Monday, July 14, 2008

Packers need to move on

I knew Brett Favre wasn’t going to stay retired. I wrote that on this blog back in March. This is a guy who has played through injury, illness and personal loss. I don’t know if that makes him a great man or a selfish child but there’s no question about what it means on the football field. He’s a warrior.

A few years ago the Green Bay Packers were at fault, they were more concerned with building for the future than winning with Favre. I believe Favre wanted out so he could play for a Super Bowl contender. The Packers weren’t at that level so he was seriously considering calling it quits. The Packers wouldn’t give him an out, and Favre didn’t want to anger his fans. If you read between the lines of his recent retirement speech it was clear that Favre was “tired” and the only way he’d entertain playing another season was if he was virtually guaranteed a shot at winning a Super Bowl. In short, Favre wants a ring handed to him.

Well, Brett, you had your chance last year. The Green Bay Packers got everything they wanted when the New York Giants upset the Dallas Cowboys to shift the NFC Championship game to the frozen tundra. The Giants were plucky but playing in Green Bay during the month of January was bad news, everybody believed the Packers were going to win.

And they should have, but the Giants played hard and had a chance to win the game with a 36 yard field goal at the end of the fourth quarter. So at the end of regulation it was tied, with momentum clearly on the side of Green Bay. The Packers won the all important toss heading into overtime and with Brett Favre playing on his home turf a third Super Bowl appearance seemed a given. At least until Favre threw an interception in his own end on the second play of the overtime period. The Giants returned the pick to field goal range, ran a few plays to center the kick and won the NFC Championship game. Then they went on to upset the Patriots and forever sully the only 16-0 record in NFL history.

Everybody keeps talking about how great Favre is but ever since his first Super Bowl appearance way back in mid 1990s he’s been a sketchy post season performer. Part of the problem has been a lack of talent around him, but the problems go beyond dropped passes and poor second efforts. Favre has been lackluster when it counts the most. He’s hurt the Packers with erratic play. Favre likes his “gunslinger” reputation even though his lousy passes and reckless decision making have lost more close games than they’ve won.

Now he’s hurting the Packers again. This time he’s at fault. Favre retired back in March and insisted that he was done. He stated over and over and over again that he was not going to change his mind and come back. So the Packers moved on. They threw everything behind Aaron Rodgers and committed the entire organization to starting the post-Favre era. Now Favre’s trying to come back.

There’s no question that Favre has every right to come back, but rather than play this cat and mouse game with the Packers he needs to assert himself and jump back in with both feet. He needs to be upfront about his intentions. If he wants to be released he needs to demand it. It’s not fair for Favre to put one foot in the water and expect the Packers to turn the ship around to pick him up.

A lot of people are on Favre’s side, they can’t figure out why the Packers seem reticent to bring him back as the starter. I don’t understand it. Favre’s becoming quite the high maintenance princess and his most recent performance really left a lot to be desired. Yeah, the Packers got to the NFC title game but Favre completed only 19 of 35 passes and threw two interceptions, one of them directly resulted in the Giants winning the game.

It’s clear that Brett Favre believes he is bigger than the Packers. If the Packers pass on Favre he could indeed come back to haunt them by playing with the Bears or the Vikings and the fans would be livid, but after all is said and done such a move would say a lot more about Brett Favre’s selfishness that it does about the ineptitude of the Packers’ front office. Favre’s best years are long behind him. It’s hard to say what’s older, Favre or his pay-attention-to-me act. The more this drama plays out the more I’m convinced that the Packers should have given up on Favre long ago.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

C-ya CC

CC Sabathia wasn’t a bad guy. He never got into trouble, didn’t create issues with his teammates and was always gracious toward Cleveland fans. He was also a very good pitcher for the Indians. That being said, from purely a baseball perspective, good riddance to him.

Everything you need to know about CC can be summed up with his performance last season. He went 19-7 and won the Cy Young Award for the American League. Then he stunk up the mound in the playoffs. Why? Because CC is a notorious rhythm pitcher who can be dominant for long stretches only to come unglued because of a rain delay. It would be unfair to call him a head case because he’s not outwardly loony but it’s pretty obvious that he does have certain psychological issues that make extended pitching slumps a factor in his game.

CC never really proved himself to be the dominant starter everybody in Cleveland had hoped for. He’s never won 20 games in a season, nor has he threatened to crest that vaunted 300 strikeout mark most power pitchers are held to. CC’s ERA was never eye-popping because of his tendency to give up runs in bunches when he gets off track. That’s not to say he’s not a good pitcher but CC is banking on becoming the highest paid pitcher in all of baseball even though his stats, especially those that measure individual performance, fall short of being the best.

There are some concerns over CC’s work ethic. He’s not exactly lazy but he does suffer from those nagging little injuries that can take him out of the starting rotation for a week or two and that’s when CC is likely to embark on a slump where he either can’t find the plate or he finds entirely too much of it. It’s a long season and power pitchers tend to tweak muscles along the way but CC’s a chubby guy whose weight more than likely contributes to his knack for getting dinged. Even if he manages to stay healthy, one has to wonder if he’ll ever be able to rise to the challenge of pitching in the playoffs.

Tribe skipper Eric Wedge stunned baseball analysts when he opted to extend his post season pitching rotation to maintain the continuity of the regular season. This was an attempt to keep CC on his normal pitching schedule. Most teams don’t do that and most pitchers don’t expect it. It’s the playoffs so you go out there and give it everything you’ve got night after night. Even so, CC struggled making the transition from the conclusion of the regular season to the playoffs. He got more days off between starts and it took the Sabathia Express right off its tracks. The result was another post season failure by the Indians. They lost as a team but it didn’t help that they didn’t get one solid performance from their so-called ace. Wedge exacerbated the problem by refusing to recognize that CC had left the reservation and minimize the damage.

So now the Brewers are banking on CC. Let’s hope for the sake of that franchise the gamble pays off. They gave up quite a few promising young prospects to acquire the temporary use of CC Sabathia. They know that they have no chance of retaining his services beyond this season and CC’s current salary is already pushing the team’s payroll past its limits. The Brewers are hoping that a pennant chase will drive attendance enough to help the club break even financially and that CC’s talents will drive the team deep into the playoffs. In all honesty this was a championship-or-bust move. The Brewers won’t dare speak of it but this trade was made to win it all. Anything less is failure.

The sad thing is that the Brewers can’t afford to fail. If CC comes up short…again…the Brewers will have sacrificed future stars for nothing. CC will end up with the Mets, or whoever else has 250 million to burn and the Brewers will be sitting on an aging team with nothing in the cupboard and nobody to trade. I don’t want to see that. I’m an Indians fan…I’ve been there. I don’t wish that on anybody. Except the Yankees.

Even though he’s gone, I’m pulling for CC. I want him to do well and for the sake of baseball I hope the Brewers do well too. If small market teams can find ways to win maybe the big market teams will stop trying to drown the league with money and actually resort to smart front office moves to build championship contenders. We can’t expect the League Office to do anything about it.

Of course, that won’t happen. CC Sabathia is a good pitcher, but he’s not great. The Brewers didn’t improve their chances enough to justify the trade and at the end of the year they’ll be kicking themselves for giving up so much for a hired gun with a soft head. Of course the Indians won’t be laughing because they still have too many holes to fill to be a serious contender. By the time the players they acquired in this trade start showing promise the Indians won’t be able to afford them either.