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Sunday, November 18, 2012

MARLINS FAILURE: A TAKE FROM A PASSIONATE FAN

The Marlins entered the 2011 off season with a new stadium and high hopes.  They began paying top dollar for aging pieces when the team was quite frankly an unknown. The biggest problem was adding to a base
that was at best unstable. Hanley Ramirez was considered the club's foundation, yet he had not shown any consistent greatness since his career year of 2009.

 Josh Johnson was the ace, but was coming off a season pitching 60 innings. Giancarlo Stanton was coming off his first full major league season and had shown a tendency towards injury with specific questions arising regarding the health of his knees. These were the franchises stalwarts, the pieces that had to make everything go if the franchise was to contend. In an effort to draw a crowd to their new publicly funded stadium, the Marlins went out and behaved as if they were two or three pieces away from the playoffs as opposed to a team that finished 2011 ten games under .500.   In a spending spree similar to the one that built the 1997 Marlins, the franchise went out and spent on Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.  These were not impact signings like those made by the '97 version of this franchise. Here is a look at the 2011 WAR (wins above replacement for each of those players):

Reyes: 2011- WAR- 4.7- Age- 28
Buehrle: 2011- WAR- 3.5- Age- 32
Bell: 2011- WAR .8- Age- 33

(In Photo: Heath Bell)
The signings had issues. The Marlins clearly overpaid for an aging reliever (Bell) in an effort to convince the Miami market that they would be big spenders. Bell at his highest point was worth 3 wins above replacement but his most recent season prior to the contract he had been worth less than a win above replacement. The Marlins spent $9 million a season on a player worth less than one win above replacement level. The reason for this type of spending was either front office idiocy or an effort to acquire "names" to draw fans to their new stadium and prove to the fans that this group would spend. Further, the Reyes and Buehrle signings cannot said to be flat out failures but rather miscalculations of both players' impact on drawing fans and their ability to carry a team if the "stars" did not shine. Reyes regressed from a career campaign in 2011 but was still worth 2.2 WAR and Buehrle was worth almost the exact same WAR as the previous season. The real issue here is that the 2011 off season probably should not have happened. It was a smoke and mirrors game to attract fans when the Marlins had no idea whether the product on the field could
compete.

Essentially, the Marlins signed $191 million dollars of contracts and added potentially 9 wins above replacement level.  This would make them an eighty-one (81) win ball club. If everything went positively
with Hanley, Stanton and Johnson the reality was that this team was probably winning 86-87 games given the pieces they added as they expected increased production from all three players (as well as long time prospect Logan Morrison).  The problem was spending before seeing certainty out of these players.  People will argue that the Marlins had to spend.  They had to show their fans that they were in it, and I agree that the Marlins had to spend money.  I disagree on when.  The rush to spend money on these "stars" left a large tab with little results.   Hanley, an already volatile personality with both question marks surrounding production and attitude, was made to switch positions and seemed less interested in growing as a player than growing as a clubhouse cancer.  Johnson looked good but fought consistency issues throughout his return.  Stanton battled knee injuries, but showed potential to be a top power hitter in the game hitting 37 home runs in limited time.  Had the ball club made smaller moves, it would have been criticized, but it would not have been met with the disdain it currently faces.  Patience would have allowed the club to see how its "core" grew in the new ballpark without committing funds and more importantly fan support to expensive complimentary
pieces.
By July, it was clear that Ramirez wanted out and was unwilling or unable to grow as a player in the Marlins system.  At the very least, he looks highly unlikely to ever regain the MVP type offensive production he generated in 2009. It was also clear that Johnson, while a workhorse, was not the ace he had been in 2009 or 2010.  His strike outs were down and his allowed base runners were up (this may very well regress next season).  More importantly, Johnson is entering a contract year where he will assuredly be seeking far more that the 13 million per season his Marlins contract called for.  While Johnson is still a very nice pitcher, it is unwise for a small market club, even one with a new ballpark, to pay 17+ million for a 29 year old pitcher with an aggressive injury history and decreasing numbers.  Had the Marlins tempered their spending until they knew these things, it would have changed the viewpoint of the entire baseball world today. As with all things, timing is everything.

The Marlins realized too late that their plan was flawed.  They realized too late that Hanley was not their franchise player.  They realized too late that these pieces would not win.  By the time they had realized it, the contracts had been signed, but even more detrimental, the public perception of the team had gelled.  This Marlins team would be players in the free agent market.  This Marlin team would add to its core, not gut its team to rebuild for the future. Regardless of what was best for the baseball team, the perception was now set especially after the city had so lavishly rewarded ownership with an essentially free ballpark.  Now the Marlins had two choices:

1: The Mets strategy: Refuse to believe that your past transactions were mistakes and continue to pour good money after bad into more free agents in order to attempt to compete

or

2: Blow it up and build again:  The Marlins to the detriment of their public persona, to the shame of the organization and disgust of their fans choose the second option.  Was this the wrong move? Yes and No.  From the baseball prospective, this Marlins team lost three more games than the 2011 version and seemed at best disjointed, at worst an absolute wreck.  From the baseball prospective, paying top dollar for a losing ball club does not make a great business or baseball model.  For public relations and perception, this was a failure of epic proportions.
The team had a history of selling its players for more than a decade, and most recently, the Marlins sold a home-grown, future Hall of Famer, Miguel Cabrera for what amounted to no value for the Marlins major league club.

These were jaded fans before their tax dollars paid for a new ballpark.  These were people who needed something to believe in from their baseball organization.  They saw the Reyes, Buehrle and Bell signings (as misguided as those moves may have been) as signs of a new beginning for the team and the city. A reward given by the Marlins for the gift of the new stadium. By dismantling this team in much the same way the previous incarnations of the team had been dismantled, the Marlins destroyed that new beginning and any budding trust that had blossomed with it.  The fans and city feel like suckers made fools of by rich men. Was it the right baseball move? In the end, I think it very well may be.  Was it the right baseball move for this team in this city at this moment? There could not be a more resounding no.



--Nick Rosseletti, Miami Resident & die-hard baseball fan
Twitter: @NRoss56




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