This is our annual State of the Franchise report for Greater Miami’s five major professional teams.
I could cut to the chase and put it all under the following umbrella: We stink! But that would not be entirely fair, so let’s expand a bit and go team-by-team, including the Big Hope for each:
▪ Dolphins: Coming off a 7-9 season that felt worse, the Fins hired a new head coach, Brian Flores, who’s a rookie at the job. They’ll soon part with Ryan Tannehill and step into the Great Unknown at quarterback. The rebuild is on, with tanking talk a swirl, so little is expected in 2019. Recent consensus of an ESPN experts panel was that Miami would be among league’s worst teams next season. Some Vegas sportsbooks have set Dolphins with the longest odds of anybody to win the Super Bowl Miami will be hosting.
The good news? I believe Flores will prove a strong hire. Moving on from roster-builder Mike Tannenbaum was needed. Moving on from Tannehill is needed. And it’s hard to argue Stephen Ross’ plan: To trade a rough season or two for the draft capital to (presumably) get good and escape the years of mediocrity.
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There are promising pieces to build around (Xavien Howard, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Laremy Tunsil), and Miami must continue to get younger, quit signing aging free agents, and part with graying players like (sorry, fellas) Cam Wake and Frank Gore.
Of course a promising QB who’ll be your guy for the next 10 years is the one imperative.
Current state: D. Intrigue factor: B. Optimism factor: C-plus. Short-term outlook: c-minus.
The Big Hope: Make a priority of a quarterback. Draft your future. And don’t gamble on getting lucky in the 2020 draft. If your guy is there at No. 13 this coming April, grab him. Um, Kyler Murray, anyone?
▪ Heat: Miami is stuck in the middle. They’re average. Slightly below .500 and on on the edge of playoff contention. Worse, one wonders what the end-game is? In an NBA hierarchy now run by teams collecting multiple superstars — something the Heat brought to fashion in 2010 — what is Miami’s path to competing? Does Pat Riley have another whale-signing (or two) in him?
That Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem are playing their final season before retiring underlines the Heat’s fall from the superstar-fronted champions of the Big 3 era to a roster with maybe a couple of semi-stars but mostly spare parts. Brilliant Erik Spoelstra can only do so much with depth, hard work and a reliance on “culture” to make up for the shortfall on difference-making talent.
Miami this week traded Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington to Phoenix for journeyman power forward Ryan Anderson, but the deal was more about business than basketball. Johnson’s awful contract was one of the reasons the Heat landed in luxury-tax hell (along with the dubious deals given Hassan Whiteside, Dion Waiters and James Johnson). Ellington was added also as a money saving matter. Meanwhile Anderson arrives as a largely unnecessary piece, just another guy on a long bench who’ll be fighting for minutes.
Of our five major pro teams only the Heat have a recent track record for winning and therefore enjoy more benefit of doubt. Still, as Wade waves slowly goodbye and ends an era, he leaves the Heat to navigate a most uncertain future.
Current state: C. Intrigue factor: B. Optimism factor: C. Short-term outlook: C.
The Big Hope: Very unlikely, but Whiteside and Goran Dragic both opt out of their contracts after this season, become free agents and save Miami 35 percent of its cap-space money so Riley can go get a whale to put alongside young keepers like Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo.
▪ Marlins: With FanFest on Saturday and spring training beginning next week, the 2019 Marlins season officially has begun. And, if there were any doubt, we were reminded again of the Derek Jeter plan — the pain of losing now, long-term gain later — with this week’s trade of all-star catcher J.T. Realmuto to NL East mate Philadelphia.
To the ground-up rebuild the Fish add the Phillies’ No. 1 prospect in pitcher Sixto Sanchez, a starting catcher in Jorge Alfaro, a third prospect plus international spending money. Praising or condemning the deal now is pointless. If Sanchez, 20, becomes the electrifying No. 1 ace starter they think he can be — another Jose Fernandez — then it was a great trade. If he disappoints, then it wasn’t.
Miami didn’t get much from the Yankees except salary relief for Giancarlo Stanton. Didn’t get nearly enough from the Brewers for Christian Yelich unless bust-so-far Lewis Brinson finds the light switch. Did a little better with the Cardinals for Marcell Ozuna. The whole start-over approach is a dubious gamble for Jeter and the new ownership, but one with little risk.
If the buoyed farm system (augmented this offseason by Cuban top prospect Victor Victor Mesa) pans out and the Marlins are playoff contenders in a few years, Jeter can smile smugly. If not, he’s still laughing all the way to the bank with a profit margin engorged by low player payrolls. Meanwhile poor Marlins fans brace for more losing while they wait (and wait) to find out.
Current state: D-minus. Intrigue factor: B-plus. Optimism factor: D-plus. Short-term outlook: D.
The Big Hope: Newly arrived Sixto Sanchez blossoms like they hope, Sandy Alcantara grows the promise he showed last season and, along with guys like Jose Urena and Caleb Smith — voila — the Marlins have the makings of a young, really good starting rotation.
▪ Panthers: Save a miracle finish, Florida will be an NHL playoff spectator for the 20th time in 25 seasons. Expectations were much higher, but a terrible start, raging inconsistency and generally poor defense have thwarted the Cats and coach Bob Boughner, who may be headed for thin ice if not already skating on it.
For years now the Panthers have boasted a promising young core led by Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and seemed poised for a breakout season but ultimately disappointed. General manager Dale Tallon must find a way to finish what he started. The Cats lack a big goal-scorer. One also wonders if the end is near for goalie Roberto Luongo, at age 39 and with numbers (3.11 goals-against average, .897 saves percentage) that rank 41st in the league.
Florida’s weekend trade with Pittsburgh was notable. Dealing Nick Bjugstad (once a cornerstone) and Jared McCann was a concession by Tallon to what’s next, since the draft picks acquired and the $5 million in cap space saved were more important to the Cats moving forward than the two players received..
Current state: C-minus. Intrigue factor: C. Optimism factor: C-plus. Short-term outlook: C.
The Big Hope: Florida now has the money to be a player in a trade or free agency, and needs to hit big, preferably with a dynamic goal-scorer. Barkov, 23, is a budding superstar, but unless you give him the help to get him to the Stanley Cup playoffs, you are wasting what could be a generational player.
▪ Inter Miami: The city’s spankin’ new Major League soccer club will begin play in 2020, meaning David Beckham’s finally realized team will be playing preseason games less than one year from today. They’ll play in a temporary home (likely FIU’s campus stadium) for the first season or perhaps two) before their own new stadium is built on the current Melreese golf site near the airport, a location contentiously negotiated and not ideal.
It has taken longer than expected for Beckham’s dream to become real (it started in 2013) and his original vision for a downtown waterfront stadium failed to happen. Still, Beckham out front gives the whole operation a very-Miami sex appeal, the ownership group is rock solid and MLS is booming. Excitement is building — but then so is the pressure on Miami to hit big fast and win over a tough-to-crack and tougher-to-please sports market. Thank Atlanta United for that pressure. They won the MLS Cup title in only their second season last year, drawing a league-record 73,019 to the championship match.
Not coincidentally, Inter Miami swooped in and hired away Paul McDonough, the personnel chief who assembled that United roster, as its new “sporting director,” soccer-ese for general manager. A brilliant first hire, at least on paper.
Current state: Incomplete. Intrigue factor: A. Optimism factor: B. Short-term outlook: C-Plus.
The Big Hope: The Beckham cache’, lure of South Beach and proximity to South America help make Inter Miami an instant attractive destination for top players and for a big-time coach.
One final big hope: That one of two of these teams is contending for a championship within the next three years. OK, let’s not get greedy. One team will do.