As we say goodbye to one high-profile player, in Jose Reyes, who signed a six-year $106 million contract with the suddenly deep-pocketed Miami Marlins, we have a batch of players still around who didn't come to town with any of the fanfare and huzzahs that Reyes will be seeing down in Florida. In fact, these guys were basically picked off the scrapheap, forgotten by many, never known by others. They were either discarded by other teams, acquired on discount by the locals or were given a flyer, coming without much or any pedigree, but they all made an impact this week.
After being declared a bust up in Buffalo, Aaron Maybin was snatched off the waiver wire by the New York Jets this August. So enamored with their new linebacker, the Jets quickly waived him themselves. He later rejoined the Jets, and has now been the team's Tasmanian Devil, a third-down sacking whirlwind. In Sunday's win over the Redskins, after the Jets took a fourth-quarter lead, Maybin made one of the key plays in the game, living up to his nickname of Mayhem, when he sacked Rex Grossman, forcing a fumble. After recording a total of zero sacks in his career, Maybin leads the Jets with six this season. The New York Giants have their own under-the-radar forgotten man in Victor Cruz. After joining the team as an undrafted free agent, he made a name for himself in the 2010 preseason New Meadowlands opener, when he caught three touchdown passes in the victory over the Jets. But he was soon forgotten once again after that. This year, though, he's cemented his place in the NFL. He hauled in seven passes for 119 yards in the heart-wrenching loss to the Packers, and he leads all Giant receivers in receptions (62), yards (1,076), average-yards-per-catch (17.4) and touchdowns (7). The Giants have another offensive starter who came via the same route as Cruz, in Jake Ballard. The tight end went undrafted, spent time on the Giants' practice squad, was waived, rejoined the team, and now he has surprised everyone and has become a solid NFL starter. He has 33 catches on the year, for 537 yards, with three touchdowns, including the memorable game-winner in the upset over the Patriots.
In the summer of 2009, Matt Moulson was picked up as an unheralded free agent by the New York Islanders after briefly playing with the Los Angeles Kings. He tried out for the team, made the team and now stars for the team. Moulson scored 30 goals in his first season on Long Island and 31 last year. On Saturday he did his Wayne Gretzky impression, when he netted a whopping four goals in the win over the Stars (and he scored another one on Tuesday). For the season, Moulson has 14 goals and eight assists. Islanders goalie Al Montoya is another player picked up on the cheap, as he was acquired from Phoenix for a sixth-round draft pick. While the multimillionaire, giant-contracted, first-rounder Rick DiPietro can't stay in the lineup, Montoya has settled in as the team's No. 1 goaltender, with a 2.14 GAA and .930 save percentage. The New York Rangers have a Victor Cruz themselves, in Dan Girardi. Signed as an undrafted free agent, Girardi is now the team's No. 1 defenseman stepping in for the injured Marc Staal. He's logging the most minutes in the NHL and is a big reason for the Rangers' success this year, solidifying their defense.
Maybe the New York Mets can build a team with unsung, low-cost, discarded players in the absence of the big-time acquisitions they are now eschewing. You probably can't win a championship with a team full of these guys, but Maybin, Cruz, Ballard, Moulson, Montoya and Girardi prove that you don't have to be a golden-boy, first-round draft pick to succeed, thrive and help a team win.
And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Adios, Jose: There are many angry and disillusioned Met fans walking around the city this week. Fan favorite Jose Reyes has left the team, and to make matters worse he signed with a division rival. Coming up to the big leagues as a teenager in 2003, Reyes was like a happy-go-lucky puppy dog, and when he left at the age of 28, he was still like a happy-go-lucky puppy dog. He leaves as the greatest shortstop in franchise history, and he's the all-time Met leader in stolen bases (370), runs scored (735) and triples (99). He was, of course, the first Met to lead the league in batting, and he did it with a little controversy, which is fitting as everything he does, he does with flair and panache, with a dash of "what was he thinking?" thrown in. A Jose Reyes triple is one of the great highlights in Met history. And we'll never see him do it again in a Met uniform.
Short-Term Relief: The Mets can't fill the void left by Reyes, but they upgraded their disastrous bullpen on Tuesday. How much of an upgrade remains to be seen, though, as relievers in general are an up-and-down, season-to-season breed, with future performance difficult to foretell. Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch signed short-term contracts with the team, and Angel Pagan was shipped off to San Francisco for outfielder Andres Torres and reliever Ramon Ramirez -- the 30-year-old former Giant should prove to be the gem of the bullpen newcomers. Terry Collins already has Torres penciled into the leadoff spot, but with a lifetime .318 OBP, that move seems a little sketchy, but he should be a defensive improvement over Pagan. All of these players are just placeholders, though, as Sandy Alderson is just waiting until Zach Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Brandon Nimmo, et al. show up at Citi Field, and the real team building can begin. In other Met news, they're listening to offers for just about anyone not named David Wright, with the possibility of flipping them for a handful of position-player prospects, Chris Capuano signed with the Dodgers and Omar Minaya was hired by the Padres as their senior VP of baseball operations, which gets the Mets out of paying some of the money they owe him. They, of course, released a statement of congratulations, which is kind of like congratulating your ex-wife on remarrying, therefore saving you a boatload on alimony.
While Japanese Imports May Arrive, Can't Give American Model Away: The New York Yankees won the bidding rights for Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. The 29-year-old put up a .313/.389/.491 line with an .880 OPS in four seasons playing for the Seibu Lions, and he should compete for a utility infield job with the Bombers if they reach a deal. Another Japanese star, pitcher Yu Darvish, was posted on Thursday, and the Yankees will possibly be in the mix with a bid for him, and they reportedly made a one-year $12 million offer to yet another Japanese player, pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, who spent the last four years with the Dodgers. While the Yankees paid $2 million to obtain Nakajima, there are reports that they're willing to eat $8 million of the remaining $33 million owed to A.J. Burnett. But sadly, and not surprisingly, it seems that no one wants him. Especially the Yankees.
1998 or 2007? The Giants were hoping for a repeat of 1998, when they upset the 13-0 Denver Broncos, as opposed to a morale-boosting almost-win, such as the last game of the 2007 season, when the Giants fell just short to the Patriots, by the same 38-35 score as last Sunday's loss to the Packers. Of course, 2007 turned out to be a much better year for Big Blue than 1998, so everyone will be happy if the outcome of 2011 is the same as in that year. Yes, the Giants were much better in the Packers loss than the Saints debacle, but blown coverages and the lack of defensive stops were the killer this time around. And turnovers and mistakes also added to their demise, as interceptions and fumbles can't happen against the best team in the league. Things began looking like it was going to be the Giants' day, though. When Travis Beckham caught a 67-yard touchdown pass on the third play of the game, I did a double take, forgetting that he was still even on the team, and thought this has to be a good omen for them. But Aaron Rodgers was too much for the Giants' defense to overcome, and though Eli Manning almost matched him yard for yard and score for score, those two turnovers were the difference. And maybe Jake Ballard was inbounds after all, in what could have been the Giants' second touchdown of the game. But what could have been doesn't matter anymore. It's what's to come that counts, as, amazingly, the Giants can still win the division, with a pair of wins over the Cowboys. So will their latest loss spur them on to victory and turn their season around or will it be just one more loss in a long losing streak that signals the end of the Tom Coughlin era? (For some underdog inspiration, here's a highlight video from This Week in Pro Football, when the 2-12 Giants defeated the powerhouse Cowboys, 14-6, back in 1974.)
As Long as the Ending Is Good: It's December, the crunch time of the season, so whatever it takes -- fast start, slow start, big ending -- as long as the Jets come out on top, even if they have to squeeze by a mediocre team. Though the final score (34-19) looked like a romp, squeezing by a mediocre team is just what the Jets did once again. The theme is the same as in the Bills game the previous week -- the Jets weren't great but they were good enough to defeat the Redskins. The offense got off to a fast/slow start scoring a quick touchdown but then taking a break until the final 15 minutes. Mark Sanchez was again slightly less than impressive but came up big in the fourth quarter, Santonio Holmes was clutch once again, hauling in the go-ahead touchdown in the final quarter (and that drive was preceded by a heads-up Josh Baker grabbing a botched kickoff), Shonn Greene scored three touchdowns (though maybe he should have taken a knee instead of crossing the goal line on the last one) and the offensive line didn't allow a sack. Maybin came up with the big play on defense, forcing a late turnover that would lead to an insurance touchdown, which would allow the defense to relax and not have to worry about making a final stand. Also consistent with the preceding games was another muffed punt return, which will force the return of Jim Leonhard to that position. The Jets' playoff position is just a little bit better this week than it was last week, with the Kansas City Chiefs coming up next. (For some ground-and-pound inspiration, here's a highlight video, from This Week in Pro Football, of a Jets victory over the Chiefs back in 1975, when Gang Green rushed for 291 yards, with both John Riggins [145 yards] and Carl Garrett  running all over Kansas City.)
And Away They Go: While the NBA world awaits to see where Chris Paul will wind up, as David Stern pulled the old Bowie Kuhn trick by voiding a transaction, the New York Knicks are possibly on the verge of signing center Tyson Chandler to a four-year $58 million deal, which could end Chauncey Billups' brief time in New York, and the point guard is not happy about that prospect. If the deal goes through, Chandler would be the big man the Knicks desperately need, and he would give them a defensive presence that is sorely lacking. Meanwhile, the schedules have arrived, and the Knicks will, of course, open on Christmas vs. the Celtics, but they then immediately embark on a three-game road trip out West. There will be no homecoming for Carmelo Anthony, as the Knicks won't go to Denver, but they only have one back-to-back-to-back. The New Jersey Nets, on the other hand, have two occasions when they play three consecutive nights. They open the season on the road in Washington on Dec. 26, with their home opener occurring the following night vs. the Hawks. P.J. Carlesimo and Mario Elie officially joined Avery Johnson's coaching staff, and the team unveiled a new logo to (somewhat awkwardly) commemorate their last year in New Jersey and upcoming move to Brooklyn. At least it looks good, with a small hat-tip to their ABA days.
Realignment: The Rangers, Islanders and New Jersey Devils, as well as present division mates the Flyers and Penguins, will be joined by the Capitals and Hurricanes to form their own conference, possibly as early as next season, as the NHL will once again rearrange divisions and conferences (though no teams from the Big East will be jumping to the NHL). The top four teams in the four new conferences will qualify for the playoffs, and the regular-season schedule will be more balanced, with each team having one home and one away game with non-conference teams. On the surface, qualifying for the playoffs looks a little harder for the local teams, with only four spots and Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington to contend with. One good move, in a nod to tradition, would be to reinstall the old division names -- Patrick, Adams, Smythe and Norris. On the ice this week, after beating the Lightning on Saturday, the Rangers had their five-game winning streak snapped on Monday (with Michael Sauer sustaining a concussion, as well) and they lost in a shootout to Tampa Bay on Thursday, after Artem Anisimov temporarily lost his mind and briefly turned into Stevie Johnson. The Islanders picked up six points, going 2-0-2 (and David Ullstrom scored his first NHL goal). And the Devils, who lost on Friday and Saturday, finally got off the schneid with an overtime win over the Maple Leafs, and they kept the momentum going with a come-from-behind victory over the Senators on Thursday, with a pair of shorthanded goals spurring the comeback.
Honored (or Not): The Giants inducted five more players into their Ring of Honor at halftime of last Sunday's game. Alex Webster, Brad Van Pelt, Dave Jennings, Carl Banks and Mark Bavaro were the inductees, joining the original 30 who were enshrined in 2010. But making old Brooklyn natives and aging Met fans unhappy, Gil Hodges was once again snubbed in the Baseball Hall of Fame voting. As they used to say in Hodges' old, adopted borough, "Wait Till Next Year!"
And that's the New York week that was.