Selig must weigh timing, history in ruling on deal
CHICAGO -- It's not the nuts and bolts of the trade that have prompted Commissioner Bud Selig to take a second look. He appreciates that trades are supposed to be debated, analyzed, chewed on. It's one of things we love about this sport.
He also appreciates that clubs sometimes have wildly different motives for making a trade. So if this trade between the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays could be isolated simply on its merits, it could be argued that it benefitted both clubs.
In fact, Selig did exactly that Thursday afternoon when baseball's quarterly Owners Meetings concluded. Blue Jays president and chief executive officer Paul Beeston relayed to him how thrilled his fans were to be getting Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and others in the 12-player deal the two teams are attempting to finalize.
The Blue Jays believe they've elevated themselves to the upper echelon of teams and become instantly competitive in the American League East. That said, among the many baseball people Selig stays in touch with, at least two of them praised the Marlins as well.
There you go. The Blue Jays would get front-line veteran players that appear to make them good enough to win a World Series in 2013. And the Marlins, coming off a last-place season, would be acquiring a slew of gifted young players in addition to reducing their payroll.
Perfect, right? The problem with the trade is timing and history. South Florida baseball fans have been thorugh this before.
First, there was the dismantling of the 1997 World Series winner. And then a repeat after a 2003 championship.
The Marlins argued they could not compete financially without a new ballpark. And then a few months after that gorgeous new park opened, the Marlins have again cut payroll and gone into a rebuilding mode.
Once the trade becomes official, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria can offer a dozen legitimate reasons for making the deal.
First, the mix of players he had wasn't working. Instead of being cautious, the Marlins traded Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante during the season.
This week's pending deal was the logical next step in turning the roster over to younger players. The Marlins are taking a similar approach the A's took last winter, and how did that work out?
Problem is, financial constraints were part of general manager Billy Beane's motivation for overhauling the A's. Marlins fans believed their new ballpark made that an issue of the past.
That point seemed to be emphasized last winter when the Marlins went on a $200-million spending spree for Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and Ozzie Guillen. Less than a year later, they're all gone.
If the trade simply was a salary dump, it'll be almost impossible to defend. If the Marlins bought themselves financial flexibility -- that's what the Red Sox got by dealing Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett -- then it makes sense.
Until the trade is officially done, Loria is not commenting publicly. In the interim, there has been a brushfire of controversy. Fans are lighting up talk-show lines, columnists are taking their shots and it feels like nothing at all has changed.
"I am aware of the anger," Selig said.
For him, the insults are almost personal because he worked hard to help get Marlins Park built with a large chunk of public money.
At a time when baseball is booming in terms of revenue, attendance, etc., he's extremely sensitive to the problems of competitive balance.
He has helped reshape the sport in those terms, but if fans in one area feel their team either can't or won't compete, it's a concern.
Selig said he would "review" the trade before approving it. He seems likely to do so, but is deeply bothered by the reaction to the trade.
"Remember, my career started because the Milwaukee Braves went to Atlanta," he said, "and I never forgot the hurt that I felt. I'm not insensitive to that. I've lived through it."
Loria's challenge will be two-fold. First, to lay out a blueprint for making the Marlins competitive. Second, to assure fans that the club has the resources to be competitive and is willing to spend competitively.
Maybe it's as simple as laying out a plan. For his part, Selig has never believed that spending money is the end game for building a championship sport. To that end, he enthusiastically supports Theo Epstein's reconstruction of the Cubs.
"If I was running a franchise, I would follow that pattern to a T," he said. "It's interesting how do you do things. Spending money doesn't guarantee anybody anything."
South Florida fans are hoping the trades eventually make sense. That's another thing about trades. They're impossible to judge after a week or a month.
Selig said he'll take his time reviewing this deal after it's put on his desk. And when he approves, it'll be up to the Marlins to sell their plan.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.