Thursday, April 02, 2009

Weekly Jerkosity: Bye, Bye Sheff; Hello Jay? ; Bye Bye MSU? Hello National Title?

Thank God It's Thursday -- because that means another riveting webisode of "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno & Al."

Every Thursday I get my sports chat on with the MVP of the MVN, Big Al of The Wayne Fontes Experience. As Al has described us, we're just two Chatty Cathies talking about sports.

This week, we ruminate about the Tigers' release of Gary Sheffield and his $14 million contract; get excited about the rookie pitchers coming north; handicap MSU's chances in the Final Four; debate whether the Lions will acquire QB Jay Cutler; and the usual suspects return -- Word Association and Jerk of the Week.

Let the gabbing commence!


Eno: It's time for your weekly dose of Jerkosity! It's "The Knee Jerks: WTF? With Eno and Al." I'm Eno, aka The Journalist, and he's Big Al, aka Mr. Big Shot. Al, welcome back. Always good to see that you keep coming back for more abuse every week.

Big Al: Abuse? I tend to think of it as attitude adjustment. It's our own little Internet boot camp. Speaking of camp, the Tigers are on the verge of breaking camp (how's that for a segue?) as the season opens in Toronto on Monday. Lots of news coming out of Lakeland, so let's start with the Tigers eating the rest of Gary Sheffield's $14 million contract, and cutting him loose. What says Eno about this stunning development?

Eno: Didn't see it coming. My "knee jerk" reaction – pun intended – was that something bad happened behind the scenes. Reminded me of the Tigers cutting Dimitri Young during a rain delay in 2006. But the team says it's a baseball move. I would imagine they would have needed Mike Ilitch's approval to chow on that kind of a contract. And to do it at the tail end of spring training is rather rude, frankly. Your thoughts?

Big Al: I agree this had to have the Pizza Man's approval, and I bet he gagged a little, as it was a serious amount of coin for anyone, even a gazillionaire, to let walk. For the most part, Sheffield was a good citizen the last couple of seasons, so I'm not sure it's anything other than a baseball move. He just isn't a huge threat at the plate anymore, and hasn't been since he blew up his shoulder in July '07. Up to that point, Sheff was an impact player, and looked to be worth every penny of that three-year, $14 million-a-season deal. Then Jim Leyland put Sheff in the outfield, he collides with Placido Polanco, and he was never the same player. That it was at the end of spring training doesn't bother me too much, as there is still time for Sheff to hook up with another team.

Eno: Well of course it doesn't bother YOU!! But what of Sheff? If the Tigers were contemplating this, don't you think they were thinking of it sooner than now? Sheff was, by all accounts, feeling as healthy as ever. He had three spring homers, albeit a .178 BA. I don't know. I've always liked Sheffield, and he and I had some great conversations. Hard for me to believe a lot of the crap spewed about him, but whatever. More big news: kiddies Rick Porcello and Ryan Perry make the team. Is this Verlander/Zumaya/2006, redux? Oh, and please comment about Dave Dombrowski's status, since he keeps spending his owner's pizza dough unwisely.

Big Al: Let's start with Dombrowski. Not to defend him (then again, maybe I am), but many of these signings were thought, at the time, to be quite good. Dombrowski was locking up what was thought to be core players. Some got hurt (Sheffield, Jeremy Bonderman), some aged quicker than anticipated (Carlos Guillen), some just plain lost what they once had (Robertson), some were admittedly gambles (Dontrelle Willis), some are still very, very productive (Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera). There’s going to be quite a bit of revisionist history going on as a few of these players fail to live up to their deals. As for the rookie pitchers making the team, GOOD. It follows Leyland's assertion that the best 25 players would make the team, no matter who they are, or what they are owed. Porcello and Perry were two of the best pitchers in camp, period. They earned a trip north. I think it also means the Tigers may be eating another deal, Nate Robertson's. Is he the odd man out, as he was outpitched by both Porcello and Zach Miner this spring? As for Sheffield, the Tigers don’t owe him a for $14 million dollars. Actually, they did him a favor, as it might have been tougher to latch on to a new team if the Tigers had cut him during the season.

Eno: I don't know that I'd call it a favor, since most rosters are set by now. But of course, the Phillies have already reached out to Sheffield, reportedly. I'm very excited about Porcello and Perry. Any other impressions on the Opening Day roster?

Big Al: A couple if things... It appears that Marcus Thames will get the majority of DH at-bats. Maybe we'll finally find out if Thames will hit 40 bombs if given more than 300 plate appearances. I think he can. Even if he only hits .220, Thames's power is a game changer. As for the 25th man, it's down to Brent Clevlen and Jeff Larish. All Larish has done this spring is hit the sh*t out of the ball, but Clevlen is out of options, and would have to clear waivers if sent down. Personally, I'm always partial to power, so I think Larish gets the spot. Anything to add or dispute, Eno-sabi?

Eno: I agree with the Larish thing. Thames is the strongest baseball player I've seen in Detroit since Cecil Fielder. They keep trading Marcus every off-season, the hot stove people, and he keeps making the team. I'm glad he's sticking – for now. What do you think about Porcello, specifically? What can/should we expect from the kid?

Big Al: Porcello? You know there's going to be all kinds of comparisons to 2006 and Justin Verlander. I think that is a bit much to expect from a 20-year-old. Remember, Porcello signed out of high school, while Verlander had already built up some arm strength pitching at Old Dominion for a few seasons. But if the Tigers can get 10-12 wins and a 4.something ERA, they will be plenty happy with Porcello. He has HUGE upside, but we may not get to see the true Porcello for another year or 2. But if he's ready now, then use him in Detroit; don't waste pitches playing him in Erie.

Eno: Can't wait to see Porcello! I think 10-12 wins would be fantabulous! OK, OK...I guess we should start talking about something else. MSU makes the Final Four in Detroit. Your knee jerk?

Big Al: Told you so.

Eno: Anything else?

Big Al: Oh, you want more? I think Tom Izzo has cemented his status as one of the best coaches of his generation. Five Final Fours in 11 years? That's magnificent! Let alone the fact that every kid who has spent four years at MSU under Izzo has made a Final Four? Talk about a recruiting edge over Michigan! To be honest, I was relieved Kentucky went after John Calipari instead of Izzo. Izzo never seems to get his due nationally, even though he has put together a program that rivals the best of the ACC.

Eno: A second title for him would REALLY cement it. You're right that Izzo doesn't seem to get the same face time as some of the others, although the Chicago Bulls were rumored to show interest in him [last year], as well as Kentucky [this year]. I hope to GOD that if he moves on, it's within the college ranks. Just say no the NBA, Tommy!!

Big Al: Agreed. Izzo is NOT an NBA guy. His football-esque style of coaching would not fly in a league full of divas and head cases. As for the Final Four, who do you see coming out on top? Sparty , who has the home court advantage? Maybe UNC, a literal juggernaut in the tournament so far? UConn, even though there are cheating allegations hovering over them and Jim Calhoun? Or Villanova? (well, I got nuttin' on 'Nova!) I'm sticking with my Spartans prediction. You, sir?

Eno: Hey, why not pick the local boys? I wasn't quite so sure until I saw Sparty DISMANTLE Louisville, a No. 1 seed. I'm happy for the local economy, which gets a boost by virtue of MSU being in the Final Four. I imagine some folks who would not normally go downtown will do so on Friday, for example, to watch MSU practice. Then they'll hit the bars and restaurants. As for basketball itself, I think Travis Walton has to reappear. If he does, then MSU's chances improve greatly.

Big Al: I think their big man, Goran Suton, has been the difference maker. He's been playing like a young Bill Laimbeer, popping in jumpers from the outside, while patrolling the paint for 10 or so boards a game. But you do have to like the Spartans' chances. Their win over a heavily favored Louisville squad may have been the best played and coached game of the tournament. Izzo made [Cardinals coach] Rick Pitino look silly, as the Cardinals had no answer for Sparty, and all but quit in the final 10 minutes.

Eno: Go Green! OK, what else you got on your plate, figuratively, Albert? Allen? Alan? Aloisus? Alfred?

Big Al: YES! I'm named after the butler on Batman. Let's move on to the Lions. Word broke Tuesday night that the Denver Broncos are placing their young Pro Bowl QB, Jay Cutler, on the trading block. The Lions are one of 6-10 teams with serious interest in Cutler. Yea or nay, does Cutler end up wearing the Honolulu blue and silver?

Eno: Wow. It's easy to say no, simply because the odds are still long. I truly think Matthew Stafford's their guy in the draft. Now, how that impacts the Lions' interest in Cutler, I'm not so sure. What would become of Daunte Culpepper? This may make me nuts, but a healthy, interested Culpepper might not be all that much of a drop off from Cutler. So, bottom line: Cutler doesn't come here, I don't think. You , Alfred?

Big Al: As you know, I've been on the Cutler-to-the-D bandwagon since word broke a month ago about the three-way deal with Denver and New England that fell through at the last minute. Cutler would automatically become the best QB we've seen in Detroit since Bob Gagliano. Or Bobby Layne. The Lions have the ammo to get Cutler, if – and it’s a BIG if – Denver is willing to draft Cutler's replacement with one of the Lions' first round picks. Otherwise, the Lions have to find a third trading partner who will give the Broncos a QB. I'll go out on a limb, and say we'll see Cutler in Detroit by draft day. Then again, I thought Allen Iverson would fit in with the Pistons, and we all know how well that worked out...

Eno: Well! We'll just have to wait and see, I guess. I wouldn't compare a Cutler acquisition to that of Iverson, but I see where you're going. It's clear that one team Cutler won't be with is Denver. That situation seems irreparable. Do you agree with me that Stafford is the Lions' guy at No. 1 overall?

Big Al: If the reports of Stafford's having a kick ass private workout with Detroit is any indication, then yes, he is the number 1. it just a smokescreen? Maybe the Lions are playing up Stafford is their guy to make another team panic, and offer up a kings' ransom in trade? Or to interest the Broncos in taking the first pick overall in return for Cutler? Subterfuge abounds in NFL circles. But if taken at face value, Stafford is the Lions' man...for now, anyway.

Eno: Heard Tom Lewand on the radio yesterday and he says that it's hard to trade the No. 1 overall. OK, how about some WordAss, Alfred?

Big Al: Works for me; let's lock and load for some WordAss!


Eno: OK, here we go....first up: a guy I trashed at OOB Wednesday – Red Wings d-man Niklas Kronwall.

Big Al: Time to STEP UP YOUR GAME! Kronwall looked to be ready to take the next step, so to speak, after his performance in last season's Stanley Cup playoffs. Instead, he's taken a step back. The Wings need all their D-men playing well to defend the Cup. I'm not confident they will.

Eno: Next: the OTHER kid Tigers pitcher we alluded to: reliever Ryan Perry.

Big Al: Zumaya redux, but not with the same baggage. Perry apparently has a million dollar arm, like Zumaya, but not the same 10 cent head, unlike Zumaya. I can't wait to see Perry pitch in a setup role. Perry needs to come through if the Tigers plan on contending, as we all witnessed the implosion of the '08 bullpen.

Eno: One more: I say, ‘Will the Pistons make noise in the playoffs?’ and you say.....

Big Al: Only if they face Orlando in the first round. Otherwise, it's one and done for the Pistons. OK, I’m up. Let's start with the Tigers' likely near full-time DH, Marcus Thames. I ask, how may home runs and RBI we see frm Thames, you say...

Eno: If he gets 400 AB, 25/75. If he gets 500 AB, 35/90. Thames can hit home runs with one arm tied behind his back. It's great to have such a weapon, especially in the late innings when only a home run will do.

Big Al: That actually sounds about right. Next, the man who's brave enough to step into one of the most pressure-filled gigs in sports, thanks to their loony fanbase, the Kentucky head basketball job, John Calipari.

Eno: I think that after his failed NBA experience, nothing can really faze Calipari, clearly. I would say to him, "Good luck to you, sir."

Big Al: Indeed. He's going to need it. One plus though: he'll now be on a first-name basis with known hottie and Wildcat fan, Ashley Judd. Next, let's go with the newest member of the Tigers' bullpen, Nate Robertson.

Eno: Nate, Nate, Nate. Tsk, tsk. Actually, this may not be bad, although he's likely to be a long reliever, i.e. he'll only pitch during garbage time, most likely. Got any more?

Big Al: One more, actually. Yes or no, the Pistons' new secret weapon, and current member of the rotation, Will Bynum.

Eno: Yes or no, in terms of do I like him? YES! Yes or no, in terms of his getting playing time? YES! Yes or no in terms of, is he the real deal? Y---not sure.

Big Al: Well, he's under contract for next year, so if Michael Curry could keep a rotation intact for more than a week, we'll soon see if Bynum is the real deal. Before we name our Jerk of the Week, anything else you'd like get off your chest?

Eno: Hmmm....well, I suppose we should touch on Rich Rodriguez's U-M team, which just had some spring drills. QB Nick Sheridan fractured his leg. Any U-M football musings?

Big Al: If anyone though Sheridan's injury affects the Wolverines very much, then they didn't watch him struggle to throw a spiral, let alone complete a pass last season. From all accounts, Sheridan is a hard worker, and a nice kid, but he isn't a Big Ten talent. Freshman Tate Forcier is going to be the starter in '09. You can book it. He's the dual threat QB RichRod's offense needs to run at 100%, though we may not see it for another season. There's going to be a ton of pressure on Forcier to lead the Wolverines to a winning season. I hope he's up to it.

Eno: I knew I could rely on you for some introspective U-M football stuff! OK, my friend, it's that time.....Jerk of the Week!! Tag, you're it!


Big Al: My Jerk of the Week is all of the national media who all but wrote off the Big Ten, and specifically the Spartans, in the NCAA Tournament. I don't think a single "expert" thought MSU could even stay within twenty points of Louisville, expecting the Spartans to get steamrolled. Yeah, right. If there is one thing I've learned over the years, it's to never, I repeat, NEVER, bet against a Tom Izzo-coached team in the NCAA Tournament. I guess the media will never learn. Who's your Jerk, my fellow Jerk?

Eno: I agree with that choice, by the way. Even Izzo got steamed Tuesday when talking about the lack of respect for the Big Ten. My jerk? None other than Jay Cutler, believe it or not. It occurred to me that had Cutler not acted like a petulant child with skin as thick as an onion, then none of this trade talk would be happening. New coach Josh McDaniels didn't play it right, either, upon his arrival to Denver, but this is professional sports, Jay! It's a business! Like Bob Sugar said in Jerry Maguire: "It's not show FRIENDS, it's show BUSINESS."

Big Al: You had me at hello, Eno. Which means we've come to the end of another meeting of the Knee Jerks. As Alfred the Butler would say...Well, I don't know what he'd say, other than, "It's Commissioner Gordon on the phone, sir." And that has nothing to do with sports, or the Knee Jerks!

Eno: No, but I liked it! Take care, pal! See you as we celebrate MSU's national championship next week!

Big Al: Your mouth to the Basketball Gods ears... See you at the same Jerk time, same Jerk channel! Now that IS something Alfred the Butler might say!

Eno: You're right!! See ya!

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