The Miami Marlins traded five players to the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday, in a 12-player blockbuster highlighted by Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. In making the deal, Miami unburdened itself of $160 million or so in contracts that would not have much helped them make the playoffs over the next five years, and got a pack of mid-level young talent in return.
I wish this deal could just be about Reyes. Jose Reyes is one of the dozen players I most enjoy watching, and when healthy, he’s phenomenal. He runs well, has WAY more power than people tend to appreciate, is a good enough athlete to stay at shortstop into his mid-30s, and commands the strike zone at the plate. Acquiring Reyes, plus Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck, positions the Blue Jays as legitimate contenders heading into 2013.
This deal has no chance of being about Reyes, or Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos (who may be pulling the Super Man III/Office Space scam right now, because he seems to make transactions just for the sake of them sometimes), or anything else. In the public memory, this deal will be about the Marlins, an organization viewed now as the most despicable in the history of professional sports.
Miami, née Florida, has indeed perpetrated fraud. More than once, the franchise has disassembled teams either on the brink of winning, or fresh off winning, in the name of saving money. Simultaneously, they wrung from the municipal governments at the city and county level a new ballpark that cost hundreds of millions of public dollars. Here’s the thing: I’m not sure they have actually done wrong by the community, and I’m not remotely prepared to vilify the ownership group or the front office.
Firstly, it’s important to define a franchise’s responsibility to the community. I believe it is this: to try to win games while considering the long term; to be socially responsible and positively activist; and to serve the broadest possible swath of the community’s residents by keeping their product affordable, accessible and edifying. If you disagree with that premise, it will be hard to build a debate here. I can’t see how a heavily-subsidized local industry that employs relatively few people can be responsible for less, but I also can’t imagine how a ball club could do more. It may be a subsidized business, but it remains a business, and needs to turn a profit. If that’s true of a corporate dairy farm, it might as well be true of a baseball team.
Let’s break it down, then, based on those proposed duties. Working backward, we ask first: Are the Marlins doing their best to make the experience of attending a game at Marlins Park an educational, or at least substantial one? Here, the first principle is to do no harm. Baseball’s everydayness, its natural parity, and the fact that it is essentially a nonviolent form exercise in a verdant enclosure makes it a naturally positive influence on young people. The Marlins have a night club in left field, which is weird and a bit unsettling, and a home-run sculpture that doesn’t quite qualify as art, but those don’t fundamentally or intentionally distract fans from the game on the field. Check.
Is the team now as accessible, or more so, than it was before the deal? There’s very little chance that will be true. All five of the traded players were popular, friendly and fairly gregarious. Yunel Escobar, on the other hand, was suspended late this season for printing a(n?) homophobic slur in Spanish on his eye black during a game.
Yet, we should note, Escobar–and fellow shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria, who also joined the Marlins in the deal–is Cuban-born. According to epodunk.com, Miami is 34.1 percent Cuban. This is an underrated element of accessibility: a team, though never to be built around ethnicity or some vapid racial pandering, should strive to relate to its community by reflecting the community on a personal level.
Is going to a Marlins game going to be more affordable down the road because of this deal? Maybe so. That’s hard to say. Certainly, with the payroll slashed by about 50 percent, the team will be able to turn a profit at a lower revenue level, so if nothing else, one should expect concession and merchandise prices to resist inflationary pressure heading into 2013.
I don’t want to pretend to know something I do not know about the Marlins’ community involvement. They seem to do the standard things all teams do (free tickets for underprivileged youth organizations, baseball camps, charitable partnerships), and if anything, their education and arts-in-schools programs are more ambitious than parallel programs most teams run. This may be a presentation difference, of course, and not a real one. Still, we can’t crucify the Marlins for somehow failing to reach into the community.
The ballpark itself is the strongest evidence in Opinion v. Loria. Yet, the responsibility for the park’s construction must be split between Loria and the legislators who accommodated him. For that matter, though I don’t believe we should accept that “everyone’s to blame so no one’s guilty,” ($1, Aaron Sorkin) the fact is that virtually every team in professional sports today occupies a publicly-funded stadium of one kind or another. That doesn’t make the Marlins evil. This trade does, or so say the detractors, because it represents the team forsaking competition in the name of profit now that they have sewn up a new park.
So we come to the crux of it. Does this trade meet the crucial criteria of advancing the cause of contention for Miami, or at least making an honest effort to do so? I say yes. The team they had assembled prior to 2012 was a flop, and was not going to improve. They were fairly healthy in 2012, and still won only 69 games. They spent near the top of their spending power, and did not draw well in response. Giancarlo Stanton is maybe my favorite living player, but he had no hope of elevating this core above the Nationals and Braves in the next two seasons. The Marlins needed new talent depth and renewed flexibility. They got both in this trade. Whether they spend it elsewhere this winter (they should not), or use it on a Stanton extension and then find the right complementary pieces going forward, the Marlins now have their budget space back. They also still have Stanton, plus a dozen solid young players (many acquired in the past four months) who will shape the next winning Marlins team.
Good role models are either relatives or fictional characters. No team or individual in baseball needs to meet a standard of comportment, competitiveness or quality. They’re incapable or improving upon or defiling the institution, the game itself. Democracy is not good or bad, depending upon the government’s actions. Democracy is intrinsically, irreducibly superior to other forms of government. Baseball is similarly superior to all other sports, and most other cultural institutions in the United States. The Marlins couldn’t ruin that if they tried, and for that matter, they didn’t try as hard as those offended by them seem to think.Next post: How Real is Darwin Barney’s Defensive Value to Chicago Cubs?
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