The Giants won the Super Bowl! But that’s old news. In this week’s AtD, we debate Johan Santana’s future impact on the Mets, Sydney Crosby’s reputation as the best hockey player at his age and the pros and cons of keeping Greg Oden on the Trail Blazers’ roster. Sports editor Allison Singer, arts & entertainment editor James Queally and sports assistant Michael O’Donnell are this week’s contestants. Senior editor Lauren Kohout is the ref.
1) What will the addition of pitcher Johan Santana do for the Mets this year?
AS: Immediately, picking up Santana will raise off-season morale. The Mets are notorious, and have been criticized, for their lack of trade action during the offseason. With the addition of such a promising player, the Mets are probably eager to get back on the field and see what this guy can do. In the long run, I can see Santana being exactly what the Mets need to drive the team far into the postseason. His changeup, which has been hailed as the best in the game, is going to make a solid addition to the starting rotation. The only hesitation I have is the questions that have been raised about Santana’s health – while a healthy, strong Santana could push the Mets into the Series, a down-and-out Santana could do nothing for the team other than be a huge, huge waste of money and a morale-buster.
JQ: Santana will help them amass an even larger lead before they hand the NL East crown to the Phillies in late September. Kidding aside, Santana gives them a credible ace who is not injury-prone or beyond his prime (here’s looking at you Pedro). Santana also brings a legitimate amount of experience to help mentor young John Maine and Oliver Perez, the starters whom the Mets’ future will be based around when Martinez and El Duque succumb to injuries and age. He’s also one of those rare pitchers who can bat, so Shea Stadium patrons won’t collectively groan when the No. 9 man steps into the batter’s box. Of course, the Mets’ inconsistent offense will need to find some kind of rhythm this season if Santana is to be effective. His 15-13 record last year came as a result of a lethargic Twins offense, and the Mets can ill-afford to waste his starts courtesy of dull bats. Overall, Santana can only help a resurgent Mets squad in ’08.
MO: Pending Santana actually passes his physical and agrees on a contract with the Mets, the addition of Johan Santana is absolutely huge. This takes them straight from the category of contender to sure-fire frontrunner. Combined with Martinez, El Duque and young upstarts Maine and Perez, New York has possibly the best starting rotation in all of baseball. Santana brings to the Mets a two-time Cy Young Award winner, a two-time lowest ERA holder, a three-time strikeout leader and the leader in WHIP for the past four seasons. Santana is a difference-maker.
LK: Queally gets 3 for pointing out that the Mets still need offense to do any damage and for the Phils comment. Allie gets 2 for questioning his health and pointing out his changeup while Mike gets 1 for saying the Mets have the best rotation in baseball – it’s way too soon to make calls like that.
2) Is it possible that Sydney Crosby is the best player at his age of all time?
AS: The only way to refute that Crosby is possibly the best player at his age of all time is to name a player who is or was better than him at the same age. I’ve thought about it, I’ve read up on it and I can’t do that. What other 20-year-old hockey player has the numbers, work ethic, skill and recognition he does? When Wayne Gretzky calls you out as “the best player in the game,” you know you’ve got something going for you. Who am I to argue with Gretzky and the better part of the sports world?
JQ: “The best” is a lofty statement to make, but he’s up there. He did break Mario Lemiuex’s benchmarks for points and assists as a rookie back in 2005. He has won too many awards for me to ramble off without going over the word limit, but there is a short one that sticks out: MVP. Crosby has become the best hockey player on the face of the earth in just two short seasons. While this does trump the rookie accomplishments of greats like Lemieux and Eric Lindros, he still has to overcome “The Great One.” Let’s not forget, Gretzky chalked up a terrifying eight MVP titles in a row to start his NHL career, and has better point and assist totals than Crosby. By the numbers, Gretzky would win this argument but let’s not forget, Gretzky had two years of professional hockey play before his debut in the NHL; Crosby did not. This is a damn hard call to make but I’m going to go with Crosby simply because Gretzky was given a head start in the World Hockey Association.
MO: Crosby is indeed the best hockey player at his age of all time. When you are compared to “The Great One,” you may have some talent, but those are also big shoes to fill. Crosby has shown he can do that by averaging nearly 40 goals and 70 assists per year in his first two years in the NHL. That type of production shows he is ready to take charge of a team that has gone by the wayside since the departure of all-time greats Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. Crosby has not only lit the ice on fire inside the arenas (without it melting, of course), he’s also adjusted and matured into the life of a full-fledged superstar. For some, that can be extremely difficult and taxing, and it can eventually be too much too soon. But Crosby takes it in stride, and he is world-renowned as arguably the greatest all-around ambassador of the game of hockey today.
LK: Queally gets 3 again for pointing out Gretzky’s head start. Mike, I’m not really sure if you can call Crosby the greatest all-around ambassador just yet, but I like your input for 2 points. Allie gets 1.
3) The Trail Blazers have put together a solid and successful team on the court without the help of young Greg Oden. Should the Blazers bother seeing if Oden meshes with the team later or should they use him as trade bait now?
AS: People always say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – however, that’s not the case here. The Trail Blazers are having a great season, and maybe they don’t need Oden’s help to stay successful. However, trading him before he hits his peak would be giving another team ammunition to shoot the Blazers down in the future. He’s learning from the bench and staying focused on the day he can put on a Blazers jersey and actually play the game. They’ve got a potentially powerful weapon brewing in Oden and there’s no reason to give him away because he might not “mesh.” As a Buckeye, he proved he’s a fantastic player who will do whatever he can to contribute. General Manager Kevin Pritchard made his player selections in order to craft a successful team out of young talent. Trading Oden, a talented 20-year-old with a future brighter than the sun, out of fear of him not meshing would be a mistake.
JQ: NO! Here’s a lesson in geography. The Blazers play in the Western Conference, where monsters like Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Pau Gasol roam free and obliterate teams without a solid big man. While LaMarcus Aldridge and Channing Frye have done an admirable job filling in under the boards, this team still lives and dies by Brandon Roy, and they need a physical force down low. Oden can’t run because of the knee injury, but he said he’s been lifting a lot and gained 20 pounds of muscle mass because he’s been spending his days either doing rehab work or lifting. Oden is a legit 7-foot terror who when fully healthy makes Portland, on paper, a threat out West. Portland will not trade him. Only Isiah Thomas would be dumb enough to make a move like that and (fortunately for Blazers fans) he’s my village idiot, not theirs.
MO: The Blazers should absolutely NOT trade Greg Oden. Rewind to the NBA Draft back in June of last year and Oden was being touted as the future of the Portland Trail Blazers. Then, the grim news of his impending microfracture surgery on his ailing knee put those grand plans on hold. The Blazers were supposed to do nothing, but they have made something of themselves and are serious playoff contenders. Just because of that, Portland should not think trading away possibly the next truly great center is the right thing to do. They would and will only grow and get better with Oden and may seriously contend in the Western Conference. The 20-year-old Oden led his Buckeyes in his freshman year to the NCAA Championship Game and led them with 15.5 points per game, 9.7 rebounds per game and a stellar 3.5 blocks per game. He is a game-changer, and he will only improve through time and experience. Why would you want to mortgage the greatest potential reward in your franchise’s lackluster history?
LK: Everyone had generally similar answers but I’ll give the 3 to Queally, who is on fire this week, for saying exactly why the Blazers still need Oden. I’m truly torn Allie and Mike – 2 points each? We’ll have a cage match if it’s a problem.
With a 9-5-5 three-question sweep, Queally takes home the title.