It’s time to separate the champions from the posers. In the first round of the AtD playoffs, Managing Editor Bobby Olivier will quiz some of the best contestants AtD has to offer. Correspondent Jason Cantor and staff writers Michael O’Donnell and Brandon Gould will give their opinions on Vladimir Guerrero’s future, argue whether JaMarcus Russell is a bust, and if Sam Bradford made the right choice staying at the college level.
1. Angels outfielder and DH Vladimir Guerrero had a solid post season, but his future is uncertain. Should the Angels re-sign him? Why or why not?
JC: As much as Vladimir Guerrero has done for the Angels, it would not be a wise decision to re-sign him to the long-term deal he is currently seeking. When Guerrero joined the Angels in 2004 he was in his prime. He won the Most Valuable Player and had one of the most feared arms in Major League Baseball. But Guerrero has not aged well at all. In an injury-plagued season the free swinger put up an unimpressive 50 RBIs and .334 on base percentage compared to a career .386 OBP. Guerrero will be 36-years-old at the start of the 2010 season. It’s quite clear that Guerrero is fading fast. Guerrero is now a full-time DH and his lack of plate discipline (only 19 walks in 383 at bats in 2009) means that he’s a poor fit for the small ball style the Angels like to play.
MO: The Angels are better off not signing Guerrero. His numbers have steadily declined over the last four years, and a more fragile body plus his increase in age could be the reason for it. Guerrero had his lowest home run (15) and RBI (50) output since he played in only 90 games in 1997. He batted just .295 in 2009, which by Guerrero’s standards, is not so good. It was the worst batting average of his career in a full season. The former Montreal Expo is a far cry from who he used to be, and his body will not even allow his subpar 2009 numbers to be replicated. In addition, the Angels have much more important things to worry about than re-signing Guerrero. Chone Figgins is going to command a huge contract this offseason due to his career year, and L.A. knows it is a top priority to bring him back. He can be replaced, possibly in-house and for less money, and with other issues the team needs to address, Guerrero should be on the outside looking in.
BG: Vladimir Guerrero had a solid postseason and it is no secret that the guy can hit. But Guerrero is 34-years-old and his best days are behind him. He only played in 100 games this season and 93 of those games were as a DH. His strong arm is no longer a factor of his game and his hitting is declining. I don’t see how the Angels can bring back Guerrero when they have more than enough outfielders who can still play the field or be a DH. Juan Rivera, Reggie Willits, and Gary Matthews can all step up into Guerrero’s role and won’t cost the Angels nearly as much. Plus, the Angels can use all the money they can get if they want to retain their best pitcher, John Lackey, who is also a free agent. It is unfortunate, but I think it is time for Guerrero to move on to another team.
BO: I agree with all of you that Guerrero is no longer worth a big contract, but I like Mike’s point that they will need to re-sign Figgins and may be able to replace Guerrero in-house – 3 points for Mike. Jason gets 2 for noting his lack of discipline as a bad fit for L.A. Brandon gets 1 for the vaguest argument of the three.
2. Oakland Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell is on the brink of being one of the biggest busts of the last decade. What does he need to do to turn it around before he starts making those dubious top 10 bust countdown shows?
JC: JaMarcus Russell has looked terrible. He’s been downright awful and the biggest embarrassment to an embarrassingly bad franchise. That being said, it is way too early to call Russell a bust. Last year was Russell’s first complete season. He had a mediocre 77.1 quarterback rating. However, in Peyton Manning’s first complete season Manning had an even worse rating of 71.2. We also cannot forget it took Troy Aikman three years of starting before he turned his career around. While I do not think Russell will ever be in the same category as those guys, it shows that he still needs time before he’s truly labeled a bust. JaMarcus has the raw talent … the speed, arm, and poise to be a great NFL player. At this point he has not been able to put it all together, but with his terrible receiving core as well as a lack of veteran presence it is quite understandable. Last year we were spoiled by Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco. However, history shows that most first and second year quarterbacks struggle. Football is the one sport that someone can go from hall of famer to bust in a week and vice versa (Mark Sanchez and Alex Smith), which is why it is way too rash to label a 24-year-old Russell a bust.
MO: You can’t judge JaMarcus Russell on his present situation. He’s in Oakland, and it’s a rarity to even have a good game if you play there. Russell has the luxury of being surrounded by nothing to help him on offense, and with a vote of confidence like that, how could anyone succeed? The former No. 1 pick does still have potential, he just needs a better environment to grow and thrive in. Even in the land of tyrant Al Davis, he’s shown flashes. He did have over 2,400 yards passing along with 13 touchdowns in an anemic Raider offense in 2007. He will never be able to truly grab the brass ring unless Davis decides to put actual talent around him, or trade him. Not that he’s doing it in 2009, but Russell can’t ever do it alone.
BG: JaMarcus Russell is a victim of the Oakland Raiders’ front office. Al Davis clearly does not know what he is doing anymore and his bad decisions are making busts common in Oakland. Russell’s 6’6” 260-pound frame may make him look like a dominant force, but he sure doesn’t play like one. After seven games this season, the former LSU Tiger has a mere 891 passing yards and only two touchdowns. Many experts questioned Russell’s ability when he came out in the 2007 NFL draft. He is never going to succeed in Oakland and I haven’t seen any evidence that a new environment would change his play. It is time to group Russell’s name with the likes of Joey Harrington, Akili Smith, Cade McNown, and Ryan Leaf.
BO: You all said that it’s not JaMarcus Russell’s fault, but Jason threw out a great stat with the Peyton Manning passer rating – he gets the 3. Mike gets 2 for discussing Tim Brown. Brandon brings up the rear again, sorry rookie.
3. Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford will enter the NFL draft after his season-ending shoulder surgery. How high in the draft should he go, and was he foolish for not taking the money when he had the chance?
JC: Sam Bradford had the right idea to go back and play his junior year. Bradford would have been an obvious 1st-rounder last year, but who knows how effective he would have been. Most successful NFL quarterbacks have more than two years of college football under their belts. It was in Bradford’s best interest to hang around another year. He may have missed out on a huge pay check, but the idea is to have a long and successful career, not just one big paycheck. Bradford might have missed out on a few dollars but I wouldn’t worry about him. He has the ability to be a top quarterback in the NFL for years to come. If Bradford declared for the draft last year he’d have had to compete with Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, and Pat White. This year is certainly a weaker draft class for quarterbacks. Other first projected first round quarterbacks include Jake Locker, Jimmy Clausen, and Colt McCoy. None of these guys have really separated themselves from the rest of the pack. This is why I expect that as long as Bradford can show up strong at the combine he will be a top-15-pick. So far the Rams, Titans, Panthers, Browns, Redskins, Raiders and Bills have shown severe weakness at the quarterback position. Michael Crabtree and Willis McGahee have proven that you do not even have to be healthy to get drafted in the first round. In Bradford’s case he has time to heal and show the scouts he is healthy.
MO: Bradford will be a top-five pick in the draft, and although he should go a little lower than that, he has that aura around him that has NFL coaches and General Managers salivating. His skill set is of a very high and rare quality, and even with his impending surgery, scouts expect him to make a full recovery back to his pre-surgical level. Bradford and Colt McCoy were pegged as the next big thing to potentially hit the NFL, and if surgery goes according to plan, there’s no reason to say the Sooner quarterback won’t come back in top form. As for the money, he wasn’t foolish for not taking it last year by entering the draft, he just wanted to play another year of college ball. For whatever reason, he felt that staying at school was the best decision for him, and who knows what’s best for Bradford better than Bradford? Maybe he felt he wasn’t mentally prepared, or felt he had something else to prove. Regardless, Bradford wanted to go back to school, and his dedication to the game of football has him locked at a top-10 pick. He’s going to get his money anyway, there’s no doubt about it.
BG: Sam Bradford has experienced the worst-case scenario of staying an extra year in college. Bradford’s decision to return to Oklahoma cannot be criticized too much, though, because if he hadn’t gotten injured the Sooners would be ranked in the top-three of the BCS. The Sooners have lost three games this season by a combined five points. With a healthy Bradford, the Sooners would be undefeated. However, I believe Bradford’s recent decision to end his career at Oklahoma and have surgery is a wise one. I still think Bradford will go in the top ten of the 2010 NFL draft and keeping that shoulder in top condition should be his number one priority. Quarterbacks usually go high in the draft and a lot of teams will be looking for new signal-callers in 2010, so luckily for Bradford his injury won’t hurt his stock.
BO: Jason gets the win with his point that Bradford will go high in the draft due to a worse quarterback class coming up. Mike gets 2 for making good points but not backing them up. Brandon gets 1 for assuming the Sooners would be undefeated with Bradford.
Jason wins 8-7-3.