Ozzie Guillen didn't take long to cause controversy in Miami, as his comments about Fidel Castro led to calls for his firing back in April. (Icon SMI)
On Tuesday, the Marlins made official a move that had been expected for months, firing manager Ozzie Guillen on the heels of a dismal 69-93 season in which they finished last in the NL East. The real surprise is that owner Jeffrey Loria and president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest waited so long after the end of the regular season to do so, though the fact that the notoriously penny-pinching team is forced to eat the $7.5 million remaining on the final three years of Guillen's four-year deal may have something to do with that.
The Marlins' 2012 season was supposed to be a rebranding, with a new moniker, new uniforms, a new ballpark and a new attitude. Loria authorized Beinfest to increase the team's payroll from $57.7 million to $101.6 million via a winter spending spree that brought free agents Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell to town along with the controversial skipper. Despite the novelty, the season turned into just another sordid chapter in the Marlins' boom-and-bust history, with a midseason fire sale after the team sank from contention. The on-field product drew the lowest attendance for any new ballpark introduced since 2000; after ranking dead last in the league in attendance for six straight years, and in the bottom three for 13 straight, the Marlins only rose to 12th in the league.
Guillen couldn't even make it out of the season's first week without inciting a job-threatening controversy; his comments in favor of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro triggered a five-game suspension by the team and started the countdown to his trip to the unemployment line. After an 8-14 April, the Marlins did put together an MLB-best 21-8 record in May, but an unsustainable record in close games suggested their success was a mirage. They claimed a share of the NL East lead on June 3 via a 31-23 record, but from that point to the end of the season, they went 38-70, the majors' second-worst record ahead of only the Astros, who at least had the excuse of a rebuilding effort rather than a pricey bid for contention. The Marlins were at least five games below .500 in every full month after May, and went from attempting to bolster their lineup by trading for Carlos Lee in early July to dealing Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Tigers, and Gaby Sanchez to the Pirates by the end of the month.
Guillen's cause wasn't helped by a slew of injuries that particularly cut into his outfielders' playing time and performance. Giancarlo Stanton (123 games), Logan Morrison (93 games) and Emilio Bonifacio (64 games) combined for 231 days on the disabled list, not to mention three surgeries; their combined value dropped from 10.1 Wins Above Replacement Player in 2011 to 4.8 in 2012. Ramirez didn't take well to a move to third base, and his bat didn't rebound to its pre-2011 state. Gaby Sanchez's hitting cratered to the point that he was sent to the minors, and Lee's post-trade performance was even thinner than in Houston; those two and others combined to hit .229/.299/.324 during their time at first base. A healthy rotation that got 130 starts from Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco Anibal Sanchez and Carlos Zambrano nonetheless ranked just 10th in the league in ERA (4.12).
Performance-wise, the biggest mess of Guillen's making may have been the bullpen, where Bell lost his closer job not once but twice, and wound up telling a radio station that Guillen wasn't worthy of respect, greasing the skids for his own departure via a trade to Arizona over the weekend. The bullpen as a whole ranked 11th in the league in ERA (4.06) and 13th in the rate of allowing inherited runners to score (31 percent), a far cry from the strong bullpens Guillen oversaw during his days with the White Sox.
The timing of Guillen's firing means that he will almost certainly begin the 2013 season out of a managerial job, which is probably for the best. This is the second year in a row that he has turned his team into sub-.500 sideshow, and in addition to feuding with his own roster, he has battled the media as well as opposing players and managers to the point where he's probably more trouble than he's worth to any team.
But even as Guillen deserves his share of the blame, a greater share must lie with Loria and Beinfest, who knew exactly what they were getting when they hired a manager whose attention to the dugout already appeared to be wavering. The Marlins have become notorious for the cynicism
with which they treat their fans, pocketing revenue-sharing money to turn a profit and financing their ballpark by means so questionable that the Securities and Exchange Commission launched an investigation. They're now on their seventh managerial change since Beinfest came aboard in February 2002, and since their fluky world championship run in 2003, they haven't come close to making the playoffs, compiling the majors' 10th-worst record
in that time. They'll have to find a new way to bring fans out to their park, because home run whirligigs and profane managers aren't enough.