It’s hard to call a man making $325 million a victim, but the Marlins made promises to Giancarlo Stanton that, once again, they are failing mightily to keep.
In the first season of Giancarlo Stanton’s 13-year, $325 million megadeal with the Miami Marlins, and after spending the offseason selling him on the stability of the franchise going forward, the team has once again failed to provide an environment to thrive for its franchise star with the hiring of (now former) General Manager Dan Jennings as its new manager. In an odd, shocking move that saw Mike Redmond be dismissed after rumors that he’d been on the hot seat for weeks, the Marlins—clearly not Flounders—are once again searching for a clearer direction.
The Marlins have the best pure power hitter in baseball. This is a team with a marketable superstar in a game that is desperate for them. This is an athlete who draws fans into the ballpark on his own—no small task for that specific team—and Jennings will now be his eighth major league manager in six professional seasons. Let that sink in.
We’ve seen this act before. Stanton, like the rest of us, has to be hoping that his team isn’t operating from the same script.
During the 2011 offseason, the Marlins signed SS Jose Reyes (six years, $106 million), SP Mark Buehrle (four years, $58 million) and RP Heath Bell (three years, $27 million). After just one disappointing season that saw the “new-look Marlins” go an unbelievable 69-93, the club sent out both Reyes and Buehrle in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. Those were the same guys who were billed as Stanton’s new running mates upon their arrival, and in dealing them, Miami told Stanton the one message they’re famous for sending: You’re all alone.
Let’s fast forward to the present. The team made a trade to bring in ex-Los Angeles Dodgers speedster Dee Gordon to sit atop the lineup, reeled in Mat Latos and ‘The Critter’ from Cincinnati and brought in Michael Morse from the world champion San Francisco Giants on a two-year contract. Entering Tuesday’s contest against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Marlins have a 16-23 record and sit in last place in the National League East—the same division they were supposed to be a dark-horse contender to win. There is plenty of time left in this season with 123 games remaining, but this isn’t a club that will ever get the benefit of the doubt. They haven’t proven anything, they haven’t earned anything, and and most importantly, Stanton doesn’t forget anything that has happened along the way.
In late February, Stanton was the subject of an excellent Sports Illustrated story by Ben Reiter, who profiled how the slugger and the Marlins agreed to terms on their historic contract extension. Here is what Stanton had to say at that time about the meeting between the two sides:
“I put the paper down, and I was like, ‘I’ll tell you right now that numbers don’t mean anything,'” Stanton recalls. “‘If you think you’re just going to pay me a bunch of money, and I’m going to go live my lavish lifestyle, come to the park and get my ass kicked every day, and go back to my lavish lifestyle, you got another thing coming.’”
Prior to that, in late 2014 when the Marlins were putting together a surprising run that had the team unexpectedly flirting with postseason contention, Stanton was the asked about his view of the organization by Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. “Five months,” he said, “doesn’t change five years.”
There’s one common theme in both of those messages from Stanton, and it’s that each is intended for the same recipient; Owner Jeffrey Loria. Yes, the same man who has treated Stanton like a son. Yes, the same man who agreed to potentially pay him $325 million over the next 13 seasons. And yes, the same man who has overseen the construction and deconstruction of these same Marlins to which Stanton will serve as the face of for at least the next several seasons, and possibly for the duration of his entire career.
It doesn’t much matter what titles exist in this organization at this point. It’s clear who calls the shots.
This is a sink or swim moment for Jennings and Loria, the third manager that the Marlins will have on the payroll for the 2015 season. This is the team these two men built together, around their prized piece in Stanton, and it’s in danger of falling apart before it ever took off. This was supposed to be the season where the Marlins were in the news for their on-field abilities, and instead we’re once again talking about off-the-field dynamics. The year 2015 was supposed to see the Marlins ascend to new heights as a cohesive organization capable of shedding its prior reputation. To suggest there is no pressure on Jennings is asinine, and to think for even a second that Stanton isn’t taking notes—and hasn’t been taking notes—would be overlooking the obvious.
In the middle of April, just two weeks after the season had started, here’s what Stanton had to say (via MLB.com’s Joe Frisaro):
“We’re not really giving ourselves a chance, it feels like. We’ve got a positive vibe, but [something] is just not there. The fire is not there, it seems like. You always want to have it. But when you’re out there, and it’s game time, it’s just nothing there — it seems like.”
That’s a telling quote at any stage of the season. That’s an alarming quote—as in “do whatever it takes to shatter the glass and extinguish this fire”—after just 11 games of a 162-game season.
Now, after firing Redmond and inserting Jennings, the Marlins have their backs against the wall. Where does the team go from here if it doesn’t work?
And if the Marlins continue to fail in an effort to get it right, Stanton will keep his notebook open, pen to paper and have a long track record of things to point back to when he opts out of his contract earlier than anticipated.
And at that point, it will be a familiar lesson for these floundering Marlins.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.