Paradigms can shift quickly, suddenly. At least, so it seems to those who failed to recognize the shifting sands in the first place.
If you were watching the Winter Meetings coverage on ESPN these recent weeks, you may have been led to believe that there was a new franchise, an expansion franchise that just popped up on the scene eager to buy its way into the upper echelons of big league baseball. You might be scratching your head about who this Miami Marlins franchise thinks they are.
You haven’t been paying attention, have you?
We have been saying on this site for some time now that the Marlins new management, although polarizing no doubt, have been sticking to the plan and working towards this moment for almost 10 years now. When John Henry bought the Florida Marlins from the former owner, Wayne H. Huizenga, he signed a horrific lease with the idea that he would be bailing out in a few years anyway to a new stadium built in downtown Miami. It never happened, and so Henry left, claiming small pockets, to buy one of the most heralded franchises in the sport – the Boston Red Sox. Then he turned that franchise around.
Meanwhile, the Marlins were acquired by Jeffrey Loria, who came running from Montreal amid claims of fraud and misleading, to say the lease, his partners in Montreal. Eventually, Les Expos became the Washington Nationals, while Loria misered his money in South Florida.
There was an early explosion though as the Fish shocked the world and won the 2003 World Series despite having one of the lowest payrolls in all of baseball. The big ticket item that year was Pudge Rodriguez, the signing of which the local media lambasted and gave a lot of negative press over. In fact, not to toot my own horn, I proclaimed it a championship move and foresaw that the Marlins were going to go all the way. (You can check the archives on Marlinbaseball.com) I even called Dan Le Batard out on it, as he characterized the signing as putting “breast implants on a corpse”. A great image for the local kids to read about their baseball team.
Shock value aside, it was illustrations like these that characterized this franchise. The ownership was always masked in some dark cloud, as if their sole motivation was to make money off of a professional sports franchise. What most don’t understand is that these owners usually use these teams not as sacrificial cows to be slaughtered, but as social tokens that they can use to leverage new pathways into society. Loria did just that by getting his stadium built by the taxpayers of Dade county. Some don’t like it, some do. At any rate, it is a reality and now the Marlins franchise has been rebranded as a Miami product and in the meantime, has upped its value.
Yet this rehab is far from complete. The process of the makeover continues. Just like most reality shows, there is a consultation on what they are wearing and how to change it. Then, they build a new house and move out of the old one. There is also some debating about what fixtures to install and a deadline looming overhead which makes it all the more exciting for the viewers. The Marlins have done all of these things. The final piece, to convince the remaining audience, is to show them that these aren’t just superficial moves but in fact ones of substance.
That is why the reaction in the national media is not shocking. It is as if all the experts had a shared vision of what this franchise was – the same notion that plagued it from the beginning of the Loria era without ever entertaining the facts. Without ever putting anything in context. Now, the vindication is in hand for this ownership team, but it is coming at quite a financial cost. The Marlins have spent upwards of $200 million dollars this offseason in acquiring the right manager (Ozzie Guillen), the right closer (Heath Bell), another starter (Mark Buerhle), and a middle infielder who could take the defensive spot of their franchise player (Jose Reyes in at SS, Hanley Ramirez slides to 3rd).
With each signing, the national media picked up their collective dropped jaws to find a way to make some kind of comment. They never saw this coming – and that is really the shocking part. How can people who spend their entire lives, and get paid to watch over the mechanization of this game, fail to ever see an increase in spending from a franchise that now has a new cash cow? It would be like the Wall Street missing out on the potential economic boom of a country that found a massive oil supply. Or the CIA failing to track terrorists arriving in this country with a plan to do something destructive – well, you get the point.
How come this franchise continues to be the laughing stock even when it spends money? Maybe I’m too sensitive, too close to this situation. Then again, I saw this coming once they Pisces moved into their new aquarium. How come few elsewhere did?
Who would have thought that the Marlins would out New-York the New York Mets and sign the NL batting champ away from them? And that they almost signed Albert Pujols away from the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals? Or that they could still make a play on another big name free agent like Prince Fielder? Some of us Marlins fans actually did, but admittedly it wasn’t many of us. Times have changed and the paradigm, well, it shifted. Right underneath our feet.