Marlins acquire more than players in Dallas
Team improves, but more important, drastically changes identity
When the Miami Marlins look back on the Winter Meetings, they may not see their most important acquisition as something that can get a runner home from third base in the eighth inning or nail down a save in the ninth.
Nor can it be weighed or measured, touched or felt. It won't make the hot dogs tastier or the beer colder. Still, it's something every franchise strives for, something that goes hand in hand with winning and plenty of other good stuff.
The Marlins acquired credibility, truckloads of it. In the end, it's about that simple.
The Angels had a pretty good week, too, and maybe you've heard Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson put them in the "Best Team in Baseball" conversation.
MLB.com colleague Anthony Castrovince says the Angels had a better week in Dallas, but when this week's winners and losers are totaled up, no team did better than the Marlins. The thing is, they've told us for years that things would play out exactly the way they have once they got their very own ballpark.
That ballpark is now a reality -- it's stunningly beautiful -- and with it comes streams of new revenues, including a projected attendance of 2.8 million. Thanks to those revenues, the Marlins have a chance to be competitive in 2012, and even better, to keep a good team together and build something lasting.
The Marlins dramatically improved themselves with the signings of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell to contracts totaling $191 million. As terrific as those three deals are for the baseball team itself, they're symbolic of something larger.
"We wanted to send a message to our fans," Marlins president David Samson said. "We have a belief in the Miami market."
Samson said ticket sales for the new ballpark were so brisk last summer that the club decided the time had come to show the world everything had changed.
"We're assuming our park will sell out," he said. "We set a new sales record almost every day since May. Instead of waiting for [the sellouts], we wanted to show our fans we're going to have a competitive team."
The Marlins actually started the process two years ago. Since then, they've signed Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, John Buck and Omar Infante to deals worth more than $90 million. Throw in another $10 million over four years for new manager Ozzie Guillen.
Guillen's energy and personality may play well with fans and the media, and the earlier signings sent a message that things were changing. Turns out, those deals were only the first act.
Reyes was Act Two all by himself. Team executives camped out in the bar of the Carlyle Hotel in Manhattan on the evening of Nov. 2, and when the Mets' exclusive negotiating window ended at midnight, team owner Jeffrey Loria handed Reyes a Marlins jersey with his name on it.
"I had it hidden in my overcoat," Loria said, "and made a production of turning around and unveiling it."
Hearing Loria recount the story, Samson smiles.
"People in the place must have thought it was some kind of strange, freaky show," Samson said.
The Marlins flew Reyes to South Florida a week later, and then made him a six-year, $106 million offer that sealed the deal.
"It's a perfect situation in Miami," Reyes said.
Reyes provides a dynamic presence at the top of the lineup if he can repeat a 2011 season in which he had 16 triples, 31 doubles and 39 stolen bases. If Hanley Ramirez accepts a shift to third base, the Marlins could be as entertaining as any team in baseball.
"His energy appealed to me," Loria said of Reyes. "He's a bundle of energy."
Once that deal was finished, the Marlins turned to Bell and then to Buehrle. Actually, they telephoned Bell that same night they entertained Reyes, telling him they were coming for him and weren't going to stop until they had a deal done.
They were also in the mix for Pujols and Wilson, and for a day or two, they threatened to go wire-to-wire in dominating the coverage of the Winter Meetings.
After years of small payrolls and empty seats, after missing the playoffs for eight straight seasons, the Marlins were seen differently in the span of a few days. With No. 1 starter Johnson expected back on Opening Day, with emerging young players like Logan Morrison and Mike Stanton, the National League East race looks dramatically different.
"You don't win a pennant in December," Samson said. "We're not making the mistake of thinking that. We now have to go do it. We think we're doing it right, but we'll only know that when we take the field."
Regardless of who they signed, the new ballpark was going to be a huge boost to the franchise. Suddenly, there wouldn't be the feeling that everything was temporary, that they weren't just renting space in a football stadium.
From the moment Major League Baseball arrived in South Florida 19 years ago, this is the moment a lot of fans probably thought would never come. They know for sure that the Marlins are in South Florida to stay, and that it's OK to give them their hearts.
Teams always get a burst of energy when a new ballpark opens. The Marlins guaranteed South Florida that theirs will come with something even more significant. There's suddenly a sense of permanence and, yes, credibility.
The Angels got way better this week, but they already had a lot of the things the Marlins tried to get. There's no way to know how it'll all play out, but few franchises have undergone this kind of makeover in such a short period of time.
The Marlins are good, but they also matter again. In the end, nothing is more important than that.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.