Derek Jeter apparently missed the memo on how fed up Marlins fans are with fire sales

 

With Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the same lineup, every day will be Home Run Derby for the New York Yankees.

It’s an excess of riches for Derek Jeter’s old team. And his new one? An excess of prospects, building toward some grand plan that Jeter, part-owner and top baseball executive of the Miami Marlins, has thus far failed to articulate.

New Yankee Giancarlo Stanton answers questions during a press conference at the Major League Baseball winter meetings in Orlando, Fla., Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.)

The optics are not good here, trading away the franchise’s home-grown NL Most Valuable Player. Some of the worst ever, actually.

Even Jeffrey Loria, the owner everyone wanted to ride out of town on a rail, got off to a better start than this when he bought the Marlins from John Henry in 2002.

Forget for a moment that Loria basically had the team handed to him in an orchestrated deal that sold his floundering Montreal Expos to Major League Baseball first. Forget it because fans care far less about the financial underpinnings of any franchise than they do about the players they buy tickets to see.

In that respect Loria and his general manager, Larry Beinfest, got busy in a hurry on a set of transactions that were far more popular and beneficial to the team’s roster than anything Jeter has done or will do over the next few years.

Tim Raines, a good clubhouse guy and a future Hall of Famer, instantly came aboard as a low-cost free agent at the end of his career. Everybody loved “Rock,” whether he played a lot or not, so no harm there.

Next came a spring-training trade that sent Antonio Alfonseca, a flighty and overweight closer, to the Cubs in a package that got the Marlins an interesting young pitching prospect named Dontrelle Willis. The D-Train was on the verge of a breakout, from minor leaguer in 2002 to NL Rookie of the Year in 2003, so that worked, too. It was all part of a quiet rollout in which the Marlins improved from 76 wins to 79, with Loria making signs that he meant to compete for something.

In Loria’s second season he shifted into a different gear altogether, trading away Charles Johnson and Preston Wilson in a deal that brought Juan Pierre, a great leadoff hitter, to the Marlins.

Next came the free-agent signing of catcher Ivan Rodriguez for $10 million, which was more than one-fifth of the team payroll at the time. Pudge, a future Hall of Famer, was exactly what the Marlins needed to get the most out of a staff of kid pitchers who themselves would go on to be stars.

In May Loria showed his impetuous side, firing manager Jeff Torborg and replacing him with the ancient Jack McKeon. Nobody knew quite what to make of that, and the sale of Kevin Millar to the Red Sox was a puzzler, too, but then came the moves that really proved Loria wanted to win the World Series as soon as possible.

In July the Marlins got a top closer, Ugueth Urbina, in a trade, and in August Jeff Conine, a Marlins favorite who was lost in an earlier Wayne Huizenga fire sale, returned to the team by trade as well. The pieces were then in place for a World Series upset of the Yankees, with a mix of veterans and young stars developed in what was then recognized as a strong farm system.

No matter what anybody thinks of Loria now, at least he came into this thing with the idea that the Marlins should strive to be the best and South Florida fans should know that.

So far, the only things this market knows about Jeter are bad. He won’t care about winning for a while, it’s clear. He believes there is time for a rebuild because he is new to this project. Poor guy. He doesn’t realize that new projects are old news around here. Finished projects are what we crave.

I’m not telling you to love Jeffrey Loria. It seems, though, that he at least cared about first impressions as the owner of the Marlins.

Jeter figures he has already made his first impression, the only one he’ll ever need to make, by being one of the greatest players in Yankees history. That was a different time in his life, though, and this job of empire-building, the one that even George Steinbrenner struggled to master, does not come so naturally to him.

[A dream night for Jakeem, but not without familiar frustrations]

[It’s OK to start wondering if Tiger will return to Honda Classic]

[Before Richt was available, UM interviewed Schiano and Mullen]

Remembering what Ricky did there, Dolphins shouldn’t fear a snowy day in Buffalo

Let it snow.

I’m saying that because absolutely anything can happen when a football game is played in wintry conditions, and because the Miami Dolphins are at the stage of the season where absolutely everything must happen in order for them to make the playoffs.

ORCHARD PARK, NY –  LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills scores a touchdown to win the game during overtime against the Indianapolis Colts on December 10, 2017 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

So when the Dolphins play at Buffalo on Sunday, a real mid-December treat from the NFL schedule-makers, might as well root for the kind of accumulation that turned last week’s game there between the Bills and the Colts into a snow-globe classic.

Light snow and sleet and eventually a full-on barrage of near whiteout conditions didn’t stop Ricky Williams from rushing for a career-best 228 yards at Buffalo on Dec. 1, 2002. That remains a Miami franchise record, and it came on a day when the temperature was 25 degrees at kickoff with a wind chill of 13.

The Dolphins’ first snap was a handoff from Ray Lucas to Ricky, who rumbled 45 yards around left end for a touchdown. The field was slippery, but so what?

In the third quarter Ricky cut loose right up the middle for a 55-yard score. The snow was building from a fine powder to a regular winter wonderland by then, but so what?

Truth is, Ricky would have had a chance at 250 total rushing yards if not for a leg injury that removed him from the game early in the fourth quarter.

“I was a little nervous about it,” Ricky said, admitting postgame that he had been checking the weather forecast on his cellphone all week. “It wasn’t bad, you know. It was just cold. Once you get past the mental part of it being cold and you being miserable, then it’s just football.”

Drew Bledsoe, the Bills’ quarterback at the time, clearly agreed. While Lucas was laboring on a 6-for-11 passing day with two fumbles, Bledsoe threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns. Included in there was a 73-yard touchdown pass from Bledsoe to Peerless Price, the play that put Buffalo ahead to stay in a 38-21 victory.

How would Kenyan Drake fare on an icy field if it comes to that on Sunday? That would be a new experience for the Dolphins’ new feature running back, who grew up in Georgia and played college ball at Alabama. All I know is that Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy rushed for 156 yards and the winning touchdown in overtime last week in snow up to his ankles, and it was his best game of the season.

In the end, there need be no particular advantage for either team, not when the Bills have an indoor practice facility to use on snowy weekdays.

So bring on the blizzard. The Dolphins and Bills are each trying to slip and slide their way into a wild-card playoff spot anyway. Might as well make it truly epic.

[A dream night for Jakeem Grant, but what about that TD drop?]

[It’s OK to start wondering if Tiger Woods will return to Honda Classic]

[Bobby considered FSU a destination job but Jimbo? Not so much]

A dream night for Jakeem, but not without the familiar frustrations

Jakeem Grant finally caught a touchdown pass on Monday night, the first of his NFL career, and people are still mad at him.

Because the guy is 5-feet-7 and 169 pounds, everything Jakeem ever does is going to be magnified, if that makes any sense. To me, it’s a wonder that he’s even in the league. Speed and elusiveness got him here as a specialty player, of course, but being so different means that he always is going to try a little too hard, too.

Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jakeem Grant catches a touchdown pass over New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler in the third quarter at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on December 11, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

There was a play in Monday’s 27-20 upset of New England, for instance, where Jakeem decided not to return a punt but couldn’t keep himself from standing way too close to the bouncing ball as it settled to a rest. What was the point of that, when touching it would have made it a live ball? A New England player even took the opportunity to shove Grant toward the ball while everyone was just standing around and watching it on the ground.

Very poor instincts for a player who has returned 41 punts and 38 kickoffs in his career.

Two other spotlight moments from Monday night introduced a whole new category of exasperation for Jakeem the Dream.

The first was a spectacular leaping grab for a 25-yard touchdown over Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, the hero of Super Bowl XLIX for his interception at the goal line with 20 seconds remaining. Jay Cutler made the ball a 50-50 proposition and Jakeem hauled it in for a 20-10 Miami lead. Not only was it Grant’s first career touchdown catch, it was his fifth NFL reception period.

In the fourth quarter, however, Jakeem had everyone gasping, Miami and New England fans alike, with a dropped ball that could have gone for a game-clinching touchdown bomb. Cutler put the ball on Jakeem’s fingertips, just slightly beyond comfortable reach, but instead of a transformational, two-touchdown night it turned into a major downer. Grant, who had trouble with drops last year as a rookie, said in the locker room that he reached out his arms too soon instead of running through the ball and catching up to it more easily.

I tried to cut the kid a little slack on Monday night, tweeting that because the ball didn’t arrive in perfect stride and required a stretch on the dead run it should not be classified as a truly horrendous drop. Many of the responses to that opinion were similarly sympathetic, signaling that tons of people are pulling for Jakeem to succeed, but here is one that probably resonates with most of you.

“C’mon dude, an NFL player should make that catch!”

Bottom line, Jakeem made himself available by sprinting past Butler and into the clear but failed to finish the play. At that point of the game, with New England on the ropes, it was the one play that everybody would have gone home talking about on Monday night, not only as Cutler’s fourth touchdown pass but as a Mark Duper moment for Jakeem.

Credit Adam Gase with finding ways to utilize Grant in this game, even lining him up in the backfield a time or two. You’ve got to find things that Bill Belichick and Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia haven’t planned for, and who game-plans for Jakeem?

I still wonder, however, if the former sixth-round draft pick will be on the Dolphins roster next season. Might as well keep using him as much as is practical in the final three regular-season games to explore all the possibilities.

One thing is for certain. With Jakeem Grant, a gadget player with the ongoing mission of becoming a reliable wide receiver, it will never be boring.

[It’s OK to start wondering again if Tiger Woods will play in Honda Classic]

[Bobby made FSU seem a dream destination but Jimbo? Not so much]

[Before Richt became available, UM interviewed Schiano and Mullen]

It’s OK to start wondering again if Tiger Woods will return to the Honda Classic

[UPDATE- Tiger wrote on his website on Dec. 29 “I would love to play a full schedule in 2018” but did not announce which events he is considering.]

The Tiger Watch is officially on for the Honda Classic.

Palm Beach County’s annual PGA Tour event is 11 weeks off, with four championship rounds scheduled for Feb. 22-25, 2018 at PGA National Golf Club.

That’s plenty of time to figure out how Tiger’s back is doing. Time, too, to read the tea leaves when it comes to his schedule-making.

Tiger Woods watches his shot from the third tee during the final round of the Hero World Challenge golf tournament at Albany Golf Club in Nassau, Bahamas, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Dante Carrer)

“We’re going to figure out what’s the best way for me to build my schedule for the major championships,” Woods said on Sunday after finished tied for ninth at his latest comeback event, the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

“What my training cycles are going to be? Play enough, but don’t play too much.”

Let me suggest going easy on the international travel, since back spasms are what ended last year’s  comeback attempt at the Dubai Desert Classic in February.

So, hmmm, try this on for size.

Play the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, one of Tiger’s favorites, in late January. Then Pebble Beach in early February, unless it gets colder and nastier than usual, when a withdrawal would be in order. Then it’s the Honda, and then Bay Hill in mid-March and then the Masters in April.

Hey, that was easy. And no, I did not get this suggestion from Ken Kennerly, executive director of the Honda Classic.

It just makes sense after all the back surgeries and injuries to take it slow this time.

Tiger himself talked about building for the majors, and he needs four more of those titles to catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18. Why not spread out the events a little, choosing only those that prepare him to win more majors in ways other than just the logging of scores and the making of money?

PGA National’s Champion Course fits the bill. The PGA Championship, a major, was played there in 1987, and the Ryder Cup matches have been there, too. It’s a strong test with an enthusiastic home crowd to match the numbers of many majors. So what do you say? Is it a done deal with the Jupiter Island resident?

Hardly, but one procedural quirk does work in the Honda’s favor.

Some top players skip the Honda because they don’t want to schedule that tournament and the World Golf Championship in Mexico on consecutive weeks. The WGC is a bigger deal and it takes more planning and more time to get there.

This probably does not apply to Tiger, however, since the WGC-Mexico Championship is open to the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings and the top 10 in Fed Ex Cup points. Even with his good finish at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger ranks 668th in the world rankings due to his extended absences. Also, it’s not likely that he will play enough to pile up the Fed Ex points.

Hey, it’s all up to him, but the Honda, won last year by Rickie Fowler, will always be more electric with Tiger.

Last year, if Rickie hadn’t been on top of the scoreboard, the list of contenders would not have been instantly recognizable to the general public, and Kennerly is always working to appeal to non-golf fans, too, with the concerts and fireworks and exhibits that grow each year at the Honda.

Here is Tiger’s career record at the Honda since the tournament moved to PGA National.

2012 – Tied for 2nd with rounds of 71, 68, 69 and 62. Yes, that’s right, a Sunday 62, to move up from 18th place to the runnerup spot behind winner Rory McIlroy.

2013 – Tied for 37th with rounds of 70, 70, 70 and 74.

2014 – Withdrew during the fourth round after posting rounds of 71, 69 and 65. Tiger was tied for 17th through 54 holes, seven shots off the lead, but he left the course with back spasms after playing 13 holes on Sunday.

 

 

 

 

 

Bobby made FSU seem like a dream destination and Jimbo? Not so much

Of all the major college programs to find their football coaching position turned into a revolving door, Florida State is the last one you would expect.

The Seminoles finally reeled in Willie Taggart on Tuesday, completing their first full-scale coach search since Bobby Bowden came aboard in January of 1976. I know that sounds like a long time ago but you really want to know how long?

Bobby’s first FSU salary was $37,500 a year.

Former Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden celebrates after defeating Nebraska 18-16 in the Orange Bowl’s 1993 national championship game. (AP Photo/Doug Mills, File)

Jimbo Fisher, of course, was designated as the head-coach-in-waiting while serving on Bobby’s staff, making for an automatic transition in 2010 without a messy search. Now he’s gone to Texas A&M, calling the decision “a no-brainer.”

No wonder Bobby is so adored in Tallahassee, with a stained-glass image at the stadium and a statue out front. He built a lasting connection to FSU, one that couldn’t be severed despite many tempting offers to coach elsewhere.

In 1990 Alabama made an offer to Bowden but, after a few days of chewing on it, he declined.

“By that time, I felt like FSU was my school,” Bowden said in his book “Called to Coach: Reflections on Life, Faith and Football.”

“No matter what I could have done as Alabama’s coach, it still would have been Coach (Bear) Bryant’s program. I could never have topped his accomplishment there.”

There’s a strong element of loyalty in there, but a bit of anxiety and humility, too. Other coaches positively burn with ambition, believing themselves capable of accomplishing anything, anywhere. Nick Saban, for instance, wasn’t afraid to take on the Bear’s legacy at Alabama. Jimbo didn’t shy away from following Bobby at FSU, either.

In his book Bobby also says he passed on offers from LSU and Auburn and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons through the years. He formally interviewed at Alabama in 1987, too, and was disappointed not to get an offer that time. Probably would have gone if he did.

There is no good way and no good time for a coach to leave one school for another, at least in the eyes of his former employer. Now Taggart is getting ripped at Oregon, where he coached for one season after upgrading from South Florida. If he ever left FSU for another job, we’d have a true gypsy, a modern-day Lou Saban, on our hands.

I’m thinking in all of this there will be a new wave of nostalgia for good ol’ Bobby.

Nobody cares now about the reasons that he stayed at FSU for 34 years, or about the close calls that almost took him away.

All that matters is that he stayed, and he never made it seem like some kind of sacrifice on his part.

In today’s climate, that is at once wonderful and weird.

[History says Dolphins can’t make playoffs from 5-7)

[Sean McVay overtakes Adam Gase as NFL’s Next Big Thing]

[Before Richt became available, UM interviewed Greg Schiano]

 

Playoffs? Dolphins history says you just can’t get there from 5-7

The Miami Dolphins looked great against Denver last Sunday. Now all they have to do is play great enough to win the last four games of the regular season, including a Monday nighter against New England, and they’re, what, a remote playoff possibility?

Truth is, the reality of the situation is even tougher than that sounds.

Miami Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake (32) enters the field during pre game introductions at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on December 3, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

No Miami team has ever gone from 5-7 to a playoff appearance. The only thing that comes close to that is 1995, Don Shula’s final season, when the Dolphins were 6-6 after 12 games and rallied to claim the AFC’s final wild-card spot at 9-7.

It was a struggle all the way, with Bernie Kosar starting a couple of midseason defeats at quarterback while Dan Marino was dealing with an injured hip. Three wins in the last four games earned a playoff spot, but the spark was quickly snuffed by a 37-22 loss at Buffalo in the opening playoff round.

The Bills led that one 37-0 through three quarters, which is a fair indication of how these things usually go when a flawed team barely reaches the playoffs and is matched against one of the league’s best. Today’s Dolphins, in comparison, have more flaws than the 1995 version, so it really is silly expecting anything spectacular to happen for them now.

Since 2000, no AFC team has qualified for the playoffs with fewer than nine wins.

One of the most disappointing memories in recent franchise history was the 2013 season, when Miami was almost there but ran out of gas.

Wins over Pittsburgh and New England raised hopes for those Dolphins, who improved to 8-6 in the process. Then came a 19-0 loss at Buffalo and a 20-7 loss at home to the New York Jets.

Kerplunk, Joe Philbin missed the playoffs by a game at 8-8. The only good news is that Ryan Tannehill somehow got through it in one piece after leading the league with 58 sacks.

Adam Gase’s 2017 Dolphins have demonstrated the same tendency to curl up into a ball for long stretches, getting shut out two times and very nearly a third. Until there is mathematical elimination, however, there will be talk of turning things around.

You understand how hollow that talk is, but I just wanted to highlight what the echoes of the past say about this.

When a team is 5-7 and there are so many other teams bunched just above, you can’t get there from here.

[Rams’ Sean McVay has overtaken Adam Gase as NFL’s Next Big Thing]

[Before Richt became available, UM interviewed Greg Schiano and Dan Mullen]

[For Gators, Dan Mullen is a good situation who wants to be great]