Marlins' roster overhaul is no big surprise
The Miami Marlins are rightly receiving voluminous and vociferous vitriol in the wake of the kind of roster moves with which the organization's fans are all-too-familiar.Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson headlined a blockbuster barter with the Blue Jays that was awaiting final approval Wednesday, adding to the tally of departing flights that has included Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, Heath Bell and Ed Mujica, to name only the most prominent moving parts. All with an Ozzie Guillen booting, to boot. Aside from the mammoth home runs off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton (assuming he's still around) and that monstrosity beyond the outfield fence to celebrate home runs, the 2013 Marlins will barely be recognizable. Total payroll commitments shed in the swaps made the last few months? All told, more than $210 million was removed from the Marlins' future financial radar -- a sum that actually looks paltry when you remember that the Red Sox moved a quarter of a billion dollars in a single trade with the Dodgers this summer. Unlike the Red Sox, though, the Marlins' motives and method seemed suspect from the very start of their spending spree last winter. There is an assumption, right or wrong, that the Marlins didn't shed all this salary with the intent of one day significantly building the payroll back up again, but rather to cut their losses while they can. Of course, the irony of it all is that, from a pure baseball standpoint, the Marlins are probably making sounder decisions now than they did at any point in their free-agent foray of a year ago. Jake Marisnick was the Blue Jays' No. 2 prospect, according to MLB.com, going into 2012. Adeiny Hechavarria was No. 7. If the Marlins got a future five-tool center fielder star infielder out of this, they did all right -- certainly better than when they were handing out back-loaded contracts last winter. The oft-injured shortstop. The aging ace. The relief pitcher who enjoyed Petco Park's perks. These were the shiny new objects the Marlins dangled in front of their fans' faces last year in a failed attempt to build an attendance base and win a competitive National League East. And from the very beginning, the Marlins' moves posed more questions than they answered. After all, the fundamental flaw of the Hot Stove season is the thinking that teams can buy their way into respectability, regardless of whether or not they have an adequate foundation upon which to build. The Marlins didn't have that winning foundation, and they suffered accordingly. Let this, then, be a cautionary tale to all those heralding the Blue Jays as the likely lead dogs in the American League East for 2013. Granted, this assumption of assets is a better deal for the Blue Jays now than it was for the Marlins last winter, but it nonetheless comes with no shortage of risk. The primary points of risk are easy to point out: Johnson, because of shoulder woes, hasn't reached the 200-innings threshold in three years and has lost velocity on his fastball; Buehrle has a ton of mileage (2,627 2/3 innings over the past 12 years) on his arm and has struggled against the Yankees (1-8, 6.38 ERA) and Red Sox (6-8, 4.64); and Reyes' history of hamstring issues does not make him seem a suitable fit for the artificial turf at Rogers Centre. Reyes, in particular, was an overpay among overpays last winter, and now Toronto senior vice president of baseball operations and general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who has done such a terrific job of stripping the Blue Jays of their bad contracts and propping up the farm system, has cashed in his chips and gone all-in. For Anthopoulos, though, that's a tolerable risk assumption in a major metropolitan market that has shown a willingness to support a winning team in the past. And it's also tolerable on a team that offered at least some basis for belief that it was close to contention. The Marlins had neither the market history nor the necessary building blocks to make such assumptions last year, and their struggles were not terribly surprising. They had an awful April (with poor play taking place amid Guillen's Fidel Castro controversy) and then fell completely off the face of the earth after Memorial Day. They finished 29 games out of first, and not even the Showtime cameras stuck around to capture the full scope of the wreckage. By and large, the city and surrounding area of Miami never warmed to the 2012 Marlins. Marlins Park was, is and will continue to be largely funded by the public, yet it was far from filled by the public. The Marlins' attendance of 2.2 million in 2012 was an uptick from the 1.5 million who came to Sun Life Stadium in '11. But it was nowhere near the expected mark of nearly 3 million, and it was the lowest attendance tally for a new ballpark in a full Major League season in 30 years. The Marlins, then, whiffed on their projections, from both a baseball and a business standpoint. And with a stunning sequence of trade activity, they have backpedaled furiously. Even with payroll commitments for 2013 whittled down to somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million, they might not yet be done (keep that cell phone handy, Ricky Nolasco). This was The Fish's fishy backup plan all along, of course, as evidenced by the organization's insistence against no-trade clauses (an insistence that presumably garnered great weight in the Marlins' inability to reel in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson). The exit strategy was always intact. So give the Marlins your wrath. Frankly, they deserve it. Keep in mind that a few years from now, we might look back at these deals and acknowledge that the Marlins actually bettered themselves, from a baseball standpoint. Alas, context counts. And that standpoint does not stand alone.