Let me start with a mea culpa about the last time I was mad about an inexplicable trade. The Tigers traded Doug Fister when they were in their last gasps of contention, moving him for prospects, even though they were in the type of position where you would have expected them to trade prospects for another Doug Fister. I hated the deal with a passion, inserting all-caps references into several articles for years.
It turns out that Robbie Ray was good. Pretty, pretty good. He would help the Tigers a lot more than Doug Fister right now. He would sure help the Nationals.
So keep that in mind when I’m analyzing prospect-for-known-quantity deals. I might miss the Robbie Rays. There are people who make a living finding the next Robbie Ray, and I’m not one of them. The Marlins employ better prospect prospectors than me. Maybe they’re enthralled with the prospects they just got back from the Cardinals for Marcell Ozuna. In five years, let’s all come back and laugh at this article.
At the same time, the Marlins have traded away Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Dee Gordon, and I’m not sure if they’ll have a single prospect in Baseball America’s top 100 list this year. The best prospect they got back for all three trades is either doomed to be a reliever or might have a chance to be Jarrod Dyson, depending on which one you rank higher. I’ve seen comparisons to what the White Sox did with Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, and their bullpen. These are bad comparisons. The Marlins are interested only in shedding salary right now. If they get good prospects back, that’s a bonus.
Getting a good prospect back for some of the best players in baseball shouldn’t be a bonus.
With that in mind, let’s power rank the Marlins’ rebuilds in order of pain. We have two decades of them being weird (longer if you take the city’s history into account), and I want to know which demolitions were the most painful. In reverse order of pain:
Technically, this wasn’t a rebuild. It was more like deliberate entropy. They traded Derrek Lee for Hee-seop Choi, which was sort of win-now in an abstract way, and they signed Armando Benitez to be their closer, but they mostly focused on doing the absolute bare minimum to improve the team. The World Series was found money, and it’s not like they were going to put it right back on the roulette table.
Carl Pavano drifted away the season after that. Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell were traded the following season. Eventually, Miguel Cabrera would leave. But the pain wasn’t concentrated. They even got Anibal Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez back in a trade.
This wouldn’t even merit a mention if it were another low-budget team. Everything went according to plan. It was just a really cheap plan.
There were components of this rebuild that made sense. Mark Buehrle was 33 and still had value, so it was smart to deal him sooner rather than later. Josh Johnson was 28 with ace potential. Jose Reyes was still thought of as a young centerpiece. None of them had a long shelf life after the trade. The Marlins’ timing was ... good?
The optics were terrible! Jeffrey Loria bamboozled the city and county out of a half-billion-dollar stadium that he now owned, and he made a big show of spending on the Marlins like they were the big-market team they deserved to be all along. Then it flopped and the experiment was over and, uh, thanks for the ballpark?
Unlike the 2003 and 1997 rebuilds, the prospect haul here was minimal, though. It was a miserably executed pyrotechnics display, and the Marlins somehow went from the cover of Sports Illustrated to 93 losses, and they didn’t even get the bones of the next great Marlins team.
For a few minutes, though, it sure looked like they were going to be a normal team. That was fun.
A completely nonsensical rebuild, the result of a jackass owner with no vision and a steady diet of fermented quarterly earnings reports. Why would you buy into the idea of Miami baseball if you can win the World Series within four years and be disappointed? That should have been the year that Miami became a baseball town. We should still be able to draw a direct line from that championship to the Marlins signing J.D. Martinez to complement Giancarlo Stanton and Max Scherzer.
At the same time, they built the foundation of the 2003 championship team. They got Josh Beckett with the draft pick that came from losing so many games. They got Derrek Lee and A.J. Burnett in fire sale deals. The extended losing allowed them to sell more players for prospects like Brad Penny.
The timing of the fire sale was abysmal. The prospects they acquired were legitimate. They helped build the team that would shock the Yankees just a few years later.
Which helps us segue into ...
Yeah, this one is absolute trash, the worst of the trash rebuilds. In 1997-1998, the Marlins tried to acquire as much cheap talent as possible. After 2003, the core was redistributed quietly over several years. In 2012-2013, they realized that they didn’t have as much talent as they thought, and they needed to cut their losses.
Right here? There is no light at the end of the tunnel. This pain is going to extend for years. This is a bunch of billionaires investing in a leveraged buyout. They don’t care if the Marlins are bad for the next 10 years. They really don’t. Franchise values keep going up and up. All they have to do is park it and wait. They own the ballpark, after all. So liquidate the assets to keep costs down. Are there baseball games involved? Doesn’t matter. Liquidate and sit on the nest egg. That’s all that needs to happen.
This is how a new ownership group comes in, looks at a 28-year-old MVP coming off a 59-homer season and thinks, ugh, there’s nothing we can work with here. This is how they can break up the best outfield in baseball without getting a single blue-chip prospect in return. This is how they can announce that they’d like to keep Christian Yelich as a centerpiece, but, gee, it seems like he’s not interested in hanging around to play with the modern-day Andy Larkin, so we simply have to trade him, sorry.
They don’t care. I have a tough time believing that there wasn’t a single team in baseball that couldn’t have beat the Cardinals’ offer for Ozuna if there were extended negotiations, but they already knew the players from the Stanton discussions, the deal was right there, so easy, and they could clear that salary off the books, phew. I’m more than a little surprised that they even bothered with the prospects and didn’t just saddle the new team with Wei-Yin Chen’s contract. Maybe they care after all!
They don’t care. Maybe in six years, when their farm system sprouts seedlings, and there’s a hint that they can make another, sustainable run, they’ll pretend to care again. Maybe they’ll reinvest in the team. Wild, but we’ve seen it before.
Until then, the Marlins are baseball’s most pitiable team, yet again. The city deserves better. The fans deserve better. The players deserve better. As always, though, rich people will win, and the details after that don’t matter. Sometimes in sports, the lines can get blurred, and the rich people can get caught up in the idea that they’re doing something that’s greater than the ledger.
This is not one of those times. The Marlins were purchased because there has never been a baseball team that has sold for a loss, regardless of how horribly the fans were treated, and these new owners will also sell for a profit. In between, there will be some trades or whatever, people coming and going, things for HR to deal with, really. And when it’s all done, money will have been made.
That someone in Miami didn’t get to watch Giancarlo Stanton set career milestones with the only team he’s ever known? Eh. Maybe that person can buy their own baseball team if that crap is so important to them. Better luck next time.