Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Random Thoughts (August 2, 2016)

A couple of things to share as I stare into the beautiful White Mountains.

***

The Chris Sale rumors were always a win-win for the Red Sox.

If Dave Dombrowski had paid a price that included Yoan Moncada and Andrew Benintendi, Boston would have added a perennial Cy Young candidate in the prime of his career.

Instead, Red Sox fans get the opportunity to watch those two super prospects develop into homegrown stars over the next decade.  Well, hopefully anyways.  You never know how prospects will pan out, even those prospects as highly touted as Benintendi and Moncada.

Benintendi has drawn the first chance to make it in the major leagues.  The seventh overall pick in last year's draft has joined the Red Sox in Seattle and has the chance to win the everyday job in left field.

The 21-year-old Moncada, a Cuban free agent who is a second baseman by trade, will reportedly get some action at third base and the outfield with Double-A Portland over the next few weeks with an eye on making an impact in Boston by the end of this season.

It's an exciting time to be a Red Sox fan as Benintendi and Moncada will be joining fellow young stars Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr., who all have already established themselves as All-Stars at the major league level.  The drafting and development of the Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington regimes has stocked the Red Sox farm system, and now the big club, with premium talent.  Dombrowski, known for dealing prospects for more proven talent, has so far judged the top talents in the Red Sox system to be untouchable and it looks like that decision will make Boston a serious contender for the foreseeable future.

***

The reports of Tom Brady's rage when he makes even the slightest of mistakes so far in training camp and the rumors that he will be working out with Randy Moss and Wes Welker during his four-game suspension makes me ready to put money down on him making a serious run at MVP when he comes back starting in Week 5.

***

Here's hoping Eddie Vedder sticks to the classics this weekend and also tries to limit the political bullshit as much as possible.

Honestly, I'll deal with his political rants as long as the set list is heavy on their best tunes.

***

Enjoy Andrew Benintendi's debut week.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Patriots Roster Projection (Version 1)

As the Patriots start practice today and begin a six-month journey that will hopefully culminate in the franchise's fifth Super Bowl title, here is my waaaaaaay too early projection of who will make the 53-man roster for Week 1 in Arizona.

Quarterback (2) - Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett

Obviously, Garoppolo is just keeping this spot warm for Tom Brady.

Don't be surprised if Belichick brings in a veteran quarterback to help with the load at training camp but I'd be shocked if he keeps more than Garoppolo and Brissett to start the season.

Running Back (5) - Dion Lewis, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Donald Brown, James Develin

Lewis, Blount, and Develin are all returning from 2015 season-ending injuries so their health will be worth watching in camp.

Bolden's special teams contributions will once again earn him a spot on the team.

I have Brown beating out James White, who struggled to shine when Lewis' injury provided him an opportunity to play last year.

Tight End (3) - Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett, A.J. Derby

I have Derby beating out Clay Harbor for now.

Wide Receiver (5) - Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, Keshawn Martin, Malcolm Mitchell

Barring a breakout performance in camp or injury issues, Aaron Dobson's time in New England will come to an end.

Offensive Line (9) - Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Bryan Stork, Jonathan Cooper, Joe Thuney, Marcus Cannon, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, LaAdrian Waddle

This initial projection has the Patriots saving some money by saying goodbye to Josh Kline and starting Tre' Jackson on the PUP list.

One potential surprise cut could be third-year center Bryan Stork who has struggled with concussions and other injuries.  Andrews did a fine job at center when he played in 2015 and rookie Joe Thuney can play guard or center.

Defensive End (6) - Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Chris Long, Shea McClellin, Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom

Despite the trade of Chandler Jones to the Cardinals, the Patriots pass rush should be in good hands with this group of defensive ends.  McClellin should also provide additional roster depth at linebacker.

Defensive Tackle (4) - Terrance Knighton, Malcolm Brown, Alan Branch, Vincent Valentine

There is some serious size in this group.  Knighton and Branch are proven run stuffers, Brown is coming off of a solid rookie season, and the rookie Valentine has the potential to contribute as well.

Linebacker (4) - Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Jonathan Freeny, Kamu Grugies-Hill

Hightower and Collins are All-Pro caliber players.  The only issue with them is their impending free agency.

Freeny is a decent backup who also helps on special teams.  Hill, a rookie, should make the team for depth and special teams.

Safety (6) - Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Jordan Richards, Nate Ebner, Brandon King

I think Ebner will be back in time from his Olympic Rugby experience to make the Week 1 roster.

Cornerback (5) - Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Cyrus Jones, Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts

No surprises at cornerback although if Ebner is not ready for Week 1, look for Jonathan Jones or E.J. Biggers to make the team.

Special Teams (4) - Stephen Gostkowski, Matthew Slater, Ryan Allen, Joe Cardona

Absolutely no surprises.

Random Thoughts (July 28, 2016)

As the Red Sox depart Boston for an 11-game road trip that will take them from Los Angeles to Seattle and then back to Los Angeles, it's time to realize that this stretch of baseball will likely play a huge role in determining the fate of their 2016 season.

After getting swept by the Tigers, the Red Sox start this West Coast trip against the Angels with a record of 55-44 which puts them in third place in the A.L. East, 2.5-games behind the Orioles, and has them currently holding a 1-game lead over the Astros for the second Wild Card playoff spot.

When they return home on August 9 against the Yankees, we should have a much better idea if the Red Sox will be a playoff team in 2016.

Dave Dombrowski, as usual, will be traveling with the team and listening to trade offers as they roll in before the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline.  Twitter, sports radio, and the local television sports shows will be eagerly anticipating news that Dombrowski has made a move or three that will significantly upgrade the Red Sox for the stretch run.

At least, the Red Sox need to emerge from the Left Coast with a 6-5 record to keep themselves afloat in the playoff race.  They can not afford to lose significant ground in either the A.L. East or Wild Card race.  The schedule gods were kind to the Red Sox up until now but starting tonight, they play 41 of their remaining 63 games on the road.  This trip offers them an opportunity to not only stay firmly in the playoff race but also to keep them from digging themselves a hole that they'd have to dig out of, mostly on the road, over the last eight weeks of the season.

***

Despite the sweep to the Tigers, the Red Sox did get some good news yesterday.

Craig Kimbrel looks ready to resume his duties as closer on the West Coast trip as he threw a second bullpen session yesterday in his return from knee surgery.  Kimbrel is scheduled to make a rehab appearance for Pawtucket on Saturday if he's pain free and then could rejoin the Red Sox in Seattle early next week.

Another possible reinforcement for a desperate bullpen is Brandon Workman.  Workman, who is coming back from 2015 Tommy John surgery, will pitch in a simulated game for Lowell today.  The 27-year-old righty was a solid member of the bullpen in 2013 but then struggled, mostly as a starter, in 2014 before getting hurt last year.

If Workman can get healthy enough to return to Boston by September, he could offer quality depth to the bullpen.

***

I'm happy for an NBA journeyman like Tyronn Lue, who spent four years as an assistant coach to Doc Rivers with the Celtics, when he finally makes it to the big time.

Lue became the head coach of the Cavaliers in the middle of this season after David Blatt was fired by LeBron James Dan Gilbert and guided the team to their first ever NBA championship.

James Gilbert rewarded him with a 5-year, $35-million contract this week to stay in Cleveland.  The deal will be worth significantly more than the $21-million Lue made in his 11-year career.

The pressure will be on Lue to keep adding championship rings to Gilbert's James' collection or he will be looking for work but it is a great story to see a man that has had to work hard for everything in his NBA career get rewarded for the journey.

***

Julian Edelman has come a long way in his NFL career.

Starting out as a 7th round draft pick who had to convert from quarterback at Kent State to slot receiver with the Patriots, Edelman has gone from role player who briefly saw time as an emergency defensive back to becoming one of Tom Brady's most trusted receivers who played a critical role in the Patriots winning Super Bowl XLIX.

Now it seems like Edelman is becoming a pop culture superstar as well.

TMZ has reported that Edelman has been named the father of Swedish model Ella Rose's unborn baby.  Edelman and Rose casually dated for two years.

Following the path of his friend and teammate Brady, it looks like Edelman has moved on from knocking up one beautiful woman to entering a relationship with an even more gorgeous woman as the man who caught the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIX is now reportedly dating Victoria's Secret model Adrianna Lima.

Hopefully, like Brady, Edelman's off-field life will not impact his on-field success in any way.

***

TheBostonInsider starts his vacation tomorrow.  I'll check in, infrequently, in August but will be back up and running as full-time as the birth of my third child and the start of a new school year will allow me in September.

***

Enjoy David Price tonight.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Patriots Random Thoughts (July 27, 2016)

Finally, it's football season.

Bill Belichick will highlight the Patriots that will speak to the media today at Gillette Stadium and tomorrow practice officially begins.

As usual, the spotlight will shine bright on Foxboro.  Belichick's troops are coming off their fifth straight appearance in the AFC Championship Game and are once again one of the prohibitive favorites to win the Super Bowl.  Despite what he will say to his players and to the media about the process of team development, Belichick knows that this team is fully capable of winning the fifth Super Bowl in his tenure as head coach.

Further media attention will be focused on the Patriots due to the four-game suspension that Tom Brady will be serving to start the season.  Jimmy Garoppolo, a third-year quarterback with no career starts, will be the likely starter in those games and his performance in practice and in the preseason games will be heavily scrutinized.

Garoppolo's ability to stand in for Brady for the first month of the season will have a tremendous impact on the 2016 season.  If he's ready to guide the team through the games at Arizona and home against Miami, Houston, and Buffalo than the Patriots will be in an excellent position to dominate the AFC and be in prime position to have home field advantage through the playoffs and make a run at their fifth Lombradi Trophy.  Even a 2-2 record in these games will put the Patriots in a good position.

Now, if Garoppolo can't at least earn a split in the first four games, the Patriots will be in for a battle to earn one of the top two seeds in the AFC playoffs and secure a first round bye and at least one home playoff game.  Brady is plenty capable of running ten or eleven wins in twelve games but a slow start will erase their margin of error early in the season.

Belichick's handling of the preseason snaps is also going to be interesting to watch.  Garoppolo will need as many reps as possible with the first team offense to get acclimated to leading the offense but Brady is also going to need reps because as soon as his suspension starts, he can have no contact with the coaches or his teammates so the preseason will be critical towards his preparation for his return in Week 5.  Rookie quarterback Jacoby Brisset, a third round pick out of N.C. State who is the presumed backup for Garoppolo in the first four weeks, will also need as many reps as possible as he's learning a new system that he's one injury away from taking over.

The Patriots schedule should help Garoppolo.  The Week 1 game in Arizona will be difficult but the Cardinals would have been a tough game even with Brady behind center.  The next three games, all at home, provide Garoppolo and the Patriots with three very winnable games.

***

Other than at quarterback, there are several other position groups that bear watching over the next few weeks.

Considering their responsibility for protecting the quarterback, the development of the offensive line will be very important.

Dante Scarnecchia returns from his brief retirement to mold a group that the last we saw was practically invisible as the Broncos defense pounded Brady in the AFC Championship Game.

Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are back in place at the tackle position with Marcus Cannon and LaAdrian Waddle expected to make the roster as backups.  Solder's season-ending torn biceps caused turmoil on the line, forcing Vollmer out of position to left tackle and exposing Cannon and Waddle at right tackle.

The interior positions are basically up for grabs.  Bryan Stork and David Andrews will fight it out for the starting center position and a battle royal will take place for the two guard positions between Jonathan Cooper, Tre Jackson, Josh Kline, Shaq Mason, and Joe Thuney with Stork a possibility there as well if he's beaten out by Andrews at center.

Scarnecchia has his work cut out for him as he has short time to develop cohesiveness and depth across the line that will be charged with keeping Garoppolo upright and then with protecting Brady for the rest of the season.

***

Keep a close watch on rookie cornerback Cyrus Jones.  The Patriots top draft pick this year, Jones will be expected to be the team's "nickel" cornerback as well as help out on punt return and kick return duties.

Jones had a prolific career at Alabama, winning national championships in 2012 and 2015, and now he enters the NFL with a team that is also a perennial title contender.

If Jones can be at least a serviceable cornerback and also take as many reps away from Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola in the return game as possible, than his rookie year will be deemed a success.

***

Enjoy Belichick's press conference today.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Celtics Fireworks May Still Be In Play

Every once in a while in the sports world, a small story can put events into motion that lead to a major deal.

The news that broke about Dion Waiters leaving Oklahoma City for the Miami Heat may just be the event that triggers the events that lead Russell Westbrook to the Celtics on a long-term contract extension.

Waiters departure creates the salary cap space that the Thunder need to sign Westbrook to a long-term contract extension.  The question is, does Westbrook want to stay in Oklahoma City for the next several years?

If the answer is no, Oklahoma City has to immediately start to shop their All-NBA guard around the league because they cannot afford to lose Westbrook in free agency with nothing in return after they just went through that scenario with Kevin Durant.

Enter the Celtics.

If Westbrook can be convinced to do a extend-and-trade to Boston (and according to Larry Coon, that is legal under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement), the Celtics have plenty of assets to send back to Oklahoma City.

Now, if I read Coon's breakdown of the CBA incorrectly, this is all a moot point.  But if he can be extended-and-traded and he agrees to do so to the Celtics, Boston would be in position to add an MVP caliber player in the prime of his career that would make them an instant title contender.

Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens, and Isaiah Thomas did make a trip to Southern California after the end of the Las Vegas Summer League last week, which led to rumors that they were there to recruit potential trade targets.  Maybe, just maybe, Ainge's Celtics contingent had the chance to meet with Westbrook on this trip and convince him that Boston was the best place for him to win championships.  It brings up memories of when Ainge traveled to Malibu to convince Kevin Garnett to accept a trade from Minnesota to Boston in July 2007 that led to the franchise's 17th title in 2008.

I'm not going to speculate too much on the possible package of players and draft picks that the Celtics would have to ship to Oklahoma City but a rotation consisting of Westbrook, Al Horford, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder would make the Celtics a serious threat to win the 2017 NBA title and make them a contender to win championships for the foreseeable future.