The new Miami Marlins owners knew what they were getting into. North American sports franchises are generally money-printing machines, but there’s often more to the story whenever one becomes available.
After decades of carefully managing his angelic image, Derek Jeter has been roundly demonized—by fans and media members alike—for a series of cost-cutting moves during his first few months at the helm. Dismissals of non-playing personnel who held advisory roles within the front office and broadcasted the games for FOX Sports Florida were intended to disassociate his team from the old regime. All the recognizable stars on the current Marlins roster are reportedly on the trading block, too (most notably Giancarlo Stanton).
And frankly, it’s hard to blame Jeter: he inherited a business that was already in the depths of “payroll hell,” as Dan Szymborski writes for ESPN.com (Insider subscription required and recommended). None of the 30 MLB teams more desperately needs to press the reset button, in Szymborski’s estimation.
However, while that’s technically the responsible long-term approach, botched rebuilding plans of the past have left fans understandably concerned:
“But what makes the Marlins the most doomed team in baseball is the poetic Dante-like punishment they receive, in that the very thing they need to do to have the best shot at long-term success is the thing that they cannot do if they're ever to develop a Marlins fan base in Miami: a fire sale. For any other team with the facts on the ground, you'd likely see the team go "Full Astros" and do what teams such as the White Sox have been doing and make a clean sweep. That's a much worse option in Miami after successive fire sales have left the area nearly disinterested in the product.”
With low projected home attendance in 2018 and a subpar regional television deal still in effect, the Marlins seem desperate to shed every dollar possible off their operating costs with the hopes of turning a profit. ESPN’s Buster Olney confirmed as much:
Some rival evaluators who have spoken to the Marlins on Stanton say their sense is Miami's priority in trade proposals is moving his salary, and that adding talented players in return is the secondary concern.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 2, 2017
Of course, you don’t want that information out in the open. The Marlins have spent several weeks engaged with the San Francisco Giants in Stanton negotiations, and the Giants wielded their leverage by initially pushing an underwhelming offer. It wasn’t until the past few days that they finally indicated a willingness to include desirable assets in the return package (prospects Christian Arroyo and Heliot Ramos have been reportedly mentioned).
Miami lacks impact pitching talent that would help wannabe contenders, but there ought to be widespread interest in the position player department. Szymborski notes that—based of Wins Above Replacement—Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna combined to form one of the most productive outfields of the past generation. Speedy second baseman Dee Gordon also represents an upgrade for several teams with buying aspirations.
It’s been an offseason of inactivity around baseball, so the Marlins as currently constructed would actually enter next year with an increased payroll. Look for that to dramatically change at next week’s Winter Meetings.