The global superrich are not all bad. Good for much, no, but good for some things. They have innovated, for instance, in the fields of tax avoidance and on-demand jet procurement. And yacht seizure. Can’t forget that. More importantly, they have generally been responsible and ambitious sports-team owners, the sort who will invest in talent rather than try to win with less of it.
And as wealth continues to concentrate in the hands of a few, and franchises become as coveted as Modiglianis, teams have in recent years passed (at hefty premiums) from mere centimillionaires to billionaires. The Dodgers and Cubs, for instance, now belong to ownership groups bent on winning and nothing else, whatever the payroll cost. And the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, and Giants, among others, have operated that way for years.
Surely Miami Marlins fans thought this year they would be stumbling into the same spoils. The villainous Jeffrey Loria, who had swapped the Expos for the Marlins in 2002 and run them with a mixture of false hope and fire sales, was finally selling the team. The winning bid, announced in August, was financed by Bruce Sherman, a retired money manager, along with a handful of other putatively well-to-do folks. And it had as its public face the foremost avatar of winning in baseball: Derek Jeter, who would not be just an investor but the man in charge of the team. (Then again, his ownership stake is reportedly a piddling $25 million, and he is said to be paying himself a $5 million annual salary.)
While there was little reason to think at the time that the Marlins would immediately become south Florida’s Yankees—the team has terrible attendance figures, the result of alienating fans for years, and went 77-85 in 2017, necessitating a longer-term turnaround plan rather than splurges in this offseason’s flawed free-agent market—there was even less reason to think the Marlins would send the 28-year-old who just had the best season in franchise history, the reigning MVP… to the Yankees.
But that is exactly what Jeter did early Saturday morning, if reports are to be believed, sending Giancarlo Stanton Bronxward (pending physicals) for a package consisting of shortstop Starlin Castro and two low-level prospects. Stanton, who has 10 years and $285 million remaining on the megadeal he signed in November 2014, had in recent days exercised his no-trade clause to veto proposed deals with San Francisco and St. Louis. The team traded second baseman Dee Gordon and his outstanding $38 million in salary to Seattle on Thursday.
The warning signs had manifested themselves before season’s end: Plenty of conveniently timed reports emerged that the Marlins were hemorrhaging money and needed to cut payroll. (When a professional sports franchise that sold for $1.2 billion with a publicly funded stadium claims to be losing gobs of money, ask to see the books.) Jeter himself was blamed for the callous sackings of team legends like Jeff Conine and Andre Dawson plus a veteran scout in the hospital awaiting a kidney transplant. And a pitch deck to potential minority investors mentioned that the club would seek “player payroll discipline” for “enhanced financial flexibility.”
All seemed to foretell a Stanton trade. But the idea was still hard to fathom. Why liberate the Marlins from Jeffrey Loria, only to turn into Jeffrey Loria?
There is a legitimate baseball defense of the Marlins’ moving Stanton. While no one hits the ball with the force of Stanton—except perhaps his soon-to-be outfield-mate, Aaron Judge—the juiced ball has made power easy to come by in recent seasons. (Teams don’t get extra runs for their players hitting balls into the second or third decks, at least not until the rules change.) Stanton is also coming off his best-ever season, one that followed two disappointing injury-curtailed campaigns; Miami is selling high.
And the Marlins haven’t sniffed a playoff spot since 2003 and haven’t finished above .500 since 2009. Even with Stanton crushing every pitch, and a rejuvenated Marcell Ozuna, they were two to three starting pitchers short of where they needed to be. (In 2017, their starters had a 5.12 ERA, with the average outing lasting a little more than five innings.) With one of the game’s worst farm systems, any contention plan would have required heavy free-agent investment. Now, though, with prospects in Stanton’s place, Miami could reasonably claim to be in a better strategic position than they were before.
To hell with all that, though. The worst owner in baseball was finally replaced. His replacements waited two months before embarking on another signature Marlins fire sale. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. What a humiliation.