First, a correction. Several alert readers have pointed out that I listed the Mets’ Jacob deGrom as a lefthander in Wednesday’s baseball column. He’s a righty. Maybe it’s the guy’s wild hair, but he seemed like a lefty to me. I should spend less time watching the Yankees and more of the other team in NYC.
It could be that I need a vacation. Which reminds me. I am going on vacation next week. This will be the last Mailbag for awhile. You can still send me questions and cheap shots via Twitter (@TBNSully) or on email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I might answer them, though it’s more likely I’ll be golfing.
This week’s ‘bag:
@LukeHirten asks: Do the Bills sign/trade for another QB before the season starts?
Sully: Luke, I seriously doubt it. I understand why fans are fretting about the quarterback position. None of the three candidates (EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel, Tyrod Taylor) has distinguished himself, which doesn’t inspire confidence that any of the three will set the NFL on fire next fall.
The coaches need to find a starter as soon as possible in camp, so they can develop some rhythm and continuity in the offense. Bringing in another marginal QB would further complicate the process. Sure, it would be nice if they could get a top veteran like Philip Rivers, but the chances are remote.
For one thing, teams hold on to the top guys. Plus, the Bills can’t afford to pay starter money at the position. They’re within $5 million of the salary cap and need to find cash to pay Marcell Dareus a monster contract extension. Not having to pay a QB big money is what allows them to be so loaded at other positions.
Rex Ryan said last week it was “99.9 percent” certain the opening day starter is on the roster. As my colleague Vic Carucci pointed out, it’s not likely that a quarterback they brought in now would be any better than the current crop.
One promiment NFL writer predicted that Matt Simms, who has played four games in the league, would get a chance to start before the season is done. Simms has talent, but it tells you how desperate the situation is right now with the Bills.
@SinisterSully asks: Will the addition of Bylsma and Eichel make the Sabres a free agent destination this offseason
Sully: All things being equal, a top free agent who is looking to win the Stanley Cup soon isn’t likely to see Buffalo as a very attractive destination. The Sabres have a lot of promising kids and a bright future, but they won’t be ready to contend for a Cup for three years or more.
Of course, money has a way of persuading athletes. The Sabres are about $29 million under the $71.4 million salary cap and will have piles of cash to throw at free agents. Owner Terry Pegula has demonstrated a willingness in both sports to pay – or overpay – for the top players and coaches on the market.
Throwing money around guarantees nothing. The Sabres need to identify value players who can help them now and in the future. GM Tim Murray will look to bolster his roster by trading assets at the draft. He has a glut of very young talent in the pipeline and needs some players in their early primes to balance the team.
I’m sure some players will see Buffalo as a rising franchise and want to be part of a rebuild. But many will be waiting to see what develops here. If the Sabres start winning, and if Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart turn out to be the real thing, then you’ll really see Buffalo become a prime destination.
Chris G Scott asks: In your opinion, is Jack Eichel better than McDavid based on play and competition?
Sully: Chris, I assume you refer to the fact that Eichel had a dominant freshman season at Boston University playing against a lot of more experienced and physical college players.
That’s true. Eichel also stood out in the World Championships against older players. It’s a promising sign for Sabres fans who believe he will be a generational talent and some day win a Stanley Cup. But the fact that he played well against top competition doesn’t make him a better prospect than Connor McDavid.
McDavid is the clear choice among NHL personnel people. He played against younger opposition in juniors, but they’re the best young players in the world. He’s a rare offensive talent, perhaps the best to come along since Wayne Gretzky. You don’t pass on a kid with that sort of skill, especially in a defensive era.
It’s no knock on Eichel to be No. 2. It’s a testament to McDavid’s supreme talent that he could be seen as clearly superior to a player of Eichel’s ability.
APasceri@buffaloschools.org asks: I was always skeptical of your praise of Joe Maddon during his Tampa tenure. They had the best pitching and most talented team for 3-4 years. Besides one trip to the World Series, they did nothing in the postseason. Doesn’t their record this year validate this to some extent?
Sully: You make a fair point. The Rays are rolling along without Maddon, which suggests their long run of success was more a product of a consistent organizational vision than managerial genius. They’re still winning without Maddon – or Andrew Friedman, the long-time GM who is now with the Dodgers.
Let’s not go overboard, though. You have to give Friedman and Maddon credit for creating the blueprint. They taught the Rays to win with limited financial resources, by developing young starting pitchers and surrounding them with a solid defense. They haven’t won big in October, but neither have Billy Beane’s A’s.
Maddon is a very good manager, an innovator whose defensive shifts have become vogue in baseball. Theo Epstein was happy to get him in Chicago, and the Cubs are winning. So while Maddon has become a larger-than-life figure (sort of like Rex Ryan in the NFL), he’s still one of the best in the business.
@1dpb1 asks: NCAA basketball transfers. Good, bad, everyone does it must be OK?
Sully: More than 600 Division I players have transferred this year, so it’s a trend that shows no signs of abating. Is it bad? Hey, college hoops are a big business, and that includes players who see the sport as a way to showcase their talent and become pros after college.
Even marginal players in small conferences think they can be pros. So coaches are constantly dealing with kids who want more playing time and are willing to bolt to find a better situation elsewhere. About 15 percent of the transfers are players who have completed an undergraduate degree, which makes them eligible to play one more season at another college without sitting out a year.
That’s what Antoine Mason did at Niagara. He finished his degree, but had a year of hoops eligibility left, so he played his senior year at Auburn to display his wares in a major conference.