Dee Gordon disappears suddenly from the Miami Marlins — the first major erasure in what could turn into a dismantling — and once more we imagine that fans navigating the club’s recent change in ownership and what it portends are hearing that little voice again. The one whispering the warning: “Be careful what you wish for. ...”
South Florida spent many years loathing Jeffrey Loria and wanting him out as owner, cheering when finally it happened and cheering even louder when the winning-bid ownership group was fronted by Yankees legend Derek Jeter, imprimatur of baseball stature and success.
The cheering for Jeter sure faded fast, though, did it? The honeymoon didn’t even last ’til spring training, until the first game.
The missteps have been startling. He gets rid of franchise luminaries Jack McKeon and Jeff Conine, as well as Hall of Fame ambassadors Tony Perez and Andre Dawson. Excellent play-by-play man Rich Waltz is dumped from the broadcast team for no good reason. Word leaks that the team fires a longtime scout, Marty Scott, while he is hospitalized recovering from cancer surgery and in need of a kidney transplant.
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To call those moves callous is bad enough. To call them Loriaesque may be an even greater indictment.
All the while, efforts to trade their biggest star Giancarlo Stanton — to dump his enormous and escalating contract — are ongoing and on the front burner. It seems just a matter of time before we say goodbye to the slugger-in-his prime who just had a 59-home run season and might be Miami’s biggest team-drafted star since Dan Marino and Dwyane Wade.
Stanton has a no-trade clause in his contract and can refuse any deal, refuse to leave, but already has been informed that he’d be staying on a team pared-down with a reduced payroll.
Trading Gordon late Thursday, to Seattle, might have been the first notable step toward what the Jeter group would call fiscal responsibility but what beleaguered Marlins fans might call the first siren in another fire sale.
It is hard to justify on the face of it.
The popular, always-smiling Gordon batted .308 last season with 114 runs scored and an MLB-leading 60 stolen bases. There aren’t many better models than Gordon if you’re building the perfect leadoff man. And, set to make $10.5 million this coming season, he was reasonably priced and in his prime at 29.
But instead of counting him as a mainstay moving forward, Miami traded him for a top Mariners prospect, righty starting pitcher Nick Neidert. Mostly, Miami traded him to save the $38.5 million of his existing contract that ran three more seasons, which Seattle absorbs. (Seattle also gets $1 million of Miami’s international bonus-pool money as its goes hard after Japanese two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani).
It was a trade to infuse Miami’s farm system, whose cupboards had gone bare under Loria. But more so, it seems, it was a salary dump.
It would be wrong, beyond natural skepticism, to immediately blast the trade as awful. It could prove otherwise, for two reasons.
One, Neidert reportedly is the Mariners’ top pitching prospect and No. 2 overall. Last season he had 122 strikeouts and only 22 walks in 127 innings of Single- and Double-A ball. That’s promising. What if he turns out to be a big-time starter, the team’s biggest need? (The Marlins also get two lesser-regarded prospects).
Two, while trading Stanton still seems (sadly) inevitable, what if the $38.5 million saved by dealing Gordon (less the $1 million international stipend) means the Marlins now will not trade outfield stars Christian Yelich or Marcell Ozuna? That’s an either/or — Gordon goes so Yelich and Ozuna won’t — that would please most Marlins fans, and should.
The thing is ... do you trust Jeter?
It is not a question we expected to be asking so soon.