The Marlins are a polarizing organization not just within MLB but within the very city they do business. They typically take one step forward and two steps back and it is this vacillation that drives fans crazy.
There have been some right moves made of late. Signing Giancarlo Stanton to the richest contract in American sports history means he should be in Miami for the duration of his career. That was last offseason as the Marlins also shuffled off a bulk of their stockpiled pitching talent to try and cash-in on veteran help for the 2015 season.
And that is where things went awry. Mat Latos didn’t pan out; Dan Haren was dealt despite the fact that the Dodgers were footing the bill. Too many injuries, too much bad luck overall and the Marlins, despite a strong finish during the last month of the season, still missed both of their objectives of a) a winning season and b) the playoffs.
Now they let go Henderson Alvarez and Aaron Crow, two arms the Fish hoped would help make them matter again (Crow costing the Marlins Brian Flynn, the 6’7″ pitching prospect from Detroit that actually turned out to be a solid prospect.). There chances seem to be worse than they were last season.
So how do you reassure the fan base that there is a plan in place? You start listening to potential deals for Jose Fernandez – your biggest asset.
Not only are the Fish thin on starting pitching, but they also drew record attendance numbers when Jose pitched at home. The guy is undefeated at home, too. It is a marketing match made in heaven. Sure, he is a client of Scott Boras, and in all likelihood that means a team like the Yankees will come in and offer a huge pot of money when Fernandez is a free agent in a few years and snatch him and his hall-of-fame career away.
None of that should be a factor if the Marlins want to get things right. They have to focus on the now and part of that starts with acknowledging that the Marlins have a massive problem and it is one that can be fixed without spending any money. Potentially the solution to this problem could also make players like Fernandez become fiercely loyal and never dream of leaving. Simply put, the Marlins have a culture problem. The solution, however, would require a quick visit to a science class.
As Aristotle once said, we humans are political animals. What he meant was not that we like arguing with one another, but rather that we are collaborative by nature and that we need one another to succeed. In his book, Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek details what separates good businesses from bad ones. The difference? Culture.
We humans are wired for collaboration and teamwork. It is a part of our natural, chemical makeup. We are rewarded for working together and trusting one another. Not in some abstract way but in a very specific, biochemical way.
In strong businesses, the culture is one of collaboration whereas in bad ones, the climate favors competition. Yes, competition is good for business in that the consumer wins by getting the best choices at the best prices; value is increased as organizations compete for your dollar. Yet, this is not a great way to run a business as competition leads to paranoia and a sense of entitlement and worth that is tied to the dollars spent on keeping talent. The Marlins are currently an organization that demonstrates this point – the only way they can keep players is by paying them more than their competition can. They have to buy their loyalty, in which sense the players are mercenaries assembled to do a job as long as they are paid. Any incentive to outperform their contract or their peers is to negotiate for a better contract at the end of their current one. Which is also why the Fish have to rely on young, unproven talent since they can only afford the entry level prices for players with big upside.
You change this by changing the culture and this starts from the top: so goes the leader, so goes the culture.
The good news is the Marlins are changing their leadership. It remains to be seen if they can change the culture but, if we are to follow Simon Sinek’s findings, the culture will have to serve the humans working within the Marlins organization and not the other way around. Sinek states there are four chemicals within humans that reward our collaborative behaviors – endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.
Endorphins reward us when we push through the pain of hard work; each time you work out and it gets a little rough, your body sends you a shot of endorphins to give you relief and keep moving. Dopamine is released into the body each time we achieve a tangible goal; it is a reward for those who set specific goals. Both of these chemicals Sinek describes as “selfish” chemicals. They stress individuality and as a result, enable us to distinguish ourselves from one another. This is an easy parallel to make in the world of the competitive athlete who trains hard to give themselves a competitive edge on the field.
Yet, baseball is a team sport and requires a team effort to create a sustained winning culture. You can live by the talents of a few individual players and you will have results like the Marlins have had – inconsistency because their most talented players are not on the field due to injury. Yet, when you have a team system and a winning culture, your team can withstand significant injury and continue to function at an optimum level – like the St. Louis Cardinals, for example.
Sinek relates the way to accomplish this is to build a culture that allows the “selfless” chemicals to thrive; that is, serotonin and oxytocin. Serotonin is responsible for feelings of pride and is released into your body whenever those we are responsible for achieve great things and likewise when we make those people proud who take care of us. Oxytocin is the chemical that is responsible for building strong bonds, trust, and relationships with others. Both of these chemicals, however, take a longer time to affect the human biochemistry, unlike the endorphins and dopamine of the “selfish” chemicals.
What does this have to do with Jose Fernandez? Everything. By listening to offers for Jose Fernandez, the Marlins leadership are creating a culture of paranoia and fear and are short-circuiting any potential for serotonin or oxytocin to form within their ace’s biochemical landscape. Not to mention, Chuck Hernandez, Fernandez’s longtime coach and mentor was dismissed as a part of the coaching changes that swept through the organization at the end of the season. Less of a chance that Fernandez will get that boost of serotonin whenever he does what Chuck Hernandez was advising him to do which also decreases any sense of loyalty that Fernandez may have to the Fish.
You cannot motivate people. You can only hope to create a climate and a culture that rewards teamwork, sacrifice, and collaboration. When looking at all of the injuries during last season’s tumultuous run, perhaps part of the problem is that the players were in selfish mode and not making the bigger sacrifices needed to assure team success. Instead, it was focused on self-preservation, which happens in bad cultures during times of crisis.
Yet, great cultures do exist and a great example is illustrated by the culture found within the armed forces. Is it that they only find the best people or do they acclimate the people they find to fit their culture? For the Marlins to turn their fortunes around, it isn’t a matter of spending more money but instead of reformatting the culture of the franchise. It may require finding new leaders who understand the value and methods of building a cohesive clubhouse and team. This also means treating their players and coaches (and fans!) not like assets to be dealt when their value dips below a certain metric, but instead to have the mentality that the people who make up their organization are expected to retire with the Marlins. They should be focusing on developing a “Marlins culture” that is unique to the organization and empowers its members to be collaborative and innovative. You only achieve this, as Sinek has revealed, by revamping the culture and rewarding behaviors that stress the selfless chemicals and not just the selfish ones.
Admittedly, this would take time. Perhaps with Don Mattingly the clubhouse culture will begin to change. We’ll take a closer look at whether or not his coaching style fits within this proposed paradigm. Otherwise, expect more of the same from the Marlins. Jeffrey Loria may reshuffle the lineup but until he commits to leading by example, and replacing the clubhouse culture of paranoia and fear with one of respect and stability, the team is not going anywhere.
This could have started with the right message that no way in hell would the Marlins even think about listening to any deals regarding Jose Fernandez. That instead, the message should have been we want hi to retire a Marlin and have a statue dedicated to him right here in Miami. How great of a message would that have been not just for Jose, the rest of the team, and the fans?