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Sunday, August 31, 2014

If You Need Me Today, I'll Be Driving Ryan Mallett to the Airport

I haven't looked lately but I'm pretty sure that if you opened a dictionary to either the world "useless" or "stiff", you'd see a picture of quarterback Ryan Mallett. That's why I'm so happy that after months and months of endless rumors, that bum is finally being shipped off to the Houston Texans for the pittance of a conditional sixth or seventh-round draft pick in 2016 (sure to be used on some scrub from Rutgers).

Mallett was a third-round pick (74th overall) in 2011 so this was the fourth year that he'd been in New England, with the last three serving as Tom Brady's main backup. Rather than improve year-to-year and develop at all, he only seemed to get worse the few times we saw him every August in JV preseason games. When the Pats drafted Jimmy Garoppolo in the second-round this spring (62nd overall) out of Eastern Illinois, it was obvious that Mallett's days in Foxborough were numbered.

After watching Garoppolo quickly surpass Mallett in training camp and in the preseason games, the only question left to answer was if the Patriots would be able to fleece some stupid team into trading for Mallett rather than just waiting for him to be released (which he would have been, no question). For his career's sake, Mallett is going to a much better situation. Houston is in full rebuilding mode, as evidenced by having Harvard's Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starting quarterback. Plus their head coach is former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien who must see something in him.

If Mallett never does anything with the Texans, that will probably be it in terms of his time in the NFL. I've always said that he's a poor man's Drew Bledsoe and in 2014, that's not a compliment. He probably would have been good in the 80s or 90s with his throwback style (big, strong arm, bad feet) but it was clear that today's modern quarterback is all about making quick decisions and being mobile enough to make some happen should a play breakdown.

Brady and Peyton Manning are the dinosaurs in this game which is why odds are Mallett will never contribute something of note now that he's outside the comfort zone of a winning organization. There won't be anymore Patriots bobos and honks in the media to prop up his trade value with silly talk of him really turning the corner every summer. Nope, this is it for him and frankly, I'm thrilled to say so long. Should disaster strike the Patriots in 2014 (or the next few), I'm much more confident that Garoppolo at least could deliver some hope that the season won't be flushed down the toilet immediately.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Patriots Always Keep Us On Our Toes, Always

One of the main reasons that the Patriots have put together this incredible sustained run of success (besides the supreme skill of Tom Brady) is that head coach Bill Belichick is never afraid to make a bold move. Today was a perfect example, as names of random guys cut (rosters go down to 75 this afternoon) emerged, the Patriots unleashed a real bombshell: they traded six-time Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins to the Buccaneers for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth-round draft pick in 2015.

New England's offensive line hasn't been one of their strengths the last few seasons as they've shuffled through a million young guys and journeymen. One constant the whole time though was Mankins who was a first-round pick in 2005 out of Fresno State. He was tough, smart, very accountable and easy to root for which is usually the case with offensive linemen-the unsung heroes of football. This feels like nothing more than a calculated business decision by Belichick.

At 32, Mankins' best days are probably behind him. It's difficult to quantify offensive linemen play but those that know more about the game than me have said that Mankins' play was slipping the last few years, he's still a great run blocker but shaky in the passing game (which is what the sport totally revolves around now).

Wright is an afterthought for most in the deal but he could play a significant role on the Patriots in 2014. As a rookie last season with the Bucs, he made 54 catches for 571 yards and five touchdowns. If nothing else, he provides insurance for Rob Gronkowski (who has missed the playoffs in his last two seasons). A Rutgers product (of course!), Wright is known as more a pass catcher which Tom Brady could use rather than a blocker like Michael Hoomanawanui or various other scrubs they've shuffled in on a daily basis.

This is a good reminder that in the NFL, particularly on a team like the Patriots, few jobs are guaranteed from year to year. In my opinion, it's the toughest pro league to make in the U.S. since careers are so short and subject to a million different circumstances many of which are out of players' control. I hope that Mankins plays well in Tampa Bay and helps to turn that franchise around. The Buccaneers have been mostly a mess for the past decade and he's just the kind of guy to help them get back to their former winning ways.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

All Aboard: Plenty of Room Left on the New England Revolution Bandwagon

One of the founding teams of MLS-the Revolution-made their biggest move in the team's up and down history tonight as they signed German-American USMNT midfielder (he's made 46 appearances for them) Jermaine Jones to a 1.5 year deal (through 2015) worth $4.7 million. He'll be introduced at Gillette Stadium on Tuesday and for what it's worth, their next match is on Saturday at Toronto (9-8-6) but who knows when he'll be available to play stateside.

I have always loved soccer because it was my best sport growing up but there a million things about it that I hate (if that makes any sense). I'm not one of those annoying soccer fans that has to make everyone around me enjoy every second of it and pretend to care about the million insignificant plays in a given contest; I completely understand why many people (mostly Americans) don't give a shit about it. There are so many issues: no scoring, faking injuries, whining to referees, etc.

I will admit though that this summer with the Bruins bowing out of the playoffs earlier than expected, the Celtics, Red Sox and Cannons (Major League Lacrosse) all going nowhere and the Patriots months away from real action, I started paying more attention to the Revolution than I had in years if ever before. After their 1-0 win over Chivas USA (6-12-6) last night at Gillette, New England improved to 9-12-3. With 30 points, they are tied with Philadelphia for the last playoff spot (Top 5 in the Eastern Conference). Both clubs have 30 points but the Revs have played one less match.

The Revs (also owned by the Krafts) are notoriously cheap (Boston Magazine had a great article about that), hence why they have mostly become irrelevant in the last few years save for last season's playoff appearance, but this is great news for their supporterse and those that casually got into the World Cup. Jones was arguably the U.S.' best field player in Brazil and he scored one of the best goals of the tournament (vs. Portugal). Ironically, they lucked out by getting him since it was the result of a blind draw between them and Chicago. Haha only MLS, have you ever heard of that before in pro sports?

Regardless of what convoluted way that he got there, this gives the Revolution and in turn MLS way more credibility in New England. Sure this would have been more powerful immediately following the World Cup but Jones has played in Germany (Schalke) and most recently Turkey (Besiktas) so he was probably looking for one last deal with a notable European club. When that didn't materialize, Major League Soccer wasn't a terrible backup option since it has accumulated more established European players and his newfound stardom with the U.S. would make him a drawing card for both his new team and the league as a whole.

He's tough and always good for a dirty challenge or two, MLS refs should buy some more cards ahead of his arrival. What's improved the last few years with the U.S. is his work-rate and also his offensive ability. Jones should make the Revolution much better overall and he could be the missing piece that puts them over the top and gets them back into the postseason. Where they go from there is anyone's best guess but for once, the Revs are relevant again in a solid soccer market that has supported them in some lean times. This is a nice reward that was long overdue by the Revolution, who had never signed a designated player.

Now It Starts to Get Real in Foxborough for the 2014 Patriots

This next week is one of the most important in any NFL season: rosters are cut down to 75 players on Tuesday then 53 on Saturday. With the third preseason game in the books, the Patriots have gotten a head start on their cuts by releasing veteran defensive linemen Tommy Kelly and Will Smith along with linebacker James Anderson this afternoon.

New England head coach Bill Belichick (and any football coach worth a damn) does this for older players earlier so that they have a chance to catch on somewhere else before the 2014 regular season starts in two weeks. See, he's not completely heartless!

None of these moves were particularly shocking, especially since Kelly and Smith (who are both 33) were each coming off torn ACLs last season. Plus Anderson (who is 31) was signed in June, showing you how little interest he had around the league. The positive way I would spin this for the Pats is that if they are getting rid of quality (albeit washed up) players like this, it says something about what their 53-man roster should look like.

I'll never understand why there are four preseason games in the NFL since the last one is completely devoid of meaning; as always, New England wraps up with the Giants on Thursday (7:30, CBS) in the Meadowlands. Don't expect to see any good/important players in that one, how teams charge anything for that charade is beyond me.

Stay tuned particularly on Tuesday and Saturday for what should be some more interesting moves. Keep in mind that the practice squad has been expanded to ten players this season which makes sense to me given all the injuries picked up during a 16-game season plus the preseason.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Let the Rusney Castillo Era Begin In Boston Aka Havana North

Up until a few weeks ago, like everyone else in the world besides those virgins at Baseball America, I had never heard of Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo. That all changed quickly as the Red Sox' season simultaneously went nowhere while they also got into serious contract discussions with him (along with a host of other teams). That culminated with the great news today that they had signed him to a seven-year deal worth $72.5 million-the most ever for a free agent amateur.

I'll save the scouting report since I know as little about him as you do. Check out YouTube for the bizarre highlights from Cuba. Castillo is said to be 27 but as we know with any guys from Cuba, Domincan Republic, etc., that means nothing. He could be a complete failure but this moves makes me happy for two main reasons: 1) it shows the Red Sox realized how pitiful their outfield options are in terms of prospects and guys in Boston; 2) they are committed to turning things around in 2015 after this steaming pile of elephant shit disguised as a season.

More than anything, Cuban players are really in vogue at the moment in MLB. White Sox rookie Jose Abreu-soon to be AL Rookie of the Year, Dodgers star Yasiel Puig, lights out Reds closer Aroldis Chapman and new Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to name a few. Haha ever heard of any of them? While their fundamentals can be questionable at best, who cares since they are light years ahead of most players in terms of raw talent. Plus they play an exciting brand of baseball which the game desperately needs these days.

Boston could be gathering all these assets to make a serious run at Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton this winter. Miami is obviously filled with Cubans so Cespedes and Castillo surely would be fan favorites there from day one. Something to keep in mind before you buy that Cespedes or Castillo jersey.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sorry St. Louis, Joe Kelly Is Here To Haunt Your Dreams Forever

I have to admit that Joe Kelly's Red Sox debut intrigued me enough to tune in, not that there were many other viewing options besides the MLS All-Star Game vs. Bayern Munich. I'm glad I did too as Boston (50-63 overall, 23-32 away) picked up a 2-1 win over St. Louis (60-52 overall, 32-25 home) in a 2004/2013 World Series rematch at Busch Stadium.

After a lengthy rain delay (over an hour) before it started and facing his former team, Kelly was nails (7 innings, 1 earned run, 3 hits, 2 strikeouts, 4 walks) which really showed me something. Let's just hope this isn't the highpoint of his time with the Red Sox.

Matt Adams (2 for 4) gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead in the first inning with an RBI single. Kelly's buddy Shelby Miller (7 innings, 1 earned run, 4 hits, 4 strikeouts, 1 walk) basically matched him pitch for pitch. Another good sign in this poop sandwich of a season is that Xander Bogaerts provided both runs for Boston. His RBI double in the fourth tied it at one then he knocked in the winning run with a sacrifice fly off closer Trevor Rosenthal (1-6) in the ninth.

The Red Sox had eight hits as a team (three more than the Cardinals) but only Mike Napoli notched two (both doubles). Junichi Tazawa (2-3) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth with one strikeout to earn the win. Koji Uehara worked around two singles in the ninth for his 23rd save of the season.

St. Louis won 3-2 on Monday so they'll both shoot for the series victory tomorrow night (7:15, NESN) as Brandon Workman (1-4) faces Adam Wainwright (13-6) in what is about as lopsided a matchup on paper that you could possibly find these days in MLB. Haha good luck Brandon or maybe I should say overmatched Red Sox hitters. For what it's worth (nothing), David Ortiz should be ready since he only pinch hit tonight and that was a four-pitch intentional walk.

UPDATE 8/7: Newly acquired Kelly Johnson was activated from the DL and Mookie Betts was sent back to Pawtucket (who are actually in a playoff race).

Friday, August 1, 2014

Anthony Ranudo Earns Win in MLB Debut, New Look Red Sox Beat Yankees 4-3

Even with Yoenis Cespedes on the bench (his flight from Oakland arrived late this afternoon in Boston), I have to say that I looked forward to tonight's Red Sox (49-60 overall, 27-29 home) game as much as any others that I can remember from this very forgettable season. Seeing a team that was basically half Pawtucket Red Sox beat the Yankees (55-53 overall, 30-27 away) 4-3 at Fenway Park was pretty gratifying. Anthony Ranaudo (1-0) made his MLB debut and it was a good one: 6 innings, 2 earned runs, 4 hits, 2 strikeouts, 4 walks.

Former Red Sox Chris Capuano (1-2) got the start for New York and he continued to prove that he's nothing special at this stage in his overachieving career. They will probably lose a bunch of games from here on out but I'll give the Red Sox credit for addressing many (who needs pitching?) problems facing the team. You hear all the clich├ęs but it really was cool to see new faces like Allen Craig (1st hit for Boston-a double) blend with youngsters such as Mookie Betts and Will Middlebrooks who are trying to win everyday jobs for next season.

Brock Holt tripled and Dustin Pedroia (2 for 4 w/run) drove him in with an RBI double in the third inning. David Ortiz knocked in Pedroia with an RBI single for a 2-0. Carlos Beltran cut New York's deficit in half with a solo homer in the fourth inning-his 13th of the season. Middlebrooks doubled in the fourth
and David Ross delivered an RBI single that ended with him limping off the field. Clearly his foot is in rough shape so he should be out for a while (DL?).

Beltran came through again with an RBI double in the sixth that scored another former Red Sox-Jacoby Ellsbury. Dustin Pedroia's RBI single in the 7th turned out to be the insurance that Boston needed as Derek Jeter hit a solo homer over the Monster in the eighth.

Another PawSox Tommy Layne pitched a 1-2-3 7th and Junichi Tazawa surrendered the homer to Jeter before Koji Uehara locked it down with a 1-2-3 9th (1 strikeout/13 total pitches) for his 22nd save of the season.

It's another wretched (at least on paper) pitching matchup tomorrow afternoon (4:05, NESN): Allen Webster (1-0) vs. Shane Greene (3-10). Did I mention that it's supposed to rain all day? So yeah, might want to skip out on the tickets that you know your friends, family and co-workers will be trying to dump on you.

UPDATE 8/2: The Red Sox sent Ranaudo back to Pawtucket (womp womp) and added Joe Kelly to the active roster. Additionally, Ross went on the DL and the Red Sox called up catcher Dan Butler from the PawSox. Finally, Yoenis Cespedes is in the lineup this afternoon and playing left field in his Red Sox debut.