The Doppler Mets 2012 Forecast

If you hadn’t noticed from my Carlos Beltran post, my Fred Wilpon post, or my tribute to Gary Carter, I’m a huge New York Mets fan.

Around this time of year, I was very much aware that the Mets have no chance at a post-season appearance. The Philadelphia Phillies have ran away with the National League East and it appears that no other team in the league will be able to keep pace with the young and extremely talented Atlanta Braves.

However, the Mets have again transformed from competitive and exciting to injured and frustrating. It has been a common theme since the team moved from Shea Stadium to Citi Field in 2009. The only difference between the first two years of the new stadium in Flushing Meadows and this season: Sandy Alderson’s front office.

And for that, there is optimism brewing in Queens. While this team has been rather enjoyable to watch, most fans have to be careful with how to view this team.

The goal of this post is to try and map out what the 2012 New York Mets will look like.  All 25 of the potential players that will fill out the active roster will be included.

A Brief Explanation

For starters, we will assume that the Mets will stay with their theme over the last couple of season of carrying 12 pitchers on roster.

That leaves 5 spots on their bench and 7 relievers.

On their Mets bench, they tend to carry 1 catcher, 2 outfielders (1 of which needs to be able to play center), 1 utility infielder and 1 corner infielder

The bullpen is a mixed bag of everything, so I won’t go out of the way trying to break down what they normally carry.

All statistics provided are current as of August 23rd, 2011. Ages are as of Opening Day 2012. Minor League numbers will be included with an asterisk. The triple-slash of the statistics are Average-On Base Percentage-Slugging Percentage.

2012 Starting Infield

First Base: Ike Davis (25) – .302/.383/.543, 7HR 25RBI (36 games – out since May with an injured ankle)

–A lot of people forget just how great of a sophomore season that Ike Davis was having before his injury. 16 of Ike’s 39 hits in those 36 games went for extra bases. He seemed to drive in a run a game, and all of that came before the Mets had any production out of half their line-up and before Jose Reyes caught fire at the end of May.

Ike is simply the Mets future at first. He is the best defensive first basemen the Mets have had since John Olerud in the late 90’s and may prove to be the second greatest defensive first basemen in team history behind only Keith Hernandez. He is a true masher with real power (he was on pace for 32 home runs had he played a full season) and a formative left-handed bat in the middle of the Mets line-up. Even with the proposed changes to the outfield wall at Citi Field (finally), there wasn’t a portion of the ballpark Ike can’t crush it out of.

When he does come back fully healthy, which will be in plenty of time for Spring Training 2012, Mets fans will quickly remember the all-around talent that Ike Davis provides.

Second Base: Reese Havens (25)- .288/.373/.435, 4HR 24RBI* (52 games in A+/AA, missed time due to injury)

–Even more Mets fans tend to forget that Reese Havens was the Mets second first-round selection in 2008, behind Davis. Injuries have been the name of the game for Havens ever since he got drafted. Be it a bad back, a rib discomfort or a strained oblique, there has always been some form of malady to keep Havens on the sideline.

However, when he has been healthy, he has always performed. He has plus-power out of the second base position (he was a shortstop in college) and has always been credited with great plate discipline and gap-to-gap ability, both huge qualities Sandy Alderson looks for. As Toby Hyde of MetsMinorLeagueBlog has pointed out, the only reason why Havens may not get a September audition is because the Mets are likely to send him to the Arizona Fall League to get more at-bats.

I’m sure many Mets fans, myself included, have loved the play of Justin Turner at second base this season. But, what you see is what you’re going to get from Turner. There is little room left for him to improve. He is most certainly a valuable player to have on your 25-man roster, and I see him getting the corner infield slot on the Mets bench, especially with his ability to play shortstop in a pinch.

Other Mets fans are wondering why I haven’t mentioned Ruben Tejada as a possible second base candidate. Alderson has always stated his desire to get offense out of second base while also not sacrificing defense. Tejada is probably the best defensive middle infielder the Mets have, and he, too, will have a spot on the Mets bench in the utility infield position.

What may surprise people is that the true competition for the 2012 starting spot will come down to Havens and fast-rising prospect Jordany Valdespin (24, .289/.331/.469, 16HR 59RBI, 34 stolen bases). Valdespin has spent five season in the Mets farm system, entering as a 19-year in 2007. In his previous four seasons, Valdespin hit 14 home runs. This year, he has exploded to 16. The huge knock on Valdespin comes down to his defense (a converted shortstop that has committed 33 errors this season) and his poor baserunning decisions. The 34 stolen bases show case his speed for sure, but he’s also been caught 16 times (68% success rate, in other words: terrible).

The Mets have invested a lot into both players. The competition come Spring Training will be Reese Haven’s to lose. But, would it surprise anyone to see Valdespin become the Mets second basemen of the future? Absolutely not. Expect Valdespin to get a look in September when Havens goes to the Fall League.

Shortstop: Jose Reyes (28)- .336/.377/.507, 5HR 37RBI, 80 runs, 34 stolen bases (98 games, on DL for second time this season with strained hamstring)

–The Jose Reyes saga has been an incredible story to follow this season. He went from gone at the trade deadline, to too valuable to move, to league MVP and back to high injury risk. While I can guarantee you that Reyes will not get Carl Crawford money (7-year, $142 million), he will get somewhere in the neighborhood of five-years and $95 million from the Mets (and unless you’re Latrell Sprewell, that’ll feed the family).

His value to the Mets can not be described in such a short space, so I won’t even try. The fans would throw a revolution if Reyes were to move. He’s here for the long haul. He plays a near Gold Glove defense, is arguably the most dynamic lead-off hitter in baseball and he’s an absolute joy to watch.

Not to mention, he leads the National League with his .336 average and leads the majors with his 16 triples (on pace for 26 in a healthy season). The most surprising number most fans don’t realize about Reyes, he has 47 extra base hits. Currently, Justin Upton leads the NL in extra base hits with 65. He is on pace for roughly 81 this season. Had Reyes been healthy all year, he would’ve finished around the 77 mark. And of those extra base hits, less than 10 would’ve been home runs. That’s incredible.

Third Base: David Wright (29)- .259/.341/.425, 11HR 42RBI (69 games, missed time with a stress fracture in his back)

–All of Wright’s numbers for 2011 are much lower than they should be because the man played a month with a broken back. Think about that. It is safe to say that 2009 was an outlier for David Wright. Since he came off the DL, Wright has been the player that became a star from 2005-08.

He looks a lot slimmer since his trip to the DL, has altered his stance, is striking out a whole lot less and has gotten back to using the entire field (as evident from his opposite field home run in Philadelphia). Go ahead and pencil David in for his 162-game average (2009 included) of .301/.381/.510, 27HR 106RBI and Gold Glove defense. He’s arguably the best home-grown Mets player since the hey-days of Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry in the 1980s.

Catcher: Josh Thole (25)- .268/.354/.355, 3HR 31RBI (89 games)

–For Thole, it will be about how he works on his defensive game in the off-season. Offensively, the Mets will take that triple-slash line any day from Thole. He will never hit for power (17 total extra-base hits), but will constantly find his way on base.

No matter what, there will be a right-handed hitting compliment to Thole on the roster. With the way Ronny Paulino (31, .289/.325/.366) has worked with the pitching staff, it probably will be him again. Paulino is the superior defender, but doesn’t do nearly as well against righties as he does lefties.

Down on the farm, the best option the Mets currently have is Alberto Cordero (22, .280/.311/.383, 6HR 39RBI). Problem is, Cordero is currently in Low-A Savannah. While he is ready for the majors defensively right now with a plus-arm and awesome mechanics, he is not refined enough offensively to make a difference. There is a chance that Cordero could skip A+ St. Lucie next year and go right to AA, but odds are he’ll split the year between the two, meaning he is at least two full seasons away from sniffing the big club.

2012 Starting Outfield

Left Field: PLATOON– Absolutely, we are at this point.

RH: Jason Bay (33)- .236/.319/.345, 9HR 43RBI, 90 strikouts (99 games, missed time due to oblique strain)

LH: Daniel Murphy (27)- .320/.362/.448, 6HR 49RBI, .364 BA with RISP, .355 BA with RISP and 2 outs (109 games, strained knee ligiments ended his season)

–As I said, we are absolutely to this point. It is getting to a point where the optimism when Jason Bay goes 1 for 4 with a hard hit out is sad. For whatever reason, Bay has been a huge failure in Queens. A phenomenal failure.

Sandy Alderson showed last spring that he isn’t afraid of eating contracts in the case of Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez. But, Bay has two years left on his deal and $32 million total. It makes sense to give him another year before the organization gets to that point. However, he can not be an everyday starter anymore. He is a black hole in this line-up.

As for Murph, we’ve been down this road before. And as annoying as it is to point out Bay’s inability to hit, it is equally annoying to point to the fact that Daniel Murphy does not have a natural defensive position. The position he looks most comfortable at is first, but he will not replace Ike Davis.

Regardless, the man can flat-out hit. He was in the top 5 of the batting title race before he blew out his knee. He has such a smooth stroke and drives the ball to all fields. He hits well enough that the Mets will either find him a place to play, or trade him to get the highest value possible from an American League team.

Murphy looked fine in 2008 when he debuted in left field. But in 2009, he suffered from a serious case of the yips out there. It got to a point where it was so bad, the Mets (who only won 70 games that year) decided he couldn’t play out there anymore. Terry Collins has stated if Murphy wants to play on this team, he will need to learn the outfield. Well, this is the only scenario Murphy can get into the line-up: Learn left field, or we’ll trade you.

Hopefully, he learns left field. If he can do that successfully, he may completely bump Bay out of playing time and continue to add to the incredible depth in this line-up.

Center field: B.J. Upton (27)- .225/.304/.391, 17HR 58RBI, 26 stolen bases (currently on Tampa Bay Rays, eligible for arbitration after the season)

–I will admit that a portion of this idea came from a very lengthy conversation I had with Brian May, my college housemate and fellow Mets fanatic.

The worst kept secret in all of baseball is that the Rays will either trade Upton this off-season or non-tender him at the arbitration deadline, making him a free agent. Upton is almost as frustrating to Rays fans as the man he would be replacing in New York, Angel Pagan.

After 2009, when the entire team crapped their pants, the consensus in the Mets front office was the mental lapses of Pagan would cost him any chance of starting in the long run. Well, somehow, he seemed to have turned the corner in 2010, when he hit .290, 11HR 69RBI, stole 37 bases and played a strong enough center field that the team moved Carlos Beltran to right.

This year? Its like watching the ’09 Pagan all over again. He seems lost at times in center and on the base paths, he pulls off pitches and he doesn’t seem to play the game as crisp as he had before. Pagan, too, is arbitration elgible after this season and is in line to be awarded around $4 million.

Now, if the Mets decide to bring in Upton, they will most likely have to spend around $8-10 million per season. Upton is younger than Pagan and plays premium defense in center. With the Mets getting plenty of offense from other positions (sans Bay), they could theoretically absorb another slow offensive season from Upton as long as he continues to save runs with his glove.

Do the Mets spend the exta $4 million+ on defense and potential or do they give Pagan a reprieve on his unfortunate season? Mets fans would say the former and not the latter.

In the farm system, it appears evident that Fernando Martinez (23, .260/.329/.417, 8HR 30RBI) no longer possesses the speed to play center field.

Say Upton signs in New York on a one-year deal to showcase his talents in a bigger market (absolutely conceivable), the Mets are high on Kirk Nieuwenhuis (24, .298/.403/.505, 6HR 14RBI). In fact, had Captain Kirk not made an amazing catch in center that dislocated his non-throwing shoulder, Nieuwenhuis would have certainly got a look this year when Pagan missed time with injury.

Further down the line, the Mets also have Matt den Dekker (24, .272/.346/.472, 15HR 62RBI between A+ and AA) who is hands-down the Mets best defensive center field prospect and is in the discussion for best defensive prospect in all of baseball. He has put up huge numbers this year in the extra-base hit department (57 total: 31 doubles, 11 triples and 15 home runs), but is another full season of AAA ball away from performing on the big stage.

Best case scenario, the Mets bring in Upton on a one-or-two year deal to let den Dekker and Nieuwenhuis buy time in the minors.

Right Field: Lucas Duda (26)- .279/.346/.475, 7HR 35RBI (73 games, part of season spent in AAA-Buffalo)

–Similar to Murphy, Lucas Duda will be given every opportunity to win the right field job outright in Spring Training. It would be hard to imagine the Mets finding anyone that has the power capability that Duda has that wouldn’t come at a premium cost.

Since July, the Big Ox has hit all 7 of his home runs after hitting none in the first three months of the year. In fact, 12.6 at-bats between home runs average to just under 40 in a 500 at-bat season. Like Davis, there isn’t a spot in Citi Field that could contain Duda if he got a hold of it.

While the power is awesome, Duda possesses a true knowledge of the strike zone that has impressed the entire organization. He has shown an ability to adjust his swing to appropriate situations, and he even had the baseball smarts to lay down a sacrifice bunt that eventually led to a game-winning run.

If Duda can prove to play an average right field (another reason for a plus-defender in center like Upton), his bat will find its way into the starting line-up regularly.

As for the farm, it is much to early to talk about the likes of 2011 first-round pick Brandon Nimmo as nothing more than a pipe dream. Cory Vaughn (22, .267/.383/.397, 9HR 49RBI) is looking like a legitimate Major Leaguer down the road. But, like Cordero, he is probably a solid two years away from making an impact.

Bench

Utility Infielder: Ruben Tejada (22, .276/.365/.323 0HR 24RBI) (67 games in MLB this year)

–As I covered briefly in the second base section, Tejada will be in the running for the starting job, but most likely won’t win it. He will never provide a lot of pop at the plate. But, he has terrific baseball instincts and a great eye at the plate.

Even more, he plays probably the best defense up the middle out of anyone on the Mets not named Reyes. His glove will keep him in the Major Leagues for a long time. And it is ridiculous to think that every player out of the Minors needs to be a star. There is nothing wrong with having a sure bat and great glove off the bench. Tejada fills this role nicely.

Corner Infielder: Justin Turner (27, .258/.325/.358, 4HR 43RBI, 24 doubles) (93 games in MLB)

–Again, as covered in the second base portion, Turner absolutely provides a spark this team desperately needs. He and Daniel Murphy provide such energy in the dugout that it doesn’t make sense to fill out a 25-man roster that doesn’t have both of them on it.

And like Tejada, there is nothing wrong with Turner being on the bench. His numbers have taken a dip recently because he is apparently playing through a number of maladies, but the line he has right now is probably the line he would post year in and year out. If you could count on 300 at-bats, a .260 average with gap power on your bench, all while playing four infield positions, you take that every time, right? Right.

Reserve Catcher: Ronny Paulino (see catcher section)

Utility Outfielder: Scott Hairston (31, .235/.303/.470, 7HR 24RBI) (79 games, 145 plate appearances)

–Hairston got off to such a slow start for the Mets this season that his batting average still hasn’t recovered. However, he has been phenomenal in a reserve role recently. The only question with Hairston: how well can he play center?

The last spot on this bench would go to whoever isn’t starting in the Jason Bay/Daniel Murphy platoon. Now, Terry Collins has said emphatically that both Hairston and Bay have the ability to play center field. However, neither have. And with September call-ups around the corner, neither probably will.

If Hairston can prove better than serviceable in center, then the Mets will certainly keep him. If they feel a better defensive back-up option is there in center field (say, Rick Ankiel), they may look down that avenue. Even money is saying Scott Hairston has a second season in Citi Field.

Corner Outfielder: Jason Bay/Daniel Murphy (see Left Field)

Pitching

Starters:

Johan Santana (33)- Been on DL for the entire 2011 Season

–With Johan, its very simple. When he has been healthy, he’s a Cy Young candidate every year. The problem for him has been staying healthy.

Santana is apparently on course to be healthy for Day 1 of Spring Training. But, he was also supposed to be on course for being in the Mets rotation by the All-Star break.

Santana could be the difference between the Mets being an over-.500 team and or a team that will repeat the course of this year. Time will tell and we will see if Johan can be the guy that pitched the Mets within one game of the playoffs in 2008.

R.A. Dickey (37)- 167.0 innings, 5-11, 3.72ERA, 1.26WHIP

–The RA Dickey has been the best Mets pitcher for the last two seasons, no question. There was a lot of worry coming into the 2011 season that Dickey’s 2010 success would prove to be nothing more than a flash in the pan.

The second time through the league possessing a below-average fastball and three variations of a knuckleball, many people thought the book would be out. And when Dickey got off to a slow start, there was significant fear that all of that was coming true.

Then the Dickey injured his plantar, and apparently that’s the jump start he needed. He has been a rock in this rotation. Alderson locked him up to a two-year deal last off-season, and there is no reason to believe Dickey will pitch anywhere else in 2012. He will be in the rotation, and, like Wright in the line-up, lock Dickey down for 30+ starts, a 3.50 ERA and 140 Ks. Done deal.

Let’s move on.

Jonathon Niese (25)- 157.1 innings, 11-11, 4.40ERA, 138 Ks, 1.41WHIP

–When you talk about Jon Niese, everything tends to be positive even when the results aren’t. The only thing that makes me nervous about that scenario is 2008 Me was saying the same exact sentence in regards to Mike Pelfrey, who I will get to in a minute.

However, it is evident that Niese has things figured out. He needs to work his entire arsenal into his starts better, as he tends to fall in love with one pitch which eventually gets him into trouble.

What you have to remember is that Niese is only 25, though it feels like he’s been around forever. He has the potential to become a good compliment number 2 starting pitcher, like a poor man’s Tom Glavine.

Niese began to put it together this year before he tweaked his back in his last couple starts. Should Niese be able to perform up to expectations next season, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to imagine him posting 15+ wins with an ERA hovering around the 3.75 mark. Lower the WHIP and you have yourself a borderline All-Star.

Dillon Gee (25)- 127.2 innings, 11-5, 4.37ERA, 85 Ks, 1.30WHIP

–Dillon Gee got off to a powerful start, winning his first 8 decisions in his rookie season. From the get-go, Gee has looked EXACTLY like Rick Reed from the 1998-2001 stretch of Mets success. He even wears Reed’s #35.

Gee will never be a top-of-the-rotation talent that can win on his stuff alone. Instead, Gee lives by nibbling at the corners, throwing strikes, and using his devastating change-up. Whenever Gee has limited his walks and stays in the strike zone, he finds an abundance of success. Its when he loses control of his pitches or shies away from his change-up that he finds trouble.

However, you can do a whole lot worse than Dillon Gee out of your 4 or 5 spot in the rotation. He will give you innings, will keep the defense busy and will battle. Every rotation needs a Dillon Gee. He will be in New York for the foreseeable future. And I look forward to watching his development.

Jason Marquis (33)- 132.0 innings, 8-6, 4.43ERA, 76 Ks, 1.49WHIP

–Now, this is important on two fronts. The first, the only scenario I like the Mets bringing in Marquis would be on a one-year contract. A lot has to be said about a player wanting to play for your team. The Staten Island native has once again stated his desire to pitch in his hometown and compete at a high level.

Also, Marquis is a proven winner. He’s been to the playoffs on every team he’s played for with the exception of the Washington Nationals. The Diamondbacks, who are making a surprising run for the National League West crown, made a priority to acquire Marquis at the deadline to add depth to the rotation. Now granted, an Angel Pagan line drive off Marquis’ shin broke his leg and ended his season.

Marquis will eat innings for you, all while giving you team a chance to win every five games. In a transitional year like the Mets will be going through in 2012, where they want to be competitive and win while not throwing the long-term plan off its tracks, a pitcher like Jason Marquis on a reasonable one-year contract will prove invaluable.

Along with Marquis, it is possible the Mets will consider bringing back Chris Capuano (33, 9-11, 4.71ERA, 123 Ks) on another one-year contract or even injured starter Chris Young (32, 1-0, 1.88ERA) on another performance-laden contract. But, I feel the Mets will lean in the direction of Marquis this time around.

The second thing the signing of Marquis signals is the end of the Mike Pelfrey (28, 6-10, 4.61ERA). Look, he’s been a Met for 6 years now. When he won 13 games in 2008 and posted a 3.72ERA, everybody thought that Big Pelf had finally turned the corner. Only he took two steps backwards in 2009 with a bloated ERA of 5.03. Then, 2010 happened and Pelfrey looked like a bona fide number 2 pitcher behind Johan Sanatana. But now, the jury is hung on Pelfrey.

No player on the Mets this season has proven to be as frustrating as Pelf. Even when he does well, fans are irritated that he can’t duplicate his success in consecutive starts. Furthermore, Pelfrey has proven time and time again that he is dreadful against National League East opponents.

Like Pagan, Pelfrey will be up for arbitration again after this season. Reports say that it is likely Pelfrey will earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $6 million out of the process.

One way to look at the situation is this:

If you kept Pagan and Pelfrey, you would be committing roughly $10 million to the two players. Would you swap the contracts of Pagan and Pelfrey for B.J. Upton, who would command that salary on his contract? I would guess many Mets fans would say yes.

Listen, as much crap as the Mets farm system has taken throughout the last couple of years, there is one clear truth to their minor leagues: they have a ton of upside potential starting pitchers.

Matt Harvey (23, 12-5, 3.17ERA, 151 Ks in 127.2 innings) is the best of the talent. He will absolutely start 2012 in AAA and will be the first in line if a pitcher is lost to injury. Right behind him, the Mets have Jeurys Familia (22, 5-4, 2.81ERA, 120 Ks in 109 innings) who will also open 2012 in AAA, phenom Jenrry Mejia who will be 22 and coming off Tommy John surgery, but should be ready by May and will start in AAA. That three-headed monster in AAA with the likes of Marquis and Dickey working off essentially one year contracts is promising. Plus, newly acquired Zack Wheeler and suprising 2011 success story lefty Darin Gorski will be in AA.

Pelfrey is expendable because of this talent and the fact that his $6 million can be better spent elsewhere.

Bullpen

The Bullpen is a little hard to predict. There are a couple of givens, however.

Middle Relievers:

Pedro Beato (25)

–Beato came out of the gates fast and furious, posting an impressive scoreless inning streak. Recently, his performances have been up and down. But, the Mets took a Rule 5 flier on him and he has proven to be a Major League arm with some nasty stuff. A year under his belt in the bigs should prove to be worth while and he will be in next year’s bullpen.

Manny Acosta (30)

–Acosta has flashes of pure briliance, then can look absolutely lost in a matter of minutes. Being a cheap, under contract option, the Mets will give Acosta every chance to make the team out of Spring Training

Josh Stinson (24)

–The Mets gave Stinson every opportunity to work his way into a potential rotation spot. After struggling in that role in AAA, Stinson was moved to the bullpen and has proven dominant. He hits 94-95 constantly and Terry Collins absolutely loves his ability. Stinson will get a September audition, and he will most likely stick in the team’s long-term plans.

The lefty out of the bullpen and the long reliever is hard to predict. Odds are, D.J. Carrasco will serve as the team’s longman since he is under contract for another season. Tim Byrdak could come back, but there are an abundance of lefties that will come on the cheap that the Mets will wait to commit to anyone.

Closer: Bobby Parnell (27)

–Parnell has been the prodigy child for two years now. This is the job the team has been grooming him for. Personally, I never understood why any team would want to pay big money for a closer, a position that only needs to get three outs in a game his team is already winning.

If the team doesn’t hand the reigns over to Parnell next year, the team may never make the transition. He has the triple-digit fastball, the disgusting hard slider and the make-up to shut the door. The question is, can Parnell make the transition from flamethrower to power pitcher?

Its a transition that will prove to be one of the biggest stories in Spring Training. Odds are, Parnell will be given the job and the team will hope that he accepts the role head on.

So. After all that, here’s how I imagine your 2012 New York Mets starting line-up:

1. Jose Reyes, SS

2.  B.J. Upton, CF

3. David Wright, 3B

4. Ike Davis, 1B

5. Lucas Duda, RF

6. Jason Bay/Daniel Murphy, LF

7. Reese Havens, 2B

8. Josh Thole, C

Starting Rotation would look something like this:

Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Jason Marquis

Closing: Bobby Parnell

Is this going to happen according to plan? I don’t know. This is how I would imagine the Mets continue their transformation.

Your thoughts?

 

 

Oakland Raiders select Terrelle Pryor in Supplemental Draft

On Monday, the Oakland Raiders were awarded a third-round selection for former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor in the NFL’s Supplemental Draft (ESPN News).

As a result, the Raiders will lose their rights to their 2012 third round pick. The Raiders will now be without a second, third or fourth round pick in the 2012 draft. Oakland traded their second-round pick in a draft day trade last year, and the Washington Redskins own the right to their fourth-round pick as part of the Jason Campbell trade.

 Pryor elected to forgo his senior season at Ohio State after allegations of further NCAA violations arose in the midst of the Jim Tressel situation that led to the coach’s resignation.

Pryor will be forced to serve a five-game suspension that will take place start Week 1. Pryor will, however, be eligible to participate in all pre-season practices and the Raiders two remaining preseason games.

In theory, this is a positive move for the Raiders on two fronts. The first and most obvious is it gives the Raiders their quarterback of the future they coveted entering the 2011 draft. Unsatisfied with the available talent in the draft, the Raiders failed to select a quarterback and decided to wait on it until a future date.

Lost in the controversy of the NCAA investigation is the fact that Pryor was a very successful quarterback that contained a large amount of athletic gifts. Last year, he threw for 2,772 yards and 27 touchdowns while rushing for over 700 yards as well. Furthermore, he ran a 4.36 40-yard dash on his pro day.

The Raiders have been trying to find a winning quarterback since the days of Rich Gannon. The likes of Jeff Garcia, Bruce Gradkowski, Aaron Brooks, Duante Culpepper, former first overall draft bust JaMarcus Russell and, most recently, Jason Campbell have tried to solidify the position. None have been very successful at it. In the case of Russell, he may have single-handedly put the organization back three years.

Pryor will be allowed to groom and learn, with the Raiders committed to Campbell for this season. Given a full year to practice and learn under Huey Jackson’s offense will be beneficial and will put the Raiders back onto the right track in the long run.

However, there could be another positive that needs to be mentioned from the drafting of Terrelle Pryor. A lot of scouts and experts have said that Pryor may be best used as a wide receiver at the next level. If that’s the case, then he is still in a fantastic situation in Oakland. The Raiders do not have a true number one receiving option with the corps currently made up of a mixed bag of underachievers and bargain bin pick-ups.

Darrius Heyward-Bay, a former seventh overall draft selection, has been a phenomenal bust as well, but not quite on the same level as Russell. When healthy, former Florida Gator Louis Murphy has flashed premium talent. And Raider officials are enamored with the abilities of Jacoby Ford and his dynamic speed.

The Raiders love speed and size. At 6’5″ and with his 4.36 40-time, Pryor provides both of those attributes. Could he follow the likes of college quarterbacks-turned-receiver alums Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle-El and Brad Smith? That remains to be seen.

For now, the Raiders will give Pryor every chance to be their quarterback of the future. As for Ohio State?

Well, at least their future looks brighter than that of the University of Miami.

Greg Kaplan is a co-founder of Home Field Advantage

Rock You Like a Hurricane

It has been about a week since the Yahoo! Sports revealed the massive violations that have gone down with the University of Miami football and basketball programs. Since then, there has been a lot of talk about sanctions, penalties and even a NCAA death sentence. So, time to play catch-up and put it into simplier terms.

Ponzi scheme mastermind Nevin Shapiro reportedly invested millions into the University of Miami football and basketball teams both legally and illegally. It has been reported that 72 student-athletes between 2002 and 2010 received some form of benefits from Shapiro, be it cash, cars or even prostitutes.

Shapiro, serving a 28-year prison sentence for his role in the Ponzi scheme, was open and candid about his involvement with Yahoo! Sports. In fact, his willingness to throw the organization he loved so much under the bus was a little bit troubling. To me, it had a little bit of a Wee Bay feel (The Wire, greatest show ever) where Wee Bay already knew he was going to serve life in prison for murder and shooting a cop, so he started taking credit for everything that went on with the Avon Barksdale drug ring.

If you haven't watched 'The Wire', get on that.

So, what is the smoking gun that apprently set off Shapiro on this The U hating spree? Apparently, the university became displeased with Shapiro’s payment plan towards a new student center that was named after him. In response, Miami removed his name from the building and discontinued their legal relationship with Shapiro.

Whoops.

Due to the report, the NCAA has launched an all-inclusive investigation into what actually went down within the programs. It probably won’t be until after the 2011-12 NCAA football season until there is an official ruling, so one can only speculate what type of penalty will be handed down.

However, that hasn’t stopped anybody from sharing their opinion as to what should be done. NCAA president Mark Emmertt has said, without refering directly to Miami, that if it is deemed necessary to hand out the “death penalty”, then the NCAA will see fit to do that. Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly has stated that he would like to see the harshest penalty taken to those who don’t play by the rules, and Alabama coach Nick Saban said something similar.

For clarification sake, the death penalty would be the discontinuation of an athletic program at a university. That program would cease to exist. No coaches. No players. No fans. Everything about the program would stop dead in its tracks and disappear.

 The last time the NCAA handed out a penalty as severe as the death penalty came in the 1980s with the Southern Methodist University, better known as SMU. If you want the complete story of what happened, make sure to go to ESPN and re-watch their phenomenal 30 for 30 documentary “The Pony Excess”.

20+ years removed from the death penalty and SMU is still recovering. They appeared in their first bowl game post-death penalty in 2009, and the last two years were the first time in 25 years the program posted back-to-back seasons with winning records.

If there were a situation to lay down a death penalty, this seems to be the exact case. To review, Jim Tressel, one of the most successful coaches in Ohio State history, lost his job over a “lack of compliance” with NCAA rules when it came to players selling their own memoralbilia. Southern Cal got a two-year post-season ban and Reggie Bush lost his Heisman Trophy over accepted benefits. And Michigan basketball is still recovering from “The Years that Weren’t” when it was discovered the Fab Five received benefits.

This isn’t one coach or one player. This is one INSTITUTION. The argument can be made that quite simply, the coaches didn’t know. But, something this explicit, how could nobody on the coaching staff not be aware of what is happening? Shapiro was a booster that had deep roots with this particular school. He had a building with his name on it. There had to be some awareness on the school’s part that this guy was doing things under the table to help the program.

This has been a real disgusting year for Miami sports fans. The “Big Three” didn’t fulfill their promise. The Dolphins failed to address their quarterback situation. And the Marlins remained the Marlins. Now, their pride and joy, their most successful entity over the last decade, is on the brink of extinction.

I’m sorry Schwartz. But, it doesn’t look good for THE U.

Greg Kaplan is a co-founder of Home Field Advantage

The Not-So-Changing NCAA Landscape

The other day, I, Michael Schwartz posted an article on what the possible move to the SEC would mean for Texas A&M, the Big XII and the NCAA. News has come out that the SEC is fine where it is, with just 12 teams, so Texas A&M will not be moving. My objective was to show the reader what it would mean for the teams, conferences and college football if Texas A&M were to move to the SEC. But the SEC commissioner has come out and said, thanks, but no thanks A&M. What happens now?

No realignment is what happens, thank goodness, and no giant power conference in the south. The Southeastern Conference wanted to gain Texas as part of their stomping grounds, but they stand content with 12 teams. University president’s said they did not believe A&M would receive enough votes to be added, so no invitation was extended. A&M would have been the thirteenth team, unbalanced, so adding a 14th would be difficult as well. Another sign that Florida State, Clemson and Missouri will not be on the move. In the future, Texas A&M will continue to flirt with the SEC, and the possibility of an offer is still out there.

We'll see how long the SEC drags them along

A&M has long wanted out of Texas’ shadow, and the money would have been right, if there was an offer, but nothing materialized. So they’re stuck. Good luck going back to the Big XII’s next meeting.

What does this mean for all involved?

TEXAS A&M: Back to the Big XII. They are still in the shadow of Texas and Oklahoma, and have angered them somewhat. UT coach Mack Brown said the conference would be fine without A&M, but now that the Aggies have come back with their tail between their legs, believe the big teams will want to lay a beat down on A&M. Despite the high rankings and hopes in College Station, they’re record hasn’t been great. But Mike Sherman finally has built the team he’s wanted. A&M has to walk the walk now. This is the second failure by A&M to move to the SEC, moving won’t get any easier. Thankfully for them the Big XII did want them to stay and showed a strong desire to make sure that happened. Hopefully A&M can benefit from the new Big XII conference network and earn some money, they have to find a way to compete consistently.

THE SEC: They have announced they are happy with 12 teams, they’ve been the dominant conference and who knows what the Aggies would bring. The conference remains stable, no shifting divisions around, or allocating more money. In the future they could always add more teams whenever they want, they are the SEC.They aren’t the biggest conference, but for the SEC it’s quality over quantity.

THE BIG XII: They remain at 10 programs, an even number, with no need to add another school to keep things balanced. A&M is their 2nd highest ranked team right now and the conference can only hope they succeed, bringing good press to the Big XII. It’s stability, after losing Colorado and Nebraska, a mini-victory to hold the strong conference together. The conference board wanted to retain A&M, and acknowledged their value to the conference. In the future they could add more teams and expand back to 12 (as they’re name suggests), or just fall apart as they almost have for the past two offseasons.

THE NCAA: No longer is there any real threat to a change in the college football picture. Radical conference changes could necessitate changes to the bowl system, the balance of top tier teams, and other collegiate sports.  It also is a sign of the Big XII’s strength, the conference once thought to be dissolving kept one of it’s best schools; they won’t be leaking programs for a while–unless Texas has a change of heart. Texas A&M was not offered a spot in the SEC, and the NCAA could use this example in the future in moderating the realignment of conferences.

So that big “if” for Texas A&M became a big no, marking another failed attempt to shift conferences. A&M has never ran with the Big XII pack, always overshadowed by the big dogs, and now they have to make peace again after some serious flirting with another conference. Texas A&M can only try to carry on its plans of internal growth and change in the Big XII, a conference with history and prestige of its own. College football isn’t ready for more realignment, and much to the pleasure of diehard fans, college football will only move at it’s own pace, further discussions pertaining only to the future (five to ten years from now).  Don’t be surprised if there is news in the future of A&M’s desire to leave the Big XII; be surprised if it actually happens.

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

The Ever-Changing Landscape of the NCAA

All signs point to Texas A&M leaving the Big XII for greener pastures. Last year conferences shifted as the Pac 10 grew to the Pac 12 (Colorado and Utah), the Big XII lost two (Colorado and Nebraska), the Big 10 gained one (Nebraska, making the Big 10 a twelve team conference–it had eleven before) and Texas A&M unsuccessfully tried to move. During the last offseason rumors floated that the Big XII would be swallowed by the Pac 10, but A&M wasn’t invited. That never happened, but now A&M is on the verge of moving to a more prestigious conference, the SEC.

The predicted crumbling of the Big XII is finally starting with the departure of the Aggies of Texas A&M. Texas is a blue blood in college football, however they went 5-7 in 2010. Mike Sherman is entering his third year at Texas A&M and has quietly built the best football team in Texas. The Longhorns have the prestige and flooded recruiting classes but on the field success has plummeted after QB Colt McCoy left for the NFL. Texas Tech gets press for their unorthodox ways and scandal, while SMU is a program reborn, looking to make the final push over the hump. Texas A&M finished 2010 ranked 19th in the AP poll, but lost  a close 24-21 battle royale with LSU. 2011 is almost a “contract” year for A&M as they begin the year ranked #9 in the nation, with a core group of established and talented athletes. Optimism and expectations are high in College Station, Texas; what does their move mean to the SEC and the NCAA?

For the past six seasons, a national champion of college football was crowned, and all six of them SEC programs. The Southeastern Conference is the toughest conference right now, with diverse style’s of play and exciting football. A move like this will bring wonderful results to the Aggies and the SEC, while potentially crushing the Big XII.

PROS FOR A&M: This is the SEC. No conference has been able to compete with the SEC on a consistent basis in quality of play. The schedule may be difficult, but A&M is ready for the challenge. Quality in the Big XII has fluctuated, something that is certain not to happen in the SEC. Recruiting could see a meteoric rise in interest from top prospects; A&M has always competed with its in-state rivals for commits. But now there is a new draw for high school athletes: come compete for a Texas school, against top programs in the SEC. The grandeur and luster of the SEC has provided the existing schools top talent for years; Texas A&M plays in one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the world. The potential results for A&M and this move are astronomical, brand new opportunities for this strong program lean toward future fortunes in College Station.

CONS FOR A&M: Tough, tough, tough SEC schedule, different style of play from the spread offenses of the Big XII. If they can’t stay afloat, losses will be a regular happening for the Aggies. Also they would be competing not only with Texas schools for recruits, but now SEC schools. In 2010 period of realignment had rumors that Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State leaving for the Pac 10 while Texas A&M flirted with the SEC. That never happened then, but word was that the Texas schools would excommunicate A&M for leaving them and breaking rivalries, something that would hurt scheduling in the future.

PROS FOR THE SEC: Expansion in to Texas is huge. Texas, as mentioned before, is probably one of the best recruiting hotbeds next to Florida and California. The SEC has Florida, and soon Texas will be in the loop. A&M gives off an SEC-type vibe, pro-style offense with some wrinkles in it, powerful defense and athletes all around. A&M is currently ranked top 10; if they keep it up through next year, just one more top ranked program for the already dominant conference. Diversity in cultures, schools and stadiums grow, along with added power in the BCS. Rivalries are also reborn such as A&M-LSU and A&M-Arkansas, creating more competition. Plus, A&M’s baseball team is pretty good.

CONS FOR THE SEC: If A&M stumbles and falls off as they did in the early 2000s, this could be a bust move. There’s also the possibility that A&M couldn’t compete in the SEC, and sits in the cellar with Vanderbilt. But Texas is still added as a recruiting spot, so not much harm to be had.

PROS FOR THE BIG XII: Not many, as they lose one of their better teams. A little less in-conference recruiting competition at best, and more justification for the individual school’s new broadcast networks, like Texas’.

CONS FOR THE BIG XII: Losing one of the better teams hurts. Rivalries are also lost, including Texas A&M versus: Texas, Baylor and Texas Tech. The Big XII drops to an uneven nine teams, their conference name becomes an even bigger misnomer and money is lost.

PROS FOR THE NCAA: The NCAA’s power conference becomes even stronger, with more teams, more money, and more wins. A&M brings class to a shady conference (some say the SEC stands for Somebody Else is Cheating), as they are not under investigation and they have a strong military program, with great presence at football games. The SEC network brings in more money, more money for the NCAA and greater competition and quality in the the NCAA’s top conference. And finally, with updated conferences, it could be a step away from the BCS system, a possible change towards a playoff.

CONS FOR THE NCAA: Conferences as we know it may be crumbling, as the Big XII is falling apart, and reports say the SEC is about to swallow Missouri and some of the ACC, schools like Florida State and Clemson. If that happens, the SEC will have a monopoly on college football, and other top teams are left in decimated conferences. The Pac 12 has solidified itself, and the Big 10 was never touched, but the ACC is dying as well as the Big XII. Schools like Texas, Oklahoma, Miami and Virginia Tech are in rather unknown territory. If the realignment happens, it will be twice in two years conferences have shifted, changing the BCS, the competition and the entire landscape of the NCAA. Who’s to say they’re done? Next year could bring even more change.

Over time, changes do happen. Schools move up and down, conferences have evolved over time and every year, each school has a shot at a national championship (just don’t schedule the SEC). And with most change, evaluation can only be done properly after everything has been put into effect and analyzed down the road. Initially, this is great for Texas A&M and the SEC, not so good for the Big XII, and it’s up in the air for the NCAA. The move is almost imminent, but is still in the works at this point. If the move happens, look for a scrambling of other conferences to make up by adding more teams. The true evidence of the fallout will be seen in its entirety in 2014 most likely. Realignment is a tricky thing as moving forward, college football is forever changed in some way. As for the 2011 and 2012 seasons, best of luck to everyone. SEC school, see you in the title game. Now we play the waiting game, will the move be finalized, or will it fall through, leaving a very angry Texas A&M squad?

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

Why I Don’t Like “Grantland” Right Now

Bill Simmons is one of my favorite sportswriters, and I believe a lot of what I’ve written and said about sports has been inspired by him. However, his brainchild, the new sports and pop culture website, “Grantland,” leaves a lot to be desired.

The thing that has always made Bill Simmons great, is the fact that he has written from the fan’s point of view. He always took on (for me) the likeness of the type of fan I enjoyed talking to. Growing up just outside of Philly, I have been exposed to some people who fancy themselves football “experts” just because they sit around, get drunk, watch the Birds, and curse at whoever is playing quarterback, and bash Andy Reid for being fat and having red hair. Those types of people don’t actually know a lot about football, and they are frustrating to talk to. Reading Bill Simons, who didn’t write with the type of pretense that people like Peter King and Don Banks did, but still brought a sense of knowledgeability on topics to the table, was refreshing. Throw in the repeated pop culture references and self-depricating humor, and it was a near perfect blend of entertaining sports media.

Obviously, I am not the only person who enjoyed Bill Simmons’ work, and his popularity and creativity have ballooned into ESPN giving him the ability to develop his own project. Thus, Grantland came to be. He would bring in people who knew their stuff on sports and all things Hollywood, and it would be wonderful. It didn’t have to try to live up to the “worldwide leader,” but it would be a place where people who felt like they knew their stuff could read from other people who knew their stuff.

Bill Simmons' new venture has left me disappointed

I have no problem with that. However, I have a problem with people who evidently don’t know their stuff parading around like people who know their stuff. The Hollywood articles on the site are so mind-numbingly pretentious that it’s hard to believe that the people writing them are actually taking themselves seriously. Here’s a newsflash: Bashing the movie “Cowboys versus Aliens” and the television show “Lopez Tonight,” doesn’t make you smart, or hip, or anything. The same goes for the article on Shia LaBeouf; we all know he’s a self-absorbed clown, you didn’t need to remind us. It just makes you like everybody else. I haven’t read an article from the pop culture area of the site that hasn’t felt like it was trying to make me feel out of touch, but without providing any actual insight. The whole reason that Bill Simmons was successful at ESPN was because he wrote knowledgeably on topics, while still seeming relatable. The Hollywood writers at Grantland don’t seem the least bit relatable. Everything at that corner of the site seems condescending and unwelcoming.

The sports aspect of the site seems, if nothing else, kind of muted. This truly looks and feels like a sports website run out of an office in Los Angeles. My biggest gripe with their site right now is the use of Bill Barnwell. He seems to be their NFL specialist. I have read nothing from him that indicates he should be considered a legitimate source on anything NFL. He wrote a freee agency “winners and losers” column today. It was honestly less insightful than a horoscope. There was more depth and analysis in our predictions posts than in Barnwell’s free agency article. I bolded that, because there’s no reason that a couple of Marist College Juniors should be able to out-analyze a guy getting paid by ESPN to write about sports. I think Schwartz and I are both pretty smart dudes, and we know a decent amount about sports. But that guy’s getting paid! We still have a lot of growing and refining to do. He’s supposed to be the guy we’re learning from. We have just as much of a chance at being wrong about our predictions, but there’s no disputing that we put more thought and effort into the things we wrote than Barnwell did in his. That, in addition to his KC Joyner-esque creation of statistics that are of such little consequence that the very mention of them makes me feel like less of a sports fan, has made the NFL analysis on the site almost un-readable. Of course, there was Chuck Klosterman’s bit on how all of the Hall of Fames don’t actually exist. He rambled and rambled on, taking (I think) the stance that people who are on the fringe of the Hall of Fame, who have to get argued for every year, stand to gain more from not being in the Hall than actually being in. Whatever the hell kind of theoretical, AP English, type of crap was being pushed with that, I will never know, but it didn’t work. Maybe I just don’t get it. Like I said, maybe I’m out of touch.

If the editor-in-chief at Grantland, Mr. Simmons, could maybe help his writers in the Hollywood section of the site seem a little more down-to-earth, and possibly find somebody who actually knows something about football, to write about football, then maybe Grantland would work for me. But right now it doesn’t. There’s a mix of knowledgeability and relatability that makes Simmons great. Right now his site is far too heavy on what it assumes is knowlegability, really elevating them to the likes of people like Peter King and Don Banks who just pretend they know what they’re talking about. This site has too much confidence for something that hasn’t even justified its existence yet, and for now that will keep me from enjoying it. If nothing else, I think the site that seems to find a way to criticize everything has a real lesson to learn from Thumper, the rabbit from Bambi, who famously said: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Steve Sabato is a contributing writer for Home Field Advantage

An Open Letter To Broncos Fans

Broncos Fans,

I know this doesn’t go for all of you, but it certainly applies to some. Stop booing Kyle Orton and cheering for Tim Tebow. You really need to cut it out. Tim Tebow has done nothing to establish that he is worthy of being a starting quarterback in the NFL. In fact, he was given an opportunity by John Fox and Josh McDaniels to prove that he was worthy of being a starting quarterback in the NFL, and Kyle Orton keeps showing that he is more worthy of it. So, why exactly are you guys acting like clowns and booing the guy who’s clearly (by all accounts of anybody who’s watched Broncos camp this year, and who watched Broncos football last year) better than Tebow? I know that there’s the cliche that says that the backup quarterback is always the most popular guy in town, but that’s never been more true in Denver. Unless, of course, Brady Quinn beats out Tim Tebow for the #2 spot in Denver, which is still entirely possible, according to ESPN blogger Bill Williamson.

I feel terrible for Kyle Orton. In Chicago he did nothing but lead the team to an 11-5 season, only to get benched for another overhyped Florida QB, in Rex Grossman. Then, after Grossman finally gave the whole world (excluding Mike Shanahan) proof that he was garbage, the Bears moved Kyle Orton and some 1st round draft picks for Jay Cutler. Now, he’s stuck playing quarterback for a team who has a legion of fans who seem all too willing to cut off their nose to spite their face; a fan base that wants to start Tebow simply to prove that Tebow can, in the very most literal sense of the word, start.

Their faces say it all.

 

Maybe Tim Tebow can be an effective starter in the NFL one day. However, if it’s clear to the entire coaching staff, and anybody who’s watched a Broncos game over the last year that Kyle Orton is certainly a more effective passer, why are you guys so eager to get the kid out there? If nothing else, I’d be more worried that the guy hasn’t been able to beat out the former 4th-rounder from Purdue. Let’s be honest, when’s the last time Purdue beat Florida at anything? I’m not saying Tim Tebow will never be good (I personally don’t think he will, but crazier things have happened) but when you start supporting one guy, simply because of the fact that he has a lot of potential, and the media has turned him into a superstar before he’s earned the title, it starts to trivialize your allegiance to your team.

Thanks,

 

Steve

Steve Sabato is a contributing writer for Home Field Advantage

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