Step in, baseball. Step into this mess called the Miami Marlins, because we need help. Save us from Jeffrey Loria. Save us from an owner who has somehow managed to make this a foundering, fragile franchise whose fans feel furious and betrayed despite a $515 million new ballpark.
This sport’s commissioner, Bud Selig, has broad authority under the “best interests of baseball” provision that would allow him to nullify this latest payroll-dump, fire-sale trade by the Marlins — the one that has fans feeling as if they have been punched in the heart and hit below the belt all at once.
That almost certainly won’t happen, of course. The trade with Toronto is sure to be approved, sending Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck north in exchange for one proven player and a handful of low-cost maybes.
But that does not mean the Marlins do not merit serious oversight by the sport. Selig should insist, for example, to the extent of his power, that Loria not be allowed to do now what he has done in the past, which is to cut the player payroll to embarrassing levels in order to pocket the profit.
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The stakes are higher now, different. Good faith and public trust are involved.
Loria assured us all that realizing the new ballpark would at last provide the revenue stream to allow much higher, competitive payrolls. And he kept that promise to start the 2012 season, the first in his new palace. But now it seems the disappointing season was all the excuse Loria needed to dismantle the team again, to trade his best (most expensive) players as if in a garage sale and go back to his frugal ways.
It should not be permitted to happen.
Loria has a moral obligation to the county, city and taxpayers who substantially built the stadium for him. He has an obligation to the fans who were promised consistent competitive spending and now feel fleeced, duped. He also has an obligation to his fellow owners, especially the bigger teams whose revenue sharing gives Loria a financial cushion before the first ticket is sold.
Instead what the Marlins are offering feels more like this:
Dysfunction and disrespect.
The dysfunction is in bringing in a wrecking ball and starting over (a tactic made somewhat more suspicious by the fact Loria is set to save about $100 million he had not yet committed to pour back into the team, into the fans’ battered faith).
The disrespect is in playing those same fans for fools, as if they will obediently file into your new park even if the team you put in there is a glorified minor-league squad.
Loria and his henchman, club president David Samson, don’t get it.
Both were on damage control Wednesday in the face of the fan fury, trying to manage a positive spin, which was hopeless.
“We finished in last place. Figure it out,” Loria said when asked why the 2012 team has substantially been dismantled.
Samson, on 790 The Ticket, said when asked about fans who feel betrayed, “People should feel betrayed by the fact we were losing so much. They shouldn’t want us to stand pat. On the positive side, we have a great ballpark and we need a great team to go with it. Losing 93 games is far more embarrassing than this [trade].”
Who are these two kidding? Do they think fans believe that replacing stars with prospects either makes you a better team now or a more attractive one?
I have heard floated the idea that — from a pure baseball standpoint — this trade makes some sense for the Marlins. Wrong. Wrong twice.
First, no it does not. Discounting Buck as a throwaway in this deal, the Marlins have given away two solid starting pitchers in Johnson and Buehrle, and two top-of-the-order speed guys in Reyes and Bonifacio.
In exchange they have gotten an OK shortstop in Yunel Escobar and a bunch of question marks doing business as “prospects.” Escobar, by the way, is not nearly as good as Reyes. Escobar, in fact, is probably best known for having a gay slur in Spanish written onto his eye-black last season and having to apologize for it. Escobar, frankly, has a reputation for being lazy and sort of a Hanley-esque clubhouse problem.
Who got the better of this deal is mirrored in the changed betting odds in the wake of it. Blue Jays World Series odds have gone from 35-to-1 to 14-1. Marlins championships odds have gone from 40-1 to 100-1.
Second, even if this deal somehow did make sense from a baseball vantage, it is impossible to not see it first for what it is: a salary dump. Financial, not baseball. Of course the Marlins could now in turn pour all or much of that saved money back into the team by signing major free agents … but Marlins fans who trust that will happen should hold a meeting tonight at the Gullible Tavern, corner booth.
Loria and Samson need to understand that fans are not upset because the season just past was a major disappointment. Fans are upset because the wholesale reboot conveys a sense of mismanagement, of incompetence. Most of all, fans are upset by the notion that budget payrolls in a lavish new ballpark will mean the revenue stream goes disproportionately into Loria’s pocket, not into the team and by extension its customers.
That’s why baseball should watch carefully what the Marlins do from here.
Between the earlier Hanley Ramirez deal and this new one, there is $100 million to spend on free agents. The Marlins need starting pitching. Zack Greinke is out there. The Marlins need a center fielder. B.J. Upton is out there.
The point is there are ways to be younger and pray some of those prospects bloom in a big way but also be competitive now. There are ways to have a substantially inexpensive lineup but one festooned with big money smartly spent.
Samson had the chance Wednesday to assure distrustful fans that money saved in the latest fire sale would be put back into the team. He declined. In fact he suggested the opposite, saying, “If you win more games with players who happen to be younger [and less expensive], that’s good.”
“I’m not sure what range the payroll will end up,” Samson concluded. “The final number really isn’t relevant.”
Oh but it is. Here it is. With this owner it is. When your owner got a new stadium built on a promise of competitive payrolls, that final number really is relevant. Which is why MLB should be watching it carefully.
The Marlins must try to mend this broken trust, not deny it exists.
Let me put it in language that Loria, the art dealer, might understand. What’s going on is a desecration. This is somebody walking into The Louvre and knife-slashing a priceless Monet. This is taking a state-of-the-art new ballpark, gutting it, defiling it with graffiti and giving your customers every reason to stay away. This is treating the faith and trust of fans with something that is either contempt or disregard.
If Loria is going to renege on his promise of competitive payrolls he should sell this team to somebody who doesn’t just claim to love it but proves it with his actions.
He should get out of Miami under cover of darkness, so properly and perhaps irreversibly vilified is he now. And he should take Samson with him.
We can only wish.
The Marlins need help today, and anybody who thought the beautiful new stadium would be a panacea, a guarantee, grossly underestimated the ability of Loria and Samson to be who they are, and do what they do.