When the Miami Marlins won on each of the first seven days in May, it marked the majors’ second longest winning streak of the season at that point. Texas had won eight in a row in April. The Marlins’ streak slashed Washington’s lead over them from 6 games to 3 ½. A lot of good it did them.
The Marlins got as close as three percentage points to the Nationals – that was on June 4 – but since then their season has deteriorated into a disaster.
From June 4 through last Saturday, their 15-31 record has been the National League’s third worst (only a game and a half better than Colorado’s 13-32), and they have tumbled 14 games from the still-leading Nationals.
As if the losing skid weren’t bad enough, it has prompted the re-emergence of the worst of the Marlins and their owner, Jeffrey Loria, repeating a pattern the Marlins have developed to perfection under Loria and one of his predecessors, H. Wayne Huizenga. The theme of the pattern is shedding high-priced players when the time, in the eyes of the myopic owner, is right.
Huizenga initiated the practice immediately after the Marlins won the 1997 World Series, and Loria repeated the demolition a year after the Marlins won the 2003 World Series. The Marlins have not won a third World Series, but Loria isn’t waiting for that event. He has concluded that the Marlins won’t come anywhere near winning it this season – or even making the playoffs – and began stripping the team last week.
“What a scam the team owners have pulled off,” a reader wrote in an e-mail. “They get public financing for a new stadium, sign a few free agents, sell tickets, and then bust it out.”
The reader had it exactly right except for one detail. There are no owners, only one owner, and Loria is the man who has perpetrated the scam the reader refers to.
It is not his first. He was the owner who two and a half years ago was the sole target of a rare joint action by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association ordering the Marlins to make proper use of the many millions of dollars they receive in revenue sharing each year.
The humorous aspect of that episode was that Loria said he was investing the money in the new park, the one the Marlins built to attract fans whom they are now scamming by trading away good players.
By not jamming Marlins Park every night or day, South Florida fans are showing that they don’t trust Loria, and last week he justified their mistrust.
By trading Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez and putting Josh Johnson on the market last week, the Marlins are insulting the fans and disrespecting them as they always have.
After the Marlins won the World Series in 1997, Huizenga ordered general manager Dave Dombrowski to dismantle the team. He knew he faced a hugely increased payroll and wanted no part of it. I’m a businessman, not a sportsman, he basically said.
After the 2003 World Series win, Loria waited a season – and subsequently bragged about it – before taking severe economic action and demolishing that team. Now Loria hasn’t waited for his team to win a World Series. The Marlins weren’t playing like a contender for the playoffs so Loria pulled the plug.
Marlins fans have become used to this boorish behavior, realizing that any hope they had that a new park would make a difference was wishful or foolish thinking.
With a couple of exceptions, new parks in recent years have served as magnets, drawing disinterested, disgruntled and just plain curious fans to see the local heroes. Of 10 parks that opened since the start of the 2000 season, five were more than 90 percent filled the first season, one was 87 percent filled, two others had people in more than 78 percent of the seats and two were just under 70 percent occupied.
The Marlins, through Saturday, had had fans buy 77 percent of the park’s seats, suggesting that many Miamians had not bought into Loria’s acquisition of his baseball version of art works – Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Carlos Zambrano, Heath Bell and Ozzie Guillen as well as the new park, the team’s new name and its new uniforms.
They understood very well, on the other hand, that Loria, the international art dealer, was again shedding payroll. Besides knowing art, Loria knows how to shed payroll. In trading Ramirez, for example, he saves about $37.25 million for the rest of this year and the next two years. If the Marlins succeed in trading Johnson by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline, they would save about $18.6 million on his salary for this year and next.
One would think the Marlins would want to hold onto a pitcher of Johnson’s caliber, but they have seemed to be more interested in dumping money when the players earning that money are not producing playoff-bound wins.
There’s a comment on a Web site dealing with player salaries, Cot’s Baseball Contracts, that, I think, fairly captures Loria.
“Jeffrey Loria,” it says, “bought the Marlins for $158M in 2002. Under the purchase agreement, the sale price was reduced to $143 million when the team did not get a new stadium within five years.” And with no apparent intention to link that note with the next one, it does nevertheless, saying, “Forbes magazine valued the club at $450M in March, 2012.”
In case the link isn’t obvious, I see it as suggesting that Loria’s team is worth a lot more than he paid for it and that he is willing to spend to support it. Marlins fans deserve better. Now that the Marlins play in a new park, a large part of it publicly funded, what excuse can Loria have for not supporting the team properly?
He could argue that he has done that with his player acquisitions via free agency and trade, but the Marlins’ newcomers have performed like the old team members.
Jose Reyes, whose $106 million signing bumped Ramirez to third base, has had an unspectacular season, hitting .274 with 23 stolen bases. Mark Buehlre ($58 million) has a 9-9 record with a 3.31 earned run average. Heath Bell was given $27 million to be the closer, but he has squandered 6 saves in 25 chances and has a 2-5 record with a 5.25 e.r.a.
The Marlins obtained Carlos Lee from Houston July 4, but he has hit only one home run in 19 games.
Little has gone right for the Marlins this season. Loria decked them out in their fanciest duds, but the party to which they were headed cancelled their invitation and they were stuck staying at home. Their new home and new clothes might be soiled next year, but maybe they’ll find them a better fit.
If I could talk to Loria, I might be able to get some answers to questions that might help me and you understand what he is doing but he did not return telephone calls.
ANONYMOUS A’S ERUPT
The Oakland Athletics may not be playing moneyball any more, but they have been playing magic ball. Whether it’s general manager Billy Beane or manager Bob Melvin or someone else who is responsible, the Athletics have had a remarkable run toward the playoffs.
In the last seven weeks, the Athletics have won practically three games of every four, running off a 29-10 record and leaping from 9 games behind Texas to 3 ½ games behind. More critically in these wild (card) times, the A’s snatched the American League wild-card lead from the Angels last Saturday.
There’s plenty of time – two months – to sort out that stuff, but it’s the first good news the Athletics have experienced all season, given Commissioner Bud Selig’s silence on their desire to move to San Jose. In fact, at the rate of speed Selig is moving on their request, the A’s will probably be in the World Series before they are in San Jose.
Maybe not this year, though, because what team can expect to go that far with players who might not be household names in their own households. None of these starting players had as much as a year in the majors when the season began:
Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, second baseman Jemilie Weeks, shortstop Eric Sogard, closer Ryan Cook, starting pitchers Tommy Milone, Jarrod Parker, A.G. Griffin, Travis Blackley. They make up four-fifths of the starting rotation, the closer, half of the infield and a third of the outfield, and the Athletics are storming through the American League.
ANOTHER MINAYA MAN
Just as so many of this season’s Mets players have done, Matt Harvey, the 23-year-old pitcher who made a sterling major league debut last Thursday, came out of the Mets’ minor league system that some narrow-minded critics said former general manager Omar Minaya didn’t build.
I have made this point before and if presented the opportunity will probably make it again because I believe in Minaya’s talent and value to an organization.
In his six years as the Mets’ general manager Minaya might have made some mistakes – what general manager doesn’t? – but one of them wasn’t leaving the organization without a functioning farm system. Examples of his and his aides’ work can be seen every day in the Mets’ lineup.
But Harvey may turn out to be Minaya’s finest legacy.
The Connecticut right-hander was Minaya’s last No. 1 selection in his six annual June drafts with the Mets. In Arizona last week Harvey pitched 5 1/3 shutout innings, allowing no runs and three hits and striking out 11.
Harvey was the seventh player chosen in that draft, and Minaya credited Rudy Terrasas, the amateur scouting director at the time, and Sandy Johnson, special assistant to the general manager, for making the choice.
“Our scouts really liked him,” Minaya said. “Whenever you get a guy like that, that big with a good delivery and velocity, you have to take him.”
Now the San Diego Padres’ senior vice president for baseball operations, Minaya recalled that Harvey threw his fastball between 94 and 97 miles an hour, had “a really good slider,” a good curveball and a changeup he was developing.
“He was not afraid to pitch inside,” Minaya said. “He had an attack mentality. He loved coming after hitters.”
The Mets, Minaya said, considered other players for their first choice, a middle infielder and a catcher, he recalled, but “Rudy and Sandy both really liked him and those guys are very good evaluators. They said we can’t pass up on a guy like that and he wasn’t far away.”
Harvey’s 106-pitch performance against the Diamondbacks didn’t surprise him, Minaya said, “because I knew he was a competitor and an aggressive kid. You can tell guys who are going to be special. And he was one of those.”
More candidates may be added to the list before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trading deadline, but five pitchers have been traded to contenders in the past week, and which one is most likely to help his new team achieve what it got him for?
The pitchers are one reliever, Brett Myers, now with the White Sox, and four starters, Francisco Liriano of the White Sox, Zack Greinke of the Angels, Wandy Rodriguez of the Pirates and Anabal Sanchez of the Tigers.
Myers could get the most opportunities to help and could play a big part in the White Sox effort to hold off the Tigers.
The White Sox and the Tigers will go at each other for a wild-card spot as well as the American League Central title.
Meanwhile, the change in the A.L. wild-card hierarchy is interesting. For much of the season, it appeared likely that the two A.L. wild cards would come from the East, but now that Oakland has insinuated itself into the wild-card race and the Orioles and the Rays are stumbling and the Red Sox bumbling, there could be openings in the A.L. contingent