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The Marlins yesterday traded 3B Hanley Ramirez and P Randy Choate to the Dodgers, and Monday sent P Anibal Sanchez and 2B Omar Infante to the Tigers, but team President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest "insists the proper word for what's going on here is 'restructuring,' as opposed to 'dismantling' or some other distasteful term," according to Mike Berardino of the South Florida SUN-SENTINEL. Beinfest said, "We're in this brand-new building. It's beautiful. It's done its job, and the team has underachieved. This building deserves better. I think our fans deserve better." Berardino writes there seems to be "little rational reason to fear these rebranded Marlins will simply pocket the substantial savings from this week's salary dumps (and those still to come)." Rather, this "flurry of moves can't be judged properly until mid-December." That will give the front office "another chance to rule baseball's winter meetings, where Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria dropped" a combined $191M on SS Jose Reyes and Ps Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle in '11 (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 7/26). Marlins President David Samson said, "This is not a fire sale. This is saying: Mediocrity really isn't good enough. We're not trying to be a .500 team. We're trying to be much better" (MIAMIHERALD.com, 7/25). Reports are Marlins P Josh Johnson might also be on the trading block, and ESPN’s Buster Olney reported the Marlins are “aware of the perception around the game that this might be another fire sale." Olney: "They don’t want that. ... From a baseball perspective, the deals they’ve made so far make complete sense, but they are nervous about that perception” ("Baseball Tonight," ESPN, 7/25).
IT JUST LOOKS BAD: SPORTING NEWS' Anthony Witrado cited sources as saying that other teams' front offices "are looking down on this latest Marlins fire sale." An MLB agent said, "It just looks bad for baseball. Teams will take their players, but I've already heard concerns about how the Marlins do business in the past. This doesn't help" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 7/25). ESPN's Dan Le Batard said, "What’s happening in South Florida is not good because it doesn’t appear the Marlins know what they’re doing” ("Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable," ESPN2, 7/25). ESPN's John Kruk said, "It’s difficult to sell the fans on a team when the front office has no idea what they’re actually going to do come next week" (“Baseball Tonight,” ESPN, 7/25). MLB Network’s Larry Bowa said, “It’s going to be hard to convince your fan base this is not a fire sale because you’re getting rid of some players and the return, I don’t think is looking too good right now” (“MLB Tonight,” MLB Network, 7/25).
TIMES OF UPHEAVAL: SI.com's Cliff Corcoran wrote the Marlins' moves signal the "dissolution of the Miami Marlins team that created so much buzz this past winter." For all of their "rebranding and relocating, the Miami Marlins have done the one thing their fan base is least likely to tolerate, which is to bring back memories of the fire sales that followed" the team's World Series wins in '97 and '03 (SI.com, 7/25). FOXSPORTS.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote, "Yes, the Marlins are about to go through yet another violent upheaval, though with a different motivation than in the past." Trading Sanchez and Infante was "an admission by the Marlins that they didn't know what they were doing last winter." The Marlins "did not trade Sanchez and Infante for payroll reasons," but rather made the deal "because they're disgusted by their underachieving team, and want to try something different" (FOXSPORTS.com, 7/24). MLB Network's Kevin Millar said, "It just hasn't worked out. They were the biggest buzz going into winter meetings. It was an exciting time to be a Marlins fan: New stadium, new colors, new budgets. ... (But) nothing's happened, nothing's worked" ("Intentional Talk," MLB Network, 7/24).
TAKING THE HEAT: CBSSPORTS.com's Scott Miller wrote, "You can't help but believe disappointing attendance is triggering much of this as well." The Marlins' "average attendance of 28,398 ranked 14th in the NL." Miller asked, "Did the Marlins fail their fans by putting together a losing and unlikeable team? Or did a lukewarm fan base that is not exactly flooding the turnstiles at Marlins Park force the issue by their apathy and cause Loria to bail early?" Miller: "Either way, it's another ugly chapter in Marlins history" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/25). NBCSPORTS.com's Craig Calcaterra asked, "Someone, somewhere, explain to me why anyone in Miami should give a flying fish about the Marlins? What possible reason should any baseball fan in south Florida have for giving a dime to a team run by Jeff Loria?" (NBCSPORTS.com, 7/25). YAHOO SPORTS' Jeff Passan wrote, "When Jeffrey Loria and David Samson are involved, it can't end any other way, because they know no different." Loria and Samson are "turning the Miami Marlins into a chop shop." They are "two charlatans, ripping off a major American city and laughing all the way to the bank" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/25).
GOOD BASEBALL SENSE: FANGRAPHS.com's Dave Cameron wrote, "In reality, underperforming teams that aren’t in the playoff race trade expensive underachievers and pending free agents every year." It is "not fraud, it’s baseball." Whether it can be "interpreted other ways or not, these trades make baseball sense." Cameron: "You can view them through the lens of 'Evil Jeffrey Loria Screwing Over His Fans Again' if you want, but I don’t think the facts really support that kind of conclusion" (FANGRAPHS.com, 7/25). In Miami, Greg Cote wrote the Marlins' trades "do not constitute a fire sale." This might "need a revisit and still turn toward a feeling of here-we-go-again if prior to the July 31 trade deadline more significant players depart." But as of now, this situation "is in no way comparable to the genuine fire sale that followed" the Marlins’ '97 World Series win. When good teams "are broken up for financial reasons, that’s a fire sale." When bad teams "are broken up because they aren’t winning, that’s closer to a garage sale" (MIAMI HERALD, 7/26).
CHANGING TIDES: In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes Dodgers fans "more than anything" want Dodgers Owners Guggenheim Baseball Management "to show a commitment to winning." In trading for Ramirez, the Dodgers made a statement "as plain as green and white." The Dodgers "finally have the means and motivation to throw a bunch of money at a championship" (L.A. TIMES, 7/26). In California, Vincent Bonsignore writes, "It's a whole new ballgame for the Dodgers. ... The new Dodgers pay in cash, thank you very much" (Long Beach PRESS-TELEGRAM, 7/26).
The Predators are taking a "big financial gamble" in matching a 14-year, $110M offer sheet by the Flyers to retain restricted free agent D Shea Weber, according to a front-page piece by Duane Marsteller of the Nashville TENNESSEAN. Predators officials said that the "potential cost of losing Weber, especially after already losing" D Ryan Suter to the Wild during free agency, "would have been even greater." Predators CEO Jeff Cogen said that it "probably would have resulted in a weaker team on the ice, potentially causing fan enthusiasm to wane just a season after the team had a record 25 home sellouts." He added that less fan interest "would translate into fewer ticket, souvenir and concession sales; reduced television ratings; and other drags on the team's bottom line." Cogen: "We made the investment we had to make to protect the fan base." Marsteller notes 94% of Predators season-ticket holders "have renewed for the upcoming season" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 7/26). Predators Chair Tom Cigarran said that the Weber deal is the “most important hockey transaction in franchise history." In Nashville, John Glennon noted the deal “instantly became the second-richest in NHL history.” Weber will earn $27M “in the next calendar year alone.” Cigarran in an e-mail to season ticket holders said, “We did not take or make this decision lightly, and we recognized the many ramifications it would have. Retaining Shea sends a powerful message to our own players and potential players that Nashville is a team that is in the hunt to win and this is a desirable place to play” (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 7/25).
MESSAGE SENT: YAHOO SPORTS’ Nicholas Cotsonika wrote the Predators “had no choice, and they knew it.” The team “had to match the massive offer sheet.” This was about the “credibility and identity of the franchise.” Predators GM David Poile had previously said that the team would “match any offer sheet Weber received." The team has been "fighting to prove Nashville, under new ownership, is no longer a small-market team just trying to survive.” The Predators “wanted to send a strong message to their fans, sponsors and marketing partners” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/25). SI.com’s Allan Muir asked, "What choice did the Preds have?” After losing Suter, the franchise "was at the crossroads of credibility and irrelevance” (SI.com, 7/24). ESPN.com’s Scott Burnside wrote the Predators’ decision to “ante up ... speaks volumes, not just about the team they are but also about the team they want to be” (ESPN.com, 7/24).
THINK OF THE CHILDREN! In Nashville, Josh Cooper noted the city has “just four sheets of ice for growing youth and adult ice hockey programs, the fewest among NHL Sun Belt markets.” However, the Predators have “started the process of increasing the number of ice sheets.” The first step was “their new lease, which was finalized earlier this summer.” The deal includes a “promise from the city for a new youth hockey rink, which also could become a practice facility for the Predators” (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 7/23).
EPL club Manchester United has "temporarily paused plans to launch" its $300M IPO in the U.S., "where market volatility has soared in recent days as macroeconomic fears hit share prices," according to Massoudi, Blitz & Sakoui of the FINANCIAL TIMES. The pause comes as U.S. markets "have been unsettled by further concerns over debt and economic growth in the eurozone, with the S&P 500 index falling 2 per cent since the start of the week." Sources said that the current delay "had to do with market conditions." It was "not immediately clear if United would still attempt to list its shares before the current IPO window closes in mid-August, ahead of the traditional market lull that runs through to the US public holidays in early September" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 7/26). The GUARDIAN's Goodley & Milmo note the move is "the latest setback in a long-running attempt to list the company's shares, a move that had previously been earmarked for the exchanges in Hong Kong and Singapore, and comes as the club had been looking to kick off their roadshow presentations to potential share buyers this week" (GUARDIAN, 7/26). Sources said that ManU “may start the road show as soon as Friday or early next week.” The offering is “expected to value the team at roughly $3 billion” (REUTERS, 7/25).
A New York state court judge ruled this week a lawsuit against RBS for its role in the sale of EPL club Liverpool in ‘10 may proceed, though she is requiring the damages part of the suit to be re-filed. Mill Financial, a lender to one of the past Liverpool owners, charges that the sale violated the team’s lenders’ agreement because it was shut out of trying to buy the club itself. N.Y. State Supreme Court Judge Eileen Bransten ruled Mill had made enough of a case that RBS breached the lenders’ contract and acted in bad faith for the case to proceed. In ‘10, previous Liverpool co-Owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett alleged the sale to the owners of the Red Sox had been done behind their backs and for a lower price than the club could have fetched. In default on their debt, Hicks and Gillett had essentially handed over control of the team to the lenders to organize a sale, though they still remained owners. Mill, as lender to Gillett, controlled his interest at the time, and sought to either repay the debt or buy the club outright. It alleges that RBS, in violation of a tri-party creditors’ agreement between the Scottish bank, Mill and Wachovia, did not inform Mill it was proceeding with a sale to the Red Sox owners and ignored Mill’s higher offer. Bransten in her ruling wrote that Mill apparently was willing to pay more for the team than the Red Sox group paid. However, she did not allow for Mill to make a claim that its damages should be based on how much money it could have earned had it been allowed to buy Liverpool because that was barred by the tri-party agreement. Bransten said Mill could re-file that aspect of the lawsuit.
FIRST DECISION AGAINST CLUB: The decision is the first since the controversial sale from Hicks and Gillett not to favor the club or those close to it. A British court right after the sale dismissed the former owners' lawsuit seeking to halt the transaction. The Mill lawsuit has been winding its way through the court since November ‘10. Initially, it was filed against Gillett, but last year Mill added RBS as a defendant. Bransten’s decision is the first in the case. RBS had sought to have the case dismissed. The final outcome will not affect the current ownership of Liverpool, which is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
The Bengals today open training camp at Paul Brown Stadium, holding camp at "their own facility" for the "first time in their 45 seasons," according to Joe Reedy of the CINCINNATI ENQUIRER. The team held camp at Georgetown College (Ky.) from '97 until last season. The Bengals are "one of 19 teams this year holding training camp at their own facilities." That number "has increased steadily since 2000 as teams have realized that going away is more of a challenge than a benefit." Bengals Exec VP Katie Blackburn said, "There’s more technology, which makes picking up and going away for two to three weeks difficult along with everything else you have to move.” Having camp in Cincinnati "also has other benefits." The conference center at Georgetown "was cramped," while the facilities at Paul Brown Stadium "provide more space and separate meeting rooms for the offense and defense." The "biggest challenge" for the Bengals in planning for camp in Cincinnati was "how to keep the training camp experience fan-friendly." There is a "limited amount of room at the team's facilities compared to the space around the practice fields in Georgetown." The Bengals "will have 16 practices open to the public, with 11 on practice fields." Another key was "scheduling practices that did not interfere with Reds games." During training camp, the Reds "will have 14 home games, including a seven-game homestand that starts on Monday." There is "only one conflict," an Aug. 18 Cubs-Reds doubleheader. With the Reds "in the thick of a pennant race" and the Bengals training in Cincinnati, both clubs "have teamed up to promote attending both events" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 7/26).
In Houston, John McClain noted the Texans put individual-game tickets on sale yesterday, and "all but 100 seats sold in a team-record five minutes." The team has "sold a record 65,801 season tickets." The Texans have a "season-ticket waiting list of more than 19,000, also a team best." Meanwhile, the Texans and Verizon "had a nine-player caravan going around the city Wednesday, making five stops to meet and greet fans." The players "gave away gift cards, posed for pictures and signed autographs" (CHRON.com, 7/25).
PROS AND CONS: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio wrote, "Of all the teams that could be tempted to take advantage of the NFL’s new blackout rule, the Raiders are the team that could be facing the toughest decision." A league source said that the Raiders "are still considering and evaluating the situation." The team in '11 "managed to sell out all home games, for the first time" since returning to Oakland in '95. It could be "hard to duplicate that success, unless the Raiders contend for a playoff berth." But taking advantage of a rule "that essentially constitutes an advance admission of failure doesn’t fit with the vibe that the organization currently is trying to generate" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 7/25).
NO 'I' IN TEAM: In Columbus, Jeff Bell noted the Blue Jackets on Monday traded RW Rick Nash to the Rangers and Blue Jackets Exec VP/Business Operations Larry Hoepfner said that the plan is to market the team "as a team instead of promoting a single star." He also said that the team is "not ready to tag anyone a franchise player at this stage of the game." Bell: "So look for the starless Jackets to position themselves as a young club that hustles, hits hard and tries to get better after a disastrous season in which they finished with the worst record" in the NHL. That would "fit with the 'Join the Battle' marketing campaign the team launched in June" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 7/24).
BACK IN BLACK: In Phoenix, Paul Coro noted the Suns "plan to be 'Back in Black' next season." A leak of the spring adidas NBA catalog "prompted the website uni-watch.com to post a story about teams' upcoming uniform changes, including a return of the Suns' popular black jerseys that featured a diagonal name and sunburst" from '92-00. Suns President Brad Casper "acknowledged the catalog sneak peek and that the franchise was looking at a 'Hardwood Classics' uniform to include next season." The Suns have been "planning a uniform re-design for the '13-14 season" (AZCENTRAL.com, 7/24).