So. Time to take Marlins Park and: A) Disassemble it; B) Crate it; C) Sell It; D) Ship it to San Jose (or Oakland, or Portland, or San Bernardino, Austin/San Antonio/Round Rock, or – wherever).
Now that the Miami experiment is over (as forecast here a year ago next week, and reiterated here last June) and Hanley Ramirez, Heath Bell, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and the merely arbitration-eligible Emilio Bonifacio have either been offloaded in A Going-Out-Of-Business-Sale (or are about to be), the Marlins are officially the Montreal Expos of the 2010’s and baseball is unofficially dead in Florida.
Notice I did not write South Florida. All of it. Rays’ owner Stu Sternberg was already less than sanguine about getting significant scratch from the state and local governments for a new ballpark that is absolutely essential to his survival in Tampa/St. Petersburg. If he had any hopes left after the disastrously low crowds for the free ballpark the good burghers of Florida gave Jeffrey Loria, they have to be gone now and he has to be looking elsewhere.
There are all sorts of other implications if the Reyes/Buehrle/Johnson deal to Toronto is completed as advertised. Obviously, this revivifies a Toronto franchise that was already showing signs of being on the upswing last year and as far back as 2010-11. It sure knocks the price down for whoever is the Jays’ first choice for the manager’s job. It might make John Farrell a little remorseful. And it buries the Yankees in the American League East; there would now be at least three other teams in the division with more talent than New York. The prospects of Alex Rodriguez going to the lame duck Miami franchise (first reported blah blah blah here and blah blah blah ) might actually have increased, on the premise that Loria and MLB have to do something to make it at least look like they’re trying to field a product worthy of 2013 big league ticket prices).
But the biggest long-term implications are fairly simple: the franchise carousel, all but quiet since the upheaval of the 1953-72 era, will begin to spin again.
Miami has a slight chance of survival (that stadium is standing, and a mess of prospects can suddenly win a division – ask the Oakland A’s about that) but Tampa Bay is gone. One would assume that at the latest the season of 2020 opens without a Florida team in the majors.
Where do the Rays (and probably the Marlins) move?
Here are the top U.S. Metropolitan Areas without MLB teams ranked by population, on 2011 estimates drawn from the Official 2010 United States Census:
12. Riverside/San Bernardino/Ontario CA 4,304,997
23. Portland OR/Vancouver WA 2,262,605
24. San Antonio/New Braunfels TX 2,194,927
25. Sacramento/Roseville CA 2,176,235
26. Orlando/Daytona Beach FL 2,171,360
30. Las Vegas 1,969,975
31. San Jose 1,865,450
32. Columbus OH 1,858,464
33. Charlotte/Gastonia NC 1,795,472
34. Austin/Round Rock TX 1,783,519
35. Indianapolis 1,778,568
36. Virginia Beach/Norfolk 1,679,894
37. Nashville 1,617,142
Nashville you say? Virginia Beach? Hahahahahahaha?
Not so fast. Every metropolitan area on this list is larger than Milwaukee and Riverside, Portland, San Antonio and Sacramento are bigger than Cincinnati. There are certain practacalities here. All of Southern California is Dodger/Angel territory and the Magic Johnson group that just spent Eleventy Billion on the Dodgers isn’t going to give up claim on anything. Though Texas is a big place don’t tell that to the Rangers and Astros, who claim both the San Antonio and Austin zones. Columbus is Cleveland’s territory (unless it’s Cincinnati’s), Orlando would have at least some of the same problems as Tampa/St. Pete, and the Giants and Athletics are in their fifth different decade of arguing over San Jose.
So the Rays go to Portland and the Marlins to Sacramento? Not so fast.
You know who’d be 15th on the list – right between Phoenix and Seattle – if we made it of not American metropolitan areas but North American?
15. Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Regional population: 3,824,221.
But wait, didn’t things go very badly in Montreal before? They certainly did, but not because of the city nor its love of baseball. Corrupt government and underfunded ownership and a betrayed fan base – all of them saddled with the greatest white elephant in the history of North American sports construction, Olympic Stadium. In every full season between 1979 and 1983 – even in that XXL Airplane Hangar – Les Expos drew at least 2,102,173 fans a year.
The peak total – 2,320,651 in 1983 – edged out the Cardinals for second place in National League attendance, and was just about a million more than the Mets drew in New York. It was about then that stuff started falling from the roof of the tribute to provincial graft, and star players started falling off the Expos’ roster. But make no mistake about it: Montreal supported baseball. As late as 1997 the Expos still brought in a million-and-a-half fans (more than the Mets or the Giants).
If all that could not be done in the ’90s and ’00s could be put together – a downtown stadium with government support, plus a well-run franchise making a long-term commitment – baseball’s second try in Montreal could be a triumph. And consider if it were the Rays fleeing north. Not only would Montreal get that well-run franchise, but it would suddenly find itself in a division with rivals from hated cities like Boston and New York…
Montreal and Toronto in the same division. Genius, I tells ya. Genius.
It’s a win-win. Unless you’re one of those few Florida baseball fans.
Oh yeah, I left out a fifth thing to do about the Marlins and Marlins Park: E) Ship Giancarlo Stanton separately. And while you’re at it, you might as well start wrapping uber-prospect Christian Yelich too.
I broke the news here yesterday that representatives of the Yankees and Marlins – later identified elsewhere as New York team president Randy Levine and Miami owner Jeffrey Loria – had discussed a trade that would send the crumbling Yankee superstar Alex Rodriguez to the Marlins.
As the supplemental reporting of others indicates, this may have begun as a sarcastic response by Levine to a chimerical wish by Loria. But the ownership groups of both clubs know damn well this is no longer a joke, and they can ameliorate if not solve each other’s problem. A lot of the blockbuster transactions in baseball history have begun as jokes or expressions of exasperations (Manager Leo Durocher’s stunning move from the Brooklyn Dodgers to the New York Giants in mid-season 1948 comes to mind).
My sources have little else to add today, except to suggest that the Marlins might be willing to swap more of their overpriced stock for Rodriguez and the net differences in salary than previously indicated (say, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle for Rodriguez and 60 million or so). That will all depend, I’m told, on just how much Miami season ticket sales drop after the disastrous 2012 season.
As to the key players, only Rodriguez is talking, saying after the Yankees’ ignominious finish in Detroit that he wanted to remain in New York and would not waive his no-trade clause.
After Yankees’ Senior Vice President/General Manager Brian Cashman had dismissed Wednesday’s report as “100% not true,” reporters Andrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York and Jon Heyman of CBS then revealed the Levine-Loria conversation, and the sad fact that Cashman apparently didn’t know about it, nor the hotline it created.
Today, another embarrassed executive who was clearly out of the loop – Marlins’ president David Samson – insisted there had been no negotiations, while Heyman and others ran with the explanation that the Rodriguez talk was just a joke made last April during the Yankees’ stadium christening exhibitions at Miami and that was that.
My primary source says Marchand and Matthews have it right. It was an offhand remark that has turned into at least an avenue to discuss an anything-but-offhand trade:
What began as a casual, joking conversation between New York Yankees president Randy Levine and Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria about the possibility of Alex Rodriguez playing for the Marlins may develop into serious trade talks this offseason, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation.
Others have dismissed the story because no team is talking trades while it is in the process of being humiliatingly swept out of the playoffs. Of course they don’t. But nor does planning for 2013 freeze just because 2012 games are still being played. Anybody pay attention to the weekend of Yankees’ bench coach Tony Pena? Sunday he had to manage the last three innings after Joe Girardi got ejected. Tuesday he was back in his adjunct role at Girardi’s side. In between, on Monday, he was in…Boston. To interview for the Red Sox manager’s job.
The off-season trades, free agent signings, hirings and firings – and the possible trade of Alex Rodriguez – are all starting now. Right now.
The logic behind moving Rodriguez to Miami is impeccable. Whatever damage A-Rod did not himself do to his reputation, the Yankees have – both on and off the field. They have devalued him as a player (he helped) by the extraordinary step of benching him while the team collapsed. They benched him even against Justin Verlander, against whom he could claim a career 8-for-24 mark with three homers.
They may have even baited him into insubordination. Supposedly by accident, the now imperiled-manager Joe Girardi submitted two different lineups for the rained out Wednesday night ALCS Game 4, one featuring Rodriguez, the other without him. A former major leaguer told me today he wouldn’t be a bit surprised if A-Rod hadn’t seen his name on the initial card and told Girardi where to go – which could easily have been what the Yankees wanted him to do. If you don’t buy that bit of conspiratorial sci-fi, how about weighing whether it’s more likely that for a game that could decide whether or not they kept their jobs Joe Girardi and his coaches ‘accidentally’ wrote out two line-up cards, or the Yankees decided to try to further mess with A-Rod’s head?
It is also speculative, but the Yankees (particularly through the nefarious Howard Rubinstein Public Relations Agency) have long employed the Strategic Leak, with the receiving end usually being The New York Post (for whom Rubinstein also works, in a relationship that mainlines directly to Rupert Murdoch himself). What better and more authoritative source could there be for the Casablanca-like “I’m shocked, shocked, that gambling is going on in here” quality to the Post’s splashy story that Rodriguez was trying to get the phone number of an Australian bikini model during Game 1 of the ALCS, than the Yankees themselves? Who would know she was there? Besides the principals, who would know what the ballboy saw? Who would know all of it? The Yankees. As I alluded to yesterday the autographed-ball-as-groupie-troll bait is probably attempted ten times a day in organized baseball.
But why hurt A-Rod when you’re trying to get rid of him?
Well, that’s easy. You don’t just have to find somebody willing to take him off your hands in a trade that doesn’t humiliate you. You have to convince Rodriguez to drop his no-trade clause. And nothing makes that likelier than being able to say to him ‘did you like the last two weeks? The sports pages? And the gossip pages? Would you like five years of that?’
As many columnists noted today the Yankees have no choice but to put Rodriguez in another uniform ASAP. The reason they gave him a contract through his age 42 season – the pursuit of the career home run record – is now a pointless irrelevancy. The 2009 admission of steroid use has made the ‘clean alternative’ to Barry Bonds into a pathetic joke. And, given his rate of decline and frequency of injury, Rodriguez is a less-than-even-money bet to hit the first home run milestone for which he would get one of those $6,000,000 bonuses. It’s Willie Mays’ total of 660 and Rodriguez ended the 2012 season with 647. A-Rod needs thirteen. He had thirteen as of June 26 this past season. He would hit exactly five more thereafter, in 199 regular season at bats.
You know how many homers a rate like that produces over 500 at bats? Twelve. Thirteen if you round up with a vengeance.
But more relevantly, even if Rodriguez has some sort of Jeterian renaissance ahead of him, the Yankees have spent the last week all but neutering any chance it has of blossoming in New York. They have made him – and many of the other stars – into damaged goods. Ten days ago Girardi was extolling the pricelessness of a consistent line-up. Since that moment he used seven different batting orders in seven games. In the process, he threw virtually everybody in his line-up except Jeter and Russell Martin under the bus.
The Yankees ownership can thus, with fake mournful looks plastered onto their phony faces, not pursue free agent Nick Swisher, and unload Rodriguez at any price, and sign a bunch of cheaper alternatives, because of the crisis they themselves have facilitated. For weeks they’ve been reminding me of the 1983 Philadelphia Phillies.
This is not one of the great teams of history but it was one of the most instructive. The Phils cut through the slightly-favored Dodgers in the NLCS (1-0, 1-4, 7-2, 7-2). Ever seen that Gary Matthews homer slamming off the facade of the second deck at the Vet? That sealed Game 3 and it hit about two feet below my auxiliary press box seat and it sounded like a bomb exploding.
The Phils walked into the Series as nominal favorites over the Orioles. Baltimore seemed to have a slightly better offense but Philadelphia had the pitching. Back of John Denny and Al Holland the Phils took the opener on the road 1-0. But when the Orioles took game two, Manager Paul Owens pulled a stunning move. Even though first baseman Pete Rose had gotten within shouting distance of Ty Cobb’s all time career hits record, and had gone 6-for-16 in the NLCS (5-for-9 in the last two games), Owens benched Rose, citing Rose’s 1-for-8 start in the Series, and swapped in Tony Perez against lefty starter Mike Flanagan. Perez got a weak single and looked like a statue in the field, and Owens undid his move for Game 4, but by then it was too late.
In dropping the last three games, the Phillies scored six runs and they had to blow up the franchise. They released not just Rose but Joe Morgan, too. They sold Perez back to the Reds. They offed veteran reliever Ron Reed. And in the last week of Spring Training they purged Matthews (sending him to Chicago for almost nothing, where he led the Cubs to the 1984 NL West title) and reliever Willie Hernandez (sending him to Detroit for even more almost nothing – and Hernandez won both the Cy Young and the MVP as the Tigers rolled to one of the most dominant seasons of the last 50 years).
The Phils would bubble up to the surface for a fun 1993 NL Championship (the Joe Carter World Series). But excluding that, it would be nine managers and 24 years before they would again finish first.
And the dominos all began to fall when they benched a controversial superstar who was pursuing one of the seminal records of baseball. Now why does that sound so familiar?
The Miami Marlins have dumped all of Hanley Ramirez’s contract (“an original Eovaldi – how lovely”). They have traded Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez for a Detroit Tigers’ can’t-miss pitching prospect (how well did that work out when they offloaded Miguel Cabrera for Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin?). They threw Randy Choate overboard and might flip Carlos Lee. They are begging somebody to take Heath Bell off their hands. They might still deal Josh Johnson (update: there’s now even a rumor-let today about trading Jose Reyes).
But unlike when Wayne Huizenga did it in 1998 and 2004, owner Jeffrey Loria claims with a straight face that this is not a fire sale.
“It’s no secret I love [Ramirez],” Loria told Fox Sports and MLB Network reporter Ken Rosenthal. “He needs to have a fresh beginning, a new beginning … This is a very painful moment for me. But we had to do something.”
Uh-huh. The people who are having the “very painful moment” and who “need the fresh beginning” are Florida baseball fans. If any.
In the new stadium, the Marlins have averaged 28,397 fans per game, which is 12th in MLB in terms of percentage of capacity (that’s about three-quarters full). But a) it’s not as big as it seems (the Brewers have averaged 83% of capacity) and the raw numbers are below need, not growing, and disturbingly static during the most marketable moments. Since June 3rd, Miami has hosted 10 marquee games against divisional rivals Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Washington, and three more against the Red Sox. They’ve only drawn even 30,000 fans on four of those dates.
The Marlins’ billion-dollar bet – that people would go to an area with no parking and little public transportation to go see a sparkly new ballpark and an all-star team – was failing even before the team began to stumble on the field. The sadness here is that I don’t know what you do with a great new ballpark that can’t draw enough customers to permit you to make money off it. Crate it and ship it to San Jose for the A’s? Airlift it to Montreal and try that again?
Of course the Marlins’ failure will kill the Tampa Bay Rays, too. Only a miracle would’ve given the state of Florida or the local governments the kind of political cover necessary to even chip in to a new baseball stadium (well, a baseball stadium) in St. Pete or Tampa. The Rays have excited an initially ambivalent fan base with a superior job of planning and growth and innovation. And their new loyal fans can’t figure out the equation. They’re a little hurt that the team expects them to pay to get into the park.
So Florida baseball, 20 years old, isn’t going to get much older – at least not as we know it now. The Marlins are stuck there, doomed to live forever in a mansion with no furniture. The Rays aren’t. They’re almost certainly going to have to move. It’s a shame, too, because in those two decades the two clubs have produced three World Series trips, which is exactly one less than the five California franchises have produced in the same span.
The other shame here is, it’s not as if some of us didn’t see this coming. This is the blog entry from last November 15th (and that was before they’d actually signed Reyes or Bell, and before Guillen’s Castro gaffe):
Miami In A Vice
They have gone out and spent the money on what looks like a fabulous and distinctive new ballpark.
They have gone out and spent the money on what is an often fabulous and alwaysdistinctive new manager.
They are evidently willing to go out and spend the money (“in the range of five years, $18-$20 million a year,” per Buster Olney on ESPN) on Jose Reyes and might be able to snare Albert Pujols as well.
They even went out and spent the money on rebranding themselves as a city, not a state, and on some decent looking new uniforms (although the basic premise of the attire struck me as an adaptation of the original 1977 Toronto Blue Jays’ unis, with orange substituted for powder blue).
And I think it will all end in disaster.
As the 20th season of Marlins baseball looms, there is still almost no evidence that South Florida is a major league baseball community, or that it wants or needs big league ball. The entire dynamic could be changed by the new roofed stadium, but the certitude about that – and the willingness to wager literally hundreds of millions of dollars on that certitude – is, to me, unjustified. With the caveat that I know from sopping-wet experience that Joe Robbie/ProPlayer/Whatever Stadium was a miserable place to watch a ballgame, I still think that it’s mortifying that the Fish averaged 37,838 fans per game in their inaugural season of 1993, and 33,695 in 1994 – and never came close to that figure again.
I mean, not close. The World Champions of 1997 played before an average house of 29,190. Otherwise they have had just five seasons of more than 19,007 paid admissions per game, and four that were below 15,766 a year.
Team president David Samson thinks some improvement on the squad and the ballpark will convert a city that has for two decades been saying ‘you fill me with inertia’ will suddenly convert into producing “30 to 35,000 every single game.”
This was a city that could not support AAA baseball in the ’50s, and never again tried higher than A-ball. And I don’t buy the idea that a high-priced indoor facility in Miami proper rather than it a remarkably hard-to-get-to corner of Fort Lauderdale is now going to entice 37,000 fans away from everything else the city offers, especially at night. Pujols and Reyes would be hard to resist. Then again the Marlins fans of nine seasons ago resisted the 2003 World Champions (except for 16,290 of them each game). I’m not even sure how a $95,000,000 investment in Reyes and lord knows how much in Pujols would translate into profitability or even break-even status.
Reyes alone will not do it – ask the Mets.
As if these doubts were not enough, late last night the impeccable Clark Spencer of The Miami Herald tweeted something to make Miami fans shiver:
Source: H. Ramirez is not at all pleased at prospect of changing positions if
#Marlins sign Reyes; the two aren’t the friends many portray.
When the Reyes rumors first started, Spencer had quoted Hanley Ramirez with words that bring honor to the role of wet blanket: “I’m the shortstop right now and I consider myself a shortstop.”
One can easily see where all this will go if a) Ramirez and Reyes squabble; b) Reyes gets hurts again; c) the Marlins don’t sign enough new talent to compete in a daunting division; d) the fans don’t show up; or e) all of the above, in any order you choose. When the ’97 Marlin World Champs did not yield a new stadium, 17 of the 25 men on the World Series roster were gone by mid-season 1998 and three more by mid-season 1999.
Imagine Jose Reyes being traded in a fire sale in the middle of 2013. Or Albert Pujols.