Last week, the Marlins officially completed their long-desired goal of having Ozzie Guillen become the team’s manager. Once upon a time, Guillen was a third base coach for the Fish in 2003 and participated in the Marlins’ second World Series victory. Now, he will return to manage the team in their first season in the new Marlins ballpark. In return for stealing Guillen away from the Chicago White Sox (they had previously picked up his 2012 option but had not interest in holding onto him), the Marlins traded away Osvaldo Martinez to the Sox.
Let’s get this out of the way: from a baseball standpoint, this move is meaningless at best and backwards at worst. After the Triple-A season Martinez had this year, there is not much traction in the idea that he will be a major leaguer anytime soon. After a good season in Double-A, he completely regressed and does not appear to be ready until at least 2013. In other words, there is an excellent chance that he ends up being just another Pablo Ozuna or Robert Andino, a run-of-the-mill utility infielder. That said, trading a player with a possible future for a manager with little effect on the game would seem like an even more useless move. As much we’d like to think that managers bring a whole lot to the table, it just isn’t likely. Aside from deciding who receives playing time, there is likely little baseball impact that managers can make, even managers as charismatic as Guillen. There’s a reason why Guillen is being paid $2.5 million per season: the team does not think he is worth more than half a win over a scrub replacement (call him Edwin Rodriguez, let’s say), and they are probably right.
So what does Ozzie bring to the table then, if not the ability to produce wins? Well, we know about the tangible aspects, but there are some extra benefits to bringing in Ozzie Guillen that are specific to the Marlins’ situation and culture. And, after all, he does bring some fire.
The Hanley Situation
When the news came out that the Marlins were certain to get Ozzie Guillen, I thought the first person who would possibly benefit from the move was Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez has had all sorts of problems with managers and fans recently, and though I am the type of person who feels that a player’s performance speaks for itself, there is no doubt that having a supportive environment around Ramirez would be the most helpful thing for him right now. He has been lambasted all year in 2011, and the last thing he needs is another distrustful manager for whom to work. With Guillen, however, I get the sense that his behavioral problems should be significantly improved. If there is anyone who can convince Hanley to work harder than he already is (whatever that level is), it’s a guy who has been to the majors and shares a similar background in the business of baseball. Of course, Guillen is originally from Venezuela, while Ramirez is from the Dominican Republic, but the experience of playing baseball in and being recruited from a Latin American country shares traits that are likely not seen in traditional U.S. baseball culture. If there’s any manager who will understand and empathize with where Hanley comes from, it will be Guillen.
That empathy and understanding can lead to motivation. There is a sect of fans that believes Hanley is not appreciative of his success and needs to try harder and become better. I’m not in that sect, but the hiring of Ozzie Guillen should appeal that population of fans. Like it or not, Guillen will be his fiery self with all players equally, whether they are stars or scrubs. Perhaps that sort of motivation coming from a former Major Leaguer with similar experiences will help Ramirez improve his supposedly poor work ethic.
Yes, it seems like a dumb reason to hire a manager for $2.5 million per season just to be controversial, but as Marlins Daily’s SCWS mentioned last week, it actually makes sense for the Marlins. Guillen will undoubtedly have a connection to the South Florida Latino fan base, and they will be excited to have yet another reason to attach themselves to the Miami Marlins. And beyond that, the average fan will eventually become a fan of Ozzie Guillen, even if you can’t see him during the game or hear anything he does that makes him well-known while you are in the stadium.
Those reasons may be superficial, but the Marlins currently need any and all reasons to get fans excited about their product. The team is building a new fan base and needs fans at the peripheries to get excited, and nothing gets fans more excited than soundbites (OK, maybe wins). If it takes a loudmouth like Guillen to get the team going, then I am for it. As long as his attitude does not get in the way of the team’s performance (and given his penchant for knocking batters down, sometimes it can get in the way), it will not hurt anyone and will help the team garner some excitement. Once a fan base is built, the club can then get the funding and proper ownership support that it needs (hopefully). But as fans, we need to show our support, and a guy like Guillen could get those fringe fans interested.
So no, I’m not necessarily “in support” of this move, but I am neither against it. The Marlins had to pay someone to be manager, and it’s not like they would have wisely used that extra $4 million over the next four years that they would have saved by hiring a lesser manager. So it’s not a “win-win” as much as it is a “it has its advantages” sort of move. I’ll take it.