The Marlins deal: Hold the hysteria


It’s too bad Ozzie Guillen is no longer managing the Miami Marlins. Because it would be interesting to hear his take if he were left to manage what remains of the team after it traded one-fifth of its 2012 playing roster and about one-third of its 2012 payroll to Toronto earlier this week.

Given how the Marlins gutted their roster, the fish or dolphins or whatever is swimming in the aquariums at Marlins Park should be flapping a little faster today. And, yes, there seems more of a chance that Guillen will teach a course in zoology than the Marlins will contend in 2013.

Condemnation was as swift and sure as Jose Reyes rounding the bases on a triple. Jeffrey Passan of yahoo.com said Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson were “destroying baseball” in Miami (given last year’s record and fan reaction, would that be such a bad thing?). Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post said Loria had “completed the ruination of another franchise.”

And those were among the more positive responses. Of course many of the same voices — mine included — said the Athletics traded Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey last offseason to tank 2012 so that franchise could finish last and move to San Jose. The A’s won the division, and are, for the time being, staying put.

And many of the same voices extolled the Marlins when they invested some $190 million last offseason — not mine — and predicted great things for a team that won 69 games.

(Many of the same voices, rightly, raised nary a word in protest when the Red Sox dropped a half-decade worth of liabilities in Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez on the Dodgers last summer; that was called rebuilding — one team’s ruination is apparently another’s rebirth.)

Loria’s defense was simple: “We finished in last place. Figure it out.” And while he’s rarely as forthcoming or accurate, he is here, even if just once. Last year the Marlins added free agents Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell, wooed Albert Pujols, moved Hanley Ramirez off his natural position, moved into a new ballpark, changed their name, insulted a big part of their fan base, traded for a fading Carlos Lee and won 69 games.

What is it about that plan that was supposed to have worked?

All the dire forecasts for the Marlins miss a point: that’s who the Marlins already are. And last year’s Black Frday-like splurge did nothing to prevent it (and in Bell’s case, a lot to cause it). The New York Mets, the team that rid itself of Reyes to far less dismay, won five more games than the Marlins in 2012.

None of this is to suggest the Marlins will be better in 2013 (they won’t) or to defend Loria (I’m not; that’s why lawyers have as bad a rep as A-Rod in October). But it is to say the group speak reaction is overdone.

There’s a tendency in baseball to ascribe a value to a player based on his salary, regardless of whether that player is worth it. The Marlins spent that $190 million last offseason, but not wisely, and this week decided they had approached their own fiscal cliff. They stepped back, and they’re not altogether wrong in a baseball sense (public relations in South Florida is another game that may be harder to win).

Consider:

  • Reyes is owed another $90-million plus for the next five seasons. He’ll be 34 when the contract ends, with more than 60 percent of the contract payable in the last half of it. Reyes is a good, exciting player who gets on base more than Jimmy Rollins, but he wasn’t worth $100 million to a team that had Ramirez, and he won’t be worth $22 million a year at age 34 (he’s not worth it now). His WAR has been more than 4 only once in the last four seasons, and coincidentally, that was in 2011, just before the Marlins signed him.
  • Josh Johnson is due $13-plus million this year, and then will be a free agent. Johnson is likely to have one of three types of seasons in 2013, consistent with his history: an injury-prone one, an above-average one like 2012, or a dominant one like 2009 or 2010. If he has the latter, the Marlins would have been pressured to give a 28-year-old pitcher with one 200-inning season a $20-million-a-year contract. That’s the Blue Jays’ problem now.
  • Buehrle might be the most consistent pitcher in baseball — he’s pitched at least 200 innings in 12 straight seasons; he’s won 13 games the last four seasons; he’s walked exactly 45 batters three times in the last six years, and between 40 and 50 seven times in the last eight — and that’s worth something. Just not the $37 million Buerhle is due the last two years of his contract in 2014 and 2015.
  • Catcher John Buck is due $6 million this season. For the same price last year, he hit .192 and slugged .347. Jeff Mathis could do that cheaper, and maybe even better.
  • Emilio Bonifacio is the Marlins’ kind of player — cheap, versatile and a good basestealer. So why did they include him in the trade? He’s due for arbitration, and won’t be such a bargain next year.

    The Jays are adding talent, but at a cost. The Marlins are divesting not just talent, but expenses, too. In return they get an erratic shortstop in Yuniel Escobar (three seasons with an OPS of .766 or better; three more with it .696 or worse, and his 2.5 WAR with a .644 2012 OPS was only .3 worse than Reyes); a light-hitting catcher in Mathis; Henderson Alvarez, a 22-year-old pitcher with 251 big-league innings; Adeiny Hechavarria, a 23-year-old Cuban infielder who might be a poor man’s Bonifacio; and three 22-or-under minor-leaguers, in order pitcher Justin Nicolino (2.09 ERA in two seasons), outfielder Jason Marisnick (hit .320 in 2011) and pitcher Anthony DeScalafini (3.37 ERA in one season).

    It’s about what you’d expect if you take the route the Marlins did. Because after winning 69 games last year, how many more were the Marlins going to win in 2013?

    They decided spending more money wasn’t the answer. They may be wrong, and their motives may not be pure, but it’s no less legitimate a course than overpaying aging players. And probably a better one at that.

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One Response to The Marlins deal: Hold the hysteria

  1. Jeff says:

    The real crime by the Marlins was the stadium deal and pocketing the revenue sharing money. What former sports owner now residing in Miami tried to fight the stadium deal at the last moment?

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