Thursday, October 4, 2012
Myriad changes, same sub-.500 result for Marlins
MIAMI -- The nightclub near the Miami Marlins' bullpen drew capacity crowds. The fish tanks behind home plate, the Cuban sandwiches in the food court and the air-conditioned comfort under the retractable roof also won raves.
The team? Not so much. While Miami's new ballpark was a hit this year, the ballclub was a flop.
The Marlins rebranded their franchise, changing the name as they moved into a new home and raising hopes with an uncharacteristic spending spree. They failed to change their losing ways, however, leaving celebrity manager Ozzie Guillen's job in jeopardy after only one season.
"I want to be the manager here," Guillen said. "Am I going to be? I don't make that decision. With the job I did this year, do you think I deserve to be back here? Of course not. But I'm not the only one. ...
"Let's start from the top. The front office failed, Ozzie failed, the coaching staff failed, the players failed, everybody failed."
That dismal summary pretty well sums it up. Newcomer Jose Reyes and the Marlins finished last in the NL East at 69-93, their worst record since 1999. They expected to contend for a playoff berth, but instead their loss total rose for the third year in a row.
On the final day of the season, opening-night T-shirts were being sold for $5, an 80 percent discount from April. Such deflation was no surprise at the end of such a deflating season.
After the game, the clubhouse quickly emptied.
"We already have gone through the disappointment of the year," slugger Giancarlo Stanton said. "That was halfway through the season. So it's nothing new now."
The latest dismantling of the Marlins' roster began in July, when they parted with former NL batting champion Hanley Ramirez, second baseman Omar Infante and right-hander Anibal Sanchez, among others. That meant more than two months of playing out the string.
The season began to go sour shortly after the opener, when Guillen's comments lauding Fidel Castro in a magazine interview angered South Florida's Cuban community. The manager served a five-game suspension.
As for Guillen's team, there was little to laud. The offense mastered the art of squandering scoring chances, while the bullpen -- especially new closer Heath Bell -- kept blowing leads.
At the end, Guillen gave the season the worst possible grade.
"By letters, Z. By numbers, negative zero in every department," he said. "Very sad, very embarrassing and a very tough situation because we thought the season would be a little bit different. Unfortunately, it wasn't."
That left the futures of Guillen and president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest in doubt, even though both are under contract through 2015. Owner Jeffrey Loria is expected to meet with team officials soon to decide what changes to make.
Last year's free-agent shopping binge is unlikely to be repeated. The Marlins reduced their payroll from $112 million on opening day to $90.3 million, and it's expected to be even lower next season.
Such spending constraints will make it difficult to upgrade a team that batted .244, the worst average in franchise history. The Marlins scored the fewest runs per game since their first year in 1993.
They also need help in the bullpen, where their ERA of 4.03 was seventh-worst in the majors. A good place to start might be trading Bell, who feuded with Guillen when he wasn't being booed for another blown save. But Bell is due $18 million over the next two years, making him difficult to deal.
Two other high-priced newcomers fared better. Mark Buehrle went 13-13 with a 3.74 ERA and topped 200 innings for the 12th year in a row. Reyes hit .287 with 40 steals in 160 games.
Stanton hit 37 homers and became the first Marlins player to win the NL slugging title with an average of .608. Other bright spots included newcomer Justin Ruggiano (.313), rookie second baseman Donovan Solano (.295) and rookie catcher Rob Brantly (.290), who might all be in the lineup next opening day.
Also drawing cheers: Adam Greenberg, who returned to the majors seven years after a beaning nearly ended his career. He struck out as a pinch hitter in his one-day chance on the next-to-last day of the season, but got a huge ovation.
And then there was the ballpark. With a baseball-only home for the first time, the Marlins drew more than 2.2 million fans. Management had projected attendance of nearly 3 million, but president David Samson said crowds were big enough to suggest a bright future.
"There were a lot of on-the-field negatives," Samson said. "We had high expectations and did not meet them. But with the ballpark we had really high expectations, and we did meet those.
"Look at the fans -- they came in numbers that we didn't have when we didn't have a baseball ballpark. It's a different world now. The Marlins are a different team. It's a different baseball city. Put it all together and it can be pretty great."