Baseball’s trade deadline of 31st July – two-thirds into the season – gives General Managers in the sport a unique opportunity to give up. In no other sport, American or otherwise, is there quite the same opportunity to tell the world, “we’re not going to win and we know we’re not”, weeks before their teams are mathematically eliminated.
For some teams, such as the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, the entire season up to this point has been waiting for the time when they admit what they and everyone else have know for a while – that they’re several years from contending. But for two other teams – most notably the Miami Marlins and the Philadelphia Phillies, a season that opened with such promise has gone down in a spectacular ball of flame. How did it happen?
The problem with spending hundreds of millions of (taxpayers) money on a new stadium is the perception that you must win NOW. If you don’t, the massive attendance spike you receive in your first year at the new ballpark will fall off and you’ll miss what’s perceived to be a great opportunity to boost revenues for the long-term.
To ensure that they’d be competitive and attractive this season and beyond, the Miami Marlins decided to do the most stupid things they could think of. In no particular order they included the following:
– Hiring Ozzie Guillen as manager. He’s a hispanic…Miami’s largely Hispanic…let’s hire him!! I don’t know what else they could have been thinking – his White Sox sides had been nothing special in the six years since their World Series win, and his gigantic mouth had been a distraction the whole time. (Maybe Marlins ownership simply figured there’s no such thing as bad publicity.) With the Marlins, Guillen’s team has performed below expectations and his mouth has gotten bigger then ever, culminating in his professions of “love” and “respect” for Miami’s public enemy no.1: Fidel Castro.
– Trading for Carlos Zambrano. An icon of self-absorption and anger issues, Zambrano has been exactly what everyone outside of Miami knew he’d be: horrible. As of Monday he was demoted to the Marlins bullpen where Guillen apparently wants to “see what happens”.
– Speaking of self-absorption, next on the “what were the Marlins thinking?” list was signing free agent Jose Reyes to a 6-year, $102m contract that will pay him $22m at ages 32-34. Inevitably, Reyes’ stats have come back down to slightly below his career averages, after the gaudy numbers he put up in his free agent year with the Mets.
So yes, the Marlins deserved to be out of contention by now and have admitted as much by trading away erstwhile franchise cornerstone Hanley Ramirez and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Last year they won a franchise-record 102 regular season games and this year find themselves at the bottom of the National League East, with an end to their 5 consecutive division titles now an inevitability.
– As with the Marlins, there wasn’t just one thing that went wrong. But let’s start with awarding a $125m 5-year contract to a First Baseman under team control for another two years who struggles with breaking pitches (Ryan Howard). It doesn’t constitute a financial straitjacket on its own, but it went a long way to one.
– Howard blowing out his achilles in the season-ending groundout against the Cardinals last year couldn’t have been foreseen, and neither could the extent of Utley’s injury (given the player’s reluctance to share information with even his employers). With the Phillies’ two best hitters out of action until June, the lineup didn’t have enough bang for a dime – never mind a buck, and was reduced to scratching out the occasional run.
– Closer. I still can’t fathom why they let Ryan Madson walk when he’d given ample evidence of being a home grown talent with a desire to stay and the ability to hold down the position for years to come, with his mix of upper-90’s fastball and devastating changeup. Instead, the Phillies spent more money on Jonathan Papelbon and mix of a mid-90’s fastball and a…um…low-90’s fastball.
– Roy Halladay’s 7-week stint on the DL after months of labouring with upper back pain, and Cliff Lee’s horrible luck followed by relative ineffectiveness were unpredictable but the bullpen looked weak and undermanned from early Spring.
Truth is, teams don’t stink it up for 100 games because of one thing or out of dumb luck, and while they’ve only now been declared dead for the season, the pulse for both teams was becoming erratic 6 months ago.