Welcome To North Sports!

North Sports is excited to welcome Mark and LaToya to the team! Mark is a proud country hick with the literary savvy of a true jaded urbanite. LaToya is a sharp witted Alberta gal with an insatiable love for her hometown Flames. As a Leaf fan, this makes me sick.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Leaving Las Vegas: The Blue Jays Should Move Their AAA Team To Montreal

With the news today that Toronto Blue Jays GM, and Montreal native, Alex Anthopoulos has approved radio broadcasts to be transmitted in French for the first time in team history, my initial reaction was; what took so long?

After the Montreal Expos left Quebec in 2004, French speaking baseball fans had no team to root for. Instead, they were left to cheer for individual players from their home province.

Some current and former players from Quebec include: Eric Bedard, Eric Gagne, Russell Martin, Pete LaForest and uber prospect Phillipe Aumont.

Although this may stir feelings of regional pride, it wasn't anything to get excited about.

Until now.

Jeremy Filosa and Alex Agostino of CKAC radio in Montreal will begin their broadcasts for this Friday and Saturday's games. To generate some added buzz, the radio station has launched a ticket giveaway contest, "We gave away two tickets to our listeners with Porter Air and the Royal York (hotel) is participating as well," Agostino said.

With a fickle fan base that has grown cynical and discontent after the JP Ricciardi years, reaching out to baseball mad Quebec is both logical and way over due.

But is it enough?

Not for me. In 2003, when Bud Selig (who bought the franchise from Jeffrey Loria on behalf of MLB) torpedoed the Expos season, thus sealing their fate, he did more than relocate a franchise. He spat in the face of Baseball History.

Montreal has a long and rich baseball legacy that predates the Expos by more than 70 years. The Royals began playing as a minor professional club in 1897. After shutting down in 1917 due to the influenza epidemic and WWI, they resurrected themselves in 1928.

In 1939, The Montreal Royals became the AAA Farm Team for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was here that the team began to make its most significant mark on the game's history.

The Royals launched the careers of such players as Sparky Anderson, Duke Snyder, Don Drysdale, Gene Mauch (coincidentally the Expos first Manager), Roberto Clemente, Roy Campanella and Tommy Lasorda. As impressive as this is, there is one name that stands head and shoulders above the rest: Jackie Robinson.

After he was signed by Dodgers GM Branch Rickey in 1945, Baseball's "color barrier" was broken in Montreal when Jackie stepped on the field for the Royals in April of 1946. Later in that season, he was followed by two more black players, John Wright and Roy Partlow, both pitchers.

Jackie only played one season with the Royals, but he finished it in spectacular fashion.

After leading Montreal to a Little World Series title, adoring fans actually chased Jackie to the train station to see him off as he embarked on his MLB career. Paraphrasing a remark in the narration of Ken Burns' Documentary, "Baseball", "...it was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind."

Jackie Robinson would always remember his time in Montreal with fond gratitude. The fans adored him, and the citizens welcomed him and his family. His reception in Brooklyn would be far less tolerant.

The Royals folded in 1960, and seven years later Montreal was awarded a MLB franchise, The Expos.

Although they didn't have any watershed moments like the Royals, the Expos were one of the pioneering teams in baseball in terms of recruiting players from the Caribbean and Central America. Andres Galarraga, Vlad Guerrero and Jose Vidro were but a few names. Not to mention hiring Baseball's first Hispanic GM (Omar Minaya) and first Dominican born Manager (Felipe Alou).

Returning to the topic at hand, JP Ricciardi's decision to move our AAA affiliate from Syracuse to Las Vegas in 2008 was indeed a head scratcher. Not only did it end a 30 year relationship, it moved our farm team from nearby upstate New York to Nevada.

However, recent reports indicate the two year deal JP signed will not be renewed due to the unreasonable travel distance between Las Vegas and Toronto.

Admittedly, I don't have any answers on the question of minor league expansion or relocation. Be that as it may, it’s high time that Major League Baseball honors the legacy that Montreal has indelibly left on this game.

Hey, if history isn't enough of an incentive, just think of all the licensing revenues the league could generate from sales of the Royals classic jerseys.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Class In Session: How To Properly Identify Fantasy Football Sleepers

Accurately predicting the Sleepers in Fantasy Football can prove to be almost as difficult as resisting the power of the Kavorka.

However, I'm here to assist you in your quest to find the gems in this years fantasy NFL season.

First, lets define what a Sleeper actually is:

Differing slightly from a "Break Out" player, a sleeper doesn't have an existing NFL resume to suggest consistent and sustainable growth. Whereas Break Out Players have shown steady improvement over the course of their first 2-3 seasons in the league, Sleepers come out of no where to have significant statistical impact.

Or do they?

A great example of this are the (not) Brothers Rice, Ray and Sidney. Last year Ray and Sindney Rice burst on the scene to become one of the elite Running Back and Wide Receiver options, respectively, in Fantasy Football. In fact, with regards to Ray Rice, we haven't witnessed such a colossal jump in statistical performance from one year to the next since His Holiness Priest Holmes exploded in to our collective fantasy consciousness during the 2001 season.

So what was it about these two that predicated their 2009 Sleeper status?

Where Was He Drafted? Both were second round picks, Ray in 2008, and Sidney in 2007. First and Second round draft picks are selected with the expectation of top end performance. This alone would suggest that their touches would increase.

Does He Have Any Competition? Ray was drafted as the successor to the oft-injured Willis McGahee, and although Le'Ron McClain had a nice season in 2008, no team wants a Fullback to be their top option in the backfield. So no, Ray didn't have much competition for the top job as long as he had a good pre-season (he did).

Sidney had even less competition with the inconsistant (and one dimentional) Bernard Berrian, and rookie Percy Harvin the only guys in camp to worry about. Also, at 6'4" tall, neither of those other receivers can offer what Sid can: Height. Tall receivers are invaluable to an offense as they are better suited to fight through coverage and offer a much better red zone target.

What About Scheme and Complimentary Players? As Offensive Coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, Cam Cameron loved to incorporate fast, elusive running backs into his passing attack. During his one season as Head Coach in Miami, he turned Ronnie Brown in to a pass catching dynamo who was on pace for a ridiculous 90/900 receiving season until he blew a gasket in game 7.

So what might he do with a fast, elusive running back who amassed 2000 yards and 24 TD's in his final year at Rutgers? Well, we saw the results last year.

Sidney Rice benefited from a single Free Agent signing: Brett Favre. The fabled gunslinger is a far superior option at QB then the mediocre duo of Jackson and Rosenfels. Over his career, Favre made superstars out of guys like Sterling Sharpe, Javon Walker, and Donald Driver, so what could he accomplish with Sidney Rice who has a similar skill set as the aforementioned receivers?

How about 83 grabs for 1300 yards. Tasty.

No One Likes A Tease (unless you are hunting for sleepers): Although used sporadically in 2008, Ray did show us a glimpse of what he could do if given the chance. In week 9 of that year, and with McGahee injured (shocked!), and the Browns stacking the middle and limiting McClain to a paltry 34 yards on 13 carries, Coach Harbaugh decided to see what his rook could do. Methinks Coach was impressed as Rice carried the ball 21 times for a whopping 154 yards.

Sidney didn't have a big game like Ray's. However, he offered hints to his potential during his rookie year in 2007 (he was injured in 2008) when he caught four Touchdown passes, including an impressive 60 yard score in week 12 against the Giants.

Of course there are exceptions to the rules above. Miles Austin was an undrafted free agent from small time Monmouth College who's previous high was in 2008 when he had 13 receptions for 278 yards. If you drafted him last year you are either the worlds biggest Cowboy fan or Nostradamus reincarnate.

Either way, trying to predict the Austin's of the fantasy football world is an exercise in futility.

So who are this years Sleepers?

You'll have to wait until my next article. Or you could follow these rules and figure it out for yourself.

Class in Session: How To Win Your Fantasy Football League

"Back to school. Back to school, to prove to Dad that I'm not a fool. I got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight, I hope I don't get in a fight."

This is for all the Fantasy Football junkies out there who, try as they might, just can't seem to get over the hump and win their leagues. If you fit into that category then I'll guarantee you've missed at least one of the following points on a consistent basis.

1. Know Your League and How It Scores:

This may seem obvious to most but you'd be surprised how many poolies out there make this mistake. If you don't have a firm grasp of your league's type and scoring system then you are doomed in your quest of determining player value. You've lost your league already and the season hasn't even started.

The ranking systems used in most fantasy magazines are based on an auction drafting style with standardized scoring (non-ppr [point per reception]). If you're in a ppr league but using one of these rags as a study guide then you need to manually re-adjust the rankings.

Example: A standardized scoring system will rank Michael Turner ahead of Ray Rice . In 2008 Turner scored 275 fantasy points (he was injured off and on last year so we'll use his 2008 stats) whereas last year Ray Rice scored 242 points. However, in a PPR league Turner would have scored 281 in 2008 while Ray Rice's numbers jump to 320 points (based on the 78 extra points for receptions in ppr-leagues).

Either find yourself a mag that's relevant to your league's scoring system or get out your calculator and create an excel spread sheet. Otherwise you're toast.

2. Keep On Mocking In The Free World:

I have news for you. Michael Crabtree is not a sleeper—he will not be available in Round 14. If you suffer these types of delusions when going into your draft you will only end up disappointed.

Solution: There are several sites you can visit that host live mock drafts (practice drafts). A mock draft is a good way to get your feet wet before the big draft day arrives. I usually do no less then 10 and I record all the results. I then examine them for trends—like which players are consistently drafted later than their pre-draft rankings, who seems to be a popular reach, etc. This information can be invaluable for the novice drafter.

In other words, Crabtree will be long gone by round nine, never mind 14.

3. Free Agents Aren't The Only Dudes Who Change Their Address

You need to pay close attention to coaching changes almost as much as player movement. Coaches have differing philosophies and obviously varying degrees of historical success. This can have a significant impact on the performance of your players.

Example: in 2008 the NY Jets were ranked 16th in total defense, in 2009 they were first. Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard didn't make that much of a difference so what, or who, did? The answer is new head coach Rex Ryan—he was a member of the second ranked Baltimore Ravens defense in 2008 (as Defensive Coordinator).

I paid attention to this fact and drafted the Jets ahead of favorites like New England and San Diego.

Do the extra research on coaches and that might be the edge you need to explode into the playoffs.

4. Know The Draft Needs of Your Fellow Poolies:

I can't stress this enough. If you've heeded the first three steps then you should be more then prepared for every pick, ideally with a shortlist for every round. However, you still need to be flexible enough to roll with the punches depending on how your draft unfolds.

Example 1: It's now your turn to draft and you've short listed two WRs and two RBs for this particular round. Take a look at your draft sheet to see how the other teams are looking. If you notice that most teams are set at RB for now but several are in need of receivers, then take your top ranked wideout now (before someone else does) and you can be confident that at least one of your shortlisted backs will slide to you in the next round.

Example 2: You've neglected the receiver position in favor of stacking your team with multiple top end talents at QB and RB. You're now in the middle rounds and you start to panic that you are leaving yourself exposed at that position.

Solution: Take a look at the other teams. Are they relatively set at WR? If so, you should consider starting the run on TEs. Dallas Clark or Jason Witten will be much more valuable to your team than a wideout like Nate Burleson. There should be a dozen players like him still available so you might as well let him pass if it means you get the top ranked TE.

5. Kickers? We Don't Need No Stinking Kickers!

It never ceases to amaze me when a poolie drafts a kicker with more than 4-6 rounds to go. Don't be that guy.

Every year there's the idiot who thinks he's being clever by drafting "The Best Kicker In Football". Super, you just passed on Ray Rice (this actually happened last year). Thanks for your money, moron.

I always wait until the last two rounds to draft my starting and back-up kickers. Last year I still ended up with David Akers (and Ray Rice) so I lost nothing by sitting on the position until the bitter end.

Kicker is in a constant state of flux and the top ranked guy from last year could be the 20th ranked guy this year. Also, why pass up a player with 170+ point potential like a Jahvid Best or Kenny Britt for a kicker who will at best give you 130 points.

Well hard luck poolies, I hope this helps you in your pursuit of a title. Good luck!

The Wait Is Over forToronto Blue Jay Fans: The Other Shoe Has Dropped

Back in March this year, the feeling around Spring Training was one of cautious optimism.

After coming off a humbling 75-87 season, the firing of J.P. Ricciardi and the trade of team icon Roy Halladay, the Blue Jays were clearly embarking to rebuild.

Fast forward to May 9, with a record of 19-14, the water cooler talk was all about our "great young arms", our "potent offense" and dare I say it—Wild Card!

And why not? We had just taken 3 of 4 against Chicago and previous to that we swept the Indians.

The Jays are the top power hitting team in baseball with 51 Home Runs and lead the AL in Total Bases with 535

John Buck, with a .237 career batting average, is all of a sudden a .270 hitting juggernaut who's on pace to obliterate his career highs in every major statistical category. This includes almost tripling his previous bests in HR's and RBI's.

How about Alex Gonzalez? The light hitting baseball nomad has either been eating out of Victor Conte's garbage or is on the hot streak to end all hot streaks. The most glaring stat? His SLG% (Slugging Percentage) is a ridiculous 185 points higher than his career number.

As for those "Great Young Arms", Ricky Romero and Shawn Marcum are indeed pitching well. However, Romero has been the recipient of great defense and quite a bit of luck as his unusually low .288 BABIP (batting average for balls in play) would suggest.

Once that number climbs to around .300, Romero's stats should even themselves out.

Even still, 19-14 is nothing to scoff at. Until we went on the road to face the Red Sox.

After allowing seven walks last night (six in 1.2 innings from starter Brendon Morrow, one of our "great young arms") we narrowly lost a sloppy game to Boston. However, that was just one game and there's no way we walk seven again tonight.

Well we didn't walk seven, we walked eight. Red Sox 6 - Blue Jays 1.

That loud THUD you just heard was the other shoe dropping.

This is to be expected from an elite hitting team like the Red Sox. They are third in the AL with a .353 team OBP and 4th in fewest strikeouts (from their hitters).

On the other hand, the Jays are in the bottom three in the AL for OBP and have struck out at the plate more times then any other team in baseball.

Home runs are great but nothing kills a rally more than a strikeout or hitting into a double play. There's a reason why Adam Dunn is playing in Washington and guys like Russell Branyon and Jack Cust can't keep a job even though they are legit power hitters.

Apologies to my fellow Jay fans out there as I know I can come across as a bit a buzz kill . However, this is still a rebuilding season and when we beat up on some the leagues lesser lights we all need to take it with a grain of salt.

Having said that, there are still lots to be excited about! Lyle Overbay is making Mendoza look like Tony Gwynn so we can expect to see Brett Wallace manning First Base hopefully by July when we make our west coast road trip.

It’s all about perspective.

Harshing Your Buzz: A Sobering Reality Check for Toronto Blue Jay Fans

As I write this, my beloved Toronto Blue Jays are sitting third in the AL East (fourth overall in the AL) with an impressive early record of 16-13. This places us a mere four games behind the Yankees, for the Wild Card spot.

It's also May 6.

Have a cup of coffee, rummy.

First allow me to preface the remaining article with the following: You will be hard pressed to find a more devoted Blue Jay fan than I. However, I'm also a strict realist who deals in honest, factual reasoning and absolutely does not suffer fools. I'm a shotgun diplomat who leaves the platitudes for the horde of Pavlov's Dogs that seem to inhabit the sporting news blogosphere.

As for the Jays, sometimes you just need to tell your girlfriend "yes honey, you do look fat in that dress."

At first glance a 16-13 record looks fairly impressive for a team that was supposed to be a bottom feeder this year. However, when you dig a little deeper you'll notice that it just isn't the case.

We've played four of nine series' against teams with winning records last year, Boston, Los Angeles, Tampa, and Texas. Our record stands at 3-9 in those games, including 1-6 against AL East teams

We have yet to play New York, Detroit, Minnesota, or Seattle and we still have 16 games left to play against Tampa and Boston. That leaves 99 games left against winning teams from '09—not including 12 games against the Rockies, Giants, Cards and Phillies, all winning teams from the NL.

At our current pace we are looking at a record of 33-66 against the winning teams in the AL. Lets say we run just over .500 during Inter-league games at 8-7, that leaves us at 41-73.

48 games left to play against the worst of the AL.

Lets be optimistic here and say we have a .700 record against these teams and end up 34-14. That gives us a record of 75-87.

Coincidentally, that was our record last year. Good enough for 4th in the AL East, a full 28 games back of New York.

Now for some sobering reality about our roster:

Alex Gonzales' best year offensively was in 2004 with the Marlins when he hit .232/23/79.

To illustrate how much of an anomaly that is, his career per season numbers are .248/10/45. Of his eleven other seasons, only in three of them did he eclipse 10 home runs and 55 RBI. His pace so far projects to .278/45/123. Needless to say you can cut those power numbers in half and knock off 30 average points. More than expected yes, but Alex Rodriguez, he is not.

John Buck is hitting very well of late (though his avg/OBP are putrid as expected).

However, in four of his six years in Kansas City, when he was the clear starter, Buck had never hit more than 18 HR or 50 RBI. His current pace of 27/76 (based on 135 games) simply cannot be sustained.

As advertised, Brandon Morrow has been a strikeout machine.

But with a K:BB ratio of 10:5, we can expect his ERA to stay at around 5.00. Control is a skill that is slow to develop and expecting Morrow to "figure it out" and start shutting teams down in the next couple of weeks, or even months, just isn't reasonable. Also, as long as he's averaging five innings per start, he's going to decimate the arms in our bullpen.

Now lets quickly discuss Vernon Wells.

He's also on pace for a 45/120 season although at a significantly higher average than Alex Gonzalez. Also just like A-Gon, he will not maintain that pace.

That's not a bad thing either.

His bloated contract puts him squarely in the cross hairs of both media and fans alike.

However, over the course of his career Vernon has proven to be a very respectable .280/25/90 hitter to go along with great defense in center field. I think we need to stop blaming him for the contract J.P. Ricciardi signed him to and realize that he just isn't the .310/35/115 guy we all want him to be.

Jays fans need get off the road to Jonestown this season.

We are not winning any divisions or wild cards. We are, as expected, a middling team just trying to stay relevant in the cutthroat A.L. East.

Lets just sit back and enjoy the emergence of some great young talent like Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero, and Travis Snider. I suspect that fairly soon Brett Wallace will be here and we should catch a glimpse of J.P. Arencibia and Kyle Drabek come September.

Now take a cold shower and get ready for more kool-aid.

NHL offseason starts in July!

Above All Else, Baseball Is Still Just a Kid's Game

Bottom of the ninth and two outs. There was a runner on first and a ghost runner on third, and Moose, the neighborhood meathead and opposing team's best hitter, was at the plate.

Filthy, drenched in sweat, and a tightly wound bundle of nerves, I stood on the mound (which was actually just a chalk line drawn on the ground)—the loneliest kid on earth.

All the catcalls of "Heeyyyy batta batta batta" or "pitcher's got a rubber arm!" had coalesced into a deafening cacophony of white noise, yet I could distinctly hear the rhythmic "thump, thump, thump" of my heart as I stalled the inevitable, wiping my clammy hands on the front of my shorts.

Moose (real name escapes me) was the biggest kid in the neighborhood. No one believed he was only 10 years old, and my friends and I often joked that his dad must have been a Sasquatch. He clearly had the small brain and massive fists to make this theory plausible. However, if there was anything he could do well, aside from hand out random beatings, it was hit a fastball.

I thought long and hard about this very fact as Moose sneered at me from the plate. Maybe if I just tossed him a grapefruit and let him annihilate it I could avoid his ire for a few extra days.

But then again, how sweet would it be to strike this behemoth out? I'd be a king, the local David slaying the big dumb Goliath. However, I had barely escaped goat horns as Moose had hit my two previous pitches a mile, though just foul. So what now, tempt fate again? The decision was clear.

The knuckleball.

I'd been working on this pitch ever since I watched Tom "Candy Man" Candiotti completely baffle my beloved Blue Jays when the Indians came to Exhibition Stadium a few months previous. Since I spent so much time at the school library hiding from Moose and his goon squad (they NEVER went in there; books were like kryptonite for those idiots), I read up on the knuckleball and about guys like Phil Niekro and Eddie Cicotte.

David had his slingshot; I had my knuckler.

Now, with my foot set on the mound, I gave the obligatory look off to the runner on first. Fingers firmly sunk into the ball, I then lifted my lead foot, swung my arms behind my head, and, in an exaggerated arching motion, threw my wrist forward, releasing the ball.

Time slowed to a crawl as I watched my pitch dance and jig its way home like some kind of drunk butterfly. Moose's eyes went wide with glory lust as he tightened the grip on his bat and lifted his elbows.

No longer able to watch, I closed my eyes tight and waited for the inevitable crack as the ball was hurtled into the cosmos to join its brothers. If God created Heaven and Earth, then Moose created the stars with poorly located fastballs.

Then, nothing. No cheers, no jeers, not even a distant car horn. Just silence. Was I dead? Did Moose hit my pitch so hard that it came back and slammed into my skull? I dared to open one eye, just one, and take a peek.

What I saw was perhaps the most beautiful thing I could possibly imagine. The ball was sitting on home plate, and Moose was crumpled on the ground with his legs twisted like a corkscrew and a look of profound astonishment on his big dumb face. I did it—I struck him out!

Screeching with the kind of joy only a child could muster, my friends and I danced and jumped and yelled like fools for what seemed like hours. I knew I'd most likely take a beating from Moose for this, but I didn't care. I'd take a thousand beatings if that was the cost of feeling what I felt then. It would be worth it.


In my neighborhood we called it Birby, although you may recognize it as Stickball or Wallball. Wherever you grew up and whatever you called it, this game was a rite of passage for thousands of kids when I was growing up in urban Toronto.

As an adult, it's easy to become jaded with professional sports. Million-dollar athletes who refuse to sign a child's ball, small-market teams relegated to mediocrity, greedy owners holding cities and fans hostage for stadium deals, etc.

However, remember that around the corner from your house there's a group of kids playing Stickball for nothing other than the sheer joy it brings. No salaries, no agendas—just innocent childish fun.

Once upon a time that used to be you. It may be time for some perspective, a cleansing. Call some buddies and dust off that old Darryl Strawberry Rawlings glove you have in the basement. Now all you need is some road chalk, imagination, and a lack of ego.

Go break a sweat, and remember: Above all else, baseball is still just a kid's game.

Fantasy Football Top 25: Is Wes "Sky" Welker Still a Top Pick?

That would depend on the depth of your league and how it scores, however...

He is the Receiver you are looking for.

Moving on, the following ranking system is based on a PPR League that rewards as follows:

  • One point per reception
  • One point per ten yards receiving/rushing
  • One point per 25 yards passing
  • Three points per receiving/passing TD
  • Six points per rushing TD

Last season saw yet another changing of the guard. Several players picked in the top 25 of your draft in 2009 have dropped completely off the board whereas there will be names of guys who went undrafted (gasp!) that you will see below.

Without Further Ado,

1. Chris Johnson - RB. Judge Dread presided over the league last year like few others before him. In some drafts he went as low as a late second-round pick (I drafted him fifth overall last year, please leave me your praise in the comments section) but this year he's the consensus number one - regardless of league type. Congrats on sucking last year, you now get the best player in fantasy football. Try not to blow the rest of your draft.

2. Maurice Jones-Drew - RB. Mountain Drew is not only delicious, he's refreshing! He's also a heaping pile of fantasy awesome that will put you - the second worst poolie in your league last year - in good stead the rest of the way. Remember, this is a PPR league ranking and MJD got 93 points as a pass catcher alone (which was down from the 134 he put up in 2008). That's 85 points more than Michael Turner. Go ahead and get jacked up on The Drew.

3. Adrian Peterson - RB. You could easily flip flop this pick with number two and no one would scoff. However, I rank AP third due to the fact that Childress doesn't involve him in the passing game as much as Jones-Drew (As Favre got comfortable with his receivers, he used AP a lot less). Nonetheless, he did have a down year as a runner and a bounce back to 1600+ yards could be in order.

4. Ray Rice - RB. Rice-A-Running burst on the scene last year to become a bonifide fantasy superstar (I drafted him in the ninth round last year, please leave me your praise in the comments section). The only thing keeping this adorable creature from cracking the top three was a lack of TD's. However, hitting paydirt only once with 78/700 as a receiver is a fluke. I'd expect closer to 15 total TD's this season.

5. Frank Gore - RB. Improved O-Line and respectable passing offense makes FrankenGore a sexy pick to round out the top five. Although his health issues and the presence of rookie hammer head Anthony Dixon do give a moments pause, the good simply out weigh the bad.

6. Stephen Jackson - RB. The last of the great duo-threat backs are now gone with this pick. Always a great option in the passing game, Action Jackson had an injury free year and got over the 1400 yard hump again. The four TD's however, leave much to be desired. I think that was just an anomaly and 1400/10 is the bench mark this year - along with his standard 50/400 as a receiver.

7. Michael Turner - RB. The Burner's injury last year (not unexpected after his 376 carry season in 2008) was actually a blessing in disguise for potential MT owners this year. With only 13 carries after November 15th, Turner has been able to heal and rest up and should be ready to blast away at opposing D-Lines on his usual TD/game pace. He won't catch many (any?) passes but 1600/20 is a possibility.

8. Andre Johnson - WR. For the Love of Dre J, how this guy hasn't eclipsed ten TD's yet is a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside Kubiak's odd red zone package enigma. That has to end soon, my guess is now.

9. Jamaal Charles - RB. If not for the acquisition of Tom Jones (and then drafting Dexter McCluster), I'd rank JC, the fantasy Black Jesus, at least two spots higher. However, the Cheifs backfield is all of a sudden a tad cloudy but my assumption is Charles emerges as a Ray Rice type. It's Not Unusual to expect Tom Jones to be used as a short yardage, goal line back however, eating away at The Lord's TD chances.

10. Aaron Rodgers - QB. Green Bay is Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood now. He's also the best fantasy QB in the game and still getting better (I drafted him in the fourth-round last year, please leave me your praise in the comments section). Now with the addition of the Bulaga Whale at RT, Rodgers should feel a bit more comfortable in the pocket. 5000 yards?

11. Shonn Greene - RB. This is a speculative pick here but if you're confident in your ability to build significant depth at RB in the later rounds then the reward could be significant. Think Michael Turner circa 2008 type of upside. LT and FloJoe McKnightengale won't interfere with the ascension of the very phonetic Shonn Greene.

12. Drew Brees - QB. How about the starting QB for the best offense in football? Moving on...

13. Larry Fitzgerald - WR. If not for the retirement of Crystal Kurt Warner, L. Scott would be 3-5 spots higher on this list. Having said that, Ryan Leaf could get this guy 80 grabs so Leinart to Fitzy should be good for 95+ right? Right?

14. Rashard Mendenhall - RB. What I like: He's young, talented, healthy, gorgeous (what?) and has no competition for his job. What I don't like: inconsistency, Ben's predilection for young drunk girls, weak passing game. Rashard is a boom or bust pick but his talent is just too tantalizing.

15. DeAngelo Williams - RB. My issue with him has to do with a man named Jonathan Stewart. Sooner or later, J-Stew will take over as the number one. Oh yea, who's the QB this year? So many red flags. I'll pass on him but he still deserves the rank.

16. Beanie Wells - RB. Why the not so Wisenhunt kept going to Bubba Smith Hightower is just odd. Anyone who watched 'Zona games last year could clearly see that Wells was far and away the better back. If he gets 20 carries this year he's in line for Prime Rudi Johnson type stats. For Serious.

17. Brandon Marshall - WR. Lets see here; emerging strong armed QB, (arguably) best O-Line in football, (arguably) best running game in football, and now the Fire Marshall? Some records could be broken (I drafted him in the seventh-round last year, please leave me your praise in the comments section). Duper who?

18. Ryan Grant - RB. He's healthy and now the O-line is repaired (he hopes). The receiving stats are just gravy. Safe pick (i'm looking at you Greene/Charles owners).

19. Peyton Manning - QB. Just can't argue with this kind of health/performance consistency. Young receivers are only getting better as well.

20. Phillip Rivers - QB. His receivers are deadly and now he's got a running game again. Sail down the Mystic Rivers with confidence.

21. Cedric Benson - RB. Not flashy by any means but he's safe and reliable (who'd ever think to say that two years ago regarding this guy?).

22. Miles Austin - WR. Highest PPG for a receiver once he became a starter. Sky's the limit for Miles High Austin.

23. Reggie Wayne - WR. His numbers might actually get better with the improvement of Garcon and Collie.

24. Ryan Matthews - RB. I introduce to you the 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year. Enjoy.

25. Wes Welker - WR. And now we turn our attention to the Fantasy Jedi, Wes SkyWelker. Reports indicate he could return as early as Halloween and as late as Thanksgiving (US).

The question you need to ask yourself is, are you confident in your ability to build a strong enough team to withstand the loss of your third-round pick for the first two months of the season? If so, draft Welker with confidence knowing that you'll be adding a 10/100 receiver to your roster just in time for the fantasy playoffs. You'll be bulls eyeing Womp Rats all the way to Title Town.

You're welcome.

Ich Bin Ein Maple Leaf: Korbinian Holzer Invading Toronto In 2010?

With the Draft and the beginning of Free Agency yet to happen, it’s a bit of a fool’s errand to predict what the Toronto Maple Leafs roster will look like in October.

However, with the playoffs in full swing the good people of Leaf Nation need to get excited about something, anything.

Therefore, I introduce to you 2010 Leaf Camp invitee and my dark horse to crack the starting lineup, Korbinian Holzer.

Nein Weise you say? Hear me out.

With Kaberle a virtual lock to be traded, there are three guaranteed roster spots on the Toronto blueline this year. They belong to Dion Phaneuf, Luke Schenn and Mike Komisarek (remember him?)

Unless Francois Beauchemin is dealt (more likely than you may think—Burke is a wild man) then he's a lock for the fourth spot.

That leaves three remaining spots.

The next roster slot will more than likely be filled by the very promising Carl Gunnarsson. The young Swede really came in to his own last season as he averaged roughly 21 minutes per game after he returned from an elbow injury.

Poised and surprisingly responsible in his own end for such a young player, Gunnarsson, or Gunner as he's called by his teammates, also possesses a great first pass and a very heavy point shot.

A seventh round pick in 2007, he's looking like a real gem.

So that leaves two spots on the blueline and several players scrambling to make the cut.

Let's look at them individually.

Jeff Finger

Often a healthy scratch last year, Finger has regressed defensively and finished the season a career worst -11.

Now entering year three of his preposterous four year $14 million deal, Finger will be under the microscope if he even makes it to camp.

He's a prime candidate for a trade if not an outright release.

Garnet Exelby

In what is now recognized as a fleecing by then Thrashers GM Don Waddell, Exelby was brought here in exchange for Pavel Kubina to add "truculence" to a soft Leaf blueline.

However, when not a healthy scratch Exelby was either on the losing end of a fight or getting undressed by opposing forwards.

He's since asked for a trade and will not be a Leaf in 2010.

Mike Van Ryn

He's not currently under contract but reports indicate that his rehab is going very well and he's eager to get back on the ice, as a Leaf. And according to Ron Wilson, via James Mirtle of The Globe, the feeling may be mutual,

“We missed him last year, and I think to an extent we’ve missed him a lot this year,” Wilson said. “You look at our record last year, when he was in the lineup, and it was five or six games over 500 [13-8-6]. … He’s a good guy, great in the room, too. Hopefully, things will work out for him and we can help in his comeback next year.”

With 16 players signed and just $11 million left under the cap, Van Ryn could be signed to an incentive laden contract.

He's a highly productive player on both ends of the ice when healthy and a great locker room presence. Even money he's back this year. (For more on his rehab, read the April 6th post on www.pensionplanpuppets.com )

That leaves one spot for Juraj Mikus, Keith Aulie and Phil Oreskovic.

Mikus has had a similar journey to the NHL as Gunnarsson but is a much more raw talent.

His size (6'4" 190) and offensive ability are tantalizing but he'll need another year in the AHL for seasoning.

Keith Aulie came over in the Phaneuf/Stajan deal.

A giant of a man at 6'6", he will need to work on his skating before having a legit shot at the big club. Nonetheless, he looks like a young Hal Gill and should be a fixture on the Leaf blueline by 2012.

Phil Oreskovic is a nasty, punishing stay at home type who offers little offensive potential. However, he's fairly polished and has the game that Burke loves. He's got a legit shot at the final spot.

Unless ...

Korbinian Holzer has been playing in the German League, The DEL, which is a men’s league, since the 07/08 season.

The competition is not far off from the AHL and the league even has a number of ex-NHL'ers.

He finished second among defensemen on his team with 22 points in 52 games (behind Patrick Traverse) and even chipped in a very truculent 74 penalty minutes.

Furthermore, he played on the German Olympic Team this past winter in Vancouver and did not look out of place playing against the world's elite.

Holzer's skating is outstanding and he has the size needed to compete on an NHL blueline (6'3" 205.) Although an extra 15 pounds wouldn't hurt.

I realize this kid's a long shot but remember that Kaberle came seemingly out of nowhere in '98/99, jumping to the NHL from the Czech league to score 22 points in his first season.

Stranger things have happened.

As always, comments are welcome.

Danke schoen

Toronto Blue Jays Broken Wings, What To Do With Overbay and Snider

As I begin to write this article the Jays just blew yet another game in the late innings. Perhaps I should write about our Bullpen.

Moving on.

At no other time are roster decisions more paramount to a team's long term success as when that team is rebuilding. The Blue Jays are in a significant transition phase that hasn't been seen in these parts since the early 80's and as I look at our roster and the performance of certain players it becomes quite clear what needs to be done.

First, get rid of Lyle Overbay.

Currently hitting .176 with an OBP of .271 along with two HRs and nine RBIs just doesn't cut it. His power numbers translate to 16/73 over 162 games but that's more of a product of his position in the order as Hill and Wells have been doing a great job getting on base. The average firstbaseman in the majors hits at a .263 clip which roughly equals an extra 13 hits for Overbay over his 74 AB's.

So what does this all mean?

Well Overbay's trade value is virtually nil. We may be able to ship him off to team that needs/wants a reserve 1B/DH with above average defense but at a salary of $7,950,000 this year, what do we get in return? A marginal prospect at best or perhaps a swap of contracts which I doubt Alex Anthopoulos is interested in.

So that leaves the Jays with one alternative: place him on waivers and if he's not claimed, send him to AAA—which is basically giving him his release.

There are several options to replace Overbay if this scenario were to come to fruition. The first is to simply plug in Randy Ruiz at 1B. His average is even worse but with a significantly smaller sample size of 16 ABs. However, his previous two seasons he hit .313 with 115 ABs and .274 in 62 ABs so there's some potential to provide stability there. Although at 32 he's clearly not a long term option.

Another scenario would be to sign Carlos Delgado. One of our most beloved and productive Blue Jays ever, he'd be a great way to generate some buzz and provide not only solid production at DH (Lind would have to play 1B) but leadership as well. I'm a huge Delgado fan and would be thrilled with this move. However, as with Ruiz, Delgado is not a long term solution.

The third, and most likely scenario, would be calling up Brett Wallace from the AAA Las Vegas 51s. Currently hitting .288/8/14 in 74 AB's with a OBP/SLG split of .381/.671, he's clearly ready for a shot with the big club.

But at this stage I feel that if he does get the call that it's a permanent move. He should not be sent down as he'll need to see as many MLB pitches as possible to truly get a sense of his worth as a long term solution at 1B/DH. This should be the move to make but I'll admit as fan I'd be giddy to see Delgado back in Blue and White.

Now, what about Travis Snider? Although his numbers are equally as putrid as Overbay's (.127/2/4) his situation is completely different. He was a first round pick (14th) by the Jays in 2006 and is only 22 years old. He's still considered a top 25 prospect by most scouting organizations and MLB.com lists Travis as the 7th best prospect in baseball—ahead of names like Neftali Feliz, Colby Rasmus, Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey and Elvis Andrus.

So what does this mean?

The answer is simple. Nothing. Travis has decimated minor league pitching and has nothing left to prove there. His power is off the charts and so is his ceiling as a player. I'm talking about a perennial .290/35/110 LF.

But the question most asked is how patient should we be with Snider—how long do we wait for him to break out? The answer is, as long as it takes. Brett Wallace is no less a top prospect as Snider and he's two years older yet no one is worried about his window to succeed.

So for now the Jays will keep sending the kid out there until it clicks. But I'll leave you with an interesting stat: Of Snider's eight hits this season, four are Home Runs. If he ever improves his plate discipline, look out.