The Dolphins' front office yesterday landed "its No. 1 priority" in free agent WR Mike Wallace, and "then just kept on going," according to Beasley & Salguero of the MIAMI HERALD. The club added LBs Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler and re-signed S Chris Clemons, a "massive commitment of resources and a drastic change in direction for the franchise." As recently as January, team Owner Stephen Ross said that he "wanted to build through the draft." But in the first four hours of free agency, GM Jeff Ireland "revamped an already stout defense" and gave QB Ryan Tannehill the "downfield threat he needs." The Dolphins yesterday wrote on the team's Twitter feed, "What a day. More to come." Wallace signed a "five-year contract" worth an "estimated" $60M, leaving the team more than $20M of remaining cap space (MIAMI HERALD, 3/13). In Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Hyde writes Wallace brings "plenty this franchise needs to bring some excitement to a starved fan base." Hyde: "Big names. Big news. Big Hopes. Big headlines. And, if we're being honest, there's big risk, too" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 3/13). ESPN’s Linda Cohn said Ireland signed Wallace because there was “a lot of pressure on him to make a splash." Cohn: "He filled one of the biggest needs on that ballclub” (“Mike and Mike in the Morning,” ESPN Radio, 3/13).
GOOD TIMES AHEAD? In Miami, Greg Cote writes the Dolphins yesterday were "buying excitement," and "buying hope." They were "nourishing the idea that maybe -- just maybe -- this once-proud club is turning a real corner toward better days at last." The Dolphins were "the talk of the NFL on the first day for free-agent signings" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/13). In Boston, Ron Borges writes Ross "finally figured out that the way to fill the orange grove of empty seats at Sun Life Stadium is not by putting Gloria Estefan, Venus and Serena Williams and Marc Anthony in the stands." It is by "putting million dollar players on the field" (BOSTON HERALD, 3/13).
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment will "hike ticket prices" for the Raptors and Maple Leafs by about 2.5% "across the board" starting with the '13-14 NBA and NHL seasons, according to Doug Smith of the TORONTO STAR. MLSE President & COO Tom Anselmi called it a "cost of living" increase. He said that the cost hike "reflects increased costs to the monolithic sports organization." Anselmi: "Our costs have gone up dramatically. Players salaries, operating costs, league costs ... in the case of the Raptors, our pricing has gone backwards in the last few years." But Smith writes neither of MLSE's "marquee teams are causing a price increase because of stellar play on the ice or the court." The Leafs have "about 16,000 season ticket holders and the Raptors have about 9,000." Both season tickets and single-game tickets "will be affected by the pricing change" (TORONTO STAR, 3/13). Anselmi said that in the past five seasons, the Maple Leafs' ticket prices have been "essentially flat, with a net cumulative increase" of 0.5%. He added that the Raptors have "had a cumulative five-year decrease" of 7.5%. The GLOBE & MAIL's Jeff Blair writes, "It is all about what the market will bear and the simple truth is MLSE believes you will pay more to see their product" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/13).
Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg said that the team's $60M payroll is "well higher than it ought to be" after the team ranked last in MLB attendance last season, according to Marc Topkin of the TAMPA BAY TIMES. Sternberg: "We really don't have any goals, we don't try to set any goals. We wanted to be average in attendance and well above average in on-field performance, and we're right now settling for well-above average in on-field performance, and that's the most important thing." Sternberg said of the team's payroll, "It ought to be commensurate with what our business can handle. But we've had a couple years since we started back in '06 ... when it was lower than it could be and we've had a number of years when it was higher than it should be, and this is one of those years" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 3/11). In Sarasota, Dennis Maffezzoli wrote Sternberg "changed the way things were done, not only in Tampa Bay, but in all of baseball." The team formerly called the Devil Rays "went from a rag-tag bunch to the Rays, a solid contender the past five years." Rays Exec VP/Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and the front office worked "under budget limitations, drafted well, found players with high ceilings who have not reached their potential, all while keeping an eye on the future." Manager Joe Maddon has "meshed personalities on the field and in the clubhouse with a quirky, no-rules policy." He also has "remained loyal to the people who gave him his first opportunity to manage at the big league level." Maddon said, "When you have an owner like that and can communicate between texts or phone call whenever you want with that owner, it's kinda nice. ... His hands-on approach with us is felt. You feel like you are part of this larger family" (Sarasota HERALD-TRIBUNE, 3/12).
The MLB Rangers indicate that they want CEO Nolan Ryan "to be involved and he can make all of the recommendations he desires but his decision-making days are over," according to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. This comes on the heels of the promotions of President of Baseball Operations & GM Jon Daniels and President of Business Operations Rick George. The team's stance on Ryan leaves Daniels in "an awkward position." Daniels said he and Ryan "have been talking pretty much every day." Daniels: "But it's been baseball stuff. We haven't talked about the other thing. That's between Nolan and ownership." Nightengale writes the "sentiment among the Rangers is he will stay, at least for now," and there is "zero chance" of Ryan joining the Astros. If he "walks away now, everyone looks bad." Daniels: "The only real awkwardness is that this is just another thing that has taken the focus off the team" (USA TODAY, 3/12). ESPN.com's Buster Olney wrote the baseball world is "watching this situation with some fascination, because Nolan Ryan is who he is -- a Hall of Fame pitcher whose participation in the ownership drive" for co-Chairs Ray Davis and Bob Simpson "was pivotal." Also, because Daniels is "regarded as one of the best at what he does, at the top of a front office that is viewed as being one of the most progressive and aggressive." Until Ryan "speaks and answers questions, none of us will know for sure what is the root of the conflict." It is "no secret that the heavy lifting has been done by Daniels and his staff, in the shaping of options, external and internal." But Ryan is "bigger than Daniels or Davis or Simpson." Olney: "Only Nolan Ryan is big enough to take out Nolan Ryan in Texas" (ESPN.com, 3/12).
STILL WAITING: In Ft. Worth, Mac Engel wrote of the uncertainty surrounding Ryan's role with the Rangers, "The whole thing, up to and including the press releases, is uncomfortable, awkward and sad." If Ryan leaves, the "blood will be on" Simpson and Davis’ hands. No matter "how much soap he uses, there will be some splatter on GM Jon Daniels’ mitts as well" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/12). ESPN DALLAS' Jean-Jacques Taylor wrote the Rangers can "thrive without him, but they're a better organization with him -- and it has zero to do with him being a Texas icon." Ryan "makes the Rangers better" because he makes Daniels, Assistant GM Thad Levine and Senior Dir of Player Personnel AJ Preller "view decisions from a different perspective" (ESPNDALLAS.com, 3/11). Rangers P Derek Holland said, "Nolan, to me, is an important part of this team. He interacts with pitchers. He talks to us. We get information from him. He’s one of those guys that you want to keep around. He’s Nolan Ryan, how could you not?” ("Fitzsimmons & Durrett," ESPN Radio 103.3 Dallas, 3/11).
The Mariners reported a profit of $5.86M for the '12 season, "despite an 87-loss campaign and plummeting attendance,” according to Geoff Baker of the SEATTLE TIMES. But the team will continue its “lowering of annual payroll" after it ended last season at $84.4M, compared to $98M in ‘11. The Mariners in ’08 spent "just over" $120M. The Mariners have “actually turned profits just about every year" since moving to Safeco Field, with the exception of the team's "big spending year" in '08 when the team declared a $4.53M loss. Since then, the team "has not operated at a deficit since" (SEATTLETIMES.com, 3/12).
EARNING THEIR PINSTRIPES?In N.Y., George Vecsey writes of the Yankees' Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, "The heirs of George Steinbrenner are quivering in front of the baseball luxury tax like any ordinary midmarket, middle-American weenie franchise.” While the Yankees have won only one World Series and two other pennants since '00, "it’s the sharklike intent that counts.” The team is “showing why heirs should not be allowed to inherit an estate.” The Yankees “did not get where they are by worrying about some luxury tax.” Also, the team's "diminished attendance" suggests that the Yankees "are not making the projected profits” (N.Y. TIMES, 3/13).