Analyzing the Shock Wave Bud Selig Nixing Jays-Marlins Blockbuster Would Cause
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Presumably, Selig will try to determine if anything unethical took place with this deal in an attempt to appease Marlins fans outraged by owner Jeffrey Loria's latest salary dump. Virtually every Marlins player worth watching—including Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, who signed with the team as free agents—was sent to Toronto in the trade.
The weapon that Marlins fans—and fans throughout baseball—hope that Selig will use is the "best interests of baseball" clause that gives the commissioner power to make whatever changes are deemed necessary to maintain competitive integrity in MLB.
But can the commish really hit the reset button on this trade?
Selig has used those "best interests" powers in recent years to influence the sales of the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers. But when it comes to how individual owners run their teams, he's let each franchise conduct its own business.
“The notion of an almighty commissioner directing the business of baseball is incorrect,” he said to The New York Times in 1994.
Given his actions with the aforementioned ownership situations, it's clear that Selig's view has changed since then. Steering the Houston Astros and new owner Jim Crane to move to the American League—and making the move a condition for Crane buying the team—also seems to indicate that Selig is willing to use those "best interests" powers to facilitate what MLB needs to be done.
However, stepping in to tell a team how it should put together a roster and spend its money is a different circumstance. This is where Selig has appeared to draw the line.
But the Marlins' situation has apparently raised the commissioner's eyebrow. Building a new ballpark with local taxpayer funds, paying big money for top free agents and hiring a star manager certainly conveyed the impression that this was a new era for baseball in South Beach.
Instead, Loria showed it was business as usual with the Marlins. The team performed far below expectations and by midseason, players like Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez were traded away for prospects. When Miami finished the season last in the NL East with 69 wins, Loria decided to pull the plug on his baseball revival and had his most expensive players dealt away to Toronto.
That left Marlins fans feeling jilted and suckered for funding Loria's charade and believing that the team was serious about putting together a perennial contender that would compete with the other top teams in MLB.
"I am aware of the anger,'' Selig said to Nightengale. "I am. I'm also aware that in Toronto they're very happy."
There's the dilemma for Selig.
The Blue Jays made a great trade to better themselves and assemble an AL East contender with this trade. And though it appeared unseemly to dump off its most expensive players, the Marlins received excellent prospects in return. It's just that the team running a fire sale has no benefit of the doubt with baseball fans.
This was actually a good baseball trade. According to MLB.com's Paul Hagen, Selig consulted two independent baseball people who informed him that Miami "in terms of young players, did very well."
How can Selig reverse a trade under those circumstances? A gesture of good faith to the city of Miami and its fans would be a slap in the face to the people of Toronto and the Blue Jays organization? Then the commissioner has to placate another community and fanbase. Where does the cycle end?
This isn't like Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley literally trying to sell Vida Blue, Joe Rudi and Rollie Fingers off for nothing but money in 1976. The commissioner at the time, Bowie Kuhn, stepped in and killed the transactions, invoking his "best interests" powers.
Kuhn might have vetoed this Marlins-Blue Jays trade, too. And he almost certainly wouldn't have cared for Loria's way of doing business.
Another comparable situation is NBA commissioner David Stern rejecting the trade of Chris Paul from the New Orleans Hornets to the Los Angeles Lakers. But one key difference in that scenario is that the league owned the Hornets and didn't want to see its best player used to help the Lakers continue its dominance. Additionally, the belief was that trading Paul could hurt attendance and the value of the franchise.
Selig utilizes his authority differently, ostensibly attempting not to influence competitive integrity. Finley claimed he needed the money that would have come from selling Blue, Rudi and Fingers to help compete financially. Selig likely would have encouraged him to sell his team.
Loria isn't crying poverty. He doesn't like that he spent so much money for a last-place team and tried to recoup his expense. When asked by CBS Sports' Jon Heyman if he would sell the team, Loria called that "stupidity."
While the way Loria runs the Marlins is unsatisfactory to virtually everyone who follows or is involved in baseball, he's not using the team as a personal bank account, like Frank McCourt did with the Dodgers. Loria hasn't plunged the team into bankruptcy. He just built a new ballpark for his team. Business is going well.
To veto this trade would set a terrible precedent for MLB. Would teams no longer have the right to dump off big contracts to create payroll flexibility or financial profitability? If Selig killed the Marlins-Blue Jays deal, shouldn't he have to go back and squash the Dodgers-Red Sox trade in which Boston unloaded $260 million of salary?
Clubs with bad records and high-priced veterans consistently trade those players to playoff contenders and hopefuls for prospects as a way of rebuilding with young, cheaper talent. The Marlins arguably did the same thing here, though on an obviously much larger scale.
In such trades, both teams are presumably trying to get better, just on different timetables.
This is why Selig drew the line that he did. The slope gets too slippery. Where would it end? Overturning the Marlins-Blue Jays trade would fundamentally change the way baseball teams run themselves. That's why he can't—and won't—do it.
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