Wei-Yin Chen Is Latest Move in Long Saga of Directionless Marlins Franchise

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2016

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Wei-Yin Chen walks to the dugout after pitching toe the New York Yankees in the first  baseball game of a double header in Baltimore, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)
GAIL BURTON/Associated Press

Say what you want about the Miami Marlins—and we're about to say a lot of unkind things—but they have made a fine art out of not having a plan.

The latest example came Tuesday, with the news Miami had signed left-hander Wei-Yin Chen to a reported five-year, $80 million deal, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. The deal includes a sixth-year vesting player option, which would make the pact worth $96 million, and Chen can opt out after the second season, per ESPN's Buster Olney.

Taken in isolation, it's not a terrible move. Chen was arguably the best starting pitcher left on the market and is coming off a solid season that saw him post a 3.34 ERA in 191.1 innings for the Baltimore Orioles. And the 30-year-old Scott Boras client was seeking a nine-figure contract, per MASN's Roch Kubatko, so you could even classify this as a minor bargain.

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

With the Marlins, though, nothing can be taken in isolation. They are baseball's most directionless franchise, and the Chen signing is further proof.

Consider this: For most of the offseason, we've heard rumors that the Marlins might trade young assets like outfielder Marcell Ozuna and budding ace Jose Fernandez, who reportedly clashed with management. Did that mean Miami was angling toward a pseudo-rebuild? 

Apparently not. Rebuilding teams don't commit to $80 million veterans. But does Chen really push the Marlins, who floundered to a 71-91 finish last year, into the playoff conversation? 

There is talent all over the roster. Fernandez, when healthy, is one of the most exciting arms in the game. Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton, the $325 million man, form an enviable young outfield. Second baseman Dee Gordon led the league in hits and stolen bases in his first season in Miami.

For much of the offseason, the talk has been about trading young ace Jose Fernandez.
For much of the offseason, the talk has been about trading young ace Jose Fernandez.Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Scanning the depth chart, there are reasons for optimism and scenarios wherein the Fish could contend.

Then you remember that these are the Marlins, who always seem to find a way to screw things up. 

They hired Don Mattingly to be their manager then immediately overshadowed that by bringing in Barry Bonds and his performance-enhancing drug baggage as a hitting coach.

That follows on the heels of last season's managerial debacle, when Miami fired skipper Mike Redmond and installed general manager Dan Jennings in the dugout. 

That led to, essentially, an open mutiny. Or, at least, open mockery of the team's cartoonish dysfunction.

"We'd have circus music blaring after we won a game," an unnamed player told Andy Slatera talk show host for Miami's flagship radio station, WINZ. Utility player "Jeff Baker got released because one day he brought in about 50 red clown noses to go with the music and passed them out."

The Mattingly hire could smooth some of that over, though the Bonds sideshow should keep the Ringling Bros. vibe going.

New Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds brings loads of baseball knowledge but plenty of baggage, too.
New Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds brings loads of baseball knowledge but plenty of baggage, too.Ben Margot/Associated Press/Associated Press

We could go further back and detail the exploits of polarizing owner Jeffrey Loria, who has more than once built an expensive cast of veterans only to capriciously tear it down, alienating fans and players alike. But you get the picture.

Now, into all this steps Chen, a perfectly reasonable addition for a team with a clear need. The Marlins, though, don't have a clear need, because it's so maddeningly unclear what they're trying to be. 

If you're a Fish fan searching for a less dreary note, USA Today's Bob Nightengale sounded one after the Chen deal:

So there's your glass-half-full take. And, yes, maybe the Marlins will bounce back. This club has won two World Series, after all, amidst all the head-scratching turmoil.

In fact, roaring back to contention might be the most Marlins thing the team could do, provided it blew up the roster shortly thereafter. 

Here's another delicious twist: Boras, who represents Chen, also represents Fernandez and Ozuna. As trade talk has swirled around those two, Boras and Loria have locked horns. 

"It would be quite a turn of events, then," Fox Sports' Rosenthal wrote before the deal was consummated, "if Loria and Boras ended up sharing the dais at a news conference introducing [Chen] as the newest member of the Fish."

Owner Jeffrey Loria is no stranger to controversy and head-scratching moves.
Owner Jeffrey Loria is no stranger to controversy and head-scratching moves.Joe Skipper/Associated Press

At a certain point, you've got to believe Loria relishes his role as the game's resident crazy boss, Michael Scott and Mr. Burns all rolled into one.

As a Marlins fan, meanwhile, it's probably best to throw up your hands and take the ride. Heck, maybe they'll sign another high-priced free-agent. Yoenis Cespedes, anyone?

In the meantime, welcome to Miami, Wei-Yin Chen. Hope you like clown noses.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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