In the semifinals of the playoffs for Around the Dorm, the “Ref,” Brendan McGrath, challenges sports assistant Peter Fiorilla and correspondents Joe Caputo and Greg Oriolo to answer questions about who the Jets should get rid of in their eventual firesale, where the Blue Jays stand after an already eventful offseason, and when we will get to see hockey again.
1. The Jets had the most embarrassing quarter in Thanksgiving Day game history this week. What needs to happen for this team to turnaround? Is the problem the front office, the coaching staff, the players or some combination thereof?
JC: You cannot possibly blame one part of the New York Jets for this dramatic turnaround. A mere two years ago, with the same head coach, same quarterback and same running back, they were in their second consecutive AFC Championship game, beating the Patriots in New England in the process. However, what you can say with confidence is that the new pieces they have added since those championship appearances aren’t fitting with the old ones. Not to mention this season they lost their best receiver and the league’s best corner in the span of a week. Unfortunately, the Jets are past the point where they can turn this mess around with this group of players and this coaching staff. The team needs to be gutted around a core group of players on both sides of the ball. To me, Mark Sanchez is still a capable quarterback, he just needs something around him. They must get him an offensive line and a decent receiver. Defensively, obviously Darrelle Revis is the man to build around, but they need to get their pass rush back to the form it was in back in 2009. It will be tough to do this in one offseason, but it needs to be done if they want to return to being the winning team they once were.
PF: Assuming the Jets organization can actually engineer a turnaround without getting in its own way, which it is far more likely to do, this could come to fruition by canning general manager Mike Tannenbaum. I think at this point, his sins are clear: Tannenbaum’s last great move as a general manager was drafting Darrelle Revis in 2007. Since then, he has underperformed in the draft repeatedly, surrounded a mediocre quarterback with one of the worst receiving corps in the league, allowed defensive depth to grow old or erode and been a part of creating the Tim Tebow media frenzy which ruined everyone’s summer. Rex Ryan also signed off on Tebow, but considering the roster at his disposal it’s a miracle he has guided the Jets to a 33-27 record over his four years there. Woody Johnson has to recognize the ineffectual presence of Tannenbaum, replace him with a competent manager who values the draft, and trust that a coach as savvy as Ryan will reward faith with a return to the AFC Championship — or even, eventually, the Super Bowl.
GO: As a Jets fan, I can honestly say that there is not much that can turn this team around by the end of the season. But for future years, I believe that major changes need to occur at all levels, starting with the front office. GM Mike Tannenbaum has not assembled a team that can compete. The offense that he has assembled has zero weapons, a lack of depth at the offensive line, and those two quarterbacks that can’t throw. The defense is aging and has shown how dependent they are on one player. To compete in the NFL, a team needs to have quality players at every position and the Jets don’t have that because Tannenbaum has not been smart with money and has not drafted well in recent years. Along with Tannenbaum, Rex Ryan and Tony Sparano need to step it up. If Tannenbaum can acquire a few pieces that fill holes in this team, Ryan and Sparano need to make the most of this team and maybe they can contend like they did just a few years ago.
Peter gets 3 for realizing Tannenbaum’s lack of drafting prowess. Greg gets 2 for breaking down the positional problems. Joe gets 1 for Sanchez being capable.
2. The Toronto Blue Jays are making for one of the biggest offseasons in recent memory. Will their deals so far land them in the playoffs next season or do they need more?
JC: The Toronto Blue Jays are not ready right now to contend for a deep playoff run with the roster they have assembled to this point for one reason: Pitching. Aside from Brandon Morrow, who I think is the real deal, it is difficult to make a case how the rest of the staff will be able to keep this team in games. Yes, their lineup is instantly one of the best in baseball, but you can’t win a title without pitching, as the Giants have shown in two of the last three seasons. Without even getting to how bad their bullpen is (can you even name their closer off the top of your head?), let’s take a deeper look at their 2-5 starters. Josh Johnson is listed as their No. 2, but the soon-to-be 33-year-old’s return from shoulder surgery would be classified as nothing more than average last season, and I can’t see him improving much, not to mention the injury risk. Their third starter, Mark Buehrle, struggled to keep his ERA under four in the National League last year. Now he comes to the AL East, which always seems to inflate a pitcher’s ERA. In the No. 4 and 5 slots, promising young Ricky Romero’s ERA jumped by close to three runs last season, and Philadelphia reject J.A. Happ rounds out the rotation. If they don’t do something about this staff and bullpen, Toronto looks to be in for a rather disappointing upcoming 2013 season.
PF: General manager Alex Anthopoulos should be applauded for taking advantage of the misshapen Marlins, and only a few remaining questions about the rotation prevent me from favoring them in the hyper-competitive AL East. It only takes a glance at a stats page to realize the lineup is better from top to bottom: WAR, BAA and virtually every major statistic has improved as result of the trade and signing Melky Cabrera. I still have reservations — any team that depends on injury-prone players like Josh Johnson (60 innings pitched in 2011) and Brandon Morrow (124 innings in 2012) risks vulnerability, and the last pitching spots for the Blue Jays might be occupied by dependable but mediocre players including Ricky Romero (.2 WAR last year) and J.A. Happ (-1.7 WAR).That said, if the Blue Jays get full seasons from Johnson and Morrow — as well as adequate pitching to improve the AL’s fourth-worst defense — they are guaranteed an above .500 season. Having added a slew of superior batters that offer Toronto depth, I expect the Blue Jays to win 90 games and return to the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.
GO: The Blue Jays have had a remarkable offseason creating a great deal of excitement in Toronto. A lot of people think this team may contend for the playoffs, but I feel that they still need more help. First, they need to keep Reyes, Bautista and Johnson healthy. Each player is a superstar when at 100 percent, but was forced to miss several games over the last season or two. By taking one of these guys out of the lineup or rotation, the dynamic and strength of the team changes dramatically. Next, Melky Cabrera is a huge risk. If he plays as well as he did before his suspension, he will be a stud, but the likeliness of the same production in my mind is slim. Third, in a strong offensive AL, pitching depth is very important. Behind Johnson and Buehrle, the team has Morrow, Romero and Happ. These pitchers aren’t bad, but adding one more solid starter lets one of them to go to the bullpen, which would make the pitching staff much better overall. In order to make it to the playoffs, the team needs more depth in order to take the pressure of their stars.
Joe gets 3 for going one by one through the starting staff. Greg gets 2 for addressing both health and depth. Peter gets 1 for the vulnerability of the team’s reliance on injury-prone players.
3. The NHL will not play a game before Dec. 14. When does the league play its first game this year?
JC: The NHL will not play a game in this 2012-2013 season, and once again greed becomes the issue. Personally, I cannot stand the concept of lockouts in any professional sport, because in the end the league and players both end up losing money in a canceled season. Logistically, the reason I do not believe this season will take place is because of the size of the disparity between what the players and owners want. Comparing the numbers to last year, what was once 57 percent of revenue going to the players, the owners want to bring that down to about 50 percent. This is a very drastic movement in the numbers, and the main reason why I think it will take a lot longer to settle this dispute, not to mention a very large portion of the schedule has already been canceled, including All-Star Weekend. In the end, it will be another long, uneventful season for NHL fans that can ultimately be credited to the greed of both the owners and players.
PF:We aren’t seeing NHL action until next September, at the earliest. This would be simpler if there were only philosophical differences between the sides, like we have seen in past lockouts, but both sides are speaking the same language here. This is just a matter of money: both sides want a larger pile of the cash, and neither is willing to settle for the one with slightly fewer $20 bills. In other words, the owners want to slash players’ percentage of total revenue from 57 percent to at least 50 percent, while the players feel entitled to the amount promised to them after the 2004-05 lockout (and why shouldn’t they?). The nearness of the two past lockouts have made it clear the NHL, like the NFL during this year’s referee lockout, considers itself a big boy league above the criticism of media and fans — few owners (if any) will lose sleep over killing the season. Since the players are equally as stubborn, this lockout will slowly suck the enthusiasm out of hockey fans until it’s officially canceled in late January or early February.
GO: The NHL will not begin league play for quite some time and will not start until at least late January with the possibility of the whole season being locked out. Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr have not come up with anything close to an agreement that both sides approve of. The biggest issues are the $3 billion revenue split and player contract restrictions. These were similar issues that caused the NFL lockout which lasted over 100 days, and if it took the NFL that long, there is no doubt in my mind it will take the NHL at least the same length. Plus, the NFL had to deal with over $9 billion in revenue and much more pressure to start the season on time. There is not this type of pressure with the NHL, so who knows how much time they will take. Next, the NHL already canceled its two marquis in-season events, the Winter Classic and All-Star game, which are two huge sources of revenue for the league. Doing this shows me that the NHL does not have hope and the lockout will linger for quite a long time.
Joe gets 3 for diving into ‘greedy’ numbers. Greg gets 2 for his comparison to the NFL. Peter gets 1 for the difference between this lockout and others.