July 27, 2006
Justin Verlander:
In any other year, he'd be a lock for top rookie. Got 13th W for AL-best Tigers with career-high 8 K's. But he's only 3rd on my ROY ballot (see Big 5, poll).
The Lead Item
Two Words For You:

Ah, Floyd Landis, we hardly knew ye.

It would be wonderful if your positive test for high levels of testosterone were simply an affirmation of your uber-manliness.

Instead, it's likely to become the biggest humiliation in cycling history:

Less than a week after Landis won the Tour de France (in wildly dramatic fashion), the race's champion is disgraced by a performance-enhancer scandal.

Was Landis' "hip" story line also too good to be true? The Mennonite heritage a convenient fraud? The rivalry with Lance a cooked-up sham?

This is like finding out that the entire USC football team was on the take at the Rose Bowl. Or that the Steelers were doing a teamwide juice-a-thon at the Super Bowl. Or that Dwyane Wade owned the NBA Finals by OD'ing on amphetamines.

The Tour de France Farce ends how it began: embarrassed by drug scandal.

But this latest coup disgrace is shaping up as so much worse than the first.

Let's Deal
At what point should a baseball contender go for broke?

The Mets' situation with Barry Zito presents a perfect case study:

Zito is the best arm on the market. The A's are willing to move him. The Mets are taking a long, hard look. Two issues:

(1) He's a free agent after the season, so he could bolt and leave the Mets with nothing to show for the deal.

(2) The A's are asking a steep price, including star OF prospect Lastings Milledge and a couple of legit pitching arms.

But consider this: While I'm sure Omar Minaya wants the Mets to contend every year, this is as good of a pennant look as they'll get.

The Mets are the best team in the NL right now, but their starting pitching is an issue. Getting Zito, who ranks in the top 5 in the AL in quality starts, would undoubtedly help.

And so there it is: Would you mortgage success in the future for a better-than-decent shot at a title now?

While there are no guarantees that Zito would put the Mets over the top, there are also no guarantees that future potential will be realized.

(Plus: With aging Pedro and aged Glavine at the top of the rotation, what exactly does "future" mean? The future is now.)

If the Mets merely were scrapping for a wild card, I might say "maybe next year" and let the Mets make a play for Zito in free agency while keeping their prospects.

But being in the pole position for the NL playoffs -- and with starting pitching such an obvious factor in any playoff series -- it's the right gamble.

Let the contenders in the AL hem and haw about trading (or not trading) for sluggers like Alfonso Soriano or Bobby Abreu. But for the chance to land a bona fide ace, even if it's just for three months, the Mets can separate themselves from the pack in the NL and position themselves to compete with the best of the AL in the World Series.

Mets: Trade to win now.

Bush Deal Watch
Reggie Bush probably deserves No. 1 draft pick money, but the fact is, he wasn't the No. 1 pick.

Bush was quick to capitalize on the marketing opportunity of being drafted by the sympathetic Saints, so it's unfair to then say he deserves money as if he were drafted by Houston.

I'm all for Bush earning more than 2005 No. 2 pick Ronnie Brown, but it's in Bush's best interests to find a middle ground between Mario and Brown's numbers. Fast.

Chicago: Joins LA, SF as USOC finalists for 2016 Olympic bid
D'Brick. Ferguson: LT signs deal with Jets in time for camp
Chase Utley: Phillies 2B extends hit streak to 26 games
Jerry Porter: Raiders WR wants trade, sits out of practice
Bartolo Colon: Leaves 1st inning of start vs. Rays (elbow)
LeCharles Bentley: Browns C out with camp knee injury
NFL Camping
More of the shallowest training-camp previews you'll find anywhere! Today is a mother lode:

Texans (Houston)
Subplot: Mario Williams could have 20 sacks next season and fans would still ask why the heck they didn't take Reggie Bush.

Falcons (Flowery Branch, GA)
Subplot: Only the foolish (or the smoochers) still think that Michael Vick is a better fit at QB than Matt Schaub.

Saints (Jackson, MS)
Subplot: While everyone is focused on whether Reggie Bush will ever end his holdout, does someone want to check the status of Drew Brees' shoulder?

Giants (Albany, NY)
Subplot: Eli, meet "regression to the mean" theory; "regression to the mean theory," meet Eli.

Lions (Allen Park, MI)
Subplot: "Fire Millen!"

Bucs (Lake Buena Vista, FL)
Subplot: If Cadillac Williams could guarantee he'll stay healthy all season, he'd be a top 5 fantasy football pick.

Ravens (Westminster, MD)
Subplot: Even if Steve McNair is healthy (or stays healthy), everyone remembers that Brian Billick is still the coach, right?

Broncos (Englewood, CO)
Subplot: Jake Plummer had his best season ever and Denver still spit the bit when it mattered; give me Jay Cutler and a gamble.

49ers (Santa Clara, CA)
Subplot: The hot topic is that Alex Smith has small hands. And you know what they say about that: small TD-INT ratio.

Bengals A Joke
You're forgiven if you had forgotten that Odell Thurman's punishment from the NFL was a news item a couple of weeks ago, and you simply confused yesterday's update of the actual details (4-game suspension) with the rest of the continuing embarrassment that is the Bengals.

Marvin Lewis apologized Wednesday to fans for his team's actions, but he insisted: "It's ludicrous for anybody to feel that these actions, or anything, taint or have any negative approach on the core or mentality of our football team."

MLB Hit List
For all the Yankees problems, they passed the stumbling White Sox for pole position in the AL wild-card race. With all the daily dissing and moaning, you'd have thought they were out of it.

But here come the Twins: After sweeping the White Sox and establishing themselves as a bona fide wild-card contender, the Twins are tied with the Sox, just one-half game behind the Yankees.

Comeback Player of the Year? Frank Thomas. The 38-year-old reclamation project in Oakland hit 2 more HRs yesterday, giving him 22 on the season. If he can stay healthy until he's 40, 500 HRs is not crazy (470 today).

Trade Talk: Does the Mariners getting Ben Broussard from the Indians count? (Not really: Come on, where's the blockbuster deal?!)

New Bonds grand jury convenes: As long as Greg Anderson refuses to talk (and they'll put him back in jail for it, I'm sure), they better find other cases to deliver indictments on.

Think A-Rod is going to wonder how a low-talent carnival sideshow like Sal Fasano instantly can be beloved by fans, while he -- the highest-paid player in baseball -- remains a pariah?

Uh, anyone want Carl Everett?

"Trade-Rod" Cont'd
Just a few interesting numbers from the SportsNation polling about the "Trade-Rod" campaign: 72 percent of users think the Yankees should not trade A-Rod (but isn't it more wild that as many as 28 percent think they should?)

But 50 percent think that it's in A-Rod's best interests to leave the Yankees (and 57 percent would want their team to trade for him).

And two-thirds of fans think that Yankees fans look worse for booing A-Rod than A-Rod's recent performance looks.

Barkley For Gov
Politics Focus Group! Do any of the following statements make you feel more or less favorable about Charles Barkley?

(1) He wants to be governor.

(2) Oh: Governor of ALABAMA.

(3) He could run in 2010.

(4) He's a "big-D" Democrat.

Once Daily Kos and the Net Roots left are done with upstart Ned Lamont in Connecticut, they should put all their efforts behind Barkley.

Albert Belle:
Pleads guilty to stalking his ex-girlfriend. If you could pick the people you'd least like to be stalked by, Belle has to be up there.
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie Live
Page 2 Index
MLB Stark Market
AL R.O.Y. Ballot
Francisco Liriano
Yes: He's better than Johan
Jonathan Paplebon
The East Coast Bias pick
Justin Verlander
13 wins on MLB's top team
Jered Weaver
What if he never loses?
Kenji Johjima
.293, 11 HRs, 47 RBI

NFL Offseason: Pats WR Deion Branch is holding out, but he's never going to get the $5M or $6M he wants. Unless he waits until his contract ends.

The Braves are only 4.5 games behind in the NL wild-card race, and Bob Wickman apparently is the answer as closer. Don't they know to just go away?

If you're an Inter Milan fan, do you buy a "Serie A Champs!" T-shirt, even though you won the title because Juventus was stripped of theirs?

Kevin Pittsnogle signed a 2-year deal with the Celtics? Of course he did. He looks like the previously unknown member of House of Pain.

Here's to a healthy recovery as NASCAR legend and TV announcer Benny Parsons battles cancer.

ESPNU's "Real World"-style "Summer House" is intriguing, but where are the reality-show characters who give shows like that romantic tension? It's "Sausage House."

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