Friday, October 27, 2006

The Mets in 2007...And The Perils of Losing Internet Access

I meant to post this some time ago, but unfortunately, I've been struck with a combination of computer problems at home (we had a combination of a squirrel chewing through the cable line and something I'm not tech-savvy enough to describe, so I'll chalk it up to "computer boo-boo"), and have been buried with work, thus limiting my goof-off time. So, as the St. Louis Cardinals are poised to become the worst World Series champions since the '88 Dodgers (by the way, that's not a dig against the Redbirds; I'd much rather be known as a weak World Series champ than a great team that didn't get there), here's my rather untimely discussion of what the Mets need to do for 2007:

1. Have Plans A through G for the rotation.

As it stands, the Mets are poised to head into 2007 with a rotation that looks something like this: Tom Glavine (who I believe will be resigned for something like 1 year and $12 million), John Maine, Oliver Perez, a free agent to be determined and Mike Pelfrey. Brian Bannister will be waiting in the wings, and Pedro Martinez will hopefully be shoehorned in around July or so. Steve Trachsel will be gone, and Orlando Hernandez may not return, to my wife's chagrin; she loves to call "el Duque" "Dookie"...which might be a more appropriate name for Trachsel, given how he pitched this postseason. It's too bad she's not more schooled in baseball terminology; she could make endless jokes about how he likes to throw the old number 2. (That's baseball-speak for a curveball, for those of you in Rio Linda.)

Here's the thing about that proposed rotation; it's got more question marks than the Riddler. A 41-year old, a guy with 24 career starts, an ultra-talented headcase who posted an ERA over 6, a rookie and an overpriced free agent. Waiting in the wings are the new Kirk Reuter and a guy being held together with spit and bailing twine. Yikes. I'm not saying it can't work; look at the upside: Glavine should have at least one more good year, Maine looks like the real deal, Perez has filthy stuff and appears to have harnessed it (if he can pitch that well in game 7 of the NLCS, he'll be fine), Pelfrey's got great stuff and won't be relied upon heavily and they should have the money to lure one of the top 3 free agents. But still, there's not a sure thing in the bunch.

I've harped on this before, and probably will continue to do so, but the failure to trade for Zito looks worse now than ever. Did that cost the Mets a berth in the World Series? Amazingly, it probably did not; offense, relief pitching and Tom Glavine in Game 5, the team's supposed strengths, were what let them down. It's hard to imagine any starting pitcher doing much better than Maine and Perez did in games 6 and 7. Only Steve Trachsel's complete and utter implosion in game 3 could have been averted, and even then, Jeff Suppan shut out the Mets. So Zito would likely have changed nothing. So why does it look worse? Look again at that rotation; there's not a 200 inning guy in the group. Glavine's a 6 inning pitcher, as is Maine (who I don't believe has the build or stamina to be more). Perez could be, but one has to assume that he'll be prone to the occasional train wreck, thus taxing the bullpen. Pelfrey will surely be on a 100 pitch limit (thankfully, the Mets organization seems to have learned something from destroying Doc Gooden's arm). The bullpen was taxed like a Massachusetts resident this year, and it showed in the playoffs. Zito's 200+ innings would have been a welcome addition. Instead of having a leg up in signing him, the Mets will go in as co-favorites with the Yankees and Padres.

I am not sanguine about Jason Schmidt; that declining K rate spells disaster for a power pitcher. Anything beyond a 2 year contract will be a poor investment. Daisuke Matsuzaka will probably be a Mariner. The other options on the market are uninspiring. Jeff Suppan has been mentioned, for example. If I was to point to one free agent as a "holy crap, he got HOW much?!?" candidate, it would be him. Suppan is a mortal lock to be dramatically overpaid by someone. One playoff series does not a superstar make.

So if the Mets can't get Zito, they need to go for quantity over quality; pick up a bunch of starting pitchers and hope 5 good ones stick. Bringing back Hernandez and keeping the underrated Dave Williams around would be good progress toward that goal.

2. Make a Decision on the Corner Outfielders.

It's hard to imagine that Cliff Floyd will be back. If he can be resigned for a bargain rate, wonderful. But Floyd's injury history, after a fairly healthy 2005 (150 games, his most since 1998), reared its ugly head once again. He's averaged 109 games per year and turns 34 next year, so that trend seems unlikely to reverse itself. Realistically, he should be DH'ing, with the occasional fill-in as a 4th OF. Moreover, the Mets desperately need another power righty bat in the lineup. Carlos Lee would be a perfect fit, but I think the Rangers signed him to a long-term deal. Endy Chavez is nothing more than a 4th outfielder, pinch runner and defensive replacement; as great as his defense was, his bat was a tremendous liability in the playoffs.

In right field, Lastings Milledge proved he wasn't ready for prime time. Will he be next year? The Mets would seem to have little choice but to find out. They decided he was more valuable than Barry Zito, so they might as well play him and let things shake out where they may. Milledge will be 22 next year, but has little else to gain from AAA. With other expensive needs on the roster, a cheap, homegrown option in right field would seem to be the way to go. Milledge will simply have to sink or swim. One good sign: he showed plate patience in the big leagues, after being a very patient hitter in the minors.

3. Find a Second Baseman.

Jose Valentin did a nice job as a fill-in at second base, but isn't a long-term solution. He wore down as the season went on, which shouldn't be a shock considering he's 37 years old. The problem with that is that Valentin struggled mightily as a utility player. So, he can't be played everyday, because he'll wear down, but he can't play sporadically, because he needs to get into a hitting groove. The ideal solution might be to let Valentin man the position for 120 games or so, and work Anderson Hernandez in steadily, in the hopes that his bat will catch up with his glove.

4. Beef Up the Bench.

The Mets' weak bench was exploited in the NLCS. Julio Franco is the team's only reliable pinch hitter, and he can't play forever (or can he?). Endy Chavez and Chris Woodward are valuable players for their defense and ability to play multiple positions, but neither is going to give the team a big hit off the bench. A good right-handed bat who can make the opposition pay for bringing in a left-handed specialist would be very helpful.

Note that I'm not concerned about David Wright. Yes, he was lousy in the playoffs. Yes, he was clearly nervous. Well, why shouldn't he be? He's a young player in the playoffs for the first time. It happens. He'll be fine. I'm less optimistic about Aaron Heilman. The track record of relief pitchers who give up big playoff home runs is not a real positive one, and the psychological scars could linger.

On balance, it's still a very good team, and they should be the favorites to recapture the NL East next year.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I Need to Read More PJ O'Rourke...

...and so do you. This is about the best thing I've read about the 2006 midterm elections.

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Must-win game for the Mets tonight. With Tom Glavine taking the mound, they can't afford a loss when they're looking at the less-than-stellar John Maine in game 6, and probably someone even worse in game 7. If the Mets win tonight, it will be interesting to see whether Willie Randolph goes all out in game 6, or whether he holds part of the bullpen back for a possible game 7.

Honestly, I don't even know what the right call is there. I suppose the situation will dictate things, as it always does. The Cardinals have possibly the NL's best starting pitcher going in game 6, but might have an even greater advantage in a possible game 7, since Jeff Suppan has had a very good second half, and has some big-game experience on his side as well.

Of course, if the Mets lose tonight, none of it matters. They'll have to go all-hands-on-deck for game 6, and hope for the best in game 7.

I suppose if it was me, I'd make every effort to save Aaron Heilman for game 7 and start him. If Glavine gives the team 7 innings tonight, that can be accomplished easily enough. He's been agitating all year to start and is probably a better bet than Darren Oliver, though Oliver has been effective as a long reliever, including his 6 scoreless innings in game 3. Failing that, I'd send Oliver to the hill.

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I've been meaning to write about The U, but that will have to wait for another time.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Whither Ohio?

Kos, no friend of the Republicans, had some words of caution for his party recently. You can read it on your own, and should, if you're interested in the Senate elections. Here's the pertinent part, though:

We're leading in the polls in Ohio, but DeWine (R) had $3 million more cash on hand than Democrat Sherrod Brown, with the RNC and NRSC already dumping what could end up being $5-15 million more into the state. They consider this a "firewall" state, and will absolutely drown out what Democrats can throw into the fray.


However, this is somewhat at odds with a New York Times report that the Republicans have given up the ship in Ohio. Again, the pertinent part:

Senior Republican leaders have concluded that Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, a pivotal state in this year’s fierce midterm election battles, is likely to be heading for defeat and are moving to reduce financial support for his race and divert party money to other embattled Republican senators, party officials said.


Ordinarily, the Gray Lady would get the credibility edge over a lefty blogger, except that now, Election Projection is reporting that the NYT story is false, and the RNC will continue funding Ohio the same as before.

Ah, the Information Age. You gotta love it.

Incidentally, I'd dump every penny the RNC was planning to spend in Ohio into New Jersey; anything to make the Dems play defense SOMEWHERE. DeWine's going down, and I don't think he can be saved. But then, I don't get to make these decisions.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Carlos Beltran and the Senate

That's two separate topics. Carlos Beltran is not, to my knowledge, opposing Hillary Clinton. He could be, though, for all we know about the former First Lady's challenger.

If I had an MVP vote, I'd probably vote for Albert Pujols. I hate to say it, but it's true. Without Beltran, the Mets probably still win the NL East. Without Pujols, the Cardinals probably win 65 games. That said, Beltran is generating, in me, that confidence that only the absolute best players generate. I don't know that it's on the level of what Red Sox fans feel about Jedi Knight David Ortiz, but it's a pretty huge level of confidence.

Case in point: in last night's game, when Beltran came to the plate in the sixth with LoDuca on first, I didn't just hope he was going to deliver a big hit, I expected nothing less. I actually would have been a little surprised if he DIDN'T homer. And indeed, he hit a ball that would have landed in Chappaqua if it hadn't hit the scoreboard.

In other words, take how Yankee fans feel when Alex Rodriguez comes to the plate in a big situation, and make it the complete opposite.

Here's the weird thing, though: the Mets are generally considered overwhelming favorites to win the NLCS, yet they probably needed last night's game a lot more than the Cardinals did. The Mets will now start John Maine, Steve Trachsel, and Oliver Perez on three straight days. In each of those matchups, the Cardinals will have an advantage. Moreover, the Mets' bullpen will probably end up working at least 10 innings in that time, which would wear out even the deepest bullpen. So, a game 1 win was crucial for the Mets, but a luxury for the Cardinals.

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I'm following, as closely as I can, the important Senate races. When one lives in a thoroughly non-competitive state, that happens.

Our current Senate, of course, features 55 Republicans and 45 Democrats. So, a pickup of 6 seats gives the Dems control of the chamber. There are, right now, 9 races worth watching: Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. I'm ignoring Connecticut because whoever wins will be part of the Democratic caucus; the Republican candidate is running around 6 percent.

Washington is a stretch to include in that group; incumbent Maria Cantwell (D) leads by 9 and Mike McGavick hasn't been closer than that for months. Moreover, Washington has voted fairly consistently Democratic over the last few years, and given the national trend toward the party of the jackass, there's little reason to believe that will be competitive.

The other 8 races are more interesting...

Conrad Burns (R-MT) wasn't the most popular Senate incumbent to begin with, and he's trailed John Tester throughout. Burns looked headed for defeat in 2000, as I recall, though, so maybe he can come back again. Last poll showed him trailing by 6.

Rick Santorum (R-PA) pretty much needs a miracle; he's trailed Bob Casey throughout (by as much as 17 at one point). One voter (can't remember the story in which I read it, and so I'm paraphrasing) summed up what's probably the prevailing sentiment about Santorum: "I admire him because you know where he stands at all times. The problem is, I don't agree with a lot of those stands."

Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) has been running neck and neck with Sheldon Whitehouse, but the challenger has opened up a 6 point lead. Since Chafee is the most liberal Republican in the Senate, one doubts the GOP would miss him much if they could still hang onto a majority. Still, that majority is obviously in doubt.

So Montana, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island look increasingly like likely Democratic pickups, which would give them 48. That leaves the Senate to be decided by five races: Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia.

Virginia is the only one that doesn't appear to be a genuine toss-up. George Allen (R) had this race locked up, and then shot himself in the foot by referring to an Indian-American volunteer as a "macaca", which apparently is a slur in some cultures. This raised concerns about Allen's good old Southern boy background. Of course, since good old Southern boys still predominate in Virginia, and since the only pollster who hasn't had Allen leading this thing throughout is the unreliable John Zogby, he should hang on to this seat. Put another way, if Allen DOESN'T hang onto the seat, it won't be a question of whether the GOP loses the Senate, it will be a question of by how much.

New Jersey is the GOP's only real chance for a pickup. This was Jon Corzine's (D) seat, which he vacated to run (successfully) for governor. So, Bob Menendez is the incumbent, and apparently a vulnerable one. Republican Tom Kean has been running neck and neck with Menendez throughout. Everyone but Zogby has this thing within a couple points. Given the national trends, it's hard to imagine a Republican winning in New Jersey, which hasn't gone for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988 and hasn't had a Republican senator since the earth's crust was cooling. Still, if the Republicans could swap Rhode Island for New Jersey, I'm sure they'd take that.

In Ohio, I do not understand how incumbent Mike DeWine (R) is still in this thing. He's looking like Santorum in 2000 or Al D'Amato in 1992 the way he's hanging around despite rampant voter disaffection with the state party and high negative ratings. I don't know a blessed thing about Sherrod Brown, but he must be a terrible candidate; a Democrat with even a hint of charisma or competence would be running away with this election.

Tennessee is another race that's closer than it should be. Most expected Bob Corker (R) to succeed to the seat of the retiring Bill Frist with ease, but Harold Ford Jr. has made this an extremely close race. The most recent SurveyUSA poll has Corker up 2. Ford, like Illinois' Barack Obama, is a young, good-looking, intelligent career politician for whom bigger things within the Democratic Party probably lie in store.

Finally, Missouri is the one state that everyone can agree is a dead heat. The last poll showed Jim Talent (R) tied with challenger Claire McCaskill, which is pretty much where the race has been throughout. Missouri has long been considered a battleground state (going back to the Civil War, when that was quite literally true), though it's been veering to the right in recent years. This one's a coin flip.

So what happens on Election Day? I say the Dems pick up Montana, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Ohio. They hang onto New Jersey, and the Republicans hang onto Virginia and Tennessee. As for Missouri, heads it's Talent, tails McCaskill...(flip)...tails.

So, the new Senate is 50-50.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

It's a Great Sports Weekend

You know what, the Dolphins could lose 40-0 today (and they probably will; Jo-Jo Harrington is starting), and it would still be a great weekend. The Mets are in the NLCS and the Yankees will be watching them. Huzzah!

As an aside, I think I'd rather have the Mets face St. Louis than San Diego. I like San Diego's pitching a lot better, and think they've got the lefties to give the Mets' lineup a problem. Ideally, that series would go to five games, with extra frames in games 4 and 5 to wear out the Cards' bullpen.

Meanwhile, the Mets' pen will be well-rested, and thank God for that. They'll need it. With John Maine, Steve Trachsel and Oliver Perez most likely starting games 2-4, the bullpen could easily work 13 innings in 4 days. Actually, I like Maine, but Willie Randolph doesn't trust him, which means it's a miracle if he works more than 5 innings. He should distrust Trachsel, whom I'm going to nickname "Leprosy", because like leprosy, having him pitch is a slow, painful way to die. Perez, at least, is fully capable of throwing 8 innings of shutout ball, although he's equally capable of throwing 3 innings of 10-hit, 7-run ball. At some point, Randolph will have to let one of those guys go more than 5; in a 7 game series, you can't use the bullpen for 4 innings per night, no matter how deep it is. He got away with a quick hook in the NLDS because the Mets closed things out in a swift and brutal manner, but unless they win the NLCS in 4 or 5, that's not going to fly.

Of course, the sports media is rightfully all over the Yankees' story today. Most talking heads liked this team to win the Series, and why not? (So did I, lest you think I'm blaming others for being foolish.) From the first man to the ninth, that was baseball's strongest lineup, and by a decent margin. Fortunately, the Yankees couldn't pitch. Wang and Mussina pitched fairly well, but after that, they had nothing. Randy Johnson is absolutely cooked; I think he's on Steve Trachsel's level at this point. Jaret Wright's career peaked 9 years ago, which seems odd considering he's still fairly young. Not sure why they didn't start Cory Lidle instead, though it doesn't really matter, given how well Jeremy Bonderman pitched.

I was saying to someone, either my wife or my friend Nick, maybe both, that I wasn't sure whose impending exit from the Bronx I was looking forward to most: Joe Torre, Brian Cashman or Alex Rodriguez. I wasn't totally serious, but now word is that Torre is, in fact, done. It's good to see the old George Steinbrenner back; when all else fails, blame the manager. Because, you know, it's his fault that the Yankees have spent their money in a haphazard fashion over the last five years, and can't piece together a decent pitching staff. I think Cashman's a decent GM, but his firing I could understand, given how poorly the team has spent their money the last couple years (i.e. Johnson instead of Carlos Beltran, Carl Pavano, Kyle Farnsworth, Jaret Wright). Torre's, not so much. We'll see if Cashman follows. Hopefully Steinbrenner will appoint one of the infamous Tampa Mob to replace him. I like the impending Lou Piniella hiring though. He did wonders with those Tampa Bay Devil Rays. I'd toss out a guy with four World Series titles for him in a heartbeat.

The A-Rod situation bears watching. He'll get a TON of blame for this, given his 1-14 average in the series, coupled with his litany of postseason failures as a Yankee. His confidence clearly failed him this year, and it's only going to get worse. I think they have to consider trading him, but where? Even though the Yankees got Texas to pay part of his contract, there's still a LOT of money remaining, and only so many teams can pay that. The only teams with the money to handle that kind of deal are probably the Mets, Red Sox, Dodgers, Orioles, Cubs, and Angels.

The Red Sox and Mets can be eliminated for obvious reasons. In any event, I'm fairly sure the Mets would refuse to deal Jose Reyes or David Wright for Rodriguez at this point, when you factor in youth, money, appeal to the fan base and now the very legitimate questions about whether Rodriguez can play in NYC. Not only that, but both Wright and Reyes had more win shares than Rodriguez this year, so statistically, they were actually better players. And yes, that digression was really just a vehicle to point out that both Reyes and Wright were better players than A-Rod this year.

That leaves the Dodgers, Orioles, Cubs and Angels. The Cubs and Orioles are both competely directionless franchises and should be discounted because whether they have the personnel or not, it seems unlikely they could get their stuff together. (Although a Rodriguez for Carlos Zambrano deal would certainly be interesting.)

The Dodgers might make some sense; they're hardly set at third base, and though their lineup is solid top to bottom, they could use a masher to tie it all together. Plus, A-Rod might appreciate the more laid-back climate of Southern California. What could they give up, though? The Yankees would likely want a competent 3rd baseman and a bunch of pitching in any such deal. Even at 75 cents on the dollar, A-Rod would be an extremely expensive acquisition. The Angels might make sense; they've got the pitching to make a deal work, and desperately need another slugger in the lineup.

At this point, I'd put the odds on a Rodriguez trade at about 40%. I think the Yankees will look around, but the question will be whether anyone can come up with enough in return and can get the Yankees to pay for enough of his contract. The bigger question is how they're going to come by some more pitching. Right now, they've got one guy set in stone for next year: Chien-Ming Wang. Mussina figures to be back, too. After that, the rotation is an open question. Johnson figures to be gone; I believe he's a free agent. Neither Pavano nor Wright can be counted upon. Lidle is a journeyman whose spot they figure to try and upgrade. The bullpen might be in better shape than some think: Bruney and Proctor are both young and promising, and figure to get better. Building a bullpen around those two and Mariano Rivera isn't the worst thing in the world. Still, that leaves arguably 7 of the 12 spots on the pitching staff open to question.

I'd expect the Yankees to make a very strong run at Barry Zito; that's probably the one bad thing to come out of this otherwise-glorious Yankee collapse. The Mets need him badly, and now the Yanks figure to exceed any bid for him. I'm tired of harping on how dumb it was not to trade Milledge for him when they had the chance, so I'll just let that slide. Hopefully they'll turn their money to Jason Schmidt, instead, who's pretty much a lock to get overpaid by someone and then disappoint them horribly. If Cashman's still in charge, that might be a possibility, given his recent track record.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Thoughts on the MLB Postseason to Date

The funniest thing happened the other day: I was watching "The Godfather", and it turns out that there's a deleted scene that no one knows about. It's a very well-hidden easter egg, and it comes up right before Sonny gets in his car to do some more severe bodily harm to Carlo. Right before Sonny gets in his car, one of the Corleone soldiers yells to him, "Hey Sonny, stay off the Meadowbrook Parkway, I heard there's a traffic jam there!" So Sonny takes another route to Carlo's house, avoids getting gunned down at the toll booth, puts a bullet in Carlo's head, and lives happily ever after.

On a related note, the Oakland A's have advanced past the first round of the playoffs.

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I can't enjoy an AL team more than I'm enjoying the Detroit Tigers right now. It's simply not possible. I enjoyed the Red Sox run in 2004, but that was tainted by the knowledge that their fans and the sports media would be insufferable for the next few years (and that, of course, is precisely what happened). No such problem with the Tigers.

Of course, that series isn't over, not by a long shot. But the Tigers have looked excellent so far, and as mentioned by someone yesterday, maybe Jayson Stark, Jim Leyland has hit on the perfect formula (probably the only formula), for handling his pitchers: tell the starter "you've got 100 pitches. After that, at the first sign of trouble, you're gone." This marks a dramatic change from the Leyland of old, who often ground young pitchers' arms into hamburger. The hope is that the starter will be effective enough to take the game into the sixth, then piece it together after that using a deep bullpen. Not sure too many other teams can pull that off in a 5 or 7 game series.

I didn't like what Leyland did with the bullpen last night, though. Why use Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones with a 6-0 lead when you need just 5 outs? I understand that he wanted to make sure the Yankees don't come back, but there's a good chance he'll need those guys today, and they're not going to be quite as effective, having pitched for three straight days. Detroit's pen is deep enough that surely someone else could have gotten five outs without allowing 6 runs. We'll see if it comes back to bite him.

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There are a few reasons it sucks being a Mets fan, so here's one of them. Here's a list of the closers the Mets have had over the last 10 years: Billy Wagner, Braden Looper, Armando Benitez, John Franco.

Stat-wise, all those guys were pretty good. Even Looper's numbers as a Met weren't all that bad. Realistically, Met fans haven't felt comfortable with a lead late in the game since Jesse Orosco was around. None of those guys are exactly renowned for a 1-2-3 ninth inning. Benitez and Wagner have both surrendered huge postseason home runs. Even though Wagner was probably the best closer in the NL this year, I absolutely do not trust him with a 1 run lead in the ninth.

Now, here's a list of all the closers the Yankees have had over the last 10 years: Mariano Rivera.

When, apart from the 2004 ALCS, have Yankee fans ever failed to rest easy with Rivera on the hill? That must be a nice feeling, knowing that the door will be shut with extreme prejudice.

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Speaking of closers, I'm pretty sure that if Dr. Frankenstein were to design one from scratch, it would probably look an awful lot like Joel Zumaya. Imposing build, check. Tattoos all over the arms, check. Nasty beard, check. Bloodshot right eye, check. (Okay, that was a one-game feature, but still, it added something.) Virtually unhittable 100+ mph fastball with good movement, check.

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Jeez, why couldn't Kenny Rogers pitch like that for the '99 Mets?

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Further proof that the Empire is evil, corrosive and will stain your soul: I went to my buddy Sal's restaurant/bar last night to watch the game. Sal is a lifelong Red Sox fan, so I said, "hey, you must be loving the Tigers right now." He said, "you know, I hate to say it, but it's hard to hate the Yankees. They're awfully good for business." Sad day, really.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

When I'm Czar of the NFL

I think the title of this post is pretty self-explanatory, save for the term "Czar". Personally, I've always thought "Czar" was a better title than "King", and certainly well ahead of "Commissioner". If a cooler title, one that conveyed even more power, could be thought of, I'd certainly go with it. Maybe "Maximum Proconsul" would work, but people would start abbreviating it MP before long, and that could be construed as "Member of Parliament", which is the exact opposite of what we're shooting for.

Anyway, the NFL is the greatest pro sports league in the world. But, there are some changes that it could stand. With me at the controls, drunk with power, and given a healthy David Stern-like level of authority, here's what would happen:

1. Fines for shoddy announcing. The first time an "end-around" is called a "reverse", the announcer gets a warning. The second time, the network gets a $100,000 fine, and the fine doubles for each successive offense. I don't know what would be more fun, watching an announcer who's pissed at his network and in the last year of his contract trying to ring up the fine, or angry network execs firing guys at halftime. Also, announcers will be limited to using the term "gunslinger" once per season with Brett Favre. So, pick your spot wisely, guys.

Also, all announcers will be forced to attend the "Cris Collinsworth School of Honesty". Collinsworth (aka Kev's Boy, or "Chicken Neck"), is a smart-mouthed pain in the ass at times, but he's knowledgeable as hell, and is one of the very few guys in the business who has the balls to call a bad team bad, as opposed to finding lame and obscure things about which to compliment them. Adjunct instructors will include Mel Kiper, Jr., Bill Simmons, and Merril Hoge.

2. Hire Vince McMahon as a PR Executive. Here's the problem that Gene Upshaw has: he's viewed as too close to the commissioner. Upshaw foolishly subscribes to the notion that public animosity and posturing only hurt negotiations and prevent both sides from getting a deal done. This leads to hacks like Bryant Gumbel (do we still have to take him seriously as a journalist? Can I get a ruling on this?) calling him a lapdog. Upshaw has only ensured a long period of labor peace and prosperity that has served to line the pockets of his consitituents in a better and more consistent fashion than any other sport. Clearly, he's doing a horrible job.

What Upshaw needs to be taken seriously is a public attitude of hostility, but with a privately reasonable and conciliatory stance. Who better to pull this off than Vince McMahon, the man who has successfully choreographed the two-faced sport/entertainment of pro wrestling for over 20 years? Upshaw can talk tough and be rude, nasty and swing chairs in public, and in private, continue to be himself. That way, everyone's happy.

3. End the DirecTV monopoly on Sunday Ticket. The NFL is the world's best pro sports league, but when it comes to television, they shoot themselves in the foot repeatedly and with deadly accuracy. You can read almost any given Gregg Easterbrook column for a better rant on game selection, but my focus is on the deficiencies of Sunday Ticket. The NFL signed a long-term, exclusive rights deal with DirecTV for the NFL Sunday Ticket package.

Here's the problem: for about 90% of this country, DirecTV is significantly worse than digital cable. The movies suck, there's no On-Demand programming, the control is less user-friendly, it costs more, you get even more channels you'll never use (as if that was possible) and it's prone to weather problems. The only significant advantage DTV has is the Sunday Ticket. I don't blame them for this; it's good marketing. They know their product is otherwise inferior to digital cable, so they get something to actually draw an audience. I would bet that at least 1/3 of the people who currently have DirecTV would drop it if Sunday Ticket wasn't available.

Basically, the NFL has consciously limited their audience by going with an exclusive-rights deal with DirecTV, as opposed to going with digital cable, or doing what the other major sports did: go with both. Yes, DirecTV paid a MASSIVE sum of money for this right (I think it was $2.1 billion), but in the long-term, I think the NFL would have done much better to cater to a wider audience.

4. Full-time refs. NFL officiating reached an all-time low with last year's Super Bowl. Something obviously needs to be done. Personally, I don't see how full-time refs will help that much; these guys are already extremely well-versed in the rules, and it's their judgment and ability to see things a little quicker that require improvement. How will paying them enough to quit their day jobs help? I have no idea. I do know that pretty much everyone complains about this though. If we hire full-time refs, that will at least give coaches and columnists one less thing to whine about. And I'm all for reducing the amount of whining.

5. Five minutes per draft pick. Is there anything more asinine than a team knowing darn well who they're going to take with their first-round pick, but milking their entire 15 minutes on the clock? I think not. This reached a new height (or depth) of absurdity a couple years ago, when the Bengals, picking first, had already SIGNED Carson Palmer, and still took about 14 minutes to get their card to the podium. Enough. All this does is leave more times for camera shots of brain-dead Jets fans and for Chris Berman to quote songs from before I was born. While we're at it, let's just limit the commentary to Dan Patrick and Mel Kiper, Jr.

6. Put a team in Los Angeles. Strong-arm the stadium folks, and move a team there. If they have to play in the Rose Bowl for a couple years while the city gets it's act together, so be it. Personally, I'd move either the Jaguars or (once the feel-good story wears off in a year or so) the Saints.

As an aside, I don't buy this "New Orleans needs the Saints" schtick for one second. Yes, we all feel bad about what happened, but let's not make this bigger than it is. This was a team with no identity, in a city whose fan support and financial support were at best tepid, and now that city lacks the means to seriously support an NFL team. Let the feel-good story run its course, and then let cold, hard mathematics take over.

7. Set up a Super Bowl rotation. Forgive my obvious bias, but H.Wayne Huizenga had a phenomenal idea that didn't go anywhere. HWH is in the process of a massive renovation of Dolphins Stadium, and wanted to have the Super Bowl hosted in Miami every other year or every third year. He planned to make the stadium a (for lack of a better term) giant football experience, and set up huge week-long festivities around the Super Bowl. Now THAT'S a great idea. The Super Bowl is how the NFL charms the corporate sponsors who pay the bills. Why not go all-out to make sure they have a great time and keep coming back? If someone like Huizenga is going to put the means together to make it a giant event, then go with that, and make sure the game's hosted there every couple years. This push to host the Super Bowl in places like Jacksonville is nice, but misguided. It's not about being fair, it's about making money, and making sure that money keeps coming in. If we're not going to rotate the Super Bowl among each of the 32 cities, let's narrow it to the few that have been the most successful: Miami, Atlanta, San Diego and Los Angeles. New Orleans, of course, is out for obvious reasons.

That's all I can think of at the moment, at least for big ideas. But, given my love of football and my tendency to rant and ramble, there's a fair chance this will be an ongoing series.