The Giancarlo Stanton trade became official on Monday, the first full day of Winter Meetings, after a weekend in which the Marlins were roundlyripped for sending the defending NL MVP to the Yankees in what was essentially a full-on salary dump. But if you ask new team owner Derek Jeter how he feels about getting Starlin Castro and two lower-tier prospects for a 28-year-old superstar who hit 59 home runs last year, he apparently thinks he did great.
You can quibble all you want about the Marlins’ return on the trade, which most agree is mediocre at best, especially given that Castro will likely be moved before the winter is out. But that response was emblematic of Jeter’s entire short conference call with the media (and it's worth noting that he couldn't be bothered to make the trip to Orlando, where this year's Meetings are being held, to talk to the press in person). His comments suggest that he’s either woefully out of his depth when it comes to running a team, or that he thinks the media and fans will accept whatever he says as the gospel truth no matter how ridiculous it is. For example, here he is ludicrously claiming that the Marlins never planned to trade Stanton—something predicted as early as September as part of reports that his ownership group was going to slash payroll upon taking over—and that they wanted to keep him, but that a deal happened only because Stanton said he didn’t want to be part of a rebuild and wanted out:
(Jeter's version of events, by the way, was pretty well blown up by Stanton during his introductory press conference with the Yankees. He says that he told Jeter and company that he wanted to stay on the Marlins so long as they beefed up the roster. They said no, tried to work out deals with the Giants and Cardinals despite the fact that Stanton had a no-trade clause and had told them he wasn't interested in going there, and then threatened to keep Stanton in Miami if he didn't accept a move to either of those teams. Not exactly a master class in management or negotiation there.)
But wait, there's more. Here’s Jeter suggesting that trading away your franchise’s best player for pennies on the dollar is an example of rebuilding done right:
Here’s Jeter correctly noting that the Marlins are a broken organization, but that by trading Stanton and following in the footsteps of previous owner Jeffrey Loria in engineering yet another total teardown—the franchise’s third in just over a decade—he’s somehow doing things differently.
And here’s Jeter simply passing the buck.
Let’s be fair: Selling the Stanton trade was going to be a tough task for anyone, because there’s no way to spin this as anything other than a team trading a player simply to save money. But Jeter couldn’t just come out and say, “We wanted a lower payroll” and leave it at that; he had to create a narrative that made moving Stanton look smart and proactive, and not simply cheap and mercenary. “We wanted to fix the previous regime’s mistakes, and we weren’t going to be able to do that while paying one player $25 million a year for the next decade.” And given the sorry financial state of the franchise, he probably expected that fans and reporters would simply agree with him and move on, if not praise him for acting decisively to make the Marlins great again.
That calculation should come as no surprise, given that this is merely an extension of how Jeter was as a player—the kind of guy who mostly avoided the media or, when forced to talk, offered platitudes about playing hard or looking forward to tomorrow’s game. He was always able to deflect reporters or talk past them, and because he won five World Series rings in his career, it worked. Who was going to call out future Hall of Famer Derek Jeter?
But as the front-facing owner of a major league team that just made a deeply unpopular move, Jeter can’t hide, and he can't get away with being obtuse. There are going to be more press conferences like this where he gets difficult questions from reporters. There are going to be columnists and sports radio hosts and talking heads calling him out or criticizing him or arguing that he screwed up. And if he continues on his plan to burn the Marlins down, those cries that he either doesn’t know what he’s doing or that he’s not even trying to field a functioning team are only going to grow louder and angrier.
If nothing else, this last weekend proved that the transition for Jeter from player and retired private citizen to publicly available owner isn’t going to be easy. He likely expected a job where he could do as he saw fit, and that the fans and media would accept whatever it was he did because, well, he’s Derek Jeter, and he knows more about baseball than you. At least, that’s the cover he likely hoped for—that as a beloved icon of the game and career winner, he wouldn’t have to explain himself, whether the decision he made was bad or had ulterior motives or both. Instead, he’s hearing criticism from all sides, and at least on Monday, that wasn’t what he saw coming.
But as Stanton moves on to his new team (and with a few caustic words for his old one), the question now is what’s next for Jeter and the Marlins, and whether or not he actually believes his own spin. Is he convinced that this is the right way forward for Miami, or is this cynical deflection for an ownership group that has no plans to spend? Only Jeter and his fellow owners know for sure, but on Monday, he told the unvarnished truth on at least one count. “We’re not going to turn this organization around overnight,” he said. “It’s going to take some time.”