I’m not sure if the Marlins’ first season in their new ballpark could be going any worse short of the stadium’s retractable roof sliding off its tracks during a game and crashing onto the field with an earth-quaking thud.
(I almost wrote, “short of the new manager praising Fidel Castro,” but I figured the roof collapsing was slightly less preposterous.)
So much excitement last winter as the team hired star manager Ozzie Guillen and signed star shortstop Jose Reyes among others in an uncommon spending spree that positioned Miami as a sure playoff contender.
So much anticipation this spring as the long-awaited new Marlins Park magically replaced interminable rain delays with air-conditioned comfort.
So much excitement, replaced by disappointment.
So much anticipation, unfulfilled.
Now, barely past the All-Star break in Year One of this Grand New Era, the flag flying above the new stadium might as well be a white towel, the kind you wave in surrender — with one concession trade already made and now the team shopping falling star Hanley Ramirez.
The producers of Showtime’s The Franchise series thought they would be chronicling something exciting and fun; instead, they’re televising a train wreck.
The Marlins’ extreme makeover needs a do-over.
The club admitted as much Monday in trading starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez and starting second baseman Omar Infante to contending Detroit in exchange for three highly regarded prospects who — like the Marlins — are not quite major-league-ready.
“Fire sale!” shout disgruntled fans who have seen this movie before, bracing for a small parade out the door marked Exit.
It could happen. When other teams’ scouts are in your park clocking Josh Johnson, it means trade talks have taken place. Johnson in Red Sox clothes before the July 31 trade deadline would not shock, although I would bet against that.
Hanley, though? He is a riskier bet to stay. He’s a walking trade rumor, but, because he’s a walking trade rumor batting .246 with attitude issues, he’s a tougher sell. At least a handful of teams are said to be interested, but Miami must take care to not let it be so much a buyer’s market that they don’t get big value (and hopefully not just prospects) in return. Ramirez’s contract also could make dealing him a problem if the other team expects Miami to absorb too much of the $37 million remaining on it.
The Marlins’ willingness to part with Ramirez for the right price is understandable, though. He has showed three years of diminishing returns. They built this team around Hanley — Guillen reiterated that this spring — but with what to show for it?
The latest Hanley Being Hanley headache invited one to wonder which was more stupefying: That Ramirez would miss games because he cut his hand shoving a dugout fan in anger. Or that he would then miss more games because of an infection because he didn’t take his antibiotics.
Maybe it’s time to untether Hanley, fashion a lineup around Giancarlo Stanton and Reyes and hope that the Grand New Era 2.0 works better than the first version.
Meantime, don’t wring hands too much over Monday’s trade, which made sense for Miami on two levels.
First, it is time to concede this season isn’t playoff-bound and think more of retooling. The wild card is a speck on the horizon. The Marlins just don’t score enough, a malady only accentuated with bright spot Stanton out recovering from knee surgery. This team in fact has been awful save for the aberration of May. Subtract that one shining month and Miami would have lugged a 24-43 record into Tuesday’s game.
Second, the trade itself made sense. Sanchez was a pending free agent they would have lost after this season with nothing in return, and the players most likely to still be traded are those with expiring contracts (such as first baseman Carlos Lee and pitcher Randy Choate). Infante was OK but no remedy for a team shy of run production; he’s a glorified utility guy. If even one of those three Tigers prospects (two pitchers and a catcher) hits big for Miami, the deal looks great in retrospect. And all three are close to MLB-ready.
As for what went wrong with this season, start from the start, with an Opening Day fiasco that seemed to offer an omen. Or a curse.
Remember how all the feel-good was sapped from the building when the sad sight of an incapacitated Muhammad Ali being wheeled slowly to the mound redefined “buzzkill”? (That was just before the club embarrassed itself by having showgirls in feather headdresses accompany players during pregame introductions.)
Guillen’s Fidelgate soon followed.
Then Heath Bell started throwing sticks of dynamite and blowing up leads.
Then all those bats turned into balsa wood with runners in scoring position.
Led by the Bell bust, none of the stars signed before this season has performed up to expectations except starting pitcher Mark Buehrle. And no other Marlins have lived up to their marquee except Stanton.
It is not a good sign that when searching for bright spots in a season gone bad, one is left to look not to the stars but to marvel at the unexpected performance of B-listers such as Justin Ruggiano and Steve Cishek.
Marlins general manager Michael Hill was not wrong when The Franchise cameras recently caught him in a staff meeting saying the team’s stars and veteran players mostly “have crapped all over themselves.”
He was colorful. Blunt. But not wrong.
All of the underperforming and disappointment have drained the buoyancy and buzz and robbed Miami — city and team — of the bounce normally enjoyed in the first year of a new ballpark. Attendance in turn has not met expectations.
A new stadium alone was never going to be a panacea to making this the baseball town it never has been, but the new park and this new, star-filled team were supposed to at least make this maiden season feel special.
The park has done its part.
The team in it has not come close.