Did Ozzie Guillen Deserve to be Fired and What’s Next for the Marlins?

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After his firing as manager, Ozzie Guillen will receive $7.5 million over the next three years under the terms of the 4-year contract he signed when the Marlins acquired his rights from the White Sox at the conclusion of the 2011 season. Since they waited two weeks from the end of the 2012 season to pull the trigger, I thought that Guillen might get another shot to start the 2013 season, but the Marlins cut the ties and it’s understandable.

When a person is known for his shtick and pushing the envelope with, “he did not just say that,” level comments, the line between candor and self-immolation becomes blurred. A vast chunk of what Guillen says is simply for the sake of taking the pressure off his players and bringing the spotlight onto him. He doesn’t know when to stop and this is how he gets into trouble with statements of “love” for Fidel Castro—a reviled figure in the town in which Guillen had just signed on to manage for four seasons. For a club that was struggling and desperate to bring fans into their new ballpark and whose targeted fanbase includes a large number of Cuban expatriates, escapees, and descendants of people who lived under the oppression that accompanies a communist, dictatorial state, the laudatory comments about their nemesis was a fireable offense when he said it. The Marlins suspended Guillen, gave him another chance and it wasn’t his comments that were the impetus of his dismissal, but that the team didn’t respond to him on the field.

The Marlins are now examining what went wrong in 2012 and the first two things they did was jettison the two most prominent instigators, Heath Bell—who was traded to the Diamondbacks—and Guillen. After a second half full of rumors and innuendo debating who owner Jeffrey Loria was going to fire among the front office and field staff; which players would be next to follow Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, and others out the door, they got rid of Bell and Guillen and kept Larry Beinfest and his baseball staff.

In defense of the Marlins under Loria, they’ve had remarkable front office stability and treat the manager as a disposable entity that can be quickly replaced. Because the Marlins have made their managerial changes in a ham-handed fashion and made headlines with the decision, for example, to hire the 81-year-old Jack McKeon in 2011, there’s a perception that the firing of the manager is an inherent problem with the team. But if they were winning after doing it, there wouldn’t be the negative connotations. Loria had fired his friend Jeff Torborg in 2003, hired McKeon and the team won the World Series. The criticism is always in retrospect and contingent on whether or not the decision worked.

“What did they expect from Guillen?” is an unfair question to ask. Loria knew his new manager was controversial and would say things to generate headlines, but no one in their right mind could have foreseen the immediate uproar from pro-Castro comments for someone who’d just taken a job in Miami no less.

A 69-93 season amid the lavish outlays for star players and the talent on the club was unacceptable even if the team was injured and gutted at mid-season. Before they cleaned out the house, they were in mid-plummet and had widely become an industry-wide laughingstock. So yes, he deserved to be fired.

Guillen is young enough (48) and has a resume to get another managing job, but it won’t be in a new age situation where the GM is the boss and the manager is a mid-level functionary there to implement edicts coming from above. It would have to be a situation like that of the Dodgers where the front office is willing to take risks and wants to, as the Marlins did, generate buzz. Guillen is not an empty vessel designed to attract attention like a talentless sing-and-dance act that is created to sell a load of songs, records, and tickets, get the money and get out. He’s a good manager. We didn’t see that in Miami for a multitude of reasons, but most of those reasons were that the players didn’t perform.

The Marlins are rumored to be taking the young and cheap route when it comes to a replacement manager, probably with one of their minor league managers, Mike Redmond. Redmond was a member of the 2003 Marlins’ championship team and was also a respected backup to Joe Mauer with the Twins for a long time. He won’t take any nonsense, but with Bell gone the only nonsense he’ll presumably be dealing with will come from Loria himself and the speculation of when Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle are traded.

Even though they wound up 12th in the National League in attendance, the Marlins still drew over 2 million fans to their new park and experienced an increase of 700,000 in the number of people that came to watch them play. Had they been any good and contending, that number would probably have approached 3 million. If they’re retooling or rebuilding will determine what they’ll look like in 2013. Eliminating Bell and Guillen from the equation was a necessary first step back toward respect and respectability.

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