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Cincinnati fans optimism is in high gear. Reds added three potentially key pieces to their team puzzle. Starting pitcher Mat Latos (from Padres), closer Ryan Madson (Phillies) & reliever Sean Marshall (Cubs) instantly upgrade Cincy's pitching staff. Dusty Baker must be smiling. Reds have a great opportunity to make a run at the Central title.
More good news for Reds fans. Gone from NL Central foes are two slugging 1B. Albert Pujols (Cardinals) and Prince Fielder (Brewers) signed big money contracts with American League teams.
Reds lineup packs a punch. Joey Votto (1B), Brandon Phillips (2B) & Jay Bruce (RF) are the core of a maturing lineup. Much is expected of LF Heisey & CF Stubbs. Reds are high on SS Zack Cozart.
Starting rotation has talent and should receive plenty of run support. Problem is pitching in a hitters friendly home park. Great American gives up runs in bunches. Cueto, Latos, Arroyo, Bailey & Leake must come out of the gates on fire. Cincinnati lacks a lefty starter which could hurt down the stretch.
New closer Madson will get plenty of save opportunities. Marshall joins a bunch of strikeout artists out of the pen (Masset, Chapman, Ondrusek & Bray). Cincinnati's pitching staff might lead the league in strikeouts.
Prediction: The future is now. Cincinnati has assembled a winning formula on paper. Champion Cardinals still favorites to win Central. Reds will challenge. MLB added another Wild Card team beginning in 2012. Reds appear to have the inside track. 90+ wins well within reach.
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2012 will bring another disastrous season in Flushing for New York Mets fans. All factors suggest the Mets will be rebuilding for a long time to come. Only a few short years ago New York's "other" team was considered championship caliber. Times have changed. It all begins at the top.
Years of overspending on broken down veterans cost this club dearly. Not only did the Mets trade talent for over prices duds - they also mortgaged their minor league system which was one of the top farm systems in baseball.
Not too many bright spots for fans to trek into Flushing to see firsthand. Gone is fan favorite Jose Reyes. 3B David Wright is already hurting, again. He promises to be ready by opening day. At this point he shouldn't risk taking the field unless he's 110%. Only Johan Santana returning from a long injury hiatus offers a glimpse of something cheer about.
Around the horn projections: Ike Davis returning from injury at 1B. Daniel Murphy (2B) and Ruben Tejada (SS) form a weak double play combination. Wright hopes closer fences at remodeled CitiField helps power numbers. However, a muscle injured ribcage takes time to heal and strengthen.
From LF to RF: Jason Bay has been a huge bust. Starting slowly in spring training offers no hope - and not helping to create ready, willing and able buyers/traders. Andres Torres in CF (WHO?????). Lucas Duda quickly won over fans in '11 is being given every opportunity to win RF honors.
Josh Thole is the backstop. He'll have both hands full trying to tame an erratic and soon to be overworked pitching staff. There is no staff ace. Santana returns but hasn't pitched a full season since 2008. Mike Pelfrey, Jonathon Niese, R.J. Dickey & Dillan Gee. Good luck vs NL East. Middle men aren't going to scare any hitters unless they're jumping away from wild pitches. Pitching staff is an ugly combination. Frank Francisco (3.72) will try saving games (if the Mets ever have a lead).
Prediction: Mets will have a very difficult time winning games in NL East. Phillies, Braves, Nationals & Marlins can all out hit, pitch, run and defend. 100 losses well within reach. Citifield will continue getting panned from critics (including me). It's taken a long time and hundreds of thousands of complaints to finally get "Mets" owners to recognize former "Mets" players. This is a stadium built with Dodgers & Giants themes everywhere.
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Talk about a busy news cycle for NFL players, teams, owners and a future Hall of Fame QB. The spending spree is on! This week has been filled with rumors and lucrative contract signings. A few highlights include....
Peyton Manning. Jets are out. Broncos & Titans front-runners. If Peyton goes to Denver then Tebow will go. Denver is doing everything within their power to land Manning. Titans are coming on strong. What ever happened to Miami rumors? Are the Dolphins willing to pass over another top flight QB?
Calvin Johnson. Meet the NFL's highest ever paid WR - deal will be worth $132 million over the course of the 7 year extension with an NFL-record $60 million in guaranteed money. Believe it or not, CJ's deal saves Detroit $9M in cap money.
DeSean Jackson re-signs with Philly for 5 years, $48.5M. Eagles flopped in 2011. Good to see players being rewarded in off years... not.
Brandon Carr. NFL's top rated FA cornerback signs with Dallas for 5 years, $50.1M. A step in the right direction for underachieving Dallas Cowboys.
Cortland Finnegan. NFL's "other" top CB on the market signed with the Rams for five years and $50 million. Rebuilding Rams collecting puzzle pieces.
Kyle Orton. Cowboys pick up Romo's understudy. No QB controversy. At least not until December football rolls around.
John Carlson. TE was given 25 million reasons to sign with Vikings (5 years, $25M). Not sure this was a wise spending move for a team needing a ton of help on offense. Maybe the beginning of more to come.
Vincent Jackson. Penny pinchers no more. Tampa Bay coming on strong in free agency for the first time in recent memory. Tampa's era of mediocre teams coming to conclusion. VJ signs 5 year, $55M contract.
Carl Nicks. Bucs snatch All Pro offensive guard from division rival Saints and make him NFL's highest paid guard. 5 years, $47.5M will be worth every penny assuming Nicks continues All Pro status.
Eric Wright. Another strong Tampa Bay signing. Bucs hoping he's a difference maker in secondary. 3 big moves with more to follow.
Brandon Marshall. Perhaps it's time to revive curses. Miami's free falling began when Don Shula was shoved out the door. Next came Jimmy Johnson handcuffing Dan Marino. The post Shula/Marino years produced the ugliest brand of football in Miami Dolphins history. 2012 was to be a different story. Another new beginning. So what does Miami do? They just traded their only legitimate WR threat. Brandon Marshall heads to Chicago for two 3rd round draft picks. Great move by Bears - a team slowly building a great offense for new offensive coordinator Mike Tice.
Pierre Garcon. Last one out - turn off the lights. Colts may not win a game in 2012. Garcon ran out of Indy to sign with Washington - five years for $42.5 million.
Josh Morgan. Joins Garcon in Washington. Redskins finally have speed and pass catching ability at both starting receiver positions for the first time in recent memory. Now they need someone to throw the ball in their direction.
Keep an eye on your local sports ticker. Many more deals going on at negotiating tables across our nation. A few more big splash headlines coming soon....