The ESPN assessment of the Giancarlo Stanton trade gives the Marlins a grade of B. Despite the fact that neither of the two prospects Miami received top 10 in the Yankees’ farm system, the Marlins faced such an urgency to shed Stanton’s contract that getting rid of him is a good thing, regardless of the return. That’s the reasoning for the grade? Well, sure… I guess.
This seems like a good time to point out that the Marlins play in the eighth largest metropolitan area in the country. The Heat haven’t played before an empty seat since 2010, despite losing their three superstars. The Dolphins haven’t had an empty seat since 2014, despite the fact that you can’t name four players from the Dolphins. So the market doesn’t suck. You could say, in fact, that the heavily Hispanic population in the area should be more inclined to support baseball than other sports, if the baseball team would give them something worth supporting. Any thought that trading Stanton is part of an overall strategy to provide a better product to the fans got blown away by the further trades of Dee Gordon and Marcell Osuna, both for meager returns.
Why wouldn’t the new owners try to capitalize on the goodwill they have generated simply by not being Jeffrey Loria? Jeter and company could spend the next year or two trying to rebuild their market into something that can support a contract the size of Stanton’s. Isn’t that process easier with a guy who just hit 59 home runs? Now Marlins fans are stuck with a team whose best player is likely to be Starlin Castro, unless he gets traded too. The team will suck in 2018. Then the owners will claim that the market sucks, as they cash their checks from the revenue sharing pool, a pool that is fed by teams in cities half the size of Miami, like St. Louis.
The problem with growing a market, as everyone who has started a business knows, is that the expenses come before the revenue. If the Marlins had kept Stanton and actually added a few pieces to put a more attractive product on the field, they probably would have lost some money while the fans got over their initial skepticism. The fact that the option was apparently not even considered lends credence to the theory that these guys simply don’t have the funding necessary to run a franchise well. If they expected both the team and the market to suck while not having a plan for fixing those issues, why did they buy the team? You’ll recall that there were a number of bids, including one by a group with Jeb Bush. It seems reasonable to conclude that the winning bid came at something of a premium.
Do they intend to tank? Tanking worked for the Astros and Cubs in recent years. Those teams, however, had two critical things that the new Marlins’ management seems to lack: credibility with the fan base and the willingness to spend money. That credibility ensured the fans would come around when the team got good (or sooner, in the case of the Cubs). This was reinforced by those large payrolls to keep the young players that they drafted when they developed and to add veterans to their core when they got close to contending. Even with all that, it took some good scouting on draft picks combined with some luck. You need a combination of both (mainly luck) to find Jose Altuve or to pick up Jake Arrieta in a minor trade. There’s no reason at this point to believe the Marlins will have either of those working in their favor.
Obviously, the original sin in this situation is the mammoth contract that was given to Stanton in the first place. But if Stanton was a free agent right now, $25 million per year wouldn’t get you a meeting. Did that contract make it easier or more difficult to trade Stanton? Probably more difficult if the no-trade clause is factored in, but what that question fails to consider is that they didn’t have to trade him now. Why not give it a season? Why not, at the very least, until the trade deadline, and see if the offers get better? Maybe fans will be excited to go to games and watch a superstar.
If they are so destitute that even paying Stanton for another year was beyond their means, you have to wonder what sort of vetting was done before the other owners approved their bid. It’s not in anyone’s interest to have a franchise in the league without a viable path to contention, especially in such a large market. Once an owner gets into the club he is can generally only be removed if he commits gross malfeasance. As good as the idea of Derek Jeter owning a team looked at first glance, most of the people who own large shares of sports teams have net worths in the billions. That is hard to achieve for a ballplayer, even on a Yankee salary.
This brings us to the worst part of this whole scenario. There’s only circumstantial evidence to support the theory that Jeter gifted an MVP to his former boss. But it sure looks hinky, though. And this is the Yankees, who famously turned the Kansas City Athletics into a personal farm team in the 50s and more or less did the same with the Indians in the 70s. Is it out of the question that the Yankees, with their mountain of cash, could have in all of these cases thrown a financial lifeline to a struggling franchise in exchange for a few one-sided trades at opportune moments? Back in the 70s, the commissioner’s office stepped in and prevented Charley Finley from depleting his Oakland roster, ostensibly for cash to upgrade his minor league system. That precedent seems to apply here.