Resuscitating A Dying Fish—Solutions For The Marlins

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Since Jack McKeon is so old that he has a rotary cell phone, bringing him back in a significant capacity is unrealistic.

But something has to be done.

The Marlins are 5-18 in June and have fallen into last place in the NL East.

All is not lost however. In spite of their 34-40 record, they’re 9 games out of first place in the division. It’s a deficit that can be overcome. They’re also 5 1/2 games out of the Wild Card lead. With two Wild Cards available, there’s no reason for them to give up.

But they do need to do something to shake it up.

Let’s take a look at some of the options.

Fire someone.

Manager Ozzie Guillen is going nowhere.

It’s not pitching coach Randy St. Claire’s fault that Carlos Zambrano’s velocity is down to about 88 mph; that Heath Bell has been dreadful; that the bullpen overall hasn’t performed. But the pitching coach is an easy fire.

The Marlins are near the bottom of the NL in every offensive category. Hitting coach Eduardo Perez could be in the crosshairs as could bullpen coach Reid Cornelius.

It would be cannibalistic of owner Jerffrey Loria to fire Eduardo Perez while he counts Eduardo’s father Tony Perez as a friend and adviser, but he’s fired friends before when he dumped Jeff Torborg in favor of McKeon in 2003. Firing the hitting coach is symbolic, but it would count as doing something.

Make a trade/demotion.

Logan Morrison had a right to complain—within reason—when he was demoted to Triple A last August. But the club had warned him about his ubiquitous presence on social media and told him to tone it down. He ignored organizational responsibilities and those warnings. They sent him to the minors and brought him back shortly thereafter. He quieted down on Twitter. So it worked.

This time a demotion will be because of performance. Period. A .224/.302/.379 slash line with 7 homers isn’t cutting it.

They sent Gaby Sanchez down once and it didn’t help. The next step is to trade him for another team’s headache.

Trading Hanley Ramirez would drop a bomb in the clubhouse. The likeliest scenario of trading Ramirez would be during the off-season, but they can listen to offers now.

The Dodgers need a third baseman and a bat. The Padres are listening on Chase Headley. Maybe Ramirez and Morrison for Headley, Huston Street and Carlos Quentin would make sense. The Padres could spin Ramirez off this winter for more than they traded to get him.

Remove Bell from the closer’s role for the rest of the season.

If he wasn’t signed for 3 years not only would he have been demoted, they might’ve released him.

His teammates, coaches, manager and front office can say they believe in Bell all they want, but only a fool thinks they’re telling the truth. No one is comfortable when he enters the game and while a veteran is allowed to slump, he’s not allowed to torpedo the whole season. They don’t have enticing options, but a closer-by-committee is better than this.

Stay the course.

At this rate, if they do that they’ll be staying the course all the way to Miami’s finest golf courses.

With teams that are operating in bad luck or have veteran rosters with a history of winning, it’s reasonable to hold out and wait. That’s not the case with this patched together group. Loria knows this and something’s going to be done to awaken a shellshocked and increasingly ambivalent clubhouse.

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Extrapolating The Marlins

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Nobody, but nobody had speculated that Edwin Rodriguez would resign of his own accord before getting fired. We continually saw “insiders” and “experts” making statements as to the safety or precariousness of Rodriguez’s position.

Logically, he was going to get fired—soon—had he not resigned.

This is something to look at as to the machinations of the decision.

Here’s my guess: Rodriguez resigned because he was about to be fired and the Marlins front office didn’t want to deal with the fallout of firing another manager and be perceived as a chaotic, Steinbrenneresque outfit that overestimates a flawed roster and reacts by sacrificing the easiest and most disposable member of management—the field manager.

In exchange for his resignation and silence on the inner workings of the club, Rodriguez will have a “place” within the organization either as a coach, minor league manager, roving instructor or something.

He’ll be the good soldier because he is a good soldier. Rodriguez is a workmanlike baseball man who got to the big leagues as a manager the hard way and won’t want to sabotage all that work and riding buses in the minors to tell the truth about how he “chose” to resign.

He left before they could fire him in exchange for a different job.

I’m making it a point to ignore all the continued speculation from the mainstream reporters as to what the Marlins are going to do, but here it is in brief.

First it was Bo Porter, a former Marlins coach and the current 3rd base coach of the Nationals. It’s almost unheard of in this day and age for a team to hire a coach from another team’s staff to take over as their manager.

Then Jack McKeon‘s name was mentioned.

I have the utmost respect for McKeon as an old school baseball man with the bushy mustache and unlit cigar sticking out of his mouth—he looks like he was intentionally cast in the role of a baseball professor.

But he’s 80-years-old.

It’s not age discrimination to say that he’s too old to handle the day-to-day aspects of the job and the scrutiny that will center around his age, the youth of the majority of his roster and that the team has collapsed and is in turmoil.

Some have suggested that the Marlins will name an interim manager for the rest of the season and wait for the potential availability of White sox manager Ozzie Guillen.

Guillen’s job has been in “jeopardy” about 15 other times, but he’s still the White Sox manager. His 2012 option was exercised earlier this season. He’s going to remain the White Sox manager. Not only is he still popular in Chicago, but I get the feeling that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf likes having the antagonistic relationship between Guillen and GM Kenny Williams. That Williams wanted Mike Stanton as compensation from the Marlins when they made a brief overture to speak to Guillen last winter pretty much tells you how motivated he was to let Guillen go.

The thought that longtime bench coach Joey Cora can slide in neatly as Guillen’s replacement is questionable. Cora is a good, feisty baseball man; he deserves and will eventually get a chance to manage, but as has been proven before, the bench coach doesn’t always walk in and replicate the success of his predecessor. John McLaren is an example of this.

Two things tell me the Marlins are going to go for a “name” manager right now.

One, they aren’t giving up on 2011. Nor should they. The parity-laden National League has left the Wild Card wide open and if they get hot they can still climb back to within striking distance of the Phillies. The Marlins don’t do sell-offs in season—they wait until the winter to clear out the house of veterans or players who are becoming too expensive.

Two, they’re heading into the new ballpark next season and want someone who has cachet and name recognition for the casual fan to drum up some excitement.

Bo Porter ain’t it.

Owner Jeffrey Loria let his baseball people talk him out of Bobby Valentine last year. I don’t think he’s going to let that happen again. Valentine will be managing the Marlins at some point be it immediately or after the season.

They have two choices: Valentine or Tony Perez. Perez would take the job on an interim basis, his son Eduardo was recently hired as the hitting coach and Tony has always said he’d like to give managing another try.

With Valentine, the Marlins are going to have to make it worth his while to walk away from his lucrative, cushy and ego-boosting forum on the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast. They’ll have to pay him and give him some say-so over the club construction. Whether the braintrust—Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill, Dan Jennings along with club president David Samson will be on board with this is a question.

Some might, some might not.

But Loria is going to do what he’s going to do.

The Marlins should hire Valentine and they should do it immediately. He’s a great manager, he’d spark enthusiasm and he’d run the team correctly.

He’s the best choice.

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The Son To The Father

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It’s not uncommon for a spy to be sent in to a situation to assess and report.

Could that be the case with Eduardo Perez taking over as the new Marlins hitting coach?

Could it be that notoriously impatient owner Jeffrey Loria is thinking of making a managerial change and wants to know what’s going on in the clubhouse before pulling the trigger?

That perhaps the insertion of Eduardo Perez is a signal that Marlins special assistant to team president David Samson, Hall of Famer and former Marlins manager himself Tony Perez might be in line to take over for Edwin Rodriguez if the team continues to stumble?

While a bit too conservative for my tastes, Rodriguez has done a fine job with the Marlins since he took over for Fredi Gonzalez a year ago; the players seem to like and respect him; he has a quiet, understated and professional way about him and this team has been overrated repeatedly by the owner.

Rodriguez is working under a 1-year contract.

The Marlins have glaring flaws that can’t be covered by the hiring of a new manager, but that appears to be where things are headed with the essentially meaningless, warning shot firing of hitting coach John Mallee in favor or Eduardo Perez.

The hitting coach is only doled credit when things go well, blame when they don’t; in reality and unlike the pitching coach, the hitters take what they want from the disseminated advice and use it when it suits them. For the most part, it’s cosmetic.

The Marlins have never shied away from making managerial changes. In the case of Gonzalez, it was ridiculous to fire him considering the job he’d done; in fact, it appeared that Loria was taking sides with his star player and prodigal son Hanley Ramirez over Gonzalez even though Ramirez was disciplined by Tony Perez and Andre Dawson for lazy, selfish play and power-mad arrogance.

Loria fired Joe Girardi because of purported insubordination and he fired his close friend Jeff Torborg and replaced him with Jack McKeon.

The Torborg/McKeon change is relevant in this case.

On May 10th 2003, the Marlins were floundering at 16-22 and in 4th place in the NL East; 9 games out of first place and 7 games from the Wild Card lead.

Loria fired Torborg and replaced him with the savvy, cigar-chomping 72-year-old veteran baseball lifer (and part of the Marlins front office at the time), McKeon. The team went on a tear, won the Wild Card and eventually the World Series over the heavily favored Yankees.

Tony Perez is 69. A widely respected baseball man, he’s part of the Marlins front office; managed the club in 2001 and there’s long been the perception that he’d have liked to give it a legitimate try and not be a caretaker.

In a Cincinnati Reds, Big Red Machine clubhouse that housed Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and Joe Morgan the true leader was the understated Tony Perez.

Given the way the Marlins have done business in the past, there’s a precedent for a move of this kind.

I had speculated in my book that the Marlins would be struggling around .500 into June and the on-again/off-again flirtation with Bobby Valentine would lead to Valentine taking over as manager.

It’s still possible I suppose, but the easiest thing to do now would be to give Tony Perez the job.

That might have been the idea when Eduardo Perez left ESPN to take the job as hitting coach.

It’s not fair to blame Rodriguez.

Like the concept of existence, it just is and fair has nothing to do with it one way or the other.

Keep an eye on it.

It could be coming any day now.

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