Where Do the Marlins Go From Here?

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This Marlins group is not a “team”. It’s a glued together collection of individuals whose mutual interests—of the front office and players—mixed together to create a toxic mess that’s being dismantled as hastily as it was built. A plan that changes when it doesn’t reap immediate dividends is not a plan at all and with the decision to start clearing the decks and apparently listen to offers for anyone and everyone on the roster, where they go from here is unclear.

It began yesterday with the Marlins trading righty starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante to the Tigers for three youngsters including top pitching prospect Jacob Turner, catcher Rob Brantly and lefty pitcher Brian Flynn.

Turner, the 9th overall pick in the 2009 draft, appeared to have fallen out of favor with the Tigers and his status moved from untouchable to gone, but he’s only 21, has a great curve and a prototypical pitcher’s body. The Marlins have gotten torched in dealing for Tigers’ prospects before as Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin didn’t pan out after they were acquired in the Miguel Cabrera trade, but Turner is more polished than Miller was.

Sanchez is a free agent at the end of the season and, when he’s on, is very difficult to hit. He’s had a history of arm problems that he’s overcome in recent years and is going to be more of an immediate help to the Tigers than Turner. Infante is a reliable veteran who plays good defense at second base and has some pop.

Getting Turner is a positive for the Marlins, but does this signal a housecleaning? The construction of the 2012 Marlins wasn’t about putting the best possible pieces in place, but about buying stuff to stick in their gaudy new home. Like the impulse purchases of an instant millionaire, aesthetic and functionality were placed on the backburner in the interest of generating headlines. They needed a manager who was going to spark buzz and had a history of winning? Trade for Ozzie Guillen. They needed a closer? Heath Bell’s out there and he’s a closer. Let’s sign him. They needed a third baseman? Sign Jose Reyes and move Hanley Ramirez to third base. They needed starting pitching? Sign Mark Buehrle and trade for Carlos Zambrano.

It’s simple in the George Steinbrenner sense and actually sometimes works. It did for the 1970s Yankees and the 1997 Marlins, among others. But it’s also failed as it did with the 1980s Yankees and the 1992 Mets.

Who knows what would’ve happened this season had Guillen not caused an immediate uproar by fulfilling his mandate by ranting (mostly incoherently) to draw attention and idiotically said that he admired a loathsome figure in the Miami area, Fidel Castro? If they’d made sure Ramirez was onboard with the move to third base and was committed to being a Marlin, playing hard every day and behaving himself? If Logan Morrison spent as much time concentrating on playing and not expressing his freedom of speech rights on Twitter? If Zambrano was, as Guillen apparently expected, reachable to a countryman and friend who knew him well?

There’s no room for wouldas, shouldas and couldas with the Marlins. Owner Jeffrey Loria and the baseball people act quickly when they’re building and demolishing so this concept of being ready and willing to talk about the entire roster is not foreign to them. The attendance at their new ballpark is 12th in the National League. They’re not cohesive nor do they appear to like each other very much. It’s understandable to give up on the season and try something else, but what is there to try? Who stays and who goes? And what’s going on in the heads of the free agent signees Reyes and Buehrle? They presumably had it in mind that the Marlins couldn’t care less about promises they may or may not have made at contract time and that the organization will dispatch them at a moment’s notice, sending them to live out the remaining time on their deals in a locale that they wouldn’t have chosen on their own. They signed with the Marlins knowing their history and they have to deal with the fallout.

As rapidly as this was tossed together, it’s being taken apart with the only question being where they go from here. Since it changes so rapidly and without remorse or introspection, I don’t think anyone can provide an answer because not even the Marlins know.

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Know What You’re Walking Into with the Marlins

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I had thought that the Marlins truly intended to alter their hardline, organizationally advantageous strategies now that they finally have a new ballpark, but the revelation that the biggest holdup in a deal with Mark Buehrle and presumably other “name” free agents is that the team is steadfastly refusing to give out no-trade clauses, I’m not sure.

Are the conspiracy theorists and naysayers right as they scoff at the Marlins’ excessive display in hosting Jose Reyes, C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols? Were the welcoming committees and promises little more than a publicity stunt in the hopes that the markets for those players would crash and allow the Marlins to acquire them for team-friendly terms without a no-trade clause?

In a separate issue, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating the aforementioned new ballpark and its financing. You can read about that here in the Miami Herald.

All of this is lending credence to the possibility that any major payroll increase is going to be accompanied by a “wait-and-see” approach. Sans the new park, the situation is eerily similar to former owner Wayne Huizenga’s spending spree in 1996-1997. During that off-season, the Marlins signed Bobby Bonilla, Alex Fernandez, Moises Alou and manager Jim Leyland; during the 1997 season, they were right in the middle of the pennant race when attendance figures weren’t what Huizenga expected; with no new ballpark on the horizon, he decided to sell the team.

Following their World Series win in that year, they dumped all their big contracts in trades and lost 100 games in 1998.

Even with the new ballpark opening, the foundation is there to repeat that strategy.

What happens if the Marlins sign or acquire 2-3 more recognizable players to join Heath Bell (with whom the Marlins agreed on a contract yesterday), they’re in contention and the fans still don’t show up? Will Jeffrey Loria use the star players to have another clearance and reference floating and questionable “facts” as to his finances and employ verbal sleight-of-hand to justify it?

This is not an organization with a history of telling the truth. They’re ruthless and self-interested and have been successful under a strict and limited payroll mandated by ownership. Everyone from Loria to team president David Samson on down through the baseball department with Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and Dan Jennings toes to the company line and closes ranks when necessary.

If the business will continue to be run like a glossy sweatshop with the brutal and greedy owner calling the shots, Reyes and others had better be aware that if they don’t get that no-trade clause they might sign with the Marlins, play in Florida for a year and find themselves traded to Oakland, Seattle or some other far off West Coast team that they specifically avoided because they wanted to stay in the warmer weather, closer to the East or were hoping the absence of a state income tax in Florida would allow them to bring home more of their paychecks.

All those who are considering doing business with the Marlins—especially Reyes—had better walk into the situation with their eyes open. Obviously he’d be leaving a dysfunctional and cloudy mess with the Mets, but if it’s between the the Marlins and Mets, isn’t it better to be with the devil you know instead of the one you don’t?

Knowing.

That’s the key word.

Anyone preparing to do business with the Marlins had better know the possibilities before thinking they’ve found a home in Miami.

It might be for a shorter than expected stay. Much shorter.

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Giants/A’s—Same Area, Different Universe

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The Athletics problems are not going to be solved by the planned new ballpark in San Jose because the supposed “last hurdle” is a one that the Giants are not going to remove.

After reading this piece from Ken Rosenthal, I’m left wondering why there’s such ill-will at the Giants choosing to protect themeslves by refusing to give up their territorial rights to San Jose and allowing the Athletics to build a new ballpark.

Why should they?

These quotes from Rosenthal struck me:

The Giants, who draw a significant part of their fan and corporate bases from the counties south of San Francisco, remain adamantly opposed to relinquishing their territorial rights to San Jose and the South Bay region.

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The Giants, projecting a payroll of about $130 million next season, will need to draw at least 3.2 million to break even, one source said. The team, which drew nearly 3.4 million last season coming off its first World Series title, cannot afford much slippage.

If their profit margin is so narrow and they have a large payroll directly as a result of their success in recent years, they’re faced with the prospect of taking the chance of surrendering a significant portion of their game attendees and giving them to the Athletics. That doesn’t necessarily mean that people are going to root for the Athletics if they move to San Jose—some would—but if they’re Giants fans, they’ll remain Giants fans; despite that, a closer park would provide an option for those who might have gone to AT&T Park to watch the Giants to go to the nearer venue to watch a baseball game, any baseball game. Even the A’s.

Because the Giants have become a star-laden team with a budget, they’re going to have an even smaller window to remain competitive and financially stable. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain are both going to make substantial sums in the coming years as they head for free agency and if the Giants want to keep them, they’ll have to pay them. They’re still on the hook for Aaron Rowand and Barry Zito; Rowand’s been released, Zito has been atrocious and injured.

The difference between the Giants and A’s is that the Giants have fans that will come to the ballpark to watch the team whether they’re good or not and the A’s don’t. That star power of Lincecum and Cain now and Barry Bonds 5 years ago washes away the pain of a non-contending team.

Who do the A’s currently have that fans are going to want to go to the park to watch? They can’t blame fiscal difficulties for a series of horrible drafts and bad trades.

Charlie Finley put together one of the best teams in the history of the sport from 1972-1974 as they won three straight World Series. They never drew well.

Apart from the late 1980s-early 1990s when they were a star-studded, highly-paid club managed by Tony LaRussa and with recognizable personalities Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, they were never in the top-tier attractions in baseball. You can blame the miserable ballpark, but it’s questionable how much a new park would fix matters for them now. If the fans weren’t enthused enough to spur them to finish any higher than 6th in attendance from 2000-2006 when the team was consistently good and run by a supposed “genius” who was becoming a worldwide celebrity, Billy Beane, what difference is a new park going to make?

Fans would apparently prefer to go to the movies to watch Brad Pitt play a fictional genius—as was the portrayal in the movie Moneyball—instead of the on-field train crash that the real Beane built in 2011.

Propaganda-crafted fame aside, fans are not going to go to the ballpark to watch a GM do his GMing, so the Beane lust is essentially meaningless.

We’re going to get a gauge on how a new ballpark influences a baseball-disinterested population in Miami in 2012 with the Marlins. What’s going to make the judgment clearer is that the Marlins are intent on spending money to put a better product on the field in an effort to legitimize the franchise and justify the new park. The spending spree has been tried before with the organization and the Marlins won a World Series in 1997 after buying a load of star players, but when there wasn’t any immediate off-field rise in attendance or attention as anything more than a passing fancy for fair weather and “be here to be seen” fans; after 1997, then-owner Wayne Huizenga ordered a dismantling of the team and sold it.

Another championship under Jeffrey Loria in 2003 didn’t yield a drastic increase in attendance and then that team was torn apart.

Despite the amenities and non-baseball distractions inherent with a new park, a segment of fans might’ve been avoiding the Marlins games because of the constant threat of rain and a football stadium or because they’re not interested in baseball. Owners really don’t care why people are coming to the park as long as they purchase tickets, pay for parking, buy food and souvenirs; but if they’re not into baseball then they’re not into baseball and the new ballpark novelty wears off rapidly if the team isn’t winning. The Mets are proving that now and the Mets have a larger reservoir of hard core fans than the A’s do.

They don’t like baseball in Oakland.

Don’t think that an influx in money from a new park would guarantee a marked improvement in the on-field product either. Beane hasn’t distinguished himself in putting a club together since the rest of baseball caught onto what he was doing; the sentiment about Oakland that was expressed by C.J. Wilson—amid much vitriol—during the past season is shared in a less overt fashion amongst the players. They’ll only join the A’s if they have no other choice. Beane was once able to take advantage of that with former stars like Frank Thomas who needed the A’s to rejuvenate his career; the A’s could offer him a place to play everyday on an incentive-laden deal and hope to hit lightning. Many times they did. Now other teams are thinking the same way and with that revelation, Beane’s “genius” disappeared.

At least Florida is a year-round home for many players and has the absence of a state income tax to make it a sound personal choice. What attraction is there to go to the Athletics and Oakland?

There are none.

There are other venues that could support a team, so why is there this desperation to stay in Oakland where they can’t get a new park and the fans don’t care?

Either eliminate the team or move it to a place that won’t infringe on a healthy club. The casual fans in Oakland didn’t appreciate them when they were good and they’re definitely not invested in them now that they’re bad and not getting better anytime soon.

You can’t help those who don’t help themselves and if they lose their franchise, it’s because they never bolstered it to begin with.

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The Marlins Plan A Spending Spree

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In the winter of 1996-97, then Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga gave GM Dave Dombrowski permission to spend money and sign/trade for veteran players to augment a solid core of talent Edgar Renteria, Robb Nen, Charles Johnson, Devon White, Jeff Conine, Al Leiter and Kevin Brown.

Back then it was an annual undertaking for the club to try and gain public financing for a new ballpark; in this case, winning was seen as the cure. They hired Jim Leyland to manage; signed Bobby Bonilla, Alex Fernandez, Dennis Cook and Moises Alou.

The 1997 Marlins won the Wild Card, upset the Braves in the NLCS and beat the Indians in a 7-game World Series.

Then they dismantled the team when they couldn’t get a new ballpark and were sold.

Now the Marlins have a new ballpark on the way; a talented group of young players; and money to spend.

Apparently they’re intent on spending it.

The circumstances mirror each other.

They’re going to hire a name manager (most likely Ozzie Guillen).

They have a foundation of players upon which to build (Logan Morrison, Mike Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez).

They need a third baseman and Aramis Ramirez is being mentioned; they need pitching and C.J. Wilson is available; they have a first baseman in Gaby Sanchez, but he’d be trade bait if they made a move on Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder; Jose Reyes would allow them to shift Hanley Ramirez to third base; Jonathan Papelbon would fill the void at closer.

Many players are from warm climates and would prefer that type of venue; or they’re attracted to the absence of a state income tax in Florida.

Players will want to play for the Marlins.

But will that bring in fans?

Will a contending team and a new, retractable roof ballpark attract the notoriously fickle and easily distracted, football-preferring masses to support the Marlins for the entire season rather than when they’re in the World Series?

We’re going to find out.

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