The Marlins Live Down to Their Reputation

On Sunday, the Marlins made a head-scratching trade, acquiring reliever Bryan Morris from the Pirates in exchange for their Competitive Balance selection — #39 overall — in Thursday’s amateur draft. Morris does have some virtues as a very hard-throwing groundball guy who is decently effective against right-handed batters, but he also has a long list of flaws; his command is lousy, he can’t get left-handers out, and even used as a situational reliever, he’s been pretty terrible this year.

If you evaluate his Major League career solely by runs allowed, he’s been essentially a replacement level arm. If you evaluate that performance by metrics that predict ERA better than ERA itself, Morris has been one of the worst relief pitchers in all of baseball over the last year. Morris is somewhere between bad and unrosterable, and yet the Marlins gave up a draft pick that has some real value in exchange for a right-handed specialist who isn’t even all that great at that very niche job.

But on Monday, we found out why the Marlins made that trade. Rather than justifying the deal, however, the actual motivation for the move reinforces every negative perception about baseball’s worst organization.

On Monday, the Marlins signed free agent reliever Kevin Gregg, giving him the pro-rated portion of a $2.1 million salary for 2014. Because the deal only covers the final two-thirds of the season, he’ll receive $1.4 million in actual salary from the Marlins this year. Not coincidentally, $1.4 million is exactly the amount of money the Marlins saved by giving away the 39th pick in the draft.

The idea that the Marlins, a team that opened the year with a payroll of just $47.5 million, had to offset the acquisition cost of Kevin Gregg (!) by punting a valuable draft choice is patently ridiculous. Let us count the ways.

1. Like Morris, Kevin Gregg is also essentially a replacement level arm. Over the last three years, he’s been worth +0.0 WAR by runs allowed or -0.6 WAR by FIP. Of the 172 relievers to throw 100+ innings over the last three years, Gregg ranks 155th in ERA-, 159th in FIP-, and 165th in xFIP-. Unlike Morris, he doesn’t even have a large platoon split that can be leveraged for specific match-ups, as he’s just bad against everyone. He turns 36 in a few weeks. There’s no upside here, really; Kevin Gregg defines replacement level, which is why both teams who signed him last year gave him minor league deals, and why no one was beating down his door with a job offer over the winter.

2. It’s not like there weren’t other options. Vin Mazzaro isn’t appreciably worse than either Morris or Gregg, is earning a grand total of $950,000 in salary this year, and has already been designated for assignment by the Pirates twice this year. He cleared waivers in April, and is currently in “DFA limbo”, waiting to find out whether he cleared again. If the Marlins simply put in a waiver claim on Mazzaro, they could have owned his rights for the rest of the year for approximately $600,000. Want someone with better stuff than Mazzaro? Esmil Rogers was DFA’d and cleared waivers last week. The White Sox just released Frank Francisco if the team absolutely needed a guy with closer experience even though Steve Cishek is pitching well in the 9th inning. Gregg and Morris aren’t significantly better than any number of relievers who have been passed through waivers in the last few weeks.

3. The draft pick had real value. The 39th pick isn’t as likely to turn into a star as a top-10 selection, but the fact that most of those picks fail is offset by the upside of the guys who succeed. The best player ever selected 39th overall? Some guy named Barry Bonds; you might have heard of him. Historical draft studies have shown that the average return on a pick in the 30-40 range is about +3 WAR, and as Neal Hutington said when he traded away a similar pick last year, their calculations suggest that “there’s about a 15% chance of getting an everyday big-leaguer in the 30-to-40 pick range.” That isn’t something to just be discarded so that a team can add a couple of low value relief arms to their bullpen.

4. This might be point #4, but it’s the one that is particularly outrageous; there is absolutely no reason why the Marlins could not have afforded to both sign Gregg and keep the pick. While the first three points cover why trading the pick for Morris and Gregg is a bad use of resources, it was an entirely unnecessary cost-benefit analysis in the first place. As leaked financial documents have shown, the Marlins are quite a profitable enterprise, and that was before they scammed the city of Miami into building them a new ballpark to increase revenues even further.

The Marlins payroll ranks 29th in MLB, but more tellingly, they are $30 million below the Tampa Bay Rays, who come in 28th in spending this year. The Rays play in a terrible ballpark and average 3,000 fewer fans per game than the Marlins, and yet they still found $30 million more to spend than Jeffry Loria’s organization this year. And then when the Marlins show some promise, the front office is forced to finance the acquisition of a (psuedo) roster upgrade by dumping a valuable pick to keep the ledger tilted solely toward the owner’s profits?

Even when the Marlins are not an embarrassment on the field, they somehow find a way to remain one off of it. You can’t simultaneously argue that slashing payroll and going young is in the best interests of the organization’s future and then squander future assets because the owner isn’t willing to invest one dime more than necessary to upgrade the team in the short-term. The Marlins decisions over the years have created a picture of an organization that is run as an ATM for the Lorias first and foremost, with the baseball operations department being allowed to make moves so long as they don’t interfere with that priority. Moves like this only reinforce that perception. Moves like this are why MLB should be ashamed of the fact that they continue to let Jeffrey Loria own one of their franchises.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


78 Responses to “The Marlins Live Down to Their Reputation”

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  1. somedude says:

    Someone get Loria drunk and keep a voice recorder nearby.

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  2. BurleighGrimes says:

    It sucks that the MLB let’s this asshole own a team.

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    • Jamie says:

      Two teams, actually. You may not recall the first one because, for some reason, it no longer exists.

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  3. matt w says:

    Minor nitpick: Bonds didn’t sign when drafted with the 39th pick, so that pick didn’t turn into a star for the team that drafted him. (The pick is actually a bit of a low point in value historically compared to the picks around it, though there’s no reason for that to continue.)

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    • Bearman says:

      He was still picked at 39

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      • he fixes the cable says:

        No no, it’s a justifiable nitpick because he doesn’t mention that Bonds doesn’t sign. Lots of talent gets drafted out of high school in hopes they sign. Carlos Rodon, for instance, was picking in the 16th round out of high school. We don’t say–zOMG 16th rounders! What crazy value! Same idea here.

        It takes away from the much more effective point that he makes–the expected value for these picks, while low–is almost certainly greater than the present value of Kevin Gregg.

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      • he fixes the cable says:

        picked*

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    • MDL says:

      You know who else was picked at 39? Tony Gwynn

      ……. Jr.

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  4. ALEastbound says:

    Maybe MLB could get Brian McCann to block his path to the owners box?

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  5. GilaMonster says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    The sad part is that the Marlins have a decent shot to be around .500. The pitching has been good, even without Fern. Stanton is on pace for an MVP season and the young guys are holding their own. And Heaney and Marisnik could be up any day providing reinforcements. And in 2015, with a healthy Fern, they could reasonably have a outside shot at contention if they kept Stanton.

    I mean they could always call up Brian Flynn if they need pitching help.

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  6. OPS2000 says:

    The sad part is that there will be some 10-15-20 MLB teams that will be worse than the Marlins this year, despite Fernandez’ injury. Owners and GM’s that spend a lot more than 47.5 mln. That’s a headscratcher.

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      Not really, its good GM, terrible owner. At least its not bad GM, bad owner like the Bucs had with Littlefield/McClatchy.

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      • Charlotte says:

        Yeah, the Marlins clearly employ a lot of hard working, intelligent people in their front office. I hope someday some of them get to work for a real baseball team.

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  7. GilaMonster says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    Also, I’ll ask his: If you are Dan Jennings, don’t you refuse to do this? IF the owner wants to go over your head, then quit. Because if you quit before you let this happen, you can escape with your reputation unscathed and take credit for guys like Fern,Yelich,Ozuna, and get another job. If you let things like this happen and the team begins to falter and Loria sends Stanton to the fire sale, you aren’t going to find another job very easily. Because you will be blamed for it, whether it is your fault or not.

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    • olethros says:

      Yeah, rich old dudes typically aren’t fond of hearing “no” out of the mouths of their employees. Even if it’s the correct answer.

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    • Boston Phan says:

      I thought you were going to say why did Dan Jennings acquire Gregg if it meant costing him a draft pick? If I were he and was presented with the same choice – Gregg or the draft pick – I would just move on from Gregg. Jennings gets blame here too, not just Loria.

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    • Sam says:

      …because then the next owner won’t trust you to stick with him when he makes a decision you don’t agree with.

      Besides, you shouldn’t just take for granted that this wasn’t Jennings’ decision. Even if you accept Cameron’s premise that this was all about saving a few dollars, how do you know that Loria didn’t set a firm budget and this was Jennings’ decision to try to improve the team without exceeding the budget.

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    • emdash says:

      I’d think the opposite, myself – if he does anything on the job that’s questionable, having Loria as the owner makes an easy scapegoat. Make a bad trade? Loria insisted it had to be done right away for financial reasons. Anything good the team does would be to his credit. Kind of the perfect situation.

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      Loria is the perfect owner to deflect any blame you might have to him, just say Loria told him to. Perhaps more importantly, what Owner wants a GM who will quit whenever a descision is made they disagree with?

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      • GilaMonster says:
        FanGraphs Supporting Member

        If I was an owner, I’d love a GM that told me I was wrong. I hire a GM because they are smarter than me when it comes to baseball. I want GM who has the balls to tell me I am an idiot and here is why

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        • Ivan Grushenko says:

          Well sure, but in this case Loria is not “wrong” in the sense that his goal is to bilk the fans and city for all they have and not spend a dime more than he has to. He probably thinks, rightly for some (uninformed) people, that acquiring reinforcements is a show of “trying to win”. Using his objective, which Jennings no doubt knew when he took the job, this isn’t a terrible move.

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    • John C says:

      He’ll be fine if that happens. Allard Baird was forced by his owner to make trades that were way, way worse than anything the Marlins just did. After several years of the Royals losing 100 games a year because of this, he was fired. All he did was land a job as an assistant GM with the Red Sox, and he now has two World Series rings.

      If Loria craps on Jennings, he’ll find work in a real organization too.

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      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        So, what you’re saying is, he hasn’t been able to get a GM job in over seven years?

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  8. OPS2000 says:

    A related thought:

    Why is it that Ryan Braun, Jhonny Peralta and Melky Cabrera are considered calculated risk takers while breaking the rules, yet Jeff Loria is considered the anti-Christ of Baseball?

    Jeff Loria is maximizing his ROI without breaking the rules, finding loopholes and taking advantage of the weak and well meaning.

    If you think Jeff Loria is a bigger ass, the common good to Marlins fans must weigh a lot more than actually cheating. Aren’t you a socialist / liberal then ? How does that make you feel ?

    Just food for thought, posed by a European.

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    • olethros says:

      Probably because most of us think the entire PED thing is grossly overwrought bullshit.

      And speaking just for myself, as a matter of fact I do tend towards the liberal/socialist side of the spectrum. Drugs and abortions for everyone!

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    • Sam says:

      That’s a strawman argument. I believe the public sentiment against Braun/ Peralta and Cabrera is very strong because they broke the rules.

      However, even if you take your original position to be true, consider that each of those gentlemen are (over) trying to succeed at baseball, while Loria is (arguably) not trying to succeed at baseball.

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      • OPS2000 says:

        Very good point

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      • FredWilponzi says:

        Whu..? Isn’t the point here that the Marlins are actually trying to win this year by adding pen help..? I know that goes against the popular narrative and sure I agree that it was probably an overpay to give up the 39th pick for Morris, but I might be in the minority on this – I think Morris is better than his early career numbers reflect. I think there is upside to be uncorked there.

        And despite the 39th pick being relatively high, there is still a better likelihood that Bryan Morris spends more years in a ML uniform than whoever the Bucs pick with the 39th pick.

        Idk, I don’t really see this as an opportunity to get all hysterical. Some FG regulars rush to do so every time there is a trade between perceived progressive team and non-progressive team (how is that Addison Reed for Matt Davidson deal looking?) or a deal involving prospect(s).

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      A lot of people hate all the PED users, but since they’re still allowed to play the teams might as well take them, in addition what exactly the PEDS do is unknown, Loria is also doing something that is very disliked, plus IIRC you’re not supposed to run a team purely for profit according to the MLB.

      The biggest point is probably just at least the PED users are trying to succeed in baseball, while Loria is actively trying to avoid success, or at least the steps that make one successful.

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    • Oliver says:

      Well, there’s the simple fact that Loria isn’t maximizing his ROI, which is basically the crux of Cameron’s piece. The draft pick was probably the best way to maximize value.

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    • Balthazar says:

      This is an utterly bogus comparison.

      The PED violations you mention are certainly grossly unethical, in that their actions were against the spirit and intent of fair competition. But those actions were, beyond that, all of a) specifically barred by the rules, b) illegal, and c) fraudulent in that the abusers were boosting their potential personal financial returns by hidden and generally unsustainable means which were also illegal.

      What Loria is doing in how he is operating his baseball franchisee is obviously grossly unethical in that he is not only not investing financially in either winning or the organization, he is in fact extracting so much cash from the franchise he’s arguably looting the business. But arguably isn’t ‘chargeably.’ Yet. Nothing that Loria is doing is specifically against any rule. Nor is it provably illegal insofar as we know. Loria is a very smart man, and it seems clear he knows just which side of line to stay on to keep clear of any legal action. —And that’s the worst of it, there is no remedy for the lizard. I rather think he likes being in _that_ position mot of all. MLB, the fans, the lawyers can’t really touch him, and he can just pocket the money, stare everybody in the eye, and walk right out the front door with a babe on either arm. (To me, this is also why Loria hasn’t dealt Stanton. That might be just enough to give MLB grounds to act on some kind of ‘operational integrity’ position. Stanton will remain until and unless an enormous package is offered in return in my view. But Loria will never sign him.)

      Yet despite that, there is no way to compare Loria’s obviously being a total heel with several guys being all of frauds, liars, cheats, and busted for it. Unless the point is to somehow try to make the latter PED users look ‘OK’ by contrasting them with a completely and deservedly loathed owner. The boss can look bad and be bad, but that doesn’t excuse the employees from being lying bastards out for the dough. Can we just quit these crap arguments trying to dishonestly excuse PED abusers’ dishonesty?

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      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        Which is more against the spirit of the game, though, maximizing your performance through cheating, or not trying to win?

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    • Cool Lester Smooth says:

      What on Earth do you mean that Loria isn’t finding loopholes and taking advantage of the weak and well meaning?

      Also, it’s fucking hilarious that you think “liberal” is a dirty word in America.

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    • Bobby Ayala says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      If this was a website catering to people who invest in sports teams, we’d probably love Loria, but we like good baseball and every day Loria squanders his unique opportunity to bring good baseball to Miami.

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  9. JP says:

    McCourt was run out of town on a rail for this kind of behavior. When does it happen to Loria?

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    • Eminor3rd says:

      Because McCourt went bankrupt.

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      • rrr says:

        Because the LA tv market is a much more valuable asset than anything Miami has to offer, unfortunately.

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    • Shankbone says:

      Loria doesn’t have a potential divorce case cracking wise with inside MLB info and potential true revenue streams being revealed.

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    • Johnston says:

      Never. Commissioners like guys like him.

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    • PattyG says:

      McCourt owned one of the premier franchises, that’s why. Notice that Loria has been allowed to run two teams that MLB really doesn’t care much about. Loria would never be allowed to touch a team in NY or LA, or the Cubs, Red Sox, or Cardinals. When McCourt was forced out, he was in talks to sign a below-market TV deal for quick cash to finance his legal problems. Leaving money on the table in a big market is the one thing MLB will never allow.

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  10. Sam says:

    While I understand the suspicion of Loria, I think its more likely that the Marlins were acting desperately to fill their relief corps and it just happens that Gregg makes the same amount as they “saved” by trading the pick. The fact that they just added two mediocre arms at the same time shows they were very anxious about their right handed set-up crew. They may (or may not) actually be trying to win and give the fanbase something to cheer about so it is a little unfair that you’re accusing them of doing something short-sighted and stupid for the sake of saving money.

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  11. Spit Ball says:

    One thing that’s not really mentioned, that 1.5 million thrown away could really rub the 2nd pick the wrong way as well. It could potentially come back and bite them there as well. We likely will never know but they might get stuck drafting a secondary option instead of a high ceiling high school talent they really want.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      If they did draft this “high ceiling” guy and offered him what he wants money wise why wouldn’t he accept?

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    • Julian says:

      As long as they offer him his allocated slot money (or close to it), I doubt the draftee would really care.

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  12. AK7007 says:

    Sad part is that Fangraphs is partnered with the Hardball Times, who ran this total piece of crap yesterday: http://www.hardballtimes.com/in-defense-of-jeffrey-loria-and-the-marlins/

    Any defense of Loria quickly becomes indefensible. Their year to year odds of doing well are actively hindered by their owner.

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    • Deelron says:

      I don’t find that sad at all, the other article is well written and presents an opposing point of view (one I find is absolutely wrong, I agree with the above point of view far more). I’d find it sadder if one of the articles was tossed because it didn’t agree with this one from the managing editor of the site (or any other reason other then “it’s bad” or “it doesn’t fit context/style wise”).

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    • jcxy says:

      That article isn’t at all a “total piece of crap”, at least logically. Note that he’s not defending Loria, but the cyclical strategy.

      Take the Loria component out–and since we’re all abstract thinkers here, it shouldn’t be that hard to do–and the merits of the Marlins strategy is actually a discussion at least worth having.

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    • AK7007 says:

      Total crap was laying it on too thick, and Deeiron is right that both viewpoints should be published – but I think “cyclical strategy” is a pretty lame way to go about running an MLB team, considering the huge error bars that each year’s performance carry. It’s much more intelligent to pursue sustained success, even if that gets paired with a “cyclical” payroll structure.

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      • Cameron says:

        The cyclical strategy is an illusion perpetuated by the media in Loria’s case. Keep in mind the only winning team that Loria has had is the one he inherited the year he bought the team, and he has since then shipped off the existing talent for steadily declining returns, until you’re trading guys like Logan Morrison for Matt Capps.

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  13. TKDC says:

    A real life, un-hot version of Rachel Phelps.

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  14. Pirates Hurdles says:

    Well at least the trade makes sense now, I was beginning to think Huntington was houdini after trading little for Ike Davis and actually getting anything for Morris.

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  15. style speer says:

    Why are you citing a tweet of your own, where you say the move is a head-scratcher, to indicate that the move is a head-scratcher?

    It’s stylistically awkward, no? It would be like Mr Cistulli tweeting: “Rimbaud was the best 19th C French poet at discussing bodily functions” and then, in a post about flatulence later in the day, citing that tweet to affirm his position on the matter.

    idk

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  16. Shankbone says:

    The Marlins are in the hunt for the NL East. I’d see this as a 2 birds with one stone more than a cynical ploy. They do need bullpen depth and Morris has about the same 10-15% chance as the pick, they pick up Gregg to supplement Cishek, Ramos and Dunn – all of who have been worked hard. Maybe they wanted another high K/9 guy, Morris might have control issues but he does strike batters out. The Marlins have a pretty strong scouting staff. They still have the 2nd largest draft pool to go troll with. You can’t make a lot of big moves at this point in the season anyways, but tightening up the pen might keep them in the hunt, with Fernadez missing for the year, maybe that’s on their minds.

    Bit of a stretch using the Barry Bonds example, that was 30 years ago, I doubt a hitter with bloodlines like that would be sitting on the wire today. For those who don’t know, Barry wanted 75K and Tom Haller would only pay him 70K. Pretty much the best example ever of penny wise pound foolish. However, the 2nd best pick is Don Baylor, and that’s it for the 49 examples as far as really useful players. Although if you want lottery tickets, Joey Gallo certainly is an interesting one. I think the proper chance is more like 10% and more like 5% for a truly regular starter drafting in the 30s, but maybe Huntington has some magic formula worked out.

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  17. Johnston says:

    Loria is so cheap that he eats beans to save money on bubble bath.

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    • Jason B says:

      (Picturing Ann Margaret rolling around in baked beans in Tommy)

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    • Youppi! says:

      i’m convinced Loria is so freaking cheap that what AAA players he has not on the Marlins bench he keeps in AA Jacksonville to avoid having to buy plane tickets and makes them ride the bus to Miami.

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  18. Mr Punch says:

    What I really don’t understand about Loria is why he owns a team in Miami. Couldn’t he have just moved the Expos to Washington himself? Surely that would have been worth more.

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    • Johnston says:

      The Marlins make more money than the Nationals do.

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    • rrr says:

      That would have required $$$ on Loria’s part. He was perfectly content to ruin that franchise, spend NOTHING, then plead for a rescue from the MLB.

      Stunningly, they obliged. With another franchise, scot free.

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    • Luke Appling says:

      Don’t forget John Henry’s role in all of this – getting the friendly Selig-bump from Miami owner all the way up to the Red Sox. Fishy business.

      Loria knows too much, they will never push him out. He’s got too much dirt on Bud and the rest of the gang.

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  19. rrr says:

    I can’t express my contempt for Loria. He destroyed Montreal baseball, driving the proverbial stake in the heart when a more astute owner could have wethered the storm of the 90s currency devaluation. For his troubles, he’s allowed to skip town and get another franchise giftwrapped in his direction just because Henry now wants the Red Sox.

    The fact he’s allowed to continue unbated for over a decade, and that Miami actually now has a decent young team worth paying attention to (through absolutely no credit to Loria’s penury) just galls infinitely.

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  20. Z..... says:

    As a Marlins fan, having to constantly think about stuff like this gets really frustrating. Sunday was just another reminder…the sad thing is that the Marlins beat writer continues to try and justify it

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  21. Jon says:

    Maybe I’m giving the Marlins too much credit (or maybe I’m confused about the draft rules), but my first thought was that the Marlins didn’t want the pick because they wanted to use the money associated with it elsewhere (Rodon at #2 overall?).

    Is that how it works? They get $x for the #2 pick, and $y for the #39 pick. (Assume those are their only 2 picks in the draft for simplicity.) If they trade #39 away, do they now have $x + $y for #2?

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      No just $x

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    • vivalajeter says:

      By trading the pick, they also give up the slot money associated with it. If they wanted pay to Rodon more than the #2 slot money, they should have kept the 39th pick and drafted a 3rd round talent that would sign for under slot. Whatever amount he signed under slot, the team could have given that to Rodon.

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      • Skmd says:

        Are you sure about that? Doesn’t sound right – each slot has a fixed ceiling on how much you can pay that player, no matter how much you save elsewhere – if you pay Rodon more than 105% of the slot allotment you pay a penalty. Finding a underslot deal lower in the draft doesn’t help you in the 1st round

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