In a heated interview on the Dan Le Batard show, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred refuted the notion that he had any advance knowledge that the incoming Marlins ownership group, led by Derek Jeter and Bruce Sherman, had plans for a reduction in payroll (Facebook link with full audio/video of the interview).
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, however, cites multiple sources that agree with Le Batard’s assessment, suggesting that the Commissioner’s Office was fully aware of what would unfold after Jeter and Sherman took the reins in south Florida. Per Jackson, two sources that were “directly involved” in the sale said that the new ownership group was required to inform other owners of their intentions with payroll, and they let it be known that there’d be a reduction to the $85-90MM range.
Jackson also writes that someone “directly involved” in the sales process said that Manfred’s comments were “absolutely not true,” adding that the Commissioner’s Office requests an operations plan from all prospective bidders. The Jeter/Sherman group’s operational plan, titled “Project Wolverine,” according to Jackson, was “widely circulated” and known about prior to the league’s approval of the sale. Manfred paints the bidding process in a considerably different light.
“Just like in every other ownership transfer, we examined the financial wherewithal of the group,” says Manfred of the approval process. “We made sure that the governance structure of the partnership was consistent with our rules. And we had interviews with the people who were going to be running the club to get a general understanding of their approach to running the club. Everyone that was involved in that process, including me, was convinced that this group is committed to winning baseball in South Florida over the long haul.”
Manfred repeatedly denies any knowledge of the Marlins’ plans for tearing down payroll and stresses that he is a firm believer in the fact that the Jeter/Sherman group has a long-term plan and a commitment to bring winning baseball to south Florida. Pressed on whether there was an indication that the Marlins planned to trade Giancarlo Stanton and others, Manfred emphasizes that specific baseball operations decisions aren’t a part of the approval process when soliciting bids from prospective owners.
“We don’t approve, dictate or necessarily ask clubs what they’re going to do with respect to their individual operations,” Manfred explains. “Those are local decisions that really are not part of 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 as to what they’re going to do with payroll before they’ve even got in and made an evaluation of their talent level, their ability to win with the people that they have there. That’s just not how the ownership process works.”
Manfred goes on to argue that Major League Baseball has long been a cyclical game, adding that recent World Series victories from the Astros and Cubs underscore the fact that aggressive payroll cutting and rebuilding tactics can indeed produce winning clubs. Conversely, the 2012 World Series participants (San Francisco and Detroit) have the first two picks in next year’s draft.
To be sure, there’s logic behind those claims, though not all rebuilds are created equally. As Le Batard contends, south Florida — more than perhaps any other market — has long harbored feelings of betrayal at the hands of Major League Baseball and former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. The distrust that many baseball fans in Miami have toward the Marlins organization is palpable, and the support (or lack thereof) that the Marlins figure to receive throughout this process is not synonymous with the loyal fan base that a team such as the Cubs enjoyed during its own rebuild.
That said, the organization is ultimately a business, and it never seemed especially plausible to expect a new ownership group to enter and hemorrhage money by throwing millions more at a roster that lacks the depth of a sound farm system and has ranked last in the National League in attendance in each of the past five seasons.
If anything, the true point of contention for Miami fans isn’t necessarily (or shouldn’t be) the decision to tear down the roster but rather to do so in a manner that looks to have generated more financial savings than top-tier talent in the process. Many pundits have suggested that the returns the Marlins have received thus far are all on the light side. One can argue that cost savings should have taken a back seat to talent acquisition and prompted new ownership to include additional funds in the trades in order to bolster the respective returns.
Whether the league had any inkling that another fire sale was forthcoming for the Marlins, the reality facing the team now is that they’re presented with an even greater uphill battle in terms of generating attendance as they field a team that is without, at minimum, star-caliber players like Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon. Additional trades involving J.T. Realmuto, Christian Yelich and others, of course, may yet come to fruition; both Realmuto and Yelich are reportedly unhappy with the Marlins’ direction — so much so that Realmuto’s reps at CAA are said to have let the Marlins know that their client would prefer to be traded.
The entire interview between Le Batard and Manfred is more than 17 minutes long but is well worth a full listen both for fans in Florida and those of teams in other markets.