Monday, November 28, 2011

The Urban Myth adds a new chapter

What things will look like at this afternoon's press conference
BY David Villavicencio 

The rumor has become reality. 

After weeks of speculation, Urban Meyer has accepted an offer to be the next football coach at The Ohio State University. 

Most people will not think twice when they hear that news but I am not most people. 

I remember Meyer quitting on his Gator teams TWICE! Both times he cited health concerns and a desire to spend more time with his family as his reasoning behind the decisions to “retire”. But his return to coaching just one year after “retiring” proves how much of a lying, coward Meyer really is. 

In 2009, Meyer’s retirement lasted literally a day but he really did quit following an embarrassing 2010 season. The Gators lost four games in their first season without Tim Tebow and Meyer’s program appeared to be in shambles. 

Now it seems like the suspicions were true. Meyer did not want to be around for Florida’s collapse and that is exactly what has happened. His players just finished a 6-6 regular season in their first year under Will Muschamp yet Meyer will not take any of the blame for their failure. 

Meyer in his days as a Buckeyes assistant
Urban saw the signs that Florida would fail in 2009. That’s why he “retired”. But the proud coach also has the typical ego of a successful coach. He thought his greatness as a coach would push Florida past the inevitable decline that was coming. But after the Gators lost four games in 2010, he knew he had to get out and he did. 

Now Meyer is jumping at the chance to build a new dynasty. Ohio State has sanctions looming but they must not be too bad because Meyer would not take the helm at a doomed program. We’ve seen that he simply will not have his name or legacy associated with failure. Serious sanctions would all but assure that any coach at Ohio State would be destined to fail. 

Ohio State also is historically one of the best programs in the overrated Big 10. The Buckeyes had won six consecutive conference titles before their disastrous 2011 season. They’ve won 34 Big 10 titles and will always be considered the class of the conference along with Michigan. 

Miller is the QB Meyer needs
The Buckeyes also have Braxton Miller. The freshman quarterback just led the Ohio State in rushing and passing yards. He scored 18 total touchdowns and is expected to only improve with experience. He is also built to play quarterback in a system like Meyer’s. Miller is definitely a factor in Meyer’s decision to head to Ohio State as he has his quarterback in place for at least the next two years. 

Meyer brings a lot to Ohio State. He is the big name coach with two national championships under his belt. He is a former Buckeyes assistant, an Ohio native and a person with ties to the Florida speed that every college in the country covets. He is also a shady character that may have already committed a recruiting violation. 

The Buckeyes mysteriously received the commitment of Ricquan Southward yesterday. A talented and speedy receiver from Lakeland High in Florida, Southward was committed to play at Miami next season. But then things got interesting. 

Southward abruptly decided to decommit from Miami and commit to the Buckeyes. 

"I just feel like Ohio State has more of my playing style. I feel like I will be a much better wide receiver up there instead of at Miami." 

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and he can choose to play football where ever he likes. The Buckeyes were likely going to relieve Luke Fickell of his duties at the end of the year and plenty of changes were likely to come so knowing how he would fit into the next coach's system is impossible to know but maybe Southward just really liked it in Columbus. That's fine but this is where things get interesting. 

"My main recruiting coach is Coach (Stanley) Drayton. He will be my coach up at Ohio State. Although we aren't very close right now, I believe I will look to him as a father-figure by the time I am done up there." 

Pardon me for being skeptical but Southward cites Drayton as a reason why he is interested in going to Ohio State yet there is no certainty that he will even be on the next staff. New coaches tend to bring in their own coaching staff. Only Drayton worked for Meyer at Florida and may have leaked word to the Lakeland receiver about who the next coach would be.

Meyer might have even been recruiting Southward himself. After all, Lakeland High was one of his pipeline schools while he was coaching at Florida and he has an excellent relationship with their head coach, Bill Castle. For all we know, Meyer could have sold Southward on becoming "the next Percy Harvin" like he did to so many recruits while at Florida.

Looks like his daughter was wrong
While the potential recruiting violation cannot be proven yet, I know Meyer has proven once again that he is a shady, untrustworthy, cowardly person.

The man who wanted to take care of his health concerns and "put my focus on my family and life away from the field” is casting his family aside and heading for Columbus where he will once again chase the glory of winning a national title. At least until things don't go his way.  

Then I am sure Urban's head will start to hurt, his blood pressure will rise and his family will become important again. All so he can make a clean break until the next hot opportunity presents itself.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Potential trade could bolster Marlins rotation

BY David Villavicencio

The Marlins are on the verge of upgrading their starting rotation.

A source close to Gio Gonzalez reports the Miami native could be joining his hometown team soon.

The 26-year-old is coming off the best season of his young career. Gonzalez won 16 games and struck out 197 batters while posting a 3 .12 ERA and representing the Oakland A’s in the All-Star Game. He has won 31 games and struck out 368 over the past two seasons with Oakland.

Gonzalez would be interested in joining his hometown team if a trade can be agreed on between Oakland and the Marlins. The left-hander is hoping for an extension should he get moved to another team and the Marlins appear to be interested. He will not become a free agent until 2016.

Upgrading their rotation is a priority for the Marlins and they have been connected to several pitchers this off-season. The Marlins hosted free agent Mark Buehrle last week and have been rumored to have interest in Gonzalez and Tampa Bay’s James Shields.

Adding Gonzalez would give the Marlins a formidable duo at the top of their rotation. Ace right-hander Josh Johnson and Gonzalez would form a tandem that would rank behind only Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter in the National League.

But adding a player like Gonzalez comes at a price. The lefty is young, performing at a very high level, affordable and under team control through 2015. A’s general manager Billy Beane could expect to get a nice package in return for the left-hander. He is also certain to receive plenty of calls from fellow GMs should word get out that Oakland is actively looking to move him.

The source says three different players have been discussed as potential pieces for the deal. All three players played significant time with the Marlins last season. It is unlikely that all three would be involved in the deal.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Canes self-impose bowl ban

 BY David Villavicencio 

Al Golden will have to wait at least one more year before he coaches Miami in a bowl game for the first time.

The University of Miami has decided to self-impose a one-year bowl ban one day after becoming eligible for post-season play. Miami has now self-imposed any other penalties.

"We understand and share the disappointment that our student-athletes, coaches, staff, supporters and fans are feeling," the university said in a statement. "But after lengthy discussions among university leaders, athletic administrators and outside counsel, it is a necessary step for our university."

The bowl ban does not come as a surprise as the Hurricanes are currently under NCAA investigation for their connection with rogue booster Nevin Shapiro. It seems like the right decision and could ultimately help the football program when the NCAA decides to rule on their situation. By self-imposing sanctions, the Hurricanes could find themselves receiving a more lenient penalty from the governing body that oversees collegiate athletics.

There are downsides to skipping a bowl game.

First, the Canes could use the extra practice time as they continue to develop under Golden and his staff. Extra practice is never a bad thing but it is especially helpful for a team in transition like Miami. Also, more practice could help some of the younger players accelerate in their development as they look to fill in for the departing seniors and any early entry candidates for the NFL draft.

Second, Miami has not won a bowl game since 2006 when they survived against Nevada, 21-20, in the MicronPC Bowl. That streak will live on at least one more year. This year’s senior class will finish 0-3 in bowl games for their career.

Speaking of the seniors, it means their season and collegiate careers will come to an end next Friday as the Hurricanes host Boston College. I am guessing that is now the way they imagined things would end for them when they signed with Miami four years ago.

But it was a group of seniors that played a role in putting the Hurricanes in the mess they are in with the NCAA. Jacory Harris, Sean Spence and Travis Benjamin were all suspended for receiving improper benefits from Shapiro.

Maybe it is fitting that these seniors will have their final bowl opportunity snatched away from their grasp because of something they did. Unfortunately, their teammates will also miss out on playing in a bowl this year despite having nothing to do with Miami’s pending investigation.

So the Canes will miss out on playing in the Music City Bowl or the Sun Bowl or any other lower tier bowl with ACC ties. The seniors will see their career end without a bowl win and Coach Golden will have to wait another year to add a bowl win to his legacy at Miami.

Sounds like a lot of negative but this is the best thing that could have happened to the Canes.

Golden has a plan for success
Miami will grow from this. Golden won’t let them do anything but persevere. The rumors of the self-imposed bowl ban have lingered from the minute the Shapiro scandal made national news.

Canes fans should be disappointed that their team’s season will end in November. That is not what Miami football is about.

But they should also remember that missing out on a lower tier bowl this year means Miami could be eligible to play in a bowl game next season. As long as the NCAA does not add to the bowl ban, Miami could be playing for the right to represent the ACC in the Orange Bowl next season.

The Canes are 6-5 heading into their final game and have been headed for another disappointing season for a while now. At Miami, you don’t play for finishing with a winning record. Hurricane Nation sets its sights much higher than that.

Golden does too. He is all about rebuilding this program the right way. The man has a plan to get the Canes back to national prominence and this bowl ban is just a speed bump in the road to greatness.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Marlins unveil new "Miami chic" look

BY David Villavicencio

The Florida Marlins are history.

Team owner Jeffrey Loria officially announced his ballclub’s rebirth as the Miami Marlins last night and I was on hand to cover it.

The Marlins put together a first class event to launch their new era that the 500 VIPs in attendance will never forget.

Along with a performance by Miami’s own, Pitbull, the Marlins unveiled their new logo, had the team’s biggest names modeling the new uniforms and hosted a big party that showcased all of Miami’s flavor and energy. Check out my story that I wrote for for more on how the team kicked off the Miami Marlins era with a bang. 
Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson and Omar Infante show off the team's new look

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Marlins free agent targets are not perfect

BY David Villavicencio 

The Marlins are currently one of the most active teams in MLB free agency and that is expected to continue throughout the winter. 

The Fish have already hosted Mark Buehrle and are hosting Jose Reyes today. Marlins executives will travel to the Dominican Republic tomorrow to see star Cuban defector, Yoenis Cespedes. 

The Marlins are also looking at Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and a host of other big name free agents. Fans are excited about all the big names associated with their team and are anxious to see who ultimately signs with the soon to be Miami Marlins.

But most of these fans are so excited about potentially signing a group of superstars that they have overlooked the risks associated with each player. This post will help bring some of those concerns to light.

Jose Reyes
Reyes is just 28 and a dynamic player that can instantly bolster the top of someone's lineup. But at just 28, he has already developed a history of leg problems. That is not a good sign for a player whose value comes largely from his legs. Everyone knows about Reyes' speed but leg problems also will limit his range defensively and his power at the plate. The Marlins are rumored to have offered Reyes a three-year contract worth $60 million. That would not be a bad deal for the team as Reyes would be 31 when it ends and likely starting his decline as a player. However, Reyes is probably looking for a contract that is at least five years in length. That is something that a team may ultimately regret giving him given his injury history.

Mark Buehrle
Buehrle is arguably the second-best free agent pitcher available this off-season and it is with good reason. The 32-year-old has been consistently productive, winning at least 10 games while making at least 30 starts every year since 2001. A move to the more pitcher friendly NL should benefit the four-time All-Star. Buehrle would be an excellent addition to the Marlins rotation but he is a hot commodity. Buehrle could command a four-year deal worth $15 million a year. That is concerning as he will be 33 at the start of the upcoming season and would be 37 in the final year of that deal. Committing that much money to an older pitcher over that many years is concerning but Buehrle is probably the safest bet of all the Marlins' potential signings.

Albert Pujols
Pujols is the biggest free agent available and the best player in the game today. There is no need to list his accolades because everyone in America knows how complete of a player he is. The 31-year-old would instantly upgrade the Marlins lineup, defense and clubhouse. But signing Pujols will not be easy as he is looking for a huge contract. I get the feeling it would take a substantial overbid to get him to leave St. Louis and that is something that could cripple the Marlins in the long run. Pujols is likely to be a great player for many years to come but will he be worth the massive salary he is going to get when he is 37? That would be the fifth year of his contract and he is probably looking for at least six years. 

Edwin Jackson
Jackson is another name that has been associated with the Marlins and the right-hander joins Buehrle near the top of the list of available starting pitchers. Just 28-years-old, Jackson possesses a mid-nineties fastball and solid secondary pitches. He has long been considered a promising pitcher and continues to draw interest from teams. However, Jackson has not stuck around a team for long, playing for six teams since breaking into the Majors in 2003. So despite all his upside, no team has been willing to stick with him for a long time. Also, Jackson is 60-60 with a 4.46 ERA over his career. Not bad but not something to be overly excited about. Signing Jackson could be an overpay for a middle of the rotation starter.

C.J. Wilson
Wilson entered free agency as the top starter available but his poor showing in the postseason could have soured some potential suitors on him. The left-hander went 0-3 while allowing 18 earned runs over 28 innings this October. Despite his rough postseason, Wilson has been good in his two years as a starter. He was an All-Star in 2011 but he will be 31 when the season starts and is looking for a five-year deal worth around $80 million. That is a lot of money and years to commit to someone who is not exactly an ace. Wilson is probably best suited as a third starter but was the Rangers ace by default in 2011. Paying him like a top of the rotation arm is probably not a good idea. The Marlins might be better off investing their money elsewhere.

Prince Fielder
Fielder is the second-best free agent available and some might favor him over Pujols because he is four years younger. But Fielder has his share of issues that should be concerns to anyone looking to sign him. There is no question that Fielder can hit. He has hit 116 HR over the past three years and driven in over 100 runs in four of the last five. He is a career .282 hitter and has posted an OBP over .400 in each of the last three seasons. But Fielder is in terrible shape. He is listed at 5-foot-11 and 275 lbs. Having seen him up close many times, I'd say it's closer to 5'10" and 300 lbs. That is a concern for any team looking to sign him to a lucrative, long-term deal. Also, he is not exactly the best defender but that concern is minor because you are paying him to hit.

Yoenis Cespedes
Cespedes is a major wild card in free agency this year. The 26-year-old is supposed to a be five-tool prospect that is big league ready right now. The Marlins are rumored to be the favorite to land Cespedes. He is expected to get a contract worth about $30 million which would not appear to be a terrible investment on the surface. If Cespedes is as good as advertised, he could be in the Opening Day lineup when the Marlins open their new ballpark. However, it is hard to know exactly how these international prospects will do when they come to the United States.  For every successful defector there are a handful that have been total busts. It is not limited to Cuban players as several Asian imports fall into this category as well. Ultimately, this is a matter of risk vs. reward. If Cespedes lives up the the hype, the Marlins will have one of the top outfields in the Majors. If he flops, they will have thrown away $30 million.

Aramis Ramirez
Ramirez is the top free agent third baseman and the Marlins have a glaring need at third base. Seems like a match made in heaven, right? Not quite. Yes, Ramirez has had a very good career and is coming off a strong season but he is a 33-year-old that was not so great in 2010 and is looking for a multi-year deal at a fairly sizable annual salary. The Marlins might be better off putting Emilio Bonifacio at third or signing a lower profile player to compete for time at the position than investing a lot of money into an aging, declining player.

 - Closers: No picture for these guys but there are a host of big to fairly big names available to teams looking for someone to close out games. The Marlins happen to be one of those teams. They might think bringing back Juan Carlos "Don't call me Leo Nuñez" Oviedo is not worth what he could cost in arbitration and look elsewhere for a ninth inning arm. Jonathan Papelbon is available but he is going to cost a boatload of money and probably isn't worth it. Heath Bell is available but it will take at least $10 million a year to get him and he would prefer to stay in San Diego anyway. Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez is available and is an intriguing option at the right price but he is also not the same guy who set the single-season saves record a few years ago. Jonathan Broxton is out of shape and coming off of a terrible, injury-plagued season. Francisco Cordero is 36, out of shape and won't come cheap. Joe Nathan, Brad Lidge, Frank Francisco, Joel Zumaya and Jon Rauch are other potential options with closing experience but they all have their issues too. The Marlins will settle on someone to close games for them in 2012 but there aren't many overly attractive options.

Monday, November 7, 2011

America, meet Yoenis Cespedes

Cespedes passes the eye test
BY David Villavicencio

Yu Darvish is the hot international free agent on the market this winter but there is another talented player with a “Y” name that will garner a lot of interest.

Yoenis Cespedes is six feet and 215 pounds of impressive baseball talent. The 26-year-old defected from his native Cuba to the Dominican Republic and is expected to be granted free agency soon.

Cespedes recently set the single season home run record in Cuba and was the starting centerfielder for the Cuban team in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. The five-tool prospect shined in the WBC, batting .458 with a double, three triples, two home runs, five runs scored and five runs batted in over six games.

“El Talento” or “La Potencia”, as Cespedes is known in Cuba, is widely considered the best position player in his native land. He is being advised by Edgar Mercedes and is officially represented by Adam Katz.

Cespedes has big league power
Cespedes has a tryout on Friday in the Dominican Republic and is rumored to be looking for a contract worth $30 million once his hits the open market. There are rumors that the Yankees, Nationals, Marlins and Phillies are all interested.

Personally, I think he would be a great fit for the Marlins.  He would fill the void in centerfield and give them one of the best young outfield trios in the game.

Want to see what Cespedes is all about? Check out the scouting video Mercedes put together to showcase his skills. It is a little ridiculous and doesn't show as much baseball skill as you'd like but you should definitely watch it. I have to warn you though, there is foul language in some of the songs chosen for background music.
Yoenis Cespedes: The Showcase