The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Major League Baseball in Florida Will Stink in 2018

It’s been a relatively slow Hot Stove season.  Hasn’t been very hot with respect to off-season trades and free agent signings.  With MLB spring training camps opening this past week, five of the Top 10 free agents still haven’t been signed.  There are over 80 free agents still looking to catch on with a team.

However, the two MLB franchises in the State of Florida have been providing most of the sparks that have generated the little activity that has occurred.  But it’s not been the type of sparks that have gotten fans of the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays revved up for the upcoming season.  In fact, the two teams are headed for what portends to be some very hard times this season.  More bluntly, they will stink.

Tampa Bay and Miami have struggled to be contenders in recent years for different reasons, but they could very likely hit all-time lows in in 2018.  Both of them are currently fully committed to an approach that builds the organizations to be contenders for the long-term.  It’s not a new strategy, as the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs have proven, but it’s the timing the Florida teams have chosen that has some baseball people baffled and certainly most of their fans pretty upset.

There was no love lost for Jeffrey Loria by Miami fans when he sold the Marlins franchise to a new ownership group with Derek Jeter as the face of the organization.  Loria had angered many of those fans for making too little investment over the years and a having penchant for bad decisions.  Miami faithfuls saw Jeter as one of the most successful baseball players in history and were hopeful his success and image would carry over to his role as an owner.  What the fans didn’t necessarily know was that Jeter and his partners’ plan called for dumping their better players with higher salaries to get overall payroll under control and then start a re-building effort with top prospects.

Many folks thought the Marlins roster at the end of 2017 was within a few players of putting them into contention for 2018.  They already had the National League MVP, Giancarlo Stanton, locked up for a long time.  Other younger players like Dee Gordon, Christian Yelich, Marcel Ozuna, and J.T. Realmuto had formed a core, along with Stanton, that appeared to be set for the next few years.  The Marlins’ biggest need was in pitching depth, both starters and relievers.  It was argued that addressing those needs would be the quicker plan to put them into contention.

Instead, the Marlins transacted eight different trades that got 21 players in return, most of them top prospects and not able to help the team immediately. But now all their established stars are gone, except for Realmuto, and it’s not unlikely he will be dealt away soon, too.  Ironically, each of those players were highly sought out to fill critical needs of other teams trying to fill a hole in their roster that could be the difference-maker in their getting to the playoffs.  Why didn’t the Marlins just do that themselves?

In 2017 the Marlins finished in second place in the NL East, albeit 20 games behind leader Washington Nationals.  The result of their winter activities will likely put them in the best position to finish last in 2018 and probably for a few years thereafter.  The franchise already had a problem with home attendance, but it will get worse with the team they put on the field this year.  But Jeter and his front office team will have at least accomplished one of their organizational goals—getting the team payroll down to peanuts.

The Tampa Bay Rays have won 80 games in two of the last three years.  But their problem has been having to compete in perhaps the best division in baseball with the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Orioles.  Their success has largely been built around its pitching staff, with the organization well-known for developing young pitchers.

Apparently not convinced they will be in the hunt for a play-off spot in 2018, the Rays have followed the Marlins’ approach of moving its players at the top.  Six of their seven top home run hitters in 2017 are no longer with the team.  Most notable are long-time Rays third baseman, Evan Longoria, the face of the franchise since he arrived in 2008, and Logan Morrison, who hit 38 home runs last year.  Additionally, two of their best pitchers, Alex Cobb and Jake Ordorizzi, won’t be with team this year.

Two other top-flight players, pitcher Chris Archer and outfielder Kevin Keirmaier, are still with the team in spring training, but they could likely become bargaining chips later this year at the trade deadline.  Faced with the possibilities of being part of a weak team this spring, Keirmaier has publicly expressed interest in being traded now.  That’s a poor reflection on the team.

Tampa is in a similar situation as Miami in terms of home attendance.  They were last in the American League last year with 1.2 million.  Dismantling the team over the winter will almost assuredly have them continuing to bring up the rear.  Rays ownership has an active initiative to build a new stadium in the Tampa area, a critical factor in being able to hold on to the franchise.

However, in the meantime, the Rays will be a bad team.  Their fans won’t have much to cheer for.  The biggest baseball highlight for the Tampa area this year will probably be watching the star-studded Yankees play their spring training schedule at Steinbrenner Field in the city.

It’s not a good time to be a Marlins or Rays fan right now. The good news is that both teams have a plan for eventually becoming competitive again.  The bad news is that it’s going to take a while for their plans to pay off, if ever.

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