MIAMI, FL: Hanley Ramirez #2 of the Miami Marlins celebrates after hitting the game-winning home run during a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Marlins Park on April 28, 2012 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
The Marlins' strategy this offseason wasn't unique: They wanted to create a buzz heading into a new ballpark, and not just by throwing all sorts of money at free agents. The offseason bonanza was part of the strategy, but the Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez extensions had everything to do with the new park, too. Build a team with popular players, add some high-profile new players, and win, win, win!
Sound strategy. Except for the winning. And the positive buzz. Right after the park opened, manager Ozzie Guillen said he loved Fidel Castro. The term "buzz kill" was literally invented for situations like that. And after a slow start, the Marlins waded over .500 with a four-game winning streak. Since then, they've lost eight of nine, sinking to the bottom of the NL East. See those verbs? Fish-related. That attention to detail is how you know you're in for a good column.
The problem is the offense:
Going into the season, the Marlins likely figured they could count on a few things. Jose Reyes, top-of-the-order threat. Gaby Sanchez, middle-of-the-order hitter. Giancarlo Stanton, manimal. Instead, they've had a top-heavy offense. And by "top-heavy", I mean "Omar Infante." You know the old saying, "Infante and rain, and pray for, wait, there's a roof now?" The players who were supposed to hit aren't. The players who were really supposed to hit really aren't.
No problem. Even with a month down, it's still early. There are still Wild Cards and second Wild Cards, and it's not as if the teams ahead of the Marlins are invincible juggernauts. We're a long way from knowing who will or won't make the playoffs. It was just last week that the Red Sox were drowning in a puddle of their own drama. A week straight of winning has a way of changing things in April and May.
The difference between the Marlins and the typical team moving into a new stadium, though, is in the history of the franchise. The Marlins have a history of yanking the rug of success out from under the feet of their fans. And the new stadium was the organization's way of saying, "Don't worry. It's not like that anymore. We're players now." They built what looked like a pretty good roster. All they had to do was win.
And the argument here is that a losing season for the Marlins would be especially disastrous. A surprise, fluky season in which Giancarlo Stanton really does slug under .400, or in which Jose Reyes flops like Carl Crawford south. A season where everything that could go wrong does ... it would mean more than the typical down-the-tubes season. The people who live and breathe baseball would all say the same thing next year: Eh, they'll be back. Fluke season. The Marlins still have talent.
But the people the Marlins are trying to woo -- the causal fans who were turned off by the fire sales of 1998 and 2004 -- would see another lousy Marlins team. The Marlins have two championships in 19 seasons, but they also have a history of pissing off a portion of their fan base. A head of steam, a lot of expectations, and a downer of a season? It's still early and this is just a guess, but I'd wager that sort of thing would hurt the Marlins in 2015 and 2020 just as much as it would now.
The Marlins had a plan to change expectations. It should have worked. It still can. But if it doesn't right away, it will take a longer time to change the expectations than it might for another organization.