The Miami Marlins were at a crossroads again in 2013, and the team resolved that crossroad in dramatic fashion with a massive trade that sent out Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, and Mark Buehrle among others. Many are rightfully calling it a fire sale at this point, and many others are quite eager to point out how right they were to suspect that the entire 2012 show regarding competition was just a front to drum up attendance only to sell off parts for profit for owner Jeffrey Loria once again. Though I defended the organization staunchly after its spending in 2012, rightfully believing the plan before the season, I was one of many fans who were burned once again by Loria's ways with this trade.
Indeed, Jeffrey Loria is really the central piece of the problem with the Miami Marlins. The major league roster is now devastated by the trades that sent out much of the team in return for prospects who are not yet ready for the big leagues. The team's franchise player, Giancarlo Stanton, is now angry at the team's betrayal of trust and is not likely to stick around with the team beyond his required amount of time. Free agents around the league got the message quickly about the Marlins' complete lack of credibility at the negotiating table with this trade, and making future signings is either going to cost a lot more money or be impossible. The fan base is likely irreparably crushed, as their belief of a changed organization switched quickly to the "same old story" with one trade.
At the center of all of this is Loria, who has already done a splendid job of building a horrid reputation as one of the worst owners in sports in the past. Yet, up to a certain point, it was difficult to blame Loria for everything that was going wrong with the organization. The team from 2003 stuck around long enough to be given a shot at contention. When that team failed, Loria sold off the core in a heinous 2006 fire sale that, luckily for the team, netted enough nice returns to set up a decent team for the next six seasons.
Following that, Loria did just enough to suggest that 2012, with the coming of the new stadium, would be the time to contend and turn over a new leaf for the Marlins. Revenue would be up, the Marlins would make a splash, and just like in the post-2003 era, the team would be given time and resources to compete. The organization spent plenty of money and made two good, reasonable signings. The Fish banked on the return of two stars to their former glory, and that was a reasonable bet.
There was reason to believe that something like what transpired on Tuesday simply could not happen one year after 2012. But one thing that no one suspected was that the team would fail as miserably and completely as it did last season. When everything that could go wrong did so for the Marlins, the dread of a potential trade-off grew. But even in the wake of the most disappointing Marlins season in team history, no one foresaw what happened with the mass exodus of players. The thought was that, even with the team struggling that badly, Loria and company would never risk the public relations nightmare that would come with a complete reset of the roster just one year after promises of real change.
That may be one of the most frustrating things about this Marlins organization. The Fish for years under Loria have seemingly lacked a long-term plan, something that I have only recently noticed in taking a more objective look at the team's moves under his regime. In 2003, the club walked into a championship contender and a bit of good luck and turned it into a title. They stayed together for two years after that, and that constituted the most long-term planning the team had ever undertaken. In the 2006 era, the Marlins rightfully identified the only two players, in Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson, who were deserving of contract extensions. Outside of that, however, the club exhibited no way of supplementing those two players. The organization's drafts in the late 2000's failed, and the team had no thought about adding parts beyond scrap heap additions who could help the organization's premier players. Yet somehow Loria expected competition and fired numerous managers when they failed to deliver.
This latest run in 2012 seems to be yet another example of this problem. The Marlins rightfully never foresaw the team failing this badly, but the club still had good players remaining and contracts that would run out in the coming years and allow the team the financial flexibility that they wanted as well. But once half a season of struggles happened, the Marlins bailed on their 2012 plans and completed the purging of that extremely fast era in the offseason. After just one year that could have been construed as partly the fault of the front office for misjudging their players and partly the fault of the players for bad luck and not living up to expectations, the Marlins scrapped their plans in a hurry rather than thinking through a more measured approach that still likely would have been successful.
In the meantime, Loria claimed the moves were done not out of panic but out of an obvious necessity based on last season.
"We have to get better,'' Loria said, according to CBSSports.com. "We can't finish in last place. We finished in last place. That's unacceptable. We have to take a new course.''
The question remains whether the team honestly believed it was as horrendous as the first three months of the team were in order to justify selling off all of the parts in such a short time period while risking a public relations mess.
But as Jonah Keri of Grantland pointed out, Loria and company are immune to public relations, because they are well aware of how to game the system.
Of course, now that the Marlins have dispensed with the pretense of fielding a competitive major league team for next year, we're supposed to believe that Loria's reckoning is coming. If fans have no faith in what you're trying to do, they'll surely stay away in droves. For all the snark over a lack of fan base, the Marlins did draw 2.2 million to their new park this year. If attendance drops something like 30 or 40 percent, that could cost the team about $30 million in 2013. That sounds terrible. Until you remember that the Marlins spent $118 million in payroll this past season. They'll probably spend less than half of that next year. Do the math. They're going to come out way ahead.
You see, it does not matter to Loria. We can stay away as long as we want and as much as we want, but Loria will not lose enough money to make up for the fact that he will earn enough on revenue sharing and savings on contracts traded to come out ahead. For Loria, a long-term plan is not necessary for his profits to continue, which is why he and his front office have yet to have one come to fruition at any point in their reign. And for Marlins fans, as long as Loria remains in power, it is likely the organization will continue to amble into this cycle unless some new voices enter the fray, including potentially some new ownership.