Know your enemy: Miami Marlins

Know your enemy: Miami Marlins

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — It’s just 33 days until the Cubs open the regular season in Miami against the Marlins.

The way Derek Jeter and his executive team have been trading off veteran players, the only one we might recognize when the Cubs get there is former Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro.

Castro came to the Marlins in the biggest selloff, the one that sent Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees. Other Marlins veterans traded: Dee Gordon, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna.

If you’re keeping track, that’s the entire outfield and their leadoff hitter.

The Marlins were not a bad team last year. They won 77 games. As late as August 27 they were 66-63 and 4½ games out of the second wild-card spot before their 11-22 finish put them out of contention.

But a team with players like Stanton, Yelich and Ozuna could contend if they had some pitching, right?

Here’s what Jeter had to say about that:

“When we were at the town hall,” says Jeter, referring to an event when he took questions from season ticket holders last December, “one of the fans said, ‘All you needed to do was sign two pitchers.’ I said, ‘Okay, who are those two pitchers?’ He couldn’t answer. You could have added two pitchers to this team and they still wouldn’t have won.”

Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish, the top free agent pitchers?

“No,” Jeter says. “They still wouldn’t have won. So you just dig a bigger hole, and eventually you have to get out of it. That’s a lot of work.”

Well, instinctively you know Jeter’s wrong, and here are numbers to back up that feeling:

Eno Sarris is right. If the Marlins would have kept the players they traded and signed Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish, they’d have been a pretty good baseball team, at the very least a wild-card contender. Not only that, but signing those two pitchers would have made a huge splash in the market and probably generated some ticket sales and corporate sponsorships. (Personally, I’m glad they didn’t do this and that Darvish is a Cub.)

But no. Jeter and his minions have ripped the Marlins down to the point that ex-Cub Dan Straily is their No. 1 starter. At least that’s what their depth chart says.

Now, Straily did actually have a pretty good year in 2017: 4.26 ERA, 1.299 WHIP, 1.6 bWAR. But that’s not No. 1 material. The Marlins have a couple of other decent starting pitchers in Jose Urena (who really should be listed No. 1) and Wei-Yin Chen. The rest? Uh… next question?

Brad Ziegler, who is 38 and who posted 10 saves for the Marlins last year, will close. Kevin Barraclough, whose name is charmingly pronounced “Bear-claw,” is the main setup man.

The offense? They scored 778 runs last year, fifth in the National League. They’ll be lucky to get to within 100 runs of that.

Lewis Brinson, who came over in the Yelich trade from the Brewers, is a young player to watch, a potential Rookie of the Year candidate.

Apart from that, it’ll be a long year for manager Don Mattingly.

I would expect Marlins Park to be filled with Cubs fans in the opening series from March 29 through April 1. The Marlins will be at Wrigley Field May 7-9. That means the Marlins will be the Cubs’ opponent for seven of the first 36 games of the season, and then the teams won’t meet again until 2019. Thanks, schedule-makers.

Marlins' and Rays' Embarrassing Selloffs Show MLB Can't Survive in Florida

Marlins' and Rays' Embarrassing Selloffs Show MLB Can't Survive in Florida

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 01: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Marlins Park on October 1, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins via Getty Images)

Rob Foldy/Miami Marlins/Getty Images

That sound you hear? It’s big league baseball exiting the southeastern United States with gale force.

Oh, sure, the Sunshine State is technically home to two MLB franchises. The Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays will play “meaningful” games in 2018.

For all intents and purposes, however, Florida’s teams are dead in the water. They’ve spent the winter jettisoning their assets and engaging in embarrassing selloffs that have set them up for irrelevance. 

It’s ugly. It’s going to get uglier.

The Marlins have made an indelible mark on an otherwise slow-developing offseason by trading their entire 2017 outfield. They shipped Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees, Marcell Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals and Christian Yelich to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Add their trade of second baseman Dee Gordon to the Seattle Mariners, and the Fish tossed 19.5 fWAR overboard under their cost-cutting new ownership group fronted by Derek Jeter.

Erstwhile owner Jeffrey Loria was a polarizing figure in South Beach. The new guard is on track to be equally divisive.

“We now know that Jeter will be just as unpopular as Loria, though fiscally smarter, and that he doesn’t care what you think,” opined Greg Cote of the Miami Herald.

MIAMI, FL - OCTOBER 03: Miami Marlins CEO Derek Jeter speak with members of the media at Marlins Park on October 3, 2017 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The situation in Tampa Bay is equally bleak. The Rays traded third baseman Evan Longoria to the San Francisco Giants. They gave outfielder Steven Souza Jr. to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a three-team swap. They dealt right-hander Jake Odorizzi to the Minnesota Twins. 

On Friday, Tampa Bay sent outfielder Corey Dickerson to the Pittsburgh Pirates, per the club’s official Twitter feed.

None of those trades were as seismic as the Stanton swap. It’s impossible to match a deal for the reigning National League MVP and his 59 home runs.

Longoria was a Rays franchise icon, however, and Souza, Odorizzi and Dickerson were essential ancillary pieces.

The sum of these deals have moved the Marlins and Rays from fringe postseason hopefuls to guaranteed basement dwellers bound for 100-plus losses.

Yes, both teams netted some interesting prospects. But nothing they got back sets them up for guaranteed success. After the Stanton, Ozuna and Gordon trades but before the Yelich deal, Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter ranked the Marlins’ farm system 26th in the game. 

The Rays fared better, checking in at No. 8. Both franchises, though, are hamstrung by thin budgets.

The Marlins rank 24th in MLB in payroll and the Rays 27th, per Spotrac. Neither club is going to pay what it takes to build and sustain a winner.

Which begs the question: Why do we have Florida teams at all?

The Marlins have won two championships, in 1997 and 2003. They opened a gaudy, publicly funded stadium in 2012. Still, Miami ranked 28th in attendance in 2017, per ESPN.com. Subtract Stanton’s fence-clearing exploits and add a cast of relative unknowns, and the indifferent coughs should echo through Marlins Park.

The Rays, meanwhile, checked in 30th (aka dead last) in attendance. They play their home games at Tropicana Field, arguably the ugliest yard in MLB. They haven’t finished over .500 since 2013.

Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

If they continue their sell-off and let go of popular right-hander Chris Archer, they could be forced to pay fans to show up. That’s barely hyperbole.

Rebuilding isn’t always a bad thing. The Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros recently swallowed a period of painful losing in exchange for a Commissioner’s Trophy.

The situation in Florida is different. These aren’t franchises with a plan, asking their fans to endure the sting of tanking now for glory later. 

The Marlins and Rays are acting in bad faith, gutting their rosters with no realistic assurance they’ll do and spend what it takes to compete later.

Want to get really mad? Check out this math, courtesy of George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel:

“[Thanks] to the magic of revenue sharing, bad teams with apathetic ownership can make it rain on their investments. A year ago, the Rays invested only $70 million in payroll while taking in $205 million in revenue. The Marlins spent $114 in payroll off a revenue haul of $206 million in revenue.

That sucker in the mirror is you, and the players left behind.”

Maybe it’s time to admit big league baseball in Florida was a failed experiment. Maybe it’s time to contract back to 28 teams.

That’s an extreme suggestion. These are extreme times, baseball-wise, in the Sunshine State.

If you’re a ticket-buying fan in Tampa Bay or Miami, now is the time to be mad. And, concurrently, to stay home.

      

All statistics and payroll information courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted.

Rays, Marlins disorder unfair to fans, other small-market teams

Rays, Marlins disorder unfair to fans, other small-market teams

TAMPA — The three-team trade that brought infielder Brandon Drury to the Yankees and sent Tampa Bay Rays favorite Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona has served to further emphasize the tale of two teams in the same city — one loading up, the other stripping down — and the looming, much bigger problem in baseball called competitive balance.

There is joy aplenty over at Steinbrenner Field where hordes of early spring training fans swarm through the gates each morning to watch the big show in town — Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton taking batting practice. But tune in to WDAE 620 AM, the local sports talk radio station, and it’s a very different story for the actual hometown team here — nothing but outrage and disgust for the Rays, who are dumping payroll and trading away all their best players while at the same time holding out their hands for community support for a new stadium.

Yes, the Rays are now rivaling Derek Jeter’s Miami Marlins in South Florida when it comes to tanking. Over the past few weeks, the Rays have traded away their franchise player, Evan Longoria, last year’s most valuable Ray; Souza Jr.; their No. 3 starter Jake Odorizzi; their 27-homer leftfielder, Corey Dickerson; and allowed last year’s leading run producer (38 HR/85 RBI), Logan Morrison, and No. 2 starter Alex Cobb to leave as a free agents. That’s 115 homers, 311 RBI and 22 rotation wins gone, but more importantly to owner Stuart Sternberg it’s nearly $35 million in payroll off the books.

SUNDAY, AUG. 6, 2017 FILE PHOTO

Fan favorite Steven Souza Jr. is no longer with the Rays.

(Chris O’Meara/AP)

Like the Marlins and the Pittsburgh Pirates (who traded away their franchise player, Andrew McCutchen and No. 1 starter Gerrit Cole this winter), the Rays have essentially told their fans: There is no need to come out to the ballpark this season. We won’t be competing. But they have done it with an added wrinkle. A few days before the opening of spring training, Sternberg announced the Rays have settled on a site, in the historic Ybor City section of Tampa, for a new ballpark, and thus began his pitch to civic and business leaders for their support for the project.

Meanwhile, what no one is pointing out is that Sternberg will be getting upwards of $60 million in revenue sharing this year, in addition to $50 million in found money with the Rays’ share of MLB’s sale of BAMtech to Disney. That’s over $100 million for DOING NOTHING — and they can’t afford to keep Logan Morrison? The same with Jeter in Miami. Over $100 million in free money and he couldn’t afford to keep Christian Yelich?

No more than 7 images from any single MLB game, workout, activity or event may be used (including online and on apps) while that game, activity or event is in progress.

Giancarlo Stanton.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

It’s an absolute disgrace for baseball. For years, former commissioner Bud Selig insisted the only way to achieve competitive balance in baseball was for a payroll luxury tax as a spending prohibitive on the large market teams and revenue sharing as an incentive for the small market teams. And yet, because of teams like the Rays, Marlins and Pirates (the one team that has yet to sign a free agent this season), the payroll disparity is as huge this year as it’s ever been as these teams are taking their revenue sharing and BAM money and putting it in their pockets rather than spending it on players.

The Players Association pretty much screwed themselves in this latest labor agreement that barely raises the luxury payroll tax and puts increased draft pick/international signing money compensation for free agents, and the only way they’re going to be able to reverse this is to get some form of minimum payroll restrictions on the clubs in the next CBA. Good luck. But by then, Sternberg and the Rays conceivably will be on their way to Montreal, having turned this town off to baseball for good.

The Rays have even traded away their franchise player, Evan Longoria.

The Rays have even traded away their franchise player, Evan Longoria.

(Adam Hunger/USA Today Sports)

“Stuart Naimoli (a disparaging reference to the much-loathed original Rays owner Vince Naimoli) is asking us to pay major league prices to watch a minor league team. Outrageous!” was a typical call to WDAE this week. And even “Dickie V,” Dick Vitale, one of Sternberg’s best friends and a longtime season-ticket holder for Rays games, called on Sternberg to sell the team Wednesday. “I’ve spent over a half million on Rays tickets over the last 15 years,” Vitale said. “We’re getting rid of all our best players and replacing them with no-names. This just isn’t fair.”

The rest of the small market teams who ARE spending money — like the Rockies and Padres — don’t think it’s fair either. Not when Sternberg’s Rays and Jeter’s Marlins get an increase in revenue sharing — at their expense — because of low attendance.

My suggestion to the fans of Tampa this spring is to come over to Steinbrenner Field and watch the Yankees, especially the kids who aren’t going to make the team. The Yankees’ Triple-A team in Scranton, which likely will have Clint Frazier, Jake Cave and Billy McKinney in the outfield, Tyler Austin at first base, Tyler Wade at shortstop and Chance Adams, Luis Cessa, Albert Abreu and Justus Sheffield in the rotation, figures to be a better — and definitely more interesting — team than the one the Rays will trot out at Tropicana Field this year.

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Marlins counting on big contribution from 34-year-old Prado

Marlins counting on big contribution from 34-year-old Prado

FILE – In this April 19, 2017, file photo, Miami Marlins’ Martin Prado runs the bases during a baseball game against the Seattle Mariners, in Seattle. Prado is not about to complain about the franchises offseason dismantling and demand a trade, because hes happy just to be on a major league team. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Miami Marlins third baseman Martin Prado is not one to complain about the state of the franchise and demand a trade, because he’s happy just to be on a big league team.

Insert joke here.

OK, so the Marlins’ fitness for the majors is in question after they traded away half their starting lineup. But as outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich expressed displeasure about the makeover – and were then dealt away – the 34-year-old Prado had no desire to depart along with his younger teammates.

”To me it’s a little radical,” Prado said, ”the way guys are thinking in this generation. When I came up, I was not allowed to speak. I’m not judging. I love them, and we’re going to miss them. I wish them the best. Now I have to handle myself, and we have to move on.”

In the wake of new CEO Derek Jeter’s payroll purge , Prado becomes the Marlins’ highest-paid everyday player – if he plays. The Marlins will pay him $13.5 million this season and $15 million in 2019, the final year of his contract.

But he spent most of 2017 as one of the highest-paid players on the disabled list, with right knee and hamstring injuries limiting him to 37 games, and is not 100 percent as spring training games begin.

”I feel all right,” he said. ”I overworked the last few weeks and my hamstring was a little tight, so I backed off a bit.”

He’s swinging mostly in the batting cage so far and sitting out team drills, and he’s not in the lineup for Friday’s exhibition opener against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Manager Don Mattingly said the goal is to have Prado ready for opening day. And Mattingly expects a significant contribution from the veteran, who batted .305 with 183 hits in 2016 and is a career .291 hitter, as well as a fine third baseman.

”Don’t forget what Martin looked like two years ago,” Mattingly said. ”Last year was a tough season on him mentally, but for me this is one of our most valuable guys. He can flat-out hit, and that’s not going away. I’m counting on Martin.”

Prado’s biggest contribution might be his leadership as Miami’s oldest everyday player.

”The way he goes about his business is extraordinary,” Mattingly said. ”He’s a tremendous worker, he wants to play every day, he’s got great routines and he’s successful. All that is leadership for a young club showing how you prepare to win.”

Prado embraces the role and bats away criticism of the Marlins’ new direction, noting that Jeter is following the rebuilding approach that took the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros to World Series titles.

Prado’s hunch is that improvement could come quickly in Miami.

”Derek Jeter might have some ideas that other teams might not have. He might have better ideas,” Prado said. ”I’m pretty sure he’s not going to just want to be decent. He wants to be the best.”

Prado hopes to help in an old-school way. The 12-year veteran said he’ll go about his job the way he has for his entire career – by being professional and playing the game right.

That’s his way of showing his gratitude for a big league job.

”I’m thankful to be where I am,” he said.

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

Marlins' Odrisamer Despaigne: Gunning for rotation spot

Marlins' Odrisamer Despaigne: Gunning for rotation spot

Despaigne is competing for one of the Marlins‘ final three rotation spots in spring training, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com reports.

Dan Straily and Jose Urena are the only locks to open the season in the Marlins’ rotation, leaving Despaigne, along with 10 or so other candidates, to compete for the remaining three spots. He split time between Triple-A New Orleans and the Marlins last season, posting a 3.09 ERA across 70 innings for the Baby Cakes while notching a 4.01 ERA with the big club. The righty should be one of the favorites to earn a rotation spot thanks to his prior big-league experience and Miami’s lack of quality options, but even if he breaks camp in the team’s rotation, Despaigne likely won’t offer much from a fantasy perspective given his career 4.72 ERA and 5.3 K/9 across four major-league seasons.

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Marlins' Justin Nicolino: In rotation mix

Marlins' Justin Nicolino: In rotation mix

Nicolino is competing for one of the Marlins‘ final three rotation spots in spring training, Joe Frisaro of MLB.com reports.

Nicolino will join a group of around 10 other pitchers auditioning for a spot in the Marlins’ rotation, which currently only has two Opening Day locks in Dan Straily and Jose Urena. In 20 appearances for Miami in 2017, which included eight starts, the 26-year-old notched a lackluster 5.06 ERA and 26:20 K:BB across 48 innings. He posted a more respectable 3.87 ERA in 12 starts (79 innings) with Triple-A New Orleans, though that came with a similarly poor 51:24 K:BB. While an impressive spring could see Nicolino break camp in the rotation, he’ll primarily be used to eat innings and doesn’t figure to hold any significant fantasy value in 2018.

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