This was a pretty busy week for a February. Miguel Cabrera decided to take a swig of scotch when being pulled over for a DUI (bravo, young man), the Cavaliers (yes those Cavalier) beat the Lakers, and Carmelo is again heading to New York Jersey, or is he re-signing with the Nuggets after all? I won’t bother giving another column deploring the actions in Alabama in poisoning the 130-year-old trees at Toomer’s Corner at Auburn University except to say this- this isn’t the same as breaking a statue, those can be rebuilt. This isn’t stealing a mascot, you can get a new one. It took over a century for these trees to grow and 50 years for this tradition to be built, and that is what’s dying right now. And all that isn’t even touching on Spring Training, the Bulls’ big win over the Spurs, or the Albert Pujols drama. That’s all on tap, and I want your thoughts on these topics. Let’s line up for the kick…
Everyone’s A Winner in February
Spring training is rather intoxicating. There are a million stories about who is going to take off this season, who has a “new attitude” going into this year, who is in the “best shape of their life.” Buck Showalter has already alluded to great seasons from Matt Wieters and Jake Arrieta, and I have read columns predicting greatness from Mark Reynolds, Adam Jones, and especially the recently acquired Vlad Guerrero. While I want to soak up everything I can find from spring training in the hopes of avoiding a repeat of last season, one cannot take any empty predictions before games have been played. Mark Reynolds could drop even further offensively against the strong pitching in the AL East, Vlad Guerrero could start to show his age, Adam Jones could regress offensively, Matt Wieters could fail to deliver on his potential, and Jake Arrieta could remain a middling starting pitcher. None of these things would be pessimistic; they would just be a continuation of past performance. One cannot simply bank on improvement; it is only pessimistic to bank on regression. That said, there will be players who invariably break out in 2010 and others who take a step back. Who do you think is primed for a great year, and who do you think will either take a step back or fail to improve?
Bulls Charging in the East
The Chicago Bulls looked every part of a legitimate contender in the East after handling the San Antonio Spurs last night. Derrick Rose lived up to his billing as a point guard who didn’t need a star alongside him (he allegedly refused to campaign for LeBron or Dwayne Wade to join the Bulls because he wanted to win his own championship) en route to a career-high 42 points with jaw-dropping moves at the basket and jump shots that had me cringing until they went in. The Bulls don’t get the attention of the Celtics, Magic or Heat, all who have multiple stars (or at least names) and talk as much as they play. It is hard to imagine Chicago flying under the radar in any sport, but with the mega-hyped Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers there isn’t much room for a team that relies on the likes of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and Taj Gibson for significant contributions. Of course, having Carlos Boozer (particularly a healthy Carlos Boozer) can elevate a roster from 4 or 5 seed to legitimate contender. Are the Bulls a legitimate threat to win the East? What chances do you give them of toppling the Heat, Magic or Celtics in the playoffs?
Everyone Wants to be Paid Their Worth
Albert Pujols is not selfish, and he isn’t a bad guy or a disloyal jerk, not by any stretch of the imagination. He is reacting the exact same way you or I would if we were offered a small raise when we knew we should be promoted. Pujols outperformed his last contract and wants to be paid relative to his position- the best player in baseball. Unfortunately for him, he is such a great player that even if he is paid what he deserves, his price is still more than most teams can afford, especially with the Red Sox and Yankees appearing to be out of it with their recent (ish) acquisitions of Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Teixeira (though I am sure they have some money or could dump either of them if they wanted to). I have no doubt that Pujols wants to be a Cardinal in a perfect world, but I am sure many of you would love to stay at your current job… unless someone offered you $10K or $15K more than they could. Loyalty only goes so far, particularly when owners rarely extend that same loyalty to their own players. What is Pujols worth to you? Will he end up staying in St. Louis?