Archive for December, 2009

At least it’s something

Posted: December 17, 2009 in Mets

The Mets signed Japanese relief pitcher Ryota Igarashi tonight, according to multiple reports. I’ve never seen the guy pitch, but I’ve read he features a mid 90s fastball along with decent breaking stuff. Projects as a setup reliever, although I’m not sure if he’ll be the eighth inning guy or not. Also, looks like talks are really heating up with Jason Bay. If the Mets offer him a five-year deal, that might be enough to get it done. Still need starting pitching, and there aren’t a lot of attractive options out there. No real bonafide No. 2 starters available, so we’ll see what Omar comes up with.


Another bad day for the Mets

Posted: December 14, 2009 in Mets

While Omar Minaya sits in the fetal position somewhere, other GMs are actually doing something to improve their teams.
The first bit of bad news today was the signing of free agent pitcher John Lackey by the Red Sox.
Then, the bombshell. The Phillies acquired ace Roy Halladay in a three-team megatrade between themselves, Toronto and Seattle. Philadelphia reportedly is sending Cliff Lee to the Mariners, so I’m unsure if they actually will get better here. However, they’re also getting prospects back from the Mariners, including promising pitcher Philippe Aumont (according to reports). It remains unclear just what else the teams are getting. I’ve heard Kyle Drabek (the Phillies’ top pitching prospect) is involved, but maybe it’s J.A. Happ instead. One of the Phillies’ outfield prospects appears to be heading out in the deal, but no one knows just yet.
With Lackey and now Halladay off the market (as well as the previous signings of Randy Wolf and Rich Harden), the pitching choices are starting to get thin. Will the Mets pursue Joel Pineiro? How about Jason Marquis? Maybe guys coming off injuries like Ben Sheets?
One thing they shouldn’t do is give a three-year deal to aging catcher Bengie Molina. There are reports that Molina wants a three-year deal, but the Mets would be wise to avoid this.
At this point, it becomes necessary the Mets land Jason Bay or Matt Holliday. Then, they’ve got to upgrade the pitching somehow, but I’m not sure how much of an upgrade Pineiro and Marquis will provide (especially if they want huge contracts). One thing I know for sure, the Phillies continue to apply the pressure. Doubt they’ll be done making moves, as I’m sure they’ll add another starting pitcher to the mix, especially if Happ and Lee are gone. Would be nice to see the Mets’ GM do something besides sign 50 backup catchers.

A few Mets thoughts

Posted: December 13, 2009 in Mets

This past week’s Winter Meetings went by with nary a move by Omar Minaya, although he seemed to lay the groundwork on a few moves. The Mets offered contracts to outfielder Jason Bay and catcher Bengie Molina.
I’ve always been a fan of Bay, and his power bat would play well at CitiField. I prefer Matt Holliday, I just think he’s a little better hitter (and a bit younger) but I can understand targeting Bay, since he’ll likely cost a little less and the negotiations probably won’t take as long as Holliday (who is represented by Scott Boras, king of getting teams to overpay for his clients). I can take or leave Molina. He’s getting older and I’m hoping the Mets don’t offer much more than a year contract with an option (although it’ll probably be a two-year offer since guys like Ivan Rodriguez, the putrid Jason Kendall and Yorvit Torrealba are getting multi-year deals). Molina has some power, but his OBP is horrible and carrying him and Jeff Francoeur in the lineup would give the Mets two potential sub .300 OBP guys, which isn’t ideal to say the least.
The Mets have many holes to fill. I would somehow love if Omar could land Bay and free-agent prize pitcher John Lackey, although it appears the Mets will be able to land just one of the big three free agents (Lackey, Bay, Holliday). The rest of the pitching free agents are an underwhelming group (especially with Rich Harden and Randy Wolf now off the board). The Mets seem interested in Jason Marquis, which would be a fine back-of-the-rotation filler, although he’s wanting middle of the rotation money. They could take a flier on high-risk high-reward guys coming off injuries like Ben Sheets or Chien-Ming Wang, which would only enhance the need for an innings eater like Marquis. As a fan, it would have been nice to have a major signing already on the board, but we can’t really judge the offseason until February, so there’s plenty of time for Minaya to make quality additions. The gap between the Mets and Phillies has never been wider, and I’d take the Braves and Marlins’ pitching staffs over the Mets right now as well. Lots of work to be done, Omar. Get to it!

While I was away in Europe, one of the most anticipated releases of 2009 (in my mind anyway) came out, and it was rough having to wait until I got back to hear it.
Them Crooked Vultures, the “supergroup” featuring members of Led Zeppelin, Nirvana and Queens of the Stone Age, unleashed their self-titled debut to a rock world in need of a jolt.
Lead guitarist/lead vocalist Josh Homme joined forces with bassist/keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) and drummer Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) to deliver a delight to those of us who enjoy sleazy hard rock with big riffs, killer hooks and a titanic rhythm section.
Although Homme is the band’s leader and primary songwriter, it’s Grohl and Jones who elevate the project from a mere Queens of the Stone Age soundalike.
Grohl, a gifted songwriter in his own right, went back behind the drum kit, and his thunderous playing is found every where. From the opening beat of lead single “New Fang”, you’re reminded just how good a drummer Grohl really is.
The first three tracks – “No One Loves Me and Neither Do I,” “Mind Eraser, No Chaser,” and “New Fang” kick the proceedings off with a bang. “No One Loves Me and Neither Do I” undergoes a series of time changes, starting as a slinky number with smooth Homme vocals and ending with a monster riff worthy of Jimmy Page. “Mind Eraser” contains one of the few instances where Grohl is noticeably heard on vocals, as he and Homme trade vocal lines throughout to great effect. “New Fang” is one of the tracks most resembling Queens of the Stone Age, only with the best rhythm section money could buy.
Around track five, the band starts to flex its muscle with longer, more adventurous tunes. “Elephants” starts off with a fury, with riffs straight out of “Physical Graffitti”, but at the two minute mark, the pace slows down and a completely different song seems to take hold. The track ends just as it began, with the fast-paced Zeppelin riffs. Great stuff. “Scumbag Blues” sounds like a bastard son of Zeppelin and Cream, as Homme’s vocals resemble Jack Bruce’s a la “I Feel Free”. Jones adds a funky clavinet break that sounds fairly similar to “Trampled Under Foot.” Track 8 “Reptiles” is one of my many favorites, with its helter-skelter rhythm and almost stream-of-consciousness lyrics from Homme. What he’s talking about, lord only knows, but it sounds so damn good. “Interlude With Ludes” is just what it sounds like, a drug-hazed spaceout, with music that sounds like it was recorded in the next room and Homme’s vocals sounding somewhat reminscent of Ray Davies of the Kinks.
My favorite song title on the album “Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up” is another long tune with a menacing stomp and swirling guitars.
Another one of my favorites is the penultimate tune “Gunman”, which could be best described as dance-funk with metal guitars. It’s easiest the funkiest and most danceable track here, showing this band is capable of playing so many different styles of music.
The final track is the heavy “Spinning in Daffodils”, with hard-to-decipher vocals from Homme due the metallic guitar crunch throughout the song. In typical Vultures fashion, the song ends with a surprising shift, decomposing into a little acoustic shuffle that fades out just as you want some more.
I’ve had this album in my car stereo since I got it, I just can’t get enough of it. Easily the best album I’ve bought this year and the finest rock album I’ve heard in quite some time. There are already reports the band will cut a second album, which is great news to me since I thought they might just be a one-off side project. If you haven’t done so already, listen to this album. If you want a starting point, listen to the first three tracks. They’ll get you hooked instantly, while the rest of the album takes two or three spins before you truly appreciate how great it is.

The Sod rating: *****
Ratings scale:
***** Hall of Fame album
**** Perennial All-star
*** Solid starter
** Bench warmer
* Guy that cleans up all the peanut shells after the game

If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted in awhile, I was in Europe for two weeks with my lovely wife.
We returned Sunday, and I’m still getting accustomed to the time change (five hours ahead in England, six ahead in France, Switzerland and Italy).
The trip was unbelievable, one we’ll never forget. We’re already planning to return to some of our favorite spots, and we still have some European countries we want to visit (Spain, Ireland and Scotland tops on the list).
We started off with four days in England, and we loved it there. Tina really enjoyed the shopping on London’s Oxford Street, while my favorite part was naturally the Beatles walking tour, where I got to walk across the famous Abbey Road crossing. We also visited a few other famous Beatles sites, including the old Apple office, where the Beatles played their final gig on that building’s rooftop in January 1969. We also took a bus tour around the city, where we saw and took pictures of Big Ben, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square and other cool spots. We rode the observation wheel The London Eye, and took a tour of the Tower of London, where we saw the crown jewels of all the past British monarchs.
From London, we hooked up with our tour group and traveled to Dover (the White Cliffs of Dover were really pretty, although it was a pretty crappy day weather-wise). We took the ferry across the English Channel to Calais, France, where we met our bus driver Genarro and tour guide Sara. The next eight days on the bus took us to France, Switzerland and Italy. We spent two nights in Paris, two nights in Luzern, Switzerland, two in Venice, one in Florence and two in Rome.
Paris was a beautiful city. We went to the Eiffel Tower (the line was too long that day or else we would have gone up to the top), Notre Dame cathedral and took a tour of the city.
Switzerland was by far our favorite country. It’s the cleanest place we’ve ever been to. The lakes are crystal clear. The tap water is better than just about every spring water we’ve had. The Alps are a picture of beauty, and the people were very nice. We took a boat trip on Lake Luzern and admired the lake’s natural beauty and pristine water. We got a few of the small towns and a picturesque look at the Alps. We also ventured into the Alps and ascended Mount Titlis, where a few of our tour friends from Australia and other countries got to see snow for the first time.
From Switzerland, we ventured to Italy, where we spent two days in Venice. We were so excited to see Venice, and we were disappointed that it was such a letdown. The gondola rides were well worth it, but the city itself is pretty smelly and dirty (their sewage goes straight into the water, since the city itself is on water) but we had a good time nonetheless. Florence was a nice city, full of beautiful churches and memorable artwork and statues. A drive through the Tuscany region was breathtaking, and a stop in Pisa was cool, as we were able to take our picture in front of the Leaning Tower.
Rome was probably our favorite city, although we were amazing at how crazy the driving was in the city. There’s almost three million people in Rome, but just 350,000 parking spaces. Double parking everywhere. There were no real lanes, so it was pretty much a free for all. It was nice to be on the bus. We had a great time Friday night with the good friends we made on the trip, a couple from Australia named Shane and Wendy. We had an awesome dinner out, the food and the wine were flowing big time and we made quite an impression that night on our tour group, I’ll leave it at that.
Not feeling up to snuff Saturday, Tina urged me to tough it out, and boy am I glad she did. We visited the Vatican museum and were treated to beautiful mosaics and some of the greatest artwork I’ve ever seen. The Sistene Chapel was awe-inspiring, and we learned how talented Michelangelo really was. Also visited St. Peter’s Cathedral. Our tour guide in Rome was awesome. He was very informative, yet also kept things moving and cracked jokes to keep everyone interested. From the Vatican we ventured to some ancient Roman ruins, the best of which was the Coliseum. It’s truly hard to believe how far advanced the Romans were, building a structure that still stands, 2000 years later (and if it weren’t for church officials taking the iron from the structure hundreds of years ago, it would probably be 90 percent in tact, as half the building was lost to an earthquake in the 1500s). We also saw several old castles and other Roman ruins, such as the Forum. Great time. So much history in Europe. You see buildings there that have been up for close to 1,000 years (and in some cases more) and just can’t get help but marvel at them.
Anyway, that’s where I’ve been. I plan to write more here in the coming days, as the hot stove kicks into full gear. It will be interesting to see what the Mets do. Also have a few cd reviews coming up, including the outstanding Them Crooked Vultures album. As they say in Italy, ciao (for now).

Our European vacation did not include an appearance from Clark Griswold.