Build a team. Acquire players. Expect good things! Bad things happen. Trade players for younger and cheaper players who might be better some day. Build a team …
That's the cycle of success. Well, roughly. Sometimes teams get stuck in the cycle of acquiring expensive players, and sometimes teams get stuck in the cycle of trading good players for younger players. But generally if a team feels like they're out of the playoff race by July 31, they'll look to move the players that might be more valuable to other teams.
Except the Miami Marlins aren't just any other team. They had a different cycle of success. It went like this: Win a World Series. Get everyone excited about things! And then trade a bunch of popular players. Do the exact opposite of win the World Series. Don't acquire players. See if there's anything on television. Cash a revenue-sharing check from the Yankees.
That was how it used to be, at least. The fire sale was quicker and more offensive after 1997, but there was still something of a pattern. And everything the Marlins did before their new ballpark was supposed to refute that legacy. They extended Josh Johnson when they could have traded for a wheelbarrow of magic prospect beans. They extended Hanley Ramirez when he might have been the most valuable property in the game. Everything was building, building, building toward their new ballpark.
When the offseason hit, they dove into free agency like the guy in Alive who eats a mouthful of toothpaste and exults to the heavens. This was a different Marlins team, and they were willing to spend money to prove it. On anybody. Everybody. This was a different team, dammit.
Soooooooo, this snippet from Buster Olney doesn't make a heckuva lot of sense:
The two Florida teams might completely alter the trade market in the next 10 days, because both are at the tipping point. The Miami Marlins have been a brutal disappointment in their first season in their new ballpark, and if the Marlins decide to sell rather than buy, they'd be willing to discuss every player on their roster, from Omar Infante to Giancarlo Stanton to Josh Johnson.
I'll just ignore that part about Giancarlo Stanton. I mean … there's just no way, right? There was a rumor on Wednesday about Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford and Heath Bell and JaMarcus Russell and Barry Zito and … that was still the second-craziest Marlins-related trade note I read this week. Stanton isn't going anywhere.
But the rest of the team might be up for discussion. There are a lot of valuable trade chips on the Marlins. What do you need?
A young outfielder with promise, if not stellar current production? There's Logan Morrison.
Middle-infield help? You know Hanley Ramirez would love to play shortstop again, and Omar Infante can help a lot of teams at second.
Top-of-the-rotation pitchers? Johnson could move, and so could Anibal Sanchez. If a team wants someone for the middle of the rotation, Ricky Nolasco isn't going to cost much more than the $11.5 million left on his contract, I'd guess.
Did you inherit a team that you want to sabotage so you can move from Cleveland to Florida? Well, that doesn't make a lot of sense for a team already in Florida, but Heath Bell can sure help a team lose.
That's what a normal underperforming team would do at the trade deadline: assess the players who could move, see what they'd bring back, and go through the risk/reward assessment. But the Marlins are different. The last three years or so has been as much about building goodwill as it has been about acquiring players. Trading Josh Johnson might have been a good baseball move two years ago. Depending on some of the packages that would have come back, it might have been a great baseball move. But they kept him to make a point as much as anything else.
And the reason the Marlins have so many interesting trade chits? Because they have a lot of players who were really desirable before this year. Morrison, Hanley, Reyes, Johnson, Sanchez, the other Sanchez … they weren't supposed to be this mediocre-to-bad. You can argue that there isn't a single Marlin with more than 100 at-bats or 30 innings exceeding expectations, but you can list a dozen Marlins who are performing well below expectations. The reason there were expectations in the first place was because these players should be better.
They should get another chance to be better. Shake off 2012, and try again. It might not make a lot of baseball sense -- if Hanley Ramirez really is a 95/100 OPS+ kind of player, this might be the Marlins' last chance to get any sort of return for him -- but it would make a ton of public-relations sense.
The Marlins should have been better, but they're falling out of the playoff races. Hey, it was a good try. A normal team would sell off a few pieces, get some younger players, and start something new. The Marlins aren't a normal team. They can get away with trading Omar Infante. A complete fire sale, though, would undo all of the goodwill they've been trying to build up.