A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a clip of Miami-based ESPN Radio host Dan Le Batard interviewing MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred as if the latter was being deposed. The interview can be found here at the twenty-minute mark, and I strongly recommend that you give it a listen because it is easily the most heated sports radio interview I have heard recently (outside of Don LaGreca’s famed interactions with Brian in Manhattan and Steve in Brooklyn). I have a handful of opinions on the matter, so I decided I would post this piece. That doesn’t mean that I’m done publishing Hall of Fame pieces, I’m just taking a little break before getting back to that stuff.
I’m not going to recap the entire interview because it’s pretty long, but the general gist of the interview is that Le Batard is asking Manfred whether he knew about the fire sale/salary dump/whatever else you want to call it that Jeter and the new Marlins ownership group have started this offseason. Both Le Batard and Manfred raised very good points, but I, despite public opinion generally being in favor of Le Batard’s side, have to side with Manfred here. Not only do I think that Manfred did a good job in answering some tough questions, but I also think that the way Le Batard carried himself throughout the interview was not conducive to him garnering support.
For those of you unfamiliar with the tendency of the south Florida baseball franchise to slash payroll, I’ll give you a quick rundown. The Marlins joined baseball as an expansion franchise in 1993 and won a World Series shortly thereafter in 1997. The franchise then did something completely vexing: sell off all their good pieces to other teams for young prospects, in what essentially amounted to a way to cut payroll. Not even a week after winning the fall classic the team traded LF Moises Alou, who triple-slashed .292/.373/.493 with 23 HR in the regular season and .321/.387/.714 with 3 HR in the World Series, for two no-name minor league Astros pitchers. Just to give you an idea of how no-name these guys were: they threw 58.2 innings in parts of five combined seasons. Only 22.2 of those innings came for the Marlins, and they were all in 1998. The team also went on to deal righty Kevin Brown, who compiled 6.8 rWAR in the Marlins’ championship season, in addition to Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson (second in rWAR for the 1997 Marlins), Bobby Bonilla, and others all within the following months. This was, unfortunately for Marlins fans, not the last time the Marlins slashed their payroll in a big way.
Following the Marlins’ 1997 season, the team, unsurprisingly, had five straight losing seasons. Then in 2003, the Marlins front office decided to go all-in and make another run at a title. The team acquired future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez and the fleet-footed Juan Pierre in the offseason to add to their already-existing pool of talent that included Alex Gonzalez, Mike Lowell, Miguel Cabrera, Luis Castillo, and Dontrelle Willis, among others. They won the World Series. Then the hopes of the fans, the team, and the payroll went south once more.
In addition to trading Derrek Lee to the Cubs, the team opted not to re-sign Pudge or their closer, Ugueth Urbina. They traded Brad Penny in the middle of the 2004 season and missed the playoffs despite a still-talented roster. In 2005, they collapsed in September, missed the playoffs for the second straight year despite relatively lofty expectations, and then sold off a bunch of assets once more.
Following the 2005 season, the team traded away basically every valuable player on their roster except for Miguel Cabrera. This included Carlos Delgado, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Guillermo Mota, Paul Lo Duca, Luis Castillo, Juan Pierre, and others. Suffice to say, fans were not pleased with the salary cut. To give you an idea of how bad the salary cut was: Alex Rodriguez was slated to make more money than the entire Marlins 2006 Opening Day roster. The team finished 4th in the NL East in 2006 and 5th in 2007. They also got rid of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis during the 2007 season. Miguel Cabrera, as we all know, went on to win the triple crown with the Tigers and is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Willis flamed out, but that does not change the fact that the Marlins were willing to deal their top pitcher at the time just to shed salary. This is a trend Marlins fans have become all-too-familiar with, and it seems the same trend is manifesting itself under Derek Jeter and the new ownership group.
This brings me to the Le Batard-Manfred confrontation. Throughout the interview, Le Batard kept asking Manfred whether he knew that the new ownership group would be cutting salary, to which Manfred replied that the commissioner’s office does not get involved in player personnel decisions by the team, or by any team, for that matter. Whether this is true or not (I happen to think that Manfred did know to some extent that the Marlins would be slashing salary), remains to be seen, but the fact of the matter is that the Marlins are doing what they are doing in an effort to win baseball games. Perhaps not in the immediate future, I think it’s pretty difficult to contend after trading away the reigning MVP, but it looks for the Marlins like the long-term plan is to shed salary so they can rebuild from the ground up.
I also must mention that I am not a Marlins fan, so I can’t speak to the frustration that the fans must be experiencing after yet another salary dump. That being said, since 1993 (the year the Marlins entered the league), the team is tied for the third-most World Series wins of any franchise. Unless you’re a Yankees, Giants, Cardinals, or Red Sox fan, I’m almost positive that you would be willing to trade a few years of having to endure salary slashing in exchange for two World Series wins. Regardless, I think that Marlins fans need to be patient with the new ownership group. I can’t say that I know what they are doing, but they certainly have a long-term plan of some sort, and I think it would be very short-sighted to entirely abandon the franchise after only months of a new ownership group.
(Image Credit: AP Photo/Seth Wing)