Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Have the Redskins really changed?

Do you know a single Redskins fan who had a problem with the team's offseason strategy? OK, so maybe relying on Rex Grossman and John Beck wasn't the best of ideas, but not selecting a quarterback is also what enabled the Redskins to end up with several quality picks while selecting 12 players in last year's draft. The other moves?

- Dealt Albert Haynesworth to the Patriots for a fifth-round pick in 2013.
- Traded Donovan McNabb to the Vikings for a sixth-round pick in 2012 and a conditional pick in 2013.
- Signed Oshiomogho Atogwe to a five-year, $26 million deal ($9 million guaranteed).
- Signed Stephen Bowen for five years, $27.5 million ($12.5 million guaranteed).
- Re-signed Jammal Brown for five years, $27.5 million ($8.25 million guaranteed).
- Acquired Tim Hightower from the Cardinals in exchange for Vonnie Holliday and a late-round draft pick.
- Agreed to terms with Chris Chester on a five-year, $20 million contract ($6.5 million guaranteed).
- Signed Barry Cofield for six years, $36 million ($12.5 million guaranteed).
- Traded Jeremy Jarmon to the Broncos for Jabar Gaffney.
- Brought back Santana Moss with a three-year, $15 million deal ($6 million guaranteed).
- Signed Josh Wilson to a three-year, $13.5 million deal ($6 million guaranteed).
- Signed Sav Rocca.

I believe that's most of the Redskins' non-draft moves last year. Nothing too horrible, right? Getting anything of value for Haynesworth and McNabb was surprising given their awful tenures in Washington. The Atogwe signing doesn't look that great, and he may end up as a cap casualty (in part because of the presence of DeJon Gomes). It also doesn't help that he hasn't been able to stay healthy. Moss took a step back last season and finished with the lowest receiving yards in a season (584) since 2002-2003 when he had just 433. He also missed four games with a broken hand. Brown wasn't that special either and could be replaced if the Redskins draft a tackle or sign one via free agency.

But the Bowen, Cofield, Wilson, and Rocca signings were all upgrades, and Chester played competently at times in the Redskins' stretch-running attack. They also picked up Hightower and Gaffney for basically nothing since Holliday and Jarmon weren't going to make the final roster anyway.

So are you buying the argument that the Redskins aren't the "same old" team? ESPN's Dan Graziano argues that point and also that signing Peyton Manning wouldn't require a shift in this new, different philosophy:
In the meantime, there is free agency, and although the Redskins didn't make a big splash last summer, they did very well in free agency. Shanahan targeted specific players in the 27- to 29-year-old age group -- guys he believed were already established but still young and hungry enough to grow and develop with the team. He plans to use the same formula this year to address wide receiver, offensive line and the secondary. He's not after the biggest name out there. He's after the specific types of players he believes his team needs in order to build a consistent, year-to-year winner.

Which brings us back to Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Shanahan's not going to give Manning a big, five-year, huge-money deal. I don't think anyone is, given the health concerns, but if the market gets that crazy, I don't expect the Redskins to play in it. It just wouldn't be smart. Bringing Manning in on a one-year or two-year deal with incentives to allow him to prove he's healthy is smart, because if Manning is healthy, he's worth as much as any quarterback in the league.
I'm on record as being against a potential Manning deal, but I also agree with Graziano that bringing in Manning could work, depending on the contract, its length, and whatever other moves the Redskins make in free agency and in the draft. If the Redskins do sign Manning, they also must draft a young quarterback at some point, along with not going overboard by simply building the team around Manning. After all, his career could be over in the near future, if it's not already over (which hopefully is not the case).

At the moment, I'm on board with the direction of this team. The Redskins weren't much fun to watch last season, but they also are building a young, talented nucleus -- something they haven't done for a long time. I loved just about everything from the 2011 offseason, but I won't be completely convinced in the direction of this team until seeing what they do in the next few months. There are several important choices to make, primarily what exactly to do at quarterback, but that's also why Shanahan is making big money.

Friday, February 17, 2012

On Danny O'Brien and Maryland football transfers

Editor’s note: This post was written by friend of the blog and Terps aficionado Walt Williams -- no, not that Walt Williams. Follow him on Twitter here. Thoughts and opinions are his own.

Earlier this week, now-former University of Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien announced his plans to transfer, along with two of his now-former teammates (offensive tackle Max Garcia and defensive back Mario Rowson). These transfers raise the number of players who have decided to leave the program to 12 since the team’s disastrous 2-10 campaign ended three months ago, and 24 since head coach Randy Edsall took over the program a year ago. By comparison, Penn State has had no players transfer (to the best of my knowledge) since they ended an even more tumultuous (although more successful on the field) 2011 season than the Terrapins suffered through.

As expected, fan reaction to O’Brien’s announcement this week varied greatly from those who were happy to see him move on and wished him well, to those who were indifferent and to borrow a phrase from Edsall, excited to see the “C.J. Brown era” begin. For his part, Edsall made two sets of comments on the situation. One, in the form of a press release, and another in the form of an interview with CSN Washington’s Chick Hernandez. Edsall failed to come off well by taking some needless cheap shots at the departing players in his print statement (“Danny told me that he is not committed to our program, that he is not ‘all in.’”) and appearing to be petty when the issue of the players not being cleared to transfer to Vanderbilt and former head coach-in-waiting James Franklin if they desired (“But usually what’ll end up happening is there’s gonna be schools on there that you might compete against, or if there’s things that you feel might have taken place, you might put schools on that list. So we have that prerogative, to put those schools on the list. The players have the prerogative that if they want to appeal that, that they can appeal that as well.”).

There are a few pertinent issues that the strong anti-Vanderbilt stance raises. One is the implication (which at this point is baseless) that Franklin is doing something untoward regarding the Maryland program. Another is that the Maryland program and the coach that are tasked with going from good to great are going to be judged against Franklin and a Vanderbilt program that is trying to go from laughable to decent in the SEC (somehow Vanderbilt is ahead at the moment). Also, there’s the strong possibility that if New Mexico head coach Bob Davie shared the views of Edsall on players reuniting with former coaches, then Zach Dancel would have been barred from transferring to Maryland (and reuniting with former Lobos head coach and current Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley), possibly nullifying with it any chance of highly touted recruits Wes Brown (Brown lives with the Dancel family) and Stefon Diggs signing with the Terps. These points aside, this week’s events add to a long line of Edsall public relations missteps.

On the field, the latest transfers mean that Maryland will now be without its two starting tackles for next season (Garcia and the also departed R.J. Dill) and will have only one scholarship quarterback on the roster for spring practice in C.J. Brown, who while dazzling fans with his mobility also left something to be desired throwing the ball at times (in addition to being winless as a starter). The 12 transfers since the end of last season will also do nothing to help the transition Maryland will go through to their third offensive and defensive coordinators in as many seasons. This will obviously be a big factor in the team’s success in 2012, and I’ll talk more in-depth about it in a future post.

Earlier this month, though, the program, like others throughout the country, was able to look to the future with hope as high school seniors signed their letters of intent to play in college. In spite of their 2-10 record, Maryland was able to land a recruiting class ranked 35th according to, including potential program savior Diggs. The 23-player recruiting class as a whole averaged 2.91 stars, according to Rivals.

The similarity in the number of players entering the program as opposed to those who have left since Edsall became head coach (24 players have left the program, and including Dancel 24 have entered it) and the general apathy former head coach Ralph Friedgen’s recruiting classes generated gave me the idea to compare the recruiting rankings of the players who left the program with those entering it. Overall since Edsall has taken over, four 2-star recruits, 14 3-star recruits, and six 4-star recruits spanning across multiple recruiting classes have left the program. Including Dancel, the program took in one 5-star recruit, two 4-star recruits, 14 3-star recruits, and seven 2-star recruits -- that’s an average of 2.875 stars. The average star rating of the players who left the program is 3.08 stars. While recruiting rankings are always subjective and not necessarily indicative of how a player will perform, the fervor fans have over them makes this an interesting comparison.

How can Edsall complain about the overall talent and speed of his team and then have 24 players transfer while bringing in players on average who are more lightly regarded? That is a question many Maryland fans are eager to find out the answer to this upcoming season.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

O's notes: Angelos, Kim, Jones

Yesterday, an Orioles official shot down any rumors that Peter Angelos is planning to sell the team. Here's The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker:
Eric Bickel, a radio host on 106.7 The Fan in Washington, said Tuesday that he had heard Angelos was quietly discussing a sale of the Orioles. Bickel said Angelos was looking to sell the team but not his majority share in the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which broadcasts Orioles and Washington Nationals games.
MASN is probably worth more than the team, and the Orioles would be a significantly less appealing purchase if the network was not included, according to investment bankers familiar with the baseball industry.
Many fans were excited by the mere notion of Angelos wanting to sell the team, showing just how fed up they are with Angelos's stranglehold on the franchise. The O's 14 consecutive losing seasons are not just Angelos's fault, of course, but his unwillingness to make more personnel and front office changes or to try anything other than the status quo has been damaging. And for now, at least, he's keeping the team.


It's not official yet, but according to Roch Kubatko of MASN, Major League Baseball will void the contract of 17-year-old pitcher Seong-Min Kim. Basically, the O's failed to follow standard protocol in signing Kim, which led to complaints by the Korean Baseball Organization and then O's scouts being banned by the Korean Baseball Association. Kubatko also notes that the O's "could be facing some sort of punishment, and they will have to restart the negotiating process at a later date if they still want to bring Kim into the organization."

Some, most notably Keith Law, have stated that Kim isn't exactly a prized prospect, so the O's inability to follow protocol in this case is puzzling. It's possible that the O's are able to sign Kim at a later date, but hopefully they're able to improve their baseball relations in Korea. Simply signing Kim would be nice, but it's not worth breaking the rules and causing even more negative publicity. I respect that Dan Duquette is so focused on pursuing players internationally, which is something the O's haven't focused much on, but they still must, you know, follow the rules.


On Tuesday, the O's avoided arbitration with Adam Jones with a one-year, $6.15 million contract. He has one arbitration-eligible year left and then he's a free agent. Apparently Jones is seeking a contract extension, but according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, "the Orioles would need to offer him at least five years, according to major-league sources."

Does anyone think that's going to happen? Jones is an impressive talent, and at 26, he could very well have his best season this year. But he would have to improve in nearly all phases of the game to become a star player, and even so, the O's are not close to contending with him. Obviously that's not all his fault, but he may be a bit overrated by O's fans.

The O's could very well deal Jones this summer, when he'll still have one year of team control left. If he's putting together a fantastic season, he would be even more valuable, and that would only improve what he would command in a possible trade. The good news is that Duquette seems to recognize trading Jones only makes sense for young, high-upside prospects. He wasn't willing to part with Jones in a potential deal with the Braves that reportedly didn't include prospects.

Watching Jones is a lot of fun, and I've said before that he's probably my favorite player on the team. But paying Jones a chunk of money to be a decent player probably isn't in the team's best interest -- just take a look at Nick Markakis's deal. Jones may end up being more valuable as a trade piece.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Notes from the Wizards' 124-109 win over the Blazers

I didn't have a chance to watch the Wizards' game last night, so I was pleasantly surprised to check the score this morning and see that not only did they beat the Blazers, but they scored a whopping 124 points. That's pretty remarkable for such a bad offensive team.

Here are some interesting box score notes from the team's seventh win:

- Nick Young scored a game-high 35 points and shot an insane 7-8 from three-point range. Overall, he made 12 of 17 shots and committed just one turnover in 40 minutes. He also didn't have an assist, but, you know, whatever.

- John Wall played 41 minutes and had 29 points on 10-14 shooting. He had 5 turnovers but also dished out nine assists, had two blocks, made eight of nine free throws, and even made a three.

- Overall, the Wizards shot 60 percent from the field and outrebounded the Blazers 43-31.

- As a team, the Wiz were 9-17 on three-pointers. Without Young's threes, the Wizards shot 2-9 from long range.

- Every Wizards player had a positive +/- differential. Jordan Crawford led the way with +24. In 30 minutes, Crawford had 21 points on 9-16 shooting and chipped in four assists, three steals, and two rebounds.

- JaVale McGee added 18 points (7-13 shooting) and 11 rebounds. He also didn't commit a turnover!

- Other notable efforts: Trevor Booker had six points and six rebounds, and Jan Vesely grabbed nine rebounds and also had three assists and two blocks.

Not bad at all. Also worth mentioning: Since 1985-1986, the Wizards have shot over 60 percent and scored at least 124 points just seven other times. The most recent game came in 1993 against the Warriors. So, yeah, it's been a while.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

O's sign reliever Ayala, not in on Manny Ramirez

Yesterday, the Orioles came to terms with reliever Luis Ayala. Ayala will be another late-game bullpen option for Buck Showalter along with Jim Johnson, Pedro Strop, Kevin Gregg, and Matt Lindstrom (in some order).

Ayala, 34, has pitched in the majors since 2003. He had a bit of a comeback season last year for the Yankees, when he finished with a 2.09 ERA in 56 innings. Still, he was a bit lucky and wasn't nearly as good as that ERA indicates. Oddly enough, he walked the most batters per nine innings (3.21) in his career last season, and he also finished with an absurdly high left-on-base percentage of 85.7. There's no way that he'll be able to repeat that number, though duplicating his 50 percent ground ball rate would certainly be beneficial.

Ayala's deal is for one year and $925,000, and it includes a $100,000 buyout and a $1 million team option for 2013. The O's waited a little while and got a serviceable reliever for not a lot of money. Not bad.


Signing Ayala is fine, but the better news is that the O's are apparently out of the Manny Ramirez sweepstakes. Signing Ramirez would not have made much sense, and that's without considering his 50-game ban for previously testing positive for banned substances. He can only fill the designated hitter spot at this point in his career, and such a signing is really a luxury that the O's don't need. Ramirez could possibly have served as a decent DH platoon option with Wilson Betemit, but I also doubt Showalter would consistently employ that type of strategy.

Betemit will likely be the main DH, though that should also allow Showalter to keep some guys (Matt Wieters, Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis, Nolan Reimold, etc.) off the field but in the lineup on occasion. Lineup flexibility is important; apparently that's something that was learned from the Vladimir Guerrero signing.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Should the Redskins sign Peyton Manning? No.

The last few days/weeks, I've been reading countless comments on whether the Redskins should consider signing Peyton Manning when he's inevitably released by the Colts. As you are more than likely aware of, quarterback hasn't been a Redskins' strength for a very long time now, and things didn't go well with Donovan McNabb, Rex Grossman, and John Beck the last couple seasons. Many are convinced that not only is a major upgrade needed, but that it's immediately necessary. Enter Peyton Manning.

For the most part, these are the categories that opinions on this topic can be divided into:

1) Yes, the Redskins should do whatever it takes to sign Manning. They'd be crazy not to.

2) As long as he's healthy, Manning would provide a significant upgrade at quarterback. It's a risk, but it's worth the gamble.

3) No, it's not worth the risk, and it may harm the team's rebuilding movement.

I'm on board with group No. 3, which I'll get into below. I'm going to ramble a bit; hopefully you can follow what I'm getting at.

First, let's all agree on one thing: Quarterback is the most important position on the field. I think we're at a point where all football fans would agree with this. It's ideal to find a quarterback that's good enough to win with, and then to build a team around that guy. It doesn't always work that way and teams can still win games without elite quarterbacks -- just look at the 49ers and Alex Smith, who no other team was rushing to acquire -- but the rest of that team must be very talented, both on defense and special teams. Excellent coaching doesn't hurt either. It's always important to keep upgrading other phases of the team.

Still, people who are against signing Manning don't necessarily disagree that having a top-shelf quarterback is a must. He may still be that guy, but he also turns 36 in a month and a half and is continuing to recover from a neck injury that's required multiple surgeries. It's also not a positive sign when someone's condition needs weekly, or even daily, updates. Manning will probably continue to heal and get stronger, but is that an issue the Redskins really want to be concerning themselves with? The roster still needs to be improved in other ways, and it won't help if their quarterback is one neck-targeted hit away from never playing football again.

The Manning question looms large because of the limited quarterback choices this offseason. In reality, the Redskins were unlucky. Matt Barkley returning to USC for his senior season really threw a wrench into the Redskins' dreams of being able to acquire one of Andrew Luck/Robert Griffin III/Barkley. There's no guarantee one of those three would have been available at No. 6, but the odds were better. At this moment, the choices seem to be signing Manning or Kyle Orton, or trading up to draft Griffin. Drew Brees and Alex Smith are likely staying in New Orleans and San Francisco, respectively, and other teams seem to be better fits for Matt Flynn. Another name may be tossed in, but Manning/Orton/Griffin seem to be the realistic options.

Signing Orton would present a slight upgrade over Grossman, but he'd still be a stopgap option. If the Redskins sign Orton, they'd also likely select a quarterback in the first few rounds of the draft. If they're able to identify a young quarterback they believe is a fit, Orton could play for a while until the rookie is eventually ready to take over.

The thought of trading up for Griffin rivals the popularity of signing Manning. A trade for Griffin would demand at least two first-round picks and probably another high-round pick or two. But by paying that steep price, the Redskins would obtain their franchise quarterback to build around. Griffin turns 22 in a couple days, and to some he's not all that far behind Luck in terms of a pro quarterback prospect. Like Manning, there's no guarantee that Griffin would work out. But there's a huge difference between worrying about how Griffin will develop and learn to play the position in the NFL than believing Manning's career could be over every time he absorbs a hit from an opposing defender. And while the Redskins' offensive line was a bit better this season, they're far from a dominant unit.

Other than his injury -- which is the chief concern -- what are my reservations about signing Manning?

1) He would alter the team's upcoming draft strategy. I've heard some people disagree with this, and I'm not quite sure why. If the Redskins sign Manning, they'll have to do everything in their power to make sure the offensive line protects him. They will also need more offensive firepower. Those are two of the team's important needs regardless, but with Manning, they may focus on trying to upgrade those two areas early in the draft. It's also possible they reach for a few players in those spots to plug holes instead of valuing talent over position. With Manning on board, the Redskins could also wait much further to take a quarterback than they would if they signed someone like Orton. It's not a guarantee that would happen, but it's at least a mild concern.

2) The Redskins may shift to win-now mode, which means bad free agent signings. For the most part, last offseason was the ideal offseason for how most (levelheaded) fans want the Redskins to rebuild. The Redskins selected lots of players in the draft and didn't throw a ton of money at old players coming off career years. Oshiomogho Atogwe was probably the worst signing, but guys like Barry Cofield, Stephen Bowen, Josh Wilson, etc. (all well under 30) played well and should be able to contribute a lot going forward. But if the Redskins sign Manning and start worrying about winning now at all costs, that could mean switching that free agent mentality back to that old Dan Snyder-type thinking, which means taking chances on older players whose best days are behind them. That could mean reuniting Manning with Reggie Wayne or Jeff Saturday -- that type of signing. They may not be terrible moves, but they are ones that (hopefully) this franchise has learned from.

3) A clash between Manning and the Shanahans. This point is the main reason why I don't think it makes much sense for Manning to come to DC. With Manning around, Kyle Shanahan would essentially be superfluous. Manning is one of the NFL's all-time gifted offensive minds, and while Kyle Shanahan obviously brings a lot to the table, there's little reason for them both to be around at the same time. Would Mike Shanahan be willing to get rid of his son to bring in Manning? Would Manning and Kyle somehow be willing to coexist? And what type of offense would that team run? It's all very confusing, and it would be a huge mess to sort out.

Those are all legitimate concerns for me, though I don't have a perfect solution to the team's quarterback conundrum. I'm against them signing Manning, but I'm also not sure giving up valuable picks to bring Griffin aboard is infinitely wiser. In that situation, the team would likely still be pretty bad, so would Shanahan be able to keep his job heading into year four? And if the Redskins decide to bring in Orton and also draft a quarterback semi-early, that team would likely be no better than 8-8. And again, would Shanahan survive that?

Really, there's no obvious answer. But heading down the Manning road seems like something the Redskins have tried before. It didn't work with McNabb -- yes, Manning is better, but he's not really a much better fit than McNabb was -- and the Redskins wouldn't even commit to him longer than one season, which was pretty funny considering they gave up two draft picks for him. They've taken the sign-the-aging-veteran route all too many times in the past.

Just because the Redskins wouldn't have to surrender any draft choices for Manning doesn't mean such a move won't have any lasting effects on this team. If they're going to choose that option, they should understand the very real consequences that it'll blow up in their faces.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

O's ship Jeremy Guthrie to Rockies for two pitchers

When Dan Duquette, Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations, traded Jeremy Guthrie to the Rockies for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom, he accomplished two things: 1) he made a trade that wasn't absolutely necessary, possibly because it was the "best offer" on the table for Guthrie; and 2) he turned Guthrie, who turns 33 in April and is scheduled to become a free agent after this season, into two slightly younger pitchers who each have two years left of team control.

To clarify the salary info (courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts), Hammel will make $4.75 million this season and will have one final year of arbitration in 2013. Lindstrom will make $3.6 million this season and has a $4 million club option in 2013 with a $0.2 million buyout. But, as ESPN's Buster Olney pointed out yesterday, the trade wasn't really about money:
I sort of understand the deal from Duquette's perspective. In his first offseason with the O's, he's been concerned with quantity over quality when it comes to upgrading the team's pitching. Duquette hasn't made one major acquisition or signing, choosing instead to bring aboard guys like Wei-Yin Chen, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Dana Eveland. Hammel and Lindstrom should be helpful, but they're not likely to make the team much better than it would have been with Guthrie in the rotation.

It's also not Duquette's fault that Guthrie wasn't traded last season or before then, when his trade value was higher. Andy MacPhail had the opportunity to trade Guthrie a few times and chose to hold onto him instead. It was possible that Guthrie could have netted a couple prospects before the start of 2011 or at the trade deadline. But that didn't happen, and Guthrie remained with the Orioles.

If this truly was the best offer the O's received for Guthrie, they could have done worse. Hammel, who posted consecutive 3.9 WAR seasons in 2009 and 2010, has a chance to rebound on his subpar 2011 season when he struck out fewer batters, walked more batters, and posted a WAR of just 1. For comparison's sake, Guthrie never posted a WAR above 2.6. Pitching in the AL East will be a daunting task for Hammel and Lindstrom, but then again, pitching in Colorado is no walk in the park either. Lindstrom should also provide a decent late-game option out of the bullpen, which is always a bonus for a team that relies on Kevin Gregg to record outs.

It would have been ideal for the O's to acquire some youthful players with more upside, which is something Duquette hasn't done a whole lot of yet. The O's farm system needs all the help it can get. Duquette doesn't have the luxury of dealing with that many trade chips -- there isn't much to work with after Adam Jones or, gasp, Matt Wieters -- but if he's going to make other deals, he should be focused on any kind of high-ceiling prospect instead of an average-ish 29-year-old starter and an almost 32-year-old reliever. Maybe Duquette can trade Hammel or Lindstrom down the road if they perform better than expected, so a couple of prospects could be acquired then. But the O's aren't going to be good this season, whether this trade was completed or not. The goal is to be better a few years down the road, when Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy hopefully blossom into superstars.

For more on Hammel, Lindstrom, and the trade, check out posts at Baseball America, Camden Crazies, and FanGraphs.