Posted on: February 26, 2012 8:40 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 8:37 pm
JUPITER, Fla. -- When someone suggested to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria that the Marlins "certainly would be entertaining,'' Loria corrected that person. "More than entertaining,'' Loria said.
"Don't sell us short,'' he further advised.
That probably won't happen, not with two of the game's better salesmen in tow. The best, of course, has to be new manager Ozzie Guillen, who had the players in stitches in his pre-preseason speech, according to Mark Buehrle, who like Guillen came to the Marlins from the White Sox. Guillen saved his best for the speech, because he was maybe too tired to be his outlandish self by the end of the workout, when he finally met with the media.
The speech to the team, though, was said to have been doozy, covering everything up to and including ballplayer patriotism (on that score, he told his troops, "I expect to see everyone get up on that bleeeing step'' for the national anthem). One of the more substantive speech highlights, according to Marlins players, came when Guillen reminded them how much money Loria spent on this team, and also told them he didn't want to see them waste it. An old veteran pooh-poohed the impact of the speech, yet this much is true: the Marlins clubhouse seemed lmuch more alive than ever before.
Some of that has to do with a mix of talent so enticing that when they looked around, it could do nothing but excite them, no matter how much Loria, the other great salesman, spent. (For the record, it was $191 million between shortstop Jose Reyes, lefty starter Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell alone). Indeed, there is a lot to love about this team, including the manager and owner who taken together make it three rings in this circus.
The Marlins have maybe the player with the most power of any in the majors in Mike Stanton. They have the player who may be the fastest in the game in Emilio Bonificio. And, for good measure, they have the one who may have the most to prove in the perpetually temperamental Carlos Zambrano after the Cubs wanted him gone so badly they paid all but $3 million of his $18-million salary to be rid of him. (Though talented new third baseman Hanley Ramirez may not be far behind in that competition.)
Whatever happens there, Loria isn't going to be able to pull a John Henry and act like he wasn't behind the Zambrano deal since Loria said, "The trade was made with my enthusiastic support. I don't care what's happened before. The page is turned''
What happens next is really what's on the mind of the Marlins. The excitement truly was palpable in a clubhouse filled with interesting people. "This team has a lot of personalities,'' Loria allowed.
They also have the friendly lefthander Buehrle, a transplanted American Leaguer. They have the chatty veteran closer, Heath Bell. They have the superstar on the move, Ramirez. They have the safety-last veteran outfielder Aaron Rowand, another of Guillen's former White Sox. And they have the baseball's twitter champion, Logan Morrison, who last year upset his bosses with some dazzling tweets (though truth be told, they were much tamer than those of Giuillen's youngest son Oney, who used to rip his daad's boss Ken Williams all the time in tweets).
For now Guillen has no complaints with anything here, certainly not Loria, whose big winter disappointment was the failure to sign superstar first baseman Albert Pujols, which would have at least doubled their payout, depending on who you ask. Marlins people say they bid $201 million for Pujols, while someone in Pujols' camp suggested they actually offered $275 million. There were a couple brief dalliances with Prince Fielder, but there seemed to be a hierarchical split over whether to seriously pursue him, with Loria seemingly much more interested than team president David Samson, who declared during the middle of continuing reports that the Marlins were still involved that they had actually no interest in Fielder. A few people who dealt with the Marlins did say they sensed a bit of a split on a couple choices between Loria and Samson, Loria's former son-in-law. And in a couple of those cases, Samson seemed to have gotten his way (Fielder would have been yet another big personality in the Marlins' vastly improved clubhouse.)
Even though the Marlins didn't get the supertsr first baseman they badly wanted or the second-choice first baseman some of their top people wanted, they still spent more than anyone by the Angels, the signers of Pujols and C.J. Wilson, yet another top pitcher the Marlins tried for (they offered $99 million before Wilson went to his hometown Angels for $77.5 million). Speaking of the winter, Loria said, "We met out expectations.''
With all the money spent, and all the excitement that comes with the new players plus the say-anything Guillen, the hope is that the Marlins get back to the playoffs this year, even if Loria wouldnt go far as to out-and-out predict that. While he did say this is the strongest Marlins team he's had to start a season, including the eventual World Series champion 2003 edition, Loria declined to predict a World Series for this talented, eclectic mix.
Instead, the Marlins owner offered a bit of advice to the reporters. "You want predictions,'' Loria said, "call Samson.''