FRIDAY BUZZ COLUMN
We'll get to lots of Dolphins, plus Heat and Canes, in a minute. First, though, I had an interesting conversation this afternoon with Scott Boras about the Marlins' handling of Marcell Ozuna.
Agent Scott Boras said the Marlins --- who are struggling to score runs --- are leaving outfielder Marcell Ozuna at Triple A New Orleans to potentially delay his arbitration eligibility and that Marlins players are upset about it and this “is not what Marlins fans deserve.”
The Marlins deny the decision is financially-driven.
Ozuna, who is hitting .353 with four homers and nine RBI in 18 games at New Orleans, would be eligible for arbitration for the first time after this season, instead of after next season, only if the Marlins bring him back to the big leagues shortly.
WINZ’s Andy Slater has reported the cut-off date as Aug. 8, but Boras said the date “is volatile. We’re in that area now where it’s a question.” Arbitration eligibility is based on service time.
“The manager needs a middle of the order bat, the same bat they had for two years that was highly productive and they are restraining him in the minor leagues due to a service time issue,” Boras said.
“Ozuna is a proven major leaguer, certainly deserving of being in the majors with the Marlins. I don’t think anyone would look at the talent with the Marlins and suggest he’s not one of the top 25 players in that organization.
“Major league players on the club are very upset about this issue," Boras said. "They’ve approached the manager on several occasions. The organization is not applying its best talent to try to win. [Manager] Dan Jennings has told players on the team he wants him hitting No. 4 in the lineup.”
Boras, who also represents Marlins star Jose Fernandez, said he has attempted to call Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria “on numerous occasions” to discuss it and "have yet to hear back from him."
Boras added: “Every major league player wants a team to make the best efforts toward winning. When you lose games 1-0, I get a lot of phones calls from players on the team.”
Boras said when Ozuna was demoted July 5, Marlins president/baseball operations Michael Hill told him “he was going to get sent [down] for a short period to get his rhythm back. This has gone well beyond that."
The Marlins’ decision affects only whether he will be arbitration-eligible three years or four years, Boras said. Regardless of what the Marlins do, Ozuna will be eligible for free agency after 2019.
“This is not what Marlins fans deserve. Fans deserve the best team,” Boras said. “The integrity of the game deserves the best players playing in the big leagues. And it’s not prudent to provide winning baseball at the Major League level when your best talent is being restrained in the minor leagues.
Boras pointed out that when Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich --- who signed a seven-year, $49 million contract in March --- “hit .160 for his first 100 at bats, like most major league players who are established, they let him work through it. They sent Marcell down when he was hitting [.249] and lifetime average of [.263]. That’s something many clubs don’t do.... [Pirates left fielder] Starling Marte hit .170 in 70 at bats and they let him work through that."
Jennings said Tuesday the Marlins have reviewed video of Ozuna and are sending club personnel to New Orleans to evaluate him.
Boras doesn’t understand why that’s necessary. “The Triple A manager files a report,” Boras said. “You do not need to send scouts and other personnel to scout your own Triple A team. The Triple A manager is more than enough to indicate the player is back on track and he was so two weeks ago. To suggest there is not a direct dialogue between coaches and the Triple A staff and that it requires intervening scouting, is not how it’s done in baseball."
In comments that I heard after speaking to Boras, Hill told WINZ’s Slater today that the decision to leave Ozuna in the minors is “not a service oriented” decision. “It’s about him being the hitter we know we can be.”
Hill said Ozuna “is definitely making positive strides. We’re watching video every day. The thing we told him when he went down is when he comes back, we don’t ever want to send him down again.
There were adjustments that needed to be made mechanically with his swing.
"He’s making tremendous progress. I’ll be hopeful we’ll see him soon. I don’t think he’s quite where he needs to be in order for us to know as well as you can know if he’s ready to be back at this stage.”
Nuggets on a half-dozen positions off Thursday’s start of Dolphins training camp:
### Guard: It remains the biggest area of concern, but Dolphins executive Mike Tannenbaum told me the team isn’t looking for help from outside.
Asked if the Dolphins are pursuing free agent Evan Mathis, Tannenbaum said: “We are happy with what we have. Philosophically, when the right player comes along we’ll pursue him. [But] we’re happy with our roster.”
On Thursday, Billy Turner got many of the first-team snaps at right guard, with Jeff Linkenbach receiving some. Rookie Jamil Douglas and Dallas Thomas got first-team snaps at left guard, with Douglas taking the majority.
“Douglas has done some good things; we’re encouraged by some of these guys,” Tannenbaum said. “We have belief in our guys at that position. I’m looking forward to seeing it sort out.”
The sense here: Miami will consider signing Mathis only if the young guards struggle in camp and Mathis is willing to accept well below what he wants monetarily.
### Linebacker: Chris McCain batted away a pass and took most of the first-team snaps alongside Jelani Jenkins and middle linebacker Koa Misi. But there were also times that Kelvin Sheppard played in the middle, with Misi and Jenkins outside.
As ex-Dolphins linebacker and team employee Twan Russell noted, Misi’s “most success” in his career was on the strong-side. But Miami is comfortable playing Misi in the middle for a second year in a row if McCain outplays Sheppard in preseason. Spencer Paysinger and Jordan Tripp joined Sheppard for a majority of the second-team snaps.
### Cornerback: Jamar Taylor continues to get first crack opposite Brent Grimes, and potential first-team slot corner Brice McCain took some first-team snaps on the boundary in place of Taylor and also took some second-team boundary snaps opposite Will Davis.
Davis had a deflection but also was badly beaten on a deep pass to Tommy Streeter, who dropped Matt Moore’s perfect spiral…. Rookie Bobby McCain had an interception off Josh Freeman but dropped two others.
### Receiver: With the top four set and Rishard Matthews a strong front-runner for the fifth job, several skilled receivers probably won’t stick. Among those: Michael Preston, who impressed teammates all spring and made two terrific receptions Thursday; Matt Hazel (nifty leaping grab) and LaRon Byrd (two excellent diving catches).
Potential starter Kenny Stills had several catches Thursday and Greg Jennings showed his savvy route-running, catching a strike from Ryan Tannehill over the middle.
Ryan Tannehill agreed with Joe Philbin that these receivers fit his skill set better than last season’s group. “They can run this offense the way we want it to be run,” Tannehill said. “DeVante Parker’s hurt right now, but he’s a big body with strong hands. You have Kenny, a smooth, fast guy.
“Jarvis Landry can do it all for us. Greg Jennings, he’s a savvy veteran, a great route runner. You look at those guys — Rishard (Matthews) is a big, strong body as well. Those guys have all the weapons that we need. As a coaching staff and an offense, we need to put those guys in position to succeed and be able to get them the ball.”
### Defensive tackle: Unless C.J. Mosley disappoints over the next six weeks, he projects as the No. 3 defensive tackle. But it was Jordan Phillips and Anthony Johnson who took second-team snaps behind Ndamukong Suh and Earl Mitchell on Thursday.
### Kicker: Caleb Sturgis, back from his kickball-induced groin injury, enters as the front-runner over Andrew Franks. On Thursday, Sturgis was 8 for 11 on kicks between 33 yards (the NFL’s new distance for extra points) and 46 yards, with his two misses from 44. Franks will get his chances in the coming days.
### Quick stuff: Defensive end Terrence Fede had 1.5 sacks Thursday; the Dolphins feel there’s a lot of upside there… Jarvis Landry is the front-runner to keep the punt return job, but Stills, LaMichael James, Lamar Miller and Christion Jones also got work there…. JD Walton was the backup center behind Mike Pouncey, with Sam Brenner third…
Michael Thomas (who had a pass breakup) and Walt Aikens were the second-team safeties, with Aikens getting some first-team snaps in place of Louis Delmas, who’s coming off an ACL injury.
### Please see the last post for a lot more Dolphins news from today.
### The Marlins have received lots of calls on reliever Mike Dunn but conveyed to him that he’s not being shopped.
### Whereas the Heat pushed back James Ennis’ partial guarantee date to get more time to evaluate him, Miami decided not to try to do that with Tyler Johnson, who it really likes. The Heat on Thursday finalized plans to guarantee half of Johnson’s $845,000 salary by Saturday’s deadline. His broken jaw will be healed in time for training camp.
### UM was 37th in the first USA Today Coach’s football poll released Thursday, sandwiched between South Carolina and Texas --- and ahead of UF (48th). Ohio State was first, Florida State eighth. Several unnamed coaches voted UM in the top 25.
### The UF-at-UM men’s basketball game was set for Tuesday, Dec. 8, on ESPN2. UM’s other big non-conference games: at Nebraska Dec. 1 and the Puerto Rico Classic beginning with a game against Mississippi State Nov. 19.
### Quick broadcast note: Look for the Dolphins to announce that ESPN Deportes-1210 AM will become its new Spanish radio rights-holders, replacing Univision.
### Coral Gables’ Amir Rasul, the state's top running back in the 2016 class, told our David Furones that one reason he flipped his oral commitment from UM to FSU is that Al “Golden will probably be gone.”