Don't just blame Ozzie Guillen for all of the problems of 2012. (Photo by Jason Arnold/Getty Images)
The Miami Marlins have failed in their bid to contend in 2012, and as you probably have already heard, everyone is in the doghouse, from the front office all the way down to the 25th player. No roster spot is safe with the exception of maybe four or five names, so the rest of the Marlins (including the front office and coaching staff) are duking it out for spots right now.
As of late, the question has turned to manager Ozzie Guillen and his own job safety. Late last week, Buster Olney of ESPN.com questioned the effort of the Marlins in this September month with the team way out of contention. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports mentions that Guillen lost his edge in the April Fidel Castro debacle and thus lost his ability to lead this team. David Samson himself said in his recent MLB.com interview that Guillen's season was "disappointing."
All of these things point to Guillen, who has three years remaining in a four-year, $10 million deal, being potentially on the hot seat. Still, it is very likely that Guillen's job is safe for now despite the struggles of 2012. And as staunch an opponent of Guillen's in-game managing as I have been over the year, I approve of holding onto him for next year and probably for the lifetime of his contract.
The reason? Why fire Guillen when now, more than ever, is his time to prove his worth?Guillen, the Motivator
I find these allegations by Olney about a lack of hustle and effort by the Marlins hard to believe. Having watched a healthy majority of games this season, I have not noticed any lack of hustle from any of the team's players, nor has that been pointed out by the team's announcers on the radio or television broadcasts. The Marlins are, by all accounts, still working hard at winning games even as the season appears lost.
And as Guillen mentions in a recent article responding in part to Olney's (or as Olney mentions, "rival evaluators' of the Marlins" comments), if you happen to think that way, you may just not be watching the games all that often.
"Of course your name is going to be mentioned to be fired," Guillen said. "When you play bad, your name is going to be mentioned to be fired. But when you make a comment that your team don't play hard enough, you're not watching us. You're not. Because first of all, there are only two players in our lineup right now that have sure, for sure, for sure jobs for next year. Guaranteed. Only two."
"The other guys have to bust their tails to convince us that they can play here next year," the manager said. "Second, our pitching staff has a bunch of kids."
There is no reason for the majority of the Marlins to not be hustling, and if they are not, you can be guaranteed that Guillen will be the first person on them for not doing so. And it is hard to believe that Giancarlo Stanton or Jose Reyes, the "two players in the lineup" who have definite jobs next season, would be failing to hustle at this point. Jose Reyes is well-known for his exciting antics on the field, and I have not yet watched a moment in a game when he was not hustling all-out on a play. The same goes for Stanton, who is still diving at balls in the outfield and crushing them at the plate.
And this also gets to the heart of what Guillen does best. I have mocked him plenty of times on this blog for being a weak on-field tactician, and that truth remains. Just recently, he mentioned that Jose Reyes was not a great leadoff man in part because "his on-base percentage is not that great." Then Guillen bats the hapless Gorkys Hernandez leadoff instead. See, not a great tactician.
But if there is one thing that Guillen can do, it is light a fire under a team and at least force effort. As hilarious as Guillen's Twitter comments often are when written in English, there is no doubt that he has a certain charisma to him that allows him to be a leader, or as much of a leader as 25 grown men can allow him to be. If he were not that type of manager, he would have never earned the sort of fame he did in Chicago. Rest assured, if anyone faltered or slacked in the 2012 season, Guillen was almost certainly on their case. Recall that recently, Guillen called out Logan Morrison for his supposed mishandling of his knee injury. In calling out Morrison and the situation, he made some strict comments about the odds of any player who mismanaged an injury that led to his losing Spring Training time possibly not having a job. This is a classic example of Guillen being strict with his players to motivate them to do better.
"Rival evaluators of the Marlins" could not know what goes on in the clubhouse when the games are not on TV or in front of us at Marlins Park. From the few glimpses we have seen of Guillen in Showtime's "The Franchise," his charisma seems to be enough to get players to buy in to what the team is doing. We have seen him be sometimes unnecessarily harsh on players, but we have also seen him be very supporting and protective of his team. But we cannot know for sure about just how Guillen leads his club unless we are inside the clubhouse, so why blame him for these problems?
The other reason why Guillen should probably keep his job is simply a financial one. The Marlins owe Guillen $7.5 million over the next three years to manage the team. Firing him means that $7.5 million will be paying for no services to the team. In addition, the Marlins would have to hire another manager, and knowing this organization, they may look for yet another big name after years of wading through tiny managerial fish. So why should the Marlins pay upwards of $5 million a year on managers who will provide little difference in benefit?
How can I know for sure that the difference will be minimal? Well, in terms of strategy, few managers will embrace a statistical approach to the game, and that pool is a lot smaller when you consider the non-statistical bent of the Marlins organization. Hiring any other manager is not likely to lead to significantly better lineup building or bullpen management; I doubt any move would be worth more than a win in the record books. And as for the clubhouse component, the only way to truly know is to find out to what the Marlins' players would better respond. Guillen is clearly a hot-headed manager, but would the Marlins better respond to a quieter approach? If you ask the ownership, part of the problem in 2010 and 2011 was that Edwin Rodriguez and Fredi Gonzalez were indeed too quiet. I do not know how much of a problem that was, but the organization knows the players' mindsets more than I do.
So what does firing Guillen and hiring yet another fresh face accomplish? It changes very little on the field tactically while changing an unknown amount off the field emotionally. And for that, the Marlins would have to pay both managers' salaries! Why waste money on unknown benefits? The Marlins made their bed, and until they can be certain there is a tangible difference, changing managers is merely a method of designating a scapegoat. We all want someone to blame for 2012's debacle, but the truth is that everyone is to blame in part.