Florida Marlins Provide More Proof Free Agency Won’t Fix Everything


Jose Reyes’ stay in Miami was short-lived. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

The last time the Marlins conducted a firesale this blatant and this shocking, they had just won the 1997 World Series.

This time around, there’s no parade to cushion the blow for the few hundred or so fans who actually care about Marlins baseball in Miami.

Florida’s trade with the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday, in which SS Jose Reyes, RHP Josh Johnson, LHP Mark Buehrle, INF-OF Emilio Bonifacio, C John Buck and $4 million were dispatched to the Great White North in exchange for SS Yunel Escobar, RHP Henderson Alvarez, SS Adeiny Hechvarria, LHP Justin Nicolino, OF Jake Marisnick, RHP Anthony DeSclafani, C Jeff Mathis and one-half of the Blue Jays’ concession employees, is another example of a free agent splurge gone wrong.

Seriously, how outrageous is it that this horror show of a franchise has actually won as many world titles as the Phillies?

Professional sports teams need to recognize that going on a free agency binge often times doesn’t result in a huge improvement.

And sometimes, it can make things worse.

Take a look at the Boston Red Sox of the last two years. Look at what a mess that franchise has become. Heck, it doesn’t work in ANY sport, as the Philadelphia Eagles have so ably demonstrated the last two seasons.

Free agents should be nothing more than a garnish, or perhaps a very satisfying side dish to a meal, not the entire main course. They are the green bean casserole, the yams, the pumpkin pie.

They are not the 24-pound turkey.

The teams that win it all are the ones who build their squads through the draft and then supplement that talent with a sprinkling of free agents.

When a team signs a bunch of guys to big contracts (usually oversized contracts, simply because of the nature of free agency), all of whom come from different baseball cultures, team chemistry is often affected.

On paper, signing Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, John Buck, and Heath Bell to a roster that already had Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Johnson, Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, and Omar Infante, should have worked. That’s a lot of good talent to bring into the fold.

But it didn’t. The Marlins were terrible, fans never came to the ballpark, Ozzie Guillen did what everyone thought Ozzie Guillen would do (implode), and now Miami is in the midst of yet another firesale, after promising fans last year that the opening of a new ballpark would user in a new era of Marlins baseball.

There are lessons here for the Phillies as well. As everyone waits to see what big moves Ruben Amaro is going to make, it’s a stirring reminder that the Phils were at their best when they had a flexible payroll, hungry young players, and a mixture of free agents and veterans thrown into the mix.

(Oh, by the way, to everyone clamoring for the Phils to make a run at Miami outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, stop smoking whatever it is you’re smoking and come back to reality. Stanton made $450,000 last year, isn’t arbitration eligible until 2014, and can’t become a free agent until 2017. He’s a cheap, home run hitting machine and he’s not going anywhere. So, just stop it, already!)

Raul Ibanez didn’t exactly work out. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

Most of the Phils’ free agent signings over the last few years haven’t really worked out all that well. Raul Ibanez had one good half of a season, but was an aging disappointment after that. Placido Polanco provided good defense and one good offensive season at the plate, but at the end of his tenure, outlived his usefulness. Jonathan Papelbon had a decent season as closer last year, but all that money for a one inning guy seems like a foolish waste now.

The only big money free agent signing that has proved to be worth the money is Cliff Lee, and his salary is so overwhelming that he will continue to be at the front of trade speculation for the foreseeable future.

Most of the Phillies expenditures have been to lock up homegrown players like Rollins, Utley, Howard, and Hamels. Some of them have been smart signings. Some have not. But as Amaro looks to add pieces to the 2013 roster, he should think carefully about what each individual piece will do to aid the nucleus already assembled.

At the end of the day, talent usually wins baseball games, but only if that talent compliments what you already have. And the danger with going hog wild on free agency is that many times you don’t know if it’s going to compliment your team until it’s too late.

So as Amaro makes his phone calls and does his “due diligence,” hopefully he’s recognizing his past mistakes, as well as the mistakes of the Marlins and the Red Sox, and approaches free agency with caution and restraint.

The Phillies need two outfielders, a third baseman and bullpen help. Of that there is no question. Filling those options with younger players, or guys in their early 30s to short contracts, is a smart way to approach free agency.

Signing Josh Hamilton to a seven-year deal is not.

So, just be smart about free agency, Ruben. Don’t be like the Marlins.

Or the Red Sox.

Or the Eagles.