Last year, the Florida Marlins languished into one of the forgotten clubs of Major League Baseball. They finished with a 72-90 record; a mere 30 games behind the NL East winning Philadelphia Phillies. The fans weren’t necessarily behind their team either as seen by the average attendance that was barely an arm and a leg above 19,000 (19,007 to be exact). Barely reaching 19,000 fans per game put the Marlins in the solid position of 29th out of 30 major league ball clubs. Something had to be done.
The Marlins brass had a plan. Getting out of the dump that was Sun Life Stadium was step number one for the organization. That was covered with the new $500 million+ Marlins Park that was opened on opening day of the 2012 season. It was new. It was bold. It was located in Little Havana, the perfect location to reach that strong Latino following. They changed their name from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins.
To go along with the change of name, the team needed a change of color. The team decided on a bold new color scheme of red-orange, yellow, blue, black, and white. It was new. It was hip. It was the new thing to wear. Merchandise sales rose.
Of course, the team needed a fiery new manager that would burn just as hot as that red-orange highlighted “M” on the Marlins’ cap. Ozzie Guillen was the logical choice after burning a rift so deep that the White Sox could not wait to move him along. To make the choice in manager even better, Guillen relates well with the Latino community due to his Venezuelan heritage (let us ignore Ozzie’s Fidel Castro gaffe. We can chalk that up to “Ozzie being Ozzie”.).
Last but certainly not least, the bold new Marlins made the bold offseason moves that were seemingly needed to make the team a contender. They went down to the wire in talks with free agent superstars Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. The Marlins went bigger than ever before in the franchise’s history by signing Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell. The team jumped its payroll from just above $57 million in 2011 to a club record $118 million in 2012.
The Miami Marlins seemed to have rebranded themselves as a winner in a state of the art ballpark. The hype machine was certainly churning as the 2012 season approached. This team was bold and brash and brazen just as the planned wanted them to be. Things were finally looking up. Well, things were looking up on paper at least.
As the trade deadline looms, a mere four days away, the Marlins seem to be in the midst of another of their infamous fire-sales due to being 13.5 games back of the division leading Washington Nationals (as of Wednesday 7/25). In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, the Marlins traded Hanley Ramirez, the face of their franchise (or at least he was supposed to be), to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a very underwhelming package of minor leaguers. The key point of the deal, you may ask? The Dodgers agreed to pick up all of the rest of Ramirez’s contract (in typical Marlins fashion).
The worst part is that Hanley Ramirez may not be the only player traded. Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante were traded to the Detroit Tigers earlier in the week. Right handed power pitcher Josh Johnson is rumored to be getting shopped around by the team. It is most likely safe to assume that a contract like Jose Reyes’s isn’t safe come 4pm July 31st either.
So what is actually wrong with the Marlins being sellers at the deadline? Major league teams do it each and every year, so what really is different? The Marlins organization tried to build a brand; a brand of a winning ball club. However, the Marlins’ suits seem to have forgotten that plans for rebranding a professional baseball team and building a championship team don’t happen overnight. They certainly do not happen in the course of one season either. These things take time. Half of one Major League Baseball season isn’t exactly enough time.
It seems that the Marlins are panicking. Attendance at the new Marlins Park is the lowest among first year stadiums in the past three decades. The team is selling off franchise caliber players. In the process of their deadline dealings, the Marlins are alienating their fan base. By the way, this is a fan base that has cost the team well over a billion dollars when stadium, merchandise design, and player contracts are considered. Then to go sell out on those fans that the team worked so hard to earn just because the team isn’t in the playoff hunt? Have some patience! This is the reason that players are signed to long term contracts anyway. Instead of creating more holes by trading away able-bodied and able-minded major league players for prospects, shouldn’t the current holes on the team be filled? The first year of not only a new stadium but an entire organization wide rebranding effort as well is paramount to sustained success. The organization must commit to the plan, not give up on it half way through year one.
People will argue and point to the team’s World Series championships in 1997 and 2003. Yea, those are great, but we are about 10 years past that. Frankly, this team is poorly run and it comes from team owner Jeffrey Loria at the top. His typical style has been to be bold for a little while and then to fizzle out for a longer while. This time, the Marlins gave up too quickly. The team will be lucky to retain any significant amount of fans after this season. The Marlins may have a different home, a different look, and different players on the field, but this team is just what they have always been: a disgrace to Major League Baseball.