How has this offseason compared with 2012?

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In December 2011, the Miami Marlins set out to make a splash. After unveiling a new logo, new uniforms and a shiny new ballpark the month before, a new era of baseball in Miami was promised by owner Jeffrey Loria.

At the Winter Meetings that offseason, the team made that splash and a flurry of signings and trades soon followed in what turned out to be a significant reshaping of the roster.

Does that sound familiar? The Marlins just got done wheeling and dealing once again at the 2014 Winter Meetings and throughout this December. Unfortunately, the last time they made major waves, well, you remember how that season turned out. The roster was dismantled after a last-place finish and the club took its lumps the next season (or two, depending on your expectations last year).

This time, the front office did things a bit differently. They spent more money on one player than literally any other North American sports franchise has ever spent before. But the Marlins didn’t put all their eggs in Giancarlo Stanton‘s basket; they negotiated trades and what seem to be smart free agent investments, and what results is a 2015 team that, at least on paper, looks improved over its 2014 counterpart.

Let’s take a peek at the moves the Marlins made in 2012 compared to the ones made this offseason, which have been arguably the two most consequential winters in team history.

2012: Miami Marlins sign SS Jose Reyes for six years, $106 million

Jeffrey Loria knew he had to put his team’s new identity on the map in a big way, and signing Reyes certainly qualifies as such. At the time this was the largest contract the franchise had ever agreed to with a player. I remember very well the day I heard the news; the deal was met with mixed responses. The most common was “Where are the Marlins getting this money?” and “Wow, the Marlins actually spent big money on a long-term deal with an All-Star?”

Then there was the skeptical camp. “Reyes’ legs are literally made of tempered glass. He will be hurt all the time like he was a few years ago.”

Reyes’ contract was lucrative, but he actually ended up being one of the most reliable hitters on that 2012 squad. Then, he went to Toronto and bla bla bla. We know.

2015: Miami Marlins sign RF Giancarlo Stanton for 13 years, $325 million

You see, Loria, Hill and Co. knew they had to lock Stanton up. If they didn’t, and he was traded or simply walked in a year or two, the fans would have revolted. Marlins Park would have been a literal ghost town forever. For the rest of Loria’s reign.

People give the Marlins a hard time and say they’ll still trade Stanton anyway, that he won’t be with the team all 13 years, that the money is structured to conveniently coincide with Stanton’s opt-out clause after the sixth year when he will get more expensive. Whatever. The Stanton contract had to happen. He is a once-in-a-generation slugger. He is a standup guy. He breaks scoreboards and invades Hoagie stands. He causes grown men to jump in swimming pools, fully-clothed to retrieve a baseball. The Reyes signing was an advertisement for the new franchise and the new ballpark. He was a shiny new attraction to bring the fans to games and christen the new era. Giancarlo Stanton is the Miami Marlins.

2012: Miami Marlins sign RHP Mark Buehrle for four years, $58 million

Mark Buehrle was essentially a Billy Mays “But wait, there’s more!” signing. The Marlins had the baseball world’s curiosity after they nabbed Reyes, but now they had their attention.

I liked the Buehrle signing. He was the rotation’s workhorse that year, and he wasn’t too terrible expensive, despite the lack of revenue that blindsided the team by attendance numbers being way under their projections. The year of Mark Buehrle was great, but…

2015: Miami Marlins acquire RHP Mat Latos for RHP Anthony DeSclafani, C Chad Wallach

…Here is where one starts to wonder if Mr. Loria is “all there” in his advanced age. The Marlins were a 77-win team in 2014, and a 62-win team in 2013. So, sure, why not start to drain the farm for short-term rental veterans to go win it all in 2015? Latos will earn $8.4 million next year and is in his third arbitration year. Even with Stanton’s relatively low salaries the next few years, the Marlins probably won’t have the financial flexibility to bring Latos back. So, they gave up a great pitching prospect for probably one year of Latos. Sure, the Marlins are (were? more on that later) rich with young arms, but DeSclafani was among the most-highly regarded, and I hate that they lost him.

2012: Miami Marlins sign Heath Bell for three years, $27 million

Ah, the Heath Bell experiment. This was basically Loria’s version of throwing in three free Sham Wows when you just wanted to buy one. Bell was just awful as a Marlin, and has been even worse since his departure. He was a waste of $9 million for a horribly ineffective closer. Oh well, he’s the Washington Nationals’ problem now.

Oct 29, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Francisco Giants designated hitter

Michael Morse

hits a RBI single against the Kansas City Royals in the fourth inning during game seven of the 2014 World Series at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

2015: Miami Marlins sign 1B Michael Morse for two years, $16 million

This is probably my favorite move of this offseason. The Marlins realized that they needed an upgrade over Garrett Jones at first, and this is effective use of virtually the same money they were spending on Heath Bell. Except that Morse is a career-.808 OPS hitter who has some power gives the Marlins a cog in the middle of the lineup, and doesn’t allow a home run every two innings. Nice!

2012: Miami Marlins acquire Manager Ozzie Guillen for minor league pitcher Jhan Marinez, SS Osvaldo Martinez

Trading for a manager or coach is a joke no matter how you slice it. And, if you recall, the Marlins announced Guillen before the 2011 Florida Marlins season even ended. So, this was actually their first “big” move that year, and I remember watching that 2011 finale against the Nationals and seeing people flaunting signs welcoming Ozzie Guillen, and even a guy waving an old Guillen jersey from when he was a bench coach. I don’t get it. The Marlins wasted two “meh” prospects for a manager with a short fuse, a toilet mouth and, I guess, because he won a World Series like six years prior. The Marlins sure have made some silly trades over the years. Speaking of which…

2015: Miami Marlins acquire 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Dan Haren, SS Miguel Rojas for RHP Andrew Heaney, RHP Chris Hatcher, 2B Enrique Hernandez, C Austin Barnes

Remember all that pitching depth I mentioned earlier? Over the past few weeks it has started to disintegrate before our eyes. And for what? A maybe-just-barely-above-replacement level slap hitting second baseball who will “anchor the top of the lineup with that speed,” or something, in Dee Gordon. And Dan Haren has blatantly said he won’t pitch for the Marlins. So I might as well have changed the heading to say “$10 million cash from the Los Angeles Dodgers” instead of “RHP Dan Haren.”

The best part of this trade is that maybe the Marlins are accepting that Adeiny Hechavarria is not the perennial All-Star they promised he was. Maybe Rojas will serve as some competition at shortstop. We’ll have to wait and see, but Rojas’ initial big league stats have been pretty ugly. And Chris Hatcher finally figured out how to pitch and was actually a serviceable bullpen arm last season, so it kind of hurts to see him go as well.

At the end of the day, this trade is tough to swallow because the Marlins really didn’t upgrade anywhere. And they parted with their best pitching prospect – a lefty, no less – as a result.

More from Marlin Maniac

2012: Miami Marlins acquire RHP Carlos Zambrano and $15.45 million for RHP Chris Volstad

Like in the Haren deal, the Marlins were probably most interested in receiving Zambrano’s salary in this trade. Volstad and Zambrano were both pretty terrible, and neither are pitching in the U.S. right now. That is not a coincidence. This was a low-risk, low-reward roll of the dice by the Marlins in 2012, and no one misses either pitcher, really. The trade was a wash; seemingly just another deal the FO made for the sake of staying active and promoting the new brand.

2015: Miami Marlins acquire RHP David Phelps, 3B Martin Prado for RHP Nathan Eovaldi, 1B Garrett Jones, minor league pitcher Domingo German

On the surface this trade is also basically a wash. Eovaldi had no future in the Marlins rotation and Garrett Jones was ineffective as an every day first baseman. David Phelps is a league-average arm that has basically split his career right down the middle as a starter and reliever. Martin Prado could be somewhat of a wild card, though. He is a clear offensive upgrade over dearly departed Casey McGehee, and has played a few 1.0-plus dWAR seasons. I like this move if just for receiving Prado alone, and for once the Marlins didn’t give up a ton to get it done.

The Marlins have made plenty of other, maybe not as notable moves so far this offseason. Maybe the most alarming trend is the rate at which their minor league system has been depleted. It’s not bare, but one has to question if the 3-win improvement the team likely netted for next season is worth parting with so much young talent.

The 2015 offseason rivals 2012 in that the Marlins have spend a lot of money and undoubtedly set out to make baseball people take notice. Both years, the Marlins set the record for largest contract in franchise history. Three years ago, though, I think the money was irresponsibly spent and the new players were acquired because they were some of the biggest names available. This year, it looks like the Marlins did some homework and made smarter investments. Whether these investments will pay off in the short- or long-term remains to be seen, but the fans should take notice that the effort seems to be in the interest of winning and not just in garnering publicity.

Next: Does a C.J. Wilson for Dan Haren Trade Make Sense?

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