The Braves have not said where their '17 payroll "ended up by their own accounting or divulged a targeted payroll" for '18, but new GM Alex Anthopoulos said that it "will remain at a similar level and that there are enough dollars to make it work," according to David O'Brien of the ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION. The Braves’ '17 Opening Day payroll "started at about" $120M and "toggled between" $115-130M throughout the season. Based on current salary commitments, the Braves could have upward of $30M to "spend this offseason" on additional '18 salaries "if the payroll remains the same" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 12/13). Meanwhile, O'Brien writes Anthopoulos "got something akin to a doctoral degree in analytics while working in the Dodgers’ statistics think-tank/front office the past two seasons." Now he "plans to bring that knowledge and put into practice" much of what he "saw work successfully" for the Dodgers. Anthopoulos said his time with the Dodgers was "eye-opening." Anthopoulos has asked Braves Chair & CEO Terry McGuirk to "spend money to hook up the Braves with data services and fill positions that didn’t exist in the organization before now." He said that McGuirk has been "entirely supportive and granted every request thus far." O'Brien notes Anthopoulos last week hired Dodgers Dir of Baseball Operations Alex Tamin as Dir of Major League Operations and Marlins Senior Dir of Analytics Jason Paré as Assistant GM/Research and Development. Anthopoulos stressed that he and his front-office staff "won’t in any way interfere with field instruction or determine in-game moves." He said that "they are there only to provide information" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 12/13).
STARTS AT THE TOP: In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz writes the biggest key to the Braves' future success "starts and ends with the corporate ghosts." Liberty Media has been "dreadful owners since purchasing the Braves from Time Warner" in '07. There is "nobody standing at the front of the room answering questions." There has been "no accountability in this organization, from McGuirk down." Nobody "wants to answer questions, least of all McGuirk" (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 12/13).
Two months into Derek Jeter's tenure with the Marlins, he "appears out of his league as a CEO," and the media and fans "have turned on" the future HOFer, according to Ben Walker of the AP. Critics "contend Jeter is to blame for clumsy firings, delegating too much and hanging in the background rather than accepting his role as the face and voice of the franchise." Jeter after trading reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees over the weekend sat in a skybox at Monday night’s Patriots-Dolphins game, "raising the question: Why wasn’t he at this week’s winter meetings?" Jeter said he was "never planning on attending." However, Walker wrote Jeter's absence "reinforces the notion he’s trying to distance himself from the decisions he’s making." Jeter: "The one thing everyone needs to realize is this is an organization that had not been successful. ... If you haven’t been winning, it’s time to make a change. To make a change, there have to be some moves. There may be some unpopular decisions at times. But we are trying to fix something that is broken" (AP, 12/12). In Ft. Lauderdale, Dave Hyde wrote, "You can’t sit in the odd orbit of a Dolphins luxury box Monday night ... while the baseball world wonders why the new face of the Marlins franchise was too busy to come to Orlando and answer up to questions at the winter meetings." Hyde: "What a disappointment this guy’s opening innings are." While blame for the Stanton trade should fall on former Owner Jeffrey Loria, Jeter "owed it to the disappearing Marlins fan to say so on a national stage." More Hyde: "That’s what baseball fans needed to see as the developed rage at Jeter became a public stoning over the trade" (SUN-SENTINEL.com, 12/12).
CRITICISM IS WARRANTED: CBS Sports Network's Adam Schein said Jeter "deserves big-time criticism for how he has handled everything with the Marlins since he took over the team." Being at Patriots-Dolphins instead of the winter meetings "is awful optics." Schein: "The way that he handled the Stanton trade, and even messing around with the Giants and Cardinals when Stanton had a no-trade clause -- that was awful. ... He walked in the door and fired all the legends. He fired the broadcast crew. You don't show up to explain yourself. You’re an owner, Derek." More Schein: "This is garbage, and if I’m a Marlins fan, I’m demanding better and I’m demanding answers. Everything that Derek Jeter has done since taking over the Miami Marlins has been an abject failure” (“Time to Schein,” CBSSN, 12/12). The L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke said, "He has to be accountable. ... You see him at the football game, he has no clue that he's supposed to be accountable." Plaschke added, "He doesn't deserve his job." The Colorado Springs Gazette's Woody Paige said Jeter "seems to be trying to ruin his reputation" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 12/12).
ATTACK AND DEFEND: USA Today's Bob Nightengale and other MLB reporters on Twitter noted agent Scott Boras today "calls the #Marlins an #MLB jewelry store that's become a pawn shop." Bleacher Report's Scott Miller noted Boras "says MLB blew it on vetting process on sale of club." Bergen Record's Pete Caldera: "Marlins manager Don Mattingly feels criticism of new CEO Derek Jeter has been generally unfair. 'I kind of look back to Derek's first year in pro ball. He makes 50-something errors at shortstop and we know what happened after.'" N.Y. Post's Joel Sherman: "Mattingly defended Jeter's early ownership. he was talking big picture that Jeter has the ability to withstand negativity and ultimately thrive." South Florida-based WPLG-ABC's Will Manso: "You can consider Marlins an expansion team. That’s how this will work when all torn down."
LaVar Ball recently met with Lakers President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka and was asked to "tone down the rhetoric" concerning criticism of the coaching staff, according to a source cited by Tania Ganguli of the L.A. TIMES. The move comes after Ball in an interview with Bleacher Report claimed that the Lakers are "too soft" on G Lonzo Ball and "didn’t know how to properly coach him." LaVar Ball said of the Nov. 29 meeting, "It was a good conversation. What I love about (Johnson) is just the communication that we have as a family and as friends to fix the situation they’re just solutions that we throw off each other. That’s all it is." He added, "We’re just talking. We’re trying to do what’s best for the team." Ganguli noted the meeting "did not change the way" Ball talked to reporters, as he conducted a SiriusXM interview just six days later in which he "detailed his concerns with the way Lakers coach Luke Walton was playing Lonzo, including the fact that he should get more playing time in the fourth quarter" (L.A. TIMES, 12/13). A Lakers source said that the "main message to Ball was that they've tried to keep their relationship positive, while still allowing him to speak his mind, and they'd prefer he did the same." Ball said that he "agreed with that characterization, for the most part, and that he told Johnson and Pelinka he understood their position and would try to abide by that request" (ESPN.com, 12/12). ESPN's Ramona Shelburne said, "The Lakers like the drama. In Hollywood, the worst thing you can be is boring. They are fine as long as (Lonzo) plays well on the court. But when you say negative stuff about the teammates and the coach, it creates a negative atmosphere" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 12/13).
A Louisiana man is suing the Saints for a "refund on his season tickets because some players have disrespected the national anthem before games this season," according to Chad Calder of the NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE. Lee Dragna filed a lawsuit "seeking a refund for the tickets as well as attorney’s fees, claiming the protest by some players against police brutality and racial injustice has prevented him and his family from enjoying the games." Dragna said that he "hasn’t attended a game since the first home game" of this season, when some of the players "did not come out for the singing of the national anthem." Dragna said that the "rowdy, angry reaction of the people around his seats has made the tickets unusable by him and his family, as well as customers he would otherwise give the tickets to." He added that the behavior of some fans "upset by the protests -- cursing, spilling beer -- is 'borderline dangerous.'" He said that the responsibility for that behavior "ultimately rests not with the fans but with owner Tom Benson." Dragna: "The Saints created that behavior by condoning it" (NEW ORLEANS ADVOCATE, 12/13). Dragna said that he "would not have bought the tickets if he'd known the players would use the Saints games 'as a platform for protests'" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 12/13). ESPN.com's Mike Triplett noted 10 Saints players "sat on the bench during the national anthem" before their game against the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sept. 24. After that week, Saints players "decided to kneel before the anthem in a show of unity, then to all stand together during the anthem." That is what they have done before every game since Week 4, and "no Saints player has ever kneeled during the anthem." Many fans "booed during the first home game when Saints players kneeled before the anthem." There were some "audible boos at the next home game as well." But there has been "no noticeable mass reaction from fans since then" (ESPN.com, 12/12).
NFL.com's Judy Battista reports the Giants are "expected to start GM interviews next week," but the team is "unlikely to name one before end of the season so they don't miss chance to talk to candidates currently with teams" (TWITTER.com, 12/13). In N.Y., Paul Schwartz reports the Giants are in "no rush to fill" the vacancy, as they "want to get it right." The team "might dip into their past and hire" former Panthers GM and longtime Giants exec Dave Gettleman, but that may not be necessarily "where the Giants are headed." Since firing Jerry Reese earlier this month, the Giants have not "conducted any interviews and cannot speak with any potential candidate currently employed in the NFL until after the season." While the search "may eventually lead back to Gettleman," President & CEO John Mara and Chair Steve Tisch "do want to hear from other potential suitors" (N.Y. POST, 12/13).
THE RETURN: In Green Bay, Richard Ryman notes Aaron Rodgers' expected return from injury this week is "driving ticket prices" for the Packers' remaining games against the Panthers, Vikings and Lions. Early yesterday, when a Rodgers announcement "seemed possible at any time, tickets for Sunday's game in Charlotte were higher than last week." As the day "wore on without an announcement, prices trended down for Sunday but held for the following two weeks" (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE, 12/13).
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE... In Cincinnati, Paul Daugherty noted local Bengals fan Jeff Wagner has had three banners "confiscated for no reason" over the past four weeks by the 5-8 team. Wagner's signs, which he hung to a back wall at Paul Brown Stadium, featured the messages, "Same As It Ever Was," "Hope Is Not A Plan" and "Change Is Good." It is "too obvious to say the Bengals should spend more time improving the product and less time trashing a loyal fan’s free speech." Daugherty: "So we’ll just say tearing down a banner that’s not profane or inciteful, one that is, in fact, true, comes off as petty and small-minded" (CINCINNATI.com, 12/12).