Miami Marlins principal owner Bruce Sherman, back in March, on a beautiful, sun-dappled day in Jupiter, outside the club’s spring training clubhouse, said: “We have money, and we will spend it.”
Eight words to give Marlins fans, long-beleaguered by cursed, penurious ownership, a ray of hope.
Today, alas, a baseball season later, history would update what Sherman said as such: “We had money, and we spent, but not nearly enough. And not nearly smart enough.”
And so Marlins fans leave another season with shoulders sagged, yet again, as another wasted years ebbs and another postseason begins with Miami on the couch.
Sandy Alcantara had one of the best seasons ever by a Marlin and should be the first in club history to win the Cy Young Award. His 8.0 WAR rating (Wins Above Replacement) led all MLB pitchers. That was despite the team around him, the third-lowest scoring in all of baseball. His won-loss record was 14-9. Adjusted for even average run support it would have been 19-4. At least.
The great rebuild began with the 2018 season, the first under the new Sherman/Derek Jeter leadership. Jeter lasted four years before quitting this past February, frustrated by the continued lack of spending, The rebuild goes, but to what end? And for how long?
Does Hallmark make a card congratulating a team on the five-year anniversary of its rebuild? How about the 10-year anniversary? When will this cycle of egregious Marlins underspending end?
Years past, the Marlins had fire sales, selling off pricey star players for cheaper players. “Rebuild” means it was a fire sale to sell off pricey players, but this time for prospects to make for a bounteous farm system.
Crops take time to grow, though. Meantime the veteran talent is of the journeyman variety, not starpower.
What Dolphins owner Joe Robbie once told me in the late 1980s, in the midst of Dan Marino’s greatness, I would say today of the Marlins and their one superstar:
“They are wasting the Alcantara years.”
There was false hope in 2020. In the COVID-shortened 60-game season Miami somehow went 31-29, sneaked into an expanded playoffs and won a series before losing. (It figured. That a global pandemic would smile upon the cursed Marlins.)
Since then: Regression to a 67-95 record last year and a scant uptick to 69-93 this year, after Wednesday’s season-ending 12-8 home win over Atlanta, before 12,195 pall-bearers I mean spectators at it’s-still-Marlins Park-to-me. Twelve runs! if only such production had been far more common, or even occasional, this punchless season.
It was manager Don Mattingly’s farewell after seven seasons, by mutual agreement, which usually means the team extends that courtesy rather than say they are firing you.
Congrats, Donnie Baseball, for finally getting out. He managed with his hands tied, bound by a bare-bones player payroll.
Can’t call Mattingly a scapegoat. But changing managers is the awfully easy way for an owner to convey dissatisfaction with losing, even when the real reason for the losing is staring back at said owner in the mirror.
Somebody will replace Mattingly and it will be trumpeted as a new beginning. Might even be a “name” manager such as Bruce Bochy. Mattingly was a “name” manager, too. Players win. Your neighbor could manage the Dodgers and they would be good. The greatest manager ever invented could take on the Marlins and they would still lose.
Until the farm system stars growing superstars or at least stars. It hasn’t yet.
And until the team starts spending. Both in quantity and in quality.
Miami has keepers besides Alcantara, certainly. Pablo Lopez for starters. Jazz Chisholm Jr. when healthy.
Said Mattingly: “We can’t afford misses [in drafting and player development]. The Dodgers have a miss or the Yankees have a miss, they swallow it and move on. We can’t do it. That’s where we’ve got to be good about developing players. That’s building the system to the point where you can have patience and actually allow guys to develop and actually get to the point where when they come up, they can have an impact. If they can’t, they shouldn’t be in the system.”
Miami actually had a busy offseason — except it failed. That’s on general manager Kim Ng. Avisail Garcia and Jorge Soler were paid as mid-pricey free agents (not A-listers) to be productive bats. Both had lousy seasons. Same with catcher Jacob Stallings. The combined season WAR for those three was minus-1.4.
Even with those additions, and the smart contract extension for Alcantara, Miami’s 2022 total player payroll of $96.3 million ranked 26th of 30 teams, barely above half of the MLB average of $162.9 Million.
More pertinently, Miami is competing in the ferociously big-spending NL East. Well, playing in, not competing in.
The Mets, Braves and Phillies all made the playoffs. New York has the No. 1 overall payroll ($281.6M), Philadelphia is No. 4 ($254.8) and Atlanta is No. 8 (199.0). Washington, 20th at $140.8M, also substantially outspent Miami.
Yes, I know. Small-payroll teams also can win, and not all big spenders do. The Marlins remind us of that all the time. It is what small spenders who don’t win have to say to try to justify being cheap.
Seattle (21st biggest payroll), Tampa Bay (25th) and Cleveland (28th) made the playoffs with payrolls roughly comparable to Miami.
This also is true: The nine other teams that are in the playoffs all are among the top 12 highest payrolls.
There is a correlation between spending big and winning big. Not a guarantee, but a correlation.
“You have to accept who you are,” said Mattingly on Wednesday, resigned to it as he made his exit. “I don’t think we’re ever going to compete with L.A. and have a $300 million payroll or the Yankees or any teams like that. This market doesn’t dictate that. I don’t think it matters who the owners are.”
Sorry but that’s a defeatist attitude. But Atlanta isn’t New York or L.A. Atlanta spends, and competes. Young superstar slugger Juan Soto was available this past offseason. The fact Miami wasn’t even in the fight spoke volumes.
The Marlins have no shot if Bruce Sherman continues to spend a fraction of what the powers in the NL East are spending on players. There is no end game for that kind of a rebuild, just spinning wheels, plodding along and thinking less than 100 losses is a pretty good year.
The solution will hurt. But only the owner’s wallet. Did he buy the team to win, or did he not?
The Marlins had the second-lowest attendance in MLB this season, averaging 11,191 per game. They are good fans. Patient. And they deserve better. Just like Alcantara deserves better. As with spending and winning, there is a correlation to winning and attendance, too.
The owners of the Braves, Mets and Phillies are spending what they think they must to win, and have the playoffs to show for it.
This is the reality, the NL East Miami is stuck in.
Bruce “We Have The Money, And We Will Spend It” Sherman needs to either spend enough to compete with that, or hand the ball to somebody who can, and will.