Well, now, that’s a familiar start to baseball’s winter meetings.
Last year, hours before the four days of wheelin’ and dealin’ officially got under way just outside Orlando, the Nationals stunned the baseball world by signing outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million deal. The deal is as minboggling today as it was a year ago today.
Now, tonight, hours before the winter meetings kick off tomorrow here in Dallas, there are several reports saying the Miami Marlins have agreed to terms with shortstop Jose Reyes on a six-year, $111 million contract. An option year could increase the total value to $120 million.
This deal, unlike Werth hitting the lottery, didn’t send shockwaves across the baseball world.
We’ve been told for weeks that the Miami Marlins, in preparation of their spring move into their new luxury baseball stadium, were going to spend, and spend freely to field a star-studded team.
Last week, they added All-Star closer Heath Bell with a three-year, $27 million deal. Today, they bumped up their offer for Reyes — the reigning National League batting champ — and hooked their top offseason priority.
And now there are rumblings they’re still very intersted in superstar Albert Pujols, who, eventually this winter, will have to decide whether to remain the face of the Cardinals or move on. Lefty pitcher Mark Buehrle also has been high on their priority list.
All this activity, which comes after adding a marquee manager in Ozzie Guillen, is definitely out of character for the Marlins, who carried just a $57 million payroll in 2011. Back in 2009, they sported the lowest payroll in the game, at $37 million. The year before that, the team’s entire salary was just $21 million. Two years before that, $15 million!
In fact, the Marlins haven’t spent this freely since the days when Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland, now the general manager and manager of the Tigers respectively, held the same jobs with the Marlins. In 1997, they were paying big bucks to the likes of Alex Fernandez, Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Kevin Brown, Moises Alou and Devon White, and it resulted in a World Series championship.
But by the following May, all but Fernandez were gone — traded away in a multi-move fire sale ordered by then-owner Wayne Huizenga that caused the Marlins to plummet from 92 wins in 1997 to 54 the following season. Disgusted, Leyland quit after 1998. Dombrowski departed for the position with the Tigers after the 2001 season.
This all is worth noting, of course. The Marlins learned then they couldn’t spend like a big-market team. Apparently, under new owner Jeffrey Loria, they believe that’s changed, with the 37,000-seat Marlins Ballpark — constructed on the old Orange Bowl site — scheduled to open in the spring.
Time will tell if the business model works, and if fan interest finally picks up with all these stars.
A similar spending spree failed once, and the deconstruction of a champion was sickening to watch.
That’s not to say history will repeat itself. This is a different era in baseball, with revenue sharing, which came about in 2000. So they’re not quite “all in,” like the 1997 Marlins. Still, they’re banking that a new everything — stadium, name (Florida Marlins no more), logo (as ugly as it is), manager and stars – will turn the franchise around. It’s an intriguing attempt, even if sustained success remains quite the long shot, considering the city’s residents treat their professional sports teams like something to pay attention to only out of boredom, and even then only after the sock drawer’s been organized.
If nothing else, though, the Marlins are being taken seriously again.
At least that’s more than the Nationals (Werth? Really?) could say last year.
Be sure to check back with Covering the Bases, as Tony Paul blogs throughout the day Monday-Wednesday from the winter meetings.