With two AtD rookies already going to the finals, it’s up to Managing Editor Bobby Olivier and Staff Writer Duncan Slobodzian to beat out Correspondent Drew Conn for a veteran presence in the AtD Championship. Sports Editor Garrett Rasko-Martinis will quiz our contestants on which MLB free agent will garner the most interest, which NFL players have been the most surprising and disappointing, and which sports icon would be most fun to spend time with.
1. Which free agent in the MLB do you think will be the most sought after and why? Where do you think he will end up and why?
BO: After scanning the entire MLB 2010 free agent list, one thing is very clear – this is not a star-studded class of guys looking for new contracts. The obvious answer is Matt Holliday, who will be pursued strongly by the New York Mets and other big market teams, but Angels’ starter John Lackey is garnering a slew of suitors as well. Lackey is currently being tracked by the Mariners, Brewers, Red Sox, Yankees, and Mets — as well the Angels who offered him a $72 million deal earlier this year. The Red Sox have touched base with Lackey’s agent, but the unlikely candidate Mariners will end up with Lackey. They dropped $40 million when Jarrod Washburn went to the Tigers, and Adrian Beltre, Erik Bedard and Miguel Batista are all free agents, freeing up another $29.75 million. The M’s are going to offer Lackey a monster contract and he is going to bite and stay on the West Coast.
DS: There are a number of household names on the 2010 free agent list – especially if said household is inhabited by die hard Yankees fans. Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Andy Pettitte are all among the free agent players. Of course, there is baseball beyond the perimeters of the Big Apple. And there are a number of marquee names to peruse. The one that stands out is Matt Holliday, left fielder extraordinaire. Holliday was a staple in the explosive Colorado offense for years. After moving to Oakland, then St. Louis midway through last year, Holliday is looking to cash in and settle down, à la Mark Teixeira from a year ago. I think he will land in a big market, seeing as teams from those areas have deeper pockets. My prediction is the Mets, who are in rather desperate need for a left fielder. Plus Holliday’s agent is the notoriously stubborn Scott Boras, who has a way of leveraging deals for his clients so that maximum interest is generated.
DC: Matt Holliday will keep the suspense going for a while, but he will ultimately sign with the Cardinals. They gave up too much to acquire him and won’t just let him walk away. The Cards are known as a “mid-market franchise” but they drew the third-most fans in the NL this past season — they do have the income to make this move. With Albert Pujols in his prime, the time is now for St. Louis to make a serious move. John Lackey will be the most sought after free agent and will sign with the Red Sox. They have already begun serious talks and, after getting embarrassed during last year’s off season, Boston won’t let him slip by. But the Dodgers are in desperate need of an ace and will give the Red Sox a serious run for their money and if they don’t resign Pettitte, the Yankees may as well.
GRM: Matt Holliday is an excellent hitter when he’s in the National League, but John Lackey is an ace pitcher with a great deal of both regular season and postseason success – he is the best free agent out there. Drew gets 3, for stating that one of the big-market teams is going to land Lackey. Bobby gets 2, Lackey is going to want be on a contender, and that’s not the Mariners. Duncan gets 1, because an ace like Lackey is more valuable than a hitter like Holliday.
2. At this point in the NFL season which player do you think is the most surprising success story and most disappointing?
BO: The most surprising story this season so far has been the resurgence of Carson Palmer as a top-10 quarterback in the NFL. After a 2007 season that saw 20 interceptions and a four-game 2008 season cut short by injuries, the Cincinnati Bengals became the subject of many insults and Palmer was all but forgotten, but this season, he has led the Bengals to a 7-2 record and the top spot in the AFC North. Palmer has completed 63 percent of his passes and has 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions in what has been a comeback year for him. The most disappointing story has been San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman. Coming off an injury, he was supposed to be a dominant force again this year, but he had no sacks until Week Eight, when he got two against the Raiders, and he is eighth on his team in tackles. His public problems with girlfriend Tila Tequila have just made everything worse and he is a big disappointment this year.
DS: Halfway home in 2009, it’s safe to say that running back Cedric Benson’s season can be filed under “most surprising.” Benson was more or less shipped off from the team that drafted him (Chicago), and left for dead in the NFL waters. He admits some culpability in the chain of events that led to his release after the 2007 season. Nonetheless, Benson has bounced back in a major way to rank sixth across the NFL with rushing yards. As far as disappointments go, I would single out the Cowboys’ Roy Williams. Formerly considered a bar-none No. 1 receiver, Williams’ production has seen a steady decline to the point that quarterback Tony Romo looks in two different directions before giving Williams a glance.
DC: The most surprising success story has to be Cedric Benson. I know that he had a strong finish last year, but this year Cedric Benson is one of the top running backs. Almost everyone wrote this guy off as a bust. During the summer, no one would have predicted Benson to be a top-three rusher this season and help the Bengals contend for the division. After all the drama and hype, Jay Cutler is, without a doubt, the most disappointing player. He made the Pro Bowl last year but looks like a rookie this year. Yes his receivers are mediocre but he has a solid tight end and running back. For some reason Cutler doesn’t have his head together and has killed the entire offense. People labeled him the “Bear’s missing link” but right now he is making Josh McDaniels look like a genius.
GRM: Drew gets 3 again – Benson has turned the Bengal’s offense into a potent balanced attack. Jay Cutler is definitely the biggest disappointment, at the quarterback position, the most important player on the field. Duncan gets 2, Roy Williams is a disappointment, but a team can pick up the slack from a struggling receiver than from a quarterback. Bobby gets 1 – I like the Merriman answer, but Carson Palmer playing well is not surprising, he’s always been a quality quarterback when he wasn’t injured.
3. Which professional athlete do you think would be the most fun to hang out with and why?
BO: At this very moment, LeBron James has to be the most fun to hang out with. Think about it — where is there the most fun to be had? The answer to that question is New York City, and right now James has the Big Apple eating out of his powder-filled hands as no restaurant or club owner wants to be the guy who kept James away from the Knicks. Walking through Midtown with James, we would cut lines anywhere — clubs, restaurants, prime tickets to sporting events, and even Broadway shows if James is feeling cultured. A night on the town with James right now would a night to remember.
DS: This is a no-brainer to me, and any fan who has paid attention to professional basketball for the last 15 years or so. The answer is Shaquille O’Neal. He is by far the most charismatic sports personality across the board, and one of the most transcendent to boot. As one of the most entertaining personalities, O’Neal has attracted a whole audience of fans apart from NBA devotees. Yes, I’m talking about the flocks of “Kazaam” DVD-renters who have let their voices be heard for the last decade. Perhaps the attribute that best qualifies O’Neal (also known as The Diesel, Shaqtus, The Big Aristotle, and most recently The Big Witness Protection) as the undisputed leading man in this category is his range of interests. Look no further than the backlog of the Shaq Vs … television show for proof. Plus, I’ve taken a virtual tour of Shaq’s house via MTV Cribs and I wouldn’t mind spending an afternoon, or two, there.
DC: LeBron James. Why? Just look at how I envision my day. In the morning, we meet for a shoot around — he dunks on me several times, I cry out of excitement. After practice we hit the weight room — I get to spot the King — and go to Shaq’s place to watch “Kazaam” and
“Steel” while his personal chef makes us food all day. Then we go to a club with Delonte West because he’s packing heat, but Cleveland sucks so we take a private jet to New York City. We meet Jay-Z and Beyonce at Hova’s 40/40 Club. I convince James to sign with the Nets in 2010. In return, Jay sets me up with Rihanna and signs me to the Roc. After several drinks we decide to find Braylon Edwards and rough him up. In the wee hours of the morning, we fly back to Cleveland and repeatedly prank call Kobe Bryant.
GRM: Duncan gets the 3 for picking Shaq when everyone else put James. As much fun as James probably is, Shaq has a mystique that can’t be matched. Bobby gets the 2, because the thought of a huge basketball player like James attending a Broadway show is awesome. Drew gets 1, because he only wants to hang out with James to leech off his lifestyle, not because he likes James as a person.
Drew wins 7-6-5