The Marlins: A Wolf in Tacky Clothing

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The Marlins are the hot topic, so let’s see how they’re doing what they’re doing and try to come up with reasonable answers to some questions.

Where are they getting all this money?

The Marlins and owner Jeffrey Loria contributed a fraction of the amount of money it took to build their new ballpark, but they’re expecting to double their revenues and benefit from such potential windfalls as parking, concessions, corporates sponsorships and luxury suites.

The parking especially should yield a significant amount of profit because the club is leasing the parking garages from the city at a finite fee.

You can read about the ballpark finances here; the SEC is investigating the sleight-of-hand used by the club to get the park built.

To put it in simpler terms, if I had the capital that Loria had to start with; received 80% financing, friendly loan terms and ancillary income streams to supplement what I already have, I’d have a website and advertising to rival ESPN. I’d have to spend the money to boost my product and that’s what the Marlins are doing. It’s partial justification of the ballpark; partial investment to keep the money rolling in; and a partial attempt to save face.

Channeling his inner Steinbrenner.

Loria’s a mini-George Steinbrenner and that’s extended to this employment of relatives (David Samson is his son-in-law); capricious firings of managers (he’s on manager number 7 if you count Jack McKeon‘s two stints); wild spending sprees and anger at players who don’t perform immediately; and his new dress code which requires Jose Reyes to shave his beard and cut his Predator hairdo.

Loria is a throwback to the Nixon Republicans where Machiavelli’s playbook held sway; there are ironclad rules for conduct and behavior; none are allowed to do anything that irritates or disrespects Loria in any way; and general, societal propriety is fundamentally ignored when it suits one’s ends.

Anyone and everyone walking willingly into a business deal with Loria had better realize that he’s ruthless, petulant and sees litigation and oversight as Don King sees it—a cost of doing business. He was all smiles with Reyes, but if things don’t go as planned, he’ll trade Reyes as quickly as dumping a former favorite son in favor of another when it’s more convenient.

Speaking of which: What about Hanley Ramirez?

The Marlins staff is insisting there’s no issue with Ramirez shifting positions to accommodate Reyes; that he only wants to win; that he’s not going to be traded and other bits of bulletpoint, stick-to-the-company-line propaganda.

Buster Olney said the following on Twitter:

Marlins upset with Hanley, because given his subpar year in ’11, they were greatly surprised he wants more money to change positions.

Have the Marlins met Hanley Ramirez?

I called this three weeks ago and Ramirez has a point. The Marlins—formerly the team whose foundation rested on his shoulders—figuratively and literally shoved him aside for an inferior player in Reyes; in addition to that, they’re paying all this cash that, for years they said they didn’t have, to outsiders like Reyes and Mark Buehrle and offering the dreaded no-trade clause (which they have a policy against) to Albert Pujols because he’s a “special case.”

“Special case” meaning Pujols has the ability to tell the Marlins to take a hike if they don’t give him the no-trade clause.

The Marlins are said to be out of the Pujols bidding.

So Ramirez is being disrespected and shunned at every turn and he’s supposed to be happy about it? While it’s not unprecedented for clubs to extend players (Troy Tulowitzki, Ryan Braun) who are already signed to extensions to keep them happy and assure they’ll be members of their teams until they retire?

For all of Ramirez’s history of being a malcontent, malingering and not hustling, he’s got a gripe.

I’d be annoyed too.

The right thing to do is to take care of Ramirez financially, but Loria and the “right thing” depend on how it benefits Loria. If I were Ramirez, I’d ask to be traded.

This thing isn’t over no matter how many denials and soothing statements the Marlins make and it’s going to get worse before it gets better and may culminate in Ramirez’s departure from Miami. They’d better get a lot for him because a trade of Ramirez for Reyes and a couple of middling players is not a trade the Marlins would’ve made, but that’s what they may end up doing if they don’t mollify Ramirez.

And it doesn’t appear that they’re going to.

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The Marlins Sign a Name—Heath Bell

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If any team exemplifies the ability to find someone (anyone) to accumulate the save stat and do a reasonable job as the closer it’s the Florida Marlins.

The Marlins signed Heath Bell to a 3-year, $27 million deal with a vesting option for a fourth year at $9 million; this is more about getting a “name” and “personality” to drum up fan interest than acquiring someone whom they can trust as their ninth inning man for a club that clearly has designs on contending.

To be clearer, the Marlins have an intent on looking like they’re trying to contend.

So it was that they made offers to Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and made a great show in hosting C.J. Wilson.

What the offers were and whether they’re truly competitive enough to snag any of those players is a matter of leaks, ignorant guesswork and storytelling.

The Marlins traded for a feisty and successful “name” manager as well when they acquired Ozzie Guillen from the White Sox.

They’re doing a lot of stuff.

Bell will be at least serviceable as the Marlins closer and probably good. $27 million over 3-years isn’t a ridiculous amount of money, but if the Marlins were still running the team as they did under Jeffrey Loria in the days of saving money and collecting revenue sharing fees while putting forth the pretense of being broke and desperate for a new (publicly financed) stadium, under no circumstances would they have paid Bell.

And that’s the point.

On an annual basis, the Marlins closer was dynamic and interchangeable with a bunch of journeyman names that changed (in more ways than one considering the situation of Leo Nunez AKA Juan Oviedo) and were decent at an affordable price.

Braden Looper, Ugueth Urbina, Armando Benitez, Todd Jones, Joe Borowski, Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom, Oviedo—all were the Marlins nominal closer at times. Some were very good; some were mediocre; some were bad. But all accrued saves for a team that was on the cusp of contention for much of that time and they did it cheaply. Would the Marlins have had a better chance to make the playoffs had they been trotting Mariano Rivera to the mound to the blistering tune of “Enter Sandman”? They might’ve won a few more games and it might’ve made a difference, but Bell is not Rivera.

This is something the stat people don’t understand when they say “anyone” can get the saves. It’s true, but not accurate in full context.

The 2008 Phillies could’ve found someone to be the closer, but that closer wouldn’t have been as great as Brad Lidge was in the regular season or the playoffs and with them teetering on missing the playoffs entirely, they might not have made it at all without Lidge.

Rivera’s aura says that the game is essentially over upon his arrival; his ice cold ruthlessness behind a pacifist smile and post-season calm provides the Yankees with a not-so-secret weapon; the biggest difference between themselves and their closest competitors during their dynasty was Rivera.

The Phillies could’ve kept Ryan Madson to be the closer and saved a few dollars rather than paying Jonathan Papelbon, but with the way they’re currently built around starting pitching, it made no sense to risk blowing games or overuse those starters because of an untrustworthy closer. Their window to win in within the next 3-4 years and they needed someone with a post-season pedigree and the known ability to handle a high-pressure atmosphere like Philadelphia.

That’s aptly describes Papelbon.

With the Marlins, they have so many other holes to fill that Bell is a nice bauble to acquire; he’ll generate some headlines and send a signal to the rest of baseball and the free agent market that they’re not putting on a show to garner attention, but are legitimately improving. They could’ve done it in a different, cheaper way, but it’s not about Bell and Bell alone—it’s about several things including public relations, media exposure, selling tickets and that aforementioned message to the other free agents to say, “hey look, we’re not doing this just so people talk about us.”

Whether it works and they lure free agents to Florida is another matter; and if they’re going to do that and get Reyes, Wilson, Prince Fielder, Mark Buehrle, Pujols or any combination of the group, they’ll have to write them a check substantially higher than the $27 million they just handed Bell.

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Dale Sveum Didn’t Need A Second Interview; Albert Pujols’s Tax Haven

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Believe half of what you see in general and a quarter (at most) of what you see in the world of baseball rumors and innuendo.

Days ago, it was said that Brewers hitting coach (and former interim manager who ran the team in the 2008 playoffs) Dale Sveum would not receive a second interview to manage the Chicago Cubs; the natural inference would be that he’s not getting the job.

That’s what I thought.

But as it turns out, the Cubs didn’t give Sveum a second interview because he was their guy and is going to be the new manager.

It’s a good choice. Sveum handled a very difficult situation when he took over for Ned Yost in the last two weeks of the 2008 season as the Brewers were in the midst of a collapse; he cast a stoic and serious face and accepted that he wasn’t getting the full-time job after the season, went back to being the hitting coach under Ken Macha and Ron Roenicke and acted like a true professional.

The Cubs made a good choice.

The Marlins offer to Albert Pujols is reported to be for 9-years and for fewer dollars than the Cardinals offer.

Ordinarily the obvious response would be, “why would he want to leave the world champion Cardinals to go to the dysfunctional Marlins for less money?”, but if the Marlins are making an offer that’s somewhere close to the Cardinals offer and the state of Florida is offering the benefit of no state income tax, then the deal might end up putting more money in Pujols’s bank account.

It’s not going to work, but it’s not as ridiculous a concept as it seems on the surface. It might be done with a pretense on the part of the Marlins to make it look like they’re doing something when they have no intention of signing Pujols, but there’s a viability to the offer…if it’s close to what the Cardinals offer was.

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