The first thing, the very first thing, Derek Jeter did as the new Marlins owner was to publish a story on his internet site for athletes, The Players Tribune. He announced in a breezy if characteristically unrevealing story he was part of a group buying the team.
Even that simple act missed a mark. It drew a rebuke from Major League Baseball. Its own web site, MLB.com, is to be used by teams to publish stories. A small thing. But not an isolated one.
Since then, it’s been one clumsy misstep after another for Jeter. He fired popular Marlins names like Jack McKeon and Tony Perez from their casino-greeters’ role in the team, but neglected to tell them. Then he offered them a pay cut, effectively firing them in public all over again.
He fired a longtime scout, Marty Scott, who was in a hospital bed after cancer surgery. Ouch. He fired popular play-by-play voice Rich Waltz. More outcry. His group also reportedly is trying to raise $250 million more from investors, raising the primary fear of his group all along, that they don’t have the money to play at this level.
All this comes before he must pull off a difficult move. Jeter has to trade Giancarlo Stanton without confirming to some fans he’s Jeffrey Loria II, and without continuing the natural curiosity about why he even bought a team he had to dismantle.
He has one thing on his side in this Stanton case if anyone cares to see it: Whoever bought the Marlins would have to trade him. There’s no avoiding it unless there’s an owner out there willing to lose tens of millions of dollars out the gate and lose games while doing so.
Stanton’s contract is too much. Other contracts are equally crippling. Bringing back the same roster would cost $140 million next season – and even a source on the losing ownership bid said a break-even point would be a $70-80 million payroll.
That’s just to return a .500 team at best. And the minor-league system that a franchise like the Marlins must ride to supply talent is broken. It’s the worst in baseball, according to Baseball America. It supplied Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, J.T. Realmuto -- a great core lineup -- but now is kaput.
Finally, there’s Stanton’s situation. He just presented you with his one complete season in seven years. A historic season. Fifty-nine home runs. National League Most Valuable Player. But there’s still $290 million left on his contract — and a no-trade clause that gives him full power.
Will you go watch him play on a crappy team?
Did you last year?
This is the spot Jeter inherited. It’s Loria’s Revenge. The Marlins are a fiscal and roster mess right now. Two starting pitchers, Edinson Volquez and Wei-Yin Chin, are on the books for $31 million in 2018 and neither can be counted as healthy (Volquez is definitely out). Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa, two relievers who disappointed, cost $16 million next season. That’s $47 million right there for nothing.
I get it. Marlins fans are so sick of hearing this, rewind after rewind, there aren’t many Marlins fans anymore. So if Jeter’s continual missteps threaten to beat the honeymoon out of a welcome ownership change, trading Stanton will confirm it to some fans.
Let’s be honest, though. The same fans yelling about trading Stanton in December were yelling in June he wasn’t worth his contract. Stanton had an amazing final four months to the year. Here’s how to read that: His trade value will never be higher at a point the Marlins have to trade him.
The real question for Jeter’s new front office is how far they go with these trades and what they get in return when Stanton has that no-trade clause. They can kick-start the rebuild with some prospects. Do they need to tear it down completely? Ozuna? Yelilch? What’s the master plan?
It’s nice Jeter is a Hall of Fame player in New York. It’s also irrelevant in South Florida. He has to make his name here. He’s made mistakes in his openings swings, mostly small, public-relations mistakes, to be sure. He’s got to trade Stanton. But this one, he’s got to get right.