Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. For the Miami Marlins, owner Jeffrey Loria and young, ascending stars like Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton, that famous phrase should serve as the backbone for long-term contract negotiations.
On the surface, the Marlins are a confounding and embarrassing franchise. Despite two World Series championships since entering the league in 1993—more than the Mets, Orioles, Dodgers, Tigers and Cubs combined over that frame—baseball in Miami is known much more for deceit, lies and awful public relations.
Across baseball, teams strive for consistent, long-term winning that can yield a large window for success and potential October excellence. Outside of Miami, that edict has permeated through front offices across the sport. If the Marlins are going to finally join the ranks of forward-thinking front offices with long-term vision, locking up two of the most promising young players in baseball is paramount.
To be fair, the Marlins' have been uniquely adept at turning current star power into future star power. After winning the 1997 World Series with a roster full of aging veteran talent, ownership demanded a tear down and cost-cutting movement.
While the 1998 team became a disaster, trades yielding Kevin Brown and Al Leiter netted prospects like Derrek Lee and A.J. Burnett, and the top pick in the 1999 draft became Josh Beckett. As the baseball world sneered, the Marlins were acquiring the foundation of their 2003 World Series team.
Once again, things quickly shifted after a magical run in 2003. When Beckett was due to cash in on success, Miami shipped him to the Boston Red Sox. In return, Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez arrived.
However, nothing angered baseball fans—specifically South Florida taxpayers—like the actions of Loria in recent years. After securing taxpayer funding for a brand new stadium, the team spent and acted like a big-market team. With Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell signed—along with a run at free-agent Albert Pujols—the Marlins looked poised to turn the corner and act like a legitimate super power.
One year later, none of those players survived another purge. Yet once again, young, ascending talent emerged from a fire sale. By netting prospects like Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner and Jake Marisnick, a new foundation was put down in Miami.
In a vacuum, each move made in Miami has made some sense. During a 2007 interview with Murray Chass of The New York Times, Loria gave a quote that summed up the game of baseball and proactively defended his business strategy.
“The economics of baseball dictate what they dictate,” Loria said. “There’s so much flux and movement because of the economics of the game. It’s almost like nothing is guaranteed."
Loria is right—to an extent. If the Marlins don't attempt to keep this particular core together, one thing will be guaranteed: Baseball fans in Miami will never, ever trust him. As of right now, it's hard to believe anyone could. But locking up Fernandez and Stanton—pillars to the next great Marlins team—could finally change perception of this franchise.
Across baseball, teams are avoiding arbitration and buying out free-agent years from excellent young players. While future starts like Jason Kipnis, Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran are deserving of long-term pacts, their upside pales in comparison to Fernandez and Stanton.
Last year, Fernandez dominated the MLB like no 20-year-old starter since Dwight Gooden. In fact, Fernandez's 2013 was the second-best season a 20-year-old has ever recorded when sorting by adjusted ERA, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required).
If Fernandez can stay healthy—never a guarantee with young, power arms—multiple NL Cy Young awards could be on deck for the Miami ace.
With one-plus year in the books, Fernandez's upside is still tantalizing. On the other hand, Stanton's prodigious power and talent has been around since 2010, giving baseball fans the opportunity to put his young career in even more eye-opening context.
Entering the 2014 season, Stanton ranked eighth in baseball history in home runs hit through his age-23 season, trailing only Juan Gonzalez, Orlando Cepeda, Ted Williams, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Alex Rodriguez and Eddie Matthews, per Baseball-Reference. In case you were wondering, those sluggers combined to average 505 home runs during their respective careers.
Before long, both of Miami's stars could command $200-plus million on the open market. In the case of Stanton, it could take close to $150 million to keep him away from the lure of free agency after the 2016 season. Fernandez, despite relatively little service time and volatility with young arms, could rewrite the pitching record books once again with a pre-arbitration extension.
As with any potential cash outlay, risks are involved for the Marlins. If we jump back into the baseball vacuum, it could make more sense and involve less risk if the team shopped Stanton—especially if he has an MVP-caliber campaign in 2014—next winter for a slew of prospects to complete a total rebuild.
Yet that can't be an option this time. In order to rebuild a team and construct an image of a franchise that views long-term success as a goal, building around Fernandez and Stanton should be a priority in Miami.