So how do you repair a team fresh off a 93 loss season? You gut its roster and start over, right?
Normally, this is the kind of thing that you would expect from a professional franchise. Your team loses 93 games, is near the bottom in most major offensive categories (29th in runs scored, 24th in batting average, 26th in on-base percentage, 24th in slugging percentage), and you expect change. Actually, you demand it. You want to see your team make trades and start over with a new roster.
Forget for a second the franchise doing this business in the offseason and let’s keep our eye on the ball. The goal of every franchise is to win and to do this, you need players to perform to the maximum of their capacity. In fact, to use an old sports cliche, you want 110% from your players. You want overachievers – keep this in mind, because this comes into play later.
Let’s start with the hysteria. Is it fair to say that this team is now toxic and destroyed? Judging by the reaction of its fan base, yes, it is. But it wasn’t like the fans were rushing out to support this team anyway – with a brand new state-of-the-art stadium planted right in the heart of Miami. It was like going into your front yard to get a fabulous steak dinner from a 5 star restaurant. For some reason, people chose to stay locked inside instead. Or perhaps they didn’t like steak that much to begin with (or couldn’t afford to pay for it, which is another story altogether). Sports fans in Miami are some of the worst anywhere. Sure, they talk a good game when their teams are winning – almost as annoyingly well as any NY’er – but do they support their teams? No. Just ask the Heat who only had to pull of the offseason of the century to get fans to come out for games. And let’s be honest – most of the Marlin fans only showed up to get a peak at the new stadium. Or to sport an orange uni with “Miami” slapped across the front. (Orange, by the way, is the new teal – just sayin’.)
By the way, how many franchises have at least 2 MLB championships in their history? 20 teams in the 106 years of World Series history have done it. Since ’97, how many teams have won 2 championships or more? Only 5 teams: Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, Giants (2010 and 2012), and – you guessed it – the Marlins. Say what you want, but these franchises are all doing something right.
Now, what about all of the claims of conspiracy to destroy the south Florida market? Yes, it is true that Jeffrey Loria and Bud Selig have a checkered past, at best. They did successfully destroy the Montreal Expos market to move it to the Washington, DC market where it is to this day. Can it really be argued that keeping the team in Montreal was in the best interest of baseball? Or was moving it to Washington DC, with a shiny new stadium in the nation’s capital, a smarter move? Not excusing the means – there were lawsuits filed, but nothing that turned up with criminal action. That said, what would be the incentive for destroying the Marlins franchise?
Careful, this is where confusion sets in. It is that painful, troublesome little voice – called reason – shining through all of the emotional murkiness caused by hatred and fear. Yes, it is true that Jeffrey Loria has a shady past and should not be trusted but the fact of the matter is, they have a brand new stadium, which they didn’t pay for, and the Marlins franchise is at its peak value – despite this horrific trade. So, if his quest was to destroy baseball in Miami, he’s doing a poor job. And to do so now doesn’t make any sense because, where would the Marlins go? They won’t get a better situation than the one they have here in Miami. Contraction means elimination and Loria would not profit in this way.
So, if the Marlins have a proven track record, during its short history with two different regimes, and there is no real incentive to destroy their franchise (what profit would it bring?), then what the hell is going on here?
A big clue was revealed recently, but most just failed to see it. When Mike Redmond was announced as manager of the Marlins, the move was characterized as getting the Marlins back to “their roots”. The vision was to create a team of “overachievers”, nothing more.
Think about it. Who better to be placed in the maelstrom at this point than Mike Redmond? He witnessed the ’98 fire sale after the championship, and in fact benefitted from it as he got a regular gig with the Fish. He hung around and helped the team win a title in 2003 – under new ownership. That team did it by overachieving, something Redmond identifies with and apparently, so do the Marlins. They always have – and that is the point.
Don’t think so? Some telling quotes: here’s John Buck’s reaction to Ozzie Guillen’s firing and Redmond’s hiring:
“I think a lot of us didn’t want him to go for the simple fact we felt we were the ones who underachieved,” Buck said. “In our clubhouse we have the type of guys who aren’t going to deflect the blame on the manager. That’s what makes a lot of guys on our team special. We basically failed last year and we know it. We need to get better.”
And here is Larry Beinfest’s summary of the hiring of Redmond and why he was the guy:
The Marlins have ultimately turned to Redmond, Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said, because they think he can get them back to the Marlins’ way “when the team outperformed our challenges.”
Two things to keep in mind: first, the revenue system of MLB is failing and second, it is more profitable for a team to win with overachievers than to underperform with big ticketed salary assets. With revenue sharing, ticket sales are not as big of a profit incentive as they might seem to be. Small market teams don’t draw that many fans anyway each night and the revenue from ticket sales is marginal at best. It is about creating other forms of revenue such as in concessions, memorabilia, parking, corporate sponsorships, TV revenue, and other means. The Marlins have a pretty good TV audience, by the way. Let’s not forget the Marlins were able to turn profits of reportedly $33M during the 2008 season despite paltry ticket sales and a horrible lease. You put enough solid pieces in there to work and see if they can get in position to compete and if they do, you take a shot by making a move.
Otherwise, there is no real incentive to spend lots of money because even that is not an assurance of winning. Just look at this past season’s teams and compare their winning percentages with their payrolls. Notice the Marlins were listed right above the San Francisco Giants. Look at where the Braves are. The Nationals. The Orioles. See a pattern?
This past offseason was a ruse – that is also the point. It was atypical of the Marlins strategy. They acted like noveau riche trying to make a splash and prove they were a legit franchise now. They got the big time manager. They bought up almost all of the big ticket free agents. They got flashy new uniforms for a brand new stadium. They even got new fans. None of it felt right though and none of it certainly played out right. This is a hard decision but in a sense, this franchise has rejected becoming another perennial version of the Mets, a team that tries to spend its way through its shortcomings. In fact, the Mets have even started to reject their past and came to the realization that you need to have a strong, solid foundation and that doesn’t require spending big time bucks either.
Teams like the Yankees have to spend big because they don’t develop young talent. They have no place to put them normally. They sign the big names and reload and they have to keep doing this because they have a fan base that is expansive, supportive, and with great revenue streams. The Mets try because they are NY and have a pretty good base to draw from, but it hasn’t been successful. In fact, the teams that spend the most rarely win the most and if you aren’t winning, with all of that overhead, what is the point?
Yes, you can accuse the Marlins of not caring about their fans reaction and you would be right. But let’s not be totally blind here, either. Loria has demonstrated time and time again that he is going to run a shoe-string budget and try to let his baseball people loose to find ways to compete. They know their market and they know what they have to work with. The only wild card this past season was the new stadium and perhaps they over-estimated the market’s reaction to it. Perhaps the jumped in too fast and now have to make the embarrassing choice of admitting it. Instead of continuing to honor these contracts, which the argument can and should be made are extremely risky, they decided to hit the reset button.
It’s not like it didn’t cost the Blue Jays anything either. They are taking on the salary of those contracts and they had to give up 3 of their top 10 prospects in their farm system.
Is this ideal? No. Should Miami fans be outraged? Sure. Should they have bought into the drastic makeover? No, it was an anamoly in comparison to this franchise’s history. It worked in 1997 – barely. But it didn’t work this past season and that is typical for a big market team to spend big money and lose (see Boston and their $170M+). The Marlins are on the books for about $20M for next season. If they turn around and spend another 30M+ this offseason, what then? If they don’t it will certainly sting but it shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, it isn’t like they are breaking up a team that was poised for greatness. It vastly underachieved – or did it? Maybe it just wasn’t that good to begin with. Only time will fully tell. It just depends on how you see this deal and this franchise.