Citrus Grove students Yunieski Fonseca wins the 2012 contest for the Marlins Holiday Masterpiece. Via Marlins Facebook page.
Looks like even though the holiday season is upon us, the Marlins are getting no love – or peace – from their ranks of devoted fans. Just check out their Facebook page and you will see each fun topic raised by the administrators of the page shot down with doubt, rancor, and befuddlement. Ahh, ’tis the season to be merry.
Nicolas Marin Ironic…Billy the Marlin’s sack of gifts is torn, meaning kids all over Miami will be disappointed while others reap our gifts.
So, as the holiday season winds down, spend time with the ones you love and cherish. It seems that Jeffrey Loria and David Samson have a lot of bitterness they have to sort through starting this new year.
One of the large criticisms in the wake of the Hanley Ramirez deal can be why did they make a deal for Carlos Lee that cost them 3B prospect Matt Dominguez?
Dominguez was being primed as the 3B of the future for the Marlins, but his hitting wasn’t amounting to much. Sure, the kid can use the leather and many were comparing him early on to Ryan Zimmerman, but his hitting just never appeared. So the Marlins looked around and grabbed Carlos Lee as a way to bolster their lineup and try and squeeze more runs out of this offense.
Yet, things change. The Marlins didn’t really score runs. They have just 30 runs in the 13 games since the All Star Break. Looking at the depth in the standings, and weighing their payroll and clubhouse situation, a move was not only needed, but justified. Old Marlins fans will be sensitive to this, with the past talks of “fire sales” looming and being drummed up again. There are those who will moan such talk and point to new factors shaping this situation – namely, a new ballpark.
Even the new ballpark can’t save this team. Currently the Marlins are selling only at just above 76% capacity, which puts them at 12th in the league in that stat. They have amassed over 1.4M fans to the new destination so far, averaging 28.5K a night. Considering the fact that even now, the Fish owe $66 million to 8 players next season, a “restructuring” is indeed called for.
You can see the change – Carlos Lee is the barometer. Lee was the last gasp for this team to turn things around and it just didn’t happen. Blame can be pinned on Heath Bell and Hanley’s lack of leadership and maturity, but the fact of the matter is that this team has underperformed. Losing Giancarlo Stanton was no easy thing either, especially considering it took him a while to get started this season.
One of the key things is getting young pitching. Whenever the Marlins “reload” it starts with pitching. See ’97. See 2003. Any great era in Marlins history was built with the foundation of starting pitching. When the 2008 team was coming around, it was very good young throwers that made that team interesting – Scott Olsen, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Dontrelle Willis (the grizzled veteran). Summarizing the motives for the recent deals, Larry Beinfest said, “We wanted to target young starting pitching. We think it is the most coveted thing in the game, the toughest thing to acquire. We’re talking about top-end, young starting pitching.’’
So, with Nathan Eovaldi and Jacob Turner, the Marlins feel they were able to do just that. Eovaldi will start Saturday while Turner gets some work with AAA NOLA. Yes, the Fish have done this before (Ryan Dempster, Brad Penny, Josh Beckett, AJ Burnett, Andrew Miller), some more or less successful than others. Now the challenge for this team is not only to reload, but to rise in the standings and to do so much more quickly now than ever before. In the past, the fan base would be a bit more patient considering the franchise’s tight purse strings and economic situation, but that has changed. The Fish can spend money and in dealing away Hanley, Infante, and Sanchez, they have freed up the funds to spend on another key acquisition. They signed Reyes, Buehrle, and Bell this past offseason and generated quite a bit of hype and they will be expected to do so again.
One of the glaring holes, however, is 3B. Dealing Dominguez for the Lee experiment, since Gaby Sanchez’s bat has become suddenly questionable, and dealing away apparent clubhouse “cancer” Hanley Ramirez has left the Marlins with few options at the hot corner. There is talk of dealing Josh Johnson to the Rangers for Mike Olt, their prized 3B of the future, but if Beinfest’s comments are to be taken seriously they can’t afford to deal Johnson at this point because he is their #1 starter on this staff. Adding into the mix Eovaldi and Turner may net the Marlins a 5th starter with Nolasco, Buehrle, and Johnson anchoring the staff.
Moving forward, the Marlins have to find a way to shore up their bullpen, yet again, and look to get production from 1B and 3B. Moving Bonifacio to 2B seems permanent now, which also opens up some holes in CF. Perhaps a revisit of Chris Coghlan could be in the works, but Ruggiano is putting up pretty strong numbers with full time PT in CF right now. The Marlins have no foreseeable option for 3B on the farm, and Christian Yelich is being groomed for the OF. They do have lots of intriguing pitching options but it remains to be seen if they can stick as starters or fill out roles in the bullpen.
When Hanley Ramirez eventually returns to Miami in Dodger Blue, what kind of recognition will he get from the crowd?
Apparently, those left behind to pick up the pieces of a franchise being characterized as a “disappointment”, a “failure”, or having a “fire sale” have nothing to say, except relief.
If Greg Cote’s article is right, Ozzie Guillen bluntly calls out Hanley for his lack of production. In fact, to quote the quotable one, Ozzie was asked what Hanley’s absence would mean to the lineup, “Nothing. Because he wasn’t producing.” Even Larry Beinfest admits some problems, “We’ve had some challenges with him.”
We can only guess as to how many times Gonzalez has covered for his petulant star before, but Marlins people say it has happened quite frequently. “It seems to be an annual thing with him,” said one Marlins-connected person. Ramirez’s maturity level is said by people around the team to be nowhere near even his 25 years, and he’s earned their disrespect through previous misdeeds, many of which were cagily obscured by Gonzalez.
There is a history here with Hanley and his tantrums behind the scenes with the Marlins. Many are starting to point this out, which begs the obvious question – why now? Like Ozzie says, “When you winning, everybody look better to you, even your wife. When you losing, everybody hate each other.”
Looks like Showtime is going to spend some time this season with the Miami Marlins. It will be interesting to see our team through the lens of a national narrative, finding the story lines that will matter most to the national audience. It will be interesting to see what issues and views gain traction outside the local confines of South Florida.
This episode focuses on Ozzie’s return to the Marlins and what kind of reaction awaits him. Watch for yourself:
The sun was setting as we passed by it – the phantom of years past. Yet, it wasn’t even technically old, just abandoned. Sun Life Stadium, the place where the Marlins used to play, when they were called the Florida Marlins, sat like a snowbird waiting in the sun for its final moment. As I passed it there seemed to be a last desperate gasp. We were rolling south towards bigger and better things.
We are heading down from Broward County on arguably one of the busiest sports days in South Florida history. The Marlins are christening their new stadium while the Heat are also playing the Oklahoma City Thunder, vying for a playoff spot. Even more historical is the fact that both games are on ESPN. It seemed that ESPN had a blackout policy towards both franchises – my how things change.
Even more unbelievable, in fact, is that it’s the Marlins who are pushing the Heat to ESPN2.
Several parking garages surround the new park, but we think better of this strategy. Maybe not such a good idea on a dry run with a packed house and thinking better of it, we opt to head on over to Magic City Casino to hitch a ride. For $5, you can park and ride in an air-conditioned tour bus and arrive, rock star style, at the foot of the new stadium.
Architecturally, it reminds one of the American Airlines Arena – sleek, modern, turbine of a wave crest spun into the ground with soaring glass and promenades. The atmosphere is one only South Florida could provide, luscious percussion and horns thumping to the steamy Latin-inspired beats that are all too familiar to the area. This is an event, you are being told, no punches pulled here. It doesn’t feel contrived, but you do realize that you are being persuaded to join the party. You are compelled, drawn in, seduced. With a slender finger and a wag, you proceed up to the gate, hand over your glossy ticket, get scanned and admitted. You are handed a shiny new lanyard to put your ticket in, for safe keeping, and off you go ascending the stair case or escalators up to the promenade.
Immediately you feel out of place because, in years’ past when you attended a Marlins game, you felt really out of place. You were watching baseball in a football stadium. Now, you can’t take your eyes off the game as you can literally see the field from every nook and cranny while waiting in line for beer, peanuts, and cracker jack. And there were lines.
Once you get to your seat, there is another surprise awaiting you which will make a huge difference for baseball fans here in Miami – you are actually oriented towards home plate. At Joe Robbie/Sun Life/Landshark, you had to screw your neck to get a glimpse of the game as all of the lines were meant for football, not baseball. Not so at the new park where everyone is facing home plate where indeed, all the action of the game is centered.
The atmosphere is very colorful, yet subdued. The drab green wall runs the length of the outfield and mirrors the color of the grass. Yet soaring above the left center field area is the much discussed Red Grooms commission. The very essence of the piece is compelling – it is a multimedia spin, literally, on the event of a home run for the south Florida fans of the Miami Marlins. There are mechanized flamingos and marlins which spin around almost like straight out of some kind of county fair shooting game. Take aim, boys, it screams, daring anyone to take on the challenge of enlivening the crowd with one swing of the bat. Now you can quite literally shake the place.
Then there’s the roof. The very heart of this issue about baseball in south Florida. This one simple feature will redefine the market and make Miami a baseball haven. Or so the hope is. What’s the big deal, after all? The ancient Romans had retractable roof technology – they hired sailors to unfurl sails over the crowds gathered at the Coliseum to witness gladiator blood sport. Why shouldn’t we, us advanced civilized folk, have anything less? Now we do and the roof was pealed back in about 10 minutes. Complete with fireworks and a flyover, the 8 tons of concrete and steel revealed the sky to the crowd in dramatic fashion.
There was a game to be played, too. In fact, in some ways, it was a relief to get to it – to sort through all of the celebrations and pre-game hype. The Marlins were doing more than just playing a game, they were setting a tone. No, they were invoking a call for a new tradition in Miami, a new rite of summer that will begin with the rolling back of the ceiling to show us the sky. An interior blessed with the art of modern masters to help us see things in new ways. The team, the game, all seem to be less the focus and a bit more of the ingredients. The purist will rue the interchanges between innings with dance teams, loud music, cutaways on the jumbotron, and racing sea life around the outfield wall. Yet this is where things are – a soup to be stirred and enjoyed by a diverse community. Some will come for the baseball, some will come as a curiosity, some will come for the event. All will leave impacted and that is what this ownership team is hoping for – new life into the heart of the city. The football past has given way to a baseball renaissance.
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.