)
2) They wouldn't get invited to a high-profile bowl (possible destinations were The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, the EagleBank Bowl, the Humanitarian Bowl, and the GMAC Bowl)
3) Said low-profile bowl wouldn't result in a high enough payout

Waaaaah! Waaaaah! We're too good for those bowls!

The Irish can use all the practice they can get. And by that I mean a) they shouldn't be turning down an opportunity to play another game, and b) playing in a bowl game would have enabled them (from an NCAA standpoint) to hold 15 additional practices. They're too good to be in a conference, and now they're too good to play in a low-profile bowl game. For a team that's too good for just about everything, they're not very good.

Brett Favre

I've admitted that in his last years in Green Bay, I couldn't bring myself to detest Favre the way I did in years prior. He was just too damn good, and he was too likable while he was out there on the field.

But his multiple retirements and press conference histrionics put him right back into the bullseye of my sports-hate dartboard (I don't really have one of those, though it actually sounds like a pretty cool idea). He may be a football king on the field, but he's sure a drama queen off of it.

Obviously there hasn't been much to make fun of this season when it comes to Favre. But Sunday night provided a much-needed sports-hate opportunity. Needing a win to keep pace with the Saints in the race for homefield advantage, Favre and the Vikes laid an egg in Arizona. Two picks for the old man, a Cutler-like QB rating and a blowout loss.


If it were tangible, I would bathe in it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Week 13: Bears 17, Rams 9

I haven't felt this bad about a win since ... well, since Week 8 when the Bears beat the Browns 30-6 but managed to look bad doing it.

Watching the Bears squeak out a win against the lowly Rams was like watching your 18-year-old brother beat the 10-year-old from down the street in a race. Sure, he won, but only by three steps? Really? That 10-year-old is overweight! Isn't your brother on the high school track team?

This game simply confirmed what we already knew--the Bears are not in the bottommost tier in the NFL, but they're only one tier above it. They can beat the Rams, the Browns, the Lions, maybe the Bucs, and perhaps the Raiders and Chiefs. But if you bet on 'em against anyone else, it had better be with money you're ready and willing to part with.

They did find a way to keep Cutler from throwing any interceptions: he only threw the ball 17 times. And while it was nice to see a commitment to the running game, the fact that Forte still couldn't break into triple-digits in rushing yards--especially against such a porous run defense (Tim Hightower and Justin Forsett each ran for 100 yards against these guys!)--shows you how bad the ground game truly is.

The whole game felt like it should have been viewed through a toilet seat. I was switching back and forth to other games, and it seemed like every time I flipped to the Bears game someone was punting, losing yards or throwing an incompletion. And that goes for both teams. It's sad that the Bears were playing in one of "those games" that an objective NFL fan would completely ignore while analyzing the slate of games for the upcoming week:

"What do we have this week?"

"Let's see, Philly/Atlanta ..."

"Ooh, not bad."

"We've got Tennessee/Indy ..."

"That should be a good one."

"Bears are playin' the Rams ..."

"Ugh, gross."

But that's where we're at. Next up, a home date with the rival Packers who have won four straight.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Movin' on up

Ryne Sandberg, who has managed at both the Single-A and Double-A levels for the Cubs, has been named manager of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. This according to Chicago Breaking News.

When he was hired to manage the Peoria Chiefs back in 2006, it seemed rather innocent and unlikely to lead to anything. Now, in 2009, Sandberg is just one step away from the majors.

Death, taxes, and the Jim Hendry trying to sign a free agent outfielder

This year, it appears to be Mike Cameron who has found his way to Hendry's wish list. This according to Gordon Wittenmyer, who also states the obvious--that trading Bradley and clearing up some payroll would be a prerequisite to such an acquisition.

Cameron will be 37 next month, and he played under Piniella when he was with Seattle early this decade. He is strong defensively, having won three Gold Gloves (most recently in 2006), and his presence would enable the Cubs to put Fukudome back in right field. While he put up 24 HR and 70 RBI last season and has hit over 20 HR eight times in his career, his age concerns me as does the fact that he has driven in 100 runs just once (2001). His career average is .250, and if his $10 million salary from last year is any indication, he will be vastly overpaid as a free agent.

Perhaps the two biggest positives are Cameron's consistency--the last four years he has hit 24, 25, 21 and 22 home runs, respectively, and driven in 75, 54, 67 and 71 runs, respectively--and his leadership. Cameron was lauded as a clubhouse leader in Milwaukee, and every Cubs fan knows that the team has lacked a leader over the last few years. Cameron has also played at least 140 games in 12 of the last 14 years, though just three of the last five years.

It'd be nice if Hendry could get him for one year at a reasonable price as opposed to a multi-year deal and big time bucks.

You may also recall that Cameron was suspended for the first 25 games of the 2008 season after a second positive test for a banned stimulant.

The need for speed

With Brett Favre behind the wheel of the Vikings offense, Minnesota has rarely been in danger of losing this season. But their players are putting plenty of lives in danger when they get behind the wheel of a car.

Twice in three days, Vikings players were ticketed for going over 100 mph--Adrian Peterson was going 109 in a 55 and Bernard Berrian was going 104 in a 60. Obviously people speed all the time, and I'm certainly not innocent in that arena. But topping the century mark is truly dangerous. And while Tiger Woods will be put through the ringer for his marital infidelities, the stories about Peterson and Berrian's penchant for speeding will surely speed by without much fanfare.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Gateway to a win?

The Rams are 1-19 in their last 20 games; their one win was a seven-point victory over the Lions five weeks ago. When they've taken the field this year, they've lost by an average of 15 points, a result of the fact that they have scored the third-fewest points in the league and allowed the third-most.

While most people believe Lovie Smith's job is safe if for no other reason than the fact that Jerry Angelo would have to pay him a pretty penny just to fire him, I think there are two games left on the schedule that could cost him his job: this Sunday's, and the season finale against Detroit. If Lovie can't motivate the Blue and Orange to make the Rams black and blue, then he may get that pink slip after all.

The Bears trounced the Rams last year, winning 27-3 behind Matt Forte's 139 yards on the ground. In fact, the Bears racked up 208 total rushing yards in that game. This is a problem the Rams have yet to correct--they allow just a shade under 150 rushing yards per game this year.

There aren't a lot of positive things to say about this year's Bears, but here's one: when they've played the patsies of the league, they've taken care of business. They doubled up the Lions 48-24 and slaughtered the Browns 30-6. Well, Bears, you get another chance this Sunday. It's time to batter the Rams.


Just put all 11 men in the box. Because Steven Jackson is freakin' ridiculous. He has rushed for 1,000+ yards every year since 2005 despite being on several awful, awful Rams teams. Can you imagine if this guy had an offensive line and a quarterback? He's already eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark this year, and is second only to the Titans' Chris Johnson on the rushing leaderboard. But at least you can afford to devote pretty much all your defensive attention to him, because ...

Kyle Boller sucks. I suppose it's not really fair to call that a "key to the game," but it doesn't make it untrue. Boller didn't play at all in '08, but has been called upon here in '09 because Marc Bulger broke his leg. He actually played respectably last week, but threw one interception that was returned for a TD and another in the end zone (remind you of anyone?). Add in the fact that the Rams' best receiver is some guy named Donnie Avery, and you have a recipe for focusing entirely on Steven Jackson. Seriously, don't even bother to look at anyone else. Just go tackle Jackson whether he has the ball or not.

Trickeration. Watch for it on both sides of the ball. The Rams have nothing to lose while the Bears have finally reached the official point of "We're not going anywhere this year." That's a recipe for onside kicks, double reverses, and other things that drive you nuts if you bet on the spread.

Get off the schnide. Another sad excuse for a "key to the game," but it provides me a means through which I can tell you that the Bears have lost four straight and are trying to avoid losing five straight for the first time since 2002. For Christ's sake, have some respect and get a win already.

Where'd he come from?

QB Kyle Boller, California
RB Steven Jackson, Oregon State
DE James Hall, Michigan

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cubs trade Jake Fox and Aaron Miles to A's

Per ESPNChicago, Fox and Miles head to Oakland in exchange for righty Jeff Gray and two minor leaguers.

I'm thrilled to see Miles go (it says something about last year's offseason that two of Hendry's first moves this offseason were to happily get rid of terrible acquisitions from last year, Heilman and Miles), but disappointed to see Fox go. I realize Fox really has nowhere to play on the Cubs' roster--or any NL roster for that matter--but I enjoyed watching him hit and hoped to get a bit more for him down the road if he couldn't crack the regular lineup.

But to be fair to Hendry, 1) he may have actually maxed out on his trade value--Fox impressed with his bat in '09 and it's possible that if he would have languished on the bench next year and put up poor numbers, he would have lost all his value, and 2) analyzing trades at the time they're made, especially when it comes to young players, is a fool's game. Gray, 28, had a 3.76 ERA in 24 games last year, and according to ESPNChicago he throws hard and throws strikes. Who knows, Gray could become the Cubs' primary set-up man. I'm not suggesting that's likely, just saying that it's impossible to be sure exactly what a 28-year-old with 24 innings of experience is going to become.

In addition, 23-year-old Matt Spencer is a versatile player who may make an impact down the road.

I am happy that Fox might get a chance to prove himself with the A's. Best of luck, Jake.

And Aaron ... I hate you.

No arbitration for Cubs' free agents

The Cubs declined to offer arbitration to any of their four eligible players, including Rich Harden, Kevin Gregg, Reed Johnson and Chad Fox.

It's rather difficult to analyze the Harden decision. While he made 26 starts in '09 and the Cubs can use starters given that Lilly is out until at least late April, the Cubs know more than anyone about Harden's shoulder and how much work the trainers had to put in to keep Harden on the mound. It's still possible that Harden will re-sign with the Cubs, though it would likely require that Harden get offered nothing better than about one year and $7 or $8 million from any other potential suitor.

It's more possible that Reed Johnson will return. Offering Johnson arbitration would not have affected the Cubs' draft picks (because Johnson is not listed as a Type A or Type B free agent), but likely would have resulted in a raise despite the fact that he was limited to 65 games last year due to injury. I wouldn't mind seeing Johnson in a Cubs uniform again in 2010.

The hot stove has been pretty cold all around baseball thus far, but perhaps things will heat up when the winter meetings begin this Sunday. No doubt Jim Hendry will continue to shop Milton Bradley. Joel Sherman of the New York Post still thinks a Bradley for Pat Burrell swap is realistic, though one would think that would have to turn into a three-way deal since Burrell plays left field (about as poorly as Soriano!).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

New Jersey Nets change name to more accurate New Jersey Rims

From the Wait 'til this Year Humor Vault

Nets President Rod Thorn, shown here looking as depressed as every other Nets, er, Rims, fan.

NEW JERSEY--The New Jersey Nets announced on Tuesday that they will change their mascot to the Rims to more accurately reflect the typical destination of their players' shots. The team has opened the season with 17 straight losses, and their inability to put the ball through the net has made their moniker laughably ironic.

"We're so bad at shooting, and yet our name was the Nets," said Team President Rod Thorn. "It's like calling the Browns the Goal Line Crossers. We put Jarvis Hayes in there one time and he literally shot the ball at our mascot. That's as close as we usually get to putting it in the net. At least now our name reflects what we're all about; I think that's a step forward."

Thorn added that while looking over his players' statistics, specifically those of Courtney Lee, he considered changing the name to the Backboards or even the Airballs. Also on the table were the names Suckmonkeys and Asshats.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Dick Vitale Curse?

Just after Dick Vitale said during an ESPN broadcast that he felt the Big Ten is this year's strongest basketball conference, the Big Ten took a big dive:
  • Illinois, formerly ranked 21st in the nation, fell to Utah and then to in-state "rival" Bradley.
  • #15 Michigan lost to a supposedly rebuilding Marquette team.
  • #16 Minnesota was shocked by Portland. It's never good when you lose to a school and you're not even sure where that school is located (Oregon? Maine? Somewhere else entirely?).
  • #2 Michigan State lost to Florida, a team that has missed the NCAA tournament the last two years.
We'll see how the Big Ten/ACC Challenge goes this year. Of course, you can't set your expectations real high if you're a Big Ten fan--the ACC is 10-0 since the challenge began in 1999.

Golden draft choice?

It's yet to be decided whether Notre Dame receiver Golden Tate will enter the 2010 NFL draft or return for his senior year. And given that he's under 6' tall, I don't know where he would land if he did enter the draft (most likely somewhere between late first round and late second round).

But it's a damn shame the Bears don't have a first or second round draft pick (their first pick is the 12th pick of round three) to at least consider grabbing Tate. You know how much I hate the Irish (the team, not the people), but I couldn't believe my eyes watching the Notre Dame-Stanford game Saturday night. Tate is a monster, and I think the Steve Smith comparisons are legit. Obviously the Bears have many, many needs, but a playmaker at receiver wouldn't hurt. Perhaps Tate will return to college for one more year and fall in Chicago's lap in 2011 (but probably not).

(hat tip: Trevor Sierra, who texted me Saturday that the Bears should draft Tate)

Did you know ...

In NCAA football's top 25, there are no one-loss teams. There are six undefeated teams, eight two-loss teams, 10 three-loss teams and one four-loss team (Stanford). How weird is that??

(hat tip: Brian Brennan)