Marlins sign SS Jose Reyes, or when $106 Million becomes irrelevant
If I’m a
Florida Miami Marlins fan, I’m pretty excited this morning: my team just made it’s biggest free agent signing in at least a decade, plucking SS Jose Reyes from the division rival New York Mets. It remains the front runner to sign Chicago White Sox LHP Mark Buehrle. The Marlins are still apparently in on the biggest fish in the pond, Cardinals 1st baseman Albert Pujols. All of a sudden, wait…wha? The Marlins are throwing their weight around.
You may notice that even though I typically use this blog as a medium for analyzing pro sports transactions, I try not to keep a running ledger of every move made by a baseball team. But for the Marlins, this is a significant shift away from rhetoric about spending more to develop a ball club and a fanbase, and towards the actual action of building a larger market club. When a team like the Yankees is involved in a three way trade, sure, that’s worth discussing. When they sign Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia, or the Red Sox sign Marco Scutaro, it doesn’t and shouldn’t register on the public consciousness. Despite my best efforts, LiveBall Sports has never been a baseball heavy blog.
Reyes to the Marlins is different. We’re talking about a team that doesn’t draw well moving out on a financial limb with no guarantee of return on investment. In fact, I will argue that this move will not generate even $50 million in additional ticket and jersey revenue for the Marlins, though I think they will not feel the financial impact of the trade right away. The more interesting angle, to me, has to do with the Marlins and winning. Manager Ozzie Guillen was the first big fish to fall. Now: Reyes, and probably Buerhle could be additions to the club. Hanley Ramirez is still a Marlin. This move happens to solve the most gaping hole on the baseball diamond for the last two years: third base.
Or does is? Well, yes it does, because the remarkably healthy and consistent Hanley Ramirez will slide over that way. Sure, his long term contract with the Marlins doesn’t look like quite as much of a bargain at the hot corner, but there are maybe two third baseman in the National League who offer more value with the bat than Ramirez: Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman, and New York’s David Wright. Pablo Sandoval is still very young, and Placido Polanco is still very productive, but neither is (or ever was) Hanley Ramirez.
But the bigger issue here is Reyes, who wasn’t healthy at all in 2009 or 2010. He was then sensational in 2011, but to me, I’m just not sure how much more Reyes has to offer. I am guilty of thinking Reyes may have been done as an everyday player prior to last season. While that was proven obviously incorrect, $106 million is a lot to give to a guy who likely could never justify that. It’s even more to give when you consider: these are the Marlins.
While there is clearly something brewing in Miami with Reyes joining Ramirez, Mike Stanton, and Gaby Sanchez in the same lineup, and it is easy to see how a team like the Marlins (or Braves, or Nationals) might start looking at the rusting on the armor of the Philadelphia Phillies and think that now is the time to build a perennial contender, I am highly skeptical that Reyes does anything to make the Marlins a contender of the highest order. I think it just makes them a spender of the highest order. Reyes heads into 2012 as the premier shortstop in the National League, but I don’t see too many ways he emerges as such in October.
I just don’t see any reason to believe the Marlins are going to allocate enough cash efficiently enough to overtake the Phillies this year, and you may have realized that the Braves have totally rebuilt their farm system and that the Nationals are also flexing their financial muscle, except with a team that now includes a healthy Steven Strasburg and Bryce Harper now in the high minors. Reyes is a much better bang for buck signing than Jayson Werth was, but that’s not the real competition now for a Marlins team that has struggled to draw even better than three other MLB teams over the last four years.
The Marlins are pretty much just competing against themselves here, because moves like this are unsustainable on their current budget. And sure, they were just pocketing a pretty hefty revenue sharing check instead of spending it on winning, and yes, I think Ozzie Guillen might have won tougher divisions with less talent than he is going to have in Miami this year. But while year one jersey sales should support this deal, you know that it is also coming in tandem with other big free agent contracts. And yet we have every reason to be skeptical that a winning Marlins team will follow.
Guillen is among the best at his job, as is Reyes and as is Pujols and Buerhle. You can see clearly what the Marlins are trying to accomplish here. But I can also say that I don’t think it will succeed, because like so many teams before them, the Marlins are trying to leap a lofty development curve by throwing cash around. And since the MLB free agent market is typically a costly version of players in their prime vs. former superstars: take your pick, the effort to target select talents is admirable. It may work out on the financial side after all. I can offer a cost-benefit analysis, but I don’t have all the relevant information.
In terms of winning baseball games: Reyes is a costly investment, and I don’t know how confident I’d be that the wins the Marlins are chasing are going to come soon, if ever.