Even Without Pujols Miami Marlins Improve with Reyes, Bell and Buehrle Signings

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Even Without Pujols Miami Marlins Improve with Reyes, Bell and Buehrle Signings
Denis Poroy/Getty Images
Robb Nen, er, Heath Bell. Miami's newest closer.

So the Miami Marlins didn’t land the big fish in Albert Pujols.

Despite their long-shot odds, the team still had a fine 2011 offseason by completing deals for Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and closer Heath Bell prior to and during the Winter Meetings in Dallas. Ask any of the Marlins fans (yes, both of them!) and I think they would agree that if you told them “You are not going to sign Pujols, but you will get Reyes, Bell, and Buehrle—take it or leave it,” I think they would happily accept it. I know I would.

If you think this is nothing but a positive PR spin job by a Marlins fan doing damage control, consider that with the above three, all former All-Stars mind you, the team still is in much better position than when the offseason began and a much more balanced team so that is never a bad thing.  As a fan that’s really all you can ask.

The only thing I fear is the team is still a starting pitcher short as well as a hitter (which Pujols would have provided), but they’ve got a bit of time before spring training to address those needs. Even a Jason Kubel would help matters depth wise.

Also, how refreshing is it that Jose Reyes, a proven and exciting player, left the big market Mets for the facade Miami Marlins, who aren’t really a big market team regardless of their activity at the winter meetings. I’m not ignorant; I know that the Marlins, just like my primary team, the Minnesota Twins, are a couple of bad seasons away from being right back where they began payroll wise and having to sell off players. We don’t have the luxury of Cubs and Cardinals fans who show up no matter what.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Buehrle adds veteran leadership, stability to a pitching staff in need

However, it is precisely this momentary monetary relapse that appeals to me as a Marlins fan because you never know how long this run will last. It could be a year or two and then it’s over, so we have to make the most of it. Additionally, when you consider they defy the odds and actually do these spending sprees about once a decade, it adds to their mystique.

Non-traditional market fuels MLB fans rejection of market

When you consider how fickle Florida fans are in general, not to mention the bandwagon fan bases that they are known for historically—see the 1980’s Miami Hurricanes after the 1960’s and empty stadiums prior to Howard Schnellenberger, or how colors flipped in the ‘90s to the Florida State Seminoles before switching to the blue and orange of Gator Nation in the 2000’s—there is a reason MLB fans are skeptical. I've tried to back up my loyalty by starting conversations on a team few care to consider relevant over the years in addition to seeing the Marlins play on the road in multiple states.

As for everyone else, many of them just plain don’t like the Miami market nor believe there should be, or ever should have been a team there in the first place. When you consider most “Floridians” are not natives at all—most of them being wealthy Midwestern and New England snowbirds relocated due to jobs or retirement with 1st loyalties to their childhood teams—it's easy to see why these attitudes hold true.

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
No way Jose! Reyes left the big-market Mets for the enigma Marlins.

 

Next, last year’s drama of Chris Bosh and LeBron James carpetbagging down to South Beach, thus instantly making it the place to be as the league’s hottest ticket (no pun intended) didn’t exactly help matters.

Finally, take the fact baseball is a purist sport. We like nostalgia, we like tradition in what is now dubbed as “America’s Pastime” even though we know the NFL is the nation’s real passion today. Yesterday’s news that Pujols left the traditional and steady St Louis Cardinals for an emerging market in sunny Southern California just doesn’t sit right with some fans. However, these are the same fans that really didn’t want to see him go to what they see as a “Johnny come lately” market that is Miami.

Fans like this:

1. Don’t trust Miami’s long-term staying power evidenced by two fire sales in just 18 years of franchise existence

2. Look at years of stagnant attendance where it was closer to 5,000 in some cases than the 19,000 number being reported.

3. Wax nostalgic for Chicago, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and not the hot urban flare that Miami with their fickle fans provide. Many of them see the new stadium as a few missed payments away from having yet another firesale. Bottom line is, they just don’t like the way the Marlins do business because it goes against logic and conventional wisdom of signing a bunch of free-agents as they do about once a decade, winning it all, and then immediately flipping them for prospects only to win it all again a few years later. That right there is the No. 1 reason baseball fans don’t respect the Marlins.

Emerging dynasty or short-term run?

For more on this, see my last piece http://bleacherreport.com/articles/970095-miami-marlins-free-agent-signings-closely-resemble-1997-world-series-moves. I think the Marlins have a small window with which to work. We know that they still have an evolving fan base, one that many fans in the Arizona market argue is still coming for the NHL’s Coyotes or whom point out how long it took, and some might argue, still is taking for the Arizona Cardinals.

One thing that does bother me and creates some doubt about long-term success is the fact the team refuses to give no-trade clauses. This not only is a likely factor in why Pujols isn’t holding a press conference in Miami today, but also, as long as that is team policy, rumors of future firesales by skeptical onlookers will continue to surface throughout the duration of their new stars' contracts and rightfully so with the past as a guide.

Hopefully a player’s manager in Ozzie Guillen mixed with the revenue streams from the new ballpark slowly start to change this fact. The popular choice for the World Series next year is going to be the Miami Marlins vs. the Los Angeles Angels, but as the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox proved just last year, just because you “win” the offseason doesn’t grant you a spot in the World Series, or even the playoffs for that matter.

If you are a Mariners or A’s fan, do you just take your ball and go home? I mean what incentive do you have to sell to your fan base for at least the next five years with the Rangers and Angels alone in your division, thus impeding your chances at the postseason? I guess they better look east to Tampa Bay to see how GM Andrew Friedman and the Rays do it? That’s my only advice.

Conclusion

I knew all along that Pujols wasn’t going to be back and said as much that I would be more surprised if he returned than if he left. The Angels should get at least 3-4 solid years if not more out of Pujols before any real doubt starts to raise due to age and for that, it's a fantastic deal. They kept the Dodgers at bay and at least for a day overtook them as Los Angeles' preferred team. That was the point; now how do they capitalize on this moment? CJ Wilson going home—you can’t fault that. Funny how he’s the second story and getting no headlines in what is otherwise another solid move for the club.

There will be those in other regions of the United States that will claim to have been an Angels fan for years even though they live in Kalamazoo or Richmond. We all know people will come out of the woodwork and while they are buying up shirts and hats, I’ll be sticking with my third favorite team, the Marlins, who themselves had quite a nice run.

Be honest, it could have been a lot worse. I’d much rather see the Angels and Marlins steal all the headlines than the same boring and tiring Red Sox and Yankees. I don’t think anyone will complain if we have to see Marlins vs. Angels round one next fall in the October Classic.

Consider the fact that the Marlins have two championships to the Angels' one and a lot of angst over today’s news will subside. It's all about the bigger picture and if it comes to it, Miami-LA will be a new chapter of new markets in a sport that really could use more competitive diversity and that is a great thing for the sport.

Only stats geeks are going to research years from now the payrolls that would have made such a move possible but once they do that, they’ll also find out how rare it was for these two teams to actually legitimately compete, thus once again proving today was a good day as the winter meetings concluded their best and most intriguing results in years.

Information from ESPN and ESPN.com directly contributed to the content of this article. The views and expressions used in this article are those of the writer alone.

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