The Marlins: Promises, Lies and Complaints

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The Marlins name should be changed to the Merlins given how quickly and completely they made their entire 2012 roster disappear. In the aftermath of the trade (still pending approval) that sent Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to the Blue Jays for Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Jeff Mathis and prospects, Giancarlo Stanton said the following on Twitter:

Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple

Stanton’s understandable reaction turned viral and has been analyzed, dissected, and repeated as an entity unto itself. He’s said nothing since.

Now Reyes and Buehrle are saying that the Marlins broke a verbal promise that they wouldn’t be part of a housecleaning as has happened in the past.

Do they have a right to complain, or is this a combination of self-importance, naiveté, blissful “don’t ask/don’t tell” ignorance, and after-the-fact allegations?

Stanton’s tweet was a reaction and nothing more. As a player entering his fourth year in the big leagues, he has zero recourse. He can ask to be traded and the Marlins can say no. He can express his unhappiness—as he did—and the fans and media can use it as Exhibit A as to what the Marlins players think, but under full team control, Stanton has no options. In fact, the Marlins might sign Stanton to a long-term contract as a conciliatory gesture to placate MLB and their few fans by putting forth the impression of “trying”. Of course that doesn’t mean Stanton won’t be traded once he starts making big money, but it’s slightly more palatable to Stanton and everyone else than Stanton’s visceral response and the Marlins saying, “Yeah? So?”

Big money and contracts are the keys to the silly laments made by Reyes and Buehrle. Did they really—really?!?—believe Jeffrey Loria and David Samson when they promised that they wouldn’t trade them if they signed with the Marlins? You can say anything you want about Loria, Samson and the manner in which they’ve used technicalities and gray areas to behave as baseball robber barons and get a new ballpark; convince players to sign with them under the pretense that this time it would be different; that they’re in it for the long-term; but don’t be surprised when they’re exposed as having said what they needed to say to get the girl in bed, promised to call the next day, and never did.

If there were clear indicators as to what the Marlins planned to do, it was: A) that they made these promises, yet refused to put the language into the contracts to guarantee they stuck to it; B) that they backloaded the contracts to the degree that they did.

Reyes’s contract is as follows: 2012: $10 million; 2013: $10 million; 2014: $16 million; 2015-2017: $22 million; 2018: $22 million option with $4 million buyout.

Buehrle’s is similar: 2012: $6 million; 2013: $11 million; 2014: $18 million; 2015: $19 million.

Huge escalations of salaries, no no-trade clause, and the Marlins history place the onus squarely on the players for believing the “guarantee” for which there were no legal means to make sure it was adhered to. If there was this guarantee that they wouldn’t be traded, why couldn’t it be written into the contract? Here’s why: the Marlins had it in mind that they were going to do this at some point. It might not have been this quickly, but there was always that overwhelming likelihood. The Marlins policy of not giving out no-trade clauses is an excuse, not a reason. Players with multiple options and the ability to tell the interested clubs that the no-trade clause will be in the contract or else they’re not signing get the no-trade clause. Both Reyes and Buehrle knew or should have known precisely what they were signing up for. They got their guaranteed money, but invited the risk that the Marlins could turn around and trade them to a place like Toronto where they had no interest in going. It was a gamble against the house and they lost. The promise isn’t the relevant factor. That the players were stupid enough to believe it is.

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The Marlins-Blue Jays Trade, Part II—The Jeffrey Loria Version

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Anyone surprised by the Marlins is either blind or a fool. The facilitator of the circumstances that led to the trade between the Marlins and the Blue Jays is the the same owner, Jeffrey Loria, who:

▪   Is under investigation by the SEC for the questionable way in which Marlins Park was financed

▪   Is now on his eighth manager (counting Jack McKeon twice)

▪   Dragged Muhammad Ali out as the “surprise” star to throw out the first ball on opening night at the new park

▪   Was busted by MLB for pocketing revenue sharing money that was supposed to go into the team

Since he became involved with baseball first as the owner of the Montreal Expos and then the Marlins, Loria has been flipping the middle finger at convention and propriety with his treatment of underlings, fans, and anyone else who dared not to give him what he wanted. In a way, it’s refreshing that Loria takes baseball’s absurdity to its logical conclusion by repeatedly doing these types of things with impunity.

Technically, it’s his team and he can do whatever he wants. But the sneering, smirking, smarmy brazenness with which he continually does the same thing over and over again is a slap in the face to any fan that chooses to keep supporting the franchise.

And that’s the point.

The Marlins have fans to be sure, but they don’t have enough fans to make it worthwhile to have a team in Miami; they certainly didn’t have enough fans to justify building that ballpark. Was one year a reasonable duration to try and win before gutting the thing? No. But equating the Marlins 69-93 season with this latest razing is ludicrous. It wasn’t 2012 that spurred the series of deals that sent away Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez and led to the firing of manager Ozzie Guillen. Had the Marlins made the playoffs, there’s no reason to believe that they wouldn’t have done the same thing and found another reason—presumably the disappointing attendance—to wreck it like Gordon Gekko raiding a company and selling off all its assets.

That the Marlins baseball people led by Larry Beinfest have consistently mined other organizations for the right names under the pretense of “burn the village in order to save it” is meaningless as long as there’s a perception of profiteering surrounding the club. The baseball people know talent and know what they’re doing, but they’re perpetually functioning in an atmosphere that puts forth the image of satire where the more absurd the story is, the likelier it is to be true.

In retrospect, baseball should’ve cut their losses with the Marlins before that park was built or allowed them to move to a venue that would support the team. Instead, there’s this.

In Loria’s lukewarm defense, is it his fault that those enabling him are so stupid that they run endlessly on that treadmill like a hamster? Forgetting the methods that got the new stadium built, privately or publicly financed, the fans in Miami were not going to go. It wasn’t going to happen whether the Marlins bought high-profile players or didn’t. The audience matters. Because there are a cavalcade of stars in a film, if that film is shown to Eskimos, they’re not going to get it nor are they going to pay to see it. If a brilliant album is written and it’s sold in a location where the style of music is foreign or unwanted, it’s not going to be purchased.

Mariano Rivera, for all the mileage he’s gotten from his nickname “The Sandman” and how the Metallica song Enter Sandman is attached to his name, has said he’s not exactly a fan of Metallica and that he prefers Christian music. It’s not, “I don’t like that crap.” It’s Rivera being honest without vitriol. The fans in Miami have been honest regarding their interest in baseball: it doesn’t exist.

So they build this new park, buying into Loria’s and team president David Samson’s nonsense as to how the football stadium the Marlins used to play in was the problem; that it was the constant threat of rain that prevented the fans from coming out; that the lack of revenue from the park, concessions and other streams prevented ownership from investing in players. In part, it might have been true, but the end result with the stars, expectations and hype was the same thing as it’s been in the past only worse because not only were they bad, but they were expensive and uninteresting as anything other than an exercise in rubbernecking.

Good or bad, the fans don’t go see the Marlins. People want what they want. They don’t want what they don’t want. And what the fans in Miami don’t want is baseball.

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Translating GM-Speak, Votes of Confidence and Threats

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Most of the “rumors” or information from “insiders” is either fictional or planted and has no basis in fact. But there are other instances where baseball people say something without saying something; when they make a statement for selfish reasons, whether it’s to get the fans/media off their backs or to send a message to individuals. In recent days, there have been several such stories. As we saw with Mariners’ GM Jack Zduriencik saying that Ichiro Suzuki was a franchise player, then turning around and trading him, many times there’s an ulterior motive behind the rhetoric.

Let’s take a look at some statements and translate them into what is actually meant.

The Bobby Valentine vote of confidence

It’s called the “dreaded” vote of confidence because the perception is that it inevitably precedes a firing. Valentine just received one from the Red Sox’ front office. It’d be nice if some enterprising stat person with a lot of time on his or her hands did some research, looked into historic votes of confidence and crunched the numbers of a firing or not following the public declaration of job security.

The thing with Valentine is that he needs absolute support from the ownership to counteract the media/fan/player hate he engenders. If he doesn’t have that, there’s no point in keeping him around. If the Red Sox are truly invested in Valentine, they’re going to have to: A) make structural changes to the roster including getting rid of the subversive elements like Josh Beckett (which they’re probably going to try to do regardless of who the manager is); and B) give him at least an extra year on his contract for 2014.

They have to decide whether changing the manager is easier than changing the players and that can only be determined as they gauge interest in the likes of Beckett and even Jon Lester this September.

Translation: They don’t know whether Valentine’s coming back and it depends on a myriad of factors, not just putting up a good showing late in the season or making the playoffs.

David Samson on the Marlins

The Marlins’ hatchet-man, Samson, offered his opinions on this season. Here are the main quotes regarding owner Jeffrey Loria, baseball ops boss Larry Beinfest and GM Michael Hill:

“As we go into the offseason, the fact is, forgetting the injuries, the players we have right now should be winning games,” Samson said. “It’s clear the evaluation was wrong on certain players. It’s a constant process of seeing what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong, and changing. One thing we don’t want to be as a baseball organization is stubborn. We don’t want to not admit mistakes. Who is that serving?”

“Everything may change,” Samson said. “I think it’s going to be an interesting October, a little different than the October we envisioned …. [Loria] is angry and he should be. Me, Larry and Mike are only two, three and four in the disappointed department. He’s number one.”

The Marlins are a disaster, that’s something everyone can agree on. Given the constant changes in field staff and player personnel and that Samson mentioned the words “evaluation” and “wrong” without pointing the finger at himself or Loria, along with the history of Samson and Loria of firing people, there might be front office changes rather than field staff and player changes. The one static department has been the front office. Beinfest and Dan Jennings have been prevented from interviewing with other clubs for positions and they—Beinfest, Jennings, Hill—have super-long term contracts to stay.

Translation: Manager Ozzie Guillen is safe, but members of the baseball operations team are definitely not.

Manny Acta’s job security

Indians’ GM Chris Antonetti didn’t specifically say Acta would be back, but said he has, “no reason to think otherwise.” That’s not a ringing endorsement and the Indians have come undone—through no specific fault on the part of Acta—and faded from negligible contention. There’s talent on the team, but the issues they have stem from front office mistakes than anything Acta has or hasn’t done. Grady Sizemore was brought back and hasn’t played; Johnny Damon and Derek Lowe didn’t work out and were jettisoned; Casey Kotchman reverted back into being Casey Kotchman; Ubaldo Jimenez has been awful since being acquired from the Rockies.

I think they need a change and with Sandy Alomar Jr. still very popular in Cleveland and on several managerial short-lists, they won’t want to let him leave when he’d benefit the front office and shield them from rightful criticism for what they put together.

Translation: Acta won’t be back and will be replaced by Alomar.

Sandy Alderson says the Mets won’t eat Jason Bay’s contract

The Mets are saying they won’t pay Bay to leave. After this season, the Mets owe him $19 million. Those who are saying the Mets should just swallow the money are living in a dreamworld where $19 million is considered absolutely nothing. Yes, the money’s gone whether Bay’s here or not and while the Mets’ financial circumstances may have stabilized with the settlement of the Bernie Madoff lawsuit against the Wilpons, that doesn’t mean they’re going to hand Bay that golden parachute.

It’s not going to work in New York for Bay, but the Mets will exchange him for another bad contract before releasing him. A release would come next year despite the vitriol they’ll receive if he’s brought back.

Translation: The Mets aren’t releasing him now and won’t eat the money, but they’ll eat some of the money and trade him for another contract that’s equally bad. He’s not going to be a Met in 2013.

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Welcome to Miami; Don’t Bother to Unpack

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From another plane of existence, watching Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins, George Steinbrenner just elbowed Mussolini and said, “This guy’s a nut.”

The most important part of following the stories that crop up during the approach to the MLB trade deadline is to know which to discard as nonsense and which to take seriously. For example, I said months ago that the Diamondbacks wouldn’t trade Justin Upton, but the trade talks have been mentioned so prominently and acknowledged by the Diamondbacks that they have to be believed.

The Rays considering moving James Shields is probably legitimate because they’re willing to do anything and everything.

Cole Hamels trade talk is a “hit-getter” meaning that any web piece on Hamels is guaranteed to drum up a lot of webhits. They’re to be taken as little more than “stuff” tossed into the air without any real basis in fact.

But there are some stories that are too ludicrous to be believed in the normal world, but are easily believable in the nuttier venues of baseball. One such venue is in Miami with the Marlins.

This MLBlog posting by Joe Frisaro suggests that the Marlins could become sellers. The Marlins spent a lot of money last winter and were expected to win. They’re not playing well. But it’s four months into the season and 99.9% of sports franchises would not react so rapidly in deciding to blow it up. But the Marlins are of that .1% that might.

Yes, it would make sense—as it has for several years now—to be open to trading Hanley Ramirez. Logan Morrison hasn’t hit and combined with the disfavor he fell into with the organization last season, he’s a possible trade chip. With those players, it wouldn’t necessarily be gutting the team, but trading a player elsewhere and bringing back other players to help now and make the team and clubhouse better. The emergence of Justin Ruggiano, looking more and more real every day, makes several players expendable. Josh Johnson’s value isn’t very high right now. No one’s taking Heath Bell or John Buck.

But Giancarlo Stanton? They’d get a ton for him. It would be crazy to entertain moving that type of player, but that place is crazy.

For organizations that don’t have the shady past of the Marlins, it would be enough for the GM, team president and owner to go up to a player who’s upset by the implication that he might be available and say, “It’s nonsense. Someone made it up to have something to write about,” and have it accepted as truth. With the Marlins? Even if head of baseball operations Larry Beinfest tells a Jose Reyes that he’s not going to be traded, is Reyes going to believe it?

I wouldn’t believe David Samson or Jeffrey Loria if they told me it was raining as the three of us were standing in the middle of a hurricane.

Given their history of purging the organization of managers, coaches and veteran players on capricious mood swings and financially motivated teardowns, would anyone—including the players—be shocked if the Marlins did blow it up at mid-season?

It’s 89 games into the season, the Marlins are 43-46 and a major disappointment; they’re 12th in the National League in attendance. They made a florid show of spending prowess last winter and haven’t performed. That’s justification to make some changes, but not to demolish the whole thing.

With most other teams, it’s an easily dismissible concept. With the Marlins, every player in that clubhouse has it in the back of his mind that he might not be with the team much longer; that the contract he signed is something to be transferred, legally, at a moment’s notice. At some point it’s going to burrow through a player’s thick head and he’ll understand that teams don’t give a player a no-trade clause in his contract so they’re able to, y’know, trade him without his permission.

This is the risk taken by Reyes, Mark Buehrle, manager Ozzie Guillen and anyone else who signs up for that dysfunctional madhouse.

It’s unlikely that the Marlins will detonate it so quickly. In fact, I doubt that they will. A trade of Ramirez or Morrison is possible. I can’t see them gutting the Fish in July. But there’s that chance—that chance that Reyes will suddenly find himself playing for the Mariners in Seattle for the next 5 ½ years when he thought he was signing with the Marlins to play in Miami for 6.

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What’s Wrong With The Marlins?

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In a sane world, rather than find someone to blame and sacrifice for a poor performance, an organization steeped in common sense and with confidence in their decisionmakers and strategy would look at what’s wrong and try to fix it.

That’s in a sane world.

The world I’m talking about is that of the Miami Marlins and it’s anything but sane.

After today’s loss to the Blue Jays, the Marlins are now 33-38 and, pending the Phillies’ game being played as of this writing, are in last place in the National League East.

It’s a plummet from the heights that owner Jeffrey Loria envisioned in the first year of the new Marlins Park and after the money he spent to import expensive names Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell, Carlos Zambrano and manager Ozzie Guillen.

Not only has the team floundered, flipped and flopped on the field, the attendance is 10th out of 16 teams and the empty seats have become more and more noticeable. Judging from their history the fans in Miami and surrounding areas have had other things to do on a warm summer night than to go see the Marlins. That’s been the case whether the team was good or not. With the team playing this brand of uninspiring and disinterested baseball, there’s no reason to go to the park at all.

In some circles, the Marlins were a trendy World Series pick.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t holes and questions.

The starting rotation had Josh Johnson returning from injury and Zambrano, who had worn out his welcome with the Cubs to the point where they paid the majority of his $18 million salary for the Marlins to take him. The bullpen added Bell and, in spite of his declining strikeout numbers and reputation of annoying his bosses, he should’ve been expected to convert the majority of his chances in the negligible save stat. As set-up men they’re using the homer-prone Edward Mujica and a pitcher with a great arm, Steve Cishek, who gives up rockets all over the place whenever I see him pitch. Many times those rockets are hit right at someone making his numbers better than what they should be.

The lineup has been a disappointment and is 12th in the National League in runs scored. Two of their everyday players, John Buck (.165) and Gaby Sanchez (.195) are trapped on the interstate. Reyes has a slash line of .270/.347/.381 with 16 stolen bases. It’s not bad, but not what he was for the Mets in 2011 when he won the batting title and was a phenomenon for much of the season. Hanley Ramirez is hitting better now after a rancid start. Emilio Bonifacio is on the disabled list. Logan Morrison has 7 homers and a .721 OPS.

In the past, the question for Loria has been, “Who can I fire?”

It worked in 2003 when Jeff Torborg was replaced by Jack McKeon. It didn’t work last season when Edwin Rodriguez was replaced by McKeon. Guillen has a 4-year contract at big money and isn’t going anywhere.

This group was Scotch-taped together with big names from the open market without consideration as to gelling and functioning as a unit.

And they’re not functioning as a unit. They don’t put forth the on-field impression that they like each other very much. The Marlins play as if they don’t care; as if they’ve accepted that this is the team, this is their status, and as long as the paychecks are signed and cashable, whatever.

We’re days away from a Loria explosion dutifully filtered through his hatchet man/son-in-law David Samson. It’s generally been Samson who’s been the public face for Loria’s displeasure. That’s coming soon.

One would expect threats and demands will be leaked into the media to express ownserhip’s displeasure. But when does something get done?

A threat is worthless unless it’s carried out in some form and the Marlins under Loria have never been shy to follow through on their threats.

Will they try to trade LoMo? Shake up the bullpen? Or fire someone?

Who is there to fire?

Team President Larry Beinfest has been with the Marlins for a long time and for the most part has done a good job. It wasn’t long ago that he was widely considered one of the best executives in baseball for functioning in that world with Loria and Samson; without money to spend; with the other issues surrounding the club. He still placed a competitive team on the field. This team is a mess. It’s possible that Beinfest wasn’t onboard with the lavish spending spree the club undertook. That’s a dual-edged sword because if that’s the case, he’s expendable.

I doubt that Beinfest will be tossed overboard.

GM Michael Hill is another story. It’s known that Beinfest has been the man running the show and if the Marlins want to do something, firing or demoting Hill would be pretentious and useless, but that’s never mattered to Loria or Samson.

At 33-38 they’re going to do something. It all depends on who winds up in Loria’s crosshairs.

By now, it could be anyone.

The Marlins wanted to make a splash last winter and they did. But that splash is turning into a tsunami and it’s engulfing the club and everything in its path.

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National League Ticking Tempers Of Ownership

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Earlier I looked at the American League’s ownerships that are (or should be) getting antsy.

Now, let’s look at the National League.

Miami Marlins

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

Put it this way: in spite owner Jeffrey Loria’s past decisions that have been seen as running the gamut from unethical to outright illegal, he spent money on players and a manager this past winter.

With his pro-Fidel Castro comments, the manager they hired, Ozzie Guillen, put the organization in an embarrassing position and almost sunk the ship just after it had been christened. The new Marlins Park is located in Little Havana and they’re trying desperately to cultivate the baseball-loving Cuban-American crowd to bolster their attendance. That attendance is flagging. Guillen’s personality has appeared somewhat subdued following his suspension and apology. They didn’t hire Guillen-lite; they hired outrageous Ozzie who can manage players, win and draw attention to himself.

Clearly praising Castro didn’t fall into that mandate.

On the field, they’re 8-13 and 15th in the National League in runs scored. Two of their big-name free agents, Jose Reyes and Heath Bell, have been terrible. Hanley Ramirez, Giancarlo Stanton and Gaby Sanchez aren’t hitting. Ace Josh Johnson has gotten rocked in three of his five starts.

They’re not getting what they paid for.

What should be done?

Maybe that should be phrased: What could be done rather than what should be done.

They could demote Bell from the closer’s role, but won’t.

They could put the word out that they want to get rid of Hanley Ramirez, but won’t.

They could fire a couple of coaches, but won’t. (It would make Guillen look bad if his coaching staff was messed with in his first month on the job.)

There aren’t many “shoulds” that would help them more than the players and manager they signed/traded for doing their jobs and earning their paychecks.

What will be done?

Loria’s George Steinbrenner side has been evident since he bought his way into baseball.

He’s not going to jump out front and center yet. Within the next week, if the Marlins keep playing like this, Loria’s son-in-law/hatchet man/flunky/team president David Samson will utter a few choice comments in the media that will generate attention. There might be vague threats of looming changes or random, stream of consciousness demands that the manager and coaching staff “do something”.

If that doesn’t work, by May 20th or so, Loria will have his own explosion. Something—a demotion of a Sanchez or Stanton; a benching of Ramirez or Reyes; Bell being relegated to the seventh or eighth inning—will happen.

I can’t say he’s wrong either.

Chicago Cubs

Does ownership have a right to be upset?

No.

I’m quite sure that when Theo Epstein was anointed (not interviewed, anointed) to take over as team president, he told owner Tom Ricketts that the entire farm system needed to be rebuilt, he’d have to clear some dead weight from the big league roster and unless they got some above and beyond the call of duty returns to glory from the likes of Alfonso Soriano, they were going to have a lean year or two. Since Ricketts hired Epstein and let him bring in Jed Hoyer as GM and surrendered actual players to the Red Sox and Padres to get both, he accepted this analysis and is willing to deal with the fallout.

It helps that the Cubs’ fans’ loyalties are such that they’ll support the team whether they win 70 games or 90s games. In 2012, it’s going to be the former.

What should and what will be done?

Under Epstein, the Cubs will do what they should do.

They’ll get rid of Soriano at some point. Even with the remaining $54 million from 2012-2014, the money’s gone; he’s untradeable. Cutting him makes sense.

Ryan Dempster, Carlos Marmol, Matt Garza and even Geovany Soto will attract interest on the market and the Cubs can and should explore every opportunity to get multiple pieces and shave payroll to make themselves better for the year they’re planning on making a legitimate run: 2014.

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On the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic, We Have the Marlins

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The questions that surrounded the Marlins amid their winter spending spree and afterglow of the completion of their new ballpark were expected to crop up at some point, but no one could’ve predicted that they would start immediately, happen all in a row and risk the season before it began in earnest.

Let’s go down the list. Bear in mind that it’s only April 15th and they haven’t played 10 games yet.

  • The SEC is investigating the financing of the new park—you can read details of how it might go in this SBNation column.
  • Owner Jeffrey Loria was pilloried for using Muhammad Ali to take part in the first pitch ceremony on opening night.
  • Manager Ozzie Guillen was suspended by the team for statements praising Fidel Castro; protests calling for his firing continued regardless of Guillen’s apology.
  • Their on-field issues—a shaky bullpen and terrible defense—have already cost them games.

There are other underlying problems just below the surface. Carlos Zambrano isn’t looking any better on the field in Marlins’ fluorescent glow of blue, red, orange and yellow than he did in Cubbie blue. Josh Johnson and Heath Bell have been awful.

The concerns about Zambrano, Johnson and Bell are overreactions. The Marlins aren’t paying Zambrano anything and can release him if he pitches or behaves poorly—he’s a worthwhile gamble that had as much chance of succeeding as failing. Johnson, if healthy, should be fine. The same argument that says anyone can close also applies to proven closers who are struggling. Bell will begin converting saves.

But the team simply doesn’t look right. They’re not cohesive. They’re a glued together mix of personalities that may not gel before it’s too late, if at all.

Was the Castro gaffe the last thing that Guillen is going to say and do to get himself into a cauldron of simmering Ozzie-juice? History proves it’s not. And if he tones down his personality to prevent himself from getting into trouble, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of hiring him?

Did the Marlins not know that Edward Mujica was prone to the home run ball before installing him as the set-up man? He allowed 28 homers combined for the Padres in 2009 and 2010 and 7 for the Marlins last year. They have a pitchers’ park and leaguewide power numbers are down, but that hasn’t mattered with Mujica.

It takes awhile for teams that have been drastically altered to come together as a unit, but this was a powder keg before the season and it’s a powder keg now with sparks threatening to ignite before May. If they come together and get past the off-field controversies, will that repair their horrific defense and inconsistent bullpen?

In spite of assertions to the contrary, Jose Reyes is only one wrong step away from an extended stay on the disabled list with a hamstring strain or pull; Hanley Ramirez and Zambrano are tempestuous and flighty; and Loria and team president David Samson have high expectations and a massive amount riding on this team and new ballpark being a success.

If they’re at or under .500 by June (or sooner), the fans aren’t going to come to the park and the potential is there for a top-down eruption leading to an every man for himself evacuation.

It’s not a human tragedy on a level with the Titanic, but in a baseball-sense, it’s a burgeoning disaster.

It’s very early, but they’d better change course.

Soon.

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Ozzie Guillen’s Comments Don’t Warrant A Firing

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One would assume that there’s fine print in Ozzie Guillen’s contract with the Marlins that states he can’t make any statements or engage in activities that compromise his club’s ability to do business. Such would be true with anyone. Making a comment in support of Fidel Castro—intentional or not—comes under the auspices of negatively affecting the Marlins’ ticket sales to a large faction of their supposed fan base and is a fireable offense with them not having to pay him if they so chose.

This talk about Guillen’s rights to free speech being violated are more out of bounds than the comments he made in the first place. He’s an employee of a business with a constituency that reviles Castro. Guillen can say whatever he wants, but if he wants to keep his job, he can’t say whatever he wants.

A 5-game suspension is nothing in comparison to the nullification of his 4-year, $10 million contract—something that the Marlins could have explored if they wanted to get away from Guillen and end the issue permanently.

Guillen is a figurehead of what the Marlins are trying to do. They want to win with personality and flair and went in the opposite direction from managers they’ve hired in the past.

Jeffrey Loria, coming from the art world and aware of the value of style combined with substance; of pumping up buzz by any means necessary, knew what he wanted in a manager and paid for it. Guillen complements the ballpark, uniforms and Miami-style he sought to cultivate.

And he’s a good manager.

His managerial career would be severely damaged by a firing over this and would probably doom the Marlins 2012 season before it got fully underway. While this whole episode is an overreaction to a man who’s made a career of saying stupid things saying something stupid to the tenth power, he should not be fired nor should he be continually reminded of this for the rest of this season, let alone his career.

The Marlins knew who they were hiring when they hired Guillen. I’m sure they didn’t expect him to do something like this, but they should be angry and not surprised. When someone talks and talks without a filter and is essentially rewarded for that behavior, eventually that person is going to cross the line.

Language barriers; intent; how the question was framed; what the entire purpose of Guillen talking about Castro to begin with was—none of that really matters. What matters is that he said something that could conceivably have cost him his job a week into the season. The politically motivated are taking this gaffe as a tool to get their cause some attention and hardliners implied that Guillen was going to get fired.

He’s not getting fired.

Guillen’s job should not be jeopardized by saying something foolish. He made a mistake.

The Marlins are a Scotch-taped tapestery of personalities. From the front office to the manager to the players, there are questions everywhere.

Ownership is being investigated by the SEC for their tactics in getting the new Marlins Park built; the reputations of owner Loria and team president David Samson weren’t sterling before any of the alleged chicanery took place; there are players with checkered pasts (Carlos Zambrano), attitudes (Hanley Ramirez and Heath Bell) and injury problems (Jose Reyes) that they need to perform to validate the money they spent this past winter.

Now their manager is in the front of the newspaper rather than the back.

For all their dysfunction, the Marlins are savvy and expected a Guillen meltdown at some point. Presumably, they were counting on it. That said, no one could’ve imagined that it would be a Time Magazine piece and laudatory comments about Castro that would be the first Guillen controversy as Marlins’ manager.

In a strange way, this removes the wait-and-see aspect of the first thing Guillen’s going to do to make himself look like an unhinged lunatic. The explosion went off very early in his tenure; the Marlins suspended him as a good faith gesture; and he apologized.

Guillen’s not going to censor himself and he’s going to say or do something else idiotic, probably within a month.

That’s what the Marlins hired.

Amid all this talk and expectations for Guillen, it’s forgotten that he’s lived off of his World Series win for a very long time and been far more trouble than he’s worth on or off the field. He’s a good manager whose teams have consistently underachieved since 2005. He got credit for the World Series win; he gets the blame for teams that were better on paper than their end results.

The World Series win was seven years ago and it’s time to judge him on what he is now; what he does now.

This mess is not a good start.

I doubt that the people who were going to go to the games are going to be influenced one way or the other by what Guillen said. Miami is not a baseball town and if the new ballpark and spending spree doesn’t attract fans or vault the Marlins into playoff contention, it won’t be because of Guillen and Castro; it will because the team is strangely constructed, may not be as good as advertised and that the fans aren’t interested in baseball one way or the other.

Suspending, firing or doing nothing to Guillen isn’t going to change that.

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David Samson’s Controversial Comments(?)

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It’s an easy story to write and create a buzz to report that Marlins’ team president David Samson made a series of ill-advised comments about everyone in Miami from the politicians to the citizens to one of his club’s new stars, Jose Reyes.

Samson’s reputation as a person isn’t sterling. He’s a Little Napoleon-type who lucked his way into baseball when his father-in-law Jeffrey Loria purchased the Montreal Expos, wound up as a high-ranking member of their front office and moved on to the Marlins when Loria took control of that club.

Samson has a lot to say, interferes in baseball decisions, and bosses the players around.

But in this case, I believe he’s telling the truth when he says he was misquoted by Miami Today.

You can read a synopsis of the initial comments attributed to Samson and the explanation here on USA Today’s Daily Pitch.

Loria and, by extension, Samson made out like bandits on the deal for the Marlins’ new stadium; I don’t think anyone has a high regard for politicians anywhere; and while it’s possible that Reyes said something to the tune of wanting to maximize his contract, I doubt he said it in the context that the Samson quotes imply.

But here’s the reality: Samson does seem to think he’s the smartest guy in the room.

Politicians are seen to be self-interested and more clever and shady than smart.

Reyes did want to make as much money as he could.

No one’s ever accused the Marlins of running a charity. They’re looking to make money and run their club as a business. It’s not a public trust; in general, the Florida fans aren’t interested in baseball; the team wasn’t going to get a stadium if they didn’t use a little chicanery; and they’re one ownership that openly does what other clubs do but never admit—treat the players like chattel.

It certainly would be refreshing for a person in power to say the things Samson was accused of saying, but when he denies and explains he sounds like a man telling the truth.

As disliked as he is, he’s not stupid—at least not stupid enough to say that stuff publicly even if it’s more than likely what he actually thinks.

Click here for a free sample of my new book, Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide. Links to purchase are in the posting or in the sidebar to the left.

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Carlos Zambrano: Pros and Cons

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If Carlos Zambrano behaved in society the way he has in clubhouses and on the field, it wouldn’t be a matter of “pros and cons” as much as it would be “prosecutions and convictions”.

But he’s a baseball player and his behaviors have occurred in the setting of baseball—a world that is mostly removed from reality.

If the Marlins continue the trend of setting explosive devices in their clubhouse and decide to invite Milton Bradley to spring training, the city of Miami needs to be evacuated and those who refuse to evacuate should arm themselves and have a plan of escape.

A combustible mix that already has an unhappy Hanley Ramirez; the loudmouthed Heath Bell; a manager bordering on the edge of lunacy, Ozzie Guillen; along with front office led by an overbearing team president, David Samson and a temperamental and demanding owner Jeffrey Loria has added a new ingredient, Zambrano.

Naturally things could go completely wrong for the Marlins from top-to-bottom, but there are many positive possibilities to Zambrano that make it worthwhile for them to gamble on him.

They’re getting significant financial relief from the Cubs who are paying $15.5 million of Zambrano’s $18 million salary for 2012; Zambrano waived his 2013 option that was worth $19.25 million. He’ll be free of Chicago, the reputation he created himself and the constant scrutiny; the Marlins are getting a pitcher who will be on his best behavior not just because he’s pitching for his friend Guillen, but because he’s singing for his free agent supper.

If you add in Chris Volstad—going to the Cubs in the trade—the Marlins payroll isn’t increasing much, if at all. Volstad is eligible for arbitration for the first time. If you figure his salary is going to increase from $445,000 to, say $1.4 million, the Marlins are taking on $1.1 million with Zambrano and getting, potentially, a top of the rotation starter.

That’s the key word: potentially.

The list of negatives with Zambrano is long. In my experience, players who’ve caused problems in one place are going to cause problems in another place. Gary Sheffield, Jeff Kent, Albert Belle, Carl Everett, Shea Hillenbrand plus the aforementioned and in a category unto himself, Bradley, have all been magnets for trouble in spite of press conference glad handing, gleaming smiles and pledges to be different.

It comes down to whether the aggravation quotient will be worth it.

With Zambrano, we’re not seeing a decline in performance to accompany the bad attitude. He pitched well when he pitched. The absence of a heavy workload (he hasn’t thrown over 200 innings since 2007 and it wasn’t solely due to injury) might actually help him over the long term. His arm should be fresh.

The Marlins are trying to win and draw fans to their new park; let’s say that Zambrano and Volstad pitch similarly in 2012—it was still worth it. Fans are not going to the park specifically to see Chris Volstad; they will go to the park to see Carlos Zambrano, and even if it’s to watch a potential explosion, so what? Fans in the seats are fans in the seats.

Could the Cubs have brought Zambrano back to the team? They could’ve, but the reward was minuscule in comparison to the risk. If Zambrano returned, behaved and pitched well, the Cubs are fringe contenders at best. Those are huge “ifs”. Volstad is a talented pitcher who’s far cheaper and under team control for the foreseeable future.

Cubs new president Theo Epstein is going to build his team on character and known on-field qualities; Zambrano isn’t and would never be a fit. They were going to have to pay him anyway and the possibility of a career/personal behavioral turnaround was so remote that it was better to pay Zambrano off to leave and get something for him.

This trade is sensible for both sides. The Cubs get some peace and the Marlins get a big name in Big Z.

It’s a good trade.

Just have your disaster kit ready if the atom splits because that Marlins clubhouse is a ticking time bomb that could blow at any moment.

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