“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” – Marlins fans.
Hope springs eternal, and with Spring Training fast approaching, the Miami Marlins have a lot of buzz coming into the 2015 season. While one publication has Miami changing their team name and somehow losing to the Cubs in the World Series, most do have expectations of the Marlins taking some sort of step forward.
Yet where there is a spring of hope, there comes a shadow of doubt with a franchise that has seen its fair share of questionable decisions.
In light of the announcement that Marlins Park will host the 2017 All-Star Game, the seemingly never-ending conflict between a portion of the Marlins fan base and the ownership group, led by Jeffrey Loria and David Samson, has stepped into the spotlight. Questions about whether it’s time for the fans to let go of the over 10 year battle and just embrace the franchise as it tries to cement itself as one that can rally around baseball.
The Miami Herald’s Greg Cote feels the announcement of the All-Star Game should be seen as a thawing of tensions between Loria and South Florida fans, that it’s time to move on from being burned over and over and over again. Of course, he also forgets to mention having the All-Star Game benefits Loria with ticket sales of the game tied into season ticket packages, which will help line his wallet, so let’s not go crazy saying he did this completely for the fans. Marlins Park is a beautiful new facility that deserves the All-Star Game, but Loria benefits the most in the transaction.
However, this has been an offseason that has seen the Marlins make a tremendous commitment to star Giancarlo Stanton, who signed a 13-year, $325 million deal – the richest in North American sports – essentially making Stanton a Marlin for life. Well, it does have an opt-out after the sixth year, which does benefit Stanton in his hopes to maybe get more money after he turns 30. But for the team, it’s a step in the right direction.
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But the positive feelings that Marlins fans had for the Stanton signing also has that “Waiting for the other shoe to drop” vibe. Being a Marlins fan is kind of like the scene in the movie “Speed” where everyone was overly excited when the bus cleared that 50-foot jump across the gap in the freeway. That’s Marlins fans reacting to the Stanton deal. But after everyone settles down, the characters realized that they were still stuck on a bus that was armed with a bomb. Well, that’s the Marlins.
Some might be upset about how the franchise secured the funds to build Marlins Park, as Loria and Samson took advantage of greedy politicians not thinking in the best interest on the city. Honestly, you kind of have to give the Marlins a pass on this one, as Miami politicians would have found some other stupid way to blow taxpayer money, like maybe building an underwater tunnel, because why not? We’re about five years away from Miami building an escalator to nowhere, so a new ballpark is the lesser of all evils.
It’s hard to separate optimism from what has come before. There’s always something with this franchise, dating back to Wayne Huizenga’s ownership that saw him dismantle the 1997 World Series Champions within weeks of the confetti falling. That move actually caused South Florida of being stripped of the 2000 All-Star Game because MLB punished the Marlins for the fire sale.
(Although they weren’t upset enough to step in and veto those deals, instead punishing the fans by taking away the Mid-Summer Classic, because MLB.)
But the Loria Era Marlins have seen their shares of fire sales. After signing Carlos Delgado prior to the 2005 season, followed by bringing back Al Leiter, the man who started that fateful Game 7 of the ’97 World Series, the team floundered to the finish and failed to live up to expectations. What would be dubbed as a “Market Correction,” the front office would purge their big ticket players in a cost cutting measure that would hit the reset button on the franchise.
As things turned out, the 2006 Marlins defied conventional wisdom and were in the thick of the playoff race up until September. First year manager Joe Girardi was named National League Manager of the Year, which saw him get rewarded by Loria by being fired, because Loria thinks he’s George Steinbrenner, even though he’s the complete opposite of Steinbrenner. Girardi would be replaced by Fredi Gonzalez (who had the personality of a stick, with the leadership skills to match), who promptly led the Marlins to a last place finish in 2007. Meanwhile, Girardi would win the 2009 World Series with the Yankees, so there’s that.
The Marlins would follow that season up by completing the worst trade in sports history (second worst trade in history, behind a group of Native Americans trading Manhattan to the Dutch) when they traded Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers, in exchange for nothing of lasting value (at least the Red Sox got cash for Babe Ruth.)
Marlins fans were just burned a little over two years ago with the dismantling of the ever unlikable 2012 team, which saw the blockbuster trade of Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle being shipped to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package that included Henderson Alvarez, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Marisnick, Anthony DeSclafani, Justin Nicolino, and Jeff Mathis. Sure, that team was awful and deserved to have a facelift – one that began earlier on with the trade of Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers – but the drastic overhaul raised some eyebrows, considering that it happened just after the first season in the team’s new ballpark. It just came off as “Same old Marlins.”
Funny how things turned out, as the foundation for this season’s optimism came directly from that trade. Alvarez was an All-Star last season, finishing 12-7 with a 2.65 ERA, as well as threw a no-hitter in the last game of the 2013 season. After a rocky 2013, Hechavarria bounced back with a solid 2014, hitting .276 and finishing seventh in the Majors in fielding percentage for shortstops (.979).
In an instance where one deal leads to another, Marisnick would be dealt to the Houston Astros as part of a package that would bring back Jarred Cosart. The switch to Marlins Park and the National League would pay off for Cosart, as he finished with a 2.39 ERA in his 10 starts with the Marlins, compared to a 4.41 ERA pitching in the bandbox that is Minute Maid Park. That was then followed up by DeSclafani being dealt in a deal to the Reds that would see the Marlins walk away with Mat Latos. So, the Toronto deal gave the Marlins three of their top four starters for 2015, plus a defensive shortstop that is still developing at the plate, and Justin Nicolino, who was the Marlins 2014 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. Oh, and Jeff Mathis.
This offseason just feels different. The Marlins flurry of roster moves, while creating buzz, doesn’t come with the same expectations that the moves in 2005 and 2012 generated. This year’s roster isn’t an “all-in” proposition, but still is a squad that can compete right now with a young foundation that isn’t living on borrowed time.
The Dee Gordon trade brought in an All-Star to the top of the lineup that also helps shore up the middle infield, while still under team control for the next three seasons. Some might scoff at giving up prospects for Gordon, but as Marlins can attest, those can be such a crap shoot. Speed at the top of the lineup can help wreak havoc on opposing pitchers, and Gordon helps shore up a second base spot that was a revolving door last season. The deal also brought over Dan Haren who, if he decides to pitch – which seems to be the case, at the moment – could be the gravy in that trade, as Marlins Park can suit his fly ball tendencies. If he can find something resembling his old form, then what turned out to be a throw-in can actually pay dividends, whether as an important starter or a trade chip.
Latos is a legitimate front of the rotation starter that can hold down the fort until Jose Fernandez returns. While injuries hampered him in 2014, he still sports a career 3.34 ERA, playing the last three seasons in Cincinnati’s launching pad, Great American Ballpark (ranked by ESPN as the fourth best ballpark for hitters). Now he gets to pitch in a pitcher’s haven. He easily slides in as the number one starter until Fernandez returns.
When Fernandez does return, you could put him/Latos/Alvarez/Cosart/Haren up against any staff in the National League and feel like you have a shot every night. That’s what this season’s Marlins have to offer.
For the first time in a long time, you can actually say the Marlins are really building something. A team with a young core that is under team control, while adding key pieces along the way – like Latos, Michael Morse, Martin Prado, and Ichiro Suzuki. Not spending big – aside from keeping their own star – and just letting the team grow together. With the Braves trading players away, the Mets being the Mets, and the Phillies a dumpster fire, the Marlins have a legit chance of keeping the Nationals from running away and hiding in the NL East.
The best part? That statement could be true for years to come.
There’s no real reason to fear that this is a one and done season. Even going into the 2016 season, keeping in mind arbitration, the payroll shouldn’t go any higher than $75 million, a modest budget for a team in a new ballpark.
In a sports landscape that sees the Heat in a state of flux, and the Dolphins in a state similar to one slamming their head into a wall for 40 years, the Marlins have a real opportunity to take a stranglehold of South Florida.
Maybe it will be hard to have faith in Loria and Samson in the long run. But even they know that they have no excuses for breaking this apart.
And Marlins fans, especially the skeptical ones, don’t have any excuses for not buying in to what this team can accomplish.
Marlins Park was the beginning. The Stanton deal was next. Now the All-Star Game is coming.
It’s time to rally behind the Miami Marlins.