- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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Well, that sure blew Torii Hunter's recruiting visit to Detroit out of the water as a Hot Stove news event, didn't it?
It sounds a little trite to say "what a difference a year makes" in assessing the state of the Miami Marlins, but the cliche definitely applies. The franchise that knows no shame -- and has a long and illustrious history of slashing and burning -- has sunk to new and previously unimaginable depths.
The Marlins began the 2012 season as a highly publicized, potentially combustible assortment of mismatched parts. They quickly devolved into a dysfunctional, rudderless reality show of a mess. And in the course of a few hours Tuesday evening, they became downright unrecognizable.
The biggest regret for Marlins fans -- other than the team's 110-loss roster-in-waiting -- is the fact that Ozzie Guillen is no longer around to tweet about it.
The Hot Stove season was poking along at a deliberate pace, with the requisite tire kicking and early posturing between executives and agents, when Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos did the previously unthinkable: He closed in on a trade more mind-blowing than the deal that sent outfielder Vernon Wells and $80 million in salary obligations to the Los Angeles Angels two years ago.
Physical exams have yet to be completed and the official announcement is yet to come, but the names are staggering: The Marlins are about to send Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, John Buck and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto for shortstop Yunel Escobar and several other young, eminently affordable pieces.
The deal establishes the Blue Jays as a team to be reckoned with in the American League East next season. If Johnson stays healthy and Buehrle can make a seamless adjustment back to the American League, they'll combine with Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow to give Toronto a potentially formidable rotation. Throw Reyes and Bonifacio at the top of the order -- on turf, no less -- and the over/under on Jose Bautista's RBI total should begin at 150.
Anthopoulos will no doubt have some fascinating details to share at a news conference to come. At the very least, we now know why he was a little behind in his search for a new manager to replace John Farrell.
And the Marlins? Other than Giancarlo Stanton busting a few scoreboard parts, Justin Ruggiano refrigerator magnet night and exceedingly short waits on the season-ticket-sale hotline, they don't have a whole lot to offer in 2013.
Lots of media skeptics warned that the good times would be short-lived when owner Jeffrey Loria and team president David Samson held court at the 2011 winter meetings in Dallas to announce a dizzying array of acquisitions. Marlins officials gushed over the addition of Reyes, who was sure to get along famously with Hanley Ramirez on the left side of the infield. The Marlins trumpeted Buehrle as a reliable anchor to the rotation, and believed with all their hearts that Heath Bell's success in San Diego would translate in South Florida. They even made runs at Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson in free agency before those two prize catches opted to sign with the Angels.
The goodwill didn't last long. First Guillen alienated Cuban fans with his ill-advised Fidel Castro comments. Then Bell's career imploded, and the Marlins sputtered into the All-Star break with a 41-44 record. The outrage in South Florida was palpable when the Marlins packed off Ramirez to the Dodgers and sent Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to Detroit at the July non-waiver trade deadline. That flurry of activity was perceived as a "sell-off" at the time. In hindsight, it was just an appetizer for an all-you-can-trade Jeffrey Loria smorgasbord.
The damage to the Marlins' "brand" is impossible to calculate. The franchise boldly ripped it up and started fresh after world championships in 1997 and 2003, but things are different this time around. Fans can tolerate slashing and burning if it's done with a dose of conviction or a long-range plan -- or better yet, on the heels of a parade. When a team lards up its roster and trumpets a "new era" in conjunction with a new ballpark, then completely changes course in the span of a few months, it's a recipe for anger, cynicism and empty seats. Lots and lots of empty seats.
"They've lost all credibility," a major league executive said of the Marlins' ownership group. "I don't know how they can even show their faces in South Florida now."
A player agent agreed -- sort of.
"It's a disgrace," he said. "But I don't think they even care how they're perceived."
Until Loria and Samson craft a new identity, they'll be perceived as heading an ownership group that built a $515 million ballpark with the help of $360 million in public funds, then took the taxpayers and paying customers for a ride. Remember how Pujols' negotiations with Miami went south last winter because Miami wouldn't include a no-trade clause? Maybe Albert knew something nobody else did.
It will be interesting to see how commissioner Bud Selig comes down publicly on the megatrade, given that the Marlins can no longer use the old small-market-team-in-need-of-a-ballpark crutch as an excuse for retrenching. If the initial reaction from Miami's best player is any indication, judgment has already been rendered in the Miami clubhouse. Giancarlo Stanton issued the following comment on his Twitter account Tuesday night:
@Giancarlo818: "Alright, I'm pissed off!!! Plain & Simple"
It must be an emotional ordeal for Stanton to see all his veteran teammates leave Miami and know that his employer has resigned itself to a long and arduous rebuilding project. But he can consider himself fortunate in one respect: At least he doesn't have to pay to watch it.
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