Fire sale. Salary dump. Teardown. Dismantling.
Take your pick.
To untrusting Marlins fans, they’re the words that never seem to go away, tearing at their faith in a seemingly endless cycle of payroll cuts and crushing of spirits as stars and hometown heroes are bartered off in one unpopular trade after another.
That’s been the team’s history.
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“Marlins fans have gotten more punches in the gut than just about any other fan base,” said former major league general manager Steve Phillips.
And now they’re absorbing another.
The Marlins’ position players were good enough to go to the World Series. Had they had the resources to go build a starting rotation around it, that would have been the best tack because this team could have won.
Jim Bowden, former general manager who now does TV and radio baseball analysis
The Marlins traded three former All-Stars — Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna — over a seven-day talent purge designed to reduce payroll and rebuild an anemic farm system.
“It’s as difficult for me as it is for the fan base,” said Derek Jeter, the Marlins’ new part owner and chief executive officer. “From the fan’s standpoint, I get it. They’re upset.”
But Jeter and those in baseball say the moves were necessary.
When Jeter and principal owner Bruce Sherman took over from Jeffrey Loria in early October after buying the Marlins for $1.2 billion, they inherited a team that was reportedly losing money, hadn’t produced a winning season in eight years and hadn’t reached the playoffs since 2003.
“I feel for Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman because the response from the fans was predictable,” Phillips said. “If you’re going to trade Stanton and Gordon and Ozuna, yeah, they’re not going to be happy. They knew that. Yet they still did it because they knew they had to do it.”
The Marlins went 77-85 last season with a franchise-record $115 million roster that could hit and field but couldn’t pitch. The Marlins ranked fifth in the National League in runs scored and led the majors in fielding percentage. But the starters ranked 13th of 15 NL teams in ERA.
“The Marlins’ position players were good enough to go to the World Series,” said Jim Bowden, another former GM who now does television and radio baseball analysis. “Had they had the resources to go build a starting rotation around it, that would have been the best tack because this team could have won and could have won quick. They didn’t have the resources to do that.”
What has been in place has not been working. It’s evident it has not been working. We need to fix that. We just can’t continue to dig ourselves a bigger hole.
Derek Jeter, the Marlins’ new part owner and chief executive officer
They didn’t have the money to do that, in other words — not with a poor revenue stream created by lousy attendance, lack of sponsorships, one of the worst local TV deals in the majors, and their inability to sell naming rights to a ballpark that opened in 2012.
Nor did the Marlins have reinforcements to call on from a farm system that ranked as the worst in the majors in terms of prospects, the product of poor drafts and Loria’s short-term strategy of patching up the big-league roster by trading off what little talent existed until the cupboard was bare.
“What has been in place has not been working,” Jeter said. “It’s evident it has not been working. We need to fix that. We just can’t continue to dig ourselves a bigger hole.”
The Marlins went 77-85 last season with a franchise-record $115 million roster that could hit and field, but couldn’t pitch.
Had new ownership chosen to keep last year’s roster intact, hanging on to Stanton and the others, payroll would have increased to about $140 million, which would have ranked 15th in the majors based on last season’s team payroll figures.
“The alternative was to keep the outfield intact, play .500 ball, finish in third place and draft in the middle of the draft order,” Bowden said.
Former Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell, who now provides analysis on MLB Network, said the team’s near-.500 finishes might have creased a misguided sense that the Marlins were on the cusp of success.
“That’s almost worse than being terrible,” Lowell said. “And I think that delays your philosophy because you think one more piece and you’re there, where really you’re four or five pieces away. Some change had to be made.”
The consensus within the previous Marlins’ front office was to begin a teardown and rebuild a year ago, mirroring the process used by the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros. Both of those teams suffered through lean years (the Astros lost at least 100 games during one recent three-year stretch) before blossoming into World Series champions.
“How did Houston get there? How did the Cubs get there?” Bowden asked. “They knocked it down and started from the bottom. This is what they’re doing. They’re doing the right thing. They had no choice.”
Said Phillips: “I think they have to do it. They bought a franchise that was being run beyond its means. And so I don’t think it mattered who bought the team.”
The moves have created a fan backlash, though, and Jeter has taken the brunt of criticism.
13thThe Marlins’ ERA rank out of 15 National League teams
“I know they’re calling him Jeffrey Loria II,” Bowden said. “But he’s doing it the right way. He’s building a class organization from the bottom up. So is there pain for the next five to seven years? Absolutely.”
Phillips said fans need to be patient and judge Jeter by the final results.
“You only get one shot at a first impression,” Phillips said. “You don’t get it back. And it certainly hasn’t gone the way they would have liked. But Derek Jeter is a guy who made 56 errors [his first minor-league season] and figured it out. So I would not be one to bet against Derek Jeter.
“They’re asking for patience from a fan base that doesn’t want to give it. I completely get it. But, within this process, I think there’s reason to have some hope. It’s just hard to feel that right now.”