Dan's Dugout: Floundering Florida Clubs Should Abdicate • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Floundering Florida Clubs Should Abdicate

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Florida is fertile territory for spring training.

But it’s a graveyard for baseball during the regular season.

Now that the Tampa Bay Rays and Miami Marlins have traded their best players, a bad situation is about to get even worse.

The Rays, trying to remain respectable in the difficult American League East, ended the Evan Longoria era Wednesday by shipping their iconic third baseman to San Francisco for four rookies.

Evan Longoria brings his bat and glove to the National League

The only bright side was that Tampa Bay got considerably more for Longoria than Miami got from the New York Yankees for National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton.

Even though both teams have domed ballparks to protect spectators from the Sunshine State’s heat and humidity, few fans actually surface.

Tampa Bay averaged just 15,670 fans per game – worst in baseball – at the Tropicana Dome in 2017, while Miami drew 20,395 to watch Stanton chase a 60-homer season. That left the Fish floundering in 28th place out of the 30 teams, with the Oakland A’s sandwiched in the middle.

Both are expansion teams, placed in Florida because spring training has proven such a turnstile success. But sources inside Major League Baseball not admit, in restrospect, that awarding both franchises was a disaster just short of Chernobyl-level.

The Marlins, added to the National League East in 1993, were always the weak sister of an expansion year that also launched the crowd-pleasing Colorado Rockies.

Initially called the Florida Marlins, the team never won a divisional title, though it managed to win a pair of world championships after sneaking into the final round via the wild-card route.

Tampa Bay won a pennant too but didn’t survive its lone Fall Classic.

That being said, both teams developed players who pleased their fans – not all of them at home. Both teams drew better on the road in 2017.

Whether they draw flies next summer is the fuel that fires much of the Hot Stove League.

Future Hall of Famer Deter Jeter, hailed as a hero after teaming with Bruce Sherman to buy the Miami franchise, has become a bigger pariah in four months than the hated Jeffrey Loria, who ran the team like a personal fiefdom after acquiring it in a three-cornered ownership swap that sent John Henry to Boston.

Marlins CEO Derek Jeter has a lot of explaining to do

Twice stripped of their stars because of payroll considerations, the Fish are floundering again under Jeter’s heavy hand. He has not only traded Stanton, Dee Gordon, and Marcell Ozuna but front-office figures Andre Dawson, Tony Perez, Jack McKeon, and Jeff (Mr. Marlin) Conine.

Also outed in the purge was Bill Beck, a part-time Marlins broadcaster who previously served as traveling secretary and special assistant to the owner.

It seems like eons ago that the Marlins hosted the All-Star Game and packed their ballpark. But all of that goodwill has been squandered, with many fans insisting Jeter has done more damage to the club than Hurricane Irma.

One of his lone defenders is Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Unlike Bowie Kuhn, who made a career of killing trades made by maverick Oakland owner Charles O. Finley at the dawn of free agency, Manfred sees nothing wrong with the fishy Fish sales.

Rob Manfred realizes he has serious headaches in Florida

“We do not get involved in operating-level decisions in the ownership approval process.,” he said on ESPN Radio’s Dan Le Batard show Wednesday. “Clubs make those local decisions. We did not have player-specific plans from the Miami Marlins or any other team that has been in the ownership process. Those are decisions that the individual owners make, and they do not have to be cleared by us or approved by us. Those are local decisions that really are not part of the approval process.

“We approved a very well-funded group that made numerous presentations to us about their commitment to provide winning baseball in South Florida over the long haul. That’s generally what we look for in the approval process.

“We don’t get into, are you going to trade ‘Player X’ or ‘Player Y’ at a particular point in time, nor do we ask them to make a commitment to people before they even got in and made an evaluation of their talent level, their ability to win with the people that they have. That’s just not how the ownership process works.”

Reeling from the untimely death of star pitcher Jose Fernandez at the end of the 2016 campaign, Miami went 77-85 in 2017. The team hasn’t had a winning season since 2009 and hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2003, when it beat Jeter’s Yankees in the World Series.

Stanton won the National League MVP award last season after hitting .281 with 59 home runs and 132 RBI, but the Marlins potentially saved $260 million by moving his contract.

Giancarlo Stanton parlayed his 59 home runs into his first MVP award

Longoria leaps from the east to west, landing in the most difficult home run target in the big leagues. The 32-year-old third baseman hit just 20 homers for Tampa Bay last year but 36 two years ago. His acquisition will solidify San Francisco’s infield defense but make only a minimal upgrade in a power output that ranked last in the majors in 2017. His trade suggests the Rays will also deal star pitcher Chris Archer for prospects, weakening the team further in the short term.

Rumors have swirled for several years about moving the Tampa Bay franchise to Montreal, which lost its team when the Expos became the Washington Nationals in 2005, and leaving just one team in Florida.

With disinterest likely to intensify, moving both clubs might be a better solution. There are plenty of potential host cities, including New Orleans, San Juan, Vancouver, and even Northern New Jersey – assuming the Mets and Yankees don’t claim territorial rights.

 

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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