The Miami Marlins have had a mixed offseason in terms of successes and failures before the 2014 campaign. On the one hand, they made a smart move to pick up Jarrod Saltalamacchia for three years at very affordable prices. On the other hand, they commited two years to a potentially replacement-level player in Garrett Jones. For Marlins fans, you have to find some of their moves good and some of their moves puzzling at best.
The one thing that Fish fans can be happy about is that, regardless of the quality of the moves, it does seems as though they are being primarily made by the front office of president of baseball operations Michael Hill and general manager Dan Jennings and not necessarily by historically meddlesome owner Jeffrey Loria. As per Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:Among the positives to emerge from the Marlins’ front-office changes: Owner Jeffrey Loria has such faith in his executives that for the first time, he has been deferring to them on baseball decisions.
"He’s far happier with the baseball department now," a friend of Loria said. "They presented him with a plan and he has agreed to everything."
Loria has ordered many moves in the past – everything from significant (such as pursuing Jose Reyes and John Buck and giving a three-year deal to Heath Bell) to minor ones (demoting Chris Volstad, not promoting journeyman Chris Valaika after last summer's Tino Martinez fiasco). But he hasn’t demanded anything this offseason, according to an official who has spoken to the Marlins’ front office.
For Marlins fans well familiar with Loria's meddling ways, this is a relative sigh of relief. Fans should be tired of seeing Loria get in the way of the folks he hired to run his franchise's player personnel. Former president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest supposedly ran into ever-increasing resistance from Loria for many of his personnel moves. As they continued to butt heads, the situation almost certainly led to a rumored fractured front office, with Beinfest and Hill picking sides against Loria and his prized pupil Jennings on various issues.
That sort of lack of continuity and environment of mistrust could have caused the Marlins harm when team-building over the last three years, and that could have contributed in part to the three consecutive disappointing campaigns the Fish have put up. Now, however, it seems that ousting Beinfest has left Loria at more ease.
Loria still sits in the meetings and gives opinions but has apparently concluded, at least so far, that he needs to let his baseball people do their jobs. The staff is now headed up by president of baseball operations Michael Hill, general manager Dan Jennings and three new hires.
The Marlins now have a sense of a singular plan with a functional group of leaders working together towards a common goal. Yes, Hill and Jennings are not paid to agree with each other, but each will approach the question of player personnel with strong, but diverse scouting backgrounds and a more analytic bent than Loria ever could as a baseball fan and an art dealer. By allowing his baseball people to run the show, he will let them make better decisions about improving the franchises's lot while at the same time unifying the front office leadership under the correct style of management. Rather than perhaps answering not only to the more analytical Hill and Jennings and the emotionally-influenced Loria, the folks who work in the player development and personnel departments can focus on what one of their bosses would like.
It is difficult to tell how much of that is helping Miami. After all, even with this so-called cohesion, Miami still agreed to sign Garrett Jones to a two-year contract. The Marlins could probably use more purely statistical analysis in order to introduce newer ideas and new viewpoints to their work. But this approach is still leaps and bounds better than having to also work in the desires of a fickle owner who does not have an eye on the long-term.
Having said that, it is easy for Loria to recline from his meddling ways when the team is not playing and just made some decent, well-meaning splashes on the free agent market. What will happen this season when the Marlins inevitably begin losing again and players whom Loria allowed against what he felt was his better judgment do not perform well? Can Loria continue to trust the long-term vision of Hill and Jennings, whatever long-term vision that may be, and avoid tearing down the roster a la 2012 all over again?
That question remains unanswered, but the Marlins can only benefit from this early positivity. We will keep an eye on this interaction going forward in a losing 2014 season.
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