The Marlins Do Realize They Hired Ozzie Guillen, Right?

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What went wrong in Miami with the Marlins?

Was it the new, cavernous ballpark?

The odd mix of personalities?

The misjudgment of talent?

Injuries? Apathy? Dysfunction?

A combination?

Speculation centers on whom owner Jeffrey Loria fires. First the target sat squarely on the back of President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest. Now it’s turned to manager Ozzie Guillen. Given Loria’s history, I’m not going to venture a guess as to what he’ll do. He could say, “I’ve fired managers before, let’s try firing some people in suits.” Or he could say, “I like my baseball people, the manager and players were the problem. I’ll change the on-field personnel.” Or he could do nothing with the manager and executives and get rid of more players. He could fire everyone. He could fire no one.

Loria has a habit of firing managers, but the front office has remained largely intact and is signed long-term. To him, it’s clear that the manager is fungible and not all that relevant. It’s a similar argument in a different context to the new-age stat-based theories that say the manager is an implementer of the strategies laid out by the bosses and can be easily replaced. In his time, Loria’s fired every manager he’s had. Some were deserved, some weren’t, but as the owner it’s his right to do what he wants.

For years he wanted Guillen and took the step of trading minor league players to get him at the end of the 2011 season. Had Loria examined Guillen’s tenure with the White Sox closely and understood what he was getting before jumping in with a heavy financial commitment (4-years, $10 million) and expectant enthusiasm, he probably would’ve hired him anyway.

Was it because he thought Guillen was a good game manager with the background of success and the fiery temperament to keep the heat off of the players and drum up attention in the media? Absolutely. Guillen has all of those attributes. But he also says ridiculous things and doesn’t think before he speaks. There’s no filter and the fine line between being outrageous and offensive is blurred. He casually and without regret crosses into insubordination. Honesty and self-destruction are melded together and Guillen has essentially dared Loria to fire him as related in this blog from The Palm Beach Post.

The Marlins created a carnival complete with colorful uniforms, rampant ballpark diversions, a team of intriguing talent, and negative personalities. The White Sox, under Guillen, won a World Series with a blend of intriguing talent and perceived negative personalities so there was a basis for thinking Guillen could cobble it together again. Instead, the Marlins are a disaster.

But blaming Guillen for being Guillen? It’s an easy case to make that his comments praising Fidel Castro were a tipping point, but that was in April and the Marlins went 21-8 in May. The players don’t care about that stuff; the only time they’re bothered about some off-field controversy is if they’re constantly asked about it. It’s easy to say a calmer, more patient, and respected clubhouse voice would have handled the chemistry issues in a more diplomatic way than Guillen, but I don’t think the results would’ve been any different.

It was the front office who decided to build a cavernous ballpark tilted toward pitching, but put a horrific defense on the field. It was the front office that signed John Buck and Heath Bell; that traded for Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, and Carlos Lee. They put a toxic mix together in a bowl, expected it to smell good and for people to eat it. No one did.

They can fire Guillen; they can fire Beinfest, Michael Hill, Dan Jennings; they can trade away more players and bring in others; but that’s not going to alter the reality that the fans in Miami wouldn’t have gone to see this club play if their record was reversed and they’d hired a manager who had the power to free Cuba rather than one who expressed love for its aged dictator. New ballpark or not, the people in that area don’t care about the Marlins. There’s no reason to go to the park to see this team, but not many people would’ve gone even if there was.

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Dog Days Manager/GM Hotseat Grows Hotter

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Let’s look at the managers and GMs whose hot seats have gotten hotter as the season’s shaken out.

Bobby Valentine, Boston Red Sox

If I were to place a percentage on how much of what’s gone wrong with the Red Sox is the fault of Valentine, I’d say about 30%. The team was overrated and patched together; the front office has interfered with many of the things he wanted to do such as using Daniel Bard as a reliever; and they saddled him with a pitching coach in Bob McClure with whom he’s not on the same page.

Valentine has damaged himself with the ill-advised—and mostly innocuous—challenge he issued to Kevin Youkilis and it’s becoming abundantly clear that the cauldron of Boston probably wasn’t the best spot for him to return after a 10-year hiatus from managing in the big leagues. Valentine’s reputation put him on shaky footing as soon as he was hired. If he said “hello” the wrong way, the players and media would’ve pounced on it. He only received a 2-year contract and with the way this season is going to end, his reputation and that players are going to avoid signing with the Red Sox specifically because of him, they won’t have a choice but to make a change.

Barring any spending spree and a major infusion of better luck, the Red Sox will learn in 2013 that it wasn’t the manager’s fault. The team isn’t very good and is entering a new phase that will take time to recover from. Chasing the past with desperation moves that were diametrically opposed to what built the Red Sox powerhouse has done little more than stagnate that inevitable process.

They’re a mess and Valentine or not, that won’t change anytime soon.

Manny Acta, Cleveland Indians

I’m getting the Rene Lachemann feeling from Acta.

Lachemann was a well-respected baseball man who paid his dues. The players liked him and liked playing for him and, for the most part, he made the correct strategic decisions. But year-after-year, he was stuck with teams that had very little talent with records that reflected it. He managed the woebegone Mariners of the early-1980s; the Brewers for one season; and was the first manager of the Marlins. His managerial career ended with a .433 winning percentage.

Acta is much the same. He has a contract for 2013, but that won’t matter. The Indians had some expectations this season and, after hovering around contention, have come undone. It’s not his fault, but the Indians might bring in someone else. Sandy Alomar Jr. is on the coaching staff and has been on several managerial short-lists, plus is still revered in Cleveland. He’d take the pressure off the front office’s reluctance to spend money…for a time, anyway.

Acta’s young and competent enough to get another chance to manage somewhere.

Ron Gardenhire/Terry Ryan, Minnesota Twins

Ryan still hasn’t had the “interim” label removed from his job title and with the Twins’ struggles over the past two seasons, it’s not hard to think they’re going to bring in a younger, more stat-savvy GM and start a full-bore rebuild. If Ryan is out and the structure of the team is dramatically altered, the respected Gardenhire might choose to move on as well. He’d get another managerial job.

Ned Yost/Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals

This team was expected to, at the very least, be around .500 or show progress with their young players. Injuries have decimated them and the trade of Melky Cabrera for Jonathan Sanchez—completely sensible and understandable—was a disaster. Jeff Francoeur has reverted to being Jeff Francoeur after a very good 2011 season resulted in a contract extension. Moore has a contract through 2014 and ownership won’t fire him now. Yost’s contract option for 2013 was exercised and he’ll get the start of 2013 to see how things go.

Jack Zduriencik, Seattle Mariners

I discussed Zduriencik when talking about the Ichiro Suzuki trade.

I think he’s safe for now.

Ozzie Guillen, Miami Marlins

With any other team employing a “name” manager with a 4-year contract, a change would be absurd. But this is the Marlins and the Marlins are not a bastion of logic and sanity. Guillen invited the ire of the Cuban community in Miami with his statement in support of Fidel Castro and was suspended; the team is a nightmare on and off the field and is ready and willing to do anything.

He’ll survive 2012, but if this continues into mid-season 2013, he’s going to get fired.

Dusty Baker, Cincinnati Reds

He’s not on the hotseat, but why has Baker’s contract status not been addressed? Unless there have been quiet assurances made to him that the public doesn’t know about, his deal expires at the end of this season. Say what you want about him, but if he’s got the talent on his roster, he wins. The Reds are in first place and rolling. He deserves a bit more security than he has.

Brad Mills, Houston Asros

Mills has done as good a job as he possibly could with a team that doesn’t have much talent, is in a major rebuild and is moving to the American League next season. GM Jeff Luhnow inherited Mills and it made little sense to fire the manager and pay someone else to run a team that would lose 95-100 games if John McGraw was managing it. Luhnow is going to hire his own man to manage the team and Mills will get another shot somewhere else eventually.

Bud Black, San Diego Padres

Black has never been a particularly strong strategic manager and his contract is only guaranteed through 2013 with club options for 2014-2015. There’s a new regime in place with GM Josh Byrnes and a new ownership coming in and they might want to make a change. I doubt it, but it’s possible.

Jim Tracy, Colorado Rockies

Dan O’Dowd was recently demoted from running to the team to overseeing the minor league system. Assistant GM Bill Geivett will run the big league club.

This is an odd set-up for an oddly run organization. O’Dowd’s contract status is unknown, but manager Jim Tracy has a “handshake agreement” to manage the team for an “indefinite” amount of time, whatever that means. One would assume that O’Dowd has a similarly bizarre deal.

I get the impression that O’Dowd is relieved to not have to run the team anymore. Perhaps he himself suggested this new arrangement. It’s hard to see Tracy surviving this season even though he’s a good manager and man and this isn’t his fault. Things went downhill for the Rockies when Troy Tulowitzki got hurt, but that won’t stop them from making a managerial change.

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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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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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