(From left to right, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson were traded by Miami to Toronto Tuesday in a blockbuster deal. Photos by Associated Press).
My first thought when I heard news of the mindblowing Marlins-Blue Jays trade was that there had to be another shoe about to drop. Perhaps this was merely the first step of a shrewd manuever by the Marlins — clearing the deck of salary and loading up on prospects in preparation for another aggressive foray into the free-agent market. And this time with a little more of a cohesive plan than last year’s hap-hazard, ill-fitting shopping spree that left them with a 93-loss, last-place team to show for their $100 million payroll.
Surely, not even the Marlins’ notoriously self-serving ownership would so quickly abdicate their obligation to the taxpayers of South Florida, who subsidized about 70 percent of the $515-million ballpark that opened last season in Miami. Surely, they would not give up after just one season and go back to their previous way of life — which they blamed on lack of a revenue stream in the absence of a new stadium — of bare bones budgets and dumping each star as soon as he started making semi-serious dough.
Then I remember a few things. One, how in the world could the Marlins, under this regime, ever hope to attract another prominent free agent? Unless they change their strict organizational policy against no-trade clauses (which is why Albert Pujols got no further with the Marlins last year, when they made their charade of pretending to be serious about contending), what’s to keep the Marlins from dumping their new toys after a year, like they did Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell (not to mention Ozzie Guillen)? Reyes and Buehrle thought they were taking their talents to South Beach, not the frozen north. They can’t be very happy right now, and other free agents are most definitely taking note, on the off chance the Marlins plan to go back into the market.
But I highly doubt it, because, well, they are the Marlins. Fire sales are what they do. This is their third (and after earlier trades of Hanley Ramirez, Anibel Sanchez, Omar Infante and Bell, that’s precisely what this is). Yes, the organization has won two World Series, which is two more than the Mariners have even played in, which is something that can’t be taken away. But at what psychic cost? After winning it all in 1997, lame-duck owner Wayne Huizenga ordered the payroll trimmed from $54 million to $28 million. By spring training of 1998, they had gotten rid of the heart of the team — Moises Alou, Kevin Brown, Devon White, Robb Nen, Al Leiter, Jeff Conine and Dennis Cook, among others. Before the year was out, Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson and Jim Eisenreich were gone too. The Marlins lost 108 games in 1998, the biggest collapse from one season to the next since Connie Mack got rid of four future Hall of Famers (Eddie Collins, “Home Run” Baker, Ed Plank and Chief Bender with the Philadelphia A’s after making the 1914 World Series, and lost 109 games in 1915.
The Marlins, against all odds, executed their rebuild with skill, and by 2003 had another championship team, beating the Yankees in six games for a second title (in 11 years of existence; their only two winning seasons to that point). And this time, the teardown was even more sudden in the wake of failed efforts to secure a new stadium. By spring training of ’04, the Marlins had once again gutted their championship team, trading Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Carlos Delgado, Juan Pierre, Paul Lo Duca, Luis Castillo, Ron Villone and Guillermo Mota, among others. A.J. Burnett, Alex Gonzalez, Juan Encarnacion and Todd Jones were allowed to leave via free agency. And after the 2005 season, they completed the process by trading Miguel Cabrera (along with Dontrelle Willis) to the Tigers for prospects.
Once again, the Marlins managed to pick up some talent, most notably Hanley Ramirez, in the process, and they had some winning seasons — but not enough to replicate the two titles. But the hard-fought new stadium was supposed to change all that. The owner, Jeffrey Loria, vowed he would use his new resources to compete. Yet now they have a shiny new stadium and a torn-down shell of a team. It’s hard to blame Giancarlo Stanton, their brilliant young outfielder, for tweeting today, “Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple.”
For those who are urging the Mariners to go after Stanton, you can forget about it. Stanton isn’t going anywhere. Not yet, anyway. He’s still not arbitration eligible, so the Marlins can sign him for something near the major-league minimum of $490,000 in 2013. He’ll be the biggest bargain in baseball next year, and the Marlins love bargains. But check back next winter, when Stanton stands to hit the big money. Then they might be tempted to dump him, too.
As maddening and inept as the Mariners have been in recent years, nothing they have done has matched the cold-hearted cynicism of the Marlins. Unless that other shoe drops — and I’m not seeing any signs of footware, other than one more potential salary dump in Ricky Nolasco — this is the nadir of a flimsy franchise.