Look, as baseball fans and writers, we got to have a lot of fun kicking at Jeffrey Loria and his idiot former step-son as they ran the Expos and Marlins into the ground over the course of 18 years. God knows that I sure did. They were awful stewards who took two franchises and actively worked to sabotage both of them. They left them in worse shape than they found them and walked away from utterly decimated baseball communities. They deserve absolutely no credit and people should throw rotten fruit at them wherever they go.
So when Derek Jeter led an effort to purchase the Miami Marlins in the closing days of the 2017 regular season, he had a low bar to clear to be better for the team and for the city than his predecessors. But, guys, I hate to tell you this: that bar is two steps to Jeter’s left. In two months at the helm, Jeter has already dipped this troubled franchise lower than it’s ever been, firing everyone associated with the old front office, refusing to hire new people in those positions, casting around for new investors to stay afloat, actively shopping his best player in order to make payroll, and now, according to Jeff Passan, firing a scout who requires a kidney transplant while the guy is in the hospital recovering from surgery for colon cancer.
Derek Jeter’s callousness, apparently, knows no bounds.
It’s too late to call take-backs on the decision to let Jeter into the exclusive club of MLB owners. He’s in, and will be until either he too sells the Marlins for an obscene profit after years of intentionally fielding an awful team while benefiting from revenue sharing or the regional TV market bubble bursts and he’s forced to sell by his fellow owners as the franchise loses value. And Major League Baseball can’t force Jeter to do the right thing and keep his scout on the payroll (and on the club’s insurance) while he fights a more important battle.
But Major League Baseball does have a weapon in its arsenal to fight against Jeter strip-mining his new kingdom: the best interest of baseball clause. It’s used most often to suspend the game’s ne’er-do-wells when a scandal, such as the Black Sox in 1919 and the cocaine trials in the 1980s, breaks. But it’s also been used to force Charlie Finley from selling off all of his best players before free agency struck in 1976. That year, Finley tried to straight-up sell Rollie Fingers and Joe Rudi to the Red Sox, and Vida Blue to the Yankees. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in and voided the deals.
Now, Kuhn hated Finley, so he wasn’t making a new enemy so much as giving an old enemy another reason to hate him. Also, everyone else hated Finley too, so nobody stuck up for him. Nobody has that kind of animosity for Derek Jeter yet, and owners hate to admit anyone can tell them what to do with their rosters and their money, so if Rob Manfred used the “Best Interests” clause, it would be a major risk. But the Commissioner has demonstrated his willingness to unilaterally make hard choices before, ramming through the league’s policy on dealing with domestic violence. That program that has garnered a lot of praise and has demonstrated that MLB is serious about combating partner abuse.
Plus, there’s a compelling argument to act now before it’s too late. After 25 years, despite being the 8th largest metro area in the United States, Miami remains a baseball ghost town. The Marlins finished 15th in attendance last year, their fifth straight in last place in the National League (and their 11th in the last 12 seasons). They also, according to Maury Brown of Forbes.com, finished last in the National League in local TV ratings as well, with a 30 percent drop in viewership. Manfred could argue that he has to act now to prevent Miami from becoming another Montreal, a market where a team has salted the Earth and made it permanently uninhabitable.
Don’t get me wrong, there are legitimate baseball reasons to trade Stanton this offseason. He does command a massive salary and will take up a massive amount of the Marlins’ payroll if fan interest doesn’t bounce back. He’s often injured (though not chronically so) and will not stay productive through the end of that deal. And he is an incredibly good player who just turned 28 who should command a massive return for the Marlins.
But the rumored deal with the Giants that Jon Morosi presented yesterday isn’t that return:
Giancarlo Stanton trade development: Source says #Marlins likely would accept offer of Panik, Beede and Shaw for Stanton alone -- if #SFGiants committed to paying at least $250 million of the $295 million left on Stanton’s contract. @MLB @MLBNetwork— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 30, 2017
Joe Panik is a mediocre second baseman who can passably hold the position on a first division team, but who is entering arbitration and offers no upside of any kind. Former first round pick Tyler Bedee is a 24 year old prospect who’s never played above double-A who has good stuff and strikeout numbers, but who struggles with his command on occasion. He’s likely a third or fourth starter. Chris Shaw is also a 24 year old former first round pick who, while he spent almost all of 2017 in left field, looks to profile as a first baseman. He has excellent raw power and had a strong year split between double- and triple-A. But he also struggled with his plate discipline and struck out a ton upon his promotion and injured his shoulder in the Arizona Fall League. Quite simply, a serviceable second baseman and two older prospects who have limited upside are not enough for a seven win, 60 homer player like Giancarlo Stanton. Why would the Marlins do it?
Because they want to be able to dump almost all of Stanton’s contract on the Giants. And then they’ll want to deal Dee Gordon and his contract as well. The Marlins will soon be stripped down and sold for parts, and it will take another five years before there’s any chance of having another winner in Miami while Jeter and his fellow owners grow fat off of MLB’s revenue sharing system. Getting rid of Jeffrey Loria was supposed to free Miami of a ghoul who feasted off the corpse of his baseball team. So if Derek Jeter won’t do the right thing for his team and his city willingly, Rob Manfred should make him.