They were able to get their best young player to sign a 13 year deal, $325M deal. Next, they were able to lock up another one of their talented young outfielders for 7 years and $49M. A flurry of trades later to add players and talent in positions of need, and the Marlins were suddenly instant contenders. Again.
Not so fast. At 20-31, the Fish have undergone a lot of tumult in the early stages of the season. Perhaps it is also very much needed in order for this team to develop into something sustainable, let alone something of vaulting impressiveness.
The problems have been documented. Team struggles out of the gate; they can’t fire all of their players so they scrap their manager Mike Redmond and bench coach Rob Leary. Was this warranted or even necessary? Probably not. Red didn’t take the field every day but he was supposed to set the tone and get players to perform above their levels. The Marlins rely on maximizing performance mostly because of owner Jeffrey Loria’s tight pursestrings – at least, that has been the mantra surrounding the franchise. Red may not have had the ability to turn up the heat and get this team to perform down the stretch. We’ll never know for sure now. That said, the fact that this team wasn’t coming out firing on all cylinders after Spring Training during the Redmond years is alarming. They do share the same facility as the St. Louis Cardinals – and they do not start the season with a let down. They get results and with a roster stacked with players who fill their roles and perform them expertly.
The Marlins have to be given credit. They put their necks on the line this year. Yes, they went out and made it appear they were spending more money – they still have the lowest payroll in all of baseball. Yet, the Astros have a payroll within arms reach of the Fish and, with arguably much less talent and experience, are having a renaissance. So, Redmond is axed in favor of one of his bosses, Dan Jennings, who was reluctant to can Redmond and instead preached patience. Jennings, it is well-documented, has had no managerial experience beyond the high school level. And that was done at a time when most of his current players were not even born.
The players’ collective attitude though seems one of arrogance. Yes, they play hard. But much like Chris Rock said about parents who claim they ‘feed their kids’, aren’t they supposed to? Playing hard is not the mark of a good team, let alone a great team. Confidence isn’t either. In fact, confidence can drive you to assume things that are simply not there.
This team suffers from a misrepresentation of reality in sports. We have this mythological belief in destiny that just because you show up, great things happen. We have this notion of uniqueness just because we can perceive our own selves as individuals. It is perhaps based on a convenient lack of comprehension in our spiritual endeavors that bleeds over into our daily lives; maybe even the byproduct of living in a culture that always asserts you are special and genuine so long as you are willing to pay for it with your money. Very little is actually earned. For this team, this franchise, the same seems to be the case.
Yes, the guys in that dugout the last few years have had to endure. Losses piled up in 2012 and big trades happen. Giancarlo Stanton was extremely upset and frustrated. He made it known and played himself into an historic contract but it was signed on the caveat that winning be the focus here in Miami. Yet losses, and losing, are not necessary suffering when most of those pieces of the puzzle are transitory. The core of players that are still here are still relatively young in the careers. They have not properly learned how to overcome adversity; let alone know what it takes to be a consistent performer at a high level.
As Pat Riley said, there is winning and there is misery. This team is not exactly looking miserable; they may give it lip service and say the right things but they are not living it. They can claim that they decided not to show up for their charity event because they were tired from the effort they put in earlier in the day. They can even claim they were miserable about their loss and eventual sweep from the Braves. The dismissal of their non-appearance, however, shows that they also may not value the fans as much as they should. The players demonstrate a dangerous idea – love us or leave us. The fans are supposed to just fawn at their feet and worship them, no matter how mediocre they may be performing.
Or maybe I’ve got this all wrong. The last few games, things started to change. Christian Yelich is starting to hit a bit more after struggling early in the season. He has never, in all of his baseball career, had to endure something like that. Michael Morse, who has been terrible offensively all season, has been placed on the DL. His attitude was one of acceptance of mediocrity – he is a slow starter and this has happened to him before in past seasons. Maybe this was a legit reason for concern after all. Then again, Justin Bour, sensing his opportunity was now, has homered in 4 of his past 7 games. Getting better production from the 1st base slot and Yelich may have helped the Marlins take 2 of 3 from the Mets. Tom Koehler had a pretty rough night which burned up the bullpen but it was the offense, which hasn’t done much this year in terms of scoring, that picked up yet another inconsistent night from the pitching side.
The losing will create misery. Maybe this team has to bottom out entirely to learn that winning requires focus and for champions it becomes a life of necessity. Aristotle once said, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” Expecting excellence without putting in the work is the problem. Time for the game to teach humility.