Saturday, December 29, 2012

Juan Rivera to Yankees only makes sense

With Nick Swisher's defection to Cleveland via free agency this week, the New York Yankees have a hole to fill in the outfield.

But rather than repeat what the Yankees have done so often over the years--offer an overpriced, multi-year deal to a free agent and then lament their diminishing returns at the back end of the contract--the Bronx baseball braintrust should extend a modest, two-year contract to Juan Rivera.

Rivera, who will be 34 on opening day, played the outfield for the Yankees from 2001-2003. He has never been an All-Star and will never be one. But he is a righthanded hitter with a good arm, a good glove and some pop in his bat--just the kind of bench player and occasional starter the 2013 club needs.

In today's free-agent market, Rivera could be had for $8 million over two years. Or the Yankees could offer a one-year deal worth $4 million with a club option for the 2014 season.

Rivera made $4 million for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012. He hit .244 with 9 home runs and 47 RBI. He can also play first base, which means the Yanks could give starter Mark Teixeira a day off once in a while.

The Yankees are likely to open 2013 with a starting outfield of Brett Gardner in left, Curtis Granderson in center and Ichiro Suzuki in right. That trio should cover plenty of ground in the outfield and steal a ton of bases.

But Granderson, Gardner and Ichiro are all lefthanded hitters. That would leave the Yankees especially vulnerable to lefthanded pitching.

Signing Rivera would allow Yankees manager Joe Girardi to sit the strike zone-challenged Granderson against a particularly tough southpaw; Gardner could move to center when Granderson sits.

Rivera could also fill in for Ichiro, no spring chicken at age 38, or be a righthanded DH--a role in which Andruw Jones struggled in 2012. (Jones has signed a free-agent contract with a team in Japan.)

Admittedly, the Yankees won't make major headlines by signing Rivera. They won't break out the carving board and serve roast beef at a Yankee Stadium news conference to re-introduce Rivera to New York.

However, Rivera can help the 2013 Yankees. The club should not wait any longer to sign him.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Year of the 49ers? Why not?

Here is the most important thing I've learned from watching at least a little bit of every NFL team every week (thanks in large part to a great channel called NFL Red Zone): No NFL team is great.

Never mind the hype you hear each week about Peyton Manning & his Broncos, Tom Brady & his Patriots, RG III & his (pardon the offense) Redskins. Not one of those teams is special.

Neither are my beloved San Francisco 49ers, as much as I would like them to be.

The NFL in 2012 is far more mediocre than majestic. But somebody has to win the Super Bowl in February. It's a league rule. So it might as well be my maddeningly inconsistent 49ers.

I've seen the 49ers' "A" game. It's as good as any other team's "A" game, and better than most.

Problem is, the 49ers have not produced that "A" game often enough to make them a safe bet to win it all.

There are no safe bets in this NFL season. Only sucker bets.

I've been strapped into an emotional rollercoaster with my 49ers from Week 1 of the regular season, when they looked super in beating the Packers by two touchdowns at venerable Lambeau Field, to Week 16, when they were thoroughly humiliated by the Seahawks 42-13 on a typically rainy night in Seattle.

My 49ers dominated the same Seahawks team 13-6 on a Thursday night in San Francisco in October.

That's the point here: No NFL team is great from week to week.

Some teams, like the 13-2 Falcons and 12-3 Texans, have great records.

But those teams couldn't carry the helmets of the 12-3 49ers of the 1980s or the 12-3 Cowboys of the early 1990s.

Today's NFL has been watered down, largely because of salary cap rules that prevent any team from holding onto great players for more than a few years.

The salary cap destroyed the 49ers of Montana, Rice, Craig & Lott and dismantled the Cowboys of Aikman, Smith, Irvin and Norton.

Those teams were the last true dynasties in the NFL.

Although the Patriots have won four Super Bowls with Brady at quarterback and Coach Bill Belichick on the sideline, but the core of each of those championship teams has been markedly different.

It should surprise no one that the Giants will likely fail to make the playoffs this year after winning the Super Bowl last year.

And it should surprise no one if the team that hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy as the NFL's best playoff team in February fails to make the playoffs in 2013.

Just get into the 12-team postseason tournament this season, and you've got a chance to win it all. It doesn't matter if you're the No. 1 seed in your conference or the No. 6 seed. Just get in, baby.

Fans of each playoff team will have high hopes--not because of that team's relative strength but rather because of the other teams' weaknesses.

Conventional wisdom says the 49ers have a great defense. But I watch them every week. That's my team. The 49ers have below-average cornerbacks. They can be thrown on. They can be burned deep.

My 49ers have an inexperienced starting quarterback in the heavily tattooed Colin Kaepernick. At times, he looks brilliant. At other times, he looks hopelessly overmatched against opposing defenses.

If the latter Kaepernick shows up in the playoffs, the 49ers will lose. If the former Kaepernick shows up, then he will be reading David Letterman's "Top Ten" list sometime after the Super Bowl.

Do I know which Kaepernick will show up? Of course not.

Do I know if the 49ers will bring to the playoffs the "A" game they used to beat the Packers, Bears, Saints, Patriots and Seahawks (in October)? Nobody knows.

Some people like this sort of uncertainty. Clearly, the NFL does.

But I miss the dynasties. I know they're not coming back under the current system. Still, I miss the symphonic beauty of Montana to Rice year after year after year.

Now, I can only hope to see Kaepernick to Crabtree for six points, and Gore up the middle, and Akers with the field goal, and Smith and Willis combining on the tackle for victories in January and February.

Why not the 49ers? Somebody has to do it.