Monday, July 26, 2010

Build a Bridge: The Yankees Should Deal for Joakim Soria

July 26, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

Trade speculation surrounding the Yankees in recent days has centered on starting pitching, but their most pressing need is bullpen help.

With Joba Chamberlain continuing to falter in the all important eighth inning role and his ERA approaching six, memories of his dominance are fading fast. Joakim Soria, one of the most underrated closers in baseball, is available and can solve the eighth inning dilemma as well as succeed Mariano Rivera whenever he rides off into the sunset.

Despite Chamberlain's struggles, he still has value on the market as evidenced by Arizona demanding him from the Yanks in Dan Haren trade talks.

Chamberlain's velocity has returned and, although his slider is nowhere near as sharp, his performance issues could be a result of being used as a human yo-yo, vacillating from the bullpen to the rotation and back over the years.

Meanwhile, Soria has established himself as a lights out closer for the beleaguered Royals as he saved a career-high 42 games for Kansas City in 2008. He's averaging 10.58 strikeouts per nine innings and has maintained impeccable control throughout his career.

Soria won't come cheap and Chamberlain would likely have to be a starting point in negotiations. The Yanks were unwilling to included the enigmatic Chamberlain in the Haren trade, but should not hesitate to do so in this scenario.

As opposed to Haren, Soria is in the midst of a very affordable contract. Soria is making $3 million this season and is due $4 million in 2011. Afterwards, he has three club option years for $6 million in 2012, $8 million in 2013, and $8.75 million in 2014.

Since Rivera is still effective as ever, Soria may not get the opportunity to close for the Yanks until 2013, but because setup men are so vital to playoff success, acquiring him would be a shrewd move. Also, he isn't paid like an elite closer until 2013 which makes the indefinite waiting period much more tolerable for the Yanks as they carry a super setup man.

Chamberlain, Ivan Nova, and one of the many impressive young arms the Yankees possess in the low minors might be enough to land Soria. While it's a steep price to pay, it's well worth it to fortify the bullpen immediately and answer the omnipresent question of who will replace the invaluable Rivera when he's done.

While the health of Andy Pettitte is a concern, Pettitte has said he feels better of late and has been lobbying the Yankees to return earlier than originally anticipated. The Yankees should remain cautious with Pettitte as their comfortable hold on a playoff spot allows them to do so.

If Pettitte is back by late August as scheduled, the Yankees will not require another starting pitcher anyway. Further, passing on adding another starter would enable the Yanks to leave Phil Hughes in the rotation all season to avoid the recurring nightmare that they're experiencing with Chamberlain.

Hughes is blossoming this year as a frontline starter and should not be toyed with. Even though he ran into a wall of sorts after May, Hughes is working through his issues and should be allowed to do so while remaining in the rotation. The innings limitation is enough of an obstacle to overcome without questioning his role too.

One criticism of Soria is the lack of experience he's had pitching in big games and the playoffs. He's surmounted every challenge put before him and is still just 26-years-old. Although some fail under the bright lights, Soria is certainly worth the risk.

Who could resist the possibility of recreating Rivera to John Wetteland 14 years later?

Friday, July 9, 2010

LeBron James Alienates a Nation, Hurts NBA

July 9, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

If LeBron James' goal was to eliminate himself from contention as the greatest of all-time, he's succeeded. He's no longer in the ballpark.

James' sickening decision to sign with Miami proves that he is devoid of the leadership characteristics and competitive fire that all the immortal players possess. In fact, James' choice clearly demonstrates insecurities in his ability to win on his own with a conventional unit.

Put to rest the comparisons to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Not only are those guys legendary players, they maximized every last drop of their potential by embracing challenges, not running from them like James.

Sure, both Jordan and Bryant had stretches of immaturity in their youths but they each had epiphanies eventually and realized their duties to lead on the court and make teammates better in order to be great. Orchestrating collusion to assemble a perennial powerhouse doesn't qualify.

If this dog and pony show James dragged us through is any indication, that reawakening is a long way off for him. He may never see the light.

Kevin Durant, a top four NBA player in his own right, has a deeper understanding of the burden a superstar must carry than James already and he's four years his junior at 21-years-old. Durant refreshingly announced that he agreed to a five-year max extension with Oklahoma City on Wednesday with little fanfare.

Durant could have had every team in the league worshipping him in a degrading recruiting process like James did, but instead decided that he's going to finish what he started with the Thunder. He should be applauded for being as grounded as an immensely gifted player can be and prioritizing his team over publicity and attention for himself.

The truly phenomenal player doesn't need to be coddled and constantly reminded of his greatness. He goes out and proves it to people every day if, for no other reason, he knows no other alternative.

Don't bet against the Thunder in the future.

Quitting in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Boston doesn't look like an aberration for James anymore: It looks like another indictment of his character.

Tantalizing opportunities existed in New York and New Jersey while James could have opted to verify the validity of his "Loyalty" tattoo by staying home in Cleveland. Tabbing any of those three teams as his destination would have been logical, inspiring, and exciting for the NBA.

Dismiss Chicago because of the Jordan complex (anything less than six titles is unacceptable by comparison and winning one wouldn't endear himself to the fan base like it would elsewhere) and the rumblings that Derrick Rose wasn't enthralled with the idea of playing with James. Cast aside the Clippers because they live in Bryant's building and well, they're the Clippers. Carving out a legacy in either of those locales would have been a near impossibility, even for James.

Miami doesn't work either.

No matter how many titles James wins in Miami, the Heat is and always will be Dwyane Wade's team. James is riding shotgun rather than behind the wheel, where he belongs. Meanwhile, Chris Bosh is the hyperactive, giddy kid in the backseat that you can't keep quiet.

You'd expect Bosh to be elated about the situation and no one can fault him for his defection from Toronto to a potential juggernaut on South Beach. The difference is that he's incapable of winning a championship as the No. 1 option.

The talents of LeBron James, however, are unmatched by any player in the history of the league and as a result, he is held to a higher standard. James will never be tested in Miami the way he should have to be to win titles. He, therefore, has no incentive to augment his game by ameliorating his free throw shooting, perimeter shooting, and post arsenal.

Meaning, in other words, James may have reached his peak at 25. It's a sobering and depressing thought for a career which had limitless possibilities.

Although he'll be fine on the court, James may not comprehend the magnitude of how many fans he's alienated and instantly turned against him. He has a thin skin and the vitriol will no doubt affect him in some fashion.

Since Cleveland's majority owner Dan Gilbert isn't above berating James in an open letter to Cavs fans, that should indicate some of the palpable animosity around the country.

The Heat is set to add a vital missing ingredient to the mix with the addition of sharp shooter Mike Miller. With Miller in the mix to space the floor for the dynamic dribble drives of James and Wade, the Heat has no excuse for winning any less than 70 games this season. The South Beach Superstars have brought these seemingly outrageous expectations on themselves.

James will regret this decision in the long run. Aside from the legacy that he's tarnished, James will need to forfeit individual accomplishments for the betterment of the team. Forget winning multiple scoring titles and MVPs on this team; Miami is not constructed for him to do so.

I'm not sure he's ready to sacrifice all that especially when he recognizes that he's despised by so many who once adored him.

Simply being along for a championship ride shouldn't satisfy a player of his caliber. It wasn't enough for Jordan and Bryant, and it's not sufficient for Durant either.

Why not suit up Dan Marino with a roster spot while you're at it? God knows he needs a ring too.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Decision Time for LeBron James: Where Will The King Be Crowned?

July 7, 2010
By Anthony Tripicchio

The moment of truth is here.

LeBron James, after years of suspense, will finally reveal his destination for the 2010-2011 NBA season Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. on national television.

As we inch closer to the hour of LeBron, three teams seem to be logical landing spots for The King. Cleveland, Miami, and New York all have alluring arguments to sway James.

Cleveland, of course, is his home team and has been the reported favorite all along by most media. The Cavs won 61 games this past regular season and would still be a threat to contend with James despite their postseason shortcomings in recent years.

However, James was unable to persuade Chris Bosh to Cleveland via a sign-and-trade and the Cavs have minimal flexibility due to salary cap constraints. If James returns to Cleveland, the team will be very similar to the one that fell to the Celtics in the playoffs with the exception of a departed Shaquille O'Neal.

Bosh and Dwyane Wade have chosen to join forces in Miami and can make a compelling case
for James to showcase his expansive eyewear collection on South Beach. Adrian Wojnarowski from Yahoo Sports reported that Wade, Bosh, and James had a conference call to finalize their plans and that could be a tip off that Miami is the common denominator.

Pat Riley is a legendary coach and would have no qualms with usurping Erik Spoelstra's position as he did Stan Van Gundy's in 2006 when a championship was within reach.

There are significant drawbacks for James in Miami, though. First, Wade and James are dynamic dribble drive players that need shooters to adequately space the floor. Without distance shooters, teams could opt to double team off of Wade or James, leaving one open for three-point shots which are neither stars strength.

Miami would desperately need a sharp shooter such as Mike Miller or Ray Allen to make the supposed "Dream Team" work. The mid-level exception would have to appease either player because Miami would be capped out after signing three max players.

Further, Miami will always be Wade's team. He won a title there by himself and no matter how many championships James won there, they would be cheapened by the fact that James couldn't win one as the conclusive lead guy.

It's similar to Alex Rodriguez playing next to Derek Jeter in New York, but winning titles is far more significant for a great player in the NBA than any other sport because one immortal player can have such a dramatic impact on the result. Ted Williams and Dan Marino's legacies aren't diminished by the lack of a championship, LeBron's would be.

New York is the lone team left in the process. Coming to terms with Amar'e Stoudemire on Monday, the Knicks secured one of the two elite power forwards on the market which may be a prerequisite for any team James considers.

In addition, the Knicks already have Danilo Gallinari in place who is the best perimeter shooter on an existing roster of anyone who is in contention for James' services. Gallinari, 21, is the centerpiece of a young corps in New York including Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas.

After signing James, the Knicks would also have room for a third max player next season or could utilize the extra cap space this offseason with trades. Either way, New York has maneuverability to improve its roster further once James agrees to take his entourage to Madison Square Garden.

New York is not fullproof for James, though. Stoudemire is a serious injury concern given his microfracture surgery to his knee in 2005 and detached retina in 2009. He's such a risk, in fact, that insurance would not cover his contract. Even if he stays healthy, Stoudemire is known as a poor defender and is a worse rebounder than his predecessor, David Lee.

If Stoudemire remains on the court, the Knicks still need to address holes at center and point guard. A defensive minded interior player and tenacious rebounder would complement Stoudemire well, but centers are hard to come by in this day and age.

Although Douglas showed flashes last season, the Knicks would be wise to bring in a more experienced point guard if they truly want to win immediately. James could fill the need for a ball-handler and distributor himself though.

Chicago is deemed dead since it didn't land Bosh or Stoudemire and also has the Michael Jordan complex working to its detriment. The Bulls also lack perimeter shooting. Beyond that, Derrick Rose isn't said to be enthralled with the idea of playing with James.

New Jersey is doomed by the fact that they have to play in Newark for at least the next two years. If they were in Brooklyn right now, the Nets might have been James' preferred choice.

New Jerey and Chicago can still add either David Lee or Carlos Boozer, but they don't have the star appeal of Bosh or Stoudemire.