There has not been a day since late July during which we have not mentioned how disappointing the 2012 season has gone for the Miami Marlins. If it has been pervasive among the fans and readers of Fish Stripes, then you can certainly expect it to be just as disappointing to Jeffrey Loria and the rest of the ownership. Over at MLB.com, Barry M. Bloom has a very insightful interview with team president David Samson that shows some of Samson's concerns and thoughts on the 2012 year and how the new ballpark has handled itself in the first season.
I read through the entire interview and had my own thoughts on the questions and answers posed, so let's go through parts of this interview quote by quote and discuss.
MLB.com: What do you think happened?
Samson: It just spiraled on us. We could just never get into a rhythm in April. And then May came, we were falsely under the impression that we were that good. But internally we knew that we were winning games in a non-sustainable way. And then June happened, and what we thought was true became true.
I cannot imagine that the Marlins honestly believed that they were a 20-win-a-month team, but the month of May was not so crazy that it was any more unimaginable as any other hot month during a season. The Marlins got through May by having three hitters hit better than expectations and the pitching staff succeed in a big way. But if the team honestly thought it was always going to have Giancarlo Stanton hit that well, then the analysis side of the team is more delusional than ever.
But it seems they knew they were not the May team. The idea that they were winning in non-sustainable way is an interesting concept. Yes, the Marlins went 8-3 in one-run games, but tons of teams have done much better; in fact, the Baltimore Orioles' entire magical season is based on unsustainable one-run game performance. They were never going to win like May, but saying that the June team was the true team is wrong as well.
MLB.com: So what do you like about the way the ballpark played out?
Samson: I think the fans took advantage of all the experiences. They walk around and they see a real baseball game. In years past, if we were out of the race, we'd have 2,000, 3,000 people at a game. Now we're drawing 25,000. Do I wish we were drawing 35,000? Sure. But when you're drawing in the 20s this time of year in the position we're in, new ballpark or not, you can't complain.
We're the last of the new ballparks. We knew the honeymoon would be five innings. It turned out the honeymoon was a single pitch. But we were not surprised by the length of the honeymoon, because we expected it. We built a ballpark to be sustainable -- to keep fans interested year after year after year, not just for a month.
There is a lot of discussion about how disappointing the attendance increase is for the Miami Marlins in 2012. A lot has been said about how the increase with Marlins Park is the lowest of any new ballpark in the current era. But the truth was that the product on the field has not helped. The Marlins got off to a terrible start in April, and their hot May brought fans back in. But as expected, when your team struggles, fans do not show up in droves like they would otherwise.
In fact, Samson is right in saying that the Marlins should be very happy to see 25,000 a night on a mostly regular basis despite one of the most disappointing seasons in Marlins history. Granted, the Marlins were drawing 21,000 as late as September of last year, when the team had nothing to play for. But it was immediately apparent that while attendance was announced at that much, the fans in attendance did not match those figures. There were countless nights when the Fish played in front of mostly orange seats at Sun Life Stadium with no more than 12,000 in attendance. This time around, if the Marlins are said to have drawn 22,000, the stadium looks like it has that body count within it. Part of that is the illusion the Marlins intended by building a low-capacity park, but part of it is also the increase in general interest in the stadium despite the losing season.
MLB.com: That must give you some solace considering that the play on the field doesn't reflect this facility.
Samson: Everything started off strangely. The logo got leaked, and people went crazy. They said, "Change the logo. It's the worst logo ever. You guys are a disgrace." Meanwhile, our merchandise sells all over the world.
From the first game, everybody said, "Parking is terrible. It'll take forever to get in and out." And now people realize they can come and go at the old Orange Bowl, and there's no problem. There are different roads. Different ways to go. It's almost like people were expecting problems, and the ballpark outperformed everybody's expectations. People just had to learn.
A certain subset of the Marlins fan base was going to have a difficult time accepting this rebranding. The honest truth is that the Marlins ownership tied it to what appeared to be a dirty tax deal with the city of Miami of which a lot of fans did not approve. The fact that they were negative about every aspect just piled on to that fact. Combine that with the general distrust of the ownership and you can see why Marlins fans were so negative.
But, as I have said before, Marlins fans tend to do a very good job of separating the ownership from the team. As a group, we do not trust the ownership necessarily, but it does not mean we do not want the Marlins to succeed. And while many still have some problems with the colors, Samson is right in that all of those concerns dissipated over time as we got used to the change. The same goes for pretty much all of the concerns that came with the rebranding: over time, it did not end up being as big of a problem as we made it out to be.
Would I like the "black and teal" again? Sure, but what we have now is not all bad either. And if it means having a beautiful stadium, so be it.
MLB.com: So how do you fix it moving forward in baseball operations?
Samson: You know, it's a strange game. You make moves that you think are right. You make evaluations. Sometimes they're right and sometimes they're wrong, and that's the nature of the game. I still have a great belief in everybody who works for us that we can make better decisions to put together a team that plays better together.
It's hard to build a team. There's a quality a winning team has. It's hard to put your fingers on what it takes to achieve that. I'm confident we'll keep trying. That I know for sure. We're going to play with pieces of this team. But I still believe we have makings of a good team. You talk about building a team around Jose Reyes and Giancarlo Stanton. Those are two pieces that are hard to find. You need two other pieces at a minimum to be superb in your lineup. We just didn't get that this year. Hopefully next year it will change.
I like this attitude. The team felt, rightly or wrongly, that the core surrounding Reyes and Stanton was not the right core, and they bailed from it and decided to rebuild it rather than stick through a disappointing season without financial flexibility. The fact that the Marlins continue to emphasize Reyes and Stanton as the core of this team assures us that they have no desire to move either player. The question, as always, will be what the team does around those players.
MLB.com: Why did you feel like it was time to get Hanley Ramirez out of here?
Samson: We just realized we couldn't win with him. It was that simple.
MLB.com: Was there any particular reason?
Samson: Hah. I could write a book. Let's see. A picture gets painted. Was there a last stroke of the picture? Maybe losing those [two] games in Chicago after the All-Star break [amid trade rumors that Ramirez was being shipped to Boston]. I thought that was the last stroke of the picture, but the picture hadn't been clear before that moment.
Like Samson said, it just seemed like it was time to part ways with Ramirez. The salary was getting to be its most expensive, and the Marlins felt like he could never return to the type of player who would be worth that salary. If the team can turn around and spend it on a better producer, then the Marlins certainly made the right move to trade Ramirez for value. And while Nathan Eovaldi has not performed well in a Marlins uniform, he was a top 100 prospect before this season and was having a solid season in Los Angeles before the deal, and there is still time to at least turn him into an asset, whether as a starter or a reliever.
MLB.com: So despite the Twitter buzz out there, is [Larry Beinfest's] job safe?
Samson: I think Jeffrey said it right. He's looking at everyone after every season. He looks at all of us -- as he should. He's the owner. It's his job to evaluate all of us. We don't think about that, though. We just go out and do our jobs every single day. It's getting this ballpark. It took us many extra years. You don't worry about how you're being evaluated. You just go out and keep working. And that's what Larry does. He doesn't focus on that stuff. There's a lot behind the scenes that goes on: Running a Minor League operation, a Major League operation, budgets. All kinds of stuff that's part of his job that he does every day.
Samson said he could not imagine not having Larry Beinfest around, but Loria is evaluating all aspects of the team. Those are all perfectly fair points. I would like to point out that, if the Marlins are interested in moving in a different direction after years of service from Beinfest, there is not only a deserving candidate in Dan Jennings at home but a list of other names looking to prove themselves, and those names may have the analytic background that Beinfest lacks and this team desperately needs.
But as readers have mentioned before, if the Marlins do go in a separate direction, they need to do it in full tilt and really evaluate where they stand as an organization in the front office. The Marlins are presumably still behind the eight ball in terms of budget, so they cannot afford to give up any edge to other teams in other aspects of personnel decisions.
MLB.com: For the short term, you'll turn the page on this year's ballclub as soon as the season is over.
Samson: You have to. That's the nature of baseball. What you can't do over is a ballpark. When you build a ballpark, it's here and it stays. With a team that doesn't do well, what is Spring Training, five months away? That's nothing. In a real-world company, they plan three or four years out. We're five months away from a new beginning.
No matter how difficult the Marlins' season has been, they have to put this year behind them and start with another approach as soon as November rolls around. The Fish still have a number of personnel decisions to make, on the field and potentially in the front office. Looking at the rear view mirror and what might have been in 2012 is a fruitless endeavor. The team needs to get past the struggles of this year, identify and learn from their mistakes, and continue to plan ahead for years to come. It is the only way that Marlins fans will continue to return to the beautiful new Marlins Park in the future, so the onus is on the ownership to try and right the ship that they intentionally tilted over as it creaked louder and louder in mid-2012.