Marlins' Owners Must Answer to Fans for New Ballpark 'Scam' and Instant Betrayal
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Things were supposed to be different for the Miami Marlins this season. Indeed, the organization went out of its way to broadcast the message that things were going to be different.
The Marlins changed their name and their color scheme. They went out and hired Ozzie Guillen, a manager with both a successful track record and a colorful personality. They spent about $200 million on Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.
To top it all off, the Marlins moved into a brand new ballpark, a humdinger of an abode complete with a distinct coloring and enough luxuries to satisfy Patrick Bateman.
When the season started, the new Marlins looked nothing like the old Marlins. And that was the point.
It took only four months for the disguise to fall apart at the seams. The Marlins are at the bottom of the NL East once again and on pace to lose about 90 games for a second year in a row. They look like the old Marlins again.
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It's a good, old-fashioned fire sale. Just the kind of fire sale that the Marlins made a habit of throughout their history as the "Florida Marlins."
A crime? Not really.
But a con? At least one person thinks so.
That would be Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports. Never one to put things lightly, Passan ripped into the Marlins in a column posted on Wednesday, accusing team owner Jeffrey Loria and president David Samson of being "swindlers" who tricked the city of Miami into thinking it was getting something grand, only to pick a few thousand pockets with innocent looks on their faces.
With the Marlins jettisoning millions of dollars in payroll, the powers that be in the Marlins hierarchy are free to laugh all the way to the bank while the city of Miami stares dumbfoundedly at the sorry excuse of a baseball team that stands before them.
Oh, and that fancy new stadium that now houses this crap baseball team? Yeah, that was built largely with taxpayer money.
Miami, you got punk'd.
Such is the gist of Passan's column. As for myself, I'll just say that I prefer to take a slightly more level-headed look at the situation.
Nobody ever wants to see their team go into fire sale mode, but the Marlins are doing the right thing. Teams tend to sell when they're out of the race. It happens, and it's been happening for a long time.
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The Ramirez trade is a completely different situation. The Marlins were essentially trying to rid themselves of a bad egg. The idea all along was to find a way to get rid of both him and the $30-plus million remaining on his contract.
They did that. And since Ramirez hasn't been an offensive threat since 2010, the Marlins won't miss him that much.
So again, a good baseball move.
The plan was to win this year. The plan never came close to panning out. And as the year went along and the losses kept piling up, it only became more apparent that the team the Marlins had assembled was fatally flawed. When such things happen, it's time to build a new team.
The Marlins have officially begun that process. The plan now is to win the same way they won in 1997 and in 2003: by cultivating talent rather than buying it.
So from a baseball perspective, the Marlins aren't doing anything completely sinister.
From a business perspective, however...
This is where the bulk of Passan's gripe lies, and his accusations of con artistry on the part of Loria and Samson do have some legs.
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Naturally, Passan was right there again when the Security and Exchange Commission put the Marlins in its crosshairs in December. That investigation is ongoing, but earlier this week it was revealed that the feds have already concluded that the city of Miami itself lied to investors about its own financial health for several years starting in 2007.
Nasty vibrations all around. When taken into account, what's going on out on the diamond at Marlins Park on a daily basis seems rather petty.
In all, what can't be ignored is the fact that the Marlins look bad right now. Really bad. The team sucks, and that's probably not going to change for some time. And because the team sucks, it is far too easy for what fans the Marlins have to shift their focus to the team's management, and there they see a collection of scoundrels that could pass for Batman villains.
The good news for the Marlins, whether they deserve it or not, is that the team's transformation this offseason has had somewhat of the desired effect. The Marlins are getting way more attention from the local fans this season than they did in 2011.
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That's a difference of 11,000 fans per game. No team in baseball has gotten to enjoy a bigger attendance boost from last year to this year than the Marlins. In fact, it's not close.
This is a trend that the Marlins have put at risk with both their losing and their decision to go into fire sale mode. If they want to rescue this trend, they need to throw the fans a bone. They need to send the fans a message that says: "Hey, forget all the bad noise. We want to win just as much as you do. This isn't just a big scam."
The only way to do that should be obvious.
OK. To send the fans a message that they're serious about winning, the Marlins basically need to do the same thing they did this past offseason. They need to follow up their fire sale with a free-agent frenzy.
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On the bright side, the Buehrle signing has worked out. Per BaseballPlayerSalaries.com, the Marlins have gotten more than their money's worth out of Buehrle this season. That just goes to show that it is very much possible to make smart investments when it comes to free agents.
And maybe we shouldn't be so surprised that the Marlins didn't make smart investments this past offseason. After all, it's not something the organization is used to. There was bound to be a trial and error process.
The Marlins now know what not to do, and they have money to spend after clearing so much payroll in the last week. They should be willing to spend it.
It's either that, or Loria and Samson can proceed with a penny-pinching baseball operation, lining their pockets and playing dumb while the fans ask, "Is this it?"
That's not what I'd recommend. There's little they can do to clean up what may or may not have happened in the past, but one thing they can do now is emphasize that they're willing to do whatever it takes to build a winning club.
This time, they need to do it right. And above all, they need to stick with it.
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