With Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in the same lineup, every day will be Home Run Derby for the New York Yankees.
It’s an excess of riches for Derek Jeter’s old team. And his new one? An excess of prospects, building toward some grand plan that Jeter, part-owner and top baseball executive of the Miami Marlins, has thus far failed to articulate.
The optics are not good here, trading away the franchise’s home-grown NL Most Valuable Player. Some of the worst ever, actually.
Even Jeffrey Loria, the owner everyone wanted to ride out of town on a rail, got off to a better start than this when he bought the Marlins from John Henry in 2002.
Forget for a moment that Loria basically had the team handed to him in an orchestrated deal that sold his floundering Montreal Expos to Major League Baseball first. Forget it because fans care far less about the financial underpinnings of any franchise than they do about the players they buy tickets to see.
In that respect Loria and his general manager, Larry Beinfest, got busy in a hurry on a set of transactions that were far more popular and beneficial to the team’s roster than anything Jeter has done or will do over the next few years.
Tim Raines, a good clubhouse guy and a future Hall of Famer, instantly came aboard as a low-cost free agent at the end of his career. Everybody loved “Rock,” whether he played a lot or not, so no harm there.
Next came a spring-training trade that sent Antonio Alfonseca, a flighty and overweight closer, to the Cubs in a package that got the Marlins an interesting young pitching prospect named Dontrelle Willis. The D-Train was on the verge of a breakout, from minor leaguer in 2002 to NL Rookie of the Year in 2003, so that worked, too. It was all part of a quiet rollout in which the Marlins improved from 76 wins to 79, with Loria making signs that he meant to compete for something.
In Loria’s second season he shifted into a different gear altogether, trading away Charles Johnson and Preston Wilson in a deal that brought Juan Pierre, a great leadoff hitter, to the Marlins.
Next came the free-agent signing of catcher Ivan Rodriguez for $10 million, which was more than one-fifth of the team payroll at the time. Pudge, a future Hall of Famer, was exactly what the Marlins needed to get the most out of a staff of kid pitchers who themselves would go on to be stars.
In May Loria showed his impetuous side, firing manager Jeff Torborg and replacing him with the ancient Jack McKeon. Nobody knew quite what to make of that, and the sale of Kevin Millar to the Red Sox was a puzzler, too, but then came the moves that really proved Loria wanted to win the World Series as soon as possible.
In July the Marlins got a top closer, Ugueth Urbina, in a trade, and in August Jeff Conine, a Marlins favorite who was lost in an earlier Wayne Huizenga fire sale, returned to the team by trade as well. The pieces were then in place for a World Series upset of the Yankees, with a mix of veterans and young stars developed in what was then recognized as a strong farm system.
No matter what anybody thinks of Loria now, at least he came into this thing with the idea that the Marlins should strive to be the best and South Florida fans should know that.
So far, the only things this market knows about Jeter are bad. He won’t care about winning for a while, it’s clear. He believes there is time for a rebuild because he is new to this project. Poor guy. He doesn’t realize that new projects are old news around here. Finished projects are what we crave.
I’m not telling you to love Jeffrey Loria. It seems, though, that he at least cared about first impressions as the owner of the Marlins.
Jeter figures he has already made his first impression, the only one he’ll ever need to make, by being one of the greatest players in Yankees history. That was a different time in his life, though, and this job of empire-building, the one that even George Steinbrenner struggled to master, does not come so naturally to him.