Martin, Stanton Deals More Significant to Toronto, Miami Than Dollar Figures

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It was November, 1990. The Blue Jays had moved into their futuristic Skydome midway through the previous season. The team Pat Gillick had so carefully built, was ready to win and there was one matter to which he and Paul Beaston felt they had to address: signing a free agent.

They’d never gone there, and Gillick admitted “it’s hard to get players to come here by choice—and Toronto is one of the greatest cities in the world.” Oh, there were the occasional lamebrains; Gillick once traded for a pitcher named Tom Underwood, who endeared himself to the entire nation when he was quoted as saying, “I don’t want to go someplace where they speak Canadian.” Reality involved trips through customs, schools, and misperceptions.

So as Gillick prepared for the recruiting trip of Ken Dayley, who was then a good left-handed reliever for Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals, he lined up a real estate agent, made reservations at the right restaurants, knew where to take the family, and they signed him. Did it work? WAR me no WARs, Dayley hurt his elbow, and as a high salaried left-handed reliever he threw five innings in two seasons. They won the American League East, Dayley’s first season, the World Series in his second, but the barrier had been broken, Toronto was a conceivable destination with a baseball team that was drawing four million fans, and the Jays were in the process of winning consecutive World Series.

Alex Anthopoulos understands. The man loves his city, as he loves Montreal, but in talking through the Russell Martin signing Monday he acknowledged “it’s not easy getting players to jump to Toronto, no matter what we know about living there, about raising a family there.” Anthopoulos thought the Cubs and perhaps even the Dodgers were going to four years and $70M. “We felt the extra year was worth it to us. We have a team that has come a long way. We think at this point in time we have a chance to win the East. We think he impacts us in a number of ways.”

Russell Martin is, of course, from Montreal, like Anthopoulos. His mother is a noted singer. His father is an elegant saxophonist who has played the anthem at The Forum and Dodger Stadium. His sister is an opera singer. “But we knew Russell really liked the idea of playing in Chicago,” Anthopoulos says. In other words, signing even a Canadian like Martin to go to Toronto is different from signing him to go to Chicago.

“We look at Russell’s history. Two years with the Yankees (where Brian Cashman likened him to Thurman Munson), they’re in the playoffs. He leaves, two years they’re not in the playoffs. Two years with the Pirates, they’re in the playoffs.” Obviously Anthopoulos, who is going to try to extend Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, realizes he faces several free agent decisions, which may shut their window.

They have veterans Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey for starters. Martin’s impact is expected to be more on Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Sean Nolin, Roberto Osuna and Jeff Hoffman as he catches throughout the contract. And by the third or fourth year of the contract, last year’s number one pick, catcher Max Pentecost, will be ready to take innings and learn from Martin.

The Jays, as a franchise, need to win now, and build a bridge to maintain success for the remainder of the decade. For one extra year with Martin, who was an exceptional third baseman in the Dodgers’ system, makes the gamble worth it.

Gambles like the signing of Martin and Giancarlo Stanton sometimes work, sometimes do not. Toronto and Miami are not mainstream baseball markets. Ask Dave Dombrowski. In 1989, his exceptional owner Charles Bronfman wanted to figure out for once and for all whether or not Montreal was a viable baseball market. In July, they appeared to have a legitimate chance to win the National League East for the first time, so Dombrowski was pressured to go for the win and trade with Seattle for Mark Langston, one of the best power pitchers in the game, and a free agent at the end of the season.

Dombrowski traded right-handed pitcher Brian Holman, fireballing reliever Gene Harris and a young left-handed pitcher named Randy Johnson.

Les Expos went from first place to 20-36 record in August and September and finished fourth. Langston signed with the Angels. Randy Johnson will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this July, one of the five or six best left-handed pitchers in history. Dombrowki did every trade under the sunset to get the Marlins their first World Championship in 1997. Two days after they beat the Indians in the seventh game, owner Wayne Huizenga ordered Dombrowski to hold a fire sale.

There lies the foundation on which the Marlins franchise is built. That fire sale. The following summer, Huizenga bought a house on Nantucket for more than what then was his payroll, another defining moment in Marlins history. Jeffrey Loria’s Marlins have won a World Series, in 2003. But we also understand that his ownership does not have an 80 per cent approval rating when it comes to trust. We all know that while he saved baseball in South Florida, he did a lot of wheeling and dealing to get a new stadium, signed a bunch of free agents…and a year later sent them off. “We made bad baseball decisions,” Loria says. “We had to get out from underneath them.” We get some of them, like a bad choice at the end of the bullpen and $100M for Jose Reyes, whose defensive runs saved for the Jays last season was the second worst of any regular shortstop in the major leagues.

They got Henderson Alvarez, Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani, who may be part of a very good pitching staff this season if Jose Fernandez comes back. Getting Jake Marisnick allowed them to trade for Jarred Cosart, who might have been Houston’s best young pitcher. Now, Larry Beinfest may not get credit for that Toronto deal, but he deserves it; he and Loria had been working together too long, although Beinfest is an extraordinary general manager.

The Marlins think they have power pitching up and down the organization. They think Stanton, Christian Yelich and Ozuna can be the best outfield in the league.

But if Loria had traded Stanton, the franchise might have remained a suburb of Yeehaw Junction. With Lebron James gone, Stanton can be Miami’s star. Loria does not agree with the theory that as a Market, Miami is a one pony town. “Not at all,” says Loria. “It is a vibrant, energetic city; the gateway to Latin and South America. It can be a great baseball town.”

Stanton is potentially the face that shines next to Clayton Kershaw in the National League. He is articulate (“Far more intelligent than most people realize,” says Loria). He is a super hero. He is decent, he is revered by teammates, and enjoys his role as team leader.

At the World Series, he reiterated, “I really like Miami.” At the time, he was thinking of spending the winter in his Miami home. He went to Saturday night’s Florida State game at The U. “You know me well enough to know that I will do what I think is right,” Stanton said at The Series.

Loria convinced him that the Marlins will spend, although the fact is that since salaries hit the $3M mark in 1990, no team has won a World Series with one player making more than 20% of the payroll. Oh, Monday was spent spinning this signing into MoneyBall theories, clicking out essays showing that what was will be, but making Miami Florida’s first successful baseball franchise is about risk-taking.

It may be that Loria looks at this deal the way he looks at a painting, that its worth to him is different from another collector from Darien or La Jolla. Jeffrey Loria looks at a lot of things through a different prism; I remember him being at the hospital bedside of a former Marlin number one pick named Jeff Allison when Allison nearly died from drugs, and offering anything to help him restore his life, which, incidentally, Allison has done.

Some things cannot be analytically quantified, and the deals signed by Martin and Stanton come in that category. If the Jays get back to the World Series and Drew Hutchison is their Game One starter sometime in the next three years, the fifth year was worth it. If the Marlins are in the post-season and there are a half-dozen Stanton billboards from South Beach to Coconut Grove, well, that is what this is all about.

Remember, Giancarlo turned 25 last week. This week, an Astros site suggested George Springer could be Giancarlo Stanton. Springer is 50 days older than Stanton. Now think of it this way: to paraphrase Jon Landau: Jeffrey Loria has seen the future of baseball in Florida, and that future is Giancarlo Stanton, and he’s never seen an horizon, a sunset or an Alberto Giancometti painting that could quantified.

Although Loria did sell a Giancometti painting for $32.6M.

Comments

  1. There’s not a lot of trust in Loria for good reason. But, for the next 5 or 6 years anyway, he made Stanton the face of baseball in all Florida, not just south Florida. Maybe its a start, but he still has to be surrounded with some decent talent as well. So its on the fans now to do their part by showing up & rewarding this expenditure so they can afford to get & keep that talent. If not, you can’t say he didn’t try.

  2. Bob Thacher says:

    Toronto is a great Baseball town with a winner. This has already been proven. I applaud the Martin signing and they better not stop there. The Skydome is the last artificial turf field.What was once the 8th wonder of the world has become a dinasour. Time for a new styled stadium,downtown. Florida has the new stadium but must up the payroll. Stanton alone will not get them far. IMP,both Florida franchises should be contracted with the players disbursed through a draft.

  3. Paul Smith says:

    Great piece on the Jays – thank you! One typo on Giacometti?

  4. Kilgore Rickberger Trout says:

    Loria will shank anyone for a dollar. 6 yrs and 100 million is Loria’s contract. The usual scam by the greatest cancer in MLB