This weekend, I watched a team will make less than Carlos Beltran Carlos Beltran play competitive baseball. For 15% of what the Dodgers spend, the Marlins have a team that isn't an embarrassment this year, and will be very dangerous by 2008. I had an entire post planned out where I was going to say that the Marlins had found a loophole in baseball's system, and that they were the new model of a championship team, the more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that this wasn't true.
First off, what is Marlins baseball? I consider this to be the basic idea: save your resources to make one push towards the playoffs, after the season, sell of the entire team for prospects, wait for the young players to get good, then try again. Seems like a reasonable strategy, but there's no way that most teams can execute it.
The Marlins had a huge head start one a rebuilding project since they already had Miguel Cabrera, a superstar player making the league minimum. They also had a fairly robust farm system with Josh Johnson, Scott Olsen, Josh Willingham and Jeremy Hermedia ready to play at a major league level.
The main advantage the Marlins have right now is that they have zero obligations to winning. Because of this, they can take a flier on whatever prospects they want, and see if they stick. Sure Joe Borchard failed at every level he played at, but he used to be highly touted, so why not give him a chance? If he stinks, who cares, you don't care about winning anyway. If he doesn't, then you've got a great talent for very little money. Almost the entire roster is constructed with this mindset. No team who had any desire to win would let Dan Uggla, a 26 year old who had never got past AA, start the year at second base, but the Marlins had nothing to lose, so why not? How many teams would let Mike Jacobs keep his job after he was hitting .198 on May 14th? Not too many. Sure some of these guys, like Reggie Abercrombie, suck and won't help the team at all, but who cares? They'll eventually lose their jobs and the team can keep the solid players. The Marlins can keep taking fliers on players like Cody Ross and Joe Borchard until they assemble an actual team.
The problem comes after you've assembled your discount roster. Suddenly, the biggest luxury you had, the complete indifference towards winning, is gone. No longer can you take risks on every other team's dreck, you need to win. Not only that, you need to win quickly because soon your roster will be too expensive to handle. Just like that, you've become just like every other team, just without the luxury to use the free agent market to fill your holes.
Ah, but what if you combined the Marlins approach with money? What if you kept your good players, and used the money you saved to sign some free agents? Once again, with success comes responsibility, and you lose the advantage of not caring about winning. The second you become a successful team, Marlin ball no longer works.
All of this assumes that the free agent sell off works. Right now, the Marlins are doing about as well as they possible could. Their entire infield is out producing the infield from the previous year, and they're getting solid starting pitching. What if your sell your team, and then only get back A.J. Burnett, Derrek Lee, and Preston Wilson in return. Sure that's a decent haul, but it's not much to show for an entire team. Well, now you don't have any incentive for fans to come to the ballpark, and revenues plummet, meaning you aren't saving that much money to begin with. The Marlins strategy risks the entire fan base, just for the chance at assembling a good team for cheap, it just not worth the risk.
Sometimes we fantasize too much about building the best team for as little money as possible, while we lose sight of the real goal: building the best team. Sure, it would be fun to be a Marlins fan right now, but there is something to be said about spending some money, and not resting your hopes on an unheralded 26 year old.