What are the worst words a Major League player can hear this off-season? “You have been traded to the Miami Marlins.” Anyone without a no-trade clause in his contract is in jeopardy, although the more money they make the safer they are. The theme of baseball in South Florida seems to be: Easy come, easy go. One minute the Marlins are all in, spending to go after a World Series title. The next minute they’re all out, appearing as if they won’t even be trying to win during the 2013 season.
In the latest Harry Frazee imitation by owner Jeffrey Loria the Marlins seem to have been reduced from being a contender in the National League East Division to being a contender for the title of nation’s best AA team. I would say AAA, but that would be an insult to the Houston Astros, who were reduced to that level last season, but at least were attempting to win.
Loria’s latest ploy, trading away pitcher Mark Buehrle, pitcher Josh Johnson, shortstop Jose Reyes, infielder Emilio Bonifacio, and catcher John Buck, to the Toronto Blue Jays for shortstop Yunel Escobar, catcher Jeff Mathis and five guys you never heard of, pretty much guts the Marlins lineup. Or as someone I overheard analyzing the trade said, the Marlins ditched anyone who was making much money. The worst part of Loria’s scheme was that he snookered taxpayers into investing $634 million for a publicly funded stadium and his going to put on a minor-league show on the diamond inside it.
In the grand tradition of such funky owners as Charles O. Finley and Marge Schott, this is Loria’s grand statement: It’s my team and I’ll do whatever I want. Last year Loria spent about $200 million to attract free agents to his shiny new ballpark, but when they did not mesh well he fired manager Ozzie Guillen and now he is firing all of the players rather than trying to use them as building blocks to fine-tune the franchise and make a run at a pennant under a new manager. The Marlins stunk up their new joint with just 69 wins, but that seemed more fluke than indicator that all of the players are lousy. The upcoming 2013 season loomed as a fix-it year with every chance to go to the playoffs.
It is never good business to kill fan hope in the off-season. Everyone is supposed to feel good about the season headed into spring training. Instead, Florida fans are protesting and left-over star Giancarlo Stanton, whom Loria apparently forgot to throw into the deal, has tweeted his feelings. He mentioned something about being very angry. This is “Curse of the Bambino” stuff. The Boston Red Sox owner who traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees because he wanted cash more than wins was the previously mentioned Harry Frazee. He is still remembered and despised in Boston.
I’ve never heard anyone say that Loria didn’t have the bucks to compete at the big-league level and when he wants to flex his wallet, as he did last year, he seems perfectly capable of spending with the best of them. Rather than traditionally work to build success over time, however, Loria seems to have an impatience disorder. If he can’t win immediately, he abandons the effort. In 2012 Loria planned to win and when the Marlins didn’t he got all frustrated and decided to make everyone ex-employees, just to remind them who’s boss. It’s almost as if he is throwing a tantrum now and writing off 2013 because 2012 didn’t work out the way he believed it should.
When Buehrle and Reyes signed with the Marlins last year they probably believed they were headed to the team for years and that they were going to be part of something special and exciting as ownership worked to put together a champion. Obviously, even though they–and some of the other regulars–had contracts for millions of dollars, they didn’t get no-trade clauses written into their deals.
What they should have had their agents factor into the contracts was a no-overcoat clause. Where they’re going they are going to have to make their own trade of Hawaiian shirts for parkas. It’s unlikely any of them saw this coming, but then none of them are looking at the world through Jeffrey Loria’s eyes.