Saving The Marlins: A Derek Jeter Story

Once upon a time in a land not all that far away, a hero laid down his sword for good. After 20 seasons in the Majors, Derek Jeter retired to standing ovations from crowds across the country. His farewell tour was truly something special, an ode to his years of service not only to the great city of New York but to the entire game of baseball. It was the story book ending that was to see the greatest Yankee of the modern era, ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after with his supermodel wife and child-to-be.

Fast-forward 3 years, and that fairy tale ending is being tarnished by Jeter’s latest venture in the world of professional baseball. After years of not-so-subtly hinting that he’d one day like to fill the legendary Steinbrenner shoes of running a successful franchise, Jeter was the poster boy of an ownership group who purchased the flopping Marlins from the vilified Jeff Loria-regime. He was supposed to be the hero to a new organization, and turn them into a dynasty upon his arrival. Instead though he’s getting reamed by season-ticket holders, and Jeter-bashing has become a daily segment on Dan Le Batard’s shows (who apparently represents the voice of all Floridians and Cubans in any sports debate).

What did Derek Jeter do wrong? What does he deserve more credit for? Let’s go step by step on the Jeter/Miami timeline and examine the moves that have gotten us to where we are. Then let’s highlight some realistic next steps that’ll bring Jeter some #RE2PECT again.

  • September 27th, 2017 – Sale of Marlins to Jeter-Led Group Gets Approved
    • Let’s start at the beginning. After a very lengthy and confusing process, an ownership group led by Derek Jeter was granted approval to purchase the Miami Marlins. Some people point to this moment as the biggest mistake that shouldn’t have happened, but I think that’s a little unfair. You have to remember that just a few months ago the future outlook of the Miami Marlins was very bleak to say the least. With Jeff Loria at the helm, awful contracts were a constant, league-worst attendance was a given, and winning was something very few fans remember experiencing. In walks a man whose baseball resume oozes winning, and has a legitimate desire to build a the floundering organization into a Marlins-dynasty. There’s really nothing too sketchy here, and nothing that should be rewritten. The only poison at this point is the unrealistic expectation that a man with the Championship pedigree of Jeter could turn the 2017 edition of the Marlins into contenders overnight.
  • December 11th, 2017 – Jeter No-Shows the Winter Meetings
    • Say what you will about not wanting to be scrutinized constantly, being able to conduct business remotely, or not wanting to be present for the Stanton announcement (oh don’t worry we’ll get to that one); the brand-new GM of a franchise owes it to the organization and the fan base to show face at the Winter Meetings. The only messages Jeter managed to send to the baseball world by not being present in Orlando, is that he’s ashamed of the moves he had made and he thinks he’s above the other executives who made the trip to conduct their business. And let’s call it what it is, aside from the Tampa Bay Rays, the Miami Marlins are the closest team to Orlando, so it’s not even like this was an out-of-the-way inconvenience for you. Jeter needs to embrace his new role in baseball whole-heatedly or not at all. He can’t half ass it and blow off the little things like this because of the media scrutiny he’s under. If you’re struggling to make an appearance somewhere because you’re scared of a little bad press you might get than you’re definitely not the same man who filled the shoes of Gehrig, Munson, and Mattingly as the Captain of the New York Yankees.
  • December 11th, 2017 – Marlins Trade Stanton to the Yankees
    • Okay here’s the big one. This is where opinions of Derek Jeter by the tens of Marlins fans completely turned, and the baseball world was shaken. Derek Jeter traded the franchise-centerpiece of the organization he just purchased to the team he has always had some loyalty to: major red flag. Or is it? What everyone has been very quick to dismiss is that Derek Jeter had agreed to trade Stanton to two other ball clubs first, for reportedly much better packages, but Stanton vetoed a move to San Francisco or St. Louis with his no-trade clause. Jeter had actually worked out a deal that would’ve been embraced by the baseball world, but Stanton’s desire to join an already established contender meant that the Marlins’ ideal moves were already dead in the water. With no other options available, a deal with the Bronx Bombers emerged and he had no choice but to remove Stanton’s poison-pill of a contract from his payroll. If you’re among those questioning why one would trade a generational talent like Stanton at all, then you have to understand the situation the Marlins are in. There was simply no money left to add-on the much-needed pitching talent required to contend, and without that no stacked-lineup in the world can contend with the balanced rosters of the Dodgers, Cubs, and Nationals in the NL. Did the Marlins get the short end of the Stanton deal? Absolutely. But all things considered it was better than the alternative of waiting another 10 years to get him off the books.
  • December 14th, 2017 – Marlins Trade Ozuna to the Cardinals
    • If you’re looking for a total roster overhaul, this makes plenty of sense. Marcell Ozuna is a good player on the cusp of being great, and in exchange for the controllable outfielder, the Marlins were able to add to their abysmal farm system. Again this angered fans who couldn’t grasp the idea of a rebuild in baseball; tanking is a term we’re accustomed to hearing in the NFL and NBA, but in baseball it’s far more traditional to aim for the top even when you’re the clear-cut low man on the totem pole. That being said it doesn’t pay to be a middle-tier team in baseball, or in any sport truthfully. If you can’t contend than send your top talent to winning situations and embrace the opportunity to foster and grow the stars of tomorrow who could bring you long-term success. Sure none of the names from the Ozuna or Stanton deals jump off the page necessarily, but given the opportunity to develop and grow in a expectation-less environment they can become something special. That’s what the Marlins have to bank on right now.
  • December 14th, 2017 – Marlins Make it Known that Yelich is Available
    • Alright this one is a little tougher to grasp. You have a young kid who is already an All-Star caliber talent at just 26 years old. Additionally you have him under contract for the next 5 seasons, so you don’t exactly have to worry about him fleeing in free agency any time soon. He isn’t choking you in the payroll department, and while sure he can’t be thrilled about seeing you trade-off a couple of his best buddies, I’m sure he’d be more than happy with being billed as the cornerstone of the franchise. Instead though, Jeter & Co. are so dead set on a total rebuild that they’re making a few unnecessary moves. Sure you can get another handful of prospects for Yelich, and it’s likely to be at a higher price than what you got for Stanton and Ozuna combines, but it’s an unnecessary risk you’re taking in an assuming that any of those prospects will do what Yelich has done at his age.
  • December 16th, 2017 – J.T. Realmuto Requests a Trade
    • Surprise, surprise: trading away your biggest and brightest stars has managed to disenfranchise the remaining members of the past Marlins core. Now Realmuto is hardly a star, and many of you will probably have to look him up really quick before continuing. As far as catchers in the league go he’s certainly in the upper-half so there will be some market value for him. But the fact is a better job has to be done in the player-relations department by ownership. If you’re making franchise altering decisions like these, then it is imperative that you take the time to communicate with the players you plan to keep and ensure they’re still invested in the long-term goals of the franchise. Now you’re stuck in a situation where you’re either forced to give up a young talent way too soon or watch as his on-field play suffers because he has no interest in being a part of your team.
  • December 19th, 2017 – Miami Marlins’ “Town Hall”
    • Ouch was this a painful watch. Essentially the Miami Marlins’ brass hosted a press conference with an open invite extended to their season ticket holders. Much as you’d expect given the circumstances, they were met with a lot of frustration and anger aimed at their recent fire-sale of top talent. The general sentiment was that after years of unsuccessful rebuilding efforts, fans didn’t want to have to start from scratch yet again. If anything though what I saw from Derek Jeter in this excruciating two-hour sit down, was a willingness to answer questions and a transparency that was long absent in the Loria Era. While the relationship between Jeter and the fans isn’t necessarily on the mend just yet, this was definitely the correct step in attempting to ease some of the tensions and hostility.

 

So where do we go from here?

  • Sadly…More Trades
    • To any Marlins fans who will grace this page in the coming days, I’m very sorry but the fire-sale isn’t quite done yet. In all likelihood Yelich will be moved in the coming weeks, if the two parties cannot see eye to eye on the future direction of the franchise. Realmuto will definitely be on his way out considering his demands for a trade. Those are definitely the two players who will bring in the most as far as prospects, but beyond them the recently acquired Starlin Castro could be on the move. Additionally guys like Martin Prado, Justin Bour, and Brad Ziegler could be shipped out of South Beach in exchange for some fringe prospects. The worst thing Jeter could do here is start to backtrack because of the backlash, rather than stray away from his original plan he should continue to see it through. Fan support will come with the winning, and if your long-term plans pan out to bring the Marlins some more victories down the line then the fans will flood back into the stadium in a hurry.
  • Player Development
    • One of the understated moves that Derek Jeter has made in his brief stint with the Miami Marlins is bringing in former Head Scout of the Yankees, Gary Denbo, as his Director of Player Development and Scouting. You can acquire all of the potential talent in the world, but if you can’t press those coals into diamonds then what exactly is the point? Denbo has experience doing just that, and plenty of it; he’s responsible for the Yankees’ Core Four (that included Jeter) as well as several top talents of today like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. So even with some of the understated minor league additions that the Marlins have made, there is a greater chance we see superstars emerge from the system with Denbo leading the charge. Now we know that patience is a frequently lost trait in sports fans, but if a prospect or two can break through in the next season or two to provide some hope then Jeter will start to win over some of the detractors.
  • Continued Transparency
    • After a shaky start with missing the Winter Meetings early on, Jeter and his fellow Marlins execs have managed to save face by being as transparent as possible with the fan base. It’s easier for fans to get behind an idea if they know what it is, as opposed to if you’re asking them to follow along blindly. Now I understand you can’t always lay all of your cards on the table because there are plenty of your competitors willing to take a peak. But making sure fans understand what your goals are and making sure you follow through on promises is a strong start to mending a broken relationship. Continue to be honest with the fan base; even if they disagree with the direction you’re taking, they’ll at least be more inclined to stick by your side if they’re not kept in the dark.
  • Tempering Expectations
    • This was the biggest plague in the early days of Jeter’s acquisition of the Marlins. People assumed that his winning pedigree and his experience with the Yankees’ spend-to-win mantra would translate to immediate improvements in Miami. What people fail to realize is that the Marlins aren’t necessarily operating on the Yankees’ budget. The early knock was that by acquiring some big-ticket pitchers the Marlins would be able to contend, but in today’s market a pair of top-tier arms (let’s say Jake Arrieta & Lance Lynn for example) are commanding 20 and 15 million dollars respectively. That’s money the Marlins had already tied up in Stanton’s massive deal. So from here on out people need to believe that the winning will come, but not without a painstaking process of tearing down a flawed structure and replacing it with a sturdier foundation.

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