Marlins' deals a wake-up call for players, not fire sale
Marlins fans have endured two excruciating fire sales. The mass exodus of players as a result of payroll cuts came after World Series championships in 1997 and 2003.
Now, after a hugely disappointing 14-week honeymoon in the gleaming-new, $634 million Marlins Park, the tinder box is smoldering for what might be -- you got it -- another fire sale.
Hanley Ramirez, who even in the midst of Miami's $191 million free-agent spending spree this past offseason was still being billed as the franchise player for this rebranded team, has been traded, as were relief pitcher Randy Choate, second baseman Omar Infante and starter Anibal Sanchez.
With the departure of Ramirez alone, the Marlins are saving a ton of money and reducing their $112 million Opening Day payroll. The Dodgers have agreed to pay the remainder of Ramirez's contract, which runs through 2014. He's earning $15 million this year and will get $15.5 million in 2013 and $16 million in '14.
As the Miami Marlins are trying to re-invent themselves, throwing in the towel for this season seems to be sending the wrong message to South Florida fans who have already been alienated far too many times.
Playing in Sun Life Stadium -- with rain delays and mini-crowds -- was always the culprit , a reason why revenues would not permit keeping premier players. But with the new futuristic ballpark, that can no longer used as the reason.
In short, all the pre-season anticipation and excitement has been replaced by disappointment. After Miami won 21 of 29 games in May, I predicted the Marlins were the best team in the National League East. Instead, the season quickly fell apart. And after losing to the Braves, 7-1, on Wednesday, they're 44-53, and 2012 has become a bust.
That said, believing South Florida fans are once again being short-changed is not accurate.
I disagree with the conclusion a fire sale is under way and the wrong message is being sent.
Granted the fans, visualizing a trip to the postseason, are and should be disappointed. But the true message has been sent to the players.
There was so much anticipation before the season began, what with the signing of free-agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell -- and, of course, the arrival of flamboyant manager Ozzie Guillen.
I remember something Guillen said the day before Marlins Park opened in April: "It's like having a beautiful house and your marriage stinks. We have a beautiful house here, but if the people who live in it are not good, you're not going to have fun."
It was a very bad marriage.
Give ownership credit. They realize the Marlins are going nowhere this season, so why wait until the winter to unload the underachievers?
Maybe management should take the blame for assembling a dysfunctional roster, but realizing that early and dismantling it quickly is a plus.
"The bottom line for us was simple," baseball operations president Larry Beinfest told MLB.com on Thursday. "Internally, the expectations were realistic here. We really thought we had a club that should contend and be in the mix for the postseason.
"To be in the position we are is so disappointing to us. We kept waiting for our 21-8 May to repeat, but there was no indication of that. Clearly, we were seeing under-achievement and under-performance by most of our team. So, we made the tough call."
Beinfest noted that Sanchez is going to be a free agent after the season, Emilio Bonifacio will take over at second base for Infante, and "Hanley is Hanley. He's been here for seven years. He's been a great player, and given his talent level has been underachieving of late. We felt it was time to move on -- a fresh start for him with the Dodgers and a fresh start for us."
The problem Beinfest & Co. faced was that it was not just one component of the Marlins that was failing. It was the entire team.
"We have found a way to not win games," Beinfest said. "It's been a total effort by everybody to find a way not to win games. It's been very frustrating."
With the new stadium and management's mission to build baseball interest in Miami, making these moves is risky.
"We understand there's skepticism here," he said. "Yes, we have our history [of fire sales], but that's not what's going on here. This was about the current mix wasn't winning, so let's try something else."
Getting pitchers Nathan Eovaldi from the Dodgers in the Ramirez deal, and Jacob Turner in the trade that sent Sanchez and Infante to the Tigers, according to Beinfest, gives the Marlins "a pretty competitive rotation with Turner and Eovaldi joining Josh Johnson, Buehrle and Ricky Nolasco."
Evoladi will start for the Marlins on Saturday against San Diego and Turner, who is currently at Triple-A New Orleans, "will be here sooner rather than later," according to Beinfest. "If we were going to completely re-do, with a fire sale and hope for the best a couple of years from now, we would be doing something else.
"We're going to have a good rotation, and key pieces with Giancarlo Stanton [and] Reyes are still here. Maybe we're completely unrealistic, but we feel like we can get right back on the horse with a different mix of players and go right at it."
And that brings us to Johnson.
As Tuesda's Trade Deadline approaches, his name is in all the buzz about a possible deal.
Fact is, when the decision was made to alter the Marlins' rotation, either Sanchez or Johnson was going to be dealt. It was Sanchez who went to the Tigers.
Now, it's very unlikely Johnson will be dealt unless Beinfest is overwhelmed by an offer, which is not likely to happen.
The bottom line: The Marlins' two trades haven't ignited a fire sale. The message should be a wakeup call to the players, and the frustrated fans should applaud that.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.