For Marlins, Perception Is Now Reality

A year ago, the Marlins signed a bunch of free agents to long term contracts that were backloaded in salary and didn’t include no-trade clauses. At the time of the deals, many skeptics suggested the organization’s past history and the structure of these deals meant the entire spending spree was a mirage designed to fool the city of Miami into thinking they actually bought a competitive team with their new $500 million stadium. That once the rubber hit the road, the Marlins would just trade all these expensive players away and go back to putting a low payroll team on the field to accomplish their real goal: raking in cash while exploiting the flaws in the revenue sharing agreements for the owner’s own personal gain.

Tonight, the Marlins completed a trade with the Blue Jays that vindicates every single person who said or wrote such a thing last year. It doesn’t even matter if this was the original plan, or if this is just an audible that the organization called after things went south. There is a chance this wasn’t all pre-scripted 12 months ago, and the organization really did want to try and win with the group of players they signed. That’s now irrelevant. The fact that it looks like this was all part of a master plan concocted before Jose Reyes or Mark Buehrle signed up to play in Miami means that the Marlins not only traded away a bunch of players today, they shipped out any last remaining amount of credibility the franchise had as well.

Ken Rosenthal is right – the only option for the Marlins to ever be seen as a legitimate MLB franchise again is for Jeffrey Loria to sell the team. Loria’s reputation — already the worst of any owner in the sport — is unsalvageable now, and he’s just alienated a whole new generation of people. It’s not just the fans. There’s no serious argument to be made that any established Major League player is going to want to play in Miami if they have the option of playing somewhere else.

This isn’t even about signing future free agents. This is about being able to retain any homegrown developed star in the future, including Giancarlo Stanton. He’s under team control for another four years, but the likelihood of him taking anything this ownership group tells him seriously just went to zero. His “I’m pissed” tweet says it all; it’s a good bet he’s already informed his agent to ask for a trade or is counting down the days until he is traded to a team that actually appears interested in winning.

And if you can’t keep a 22-year-old superstar, then what’s the point of any of this? The whole point of having cheap young Major League talent is that you can get quality performance at a low cost, allowing you to redistribute the majority of your payroll to expensive veterans and build a good team around them. But if you alienate your franchise players and have lost any credibility in negotiations with free agents, then all you are left with is a bunch of minimum salary kids who aren’t good enough to win on their own.

Developing young stars through prospect accumulation is great if you actually plan on keeping them long enough to try and win. But no one thinks that’s what Jeffrey Loria is trying to do anymore. Now, he’s just the greedy bastard who ruined baseball in Montreal, only with yet another evil deed on his resume. He’s basically a cartoon villain at this point. He’s the wench who owned the Cleveland Indians in Major League, only if she also threw kittens in a wood-chipper in her spare time.

You can only claim that you’re misunderstood so many times. There is a line at which point no one has the time or energy to ever decide whether you’re trustworthy again. With the new stadium and new uniforms, Loria was able to sell the idea of a new direction for the franchise well enough to get people to trust him one more time. This trade is a betrayal of all of that. The fact that it probably makes some sense from a purely baseball standpoint doesn’t matter. You can’t trade for trust and credibility, and that’s what the Marlins will never have under Jeffrey Loria again.

As long as Loria owns the franchise, they’re going to be perceived as a minor league team. A farm system for the rest of the league. A bottom feeder whose entire existence is focused on funneling cash to the ownership.

There are probably shades of gray that are more true than that black and white picture. No one is going to care to stop and look for them, though. The idea that this was all a scam — that Jeffrey Loria just played everyone for a fool, again — is just too powerful to be overcome. As long as he’s in charge, the Marlins won’t be seen as a real Major League organization.

If Bud Selig isn’t going to stop Loria from treating the franchise like an ATM machine, then he just needs to take the franchise away from him. Once again, the league is 29 real teams and a joke. Once again, Jeffrey Loria is the guy responsible for intentionally destroying the credibility of a Major League franchise.

It’s beyond time for him to go. We can only hope Rosenthal is right, and this is a precursor to Loria putting the team up for sale. With any luck, the franchise will get new ownership in place in time to convince Stanton not to leave, and can restore some hope in the Marlins once again. As the Dodgers new ownership group has shown, it doesn’t take long to dramatically alter the image of a franchise once new management takes over. The Marlins can be a legitimate MLB franchise again.

They just won’t be one as long as Jeffrey Loria is in charge.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.