Florida Marlins: Front Office Needs Serious Redemption To Win Back Bitter Fans

James Bondman@@james_bondmanCorrespondent IJune 5, 2011

It's no secret that the Marlins are known for their frugal business of trading their best players right as they get too pricey. 

They've done it ever since their first World Series championship in 1997 with the infamous fire sale that unloaded the franchise's best talent, but brought back young talent that led the team towards its second championship in 2003. Nevertheless, that talent base didn't last long either.

In 2005, the team unloaded its best players (which included Mike Lowell, Jose Beckett, Carlos Delgado, Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo) and got back the current nucleus the Marlins rely on. This includes Hanley Ramirez, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez, who were the key prospects left from those trades. 

But what can strike the bitterness in some fans are the hits and misses the franchise takes in doing its business. 

Consider the Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis situations. The pair was traded together to Detroit in December, 2007 in a deal that provided the Marlins with "prized" prospects Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin, along with reliever Burke Badenhop, who is the lone remaining part of that deal. 

The trade was a disaster of sorts. The Marlins could very well be atop the NL East and maybe have made a run in recent seasons had Cabrera been kept. But what's even more disturbing is what other trades they could have pulled for Miggy and D-Train.

Rejected Futures 

Jeffrey Beckmann composed an article that headlines MLB trades that never happened but almost did. 

In two potential scenarios, the Marlins were mentioned and each one had a proposed trade for Cabrera and Willis individually. 

Boy, how different the Marlins would be right now had the front office been any smarter. In 2005, when the Marlins were unloading their veteran talent in the wake of not getting a stadium deal, their consensus was to rebuild and lower payroll. This included jettisoning fan favorites Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett for prospects who have paid off. 

Yet their love for Dontrelle Willis was strong, and they didn't finish the job completely like they should. Instead of trading their ace when his value was at its highest, the franchise failed to complete a trade they probably should have. 

The offer came from, oddly enough, the Detroit Tigers, who were willing to part with—get this—Curtis Granderson (now of the Yankees) and Justin Verlander (who has hurled two no-hitters) for Dontrelle Willis. 

How could the Marlins, who were essentially rebuilding after 2005, not have pulled this trade? Verlander was the Tigers' first-round selection (second overall) in the 2004 MLB June amateur draft. Granderson was breaking in with the team in 2005 and could have filled the void left by Juan Pierre, a void which haunted the Marlins enough to want to target Cameron Maybin in the first place. 

What astounded me about this rejected deal by the Marlins was that Granderson had 13 triples, 15 home runs, 65 RBI and 22 stolen bases at AAA Toledo in 2005 prior to being called up, and posted eight home runs and 20 RBI with a .272 average in 162 ABs. 

Of course, we can't fully put the blame on Florida because of great minor league numbers—Granderson also had a high strikeout rate and Verlander was 0-2 with a 7.15 ERA in two starts with the Tigers.

Yet, the pair bounced back in 2006 while Willis regressed and the Marlins scrambled to try to trade him in 2006, when they reportedly offered Willis to the Mets for David Wright. No deal happened, and the Mets would go on to make mistakes as well (i.e. Oliver Perez, Luis Castillo, et al.)  

On the Miguel Cabrera corner, had the Marlins made the initial deal with the Tigers, there is every ounce of a possibility that he might have remained with Florida if the team was more competitive, which it would have been with Verlander and Granderson. 

Imagine this lineup (based on 2006-07 team):

SS H. Ramirez

CF C. Granderson

3B M. Cabrera

2B D. Uggla

1B M. Jacobs

LF J. Willingham

C. M. Olivo

RF J. Hermida

More amazingly, look at the rotation that could have been in 2006, when the team was mostly healthy:

SP Josh Johnson

SP Justin Verlander

SP Anibal Sanchez

SP Scott Olsen

SP Ricky Nolasco

As you already know, many teams were in on Miguel Cabrera, so while the article I linked above mentioned one, there were two other intriguing possibilities. 

The Marlins could have had Colby Rasmus and Jaime Garcia from the Cardinals for Cabrera, Clayton Kershaw and Jonathan Broxton from the Dodgers and Ervin Santana and Howie Kendrick among others from the Angels

Yes, the thoughts of an even-more-loaded starting rotation that could have included Verlander, Kershaw, Johnson, Sanchez and Nolasco makes me want to shake my head at what could have been.

Draft Disasters

The Marlins haven't been the best first-round drafters in the MLB draft. In fact, most of their premier talent, such as Josh Johnson, Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez and Chris Coghlan, has been found in either the "sandwich round" or the few rounds following it. 

The first round has been a disaster for the Marlins when it comes to picking the premier talent because, while they have picked a few solid guys (Chris Volstad, Jeremy Hermida), they struck out with Brett Sinkbeil, Jeff Allison and Taylor Tankersley. (Tankersley was good at first but faltered.) 

One of their worst drafts was 2005, when they had five early picks (16th, 22nd, 29th, 34th, 44th) between the first round and the sandwich round. They selected Volstad, Aaron Thompson, Jacob Marceaux, Ryan Tucker and Sean West. Only two remain with the franchise (West and Volstad) but have yet to deliver on a consistent basis.

For the recent picks, the jury is out on Kyle Skipworth (2008), who is struggling at AA Jacksonville and Matt Dominguez (2007), who is learning how to be an effective hitter at AAA New Orleans despite having what many are calling a "Gold Glove" in the making. The Marlins could have chosen Jason Heyward in 2007 and Ike Davis in 2008, but this misfortune happens to many other franchises when drafting high school or college prospects. 

If you're wondering about Yelich and James, it's too early to tell at this point, but for now, both are in good shape to make it up in a couple of years. 

But this has to change, the Marlins will have to make a selection that can be able to be a big impact and not a mediocre one from the first round. They will have a chance to do so in the upcoming draft. Still, unlike the Rays, who have around a dozen selections in the first 89 picks, the Marlins have a couple that they need to nail down.

Redemption 

What can the franchise do to redeem itself? Aside from the botched chances mentioned above, the Marlins are getting a bad rap for reasons like hiding their profits from Miami-Dade when they fought for the stadium deal. Things didn't get better considering they could have kept Miguel Cabrera and forked up more of their own money for the stadium. 

But what is done is done. The team can certainly begin the redemption process by making trades that potentially bring stars rather than trading its stars for "promising" prospects. 

Plenty of names are made available and it's about making the one that works for the Marlins. Of course, the team is moving into a new ballpark in 2012 with a new name and uniform so they can effectively start over. 

Crowds will fill the seats in the stadium, but will only stay there if the franchise puts a winning product on the field. 

It's true the Marlins haven't been shy when it comes to making an impact trade. They almost did it with Manny Ramirez, tried with Alfonso Soriano and failed with Michael Young. 

The time has come for the team to change its identity and the Marlins have it all working for them: they are in a market that has seen the rejuvenation of a franchise nearby (Miami Heat) and could easily see a similar one if the Marlins make their move. 

The team has a nucleus in place with great players and it needs a move here or there to finally break through. 

Owner Loria was (and is) trying to make such a move by hiring a big-name manager (after firing Girardi and Gonzalez), which he attempted last season with Bobby Valentine and Ozzie Guillen—one main reason why Edwin Rodriguez is still living off a one-year contract. 

It's understandable. Either manager would stir up the headlines and get the team's name out there, but ultimately the change must be done on the field and not off it. 

These upcoming weeks will be of great importance because a winning pattern could bring about a change for a franchise that has always lived with the "cheap and empty orange seats" tag. 

At the end of the day, they will always be a trade away from excellence, the deciding factor will be if they will actually have the guts to finally do it. 

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