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A Fan’s Reflections on the Winter Meetings (so far)

I’m sure I was not alone in my skepticism of the Marlins’ plans to make a splash in the free agent market this offseason, particularly at the Winter Meetings. As of the time I am writing this, the team has signed shortstop Jose Reyes to a six year, $106 million deal. Current shortstop Hanley Ramirez will, if things go as planned, make the jump to third base. Closer Heath Bell has been signed to a three year, $27 million contract. After a day of on and off meetings, the status of the Marlins’ push to get Albert Pujols remains unknown. No matter how that venture turns out, reports out of the meetings illustrate that the team has been serious in their pursuit of the superstar first baseman. At one point Tuesday, David Villavicencio published that team officials felt confident in the fact that Pujols would end up in Miami.

The addition of Reyes alone is a huge upgrade for the team. A career .292/.341/.441 hitter, he is coming to Miami fresh off his first batting title, part of a .337/.384/.493 season, despite missing 36 games from lingering hamstring injuries. An article by Dave Cameron at Fangraphs postulated that if Reyes can reach 3,000 plate appearances over the course of his contract, which is entirely possible even if he were to miss 40-50 games per season, he will be a “legitimate bargain” for the team.

The team’s deal for Bell isn’t as praiseworthy. Despite racking up 40+ saves in the past three seasons, he saw a big drop in strikeouts last year, from 11.1 to 7.3 K/9. He has been worth $9 million in only three years out of his seven full seasons, and it is still unclear how the new Marlins ballpark will play (although this graphic courtesy of Fish Stripes shows its massive dimensions even compared to Bell’s previous home of Petco Park). Regardless of its merits, the Bell deal signified the team’s willingness to spend. The subsequent Reyes signing and the push for Pujols demonstrate that Bell hardly ate up all the money.

All of which finally brings me to my main point. I was wrong. I was dead set in thinking that hype about signing Reyes, free agent pitcher C.J. Wilson, or free agent pitcher Mark Buehrle was just that: talk. “If we at least pretend to bring in premium talent,” I imagined the team saying, “the fans will throw money our way faster than a local government throws money at a baseball stadium.” And if those free agents seemed out of character for the team to approach, considering Pujols, possibly the greatest right handed hitter in history, seemed straight out of another dimension.

Exasperation over the idea that fans were being jerked around in a ploy to fill seats translated almost into bitterness. My first post here at Marlin Maniac was a reflection of that sentiment. And then came word that the stadium deal was working out even worse than expected for the city that helped fund it as a result of unforeseen property tax payments. After that, the never friendly Securities and Exchange Commission decided to take a look into how that deal came to be.

But then we signed Bell. And then Reyes. And then I spent a whole day fighting the urge to do nothing but stare at Twitter and wait for word on whether the Fish had signed Albert Pujols. I felt like a fan again. The Marlins are hardly a big market team, and being the center of the baseball world like they have been these past few days is a new role. Their new-found spending ability may or may not carry into the future. I sincerely hope it does, although my doubts over the viability of a creating a “big market” organization in Miami still remain.

If these past few days have taught me anything, though, it’s the virtue of occasionally doing away with the critical eye and reveling behind a pair of rose-colored glasses. Sometimes hang-ups about off-the-field drama (SEC investigation, anyone?) or lingering sentiments about the past (Cameron Maybin in center field?) have to be tossed aside for the thrill of the present and hope for the future. We might get Pujols; we might not. The additions of Reyes and Bell, along with whatever pitching plans the team has in mind, could be enough to push the Marlins to the playoffs. Then again, they might not. Either way, its sure has been exciting, and will be for a few seasons to come.

Topics: Albert Pujols, Cameron Maybin, Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins, New Stadium

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