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Wednesday, March 29, 2006 

Less is Mohr

A few things about the Red Sox roster...

It's too bad that Dustan Mohr is getting stuck in a numbers game with the Red Sox. He's hit well, and played decent defense too. Most likely, they'll hold onto Adam Stern since he was a rule 5 draftee.

Tony Graffanino's ability to play all four infield positions will be missed, especially if Mike Lowell struggles at third and J.T. Snow's bat doesn't come around.

Lastly, Julian Tavarez's recent tantrum aside, the Red Sox bullpen has struggled this spring. Papelbon may help, but until Manny Delcarmen and Craig Hansen are ready this will remain a question mark. I found it interesting that Delcarmen will close for Pawtucket, while Hansen wil focus on working on his slider.

Monday, March 27, 2006 

Lost Weekend

The Celtics meltdown in the fourth quarter yesterday against Chicago reminded me of a lot of games from the first half of this season, when they lost several close games with poor play down the stretch. Not only did the Celtics fail to gain ground on the free-falling 76ers (who lost again to stay 5 ahead of Boston), but they are now 3 games behind the Bulls in the loss column. Philadelphia and Chicago each have 13 games to play, while Boston has just 11 left. Time is running out... at least the Celtics play the Bulls again in Chicago later this week and have another chance to gain ground.

What made yesterday even harder to take was that the Celtics led the whole way until the fourth quarter. But they were unable to stretch their lead in the third, which foreshadowed their doom. I was flipping back-and-forth between the end of the George Mason-UConn game, but I couldn't understand why Doc Rivers went so small at the end of the game, playing Ryan Gomes essentially at center against Tyson Chandler.

Sunday, March 26, 2006 

Fall Guy

Harry Sinden and the Bruins waved the white flag yesterday, firing GM Mike O'Connell. While I agree that it is better to let O'Connell go now instead of letting him continue to sign players to long-term deals, it was a strange signal to send to the team just a few hours before last night's game against Buffalo.

Sinden appeared to be emotional at the 6pm press conference, describing O'Connell as a "good friend". O'Connell had been with the Bruins organization in various roles for 21 seasons, and was elevated to GM on November 1, 2000 after an apprenticeship as assistant GM under Sinden.

Now O'Connell's assistant, Jeff Gorton, takes the reins on an interim basis. Sinden said that Gorton would be one of many candidates considered for the permanent job.

What's troubling is that Mike O'Connell didn't dream up the Bruins plan for the lockout on his own. I find it hard to believe that Sinden and Jacobs didn't have to endorse the decision to only have 3 players under contract heading into the work stoppage. While O'Connell made a lot of bad decisions on how to spend to the cap, plus some shaky trades, the basic plan itself was flawed. But only O'Connell gets shown the door. Will Jacobs be willing to hire someone and give them both the GM and president's titles, bumping Sinden further upstairs? It would be the best move he could make.

Friday, March 24, 2006 

Bingo

The Patriots are keeping Troy Brown in the fold, and have inquired about Eric Moulds and Keyshawn Johnson, which are all positive signs as they try to rebuild their receiver corps. Brown is clearly slowing down, but provides Tom Brady an important safety net. He's certainly more reliable than Reche Caldwell. Now we'll see if they can get Moulds or Johnson to fill the number 2 spot.

Mike Vanderjagt is off the market, signing with Dallas in a move that makes a lot of sense. He gets to kick on turf in a partially enclosed stadium in a warm climate. The Cowboys get to escape the kicking nightmares of the past few seasons. With Atlanta making a hard push to re-sign Todd Peterson, the Patriots might be forced to sign Paul Edinger, or roll the dice and hope they get lucky in the draft or that another veteran gets cut on June 1.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006 

Bucking the System

Adam Vinatieri agreed to terms with the Colts yesterday, and Patriots nation is getting nervous. This is the first major defection of the Belichick era, and give Colts GM Bill Polian credit for upgrading his kicker position while sticking it to his arch-rivals at the same time.

I have mixed emotions about the move. Now I know how Red Sox fans when Carlton Fisk bolted for the White Sox. Vinatieri will always be a legend in Boston, but if he kicks a game-winner against the Patriots in the playoffs that image could take a beating. He'll spend the next two years kicking in the RCA Dome, then the Colts move to a new retractable dome stadium in 2008, ensuring Vinatieri of good home field conditions as he tries to add to his hall of fame resume.

It's easy to understand why the Colts valued Vinatieri so highly. He's the anti-Mike Vanderjagt. Vinatieri has always been known as a good teammate who raises his game in the clutch. In baseball terms, he's Mr. October, while Vanderjagt is Mr. May.

I'd like to think the Patriots considered Vinatieri's age, his (relatively) sub-par 2005 season and his history of back trouble while deciding not to franchise him or make him a substantial offer. But part of me wonders if the Patriots past success is working against them, and making them arrogant enough to think they can name their price regardless of the player. Maybe Paul Edinger or (gulp) Vanderjagt will come in and do a great job next season, but every missed field goal from here on is going to be blamed as much on Belichick and Pioli as on Vinatieri's replacement.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006 

Mo Power

The Red Sox trade of Bronson Arroyo for Wily Mo Pena is yet another sign that Theo is building for the future, not 2006. Arroyo may have peaked the last two seasons, and was never going to win 17-20 games, but he would have been valuable as a long reliever and insurance behind an old starting rotation. Now it looks like Matt Clement will be sticking around and Lenny DiNardo will fill the long relief slot.

Pena is just 24, but has been in pro ball since he was 16 and in the majors for parts of the last 4 seasons. You can see his stats here. In 302 games he's struck out 288 times while compiling only a .302 OBP. He does have power, having connected for 19 HR last season in 99 games. In the short-term, Pena becomes a fourth outfielder; he's played nearly as many games in center (97) as in right (116). It also gives the Red Sox some insurance against an injury to Manny or David Ortiz by adding another power hitter. But by 2007 he could be starting in RF if Nixon is not re-signed.

The bottom line is that the Red Sox have more pitching prospects than power hitting prospects, so trading a pitcher for some young power made sense. But if the pitching staff falls apart by July and Pena is piling up the strikeouts, it could be a long year for the newest member of the Red Sox.

Monday, March 20, 2006 

Let the kids play

Nice win by the Celtics yesterday. The Pacers are decimated by injuries, but it looked like they gave up in the fourth quarter, as the Celtics outscored them 31-17 to turn a close 72-71 game into a 103-88 rout. Doc Rivers missed the game due to the death of his father-in-law, and assistant Tony Brown filled in well. Brown took a chance at the start of the fourth quarter, keeping all of his starters on the bench to start the period. It paid off, as youngsters Tony Allen, Orien Greene, and Gerald Green all made important contributions to extending the Celtics lead.

Unfortunately, the Celtics reward is to host the Lakers tonight. Kobe Bryant missed a potential game-winning shot yesterday against the Caviliers, so he should be fired up for this one.

Saturday, March 18, 2006 

Catching Up?

WR Reche Caldwell isn't a big name, but for now he's the Patriots number 2 wide receiver. The scary part is that 2005 was Caldwell's first season that you could even consider "decent". Caldwell's first two years in the league were marked by a poor work ethic, and when he started to turn it around in 2004, he tore knee ligaments six weeks into the season. You can check out his career stats at Pro Football Reference, but it looks like he regressed in 2005, with 28 catches for 352 yards in 16 games, after 18 catches for 310 yards in just 6 games in 2004.

I suspect (and hope) the Patriots are far from done at the WR spot.

 

Open Net

It's been a dismal season for the Bruins, but their marketing department appears to be working overtime. They have plans for a "speed dating" promotion (gives new meaning to the phrase "shut out"), plus NESN has been advertising for a new reality show called "Be a Bruin" which will give fans a chance to experience life as an NHL player. I wonder if open auditions are next.

Friday, March 17, 2006 

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Last night's game reminded me of many Celtics games from the early-to-mid 80's, except that back then, it was the Celtics who would start slow and then recover to defeat overmatched opponents. Miami played horrible in the first quarter, looking disinterested and unfocused. In contrast, the Celtics were on fire, making up for their lousy shooting night in Memphis and sprinting to a 16 point lead late in the quarter. Ryan Gomes had 8 points in the first period, twice as many as he had in the entire game against the Grizzlies.

But even though Pierce and Szczerbiak each scored 30+ points, the Heat had too much Dwayne Wade, and still won 107-104. It was obvious early on that Shaq and Alonzo Mourning could do anything they wanted inside against the trio of LaFrentz, Perkins, and Jefferson, and they repeatedly embarrassed the young players in particular. Hopefully nights like this will pay dividends down the road, but it was one more reminder that the Celtics are not making the playoffs this season.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006 

Catching On

The Patriots have had better days. They officially lose David Givens, then Miami trades a second round pick for Duante Culpepper.

The loss of Givens was expected, especially since Antwaan Randle-El signed that ridiculous contract with Washington. I doubt the Patriots trust Bethel Johnson to be a top 3 receiver, so they'll need to shop for some veteran help. While Terrell Owens has too much baggage, Keyshawn Johnson might draw some interest as a number 2 receiver. And I suspect they can either resign Troy Brown or find someone to match his production. It's just too bad that Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson are so inconsistent and Kevin Faulk is fumble-prone - it forces the Patriots to find a better than average WR to replace Givens.

Culpepper is an interesting story. Jim Rose, one of the Dolphins announcers, was on ESPNEWS last night, speaking in glowing terms about Culpepper's desire to play for Miami. But he wasn't sure if Duante's injured knee would be ready for training camp. Culpepper greatly benefited from Randy Moss and an above average running game in Minnesota. Can Chris Chambers, Randy McMichael, and Ronnie Brown form a similar supporting cast for Culpepper in the sunshine state? Nick Saban seems to be betting that they can. Can't wait to see what Belichick dreams up for Culpepper twice a year...

 

Loud and Proud

Is it just me, or is the Memphis PA announcer the most obnoxious and annoying PA announcer in the NBA? While watching the Celtics last night, I kept wanting to turn the sound off. He reminded me of Dave Zinkoff, who spent 40+ years as the Spectrum PA guy in Philadelphia. I swear it used to take him 3 minutes to say "Julius Erving", as he drew out every syllable for as long as possible.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006 

Ace in the hole

There was a lot of talk in the offseason about the Red Sox treating 2006 as a rebuilding year, and waiting for prospsects such as Jonathan Papelbon and Jon Lester to lead the way in '07. So far, there is some evidence to support that. This year's starting rotation could include 4 players at or pushing 40: Schilling, Wakefield, Wells, and (still a long-shot) Clemens. The infield includes three players on one year contracts (Lowell, Gonzalez, Loretta), and Trot Nixon is in the last year of his deal. This will create a lot of flexibility for the Red Sox to spend money next offseason, for two reasons. First, the Sox will have some slots open that they can fill with cheaper prospects. But more importantly, they will be in better position to spend their money more strategically. This winter, the Sox were basically forced into dealing for Coco Crisp after Johnny Damon left town, since Crisp was the only practical option for filling their remaining two needs: the leadoff spot and center field. With several positions open after 2006, the team won't be as hamstrung.

 

Forever Young

I recently read Danny Ainge quoted saying that he considers Raef LaFrentz a "core player" for the Celtics. LaFrentz has shown flashes, especially while playing center recently, but on a contending team he is strictly a role player who mixes three-point shooting with decent defense. Only Paul Pierce, Wally Szczerbiak, and Delonte West have demonstrated enough multi-dimensional ability over the long-term to be considered "core players".

For the most part, the young players have been a mixed bag. I've been very impressed with Ryan Gomes since training camp (and completely mystified by Doc Rivers reluctance to play him), but Gomes needs more than one good month to prove his value. He looked tired on Friday night, which translated into a 6-15 shooting night. Al Jefferson and Kendrick Perkins could be a terrific tandem in the middle, but they are still very young and inconsistent. Gerald Green is athletic, but every time I see him play, the number 5 on his jersey reminds me of Kedrick Brown, whose athletic talent couldn't overcome his lack of NBA-caliber basketball skill.

 

Happy Birthday ... and a new look

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of Onside Kicks. Thanks to all who have visited over the past two years. Today also marks the debut of a new look and new focus for this blog. After two years of being exclusively a pro football blog, I'm switching gears and will now be writing about all of Boston's pro sports teams.

Over the past few months, I'd grown a little bored with this blog. Last August I started a companion blog, called Extra Points, which was hosted on Blogsome, a free WordPress-based host. I enjoyed writing some longer historical pieces, but found that while I could research them during the football offseason, I had a tough time finding things to write about for Onside Kicks. I found it hard to be passionate about the NFL 365 days a year when I was following the Red Sox and Celtics with equal intensity. Since I have a real job and real-life responsibilities, blogging takes some extra effort and dedication. Without passion, it isn't enjoyable. So I'm abandoning Extra Points and refocusing Onside Kicks on just the Boston teams.

The Patriots will still be a frequent topic, but the Red Sox and Celtics will also take up considerable space. The Bruins will get limited coverage since I am a very casual hockey follower. And I'm sure I'll still find room to discuss some national issues.

I hope you enjoy this new direction too.

Thursday, March 09, 2006 

Give (Labor) Peace a Chance

Well, that's finally settled. The NFL owners voted 30-2 to approve the union's latest offer, and the CBA has been extended for 6 years. It was interesting to read how Paul Tagliabue stressed to the owners that labor peace and the cap had rapidly increased the value of their franchises. Businessmen can have a hard time looking at intangibles, and in this case the negotiations were being hamstrung by a group of owners who couldn't see past 1 or 2 percent of extra revenue going to the players. In effect, the owners decided to give a little, instead of risking a lot more in the long-term.

Sunday, March 05, 2006 

Million Dollar Babies

The negotiations between the NFL and NFLPA have descended into absurbity again. Yesterday, the two sides "broke off talks" at 3pm ET, with one representative declaring that the talks were "dead". Yet a few hours later, the two sides apparently agreed to meet again today. Either the media is getting used to spin the discussions, or two sides who can't agree on how to divide millions of dollars are throwing temper tantrums to draw attention to their "plight".

Let's hope they grow up and settle this.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006 

Pandora's Box

Are the NFL owners as stupid as their baseball counterparts? We'll find out the answer by the end of the week. The NFL owners are holding the line in negotiations with the players association, even though they are holding a knife to their own throats in the process. If the NFLPA can be believed, once the cap is allowed to expire they will never let it back in, which will dramatically alter the financial landscape. I suspect that the league will cave on the percentage of revenues used to set the cap, but the in-fighting between small and large-market clubs could doom a deal since the NFLPA is waiting for the dispute over local revenue sharing is settled.

Here's hoping both sides come to their senses and avoid a chaotic off-season with lots of players searching for new jobs.

Teams were already prepared to release players with the start of free agency scheduled for Friday, but you wonder if the releases of Sam Adams and other moderately high-profile names were timed to accompany the breakdown in the talks.

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