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SBD/January 26, 2012/FranchisesPrint All
The Nationals were thought to be one of the front-runners to land free agent 1B Prince Fielder, and GM Mike Rizzo "fully admitted the Nationals wanted Fielder, but said the Nationals had a firm notion of what they wanted to pay Fielder, and once negotiations crossed that point, they backed away," according to Adam Kilgore of the WASHINGTON POST. Fielder Tuesday agreed to a nine-year, $214M deal with the Tigers, and Rizzo said, "Were we interested in him? There’s no question about it. We were in the negotiations until it didn’t make sense for us to be in the negotiations any longer, so we had to back out." Rizzo did not specify the team's limit, but a source said that the Nationals "would not offer more than six years." Rizzo also "declined to reveal whether the Nationals made a formal offer," but the team had "extensive discussions with Fielder and his representative, Scott Boras." Rizzo: "I felt that we were players. We were being aggressive in the negotiations. I felt that we were players in the process, but it’s an unpredictable process and you don’t know what deals are out there and you don’t know what is fact and what is fiction." Kilgore noted the team "took a wholly different approach last offseason" by signing RF Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126M contract. The Nationals "happily and defiantly gave Werth a contract well above market value, which Rizzo and other officials referred to as the opening of 'Phase 2,' a strategy of placing big-ticket free agents around their young core." However, the club has "seemingly left behind that 'Phase 2' way of thinking" after failing to sign either Fielder or P Mark Buehrle. Rizzo said, "We feel that we no longer have to beg and overpay for players to come to us. We feel that this is becoming an attractive place for major league players to play. Jayson Werth’s signing has a lot to do with that" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 1/25).
ILITCH RECEIVING KUDOS: In Detroit, John Lowe notes Tigers Owner Mike Ilitch “continued to receive praise Wednesday" for signing Fielder. Former Mets GM Steve Phillips said, "Mr. Ilitch just made a Yankees move. The Tigers lost their DH, so they went and got the best available hitter on the market.” MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds said, "Mike Ilitch has done an amazing job of giving his city a chance to economically turn things around and put a team on the field that's relevant. Hats off to him” (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 1/26). On Long Island, Ken Davidoff wrote Ilitch has been “a reliable patron” of Boras over the years and the newly inked Fielder deal “will sell tickets” (NEWSDAY.com, 1/25). SI.com’s Joe Sheehan said, “It’s a good deal for the Tigers in 2012. Mike Ilitch seems to be saying, ‘I’ll take the risk down the road spending a lot of money if it means winning a championship now.’ ... Mike Ilitch has established himself as one of the best owners in sports. He’s a guy that is willing to spend what it takes and doesn’t care about making that short-term profit like a lot of guys do" ("NBC Sports Talk," NBC Sports Network, 1/25). ESPN's Jim Rome said the end of Fielder's deal “is going to be ugly." Rome: "But like Albert Pujols, the deal is not about years six through nine. It is about one through five and getting a ring that team Owner Mike Illitch so desperately wants” (“Jim Rome Is Burning,” ESPN2, 1/25).
ONLY WORRIED ABOUT THE HERE AND NOW: Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp noted staffers in the Tigers organization “were shocked when they heard this news ... because I don't think as of 48 hours ago, I don't think people in the upper reaches of the organization thought it was an even real chance that this would happen." Sharp: "Mike Illitch is going to be 83-years-old in 2012. He looks at it from a practical standpoint that short term, it's a great deal for this organization. Long-term, it's insanity.” ESPN.com's Keith Law said, “There’s a lot of concern here that the last four years or so of this deal are going to be very ugly. ... This is entirely about trying to win in the first three years or so of Fielder's contract” ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 1/25). The Chicago Tribune's David Haugh said, “I don’t think he’s worried about nine-year deals. He’s pretty motivated to win now” (“Chicago Tribune Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 1/25).
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the “richest man” in L.A., could “join the Dodgers sweepstakes soon -- not by bidding on his own, but by joining one of the groups already in the running to buy the team,” according to Bill Shaikin of the L.A. TIMES. Soon-Shiong has “met with several prospective bidders, and he had dinner recently with outgoing Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.” Soon-Shiong purchased Basketball HOFer Magic Johnson's ownership stake in the Lakers in '10. But his representative, Chuck Kenworthy, indicated that Soon-Shiong “has not committed to join with Johnson or any other bidder” (L.A. TIMES, 1/26). Meanwhile, in California, Howard Cole wrote under the header, “McCourt To Relinquish L.A.’s Most Hated Man Status.” The last two and a half years of McCourt’s ownership “have been a nightmare that not ... one among us could have predicted with any degree of accuracy.” But “what’s done is done, we’re on our way to bigger and better things, and there’s no reason to continue with the hate game.” Cole: “So you might as well start throwing out names for L.A.’s next most hated man” (OCREGISTER.com, 1/25).
The Brewers and LF Ryan Braun yesterday announced that Braun “was withdrawing from the team's annual fan festival Sunday,” according to Tom Haudricourt of the MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL. Braun was “scheduled to participate in ‘Brewers On Deck’ at the Frontier Airlines Center, but team principal owner Mark Attanasio announced it was mutually agreed that he would not attend due to the ‘sensitive’ timing as the all-star leftfielder awaits the verdict of his appeal of a reported positive drug test.” Braun “appealed that test result and his case was heard last Thursday and Friday by a three-man panel" in N.Y. That panel has “25 days to render its verdict, which could come at any time before that deadline.” The decision to withdraw just days before the event “created speculation that the Brewers had been informed that Braun would be suspended.” But a source said that “no ruling had come.” Braun was scheduled to participate “in autograph sessions and photo opportunities with fans during the day-long event.” But he also “would have faced questions from local media about his situation and has been instructed not to comment prior to an arbitration verdict.” The Brewers and Braun “came to the conclusion that the timing was too awkward and sensitive, especially with the arbitration ruling pending” (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 1/26). In N.Y., Andy Martino cites a source as saying that the resolution on Braun’s appeal of a 50-game suspension "is not expected until a ‘couple of weeks’ from now" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/26).
Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie indicated yesterday morning that he "has a 'handshake agreement' with" Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to become the Raiders' next head coach, according to Paul Gutierrez of CSNBAYAREA.com. McKenzie indicated that the two are "currently finalizing the details of the contract" (CSNBAYAREA.com, 1/25). THE SPORTS XCHANGE's Len Pasquarelli wrote with the Raiders' apparent hiring of Allen a "few things became immediately obvious: First, for new owner Mark Davis, these aren't your father's Raiders anymore." Second, new GM Reggie McKenzie "has demonstrated that he clearly is his own man." In hiring Allen, Davis and McKenzie "stepped way, way outside the Raiders' normal comfort zone," and essentially "back-pedaled at least a little bit, it seems, from the legacy created by the late Al Davis." The younger Davis, "counseled since his father's passing by a trio of former Oakland front office executives, made a dramatic move in not conducting business as usual in his first conspicuous endeavor." And McKenzie "didn't play the connect-the-dots game that has become so popular in an era in which speculation suddenly is elevated to news" (THE SPORTS XCHANGE, 1/25). ESPN.com's Bill Williamson wrote McKenzie "just took a big risk," and Al Davis "would be proud." Allen was hired "despite having just one year experience as a coordinator and has no previous ties with McKenzie." At 39, Allen will be the "youngest active head coach in the NFL." While Al Davis was "partial to offensive minds, he certainly wasn’t afraid to hire a young coach and he no doubt would have saluted McKenzie for sticking to his gut and hiring the coach who he thought was the most impressive." In McKenzie and Allen, the Raiders "have two young, hungry leaders." But there "are risks," and if it "doesn’t work, people will question why McKenzie didn’t go for a more experienced coach or hire somebody he is more familiar with." But Williams wrote, "Give McKenzie credit going out of his comfort zone and hiring the man he felt best about" (ESPN.com, 1/24).
INDY'S NEW ERA: In Indianapolis, Mike Chappell notes former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is the "latest cornerstone set in place in the Colts' major restoration project." A news conference is scheduled for today to introduce him as head coach. Colts Owner Jim Irsay and GM Ryan Grigson "settled on Pagano following a search that was extensive but spanned only nine days" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 1/26). ESPN's Chris Mortensen said of Pagano, "He's a big personality, he’s aggressive, tenacious. That's what he is going to bring to the Colts and that's something that owner Jim Irsay and General Manager Ryan Grigson wanted" ("NFL 32," ESPN2, 1/25). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz writes the "tectonic plates have shifted." The Colts, bastions "of consistency, stability and success for more than a decade, are starting out with a clean slate, starting anew with a first-time GM, a first-time head coach and, almost certainly, a first-time NFL quarterback." Kravitz writes just because Pagano "doesn't have a big name now doesn't mean he won't become a big name down the road." Irsay has "done the hard thing here; maybe, at some level, the unpopular thing." And now, it is "only a matter of time before he does the most unpopular thing of all -- figure out the proper and most graceful exit strategy" for QB Peyton Manning (INDIANAPOLIS STAR ,1/26).
Kelly Frank, the woman who served as the Lightning’s ThunderBug mascot, “has been fired” after spraying a Bruins fan with Silly String at a Jan. 17 game, according to Joe Smith of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. The fan “took offense and pushed ThunderBug down,” and “thousands saw it on YouTube.” Frank “wasn't a full-time employee of the team but was the primary performer as ThunderBug the past few seasons.” The Lightning said that the Silly String “wasn't the only reason for the mascot change but didn't want to comment further on ThunderBug's actions.” Lightning Exec VP/Communications Bill Wickett said, "We're keeping this internal." Frank was “dismissed as the Tampa Bay Rays' mascot Raymond at the end of the 2008 season” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 1/26).
DUNK INSURANCE: YAHOO SPORTS’ Cameron Smith noted the Pacers mascot Boomer last Friday “gained more notoriety than he bargained for by obliterating the backboard at an Indiana high school on the first dunk of one of his trademark halftime shows.” Members of the Pacers front office then traveled to the Hancock County school “to meet with school officials and immediately offered to replace the school's broken backboard.” The team also “refunded Boomer's appearance fee and said that the two sides would continue working together in good faith” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/25).
In California, Larry Urish notes the “local Anaheim/Orange County economy will likely get a boost” from the Angels signing 1B Albert Pujols and P C.J. Wilson this offseason. Anaheim Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau VP/Communications Elaine Cali said, “We feel that the acquisition of both players will have a positive ripple effect for local businesses and the community as a whole. And it will raise the awareness of Anaheim as a top sports city.” Urish writes, “Given the struggles that the L.A. Dodgers have yet to weather, the O.C. squad’s wider reach in the SoCal sports market may equal -- and eventually even surpass -- the Boys in Blue in overall brand awareness” (OC METRO, 1/’12 issue).
THREE CHEERS: MLB.com’s Richard Justice wrote at a time when the Astros’ attendance “is down and the team is being rebuilt,” new Owner Jim Crane “has found out how deeply people in Houston care about their baseball team.” Crane is “handling all of this brilliantly.” He has been meeting with groups of fans “over the past few months to hear what they like and don't like about the franchise.” When they told him they “didn't like not being able to bring food and drink into the ballpark, he changed the rule.” When he heard that “tickets were too expensive, he lowered prices.” If an owner has “just one chance to make a good first impression, Crane is making an excellent one” (MLB.com, 1/25).
SOUNDING OFF: In Toronto, Steve Buffery wrote Blue Jays Owner Rogers Communications is “the worst (major) sports franchise owner in this city’s history.” If Rogers was “serious about winning, they would spend more. Period.” Buffery: “I truly believe that if this team was owned by someone outside of the sports communications business, the knives would be out big-time in this city -- there would be a deafening hue and cry for a new owner -- an owner that would be willing to mix it up financially and compete against the big boys, year after year. But things are too cosy in this town when it comes to the ball team” (TORONTOSUN.com, 1/25).
PAYING TRIBUTE: In Chicago, Scot Gregor noted the White Sox “will be wearing their 1972 uniforms during all Sunday home games this season.” The uniforms will feature “the red pinstriped jersey and Sox script across the chest, red numbers on the front and back of the uniform top and red caps” (DAILYHERALD.com, 1/25).