What wasn’t said spoke loudest as Derek Jeter introduced himself to Miami on Tuesday.
The former Yankees great, now in charge of running the Marlins as frontman for the new ownership group, conveyed affable charm to a media throng at Marlins Park. He spoke with close-to-the-vest caution. He was not especially illuminating. Neither was he pandering. He did not make populist promises he knew he might not be prepared to keep.
You wanted a cheer-inducing declaration that the days of fire sales and low-player payrolls were over? You didn’t get it.
You wanted the relief of an unequivocal assurance that high-priced star Giancarlo Stanton, fresh off his 59-home run season, would remain a Marlin? You didn’t hear it.
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For better or worse, what you heard sounded an awful lot like the truth.
Ownership moneyman Bruce S. Sherman and Jeter, et. al, just spent $1.2 billion for a franchise without a foundation, a head without a body, a club with maybe the most depleted farm system in all of MLB. That the rebuild will go ground-up. And that if it takes trading Stanton (and others) to do it, well...
These things were not said directly. But the in-it-for-the-long-haul message was clear. The macro thinking was evident.
“There’s going to be times there are unpopular decisions we make,” Jeter said. “Just understand every decision we make is for the betterment of the organization. Everything is strategic.”
Jeter danced deftly around the matter of Stanton’s Marlins future.
“We’re going to sit down, have an in-depth conversation with Mike [Hill, the Marlins president] and figure out the best direction,” Jeter said. “We do have to rebuild the organization, and that starts with player development and scouting. If you’re going to be sustainable over time, you need a pipeline of young players to come in.”
Stanton’s trade value has never been higher than it is right now, and likely never will be. And his escalating contract — brilliantly back-loaded by former owner Jeffrey Loria to be the next owner’s problem — nearly doubles, to $25 million per season, starting next year. Stanton surely would waive his no-trade clause to go to a big-spending, contending team in a place he wanted to live. (If I could write subliminally, you would be seeing an L.A. Dodgers logo flashing in neon right now). Especially because, after Sunday’s season finale, Stanton made clear he would not be OK with the kind of rebuild Jeter might have in mind.
Fans would hate to see Stanton go, if it happens. Of course.
But if anybody can sell the bitter pill as good for your health, it is Jeter, who will enjoy the bounce of an extended honeymoon for a couple of reasons.
First, he isn’t Loria, whose unpopularity with fans was epic.
Second, Jeter wears the imprimatur of success like expensive cologne. Symbolically on this turn-the-page day, he did not mention the word “Yankees” even once during a 28-minute news conference, but his mammoth career there left him beloved, will have him sail into Cooperstown on his first try in 2020, and will earn him the Midas Touch effect in Miami at least for awhile. If for those 59 home runs the Marlins get a bevy of now and future talent and Jeter says it was a smart deal, most Marlins fans will be nodding yes like all of those Bobblehead dolls Loria took from Marlins Park when he left.
Loria cold do nothing right in the minds of many fans.
Can Jeter do any wrong?
I would hate to see Stanton go. I would hate to see that sublime outfield of Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Stanton broken up. I have written, and believe, that committing to keeping Stanton would be a positive Litmus test for the new ownership. But I could not argue the pragmatism of restocking the farm system with the long term in mind. And if Stanton would bring an absolute windfall, then you wince and do it.
(I should also note that trading pricey stars to replenish the minor-league cupboard also tends to enhance a club’s short-term profit margin. Sherman referred to a club run “financially efficiently”).
As with not ruling out dealing Stanton, Jeter also would not commit to retiring Jose Fernandez’s number 16, as Loria had planned to do. Jeter referred to the “tragic event that cost him his life and others.” Were I to bet, Fernandez’s number will not be retired; nor will there be a statue.
One of the first things Jeter said Tuesday was: “We believe in this market. We believe in this fan base. We are focused on bringing the fans back. Our fans are our priority.”
Yet the man vowing to bring the fans back is not promising to keep the team’s biggest star in Stanton, may be distancing himself from the beloved Fernandez, already has severed ties with the likes of Jack McKeon, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jeff Conine, and warns of “unpopular decisions” ahead.
That is because the Marlins’ new man out front believes he has the blueprint to make this team successful for the long term and — as important — believes he has the leadership and personal cache’ to make fans believe it, too.
Derek Jeter is betting on himself.