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Archive July 2007

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Trade Winds

The details may yet to be finalized, but it looks like two blockbusters took place in the sports world Monday. With the baseball trade deadline fast approaching, let’s critique the deals that have been all but completed thus far:

Mark Teixeira for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and a PTBN.

Braves outlook: The Braves are in the enviable and unique position of having two of the 5-6 most valuable commodities at catcher in major league baseball. A trade makes more sense than moving one to first base, but I was at first hesitant regarding the Mark Teixeira proposed deal. After all, Teixeira does have a career .848 OPS away from friendly Ameriquest Field, and with Scott Boras as his agent, he’ll be searching for a massive deal at the end of next season (think 10 years). However, I’m starting to change my tune a bit and can see the Braves’ point of view. Teixeira’s actually hit better on the road over the last two seasons, so he’s not necessarily just a product of his hitting environment. He’s also developed into an above average defensive player and immediately makes the Braves legit contenders in the National League. Jarrod Saltalamacchia may have more long-term value in a vacuum, but Atlanta can’t play two catchers at once, and when moved to first base, Teixeira becomes the better option of the two. Teixeira may only have 13 homers this season, but he’s got solid plate discipline, is a switch hitter, and is signed through 2008, so he’s not purely a rent-a-player if they eventually decide to pass on Scott Boras’ inevitable demands. He’s also only 28 years old and prospects are prospects – far from sure things. With Brian McCann around, Salty was less valuable to Atlanta than about 27 other teams in baseball, and Tex fills a massive hole at first base. It’s also a good time to go for gold, since Andruw Jones is soon to be a free agent, and John Smoltz’ arm could fall off at any moment. But right now, this team looks like at minimum the co-favorites to come out of the Senior Circuit.

Rangers outlook: A rare trade that legitimately looks like both teams came away winners. The Rangers are smartly playing for the future here, but they need to keep Salty behind the dish, as he possesses above average defensive ability, and his bat will play a whole lot better there. Andrus and Feliz are so young (18 and 19, respectively) that we may not truly be able to judge this deal for another five years or more. That said, they both possess huge upside, so make no mistake, the Rangers brought in quite a haul for a player they likely would have let walk in 2009.

Verdict: Draw.

Kevin Garnett for Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Ryan Gomes(?), and Theo Ratliff

Celtics outlook: Well, they immediately become one of the 2-3 most likely teams to represent the East in the NBA Finals. And of course get swept. I could run the point alongside Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and KG, and the team would still be a contender in that conference. I’m a big fan of Garnett – a legitimate superstar who is unselfish to a fault and also plays very good defense. One of the biggest rarities in the sport today. However, he’s 31 years old, and teammate Allen is 33 and coming off major ankle surgery, leaving the team with a fairly small window of opportunity and depth that’s thinner than the Olsen twins. I must admit, I’m pretty excited to watch Boston play next season.

Timberwolves outlook: Minnesota fans are no doubt mourning the loss of the franchise’s best player ever, but this deal absolutely could not have been turned down. Check out these numbers:

Player A: 20.5 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.7 bpg, 47.6% fg, 2.6 TO

Player B: 19.8 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.7 bpg, 55.4% fg, 2.1 TO

Player “A” represents Garnett’s career numbers, while “B” are the gaudy stats Baby Al posted during the second half of last season. He did so while playing just 36.1 mpg, to boot. He needs to improve his free throw shooting and defense, but we are talking about one of the three toughest players to defend in the paint in the league right now, and he’s only 22 years old. Gerald Green hasn’t exactly lived up to the hype (an absolute travesty on defense), but he’s flashed plenty of potential as well. He averaged 15.5 points during the final month of last season and is 21 years old. Bassy Telfair is terrible, but Ryan Gomes looks like an above average sixth-man. Add in the Theo Ratliff expiring deal (extremely valuable) and this is a king’s ransom.

Verdict: It’s tough to argue against trading for KG, but the T-Wolves are the clear long-term winners here. I won’t go as far as to call it a rip off, but it’s in the neighborhood.

MLB Notes

Can you name the pitcher who’s given up the second most home runs in baseball this season? If you guessed Johan Santana, you’d be correct. He’s served up 22 long balls so far.

If you have a fringe base stealer on your bench, be sure to play him when he’s facing the Padres. Chris Young and Greg Maddux have given up the most thefts of any pitchers in the game this season, with Young allowing a remarkable 28 SBs with zero caught stealing. Jake Peavy also shows up in the bottom 20, so give your players the green light when pitted against San Diego. Young also “leads” the majors in balks with three. Get rid of the bum.

Justin Verlander has put together a fine season, but his 2.6 K:BB ratio isn’t quite as good as it seems. He is worst in the majors with 13 hit batsmen and easily paces the league with 14 wild pitches. Basically, it just shows he still has room to grow. It’s only going to get better.

Erik Bedard’s 11.08 K/9 IP is nearly two full strikeouts better than the second best (Jake Peavy 9.34 K/9 IP). Despite pitching in the AL East and not for the Blue Jays, Yankees or Red Sox, feel free to treat him like a top-5 fantasy pitcher from here on out.

Felix Hernandez is getting killed in BABIP and currently sports an unsightly 1.45 WHIP. However, he’s really starting to improve as a pitcher underneath the cosmetic numbers. His 3.06 ground out/fly out ratio is the second best in the league, behind only Derek Lowe and even ahead of Brandon Webb, both sinkerballers. Now is the time to target the King in keeper-leagues.

Barry Bonds has more problems to worry about other than breaking the sacred home run record.

Chris B. Young’s .281 OBP isn’t helping the Diamondbacks a whole lot, but the already achieved 15/15 certainly has been a boon to your fantasy team. In 20 games during July, he has four homers and seven steals. It would be nice if he could take a walk every now and again, as it’s not easy stealing bases from the dugout. But since he’s only been caught once all season, look for his SBs to continue to climb as his OBP does.

NFL Notes

The discrepancy between Antonio Gates and the second best fantasy tight end this year (an aging Tony Gonzalez catching passes from a rookie?) makes Chase Utley look close to the pack of other second basemen. LaDainian Tomlinson is not going to get another 30 TDs, so expect San Diego to score more air strikes this season. Gates is probably the best red zone target in the NFL, so I think he’s worthy of an early third round pick.

Peyton Manning is the best player in the NFL, period. That said, I’d give Carson Palmer about a 50/50 chance of finishing the season as the most valuable fantasy quarterback. The Bengals have an even worse defense than the Colts, and Palmer approached Manning’s numbers last season while clearly still hampered by the knee injury. He’ll finally be back to full strength this year and can typically be drafted 2-3 rounds after Manning, so he makes more sense as a target. That said, the best strategy is to wait even longer on the QB position and go after Vince Young, Ben Roethlisberger or Jay Cutler later on.

With word of Larry Johnson’s hold out threat becoming very real, Joseph Addai has officially passed him on my draft board. Don’t let LJ slip much further past that, however. If a trade does indeed go down between Kansas City and Green Bay, look for intriguing rookie Brandon Jackson to come back the other way, giving him legit fantasy value either way.

The most interesting backfield entering training camp has to be in Dallas, where the Julius Jones hype machine is again in full effect. Falling just short of his 2,000-yard prediction last season (by half), Jones is again being talked about as “the guy” in the Cowboys’ backfield. Marion Barber disappeared during stretches last year – and was typically only worth using in fantasy leagues in games the Cowboys won – but I don’t buy the talk that Jones is the one to own this year because of Barber being Bill Parcells’ guy. When on the field, Barber has time and again outplayed Jones by a large degree. Jones has superior long-speed and, um, does nothing else better. Barber is a better blocker, pass catcher, short-yardage runner and is much, much tougher than Jones. When deciding between these two at fantasy drafts this season, just ask any linebacker whom they’d rather tackle. Don’t worry about projected playing time and trust the better player will be on the field more.

Steve Smith is the clear-cut No. 1 fantasy wideout entering the year (his numbers last year when both he and Jake Delhomme were healthy were essentially identical to his huge 2005 season), but after him, options 2-15 are quite debatable and will likely look different on every person’s draft board. Because of that, the smart strategy appears to be to let others reach for the WRs in the middle of the second round while waiting and nabbing similar talents in the third and fourth rounds.

Age of Love

I’ve come to a realization recently – no one gets caught up in the hype of young baseball players more than I do. Take a look at this list of disappointing youngsters:

Carlos Quentin – Maybe the shoulder injury is to blame, but a .210/.299/.350 line is about as bad as it gets. So bad he’s currently in Triple-A. But worst of all, he was a last-minute no show on Chris Liss’ radio show, demonstrating complete disregard for tact and decorum. Future outlook: Go ahead and write off 2007, but he’ll be fine, especially with Chase Field at his disposal. However, he probably only possesses 25-homer type power.

Conor Jackson – The 28:38 K:BB ratio is impressive, but he’s been an overall disappointment. Future outlook: He doesn’t figure to ever reach much more than 20 homers, but with a nice OBP, he could be a threat to score 100 runs while projecting as a No. 2 hitter.

Chris B. Young – My preseason favorite to win the NL ROY, Young hasn’t been a total bust with 14 HRs and 11 SBs, but the rest of his counting stats are down, and the .232 BA is ugly. Future outlook: Still very bright. He plays a terrific center field and should be a 25/25 or even 30/30 type at his peak. A great “post-hype sleeper” target entering fantasy drafts next year.

Stephen Drew – Notice a theme here? Imagine how tough the Diamondbacks will be once these kids start reaching their potential. With the surname Drew, injuries figured to be a problem with the young shortstop, but it’s been production instead. Future outlook: With 25-homer upside, Drew can be a very valuable middle infielder for years to come, it’s just going to take a little longer than most anticipated.

Homer Bailey – I’m staying away for the rest of 2007. Look at the numbers. Even while in the minors this season, the ERA was fine, but the strikeouts weren’t there. Combine that with poor command and a hitter’s park as home, and you are going to get some unsightly results. Future outlook: Not sure if the Kerry Wood comparison is apt, and I’d certainly rather have Yovani Gallardo or Tim Lincecum, but Bailey will eventually settle in as a nice No. 2 starter in the big leagues, with ace potential.

Alex Gordon – 79 strikeouts in 313 at-bats. That pretty much sums up Gordon’s lackluster rookie season. Sometimes it just takes a while for it to click. I don’t view him any worse than I did before the season started. Future outlook: A fantasy monster. Gordon combines big time power with the ability to swipe 20 bases from a corner infield spot. If held at gunpoint, I’d rather Ryan Braun moving forward, but it’s awfully close.

Kevin Kouzmanoff – Kouzmanoff isn’t exactly that young, but he is in terms of major league experience, and many expected much more out of the third basemen this season, myself included. A power-hitting right-hander who strikes out a lot is far from an ideal fit for Petco, but Kouzmanoff is a better player than he’s shown so far. Future outlook: Petco Park limits his upside, but he’ll be a serviceable CI in fantasy leagues next season.

Kevin Slowey – There’s nothing left for him to prove in the minors. Now, it’s just a matter of finding out if he’s a “quadruple-A” player or not. My money is on “yes,” unfortunately. He allowed 13 home runs in 37 big league innings this year, an unfathomable amount. While that can largely be chalked up to bad luck, Slowey strikes me as an Anthony Reyes/Dave Bush type, with a lot less upside. He’s always around the strike zone, so his WHIP will be solid enough with so few walks allowed. But with an average at best 88-89 mph fastball, he’s going to be eminently hittable. Future outlook: I’m not optimistic he’ll ever be much of a big league pitcher.

Matt Cain – Remember, Cain is still just 23 years old, younger than teammate Tim Lincecum. Cain’s stuff is legit, there’s no doubt about that. However, his decrease in strikeouts this season (6.6 K/9 IP this year, 8.45 K/9 IP last year) is a major concern, especially when you factor in his horrendous control (4.47 BB/9 IP). People say his record (3-11) is unlucky, but his ERA (3.87) is equally as lucky considering his poor peripherals. Future outlook: He’ll be a stud – he had a stretch last season in which he allowed just one run over 40 innings – so try to get him at a discount next year.

Felix Hernandez – He hasn’t been terrible, but a 1.42 WHIP isn’t what many were looking for. Especially after he started the season with back-to-back gems. Maybe an injury is partially to blame, but the King is very hittable when balls are put into play for some reason. His .354 BABIP is literally the worst in all of baseball. And that number was .322 last year as well. However, he’s getting more ground balls and walking fewer batters, so there is reason for optimism here. Future outlook: At least two, and maybe three or four Cy Youngs.

Tim Lincecum – Are we entirely sure Lincecum isn’t really 16 years old? Good god, he looks like he just passed his driver’s test. Anyway, after a rough June (7.71 ERA, 1.75 WHIP), he’s responded with a terrific July (1.86 ERA, 0.98 WHIP). There will likely continue to be bumps in the road (mainly, command issues) but the 10 K/9 IP reveals the makings of a future ace. With a two-seam fastball that reaches 98 mph (unheard of) and AT&T Park behind him, there’s a lot to like here. Future outlook: In a keeper league, I’d draft him in the first round.

Of course, there’s Justin Verlander, Hunter Pence, etc., who played extremely well right out of the gate, but for the most part, the allure of upside and potential hasn’t been worth the risk when it comes to youngsters these days. It’s just too bad Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo are doing so well for me, making it all the more likely I’ll be drafting Justin Upton too early next year.

MLB Notes

For all the Ervin Santana home/road splits talk, Wandy Rodriguez actually puts him to shame. On the road this year, Rodriguez has a 7.45 ERA and 1.66 WHIP. At home, he posts a 1.81 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. He’s obviously more valuable in daily leagues.

Do you realize David DeJesus is on pace to score 120 runs this season? Also, Billy Butler looks awfully good hitting in the middle of that lineup. The opposite is true when he’s holding a glove, however. As bad as Kansas City is perceived, their current lineup is probably better than 75 percent of the N.L. teams.

I’ve underrated Aaron Harang long enough. He’ll always give up too many homers to post a sub-3.50 ERA, but his WHIP is solid because he limits base on balls, his strikeout rate is very strong and he pitches deep enough into games to usually finish with nice win totals. Not only was Harang the only pitcher in MLB history to lead his league in wins and Ks and not win the Cy Young award last year, he didn’t even receive a single vote.

Remember when all of those ESPN pundits picked Bobby Crosby as their MVP choice for the 2006 season? Good times. At least he had injury excuses in the past. This year, he’s stayed relatively healthy but simply can’t hit. A .272 OBP? Are you kidding me? His OPS is nearly in the 500s. Speaking of talented players failing to live up to expectations – Daniel Cabrera, you’re on deck.

I would be willing to bet Adrian Beltre’s 2004 season is one of the greatest outliers of someone’s career in the history of major league baseball. Let’s take a closer look by comparing numbers from that season with the second highest totals throughout the rest of his 10-year career: he had 23 more homers, 32 more RBI, hit .44 points higher and slugged .152 points better than his second best marks during his decade of playing. We can all thank Beltre for perpetuating the “contract-year” theory more than it’s true significance.

This just in: Chase Utley is very, very good. Since May ended, he’s batting .380 in 163 at-bats. After previously struggling a bit against lefties, Utley has posted a 1.014 OPS against southpaws this year, terrible news for the rest of the league.

A funny thing happened to Dontrelle Willis on the way to stardom – he never got there. He’s basically unusable in fantasy leagues right now. In 95 innings against right-handed hitters this season, Willis has walked 47 batters and served up 15 homers. That simply won’t get it done.

Watching Andrew Miller pitch, it’s clear he’s going to be special. Like all young hurlers, there will be ups and downs (specifically control with Miller), but he’s a highly coveted commodity in keeper leagues right now. Lefties are a combined 2-for-34 with 16 strikeouts against him. The Tigers are going to have one of the very best front ends of a starting rotation for many years to come.

If you’re not watching “Flight of the Conchords,” you’re missing out on the next great comedy. “Scott Baio is 45 and Single” is terrific as well, but for totally different reasons.

Second Half Predictions

The following are 10 fearless predictions for the second half of the major league baseball season:

1) Delmon Young will be a monster – It’s already starting. After a .310 June, Young has posted a line of .391/.408/.500 during July. The K/BB ratio is still ugly, but the slugging is continuing to improve, and he’s also showing a greater propensity to run. Don’t forget just how good of a prospect he is.

2) Yovani Gallardo will be a difference maker in your fantasy league – The Brewers want to limit his innings, understandably, but Ben Sheets is already hurt, and the back-end of the rotation isn’t that great to begin with. Gallardo, meanwhile, has been fantastic – just one HR allowed, 27 Ks over 28.2 innings and has a great offense supporting him.

3) Pedro Martinez will have a triumphant return to the mound, Chris Carpenter will not – Carpenter’s condition appears to be arthritic, and it’s almost time to write him off until 2008. Martinez, on the other hand, has seen his rehab progress seamlessly. Remember, it wasn’t Tommy John surgery, so while he won’t be back firing 95 mph fastballs, Martinez is crafty enough to get by on a lot less. You could get a pretty effective 50 innings out of him before it’s all said and done. R.I.P. Pedro’s little friend.

4) Chris Burke will be worth using again in deep fantasy leagues – One of the bigger busts through the first half of the season, Burke is finally set to get more playing time again, at least when Houston is on the road. The fact the Astros put a personal accomplishment (Craig Biggio’s 3,000 hits) before team goals is one of the worst stories of the 2007 season. Maybe a move back to his original position at second base will help get Burke’s bat going. He can get on base, has decent power and can run well.

5) Jeremy Guthrie will come crashing back down to earth, while Jered Weaver will pitch like an ace – Guthrie has been one of the biggest surprises over the first half, posting a remarkable 0.99 WHIP in 105.2 innings. A former first round pick, this Stanford product is due for a major correction in ERA, with an unsustainable BABIP and pitching in the AL East. Send him packing. Weaver, meanwhile, has a disappointing 1.42 WHIP after walking one fewer batter while pitching 50 fewer innings this season compared to last. The injury suffered in spring training got him off to a slow start, as he’s been really good since May ended. Go get him.

6) Rocco Baldelli will return to Tampa Bay’s lineup on September 1st – Before his first at-bat, his hamstring will literally fall off the bone while taking practice swings in the on-deck circle. He’ll never be heard from again.

7) Albert Pujols will crush 25 homers after the All-Star break – If you were able to buy him 85 cents on the dollar one week ago, congratulations, because that opportunity is now gone.

8) Alex Rodriguez will become the first right-handed Yankee ever to reach 50 homers, while also knocking in 165 runs - The AP will consequently give the MVP Award to Magglio Ordonez, who finishes with 25 home runs for the first place Tigers.

9) Carlos Zambrano will be one of the three most valuable fantasy pitchers from here on out, while Johan Santana wins the pitching triple crown.

10) The NL rookie class is so good, Hunter Pence will finish third in the ROY voting, behind runner-up Tim Lincecum and winner Ryan Braun.

A Giant Mistake

I’m not only the RotoWire beat writer for the San Francisco Giants, but I’m also a Giants fan (remember those terrible “I’m not just the president of the Hair Club for Men, I’m also a member” commercials? I digress). When writing articles for this blog, I attempt to neither narrow my scope by talking specifically about a favorite team or whine. I’ll be breaking both rules with the following.

Not only is Brian Sabean a poor fit for a team that has to begin focusing on the rebuilding process, but to reward mediocrity by re-signing the GM to a two-year contract extension sends a poor message throughout the franchise. Sabean had his uses, architecting three Giants teams that won division titles, including a pennant, between 1997 and 2003. However, San Francisco went 75-87 and 76-85 over the next two seasons and stood 38-48 at the All-Star break this year.

Hey, you can’t be a winning team in major league baseball every season, but in this case, pointing to Sabean’s decision-making reveals an awful lot of cause and effect. The A.J. Pierzynksi for Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser deal has been dissected ad nauseam, but there’s an argument there that it’s the worst trade in the history of professional sports. Then he went and traded for Randy Winn (admittedly, Jesse Foppert didn’t pan out) and proceeded to sign a right fielder with a career OPS of .764 to a $24 million contract. Last year, he sent an emerging young arm by the name of Jeremy Accardo to the Blue Jays for Shea Hillenbrand, who is not only terrible but also had just got into a fist fight with his manager – something tells me Toronto shouldn’t have had too much leverage in trade talks. Accardo, by the way, has a 2.63 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 37 innings this year while pitching in the AL East. Imagine what his numbers would look like pitching at AT&T Park. At least San Francisco doesn’t need bullpen help.

The only reason Juan Pierre isn’t wearing a Giants’ uniform is because the Dodgers only slightly outbid them. And do I even need to mention the Barry Zito deal? I admit, I thought they’d at least get a couple of good years out of him, but all signs pointed to him being in decline (sinking K rate, rising BB rate), and the fact of the matter is that it was the richest contract ever handed out to a pitcher that was at least two-three years too long.

The theory behind trading the future for immediate returns wasn’t necessarily wrong – in fact, it made plenty of sense with Barry Bonds presenting a short window of opportunity to “win-now” – but the execution of said theory has been an utter catastrophe. Actually, I’m not sure why Bonds’ presence and a team built around youth have to be mutually exclusive.

Until this year, the Giants signed mediocre player after mediocre player (Michael Tucker) to almost purposely avoid draft picks. And when they did have an early selection, they chose with signability (read: dollar signs) as the No. 1 priority (see: Hennessey, Brad).

The Giants say they will rebuild by striking a balance between younger position players, who are developed through the farm system or acquired in trade, and free agents. Fair enough, but the writing is also on the wall that Bonds won’t return next season, and something tells me he’ll be a nice scapegoat. Having Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain around gives at least a glimmer of hope for the future, but it really is a shame how the team wasted so many prime years from the greatest hitter to ever live. Bonds has come to the plate this year with 199 runners on base, good for 132nd in the league. I guess that’s what happens when you sign Rich Aurilia (.286 OBP) to be your No. 3 hitter.

Sabean just doesn’t seem like the right fit for a team that should be focusing on three years from now. Judging from a recent interview in which he proclaimed the Giants aren’t out of it and are unlikely to be sellers at the trading deadline, I’m not optimistic.

Beating the Book

On the weekend before the All-Star break, ESPN.com's Jonah Keri and I went to Vegas for the weekend. His purprose was to write an article about betting baseball games; mine was to tag along and gamble.

Jonah went 6-1 against the book and 0-1 against me, while I went 7-1 against the book and 1-0 against him. And with the exception of the game I bet against him, we both did it exclusively on underdogs. Keep in mind, this isn't like betting NFL underdogs with the spread - it's like going 7-1 on underdogs with the money line. How did we do it? A few explanations.

1. We were lucky.

A little bit. I won the game against him when the Tigers shoddy bullpen held up, and the Tigers got to Jon Papelbon. In another game, Curtis Granderson's home-run saving catch preserved a Nate Robertson win over Daisuke Matsuzaka. But most of the teams we backed won handily - Jason Simontacchi's Nationals (+160) led nearly the whole way against the Brewers, Sergio Mitre's Marlins (+160) won easily in Dodger Stadium against Derek Lowe, Tim Lincecum (+105) won in St. Louis against Braden Looper, though the Giants almost blew it, Todd Wellemyer (+130) won 7-0 over Barry Zito, Felix Hernandez (+125) won 4-0 over Rich Harden (as if he were going to last more than three or four innings!) and Kyle Davis (+130) won easily over Greg Maddux in San Diego, though Bob Wickman put a scare in me.

2. Fading the Herd

In almost all these cases, it was fairly obvious where most of the money would be going - who's going to bet Davies against a name pitcher like Maddux at home? Who's going to bet Mitre on the road against Lowe? There's always a premium when you buy the name brand and always a discount when you take the one you've never heard of. When looking for underdogs, get the ones that the average bettor woudn't touch. They wouldn't have built those palaces on the strip if the majority were usually right.

3. Avoiding traps.

Games where the odds seem too big (Ervin Santana +170 in Yankee Stadium) - begging you to take the first place Angels - but check out Santana's home/road splits and also Chien Ming Wang's. The book knows Santana's going to get destroyed by that lineup in the Bronx, and that Wang should sail. The Yanks didn't just win - they won 12-0.

Another trap game we avoided was the Boof Bonser/Mark Buehrle game - Bonser was an underdog - looked like value. BUT: in that homer friendly park, Bonser's biggest weakness (the big fly) would be exacerbated, and Buehrle figured to be tough after the White Sox allowed more than 30 runs the day before in a double-header. Don't mess with Buehrles, Oswalts and Pettittes when the chips are down for their teams. This isn't scientific, but it's a gut feeling I often have and am not easily willing to dismiss.

4. Use volatility to your advantage

Volatility is terrible for a favorite, great for a dog. Jorge De la Rosa (who Jonah bet) is a great example - a guy who pitches great or terrible - a 50/50 proposition with odds. (Of course, he'll never be a favorite on the Royals). This also applies to fantasy - when you're in first place, you want safe players. When you're in fifth, you want guys with upside who are more risky.

5. We had a few (but not too many) drinks.

When you place your bets ask for a few drink tickets. And then, half an hour later, tickets in hand, go to a different clerk and tell him you forgot to get your drink tickets. It was disappointing that the Red Rock only allowed well booze with drink tickets, but you can always go with beer, or in Jonah's case, white wine. Who the hell orders wine at a sports book? (Okay, I admit after three beers, I got a red wine, too).

Impressions from the Las Vegas Summer League

1. Yi Jianlian has the build of a young Kevin Garnett - lean, wiry and very athletic for a seven-footer. Unfortunately, he looked nervous and couldn't get into a rhythm against the Celtics summer league team. There's a lot of pressure on the Chinese guys as it seems the whole nation's pride is at stake, not just the personal fortunes of him and his family. Throw in that his people don't want him playing for the team that drafted him, and maybe he's trying to do too much. But you can see why he was a lottery pick - he moves very well, and he's a legit seven-footer.

2. Big Baby (Glen Davis) shed some weight and looked pretty fit, but he doesn't use his weight and strength enough down low. He leaps for rebounds against taller, leaner players and gets beaten out, rather than pushing them out with his substantial posterior and wearing them down with his bulk. The effort was there, and we know from his college days that he can handle the ball and shoot very well for a big man. At 6-9, he'll have to learn how to throw his weight around more if he's going to make it as a power forward though. Incidentally, his calves are enormous - the size of a normal person's thighs.

3. Chris Richard looks thicker and stronger than Davis from the waist up, and his frame is so big, it looks like he could add even more muscle, especially in his lower body. He also knocked down a couple mid-range jumpers, showing a nice tough. He could be a nice second-round steal, but of course, Craig Smith, last year's second round-pick, plays the same position.

4. Thaddeus Young is about 6-8, 220 and is a tremdendous athlete - his frame is all lean muscle, and he's an explosive leaper who looked comfortable out on the floor. Considering that he just turned 19 in June, we might have to wait a year or two for him to pan out, but there's a lot of upside here.

5. Rajon Rondo looked sharp running the Celtics offense, and you could see why he's known as an excellent perimeter defender - he moves effortlessly, stays in front of his man and has long arms to disrupt shots and passes. He could take a step up this year.

Unfortunately, Greg Oden got tonsilitis the day before we were supposed to see him play, and I realized that that was probably the last chance we'd ever have to see him from five feet away for less than $500 a ticket.

Funniest moment in the summer league: After Glen Davis (in a rare display of physicality) shoved Wang Zhi Zhi to the ground, and no foul was called, Zhi Zhi stared at the refs in disbelief, and then shouted: "Das a boo-shee call." It was black slang mixed with a heavy Chinese accent. Priceless.

I'll leave the most of the T-Wolves impressions to Andre' Snellings who saw more of their games and actually got to interview Randy Foye and Richard, but suffice it to say they have a promising new crop of players with Foye, Richard, Smith, Corey Brewer and Rashad McCants.

NBA Notes

Signing a mid-level player (Rashard Lewis) to a max-level contract is the worst thing a franchise can do. Congratulations Orlando, you’ll win 4-5 more games next season. Losing Darko Milicic in the process is another negative (yes, I kept a straight face while typing that, but barely). Do you realize Darko is two years younger than Al Thornton? Following last year’s draft day disaster with Fran Vazquez, it’s hard to like the Magic’s direction right now.

I think the Knicks’ trade for Zach Randolph was better than most give it credit for. Yes, Isiah Thomas again ignored chemistry bringing in a similar player to Eddy Curry, and no Randolph isn’t going to be winning any humanitarian awards in the future, but he’s now two full years removed from microfracture surgery, and if he’s good for 24/10 a night in the West, imagine the damage he’ll do on the block while playing in the East. Basically, he’s Elton Brand without the blocks and an even better scorer. Randolph is only 25 years old and virtually unguardable in the paint, despite playing below the rim. This deal was an absolute steal.

Kudos to the Hawks for not passing on Al Horford simply because of past transgressions (similar to the Detroit Lions taking Calvin Johnson). I like Mike Conley Jr., but Horford was the right pick. Just because Sheldon and Marvin Williams haven’t panned out, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t select a potential dominant power forward in the Elton Brand mode.

The Celtics trade was simple: they will be better next season, and in a pathetic East, interesting if they bring in a fourth option with Wally Szczerbiak’s contract off the books and Theo Ratliff’s expiring deal a very valuable trading chip. However, Ray Allen is 33 years old and not a difference maker, so this move ultimately hurts the team long-term. I understand the situation with Paul Pierce doesn’t scream rebuild, but Al Jefferson is the most important component on that roster, and the Celtics should be looking toward 2009-2010, not next year.

Stephen A. Smith responded to the Brandon Wright for Jason Richardson deal as if J-Rich is some sort of scrub, but clearly that’s not the case. I won’t even pretend to grade this deal: Wright has more upside, but also a lot more risk. Richardson’s albatross of a contract notwithstanding, you’d have to think he’d be selected in the top-10 picks if he were available in last week’s draft with the knowledge of his NBA ability, right? The $10 million trade exception that Golden State acquired, however, does seem to make this deal quite worthy on their part.

John Paxson took a page right out of Isiah Thomas’ book drafting Joakim Noah when he already has an overpaid Ben Wallace on the roster. Well done, you have 48 minutes of offensiveless center production.

I like Javaris Crittenton’s game just as much as the next guy, but the Lakers have now taken a point guard in the first round in back-to-back drafts while incorporating a triangle system that completely deemphasizes the position.

Like clockwork, the Spurs continue to impress. Folks, this isn’t a dynasty by accident. The next time you hear Tiago Splitter’s name will be 2008, but by 2009, you’ll assume he was a past lottery pick.

The Trail Blazers had one of the busiest and successful drafts in recent memory. The team changed 75 percent of their roster! They lost from a talent perspective in the Zach Randolph deal, but it saved them money, and I can certainly understand the motivation behind making sure his bad influence is on the other side of the country from a seemingly impossibly nice Greg Oden. Portland will be a title contender by 2010.

MLB Notes

Daisuke Matsuzaka has quietly turned into one of the best pitchers in baseball. After a mediocre first two months in the states, Dice-K has posted a 1.28 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 51:16 K:BB ratio over his last 42 innings. He still has command issues from time to time, but it’s clear Boston is going to get their money’s worth. There was too much mystery for me to draft him in fantasy leagues, but those who did are going to be repaid handsomely for taking the risk.

With a poor start to July combining with an already bad overall line, it might not be a terrible idea to throw an offer at Alex Gordon’s owner. He’s still striking out far too often, but the skill set is so obviously there. Add in the fact he’s been willing to chip in on the base paths, and you’re looking at someone who could go 12/12 during the second half of the season. Kauffman Stadium is an underrated hitter’s park, and Gordon only figures to improve as he accumulates more and more major league at-bats.

Takashi Saito has a 43:3 K:BB ratio this season. He has 19 more strikeouts than baserunners allowed. That’s pretty good.

Tim Wakefield has faced the toughest combination of hitters so far in the 2007 season, with an opponents’ aggregate OPS of .770. Roy Halladay ranks third, with Gil Meche, Daniel Cabrera and Curt Schilling sliding in next. As for those who have been lucky enough to face a decidedly easy schedule so far, Ted Lilly has pitched to the weakest opposition through the first three months of the year (.703 OPS). Scott Olsen, Tom Gorzelanny, Doug Davis and Randy Wolf have also faced easy competition.

Chris Duncan’s overall numbers don’t jump out at you, but against right-handers, he’s clubbed 14 homers over 171 at-bats, good for one big fly per 12.2 ABs. For comparison’s sake, Prince Fielder, the NL’s leader in HRs with 27, has a rate of one HR per 11.5 at-bats.

Congratulations to Joey Chestnut, who took down reigning champ Takeru Kobayashi when he inhaled a record-setting 66 hot dogs during Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest Wednesday.

All-Star Grumblings: National League

I understand the absurdity of arguing against who got snubbed for the Major League All-Star game, but what good is having a blog if you can’t complain about the minutiae? First up, the NL squad:

Catcher – Russell Martin – An easy call. Martin has been one of the most pleasant surprises in baseball through the first half of the season. In fact, if he kept the same pace over the next three months, he’d likely finish the season as a top-20 fantasy player.

First Base – Prince Fielder – Deserving. He’s one homer shy of last year’s total in 266 fewer at-bats.

Second Base – Chase Utley – Another no-brainer. There isn’t a bigger gap at any other position than Utley and the rest of MLB’s second basemen.

Third Base - David Wright – He’s having a fine season, but Miguel Cabrera should be starting here. Still, that’s nitpicking, and there are far worse decisions to come.

Shortstop – Jose Reyes – The most loaded group in recent memory. Tough to argue with the Reyes pick, but the fact Hanley Ramirez didn’t even make it as a reserve is egregious. There’s a pretty good argument to be made that J.J. Hardy has been the fifth best NL SS this year.

Outfield – Ken Griffey Jr. – Do you realize that Griffey has 585 career home runs? Over the last six seasons, Junior has missed 418 games, an average of 70 contests per season.

Outfield – Carlos Beltran – Four homers over a two-game span this weekend sure makes this selection more palatable.

Outfield - Barry Bonds – Some of the media are treating his insertion like some charity case because the game is in San Francisco. In a recent ESPN SportsNation poll, Bonds blew everyone out with a 48% vote as “player least deserving to start.” Unfortunately, those pesky stats don’t back up these claims. Bonds leads the NL in OPS (1.119), walks (84), OBP (.516) and ranks second in slugging (.603) despite playing in an extreme pitcher’s park. He only ranks eighth in the league in homers (16), but it’s awfully tough to contend in that category when seeing two-three pitches within feet of the strike zone per game.

A few notes on the NL reserves: Did Dmitri Young really just make an All-Star team? Freddy Sanchez over Ian Snell as Pittsburgh’s representative is laughable, especially considering the other middle infield snubs. With Matt Holliday already on the roster, why was Brian Fuentes also included? You’re telling me he’s had a better year than Chris Young? Young should be in consideration to start the game, let alone make it as a reserve. As for Jake Peavy vs. Brad Penny, it’s a tough call on who should start. Peavy has the more impressive strikeout numbers, but Petco is a better park to pitch in. Penny hasn’t allowed more than one run in a game since June 3! Still, since I’m convinced last year’s All-Star start – when he came out pumping 99 mph fastballs – essentially ruined Penny’s second half, for his own sake (and my fantasy team’s), I’m hoping Peavy gets the nod.

All-Star Grumblings: American League

Catcher – Ivan Rodriguez – Selecting Pudge over Victor Martinez might be the worst decision of all. How about a whopping .190 OPS advantage for V-Mart? I-Rod’s 41:4 K:BB ratio is almost embarrassing. The people who made this vote probably also came away from “The Sopranos” finale thinking Tony wasn’t whacked. “How can you be so obtuse?” (Again, bonus points for catching that reference – this time it’s a movie).

First Base – David Ortiz – The fact he’s only played seven games at first base this season doesn’t bother me too much. Justin Morneau is the obvious alternative.

Second Base – Placido Polanco – Well, he’s tough to strike out, and Joe Morgan says he “plays the game the right way.” (Just once, I’d like to hear someone get called out for playing it the “wrong way.”) Anyway, Brian Roberts would have been the correct choice here.

Third Base – Alex Rodriguez – A-Rod has a legitimate chance of reaching 162 RBI this season.

Shortstop – Derek Jeter – Again, nitpicking, but Carlos Guillen is having the superior season offensively. Interesting stat to note: Jeter is just 7-for-14 in stolen base attempts this season.

Outfield – Magglio Ordonez – No argument here. What a remarkable turnaround that I certainly didn’t see coming.

Outfield – Ichiro Suzuki – Sporting the best walk rate of his career, Ichiro is looking at a monster contract this offseason. Grady Sizemore is right there with him as deserving starters in center field.

Outfield – Vladimir Guerrero – The right choice.

A few notes on the AL reserves: Not a whole lot to argue about here, but Gary Sheffield absolutely deserves to be on the team. Michael Young wins out in the battle of attrition in Texas, while Gil Meche does the same in Kansas City. Dan Haren has had a fine season, but it’s Johan Santana who deserves to take the ball in the first inning. Santana’s 2.76 ERA is the best mark of his career during a season’s first half. If he’s not the most valuable fantasy player this season (Jose Reyes), he’s the second best.

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