The Miami Marlins and Giancarlo Stanton are headed for an inevitable impasse in the coming years. The Fish are going to have to try and sign Stanton to a long-term deal, but such a deal at this point is essentially going for free agent dollars. The Marlins have never spent the kind of money that will be required to acquire a player like Stanton, so the Fish are likely to see him leave south Florida one way or another. Stanton, on the other hand, wants the team to be competitive and to make the necessary changes to add to the franchise before he chooses whether to commit to Miami or bolt.
The Marlins, of course, have a long history of failing to provide that sort of competitive promise. The franchise has rarely ever put in the necessary resources to be a truly competitive team. Miami has depended on cheap labor via team-controlled assets for a vast majority of its lifetime as a franchise. Only very recently have the Fish wisely spent on medium-range contracts to buff up their existing roster. When the Marlins had their best chance to compete in 2009, the franchise traded one of its more productive hitters and tolerated a below-replacement performance for more than half a season before finding a replacement via the trade market. A better-run franchise may have picked up that medium-term asset to add a win or two to its weaker positions, but Miami failed to capitalize until it was too late.
When the Fish tried to do a radically different team-building process in 2012, it made a series of splashy moves and found itself struggling through a very difficult June. When profits were not at their desired level, Miami traded off its various assets in reasonable moves that eventually stripped the Major League cupboard bare. While the moves made baseball sense, they also broke a significant trust barrier between the franchise and owner Jeffrey Loria and the players who would consider the Marlins in future negotiations. One of those players was undoubtedly Stanton, who saw that situation first-hand.
A Local Comparison
The Marlins have stumbled multiple times in the last few years, and now it appears they will have to either make a move with Stanton or watch him walk in free agency for nothing. A similar situation happened recently with another south Florida team, the Miami Heat. The Heat found themselves disappointing its best player, Lebron James, right at the cusp of his free agency. However, when the Big Three opted out of their contracts signed in 2010, the overwhelming thought was that James would return to Miami, because the franchise had a "winning culture" and a competent infrastructure already in place. It had an owner that was willing to go a fair amount of the distance to provide for the team, a general manager who was shrewd in his decision making, and a coach whom James could trust to make him successful.
Of course, James left, for reasons that seemingly went beyond basketball. The situation with the Cleveland Cavaliers may indeed have been better, but the Heat had a shot at retaining its best player. But once that player disappeared, you had to figure Miami was left in shambles. But hours later, Chris Bosh re-signed a five-year, max-level contract with the Miami Heat, and within the week the team had recouped a roster primarily built of talent it had last season. Most of its free agents re-upped with the franchise even though it was long suspected that the Heat would lose Bosh and much of the rest of the crew because Lebron took their title chances to Cleveland.
Why did Bosh and company re-sign with the Heat? Living in Miami has a large part to do with it. So does all the money that was thrown their way. But I would be willing to guess that a good amount of it had to do with how the Heat, as an organization, represent themselves as "classy." They provide for their own, have a strong organizational infrastructure that is focused on winning and is willing to provide for that winning, and follows through on their word. The Heat did not sit on their laurels in 2010 and worked to evolve their roster to fit the Big Three's needs. Bosh could have moved on to another very likely winning situation with the Houston Rockets, but he opted for the stability of the Heat organization instead.
Building That With the Marlins
Building that kind of base with the Marlins may prove difficult. The economics of baseball are clearly different, so the comparison is not a one-to-one thing. Indeed, the games are different too; no one player can fully bring a baseball team to the playoffs like a Lebron James can do in basketball. But the Marlins has done the exact opposite of what the Heat have done in convincing their talent that the Fish will do what it takes to win games. The Marlins have consistently eschewed upgrades at positions of clear need in favor of weaker young talent. When they have looked for upgrades, they have been of the stopgap veteran variety, with guys like Rafael Furcal who are not going to move the needle in any direction.
The Marlins had serious issues at multiple positions heading into this season and only really addressed one with any certainty. Shortstop and second base remain critical needs, but the franchise punted those positions in 2014. And thus another season with Stanton at or near his prime was wasted, even despite the hot start.
Unless drastic (and likely irresponsible) moves are made in the next year or so, the Marlins likely do not have enough time to convince Giancarlo Stanton to stay in Miami. Much like Lebron James, he may want to leave in free agency. Unlike the Heat, it feels unlikely that the Marlins would even put up a fight to keep him by making a competitive free agency contract offer. But the Heat lost James as well. The difference is how the Marlins will handle the situations of Jose Fernandez and Christian Yelich after Stanton. Will those players be seen as cornerstones? Will the Marlins be willing to spend around them to get closer to contention? Or will the Fish waste those years like they tossed out Hanley Ramirez's and Josh Johnson's best seasons in 2009? Will the front office show a respectable five-year plan for pushing the Marlins to contention? Will the team be aggressive and intelligent in utilizing its resources to buy Fernandez and Yelich a chance?
Or will those two bolt when the time comes, much like Bosh was expected to leave just a week ago? Sometimes, a player is destined to leave. But what the franchise can do for those that are on the fence is the difference between a winning organization and one that might continue to struggle.