Thursday, May 30, 2013
Marlins sink to new lows on the field
By Bill Baer
The Marlins have lost eight games in a row and have won just five games all month.
The Miami Marlins are bad. Really, very, super, mega bad. They're 13-40, having lost their eighth game in a row Wednesday night and are 5-21 in their past 26 games. Through an equal amount of games, they are two games worse than the 1962 Mets, who went 40-120, the most losses in a season since 1899. Home attendance has crossed the 20,000 threshold exactly once in May and four times in April, one of which was their home opener. Starter Jose Fernandez is a nice story, but without Giancarlo Stanton, there are exactly zero reasons to take time out of your day to go watch the Marlins. You will see higher-quality competition at a cheaper price going to one of the many minor league games scattered throughout the state.
Owner Jeffrey Loria was previously a 94 percent owner of the Montreal Expos and he completely wrecked that franchise. Local governments in Quebec wouldn't justify using taxpayer money on a new stadium for the Expos. In 2002, Loria sold the Expos to Major League Baseball for $120 million. Loria then bought the Marlins for $158.5 million, but it included an interest-free $38.5 million loan from MLB. In effect, Loria swapped the ailing Expos for the Marlins without ever losing a dime. Soon thereafter, the Expos would fold up shop in Montreal as they moved to Washington, D.C.
In 2003, the Marlins won the second championship in the franchise's 11-year history. What was Loria's reaction? He pawned off most of his club's key contributors. First baseman Derrek Lee went to the Cubs. Juan Encarnacion went to the Dodgers. Brad Penny went to the Dodgers and the Marlins got Encarnacion back in 2004. In 2005, the Marlins traded Carlos Delgado to the Mets, and on the same day sent Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to the Red Sox. Luis Castillo eventually went to the Twins. Paul Lo Duca went to the Mets. Juan Pierre went to the Cubs.
When the Marlins, cutting the tape on a brand new ballpark, opened up the 2012 season with a payroll north of $100 million, everyone thought prosperous times lay ahead for the club. They had signed Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell to rich multi-year deals. After a 3-0 loss to the Pirates on July 22, the Marlins fell to 44-51, 11.5 games out of first place. The next day, the Fish sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Tigers. Two days later, they sent Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers. In October, the Marlins sent Bell to the Diamondbacks in a three-way trade. In November, they were part of one of the largest trades in baseball history, sending Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck to the Blue Jays for a handful of hot garbage and Adeiny Hechavarria. One of the players acquired in the deal, Yunel Escobar, was flipped to the Rays two weeks later.
That ballpark they're barely filling to half-capacity on a good day? The $91 million loan on that park will cost Miami-Dade County $1.2 billion, another example of private business having their expenses subsidized by the government while hoarding any and all of the profits. Ostensibly, a county would want to have a professional sports team root in their area to create jobs as well as tourism revenue. That has apparently been the case, but the trends would have to grow at exponential rates to make up $1.2 billion.
When the stadium opened, the Marlins expected consistently high attendance, meaning they would have to hire more people to operate concession and merchandise stands, working as ushers, and so forth. Now that attendance projections are quite easy to make, they can lay off employees as necessary -- it is already apparent as they have closed the upper deck. So long as the Marlins project to be bad -- which is for the foreseeable future -- they will have little incentive to reopen any of those old jobs. In other words, residents of Miami-Dade county suffer, and subsequently, Miami-Dade county suffers.
Loria, though? Counting his money. The Marlins are worth $520 million according to Forbes. Remember, Loria paid $120 million for the franchise, which all came from the sale of the Expos.
Feel sorry for the kids who grew up Marlins fans, who are now raising their kids the same way. Feel sorry for fans of the other four NL East teams who, 19 times a year, have to watch their favorite teams play this sorry excuse for a franchise, one that would struggle to finish at .500 in the Pacific Coast League. This isn't the Astros sacrificing the present for a better future. Even after all the deals the Marlins have swung recently, they ranked just 16th on Keith Law's organizational rankings, which were posted before the season. The Astros, comparatively, ranked fourth.
Moreover, what incentive do Floridians have to get attached to the franchise? They have seen their team gutted of its best and most likeable players three times now in 15 years, killing any chance of a sustained period of success. If the franchise were to somehow, magically, fall into the hands of another owner, someone who legitimately cares about the team's ability to play competitive baseball games, I don't think you'd hear any complaints.
Bill Baer runs the Crashburn Alley site that covers the Phillies and is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.