2004-01-02 / Sports

Inside Pitch

By Bryan Hoch
Inside Pitch By Bryan Hoch

Chad Pennington threw five interceptions against the Patriots. (AP/Tom Sperduto)Chad Pennington threw five interceptions against the Patriots. (AP/Tom Sperduto)

With the wrap sealed on a disappointing 6-10 season, the Jets will head into the offseason knowing that changes must be made to avoid similar results in 2004-05. The question is which department, exactly, should the Jets begin dismantling and re-tooling?

Things don’t quite seem so bad for the Jets on the surface – they went 6-6 after regaining the services of Chad Pennington – but the numbers tell a different story altogether. In several key departments, the Jets weren’t able to even crack the top 15 among NFL teams, with defense against the run (28th) and offensive rushing (25th) proving to be the most glaring inefficiencies.

One would almost certainly expect that head coach Herman Edwards has some interesting changes in store for the Jets’ sidelines, to come well before the team delves into the free agent period.

Speculation is that Edwards could dismiss defensive coordinator Ted Cot­trell as soon as this week, while offensive coordinator Paul Hackett isn’t exactly out of the woods either – sources say that some within the Jets organization were worried by Penn­ington’s five-interception game against the Patriots, and if perhaps defenses were beginning to pick up on the idiosyncrasies of Pennington’s game and Hackett’s offense.

• After dealing Nick Johnson to the Expos in the trade for stud starter Javier Vazquez, the Yankees are left with the dilemma of having a designated hitter – Bernie Williams, who’s been dislodged by the signing of Kenny Lofton in center field – who’s unable to spell Jason Giambi at first base.

This could wind up being a large problem for the Yankees, who have to be gnashing their teeth privately over the state of Giambi’s quickly-eroding knees and over the staggering sum of money he’s still owed on his $120 million contract.

The Yankees are showing interest in a number of fill-ins to take over Johnson’s back-seat role, among them long-time Dodger Eric Karros and last season’s Met, Tony Clark, but the Bombers will still have to hope against hope that Giambi is able to truck his frame to the diamond for upwards of 130 games in 2004. Last season, with Johnson available to take some of the load off, Giambi only donned his glove for 85 games at first base.

• Surprise, surprise: the Boston Globe believes that the Red Sox have the edge on the Yankees for the 2004 season. We’re not inclined to disagree – the games, after all, are played on the field and not on newsprint – but as far as the assumption that Boston now has an edge because they’ve garnered closer Keith Foulke, well, we have to take umbrage.

Yes, the Red Sox upgraded their bull­pen greatly with the signing of Oak­land’s closer Foulke, but the Yankees made perhaps the most underrated moves of the offseason by quietly adding setup men Tom "Flash" Gordon and Paul Quantrill to their previously troubled relief corps. Quantrill, greatly effective for the Dodgers, will have no problem soaking up the sixth and seventh innings if need be this year, and slotting Gordon in behind Mariano Rivera gives the Yankees a one-two late-inning punch that they haven’t seen since 1996 and John Wetteland.

• Strange happenings afoot in Flushing, where, according to the Newark Star-Ledger, the Mets may be in talks with Bobby Valentine and his Japanese club to bring on the ex-manager as a Far East advisor this season.

Seemingly shunned here in the States, Valentine took on a field manager role for at least the 2004 season with the Chiba Lotte Marines, with the simple intention of getting back into the swing of filling out a lineup card again. But the Mets may apparently be more than willing to welcome him back into their fold, only a little more than a year after kicking him to the curb and replacing him with the vanilla Art Howe.

Is it out of the realm of possibility to consider that Valentine, who’s re­paired his relationship with Fred Wilpon and gets along with GM Jim Duquette, could someday wind up being the next manager of the Mets? The only roadblock could wind up being Wilpon’s son, Jeff, who’s known to be no great pennant-waving fan of Bobby V’s.

• Mark our words: next year’s hot-ticket clothing item on the streets will be the new Diamond Legends retro base­ball series being planned by Russell Athletic, capitalizing on the popular throwback jersey craze by going a step beyond and dusting off the minor-league threads worn by those heroes of yesteryear.

Who among us wouldn’t love to get our hands on an 1967 Jacksonville Suns (Mets) Nolan Ryan jersey, or a 1946 Newark Bears Yogi Berra? But if you’re filling out your holiday wish list early, we’d go with the 1954 Montreal Royals Roberto Clemente. Retail price per jersey will be in the $160 ballpark.

E-Mail Bryan Hoch: bryanhoch@yahoo.com

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