Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sidney the Seachicken

In four seasons as a Minnesota Viking, Sidney Rice scored 18 touchdowns. Yesterday, he was rewarded with $18.5M in guaranteed cash from the Seattle Seahawks. In a nutshell, Rice's 2009 breakout was so impressive that agent Drew Rosenhaus found a sucker willing to anti up a gaudy five-year, $41M deal for a guy with one great season smashed between three injury-plagued disasters.

Rice's first two seasons were marked by underachievement and knee injuries. After stealing his paychecks in 2007 and 2008, Rice showed his true colors on the heals of his 2009 breakout.

Assisted by what may have been Brett Favre's greatest season, Rice tallied 83 catches for 1,312 yards and eight scores. With one year still left on his contract, Rice demanded a raise from the Vikings. The team wisely declined, and instead of building upon his first professional effort in the league, Rice and Rosenhaus chose to leverage his newfound production into a contractual ploy.

In February of 2010, against the advice of two medical professionals, Doctor Drew advised Rice to put his hip surgery on the back burner. Not only would the move hold the team hostage, but it would preserve Rice's 2009 market value without risk of further injury or decline in production. Essentially, he chose to skip the 2010 season in order to render 2009 his default "contract year."

That's right, Sidney Rice chose to skip a season for a team seemingly on the doorstep of a Super Bowl.

Rice did return for six games down the stretch last year, after the Vikings' Super Bowl dreams were flushed, showing potential suitors that the surgery was behind him and he was ready to play. He caught lightening in a bottle with an impressive 5/105/2 outing in Week 13 against a dreadful Buffalo secondary, overshadowing the other five games in which he totaled 12/175/0 and looked like a stiff shell of his 2009 form.

That brings us to yesterday's payday.

Make no mistake, I absolutely wanted the 6'4", 202-lb wideout back in purple. Despite very real injury concerns, and the fact that well over half of his four-year career production came in just one season, the Vikings needed the threat of him on the outside. If healthy, his size, leaping ability, hands, body control and hand-eye coordination are invaluable. I would have loved to see the Vikings sign him to an incentive-laden, "prove it" contract.

It's obvious now that such a deal wasn't going to happen.

Rice's decision to sit last season speaks volumes about his true intentions. How will a guy who's proven to be more motivated by money than competition react to his first big pay day? What will be his incentive to fight through injuries and go the extra mile to corral wayward Tarvaris Jackson passes?

With multiple knee injuries, a surgically repaired hip, and just one productive season in his back pocket, Rice's departure could very well end up being a blessing in disguise for the Vikings. Like the seven-year, $49M deal the Seahawks gave to Nate Burleson in 2006, I fully expect Seattle to regret this signing in time.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Eric Weddle Now a Long Shot

According to the Pioneer Press' Jeremy Fowler, the Vikings are not expected to be serious players in the Eric Weddle sweepstakes.

This is a big blow, as the Vikings have the worst safety group in the NFL. Connecting the obvious dots, the team's trade for Donovan McNabb will most certainly handcuff an already-strapped team even further. While we're still awaiting the terms of a restructured McNabb contract, it's safe to assume that the 34-year old veteran quarterback will be the team's only real splash. Expect Bernard Berrian, Madieu Williams and others to join Jimmy Kennedy in the unemployment line as soon as today.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Vikings To Welcome Another Geriatric Quarterback

Jim McMahon. Warren Moon. Brad Johnson. Randall Cunningham. Jeff George. Gus Frerrote. Kelly Holcomb. Brett Favre.

Donovan McNabb.

If you've been to this blog, you're well aware of my disdain for McNabb. At 10:15 PM tonight, Jay Glazer tweeted that the Vikings have agreed to send two sixth round picks (2012, and a conditional 2013) to Washington for the 34-year old. The deal is contingent on the egotistical vet taking a massive pay cut from the $12.5M he's owed this season (he's just one year in to a six-year, $89.2M deal).

The optimist in me hopes that the delusional McNabb, who still thinks he's elite, will put the kibosh on it. Realistically, it's a lock that the Vikings will head into the season with their third (or fourth) choice under center. According to Glazer and others, the Vikings moved on to McNabb after catching wind of the money Tennessee is prepared to throw at first choice (Matt Hasselbeck), and after their second choice (Tyler Thigpen) locked in on Buffalo. Bruce Gradkowski was apparently also in the mix.

So why do I hate McNabb?

How much time do I have? Last year marked his lowest quarterback rating (77.1) since his 1999 rookie season. For a little purple perspective, the maligned Tarvaris Jackson's career quarterback rating is a comparable 76.6. In 2010, McNabb tossed more picks (15) than touchdowns (14), and his completion percentage (58.3 percent) was his lowest mark in the past seven years. He regularly one-hopped receivers. His own coach implied that he's fat and lazy. He was benched for Rex Grossman.


The ideal situation, in my opinion, would have involved a veteran clipboard mentor (like Marc Bulger or Billy Volek) who would come cheap, could start in a pinch, and would never gripe about playing time. McNabb goes 1-for-3 in my free agent quarterback criteria. He'll obviously take a pay cut, but he'll still cost a sub-.500 team chock-full of holes way too much cap space (in addition to the draft picks). Specifics for the restructured deal are expected tomorrow.

If the coaching staff were really worried about throwing first-rounder Christian Ponder (who's been preparing like a maniac) to the wolves, then spend pennies on the backup mentor and let Joe Webb take the early-season starts. Ponder's the future, so you have nothing to lose by letting a sixth-round wide receiver be the sacrificial lamb. Who knows, you might just discover that you stumbled on to a gem. As it stands, you can stick a fork in Joe Webb, the quarterback.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'd rather be a 5-win team on the rise than a 7-win team on the decline.

The Vikings are now a 7-win team on the decline.

While initial fan reaction is upbeat, I'm waiting to hear the dollars, all the while struggling with the reality that Adrian Peterson's not getting any younger and we're delaying the rebuild.

I promise you, It's a bad day to be a Vikings fan. Mediocrity just became a goal.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Taking Stock of the Wild Lines

By Joey Cavalier

There is still a lot of offseason left, but as we sit right now, here's what the Wild’s depth chart looks like.

Line 1: Pierre-Marc Bouchard (LW), Mikko Koivu (C), Dany Heatley (RW)

Notes: Don’t be surprised if the Wild give Setoguchi a shot at LW, and play him on alongside of his best friend, Dany Heatley.

Analysis: Whether Bouchard or Setoguchi plays LW, you can expect this line to put up big numbers. Having a sniper (Heatley and/or Setoguchi) on the same line as Koivu will only help either of the rising star’s causes. Koivu has the chance to put up career numbers with top talent joining him on the first line.

Line 2: Guillaume Latendresse (LW), Matt Cullen (C), Devin Setoguchi (RW)

Notes: Bouchard may be moved to the second line, but Setoguchi will likely play on the second unit in the name of balancing talent.

Analysis: Setoguchi and a healthy Latendresse will add a much-needed scoring punch to the Wild’s second line. Latendresse has shown that, when healthy, he can be a top-six forward and contribute regularly. Cullen will need to prove his worth with solid, steady play to remain on the second line. This line has the talent to be effective on both sides of the puck.

Line 3: Darroll Powe (LW), Kyle Brodziak (C), Cal Clutterbuck (RW)

Notes: Powe can play center or left wing; watch for the Wild to use him on the wing more often than center. Brodziak may move up to the second line if Cullen struggles, but will likely stay on the third line to provide a scoring punch.

Analysis: This line will be the Wild’s “checking line,” and will get significant minutes on the penalty kill. However, Clutterbuck and Brodziak have proven they can score. Look for this line to be a very important part of what the Wild does this year. This line has the ability to hit you in the mouth, and then put the puck in the net.

Line 4: Eric Nystrom (LW), Colton Gillies (C), Brad Staubitz (RW)

Notes: Colton Gillies was signed to a one-way contract; which means he will be on the Wild’s roster next year. Expect him to center the fourth line.

Analysis: This going to be a big-bodied, blue-collared type of line that does the dirty work. Expect a physical, defensive style of play from this gritty line. However, this group will not contribute much offensively.

Pair 1: Marek Zidlicky (OD)* Nick Schultz (DD)*

Notes: The proven veterans will undoubtedly bolster the Wild’s first defensive pairing.

Analysis: Zidlicky is an offensive defenseman and Schultz is the quintessential positional defenseman. Combining these two will be a very effective combination that will be on the ice against the opposition’s top scoring lines.

Pair 2: Jared Spurgeon (OD) Greg Zanon (DD)

Notes: I believe that the Wild will pair one of their many youngsters with Zanon. Stylistically, Spurgeon seems like the most logical defenseman to pair with Zanon.

Analysis: With Zanon blocking every shot taken on net, and Spurgeon contributing offensively, this pairing has the chance to be good. The main question with this pairing is Spurgeon’s size (5-9, 175 lbs). Will he be able to keep up with the grind of the NHL for a full season? However, Spurgeon and Zanon did well when paired up last year.

Pair 3: Clayton Stoner (DD) Mike Lundin (DD)

Notes: Look for Nate Prosser, Marco Scandella, Drew Bagnall, and Justin Falk to step in and get some play.

Analysis: Lundin is an underappreciated defenseman who blocks a ton of shots. Stoner is a bruiser. The concern is that this pairing won’t produce much offensively. The youngsters mentioned above will get a chance to play meaningful minutes throughout the season, likely at the expense of Stoner and/or Lundin.

*(OD) refers to “offensive” defensemen; while (DD) refers to “defensive” defensemen.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Minnesota Twins' 2nd Half Outlook

By Matt Tschida


2nd Half History
The Twins are 6.5 games out of first place, which seems like a large hill to climb (and it really is), but last season they were 3.5 games back at the break and finished 6.0 games ahead of second place Chicago (a 9.5 game swing). In 2006, they were 12.0 games out at the break, and ended up winning the division by a game. It’s mathematically unlikely, but the Twins have shown the ability to erase second half deficits in the Gardenhire era.

The Twins have only fielded their “A” lineup in a handful of games the entire year.
If the offense can return to full strength, this lineup should be as productive as it was last year when they finished 6th in the league in runs (they currently rank 25th). A fairly consistent pitching staff (with the exception of Francisco Liriano) coupled with a more productive offense would certainly add victories in the second half.

Trade Help?
The Twins really don’t have many holes offensively, so
assuming the division is still within reach at the trade deadline, they’ll likely look for pitching help.

Alexi Casilla has been providing more consistent at bats, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (now healthy) has begun to find his swing, so their spots are okay for now. Danny Valencia has struggled for stretches at the plate, but he's notched 10 homeruns and 46 RBI; the Twins are going to ride out this season (at least) with him as their third baseman.

Outside of Liriano's inconsistency, the starting rotation has been relatively dependable this season. As a whole, the starters have gone 33-32 with a 3.98 ERA. Clearly, the team's biggest holes are in the bullpen, where as a unit they've lost 16 games and amassed a 5.01 ERA. Glen Perkins has become the only trustworthy option. Matt Capps has been shaky, and before his return from the DL Joe Nathan was unsettled. The Twins desperately need another right handed setup man, or even closer, so they can move Capps into a setup role. I hope the Twins don’t settle for Capps as the closer, because he's putting up much worse numbers than John Rauch did to this point last season, and they felt he needed to be replaced:

Capps 2011 through July 13: 4.42 ERA, 15-21 Saves/Opportunities
Rauch 2010 through July 13: 2.38 ERA, 20-24 Saves/Opportunities


The Bullpen
One of the strengths of last year’s team has now become its biggest weakness, and it should come as no surprise since the club let Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier and Brian Fuentes walk during free agency without adding any significant replacements. As noted earlier, the bullpen has already lost this team 16 games, where as last year's pen only lost 18 games throughout the entire season. There’s nothing more demoralizing to a team than losing a lead late in a ballgame, and we've already seen it way too much this season. If the Twins expect to make a run at the division, Bill Smith needs to make a significant trade to bring in a legitimate late-inning right handed reliever.

Because of their unpredictable nature, "injuries" are cause for both hope and concern. This roster has been decimated by injuries, and they'll need Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel to return healthy and productive. It also goes without saying that other regulars need stay out of the trainer's office, which sounds simple enough but has proven to be a major obstacle this season.

Francisco Liriano
Liriano has been the team’s most inconsistent starter through the first half of the year. On one hand he nearly pitched his way out of the rotation. On the other, he tossed a no-hitter and threatened for a second. The Twins don’t need Liriano to be lights out in the second half, they just need him to be consistent. If he can string together a streak of six or seven quality starts, it would really his confidence going forward, and the team's chances of making a push for the division.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Behind Enemy Lines — U.S. Cellular Field

Saturday, July 9th, 2011; White Sox 4, Twins 3

Grading the Minnesota Wild’s Offseason Moves

By Joey Cavalier

Minnesota Wild fans have grown accustomed to yawning through the offseason. Yet this offseason, Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher has surprised the world of hockey with several daring moves. The hockey rubes here in the State of Hockey are now frothy as ever over the Wild’s future fortunes.

Fletcher has radically altered the Wild’s makeup and future outlook in just one month. Now it’s time to analyze each of Fletcher’s offseason moves, and give out grades.

Fletcher keeps it in the family and names Mike Yeo Head Coach
Grade: B-
Rather than going with an experienced NHL coach, Fletcher selected Mike Yeo as the Wild’s new coach. Yeo lead the Houston Aeros (Wild IHL affiliate) to the Calder Cup finals in his only season as head coach. He has vowed to bring a tougher brand of hockey to Minnesota. This is encouraging, because last year the Wild lacked toughness and identity. Fletcher has made it clear that the Wild are going with a “youth movement,” and hiring Yeo will only benefit the youngsters whom he coached in Houston.

The Wild trade Brent Burns to San Jose for Devin Setoguchi, prospect Charlie Coyle (2010 1st round pick), and Zack Phillips (2011 1st round pick)
Grade: A
This was a brilliant trade by Fletcher. Devin Setoguchi is a young, proven goal scorer who possesses a physical style of play; two things the Wild lack. Though the Wild gave up their best defensemen, fans need not worry. The Wild have four defensemen in the system that are NHL-ready (Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser, Drew Bagnall, and Justin Falk). Plus, adding two first round prospects will bolster the Wild’s minor league system. This trade benefits the Wild in both the short and long term, as the team's future contributors will be allowed to step in and play meaningful minutes.

Fletcher refrains from going after “big” names in free agency. Signs Darroll Powe and Mike Lundin
Grade: B+
This year’s free agent class was very weak. Several teams overspent on B-list free agents. Fletcher wisely refused to overpay for second-tier players and only made a couple of quiet free agent signings: Darroll Powe (LW) and Mike Lundin (D). Both of these players bring toughness and a gritty style of play. In not overspending this year, the Wild will now have cap room for next year’s free agency period, which is going to be much stronger than this year’s class. Currently, the Wild have over ten million in cap space.

The Wild trade Martin Havlat to San Jose for Dany Heatley
Grade: A+
Since entering the NHL in 2001, Heatley ranks first in game-winning goals (58) and power-play goals (128), third in goals (325) and fifth in total points (689). Heatley is at the tippy-top of the A-list and is only 30 years old (which is like being 26 years old in “football years”). Heatley was still able to put up 64 points last season despite having a broken hand and injured ankle for a good chunk of the season. Havlat never really clicked here in Minnesota and has underachieved since joining the Wild. I like this trade a lot… I think I even peed my pants a little when I found out this trade went down.

Before all of Fletchers bold offseason moves, I believed that the Wild were 2-3 years away from a playoff berth. Now, the Wild have the talent to be a top seed in the West. This isn’t just Kool-aid drinking, bandwagon buzz. Fletcher has brilliantly transformed the Wild roster into something to be feared. He has resurrected hope and expectations in the State of Hockey.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Twins' Notes and Thoughts...

By Matt Tschida

Mauer at First Base
Joe Mauer made his first start at first base yesterday, and it went really well. He converted every chance, plus he made a great pick on a low throw from Danny Valencia. At the plate, he reminded us how valuable he is to the lineup, going 3-5 with 2 RBI. Mauer has made it clear that he's still a catcher, but is open to playing first base occasionally.

Instead of Mauer catching five games a week, DHing once, and resting once, I'd like to see him catch four-five days a week, play first base once, and DH once. This would allow him about an extra game a week, while still keeping his knees, back and legs fresh. So, what will happen once Morneau returns from the DL? Well, Mauer's weekly first base start gives Morneau a chance to DH or rest. This plan could potentially keep the Twins' two most important hitters in the lineup more regularly than the last two seasons.

Cuddyer on Fire
Michael Cuddyer is flat out on fire, returning to his 2009 form with a .325 BA, 10 HRs and 36 RBI since May 1. Like I've mentioned in previous posts, if the Twins are indeed sellers (which is looking less and less likely), they'd need to get a
top prospect for Cuddyer. Otherwise, they're best off keeping him and picking up the compensation picks in the offseason. With the way the Indians and Tigers have been treading water lately, I think it would be a mistake to trade Cuddyer unless the Twins fall something like 12+ games back before the trade deadline.

If the Twins can make up four games (from 8.0 to 4.0) by July 31,
then they should be in good shape. I realize that's a lot to ask for in 21 games, but they did cut the lead down to 8.0 games after being 16.5 back on June 1. They will likely get Morneau back, and hopefully 100% healthy for the first time in a year, so they'll need Cuddyer to balance the lineup versus left-handed pitching. Cuddyer is crushing lefties (.383 BA), and the only other Twins' regular hitting above .300 versus lefties is Danny Valencia (.341).

Bullpen Situation
Matt Capps has really been up and down all season, and hopefully he hit his low point after blowing a 7-4 lead against Milwaukee. He had an average April (3.55 ERA), a bad May (0-2 with a 6.35 ERA), and a great June (1-0, 6 saves, 0.90 ERA). The Twins need Capps to be strong over the next couple of months to have a chance, filling the void of a reliable right handed reliever. They are hoping Joe Nathan continues his return to form, but until he gets consistent work, that's still an unknown.

Glen Perkins has grabbed his opportunity by the horns. Before the season, I felt like Perkins had a chance to slide into Brian Duensing's vacated bullpen role. Perkins has done that and more, and he's currently their hottest, most trustworthy reliever.

Alex Burnett had been getting a lot of run lately, and he'd only given up hits in two of his previous 12 outings prior to Wednesday’s disaster. Going forward, his role is undefined and unpromising.

Joe Nathan is, as he's been all season, the wildcard of this bullpen. He's
been great since coming off the DL, striking out five and allowing just one run on two hits in 5.0 innings. If he can return to form, the pen has potential to be solid (not great) with Capps/Nathan being used at the end of games from the right side, and Perkins and (to a lesser extent) Mijares from the left.

As the rest of the bullpen goes, there really isn’t much to talk about. Anthony Swarzak is best suited for long relief/spot starting. Jose Mijares is fine when he throws strikes, bad when he doesn’t, and he's falling behind far too many hitters this year. Phil Dumatrait is about ready to be (or at least
should be) sent packing to make room for Chuck James. James has been solid at AAA, and did well in his brief stint earlier this season with the Twins. For those wondering, Dumatrait likely would have been sent down instead of James, but James had options to go to AAA that Dumatrait didn’t have.
Another name to keep tabs on at AAA is former 1st round pick Carlos Gutierrez (2-2, 3.88 ERA, 38 K, 25 BB, in 48.2 IP). If he can string together a couple weeks of solid performances, he could be brought up. Gardy has publicly said he likes the kid, but management is conserving him in the minors to keep his MLB service time in check.