The Marlins are indeed the strangest franchise in all of American sports. On the surface they look like a classic Quadruple A team like the Royals and Pirates. They trade veterans for prospects, turn those prospects into big league players and when they ask for too much money, ship them off for more prospects.
Along with playing in a football stadium that isn’t designed for baseball and having it be either too hot or too rainy, the inability for Marlins fans to get emotionally attached to any player is as big a reason to why they have had trouble drawing over the years.
And yet there is something so different about the Marlins as compared to Kansas City and Pittsburgh.
First of all they can have winning seasons. The Marlins played their first game in 1993. The Royals and Pirates have combined for two winning seasons in that stretch, both by Kansas City. The Marlins have had 6 winnings seasons in the same stretch.
And of course they remain the only MLB franchise to have never lost a post season series. They are 6-0 in October, winning it all in 1997 and 2003.
This little franchise that could has as many World Series titles as the Mets, the Cubs, the Indians and the Phillies. They are one World Series title behind the Orioles, who have a history of putting consistent winners on the field during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
One thing they do better than Pittsburgh and Kansas City is they actually get VALUE back when they make trades. When I wrote the Home Grown vs. Acquired post for the Marlins, their home grown talent was minimal. But the players they picked up from other clubs were the backbone for their winning teams.
But their spending habits have been laughable. In 2006 their opening day payroll was $16 million… or $4 million less than what the Yankees paid Jason Giambi. The fact that Joe Girardi almost led that team to a winning record was all he needed to win Manager of the Year that year.
In 2008 they spent $22 million on players and had a winning season.
Imagine if their payroll went from “Laughable pathetic” to merely “Small.” They probably could have won the Wild Card.
With the Players Association trashing their payroll and forcing the Marlins to spend a little bit, a refreshing picture is starting to emerge in South Florida that has nothing to do with LeBron James.
The Marlins are moving into their new tax payer sinkhole in 2012. And for the first time in their history, the Marlins will have a ballpark to call their own instead of feel like they are crashing on the Dolphins couch.
Miami fans will be able to know they will have decent seats, they won’t be rained on and it won’t be stifling with humidity.
In other words there will be an incentive to actually GO to the game.
And unless the Marlins trade off a lot of salary between now and 2012, guess who will be under contract and wearing teal?
That’s a decent core with an MVP candidate, a Cy Young candidate and some good young pitchers and hitters.
And with Ricky Nolasco signing an extension this year to go along with Hanley Ramirez’s extension and Josh Johnson’s pact, the Marlins will have three solid players entering their 7th year with the team when they go into the new ballpark.
That’s enough time to attach some emotion to a player.
Add to that the new revenue and the fact that Miami, with its many transplanted Northeasterners to go along with the Latin population, should be a baseball haven. And with some money, big free agents should want to live in the low taxed, glamorous Miami lifestyle playing in a low pressure environment.
By 2012 the Phillies juggernaut may be slowing down.
Jimmy Rollins will be a free agent and the Cliff Lees and Roy Halladays and Ryan Howards would all be deeper into their 30s.
2012 could also be the time that Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper are ready to shine in Washington. And the Braves are continuing to build on their strong core.
By then a young Marlins team with a burst of energy in the new ballpark and some more money to spend might just be ready to make their move.
And with their post season good fortune, they might indeed win another World Series title. (How would THAT sit with the Cubs and Indians fans of the world?)
So I give you credit, Marlins. You are operating in the Cleveland Indians mold from the mid 1990s. Put together a talented core and by the time you have a new ballpark and new fans filing in, give them a good product.
And before long, who knows? Maybe the Marlins will be one of those teams that people say “It isn’t fair. They always out bid other teams on free agents!”