Loria making progress but still has room for growth; Eagles discuss Dolphins trade; Fins, Heat, Panthers, UM nuggets
As Jeffrey Loria begins his 15th season as Marlins owner, one that he hopes will be nothing like the last six --- when they were a combined 110 games under .500 --- we offer some gentle advice:
• Refrain from telling your manager what to do. Loria's friends believe he’s not going to throw his weight around with Don Mattingly and meddle in lineup decisions. But losses will test him, to be sure.
Associates who were loyal to former manager Dan Jennings said Loria called with strong lineup “recommendations” on several occasions, including making clear Loria's desire not to play Marcell Ozuna in center field at times because he was out of shape.
Jennings did as he pleased, which soured their relationship, according to a Jennings associate. Such an approach isn’t going to fly with Mattingly, and Loria appears to recognize that.
• Show more patience. Yes, Mattingly can do no wrong with Loria now. But if the team doesn’t win to the level of Loria’s expectations, do not immediately question the manager, as Loria did with Jennings and Mike Redmond and most of his managers before them.
Loria still must recognize it’s not usually the manager’s fault; he drew the opposite conclusion with every manager he has hired except Jack McKeon, who won him his only World Series.
One source who spoke to the Marlins front office this past offseason said Loria was so furious about last season that he wanted to trade much of the roster. But Loria listened to his baseball people --- something that he has done more of the past two years.
• When you’re sitting in the ballpark, near the dugout, do not make critical or strategy-questioning comments that can be heard by the manager and at times, players.
From what we’ve been told, those comments include remarks such as questioning the manager for not pinch-hitting or asking why a Marlins pitcher is still in the game or opining that a player cannot hit a particular pitch.
Loria utters the comments aloud as a fan would, not intending them as instructions to his manager. But the manager often hears, and that isn’t a healthy situation.
“It’s like witnessing a car crash,” said one local non-Marlins official who sat near Loria last season. “I was uncomfortable. Look at the physical proximity between his seat and the manager’s. Jeffrey is barking comments the manager can hear, and it’s very uncomfortable. Let him manage.”
Another associate of multiple former Marlins said players have complained about this to him. “Players hear it and don’t like it.”
• If this team contends, be willing to augment the roster at the trade deadline. Even though the $70 million payroll ranks among the lowest in baseball, a source assures us that Loria will take on salary this summer if the Marlins are in the race. Let’s hope so.
With a new stadium, it’s tough to stomach this low a payroll, even with the worst TV contract in baseball. The Marlins believe they’ll be able to afford a $100 million payroll eventually when they get a new TV deal, but the contract doesn’t expire until 2020.
There are several things to say in Loria’s defense that need to be said: Anybody who knows him says he genuinely wants to win. He has been more willing to listen to his baseball people the past two years and deserves credit for that.
He has served a helpful role in free agency. “Jeffrey Loria, the manager and the general manager all called me when I was a free agent [in January] and I was blown away,” infielder Chris Johnson said. “I’m not Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes.”
And we’ve heard confidential stories of Loria’s generosity that speak very well of him. He quietly helped the family of an ill acquaintance, without seeking any credit, publicly or privately. He paid for a staffer’s surgery, when he wasn’t required to do so. We’ve heard other examples that show his decency and spirit of philanthropy.
Let’s hope Loria shows more growth and self-awareness as an owner. He has made progress, but there’s more to do as the custodian of a franchise with the second-longest postseason drought in baseball.
• Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, who orchestrated the Dolphins’ big trade with Philadelphia, said he initially went to Miami looking to move into the top 10 of the draft.
“It's not like we started off by offering [Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso and the 13th pick for the 8th pick],” Roseman told me.
"[Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum] is a tough negotiator. He needed to get value for that.
“I think that narrative of [Maxwell] not playing well isn’t accurate. He did play well. You're talking about him being a solid starting corner. It's so hard to find guys with that kind of length. He's a starter on two Super Bowl teams. He’s a good player.
"Kiko Alonso, you talk about explosiveness. The first game of the season, he made an interception that few people on Earth can make. He's got unbelievable physical talent, unbelievable upside. Don’t forget: Kiko was Defensive Rookie of the Year [in 2013].
“This was a situation where we gave up a lot. We gave up two starters but that's the cost of doing business to get into the top 10.”
But also keep in mind that if the Eagles thought either player would be a star, they very likely wouldn't have given them up.
• One Dolphins official cautioned not to overlook Neville Hewitt in the team’s linebacker assessment; Miami is high on him. And there's also still eagerness to see more of Zach Vigil.
• Though the Dolphins plans to add a running back to share the load with Jay Ajayi, Adam Gase likes Damien Williams. The No. 3 job will be his to lose against Isaiah Pead, Daniel Thomas and others.
Superagent Drew Rosenhaus said on his WSVN-Fox segment tonight that he believes Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott (not a client of his) would be too good to pass up for Miami if available at No. 13 and said he's in the same class as Todd Gurley, who caught Miami's eye last year.
• How much has Hassan Whiteside validated being used late in games? He entered the weekend leading the league in average blocks and rebounds in the fourth quarter and has the NBA’s highest shooting percentage in the fourth (70.8).
• Heat opponents have shot at least 50 percent in five of the last 10 games, and Miami has fallen to ninth (still solid) at 44.2 percent field goal percentage allowed.
When I asked Erik Spoelstra on Saturday where his defense is now compared to where he wants it, he said: "We need to get better. There's times where it's what we want. But we still need to strive for that consistency and getting it to a level that's necessarily what we're capable of. So now our only focus is getting rest and getting ready for a big one on Tuesday against Detroit, and we have some work to do."
• Here is a breakdown of the remaining schedules and tiebreakers for the teams in the mix for the third to sixth seeds. Also, here's an update on where the Heat stands in its search to eventually fill two open roster spots.
• The Panthers, who clinched a playoff berth today, are two points ahead of Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division but Tampa holds the tiebreaker at the moment by virtue of more regulation and overtime victories.
The Panthers have an easier schedule than Tampa. Florida has four non-playoff opponents: on the road against Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa before hosting Carolina. The Lightning have four road games: Islanders, Rangers, New Jersey, Montreal.
And remember the NHL seeds differently than the NBA. The division leader in each conference with the most points plays the wild card team with the fewest points. The division leader with the second highest amount of points plays the wild card team with the most points. The second and third seeds in each division face one another in the first round.
• Brad Kaaya, who was very impressive in Saturday's closed UM scrimmage, told me Mark Richt wants him to go through his progressions faster as he drops back and Kaaya has been studying lots of tape of former Georgia quarterbacks Matt Stafford and Aaron Murray…
UM indicated it hasn’t pursued ex-Gators QB Will Grier, who’s transferring. Miami has two 2017 quarterback oral commitments (Cade Weldon and N'Kosi Perry) and four 2017 returnees on scholarship if Kaaya doesn’t turn pro.
• R.J. McIntosh said he has been getting first team reps at defensive tackle (with Courtel Jenkins), but he will need to impress to hold off Kendrick Norton and hard-charging Gerald Willis... With Darrion Owens out, UM coaches seem less than thrilled with the other veteran linebackers except Jermaine Grace, of course. Peter Ariz noted that early enrollees Shaquille Quarterman and Mike Pinckney played with the first team (with Grace) at Saturday's scrimmage.