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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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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