clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Miami Marlins and the Fire Sale Myth of 2012

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

A lot of the reason why the Marlins are rumored to be in "fire sale" mode is because of Jeffrey Loria's sordid past. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
A lot of the reason why the Marlins are rumored to be in "fire sale" mode is because of Jeffrey Loria's sordid past. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

It does not take long for outsiders away from the Miami Marlins organization and fan base to cry foul the second the team does, well, anything. That includes trading players, because the second the Marlins make trades, especially of a recognizable name like Hanley Ramirez, people are fast to jump on the "another Marlins fire sale" bandwagon. There were many examples of this, but I jumped on Tom Ley of Deadspin's because we discussed the annoyance of some of Deadspin's writers with the Marlins before. Here is Ley's disjointed piece about how the Marlins "deserve" their misfortunes.

None of it is really quotable on its own, because it doesn't provide a rational argument, but it does lend itself to some Fire Joe Morgan-style commentary, so let's try a reasonable version of that like we did with Jack Dickey's first piece after April.

Having now traded away infielder and former franchise cornerstone Hanley Ramirez, second baseman Omar Infante, and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez, it appears that the Miami Marlins are in full fire-sale mode. This impression is further compounded by Josh Johnson's rumored residence on the trading block.

This goes back to the idea that the Marlins are committing to a "fire sale" when in reality, they were trading away a starter they were not planning on re-signing (Sanchez), an average or a little better second baseman, and a former franchise cornerstone who was going to be paid $38.5 million over the next two-plus seasons with declining play from 2011 to 2012. As Dave Cameron of FanGraphs noted yesterday, these were not team-breaking decisions but rather smart baseball moves.

What the Marlins have done in the past three days is trade two months of a pitcher they probably weren’t going to re-sign, a year and a half of an average second baseman, and an overpaid underachiever who most teams wouldn’t have even claimed on waivers. As Knobler notes, the Marlins were willing to pick up half of Ramirez’s salary to trade him to Oakland, and Billy Beane was hesitant to even pull the trigger at that price. This wasn’t so much a fire sale as it was an inventory closeout of unwanted goods.

So what does that tell you? Perception is not reality when it comes to writers who are not tied to the Marlins. As we saw earlier in the offseason, the Marlins elicit hate and loathing regardless of what they do, so even when the team makes responsible baseball decisions, people jump on them for selling off their talent.

Were the Marlins supposed to just pay those players? Does being a competitive team mean that you pay players you do not feel are worth their contract because you need to sustain a higher payroll, talent be damned? As we've mentioned before, if the Marlins were not likely to sign Sanchez to a long-term deal, trying to flip him into a future asset who could contribute in 2013 would be a good thing. If the club felt like Ramirez could not contribute up to the value of his contract, shedding the deal and getting a return and trying to use that money elsewhere would be a good thing.

But no, fire sale, fire sale, fire sale.

Now, trading away large portions of the starting lineup is nothing new for the Marlins. This team has long gutted its roster with penny-pinching trades the moment it triumphs. After winning a championship in 1997, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, and Gary Sheffield vanished. After another title in 2003, Derrek Lee, Brad Penny, Pudge Rodriguez, Josh Beckett, and Mike Lowell left. Miguel Cabrera soon followed them out of town. This was the Marlins' strange eternal life cycle. Develop young talent, win World Series on the backs of said young talent, immediately trade away young talent.

The writer here displays his lack of knowledge of the Marlins. Following the 2003 World Series, only Ivan Rodriguez and Derrek Lee were replaced, with the remainder of the 2003 team intact in 2004. Derrek Lee was dealt for Hee Seop Choi, who was as good as Lee was for the half season he played on the team. Brad Penny was traded int eh middle of 2004 in a deal to acquire Paul Lo Duca because the Marlins wanted an All-Star catcher for the stretch run and figured it had pitching depth (it turned out to be a mistake deal). Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell were traded after 2005 in the team's actual pre-2006 fire sale.

As noted, the writer knew nothing of the aftermath of the 2003 World Series. But no, fire sale fire sale fire sale.

But 2012 was supposed to change all that! The Marlins had finally gotten their new stadium, a new name and uniforms, and for the first time in their history, they had invested in the offseason free-agent market. They made a serious play for Albert Pujols, and, even though they missed out, they came away with Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, and Heath Bell. This year was going to be a treat for "Marlins fans," a term historically used to refer to Mets fans who had retired to Boca.

Hanley would bounce back. So would Carlos Zambrano. Giancarlo Stanton would climb further, slip-free. Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison would hit well to round things out. Bell would make everyone forget Leo Nunez (or whomever). And the technicolor whirligig would rise every night.

Yes, every team does have a plan before the season for success. What's your point? The fact that there were high expectations for the Marlins heading into the season had nothing to do with being super-hyped. It had everything to do with their plan being fairly sound. Add Reyes and Buehrle to replace two spots that housed replacement level fodder. Predict Hanley Ramirez to bounce back after an injury-riddled season. Bank on a healthy campaign by Josh Johnson. Expect young hitters to do as well as if not better than last season. A lot of teams have that type of plan.

Of course, things haven't gone according to that plan. The Marlins are a lame 45-51. Hanley has struggled, and so has Zambrano. Stanton got hurt. Gaby Sanchez went back to triple-A, and Logan Morrison should have. And Heath Bell can't even close as well as a position player.

Bad things happen to teams. Five out of the team's eight regular starters drastically under-performed their projections. Even if you thought Ramirez was going to repeat his poor performance (and it is hard to tell what this author thinks of that, because he seems to think the Marlins were not going to succeed yet supports the team keeping Ramirez solely because he is expensive), it was impossible to guess that Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez, and John Buck would also flop in epic proportions. The Marlins may have been wrong on their players' talent levels (so too, apparently, were numerous projection systems), but they could not have been this wrong.

But this is exactly what they deserve. Loria splurged on talent only after swindling the citizens of Miami into footing 80 percent of the bill for his monstrous stadium. He murdered baseball in Montreal, and he did it all to write a pretentious love note to Joan Miro. The man hasn't done right by anyone since Charles Schulz retired.

Ah, here is the source of hatred, Jeffrey Loria. Loria is a man who has done many things wrong as owner of two different franchises. The idea that he killed baseball in Montreal is well established. He clearly perpetrated his own fire sale before 2006. He swindled money from the taxpayers of Miami for a new stadium. No one has ever disputed these things. In fact, I said these things long ago, when Al Yellon of Baseball Nation was professing his own anger about the Marlins and I had to respond.

A lot of the Marlins hate is centered around Loria. When it comes to reprehensible owners, Loria fits the bill perfectly. He orchestrated the second-worst fire sale in the team's history. He deflated payroll an enormous amount. He claimed poverty and swindled tax money from the city of Miami to pay for a stadium. Prior to this, he bullied the Montreal Expos with threats of relocation before getting subsidized to escape Montreal and buy the Marlins, I mean, this is a terrible rap sheet.

But so often, outsiders confuse these problems of the past with baseball moves of the present. When the Marlins were pursuing free agents, outsiders warned that Loria was doing it for show. When they signed them, they mocked Loria for going crazy with the money from the stadium. And when the team makes two mostly logical trades, the evocation of fire sales once again appears in the minds of outsiders, despite no other evidence other than "it's the Marlins, and it's Jeffrey Loria."

The hatred for the Miami Marlins unfortunately stems not from the team's actual performance or moves but from hatred of their owner. As I have said before, you will not find a fan base with more vitriol towards its ownership than the Marlins' fans have towards Jeffrey Loria. But Fish fans can separate between the baseball world and the owner. When a move is made, we don't tie it to the supposedly despicable character of one Jeffrey Loria. For outsiders like Ley, they clearly do.

The Marlins, you see, want to be a big-market franchise in almost every way: big free agents, expensive stadium, organizational backbiting. They just don't want to write the checks.

And now Ley is complaining about cost-cutting when he did not complain about it before. Again, were the Marlins simply supposed to pay for Ramirez if they did not feel he was worth his contract? There is reason to believe that Ramirez is on a downswing rather than on his way back up. The Fish took a gamble and traded him to get out from underneath his contract and possibly utilize that money elsewhere.

This is the key to this move. If the Marlins do no reinvest this money into the team, and if Loria instead gives up and pockets the cash after making these moves, then certainly fans, bloggers, and media have a right to be incensed about the Marlins falling back into old habits. If the payroll does not go anywhere and begins a steep decline, then you can complain. If the team does not do the right thing and extend Giancarlo Stanton, then you can complain. But those things can only be evaluated after the 2013 offseason is over.

Until then, writers like Ley are jumping to conclusions because of their hatred of Jeffrey Loria. When these writers barely even have their facts straight about how the team has been run in the past, how can they make credible arguments that these two logical moves constitute a "fire sale?" They cannot, but because we are on the internet, writers like Ley can jump the gun and write sensationalist pieces like this without abandon.

The truth, behind all of this, is that we don't know if the Marlins are performing a "fire sale" or simply shedding a bad contract. Personally, I'll side with reason and information based on how Loria and the front office has handled contention in the past (see the real handling of the 2003 team), while others can side with hysteria and mass speculation based on their justified dislike for the Marlins' owner.