Hitting the reset button wouldn’t be a bad business or baseball move if anybody trusted the people running the Marlins in any way. Cheap, young failure is better than expensive, old failure when rebuilding, which the Marlins absolutely had to do after last year’s calamity. The team had to cut costs given that their ballpark drew more poorly than any new ballpark ever, and it didn’t make any financial or business sense to let go of just a few obligatory guys with that cutting and keeping only, say, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle while trying to win in a division that includes the one-two punch of Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, the Upton-brothers-adding Braves and the Phillies payroll. You are looking at an expensive and inefficient fourth place that way even in the wild-card era.
You can’t cut costs and keep an injury-prone, unreliable Josh Johnson when he has trade value, is in a contract year and is about to get a lot more than the $80 million given to Sanchez. The Red Sox did something similar to what the Marlins did, gutting everything and starting over, even firing the manager after a single calamitous season, but the difference in perception is that Red Sox management can be trusted to try at every turn and re-spend money saved. Problem here is that you are entrusting the solutions to the same people who caused the problems, which is like fixing your weight problem while walking on a treadmill while eating ice cream and fudge.
The customers don’t trust anybody in charge to do any job correctly, to fix this with leadership or vision. Paying Heath Bell, Ozzie Guillen and John Buck millions upon millions to go away when you are cash-strapped is an absurdity. You’d get the same return on that mountain of millions if you set fire to it in center field. Replenishing your farm system with prospects when your farm system is barren because you have been so bad for a decade at correctly predicting the success of prospects feels like an oasis to the desert parched. You don’t trust this management team to fix this in free agency or in the draft or through trades or in the minor leagues, and that doesn’t leave any other options. You’ve struck out in a pretty huge way when you have a perception problem and a reality problem.
You know what would help? Giving Giancarlo Stanton a long-term deal. And you can bet the Marlins would have spent that newspaper-ad money on that if they could have, and it would have at least bought them something other than rage. But here’s the problem: There is no way he is signing anything here. That faith fracture has trickled down from the fans to the employees. And so the Marlins will be forced to trade him, which will unleash the cycle of distrust and outrage all over again, the Marlins leading the league only in reopening this particular scab again and again.
Arrogance used to be the fastest way to unpopularity in sports, a sin even greater than actual illegalities like domestic violence and drunk driving, but it seems to have been replaced by lying — a fan base’s faith to be treated like a fragile treasure. Ochocinco and Terrell Owens and Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, guilty of being full of themselves, used to get killed in Q ratings, but they’ve been replaced by people who have lied to us recently. Manti Te’o. Lance Armstrong. Tiger Woods. No one in the history of South Florida sports has angered the locals the way Nick Saban did. The Marlins tried to set the record straight last week with their version of the truth, but it was drowned out by all the howling. Tough as the upcoming baseball seasons will be, cheap youngsters going up against big payrolls in a loaded division, it isn’t nearly as difficult as this promises to be going forward:
Convincing paying customers you are honest when they have never been more sure that you are not to be trusted.