Juan Pierre was one of the few people not outraged by the Miami Marlins' blockbuster 12-player trade that sent high-priced players Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to Toronto over the winter.
After all, it helped land him a contract to keep playing.
The 35-year-old Pierre signed a one-year, $1.6MM contract to return to the Marlins despite the belief that many free agents wouldn’t want to sign in Miami after they debuted a new stadium and high hopes for 2012 and then quickly dumped several high-priced players at the first sign of trouble.
“To me it was a no-brainer,” Pierre told a group of reporters at Marlins camp about signing with the Marlins. “I’ve been the underdog my whole career. This type of stuff isn’t bad. I know the media and the fans are upset with what’s gone on, but we had nothing to do with it.
“I’m probably here because they did do the trade. Honestly, a lot of other guys are here because of the trade. So, all you can do is make the best out of it.”
Pierre played three seasons with the Marlins from 2003-2005, playing a key role on their World Championship winning team in 2003. He stole 65 bases in 2003, which remains a club record, and in 2004 set the franchise record with 221 hits.
He returns to the Marlins for his 14th big league season after hitting .307/.351/.371 in 439 plate appearances for the 2012 Phillies. The left-handed hitter broke into the Major Leagues with the Rockies in 2000 and has also played for the Cubs, Dodgers and White Sox.
Pierre has seen plenty during his career but not even he could have predicted the path the Marlins took just months after a spending spree and the promise of huge things in Miami.
But he doesn’t see a big problem with it.
“People don’t understand the business side of baseball,” Pierre said. “I don’t even get all of it. That’s the part of the game I don’t even touch. I know it’s tough for the fans because you do grow attached to a player or grow excited, and then they trade them away for business purposes and bring in another guy. Fans don’t want to hear that.
“These guys that own teams are businessmen first. You don’t get to own teams being dumb businessmen. I know fans don’t want to hear that. Sometimes baseball players don’t want to hear it when you get attached to a city.”
The Marlins signed veteran infielder Placido Polanco to a one-year deal in late December and gave utility man Chone Figgins a chance to win a roster spot with a minor league deal and an invite to big league Spring Training shortly before camp opened.
Their roster is filled with an interesting mix of veterans looking to extend their careers and youngsters looking to break in and make a name for themselves. As Pierre sees it, it’s the perfect combination.
“If you’re a young guy or a guy on the fringe or whatever, this is where you want to be,” Pierre said. “I call it the land of opportunity right now. If you play well, the Marlins will have you in the big leagues, or they’ll get you to somewhere you can go play.
“Most of the guys in our 30s, we’re still hungry because we know pretty much we’re a year from not having a job. It’s a lot of our guys’ last go-round as far as being Major League guys, so we’re as hungry as ever.
“These young whippersnappers, they ought to be excited to be in a big league camp with a chance to make a Major League roster. So, I think you get all that hungriness together, it can pan out for a good season.”
But that problem with the fans remains. Most feel betrayed by the Marlins ownership group and attendance doesn’t figure to be very good. At least at first. “Our job as players is to go out and play hard,” Pierre said.
“The front office, for whatever reason, whatever they did, that’s something they’re going to have to mend. I know how it goes in Florida. You win and you win in consistent fashion and the fans are going to come out.
“All we can control is how we go about our business on the field every day and, hopefully if the fans get around guys, especially young guys who are going out and busting their butts every day, hopefully we get some wins and the fans will come around.”
The sexy pick by some to win the World Series a year ago, the Marlins went out and posted a 69-93 record in the regular season. With a depleted roster and first-year manager in Mike Redmond, nobody will be picking them to win much of anything in 2013.
There’s not much to look forward to this year in Miami. But happy and thankful to still be playing, Pierre has the perfect formula to turn things around.
“I live here, I know the buzz,” Pierre said. “With the new park, you get to winning, you get the momentum going, fans will come out. Winning heals all wounds.”