Thursday, February 28, 2013

Red Sox Over-Unders

Just a few fun ones I came up with on my own:

Starting 9
Jacoby Ellsbury--39.5 steals
Dustin Pedroia--.300 batting average
David Ortiz--29.5 home runs
Shane Victorino--29.5 steals
Stephen Drew--99.5 games played
Jonny Gomes--19.5 home runs
Mike Napoli--.250 batting average
Will Middlebrooks--99.5 RBI
Jarrod Saltalamacchia--24.5 home runs

Jon Lester--14.5 wins
Clay Buchholz--2.0 K/BB ratio
Ryan Dempster--4.00 ERA
John Lackey--24.5 starts
Felix Doubront--9.0 K/9 rate
Andrew Bailey-49.5 appearances
Joel Hanrahan-34.5 saves

80.5 wins
799.5 runs scored
4.50 ERA

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Brady Back for More

Tom Brady agreed to a contract extension with the New England Patriots yesterday that will tack on an additional three years and $27 million to his current contract, a four-year, $72 million deal that runs through 2014.

The extension ensures that Brady--aka the new Brett Favre--will remain with the Patriots beyond his 40th birthday, satisfying his desire to play for another five years (at least). While paying athletes millions of dollars in their late-30s/early-40s usually isn't the wisest way for a team to invest its resources, Brady has shown no signs of slowing down.  Last year the two-time MVP amassed 4,827 passing yards and 34 touchdowns while posting the lowest interception percentage in the league.

The 35 year-old is still one of the premier play-callers in the game, and that's not changing anytime soon. As long as New England surrounds him with weapons such as Rob GronkowskiAaron HernandezWes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, there's no reason to think he can't remain effective as he puts the finishing touches on his Hall of Fame career.

The best part is that Brady, always a team player, graciously took a pay-cut that frees up $15 million in salary cap space over the next two years. The hometown discount provides New England some much-needed financial flexibility as it pursues key free agents such as Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, and Aqib Talib.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Who's Number One?

Mike Trout, Ryan Braun, and Miguel Cabrera (in that order) were the top three fantasy baseball players in 2012 according to ESPN's Player Rater. Which one deserves to be the first name off the board in your fantasy draft?

The Case for Braun
  • A true five category stud, Braun's average season yields 102 runs scored, 34 home runs, 107 RBI, 21 steals, and a .313 batting average
  • Braun's batted over .300 in five of his six big league seasons and owns a .313 career average
  • Few can match his combination of power and speed: Braun was the only player to go 30/30 in both 2011 and 2012
  • Milwaukee's offense paced the National League in runs scored last year, meaning Braun should have plenty of opportunities to score and drive in runs.
  • Fantasy owners need not worry about injury risk. Braun's averaged 154 games per season over the past five and is one of the safest investments in fantasy
Reasons to think twice
  • Braun's name has been linked to baseball's latest PED scandal and he once again finds himself embroiled in controversy. While it's highly unlikely Braun gets suspended, his performance will once again endure intense scrutiny from fans and media alike
  • After trimming his strikeout rate every year from 2008-2011, in 2012 Braun posted the worst whiff rate since his sophomore season
  • The spike in strikeouts may have something to do with the fact that he offered at 36.8 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, easily the highest mark of his career
My Projections: 104 runs, 36 home runs, 110 RBI, 31 steals, .318 batting average

The Case for Cabrera
  • Whereas outfield is the deepest position in fantasy for hitters, third base tends to be more volatile. It's not as thin as in years past, but many players (Pablo Sandoval, Kevin Youkilis, Chase Headley) have question marks
  • Starting in 2004, Cabrera's average season has produced 102 runs scored, 34 home runs, 118 RBI, 4 steals and a .321 batting average
  • A career .318 hitter and two-time batting champ, Cabrera has batted below .320 just once in his past eight seasons
  • He has Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez, two of baseball's top RBI men, protecting him in Detroit's lineup
  • Surprisingly durable for his size, Cabrera has appeared in at least 157 games each year since 2004. He's one of those players you pencil in on Opening Day and don't touch for the rest of the season
Reasons to think twice
  • Cabrera turns 30 in April, and his weight has been an issue throughout his career. Let's just say he won't be posing shirtless on magazine covers anytime soon
  • His OPS has declined in consecutive seasons
  • His walk rate plummeted from a career-best 15.7 percent in 2011 to 9.5 percent last year, probably because he adopted a more aggressive approach with Fielder batting behind him
  • With just 33 stolen bases to his name, Cabrera is a not a five category monster like Trout and Braun. Owners seeking speed will have to look elsewhere
My Projections: 112 runs, 37 home runs, 124 RBI, 2 steals, .333 batting average

The Case for Trout
  • At the tender age of 20, Trout delivered one of the greatest all-around seasons in baseball history. Assuming he follows a normal aging curve, he should only get better 
  • Despite spending the season's first 20 games in Triple-A, he went on to lead the major leagues with 129 runs, 49 stolen bases, and 10.7 bWAR last year. In addition, the Millville Meteor slugged 30 home runs, finished runner-up to Cabrera for the batting title and posted the AL's highest OPS+
  • If Mike Scoscia continues to bat him leadoff, he's going to score a truckload of runs setting the table for Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, and Mark Trumbo.
Reasons to think twice
  • Trout cooled off considerably in the season's final third. From August 1st forward, he batted .287/.383/.500 while striking out in a quarter of his plate appearances. Perhaps pitchers adjusted. Maybe he wore down over the course of his first full major league campaign. Perhaps it was simple regression to the mean. Most likely, all three factors played a role in his late-season slide.
  • Batting leadoff limits a batter's RBI opportunities, so Trout is going to be hard-pressed to reach the century mark in ribbies no matter how successful he is with men on base
  • Trout lacks the distinguished track records of Braun and Cabrera. The sample size is too small to make confident predictions about how he's going to perform in 2013 and beyond...
  • His .383 BABiP ranked third behind Dexter Fowler and Torii Hunter last year. Trout's fast, but he'll probably bat closer to .300 than the .326 mark he posted last year
  • Is the power legit? After all, we are talking about a guy who managed just 23 home runs in more than 1,300 minor league plate appearances
  • Could he possibly be any better than he was last year? Can he avoid the dreaded "sophomore slump" that plagues many of the sport's best young talents? Eric Hosmer, Brett Lawrie and Jason Heyward, all billed as superstars-in-the-making, struggled mightily in their second seasons. While they weren't anywhere close to Trout's level, they displayed how growing pains are part of the game. He won't fall off a cliff, but will probably dip a bit the same way Alex Rodriguez, Ted Williams and Pujols (already Cooperstown caliber players at Trout's age) did
My Projections: 123 runs, 24 home runs, 79 RBI, 52 steals, .306 batting average

The bottom line: if you score one of the first three picks in your draft, you're sitting pretty. Don't agonize over the decision too much, because you can't go wrong. Cabrera and Braun are money in the bank. Taking Trout is more of a calculated risk, albeit one that could also reap the biggest rewards. If the 21 year-old wunderkind somehow improves upon his historic rookie year, watch out.

I prefer to play it safe, so I'd put Braun at number one, Cabrera second and Trout third. How about you?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Players Entering Age 27 Seasons

The general consensus among baseball pundits is that a player's prime covers his age 25-29 seasons, even if the steroid era has tricked people into believing that it extends into his early thirties.  Joe Posnanski proved it here.  There will always be exceptions such as Vada Pinson (blossomed early) and Dwight Evans (late bloomer), but for the most part this trend holds true.  Players are too young, raw, and inexperienced in their early 20s, and many still haven't filled out yet.  On the flip side, players start o break down in their thirties, when their bodies fall apart and essential skills like reflexes, hand-eye coordination and speed begin to diminish.  Their waistlines expand, their bats slow down, and before you know it they're just too old.  They say baseball is a young man's game, and they're right.  Few 35 year-olds can withstand the rigors and daily grind of a 162 game season.

But a 27 year-old can.  There's something special, something promising about a 27 year-old baseball player on the cusp of stardom.  Maybe it's been blown out of proportion, especially in fantasy circles, but on the surface the infatuation with such players make sense.  27 is smack dab in the middle of his prime, and many believe a player is likely to take his game to new heights.  It's the perfect storm for a baseball player, the brief window when he's still at his athletic peak and has enough experience to complement his natural ability.  Good players become great, and great players evolve into superstars.  For some, watching a player celebrate his 27th birthday has the same effect as seeing him put on ten pounds of muscle or add three miles per hour to his heater.

With baseball season right around the corner, I decided to take a look at this special group of players entering their age 27 seasons.  As the cutoff points I will use the July 1st, 2012 and June 30th, 2013; i.e. anyone who turned/turns 27 in the 365 days between those two dates will qualify.  So some of these guys will turn 28 in July, and others will still be 26 for a few more months, but 2013 will still count as their age 27 season.  Kind of confusing, I know.

In order from oldest to youngest:

Chris Perez-Has already made back-to-back All-Star teams and racked up 75 saves over the past two seasons. Trimmed his walk rate and improved his strikeout rate last season to compiled a 3.69 K/BB ratio, easily the best mark of his career so far.

Ernesto Frieri-Stepped up as the Angels closer last year after coming over from San Diego in early May. There's no denying his ability, but his bloated walk rate (4.5 free passes per nine innings) is a cause for concern.

Wei-Yin Chen-Coming off a solid rookie campaign in which he finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Mike Trout, Yoenis Cespedes and Yu Darvish. Proved to be a nice pickup for the Orioles, stabilizing the rotation and serving as the de facto ace after knee surgery derailed Jason Hammel's career year. The Taiwanese southpaw made 32 starts and led the team in wins (12), strikeouts (154) and innings pitched (192.2).

Mat Gamel-Has already spent parts of five seasons with Milwukee but simply hasn't hit at the major league level. The Brewers hoped he would help fill the gaping void left by Prince Fielder, but I just don't see it happening.

Adam Jones-The toolsy center fielder broke through in 2012 by setting career highs in numerous categories and placing sixth in the MVP race A poor man's Matt Kemp, Jones blends speed and power while hitting for solid averages.

Zack Cozart-Didn't set the world on fire as a rookie last year but showed promise. His 52 extra base hits were impressive for a shortstop and he played Gold Glove caliber defense. Dusty Baker let him bat leadoff most of the year in spite of his .288 OBP and four steals.

David Price-Amazingly, the reigning Cy Young winner had nearly identical peripherals in back-to-back years but wound up with vastly different results. In 2011 he went 12-13 with a 3.49 ERA, but in 2012 he went 20-5 with a 2.56 ERA and paced the AL in wins, ERA, and winning percentage. Seeing as how he can't get much better than that, I expect Price to split the difference in 2013.

Tyler Colvin-Flourished in Colorado, batting .290/.327/.531 with 18 home runs and 72 RBI in just 420 at-bats, very similar to the season he had with the Cubs two years ago. Loved hitting at Coors Field (1.032 OPS there, just .687 everywhere else) but then again, who doesn't?

Neil Walker-A herniated disc spoiled what was shaping up to be a promising season for Pittsburgh's keystone defender. He's underrated.

Delmon Young-Posted the lowest batting average and OBP of his career last year and has showed no signs of maturing into the superstar everyone expected him to be when Tampa Bay took him with the first pick in the 2003 draft. His pedestrian power numbers and unwillingness to draw walks have torpedoed what once looked like a promising career.

Matt Harrison-Has evolved into a plus starter for Texas, winning 32 games over the last two years with a 3.34 ERA (134 ERA+). Made his first All-Star team last season and earned Cy Young consideration as well.

Gio Gonzalez-Can't imagine him getting any better than he was last year, when he won 21 games and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting behind R.A. Dickey and Clayton Kershaw.

Ian Desmond-Emerged as an elite shortstop last year by leading the position in home runs (25) and slugging percentage (.511) to go along with 33 doubles and 21 steals.

Kris Medlen-Began last season coming out of Atlanta's bullpen but dominated during his brief stint in the starting rotation. Medlen made a dozen starts in 2012 and the Braves won them all. The converted reliever averaged seven innings per start, compiled a microscopic 0.97 ERA and posted an unreal 84/10 K/BB ratio while limiting opponents to .191/.218/.265 figures. Obviously those numbers are unsustainable and represent a small sample size, but I don't think he's a flash in the pan.

Evan Longoria-Injuries have hampered Longoria over the past two seasons, but that hasn't stopped him from being one of baseball's most valuable players when healthy. He's going to be an MVP one of these years, and 2013 might be it.

Carlos Gonzalez-Like many Rockies before him, CarGo doesn't get the respect his numbers deserve because of their context: they are inflated by the Coors Field effect and were produced under the cover of mediocre teams. Nevertheless, the All-Star outfielder has reeled off three straight 20/20 seasons and netted two Gold Glove awards. While he's yet to approach the Matt Holliday-esque figures that placed him third in the 2010 NL MVP voting behind Joey Votto and Albert Pujols, the .300-30-100-100-30 potential is still there.

Yoenis Cespedes-The AL Rookie of the Year runner-up anchored Oakland's lineup, teaming with Josh Reddick to provide what little punch the A's offered. Adjusted to big league pitching over the course of the season by cutting down on his strikeouts and walking more. He's already one of baseball's most exciting players and seems poised for several big seasons.

Asdrubal Cabrera-Has been one of the best offensive shortstops in the American League over the past two seasons. Proved his 2011 was no fluke, but I'm not sure he can perform much better than he did that year.

Greg Holland-Saved 16 games last year with a 1.98 ERA after inheriting the closer's job from Jonathan Broxton. He misses lots of bats and could be due for a Joakim Soria kind of year with Kansas City.

Carlos Gomez-Enjoyed a B.J. Upton type of season with 19 home runs, 37 steals and a .260 batting average last year. Was streaky in the first half but settled down after the All-Star Break: from July 23rd onward, he batted .281. slugged .506, popped 14 homers and swiped 22 bases. Those kinds of numbers can help any fantasy team, and he'll do enough in the power/speed categories without hurting your batting average.

J.P. Arencibia-Cemented himself as one of the better power-hitting backstops with 41 home runs and a .212 ISO in his first two full seasons. Seems to have Mike Napoli potential, but his high strikeout totals and disdain for drawing walks may prevent him from reaching it.

Mark Trumbo-Second half slide marred an impressive start to the season. Still finished the year with good numbers and improved upon his rookie season, so a 40 homer season could be in the cards.

Tyler Flowers-The slugging backstop is set to inherit A.J. Pierzynski's job for the South Siders and should be a safe bet for 20 home runs in his first full season.

Jair Jurrjens-Jurrjens will get a fresh start in Baltimore, where he hopes to put last season's disaster behind him and rediscover the form that made him an All-Star in 2011.

Todd Frazier-Displayed good power during his rookie season last year with 51 extra base hits, a .498 SLG and .225 ISO, finishing third behind Bryce Harper and Wade Miley in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting. He's the third baseman of the future in Cincy, especially now that free agent Scott Rolen is over the hill and unlikely to return.

Johnny Cueto-Since Opening Day, 2011, Cueto has a 2.58 ERA (159 ERA+) in 57 starts. He's been one of baseball's best pitchers, and yet nobody seems to talk about him.

Yovani Gallardo-YoGa has been a model of consistency the past four years, making at least 30 starts every season, winning between 13 and 17 games, striking out at least 200 hitters and keeping his ERA in the mid-threes. With Zack Greinke gone, Milwaukee needs him to step up and lead the rotation.

Chris Davis-Finally broke through in 2012 with 33 home runs. Could threaten 40 in 2013.

Dexter Fowler-Colorado's center fielder took a big step forward in 2012 when he batted a career best .300/.389/.474 with double digit totals in doubles, triples, homers, and stolen bases.

Carlos Santana-Cleveland's catcher has been a steady source of walks and power but has yet to realize his potential.

Felix Hernandez-Over the past four years, King Felix rates with Justin Verlander as the best pitcher in the American League. The 2010 AL Cy Young winner has tossed nearly 1,000 innings during that span with a 2.81 ERA and almost 900 strikeouts. Expect more of the same in 2013, his ninth season in the majors.

Lorenzo Cain-The Royal center fielder lashed a bit of power and speed last year, making 15 homers and 20 steals a real possibility in his first full season.

Billy Butler-After years of supplying Nick Markakis-type numbers, Butler set personal bests across the board and made significant leaps in the power department. He averaged 15 home runs, 75 RBI and a .458 SLG in his first five years but belted 29 dingers with 107 ribbies and a .510 SLG in 2012. Expect him to threaten or surpass .300-30-100 again next year.

Homer Bailey-Eight years after the Cincinatti Reds selected him with their first round draft pick in 2004 (ahead of Jered Weaver), Bailey finally started to put it all together last year. He made maintained a 3.68 ERA and 3.23 K/BB ratio over 33 starts in 2012 and should be trusted as a solid mid-rotation starter from this point forward.

Matt Wieters-Is this the year he finally puts it all together and surpasses Joe Mauer as the best hitting backstop in the American League? He's improved his home run, RBI and walk totals every year since debuting in 2009, so if those trends continue he's going to have a big year.

Jordan Zimmermann-Has been quietly awesome over the past two years, posting a 3.05 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 3.74 K/BB ratio, much better than his 20-19 record suggests. He needs to start pitching deeper into ballgames, as he's averaging under six innings per start for his career.

Jonathan Lucroy-The Brewers backstop batted .320/.368/.513 last year despite missing 50 games with a broken hand. No way he reproduces those rate states over the course of a full season, but his power looks legit and I could see him having a Brian McCann kind of year.

Trevor Plouffe-Powered up in the first half of 2012 by blasting 18 home runs in a 39 game stretch from May 16th to July 3rd, but hit just five home runs in his other 80 games. Was the power burst for real, or was it merely a mirage? I could see him topping 20 dingers again but don't think he'll approach the 32 homer pace he displayed last season.

Phil Hughes-Bounced back from an ineffective, injury-plagued 2011 to win 16 games, approach 200 innings and post a career best 3.59 K/BB ratio. Since it's very possible that CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Michael Pineda all miss time in 2013, Joe Girardi is counting on Hughes to be a workhorse.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Baseball Over-Unders

Here are the lines released by Atlantis Casino sports book director Steve Mikkelson as well as my personal take on each team. Consider this my abbreviated preseason preview:

Detroit Tigers: 90 wins: Over
Detroit disappointed with "just" 88 wins last year, but full seasons from Anibal Sanchez, Victor Martinez, and Torii Hunter (assuming the later doesn't fall off a cliff at age 37) should push this team over the top.

Los Angeles Dodgers: 90 wins: Over
The Dodgers have baseball's largest payroll after stockpiling an insane amount of talent. GM Ned Coletti has assembled a super team of sorts; Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier patrolling the outfield, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez in the infield, and a starting rotation headed by a pair of former Cy Young winners in Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw

Washington Nationals: 90 wins: Over
Winners of 98 games last year, the Nats more or less held their ground this winter. Dan Haren's going to have a big bounce back year, and Rafael Soriano makes a great bullpen even better. Bryce Harper is a superstar in the making.

Los Angeles Angels: 89½ wins: Over
The Halos were the best team in baseball after calling up Mike Trout last year.

Cincinnati Reds: 88½ wins: Over
The Reds remain the team to beat in the NL Central, especially if they get a full season from Joey Votto.

Texas Rangers: 87 wins: Under
That lineup looks a lot less imposing without Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli, and Michael Young

Toronto Blue Jays: 86½ wins: Over
The Jaybirds look like World Series favorites (on paper, at least) after completing two blockbuster trades to bring in Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Don't underestimate a clean Melky Cabrera, either.

New York Yankees: 86½ wins: Over
They may be old and banged up, but they're still the Yankees, meaning that they always find a way to win. Excluding the strike-shortened 1994-'95 seasons, New York hasn't won fewer than 87 games since 1992. 

San Francisco Giants: 86 wins: Over
Even if Tim Lincecum's days as an elite hurler are behind him (and I don't think they are), the defending World Series champs still have more than enough starting pitching with Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong, and the ever-improving Madison Bumgarner. Their offense is nothing to write home about, but they'll put runs on the board so long as Pablo Sandoval, Hunter Pence, and reigning NL MVP Buster Posey perform up to their standards.

Atlanta Braves: 86 wins: Over
Atlanta added B.J. Upton and Justin Upton, two former first overall draft picks who desperately needed fresh starts. Both could be primed for career years.

Tampa Bay Rays: 86 wins: Under
The Wil Myers for James Shields trade will pay big dividends in the future, but not in 2013.

St. Louis Cardinals: 85½ wins: Over
Their Pythagorean W-L says they should have won 93 games last year and their lineup is stacked from top to bottom. 

Oakland Athletics: 83 wins: Under
As fun as last season was, I think the A's caught lightning in a bottle. A host of solid players (Brandon McCarthy, Dallas Braden, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew) left Oakland, the infield is a mess, and the offense is too dependent on Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick, each of whom has exactly one good season under his belt.

Philadelphia Phillies: 81½ wins: Over
Roy Halladay returns to form, Ryan Howard has a solid rebound year and Michael Young isn't done yet.

Arizona Diamondbacks: 81½ wins: Over
I'm thinking big bounceback years from Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson.

Chicago White Sox: 80½ wins: Under
Their best hitters (Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, and Alexei Ramirez) are all on the wrong side of 30, and I'm skeptical Chris Sale and Jake Peavy can repeat their success from last year.

Milwaukee Brewers: 79½ wins: Under
The Brewers boast a strong core of position players but failed to do anything to improve their ballclub in the past four months.

Boston Red Sox: 79½ wins: Over
The Red Sox did enough during the offseason to at least field a winning ballclub in 2013, if not contend for a postseason berth.

Kansas City Royals: 79 wins: Under
They'll be better than last year, but still don't have enough pitching to climb over .500.

Pittsburgh Pirates: 79 wins: Under
The Bucs have strung together 20 consecutive losing seasons since Barry Bonds blew town, so forgive me if I'm not too optimistic about their chances.

Cleveland Indians: 77½ wins: Over
I loved what the Indians accomplished over the winter. New manager Terry Francona doesn't have all the pieces he needs to contend, but bringing in Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, and Trevor Bauer is a good start.

Baltimore Orioles: 76½ wins: Under
The Orioles are going down. Hard. 

Seattle Mariners: 76½ wins: Under
Despite re-upping Felix Hernandez and importing several bats (Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Jason Bay, and Raul Ibanez), the M's don't have enough starting pitching beyond King Felix.

San Diego Padres: 74½ wins: Over
The Padres went 48-36 after June 29th last year and could be a .500 team if their young talent continues to mature. 

New York Mets: 74 wins: Under
The Mets won 74 games last year despite MVP-caliber seasons from David Wright and R.A.  Dickey. With Dickey pitching in another country, New York will be hard-pressed to improve upon its record in 2013.

Chicago Cubs: 72 wins: Over
After piling up 101 losses a year ago, the hapless Cubbies have nowhere to go but up. Their starting rotation is much improved after welcoming Edwin Jackson Scott Baker, and Scott Feldman. Now if they could just find somebody willing to take Alfonso Soriano off their hands...

Colorado Rockies: 71½ wins: Under
The Rockies have a dynamite offense spearheaded by two of the league's best young position players (Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez), but their pitching staff and defense are downright atrocious.

Minnesota Twins: 64½ wins: Over
There's not a whole lot to love here, but give the Twins credit for filling out their rotation with a slew of solid arms (Kevin Correia, Rich Harden, Vance Worley, and Mike Pelfrey).

Miami Marlins: 64½ wins: Under
I don't care how many home runs Giancarlo Stanton hits--this one's a no-brainer. There's no way this team doesn't lose 100 games in 2013,

Houston Astros: 59½ wins: Under
Moving to the toughest division in baseball spells doom for the Astros, who are trying to start from scratch after shedding all their established big league talent in recent years.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

NBA Trade Deadline Recap

In the wake of consecutive losses to the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics bolstered their backcourt by trading Jason Collins and Leandro Barbosa to the Washington Wizards for Jordan Crawford.

This is a good move for the Celtics, who were able to clear some deadweight from their roster and get a solid scorer in return. They won't miss Collins (who's nothing more than a scrub at this point in his career) or Barbosa, who's out for the year with a torn ACL. Given Barbosa's injury and expiring contract, it's unlikely that he'll ever play a minute for the Wizards, who just made themselves worse (if that's even possible).

Danny Ainge probably should have focused on bringing in a big man instead, but Crawford should be a nice pickup for the offensively-challenged C's. The athletic shooting guard is streaky and lost playing time in Washington following John Wall's return from a knee injury, but he's still a useful player. Crawford can score points in bunches (nearly 18 per game from November 14th through January 4th), has developed a decent three-point shot and, most importantly, can dunk over LeBron James. He'll extend the bench for Doc Rivers while infusing some youth into one of the NBA's oldest rosters.

In what turned out to be a quiet and disappointing trade deadline (no Josh Smith trade?!), there was only other one real move of interest. The Orlando Magic sent J.J. Redick, Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith to the Milwaukee Bucks for Tobias Harris, Beno Udrih and Doron Lamb. The Bucks, currently in control of the eighth seed in the East, drastically improved their bench by stealing one of the NBA's top sharpshooters. The former Blue Devil was in the midst of a breakout season with Orlando, averaging 15.1 points per game with 45-39-89 shooting splits as the Magic's second best scoring option behind Arron Afflalo. He won't get as many touches playing alongside Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, but he has to be ecstatic about escaping the second-worst team in the NBA (they really were just Dwight Howard and a bunch of guys) and climbing aboard a legitimate playoff contender.

As for the Magic, dealing Redick might be just what they need to sink below the Charlotte Hornets in the standings and improve their lottery odds. You can't blame them for trying.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

13 Bold Predictions for 2013

1. The Boston Red Sox make the playoffs
Why this is bold: The Red Sox lost 93 games last year and haven't won a postseason game since 2008. They improved during the offseason but failed to land the kind of high-impact player capable of adding six or seven wins to a roster by himself.

2. The New York Yankees miss the playoffs
Why this is bold: The Bronx bombers are October mainstays, having reached the postseason 17 times in the past 18 years. They won 95 games last year and enter 2013 with the highest payroll in the American League, a deep starting rotation and a veteran lineup loaded with All-Stars at almost every position.

3. B.J. Upton goes 30/30
Why this is bold: Upton's combination of power and speed is tantalizing, but he's yet to put together a 30/30 season. His power is trending upward but the fact remains that he's averaged just 18 home runs per season over the last five. Furthermore, his stolen base totals have decreased in each of the last two years, falling from 42 in 2010 to 36 in 2011 and 31 in 2012. I'm probably picking the wrong Upton.

4. Mariano Rivera leads the American League in saves
Why this is bold: The greatest closer of all time spent most of 2012 recovering from knee surgery after shredding his ACL while shagging fly balls during batting practice. Signed a one-year deal worth $10 million to return in 2013, but he's 43 years-old and Father Time is going to catch up to him at some point.

5. The Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians both have winning records
Why this is bold: Neither team had a winning record last year (or in 2011, or 2010, for that matter). The Mariners face stiff competition in the AL West, arguably the toughest division in baseball with LA, Oakland, and Texas all capable of winning 90+ ballgames. Furthermore, the two clubs haven't enjoyed winning seasons in the same year since 2007.

6. Dan Haren wins 20 games
Why this is bold: Haren's career high for wins is 16. Also, he's 32 years-old and coming off his worst full season as a pro.

7. Nick Swisher hits fewer than 20 home runs
Why this is bold: Since becoming an everyday player in 2005, Swish has never failed to smack less than 21 home runs in a season (averaging 26 per year). He's one of just six players who can claim that; the others are  Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Alfonso Soriano, Mark Teixeira, and David Ortiz.

8. Michael Young bats over .300
Why this is bold: Young is 36 and coming off his worst season in over a decade after batting just .277/.312/.370. He's batted below .285 in two of the past three years and seems to have entered the decline phase of his career. It certainly doesn't help that he's leaving the Ballpark in Arlington, where he batted .320 as opposed to .283 everywhere else.

9 Zack Greinke wins the NL Cy Young award
Why this is bold: Since winning the 2009 AL Cy Young in a landslide, Greinke's compiled a 3.83 ERA and has failed to receive a single vote for the award. Plus, he has formidable competition in his own rotation in the form of Clayton Kershaw.

10. Jim Johnson and Fernando Rodney combined have fewer saves than the AL saves leader
Why this is bold: Johnson led the major leagues with 51 saves last year, and Rodney was right behind him with 48.

11. Bryce Harper is better than Mike Trout
Why this is bold: The AL Rookie of the Year outproduced the NL Rookie of the Year in almost every conceivable metric last year.

12. Derek Jeter plays in fewer than 100 games
Why this is bold: Jeter may not be Cal Ripken Jr., but he's borderline indestructible. The Yankee legend has averaged 151 games played per year since winning the AL Rookie of the Year award in 1996, playing at least 148 games every year except for two (2003 and 2011).

13. The Toronto Blue Jays won't win the World Series
Why this is bold: Everyone's picking the bolstered Blue Jays to win the Fall Classic after a busy offseason in which Toronto added R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Melky Cabrera without giving up any of their established talent.

Celtics Lose, Face Lakers

Last night the Boston Celtics kicked off their five game road trip by losing to the Denver Nuggets, 97-90.

The shorthanded C's played pretty well in their first game post All-Star Weekend, but fell apart in the final five minutes as the Nuggets went on a 13-6 run to close out the game. Ten of Denver's crunch time points were supplied by Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson, the duo that inflicted most of the damage on the Celtics defense. Each player scored 26 points (no other Nugget had more than 11) and racked up double-digit free throw attempts. They picked up the slack for Andre Iguodala, who bricked all seven of his field goal attempts and looked rusty in his return from a neck strain. Lawson failed to commit a single turnover despite using more than a fifth of his team's possessions. The Nuggets were particularly careful with the ball, turning the ball over just seven times to one of the NBA's best defensive units.

Though the undersized Celtics held their own on the boards (Denver is a so-so rebounding team despite Kenneth Faried averaging nearly ten boards per game), they gave away too many free points at the charity stripe. Celtic defenders were called for 24 fouls, allowing Denver to pile up 36 free throw attempts to Boston's 16. That disparity ended up being the difference last night.

Then again, the Celtics probably would have prevailed if either Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett had done much on offense, but they combined for just 22 points on the evening. Pierce in particular struggled mightily with his shot, missing 12 of 14 field goal attempts before fouling out with ten seconds left in the game. Jason Terry (seven points) and Brandon Bass (six) were also non-factors. Jeff Green rose to the occasion and continued his strong play of late by dropping 20 points 8-of-12 shooting, though he failed to do much else (two rebounds, two assists) in his 33 minutes of action. Nevertheless, Green is making the most of his increased workload and finally looks comfortable in Boston.

The Green hope to rally tonight against the Los Angeles Lakers, who haven't played in nearly a week. Boston crushed LA in their most recent meeting two Thursdays ago 116-95, which means Kobe Bryant will do everything in his power to avenge that humiliating defeat. With the Celtics playing the back-end of a back-to-back, pitted against the fully rested Lakers, expect Bryant and company to play better this time around.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

NBA Storylines to Watch

With All-Star Weekend behind us, here are five NBA storylines to keep an eye on in the second half:

Who will get dealt?
The trade deadline is looming (Thursday at 3 pm EST) and trade rumors are swirling. Who's going where, and for whom? Rudy Gay has been the biggest name to switch teams so far, but that could change in the next 48 hours. Some players who could have new homes by the end of the week include Josh Smith, J.J. Redick, Kris Humphries, Paul Millsap, and Monta Ellis. Stay tuned.

Can the Celtics Keep it Up?
Boston entered the All-Star Break on a roll, having won eight of nine despite losing Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa for the remainder of the season during those two weeks. Everyone is stepping up and pitching in, from Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Jason Terry, Jeff Green and Courtney Lee. Everyone knows the C's are heavy on heart and pride, but how will their depleted roster fare over the next two months, when the long season takes its toll on players (especially older ones)? We'll find out soon enough. Ready or not, the Celtics face a challenging travel schedule down the stretch. They kick off the second half with a five-game road trip and play 60 percent of their remaining games away from the TD Garden.

Who's the MVP?
LeBron James or Kevin Durant? Both are having historic seasons--James in terms of overall efficiency and Durant in the art of shooting a basketball. You can't go wrong with either one. While they're not the only ones having MVP-caliber seasons--Chris Paul, James Harden, and Tony Parker are all worthy of consideration-- this is truly a two-horse race headed for a photo finish. Right now it's too close to call, and I don't see either candidate separating himself from the other anytime soon. Expect plenty of heated debate over the next few months, on par with the Mike Trout/Miguel Cabrera arguments that consumed talking heads last fall.

Will the Lakers turn it around?
Not as long as Mike D'Antoni is head coach. With Pau Gasol hurt, Dwight Howard not himself and Steve Nash starting to look his age, the Lakers don't look nearly as good as they did on paper six months ago. Kobe Bryant is doing everything he can to keep the ship from sinking, but it's not going to be enough.

Are the Spurs really the best team in basketball (again)?
Every year Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili get a little older, and every season ends with San Antonio at or near the top of the NBA standings. They're like the New York Yankees of basketball. Even with Ginobili riding the pine more often than not, the ageless Spurs rode strong first halves from Duncan, Parker, Tiago Splitter, and Danny Green to the best record in the NBA. Regular season success notwithstanding, the franchise hasn't won a championship in six years and the window for another title isn't opening any wider.