Miami Marlins’ front office — not just Ozzie Guillen — is to blame

10/28/2012 12:01 AM

10/28/2012 12:35 AM

The loud middle manager was paid millions to go away last week, creating yet more distrust and negative noise for a franchise that seems to lead the league in both. Running a team this way falls between inefficient and dumb — overspending to acquire mistakes, getting nothing but noisy controversy out of them and then spending future millions in disposal fees. The Yankees can afford this. The Marlins, even with a new ballpark, can’t.

The Marlins will pay Ozzie Guillen and Heath Bell $15.5million the next three years. The only reason that isn’t double what they paid Logan Morrison, Giancarlo Stanton, Emilio Bonifacio, Rob Brantly, Justin Ruggiano and the entire bleeping bullpen last season is because Bell’s bloated contract was still stinking up that bullpen.

That’s awful math and worse business as this team has to cut payroll now because no new ballpark ever has drawn as poorly in its first season as Miami’s did last year. The Marlins are going to pay two people to not work for them next year more than they’ll be paying about half the lineup to play for them.

The Guillen firing, though, is little more than a brutal public-relations hit for a management team that has never much seemed to care much about those. His arrival didn’t help the Marlins, and his departure won’t hurt them. Outside of sports, where we over-worship the idea of leadership, there is no other place in business where we heap this kind of blame and fame upon what is literally a middle manager. In the meritocracy of sports, where your celebrity tends to be proportional to your value, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that general managers, who are so much more important than their uniformed middle managers, don’t get nearly the same acclaim.

Odd thing is, the Marlins know this. It is why they have always treated managers as cheap and disposable as they now move on to their eighth since 2002. That they would discard this philosophy and not only give Guillen more guaranteed money than all but a few players on the roster but also trade two prospects for him is somewhere between inconsistent and stupefying. And the only baseball people in the world who seemed surprised this didn’t work are the people who hired Guillen.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria didn’t get along with steady Fredi Gonzalez and baseball cyborg Joe Girardi, so this marriage was doomed from the start, even before Fidel Castro somehow made an appearance during the honeymoon. If we were to make a list of people least likely to get along with a management team that can’t get along with managers — not a baseball list, not even a modern sports list, but rather a list of all sports leaders throughout the history of games — the name of the reckless and flamboyant Guillen would sit at the very top of it.

But even the Marlins know he was a problem, not the problem. The largest issue is that the scouting department and general manager remained the most stable thing about this entire organization even though the last decade of Marlins first-round picks has been an atrocity. The first round is where you eliminate some of the guesswork in the innately unscientific drafting process — half the players in this year’s All-Star Game were first-round picks — but the best the Marlins have to show so far for a decade’s worth of first-round selections are Jeremy Hermida and Chris Volstad.

That is staggering in its incompetence, even if evaluation is inherently unscientific, even if 24 teams passed on Mike Trout and three rounds went by before anyone took Stanton, and it is the biggest reason the Marlins failed last year even though they hit on two of their big three free agents (Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle). But it is a lot easier to fire one manager than it is to fire your entire management infrastructure. That decade of first-round picks would have gotten an infrastructure fired in most baseball markets, though. In any business, never mind the cutthroat world of sports, a decade of overlooked value gets CEOs unemployed.

The five men who run the Marlins voted unanimously to hire Guillen a year ago. The only positive to retaining him? Continuity. The list of negatives includes a lazy detachment from his job. In that way of his, Guillen said loudly that he didn’t fear a firing because he had his guaranteed money, and then he acted like it. He wasn’t involved in the Hispanic community. He often wasn’t on the field for batting practice. His adult kids were in a uniform on the bench. Didn’t help, either, that major Hispanic sponsors refused to spend on the Marlins as long as he was manager because of the Castro comments. So those same five men voted unanimously to dump him after just one miserable season.

The clubhouse was contaminated in their view, so they paid millions for the disinfectant it would cost to get rid of Hanley Ramirez, Bell and Guillen.

But disinfectant, no matter how expensive, doesn’t work in an enduring fashion if the source of the scent remains unchanged.

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