Charlie Finley, the Oakland A’s colorful and equally controversial owner during the 1970s, once tried to sell off three of his top players to Boston and New York for $3.5 million — a large sum in those days.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn nixed the deal, invoking the “best interest of baseball” clause that gave him the authority to intercede. In the aftermath of the Marlins’ latest fire sale, there are some who wish current MLB commissioner Bud Selig would follow suit and nullify the team’s 12-player swap with the Blue Jays.
Don’t count on it.
“I do think that the commissioner is always concerned when there’s an appearance of a fire sale, or of an owner giving up,” said sports economist Andrew Zimbalist. “But I don’t think this is a battle that Selig would choose to fight.”
Zimbalist, who authored the book In the Best Interests of Baseball: The Revolutionary Reign of Bud Selig, said he doubts the commissioner would use his power to block the trade because of the precedent it might set.
“My guess is that the commissioner, although he will have some concerns, will say it’s up to the team owner to make that decision,” Zimbalist said.
And indications are that Selig will likely do just that and approve the biggest trade, at least in terms of the total number of players involved, in Marlins history.
The Marlins agreed to trade Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck to the Toronto Blue Jays for seven players, most of them young and inexpensive prospects. In the process, the Miami freed itself of more than $160 million in future salary obligations for the five players.
Completion of the deal hinges on player physicals and Selig’s blessing.
Fans are outraged, but they aren’t the only ones. Sources said that some Marlins players — both those who were traded and those left behind — are upset, as well. Stripped of frontline talent, It could be years before the Marlins are regarded as contenders.
When asked for an explanation behind the franchise’s latest sell-off, which comes after just one season in the team’s new ballpark, team owner Jeffrey Loria told a CBSsports.com reporter at the owners’ meetings in Chicago: “We finished in last place. Figure it out.”
“We have to get better,” Loria said. “We can’t finish in last place. We finished in last place. That’s unacceptable. We have to take a new course.”
Said Marlins president David Samson of the roster upheaval on his weekly show on 790 The Ticket with Dan LeBatard: “I think people should feel betrayed by the fact we’re losing so much. And I would think they wouldn’t want us to stand pat and keep losing. We’ve already gone 10 years without making the playoffs, which is too much.”
The Marlins have gutted the roster, shredding what was a franchise-record $95 million team to start the 2012 season and reducing it to a shadow of its former self. Payroll commitments to non-arbitration players for the upcoming season now totals just less than $30 million, and the final payroll figure could come in under $50 million.
And the purge might not be complete. While the Marlins intend to keep slugger Giancarlo Stanton, who is under team control through 2016, they are open to dealing Ricky Nolasco and Logan Morrison. Nolasco is due to make $11.5 million next season.
There’s even a chance they could end up flipping Yunel Escobar, who was among the seven players the Blue Jays sent to the Marlins in Tuesday’s megadeal. The Marlins intend to make Adeiny Hechavarria their shortstop and move Escobar to third — a la Hanley Ramirez — if they don’t end up trading him first.
While many fans are understandably angry over what represents the third major fire sale for the Marlins in the past 15 years, there are those in the sport who believe that, from a purely baseball standpoint, the trade was a good one for both teams.
“I know 99 percent of the people are pounding the Marlins right now,” ESPN analyst Jim Bowden said. “But, if you break it down, it makes sense baseball-wise. When you break down the baseball part of it, they did a lot better than people think.”
Bowden said Johnson, who is entering the final year of his contract, is an injury concern while Buehrle, who is due to receive $47 million over the final three years of his deal, will be turning 34 in March.
“If Johnson goes out next year and his shoulder blows out, you’re not getting anything for him. Zero,” Bowden said. “So there’s risk there. [With Buehrle], it’s a scary thought to have all that money on the books right now at his age. You might not be able to trade either one if you don’t [trade] now. You’re going to get more [for them] today than you’re ever going to get down the road.”
But Bowden said the Marlins will now have a hard time luring free agents after trading all three of the big names — Buehrle, Reyes and Heath Bell — that they landed last year.
“It looks bad, and everybody is going to rip them,” Bowden said. “But I don’t think this was their plan ahead of time. I think it’s the backup plan. They looked at the situation and said ‘Boy, did we screw up. Let’s get these guys off the books.’ ”
Maine, 27, is expected to compete for a bullpen spot in spring training.