Was the Marlins’ 2011 Offseason Really a Blueprint for Success?

So, things are getting hot down here in South Florida – in the middle of November. Jeffrey Loria quipped yesterday:

“Not today, boys…If you guys haven’t figured it out yet, I’m not going to figure it out for you.”

It sounds like everyone has already figured it out and needs little input from the Marlins maligned owner. After all, what is left to be said? Most already have their opinion of this ownership group despite whatever happens on the field. Many are calling for replacing Loria with a more “competent” owner. Even the politicians are getting involved.

“Everybody in the world wants to talk about the Marlins and the fact they’re now a Triple-A team,” said city commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who was an opponent of the ballpark project. “The Marlins have lost pretty much all credibility with fans. Even if this trade is a positive move from a baseball standpoint, it won’t be viewed by the general public as a positive move.”

But there is a baseball side to this, too. There is a need to address and that is to put players on the field that can perform. The Marlins offense was woeful last season. They finished in the bottom rung in almost every offensive category – and they were paying for it with a $100M payroll. Attendance figures were not inspiring either – only 2.2 million attendance putting the Fish 18th in the entire league. With a new ballpark. In downtown Miami. With a huge PR splash spending over $150M on free agents a year ago. There was a lot of excitement initially, but it waned due to the way the team performed down the stretch. They headed into the all star break 41-44 and never made it out. The team was hindered perhaps by high expectations and the Marlins tried to do what they have done only once before – “buy” a World Series berth like they did back in 1997.

Let’s put the 69 wins of last season in context. What was the worst record in Marlins history? Was it the ’93 expansion team? No – they had 64 wins. It was actually the 1998 Marlins who won only 54 games. That was the “fire sale” team that Huizenga put together after claiming he was losing too much money after the ’97 team won a title. In fact, the Marlins have finished over .500 5 times in the last 10 years, the Loria years. They have never had a season where they won less than 70 games – until last season. They had 71 wins in 2007 and 72 wins in 2011. Then, they go out and spend a ton of money and actually finish worse? You mean to tell me that this team is making a mistake?

Yes, fans should be outraged that the Marlins are not going to spend money on free agents. That is, IF they stay inactive for the rest of this offseason. Their current payroll is estimated to be about $30M for next season, which means they could potentially add anywhere from 20-40M this offseason to get around that mid-level payroll area that teams like the Braves and Orioles were at.

Also consider, there is another problem that this team has to address – it is that its baseball people were not exactly loading up the farm system with tons of talent. Name the last time a Marlins prospect drafted in the top 10 panned out. Jeremy Hermida? So this trade addresses several needs – they get back some young talent to bolster their farm system and they can develop players moving into the future. Hechavarria is a slick fielding SS that may not hit all that much, but did Alex Gonzalez? Nicolino has a ridiculous amount of K’s last season (119Ks in 124.1IP with only 21BBs) and looks to be able to get hitters out. Marisnick staggered a bit offensively, but if his ability to hit resurfaces, the Marlins have a big strong kid with 5 tool ability waiting to get a crack at the OF. Coupled with stud prospect Christian Yelich, the Marlins could have one of the better outfields in all of baseball with Stanton out there – that is, if they can convince him to stay after 2014.

The move is a tough one but not when you consider the actual situation. The Marlins have a new stadium and with it, deeper revenue streams to get back to competition more quickly. But the Marlins also have to win to draw fans. They can’t spend their way out of the problem, they have to have players that can play and perform. Free agent mercenaries never really build strong, loyal fans anyway. How can a fan base be so connected to Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, or even John Buck? Losing Emilio Bonifacio and Josh Johnson was not ideal, but it was the only way to convince the Blue Jays to take the money of those contracts. JJ is due $13.75M next season and it can be argued he isn’t worth that much. Buck is not going back to Toronto and is a worse hitter than when he left. The Mendoza line should be changed to the Buck line.

The Marlins front office acted in good faith in that they thought if they signed the big name free agents, bring in the big name coach, they would get big time results. They even got a big time reality show to broadcast it all. They also thought they would get big time attendance with the new stadium and all of the big time hype. All they got was big and bloated in no time. They learned in one year what the Mets are still trying to figure out. The fans may be outraged, and rightfully suspicious, but the owners are not trying to destroy their franchise. There is no conspiracy to try and move this team because they have no where else to go and frankly, what better financial situation could they find themselves in than the current one where the stadium was built by the taxpayers of Dade county?

If you want a winning team, this is a step in the right direction. It may not be the best step or the one that thrills fans and drives ticket sales, but it is one that may prove necessary to the long term success of this franchise. Pressure should be applied to Loria to spend money but not for the sake of just spending it on players, but to allocate it into the right situations. This move may prove to be just the kind of thing the Marlins need to do to get back to winning again.