With Correspondent Jason Cantor wrapping up the first berth to the AtD Championship, Sports Editor Garrett Rasko-Martinis and Correspondents Dan Neyman and Mike McLoughlin will vie for the second spot in the finals. Staff Writer Michael O’Donnell will challenge our contestants to make their off-season predictions for the Yankees, argue if Big Blue’s season is in jeopardy and which NBA teams are most poised to win it all.
1. With the Yankees winning their 27th title, now it’s time for them to start thinking about the off-season. Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui each had huge impacts in the World Series, and are both rumored to be gone in 2010. Who should the Yankees keep between these two?
GRM: If the Yankees can, they should resign both, but that’s just not likely. Both players are searching for what is most likely their final contracts, so they’re going to probably want contracts in the two to three year range. But the Yankees can’t afford to take a chance on players who are both old and injury-prone. If somehow the Yankees could convince one or both of them to take one-year contracts, or one year with a team option, then they should resign them. But if they can’t do that, then they should focus on just Damon. Matsui can only be the designated hitter, and got fatigued even doing that during the season. His numbers were declining this season until he got to rest during interleague play. Damon can at least still play outfield. With Jorge Posada getting closer to not being an everyday catcher, they can’t afford to have an everyday designated hitter for much longer.
DN: Out of those two players, the Yankees should and most likely will keep Johnny Damon, signing him to a two-year deal worth around $16-17 million. Without Matsui in their lineup, no one knows if the Yankees would even be World Series champs. However, Matsui does not fit the mold for what the Yankees are trying to do. The Yankees need to get younger as a whole, and keeping an aging Matsui will not help that. While Matsui claims that he is healthy enough to start everyday in left field, at best, he is a defensive liability in comparison to Damon. Damon proved that he can still go out there and contribute offensively and with a weak free agent market for left fielders, the Yankees will re-sign him. The Yankees will be involved in rumors with Matt Holliday all off-season, but with so much money tied up in huge contracts (CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, AJ Burnett, Alex Rodriguez etc.), it just makes too much sense for the Yankees to re-sign Damon.
MM: If this question was asked at the beginning of the season, the easy answer would have been that neither Damon nor Matsui should be back. However, after outstanding postseasons, the question seems more valid now. It is important to look at the playoffs for what they are, roughly 60 at-bats. At no point should a contract be given out for such a small sample size. While Matsui has had a very productive Yankee career, there is little reason to retain him. He has passed his prime and is on two balky knees. Considering the Yankees have Posada locked up long term, they would be best served leaving the DH spot flexible to accommodate their aging catcher. Regarding Damon, it gets more complicated. Surely he will be looking for a multi-year deal, especially as a Scott Boras client. The Yankees have top prospect Austin Jackson in Triple-A as a potential replacement, but he would be best served with more development time. The free agent crop of Jason Bay and Matt Holliday will also come at a much higher price than Damon, and their ability to handle New York is untested. Ideally, the Yankees would sign Damon for a one-year deal with a team option for 2011, however I see the Yankees caving in and guaranteeing the second year. Not the greatest deal in terms of value, but cheaper and safer than the alternatives.
MO: Mike gets the 3 here for looking at every single angle of these two players and the options that surround them. Garrett gets the 2 for discussing how it may be difficult since both guys are going to want multi-year contracts in their old age. Dan, your answer was just the weakest of three strong answers. One point.
2. The New York Giants have lost three games in a row, and are on the verge of falling too far behind in the NFC East. Should they be concerned? And what needs to be fixed?
GRM: The Giants most certainly should be concerned, but it’s not time to panic yet. There is still time to turn the season around. The Giants have only beaten four of the worst teams in the NFL, and a Cowboys team that had not established the dominant passing game they’ve seen the last couple of weeks. First and foremost, Eli Manning needs to reestablish the offensive rhythm he showed early in the season. Manning looked as good for the first five weeks of the season as I’ve ever seen him play, and he was making an inexperienced receiver core look very good. The Giants need Brandon Jacobs to start being the strong contributor he’s been the last two seasons. They also need to include Kevin Boss more into the passing game. On defense, they have to get pressure on the quarterback or opposing teams are going to keep carving up their weak and beaten-up secondary. The Giants desperately need Michael Boley back at linebacker and Aaron Ross at cornerback for this defense to get back on track. The Giants are not the best defense in football, but they should not be surrendering 100-plus points on three games.
DN: If I were the Giants, I would be panicking right about now. They are currently sitting third in the NFC East, and have faltered as of late, while both the Eagles and Cowboys have been on an absolute roll. The Giants also have a very tough schedule ahead of them, including most notably the Falcons, Broncos, Cowboys, Eagles, and Vikings. I’m assuming that Eli Manning has simply forgotten what team he plays for because his throws are all over the place, and the Giants secondary hasn’t showed up for the past three weeks. Constant turnovers and sloppy defensive play have forced the Giants to play from behind, making their running game obsolete, and with a weak receiving core the Giants have not been able to fight back. In order for the Giants to get to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl, Manning needs to be consistent and the Giants defense needs to return to form.
MM: The Giants should definitely be concerned. First and foremost, their schedule the rest of the season is brutal. In their remaining games their opponents are 36-21. This tough-to-navigate schedule is compounded by the Giants’ offensive and defensive troubles. The loss of Kenny Phillips has really hurt the secondary, and the Giants have not been able to pressure the quarterback like they did in their championship season. Offensively, there are questions about the health of Eli Manning’s foot. Also, Brandon Jacobs has not been producing well, and Amad Bradshaw continues to struggle to hold onto the football. The Giants succeed when they run the ball and pressure the opponent’s quarterback. They are not doing either consistently, and may not have the depth to overcome the injuries and tough schedule.
MO: Dan gets the 3 for discussing the upcoming schedule as well as talking about the Giants having to play from behind. The Giants go to the air when they are in such a position, one that is definitely not their strong point. Mike, you get the 2 for also pointing out the grueling schedule as well as going into how the secondary has been a major issue. Garrett, another tough decision, but you were a victim of circumstance. One.
3. The Boston Celtics and the Denver Nuggets were the last two undefeated teams in the NBA. With both being picked as potential NBA Finals attendees, who has a better shot at making it to the big dance?
GRM: The Celtics have a much better chance of going to the Finals if for no other reason than they play in the much weaker Eastern Conference. The Nuggets showed last postseason that they have the talent to play with the best in the West, but they don’t have the talent to stay with the Los Angeles Lakers or the San Antonio Spurs. If the Celtics can keep Kevin Garnett healthy, they will have the chance to go much deeper this postseason and contend with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic.
DN: Assuming both teams remain healthy, the Celtics have a much better shot at making it to the NBA Finals. It’s nothing against the Nuggets, but the Celtics have a better chance simply because the Eastern Conference is weaker than the Western Conference. It’s too early in the season to start comparing records, but the most likely competition for the Celtics are the Cavs and Magic, whereas the Nuggets’ competition will be the Lakers, Spurs, and Suns. The Celtics have all-star talent at every position but center, whereas the Nuggets only have two all-star talents with Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, and no shooting guard. It’s hard to imagine a team coming out of the Western Conference with Anthony Carter as their starting shooting guard. The Nuggets are playing well and will most likely make the playoffs, but barring a major trade, I don’t see them coming out of the West.
MM: The Celtics have a better shot at making it to the Finals for two reasons. First, with the addition of Rasheed Wallace, their starting lineup is arguably as, if not more, formidable than it was when they won it all. Not only does Wallace give them some more size, but he also is another threat from behind the arch, a great weapon to have. However the second main reason the Celtics are more likely to make the Finals than the Nuggets is simply that they do not have to go through the Lakers to get there. The Lakers are still the best team in the league, undefeated or not. While the Magic and Cavs are great teams in their own right, the Nuggets will have a much harder time getting passed the Lakers, and that is why they have less of a chance to make it to the finals.
MO: Since everyone made the argument that the Eastern Conference is clearly the weaker conference, Mike gets the 3 for making the obvious point that Rasheed Wallace makes the Celtics the arguable favorite in the East. Garrett, you get 2 for stating the simple yet important point of Kevin Garnett staying healthy. Dan, your answer was just simple, obvious statements. Uno.
Mike wins 8-5-5