It was only eight months, but the Miami Marlins aborted their immediate 2012 to 2014 gameplan for a changed approach based on a struggling 2012 season. Gone are Hanley Ramirez and Omar Infante, two parts who figured to stick around for a good deal of that time period, and in come a slew of young players to replace them. It is a fire sale all over again.
No, the Marlins did not sell off the team in the sort of over-the-top, spectacular fashion they did in 1997 and in 2006. The trades of Infante, Anibal Sanchez, and Ramirez were reasonable moves. Dealing relievers like Edward Mujica and Randy Choate were the sort of plays a non-competing team would make. Trading Gaby Sanchez was an attempt to get any value from him without triggering his Super Two status. This was, by no means, a fire sale.
But the Marlins have struggled in 2012, and it seems the front office is lamenting some of its so-called mistakes of the offseason. At least that is the sentiment David Samson is sharing.
"We set ourselves up for it,’’ acknowledged Marlins president David Samson of a grand makeover that failed miserably. "We paraded around Dallas. We signed those guys. We opened a new ballpark. We said we’re ‘all in.’ ’’
The team’s biggest mistake, Samson said: overestimating the team’s talent level and believing it to be a playoff contender that would lead to the Marlins’ first postseason appearance in nine years. Instead, the Marlins struggled simply to stay afloat.
But as Grant Brisbee asks, did the Marlins really overestimate their talent, or did the team simply not play up to what our expectations were?
You see, a lot of parties thought the Marlins were going to be pretty good. It was not just me who predicted the team would make the Wild Card. Twenty-nine of the "experts" ESPN asked to do preseason predictions guessed that the Marlins would make the playoffs. And it was not just the John Kruks of the world. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs thought the team would make the playoffs. Dan Szymborski, who runs the ZiPS projection system, guessed that too. So did Jonah Keri of Grantland. A lot of people, smart people, thought this team would be good.
You know why? Because it should have been good, based on what we knew before the season. And that's why I cannot blame the front office for doing what they did this offseason in going "all-in." Because as far as they knew heading into 2012, they were right.Hindsight is 20/20
Marlins fans and media need to lose the 20/20 vision known as hindsight. It is easy now, after the Fish struggled through another ugly June, to say that the team obviously was not going anywhere. It is easy to point at a 50-60 team and say "that team clearly isn't any good, what were they thinking?"
But the lens of the preseason said different things. With so many parties expecting a potential Marlins playoff berth, you had to believe that there were legitimate reasons for expecting good performance. Going into the 2012 season, the Marlins had talent that was projected to be good. The Fish boasted maybe two below-average players in their starting lineup. At worst, two of their starting pitchers were slightly below average, but still at the level one would expect from a fourth or fifth starter. This team had a good number of things going for it in terms of projections. Here is what we projected for the team before the season began:
Total Projection (Position Players): 26.5 WAR
Total Projection (Pitchers): 18.0 WAR
Total Projection: 44.5 WAR
Estimated W-L Record: 87-75
This is not out of line with what the so-called experts also said. In fact, this guess lined up fairly nicely in the "Marlins contend for Wild Card" storyline that many people in baseball probably expected.
Obviously the Marlins did not hit their projections. But as we have been saying all season long, they did not just miss their projections by a little. It is not as if a player or two missed their reasonable pre-season estimates. Everyone missed their projections. Five out of the team's eight regular hitters hit below expectations, with a few of them costing us ten or more runs from their expected preseason marks. When you are losing up to 10 or 15 runs on three players and losing runs on two more, it is no wonder your offense is among the worst in baseball.
But the fact that we expected them to be better means the front office could not blame themselves entirely on their failures. Going into the season, they saw a group that could contend with the better offenses in baseball, and that should have happened. The fact that it did not puts the onus on the underachieving players as much as the front office that put them together.
Yes, Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill, David Samson, Jeffrey Loria, and the entire cast of decision makers on the Marlins should not be absolved for assembling a team that did this poorly. But it is not as though they had reason to believe it would do this poorly, because the expectations were rightfully high based on the numbers. The players, it turns out, underachieved and were probably a bit less talented than we thought they were going into the year, but there was no way any front office could have foreseen the staggering number of on-field failures this Marlins team has undergone in 2012.
It Had To Be Done
There is another argument that is just as important as the argument that the Marlins, on paper and after crunching the numbers, had assembled a playoff contender that in the end did not play like one. The Marlins had to do this to drum up interest. It was the right move from a public relations standpoint as well as a baseball standpoint. Did the Marlins front office honestly have a choice with all of their discussion that the new stadium would bring revenue that would allow the Marlins to spend more money and be legitimate free agent market players? Could the team really have gone by the 2013 offseason without making a few splash signings?
No, even the most diehard Marlins fans (and there a select few) would not have embraced years of promises that a new stadium would bring legitimate changes to how this team was run, only to see the team run in a similar cheapskate fashion. The fans already felt shafted by the new stadium deal; a sign of "the more things change, more they stay the same" would have been disastrous publicly for a Marlins team that wanted to re-brand and identify itself with Miami. In order to do that, the Marlins had to make a splash, and they did so and did it (for the most part) responsibly and intelligently.
No Regrets (Or Some Regrets?)
Did the Marlins do everything right in the offseason? Clearly not, and it does not take more than a cursory glance at this blog's offseason posts to see that the team's moves were not all well-received. But was the general plan correct? Absolutely. The team's plan was to fill three holes with appropriate free agent signings and hope that regression to the mean would give the Marlins more wins from Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson. The team expected its veterans to stay mostly on course and its young players to improve a little. If these things happened, the Marlins would be in contention.
When all of your plan goes down the drain, some of that eventually has to be your fault for perhaps overestimating the talent on the team. But for this much to go catastrophically wrong, it takes more than just misjudgment from the front office; the players did their share of failing to achieve what was reasonably expected of them. But because the plan was right and the idea was sound, the Marlins should not regret what they did. Their reasoning was right. Their calculations were right. When they got on the field, all hell broke loose. They shoulder some of the blame, but to say they made grievous errors in judgment for actions that they basically had to make both for baseball and publicity would be wrong.