The Miami Marlins become the Florida Marlins once again

Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE


In this episode of Holy Crap, Look at How Wrong That Was!, we go back to July, when I wrote this about the Marlins:

A normal team would sell off a few pieces, get some younger players, and start something new. The Marlins aren't a normal team. They can get away with trading Omar Infante. A complete fire sale, though, would undo all of the goodwill they've been trying to build up.

See, I was thinking that goodwill was important to the Marlins. Call it what you want – goodwill, public relations, pretending to care – but I figured that a business model built around ticket sales and media consumption would factor it in. And I was snookered by the build-up to the new park. The Marlins signed Josh Johnson to an extension, and they held on to him. Why? The new ballpark. Gotta build a team for that new ballpark. The Marlins signed Hanley Ramirez to a big extension and held on to him. Same reason. Gotta build a team for the new ballpark.

There were new uniforms. The new logos looked like birds of paradise bathing with a plugged-in toaster, but we were going to get used to them. There was a fish tank and a curious sculpture in the outfield, which were just wacky enough to work. It was all very exciting.

Then there was the spending spree. The Marlins signed Heath Bell. They signed Jose Reyes. They signed Mark Buehrle. They made huge offers to Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. They were running around the Winter Meetings with cartoonish sacks of cash, and they were throwing it around like Confederate money and the war was about to end.

It wasn't just a move to a new park. It was a complete re-branding. It was meticulously calculated and patiently executed. You know the Marlins had good offers for Johnson at his peak. The same goes for Hanley Ramirez. They held off. Gotta build a team for the new ballpark. The Marlins even changed their name. Everything about them was going to be different. Remember that time when they won the World Series and then traded away all of their talented players? That was the Florida Marlins. I think they played in the Federal League. But the Miami Marlins were now a permanent force in the N.L. East.

It took one bad season for them to flush that goodwill down a $2.5 million toilet that had flamingos and spinning fish in it. Don't worry. The taxpayers picked up that part of it. YOLO.

For 29 teams coming off a last-place season, there wouldn't be the vitriol. Non-contenders often trade their veteran parts for players who will be around for the next good team. It's the cycle of baseball life, and just about every non-Yankees team has to do it at some point. The Marlins are different, though. They weren't selling just baseball games in their new park. They were selling trust. That's what the whole re-branding was about.

And that's why the baseball argument doesn't sway me on this one. Here's the argument to cut the Marlins some slack: They weren't a Torii Hunter away from taking the N.L. East, so what's the big deal? Clear the payroll, start over, get pre-arbitration players, and look to contend in three years. That was an argument that a few folks were employing after the Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez deals. And it would have made sense for any other team.

Think to the next time the Marlins have an interesting team, with young players coming up and succeeding. Unless they have the 2020 equivalent of cyborg Mike Trout, no one's going to care. Even if it's Bryce Harper's six-year-old son hitting 40 homers, no one's going to care. If the Marlins somehow manage to bamboozle a free agent into coming to Miami, no one will care. He won't sell tickets. He'll just be traded again. The apathy will be thick and corrosive.

One bad season. There was no rebuilding, no searching to see what when wrong. The players traded to the Blue Jays had good seasons for the most part – Reyes and Johnson were four-win players, and Buehrle was a two-win pitcher, which is on the low side for him. But when the stadium didn't sell out for the season, and when the Marlins didn't meet expectations, they Lucy Van Pelted the football away from everyone. Just kidding. We're the Marlins again. Spare some revenue sharing?

There are two possibilities:

1. This was the plan. Build a team to make it seem like ownership was trying for that first year, then sell the roster off to avoid the costs. Thanks for the new stadium, peons. That will help the resale price.

2. The Marlins' ownership group reacted to a bad year like a spoiled, petulant child, and they took out their wrath on the people who didn't sell out 81 games.

I'm going with the first one. The contracts for Buehrle and Reyes were backloaded just in case. There weren't any no-trade clauses for any of the players. The best-case scenario was a playoff team, but as soon as that wasn't going to happen, the second-best scenario was to get all of that money the hell away from the roster. Whew.

This screws with the Rays and their attempts to build enthusiasm for a new stadium, and it screws with the A's and their efforts. It screws with everything.

I am become Jeffrey Loria, Destroyer of Worlds. The new owner of the Marlins will have to do some serious damage control after this. There has to be a new owner at some point, and soon. It's not like the Marlins are going anywhere – they can't beam the stadium to Montreal, scale by scale – so it's going to have to be a new owner who builds up some trust. It's going to take a decade:

Maybe two.

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