Sunday, December 4, 2011

Baseball Digest | Marlins, Reyes, and the SEC

The newly named Miami Marlins have a new stadium, a new uniform, are this close to a new shortstop, and are newly under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The former Florida Marlins have already been making a big splash this December with the signing of free agent closer Heath Bell to a three-year, $27 million contract as they prepare for life in their new ballpark. The Marlins made headlines this weekend for good and bad reasons as well. First the good, Miami and free agent shortstop Jose Reyes, one of the hottest commedities on the free agent market, agreed to a six-year, $106MM deal that is contingent on a physical. It's a huge deal for the Marlins, who already have an All-Star in Hanley Ramirez at the position ( Ramirez is likely to be asked to be moved to 3rd base according to Marlins beat writer Joe Capozzi, but what if he balks. Ramirez had difficulty with management and faced criticism last year for his work habits.).

But the Marlins may have some choppy waters ahead of them. Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports that a long overdue investigation by the SEC into the Marlins' ability to get a new stadium is underway.
"The Security and Exchange Commission on Thursday launched guided warheads at the Marlins, requesting the team’s financial records, communications with MLB officials including commissioner Bud Selig, minutes of meetings with local government leaders and political campaign-contribution information, according to a report in the Miami Herald.

While the subpoenas issued by the SEC do not explicitly detail the purpose of the investigation, the feds’ motives are evident: They want to understand how, exactly, a group of county commissioners agreed to fund 80 percent of the Marlins new stadium, which cost more than $600 million, without ever seeing the team’s financial records – and whether bribes had anything to do with it."

One does have to wonder what took so long. Passan and others reported on wrong doing back in August when also revealed the Marlins' balance sheet.
"Miami-Dade County commissioners nevertheless voted 9-4 in favor of taking out loans that will cost the county $2.4 billion over 40 years to help build the stadium in Little Havana, about two miles west of the city. Critics across south Florida panned the deal, which gives the Marlins all stadium-related revenue and imbued the team with a new attitude entering this offseason."

A team that supposedly had financial problems is suddenly pouring out money, hand over fist. First came the 34-yr old Bell's $9MM per year deal and then the nearly $18MM per year for Reyes. And the Marlins aren't done either. Their are said to be ready to make a serious at Albert Pujols', to whom they reportedly made a nine-year offer to in November for somewhere between $200MM and $225MM. Whether they were serious or not, one Marlins' spokesman told reporters the team was hoping to leave the winter meetings with "...4 or 5 new players."

The question is will the SEC come down hard on the Marlins or simply give them a slap on the wrist. And maybe even more importantly, will the fans, who never came to Marlins' games in the old stadium, suddenly start attending them in the new digs. While owner Jeffrey Loria may suddenly field a contender, will fans/taxpayers get over being swindled and show up? It's a question that has no easy answer.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Giants' Season Is Not A Collapse

People keep talking about the New York Giants' season collapsing, but I beg to differ. There is no collapse when a team plays to the level and talent that they are really at. Face the facts, the Giants could easily have been 2-6 rather than 6-2 after eight games. We all knew the schedule was going to become a bear (though they didn't play Chicago outside of pre-season) in the middle of the season. This is a mediocre team that became worse with injuries.

Just look at the way the season has gone. in week 1 they lost to a miserable Washington Redskins team. Eli Manning had a horrible game, which caused many fans to once again doubt his ability. His all-pro type season has changed all that, even if he still makes the occassional poor decision. Then again those bad throws usually come after a Giants penalty, dropped pass, or some other mistake.

Week 2 saw a relatively easy win against the Rams that kick started a three game winning streak. They came from behind, to a lot of people's surprise, myself included, to beat the Eagles and then made a 4th quarter comeback against the Arizona Cardinals. The latter game could have been a loss had the referees ruled Victor Cruz' faux pas as a fumble rather than being down by contact.

Week 4 saw a humiliating loss to the weak Seattle Seahawks. To make it worse they lost to back up QB Charlie Whitehurst after they had knocked starer Matt Hasselback from the game. A second three-game winning streak followed, with all of the games determined in the 4th quarter. Lawrence Tynes' kicked the game winning field goal with 1:32 left to beat Buffalo and the Giants embarrassed themselves for most of their match with Miami before pulling out a 20-17 win. The next two weeks would be two of the best Giants' performances of the season.

There was the 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots that had us all thinking "maybe this team can do something big!". Arguably, they played an even better game against a tough San Francisco team the following week, but fell 27-20. And then the laughter stopped.

First came the terrible loss to rusty Vince Young and the Eagles and the utter blow out by the New Orleans Saints, 49-24. Suddenly a three game losing streak dropped the Giants' record to 6-5, a game behind the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East. Next up? The Green Bay Packers' All-World offense this Sunday.

The prospect of a 6-6 record with four games to go is pretty assurred. However, the Giants could still make the playoffs. It sounds crazy, but it is true. The remaining schedule has two games with Dallas, one with Washington, and the battle of MetLife Stadium vs. the Jets. It would be tougher, but it is possible the Giants could make the playoffs at 9-7 (10-6 should be a definite.). In order for that to happen some things needs to change.

There is nothing you can do about injuries, and unfortunately, the Giants are riddled with them on both sides of the ball.

With the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw, the running game has completely disappeared. Brandon Jacobs shot his mouth off about playing time and criticized the fans, but has done anything with his new found playing time. It hasn't helped that the offensive line is getting overpowered in run blocking situations either. D.J. Ware has had a chance to step up, but has done nothing but drop screen passes. Da'Rel Scott fumbles more times than he carries the ball, or so it seems.

Hakeem Nicks is the only reliable receiver that Manning has to depend on. Victor Cruz has made some huge plays and some huge mistakes, but he looks like he could be the real deal in the long run. Mario Manningham, currently injured, is the epitome of an airhead. Wrong routes, dropped passes, and not knowing where he is on the field are all part of Manningham's reportoire. Ramses Barden could develop into a good wideout, but he's still getting experience. The bloom seems to be off the rose that is tight end Jake Ballard, whose play has been very ordinary the last two weeks.

The Giants pass rush has disappeared and quarterbacks are taking advantage with their new found time. People are quick to criticize the secondary, which has been subpar, but you can only cover a receiver for so long when there is no pressure on the QB. The Giants linebackers are a mess with injuries and inexperience. This seems to be the case almost every year. (Calling Bill Parcells, please draft a load of linebackers for the Giants.)

The kicking game has actually been the most consistent facet of the Giants' game, and that's just sad. Getting back to Eli, Mike Mazzeo of ESPN said the other night that "Eli is an island". No words are truer. He is doing everything he can to get his team to win. Now he needs Tom Coughlin and offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride to help him out. The Giants can't run, so throw more screens and slants to replace parts of the running game. Hell, throw some wildcat in there to shake things up. Or go with a 2 minute offense for most of the game.

It's hard to believe with all the bad things I mentioned that the Giants could make the playoffs, but they can. Granted, they won't go far, but they could be playing in the new year.