When you step back from the debacle in Miami, the Marlins' last full year bookends quite neatly.
In December of 2011, the franchise made headlines by signing Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, in that order. Beginning in October of 2012 and culminating in November, the Marlins made additional headlines by trading...Heath Bell, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, in that order (work with me).
In the 12 months that elapsed between, Miami also opened brand-new Marlins Park at the tax payers' expense, flipped Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez to the Detroit Tigers for some decent talent, traded away starting third baseman Hanley Ramirez for cents on the dollar and fired manager Ozzie Guillen about a year into his reign of Castro-infused mayhem.
The Fish not only parted with Reyes and Buehrle, but also jettisoned Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck in the deal. In return, Miami received Adeiny Hechavarria, Yunel Escobar, Jeff Mathis and Henderson Alvarez along with prospects Anthony DeSclafani, Justin Nicolino and Jake Marisnick.
The fallout from the fire sale has been predictable.
Depending on whom you ask, the mega-trade was shameful, deplorable or pick-your-ugly-adjective bad. That's generally what happens when you adios 60 percent of your starting rotation and two-thirds of your everyday lineup from a year ago.
Consider that Miami has traded its ace (Johnson), arguably its second-best starter (Sanchez), arguably its most reliable starter (Buehrle), its entire starting infield from '12 and a Swiss Army knife that could play basically any position on the diamond while swiping 30-40 bases (Bonifacio).
...And Heath Bell.
So, yeah, you'd expect the initial reaction to land somewhere between outrageous disgust and disgusted outrage.
Furthermore, if you're a Miami Marlins fan, you can stop reading after the next few paragraphs.
You have every right to be spitting hot fire now and every day until your Fish win another World Series or Jeffrey Loria sells the team. You just watched the current regime bring in a shiny, new team to christen a shiny, new ballpark and then endured said team devolving into hot, steaming ball of stink. Now, all your left with is another crop of prospects and the obligatory promises of a bright future.
That's bound to rub anyone the wrong way. Especially when it's not your first trip to this particular dance.
So wallow in your disillusionment for as long as you like, Marlins fans, you're entitled.
For the rest of the baseball observing world, let's pump the brakes.
After all, when the Boston Red Sox pawned off their bloated salaries on the Los Angeles Dodgers in August, more than a few "experts" blessed the move as a positive for the Sawks. Even those who criticized Boston didn't do so with such severe terms as "shameful" or "deplorable."
Granted, the World-Series-or-bust Red Sox have earned a degree of latitude that the penny-pinching Marlins have not.
Boston has an immediate history of breaking the bank in an effort to win, netting two world championships in the last decade. Miami, nee Florida, on the other hand, has gone the Mitt Romney/Bain route several times in its 25-year history with varying degrees of success.
But compare the deals.
By my estimation, the Red Sox gave up a comparable package and sacrificed the best player in either deal (Adrian Gonzalez).
Additionally, it's tough to judge since the primary pieces are prospects, but Escobar was once the darling of scouts everywhere after his 2009 campaign, Alvarez has shown glimpses of brilliance in the rugged American League East and Hechavarria is supposed to be another can't-miss Cuban youngster.
Again, it's too early to tell, but on paper, it sure looks like the Marlins got a better haul than James Loney (blech), Ivan DeJesus Jr., Jerry Sands, Rubby De La Rosa (legit if healthy) and Allen Webster. Maybe not.
Regardless, it would be one thing if the industry panned the Boston-LA trade, but then backed off saying the BoSox brass deserved the benefit of the doubt, except that's not what happened. So if it's good for Boston, why is it so awful for Miami?
Look closer at the Marlins' situation.
For one thing, the National League East is going to be horrific for its inhabitants next year and for the foreseeable future.
The Washington Nationals were fiends in '12 and didn't even have the services of Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper for a full year. Ian Desmond will be a year older, wiser, stronger and better in 2013. Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Ryan Zimmerman, Ross Detwiler and Danny Espinosa all skew toward the youngish side. They're going to be a handful for years to come.
The Atlanta Braves are behind the Nats in terms of on-paper intimidation, but not by a huge margin.
The ATL has the likes of Jason Heyward, Kris Medlen, Tommy Hanson, Andrelton Simmons, Mike Minor and Freddie Freeman around which to build plus the budget to do so.
Meanwhile, as long as the Philadelphia Phillies have Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz healthy, they'll be contenders. The New York Mets are the least troublesome, but even they have 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, 2012 NL MVP contender David Wright and a collection of above-average youngsters.
In other words, the Marlins are staring straight down a double-barrel shotgun—each team in the division has a nice nucleus of talent and the best ones have the budgets to augment their talent.
If that's the blight on your horizon, you've got two choices: Either throw fiscal caution to the wind and spend money on equivalent talent or batten down the hatches for a rebuild and hope to catch lightning in a bottle a la the Tampa Bay Rays circa 2004.
The snag is that the former option doesn't guarantee success unless the players perform. Which brings us to the best defense of the salary dump: the reputation of the players versus their realities.
What did the Marlins really give up? The two gems are Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson.
You can't argue with Reyes's production, especially coming from shortstop. But if you're listing negatives, you'd point to injury concerns (past and future), his age (29), the fact that his game is almost entirely predicated on speed and price tag. He's set to make $16 million in 2014, then $22 million for the next three years.
That's a potentially franchise-killing mix.
Johnson is a monster...when healthy.
Unfortunately, the right-hander's only broken 180 innings three times in seven years while suffering significant injuries to his right elbow and shoulder. He's also a free agent after 2013.
Nice players, and somewhat reasonably priced by MLB standards, but only Emilio is younger than 30 and he'll be 28 soon after the start of next season. The chances of anyone in the trio blossoming into a markedly better player are slim.
Most importantly if you're Miami, you just slogged through a disaster of a season with these very guys.
It's not like this is 1997 and the Marlins are coming off a World Series win again. Maybe 2013 would've been better than a last-place finish, but by how much? The NL East seems to offer no margin for error and the Fish would've been paying an awful lot to find out with little reason to believe a dramatic improvement was in the offing.
The optics are, admittedly, terrible.
The political/legal wrangling over the funding of the stadium, the spending spree that seemed to herald a new era of baseball in Miami baseball (complete with a new name/logo/uniforms), the struggles and then the purge all seem like steps in an elaborate con on the fans.
And the optics will look a lot better if the gamble works, the prospects become valuable assets and the departed players fail to rebound. Those are big "ifs," but crazier things happen every year in the bigs.
Of course, if the Miami Marlins crater and lose 110 games, forget I said anything...
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