If you are a Marlins fan, thanks is given for simple gifts, such as a day when Tommy Hutton doesn’t get fired. Or David Samson’s energy doesn’t make the news.
This Thanksgiving, they give blessings that Jose Fernandez is not going to be traded before the 2016 season opens. Yes, Jefferey Loria has a strong fondness for Fernandez; truth is, so is almost anyone who meets him, especially Don Mattingly, and in a two week span when Mike Hill and his baseball cabinet had two very productive and positive conference call meetings with Scott Boras and Mattingly got full support for his long range, flexible handling of Fernandez to insure that he continues to grow and yet, like Matt Harvey, be able to pitch in October should the Marlins get there, somehow Samson’s war with Boras became the Marlins period piece.
We all get the Marcell Ozuna questions, why he was sent down, why Boras fights for his client and makes his case so public. Trade Ozuna, in the most recent rumored case by Jerry Crasnick? He may be the Marlins’ best chip as they try to build their pitching inventory without dealing with the free market values of second tier starters like Wei Yin Chen or Scott Kazmir.
But trade Fernandez? What a clever way to make them as relevant as the Florida Panthers. Trade Fernandez? What an ingenious way to tell South Florida fans that things are not going to change, even with Mattingly. Trade Fernandez? What a better exit strategy to move Giancarlo Stanton on to the West Coast? What better way to redo what Jeffrey Loria has meant to do in proving baseball can work in Florida, a concept subject to justifiable skepticism.
This is all about Samson and Boras. Too much has been invested in Stanton, the front office, development, international scouting and a manager who has won three straight division titles to waste what could and should be a season in which the Marlins begin crawling from the wreckage of the 2015 disaster.
Mike Hill has been empowered to be the President of Baseball Operations and act as general manager, like Theo Epstein and Dave Dombrowski, Billy Beane and Chris Antonetti. That they could pay pitching guru Jim Benedict $2.5M over five years to recreate veterans the way the Pirates did and try to build a finishing school for young pitchers is a longterm commitment. Mattingly not only seems relaxed with his new situation he, is going to move to Miami and eagerly talks of his job to “teach and develop” over the next four seasons.
Hill is a very bright, very solid executive, drama-free. His baseball people like Mike Berger, Jeff McAvoy, David Keller, Benedict, et al are drama-free. Loria is extremely passionate and sometimes sidetracked by ideas that undercut the signing of Stanton, the trade for Dee Gordon and the recovery of Fernandez—like putting Dan Jennings in the managerial role—but in the winter appreciates that there will be losing streaks and that he has to rely on the advice and consent of the Hill Gang to work through the heat of the moments.
With the Mets and the Nationals in their division and the Phillies and Braves set on total reconstructions, the National League East isn’t going to get easier. The Marlins job is to find, scout and carefully develop talent, which is what this winter’s front office development has been about.
But they also have to convince the South Florida audience that Stanton, Gordon, Christian Yellich and their best talents are staying, and hope that Fernandez gives them three dominant seasons at the front of the rotation and keeps the seats at Marlins Park filled. There’s no good guys or bad guys, right or wrong in the Boras-Samson wars, but this is about a serious, winning baseball team, not bringing Victor and Jack from The Young and the Restless onto the field.
“The volume has been turned down for Thanksgiving,” said one general manager Tuesday. “It will be turned back up Friday as we run for the following weekend in Nashville and the Winter Meetings.”
Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci both speculated that David Price will end up with the Red Sox. They are not along. From last Friday to Tuesday I heard the same thing from a half-dozen GMs, one of whom said “I just think that Dombrowski loves him and he is part of the job Dave took.” Hey, Dombrowski’s manager in Detroit, Brad Ausmus, called Price “the best pitching teammate I’ve ever been around,” a thought seconded by Joe Maddon. Another NL GM Tuesday speculated “Boston will go $30-40M above anyone else.”
Price has been understandably humorous on Twitter. Some feel he is uneasy about Boston, but David is so sophisticated, so talented and so intelligent he will make the best of any situation. Rosenthal and Verducci made well-thought guesses on Price’s whereabouts. I have thought the same thing for nearly a week, but that is not a “the deal is close” thought. Sift through five days of calls and there is a lot of John Lackey and Alex Gordon to the Cubs speculation. A split on Zack Greinke and Jordan Zimmerman to either the Dodgers or Giants. One GM speculated that the Cardinals could pass on Jason Heyward, sign Price and bridge to their next generation of big-time young pitchers, including the suspended Alex Reyes, who one baseball man calls “the best pitching prospect I’ve seen in a year.”
“We’re going to hear a lot of crazy things between now and Nashville,” said another NL GM. “Things like Brett Gardner for Carlos Carrasco, something that makes no sense for the Indians.”
Most of all, no one seems to know what the Dodgers are doing, and whether they’ll conclude Greinke should be subject to normal age regression despite his Madduxesque intelligence and creativity.
This we do know: they hired a manager in Dave Roberts who is a perfect fit for sifting through the disparate personalities in that clubhouse. Rather than the reported cutbacks in scouting, they have actually added to their scouting staff. They have hired one of the best international directors in Ismael Cruz (who built the Mets up and produced enough prospects for Toronto to make the Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki deals), overhauled their international systems and, in the meantime, signed $90M worth of young Cuban players.
Meanwhile, Mark Shapiro is deep into general manager interviews in Toronto. One candidate is Ross Atkins, VP of Baseball Development with the Indians and widely respected the way Bobby Evans was respected in San Fransisco when the Giants made him the general manager. Josh Byrnes, now with the Dodgers, is reportedly a candidate, and longtime associate of Shapiro.
We’re going to actually know a lot more when the lessons and carols services are completed three weeks from now.