So, where to begin? Last night, the Miami Marlins committed one of the craziest trades in the history of baseball, sending Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson (their two top starting pitchers), Jose Reyes (their starting shortstop), John Buck (their starting catcher), and Emilio Bonifacio (their top utility player) to the Toronto Blue Jays for shortstop Yunel Escobar, catcher Jeff Mathis, rookie pitcher Henderson Alvarez, and four minor-leaguers, none of them top prospects.
Given that this came only one year after the Marlins went on a spending spree to sign high-profile free agents (including Reyes and Buehrle) in advance of the opening of their their new stadium, a stadium that received nearly $500 million in public subsidies after team owner Jeffrey Loria argued that he needed it in order to field a competitive team; and that Loria had already dispensed with other high-priced players, including Hanley Ramirez, Anibel Sanchez, and Heath Bell, earlier this year when the team wasn’t winning and fans weren’t turning out for games; and that the Marlins had already burned down their roster at least twice before, immediately after winning championships in 1997 and 2003 (the first time under former owner Wayne Huizenga, the second under Loria); and that Loria was previously revealed to be making tons of money on the team by keeping payrolls low and pocketing league revenue-sharing dollars; and that Loria was already famous for milking the Montreal Expos under his ownership so effectively that when new management arrived they didn’t even have office computers; and that this was only the cherry on the top of a massive sundae of embarrassment that Loria has been serving up all year — well, let’s just say that Marlins fans are a mite peeved this morning.
Though possibly still not as peeved as Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who despite earning only $480,000 this year instantly takes on the mantle of “only decent player remaining on the Marlins” (previously held by Miguel Cabrera held until he was traded for a pile of forgettable prospects in 2007), and who took to Twitter last night to proclaim:
Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain & Simple
— Giancarlo Stanton (@Giancarlo818) November 13, 2012
(Stanton also changed his Twitter profile picture from one where he’s wearing a Marlins jersey to one with him wearing a plain black t-shirt.)
So in the long history of Marlins’ fire sales, how bad is this one? There’s a momentary temptation to compare this to the Boston Red Sox‘ salary-shedding trade of several high-priced veterans last summer to the Los Angeles Dodgers, but really there’s no comparison: The Red Sox still had a fair bit of talent remaining, they got a couple of okay prospects in the deal, and they were almost certainly planning to use the money saved to buy some new players who hadn’t burned their bridges in Boston. By contrast, even if Loria were to go out and sign, say, top free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, he’d still have a hollow shell of a team that lost 93 games last year even before all this trade.
Or, if you prefer, there’s Nate Silver’s pithier summary:
— Nate Silver (@fivethirtyeight) November 14, 2012
So unless Loria has some secret plan to augment his team with a supernatural Christopher Lloyd, this looks a simple case of an owner who got the publicly subsidized new stadium he’d been dreaming about for a decade, used some of the proceeds to pay star players like he’d promised, was disappointed in the results both on the field and at the ticket office, and threw up his hands three months in and decided, “Hell with this, I’m going to go back to making money the old-fashioned way: Not spending anything or trying to sell tickets, and just collecting my share of league money and pocketing it.” At least the Marlins don’t pay rent based on attendance — one of the few things Miami officials got right in their lease negotiations — but still they’ll only be paying $2.4 million to their city landlords next year, about 6% of the annual salary they shedded last night, and not even one-tenth of what it’ll take to pay off the public’s bond payments on the new stadium.
That new stadium, already a symbol of government ineptitude and poor taste, now becomes a symbol of something even more sinister. Last night, the Miami Herald’s David J. Neal pictured it speaking to him:
“My master, Lord Loria, merely dangled a few promises before you to fool you into helping to create me! Now, the mighty tractor beam of my debt will suck the money from your present and future pockets as you slave while I make Lord Loria ever richer and more powerful! BWAAAA-HA-HA-HA!”