Thousands of children from dozens of South Florida summer camps dotted Wednesday afternoon’s sold-out Marlins home crowd in sections of multicolored shirts, chanting, squealing in delight over routine plays and — joyfully undeterred by the latest defeat — decorating the new ballpark in an ambience of high-pitched excitement.
There had been a vibe similarly buoyant, if obviously more restrained and privately shared, in the Marlins’ clubhouse before the game.
The kids were loud and happy because that’s what kids do.
The Marlins were quietly happy because Hanley Ramirez was gone —– dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade finished around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday as Miami slept.
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It was about time.
Ramirez, for all his talent, was a player of diminishing production over the past few years, ultimately not up to the role of being the focal point around which a team could be built. He had eroded from a budding superstar to a falling star. He was too often selfish and temperamental — his attitude well-reflected recently when he sliced his hand on the blade of a dugout fan he punched in anger, then suffered an infection because he failed to take his antibiotics.
Good riddance. If that’s harsh, so be it. If he was the face of this franchise, that face too often was dour.
“We’ve had some challenges with him,” club baseball-operations chief Larry Beinfest said Wednesday of Ramirez in an understatement-of-the-year nominee. “Maybe it’s time for a fresh start for Hanley, and for the Marlins.”
One Marlins player, asked the reaction in the clubhouse to Ramirez being traded, said, “Lots of smiles in here.”
When a team is winning and Ramirez is leading the NL in batting (as he did in 2009), a bad attitude is filed under “quirky” and abided. When a team is losing and Hanley is hitting .246, there is no charm to be found in one’s sullenness.
Or, as manager Ozzie Guillen likes to say: “When you winning, everybody look better to you, even your wife. When you losing, everybody hate each other.” Guillen, asked Wednesday what Ramirez’s absence would mean to the lineup, said, “Nothing. Because he wasn’t producing.”
It was time.
And now it’s time to address the Fire Sale Fallacy, quickly, before it catches on and spreads.
The Marlins’ two significant trades this week do not constitute a fire sale. This might need a revisit and still turn toward a feeling of here-we-go-again if prior to the July 31 trade deadline more significant players depart such as pitcher Josh Johnson. As of now, though, this situation is in no way comparable to the genuine fire sale that followed the Marlins’ 1997 World Series championship.
When good teams are broken up for financial reasons, that’s a fire sale.
When bad teams are broken up because they aren’t winning, that’s closer to a garage sale.
This bad Marlins team is the biggest disappointment in baseball based on the winter influx of talent and all the spring buzz and hype that helped attract Showtime’s The Franchise reality show to Miami this year.
“There is no sugarcoating it,” admitted Beinfest, who referred to “the complete disappointment we have in this ballclub.”
And that was just before that club went out , and lost to Atlanta, 7-1 on Wednesday, sinking the season record to 45-53.
“It’s time for it to stop being the plague of the Marlins,” center fielder Justin Ruggiano said. “Hopefully none of us are giving up in here.”
Trading Ramirez was partly a salary dump. The Dodgers were the only interested team that agreed to absorb the $38 million of his remaining contract. There were baseball reasons to let Ramirez go, but let’s keep track of that saved $38 million.
The Marlins are obliged to spend that on players, on a better team. Owner Jeffrey Loria’s old, penurious reputation must not resurface. He will be held to his assurance that a new ballpark would mean legitimate player payrolls. That is another reason why this week’s two trades had better not blossom into what fans might call a fire sale.
It is a fine line that can separate moves meant to slash payroll and moves meant to improve a team, and the Marlins must be careful to stay on the right side of that line.
Relief pitcher Randy Choate departs with Ramirez in the trade. Arriving from L.A. are two young pitchers: Rookie Nathan Eovaldi, who immediately enters Miami’s starting rotation, and minor-leaguer Scott McGough.
Should fans like to have seen the Marlins get more in return? Ideally, yeah.
But there is logic evident in this week’s trades, including the earlier one in which Miami dealt pitcher Anibal Sanchez and second baseman Omar Infante to Detroit for three young prospects. (Sanchez’s contract is expiring and he would have been lost to free agency with nothing in return).
It is no coincidence that Miami in the two trades has acquired five prospects, all ages 21 to 23, four of them pitchers.
The cupboards of the Marlins’ farm system had grown bare through the years, and if your homegrown young talent isn’t there, the wave diminished to still water, sometimes you have to go get other teams’ prospects.
Had the Marlins’ minor-league system been ripe with majors-ready talent there might have been the luxury to seek veterans in these trades.
Reality steered these deals instead.
The reality that this franchise needed an influx of top prospects.
The reality that this was not a successful team that deserved to be kept intact.
And, ultimately, the reality that it was time to let Hanley Ramirez be somebody else’s headache.