Almost immediately upon leading an investor group to purchase the Miami Marlins, Derek Jeter, the team’s new chief executive, began selling the team’s best players. The Marlins, it seems, are cash-strapped even after the sale for $1.2 billion.
The team carries $400 million in debt, its farm system is among Major League Baseball’s worst and so are its attendance figures. Even to casual observers, the situation in Miami is dire, and Jeter’s reactions haven’t yet endeared him to Marlin fans who have suffered eight straight losing seasons. The team hasn’t reached the postseason since 2003, the same year the then-Florida Marlins beat Jeter’s Yankees in the World Series.
“I can’t sit here and say, ‘Trust me.’ You don’t know me. You earn trust over time,” Jeter said on Dec. 19 after he shipped reigning National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees for Starlin Castro and a pair of prospects.
Well, judging from the bile slung at Jeter since the team’s sale went final in October — and a meeting with fans on Wednesday afternoon — here are seven quotes that have rubbed Marlins fans the wrong way.
Oct. 3, 2017 — Introductory press conference
“Our fans. They are our No. 1 priority. We want them to get to know us as owners. More importantly, we want to get to know them. We want to hear from the fans. The fans are our No. 1 priority.”
If fans were truly the top priority, why trade away all of the team’s best players? Jeter shipped second baseman Dee Gordon to the Mariners for spare parts in early December, then backed it up by trading away Stanton, all-star left fielder Marcell Ozuna and outfielder Christian Yelich.
Fans hated former owner Jeffrey Loria because he was known for amassing young talent and then selling it all down the river when good players started getting pricey. It was like the 76ers tank job, but without “The Process” in mind. Now Jeter has to convince fans this time, he’s not tanking the team to save money, he’s tanking the team to win. Even though that might be true, it certainly isn’t putting fans first.
“We’re going to focus on everything. We’re going to build it from the top down, bottom up, however you want to say it. We’re going to pay attention to detail.”
Building from the top down or the bottom up are very different things. The top down means finding players you can plug into the lineup and win now. Bottom up means stocking the farm system with prospects and filling out a major league lineup later.
Those are both valid methods of building a team, and both do require “attention to detail.” But when you confuse the two, it’s clear you’re not really paying attention.
“The word teardown and rebuild — yeah, we are rebuilding a franchise. But I think a lot of times people associate those words with losing. You never go into a situation and the message is that ‘We’re going to lose.’”
Those words aren’t associated with losing a lot of time. They’re associated with losing all of the time. That’s how a rebuild or teardown works: You lose and position yourself for good draft picks, then use those draft picks to build back up into a contender. If the Marlins don’t lose enough — say they go .500 even after trading away all their top players — the rebuilding process will not be off to a successful start.
Look at what the Astros did during their rebuild. They lost 100 games for three years straight. Now, they’re World Series champions.
Dec. 13, 2017 — After the Marlins trade Stanton
“So little in return? You mean, in terms of quantity? We have people in place whose job is to know about talent, and I think they would disagree with you. We think we got some good prospects in return, and now it is up to us as an organization to help develop them.”
Jeter can hype this trade as much as he wants, but Miami really did not get much back in exchange for Stanton, who had 59 home runs in 2017 and 132 runs batted in. At 28, he still has plenty left in the tank for his career. In return, the Marlins got an all-star second baseman in Castro (who has already requested a trade), and two middle-of-the-road minor league prospects. It also bears mentioning that as CEO, Jeter is one of the people whose job it is to evaluate talent. All that makes fans wonder if Jeter really knows what he’s doing running a front office, not an infield.
Dec. 19, 2017 — Fans town hall after the Marlins trade Ozuna
“This is an organization that is losing a significant amount of money. We didn’t buy this team to continue losing money or more importantly, losing games. More of the same is not the answer.’”
As the trades kept piling up and the Marlins’ rebuild accelerated, one scenario became increasingly likely: Jeter’s ownership group (of which he has a four-percent stake) doesn’t actually have enough money to run the franchise like a Major League team. Sports agent Scott Boras, who represents Ozuna, called the team a “pawn shop.” Marlins Man, that fan who shows up at every major sporting event in a bright orange Marlins jersey and visor, lamented paying big league prices to see a “Triple A team.”
When Loria didn’t want to pay big money for Marlins stars, he traded them, or let them walk for nothing in free agency. Jeter is doing the same thing, but with the promise that a few years down the road, he won’t do it again.
Feb. 7, 2018 — Public Q&A at Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce luncheon
“We will be competitive. Every single person that takes the field for this organization is going to be playing like they’re playing to keep their job.”
There are two main problems here:
1) Jeter has spoken at length since taking over about how he wants to treat players right and make them feel comfortable playing for this franchise, a consistent qualm players had with Loria. “You take care of your players and you take care of your fans and make it a fun experience for both of them,” Jeter said at his introductory press conference. But reminding players and coaches day in and day out their jobs are on the line doesn’t quite conform to that original message. Again, Jeter is stuck between two conflicting statements.
2) This is not the definition of “competitive” in Major League Baseball. Competitive means winning ballgames. The Marlins are not going to win many this year. Jeter made sure of that.
“We are starting from a deeper hole than he is. He is starting from scratch. We had some things that we need to fix.”
First, some context. Jeter joked that Miami’s expansion MLS franchise, awarded to David Beckham’s ownership group at the end of January, has a shot at winning sooner than the Marlins do. Some more context: the Miami MLS team won’t even take the field until 2020.
You could give Jeter credit for his sense of humor if it wasn’t so tone-deaf. He has been telling fans he understands their patience since he purchased the team, but then traded away great players for parts. The Marlins would likely be a borderline .500 team without those trades, which is bad for the team in the long run, but better than what fans will have to endure until at least 2021.
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