It feels like the baseball season ended (months ago) just yesterday, but already the winter spree of free agency and mega-trades has begun. Torii Hunter will now roam (right/left) field for the Tigers, while David “Who?” Ross has joined the Red Sox as their back-up catcher.
All right, it was a slow week for news. Beyond that election thing and some football nonsense.
However, it’s never too early in the season for a Major League franchise to make professional fools of themselves.
Currently, the Miami (Florida) Marlins have completed a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays that would give the Marlins shortstop Yunel Escobar and a small horde of prospects in exchange for the contracts of shortstop Jose Reyes, the expiring contract of John Buck, utility speedster Emilio Bonafacio, starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle, mascot Billy the Marlin, three cases of Louisville Sluggers (weighted 34 ounces), a couple of boxes of pirogues, and a cast recording of “Sunday in the Park with George” from 1985, featuring Bernadette Peters and Mandy Patimkin.
I wish I was making that last part up, but we here at the Addison Recorder were unable to verify the exact dates on the recording of the album.
From a baseball sense, this trade actually doesn’t help the Blue Jays as much as some have made it out to. Sure, they’re getting an elite leadoff man in Reyes who is only one year removed from winning a batting title. Sure, Buerhle is as close to a sure thing as one can get in terms of starting pitching. Sure, Josh Johnson is a certifiable ace who can hopefully lead the team into contention in the crippling American League East. However, when examining the trade, it becomes readily apparent that there are an awful lot of “ifs” centered around the Blue Jays success. If Josh Johnson can stay healthy (something he’s not proven just yet). If Jose Reyes doesn’t blow out his knees playing on the hard turf of the Rogers Centre day in and day out. If Mark Buerhle…well, he’ll put up 200 innings, 14 wins, and an era above 3.50 but below 4.50. But still.
And yet the Blue Jays are still the clear winners in this trade. Why? Because the Miami Marlins are one of the most despicable franchises operating today within the parameters of major league sports.
Let me explain, starting with a history lesson.
The Florida Marlins were an expansion franchise created in the early 1990’s. Back then, baseball wanted to expand into new markets, seeking out new fans. Florida, lacking a major league team at that time, seemed ripe for such an expansion. Many teams have hosted their spring training camps there for decades upon decades. There’s already a culture of appreciation within the state. Miami has shown it can support professional sports. Why not a baseball team?
The team met with success in 1997, winning the Wild Card and advancing to the World Series, where they defeated the Cleveland Indians in one of the most thrilling Game 7’s of all time. (More on that later.) Immediately following that World Series, then-owner Wayne Huizenga went into fire-sale mode, scrapping the team for spare parts. At the time, it seemed questionable, even downright unnecessary. Six years later, however, the team once again advanced to the postseason, defeating the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS (again, more on that later) and the New York Yankees in the World Series, largely on the strength of homegrown talent such as Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Miguel Cabrera. After that World Series, new owner Jeffery Loria did not immediately scrap the team, yet postseason success did not follow after. Instead, most of the team’s successful players were shipped around the major leagues to new teams, meeting with further success while the Marlins once again rebuilt from within. Since then, the Marlins have been respectable, posting several records of .500, as well as several years immediately above and below that mark. As far as success goes, the Marlins are the envy of perennial bottom dwellers such as the Pittsburg Pirates and the Kansas City Royals.
Over the 2011/2012 offseason, the Marlins unexpectedly splurged in free agency, having finally achieved their goal of a new stadium in Miami. Signing Reyes, Buerhle, and closer Heath Bell to large deals, the team also flirted with acquiring first baseman Albert Pujols and pitcher C.J. Wilson, both of whom (wisely) chose Anaheim over sunny Florida. Volatile manager Ozzie Guillen was recruited following his ouster from the White Sox. It was expected to be a glorious year, with fans turning out in droves, followed by a return to the postseason.
And then things went south. Guillen ran his mouth off, infuriating the Cuban population of Miami with sympathetic remarks regarding a certain dictator in their homeland. Bell forgot how to pitch, eventually being traded to the Mets for pennies on the dollar. The team scuttled its way to the basement of the N.L. East, firing Guillen immediately following the cessation of baseball activities.
And now the team has been gutted. Players are unhappy. Fans are unhappy. The only one who doesn’t seem to give a shit is owner Jeffery Loria.
The Marlins are a laughingstock of a franchise. What few fans the team does possess certainly have a right to be angry. This is a team that for years has had a middling fan base, in part because who wants to sit outside in 100 degree heat with heavy humidity watching baseball all summer long?, and in part because the team has maintained no sense of identity over its existence, trading away players on the verge of becoming popular once they have reached their peak value. (See Cabrera, Miguel; Beckett, Josh; etc.) This is a team that fired manager Joe Girardi because he had the temerity to question Loria’s actions during the season. Immediately following his ouster, he was named Manager of the Year. Since then, he has won a World Championship with the Yankees.
Let’s take a look at various other franchises over the last 25 years. Expansion teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays struggle with similar conditions (lack of a quality stadium, lack of payroll, building up new talent, etc.) yet Tampa thrives in part because of a smart baseball operation and in part because of a dedication to its young players, once developed. (See Longoria, Evan.) Other expansion teams have already built a strong identity and sense of tradition in their years. The Colorado Rockies would regularly sell out in the 90’s owing to the popularity of the Blake Street Bombers. Arizona won a World Championship in 2001 on the strengths of all-time performances by Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.
The Marlins have ‘Mr. Marlin’.
Even their World Series victories are hard to remember. The ’97 championship came at the expense of Cleveland, that same hard suffering city that has experienced so much heartbreak over the years. The ’03 title came only after providing Chicago fans with ‘the Bartman game’, finding new ways to make it even more agonizing to be a Cubs fan. (I’m sure New York fans are also bitter about not winning the title in ’03, but quite frankly, it’s hard to have much sympathy for Yankees fans. ‘But Jeter only has five rings when he could have had six!’ Cry me a friggin’ river.)
It’s understandably hard to operate a multi-million dollar franchise in a tough economic environment, especially when your game day draw is regularly in the 200’s. (Don’t believe what you see in box scores. From the games I’ve seen watching the Reds, I’ve seen more people at high school football games in small town Ohio than at Marlins baseball games.) What’s inexcusable is asking city officials for $479 million for a ritzy new stadium (that looks more like the casino from Fear and Loathing Las Vegas than any kind of baseball stadium) while only contributing $120 million, and then gutting your team before fans can look around and say “Hey, weren’t there ballplayers here a minute ago?” The roster of the Marlins annually turns over more than the starting lineup for the Kentucky Wildcats. There is simply no incentive to be a fan of the Marlins baseball team. The Dolphins and Heat draw plenty enough; there’s no reason to care about baseball when Lebron James holds court just down the street. And yet Miami is essentially stuck with this team for decades now because of that stadium.
Had the city not financed that new team, the franchise could easily have relocated. Portland, in particular, is pining for its own team. Other cities have expressed interest in having a baseball team. There’s plenty of room for relocation. Yet the Marlins have their new eyesore of a stadium and almost no team to field on it. It’s almost a guarantee that the team will place last in its division next year, fielding the equivalent of Giancarlo Stanton and the Triple A Baby Fish. And even Stanton is no lock to stick around. He might, you know, command a salary in the years to come.
I realize that Jeffery Loria has every right to run his team the way he sees fit. After all, he’s the one who signs the (pittance) paychecks that go out to his (rental) employees. And it would be easier to join in the outcry if Marlins fans were more dedicated. However, this is a professional franchise. The least the Marlins could do is act like they’re trying to win games instead of serving as an annual garage sale for teams looking for talent.
On a related note, Billy the Marlin is currently looking for a bachelor’s pad in the Toronto area. Can anyone help a mascot out?